Ottawa promises expanded support to Canadians during throne speech

Governor General of Canada Julie Payette delivers the speech from the throne on September 23, 2020 (Screengrab via Government of Canada website)

The Liberal government is pledging to increase COVID-19 testing capacity, strengthen the middle class, and create a million jobs as the second session of the 43rd Parliament opened on Wednesday afternoon with the speech from the throne.

Governor General of Canada Julie Payette delivered the over 50 minutes throne speech on behalf of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

The speech from the throne opens every new session of parliament, introduces the government’s direction and goals, and outlines how it will work to achieve them.

On August 18, Trudeau announced that he requested for the first session of the 43rd Parliament to be prorogued, or suspended, to allow the chance for his government to deliver a throne speech that would lay out an in-depth plan to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. A session of parliament must be prorogued in order for a throne speech to be delivered.

Reading the speech, Payette stated that the government must take bold action to address the pandemic and its impacts. The speech outlined four main foundations of the recovery plan — fight the pandemic and save lives, support people and businesses during the pandemic, rebuild a stronger Canada, and stand up for Canadian values.

The speech stated that priority number one is keeping Canadians safe and healthy, especially those who are most vulnerable.

The speech comes as Canada reached over 147,000 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday with 9,234 deaths.

The federal government is vowing to work with provincial governments to increase testing capacity and create a federal testing assisting response team to quickly meet surge testing needs.

“Canadians should not be waiting in line for hours to get tested,” stated Payette.

While speaking on a  vaccine for the virus, Payette stated that the federal government is ensuring that Canadians will be able to get a vaccine once it is available.

“There are many types of potential candidates,” she said. “Canada is exploring the full range of options. The government has already secured access to vaccine candidates and therapeutics while investing in manufacturing here at home.”

Noting that the economic impacts of COVID-19 on Canadians have exceeded that of the 2008 financial crisis, the government laid out several plans for supporting people and businesses for as long as needed.

The highlight of these plans includes launching a campaign to create over one million jobs to help restore employment to pre-COVID-19 levels.

“This will be done using a range of tools including direct investments in the social sector and infrastructure, immediate training to quickly skill up workers and incentives for employers to hire and retain workers,” explained Payette.

The government is planning to make the “largest investment in Canadian history” towards training for workers including supporting skills training, helping workers receive education and connecting workers to employers.

It was also announced the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy will be extended through the summer of 2021.

Meanwhile, Payette said that recipients of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit should now be supported by the Employment Insurance (EI) system. For people who would not traditionally be supported by EI, it was announced that the government intends to create the transitional Canada Recovery Benefit.

“Over the coming months, the EI system will become the sole delivery mechanism for employment benefits, including for Canadians who did not qualify for EI before the pandemic,” she said. “This pandemic has shown that Canada needs an EI system for the 21st century.”

In addition to expanding Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, the federal government will expand the Canada Emergency Business Account to help businesses with fixed costs. The government said this will be accomplished by improving the Business Credit Availability Program and offering additional support for industries that have been hit the hardest by the pandemic including travel, tourism, hospitality and cultural industries

According to the speech, Trudeau’s government will make a significant and long term investment to create a Canada-wide early learning and childcare system.

Strengthening the middle class was also a major theme in the government’s plans.

“In the longer term, the government will focus on targeted investments to strengthen the middle class, build resiliency and generate growth,” said Payette.

Payette said the government is looking at a way to tax extreme wealth inequality by concluding work to limit the stock option deduction for wealthy individuals at large, established corporations, and digital giants.

Other plans to assist the middle-class include moving forward with enhancing the First Time Home Incentive.

Those facing homelessness are also being promised help from Ottawa.

“The government is now focused on entirely eliminating chronic homelessness in Canada… The government will add to the historic National Housing Strategy announced in 2017 by increasing investment to rapid housing in the short term and partnering with not-for-profits and co-ops in the mid to long term,” said Payette.

The Liberals also intend to step up to help seniors by working with provinces and territories to set new national standards for long-term care.

“The government remains committed to increasing old age security once a senior turns 75 and boosting the Canada Pension Plan survivor’s benefit,” said Payette.

The government will also bring forward a Disability Inclusion Plan which will have a new Canadian disability benefit and a robust employment strategy for Canadians with disabilities.

Payette said the government is also promising to expand virtual healthcare delivery, address the opioid epidemic and increase mental health resources. This is in addition to continuing progress to create a national, universal pharmacare program.

“We will accelerate steps to achieve this system including through a rare disease strategy to help Canadian families save money on high-cost drugs, establishing a national formulary to keep drug prices low and working with provinces and territories willing to move forward without delay,” she said.

Payette also commented on Canada’s commitment to addressing global warming included plating two billion trees, making electric vehicles more affordable, modernizing Canada’s Environmental Act, and immediately bringing forward a plan to exceed Canada’s 2030 climate goal and legislate the country’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

Payette added that the government will ban single-use plastics by 2021.

On the topic of systemic racism, Payette said the government will introduce legislation and invest in action to address the system inequities in the criminal justice system and move forward on enhanced civilian oversight of law enforcement agencies.

“It will modernize training for our police and law enforcement including addressing standards around the use of force,” she explained.

The prime minister is also set to deliver a rare address to the nation on Wednesday evening at 6:30 p.m.