OTTAWA — After an election that brought little change to the House of Commons, the Trudeau government is doubling down on an agenda that had little to offer the Prairies.
"As we move forward on the economy of the future, no worker or region will be left behind," Gov. Gen. Mary Simon said in the Senate chamber Tuesday, as she read from the Trudeau government’s throne speech.
The speech, which outlines the legislative agenda, pledged a greener, more resilient country, but spoke to issues in the three largest cities who delivered the Liberals their second minority government.
Those issues included helping provinces implement a handgun ban if they wish, more protections for the French language in Quebec, and a subsidy for cities that loosen zoning rules that prevent building more housing stock.
The speech immediately garnered tepid support from the Bloc Québécois, which is enough to get it passed in the Commons.
Conservative deputy leader Candice Bergen was disappointed the speech didn’t even mention agriculture, after a summer of drought, or how the oil sector fits into a clean energy transition.
"We've seen the West, and even Manitobans, been ignored largely by this government," said the MP for Portage—Lisgar. "If this is the government's priorities, it's not looking good for us."
The speech reiterates a commitment from two years ago to create the Canada Water Agency, which would revive a Regina institution that co-ordinates irrigation and provincial flood-risk management.
The Liberals also restated their pledge to cap oil and gas sector emissions, but unlike the speech a year ago, they made no mention of how to transition energy workers or what role provinces with hydroelectric supply will play.
"They have basically washed their hands of the West," said Bergen.
She noted Trudeau’s pledge to facilitate handgun bans doesn’t respond to what Winnipeg police say is needed to curb crime. "He pits one region against another; he pits rural against urban."
Tuesday's speech pledged to again increase the Canada Child Benefit "to keep up with the cost of living," which should help Manitoba families, who disproportionately get low-income top-ups on their baby bonus cheques.
And yet the speech made no mention of thousands of Canadians facing losing those top-ups due to earlier COVID-19 pandemic benefits raising their incomes, nor the clawback of seniors' guaranteed income supplement, noted NDP MP Daniel Blaikie.
"It's going to hang a lot of people out to dry," he said.
The Liberals promised more action on child care and housing as a response to mounting concerns about inflation, but Blaikie said the lack of detail makes those pledges hard to believe.
"This is a really light document; it doesn't actually address a lot of the big challenges that we're facing as a country," said Blaikie (Elmwood—Transcona).
"I don't think there is any regional content in this speech from the throne… regional interests are quite concrete and specific."
On health care, the speech mentioned the need to deal with "delayed procedures" under COVID-19 and "care in rural communities" but avoided addressing a unanimous call by premiers to boost health-care transfers — which Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson has said is her top federal priority.
The government also reiterated its August commitment to appoint a "special interlocutor to further advance justice on residential schools."
That didn’t impress the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. It said Ottawa should have scrapped its ongoing challenge of an order to compensate families placed into an underfunded foster care system or outlined more specifics on stopping the factors that cause Indigenous women to go missing.
Despite underwhelming response from the opposition, Simon urged MPs and senators to work together.
The Governor General said collaboration can move Canadians past guilt around the discovery of burial sites, trauma from natural disasters, and a harrowing pandemic.
"The decade got off to an incredibly difficult start, but this is the time to rebuild."