The Top Line
Governor General David Johnston today delivered the 42nd Parliament’s Speech from the Throne, which lays out the legislative blueprint for Prime Minister Trudeau’s newly-minted Liberal Government.
Customarily, the Speech serves as the first public and formal post-election signal of a new Government’s priorities and intentions. However, a new twist was put on that tradition this year as the Liberal Government publicly released its Ministerial Mandate letters in November. Those letters already established the Government’s detailed program goals over the next several years. By contrast, today’s Throne Speech painted the Government’s agenda in very broad strokes with a decidedly social policy focus.
As expected, the Speech reinforced the Trudeau Government focus on a new tone in governing and Parliament, suggesting that Canadians voted for an administration that “does different things and does things differently.” Beyond those thematic elements, the Speech focussed on three subject areas: the economy, democratic reform and the environment. Overall, the Throne Speech did not contain any surprise announcements and left the impression that the new Government remains in a policy planning process rather than program delivery orientation.
The Speech from the Throne reaffirmed the Liberal Party’s commitment to three policy areas on which its 2015 election platform was built.
The Government reiterated its belief that a strong middle class is necessary for good economic growth. As such, the Government pledged to deliver as its first priority a tax cut for the middle class. The Government also returned to its narrative that those who have the highest incomes should be called upon to help others, which is why the Government will also move quickly to impose a new tax on high earners and create a new Canada Child Benefit. These reforms are expected to be debated next week.
The Government stuck to its interventionist nature, stating that public investment is essential to economic growth and job creation. As such, the Government will move forward with investments in public transit, green technology and what it calls social infrastructure. The Government also reaffirmed its plan to make enhancements to the Canada Pension Plan and strengthen the Employment Insurance system. Those measures will require collaboration with provinces, territories and municipalities – a reality on which the Throne Speech provided little detail beyond a pledge of cooperative spirit.
Open and Transparent Government
A large element of the Trudeau Government’s current brand lies in its public commitment to democratic reform. The Throne Speech highlighted the Government’s intention to undertake consultations on electoral reform (aimed at legislating a new electoral system prior to Election 2019), to reform the Senate appointment process in a manner that aims to make it less partisan (a process that the Liberals have already begun) and to mandate more free votes and more independent Parliamentary Committees. The Liberals also pledged to not use prorogation or omnibus bills to support their agenda.
The Throne Speech states that the Government will treat a strong economy and a healthy environment as two sides of the same coin. The Government pledged to provide leadership for the movement to put a price on carbon, without indicating a policy direction. Moreover, the Government will seek to encourage economic growth in the clean technology sector by “strategically investing” in a variety of renewable industries. Lastly, the Government plans to reform the environmental review process. Notably, the Throne Speech highlights that the Liberals intend to make resource development decisions with an emphasis on scientific evidence and input from Indigenous peoples.
Beyond those central themes, other topics touched on in the Throne Speech were:
Federal-Provincial Collaboration: The Government will work with the provinces to negotiate a new Health Accord and to find ways of making post-secondary education more affordable.
Social Policy: The Government will seek to establish a more cooperative relationship with Indigenous peoples, welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February 2016 and make investments in Canada’s cultural and creative industries.
National Security: On the international stage, the Government will seek to strengthen Canada’s relationships with the country’s traditional allies and make a renewed commitment to United Nations operations. Domestically, the Government will invest in military procurement in a transparent manner.
Trade: The Government is committed to negotiating trade agreements where beneficial and to pursue broader trade opportunities in emerging markets.
Criminal Justice: The Liberals plan to introduce legislation that will offer greater support to victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault, to crack down on hand guns and assault weapons and to legalize and regulate marijuana.
Moving forward, some of the specific measures designed to fulfill the Government’s objectives will be fleshed out in the coming Parliamentary session, while others will be contained in the next federal budget, expected in the first quarter of 2016.
The Prime Minister and Opposition Leaders will have an opportunity to speak to today’s Speech. Standing Orders then provide for up to six days of debate on the Speech. Votes on the Speech are normally considered matters of confidence, but given the Liberal majority in the House of Commons, those will be a mere formality.
The House of Commons and Senate resume their normal sitting schedules as of Monday, but are only expected to sit until December 11th before taking an extended break for the holiday season. Parliament is expected to return once again in late January or early February, at which point Parliamentary Committees will be formed and the legislative process will begin in earnest.
The next major milestone for the Government will be the budget, which will likely be introduced in February or March of 2016.
Interim Official Opposition Leader, the Honourable Rona Ambrose, expressed dismay that the Throne Speech appears to provide a blueprint for an interventionist and free-spending Government, and implored the Liberals to provide more detail in a host of policy areas.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair characterized the Speech as “thin”, and brought up trade and social policy as areas in which he felt the Government provided insufficient detail.
What This Means to You
As a thematic document, the Speech from the Throne contains few specific policy prescriptions. Ministers, officials and political staff will immediately begin to plan and execute the commitments set out therein, although not all commitments will be pursued with equal vigour.
For stakeholders with relevant issues addressed in the Throne Speech, engagement at the political and departmental level will be crucial to ensuring their voices are heard during the development of specific legislation and policies. Similarly, for stakeholders with issues which are not specifically referenced in the Speech, now is the time to re-frame arguments and messaging in order to align with the Government’s language and priorities.
TSA stands ready to assist your organization in successfully navigating the still uncertain early days of the new Government. Possessing a strong network with all three primary Federal parties, TSA is your ideal government relations service provider.
December 4, 2015 © Temple Scott Associates Inc.