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Climate change, healing regional divides key planks for Trudeau Liberals in Throne Speech

Throne speech sets Liberals’ agenda, appeals for unity
Canada's new session of parliament has begun with a throne speech, delivered by Governor General Julie Payette. Abigail Bimman breaks down the priorities laid out by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's minority government.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is urging the opposition parties to work with his government as it tackles climate change and tries to heal regional divides.

Governor General Julie Payette read out Trudeau’s Speech from the Throne on Thursday afternoon, outlining the new vision that will guide the Liberals as they move into the uncertain realm of governing in a minority scenario.

“In this election, Parliamentarians received a mandate from the people of Canada which Ministers will carry out. It is a mandate to fight climate change, strengthen the middle class, walk the road of reconciliation, keep Canadians safe and healthy, and position Canada for success in an uncertain world,” the speech said.

“These are not simple tasks. But they are achievable if you stay focused on the people who sent you here.”

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In a lot of ways, the Throne Speech was a repetition of many of the promises made during the campaign.

READ MORE: Why roles like chief whip, house leader will be more important in Trudeau’s minority government

No real surprises emerged and the revived pledges included things like getting Canada to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, planting two billion trees, increasing the federal minimum wage, ratifying the renegotiated NAFTA trade deal, cutting cellphone bills and banning assault-style rifles.

Throne Speech key priorities analyzed
Throne Speech key priorities analyzed

It included a promise to preserve 25 per cent of Canada’s oceans and land by 2025 along with a vow to table and pass legislation implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in the first year of the mandate.

It also vowed to create a National Action Plan on gender-based violence.

Throne speech sets Liberals’ agenda, appeals for unity
Throne speech sets Liberals’ agenda, appeals for unity

But the speech lacked detail on things like further support for reproductive rights, specific foreign policy objectives and included no mention of defence spending or how the government plans to navigate major looming procurements for the military.

The section that did address foreign policy did so in broad terms, describing overarching concepts and ideas.

“Canadians expect their leaders to stand up for the values and interests that are core to Canada’s prosperity and security – democracy, human rights, and respect for international law. Canadians expect the Government to position Canada and Canadians for success in the world,” the speech said.

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“As a trading nation, the Government will seek out opportunities for Canadian commerce, ingenuity, and enterprise.”

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It made no direct mention of China, despite two Canadians still being held in arbitrary detention.

Opposition says throne speech failed to bridge divides
Opposition says throne speech failed to bridge divides

READ MORE: ‘Restricted to a limited space’: Huawei CFO house arrest sharply contrasts Canadians detained in China

Instead, the speech identified continued focus on unilateralism, promotion of democracy and human rights, and tackling climate change while also highlighting the need to build partnerships on “the development and ethical use of artificial intelligence.”

The speech also noted that it is not a complete list of the things the government will focus on, and pledged to work with the other parties on proposals.

“The mandate of this recent election is a starting point, not the final word. The Government is open to new ideas from all Parliamentarians, stakeholders, public servants, and Canadians – ideas like universal dental care are worth exploring, and I encourage Parliament to look into this,” the speech read.

“Whether it’s fighting money laundering or making parental benefits tax-free, there are good ideas across parties, and this Government is ready to learn from you and work with you in the years ahead.”

Throne Speech: Usher leads procession into Senate chamber
Throne Speech: Usher leads procession into Senate chamber

Trudeau must get a majority of the MPs in the House of Commons to vote for his Speech from the Throne, which is a confidence vote.

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If Trudeau cannot get that majority support, he will be deemed to not have the confidence of the House of Commons.

Unpacking the politics of what to expect in the throne speech
Unpacking the politics of what to expect in the throne speech

The vote on the speech will not happen right away, though. In fact, a government official said it’s likely that the first confidence vote will actually be a bill on what’s known as the business of supply — basically, a bill authorizing Parliament to spend money — which happens several times each year.

READ MORE: Taking down the government, how a confidence vote works in Canada

Because of the timing of the election, this will likely be needed in order to authorize the spending of money for regular government functioning between the opening of this new Parliament and the looming winter break.

