Photo by Owen Byrne.
This week marked the opening of the new federal Parliament, which gave the re-elected Harper Conservatives the chance to lay out their plan for the coming session—via Her Majesty’s representative in Canada, of course—in the Speech from the Throne. And with our level of economic worry as high as it has been in many a year, we at Torontoist were asking one simple question: what’s in it for us? What does the government plan to do to help Toronto and other Canadian cities deal with the unique problems they face in an increasingly bleak financial environment? As it turns out, not a whole lot.
Predictably, the bulk of the speech focused on the government’s proposals to prepare Canada for the worsening global economic storm. The plan laid out in the Throne Speech comes in a convenient, five-point list: reform global finance, ensure sound budgeting, secure jobs for families and communities, expand investment and trade, and make government more effective. If nothing else, we now know how much Prime Minister Harper likes multi-point plans: this is his second in just over a month, and follows the completion of the six-point economic program announced immediately following the October 14 election.
Issues specific to Ontario in general rated a couple of mentions in the speech: the government’s economic plan includes aid for the struggling auto sector, and the Tories seem intent on reintroducing legislation to increase the number of House of Commons seats for fast-growing provinces like Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia, which could mean a larger contingent of Toronto-area members of Parliament. But even these two promises are not necessarily as beneficial as they seem at first glance: Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said after the Throne Speech that federal aid for the auto industry will not be coming in the immediate future, and the Conservatives’ proposal for increasing growing provinces’ share of House seats was harshly condemned last year by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. So much for that.
As for initiatives targeted to urban areas, no luck there either: the Throne Speech only mentioned the word “cities” a single time and only two commitments relate to problems specific to urban centres. And even those promises—to expand the Homelessness Partnering Strategy and fast-track the Tories’ Building Canada plan—simply rehash old pledges. Not a shock, but certainly a disappointment for city dwellers looking for help in tough times.
Perhaps the modest nature of the Throne Speech was to be expected, given the hit taken by the government’s coffers in the past year. But for those looking to blame the expected federal deficit—the first in more than a decade—on the skidding international economy, think again. In a report released yesterday, the parliamentary budget officer blamed Conservative tax cuts for the government’s precarious financial position, sparking a chorus of “I told you so!” from the Liberals and NDP.
These concerns, however, will not stop the speech from passing through the House. Just minutes after the governor general finished delivering the government’s plan, the Liberal Party announced that it will not vote against the speech, meaning that Canadians won’t be forced back to the polls for the time being. So for now, attention turns to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who will give details of the government’s fiscal situation in an economic update to be delivered at 4 p.m. on Thursday, November 27. Perhaps the situation is not as bleak as expected, but if nothing else, the past two months have taught us that pessimism could well be the order of the day. Minister Flaherty, we beg you: prove us wrong.
Photo of the governor general’s throne by 416style.