The Liberal government unveiled
a Throne Speech confirming its
plans to deliver on election promises, with a focus on tax cuts, infrastructure
spending, the environment and aboriginal issues.
The speech also signals that new spending in these areas could mean scaling
back federal plans on defence spending.
As expected, the speech repeats the pledges made by the Liberals during the election campaign and does not make any major new announcements. Its contents will be scrutinized, however, in terms of the priority given to some promises, while other election pledges are not specifically mentioned. For instance, the speech does not repeat the campaign pledge to keep the size of annual deficits below $10-billion a year.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- The highlights
- What the opposition said
- The speech by the numbers
- The scene in Ottawa
- Can they afford all this?
- What happens next?
- Liberal promises: Compare and contrast
Tax cuts: One of the first acts of the new government will be income tax changes that will cut the tax rate on income earned between $44,701 and $89,401 to 20.5 per cent from 22 per cent. The government will also introduce a new tax rate of 33 per cent on income earned above $200,000, representing the top 1 per cent of income.
Benefits: The government says it will move ahead with plans to "enhance" the Canada Pension Plan, which will involve negotiations with the provinces. The provinces and territories will also be involved in plans to develop a new Health Accord. The Liberals did not specify during the campaign how much more they would be willing to add to federal health transfers. The speech repeats the Liberal plan to reform Canada's Employment Insurance system, "to make sure that it best serves both the Canadian economy and all Canadians who need it."
Infrastructure: The government is restating its pledge to "make significant new investments" in public transit, green infrastructure and social infrastructure.
Indigenous people: The government pledges to renew, on "nation-to-nation" terms, the relationship between Canada and indigenous peoples. Among other measures, this will include implementing the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and launching an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginals and girls.
Defence spending: Repeating language from the Liberal election platform, the speech suggests the new government may not move ahead with all of the military purchases planned under the Conservatives. "To keep Canadians safe and be ready to respond when needed, the government will launch an open and transparent process to review existing defence capabilities, and will invest in building a leaner, more agile, better-equipped military," the government states.
Justice: Friday's speech also includes pledges to bring in legislation that will support survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault as well as new laws "that will get handguns and assault weapons off our streets; and that will legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana."
Environment: The government devotes an entire page to environmental issues in the speech, pledging to work with the provinces on pricing carbon emissions. "To encourage economic growth, the government will make strategic investments clean technology, provide more support for companies seeking to export those technologies and lead by example in their use," the government states in the speech. There is also a pledge to introduce new environmental assessment processes and to make decisions based on scientific evidence as well as consultation with the public and indigenous peoples.
Open government: "The government is committed to open and transparent government," according to the speech. "The trust Canadians have in public intuitions – including Parliament – has, at times, been compromised. By working with greater openness and transparency, Parliament can restore it." Specific measures promised in the speech include reforming Canada's electoral system so that 2015 is the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post system. The government is also promising a new system to appoint Senators and more open debates and free votes in the House of Commons. The government is also pledging not to use government ads for partisan purposes, nor will it interfere with the work of parliamentary officers or use prorogation or omnibus legislation to avoid public scrutiny.
WHAT THE OPPOSITION SAID
Conservatives: Interim leader Rona Ambrose said the Throne Speech represents a move toward big government and lacks an economic focus. She also expressed concern that there was no mention in the speech of the fight against Islamic State terrorists. "What's missing in the Speech from the Throne is job creation, economy, role of the private sector, free trade, agriculture, forestry, energy sector, small businesses. None of that is mentioned in the Speech From the Throne, so we are very concerned about that," she said.
NDP: Leader Tom Mulcair said he was happy to see a pledge not to abuse omnibus bills in Parliament, nor will it use government advertising for partisan purposes. He also said he was "thrilled" to see that establishing a nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Métis will be a priority. However, he expressed concern at the lack of attention given to issues like child care, reforming the controversial Bill C-51 on national security and the fact that the Liberal pledge to keep the qualifying age for Old Age Security at 65 was not mentioned. "Frankly I was shocked that there's not a single reference to child care in the whole Throne Speech," he said.
THRONE SPEECH BY THE NUMBERS
- Page length: Eight
- Word count: 1,652
- Word count of Pierre Trudeau’s first Throne Speech on Sept. 12, 1968: 2,947
THE SCENE IN OTTAWA
Canadian flags lined the drive in front of the Peace Tower and a red carpet guided dignitaries to the entrance of Parliament's Centre Block. Inside, Governor-General David Johnston delivered the government's speech in the Senate chamber.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, sporting a white ribbon, arrived with his wife, Sophie Grégoire.
Former prime ministers Jean Chrétien, John Turner and Joe Clark were among the dignitaries in attendance.
A page standing at the back of the room with the MPs was wobbling on her feet. People in the gallery jumped to assist her before she fell down and MPs assisted her out into the lobby.
CAN THEY AFFORD ALL THIS?
A clear challenge facing the Liberals is that federal revenues over the coming four years likely won't be strong enough to fund the promises outlined in the party platform and the Throne Speech.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has warned that the new government's revenue forecasts are optimistic, while some economists say the Liberals have overestimated the amount of revenue that will come from the new tax hike on income earned above $200,000.
CIBC World Markets Chief Economist Avery Shenfeld said Friday that the government should consider breaking its pledge to keep annual deficits below $10-billion over the next two years. He noted that while the Throne Speech provides a general outline, the "real meat" of government decisions will come later with the 2016 federal budget.
SO WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
The new Parliament faces its first Question Period on Monday. The Conservatives will get one opposition day next week. Then the House will rise by Friday and not return until Jan. 25.
HOLDING THE LIBERALS TO THEIR PROMISES
With reports from Chris Hannay and Evan Annett