Justin Trudeau’s first session of Parliament as Prime Minister was officially opened today with Governor General David Johnston’s Speech from the Throne. As promised, the Speech was “efficient”, setting out high level goals for the 42nd Parliament with limited reference to implementation or a specific legislative agenda.

Consistent with the Liberal Party’s election platform, building Canada’s middle class was a strong focus of the Speech, with new direction for tax, immigration and refugee policy as well as Canada’s relationship with indigenous peoples. Largely missing from the Throne Speech was mention or plans for energy policy, the private sector and agriculture.

The speech was divided into the following key themes.

Tax Policy

The government focused on middle-class tax cuts, announcing that it will deliver these cuts as an “immediate priority”. Further, the Liberals plan to provide direct help to the middle class with the new Canada Child Benefit. The Speech did not contain any mention of a tax increase to higher-income earners, although, this is anticipated based on prior statements by the new government.

Environmental Policy

A key promise is to grow the economy in an environmentally sensitive manner – as stated by the Governor General, “a clean environment and a strong economy go hand in hand. We cannot have one without the other.”

Consistent with their promise to work with the Provinces and Territories on carbon prices and emission-reduction targets, the Liberals did not advance any new policy on that front. Instead, they promised to continue providing leadership in achieving these goals at the provincial and territorial level. Respecting regulatory matters, the Liberal government plans to introduce new environmental assessment policies and engage Indigenous peoples in reviewing and monitoring resource development projects.

The government will further support its climate change initiatives through investment in clean technology, support for companies seeking to export clean technologies and “lead by example in their use.”

Public Funding

The Throne Speech further stated that the government would enhance and strengthen:

  • the Canada Pension Plan;
  • the Employment Insurance Program;
  • health care, through the development of a new Health Accord;
  • support to Canada’s veterans and their families; and,
  • the CBC/Radio-Canada and other cultural and creative industries. 

In order to further facilitate economic growth, the Trudeau government has promised significant new investments in public transit, green infrastructure, and social infrastructure.

In addition, the government pledged to work with the provinces and the territories in an effort to make post-secondary education more affordable. 

Openness & Transparency

The government is committed to providing an open and transparent government in order to restore Canadians’ trust in public institutions. To this end, it plans to:

  • eliminate the first-past-the-post voting system;
  • reform the Senate “by creating a new, non-partisan, merit based process to advise the Prime Minister on Senate Appointments”;
  • promote open debate and free votes in the House of Commons; and
  • put an end to using government ads for partisan purposes, interfering with the work of parliamentary officers and the use of prorogation and omnibus bills to avoid scrutiny.

International Relations & National Security

The government plans to strengthen Canada’s international relations, particularly with the United States, negotiate trade agreements and pursue opportunities in emerging markets. It will assist developing countries, renew Canada’s commitment to the United Nations peacekeeping operations and fight against terrorism.

With respect to national security, the Trudeau government will review Canada’s existing defence capabilities and invest in a “leaner, more agile, better-equipped military”. It will also introduce legislation aimed at: (i) providing greater support for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault; (ii) handguns and assault weapons, and (iii) legalizing, regulating and restricting access to marijuana.

Diversity

The Trudeau government has promised the following initiatives aimed at cultivating diversity in Canada:

  • foster relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples based on recognition of rights, co-operation and partnership, which will involve: (i) launching an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls; and (ii) ensuring every First Nation child receives quality education;
  • make it easier for immigrants to build successful lives in Canada; and
  • welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees as new Canadians by the end of February 2016.

Conclusion

While the new government’s plans were largely presented in broad strokes, the Speech from the Throne made clear the Liberal government’s main priorities – strengthening the middle class, spending on infrastructure, relationships with Indigenous peoples and working with the Provinces and Territories.