Governor General Julie Payette delivers the Throne Speech in the Senate chamber in Ottawa on December 5, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

Refresh of Liberal government’s agenda comes amid new looming COVID-19 crisis

Lockdowns saw fed spending soar to historic levels in effort to offset pandemic’s blow to Canadians’ livelihoods

How the Liberal government intends to ride the coming second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic will become clear today as it lays out a three-pronged approach in a hotly-anticipated speech from the throne certain to set the tone for the coming months in Parliament.

In what’s expected to be an address lasting as long as an hour, Gov. Gen. Julie Payette will detail the government’s plans in three areas: dealing with the urgent crisis of the current surge in cases, continuing and changing support for Canadians and businesses still not back on their feet, and what will come once the economy is better able to stand on its own.

With national case counts rising, public federal health officials have made it clear that if further public health and personal action isn’t taken to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, the lockdowns which paralyzed the country for much of the first half of 2020 may be the only option.

Those lockdowns saw federal spending soar to historic levels in an effort to offset the pandemic’s crushing blow to Canadians’ lives and livelihoods.

Billions of dollars were pushed out the door to help cover salaries, rents, the purchase of life-saving equipment and other targeted supports.

It all came just months after the Liberals had won a minority government and forced them to rip up much of the policy playbook they’d put before Canadians during the election.

That was the justification Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used in August when he requested that Parliament be prorogued to allow for a reset of priorities.

Just ahead of that decision, his government had announced a massive new aid package creating new benefits, including paid sick leave, and expanded employment insurance as part of the phase out of an emergency benefit put into place in the early days of the pandemic. The measures require legislation that will be put before Parliament in the coming days.

READ MORE: Public health officials urge Canadians to limit contacts again as COVID-19 cases rise

But the throne speech is expected to signal more tweaks are coming to EI, and make substantial commitments in other areas, including child are. For post-pandemic growth, the Liberals will detail plans that connect economic recovery to projects that equally combat climate change.

Trudeau will reinforce those plans in a nationally-televised address scheduled for tonight, as he also urges Canadians to be resolute in their efforts to combat the pandemic.

Though in the early days of the crisis he’d addressed Canadians daily from outside his home, a pivot to an evening televised speech was made to underscore the threat Canadians currently face of a coming wave.

The waning days of summer have seen a surge in cases no longer linked to vulnerable populations like those in long-term care homes as they were in the spring.

Instead, it is younger Canadians beginning to congregate in ever larger numbers, something that chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned Tuesday must come to a quick stop.

“The challenge we face now is to stay the course no matter how weary we may feel,” Tam said.

Those cases have reached into the halls of power as well; after political staffers succumbed to infection, the leaders of both the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois, and their spouses, were infected and they are now in isolation.

Their parties will be given time to respond to Trudeau’s televised address, but Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and the BQ”s Yves-Francois Blanchet will both be absent from Parliament Hill today for the throne speech.

Both are hoping to deliver their official replies on Sept. 29, when they’re both out of quarantine.

That arrangement is one of few details known so far about how the House of Commons may actually function in the days ahead, with negotiations ongoing around issues such as how a hybrid Parliament — some MPs attending in person, and some remotely — can allow votes to be cast in a transparent and accountable way.

Given the Liberals only have a minority government, those votes could mean the difference between their survival and an election; the vote on the speech from the throne itself is a confidence motion.

With the ongoing escalation of cases, a snap election is unlikely, though whatever the Liberals do put forward is sure to be a large part of a campaign platform when that election arrives.

Each of the opposition parties have already laid down some markers ahead of the speech that will determine their support.

The NDP’s Jagmeet Singh has already said he wants to see the promised legislation on EI changes, but is concerned too many people will still fall through the gaps, while Blanchet is looking for more money on health care for the provinces.

O’Toole — who has been Conservative Leader for just a month — has signalled he wants to see concrete action to address the concerns of the West, and for expanded support for businesses.

The pandemic will also make itself felt in a marked downscaling of the pageantry that normally accompanies a throne speech.

Among other things, no special guests or spectators will be allowed into the Senate chamber, and the number of MPs as well is being sharply curtailed.

READ MORE: Opposition blames Liberals as talks around return of Parliament near 11th hour

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusLiberals

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sooke Mayor Maja Tait was elected president of the Union of B.C. Municipalitiesin September 2019. She helped guide the 190-member organization through the coronavirus pandemic. (UBCM photo)
Sooke mayor front-line commander of the coronavirus pandemic

Maja Tait played pivotal role during COVID-19 crisis

HarbourCats players celebrate winning the North Division Championship Series in 2019. (Christian J. Stewart/File Photo)
Victoria HarbourCats locked out of team Facebook page

Management hires legal team to solve issue

Sooke School District No. 62 superintendent Scott Stinson explains that most block classes at Belmont Secondary will be halved. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Sooke School District opens conversation on catchment boundary changes

Feedback solicited at virtual town hall Oct. 28

Leila Bui with her parents Tuan Bui (left) and Kairry Nguyen at the end of the trial that found Tanessa Nikirk guilty of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. Nikirk is back in court for her sentencing hearing. (Black Press file photo)
UPDATED: Court hears letter from driver convicted of hitting Saanich girl

Leila Bui has been in a non-responsive state since she was hit in 2017

VicPD and B.C. Conservation Officer Service teamed up to free two bucks who were entangled in a fishing net and dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them. (VicPD)
VIDEO: Victoria police, B.C. Conservation help two bucks caught in one fishing net

Bucks were also dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

RCMP have released more details regarding what led up to an arrest caught on video in Williams Lake Sunday, Oct. 26. (Facebook video screenshot)
Review launched after ‘high-risk, multi-jurisdictional’ chase, arrest in Williams Lake

RCMP launching a full review and code of conduct investigation

Freighter drags anchor towards Boulder Point Oct. 22. It came within 730 metres of the shore, according to maps from the Port of Nanaimo. (Photo submitted)
MacGregor introduces bill to address freighter anchorages along the South Coast

Concerns about the environment, noise, pollution and safety abundant

(Pxfuel)
B.C. limits events in private homes to household, plus ‘safe six’ amid COVID-19 surge

Henry issued a public health order limiting private gatherings to one household, plus a group of ‘safe six’ only

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks during a drive-in car rally campaign stop at a tour bus operator, in Delta, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Andrew Wilkinson stepping down as B.C. Liberal leader

Will stay on until the next party leader is chosen

Harvesters participating in the extended commercial halibut season will need to land their catch in either Prince Rupert (pictured), Vancouver, or Port Hardy by Dec. 14. (File photo)
B.C.’s commercial halibut season extended three weeks

COVID-19 market disruptions at the root of DFO’s decision

Campbell River's new hospital, July 2018
Nurse diverts opiates and falsifies records at Campbell River Hospital

Nurse facing disciplinary action for moving opiates out of the hospital

SIG
Sooke U15 squad blast past Comox

Rylan Sokolosky records hat trick

Most Read