Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will address Canadians in a national broadcast Wednesday evening, just hours after his government is scheduled to unveil its updated policy agenda in a Speech from the Throne.
The rare national address was announced as Canada’s senior public health officials warned Tuesday that a surge in COVID-19 cases is coming unless people reduce their contacts with others.
The evening address will include a summary of the government’s plans in the Throne Speech to fight the virus and economically recover, Mr. Trudeau’s spokeswoman said. “The Prime Minister will address Canadians directly on the urgency of fighting COVID-19 as we face down the prospect of a second wave of the virus,” Ann-Clara Vaillancourt said.
Several national broadcasters confirmed Tuesday that they intend to carry the address live at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Mr. Trudeau is expected to speak for 15 minutes, followed by a combined 15 minutes for the opposition parties. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet are both in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. Mr. O’Toole’s office said it is reviewing the information before deciding how the party will use its televised time.
Mr. Trudeau’s decision to speak to Canadians so soon after the Throne Speech will likely divert public attention from Governor-General Julie Payette, who is responsible for reading the speech. Ms. Payette is facing allegations of workplace harassment that have led to an external review.
Several government sources told The Globe on Tuesday that the Prime Minister’s televised message will primarily focus on the contents of the Throne Speech and the need for the public to follow health advice. The Globe is not identifying the sources, as they were not authorized to comment publicly on the matter.
Global News vice-president Kenton Boston said the network received assurances from the government that Mr. Trudeau is not planning a political address.
“We do not provide airtime for political broadcasts,” he said in an e-mail to The Globe. “When approached, we demanded and received assurances that the PM’s request was based on urgent national importance to the Canadian public and was not a political address.”
One senior government official has told The Globe that the Throne Speech will cover three main themes: the immediate need for dealing with the pandemic in areas such as public health, support programs for Canadians who have lost income from the pandemic, and the longer-term economic recovery. The third section is expected to include a focus on climate change. The official also said the government is prepared to spend whatever is necessary to support the economy, but that the focus is on short-term spending that can be phased out as the pandemic eases.
The government’s messaging on its priorities has shifted since Mr. Trudeau announced in August that a new Throne Speech was coming. He initially promised an “ambitious plan” with a heavy climate change focus, but he and his ministers adjusted the emphasis back to the pandemic as public health officials warned of a second wave of COVID-19.
That has raised concerns from some groups that the government’s pledge to exceed Canada’s 2030 emissions-reduction targets could be sidelined. In an interview with The Globe this week, Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson sought to reassure Canadians that the Liberals' 2019 election promise is still a priority.
“Without that commitment I’m not sure that I would be in politics in the first place,” Mr. Wilkinson said.
In recent days, cabinet ministers have highlighted ways the government plans to tie its climate policies to the economic recovery. At the top of that list are investments in home-energy retrofits, zero-emissions vehicles and clean energy. All of those items were also pledged in last year’s Throne Speech.
The Prime Minister spoke Monday with Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and they discussed the recent request by premiers for a major increase in federal transfers for health and infrastructure. Mr. Pallister said he raised specific infrastructure projects that top his wish list, including flood mitigation and water treatment, as well as the need for Ottawa and the provinces to resolve interprovincial trade barriers.
“The message I got was really good on infrastructure, really good on interprovincial trade, and I’ll wait and see how it goes on health care,” Mr. Pallister told The Globe.
Mr. Pallister said increased federal transfers are needed because provincial governments are struggling with rising health costs and higher debt levels.
To maintain the confidence of the House of Commons, the minority Liberals need the support of at least one of the three largest opposition parties for the Throne Speech. All three parties reiterated their demands Tuesday.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters his party will support the Throne Speech if it pledges to increase income benefits for unemployed Canadians and supports paid sick leave. The Bloc called for increased health transfers to the provinces, new funding for seniors and support for the supply managed agriculture sector.
Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen said her party’s main concern is that it looks like the Liberals are planning to delay the restart of parliamentary committees, including those that were investigating the government’s relationship with WE Charity when Mr. Trudeau prorogued Parliament and shut down that work.
The federal government has yet to release a budget for 2020. It released a “fiscal snapshot” in July that said the federal deficit was projected to reach $343.2-billion. Ottawa has since made additional large spending announcements.
The unprecedented federal spending received a vote of confidence Tuesday from DBRS Morningstar, an international rating agency, which confirmed its AAA rating for Canada even as the federal debt climbs above the $1-trillion mark.
While government debt levels will be substantially higher after the pandemic, the agency said this can be managed.
Fitch Ratings was an outlier among rating agencies when it announced it was downgrading Canada’s triple-A credit rating to double-A-plus in light of growing federal deficits. Canada’s credit rating continues to be listed as triple-A by S&P and Moody’s.
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