Tomorrow, the federal government will roll out a Speech from the Throne. These speeches are typically high-minded and somewhat vague, but they serve an important purpose: outlining the Government’s broad policy trajectory for the next chapter of our national story.
This one matters more than most. This speech will give us our first hint at the government’s plan for the COVID-19 recovery. It will be fleshed out further in a fall fiscal update, and then further still through new legislation and policy announcements. It will likely set a course all the way through to the next federal election, whenever that is.
We’ve already heard some hints about where Ottawa wants to go. Early signals pointed to intentions to “build back better.” That is expected to include a heavy emphasis on income and social supports for Canadians, as well as a recovery with weight on green initiatives.
What are Albertans hoping to hear tomorrow and where do they want to see the federal government focus its efforts?
The economy is the top priority
Recently we polled Canadians on their top priorities for the federal government. In that poll, economic recovery came out as the clear winner. Canadians are most concerned with what tomorrow will bring: if they’ll still have a job; how they’ll pay their bills; and how they can provide for their children.
While all Canadians are extremely anxious about the economy, this is especially the case in Alberta and Atlantic Canada where eight in 10 feel the economy is performing poorly. For Albertans, the Speech from the Throne must have a credible plan for economic recovery, particularly one that speaks to those in the hardest-hit areas of the country.
But that’s not all. The COVID-19 crisis has left a gaping hole in federal finances as hundreds of billions of dollars were spent justifiably protecting those affected by the pandemic. This doesn’t mean the federal government can’t spend any more to stimulate economic recovery. It does mean, however, that it needs to spend smartly—with a focus on investments that will create long-term economic value.
A recovery that is inclusive of the natural resources sector
Speaking of the hardest-hit, much of the natural resources sector and the regions that support it have felt a double impact from the COVID-19 shutdown. The good news is it’s also Canada’s long-time strength in natural resources like forestry, agriculture, mining, and energy that can accelerate the recovery. Albertans will be looking to hear clear signals that the recovery plans will be inclusive of the natural resources sector.
This starts with things that are simple and free to a government: setting a positive tone, speaking about the growing role of natural resource industries to our country, and giving confidence to global investors that Canada is a safe location for their investments in an uncertain world.
In what specific ways could the government include natural resources in the recovery? One way that is consistent with the government’s climate ambitions would be for a major long-term investment initiative in carbon-reducing infrastructure such as:
- Shovel ready emissions reduction projects—CCUS, retrofits and others that are primed and ready to go but were delayed because of COVID-19
- Greening and integrating the electricity grid across Canada
- Future energy sources and fuels including hydrogen and renewables
Another would be to set out a plan for how Canada can prosper in a low-emissions future. Our resource industries offer a multitude of potential solutions that would allow them to thrive AND be part of the solution. To get there, Canada needs a collaborative government and industry initiative to map out the partnership pathway to a low carbon future, as was recommended by the government’s own Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance last year.
A plan for life with COVID-19
Behind the economy, COVID-19 is the next top concern for Canadians, and science is telling us to settle in for a long fight. Albertans and Canadians will be looking to the Speech from the Throne to show that the government has a plan for how to live safely with COVID-19. Better, faster, and more accessible testing together with smart and effective safety protocols for stores, airports, and places of work and education will be fundamental in regaining normalcy. This is what will enable children to continue to learn, parents to get back to work, and individuals to begin to travel and shop again. And for our hardest hit and most vulnerable industries–including our local restaurants, stores, and entertainment–to be an important part of the fabric of Canada’s future.