Governor General David Johnston today opened the second session of Canada’s 41st Parliament with a Speech from the Throne that stressed “Security and Prosperity in an Uncertain World” – a theme that suggests the governing Conservative Party wants to cast the 2015 general election as a choice between the “proven” Stephen Harper and his “unproven” opponents.
With most government business taking place outside Parliament, the Throne Speech effectively describes a two-track agenda composed of “Government” and “Parliamentary” initiatives. The “Government” agenda forms the foundation of security, stability and prosperity. It includes:
- Fiscal responsibility - Balancing the federal budget by 2015, (to be accomplished without resort to tax increases), with the introduction of a balanced budget law, a further review of federal assets, and amendments to laws related to public service employment.
- Training and Skills development programs, particularly for unemployed youth and aboriginal workers, as well as measures to promote inter-provincial mobility and the recognition of credentials;
- Trade - Conclusion of the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA); progress on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); active negotiations with Japan and India; and further progress on the “Beyond the Borders” initiative with the US.
- Energy Infrastructure and Environmental Protection - Supporting the construction of pipelines, while entrenching the polluter pay principle; increasing liability limits; building a world-class tanker safety system; further action to reduce air quality nationwide, and working with the provinces to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector while keeping Canadian companies competitive.
- Transportation Safety – including improved rail safety rules
- Technology development, including the leveraging of DND Procurement programs to encourage direct Canadian industrial benefits and innovation; and
- Telecommunications – proceeding with the wireless spectrum auction, while bringing high-speed internet to more rural/remote communities.
Concurrent with “Government” initiatives taking place away from Parliament Hill, it is clear that all three parties will be competing within the House of Commons to be the champion of “everyday Canadians who work hard and play by the rules”. To that end, the Conservatives will be offering up a consumer-oriented “Parliamentary agenda” involving new laws that deal with matters where “there oughta be a law”. These legislative initiatives include:
- Allowing Canadians to “pick and pay” for individual cable tv channels, so they no longer have to purchase many channels on the next programming tier to secure access to one. (It is unclear whether this will impact on the number of “must carry” channels on the basic programming tier.);
- Capping wireless roaming bills (for roaming in Canada).
- Ensuring greater transparency about the cost of different (debit/credit) payment methods;
- Ending “pay to pay” policies (no extra cost incurred for a paper copy);
- Cracking down on predatory payday lenders; and
- Addressing the Canada-US price differential on many products.
Consistent with its desire to be the party of “middle class families”, the Government will also be continuing its “tough on crime/safe streets” agenda through, inter alia, the introduction of a new law against cyber-bullying and the end of automatic early release of dangerous offenders. In addition, there will be legislation related to plain language drug labels, improved nutritional labelling, new patient safety legislation, and additional food safety measures.
As a general rule, voters do not use elections to “promote” an opposition party, but to “demote” the governing group. Canada’s two opposition parties will be doing their best to help this process along, by hammering away at the Election and Senate scandals in order to raise doubts about the Government’s ethics and the Prime Minister’s judgement. The Government will introduce legislation to amend Elections laws to protect the integrity of the voting process. As for Senate reform (or abolition), action, if any, must await advice from the Supreme Court of Canada on the constitutional scope for change.