Tuesday’s throne speech tempered the optimism of the Liberals’ election campaign with a more hard-nosed acknowledgement of Canadians’ collective anxiety.
The speech, which set out the Liberals’ governing priorities in a second straight minority parliament, still had a hint of “building back better” after the COVID-19 crisis and being “bold” in meeting big challenges.
But the document was shot through with the recognition that Canadians are increasingly concerned about what the post-COVID future will look like, while still processing the 18 hard months since the pandemic began.
“From the grief and pain of residential schools to the fear of threats to our natural environment to the profound impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, this past year has been hard on all of us,” Gov. Gen. Mary Simon wrote in her introduction.
“Confronting the hard questions will not always be easy or comfortable — and it will require conviction — but it is necessary.”
The rest of the speech focused on those hard and necessary questions, and there wasn’t a lot of comfort to be had.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s team opened with the immediate threat to British Columbians forced from their homes by floodwaters, vowing that the federal government will be there with support. But the top billing, in terms of concerns, went to the economy — and the cost of living crunch affecting people across the country.
“Inflation is a challenge that countries around the world are facing. And while Canada’s economic performance is better than many of our partners, we must keep tackling the rising cost of living,” the document read.
A recent Ipsos poll conducted for Global News found that cost of living topped the list of concerns Canadians felt the government needed to tackle, followed by lingering concerns about the pandemic, health care and housing.
After months of the Bank of Canada assuring Canadians that high inflation would be transitory — and after Trudeau downplayed concerns about it on the campaign trail — the throne speech suggested the Liberals recognize that it is both a real concern for Canadians and a political risk to their minority government.
The Liberals are promising “bolder” action in combating climate change, including capping emissions from the oil sands and “accelerating” the push to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But with floodwaters forcing B.C. residents out of their homes, and torrential rains trapping Atlantic Canadians in theirs, the Liberals chose to highlight their promise for a national adaptation strategy — a way to live with a problem Canada cannot solve on its own.
That recognition — that Canada is not fully in control of its own destiny in an interconnected and interdependent world — was another major thread running through the speech.
“In the face of rising authoritarianism and great power competition, Canada must reinforce international peace and security, the rule of law, democracy, and respect for human rights,” the document read.
“Canada’s prosperity — and middle class jobs — depend on preserving and expanding open, rules-based trade and ensuring our supply chains are strong and resilient.”
China is not mentioned in the speech. However, the government’s stated desire to “deepen” diplomatic relationships in the Indo-Pacific region is, as is relationships with Arctic-adjacent countries — where China, again, is asserting a claim.
The proper policy and political responses to all of these concerns will be debated over the course of this parliament. It’s likely that the Liberals have willing partners in the progressive opposition parties, and it’s equally likely that Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives have divergent views from the expected parliamentary consensus.
Politics is often about assuaging voters’ various anxieties and concerns. But Tuesday’s throne speech acknowledged that Canadians have a lot to be anxious and concerned about.