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politics briefing

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his son Xavier watch fireworks during the annual Christmas Lights Across Canada ceremony on Parliament Hill on Dec. 2, 2015.CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

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POLITICS BRIEFING

By John Ibbitson (@JohnIbbitson)

It used to be that the Speech from the Throne of a newly-elected government was a big deal. But with the Trudeau government already active on two enormous files – climate change and Syrian refugees – the rest of the Liberal agenda has been relegated to back burner status. If nothing else, though, the Throne Speech will remind us of the many items still on this government's to-do list.

There is, for example, a new health accord. The Conservatives were committed to increasing health-care transfers by 3 per cent or the nominal rate of growth, whichever was higher. The premiers, of course, want more. Are the Liberals prepared to return to the 6 per cent annual increases that Paul Martin agreed to when he was prime minister? How much will that cost? Where will the money come from?

The Liberals have also promised to implement every recommendation in the Truth and Reconciliation Report. How much will that cost? Where will the money come from?

The Liberals are committed to getting Ottawa back into social housing, by building new subsidized units and refurbishing old ones. How much will that cost? Where will the money come from?

The Liberals are committing to increasing financial support for low-income students. No need to repeat the obvious questions.

Home care, mental health care, prescription drugs, a child-care benefit, a seniors benefit, a 400 per cent increase in funding for public transit, a $6-billion increase over four years in green infrastructure spending, new job training programs, looser Employment Insurance requirements – not to mention defence spending on icebreakers, supply ships, arctic and offshore patrol ships, surface combatants, and a replacement for the CF-18.

Put it all together, as the Throne Speech is supposed to do, and the costs seems staggering.

The Liberal government is also committed to keeping deficits no higher than $10-billion in each of the next two fiscal years, with a balanced budget by year four. But Finance Minister Bill Morneau refused to repeat that pledge when questioned by reporters after caucus on Wednesday.

That seems odd.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS MORNING

By Chris Hannay (@channay)

> The House of Commons will elect a Speaker today.

> Most Syrian refugees aren't as eager to move to Canada as we might have thought.

> The Liberals are overestimating how much money they'll get by raising taxes on high-income earners, according to a report by the C.D. Howe Institute, a think tank that Finance Minister Bill Morneau used to be part of.

> The Liberals are set to unveil today specifically how they will reform the Senate. (Speaking of that…) And the Senate Liberals are still awaiting their marching orders.

> And Ontario residents have paid more than $37-billion over market price over eight years for their electricity, the province's auditor-general says, in a blow to the provincial Liberals.

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WHAT EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT

"Why is Ontario's electricity so costly? Because the Ontario government has for the past decade been running the province's power sector with something approaching the skill of Soviet commissars. It has politicized decision-making, taking it out of the hands of independent experts. It deliberately broke the system, creating huge new costs without benefits. And it doesn't seem to know how to fix it, or want to."

The Globe editorial board on the auditor-general's report.

Jeffrey Simpson (Globe and Mail): "For more than two decades, under Liberal and Conservative governments, Canadians have led the world in offering plans to lower greenhouse gas emissions that did not work, commitments that were not kept and promises that were not honoured." (for subscribers)

Adam Radwanski (Globe and Mail): "The fortunate thing for Justin Trudeau is that being an everyman has never exactly been a big part of his appeal." (for subscribers)

Chantal Hebert (Toronto Star): "It's really a beta version of his government that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is introducing to the House of Commons this week."

Susan Delacourt (iPolitics): "[The New Democrats] face a more pressing question, however, as Parliament resumes in the short term: What is the point of the NDP in the Commons?"

This newsletter is produced by Chris Hannay and Steve Proceviat.

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