The Speech from the Throne delivered a stark warning about the planet’s future as Governor-General Mary Simon opened the 44th Parliament, describing a world “in danger” from climate change and urging legislators to turn “talk into action.”
Ms. Simon outlined the minority Liberal government’s plans in the Senate on Tuesday, which emphasized that limiting the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause climate change and adapting to the effects that warming temperatures have already brought are priorities.
The speech contained no new promises from the Liberals, who instead highlighted key campaign pledges.
“Getting the pandemic under control” and growing a “more resilient economy” were the other two main priorities. The speech mentioned the economy often, but had just one reference to inflation, which is leading to the biggest surge in prices in almost two decades.
On economic policy, the government said its priority areas will be housing and child-care affordability, increasing immigration and the Canada child benefit, and managing spending.
The Conservatives and NDP quickly dismissed the Throne Speech. However, the minority Liberal government is at no risk of losing a vote of confidence on it, because Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said his party is willing to “live with this empty piece of paper.”
The government writes most of the Throne Speech, and the Governor-General is responsible for the initial introductory remarks.
The main text written by the government referred to the string of climate catastrophes since the summer in British Columbia, which is almost one week into a state of emergency prompted by devastating floods and mudslides. In the speech, the government committed to do more to “prevent and prepare for floods, wildfires, droughts, coastline erosion, and other extreme weather worsened by climate change.”
The risks of not acting were underscored in the introductory section written by Ms. Simon’s office.
“Our Earth is in danger,” Ms. Simon said. “From a warming Arctic to the increasing devastation of natural disasters, our land and our people need help.
“We cannot afford to wait.”
In July, Ms. Simon became the first Indigenous person to serve as the Queen’s representative in Canada, and she delivered the Throne Speech alternating between Inuktitut, French and English. Rideau Hall said it was the first to deliver more than a greeting in an Indigenous language.
The late launch to the fall sitting means the Liberals have just four weeks to shepherd government bills through the House of Commons – a difficult time frame because the opposition has more power to influence the agenda in a minority Parliament. The Liberals waited more than two months to recall MPs to the House after the September federal election.
Reading the government’s speech, Ms. Simon said the minority result of that election was a clear direction from voters. “Not only do they want Parliamentarians to work together to put this pandemic behind us, they also want bold, concrete solutions to meet the other challenges we face.”
The Official Opposition Conservatives and NDP both criticized the speech.
“There is nothing in the Throne Speech that deals with inflation, the cost of living crisis, the national unity crisis. There’s no plan to get people working,” Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh noted that the Liberals have dropped the promise of universal pharmacare that was in the Throne Speech last year.
“We see a Throne Speech that does not respond to the urgency of the crises that we’re up against,” he said.
The government said the best way to bring the pandemic under control after almost two years was through COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots. The speech said Ottawa will strengthen the public health care system and work with the provinces and territories on issues such as delayed surgeries and access to care in rural communities.
The government has dropped its “build back better” message on the economy from last year’s Throne Speech in favour of a pledge to “grow a more resilient economy.” But the measures it outlined received a mixed response from the business community on Tuesday. In the Throne Speech, the government acknowledged that “inflation is a challenge” around the world. The government said it will tackle the rising cost of living through its policies on housing and child care.
Ontario and New Brunswick are the only provincial holdouts on deals with Ottawa for $10-a-day child care. The speech did not name them, but suggested families in those provinces are missing out on reduced fees.
On housing, the government said it will boost affordability and supply, and address chronic homelessness.
In the 2021 budget, the Liberals continued their heavy spending on pandemic supports, and pledged $101.4-billion in stimulus spending. Tuesday’s speech repeated the government’s pledge for more targeted supports for hard-hit sectors “while prudently managing spending.”
The Business Council of Canada welcomed the Throne Speech, in particular its pledge to build a competitive economy. The Chamber of Commerce said it was “missing key measures” on the economy and that “specific actions” to manage inflation and snarled supply chains were absent.
The Throne Speech reiterated the Prime Minister’s position that the government “must go further, faster” to take “real action” on climate change. It said the government would focus its efforts on capping and then reducing emissions from the oil and gas sector; accelerating work to reach a 100-per-cent-net-zero electricity grid; investing in public transit and mandating the sale of zero emissions vehicles; and steadily increasing the price on carbon.
Ms. Simon said in her introduction that reconciliation with Indigenous peoples is not a “single act nor does it have an end date.” She called it a “lifelong journey of healing, respect and understanding” and that it cannot come “without truth.” In this mandate, the speech said, the government will create a national monument to honour residential-school survivors, a call from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It also plans to appoint a special interlocutor to “advance justice” on residential schools.
The government also plans to ensure “fair and equitable” compensation for those harmed by the First Nations child-welfare system. The Liberal government is in closed-door discussions with groups including the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, as well as parties to class-action lawsuits, in hopes of reaching an out-of-court settlement by the end of the year.
On gun violence, the government will bring in a mandatory buyback of banned assault-style weapons.
The Throne Speech said the government intends to make addressing systemic racism, sexism, discrimination and abuse a key priority. It also plans to reform the criminal justice system and policing, address “harmful content” online and pass legislation to ban conversion therapy.
MARIEKE WALSH AND KRISTY KIRKUP
The Globe and Mail, November 23, 2021