Trudeau presents throne speech focused on common ground in minority-led Parliament
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.
- Scroll down to recap the day's events in our live blog
The speech from the throne, while written by Trudeau and his team, was read in the Senate by the Queen’s representative, Gov. Gen. Julie Payette.
From action on climate change and middle-class tax cuts, to making moves on pharmacare and gun control, the speech lays out the Liberals' legislative agenda in broad strokes. The promises were captured under five themes: "Fighting climate change"; "strengthening the middle class"; "walking the road of reconciliation"; "keeping Canadians safe and healthy"; and "positioning Canada for success in an uncertain world."
"I am convinced that anyone can rise to any occasion if they are willing to work with others, to reach a higher goal and to do what is right for the common good," Payette said in reading the throne speech for the first time since the former astronaut was appointed to her role in 2017. The speech included a nod to her past, with a mention to Canadians all being "on board the same planetary spaceship," a line the Prime Minister’s Office says she stitched in herself.
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.
Post-speech opposition reaction
The formal post-speech reaction from the opposition parties will come in a debate that will get underway on Friday, but in their initial remarks Thursday evening, reaction was mixed as to whether or not the verbiage in the speech was enough to secure their caucus’ support once it comes to a vote, something the government is considering a confidence vote.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said he was "very disappointed" in what was missing from the speech, including "no sense that decisions that were taken in the previous parliament under this government have caused some of the very damage to our society." Scheer added that he intends to move an amendment to the speech as the debate unfolds in the coming days. Whether that gets support could dictate whether his caucus will vote in favour of the speech.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said that while he was not in favour of everything discussed in the speech, there was something on offer for every party and enough for Quebec within it to lead his caucus to support it. This means that the Liberals should be able to secure the just over a dozen votes it needs to pass it.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the throne speech in itself was not enough to secure NDP backing, but he’s open to talks to see if more can be done to get his caucus onside.
"We need to talk, because it’s not good enough. We need some firmer commitments, we need some real action to tackle the urgent problems that people are facing," Singh said.
Green Party Parliamentary Leader said she was disappointed in the level of commitment to the climate crisis in the speech and her caucus of three MPs isn’t expected to be there as a result. Though, she noted that the Liberals should remain on stable government footing for the foreseeable future.
"I don't want to sound facetious about this but the reality of the other parties is they don’t decide to bring down a government by looking at the principle of the matter, they decide by looking at their bank account, they're broke, they don’t want to go into another election too soon," May said.
Liberal MP Rota named Speaker
The opening of the 43rd Parliament was a full day of ceremonies and parliamentary procedure, happening 46 days after election.
The first item of business Thursday morning was for MPs to elect a House of Commons Speaker. After an hours-long election, Liberal Anthony Rota was declared the winner.
After a ranked and secret ballot election process, Rota was named as the new Speaker. He defeated incumbent Liberal Geoff Regan who was hoping for a second term.
In Rota's speech pitching his candidacy to his colleagues he spoke about being collaborative and having an open-door policy when it comes to raising issues and finding ways to improve how the House functions.
The Speaker's duty is to be the impartial interpreter of the rules and maintain order in the Commons. They are also the head of the House of Commons administration.
The job comes with an $85,500 top-up on the base $178,900 MP salary, an official residence, as well as a modest apartment on Parliament Hill.
There were five MPs in the running for the post, two Liberals, two Conservatives and one New Democrat. The vote was presided over by Dean of the House, Bloc Quebecois MP Louis Plamondon.
Upon taking the Speaker's chair, Rota spoke about how proud he was to be the first person to hold the job who is of Italian descent. He vowed to be impartial and work on improving the order in the House.
He also asked his colleagues to assist in that, imploring them to think of their friends and families who are watching when they rise in the Commons and to carry themselves accordingly.
Each party leader took their turn congratulating him, and offering their initial welcome back remarks, as it was the first time for each to speak in the new session.
"Common ground does exist in this Parliament and I know we can build on it," Trudeau said.
More debate to come
Following the throne speech, MPs returned to the Commons for a series of procedural steps required at the opening of a new session. These included tabling the first bill of the session, Bill C-1, a pro-forma piece of legislation; and setting the timing and agenda for the days ahead.
There will be a chunk of House time dedicated on Monday to allow MPs to study and pass the supplementary estimates, essentially an additional spending bill to keep the lights on in government departments. This vote will also be considered a confidence vote, meaning the Liberals will be looking to survive two in quick succession, should they finalize throne speech debate before the Commons breaks for Christmas on Dec. 13.
The Liberals had pledged, and restated in the speech from the throne that the first item of business they'd advance would be a middle class tax cut, same as they did in 2015. While thought to be presented in a bill, the government has instead put on notice a motion seeking the House's approval to raise the basic personal income tax exemption.
MPs will have their first question period of the new session on Friday and Trudeau will be in attendance.