The Conservative government will bring in a number of accountability reforms over the coming parliamentary session, according to priorites set out in Friday's speech from the throne.

One page of the 16-page speech includes many of the items Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his party have discussed since first taking office as a minority in 2006, including Senate term limits and possibly elected senators, if the provinces and territories cooperate and hold elections; more seats in the House of Commons for growing cities and suburbs in Ontario, Alberta and B.C.; phasing out of subsidies to federal political parties; requiring First Nations chiefs and councillors to publish their salaries and expenses; and a more vague reference to modernizing the public service so it can "continue to provide the highest standard of service to Canadians."

The throne speech also promised to fill the next two Supreme Court vacancies using the committee vetting process Harper introduced in 2006.

And it promised "improved access to the workings of government through open data, open information and open dialogue."

Senate page protests speech

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A protester, believed to be a Senate page, is escorted from the Senate floor after holding up a 'Stop Harper' sign during the throne speech. (Reuters)

Parliament may have been too open on this day, however, as a woman later identified as a Senate page stepped onto the floor with a sign reading "Stop Harper." She was led away from the chamber quietly.

In a  press release issued almost immediately following the incident, the woman was indentified as Brigette Marcelle and said she was protesting the government's decision to "spend billions on fighter jets, military bases and corporate tax cuts, while cutting social programs and destroying the climate."

The press release said she was a graduate of the University of Ottawa and had worked as a page for a year.

A spokeswoman for the Senate said the woman, who is listed as Brigette DePape on the Senate website, has been fired.

Opposition disappointed

NDP leader Jack Layton said he was disappointed by the throne speech. He said there was nothing in it about climate change, getting more family doctors, or on improving the tone in Parliament.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said the speech lacked imagination and had an air of complacency.

"Simply a reiteration of the program and platform that we've heard on so many occasions from the government," Rae said. 

"I always find it interesting when you have a statement from the government of Canada and the word 'poverty' doesn't appear in the document. There's no real recognition of the challenge that a great many Canadian families are still facing."

Gov-Gen. David Johnston sounded the same notes Canadians heard throughout the election campaign, including a focus on the economy, as he read the speech prepared by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office.

The government will introduce new tax credits for individuals and families and confirmed it will reach an HST agreement with the government of Quebec to compensate the province for harmonizing its sales tax with the federal GST in the early 1990s.

The speech also talks about the Conservatives' anti-crime agenda, promising to propose tougher sentences for those who abuse seniors and to help at-risk youth avoid gangs and criminal activity.

It also promises to reintroduce legislation to clarify and strengthen laws on self-defence, defence of property and citizen's arrest, and measures to address marriage fraud and combat human smuggling.

And the speech says the government will hold a parliamentary debate on the mission in Libya, expected to come in the near term.

Digital economy strategy

On the economy, the government is promising a digital economy strategy and to wrap up a trade agreement with the European Union by the end of this year. It is also promising to finish free trade negotiations with India by 2013, and to continue perimeter security talks with the U.S.

The speech outlines a new cabinet subcommittee to lead a strategic operating review to help kill the deficit by 2014. The review is looking at "reducing the cost of government," the speech said.

On the environment, there's a promise to create "significant new protected areas" and set up an urban national park in Rouge Valley of eastern Toronto. The speech also says the government will support major clean energy projects like the Lower Churchill hydroelectricity project in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Other promises included in the speech:

  • an increase in the Guaranteed Income Supplement for 680,000 vulnerable seniors, a committment made in the March 22 budget; 
  • working with the provinces on a Pooled Registered Pension Plan;
  • introduction of a Family Caregiver Tax Credit and remove cap on eligible expenses caregivers can claim under the Medical Expense Tax Credit, another budget measure;
  • a Children's Arts Tax Credit, promised in the March 22 budget;
  • maintaining the six per cent escalator under the Canada Health Transfer and work with provinces and territories to reduce wait times;
  • completion of the Dempster Highway from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories;
  • creation of an Office of Religious Freedom.

Ceremony and symbols

The Governor General pulled up to Parliament Hill in a chauffeur-driven car rather than taking the open-air landau often used for speeches from the throne, and inspected the Guard of Honour outside Centre Block.

He then walked down the marble hallway to the red Senate Chamber where he will deliver the speech in front of Parliamentarians, Supreme Court justices and other dignitaries in the regal Senate chamber. It's expected to be relatively short – about 30 to 40 minutes.

The Prime Minister's Office also invited 40 guests to watch the speech. Among them was Guy Giorno, Stephen Harper's former chief of staff and the national campaign chairman responsible for the Conservatives' majority victory on May 2.

Other guests symbolized government priorities. Representatives of business and trade associations, seniors, ethnic and cultural organizations, and the victims of crime were among those present in the Senate gallery. 

The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo, also was invited.  

 

LIVE BLOG RECAP: Speech from the throne

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With files from Meagan Fitzpatrick