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Throne Speech Signals Trudeau Government Wants To Be Different

12/04/2015 08:25 EST | Updated 12/04/2016 05:12 EST
GEOFF ROBINS via Getty Images
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens as Governor General David Johnston delivers the Speech from the Throne to the start Canada's 42nd parliament Ottawa, Canada on December 4, 2015. AFP PHOTO/GEOFF ROBINS / AFP / GEOFF ROBINS (Photo credit should read GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images)

Justin Trudeau provided a speech from the throne Friday that was aimed at showing Canadians his government will be different.

Friday's afternoon event was big on pomp and circumstance but light on policy details. Governor General David Johnston spent about 15 minutes reading the seven-page 1,649-word document, which was titled "Making Real Change Happen."

The speech first noted some of the Liberals' key campaign promises, such as delivering a middle-class tax cut and a new child benefit. The promise to raise taxes on those earning $200,000 a year was omitted. The Liberals promised to pursue a fiscal plan that is "responsible, transparent and suited to the challenging economic times" -- and made no mention of the $10-billion deficits they had said they would run in the first two years of their government, opening the door to much larger deficits and possibly not fulfilling their promise to balance the books in time for the 2019 election.

Trudeau's government also promised that it will be much more open and transparent with parliamentarians.

"In this Parliament," Johnston read, "all members will be honoured, respected and heard, wherever they sit."

The government will not resort to prorogation and omnibus bills to avoid scrutiny, Johnston told the Senate Chamber, where Trudeau and his wife Sophie sat with senators and Supreme Court justices, invited guests such as former prime ministers Jean Chrétien and John Turner, Assembly of First Nations' national chief Perry Bellegarde, as well as several new Canadians and young people. MPs crowded near the back, as far as they could get in.

Most of what Johnston read -- from a promise to reform the electoral system and end partisan government advertising to investing in a leaner, more agile and better-equipped military, to working to get handguns and assault weapons off the street, as well as regulating and restricting marijuana, to rebuilding the relationship with indigenous people by, in part, launching an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls -- had all been campaign commitments.

But the speech from the throne was silent in a few areas.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair noted that there was no mention of the Liberals' promise to bring back door-to-door mail delivery. Nor was there anything specific on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. There was also nothing about the Liberals' pledge to stop bombing missions against ISIS in Iraq and to focus instead on training missions. There were no mentions of the committee the Grits said they would enact to oversee some of Bill C-51's more controversial changes.

Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose said the Liberals' throne speech set Canada on a path to higher deficits and debt, and ignored Canadian farmers and the threat posed by the Islamic State. There was no mention of rural Canada in the speech.

To nitpick, there were also two areas where the speech's wording was more diluted than the Liberals' platform. Johnston said the federal government would work "toward putting a price on carbon" rather than simply saying it would "put a price on carbon" as promised during the election. Similarly, Johnston said the government would work "co-operatively to implement" the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The party's election platform promised to enact all 94 recommendations. These two promises will be big challenges to keep.

While the speech was short on substance, the Liberals have -- in an unprecedented and praiseworthy move -- released all the mandate letters given to Trudeau's cabinet ministers. The letters, which are quite detailed about the ministers' priorities, are a restatement of the platform commitments.

The point of Friday's event was better summed up in Johnston's opening remarks and the title of the document. Just as he did when he invited the public to the swearing-in of his cabinet ministers at Rideau Hall, or by meeting with the provincial and territorial ministers for the first time since 2009, or by attending the UN climate change summit with his provincial counterparts and opposition leaders, Trudeau is signalling that his is a different government. Gone is Stephen Harper's uncaring, exclusionary and secretive government.

Instead, the Liberals are saying, they will be open, transparent, collaborative and caring.

Time will tell whether they hold true to those promises.

Canada's Parliament Returns