PM Trudeau to address nation after throne speech focused on COVID-19 response
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government will be presenting a COVID-19 response-focused speech from the throne on Wednesday, pivoting from a desire to kick off the new session of Parliament with bold new economic and social recovery plans due to the looming threat of a fall surge in the deadly virus' spread.
The speech—being delivered by Gov. Gen. Julie Payette in the Senate Chamber—will get underway at 2:10 p.m. EDT. Within it, expect to hear commitments to more health-care spending to ease the burdens felt by institutions such as long-term care homes; plans to rework the current emergency benefit and employment programs; and an intention to pursue new rebuilding efforts such as investing in a national childcare plan with the provinces and meeting their climate targets.
Then, Trudeau will be directly addressing the nation at 6:30 p.m. EDT. He is expected to speak about Canada's current COVID-19 situation and summarize the Liberals' new commitments.
- CTV, CTV News Channel, CTVNews.ca, and the CTV News app will carry live the address to Canadians in a special report anchored by CTV News Chief anchor and Senior editor Lisa LaFlamme.
When Trudeau prorogued Parliament and announced the Sept. 23 throne speech, he said the federal government needed the time to plot its roadmap out of the pandemic, but over the last few weeks there has been a day-after-day steady increase in the number of new COVID-19 infections, putting a renewed focus on the need to keep up or revive certain emergency response measures and financial assistance programs.
Citing the ongoing struggle with COVID-19, the calls for action on systemic racism, and the health-care, social and economic disparities the pandemic has exposed, Trudeau said in August that the federal government’s focus would be on plotting the long-term green-focused recovery plan.
“As much as this pandemic is an unexpected challenge, it is also an unprecedented opportunity. And this is our chance to build a more resilient Canada, a Canada that is healthier and safer greener and more competitive, a Canada that is more welcoming and more fair. This is our moment to change the future for the better,” Trudeau said at the time.
But as of Sept. 14 the prime minister had changed his tune, saying his cabinet was focused on getting the country through what’s shaping up to be a COVID-19 resurgence and mitigating the potential impacts of a second wave this fall.
“We need to get through this in order to be able to talk about next steps," he told reporters on his way into his cabinet retreat.
Over the span of that cabinet confab, several ministers sought to drive home in comments to reporters that the economy's health is linked to Canadians' health and so in order to "build back better," as the Liberals keep saying, the virus needs to be put back under control.
“I think we cannot ignore the fact that we have very short-term issues to deal with and the government would be very well-advised to emphasize that,” said Daniel Beland, a McGill University political science professor. “Healthcare is a big, big issue, and of course it’s always a big issue in Canadian politics and with COVID, it’s like a big issue on steroids.”
CALLS TO EXTEND CERB, CARE PLANS
Over the last several days many interest groups have been putting out hopeful statements about what they'd like to see Trudeau include in the speech, from Canadian Federation of Independent Business hoping for more support to keep small businesses afloat should they have to re-close, to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce calling for a new focus on measures to mitigate the she-cession, including affordable and reliable child care.
The Liberals had already allocated $625 million to support the child care sector in July as demands intensified for government action to help parents return to work after pandemic lockdowns, but faced later calls to go further.
The government has also already unveiled that it would be extending the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) into September, before transitioning the millions of people who are still claiming CERB onto a revamped Employment Insurance program starting Sept. 27. In addition to the EI changes the government has promised to implement three new temporary benefits, including a form of paid sick leave. In total, these new financial assistance plans are budgeted to cost at least $37 billion over the next year, when Canada was already projected to hit a $343 billion deficit in 2020-21.
"Now’s not a time to be worrying about 'How do we get back to balance?' But that doesn’t mean that the government shouldn’t be mindful of the public purse," said Deloitte Canada Chief Economist Craig Alexander. "They should think about the accumulated debt that they have, because even if interest rates are low, this is going to be a huge burden on future generations."
The federal opposition parties have also taken turns outlining what they want to see in the speech or in coming legislation, in order to secure their votes.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters on Tuesday that rather than wait for the aforementioned EI changes, his caucus wants to see CERB extended; and to see the promised offering of 10 days of paid sick leave for those currently without it, implemented.
"If the government puts forward these two things, we will vote for them, we will support it," Singh said.
With their leader Yves-Francois Blanchet still isolating due to contracting COVID-19, the Bloc Quebecois issued a statement on Tuesday outlining their four priorities for the speech: increasing health transfers to the provinces, more help for seniors, protecting Quebec's rights, and more compensation for the supply-managed sector.
"The prime minister must know that we will not give him 'a blank cheque' to manage the crisis," Blanchet is quoted as saying in French, in the statement.
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole vowed to hold the Liberals to account “on day one,” and says his focus will be on the well-being of Canadians given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, rather than an election. He made this commitment prior to testing positive for the virus, which will now see him taking part in the parliamentary proceedings from his self-isolation.
'IT MIGHT BE AWKWARD'
Having the governor general deliver the throne speech is a parliamentary tradition, but with Payette currently facing an independent review of harassment allegations within her office, Wednesday's ceremony may be a little uncomfortable for Trudeau, who will be seated next to her.
While Trudeau has lauded her career, his office has faced questions about her appointment.
During the first Trudeau throne speech, Payette ad-libbed, adding in expressions about space.
"It might be awkward… There's a certain awkwardness for the Liberal government," said Singh. "It was their choice, and now there's these very serious allegations.”
With the throne speech will come a key confidence vote, but as of late Tuesday, MPs were still working out how the hybrid virtual sitting and voting will work.
With files from CTV News’ Ottawa Bureau Chief Joyce Napier
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