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A Speech from the Throne during Unprecedented Times

Speech from the Throne

On Wednesday, September 23, 2020, the Governor General, who represents the British monarch in Canada, read the Speech from the Throne. In 1957 and 1977, the actual Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, read the throne speech in the Canadian Parliament. It is called the Speech from the Throne because it is read from the seat/ throne located in the Senate Chamber that is reserved for the Queen or her representative.   A new session of Parliament following an election or prorogation (ending a session of Parliament without dissolving it) is not allowed to open until a Speech is issued. The speech is a proclamation of government’s agenda for the next parliamentary session, its perspective on the current condition of the nation, and vision for the country.

This speech was particularly important as the Liberals do not hold a majority government; the Liberals hold 154 seats, the Conservatives 121, Bloc Québécois 32, NDP 24 and the Greens 3.  As throne speeches are always followed by a confidence vote from which the government must obtain majority support, the Liberals need at least one of the three main opposition parties to back their plan to avoid an election. It looks like that party will be the NDP, with the Conservatives saying no and the Bloc saying the federal government is intruding too much on provincial jurisdiction and wants more money in federal-provincial health-care transfers.  Interestingly, “No government in Canada’s history has ever been defeated on its throne speech.”

The Speech

The speech was very much a product of this extraordinary time in history. Right now, over 1.1 million Canadians are still out of work, with many more working fewer hours and bringing home less money. The Liberal party’s perspective on the pandemic is that if we protect our health, we best protect our economy. The party signalled a more structural approach to dealing with the pandemic’s consequences versus a continuation of emergency, ad-hoc support. The approach involves spending money, as made in the evident in the speech with the following, “This is not the time for austerity” but a time to deploy Canada’s “fiscal fire power.”

The Employment Insurance (EI) system will support efforts to create structural change that manage the fall-out from this pandemic – and future periods of crisis – while also benefiting Canadian labour.  The Liberals seek to expand the traditional EI model to cover self-employed, contract and gig workers who increasingly make up more of Canada’s labour force. Workers currently receiving the soon-to-be-phased out Canada Emergency Response Benefit will transition either to EI (if they are eligible) or to a transitional program before being placed on EI. Businesses will benefit from a continuation of the Canada Wage Subsidy program into summer 2021. The subsidy is designed to keep workers off EI and other support programs while buttressing the economy against the pandemic.

Zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) received centre stage within the speech. The Liberals seeks to make ZEVs more affordable, while also investing in charging stations. Making use of Canada’s supply of nickel and copper, the Liberals see economic potential in building ZEVs and their batteries.

While the government proclaimed that it was committed to making “the largest investment in Canadian history in training for workers,” concrete examples of what this investment looks like were lacking.  The Youth Employment and Skills Strategy that provides paid-work opportunities for young Canadians is set to expand, as are supports that help workers to obtain education and training.

When schools closed because of COVID-19, the regular work / life schedule of many families was disrupted; women bore the brunt of this disruption. The Liberals are looking to make a long-term and sustained investment into a Canada-wide early-learning and child-care system. Such a system could help mitigate the impacts of future crises that lead to lockdowns and make it easier for women to get into, and stay in, the workforce.

The Liberals signalled once again that they are going to tackle wealth inequality in Canada through tax measures. These measures may include tackling tax avoidance by “digital giants” and targeting the stock option deduction.