Throne speech warns of spending cuts

Freezing the salaries of federal politicians, restraining overall government spending and a possible change to the wording of the national anthem were among the initiatives unveiled in the Conservative government's speech from the throne on Wednesday.
Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean speaks with Prime Minister Stephen Harper before delivering the throne speech in the Senate chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))

Freezing the salaries of federal politicians, restraining overall government spending and a possible change to the wording of the national anthem were among the initiatives unveiled in the Conservative government's speech from the throne on Wednesday.

Most frequent words

Graphic shows most frequently used words in the speech.

"Canadians live within their means and expect their government to do the same. Spending designed for a rainy day should not become an all-weather practice," according to the throne speech read by Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean.

The government said jobs and growth will remain the top priority as effects of the recession linger.

"This will require a return to fiscal balance, securing the strong budgetary position that distinguishes our country from so many others," Jean said. 

The government said part of its plan to restore fiscal balance and tackle the $56-billion deficit is to restrain federal program spending overall, although pensions, education and health care would be exempt from cuts.

Jean inspects the guard of honour on Parliament Hill prior to reading the speech from the throne. ((Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press))

As well, stimulus spending and other measures under the Tories' economic stimulus plan will end by March 31, 2011.

The government said it will freeze the salaries of the prime minister, cabinet ministers, members of Parliament and senators to lead by example in its efforts to cut costs. The Tories also want to freeze the overall budget of ministers’ offices and are urging all MPs and senators to do the same.

The Tories are also calling for a freeze in the total amount spent on salaries, administration and overhead in government departments.

The federal government is also looking to loosen foreign ownership restrictions on telecommunications companies, a move that would open Canada to service providers from other countries.

Focusing on crime, the government will also reintroduce, in its original form, the consumer safety bill and the anti-drug-crime legislation.

The government also plans to create legislation to increase penalties for sexual offences against children and strengthen the sex offender registry.

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As well, new legislation would give families of murder victims access to special benefits under Employment Insurance. Employees of federally regulated industries would also have the right to unpaid leave if they or their family members are crime victims.

The throne speech contained a variety of wide-ranging plans including:

  • The introduction of a new biometric passport.
  • Support for legislation establishing Seniors Day.
  • Commemoration of the bicentennial of the War of 1812.
  • Establishment of a national monument to the victims of communism and a national Holocaust memorial.

Something that could prove controversial, the government also hinted that changes may be coming to the O Canada — the national anthem — as it will ask parliament to "examine the original gender-neutral English wording" of the song.

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On Thursday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will unveil the government’s budget.

The throne speech follows Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to prorogue Parliament on Dec. 30, a move that sparked anger from some Canadians, with polls suggesting a majority opposed the decision.

Some protest rallies were held and thousands joined an anti-prorogue website. Opposition members accused the prime minister of thwarting democracy and using the manoeuvre to avoid the controversy over the treatment of Afghan detainees.

Harper rejected the accusation, saying the government needed extra time to meet with stakeholders as it moved into the "next phase" of its economic action plan amid signs of economic recovery.

While polls showed the Tories holding a steady lead over the Liberals before prorogation, the gap narrowed following that decision.

Opposition MPs returned to the House of Commons on Jan 25, the day parliamentarians were due to return to work following the Christmas break, and continued to hold public policy forums and discussions.

During the break, Harper also named five new senators, giving the Tories the plurality needed to exercise greater control over newly formed Senate committees.

The decision to prorogue, or suspend, Parliament effectively scuttled all bills that had been before the current Parliament, including the government's anti-crime legislation, which the Conservatives had accused opposition parties of trying to stall.