The Top Line
Governor General Julie Payette today delivered the 43rd Parliament’s Speech from the Throne, laying out the policy priorities of Prime Minister Trudeau’s re-elected Liberal Government.
In a majority Parliament, Throne Speeches are a de facto formality. In this minority Parliament, the Throne Speech must gain the support of at least one of the opposition parties in order for the Liberal Party to stay in power. Soon after the Speech, the Government appeared to secure that necessary support, when Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-François Blanchet said that his party will vote in favour of the Speech.
The Throne Speech did not shy away from laying out a progressive policy agenda, continuing on the trajectory that the Liberals took during the prior term of Government and reflecting the content of the Party’s Election 2019 platform. Combating climate change, enacting an increase of the basic personal tax deduction to $15,000, working towards reconciliation with First Nations peoples, developing a Federal pharmacare program, and improving gun control were the major commitments made by the Speech. Those are all issues that the Liberals would have pursued in a majority government and they are policy priorities that are more likely to resonate with the progressive opposition parties when it comes to voting on specific legislation.
Given their vulnerability in a minority Parliament, the Liberals did take rhetorical steps to reach out to all of the other parties. The Throne Speech opened and closed with language about the importance of inter-party collaboration and presented the Government as open to policy proposals from the other parties. Specific references were made to policies that were championed by the opposition parties during Election 2019, including universal dentalcare from the NDP, making parental benefits tax free from the Conservatives, and compensating dairy farmers for market concessions made during the renegotiation of NAFTA from the Bloc Quebecois. Those references perhaps reveal the topics on which the opposition parties pushed for concessions from the Liberals during post-election negotiations.
The Throne Speech defined progressive action on social, economic, and environmental issues as the basis for the Liberal Party holding power. That approach indicates that the Liberals believe that their policy priorities will continue to resonate with most Canadians and offers clues that the Government will most often look to the progressive opposition parties – the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP – for support on confidence measures.
Today’s Throne Speech primarily focussed on three policy areas: climate change, the economy, and reconciliation. Contrastingly, the 2015 Throne Speech included detailed passages on many topics, including social policy, criminal justice policy, national security, and international trade. In 2015, a fresh-faced Liberal majority swept into power intent on making radical changes to how Canada was run during a decade of leadership by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party. In 2019, the Liberal government retains some of that ambition – particularly on the issues of climate change and reconciliation – but the current Throne Speech signals a narrower focus on socio-economic issues on which the Government can find common ground with the progressive opposition parties.
The Throne Speech labelled climate change as “the defining challenge of the time”, and the Government promised new, ambitious action on the issue. Expect the Liberals to stand by the Federal price on pollution, implement a Federal Clean Fuel Standard, and take new and strengthened measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the Speech emphasized a new policy target in that regard, which was announced by the Liberals during the Election: The Government will aim to achieve net-zero emissions for Canada by 2050.
The Government will continue its thematic focus on the middle class. The Throne Speech indicates that the first act of the new Parliament will be to enact a middle-class tax cut – specifically raising the basic personal tax deduction to $15,000 – that was promised by the Liberal Party during Election 2019. Steps to make life more affordable were also profiled, including reducing the cost of cell and wireless services by 25% and making before and after school care more affordable.
The Speech contained a commitment to ratifying the new NAFTA and stated that the Government will review Federal rules on the digital sector, which will have major implications for the modern economy and Canada’s global trade agreements.
The Throne Speech identifies reconciliation with First Nations peoples as a core priority of the Government. Amongst a suite of measures to realize that goal, the Government promised to develop legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the first year of the new Parliament and to continue working to eliminate all long-term drinking water advisories on reserves by 2021.
Beyond those central themes, the Throne Speech also highlighted pharmacare and gun control as issues that this Parliament will prioritize, and made commitments regarding Canada’s NATO and international aid obligations.
Conservative Official Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer said that he was “extremely disappointed” by the Speech and that his party would be moving an amendment to the document during the coming debate. Scheer argued that the Government did nothing to unite the country – a likely reference to the fact that natural resources development was not mentioned in the Speech. NDP Leader characterized the Speech as “full of empty promises and little action”. As mentioned, the Bloc Quebecois expressed support for the Speech.
The Prime Minister and Opposition Leaders had an opportunity to speak immediately after the Speech, and the Standing Orders provide for up to six days of debate before the confidence vote. It is expected, but not guaranteed, that the Throne Speech will pass that vote.
The House of Commons and Senate resumed their normal sitting schedules as of today. Parliament will sit until Friday, December 13th, at the latest, before adjourning for the holidays. During that time, the Government will introduce and attempt to pass the middle-class tax cut that was promised by the Liberals during Election 2019 and identified in the Throne Speech as the first order of business for the new Parliament.
The next major opportunity that the Government has to define its agenda is the publication of mandate letters for Ministers, which is expected to occur in the coming days. The letters will flesh out the policy priorities that were spoken to in the Throne Speech, giving more detail on what programs Ministers are expected to develop in order to deliver on the Government’s agenda.
In the new year, Parliament will reconvene on Monday, January 27th, at which point the legislative agenda will kick-off in earnest.
For stakeholders with issues that were specifically addressed in the Throne Speech, engagement at the political and departmental level will now be crucial to ensuring that legislation and policies are developed while accounting for your views. For stakeholders with issues that were absent from the Speech, now is the time to re-frame messaging in order to align with the Government’s language and priorities.