It was never entirely clear why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau felt the need last month to prorogue Parliament.
Now that we’ve finally seen and heard the much-hyped throne speech — not to mention Trudeau’s own address to Canadians — it only serves to confirm the suspicion that this was all little more than political theatre.
That the prime minister’s ostensibly urgent national address on Wednesday night turned out to be a pointless waste of time is perhaps a fitting end to what has been a bizarre five weeks. For all the talk that the government needed a reset to lay out a serious new vision for how Canada can respond to and recover from the pandemic, it seems we’ve all been played by a rather unserious bunch.
There was nothing at all in Trudeau’s speech that warranted a national address, just as it turns out that there is really nothing outlined in the throne speech that warranted a prorogation of Parliament.
It was a long throne speech, to be sure, and it did contain some new announcements as well as some hints of a broader, more ambitious agenda.
The announcement that the government intends on extending the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) to next summer is indeed both new and significant.
Of course, it’s not the first time CEWS has been extended and therefore the government did not need a throne speech and a new session of Parliament to address this matter.
Meanwhile, the vague commitments to a national childcare plan or a national pharmacare plan seem remarkably similar to the Liberals’ previous vague commitments on childcare and pharmacare. The Liberals’ professed commitments to 2030 emissions targets and 2050 net-zero targets are awfully similar to what they promised during last year’s election.
If there is specific legislation the Liberals wish to table or matters upon which they wish or need to enlist the support of other parties, that option was always available to them.
As to addressing the pandemic itself, there wasn’t much new in the throne speech. The speech observed that “Canadians should not be waiting in line for hours to get a test,” but didn’t really articulate a plan for how we would prevent that from occurring. This isn’t a new problem, either, so perhaps we’d have been better off if the government started addressing this five weeks ago rather than waiting to include it in a throne speech.
The prime minister’s address didn’t exactly fill in any of these blanks. Trudeau spoke of the tough months ahead, how Canada is “on the brink” of a virus surge, and how we should all wear masks and wash our hands. But that’s hardly any different from what we hear on an almost daily basis at the federal coronavirus briefings.
Trudeau also offered a re-cap of the broader themes outlined in the Speech from the Throne, which seemed to serve no other purpose than ensuring that he’d be the face and the voice of these issues rather than Gov. Gen. Julie Payette.
In that context, it might be easier to understand the Liberals’ motivation in recent weeks: trying to distance themselves from various scandals. If Trudeau is prepared to demand time for a national address so as to distract from the controversies swirling around his choice for Governor General, maybe it’s not so far-fetched that they would prorogue Parliament so as to derail the committee investigations into the WE Charity scandal.
At least we are able — for now, anyway — to rule out the theory that the Liberals were cynically trying to engineer the fall of their government thus precipitating a fall election. However, the deal the Liberals appear to have worked out with the NDP seems to represent a change in direction from recent weeks when the Liberals were refusing to consult with the other parties about the throne speech.
Again, if there is a genuine desire on the Liberals’ part to work with the other parties, that opportunity was there five weeks ago.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Liberals have been playing political games at a time when they have been offering all sorts of platitudes about the need for seriousness. After five wasted weeks, hopefully now they’ll start to live up to their own rhetoric.