‘AN UN­PRECE­DENTED REAL­ITY’

Con­ser­va­tives, Bloc Québé­cois re­fus­ing to sup­port throne speech, New Democrats are un­de­cided

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Front Page - STEPHANIE LEVITZ

Gov. Gen Julie Payette greets Richard Wag­ner, chief jus­tice of the Supreme Court of Canada, with an el­bow bump as she ar­rives to de­liver the speech from the throne in Ot­tawa on Wed­nes­day. The mi­nor­ity Lib­eral gov­ern­ment un­veiled sweep­ing goals to ex­pand or ex­tend sup­ports for Cana­di­ans from nearly ev­ery sec­tor of so­ci­ety, billed as their “am­bi­tious plan for an un­prece­dented real­ity.” The Lib­er­als’ most likely dance part­ner, the NDP, waltzed around whether they’d sup­port the gov­ern­ment and avoid an elec­tion. // Read more on the throne speech in­side on

OT­TAWA — The mi­nor­ity Lib­eral gov­ern­ment un­veiled sweep­ing goals Wed­nes­day to ex­pand or ex­tend sup­ports for Cana­di­ans from nearly ev­ery sec­tor of so­ci­ety in a throne speech billed as their “am­bi­tious plan for an un­prece­dented real­ity.”

But the plan hit po­lit­i­cal real­ity very quickly, with two of the three main op­po­si­tion par­ties in the House of Com­mons im­me­di­ately say­ing they wouldn’t sup­port it. The Lib­er­als’ most likely dance part­ner, the NDP, waltzed around whether they’d vote yea or nay. If they don’t, the coun­try could head into an elec­tion just as pub­lic health of­fi­cials are warn­ing the coun­try is on the cusp of a sec­ond wave of the COVID-19 pan­demic, with some ar­eas al­ready there.

The Lib­er­als’ throne speech ac­knowl­edged that if they don’t first tackle the pan­demic, they can’t move for­ward on pre­vi­ous com­mit­ments to fight climate change, ad­dress sys­temic racism and eco­nomic in­equal­ity.

“We must ad­dress these chal­lenges of to­day. But we also can­not for­get about the tests of the fu­ture,” said the text of the speech, read in the Se­nate by Gov. Gen. Julie Payette.

Her words hung over a nearempty cham­ber as COVID-19 re­stric­tions lim­ited the num­ber of peo­ple who could be there. Not far from Payette sat Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, wear­ing a mask.

Later Wed­nes­day, Trudeau spoke to Cana­di­ans in a na­tion­ally tele­vised ad­dress, warn­ing that the dreaded sec­ond wave of the pan­demic is al­ready un­der­way in the four largest prov­inces.

“We’re on the brink of a fall that could be much worse than the spring,” he said.

He noted there were well over 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 in Canada on Tues­day, com­pared to just 47 new cases on March 13, when the coun­try­wide lock­down to curb the spread be­gan.

Trudeau said it’s “all too likely” fam­i­lies won’t be able to gather for Thanks­giv­ing next month, but if Cana­di­ans do their part then he said there is hope on the hori­zon: “We still have a shot at Christ­mas.”

Trudeau used the tele­vised ad­dress to sum­ma­rize the con­tents of the throne speech un­veiled just hours ear­lier.

The Lib­er­als promised in the speech to do what­ever they can to pro­tect Cana­dian lives and help stave off an­other eco­nom­i­cally dev­as­tat­ing lock­down, in­clud­ing creat­ing a fed­eral “test­ing as­sis­tance re­sponse team” to meet the surge in de­mand, and tar­geted sup­port to busi­nesses forced to close due to lo­cal pub­lic health or­ders.

With mil­lions of Cana­di­ans lives and liveli­hoods still tee­ter­ing af­ter the pan­demic’s first wave, the Lib­er­als promised to move ahead with a shift from emer­gency ben­e­fits to a more ro­bust em­ploy­ment in­surance sys­tem to in­cor­po­rate COVID-19 sup­ports. They’ve also re­versed course on a planned end to the fed­eral wage sub­sidy pro­gram, now say­ing they’ll ex­tend it into next year.

But the im­me­di­ate goals of the gov­ern­ment to restart the econ­omy and sup­port Cana­di­ans are matched by the need of the Lib­er­als, who hold a mi­nor­ity of seats in the House of Com­mons, to stay in power.

The even­tual vote on the throne speech is a con­fi­dence mo­tion and the Lib­er­als need at least one of the three main op­po­si­tion par­ties in the Com­mons to back their plan. The Con­ser­va­tives said they would not be one of them.

Bloc Québé­cois Leader Yvesfranço­is Blanchet cur­rently in iso­la­tion due to COVID-19, said his party would give the Lib­er­als one week to meet Que­bec’s de­mands for an im­me­di­ate $28-bil­lion in­crease in the an­nual fed­eral trans­fer pay­ments to prov­inces for health care.

“Oth­er­wise, we will vote against it,” Blanchet said in an in­ter­view.

That left the fate of the gov­ern­ment in the hands of NDP Leader Jag­meet Singh. He called the speech pretty words on pa­per and said his party has two con­di­tions for its sup­port: make sure that the end of the Canada Emer­gency Re­sponse Ben­e­fit in lieu of an ex­panded em­ploy­ment in­surance pro­gram doesn’t mean peo­ple ac­tu­ally get less money, and in­tro­duce paid sick leave.

“We’ve not de­cided yes or no on the throne speech,” Singh said. “I’m say­ing we need to see some ac­tions to back up these words.”

Trudeau’s ri­vals dis­missed his tele­vised ad­dress as fur­ther proof the throne speech amounts to an elec­tion plat­form.

The Con­ser­va­tives, who had also said they’d like to see some mea­sure of fis­cal re­straint in­cluded af­ter months of unchecked spend­ing, saw those de­mands un­met.

“This is not the time for aus­ter­ity,” the speech says.

Trudeau ex­panded on that dur­ing his tele­vised ad­dress.

“Low in­ter­est rates mean we can af­ford it,” he said.

“And in fact, do­ing less would end up cost­ing far more. Do­ing less would mean a slower re­cov­ery and big­ger deficits in the long run.”

JUSTIN TANG THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

ADRIAN WYLD THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, right, looks on with Chief of De­fence Staff Jonathan Vance, left, and Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau as the Usher of the Black Rod Greg Peters leaves to sum­mon the House of Com­mons to come and lis­ten to the throne speech.

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