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Liberals to emphasize common ground in throne speech as Parliament resumes

Written by on December 4, 2019

OTTAWA — The 43rd session of Parliament — and a new era of minority government — is to open Thursday with a speech from the throne emphasizing the issues on which Justin Trudeau’s Liberals believe they can find common ground with opposition parties.

The throne speech is penned by the Prime Minister’s Office but read by Gov. Gen. Julie Payette in the Senate chamber. Government sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the speech, say it will aim to set a collaborative tone, as befits a government that will need the support of one or more opposition parties to pass legislation and survive confidence votes.

In accordance with tradition, the speech is to give only a rough sketch of the principles and priorities that will drive the government in the days to come. Some of the details will be filled in when Trudeau issues marching orders to each of his 36 cabinet ministers in mandate letters. Those are expected as soon as Friday.

Stronger action to combat climate change, tax breaks for middle-class Canadians, pharmacare and stricter gun control all featured in the Liberals’ re-election platform and, to varying degrees, in those of the New Democrats, Bloc Quebecois and Greens.

The Liberals will need the support of either the 32 Bloc Quebecois MPs or the NDP’s 24 MPs. The Greens, with just three MPs, can’t tip the balance one way or the other.

While the leaders of the three progressive parties have signalled varying degrees of willingness to collaborate with the Liberals, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer appears determined to give no quarter, viewing the new session of Parliament as a continuation of the election campaign.

“We are focused on one shared goal,” Scheer told his 120 fellow Tory MPs during a caucus meeting Wednesday. “Getting rid of a scandal-plagued, deficit-running Liberal government and replacing it with a Conservative government that puts Canadians first and will heal this country.”

The other leaders, meanwhile, are attempting to lay out conditions for propping up the Liberal minority while keeping in mind that none of their parties can afford another election now and that voters would likely punish a party that foisted one on them.

Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet called Wednesday for the government to increase health care transfers to the provinces, echoing a call by premiers earlier this week. But he reiterated that his party is in no rush to bring down the Liberal government.

Blanchet’s positioning made it easier for NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to take a harder line, perhaps cognizant that smaller parties that prop up minority governments have historically received little thanks for it from voters.

Singh said Wednesday that he’ll be looking for some specific things in the throne speech, including bolder targets for reducing carbon emissions, a firm commitment to universal pharmacare, more funding for health care and a promise to drop the legal fight against a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal order for Ottawa to compensate First Nations children who were inappropriately placed in foster care.

“We are more than willing to work together, but we will not vote for something that doesn’t align with what Canadians need,” Singh said.

If Trudeau’s goal is simply power, rather than meaningful progress on climate, housing or health care, Singh said he’ll have to rely on the Bloc or the Conservatives.

There will be at least one other chance over the next week to test whether the Liberals can command the confidence of a majority of MPs in the House of Commons. The government is required by Dec. 10 to hold a vote on a motion to continue “supply” — that is, to continue the flow of money needed to operate the government.

The government has also already given notice of a motion enabling debate on what Trudeau has said will be his first order of business: following through on a campaign promise to raise the basic personal income tax exemption to $15,000 for those earning less than $147,000. As a money measure, that too would be considered a matter of confidence.

With 157 seats, the Liberals are 13 shy of a majority in the Commons and they’ll be short one more if a Liberal becomes Commons Speaker, the election of whom will be the first order of business Thursday.

Halifax Liberal MP Geoff Regan, the Speaker during the last session of Parliament, is seeking re-election, up against at least Liberal Anthony Rota, Conservatives Bruce Stanton and Joel Godin, and New Democrat Carol Hughes.

This will be the first time the throne speech — and all its attendant pomp and circumstance — will be delivered since Parliament’s Centre Block closed for at least 10 years for major renovations.

With the House of Commons and Senate now housed in separate buildings three blocks apart, MPs summoned to attend Payette in the upper house will be led by the sergeant-at-arms, bearing the heavy gilded mace, to a bus that will ferry them between chambers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2019.

— with files from Joanna Smith

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press