On November 23rd, Governor General Mary Simon (Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General) delivered the Speech from the Throne to begin the 1st session of Canada’s 44th Parliament. While typically lacking in detail, these speeches give us an outline of the government’s broad policy priorities and legislative agenda for the months and years ahead.
The Liberal Government is launching its third term with an unsurprising agenda, reiterating many of the priorities upon which they recently campaigned and previously governed. Broadly, these include a focus on advancing Indigenous reconciliation, addressing climate change, and fostering safe, healthy, and inclusive communities.
What were we looking for?
Ahead of the September federal election, we sent a letter to the Prime Minister and all party leaders outlining Alberta’s needs and priorities for the next government. With today’s Speech from the Throne, the federal government has set out its direction for this Parliament, and we analyze how well it matches up with Alberta’s priorities.
In that initial letter, we highlighted two main areas that we thought needed to be key priorities for the newly sworn-in federal government:
1. Short-term issues related to COVID-19 management and the transition from pandemic to endemic
This includes the ongoing discussion of immunity certifications or “vaccine passports,” transitioning off pandemic income supports, and bolstering short-term economic recovery. We were looking for the new government to lay out a broad set of principles to guide how each of these elements will promote good health, and create the immediate conditions needed to bridge people and businesses into a sustained economic recovery.
2. Creating a growth agenda to build a stronger, more competitive, innovative, and dynamic national economy
These priorities are critical to building a better future for Albertans and all Canadians. They are necessary requirements for addressing our looming fiscal sustainability problem. And they are central to addressing one of our most important challenges—transitioning to a low-carbon future in a way that increases, rather than takes away from, our economic and social prosperity. Specifically, we called for action in three key areas:
- Building an innovation economy to support long-term growth;
- Investing in Alberta’s low-carbon future; and
- Addressing long-term unemployment and workforce transition.
How did the Throne Speech measure up?
Today’s Speech from the Throne was particularly short and lean on details and new ideas. Essentially, the vision it presented was a continuation of work this government has already started.
As expected, the speech prioritized building a fairer and more resilient economy while, at the same time, signalling the need for bolder climate action. And threaded throughout the speech was an emphasis on moving forward towards reconciliation.
With regard to the priorities we outlined during the most recent election campaign, we found some reasons to be optimistic about the speech, but in general found the vision it presented to be somewhat wanting.
1. Covid management and short-term economic recovery
We were pleased to see that getting the pandemic under control is this government’s number one priority. The speech pointed to policies already in place that support vaccine uptake: mandated vaccination for federal and federally-regulated workers and mandated vaccination for those travelling by planes, trains, or ships.
Since our letter was sent, the government has introduced a standardized Canadian COVID-19 proof of vaccination, so Canadians have a reliable way to show proof of vaccination when travelling domestically or internationally. Looking ahead, Health Canada just approved a vaccine for children ages 5-11, and we look forward to seeing vaccine uptake in this cohort contributing to a transition from pandemic to endemic.
The throne speech pointed to ending the pandemic as the best route to full economic recovery. As the government winds down pandemic support programs, with a mention of “prudently managing spending,” supports are shifting to industries that continue to struggle.
Canada’s economic recovery is anchored on two pillars: child care and housing. First, we’ve seen the government’s flagship $10-a-day child care initiative, with Alberta signing on earlier this month. Increases to the Canada Child Benefit were promised. And new housing initiatives were announced, including a Rent-to-Own program and a Housing Accelerator Fund for municipalities.
While inflation was briefly mentioned, there were no specific details on how the rising cost of living was to be tackled aside from the aforementioned child care and housing initiatives.
2. Long-term growth and competitiveness strategy
We were disappointed that the speech did not set out a long-term vision for growth, nor a bold policy agenda for improving business competitiveness. Without these essential pieces in place, creating shared prosperity becomes more challenging—especially as we come out of a period of record, yet necessary, pandemic spending. These new fiscal restraints will force Canada to contend with how to pay for essential programs, yet this issue—one which will be made more challenging with looming increases to interest rates—was left unaddressed. Canada—and Alberta in particular—needs to seize post-pandemic opportunities and become an innovative powerhouse, but this focus was largely absent in this speech.
a. Building an innovation economy to support long-term growth
The throne speech avoided language directly pertaining to building innovative growth, increasing productivity, or improving competitiveness. While the speech did make broad overtures around innovation and attracting capital through action on climate change, it was silent on what Canada can do to attract private sector investment, improve regulatory agility and outcomes, or scale up innovative ideas that foster long-term growth.
Much of the speech was geared towards building economic resiliency by improving affordability and promoting an inclusive, diverse, and more equitable economy. These measures can absolutely improve productivity, even if the language of the throne speech emphasized their social value first and foremost. Such measures include improving child care affordability and promoting skilled immigration. However, they are only a partial solution to the overall challenge.
b. Investing in Alberta’s low-carbon future
At a high level, the government continues to link the concepts of growing the economy and protecting the environment. The speech stressed that now is the time for bolder action to fight climate change, with a focus on innovation, creating green jobs, and working with like-minded countries to create economic resiliency, sustainability, and competitiveness. Moreover, the speech noted that building the economy of the future requires attention to regional and workforce differences, and that the federal government must bring together provinces, territories, Indigenous communities, labour and the private sector to attract investors and capital.
This mention of regional and workforce differences is a positive sign for Alberta as this province has the most important role to play in helping Canada achieve its climate goals, and given its unique industrial structure, will face equally unique challenges on the road to decarbonization. However, there were no details on what such regional considerations might look like or acknowledgement of the scale and pace of investment required to meet Canada’s climate targets. Rather, the focus was on reiterating Canada’s COP26 commitments and casting a vision of Canada as a leader in producing the world’s cleanest manufactured products such as steel, aluminum, building products, cars, and planes—goods produced elsewhere in the country.
c. Addressing long-term unemployment and workforce transition
The throne speech did not directly address long-term unemployment or workforce transition. In fact, the regional impacts of the pandemic or recovery were largely ignored as the speech stated that employment is back to pre-pandemic levels. While that may be true, Albertans are struggling with long-term unemployment at rates disproportionate to the rest of Canada.
However, the speech did promise that, as we move towards the economy of the future, no worker or region will be left behind. While no specific programs or initiatives were mentioned, the government expects Canada to tap into global capital and attract investors, ultimately emerging as a more prosperous nation. We want Alberta to be an important contributor to a more prosperous Canada. To do so, we need the government to provide regionally targeted support to help Alberta’s displaced and disengaged workers.
As is typically the case, this throne speech was designed to cast a high-level vision outlining the government’s priorities. We had hoped to see a much more bold vision for short-term pandemic economic recovery alongside an ambitious long-term growth agenda. Instead, the government’s priorities, while commendable, don’t adequately address Alberta’s most pressing concerns.
But, in the coming weeks and months, as the government fills out their vision with the policy details that aren’t typically included in documents like the throne speech, there will be plenty of opportunity to specifically address the issues that we believe matter most to Albertans.
Though yet to be made public, ministerial mandate letters will provide a much closer look at the government’s more nuanced policy agenda. When released in the coming days, we will be sending a letter to each relevant minister with additional detail on how their specific mandate intersects with Alberta’s priorities and a sincere offer to work together on achieving our shared goals.