Liberals Seeking to Implement Past, Present and Future Policy Commitments Against Tough Economic Backdrop
Governor General Mary May Simon delivered her first Speech from the Throne (SFT) today, delivering parts in Inuktitut and including in her personal opening remarks a passionate call-to-action on reconciliation. Read at the beginning of each new Parliament, the SFT is an opportunity for the government to present to Canadians its priorities for the upcoming mandate.
As the Trudeau Liberals enter their third term, there is still significant work left to implement the policies from their first two terms and recent platform commitments only increase the load. At the same time, the government is undoubtedly interested in making significant progress on issues they view as critical – including climate change, Indigenous reconciliation, and diversity and inclusion – especially in the event Canadians do not give the Liberals a fourth chance to do so.
Relatively short compared to past speeches, the SFT outlined the key issues for this minority government, re-announcing many previously announced commitments under the umbrellas of finishing the fight against COVID-19, making life more affordable, reconciliation, making home ownership a reality, and job creation.
Overall, the SFT is positioned to keep the left-of-centre NDP and Bloc Quebecois onside in the House of Commons by prioritizing issues important to progressive voters like climate and housing affordability, while attempting to back the Opposition Conservatives into a political corner on difficult issues for their caucus, like vaccines and gun control. Given the immediate support for the SFT from the Bloc would indicate the strategy worked.
Under the banner of “economic resiliency,” the government signaled the shift away from broad pandemic programs toward more targeted support for harder-hit sectors. In the current context of rising inflation, the Liberals will need to balance some management on spending while prioritizing their commitments to middle class and vulnerable people living in Canada to maintain the support of at least one of the progressive parties in the House of Commons.
Key measures in today’s SFT include:
- Extending or adding support for industries that continue to struggle with the effects of the pandemic.
- Establishing a $4 billion plan to create a new Housing Accelerator Fund aiming to grow the annual housing supply in the country’s largest cities every year, creating a target of 100,000 new middle-class homes by 2024-25.
- Designing a new rent-to-own program.
- Building a Canada-wide early learning and childcare system through a commitment to $10-a-day childcare.
- Recommitting to increasing immigration levels and reducing wait times to promote greater economic immigration as well as more efficient family reunification.
On the heels of a series of policy announcements and the joining of various international initiatives to combat climate change at COP26, climate was, as expected, a key theme in the SFT. Previewing the government’s acceleration of its plan to decarbonize the economy including Canada’s oil and gas sector, the Trudeau government voiced a desire in the SFT for Canada to be a leader in producing the world’s cleanest steel, aluminum, building products, cars, and planes. Funding for these commitments – an area easy for the Opposition Conservatives to criticize the government on – was also addressed, with a desire expressed to work with the private sector to tap into global capital and attract investors to move forward on the “economy of the future.”
With the effects of disastrous flooding still unfolding in British Columbia adding another layer of pressure to act on climate adaptation, the government also prioritized the creation of a National Adaptation Strategy to prevent and prepare for floods, wildfires, droughts, coastline erosion, and other extreme weather. Climate measures announced include:
- Cap and cut oil and gas sector emissions while committing to a 100% net-zero electricity future.
- Investing in public transit and mandating the sale of Zero Emission Vehicles.
- Increasing carbon pricing.
- Creating the Canada Water Agency to safeguard water and support farmers.
A key moment in the recent election campaign was a statement by Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole that he would reverse a previous commitment to revisit certain parts of a Liberal ban on “assault-style” firearms if he formed government. While the intent of his reversal was to appeal to progressive voters, it was unpopular with the Conservative base and the issue was widely covered by the media. The Trudeau team seized on this controversy, as assault rifle bans are popular in urban areas critical to Liberal electoral success. To maintain the momentum on the issue and attempt to keep Conservatives in a defensive position, the SFT makes two commitments on gun control. It also prioritizes other community safety initiatives:
- Introducing a mandatory buyback of banned assault-style weapons.
- Working with provinces and territories that want to ban handguns.
- Creating a 10-year national action plan on gender-based violence and support for organizations providing critical services to victims.
- Renewing the current anti-racism strategy.
Diversity and Inclusion
Since the Trudeau government first assumed office, a core focus has been fighting systemic racism, sexism, discrimination, misconduct, and abuse, including in its own institutions. In the SFT, the government highlighted its intention to continue work on this front. Early in this Parliamentary session, it is expected the government will re-introduce several bills to support these efforts:
- Bill C-6: The Act to amend the Criminal Code (banning conversion therapy)
- Strategically, C-6 also creates an opportunity to criticize the Opposition Conservatives, who did not uniformly vote in support for this legislation in the last Parliament – with opposing MPs citing a lack of clarity in the legislation – while the NDP and Bloc fully supported it.
- Bill C-32: The Act for the Substantive Equality of French and English and the Strengthening of the Official Languages Act.
- Bill C-32 is also a nod to voters in Quebec, which the Liberals see as key to a possible future majority government.
- Bill C-10: The Act to modernize the Broadcasting Act (intends to create a more equitable broadcast system, by strengthening requirements around Indigenous and French language production).
The tragic discovery of thousands of unmarked graves at former residential school sites earlier this year left the government open to criticism that it was not matching well-meaning words on reconciliation with action. There were several key commitments on reconciliation in the SFT intended to add some specific policy commitments:
- Appointing a Special Interlocutor to advance justice on residential schools and creating a new national monument honouring survivors.
- Investing in a distinctions-based mental health and wellness strategy guided by Indigenous Peoples, survivors, and their families.
- Accelerating work with Indigenous partners to address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people.
- Ensuring compensation for those harmed by the First Nations Child and Family Services program.
- Continuing work on eliminating drinking water advisories and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
International Assistance and Global Partnerships
The SFT also covered Canada’s role as a progressive policy player on the international stage and the importance of an open, rules-based international order, issues the Trudeau government has consistently cultivated. This desire was highlighted through the following commitments:
- Increasing Canada’s foreign assistance budget.
- Investing in sustainable, equitable, and feminist development that benefits the world’s most vulnerable and promotes gender equality.
A commitment to deepen Indo-Pacific and Arctic partnerships signals a subtle push back on China in the wake of the plight of the Two Michaels, while the highlighting of the dependence of Canada’s prosperity and Canadian jobs on preserving and expanding open, rules-based trade can be read as a very polite response to President Biden’s “Buy America” focus.
The Conservatives were quick to respond to today’s SFT by opposing it. Key points of concern include:
- A lack of action to address the needs of Canadians worried about the cost-of-living crisis and the rapid increase in home prices that are pricing families out of the market.
- Ballooning deficits leading to higher taxes.
- A focus on the Liberal ideology instead of employment and investments in recovery.
The NDP criticized the speech by outlining several key elements that were not present. It is unclear if these will become NDP conditions for supporting the SFT. These elements include:
- A lack of mention of a national pharmacare plan.
- No support to workers who are employed in the fossil fuel industry.
The NDP listed the following key measures they are seeking in the SFT:
- Stop claw backs to GIS & CCB.
- Stop court cases against Indigenous kids.
- Legislate 10 paid sick days.
- Legislate a ban on conversion therapy.
- Legislate protection against violence for health care workers.
With the Bloc Quebecois supporting the SFT, it will pass in the House of Commons. Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet’s backhanded praise for the SFT was that it was impossible to vote against “apple pie” given its “24 pages of completely empty words.”