After delaying the return of Parliament, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has used a Speech from the Throne to kick off a new session.
The speech Wednesday, delivered by Governor-General David Johnston, marks the return of MPs and senators from a summer break and is meant to lay out the Harper government’s agenda at the halfway mark between elections. The speech has been billed as a roadmap that will carry the government through the next two years.
1. Cyberbullying is on the agenda, and we’re getting a sexting law
Citing the cases of Amanda Todd, Rehtaeh Parsons and others, the government will “introduce legislation giving police and prosecutors new tools to effectively address cyberbullying that involves criminal invasion of privacy, intimidation and personal abuse.” Spreading photos by text or online could become illegal – a new law will ban the “non-consensual distribution of intimate images.”
2. You won’t have to order bundled cable TV
The speech included a nod to all those frustrated by the requirement to order dozens or hundreds of channels just to get the ones you want. “Our government believes Canadian families should be able to choose the combination of television channels they want. It will require channels to be unbundled while protecting Canadian jobs,” the speech said.
3. Your roaming charges will drop
The speech said the government will “take steps to reduce roaming costs and networks within Canada,” and said wireless rates have fallen nearly 20 per cent since 2008. It didn’t say how that would be done, but noted Canadians pay some of the developed world’s highest phone bills. “As families know – especially families with teenagers – the monthly bills add up,” the Governor-General said in the speech.
4. Victims of crime are getting their own bill of rights
The government will table the bill of rights “to restore victims to their rightful place at the heart of our justice system,” saying that “for too long, the voices of victims have been silenced while the system coddled criminals.”
5. Deficits will be illegal
The government will bring in a balanced budget law, one that will require “balanced budgets during normal economic times, and concrete timelines for returning to balance in the event of an economic crisis,” the speech says. The government also renewed a pledge to balance the budget by 2015, and return the debt-to-GDP ratio to pre-recession levels by 2017. Other provinces have anti-deficit laws on the books, but critics note that they’re frequently broken.
6. Canada doesn’t want another XL Foods
The government pledged to “strengthen food inspection regimes,” but didn’t say how it would.
7. Killing a police dog will be a crime
The government said it “recognizes the daily risks taken by police officers and their service animals. It will bring forward Quanto’s law in honour of them.” This is an apparent reference to Quanto, the Edmonton Police dog killed this month.
8. Your banking fees could drop
The government pledged to expand “no-cost basic banking services” and crack down on predatory payday loan lenders.
9. It’s not an inquiry, but it’s something
The government said it would “renew its efforts to address the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.” Many have called for an inquiry – the latest being a UN official following a nine-day visit to Canada.
10. Railways will carry more insurance
In the aftermath of Lac-Megantic, questions were raised about the level of insurance railways must carry. That’s about to change. “Railway companies must be able to bear the cost of their actions. Our government will require shippers and railways to carry additional insurance so they are held accountable,” the speech said. The government will also “take targeted action” to increase safety measures governing the transport of dangerous goods.
11. Alberta’s floods proved too expensive for the status quo
After devastating flooding hit southern Alberta, including the Prime Minister’s home city of Calgary, the government will “develop a National Disaster Mitigation Program” to reduce the impact of natural disasters. Under the current system, the government is on the hook for 90 per cent of the costs of the disaster – potentially billions of dollars. The speech also cited the Lac-Megantic derailment in underscoring the need for a disaster strategy.
12. Malala Yousafzai will be a Canadian
The girls’ education advocate and survivor of a Taliban assassination attempt will be given honourary citizenship, and had already confirmed the move through her Twitter account. In the speech, the Governor-General called her a “remarkable young woman” who “faced down evil and oppression and now speaks boldly for those who are silenced.”
13. Nothing new on the Senate - yet
Near the very end of the lengthy speech, which was given in the Senate chamber, the government addressed the elephant in the room in the aftermath of a series of Senate spending controversies. “The government continues to believe the status quo in the Senate of Canada is unacceptable. The Senate must be reformed or, as with its provincial counterparts, vanish,” the speech said, echoing a line used regularly by Conservatives. The government will wait for the Supreme Court’s ruling on what powers it has for Senate reform or abolition.
