On November 19, 2008, Her Excellency, The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, opened the 40th Parliament with Prime Minister Harper’s Conservatives’ third Speech from the Throne. The Speech, as expected, focused on the economy and the growing international financial crisis. The Speech signalled that the Government will likely run a deficit.
The Throne Speech outlined the Government’s five principles to stabilize the Canadian economy. These priorities are: reforming global finance, ensuring sound budgeting, securing jobs, expanding investment and trade, and lastly, streamlining Government (i.e. cutting certain programs).
These were coupled with other key priorities ranging from securing our energy future, tackling climate change, to combating homelessness.
1. Reforming Global Finance
Canada will work with its allies and trading partners to re-examine and renew the rules that underpin the global financial system. The Government will promote the Canadian regulatory system as a model for other jurisdictions. The Government also vowed to work with the provinces to create a common securities regulator.
2. Ensuring Sound Budgeting
The Government warned that hard decisions would be made to control spending. Grants, contributions and capital expenditures would all be put under the microscope and Departments would receive funding for only essential programs. However, it stopped short of any specific cuts and confirmed that generous transfer payments would continue to the provinces for health care and social programs. There will not be a return to an era of "structural" deficits.
3. Securing Jobs for Families and Communities
The Speech indicated that the Government will continue to support programs, such as student financial assistance and encouraging trades and apprenticeships. It also indicated further support for the automotive and aerospace industries.
Public infrastructure will remain important, in the next year, and the Government promised to expedite the previously announced Building Canada infrastructure program.
Farmers will continue to receive the support of the federal government with a continued emphasis on freedom of choice for grain marketing in the West, and strong support for the supply managed sectors, at home, and in international negotiations.
4. Expanding Investment and Trade
The Government indicated its desire to create a more dynamic economy, centered on science and technology. They will begin by working with industry, at home, to apply the best Canadian scientific and technological know-how to create innovative business solutions. The Government pledged to invest in world-class research facilities.
The Government also announced that it would modernize competition and investment laws, and copyright and intellectual property laws, implementing many of the recommendations found in the recently tabled Wilson Report on Competition Policy. Trade poses an important challenge, with the Government pledging to seek out new opportunities and promoting global prosperity through free trade. The Government will seek to work hand-in-hand with the new American administration to help the North American economy recover, and will pursue trade agreements throughout the world and ratify the results of prior trade negotiations.
Finally, the Government will work with the provinces to remove the internal trade, investment, and labour mobility barriers by 2010.
5. Making Government More Effective
The Conservatives’ main aim would be to simplify government and make it more accountable – reforming and streamlining the way it does business. To achieve these goals, it will reform the administration of programs and services using the examples of other countries around the world and involving the private sector. Also, a review of program spending will be completed to ensure spending is as effective as possible. Fixing procurement will be a top priority, with promises of a simpler approach to make it easier for businesses to provide services to Government – in particular, military procurement, and that existing "red tape" issues will be cutback.
The Government highlighted other areas where they would focus their interests. In summary, these include:
Securing our energy future by developing our energy resources and pursuing new technologies, including reducing regulatory and other barriers to extend the pipeline network into the North. The Government also promised to create a stand-alone agency to regulate new northern development as a key element of its Northern Strategy. The Government reiterated its support for nuclear power promising a responsive regulatory framework, should the provinces choose to advance nuclear projects.
Tackling climate change and preserving Canada’s environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020. Government looks to ensure that 90 percent of our electricity needs are met by non-emitting sources by the same deadline, and banning future bulk water exports. The Government indicated that its rules for GHG reductions would be consistent with those of the Americans and Europeans, and that it would see that Canada participated in a North American-wide cap and trade system for greenhouse gases.
Helping all Canadians make ends meet by increasing funding of the Universal Child Care Benefit, increasing access to maternity and parental benefits under Employment Insurance, helping families who care for loved ones with disabilities, and extending the Homelessness Partnering Strategy.
Keeping Canadians safe by strengthening the criminal justice system with stiffer sentences on serious criminal offences, improving food and product safety and introducing a new national security initiative.
Contributing to global security through Canada’s military engagement in Afghanistan, which will end in 2011, and focus on reconstruction and development. Rebuilding and arming the Canadian Forces and increasing Canada’s international assistance will strengthen Canada’s position.
Building stronger national institutions by moving towards representation by population in certain provinces (British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario), introducing fixed terms for Senators, permitting Senate nominees to be selected by voters, and strengthening the Government’s respect for provincial jurisdiction in a Charter of Open Federalism.
While the Speech did not offer any grand vision, it did speak to the overwhelming issue of the current time - the economy - and the crisis in the capital markets. Canadians are worried and the Speech tried to address those worries.
The Speech also had enough other items to show that the Government was not completely preoccupied with the economy. There were no sharp edges in this Speech and no issues, which could even, remotely, trigger an election. This Speech could have easily been written by a Liberal government finding itself in similar circumstances. While the Liberals will vote against it, on principle, the Government should have no problem getting it passed.