By Amanda Shendruk, John Geddes and Nick Taylor-Vaisey
The new Liberal government’s first Speech from the Throne offered little oratory and many renewed promises. Governor General David Johnston largely reaffirmed a laundry list of the Liberal Party’s election promises—including a focus on the party’s signature middle-class tax break, its promise of a more open government, and a new relationship with Indigenous peoples.
We asked experts to help us break down some of the speech’s key issues. Read the speech below, and tap on the passages highlighted in grey for context and expert analysis.
Members of the House of Commons, Ladies and gentlemen,
As the representative of Her Majesty The Queen, I am pleased to be here to deliver the Speech from the Throne.
A warm welcome to those of you who are returning to your duties as parliamentarians, including those who are returning after an absence. Know that your experience is valued. Welcome also to the For a complete (and interactive) breakdown of the new shape of the MP make-up of the 42nd session of Parliament, tap here. who are newly elected. Your enthusiasm and fresh ideas will serve your country well.
I call on all parliamentarians to work together, with a renewed spirit of innovation, openness and collaboration. As governor general, I have seen first-hand what a great country Canada is—from coast to coast to coast. And I also know this: We can be even better.
By being smart, and caring—on a scale as never before.
The times we live in demand nothing less.
Canada succeeds in large part because here, diverse perspectives and different opinions are celebrated, not silenced. Parliament shall be no exception.
In this Parliament, all members will be honoured, respected and heard, wherever they sit. For here, in these chambers, the voices of all Canadians matter.
Let us not forget, however, that Canadians have been clear and unambiguous in their desire for real change. Canadians want their government to do different things, and to do things differently.
They want to be able to trust their government.
And they want leadership that is focused on the things that matter most to them.
Things like growing the economy; creating jobs; strengthening the middle class, and helping those working hard to join it.
Through careful consideration and respectful conduct, the Government can meet these challenges, and all others brought before it.
By working together in the service of all Canadians, the Government can make real change happen. It will do so in the following ways.
GROWTH FOR THE MIDDLE CLASS
First and foremost, the Government believes that all Canadians should have a real and fair chance to succeed. Central to that success is a strong and growing middle class.
The Government will, as an immediate priority, deliver a A middle-class tax cut won’t make families feel richer, says Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives economist David MacDonald. He projects that the roughly 1.6 million families making about $48,000 to $62,000 will see their tax bills trimmed by, on average, just $51. Those making $166,000 to $211,000, meanwhile, will save $813. This is the fair thing to do, and the smart thing to do for Canada’s economy.
The Government has also committed to provide more direct help to those who need it by giving less to those who do not. The new Canada Child Benefit will do just that.
And recognizing that public investment is needed to create and support economic growth, job creation and economic prosperity, the Government will make significant new investments in public transit, green The Liberals promise big investments in infrastructure—and not just transit systems and traditional public works projects, but also affordable housing, day care spaces, and community centres. Arguably the most influential voice calling for more infrastructure spending is David Dodge, the former Bank of Canada governor. But Dodge offers more advice: he urges less burdensome regulation on business, more on-the-job skills training, and new trade deals to put “external pressure” on Canadian firms to be more competitive. Will the new government take his advice on these points, too?, and social infrastructure.
To give Canadians a more secure retirement, the Government will work with the provinces and territories to enhance the Canada Pension Plan.
The Employment Insurance system will be strengthened to make sure that it best serves both the Canadian economy and all Canadians who need it.
To create more opportunities for young Canadians, especially those from low- and middle-income families, the Government will work with the provinces and territories to make post-secondary education more affordable. And to support the health and well-being of all Canadians, the Government will begin work with the provinces and territories to develop a new Health Accord.
The Government will undertake these and other initiatives while pursuing a fiscal plan that is responsible, transparent and suited to challenging economic times.
OPEN AND TRANSPARENT GOVERNMENT
Second, the Government is committed to open and transparent government.
The trust Canadians have in public institutions—including Parliament—has, at times, been compromised. By working with greater openness and transparency, Parliament can restore it.
