Throne speech: Government pledges law for balanced budgets
Published Wednesday, October 16, 2013 7:17AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 16, 2013 8:58PM EDT
The federal government is vowing to introduce new legislation that would mandate a return to balanced budgets in times of economic crisis.
The measure was introduced in the Speech from the Throne, which Gov.-Gen. David Johnston read to a packed Senate chamber that included Members of Parliament, senators, lawmakers and other dignitaries.
As expected, the government’s agenda for the next Parliamentary session included promises to help Canadian consumers with their bills, as well as law-and-order measures such as a crack-down on repeat offenders.
But the balanced-budget legislation was not among the measures hinted at in pre-speech interviews given by cabinet ministers.
The government said it intends to “enshrine in law” its efforts to balance the books as the world slowly emerges from the global economic crisis.
The new legislation “will require the adoption of balanced budgets and set a specific timetable for the return to a balanced budget in times of economic crisis,” the speech read.
The government also vowed to hit a debt-to-GDP ratio of 25 per cent by 2021.
“Canadian families know that they cannot thrive in continually spending more money than they earn,” the speech read. “The same goes for our government.”
As the Conservatives hinted at in interviews earlier this week, the speech included measures designed to put more money in Canadians’ pocketbooks, such as reducing domestic cellphone roaming charges, unbundling cable television services and enhancing high-speed broadband networks in rural areas.
“Canadians work hard for their money. And we know families are better placed to make spending decisions than governments,” Johnston said, according to text of his speech sent to journalists before he began to read.
“Canadian families work hard to make ends meet, and every dollar counts. While companies will look out for their bottom line, our Government is looking out for everyday Canadians.”
While the federal government had been touting these consumer-friendly measures for days, they left the opposition unimpressed.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Canadians want help with their debts, employment and paying for their children’s education and “this government simply hasn’t addressed any of those.”
“It’s a real disappointment,” Trudeau told CTV’s Power Play after the speech.
He accused the government of offering voters “just enough” to get re-elected in 2015.
“It’s not focused on Canadians’ success, it’s focused on the survival of the Conservative government,” Trudeau said.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair noted that an air passengers’ bill of rights, which Industry Minister James Moore had suggested in interviews would be contained in the speech, had been “excised.”
The Conservatives are also promising to continue “reducing the size and cost of Government,” including a pledge to sell federal assets “when it is in the best interest of Canadians.” Public sector pay and benefits will also be overhauled in addition to other measures to make government “more efficient.”
Also as expected, the government outlined job-creation measures, including a vow to implement the Canada Jobs Grant that was first introduced in the spring budget. The provinces have vowed to fight the program if significant changes are not made. However, Employment Minister Jason Kenney has said the government will go ahead with the program with or without the provinces.
The speech also included pledges to improve job training for people with disabilities, youths and Aboriginal Canadians, as well as reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker program.
Law and order
The government also included several tough-on-crime measures, as expected, including a pledge to introduce a Victims Bill of Rights. The government also promised to introduce legislation to address cyberbullying in the wake of a number of recent suicides of Canadian teenagers who were victims of bullying.
The legislation will “create a new criminal offence prohibiting the non-consensual distribution of intimate images.”
Other law-and-order measures include ending sentencing discounts for child sex offenders and automatic early release for “serious repeat offenders.”
The government will address the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women across the country and “vigorously defend the constitutionality of Canada’s prostitution laws.”
Mulcair said the NDP already had a cyberbullying law before the House.
“If the Conservatives are serious, we’re ready to adopt it tomorrow, one, two, three. We’ll see if that happens.”
Earlier Wednesday, media reports suggested that Canada was close to finalizing a free-trade deal with the European Union after more than four years of talks.
The government confirmed this, saying it “will soon complete negotiations” for a comprehensive economic and trade agreement (CETA).
And as Canada awaits a decision from U.S. President Barack Obama on the Keystone XL pipeline project, the speech noted that the country’s natural resources have the potential to benefit generations of Canadians, if they can be sold.
“A lack of key infrastructure threatens to strand these resources at a time when global demand for Canadian energy is soaring,” the speech read.
While Senate reform was not expected to figure prominently in the speech, given that it was delivered in the Upper Chamber itself, the second-to-last line reiterated the government’s pledge to move forward on reform or abolishment once it hears back from the Supreme Court.
Back in February, the government referred several questions to the court about its mandate, including whether it has the authority to outright abolish the Senate or what support it needs to scrap measures such as an outdated housing requirement.
“The government continues to believe the status quo in the Senate of Canada is unacceptable,” the speech read. “The Senate must be reformed or, as with its provincial counterparts, vanish. The government will proceed upon receiving the advice of the Supreme Court.”
In other news that leaked earlier in the week, the government announced it would bestow honorary Canadian citizenship on Malala Yousafzai.
The 16-year-old was shot by the Taliban and turned her experience into an international campaign for education.