A Concise Manifesto for a Post-Pandemic Economic Recovery

There is an adage, attributed to former New York governor Mario Cuomo, that hearkens back to how politics used to work in the before-times: “You campaign in poetry, you govern in prose.”

Well, after a nasty summer campaign that featured one memorable line from the Prime Minister, hollered at a protester, “isn’t there a hospital you should be going to bother right now?” it is probably appropriate that this ‘vision statement’ of a Speech from the Throne did not aim for the heart but for the hard-headed realists – read: “the middle class and those still struggling to hope” – who need to see, in clear, declarative commitments, that this government may finally be serious about delivering on the narrative for sustainable economic growth through this new normal of biweekly crisis triage and intergovernmental conflict resolution.

With this being the third throne speech in three years, the Trudeau government may be making hay out of the ‘rule of three’ in this third mandate to finally put its plan into action.

Her Excellency Mary Simon, the first Indigenous Governor General in Canada’s history, delivered the Speech from the Throne today in the Senate. For many, this signal change in representation and amplified voice for First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples put some welcome substance to the signaling of true reconciliation.

While always delivered with much pomp and circumstance, Simon, who is an Inuk from Kuujjuaq, Quebec brought new traditions into the Red Chamber, where a mix of seal oil, arctic cotton, and moss was lit inside a stone lamp called a Quillik. The lamp is often used to honour the strength of Inuit women.

This was the second consecutive throne speech delivered to a diminished audience as we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the speech, Mary Simon made clear that continuing to respond to the pandemic is the first priority of this government.

Bear in mind, it was the pandemic – whose reverberations reshaped so much of the country’s policy landscape and illuminated many dark corners which had long been left unaddressed – which served as Justin Trudeau’s justification for calling an election in late August. At the time, Trudeau noted we had consequential decisions ahead of us – such as how to better support working families with universal childcare; how to implement effective climate action; how to respond to a housing crisis that’s been bubbling for years and made headlines throughout the pandemic; and, how to build resilience in our healthcare systems, including by supporting mental health and supporting those with addictions.

‘Building a Resilient Economy: A Cleaner & Healthier Future for our Kids’

Today’s speech sowed the policy seeds for what we can expect as a forthcoming agenda, and it covered seven broad themes – many of which were covered in the platform, Forward. For Everyone.

1. Building a Healthier Today and Tomorrow

In the same week that pediatric vaccines started arriving in Canada, Simon relayed that priority number one continues to be getting the pandemic under control and that the best way to do this is through vaccination.

It was emphasized through the Speech from the Throne that we owe our society’s most vulnerable strengthened support, “especially seniors, veterans, persons with disabilities, and those who have faced discrimination by the very system that is meant to heal.”

Without specifics, the speech noted that there is work to be done on accessibility, care in rural communities, delayed procedures, mental health and addiction treatment, long-term care and improving data collection across health systems to inform future decisions and get the best possible results.

2. Growing a More Resilient Economy

The Speech from the Throne highlighted some of the successes we’ve seen, including that employment has returned to pre-pandemic levels. Also highlighted was one of the most significant challenges we are facing at present is inflation and the rising cost of living. The Liberals plan to respond to these challenges is three-pronged – investing in housing, childcare, and immigration.

Specific commitments related to housing mentioned in the speech are the Housing Accelerator Fund, a more flexible First-Time Home Buyer Incentive and a new Rent-to-Own program.

The speech further noted the link between economic growth and both childcare and immigration. The government will make it a priority to secure childcare agreements with the remaining four jurisdictions that they have yet to and have committed to increasing our immigration levels.

3. Being Bolder on Climate Action

The speech highlighted that this Liberal government continues to see an inextricable link between the environment and the economy, and as such wants to be a leader in the production of clean technologies and the growth of a green workforce. There is clear commitment to invest in electric vehicles and, more broadly, the shift to a net-zero emissions electricity future.

The speech also noted the need to invest in climate change adaptation, not just mitigation. The government committed to investing in the prevention of floods, wildfires, droughts, coastline erosion, and other extreme weather events. As Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson declared last week, there should be no doubt Canada is going through a “climate crisis,” and these commitments are intended to signal concrete action is imminent.

4. Creating Safer Communities

When it comes to addressing issues surrounding violence in Canada, it is safe to say that the speech was vague and lacking in new ideas and commitments. The entire section was fewer than 200 words and focused almost entirely on summarizing the progress so far. It was the presentation of a report card rather than a substantive plan.

However, there was an affirmation that the Liberals will be focusing on gender-based violence and gun violence – reiterating their commitments to a 10-year Action Plan on gender-based violence, and a mandatory buy-back program on assault rifles. Notably, the only mention of anti-racism was in the final line of the section – a notable shift in focus given the messaging over the campaign and the events of the past year.