To make sure that every vote counts, the Government will undertake consultations on electoral reform, and will take action to ensure that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the Do Canadians hunger for dramatic reform? According to an Abacus Data poll, nine per cent of Canadians think the system needs a total overhaul, while 33 per cent want major changes. Less enthusiastic are the 41 per cent who said only minor changes are needed, and the 17 per cent who are satisfied with the status quo. Add it up, and sweeping reforms of the sort Trudeau promised has 42 per cent support, while 58 per cent want only tinkering or are fine with the status quo. system. To restore public trust and bring an end to partisanship, the Government will follow through on its commitment to reform the Senate by creating a new, non-partisan, merit-based process to advise the Prime Minister on Emmett Macfarlane, a constitutional expert who advised the Liberals on Senate reform, hopes the new appointment process breeds more change. “The government hopes this new process will reduce partisanship in the upper chamber and, more fundamentally, result in better quality senators and a more independent Senate. Long term, it is my own hope that the sort of people appointed will be able to reform the Senate from the inside, improving its work and perhaps reducing its own powers while emphasizing the institution’s role of sober second thought.”
And to give Canadians a stronger voice in the House of Commons, the Government will promote more open debate and free votes, and reform and strengthen committees.
Also notable are the things the Government will not do: it will not use government Partisan advertising reform predates the Tories, who spent millions on splashy 30-second spots. The post-sponsorship scandal era saw “government advertising practices … improved and consolidated,” writes Queen’s University professor Jonathan Rose, but governments were lackadaisical about posting annual reports on spending. “Parliamentarians, or an independent legislative officer, need to be able to scrutinize this expenditure and ask questions of it.” it will not interfere with the Former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page slogged through a poisonous relationship with the former Tory government that, perhaps ironically, gave him the job. He says the new government appears to, at the very least, be welcoming the PBO’s work. “When the office produced some revised economic and fiscal numbers, [Liberals] responded fairly openly, generously to the analysis,” said Page. and it will not resort to devices like prorogation and omnibus bills to avoid scrutiny.
A CLEAN ENVIRONMENT AND A STRONG ECONOMY
Third, the Government will prove to Canadians and to the world that a clean environment and a strong economy go hand in hand. We cannot have one without the other.
Protecting the environment and growing the economy are not incompatible goals; in fact, our future success demands that we do both.
Last week, first ministers met ahead of the international Maclean’s senior writer Laura Payton wrote that the first ministers’ meeting was never meant to create a national climate plan. “The meeting itself was a way to reiterate the message that the new government — the one run by the ‘real change’ party — is going to do things very differently from the old one. For one, this prime minister (so far) wants to improve the relationship between the federal, provincial and territorial governments.”—a first step in an important and ongoing process.
Working together, the Government will continue to provide leadership as Canada works toward putting a price on carbon and
To encourage economic growth, the Government will make strategic investments in clean technology, provide more support for companies seeking to export those technologies, and lead by example in their use.
And as part of efforts to restore public trust, the Government will introduce new environmental assessment processes. Public input will be sought and considered. Environmental impacts will be understood and minimized. Decisions will be informed by One of Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan’s main jobs is to create a Chief Science Officer “mandated to ensure that government science is fully available to the public, that scientists are able to speak freely about their work, and that scientific analyses are considered when the government makes decisions.” And Indigenous peoples will be more fully engaged in reviewing and monitoring major resource development projects.
DIVERSITY IS CANADA’S STRENGTH
Fourth, the Government’s agenda reflects that Canada’s strength is its diversity.
Canadians elected a government to bring us together, not to set us against one another. Canada is strong because of our differences, not in spite of them.
As a country, we are strengthened in many ways: by our shared experiences, by the diversity that inspires both Canada and the world, and by the way that we treat each other.
Because it is both the right thing to do and a certain path to economic growth, the Government will undertake to renew, nation-to-nation, the relationship between The new Liberal government has already established trust with Indigenous peoples, says Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day. “The nation-to-nation relationship clearly signals that this government is quite prepared to advance a new era,” said Day, who lamented a “culture of conflict” that developed during the last government’s tenure. He praised the early work of Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Indigenous and Northern of Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett. one based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.
Among other measures, the Government will work co-operatively to implement recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, will launch an inquiry into missing and and girls, and will work with First Nations so that every First Nations child receives a Trudeau’s platform promised $2.6 billion for First Nations education. The need for change is obvious. According to 2011 Statistics Canada figures, 58 per cent of on-reserve Aboriginal students drop out of high school, compared with 10 per cent of non-Aboriginal teenagers. It’s only somewhat better for Indigenous people living off reserves. Statistics Canada says 72 per cent of Indigenous people living off reserve had a high school diploma or equivalent in 2012, compared with 89 per cent of the non-Aboriginal population.
