Throne speech promises new tone, tax cut and turning point for First Nations
Conservative Opposition pans 'big government and big spending'
The Liberal government has promised a new tone for Parliament in a throne speech that sets an "ambitious" agenda of tax cuts for the middle class, a more robust peacekeeping role and a new health-care deal with the provinces.
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Friday's 15-minute address, titled "Making Real Change Happen," also commits to building a new relationship between Canada and First Nations based on respect and a recognition of rights.
The speech, delivered in the Senate chamber by Gov. Gen. David Johnston, presented in broad strokes the government's plans and priorities for the 42nd Parliament.
As an "immediate priority," the government will deliver a tax cut "for the middle class."
"This is the fair thing to do, and the smart thing to do for Canada's economy," Johnston read from the speech.
The address also promised a better future for Canada by being "smart and caring on a scale as never before."
"The times we live in demand nothing less," Johnston read.
The promise to renew, nation-to-nation, the relationship with Indigenous Peoples comes with commitments to improve education, to launch an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and to implement recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The throne speech also promised to usher in a new tone for Parliament, which has been marred by partisan bickering in recent years.
"In this Parliament, all members will be honoured, respected and heard, wherever they sit," Johnston said. "For here, in these chambers, the voices of all Canadians matter."
Following up on campaign promises
Much of the speech mirrors promises from the Liberal election platform, including:
- Electoral, democratic and Senate reforms.
- More free votes for MPs and no partisan government advertising.
- Putting a price on carbon and making investments in clean technology.
- Enhancing the Canada Pension Plan and creating a new Canada child benefit.
- Getting handguns and assault weapons off the streets.
- Legalize, regulate and restrict marijuana sales.
MPs, senators, Supreme Court justices and other dignitaries were in the packed chamber. Former prime ministers Joe Clark, John Turner and Jean Chrétien also attended.
The throne speech promised to renew Canada's commitment to United Nations peacekeeping operations and to work with allies to fight terrorism. It also pledged to invest in building a "leaner, more agile, better-equipped military."
'Big government and big spending'
Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose expressed disappointment that there was no mention of agriculture, energy or the private sector.
"What we've seen from this speech from the throne is nothing less than big government and big spending, which we know will result in higher taxes for Canadians," she said.
Canadian Taxpayers Federation director Aaron Wudrick agreed the Liberal to-do list will come with a hefty price tag.
"They've made a lot of big promises and the government will be hard pressed to find a way to pay for them all," he said in a release.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said he was "thrilled" by the commitment to restore relations with First Nations. But overall he called it a "thin" speech with a disappointing lack of commitment to lower the retirement age and to restore door-to-door mail delivery.
"There's no mention of new oversight provisions for C-51. And, frankly, I was shocked that there's not a single reference to child care in the whole throne speech."
New relationship with First Nations
Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett said the new Parliament marks a turning point for relations with First Nations, which will be built on respect and partnership.
"We've learned that top-down, barking orders doesn't work," she told CBC News.
David Charette, a multi-disciplinary artist originally from the Wikwemikong Unceded Reserve on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, performed an indigenous honour song for Johnston and his wife, Sharon, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, as well as other members of the vice-regal party.
The party was also greeted in the Hall of Honour by new Canadians, Syrian refugees and youth from two elementary schools.