Well this afternoon brought us a moment that Canadian politicos have been looking ahead to for a month now. Governor General Julie Payette, under a cloud of scandal of her own, delivered the second Throne Speech of this Parliament. Given the circumstances that brought this speech about, there was a lot that had been rumoured and expected. Early on there were promises of a transformative speech but in the past week those expectations were getting tamped down. So where did it all land? Well here is some feedback on it:
Not a shocker that most of the opposition didn’t find it great. Their reviews went from “m’eh” to “gggrrrr”, so that’s really par for the course. If I were to entitle this Throne Speech anything though, I’d borrow from an old saying around weddings: “Lots of old, some things new, mostly borrowed and nothing blue”. This was a Throne Speech designed to pass a confidence vote, and that it surely will. There were no poison pills in it for the NDP, the most likely dance partner here.
Yes you can argue this speech was short on details, but Throne Speeches are short on such by their very nature. When you look at some of the big promises in the speech (pharmacare, a national childcare program, increased testing, and national standards for long term care for starters), a lot of them fall clearly in provincial jurisdiction. That’s what Liberals and Conservatives love to remind New Democrats over and over again when they suggest such ideas. So you really can’t provide details on something you have to negotiate with the provinces on, or at least not successfully negotiate.
That means that for the NDP the most important thing was that there were no poison pills in this speech. That is what it would take for the lack of details to be intolerable for Jagmeet Singh’s team. Instead there are many promises in this speech that are cribbed directly from NDP platforms from the last few elections; a recommitment to pharmacare, extending supports for working people, new national standards for long-term care, a national childcare program, taxing tech giants and retrofits for homes and businesses. These are all items that are near or at the top of the NDP’s policy priorities, so to see them in this speech is a win for Jagmeet Singh and his leadership.
When it comes to all of those promises, as always, the devil will be in the details when they come out in legislation, but I would argue that is a fight for another day. While it may be difficult to trust this Prime Minister and his prodigious track record of promise breaking, the circumstances of this moment demand it. There is more than enough in this speech to allow the NDP to continue to support this government, while holding them to account to ensure those details are filled into their liking in the weeks and months to come.
This is part of the art of holding the balance of power in a minority government, an art that Jagmeet Singh has shown himself to be adept at so far. As written this speech offers the NDP a chance to make a real change on par with the Martin/Layton deals of the mid-2000’s. This is a chance to deliver real results for Canadians, all well in the knowledge that they alone will likely hold the balance of power going forward. You can see above that the BQ leader Yves-François Blanchet is repeating the condemnations of the speech by Quebec Premier Legault, so if it was ever in doubt that the Bloc would oppose this speech let that put that down to rest. As for the Conservatives, if you look at their lukewarm responses and the pointing out of what’s not there, it feels safe to say that they won’t be backing this speech.
That leaves Singh and the New Democrats in the catbird seat, with all the possibilities and perils that come with it. What will they do with it? That remains to be seen but I believe that in this case the past offers the orange team a good blueprint for the future. A Liberal minority government, dogged by ethics scandals, with an NDP as the only likely partner to help it survive. Add the global pandemic to that list and it makes it all the more likely that these two parties can make this work. We’ll see if the New Democrats can continue to get results for Canadians, but they have a great chance to do so with this speech. It’s all in their hands, the only question that remains is “will they seize it?”