A Review of the 2019 Speech from the Throne

Four years ago, the brand-new Trudeau government offered a Speech from the Throne focused on a tax cut for the middle class and balancing a clean environment with a strong economy. It promised a new relationship with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, while collaborating with the provinces. This time, the Trudeau government delivered a Speech from the Throne that is fundamentally similar on policy, but with nuanced differences in tone that reflect the reality of a minority Parliament.

In place of a message of change, there is a message of continuity. In place of partisan references to the Harper regime, there is a message of collaboration. Those changes in language and nods to opposition sticking points will get breathless coverage in the media. However, the reality is the policy backbone of the Trudeau Liberals remains the same: they will continue to focus on the 50% of Canadians who support pipelines AND climate action, compared to the 20% who just want pipelines and the 25% who just want climate action. The Government views Quebec as the most likely base to build their next majority and, to this end, they have expressed a willingness to work with the provinces to expand social programs.

While the government nods at dental care, a New Democratic Party (NDP) priority, do not rush to cancel your private coverage anytime soon. While the government pledges security for dairy farmers, a Bloc Quebecois (BQ) priority, the motive is really to take seats from the BQ down the road, not gain BQ votes in the House of Commons. Neither opposition party is prepared to fight an election. These two priorities should be viewed as an attempt to give the NDP and BQ the cover needed to vote in favour of the Speech from the Throne and not read as policy realities.

 

The Policies

The Speech from the Throne is not a specific set of binding policy commitments. In modern convention, the Throne Speech has become a communications opportunity for the governing party to reiterate campaign planks and messaging. The 2019 Speech from the Throne is no different. Through it, the Liberals sought to present themselves as champions of the middle class, with a renewed focus on advancing environmental issues and securing interprovincial harmony. Given that Canadians delivered a minority government in Ottawa, the Throne Speech also emphasized the importance of collaboration to move priorities forward.

Unless the Prime Minister decides to prorogue the House of Commons, this will be his only Speech from the Throne during this mandate. While Members typically vote on the adoption of the Throne Speech as a test of confidence in the Government, it is unlikely to be a serious test given the stability of the new minority Parliament.

What Happens Next

In its first act, the Government plans to introduce two tax cuts for the middle class. The main tax reduction will be achieved by raising the Basic Personal Amount for lower and middle-class taxpayers in a bid to make life more affordable and grow the economy. These early actions serve to underscore the Government’s commitment to address the cost of living concerns felt by many Canadian families.

Procedurally, the Government will face its first confidence vote when the House of Commons votes on the supplementary estimates. These estimates will be considered before December 10th. The Speech from the Throne’s approval is also a confidence vote, meaning that the government falls if it is voted down by opposition parties.  However, the government only needs 14 opposition votes for the Throne Speech to pass and we do not perceive this to be a challenge for the government.

Looking ahead, there are several additional announcements to be made by the Government, including:

  • Release of mandate letters for the Cabinet
  • Appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries
  • Appointment of new Senate leadership, following the departure of Senator Peter Harder, the Government Representative in the Senate, at the end of the year
  • Establishment of the House of Commons Standing Committees

The next major milestone for this minority Parliament will be the 2020 Budget. In preparation, the Finance Committee will undertake its pre-budget study, with the consultations now extended until February 28th, 2020.  This implies a later budget date.

With only one week remaining on the Parliamentary calendar before the winter break, expect a short but busy couple of days in the House of Commons chamber before the holidays begin. The Government will embark on its agenda armed with a new tone and a fresh mandate. Despite its collegial nature with the centre-left opposition parties, political observers should not overlook that the governing Liberals will also continue to attempt to keep the Conservatives, and Conservative Premiers, on-side through their change in tone and approach.

Below are highlights of the Speech.