The Government will make it The problem of immigrants doing less well in the workforce than Canadians born here was flagged by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards in a recent report: “Any increase in the number of immigrants should be accompanied by reforms to attract and select immigrants who are likely to make a positive economic contribution and to improve their odds of success in the labour market upon arrival.” to build successful lives in Canada, reunite their families, and contribute to the economic success of all Canadians.
In response to a pressing international need, and underscored by Canadians’ desire to help, the Government will welcome 25,000 new Canadians from Syria, to arrive in Canada by the end of February 2016. In gratitude for the service of Canada’s veterans, the Government will do more to support them and their families. The Government will The Liberal platform pledged more funding to Canada’s public broadcaster: “We will reverse Stephen Harper’s cuts and invest $150 million in new annual funding for CBC/Radio-Canada, to be delivered in consultation with the broadcaster and the Canadian cultural community.” encourage and promote the use of Canada’s official languages, and invest in Canada’s cultural and creative industries.
SECURITY AND OPPORTUNITY
Fifth, the Government is committed to providing greater security and opportunity for Canadians.
Canadians are open, accepting, and generous people. We know that helping those in need strengthens our communities and makes them safer, more prosperous places to live.
The Government will strengthen its relationship with allies, especially with our closest friend and partner, the United States.
Internationally, the Government will focus its development assistance on helping the world’s
To contribute to greater peace throughout the world, the Government will renew Canada’s commitment to United Nations Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, issued a plea for more peacekeepers just last month in a major speech. But Power noted that circumstances made peacekeeping more precarious in recent times, noting that “despite the increased demand for peacekeepers, the supply of available troops has decreased.” The Canadian commitment to UN peacekeeping missions is currently 166 troops and police officers—or 0.15 per cent of all UN personnel. and will continue to work with its allies in the fight against terrorism.
To keep Canadians safe and be ready to respond when needed, the Government will launch an open and transparent process to Elinor Sloan, a Carleton University professor and former Department of National Defence analyst, applauded the idea of a capabilities review. But first, Sloan says, the Liberals must set defence priorities—in other words, figure out “what it is the government wants our [armed] forces to be able to do”—and then take stock. “Set the policy first, and assess the capabilities against the policy.” and will invest in building a Rapid deployments are a laudable goal and make sense given ongoing international security challenges, says Elinor Sloan, a Carleton University professor and former Department of National Defence analyst. But it’s the L-word that jumped out at her. “We want an agile, better-equipped military. I’m not sure that we can go much leaner,” says Sloan. “To me, leaner means smaller. I’m kind of worried to see that word.” better-equipped military.
And to expand economic opportunities for all Canadians, the Government will negotiate International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland won’t commit her government to the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal. On Dec. 2, Freeland told the Canadian-American Business Council that the Liberals would consult widely. “It’s not my job to persuade anybody that TPP is good…That’s not my job right now,” she said. “We’re not the government that negotiated this deal. It is an incredibly difficult deal.” and pursue other opportunities with emerging markets.
Recognizing that Canada is, fundamentally, a safe and peaceful country, the Government will continue to work to keep all Canadians safe, while at the same time protecting our cherished Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s mandate letter instructed him to fix the unpopular Anti-Terrorism Act, but the Throne Speech didn’t explain how the government would get there. University of Ottawa law professor Craig Forcese says he’s happy to wait for the Liberals to consult and legislate responsibly. “It’s better to be too thin on the details than have too much detail and worry about the detail being wrong.” To that end, the Government will introduce legislation that will provide greater support for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault; that will get handguns and assault weapons off our streets; and that will legalize, regulate and restrict
The agenda outlined today is an ambitious one, but it is not one forged in isolation. Rather, it is the result of conversations with Canadians, who told the Government—plainly and honestly—what they need to be successful.
Canadians are confident people. We know who we are, and we know what kind of country we want to live in. We know the greatness that Canada is capable of, and we know that our success is not only about doing well for ourselves, but also about leaving an even better, more peaceful and prosperous world for our children.
As you consider the important work that lies ahead, remember that Canadians have placed their trust in you. It is now your sacred responsibility to help build that better world.
By focusing on growing our middle class, on delivering open and transparent government, on ensuring a clean environment and a strong economy, on building a stronger Canada, and on providing greater security and opportunity, the Government will make real change happen.
It will prove that better is not only possible—it is the inevitable result when Canadians work together. Members of the House of Commons, you will be asked to appropriate the funds required to carry out the services and expenditures authorized by Parliament.
Honourable Members of the Senate and Members of the House of Commons, may Divine Providence guide you in your deliberations and make you faithful custodians of the trust bestowed upon you.