Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has unveiled an “ambitious plan for an unprecedented reality” as his government laid out its new legislative agenda amid rising Covid-19 cases and a struggling economy.
That expansive agenda includes new investments and initiatives to help the country recover from the coronavirus pandemic, with vows to support “people and businesses through this crisis as long as it lasts, whatever it takes”.
Opposition parties have criticised the plan, with the Conservatives saying it lacked a commitment to fiscal restraint.
The four-pronged approach to the pandemic and the recovery was delivered on Wednesday by Governor General Julie Payette, the Queen’s representative in Canada, in a Speech from the Throne.
What are some of the promises?
The speech follows a warning from Canada’s chief public health officer that the country was at a “crossroads” because of the accelerating national count of Covid-19 cases.
In the last week, an average of about 1,100 cases were reported daily, compared to 380 cases reported each day in mid-August.
The Liberal federal government said it would work with Canadian provinces to improve testing capacity.
There were also vows to assist in the economic recovery, including a plan to create more than a million jobs, a commitment to extend wage subsidies until next summer, and support for industries hardest hit by Covid-19, like the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors.
There was also a promise to make a significant, long-term investment in childcare, which is seen as key to helping women return to the workforce.
Long-term care homes were especially hard hit early in the pandemic in Canada, highlighting issues of inadequate care within the system. The speech included commitments to bring in national standards of care and tougher penalties for cases of neglect.
Climate initiatives were also billed as the “cornerstone” of the recovery efforts, including the creation of green jobs.
What was the reaction?
While the speech made no specific spending commitments – those will come later – it said this was “not the time for austerity”.
Opposition Conservatives quickly panned the speech for failing to include more support for provinces on healthcare and measures to control government spending.
Earlier this year, Canada projected its largest budget deficit since World War Two – C$343bn, with more than C$212bn in direct Covid-19 support.
“We support Canadians but there has to be some fiscal stability,” said Conservative MP Candice Bergen.
Trudeau’s Liberals formed a minority government last autumn, when they won more seats than any other party at a general election but failed to secure an overall majority in Parliament.
The speech will prompt a confidence vote in the House of Commons – a key test of whether a sitting government has the “confidence” of the majority.
The Liberals will need the support of at least one other federal political party to avoid possibly triggering a snap election.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said on Wednesday his party had yet to decide whether it will support the government.
He said the NDP would push for more support for Canadian workers who lost work due to the pandemic, and for paid sick leave.