OTTAWA – The Justin Trudeau era is officially underway in Parliament with the reading of a throne speech sketching out the priorities of the new Liberal government.
Friday’s brief speech, delivered by Gov. Gen. David Johnston, promises a new spirit of openness and civility in Parliament, in which all members — on the government and opposition benches — will be “honoured, respected and heard.”
“Canada succeeds in large part because here, diverse perspectives and different opinions are celebrated, not silenced,” Johnston said.
“Parliament shall be no exception.”
The speech expanded on five well-worn themes that were central to the Liberals’ stunning upset victory in the Oct. 19 election.
First and foremost, it reiterated Trudeau’s pledge to cut the tax rate for middle-income earners and provide a more generous child benefit to those who need it, all paid for by a tax hike on the wealthiest one per cent.
It also promised significant new investment in infrastructure to boost the stagnant economy.
The speech did not specifically reiterate Trudeau’s promise to run deficits of no more than $10 billion over the next three years and produce a surplus in the final year of his mandate. Rather, it promised more generally to produce “a fiscal plan that is responsible, transparent and suited to challenging economic times.”
The speech highlighted Trudeau’s democratic reform promises: to run an open and transparent government, reform the House of Commons to empower backbenchers, reform the Senate and replace the first-past-the-post electoral system.
On the environment, it promised to continue working with the provinces to put a price on carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It did not specifically repeat Trudeau’s campaign promise to meet with the premiers to hash out a national climate change strategy within 90 days of the United Nations climate change conference underway now in Paris.
It also promised to introduce a new environmental assessment process.
The government’s agenda will reflect the belief that “Canada’s strength is its diversity,” Johnston said.
“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.”
That diversity was on display as Trudeau and Johnston and their entourage made their way to the Senate chamber, where Johnston read the speech. In the Hall of Honour, where they were met by an aboriginal artist performing an indigenous honour song, they shook hands with elementary school children and new Canadians, including Syrian refugees, lining the corridor.
The speech said the government would create a new “nation-to-nation relationship” with indigenous peoples. It also promised to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools and to launch an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
The government also promised to renew Canada’s commitment to peacekeeping but, at the same time, vows to continue working with allies to combat terrorism.
The speech did not specifically address Trudeau’s promise to repeal controversial provisions in the anti-terrorism legislation passed by the previous Conservative government. It did commit the government to working to “keep all Canadians safe while at the same time protecting our cherished rights and freedoms.”
The speech also reiterated the Liberals’ promises to “legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana,” develop a new health funding accord with the provinces, bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February and support the CBC.