FILE – NDP leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Liberal effort to reset policy agenda panned by rivals as too much talk, not action

Trudeau said it’s ‘all too likely’ families won’t be able to gather for Thanksgiving next month

The minority Liberal government unveiled sweeping goals Wednesday to expand or extend supports for Canadians from nearly every sector of society in a throne speech billed as their “ambitious plan for an unprecedented reality.”

But the plan hit political reality very quickly with two of the three main opposition parties in the House of Commons immediately saying they wouldn’t support it. The Liberals’ most likely dance partner, the NDP, waltzed around whether they’d vote yea or nay.

If they don’t, the country could head into an election just as public health officials are warning the country is on the cusp of a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, with some areas already there.

The Liberals’ throne speech acknowledged that if they don’t first tackle the pandemic, they can’t move forward on previous commitments to fight climate change, address systemic racism and economic inequality.

“We must address these challenges of today. But we also cannot forget about the tests of the future,” said the text of the speech, read in the Senate by Gov. Gen. Julie Payette.

Her words hung over a near-empty chamber as COVID-19 restrictions limited the number of people who could be present in the Senate. Not far from Payette sat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, wearing a mask.

Later Wednesday, Trudeau addressed Canadians in a nationally televised address, warning that the dreaded second wave of the pandemic is already underway in the four largest provinces.

“We’re on the brink of a fall that could be much worse than the spring,” he said.

He noted there were well over 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 in Canada on Tuesday, compared to just 47 new cases on March 13, when the countrywide lockdown to curb the spread began.

Trudeau said it’s “all too likely” families won’t be able to gather for Thanksgiving next month, but if Canadians do their part then he said there is hope on the horizon: “We still have a shot at Christmas.”

Trudeau used the televised address to summarize the contents of the throne speech unveiled just hours earlier.

The Liberals promised in the speech to do whatever they can to protect Canadian lives and help stave off another economy-crippling lockdown, including creating a federal “testing assistance response team” to meet the surge in demand, and targeted support to businesses forced to close due to local public health orders.

With millions of Canadians lives and livelihoods still teetering after the pandemic’s first wave, the Liberals promised to move ahead with a shift from emergency benefits to a more robust employment insurance system to incorporate COVID-19 supports. They’ve also reversed course on a planned end to the federal wage subsidy program, now saying they’ll extend it into next year.

But the immediate goals of the government to restart the economy and support Canadians are matched by the need of the Liberals, who hold a minority of seats in the House of Commons, to stay in power.

The eventual vote on the throne speech is a confidence motion and the Liberals need at least one of the three main opposition parties in the Commons to back their plan.

The Conservatives panned the speech Wednesday as being a case of “Ottawa-knows-best,” out of touch with Canadians’ needs and provincial powers.

“The prime minister had an opportunity to present a real plan to Canadians, and he didn’t do that,” said deputy party leader Candice Bergen.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called the speech pretty words on paper. He said his party has two demands: make sure that the end of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit in lieu of an expanded employment insurance program doesn’t mean people actually get less money, and introduce paid sick leave.

“We’ve not decided yes or no on the throne speech,” Singh said.

“I’m saying we need to see some actions to back up these words.”

READ MORE: Liberals vow wage-subsidy extension to 2021, revamp of EI system in throne speech

Trudeau’s rivals dismissed his televised address as further proof the throne speech amounts to an election platform.

Opposition leaders will have a chance to respond. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, who is in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19, recorded his reply ahead of time.

The Conservatives, who had also said they’d like to see some measure of fiscal restraint included after months of unchecked spending, saw those demands unmet.

“This is not the time for austerity,” the speech says.

“Canadians should not have to choose between health and their job, just like Canadians should not have to take on debt that their government can better shoulder.”

Trudeau expanded on that during his televised address.

“Low interest rates mean we can afford it,” he said. “And in fact, doing less would end up costing far more. doing less would mean a slower recovery and bigger deficits in the long run.”

The Liberals do hint, however, that the taps won’t run forever, promising they will be guided by “values of sustainability and prudence.” They say they will provide a fiscal update in the fall.

They are also promising some new sources of revenue, including looking for ways to tax “extreme wealth inequality,” and addressing digital giants perceived not to be paying their fair share of taxes.

The Liberals post-pandemic “resiliency agenda” also includes plans for broad national programs, including a decades-old Liberal promise to implement a national child-care program. They also say there should be national standards for long-term care.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, currently in isolation due to COVID-19, said the federal government’s ambition strays too far onto provincial turf.

He said his party would give the Liberals one week to meet Quebec’s demands for increased federal health transfers to the provinces.

“Otherwise, we will vote against it,” Blanchet said in an interview.

There are also promises for tougher gun laws, legislation to address systemic racism in the justice system, more support for reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and a new disability benefit regime.

But the cornerstone of the “resiliency agenda” is combating climate change, the Liberals said.

There are a series of commitments on that score, including legislation a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 and investments in technologies to help achieve that goal.

The promises all come with no firm price tags, nor many specific timelines.

“Taken together, this is an ambitious plan for an unprecedented reality,” it says.

“The course of events will determine what needs to be done when. But throughout, protecting and supporting Canadians will stay the top priority.”

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusLiberals

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

"We are looking seriously at the spread and determining what our next steps should be," says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as the daily number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.
427 new COVID cases is highest in Alberta ever

Central zone has 126 active cases of COVID-19

RCMP. (Black Press File Photo)
Calgary man dies in two-vehicle collision near Sylvan Lake

A semi truck collided with a SUV just east of Hwy. 781 on Hwy 11.

Shaelynn Decock and her dog Taco, who has been missing since Aug. 26. Photo Submitted
Sylvan Lake woman looking for closure for her stolen dog

Shaelynn Decock says it has been two months since she last saw her dog Taco

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the Covid-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday March 20, 2020. nbsp;Alberta is reporting it's highest daily number of COVID-19 cases, with 364 new infections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta confirmed 323 COVID-19 cases Tuesday

Central zone active cases at 145

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Leader of the Opposition Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday October 22, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
O’Toole tells Alberta UCP AGM Liberals were ‘late and confused’ on COVID response

He says Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has taken charge and not waited to make things happen

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Inquiry into oil and gas foes to deliver report next year: Kenney

A lawsuit filed by environmental law firm Ecojustice argues the inquiry is politically motivated

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

This photo provided by Air Force Reserve shows a sky view of Hurricane Epsilon taken by Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter team over the Atlantic Ocean taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.   Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly as it prepares to sideswipe Bermuda on a path over the Atlantic Ocean.  The National Hurricane Center says it should come close enough Thursday, Oct. 22, evening to merit a tropical storm warning for the island.  (Air Force Reserve via AP)
Hurricane Epsilon expected to remain offshore but will push waves at Atlantic Canada

Epsilon is not expected to have any real impact on land

A voter places her absentee ballot in the ballot box, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Robert F. Bukaty
American voters living in Canada increasingly being counted in presidential race

The largest number of Canadian-based American voters cast their ballots in New York and California

A composite image of three photographs shows BC NDP Leader John Horgan, left, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Sept. 25, 2020; BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, centre, in Victoria on Sept. 24, 2020; and BC Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson Pitt Meadows, B.C., on Sept. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck, Chad Hipolito
British Columbia votes in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan called the snap election one year before the fixed voting date

Nunavut's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, on Tuesday June 30, 2020. The annual report from Nunavut's representative for children and youth says "complacency and a lack of accountability" in the territory's public service means basic information about young people needing services isn’t tracked. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Nunavut’s young people ‘should be expecting more’ from government services: advocate

‘The majority of information we requested is not tracked or was not provided by departments’

Most Read