Federal Throne Speech Promises Investments in Child Care, Housing, Expanded EI Eligibility and More
September 23, 2020
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered the federal Speech from the Throne today, promising new investments in child care, housing, expanded EI eligibility and more. The Speech from the Throne is required to start a new session of Parliament after it was prorogued to set a new agenda as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When Parliament was prorogued on August 18, new COVID-19 cases were down, schools were re-opening and it appeared that Canada was on the path towards economic recovery. In recent weeks cases have increased, particularly in Quebec and Ontario. Prior to the surge in cases and fears of a second wave, it appeared the government was planning to increase spending, potentially looking at big investments in child care, housing and social assistance. Canada's Premiers had asked for an additional $28 billion per year in health transfers. As the speech was being written, priorities seem to shift from long-term recovery to addressing a surge in cases and potential second wave.
The Throne Speech is considered a political address, outlining the federal Liberal government’s big picture vision. It is also a confidence vote and will require at least one major political party's support to pass. In the event that the Throne Speech or any upcoming confidence vote is defeated in Parliament, a federal election will be triggered. As a result, the opposition parties and their priorities must be considered as part of the government’s vision. Any new investments or funding commitments will have to pass through Parliament, and could be delayed or changed in the event of an election.
Throne Speech Highlights
The Speech from the Throne focused on four key themes:
- Fighting the pandemic and saving lives
- Supporting people and businesses through this crisis
- Building back better to create a more resilient Canada
- Standing up for who we are as Canadians
Early Years and Child Care
As part of the speech, a promise was made to make a "significant, long-term, sustained" investment in a national early learning and child care system. "Many women have bravely served on the front lines of this crisis, in our communities or by shouldering the burden of unpaid care work at home," Payette said, reading from the government prepared speech. "We must not let the legacy of the pandemic be one of rolling back the clock on women's participation in the workforce, nor one of backtracking on the social and political gains women and allies have fought so hard to secure." The government has indicated that it plans to build on existing investments in child care and “learn from the Quebec model.” They also signaled a desire to support before and after school programs.
Social Assistance and Employment
As the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) expires this month, individuals still in need of support will transition to Employment Insurnace (EI). EI will be expanded to ensure those who do not traditionally qualify such as the self-employed and 'gig workers' qualify for these supports. There will also be support for those with disabilities with a new program similar to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors. There will also be a series of supports for businesses, including an extension of the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program until the summer of 2021. Canada will also extend the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) to support businesses through to the other side of the pandemic. To address unemployment and support Canadians during the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, the government has promised to create one million jobs to restore employment to pre-pandemic levels. The federal government will also focus on skills development for young Canadians. Incentives will also be designed to support hiring. There will also be a new employment strategy for people with disabilities.
Housing and Homelessness
The National Housing Strategy will be accelerated, and the government will work to support non-profits and coops. They will also support affordable housing and all types of infrastructure. Priorities will be for rural, Northern and Indigenous communities. The government will also support shelters and transitional housing as part of a violence against women strategy. The government also highlighted their recent $1 billion announcement to support homelessness. Initially aiming to reduce chronic homelessness by 50%, the government is now espousing a goal to end chronic homelessness entirely in Canada.
Health and Long-Term Care
The federal government would like to set national standards for long-term care and will work with the provinces and territories, as this area falls under provincial jurisdiction. The federal government will also amend the Criminal Code
to penalize those who neglect vulnerable seniors. The government also indicated that it “remains committed” to a national pharmacare program. Support was also promised support for testing, seen as crucial to combat the pandemic. The Premiers' request to enhance health transfers from the federal government was not directly addressed in the Speech from the Throne.
The federal government also signalled its interest in supporting broadband for all communities. Investments will also be made to allow people to stay in their homes longer.
The government plans to exceed 2030 climate change targets and achieve net zero prior to 2050. Climate change action was highlighted as crucial to Canada’s economic recovery and future economy. Tax incentives will be introduced to make Canada a leader in clean technology.
The government is promising to address systemic racism against racialized communities and Indigenous peoples by cracking down on online hate, improving data collection and implementing an action plan to hire diverse candidates in the public service. The government also remains committed to Truth and Reconciliation and will accelerate on the government’s commitments. Canada will also sign on to the UN Declaration of Indigenous Peoples before the end of 2020.
Government Spending and Finance
The Throne Speech included statements like “now is not the time for austerity” and the “government is going into debt so Canadians don’t have to,” which provides a good indication of the government's position in this area. The speech also made mention of record low interest rates that allow for increased borrowing locked in over decades. “Central banks cannot do it all” and the Canadian government feels further stimulus is still required as the pandemic has not passed. The government also signaled that it would move to increase taxes on the wealthy to address inequality. They will also crack down on individuals and corporations avoiding taxes. There was also a reference to taxing digital companies such as Facebook, Netflix and Google.
The Speech from the Throne set out an ambitious agenda, but implementation could prove challenging in the context of a minority government and global pandemic. Prior to the speech, the Green Party was asking for a Universal Basic Income and action on climate change. The Conservatives wanted to see signs of fiscal restraint and have announced that they will not support the Speech from the Throne. The Bloc said they would not support the Speech from the Throne weeks ago. The NDP’s demands focused on income support, child care and sick days and appear to have been addressed. Opposition parties will have an opportunity to respond to the Speech in their addresses in the House of Commons. A series of confidence votes will take place over the next few days and it is unlikely to trigger an election as the NDP is expected to support the confidence vote. Further details will come in the upcoming budget / fiscal update, which could also trigger an election.
Read the full text of the Speech from the Throne