Speech From the Throne and a New Session of Parliament: September 23

Speech From the Throne and a New Session of Parliament: September 23

Watch the opening of Parliament, the speech in the Senate chamber, debate in the House of Commons, and televised addresses by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other party leaders.

By Andrew Thomson | UPDATED September 23, 2020 8:16amET

Prorogation, a new session of Parliament, and a new speech from the throne gives a government the opportunity to hit the reset button.

And for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to try and move past a summer of controversy involving WE Charity and the Canada Student Service Grant.

The Trudeau government’s 2019 speech followed an election result that laid bare regional tensions and ended the Liberal majority in the House of Commons.

There were pledges to continue the reconciliation process with Indigenous people, provide tax cuts, and make progress on affordable housing, climate change, gun control. and national pharmacare.

That was 10 months ago.

Before COVID-19, and its recent uptick in Canada’s largest provinces. Before 138,000 infections and 9,200 deaths. Before an economic shutdown and disruptions to every aspect of Canadian life.

And, before the scandal that claimed the political career of Bill Morneau, who as finance minister led the plan to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to help Canadians through the pandemic and economic shutdown.

A SHORT-TERM FOCUS?

Morneau’s replacement was poised to spend billions more on what was being described as a bold plan to rebuild the post-COVID Canadian economy.

But the recent spike in cases has left Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and the Trudeau government signalling a more immediate focus when Governor General Julie Payette delivers the throne speech on Sept. 23.

“I think we recognize and have always recognized that dealing with the pandemic is job one,” Trudeau said on Sept. 16.

“But at the same time as we’ve been struggling with this pandemic, we’ve also seen … many different weaknesses within Canadian society. Gaps in our social safety net. People who are falling through the cracks.”

So the throne speech is also expected to speak to a longer-term vision that includes more money for child care, long-term care, affordable housing, plus a pledge to stimulate a green recovery. More details on those plans are expected in a fiscal update later this autumn. (And Trudeau has suggested the public release of new mandate letters to his ministers.)

THE FISCAL PICTURE

There was little opposition earlier this year when the federal government backstopped nearly every economic sector through emergency benefits, wage subsidies, and other programs.

But with the federal deficit approaching $400 billion, there are growing calls to temper new spending.

Freeland has consulted with former prime minister Paul Martin, who erased deficits as finance minister more than 20 years ago. And she claimed this week to be “well aware” of concerns about federal spending and the fiscal balance, but said getting more people back to work was a top priority, along with managing a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

“The single most important economic policy of our government and the best thing we can do for our economy is to keep coronavirus under control,” Freeland said.

“I can’t emphasize that too much. Some people sometimes like to talk about a trade-off between good health policy and good economic policy. I could not disagree more strongly.”

A MATTER OF CONFIDENCE

Regardless of how many specifics or dollar figures are in the speech from the throne, it will be a confidence test for the Trudeau government, which is 15 seats shy of a majority in the House of Commons.

Without support from one major opposition party, an election is likely. But it’s not clear if that’s the kind of reset button opposition leaders are ready to press.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh wants a pledge to extend the Canada Emergency Response Benefit while the Employment Insurance system is reformed. And he wants a clear pledge to extend access to paid sick leave.

Singh told CPAC he heard no specific commitments from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when the two spoke last week. But he will be watching for signals from the government, not just in the speech itself, but in the debate and legislation that follows.

From new Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, recently given a positive COVID-19 diagnosis: “Let’s see the plan and if it’s for the betterment of the country, we’ll support parts of that plan. If we don’t see it, we’ll put forward our own vision.”

The Bloc Quebecois, meanwhile, has threatened to try and force an election over the WE affair unless Trudeau steps down. And the party wants increased health care transfers to the provinces, more support for seniors, respect for Quebec jurisdictions, and support for supply-managed farmers.

But their leader will not be on Parliament Hill as the House of Commons resumes; Yves-François Blanchet has tested positive for COVID-19, and tweeted Tuesday that he and O’Toole would wait to give their formal replies to the speech until after their isolation periods had ended.

Trudeau insisted that he does not want a campaign in the near future — but would be ready if necessary.

“I think it’s irresponsible to say that an election would be irresponsible,” Trudeau told reporters. “Our country and our institutions are stronger than that, and if there has to be an election, we’ll figure it out.”

“I don’t think that’s what Canadians want. I don’t think that’s what opposition parties want and it’s certainly not what the government wants.”


More on the return of Parliament:


More on the speech from the throne:

In 1984 the Montreal Gazette said the event might have “mystified Canadians watching the event on television.”

In fact, the traditions surrounding the speech from the throne trace their lineage back to 16th-century England.

The Usher of the Black Rod and Speaker of the House lead MPs to the Senate chamber for the speech, since the Governor General or monarch is not traditionally allowed inside the House of Commons. The Governor General, meanwhile, leads a ceremonial procession from Rideau Hall to the temporary Senate chamber.

(One tradition remains peculiar to the Palace of Westminster in London, though. The cellars there are searched before every opening of Parliament in a ceremonial nod to the foiled 1605 Gunpowder Plot that would have blown up the House Lords and killed King James I as the beginning of a Catholic revolt in England.)

The government writes the speech, which MPs debate for up to six days after returning to the Commons.

That process begins with a motion by two government backbenchers to consider an Address in Reply: a short statement of thanks to the Governor General for providing the speech. Debate begins with “Leaders’ Day” and a speech by the leader of the opposition. By tradition, the prime minister speaks next, followed by the other party leaders.

The royal representative almost always reads the speech from the throne. Sometimes the monarch performs the duty themselves. King George VI read the 1939 speech during a pre-war visit to Canada. Queen Elizabeth II did the same in 1957 and 1977.

Whether a king, queen, or governor general delivers the speech, its text is entered onto parchment and presented to the Crown by the Speaker of the House.