5. Standing up for Diversity and Inclusion

The speech highlighted that fighting systemic racism, sexism, discrimination, misconduct, and abuse, including in our core institutions – clearly a reference to the Canadian Armed Forces – will remain a key priority.

Through the speech, the Liberals also made clear commitments to support official language minorities and protect and promote the French language outside and inside Quebec. Unsurprisingly, given the Liberal platform and the political capital now invested in Quebec around the Cabinet table, the Liberals pledged to strengthen the Official Languages Act.

Also included under commitments to diversity and inclusion was supporting Canadian culture and our creative industries by introducing legislation to reform the Broadcasting Act, along with a broader policy commitment to ensure that web giants “pay their fair share” – which might bode well for the news media sector.

6. Fighting for a Secure, Just and Equitable World

Over the course of their tenure, this Liberal government has been criticized for their lack of depth and inability to effectively respond to issues around international relations and trade. Today, global challenges related to integrated supply chains are causing disruptions the globe over and the speech did make reference to the need to enhance supply chain sustainability but was light on the how.

The speech did however commit to making increased investments in foreign assistance and continuing to focus on feminist foreign policy.

7. Moving Faster on the Path of Reconciliation

Few issues are as important to this government – and to Canada as a whole – as reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, and the Speech from the Throne made that clear. The speech laid out some clear commitments that, if kept, will lead to concrete progress on the path of reconciliation.

Simon spoke of several commitments to support Indigenous Peoples and communities, including increased spending on a distinctions-based mental health and wellness strategy, an acceleration in addressing the national tragedy regarding MMIWG, financial compensation for those harmed by the First Nations Child and Family Services program, and moving forward with the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including building a national monument for residential school survivors.

The speech had a clear emphasis that the government has a critical role to play in moving reconciliation forward, saying that it cannot happen without truth – and that the government will invest in that truth.

Many people will be watching closely to see if the government follows through on the promises it has made, or if they live up to the billing that Jagmeet Singh has fashioned as an evergreen campaign slogan: “the Liberals are all talk and no action.”

Path to Confidence + Parliamentary Agenda

When parliament was last in session this past spring, Justin Trudeau remarked that the toxicity in the House of Commons brought on by its minority composition undermined its ability to function and that a reset was needed. With an election and repeated minority, some were hopeful that our elected officials would take its cue from the voting public to make things work with a more stable, collaborative, and hospitable parliament.

In this renewed minority situation, the Liberals will need a dance partner to pass the first confidence vote and provide the Liberals the support they need to move ahead with their agenda. While early responses from leaders of the major opposition parties did not seem to suggest that there would be any significant change in disposition in this parliament, the speech itself meets the conventional tests that will likely see it supported by at least one party.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh criticized the speech for not being one that helps Canadians and inferred that without commitments to pharmacare and support for workers, it would instead actually hurt them.

Erin O’Toole was critical of the speech for not responding to what he called Canada’s “inflation crisis” and suggested that it would leave millions of Canadians behind, including those in the energy sector.

Even in his implied tolerance for the speech, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet sharply observed that the text was devoid of any real substance.

Yesterday, Mark Holland, who is responsible for coordinating the day-to-day business in the House of Commons, outlined the legislative goals that the Liberals are confident they can achieve in the four short weeks of parliamentary sittings before a month-long holiday break:

  • Implementing additional COVID-19 support measures that would extend the Canada Recovery Hiring Program, the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit, the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, establish a Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit and introduce additional recovery programs for businesses still facing the brunt of pandemic-related challenges. This legislation is already listed on the Notice Paper, has the expressed support of the Bloc and is likely to be the first order of true legislative business for this Parliament.
  • Introducing amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada that protects health-care workers from the kinds of abuse endured by so many on the frontline in the fight against the pandemic.
  • Enacting 10 days of paid sick leave for federally regulated workers.
  • Reintroducing a ban on conversion therapy in Canada.

While this legislation is expected to move the most quickly through this parliament, there is much left unfinished from the government’s last term. We may see an updated Economic Statement, further legislation to enable commitments from the federal budget this past spring, the reintroduction of a bill strengthening the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and a rework of the infamous Bill C-10 from the last parliament. In addition, the long-awaited reform of federal privacy legislation and the fulfillment of a Liberal platform commitment to introduce, within 100 days, legislation to support the news media sector will be in the foreground in the New Year.

Authored by: Melissa Pasi, John Delacourt, Kimberley Hanson, Daniel Komesch, Jason Evans