Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau speaks with the Usher of the Black Rod Greg Peters, a former Prince Edward Islander, as they wait for the arrival of the Governor General David Johnston for the speech from the throne in the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday December 4, 2015.
©THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first speech from the throne contained few surprises, with much of the contents delivering on major Liberal campaign promises. The brief speech, at fewer than 1,700 words, was one of the shortest in history, and perhaps reflected the fact that MPs would sit for just one week before an adjournment to late January.
The government will push ahead with a middle class tax cut, an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and a surge in infrastructure spending — three major election promises.
The Liberals fervent support for environmental issues was reflected by devoting an entire page out of eight in total, to the topic. The Liberals seem convinced that carbon pricing will go hand-in-hand with economic growth, and that a carbon tax will be a boon to the economy, despite questionable results in other jurisdictions. The support shown by Mr. Trudeau at the UN climate conference in Paris reflects there is a national will to address this issue.
The provinces are happy to see Ottawa commit to enhancing the Canada Pension Plan and develop a new Health Accord. Both will involve negotiations with provincial governments. Reforms are also promised to Employment Insurance, a major issue on P.E.I. after the former government divided the province into two zones and restricted access to benefits.
A promise to move ahead on federal electoral reform gives added emphasis to similar plans on P.E.I. where a special committee is busy at work on the same subject.
Changes announced by Ottawa on how senators are appointed are especially interesting on P.E.I. where there is one vacancy and perhaps a second pending.
The speech looked like the government was checking off Liberal campaign promises one by one. One wonders if the Liberals can keep their planned deficit at under $10 billion, considering new spending promises in the speech, and the continuing decline in oil revenues.
There were some major omissions. Childcare never got a mention or a pledge to drop the qualifying age for Old Age Security to 65 from 67 implemented by Mr. Harper. Promised changes to Bill C-51 on national security were glossed over. The military is getting squeezed out of new equipment and the size of the naval construction plan might be scaled back, which would have a huge impact on Halifax, Nova Scotia and the entire Maritimes.
The response from the Conservatives was predictable — a Liberal spending spree sees a return to big government and big deficits with a lack of attention on economic matters. Job creation, free trade issues, agriculture, energy and small businesses were not mentioned.
The Conservatives, who managed one dubious surplus budget in 10 years, accuse the Liberals of setting the stage for inevitable higher taxes, deficits and debt as the new normal. The Tories suggest that a new carbon tax will directly hit the middle class and kill jobs in a resource sector that is already struggling with global price declines.
At least the new government intends to deal with climate change and global warning — an issue that Stephen Harper decided to ignore by pulling Canada out of the Kyoto Protocols more than five years ago.
It seems the Liberals decided to fast-track their major election items for immediate attention and let everything else slide into 2016 and beyond.
The Speech from the Throne contains appealing rhetoric but raises many questions about the eventual cost to Canadian taxpayers.
There are other positive aspects in the speech besides a cut to the middle income tax rate, such as more free votes in Parliament and a commitment to end partisan advertising using tax dollars. It was estimated that such advertising reached more than $700 million under the Harper government.
A throne speech is not a budget. It’s easy to make promises but much harder to pay the bills.
The budget coming down next spring will provide a much better barometer on this new government and just where it is taking this country for the next year.