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Parliament Returns with Speech from the Throne - Dec 5, 2019

Today was a busy day on Parliament Hill as the newly elected MPs, from coast to coast to coast, came to Ottawa to begin the 43rd Parliament. The first task by the 338 members was to elect the Speaker of the House of Commons. Following a ranked ballot, Liberal MP Anthony Rota was chosen by his colleagues to preside over the new minority Parliament as the 37th Speaker of the House.

Rota, who represents the northern Ontario riding of Nipissing-Timiskaming, beat four other candidates in a vote, including caucus colleague Geoff Regan, who was Speaker during the last session of Parliament and had wished to stay on.

Following the election of the Speaker, the pomp and circumstance moved down Wellington Street to the new home of the Senate for the reading of the Speech from the Throne. Governor General Julie Payette delivered the Liberal government’s legislative agenda in order to help them win again in the next federal election. Most of Bluesky’s political observers don’t expect this to happen at least for another 12 to 18 months so until then, let's explore the speech’s details and what we see as

From the desk of Geoff Turner, Senior Consultant

Going into today’s speech, the key aspect being watched for was fidelity to the government’s new tone. In effect, as of two days following the election, when the Prime Minister delivered a well-advised pivot from majority self-confidence and white-hot campaign rhetoric to a humbled and conciliatory Prime Minister picking up the pieces of a hung parliament sent to Ottawa by Canadians. That tone-mark was hit today; and for all but the most rock-ribbed Conservatives who rage at climate action or social progress, it was a quite inspiring speech delivered by the Governor General, even if everyone didn’t hear exactly something that they would have said themselves.

We watchers were expecting this tonally-led exercise to be limited to a mostly broad-stroke painting of the commonly agreed challenges and opportunities we face as a nation but, be light on the nuts and bolts like a majority-delivered speech that tends to cite the victors’ platform-cum-legislative-program more directly and comprehensively. This is because the real work in any minority, and basically the only legislative action, is the budget; and that is where some opposition nuts will have to hold the government bolts together for the whole thing not to fall apart or come apart too soon at least.

So, it was moderately surprising to see several specific items named, many already aimed at the NDP, as expected (if not this soon). Watching the NDP flexing their platform-based demands lately (given the space provided by a Bloc that has been signalling support), my bet is they will vote against the government from that position of comfort now, but the real work commences in 2020. We know a little more where those efforts will focus than we expected.

We also know that it is in nobody’s interest to go back to voters any time soon. Though if it happened, I would venture that the Liberals are politically, financially and organizationally in a far and away superior position than their opponents to do so. Question is, in the confidence votes to come, how far does the opposition carry a bluff when betting the house?

From the desk of Neil Brodie, Vice President

Two years. The consensus average length of a minority parliament. Today’s Speech from the Throne sets out a relatively ambitious program for the government to achieve before the Fall of 2021. It is a far cry from the five priorities announced by Prime Minister Harper in 2006.

As of this writing, the Notice Paper for Monday’s sitting of the Legislature has not been posted. It is expected that legislation will be introduced early next week to reduce income taxes for those making less than $200,000, this government’s definition of the wealthiest Canadians. Also on the legislative calendar for the 43rd parliament will be the implementation of the UNDRIP, Indigenous health care services, gun control, reducing domestic and international trade barriers, easier access to family doctors and devolving some power to First Nations.

The regulatory and policy agenda is not small either. Among those initiatives are a reduction of cell phone bills by 25%, protecting 25% of Canada’s land and oceans, reducing plastic use, mental health standards for the workplace implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, and continuing the work with the Murdered and Missing Women and Girls inquiry.

The federal budgetary deficit in 2018-19 was $14 billion. There does not appear to be a reduction in spending over the next 2 years. The government has committed to spending in the following areas: pharmacare, support for veterans, NATO and UN peacekeeping commitments, building infrastructure, after school care for children, support for post-secondary education, and support to supply-managed farmers (not grain and beef farmers).

This is an ambitious agenda - which is good. But Canadians should be under no illusion that all of this will be accomplished. A wise man once told to me, time is the most precious commodity in Parliament (as it is in life). After using the time to debate necessary legislation like budget bills, using the time for Question Period and private member business (all worthwhile uses of parliamentary time) and accounting for break periods in the parliamentary calendar, the government will have to decide which parts of this agenda are priorities.

From the desk of Cameron Holmstrom, Consultant

Today Governor General Julie Payette delivered the much-anticipated Speech from the Throne, telling Canadians the Liberal government's priorities for the 43rd Parliament. As expected, the speech was relatively short on details, making it easier for enough of the Opposition parties to support it and keep this government going.

Given that expectation, it is very noteworthy about where the speech did get specific and some of the pledges put forward in it. The government pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, a firm date and a firm pledge, no matter how far out it looks. The government also pledged to cut the cost of cell phone and wireless services by 25% and to also close the infrastructure gap in Indigenous communities by 2030. All these firm dates and targets are welcomed, but as with any such promises, the devil will be in the details and the opposition parties will have to judge those later when they become clearer.

Some promises were made as a clear attempt to curry favour with specific parties. We saw pledges to start introducing and implementing national pharmacare, introducing new UNDRIP legislation within a year, allowing municipalities to implement handgun bans and to increase the federal minimum wage. These are all issues that the NDP advocated for in the last Parliament and during the campaign. Interestingly this speech mostly stayed away from the minority parliament tradition of having a poison pill or two in it. That fact may help set a good tone for this parliament to work and make it much easier for most of the opposition parties to vote for this speech. But the real test for the intentions of this speech will be the actions that come after this and what the details look like.

A big Twitter OOPS from @HoCChamber

Responses on Social Media from the Opposition Parties:

Today's Bluesky media appearances:

Senior Consultant Geoff Turner gave his analysis on CPAC and CBC News Network


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