OTTAWA – The speech from the throne officially launched the Justin Trudeau era in Parliament on Friday with a general sketch that was heavy on social policy but light on details about the government’s broader economic plan or its timetable for action.
The brief speech read by Gov. Gen. David Johnston echoed the same optimistic themes of the winning Liberal campaign; openness and diversity.
It promised a new spirit of civility in Parliament, in which all members — on the government and opposition benches — will be “honoured, respected and heard.”
“Canada succeeds in large part because here, diverse perspectives and different opinions are celebrated, not silenced,” Johnston said.
“Parliament shall be no exception.”
The assembled guests inside the Senate and in the surrounding halls appeared to be carefully selected to reflect the spirit of the document.
Several new Canadians, including Syrian refugees, and local high school students, greeted Johnston and Trudeau as they walked to the Senate. The speech made specific mention of a promise to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by February 2016.
“As a country, we are strengthened in many ways: by our shared experiences, by the diversity that inspires both Canada and the world and by the way that we treat each other,” Johnston read.
Inside the Senate, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde had a prominent seat at the front near Trudeau and Johnston.
The speech said the government would create a new “nation-to-nation relationship” with indigenous peoples, saying it was a path to economic growth.
It also promised to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools and to launch an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
The speech expanded on other well-worn themes that were central to the Liberals’ victory in the Oct. 19 election, but provided few signals as to when it wanted to achieve its objectives.
It reiterated Trudeau’s pledge to cut the tax rate for middle-income earners and provide a more generous child benefit to those who need it.
It also promised significant new investment in infrastructure, including public transit, to boost the stagnant economy.
The speech did not specifically reiterate Trudeau’s promise to run deficits of no more than $10 billion over the next three years and produce a surplus in the final year of his mandate. Rather, it promised more generally to produce “a fiscal plan that is responsible, transparent and suited to challenging economic times.”
Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose said the speech was about “big government and big spending,” and would mean higher taxes.
“We saw no mention of the agricultural sector, no mention of the auto sector, no mention of the energy sector,” said Ambrose.
“Bottom line is there is no mention of the private sector, which was very concerning when we’re thinking of the fact that we need job creation in this country and we have to focus on the economy.”
Ambrose did say she was encouraged by a promise of legislation to address survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault and by the commitment to improve relations with First Nations.
That also receive kudos from NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.
“I am thrilled that the government said it will be a top priority to establish a nation-to-nation relationship with our First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples,” said Mulcair.
The speech highlighted Trudeau’s democratic reform promises: to run an open and transparent government, reform the House of Commons to empower backbenchers, replace the first-past-the-post electoral system and reform the Senate.
Former prime ministers John Turner, Joe Clark and Jean Chretien sat together to Johnston’s left — perhaps meant to celebrate the non-partisanship that is sometimes required even in the most political of venues.
On the environment, the speech promised to continue working with the provinces to put a price on carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It did not specifically repeat Trudeau’s campaign promise to meet the premiers to hash out a national climate change strategy within 90 days of the United Nations climate conference underway now in Paris.
It also promised to introduce a new environmental assessment process.
The speech did not specifically address Trudeau’s promise to repeal controversial provisions in the anti-terrorism legislation passed by the previous Conservative government, or the decision to withdraw planes from the bombing mission against Islamic radicals in Iraq and Syria.
“To contribute to greater peace throughout the world, the government will renew Canada’s commitment to United Nations peacekeeping operations, and will continue to work with its allies in the fight against terrorism,” it said.
The speech also reiterated the Liberals’ promises to “legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana,” and develop a new health funding accord with the provinces.
Mulcair said he was concerned that the speech did not include other campaign promises, such as the restoration of door-to-door mail delivery and new oversight provisions for anti-terror legislation.