At 6000 words, the speech included a host of measures aimed at restoring fiscal balance, stimulating the economy, supporting Canada’s fragile recovery and increasing innovation and competitiveness. The speech also highlights traditional conservative issues such as law and order and support for seniors and veterans, as well as confirming the government’s interest in defending our Arctic sovereignty and developing the North.
The Economy as Priority One
Not surprisingly, the economy is confirmed as the government’s top priority. In contrast to the 2009 Throne Speech and budget which was consumed with the immediate and urgent need to deal with the global recession, this year’s speech signals a return, of sorts, to the narrative built by the government since 2006.
In many ways, this year’s economic plan is very much one of transition. While the second phase of the government’s stimulus package will be implemented in this coming fiscal year, the government is sending a very clear message that stimulus will be wound down as the economy grows. Moreover, the emphasis on innovation and competitiveness suggests a look beyond the immediate priority of the recession toward longer-term economic reform.
Specific measures include:
- Return to fiscal balance by slowing the growth of federal spending, with the exception of pensions and transfers for health care and education;
- No tax increases;
- Support for skills enhancement, apprenticeships and training;
- Bolster the Science and Technology Strategy, and introduce a Digital Economic Strategy;
- Reform copyright and intellection property protection;
- Ease foreign direct investment restrictions in telecommunications and satellite sectors;
- Negotiate free trade agreements with Peru and the European Free Trade Association;
- Create a common securities regulator; and,
- Develop clean energy sector and green jobs.
To the surprise of some pundits, the Speech from the Throne also includes a number of significant announcements well beyond the economy and fiscal management.
Of course, the government intends to reintroduce its bills relating to law and order, and will continue to push to protect children from sexual exploitation and internet luring. They also intend to move on violent and repeat offenders and white-collar crime. But there are also stated intentions related to social programs and communities, official languages, First Nations and our engagement in the world.
Specific announcements include:
- Strengthen the retirement income system;
- Modernize the support system for veterans;
- Look to charities and private sector organizations to innovate in social program delivery;
- Settle land claims;
- Address gender inequities in the Indian Act and aboriginal assistance programs;
- Increase the number of seats in the House of Commons to achieve a better ‘rep by pop’ ratio;
- Reform the Senate;
- A commitment to reform the northern regulatory regime to ensure that the region's resource potential can be developed where commercially viable while ensuring a better process for protecting the environment;
- Settle international boundary disagreements in the North, create a High Arctic Research Station, and work toward territorial devolution; and,
- Invest in maternal and child health in developing countries.
Using language that is much more precise and explicit than past Throne Speeches, the government has set out a rather ambitious agenda for this session of Parliament. The long ‘To Do’ list the government has just given itself suggests that this Parliament more than likely has life in it still. Absent any obstructionist tactics from the opposition, it would be difficult for the government to trigger an election before a substantial portion of this work is complete. And while the opposition parties will not necessarily endorse the plan, they could – at a minimum – vote against the Speech in sufficiently small numbers to ensure its passage through the Commons. After an extended prorogation, it seems this Parliament will be hard at work for some time to come.