After sitting for roughly 10 days this week and next, MPs will be on the break until the end of January, with traditional timing of the budget not set to come until March 2020.

Once the throne speech is presented, it normally gets about six days of debate, so it’s likely the supply bill will need to be introduced and voted on before that.

Throne Speech: Scheer calls speech ‘insult’ to western provinces
Throne Speech: Scheer calls speech ‘insult’ to western provinces

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer made it clear to reporters after the speech that he believes it did not do enough to address Western alienation and that he will not support it.

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He argued there was “nothing really on national unity.”

“We are very disappointed with this Throne Speech,” Scheer said, adding that the Conservatives plan to move an amendment to it on Friday, which is when he will make a speech outlining his reaction to the speech.

“Today’s Throne Speech was, I believe, an insult to the people of Alberta and Saskatchewan for not recognizing the anger that exists.”

The speech did not cite either Alberta or Saskatchewan by name but did highlight regional divisions and the economic concerns alongside those.

READ MORE: Jody Wilson-Raybould says partisanship needs to be put aside to tackle Canada’s divisions

It also did not mention any other provinces or territories by name.

“The Government has heard Canadians’ concerns that the world is increasingly uncertain and that the economy is changing. And in this context, regional needs and differences really matter. Today’s regional economic concerns are both justified and important,” the speech said.

“The Government will work with provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous groups, stakeholders, industry, and Canadians to find solutions. With dialogue and cooperation, all regions of this country can overcome the challenges of today, and realize their full potential in the modern economy.”

It specifically mentioned the natural resources sector and the need to get those resources to markets.

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“And while the Government takes strong action to fight climate change, it will also work just as hard to get Canadian resources to new markets, and offer unwavering support to the hardworking women and men in Canada’s natural resources sectors, many of whom have faced tough times recently.”

READ MORE: Energy exodus: oil and gas workers look for more opportunity in Texas

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet pointed to that wording specifically as being, in his view, a direct reference to the West.

“We understand the prime minister is addressing the Alberta and Saskatchewan people,” Blanchet told reporters.

He added that he wants to make sure the focus is not just on the natural resources in those provinces but also on exporting resources from all provinces, including hydoelectricity and forestry from Quebec, but suggested he is concerned that many of the pledges in the speech strike him as vague.

But he did say he plans to support the speech when it comes to a vote.

Throne Speech: Bloc Québécois leader says ‘I’m going to support the speech’
Throne Speech: Bloc Québécois leader says ‘I’m going to support the speech’

The Liberals were locked out of Alberta and Saskatchewan in October amid a surge of economic frustration and alienation that has fueled discussions among some about separatism.

Trudeau pledged, in the wake of the election, to take Western alienation seriously and act to strengthen national unity.

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Elizabeth May, former leader of the Green Party, both did not commit to support the speech and said they want to see more concrete details on proposals to implement universal, single-payer pharmacare and stronger environmental protections by 2030.

Throne Speech: NDP leader says Liberals’ priorities outlined in speech ‘not good enough’
Throne Speech: NDP leader says Liberals’ priorities outlined in speech ‘not good enough’

Earlier in the day, members of parliament had also elected a new Speaker of the House of Commons.

Anthony Rota, Liberal MP for Nipissing—Timiskaming, was elected to the impartial position on the first round of secret ballot voting that began on Thursday morning.

He previously served as assistant deputy Speaker under Geoff Regan, who was Speaker for the last government.

Rota becomes the first member of parliament of Italian descent to hold the position — effectively “referee” of the House of Commons — as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau referred to it afterwards.

Speakers oversee the daily functioning of the House of Commons and are tasked with interpreting the rules and traditions of the place.

They do not vote, except in cases of a tie, and do not participate in debates.

The post comes with significant perks in the form of a salary top of of $85,500 added to the base MP salary of roughly $178,900.

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It also comes with use of the Speaker’s official residence — known as The Farm — which is located in Kingsmere in Gatineau Park.