Fighting Climate Change with a Nod to Resource Development

  • Set a target to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050
  • Continue to ensure a price on pollution everywhere in this country, working with partners to further reduce emissions
  • Help to make energy efficient homes more affordable and introduce measures to build clean, efficient, and affordable communities
  • work to make clean, affordable power available in every Canadian community
  • Work with businesses to make Canada the best place to start and grow a clean technology company
  • Preserve Canada’s natural legacy by protecting 25 percent of Canada’s land and 25 percent of Canada’s oceans by 2025
  • Continue efforts to reduce plastic pollution, and use nature-based solutions to fight climate change, including planting two billion trees
  • Commitment to get Canadian resources to new markets
  • Offer unwavering support to the hardworking women and men in Canada’s natural resource sectors, many of whom have recently faced tough times

Strengthening the Middle Class: Tax Fairness, Investments in People, and Growing the Economy

  • Provide even greater support to the middle class and the most vulnerable Canadians by pursuing tax fairness, continuing to invest in people, and growing the economy
  • Introduce the promised middle-class tax cut as its first act
  • Continue crucial investments in affordable housing and make it easier for more people to buy their first home
  • Give families more time and money to help raise their kids by increasing the Canada Child Benefit and pursuing greater parental benefits
  • Make before and after school care more accessible and affordable
  • Cut the cost of cell phone and wireless services by 25 percent
  • Strengthen pensions and increase the federal minimum wage
  • Give more support to students including new graduates struggling with loan repayment or students heading back to school mid-career to learn new skills
  • Move forward with the USMCA to maintain a strong and integrated North American economy
  • Ensure that the supply management sectors will be fully and fairly compensated as a result of trade agreements
  • To ensure fairness for all in the new digital space, the Government will review the rules currently in place
  • Remove additional barriers to domestic and international trade for businesses and farmers, continue with ambitious investments in infrastructure, and reduce red tape so that it is easier to create and run a start-up or small business
  • Pursue a responsible fiscal plan to keep the economy strong and growing

Keeping Canadians Safe: Addressing Gun Violence

  • Crack down on gun crime by banning military-style assault rifles and taking steps to introduce a buy-back program
  • Allow municipalities and communities to ban handguns, if desired
  • Invest funds to help cities fight gang-related violence
  • Take greater steps to address gender-based violence in Canada, building on the Gender-Based Violence Strategy, and working with partners to develop a National Action Plan.

Keeping Canadians Healthy: Health Care and National Pharmacare

  • Work with provinces, territories, health professionals and experts in industry and academia to make sure that all Canadians can access a primary care family doctor
  • Partner with provinces, territories, and health professionals to introduce mental health standards in the workplace, and to make sure that Canadians can get mental health care when they need it
  • Make it easier for people to get help with opioid dependency and substance use problems
  • Take steps to introduce and implement national pharmacare
  • Further improve mental health care supports for Veterans and ensure that every homeless veteran has a place to call home

Walking the Road of Reconciliation: Continuing the Journey

Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples remains a core priority for this Government and they are committed to walking the path to reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. They will do so by:

  • Acting to co-develop and introduce legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the first year of the new mandate
  • Continuing work to eliminate all long-term drinking water advisories on reserve by 2021 and ensure safe drinking water in Indigenous communities
  • Co-develop new legislation to ensure that Indigenous people have access to high-quality, culturally relevant health care and mental health services
  • Continue work to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ Calls for Justice, in partnership with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples
  • Work with Indigenous communities to close the infrastructure gap by 2030
  • Continue to move forward together to ensure that Indigenous Peoples are in control of their own destiny and making decisions about their communities
  • Take new steps to ensure the Government is living up to the spirit and intent of treaties, agreements, and other constructive arrangements made with Indigenous Peoples
  • Ensure that Indigenous people who were harmed under the discriminatory child welfare system are compensated in a way that is both fair and timely
  • Continue to collaborate with and Indigenous partners to identify investments in Indigenous priorities

Positioning Canada for Success in an Uncertain World

  • Renew Canada’s commitment to NATO and United Nations peacekeeping
  • Stand up for the rules-based international order when that order is put in question, particularly when it comes to matters of trade and digital policy
  • Continue to ensure that Canada’s voice is present at the UN, notably on the UN Security Council
  • Provide targeted resources for international development assistance, including investments in education and gender equality