14. Voting laws are changing, but we don’t know how
Amid the robocall scandal and battles a handful of Conservative MPs had or are having with Elections Canada, the government is changing “Canada’s elections laws to uphold the integrity of our voting system.” No details were provided, other than the changes will be in effect by 2015, the year of the next federal election.
15. We’re close on an EU Trade deal
A key focus of the Harper government, the trade deal is within reach. Canada ‘will soon complete negotiations” on a deal, which it estimated could create 80,000 new jobs.
16. Beware, pipelines – standards are going up
Canada will set higher “safety standards” for companies “operating pipelines,” including increasing required liability insurance. That could be seen as an effort to address concerns over potential oil spills. The government will also create “a world-class tanker safety system in Canada,” the speech said.
17. Polluters will pay! But not through a carbon tax
After taking a shot at the notion of a “carbon tax” in a morning speech to his caucus, Mr. Harper’s government stressed that resource development “must respect the environment.” That means it will “enshrine the polluter-pay system into law,” but it’s unclear what that will mean. The government has long pledged rules on what emissions the energy sector can churn out, and they’ve been long-delayed. The Throne Speech renewed the pledge anyhow, saying it will work with provinces “to reduce emissions from the oil and gas sectors while ensuring Canadian companies remain competitive.”
18. We want to find Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition
Saying “the story of the North is the story of Canada,” the government pledged “renewed determination and an expanded team of partners to discover the fate of Sir John Franklin’s lost Arctic expedition.”
19. Red tape is still bad
The government will “enshrine” the “one-for-one” rule in a new law. That means that one regulation will be dropped for every new one added. The Throne Speech also pledged to “cut additional red tape” at the Canada Revenue Agency – for businesses, in particular.
20. It’s never too early to plan a birthday party
The government pledged a series of initiatives to mark Canada’s looming 150th birthday in 2017. Most of the options laid out are militaristic – including rededicating the National War Memorial and strengthening cadet and Junior Ranger programs – but Ottawa also pledged to “support community projects, local celebrations and other initiatives to commemorate this historic occasion.”
21. You can drive to the Arctic Ocean
The government announced its commitment to “completing the Dempster Highway to the Arctic Ocean, linking Canada from sea to sea to sea.” That means extending the highway from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories.
22. The government really, really wants you to take up a trade
The government renewed its commitment to the Canada Job Grant, which has raised the ire of provinces who say it could download costs and trump existing job training programs. But the job grant was one of a series of employment measures in the speech, which said “there are too many people without jobs and too many jobs without people.”
23. Oops, never mind - your flight can still be oversold, for now
Industry Minister James Moore had suggested the government is eyeing new rules regulating whether an airline can overbook a flight, and turn away passengers if too many show up. But the Throne Speech made no mention of the changes.
24. Government currently has a crazy e-mail system
Apparently, in a bid to make government more efficient, Canada will consolidate its 63 different e-mail systems into one. That was one pledge in a section outlining moves to reduce “the size and cost of government.”
25. You may soon legally be able to bring booze and beer between provinces
The Throne Speech announced a plan to amend the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act so that beer and spirits can be carried across provincial boundaries “for their own use.” Last year, the Tories repealed a law that banned people from bringing wine across provincial borders, but some provinces have been slow to adapt to the change – suggesting federal changes to beer and liquor rules may not be enough. Earlier this year, B.C. premier Christy Clark personally carted B.C. wine to a premiers’ meeting in Ontario in a bid to break down interprovincial trade barriers.
26. There was no mention of climate change
The Throne Speech contained a vague pledge to “improve air quality nationwide,” introduce oil and gas emissions regulations and make polluters “pay,” but didn’t say anything about how Canada would achieve its emissions reduction targets, which it is current not on pace to do. A lengthy section on the North also made no mention of climate change.