Parliament resumed in full this week for the first time since March 12th. MPs met periodically over the spring and summer months, mostly virtually, in various committees until the Prime Minister prorogued the House on August 18th. In doing so, the PM said that due to COVID-19 the government needed to re-set the agenda and lay out a new plan for the economy, just 10 months after the last throne speech. Most observers felt prorogation had more to do with shutting down committee work into the WE scandal than laying out a new agenda. A socially distanced Speech from the Throne, and the Prime Minister’s address directly to Canadians during primetime showed that the government is intent on pulling out all the stops to regain the trust of Canadians. The purpose of this newsletter is to provide you with as much information as possible to be fully informed, and to provide you with our views as the opposition.
The Speech from the Throne
The hour long speech was long on promises but short on detail. This is not uncommon for throne speeches. An example is the promise to create a million new jobs, which came with no details on how that will be accomplished. There are lots of promises to placate the NDP to win their support in Parliament, such as universal childcare, universal pharmacare, and continued financial supports for Canadians. Many of these programs are provincial jurisdiction and while Premiers have called for increased funding to deal with healthcare, none was promised in the speech. There was no mention of oil and gas, pipelines, forestry or agriculture. Western alienation and concerns about national unity simply do not exist in this Prime Minister’s mind.
Prime Minister’s TV Address
On occasion a Prime Minister or Premier will ask television networks for an opportunity to address voters. This time is provided free and generally is intended to deal with a crisis situation. The PM used this time to warn Canadians that we are now in the second wave of COVID-19 and we must all be more vigilant in our behavior in order to avoid a second lockdown. He also used the address to trumpet his Government’s response to COVID, and to advertise the Throne Speech. His language was somewhat odd as it directly contradicted what Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said earlier in the day about the second wave not yet being upon us.
The Prime Minister was attempting, with Wednesday’s efforts, to regain the support of Canadians that was lost over the summer and to pivot from the increasing number of ethics allegations that arose as Parliament adjourned. Media coverage wasn’t too kind.
Globe Editorial – Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament for this?
National Post Matt Gurney – Trudeau’s televised address wasn’t just unnecessary. It was bizarre.
Official Opposition Responds to Throne Speech and Television Address
Parliament should be a microcosm of the people of Canada. Nowhere was that more evident than with the opening of Parliament on Wednesday. Many Canadians have been forced to isolate at one point this past year due to contact with the virus. Ottawa is no exception. Both the leader of the Conservatives, Erin O’Toole and BQ, Yves-François Blanchet, were absent as they were isolating at home with the virus. O’Toole delivered a pre-recorded statement following both the throne speech and TV address which can be viewed here.
Deputy leader Candice Bergen responded after the PM’s remarks and led off opposition debate in the House Thursday morning. Her remarks can be viewed here (start the video at around 11:16:00).
Canada Recovery Benefit
In order to address the millions of Canadians who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus lockdown last spring the government introduced the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). This program was designed for those not covered by Employment Insurance (EI) and paid $2000 per month. At one point 8 million Canadians were collecting CERB. These payments are one the many reasons why our budget deficit now exceeds $400 billion and is climbing by the day. Many small businesses have been advocating for the government to move away from CERB because it was more lucrative for some workers to stay home and thereby was making it difficult for businesses to find workers.
In August, the government announced it was phasing out CERB and replacing it with the Canada Recovery Benefit which would only pay $400 per week. On Thursday the first bill introduced in this new session of Parliament increased the payment from $400 per week to $500 per week or the equivalent of the previous program. This new program is to run for the next six months. In addition the government announced that the Business Wage Subsidy would be extended until next summer.
It has now been 18 months since this government delivered a budget. Since that time hundreds of billions of dollars have been allocated to deal with COVID-19 and the Finance Minister has resigned and gone back to private life in Toronto. New Finance Minister Freeland indicates that Canadians can expect to end 2020 without seeing a budget. With a total budget deficit this year likely close to half a trillion dollars, this is totally unacceptable.
Addressing Western Alienation
One of the most significant issues for our community right now is bettering our place within Confederation. For too long Alberta has contributed disproportionally to confederation, and now, in our moment of need, we are receiving little support. We expected this to be addressed, or at least mentioned, in the Throne Speech. This is something that Erin O’Toole has indicated is our expectation in his conversation with the Prime Minister. As you might expect, these concerns continue to fall on deaf ears – and were not mentioned once in the Throne Speech. The Premier, Jason Kenney, also made extensive comments on this matter which are worth a listen.
We have released a comprehensive Action Plan for Alberta which outlines our commitments to address this issue. I invite you to read more about it here.
We continue to wonder why the Government of Canada has not yet approved any type of faster COVID-19 test. UK residents have access to free at-home tests; the US FDA approved a home test kit back in April; Germany has commercial tests available online. If there is truly a scientific reason these tests are not effective, we sincerely wonder what Health Canada has found that seemingly every other ally government has missed.
This is what the Prime Minister has claimed is his top priority. Yet nothing has been done, and people are waiting in queues for hours and then days for results. Waiting in a long line for hours with other people who are sick and needing a COVID-19 test can hardly be called effective. We call upon the PM to either get these testing systems approved, or at least explain what the problem with them is.
I also wanted to share with you that, until earlier this week, the Government had planned to not resume parliamentary committees that were studying the alleged ethics violations by the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, and other senior officials. To say that it looked like a shady way to sweep these serious concerns under the rug would be an understatement. Our negotiating team has made it clear that this was a complete non-starter for us, and that if committees were not started, we would use every mechanism at our disposal to draw public attention to the situation. The government relented this week, and committees will be resuming.
Will There be an Election?
Many of you noted my comments in my last email about an election being possible at any time. Let me be clear with you – we as the Official Opposition are in full agreement that an election would be inappropriate with the COVID-19 situation as it stands today. However, we would not be doing our parliamentary duty if we were to support this speech from the throne. We will be voting against it. Part of our decision-making process is that we believe the Prime Minister already has a willing party to pass his Throne Speech. The NDP has had many of its demands met in this Throne Speech and in the first bill introduced in the House increasing the CERB 2.0 benefit to $500 per week. Commentators on CBC’s At Issue this week were noting how the NDP would be crazy to vote against this speech since it mirrors their own platform almost perfectly.
The Prime Minister could call an election, even if he is supported by the NDP, however with the media reaction to this week’s events that is highly unlikely.
I look forward to keeping you updated throughout the Fall as developments unfold in Ottawa. Thank you for taking the time to read my email, and for your comments in advance.