- The Trudeau government tabled a bill on Thursday to extend its emergency spending powers to Dec. 30 as Parliament returned to full activity for the first time in six months. The bill would also raise the new Canada Recovery Benefit by $100 a week, an apparent response to demands by the NDP, one of the parties the Liberals may need to pass the Throne Speech they introduced a day earlier.
- Combatting COVID-19 will be Ottawa’s “priority number one” and the Liberals will work with provinces on national standards for long-term care facilities, and aim to amend the Criminal Code to penalize homes that neglect seniors in their care, according to the Throne Speech that Governor-General Julie Payette read in Ottawa on Wednesday. Mr. Trudeau underscored the pandemic’s dangers in a national TV address later that night.
- Many union leaders and businesses were cautiously supportive of the Throne Speech’s promise to extend the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy again. Other parts of the economic plan include a campaign to create one million jobs and tax breaks and incentives for green technology development.
Key themes from the speech
Containing COVID-19: The novel coronavirus is a “common insidious enemy” to the world and defeating it is “priority number one” for Canada’s government, the speech says. New proposals include a Testing Assistance Response Team to identify where surges in demand for tests must be met, and support provinces to increase the number and speed of tests. The Throne Speech encourages more provinces to adopt the federally developed COVID Alert app, currently in use in four provinces. It also reiterates the Liberals' support for health-care reforms such as universal pharmacare.
Protecting seniors: Canada’s elderly, and particularly residents of seniors' homes, have made up the largest share of the COVID-19 deaths so far, highlighting systemic problems much older than COVID-19. The government promises to work with provinces on nationwide standards for long-term care and with Parliament on Criminal Code changes that would “explicitly penalize those who neglect seniors under their care, putting them in danger.”
Deficit: The speech acknowledges that this summer’s emergency relief came at “huge costs” to the nation’s finances, but says the long-term deficit damage would have been worse if less was done. “This is not the time for austerity,” it says. The government says it will update its economic response plan in the fall, which will “make clear that the strength of the middle class, and the wellbeing of all Canadians, remain Canada’s key measures of success.”
Jobs: The plan would extend the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy to next summer, giving businesses shaken by the pandemic a way to keep employees on the payroll. The government also aims to create more than a million jobs through hiring and retention incentives for employers, an expansion to the Canada Emergency Business Account and further support for hard-hit industries like tourism and the performing arts. An Action Plan for Women in the Economy would encourage women, who have been worse off in the current recession, to get back into the work force. And for the millions of unemployed Canadians, “the EI system will become the sole delivery mechanism for employment benefits” over the coming months as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit is phased out.
Climate: In last fall’s election, the Liberals pledged measures to reduce Canada’s greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The Throne Speech plan would set that goal into legislation and make the environment a “cornerstone” of the pandemic recovery. The government promises thousands of jobs through energy-efficient building retrofits and upgrades to infrastructure that would guard against disasters. Corporate taxes would be cut in half for companies specializing in zero-emissions products, and a new fund would also stimulate their development to make Canada “the most competitive jurisdiction in the world for clean technology companies.”
Policing: After a summer of protests against police brutality and anti-Black racism, the Mounties and other forces across the country have faced increased public scrutiny. The Throne Speech promised to address systemic racism and to move forward on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, including a pledge to reform the RCMP and to modernize training for police and law enforcement.
Where the opposition stands
Not all party leaders were able to make it in person to Wednesday’s ceremony: The Conservatives' Erin O’Toole and Yves-François Blanchet of the Bloc Québécois were in self-isolation at home after testing positive for COVID-19 the week before. After Mr. Trudeau’s TV address, they and Jagmeet Singh of the NDP weighed in on the government’s plans, and their parties will have more to say in the House as MPs debate the speech. Here is where they stand so far:
- NDP: Mr. Singh, the most likely of the three leaders to support Mr. Trudeau, says he wants legislation to give workers paid sick leave and guarantee an extension of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which the Liberals plan to phase out and replace with an expanded EI system.
- Bloc: Mr. Blanchet says his party won’t consider supporting the speech unless Mr. Trudeau agrees to at least $28-billion in health transfers to the provinces, no strings attached. He gave Mr. Trudeau a one-week ultimatum to agree.
- Conservatives: Mr. O’Toole rejected the speech categorically and said the Conservatives would not support it.
What happens now?
Throne Speeches must eventually go before the House for a vote, though that might not be for a few weeks. If it passes, the Liberals' minority government will have the breathing room it needs to implement its plan; but if the government loses, Parliament is dissolved and a new election is called. That would then give Elections Canada a daunting challenge: Organizing safe nationwide voting that keeps Canadians safe from COVID-19.
Opinion and analysis
Compiled by Globe staff
With reports from Bill Curry, Kristy Kirkup, Marieke Walsh and The Canadian Press
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