Nineteen months into the economic ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is laying out a vision for rebuilding the country towards the “economy of the future.”
But the vision outlined in the throne speech on Tuesday comes amid growing concerns about the cost of living, housing affordability, and rising inflation — all while the Liberals yet again face the challenges of governing in an unpredictable minority government.
“Yes, the decade got off to an incredibly difficult start, but this is the time to rebuild,” Trudeau vowed in the throne speech, read out by Gov. Gen. Mary Simon.
“This is the moment to grow a more resilient economy …. Canada will emerge from this generational challenge stronger and more prosperous.”
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Trudeau’s last throne speech came in September 2020 following his decision to prorogue Parliament, and had been billed by him as an “ambitious green agenda.”
But the version presented to Canadians later that month was narrower: focused more closely on COVID-19 and social support programs. That came after the government faced questions over whether the worsening second wave of the pandemic was the right time to be pursuing economic transformation at a time when so many Canadians were struggling simply to survive.
The situation now is different.
Social programs and benefits make up less of the speech this year compared to last, while broader pledges around tackling affordability and pursuing an “economy of the future” dominate.
The re-elected Liberal government is now promising to go “further, faster” on the climate file, emphasizing promises like capping oil-and-gas sector emissions, accelerating the push towards net-zero emissions and investments in public transit.
Trudeau’s speech also put the focus on the need to tackle the cost of living amid concerns that have boiled up over recent months amid rampant inflation driving up the cost of groceries and daily essentials, and as housing prices remain out of reach for many Canadians.
In a bid to tackle these issues, the speech highlighted housing and child care plans as the main pillars of its affordability plan, with promises to ramp up supports on both fronts.
At the same time, the government is promising not to lose sight of other issues, with promises for a mandatory buyback program for what it describes as “assault-style” firearms, continued work on reaching $10-per-day child care deals with Ontario and New Brunswick, and a National Action Plan on gender-based violence along with a continued commitment to working towards reconciliation.
Overall, the speech lays out a political vision that is likely to find broad progressive support in the Liberal-led minority Parliament.
The speech highlighted major issues of concern for both the opposition New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois – the two parties most likely to vote with the Liberals on shared policy priorities like fighting climate change, increasing affordable housing stock, strengthening official language legislation and following through on more affordable child care.
“(Voters’) direction is clear: 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 document read.
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There are some notable absences in the document, however, that will still give progressive opposition parties plenty to criticize. There’s no reference to a national pharmacare program, for instance, that NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has made a priority.
There are also political landmines in the Liberals’ governing plans for Erin O’Toole’s Conservative Party.
The Liberals are re-emphasizing their planned ban on conversion therapy, as well as their pledge to bring in “strengthened” gun control legislation – two issues that tripped the Conservatives up in the last Parliament and during the federal election, respectively.
The Conservatives have made rising inflation and affordability issues their main focus in the lead-up to Parliament’s return. After downplaying concerns about inflation for months, the Liberals’ throne speech identified it as a key concern for Canadians struggling to make ends meet.
“While Canada’s economic performance is better than many of our partners, we must keep tackling the rising cost of living,” the document read. “To do that, the government’s plan includes two major priorities: housing and child care.”
While Liberal and Conservative ideas about how to tackle affordability issues will undoubtedly differ, the speech makes clear that the government at least intends to join the political fight.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on Tuesday afternoon described the throne speech as one that “does not respond to the urgency of the crises that we’re up against.“
He said it lacked clear details on how to solve the crisis in affordable housing, on ending fossil fuel subsidies, increasing spending on health care, or on working towards a national pharmacare plan.
“There’s no talk about pharmacare, something that was in the throne speech in the past and they’ve completely abandoned now — or dental care, something we pushed for and was included in previous throne speeches,” Singh added. “So it looks like a government run out of steam.”
He did not commit to whether his party plans to support the throne speech in a vote, saying that’s something the caucus will have to discuss. At the same time, Singh noted there are some proposals put forward by the government this week that the party supports, including a 10-day paid sick leave plan for federally regulated workers, along with a ban on conversion therapy.
“But I want to make it clear they can’t take our support for granted, and this isn’t a throne speech that looks like they want to work together,” he added.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said his party does plan to support at least one legislative item from the government with a bill expected shortly to adjust COVID-19 benefits.
He also suggested the Bloc caucus may not oppose the throne speech, but did not say outright where the party plans to actually vote in favour of it.
“Supporting might not be the best word,” he said when asked if the party will support the throne speech.
“We will live with this empty piece of paper gently read in three languages.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole pointed to worsening pressures on Canada’s supply chains and rising inflation as key challenges facing Canadians that the throne speech didn’t do enough to address.
“Today, we heard more of the same from the Trudeau government,” he said. “What we didn’t hear was a plan for the economy, a plan to tackle the cost of living crisis.”
The Liberals need the support of at least one other party to pass their speech in the House of Commons.
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