What to expect from Wednesday’s throne speech
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to unveil a new plan to try to contain the spread of COVID-19 and recharge Canada’s pandemic-battered economy, according to a senior government official.
The broad themes in this week’s so-called throne speech -- which outlines his government’s priorities -- will be a focus on the immediate task of tackling the coronavirus, a medium-term commitment to support Canadians through the pandemic and a “resiliency agenda” to spur recovery and reconstruction.
Trudeau’s agenda won’t establish budget targets, which will be left for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to detail later this year in a fiscal update, the official said, speaking on condition they not be identified because the document isn’t yet public.
Wednesday’s speech is one of the most anticipated in Trudeau’s five years in power, with questions mounting over how his governing Liberals plan to navigate their next policy steps amid surging COVID-19 case numbers and soaring budget deficits.
The prime minister needs to balance the need for more health-care spending with pledges to engineer an ambitious and green post-pandemic agenda. And he needs to do it without further eroding the nation’s financial credibility after one major credit-rating agency downgraded Canada’s debt.
“This government has set certain expectations and now the pressure is on them to meet their own expectations,” pollster Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, said by phone.
Health care spending will be the first pillar for the economic recovery, the official said. This includes spending for vaccines, COVID-19 testing and support to localize outbreaks to maintain control over a resurgence of cases.
The second will be a pledge to provide financial support to Canadians who are struggling economically due to the pandemic, with a focus on shifting people back into the workforce.
Economic recovery and reconstruction efforts are the third pillar. This will include a pledge to help foster green investments, resolve major health issues such as long-term care for seniors and bolster support systems for the most vulnerable, like low-income women and minorities.
Trudeau has spoken publicly about plans to overhaul the employment insurance system, provide support for childcare and long-term care and build a cleaner economy through climate initiatives like retrofitting buildings and electric vehicles.
The prime minister suspended all parliamentary business last month after a public rift with his previous finance chief prompted Freeland’s appointment, claiming he needed a new legislative slate in order to move ahead with a “bold” new spending plan to help drive the recovery.
Canada has already budgeted $380 billion (US$289 billion) in new debt this year as a response to the downturn, spending that will likely drive the federal government’s debt to about 50 per cent of economic output, from 31 per cent last year. That’s triggered a backlash from business groups and economists, who are calling on Trudeau to commit to specific new debt targets to impose discipline on the budgeting process.
To assuage those concerns, Freeland vowed last week to preserve Canada’s reputation for sound fiscal management as her government considers the next steps to drive the recovery.
Trudeau is prepared to spend whatever it takes to combat the immediate impacts of COVID-19, given the emergency expenditures will only be temporary, the official said. Any future spending deemed structural, however, would be within new “fiscal tracks” that will be laid out by the finance minister later this year.