A ‘No Surprise’ Throne Speech

This week, the 44th Parliament finally began.

On Monday, as the first order of business, Ontario MP Anthony Rota was re-elected Speaker of the House of Commons. This was not a surprise, as he was generally seen as an effective and fair ‘referee’ during his first mandate. He carried out his duties with calm and clearly earned the trust of his colleagues.

And on Tuesday, after more than two months since ‘the most important election since WWII’, as the PM had billed it, the government delivered its Throne Speech; the government’s blueprint for the new parliament. The 32 minute presentation was read, in the Senate Chambers, by Governor General Mary Simon. It was her first.

The Speech was safe and predictable, with no new initiatives. It focused on five major planks;

First up, the government expressed its determination to bring the pandemic to an end. It recognized how difficult the last 18 months have been for Canadians, and it thanked the front line health workers for their round the clock efforts. It also extended condolences to the families who lost loved ones to the virus.

The ultimate solution, they declared, is through vaccination, including for children. A new batch of vaccines has been procured for this purpose, and the requirement for Canadians having their proof of vaccines, if they are venture out to stores and events, was restated.

The Speech also touched on the importance of reforming and strengthening our health care system, and reducing waiting times. Toward this end, mental health received several references.

The second objective was to rebuild a resilient economy for all, and get “big things done”. For this, it is necessary to defeat the pandemic, so as to allow us to reinvigorate businesses across the land. The Liberals reminded the nation of the financial support they offered Canadians and companies, as a way of helping them to survive the Corona virus. However, they signalled that it is now time to employ a more targeted assistance, so as to return to a more prudent management of the finances.

The GG also stated that inflation is a concern. Accordingly, the government indicated that initiatives on building more affordable housing and creating more childcare spaces will continue. They maintained that these two policy thrusts are not only good for families, but that they are also essential for rebooting our national economy.

The third priority was climate change. The government repeated its longstanding determination to fight the ‘challenge of our generation’. It stated in simple but stark words that the “”earth is in danger, and that we must all translate words into action. The globe cannot afford to wait”. It therefore urged countries to move further and quicker.

As well, the Speech reached out to British Colombians, who have been hit with severe flooding in recent days. It asserted that they will have the back of citizens in our most western province. In doing so, they underlined the criticality of building back with climate-reinforced infrastructure, so that we are better prepared for future extreme weather events.

The fourth imperative was directed towards Canada’s Indigenous peoples. The Speech mentioned that we must “turn our guilt into action”. It reasserted its priority to advance reconciliation. The GG, the first Indigenous person to hold this position, emphasized the government’s message by speaking in her mother tongue of Inuktitut, for parts of the Speech. Another first. It also added an elegant personal touch.

The hundreds of unmarked graves of young children on the sites of former residential schools seems to have served as a watershed moment for the nation; one that would stimulate a stronger commitment to right some old and painful wrongs. But Ms. Simon said that “reconciliation cannot come without the truth”.

Finally, the government heralded the importance of creating safe communities. Ms Simon cited that gun violence is on the rise in our big cities and as a result, Liberals will continue to tighten gun control provisions. In addition, they specified the need to stamp out violence against women and girls, and combatting hate and racism. As well, the government will continue to promote the principals of diversity and equity, while strengthening the criminal justice system.

As part of healthy communities, the Speech also underscored the need to  protect minority language rights inside and outside Quebec, of promoting our culture and its artists, supporting the rule of law, and the respect for human rights.

An overarching theme of the address was the appeal for all political parties and Canadians to work together. That it’s time to put aside bitter partisan divides. And that Canadians need to be there for one another during this time of need, by relying on the cherished, time-tested values of compassion and generosity.

The Throne Speech did not break any new ground. It was more pedestrian than visionary. And that’s good, as we don’t need lofty, unrealistic promises. It stuck to the familiar script of the Liberal’s recent election platform. It was also focused, rather than trying in vain, to be everything to everyone.

All in all, I thought it was a practical, hopeful start to a new parliamentary session. The key question is, how will the Opposition react, and will political leaders strike a constructive tone, in an effort to ensure that this minority government works for Canadians?

We didn’t have to wait long for the answer.

The NDP and Conservatives quickly dismissed it, while the Bloc called it an “empty piece of paper”. Still, none of them will risk defeating the government and putting Canadians through another premature election.

However, the negative musings aren’t helpful. Not when these hefty priorities require us to rise to the occasion. It would have been admirable for someone on the Opposition benches to signal a preparedness to work with the government and in the process, further improve the program of action.

Perhaps that’s naïve. But, when facing towering generational challenges like Covid and climate change, citizens deserve political leaders that stand in unison for the best interests of our country, and not for the best fortunes of their respective parties. Is that really too much to ask?