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

Courtney Driver is the new president of the 100 Mile Performing Arts Society. (Photo submitted)
100 Mile Performing Arts Society elects new president

Courtney Driver wants to provide more diverse events

Erica Henderson the supervisor of early year services and programs at South Cariboo Early Years Centre and others were giving out Halloween Family Activity Kits the week leading up to Halloween. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Halloween activity kits offered to kids at home

South Cariboo Early Years Centre is finding ways to bring activities into children’s homes.

test tube with the blood test is on the table next to the documents. Positive test for coronavirus covid-19. The concept of fighting a dangerous Chinese disease.
Interior Health records third COVID-19 death

A new community outbreak was reported at Okanagan Men’s Centre in Lake Country

Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Lorne Doerskson of the BC Liberal Party and his partner Shelley Wiese celebrate at his campaign office in downtown Williams Lake Oct. 24. Doerkson has been elected as the new MLA in Cariboo-Chilcotin. (Angie Mindus photo)
Updated: Lorne Doerkson elected in Cariboo Chilcotin in preliminary results

Outgoing MLA Donna Barnett said win is ‘exciting’ for region

A woman wears a face mask and plastic gloves while browsing books as a sticker on the floor indicates a one-way direction of travel between shelves of books at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch, after it and four other branches reopened with limited services, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
B.C. reports 234 new COVID cases, 1 death of senior who had attended small birthday party

Roughly 5,700 people are isolating due to being exposed to a confirmed case

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Interior Health reports seven more COVID-19 cases

Eighty-nine cases remain active, none of whom are currently hospitalized

Burnaby RCMP responded to a dine-and-dash suspect who fell through a ceiling in March 2020. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Suspected dine-and-dasher falls through ceiling of Burnaby restaurant

A woman believed to be dashing on her restaurant bill fell through the kitchen ceiling

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A can of Canada Dry Ginger Ale is shown in Toronto on Thursday Oct. 29, 2020. The maker of Canada Dry Ginger Ale has agreed to pay over $200,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit launched by a B.C. man who alleged he was misled by marketing suggesting the soda had medicinal benefits. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Joseph O’Connal
B.C. man’s lawsuit over marketing of Canada Dry ginger ale settled for $200K

Soda’s maker, Canada Dry Mott’s Inc., denied the allegations and any liability

Vancouver Island-based Wilson’s Transportation has expanded to fill some of the routes left unserviced by Greyhound as of Nov. 1, 2018. (Black Press files)
B.C. bus companies say they need help to survive COVID-19

Like airlines, motor coaches have lost most of their revenue

A deer was spotted in October 2020 in Prince Rupert, B.C., with a bright pink yoga ball stuck in its antlers. (Kayla Vickers/Chronicles Of Hammy The Deer Official Page)
Hammy 2.0? Prince Rupert deer spotted with bright pink yoga ball stuck in antlers

The BC Conservation Officer Service is aware of the deer roaming around the city

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Kelowna Mountie hit with 2nd lawsuit in 2 months for alleged assault

Const. Julius Prommer is accused of breaking a woman’s knee during while responding to a noise complaint

Most Read