For the past six months, Canadians have been getting used to living according to the pandemic timeline. The agenda laid out by the Trudeau government in today’s Speech from the Throne was cast in the shadow of a resurgent COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of the bold plan the prime minister had hoped to deliver, the government is charting a course based on where the pandemic takes in Canada over the Fall and Winter before the country returns to some normalcy, hopefully in the Spring.
Here are some of the highlights:
Creating a Canada-wide early learning and childcare system;
Introducing more support for hard-hit industries like travel and tourism, hospitality and cultural industries;
Identifying additional ways to tax extreme wealth inequality, including by concluding work to limit the stock option deduction for wealthy individuals at large, established corporations, and addressing corporate tax avoidance by digital giants”;
Committing to accelerating a national, universal pharmacare program and rare disease strategy;
Launching a new fund to attract investments in making zero-emissions products and cut the corporate tax rate in half for these companies to create jobs;
Banning single-use and harmful plastics by 2021;
Creation of a new Canadian water agency;
·Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples before the end of 2020.
From the desk of the Honourable Joe Jordan, Senior Associate
Against the early backdrop of lofty expectations around an increased social lean-in, the government reacted to the recently increasing COVID-19 infection rates by consciously focusing on the ongoing response and leaving the aspirational policy suites for another day.
The approach is framed by four foundational themes. The first is to continue to fight the pandemic and save lives through strategic investments in equipment, testing and research investments in vaccine development and acquisition.
The second is to support Canadians and Canadian businesses with whatever is required for as long as it is required – a clear signal that the Government feels it has the fiscal capacity to address impacts for the duration of the pandemic.
The third is to augment the recovery phase investments with an emphasis on green technologies, job creation and competitiveness while ensuring safe communities.
The final foundation is to reinforce the Canadian identity by ensuring we continue to be a bilingual, welcoming country and to achieve progress on gender equality, indigenous reconciliation and to fight racial discrimination and the systems that support it.
In terms of supporting announcements, the Emergency Wage Subsidy program will be extended until next summer, significant new investments will be made in job experience programs for young people, the government will concentrate on reducing the disproportionate impacts that women are facing in the workforce and will introduce a plan for the inclusion of disabled Canadians in the economy. Additionally, the ad hoc funding instruments will be brought under the Employment Insurance program. The government identified both daycare and long-term care reform as areas that will require federal action.
The speech also put large digital businesses on notice by indicating the future requirement to fairly compensate creators and respecting the current domestic regime for intellectual property.
The government also reiterated support for previous commitments such as Indigenous reconciliation, gun control, homelessness and compensation for supply-managed sectors negatively impacted by trade agreements.
There will be a Fall economic update, allowing the government to lay out the financial plan that supports these commitments and provide fiscal projections going forward.
In terms of analysis, I think the pivot to an ongoing response focus will be much more difficult for parliamentarians to oppose. However, the reference to gun control measures will put pressure on the Conservative caucus to oppose the speech.
The government has outlined a bottom-up approach that positions itself as being in a better position to assume the cost of these programs, as opposed to individual Canadians increasing their debt levels, and in all likelihood has pushed an election out until at least next spring.
From the desk of Neil Brodie, Vice President
Two of the three announced demands the Conservative Party had for the Speech from the Throne (SFT) were noticeably absent. There was no detail of a fiscal plan for the country. That shouldn’t be a surprise since SFTs are aspirational documents. There will be a fiscal update at some point later this Fall. There was no announced support for the natural resources sector except for the veiled threat of helping them transform to meet future climate change goals. There was the acknowledgement that the government must do everything within its power to source faster COVID-19 tests that will help alleviate the lines we are seeing in major urban testing centres.
Some initiatives in the speech that Conservatives can support are expanded funding for training and new skill development, becoming self-sufficient in the manufacture of PPE, doing more to better the lives of Indigenous peoples, countering racism, continuing to be open to immigration and standing up for human rights around the world.
But make no mistake, the underlying theme is a tax and spend, activist government. The government pledged to turn its back on reasonable spending restraint saying in the speech it would “do whatever it takes.” CERB will be rolled into EI, the wage subsidy will be extended by a year, pharmacare, childcare, public transit, and housing. All admirable goals, but these announcements presumably will be paid for by continuing deficits measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars. There was no discussion of a one-in-one-out for new programs, for instance, helping to offset the cost of universal childcare by cancelling the Canadian Child Benefit. Interestingly, the only proposals put forward to pay for this raft of promises is through increasing the carbon tax and taxing Netflix, Facebook and Google.
It will be interesting to see if this expansionist agenda changes the channel from the sole-sourced contracting scandal involving the WE Charity that was consuming the Trudeau government before Parliament was shutdown in late-August. It is widely accepted that this was the prime minister’s motivation. Or if the speech will be transformed into a Spring election platform for the Liberal Party.
From the desk of Cameron Holmstrom, Consultant
It’s been less than a year since the first throne speech in this Parliament and it’s amazing to think how things have changed since that time. This speech spoke to that new reality, one that we are six months into so far and that continues to evolve. It wasn’t the larger-thinking speech that was being floated for a couple of weeks, but one of consequence and spoke to the moment. This is a Throne Speech that doesn’t appear to contain and obvious poison pills and is a document intended for governing, not an election.
For the NDP, the best way to describe this speech would be to say, “the Devil is in the details.” There are many promises in this speech that are cribbed directly from the NDP wish list; a recommitment to pharmacare, extending supports for working people, new national standards for long-term care, a national childcare program, taxing tech giants and retrofits for homes and businesses. These are all items that are near or at the top of the NDP’s policy priorities, so to see them in this speech is a win for Jagmeet Singh and his leadership.
But that win will be tempered by the fact that a throne speech, by its nature, is a high-level document without the granular details that can make the difference between doing the policy right or wrong. New Democrats have long since become used to seeing Liberal governments take NDP ideas, water them down then pass them off as their own, leaving the NDP to accept or reject them. This speech could set up a similar situation in the future, but in these circumstances, those are concerns for another day for the orange team.
There is more than enough in this speech to allow the NDP to continue to support this government while holding them to account to ensure those details are filled into their liking in the weeks and months to come. This is part of the art of holding the balance of power in a minority government, an art that Jagmeet Singh has shown himself to be adept at so far. As written, this speech offers the NDP a chance to make a real change on par with the Martin/Layton deals of the mid-2000s. We’ll see if he can continue to get results for Canadians, but they have a great chance to do so with this speech.
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