On October 16, 2013, His Excellency, The Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, opened the Second Session of the 41st Parliament with Prime Minister Harper's Conservatives' Speech from the Throne. The speech lays out the Government's agenda and key priorities through to the next election, scheduled for October 2015. The Government has laid out three broad themes under which it has organized its upcoming legislative agenda.
1. Creating Jobs and Opportunities for Canadians
As expected, the Government stated that its top priority will remain creating jobs and securing economic growth. The Government has identified fiscal restraint, job training and education, trade, resource development and a collection of other policy areas as the levers that it will use to promote its economic priorities.
The Government has reiterated its commitment to balancing the budget by 2015. Moreover, the Government made a new announcement that it will pass balanced-budget legislation. The law, when passed, will require the Government to have a balanced budget during "normal" economic times, and concrete timelines for returning to a balanced budget in the event of an economic crisis. Additionally, the Government has set a debt-GDP target of 25% by 2021, and a return to the pre-recession ratio by 2017.
To achieve these goals, the Government will reduce spending through a series of commitments aimed at reducing the size and cost of the civil service. This will include: freezing the Government's operating budget, targeted reductions, and reforms to disability and sick-day entitlements. The Government intends to realize efficiencies by introducing performance accountability in the public service and implementing more efficient internal services, such as email.
The Government reiterated its commitment to fostering job creation by continuing with the implementation of previously announced initiatives such as the Canada Job Grant and reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. The Government stated it will work with the provinces to reduce labour mobility barriers.
On the trade front, the Government announced that it will launch a comprehensive new plan to help Canadian businesses as they expand abroad.
The Government continues to focus on major trade negotiations with the European Union, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Japan, South Korea, and India. The Government signaled that the trade agreement with the EU is near completion.
To aid interprovincial commerce, the Government will work with Ontario and British Columbia, and any other willing provinces, to enact a cooperative regulatory system for securities and capital markets.
The Government reiterated its commitment to promoting the development of Canadian natural resources and getting them to market. While not mentioning support for pipelines, the intent was clear. As for foreign investment, the speech stated "our Government has taken action to ensure that Canada's resources do not fall under foreign government control" and the sector will "remain open to foreign investment when it is market-oriented and in the long-term interests of Canadians."
Relatedly, it announced that it will take steps to implement certain regulatory protections, including: enshrining the polluter-pay system into law, setting higher safety standards for offshore oil and pipeline operators, introducing a law to protect oceans and coasts, and implementing advice from an Expert Panel on Tanker Safety. The Government will increase the level of insurance railways must carry.
2. Supporting and Protecting Canadian Families
Although the speech contained no new announcements, the Government emphasized its commitment to maintaining low taxes for Canadian families. As was widely expected, the Government announced several consumer protection initiatives. More specifically, the Government will require that television providers unbundle channels and allow consumers to pay for only the channels they want. The Government will also take steps to reduce the roaming fees charged on cellular networks within Canada.
Consistent with this Government's earlier agendas, there are new measures related to a variety of issues ranging from crime prevention, community safety, food and drug labelling, mandatory reporting of adverse drug reactions and a mechanism to facilitate drug recalls.
3. Putting Canada First
Under this theme, the Government has reaffirmed its commitment to the Canadian Armed Forces and the goal of Northern Sovereignty. As part of this commitment, the Government will complete the Dempster Highway to the Arctic Ocean.
The Government also announced that it will continue to reform the immigration system. In particular, it will reform the Immigrant Investor Program and it will introduce a new model to select immigrants based on the skills needed by Canadian employers.
The Government also outlined its plans for commemorating the 150th anniversary of confederation in 2017. It announced that it will use this anniversary as an opportunity to work with Aboriginal peoples to continue the dialogue regarding treaty relationships and comprehensive land claims. The Government also reiterated a commitment to reforming the Senate, pending the outcome of the review currently underway by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The media noted that the hour long speech was the longest speech in recent memory. The speech touched on the usual themes from Prime Minister Harper, ranging from tough on crime, lower taxes, jobs and economic growth. Senate reform now includes the possibility of abolishing the Senate depending on what the Supreme Court rules.
Some of the measures were clearly populist in nature such as unbundling cable packages and lower cell phone costs. Substantive items such as support for pipelines and changes to foreign investment laws, were often expressed in vague language. The Prime Minister hopes that the speech will provide enough of a basis for a successful two year program leading to re-election in 2015.
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