OTTAWA—The Liberal government’s throne speech called for solidarity, unity of purpose and swift “action” by parliament in the face of challenges new and old.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/11/2021 (185 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seated beside Governor General Mary Simon in this file photo. Tuesday’s throne speech will be read by Simon.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seated beside Governor General Mary Simon in this file photo. Tuesday’s throne speech will be read by Simon.

OTTAWA—The Liberal government’s throne speech called for solidarity, unity of purpose and swift “action” by parliament in the face of challenges new and old.

But if there was one throne speech surprise, it was the absence of any attempt by the minority government to reach across the aisle and extend an olive branch to any Opposition party.

Despite that, the speech read out by Gov. Gen. Mary Simon presented a Liberal agenda that was vague enough to earn early support from Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet who damned it with faint praise.

“I would have liked it to have a few things in the picnic basket but not a total absence of content,” said Blanchet. But he said, “you can’t vote against apple pie.”

With that tepid endorsement and the Bloc’s support for a Liberal bill to scale back pandemic benefits, the separatist party leader ensured the early survival of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s second minority government.

The speech contained no new measures, but called on all parties to work together to swiftly move to end the pandemic and build a “resilient economy” as Canada confronts climate change and seeks reconciliation with Indigenous people.

The introduction written by Simon appealed to parliamentarians to “collaborate with and listen to each other.” But after that, there was no evident effort on the Liberals’ part to find common ground with rivals.

Instead, in the speech written by the government, Simon outlined how the Trudeau minority would “continue” initiatives begun in the last parliament or move to enact promises in the Liberal party election platform and urged the other parties to help it deliver results.

Canadians, Simon said, “made a democratic choice” and “their direction is clear: not only do they want parliamentarians to work together to put this pandemic behind us, they also want bold, concrete solutions to meet the other challenges we face.”

A senior government official called the speech “the vision statement of what the big priorities are that Parliament needs to deliver results on ASAP.”

It left the NDP and Conservatives fuming, while stakeholders representing business or health groups, environmental advocates and Indigenous organizations welcomed restated good intentions but called for more detail.

The NDP condemned the Liberals’ determination to pare back benefit payments and the government’s failure to move on other key NDP demands: universal pharmacare, or an end to fossil fuel subsidies.

“It looks like a government that has run out of ideas and run out of steam,” New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters, saying the Liberals cannot rely on his party for support.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole vowed his party would voice opposition to the speech, saying it failed to offer a plan for the economy or deal with the inflation crisis that he says Trudeau helped cause. O’Toole also charged that the Liberals want to deny the energy sector the ability to ship “ethical oil,” and are offering a paternalistic approach to the provinces, and “straining national unity.”

Trudeau’s third term is starting off in reactive mode, just as his first two mandates were dominated by events that overwhelmed the government’s focus — the election of Donald Trump and a global pandemic. This time it is devastating B.C. floods that will cost hundreds of millions to mitigate and that threaten to further weaken supply chains already disrupted by COVID-19; gas pipeline protests reminiscent of the winter of 2020, when train blockades paralyzed passenger and rail shipping in Eastern Canada; and another protectionist U.S. president — Joe Biden and his “Buy American” agenda.

With all that, the stage seems set for the federal government to struggle to control its direction, let alone be proactive. However the prime minister has learned a key lesson from the pandemic response. And his takeaway — that government can do big things fast when it wants to — underlined everything in Tuesday’s Speech from the Throne.

Simon said, “Our Earth is in danger.” The speech promised to move “further, faster” on climate action, with pledges to cap and cut oil-and-gas sector emissions “while accelerating our path to a 100 per cent net-zero electricity future.” It restated campaign pledges to invest more in public transit, to mandate the sale of zero emissions vehicles, and to increase the price on carbon pollution “while putting more money back in Canadians’ pockets” saying that will “deliver a cleaner environment and a stronger economy.”

The government signalled that it may move more decisively on combating gun violence. Simon said the government will “now put forward measures like a mandatory buyback of banned assault-style weapons, and move forward with any province or territory that wants to ban handguns.”

Until now, the Liberals had said they would work with municipalities to impose handgun bans — an initiative that stalled because municipalities fall under the jurisdiction of the provinces.

The throne speech said Ottawa will work with provinces to improve health care and mental health and introduce measures to increase the supply and affordability of housing and child care. The latter two are initiatives the Liberals say will tackle “the rising cost of living.”

It promised faster action on recommendations in response to the inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls; a renewed anti-racism strategy; “new” organizations like a Canada Water Agency; and the creation of strategies like a “national adaptation strategy.”

Notably, there was no mention of the sexual misconduct crisis in the Canadian Armed Forces — in fact, no mention of Canada’s military at all, other than a pledge that “fighting systemic racism, sexism, discrimination, misconduct, and abuse, including in our core institutions, will remain a key priority.”

With files from Alex Ballingall

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc