POLITICS
12/05/2019 17:46 EST | Updated 12/06/2019 11:19 EST

Parliament Kickoff Highlights What Liberals Hope To Get Done

Some key mentions — and omissions.

TORONTO — The Liberal government has promised to move forward on key promises from the last campaign with a throne speech that also stresses the need to work together in the new minority Parliament.

The speech outlining the government’s plans, written by the Prime Minister’s Office and delivered in the Senate chamber Thursday by Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, shows Liberals pressing ahead with priorities from the last Parliament, from reducing poverty and eliminating boil-water advisories to winning a spot on the United Nations Security Council.

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised after last month’s election, the government’s first act will be to “cut taxes for all but the wealthiest Canadians,” boosting middle-class families and those who most need the money, the address notes.

FRED CHARTRAND via Getty Images
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Julie Payette look to the gallery as they wait to deliver the Throne Speech in the Senate chamber on Dec. 5, 2019 in Ottawa. 

The speech also made a call for unity across the country, noting “regional economic concerns are both justified and important” and promising to work with other levels of government to find solutions.

But the speech also showcased areas of agreement with rival parties. Liberals will need support from either New Democrats or Bloc Quebecois MPs for the government to survive.

Here are some key highlights:

“A clear majority of Canadians voted for ambitious climate action now”

Trudeau made a number of bold promises during the last campaign to step up the fight against climate change, identified in the speech as “the defining challenge of the time.” 

The reference to a “clear majority” of voters demanding more climate action appears to be a tip of the hat to voters who supported the NDP, Greens, or the Bloc at the ballot box.

Stephane Mahe / Reuters
Liberal leader and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends a press conference after a tree planting during an election campaign visit to Plainfield, Ontario, Canada October 6, 2019. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

The throne speech spells out that the government will, among other things, “make it easier for people to choose zero-emissions vehicles” and protect 25 per cent of Canada’s land and 25 per cent of its oceans by 2025.

The government will also “set a target to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050,” the most ambitious Liberal climate pledge this fall.

“This goal is ambitious but necessary — for both environmental protection and economic growth,” Payette said.

The speech reiterates that Liberals will ensure a “price on pollution everywhere in this country.” Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and premiers such as Alberta’s Jason Kenney, Ontario’s Doug Ford, and Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe have vowed to keep up the fight against the federal carbon pricing system.

Though the speech does not directly mention pipelines — not even the Trans Mountain expansion project Trudeau’s government purchased — it notes the government will work “just as hard to get Canadian resources to new markets” and offer support to those struggling in the natural resources sectors.

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“The Government will crack down on gun crime”

Liberals faced pressure in the previous Parliament to do more to help curb gun violence, particularly in Canada’s largest city. Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, now the public safety minister, was tapped last year to study a possible ban on handguns and assault-style rifles.

During the campaign, Trudeau promised Liberals would beef up gun control by banning military-style assault rifles and work with the provinces and territories to empower municipalities to bar or further restrict handguns.

Watch: Doctors, health workers urge political action on gun control at Liberal event. Story continues below video.

 

Payette read that the government will move forward on both proposals and introduce a buy-back program.

“Municipalities and communities that want to ban handguns will be able to do so,” Payette said.

The speech also referenced that Friday marks the 30th anniversary of the École Polytechnique massacre, where 14 people were shot and killed because they were women.

“Canadians have seen firsthand the devastating effects of gun violence. Too many lives lost, too many families shattered. It is time to show courage and strengthen gun control,” the speech states.

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“Ideas like universal dental care are worth exploring”

The speech also included a clear olive branch to the NDP and Greens on the issue of dental health care. 

Jagmeet Singh’s NDP promised in their election platform to provide dental care for all Canadians, while the Greens under Elizabeth May proposed free dental care for low-income earners.

Justin Tang/CP
Caucus members watch as NDP leader Jagmeet Singh speaks to reporters after the weekly caucus meeting in Ottawa on Dec. 4, 2019.

The speech noted universal dental care is an idea worth considering.

“And I encourage Parliament to look into this,” Payette read.

The line was included in a section that touched on how the Liberal government would be “open to new ideas” from all Parliamentarians. It noted there are “good ideas across parties,” including fighting against money laundering — long a focus of the NDP — and “making parental benefits tax-free,” as promised by Andrew Scheer’s Tories in their pursuit of government.

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“Take action to co-develop and introduce legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the first year of the new mandate” 

This pledge is an attempt to resurrect former NDP MP Romeo Saganash’s private member’s bill that proposed the federal government review its laws to ensure they’re aligned with the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). 

Canada adopted the landmark non-binding international instrument at the United Nations in 2016. It establishes “minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being” for Indigenous peoples. Saganash’s bill passed the House of Commons, but languished and died in the Senate in the last weeks of Parliament. 

Watch: Murray Sinclair explains significance of UNDRIP bill. Story continues below video.

 

Conservative senators stalled the bill, citing concerns its implementation would give Indigenous groups new authority to stop the development of natural resources projects — a concern later echoed by party leader Scheer during the first leaders’ debate. 

The bill died on the order paper when the previous parliamentary session was dissolved.

The Liberals pledged in their election platform to adopt UNDRIP within the first year of their new mandate. The repetition of that promise in the throne speech comes a week after British Columbia became the first province in the country to adopt UNDRIP into law.

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“Ensure that Indigenous people who were harmed under the discriminatory child welfare system are compensated in a way that is both fair and timely”

The interesting word here is “timely.” 

Payette’s words come a week after the federal government lost a bid to delay a deadline to compensate Indigenous children and families harmed by an underfunded child welfare system.

Just before the election, The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal concluded that the government acted in a “willful and reckless” way by underfunding on-reserve child and family services. Ottawa was ordered to pay $40,000 in damages to First Nations children, and their parents and grandparents, denied essential services under the underfunded system.

Adrian Wyld/CP
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller listens to chiefs as they line up to speak during a session at the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa on Dec. 3, 2019.

A joint statement released last week by Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti and new Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said “Canada agrees it must fairly and equitably compensate First Nations children who have been negatively impacted by child and family policies.” 

Lametti and Miller pledged to find a “fair and equitable resolution.”

There’s an emphasis on this issue because the politics of fighting Indigenous families in court isn’t in line with Trudeau’s Liberal government priorities. The prime minister has repeatedly promised to advance reconciliation by forging a new nation-to-nation relationship.

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“The Government will ... cut the cost of cell and wireless services by 25 percent”

The NDP is likely pleased to see the government double down on its pledge to cut wireless bills after reports that Canada’s telecoms are planning to increase lobby measures to get Liberals to ditch the promise.

Both the Liberals and NDP made election promises to lower Canadians’ phone bills. The NDP pledged to introduce price caps that would help people save $10 on every bill. 

Watch: NDP make political pitch for help on cell phone bills. Story continues below video.

 

The measure is a populist one — who doesn’t want cheaper wireless bills? But details about how the Liberals will accomplish this goal remain unclear. 

Before Trudeau announced his new cabinet, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains was asked how the government would be able to deliver on this election promise. 

Bains did not give a clear answer, saying the details will depend on who the prime minister would appoint as innovation minister for the new session of Parliament.  

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“The Government will take steps to introduce and implement national pharmacare so that Canadians have the drug coverage they need” 

Payette called pharmacare the “key missing piece of universal health care.” It’s a piece that will appeal to Singh and his MPs.

During the election, the NDP leader had warned that the Liberals can’t be trusted in their promise to introduce and implement national pharmacare. Eric Hoskins, chair of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of Pharmacare has said that the government needs to increase funding if the party is serious about implementing the system. 

Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Dr. Eric Hoskins, Chair of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, speaks during a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on June 12, 2019.

The reassertion that implementing pharmacare is a priority item for the Liberals is notable in light of national unity concerns that arose on election night. Premiers suggested earlier this week at a Council of the Federation meeting that the timing may not be right for the federal government to push pharmacare negotiations onto provinces and territories.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister warned that if existing systems currently can’t sustain health care or deliver services effectively, then “don’t start with another program.... Don’t start broadening health care when you can’t get it right now.”

National pharmacare was a central election plank for the NDP — a party that has 24 members in Parliament where the Liberals are 13 seats short of a majority.

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Honourable mentions:

- A promise to “ensure fairness for all in the new digital space” couched with a caveat that the government will review “rules currently in place.” The Liberals named Google and Facebook in the party’s election platform to be companies worth reviewing because of their possession of large amounts of data. The throne speech made no mention of any specific digital tech giant by name.

- An emphasis on “nature-based solutions” for climate change caught our eye. It’s unclear what that means exactly. It’s an interesting distinction to contrast from other solutions — possibly an effort to move on from the Liberals’ damaged credibility on the environment file after the government bought the Trans Mountain pipeline last year.

 - A pledge to remove “additional barriers” to domestic and international trade and “reduce red tape” for those seeking to start a small business — no doubt music to the ears of Conservatives.