Nothing to see here, folks. Well. Anyway, nothing surprising. While Speeches from the Throne are sometimes used to announce major new initiatives, that was not the case on Tuesday as the Liberals anticipated their priorities for the new Parliament.
Instead, we saw the repetition of promises from a couple of months ago and statements of values that are very well understood as liberal pillars. Even to the point that the mocked phrase “the middle class and the people who work hard to join it” deserved mention.
It is a cautious approach that reflects the situation of minorities in Parliament and seems to lay the groundwork for easy cooperation with the new Democrats in the House.
Here are some key takeaways.
The speech sounds like a liberal campaign platform
At just over 2,700 words, this short speech on the throne largely resembles what the Liberals promised in the September election campaign. There are seven sections on health, economics, climate, public safety, diversity, reconciliation, and foreign policy.
The pandemic is still advertised as a “number one priority,” but the only new promise there is a vague claim that it will “expand or add support for industries that continue to struggle.”
Highlights of the liberal housing plan, including a Housing Accelerator Fund and a Rent-to-Own program, earn commendations.
On the climate, although urgent language is used, the real policies proposed here are those of the campaign: limits on greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector; a “100% net zero electricity future”; zero-emission vehicle mandates and the creation of a Canadian Water Agency and a National Adaptation Strategy.
There is a promise to go ahead with the mandatory buyback of prohibited assault-style weapons, to “move forward with any province or territory that wants to ban firearms” and to continue with “a renewed anti-racism strategy.”
And, of course, the Liberals are continuing their efforts to negotiate child care agreements with the remaining provinces and territories that have not signed (Ontario, New Brunswick, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories).
Somebody needs a dance partner
There’s a bit of creative framing near the beginning of Tuesday’s Speech from the Throne. “Canadians made a democratic decision,” it reads, alluding to a federal election that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called apparently to secure a majority, but from which the ruling liberals emerged with more or less the same mandate they already had. “Their direction is clear: they not only want parliamentarians to work together to put this pandemic behind us, but they also want bold and concrete solutions to meet the other challenges we face.”
There is much debate as to whether the Liberals really got a “clear” direction from the minority of Canadians who reluctantly voted for them to return to power.
What is clear, and unsurprising, is that liberals are putting forward a vision that Jagmeet Singh and his NDP group can broadly support as the government seeks voting partners in the House of Commons. There seems to be no poison pill here to prevent their collaboration. Nor does there appear to be any attempt to approach the Conservative Party or seek its support.
Legislation will pick up where it left off
In a speech that is supposedly about Parliament’s agenda, the word “legislation” is only said once, in the context of the reintroduction of the controversial bill C-10, a renewal of the Broadcasting Law that, according to the government , “would ensure that the web giants pay their fair share for the creation and promotion of Canadian content.”
The speech also promises to reintroduce a Law for the Substantive Equality of French and English, and to “complete” the ban on conversion therapy, legislation that was still on the way in the Senate when the elections were called.
Liberals still do not promise to put any specific new bills on the table, although many of their promises will require legislative changes.
The promises of reconciliation are the same. The messenger is not.
There are no new promises here about “reconciliation,” a word that appears eight times in the speech. And there is nothing particularly novel about the way the government’s promises to indigenous peoples are written.
But the same promises we’ve heard this government keep for many years – end boil water warnings, ensure “equitable compensation” for those harmed in child service programs, implement the United Nations Declaration on Children. Indigenous Peoples’ Rights – seem to carry more symbolic weight in this Speech from the Throne.
Coming from Canada’s first indigenous governor general, an opening land survey sounds less routine. It is not a “symbolic statement,” Simon says in the speech. “It is our true story. In each of your constituencies ”—after all, this is a speech for parliamentarians—“ I encourage you to seek the truth and learn about the realities experienced in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities ”.
The mention of the victims of the residential school system comes even before talking about climate change or the pandemic. The preamble comes with a call to “turn our guilt into action.”
Of course, Simon being the messenger does not necessarily impact the government’s ability to do better in this file. But it could increase the pressure.
Foreign policy is still an afterthought
We would not expect a Speech from the Throne to contain detailed foreign policy priorities. But it seems to us a weak sauce that the last section of the speech is dedicated to the “fight for a safe, just and equitable world”, but that it contains so little substance.
There is a line that warns of “increasing authoritarianism and competition between the great powers,” but after a tense Three Friends Summit, the United States and Mexico are not mentioned. China is not mentioned. We are left to guess what the speech is trying to say when it assures that Canadians will be protected from “threats to our communities, our society and our democracy.”
Aside from the existing priority of increasing foreign aid budgets, the track record support for “rules-based trade” and “strong and resilient” supply chains and the promise to dedicate “deliberate efforts” to deepening partnerships between the Indo-Pacific and the Arctic, there is a problem in this the government’s view of Canada’s position in the world. There is not much for the new Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly to continue.