Trudeau presents throne speech

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is beginning the 43rd Parliament with a throne speech that leans heavily on policies that the now minority Liberals can find common ground with the other parties.

In kicking off the new session, the government is promising to collaborate with the other parties to make the key initiatives they promised during the campaign, and that Canadians voted for, a reality in Trudeau’s second term.

Key policies outlined

The first major policy portion to get a mention in the remarks was climate change, stating that a clear majority of Canadians voted for “ambitious climate action now,” something the prime minister vows he will deliver.

The speech mentions the Liberals’ commitment to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050; continuing with the carbon tax; and following through on other eco-friendly measures in the platform like assisting people displaced by climate disasters while also working “just as hard” to get Canadian resources to market.

The speech then moved into discussing the middle-class tax cut as its first act, and also leans on affordability measures, like making housing more affordable; cutting wireless service costs by 25 per cent; helping students pay for post-secondary education; increasing the federal minimum wage; and making parental benefits tax-free.

Trudeau pledges to see the new NAFTA deal ratified, while committing to uphold supply management and looking to alleviate trade barriers in other places.

The Liberals say in this Parliament they will also review the rules that are in place for digital companies and will take steps to tackle money laundering.

The government’s commitment to reconciliation was referenced in the speech, including promises to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; as well as continuing with initiatives started in the last mandate like eliminating the drinking water advisories and working on Indigenous self-governance.

Also included in the speech from the throne is the Liberal promise to toughen gun control measures by banning military-style assault rifles and imposing a buy-back program, invoking the 30th anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique shooting in Montreal, and a commitment to developing an action plan on gender-based violence.

As for health care, the Liberals say they will be acting on increasing access to family doctors and mental health care, as well as promising loosely to implement a national pharmacare plan. The speech also notes that dental care is a policy approach “worth exploring.”

Without mentioning China or any other nation by name, the throne speech includes a promise to “stand up for the rules-based international order,” and says the government will push forward with Canada’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.

“As a coalition-builder, the government will build partnerships with like-minded countries to put Canada’s expertise to work on a global scale, in areas like the promotion of democracy and human rights, the fight against climate change and for environmental protection, and the development and ethical use of artificial intelligence,” said Payette.

Securing support across party lines

The throne speech is Trudeau’s first chance since shaking up his cabinet roster to communicate to Canadians the issues his government will be looking to advance, how he intends to do that given the new minority dynamics, and in what tone that work will be done after a rough and tumble election.

“Canadians have sent a clear message: from young people to seniors, they want their parliamentarians to work together on the issues that matter most to them,” said Payette, imploring MPs to “raise the bar on what politics is like in this country.”

From stating that the government will welcome the opposition parties ideas, to suggesting they may even follow through on some of them, collaboration was a through line in the approximately 30-minute address.

While the election campaign exposed considerable regional divisions, and saw the Liberals electorally shut out of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the word “unity” was only uttered once.

Though, Trudeau did recognize that the regional economic concerns Canadians are feeling are “both justified and important,” and he commits that the government will work with the provinces, territories, and municipalities, “to find solutions.”

“This fall, Canadians went to the polls. And they returned a minority Parliament to Ottawa,” said Payette. “This is the will of the people, and you have been chosen to act on it. And so we open this 43rd Parliament with a call for unity in the pursuit of common goals and aspirations.”

This new Parliament is one in which the Liberals will have to find allies among the other parties to advance their agenda and maintain the confidence of the House of Commons. With references to various policy approaches also pitched by the other parties, it’s clear that Trudeau’s approach will be to find support on an issue-by-issue basis with potential votes to be found on both ends of the ideological spectrum.

It is the first time that a throne speech was delivered in the temporary Senate chamber, a former train station, and the first time that MPs will spend their entire session in the new House of Commons in West Block, since the main Centre Block building is closed for renovations.

No longer down the hall from one another, MPs boarded buses to take them the few blocks down Wellington Street from the Commons to the Senate for today’s ceremonies, where a number of dignitaries were present.