UPDATE: On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed to HuffPost Canada that the prime minister will be speaking with opposition leaders later this week.
OTTAWA — If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is trying to avoid a fall election, he hasn’t sought the opposition’s ideas for what to include in his minority government’s renewed agenda.
Trudeau told reporters outside the cabinet’s in-person two-day retreat in Ottawa that the Liberals have been engaging with the opposition parties throughout the crisis.
“They have made public their reflections around what they would like to see going forward. We’ve been engaging them on multiple levels, we will continue to engage,” he said. “I think it is important for Canadians to see their different orders of government working together.”
But the Conservatives, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP — each of which holds the balance of power in the Commons — told HuffPost Canada Monday that nobody from the Prime Minister’s Office has reached out to their leaders or their offices about the Sept. 23 speech from the throne.
“There has been no consultation on the speech from the throne,” said Melanie Paradis, spokeswoman for Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole. “Nothing.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s spokesman, George Soule, said the same thing. Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet’s spokeswoman, Carolane Landry, told HuffPost that while nobody from Trudeau’s office had called or asked to meet, her leader had requested a meeting with Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to talk about the upcoming speech.
When Trudeau hit Parliament’s reset button by requesting prorogation last month, he insisted the move wasn’t about laying the table for a fall election, but rather one designed only to seek the House of Commons’ approval for a renewed Liberal focus on Canada’s COVID-19 recovery.
A confidence vote usually follows a speech from the throne, and another one will follow the government’s fiscal update, now tentatively scheduled for November.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominc LeBlanc was asked on CBC television Monday evening about the prime minister’s comments and insisted the government does not want an election.
“The Prime Minister has been clear, I’ve been clear, my colleagues have been clear, the government in no way thinks it would be appropriate to have an election in the context of a pandemic. Canadians expect governments to work collaboratively with opposition parties in the House of Commons, with provinces and territories, that is something that we are committed to doing,” Leblanc told Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos.
The minister added that he is “very confident” the opposition parties will see many elements in the throne speech with which they agree. “We hope they are not irresponsible enough to force an election,” he said, quickly adding “we would welcome their suggestions.”
LeBlanc pointed to his colleague, Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez who had been working with the other party House leaders throughout the spring sittings to negotiate the passage of bills and unanimous motions. Rodriguez is currently negotiating with the opposition parties how many MPs will physically return next week to allow for social distancing. The make-up of the chamber hit an unexpected challenge Monday when the Bloc Québécois announced one of its staff members tested positive for COVID-19. The leader and the entire caucus are now in isolation as a precautionary measure — meaning they won’t be in the House next week to hear the speech from the throne and they may not be there to vote on it either.
The Liberals, the Bloc, the NDP and the Greens are supportive of establishing remote voting but the Conservatives have yet to give their approval.
The opposition parties have publicly discussed some of the things they would like to see in next week’s speech. The NDP has spoken about paid sick days and beefing up the social safety net and health care sector, while the Conservatives have said they would support strategic investments that helped people get back to work as well as measures that “reinforced some long-term care homes.”
Trudeau has said the pandemic has offered the country a “moment to change our future for the better.” He spoke about the need to address gaps in Canada’s social safety net and make investments in areas that could boost growth and ensure a greener recovery, such as infrastructure projects.
Throughout the spring, as the pandemic wore on, the prime minister suggested several areas of potential focus: long-term care homes, the provision of sick days to all workers, expanded pharmacare, “better support” for those he called “vulnerable Canadians,” such as those with disabilities, as well as higher wages for support workers.
“More equality across this country needs to be part of it as well,” he said.
Watch: Trudeau says the fate of the WE Charity is “unfortunate.” Story continues below.
Trudeau also suggested investments will be made to spur economic growth that will help Canada reach its “net zero by 2050” commitment, and ensure that more Canadians have access to the internet. Racialized Canadians and Indigenous people confront extra barriers, he said, noting that women are facing impossible choices between caring for their kids and their careers, and that young people are dealing with “unexpected burdens as they worry about their future.”
But Monday, Trudeau seemed to dampen expectations of what will be in the speech from the throne.
“One of the things we are seeing is with numbers [of COVID-19 cases] rising across the country. We are not out of the woods. We need to continue to remain vigilant,” he said, reminding Canadians to keep their distances, wash their hands frequently and wear their masks “an awful lot.”
“Our focus right now is on the COVID crisis. We need to get through this in order to be able to talk about next steps, so a lot of what we are going to be doing during this retreat will be talking about how we continue to keep COVID under control, continue to make sure that Canadians are safe, that we are not overloading our health-care system. These are the things that we are focused on,” Trudeau said.
“We will have conversations about next steps as well, but our focus is very much on what we need to do to control COVID-19.”
“Obviously, COVID has exposed weaknesses in our country, where vulnerable people are continuing to slip through the cracks. We will have conversations about next steps as well, but our focus is very much on what we need to do to control COVID-19.”
Speaking to reporters later, Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said he doesn’t think “the government is backing off on anything.”
Canadians are worried about the pandemic, but they are also looking to the government to build back in a way that promotes resilience for the Canadian economy and for Canadians generally, he said.
“The priorities have to be around job creation, economic recovery, but they also have to be about addressing the crises that we know are looming on the horizon and that is the crisis of climate change and the global declining biodiversity,” he said.