In a throne speech promising new efforts to tackle climate change, make life more affordable and impose a ban on “military-style” firearms, the Liberal government today called on members of Parliament to work across party lines to solve some of the country’s most pressing issues.
The first throne speech since the election — which saw voters return Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals to power in a minority government — struck a conciliatory tone.
The government signalled it will take up issues championed by the opposition parties — like tax-free parental benefits and a crackdown on money laundering — alongside its own ambitious agenda for progressive reform.
“While your approaches may differ, you share the common belief that government should try, whenever possible, to make life better for Canadians,” said Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, reading the prepared text of the throne speech.
“Some believe that minority governments are incapable of getting things done. But Canada’s history tells us otherwise.”
On the national unity front, the speech acknowledged the growing restlessness in Alberta and Saskatchewan at a time of depressed oil and gas prices and constrained pipeline capacity.
Thursday’s 28-minute address, titled “Moving Forward Together,” included a promise to “find solutions” to help those two western provinces, and oil-rich Newfoundland and Labrador, weather the oil price slump.
‘These are not simple tasks’
“The government has heard Canadians’ concerns that the world is increasingly uncertain and that the economy is changing. And in this context, regional needs and differences really matter. Today’s regional economic concerns are both justified and important,” Payette said.
The speech said the Liberal government is committed to getting “Canadian resources to new markets,” a reference to the Trans Mountain expansion pipeline project currently under construction after years of delays.
While promising climate action, the government has also said building this pipeline to tidewater is in the national interest as it will deliver Alberta oil to markets abroad at better prices.
While the Governor General delivers the remarks, the text itself is written by the Prime Minister’s Office.
However, Payette added some personal remarks to the speech. The PMO confirmed the first 11 paragraphs of the speech were the Governor General’s “preamble.”
Payette, a former astronaut, said Canadians must work together in collaboration because “we are inextricably bound to the same space-time continuum and on board the same planetary spaceship.”
The throne speech was grouped under four themes: fighting climate change, strengthening the middle class, Indigenous reconciliation, keeping Canadians safe and healthy and positioning Canada for success in an uncertain world.
“These are not simple tasks. But they are achievable if you stay focused on the people who sent you here. Moms and dads. Grandparents and students. New Canadians, business owners and workers. People from all walks of life. Every one of them expects their parliamentarians to get to work and deliver on a plan that moves our country forward for all Canadians,” Payette said.
This is the first throne speech for Payette — she was named by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017 — and the first such speech in the temporary Senate chamber housed in Ottawa’s former central train station. Renovations are underway to Centre Block on Parliament Hill.
Because of the repairs, the Usher of the Black Rod, Greg Peters, the Queen’s messenger in Parliament, had to travel by bus from the Senate chamber, where the speech is delivered, to the Commons to summons MPs to the Red Chamber for the speech. The two temporary chambers where MPs and senators are about half a kilometre apart.
Tax cut coming
The throne speech reiterated much of what the Liberal Party promised in the last election campaign.
The first order of business for this 43rd Parliament will be enacting a new middle-class tax cut and making the Canada Child Benefit — payments to parents to help offset the costs of raising a child — more generous.
Payette said voters returned a minority Parliament dominated by progressive parties determined to take “ambitious” climate action now.
The government promised to defend its national price on carbon to help curb greenhouse gas emissions while pushing ahead with a plan to render the country “net-zero” on emissions by 2050.
That plan would mean making deep cuts to carbon emissions or offsetting those emissions through other actions that scrub carbon from the atmosphere, such as planting trees. The Liberals have promised to plant two billion trees.
Beyond the tree planting, the government said it would enact policies to make energy efficient homes more affordable, subsidize zero-emission vehicles, develop cleaner sources of power and make Canada a chosen destination for clean technology firms.
“Canada’s children and grandchildren will judge this generation by its action — or inaction — on
the defining challenge of the time: climate change. The government will continue to protect the environment and preserve Canada’s natural legacy. And it will do so in a way that grows the economy and makes life more affordable,” Payette said.
On the “keeping Canadians safe and healthy” file, the speech promised to follow through with a pledge to implement a national pharmacare program. In a surprise addition to the speech, the government also said Parliament should study the viability of a dental care program.
The Liberals also are promising to ban “military-style” firearms and implement a firearms buy-back program. It also repeated a promise to allow municipalities and communities to ban handguns.
“Year after year, headline after headline, Canadians have seen first hand the devastating effects of gun violence. Too many lives lost, too many families shattered. It is time to show courage and strengthen gun control,” Payette said.
Afterward, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said was “very disappointed” with the speech, saying it didn’t sufficiently address the concerns of the energy sector. He pointed out the speech didn’t mention Alberta and Saskatchewan by name.
“Today’s throne speech was an insult to the people of Alberta and Saskatchewan for recognizing the anger and the sentiments that exist there,” Scheer said. “I’m worried Mr. Trudeau’s entire approach is sending a very negative signal.”
Scheer said that there was nothing in the speech about ongoing struggles in the forestry sector, which has been hurt by the softwood lumber dispute with the U.S.
Scheer said he’s introducing an amendment to the speech tomorrow. “It will highlight the things that we believe should have been in this speech, the missed opportunities,” he said. “[Trudeau] didn’t send the signal that he gets it, that he heard from Canadians. That wasn’t in the speech that we heard today.”
Commitment to Indigenous reconciliation
The Liberal government pledged to do more to improve quality of life of Indigenous peoples in Canada. It said while progress has been made in the last four years on things like ending long-term boil water advisories and boosting funding for First Nations schools, much more needs to be done in the years ahead.
The throne speech vowed to co-develop new legislation with Indigenous peoples to improve access to “culturally relevant” health care and mental health services, compensate First Nations kids who were subjected to the discriminatory child welfare system, and continue to implement the calls for justice of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
The government says it will introduce legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in the first year of the new mandate. A private member’s bill to implement the declaration in Canada was killed by the Senate in the last Parliament.
UNDRIP recognizes the right of Indigenous peoples to legal equality, self-determination, the preservation of their languages and control of their traditional lands, among other rights.
“The path to reconciliation is long. But in its actions and interactions the government will continue to walk it with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.” Payette said.
On the foreign affairs front, the Liberal government said it would continue its efforts to secure Canada a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Parliamentary tradition dictates that MPs are not allowed on the floor of the Senate, so the 40 MPs who made the trip to the Senate chamber stayed behind the brass bar at the chamber’s entrance. The bar is intended to signal that both houses of Parliament remain independent.
Supreme Court Justices, senators and guests took their seats on the Senate floor.
Unlike the State of the Union speech in the U.S. — a yearly presidential address to Congress often punctuated by applause — there was no interruption and little reaction from the assembled crowd during the speech.
Among those seated in the chamber were former Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and the premiers of Yukon and the Northwest Territories.