Governor General Mary Simon stole the show.
It was not just his purple hair, his well-practiced French or the Inuktitut that he spoke, first in a parliamentarian, as he read the speech from the throne.
But it has to do with that label: “first.” He is, in particular, the first indigenous person appointed to represent the Queen in Canada. It’s a role Simon has decided he will use to make a call to action, and on Tuesday he told the country what he had in mind.
“We must turn the guilt that we carry into action,” he said. He urged parliamentarians to learn more about the realities experienced by First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities in their constituencies, and everyone to embark on a “lifelong journey of healing, respect and understanding.”
“Reconciliation,” he said, “is not a one-time act, nor does it have an end date.”
Simon also urged action on climate change. In case his point was not understood, he repeated it three times, once in each language. “Our planet is in danger,” he said in French. “Time is running out”.
While Simon and the Liberals share the same stated goals on climate and reconciliation, his words had a more memorable impact than the Liberals’ long list of priorities, pulled from their September election platform.
The speech from the throne is a unique opportunity for governors general to talk about the kind of country they want to see. In 2020, for example, Julie Payette took the opportunity to convey a greater sense of urgency to the government’s stated priorities.
Back then, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had argued that the extension was necessary to hit the reset button and address the growing inequality gap that the pandemic had exposed.
Payette put it bluntly, speaking of “extreme weather, wildfires, poverty, conflict, discrimination and inequalities.” He called on Canadian political leaders to help address the shared difficulties facing our planet. He spoke of the work necessary to “overcome a pandemic”, of the suffering that so many had experienced, of mourning for the deceased. She spoke of the immense debt we owe to those who serve on the front lines, and told us to “trust science” to help fight COVID-19.
Despite the controversies surrounding her position and her failures as governor general, that urgency and clarity stand the test of time. The story will no doubt conclude the same for Simon.
Simon provided a nice jolt of freshness. During the last three speeches to the throne, in 2019, 2020 and now 2021, liberals have outlined the same wishes to help the middle class and fight poverty, create jobs and clean growth, tackle climate change, make progress. on gender equality and reconciliation, fighting discrimination and celebrating our two official languages.
Still, the agenda items in Tuesday’s speech, from strengthening the health care system to limiting emissions from the oil sands, increasing immigration, and following up on a gun buyback program of style. Assault cards are useful for Canadians to listen to, especially since the government has yet to release the mandate letters that cabinet ministers should have received four weeks ago.
Amid the 3,000-word speech, there were also notable omissions. Clear olive branches are not offered to opposition parties. There is no mention of employment insurance reform, not even pharmaceutical assistance. In 2020, that word made its way into the throne speech. In 2019, unlike Tuesday, liberals even noted that “ideas like universal dental care are worth exploring.”
It’s no wonder NDP leader Jagmeet Singh wasn’t a happy camper.
But as Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet pointed out, the speech was so vague that there is little to oppose.
As Simon pressured MPs to “collaborate” and “listen to each other,” his words seemed to leave no mark on the Conservative leader.
Erin O’Toole responded in an aggressive tone, telling Canadians that “liberal ideology is fueling divisions” and promising that conservatives would be the “voice of working Canadians.”
But with Blanchet arguing that the speech did not go far enough to stop oil and gas development and O’Toole responded that it did not go far enough in secondary In oil and gas development, it appears that the Liberals have once again reached the Goldilocks compromise position.
The question now is not whether the liberal government will be defeated, it will not.
The real question for the Grits is whether they can just stop talking about their plans and start carrying them out. Everyone, including Simon, is watching.
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