The Liberal government will lay out its priorities for its second term in office in the throne speech today — a chance for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reboot his government after voters reduced it to a minority in the last election campaign.
The speech, a tradition steeped in Crown pomp and pageantry, must be read before parliamentarians conduct any other business in this 43rd Parliament, such as introducing legislation or reconstituting committees.
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette will read the speech — which is written by the Prime Minister's Office — from a throne reserved for the Queen or her representative in the Senate chamber. This throne speech will be the first to be delivered in the temporary Red Chamber that is housing the Senate while parliamentary renovations are underway.
The Liberal government will put forward an agenda it hopes will help it to a majority win in the next federal election. That election is likely to come sooner than most, given the fact that the government could fall at any time on a non-confidence motion in the House of Commons.
The theme of national unity is expected to feature prominently in the throne speech. Trudeau must grapple with new challenges in this second term — primarily restless western provinces beset by pipeline constraints and disruptions in the energy economy.
After the Liberal government introduced a series of measures perceived as an affront to the country's natural resources sector, voters turfed all Liberal MPs in Saskatchewan and Alberta this October.
Trudeau has restructured his cabinet since the election, redeploying his top lieutenant, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, from the foreign affairs file to intergovernmental affairs in an effort to tamp down growing anger in Western Canada. Freeland, a native of Peace River, Alta., has assumed the national unity file.
Greg MacEachern, a Liberal strategist and a senior vice-president at Proof Strategies, said the Liberals have to take a more conciliatory tone in this throne speech — to bring some of the progressive opposition parties onside and to reassure voters who didn't back the Trudeau agenda.
"I think the speech has to strike a balance between the Liberal election promises and reflecting the mood of the country in terms of the results. It wasn't a wholesale endorsement for the Liberals," he said.
"The aspirational, preachy style of the previous term is going to be replaced with a more serious tone, as evidenced by the way the prime minister has handled himself since the election. Trudeau has been less visible — NATO notwithstanding — more business-oriented and more about getting down to work. I think the speech will reflect that."
"Not to be too cute, but they have to emphasize the 'hard work' part of the 'hope and hard work' [election campaign slogan]."
MacEachern said the speech has to strike a delicate balance between assuring Western Canadians that action is being taken to address their concerns — through the expansion of the government-owned Trans Mountain pipeline, for example — and committing to do more to fight climate change.
A middle class tax cut
In order to woo right-of-centre voters disenchanted with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, MacEachern said the Liberals also should play up the healthy state of the Canadian economy while promising more for middle-class families.
The Liberal government already has signalled that this second mandate will be focused on making life more affordable for Canadians through things like a more generous Canada Child Benefit — payments to parents to help offset the costs of raising a child — and another middle-class tax cut.
Trudeau has said that tax cut — which is supposed to save the average taxpayer roughly $292 a year — will be the first order of business in the reconvened Parliament.
Action on climate
The prime minister also has suggested the government is planning to go further on climate action.
Beyond the current commitment to lower emissions by some 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, Trudeau said in the last election campaign that Canada would shoot for a "net-zero" future by 2050.
That would mean making deep cuts to carbon emissions or offsetting those emissions through other actions that scrub carbon from the atmosphere, such as planting trees. The Liberals have promised to plant two billion trees.
Sarah Petrevan is policy director at Clean Energy Canada, a group that develops solutions to help with the global clean energy transition. She said the throne speech should signal that the fight against climate change is at the top of the government's agenda.
"Canadians very clearly — and polling data supports this — Canadians very clearly elected the Parliament they did because they want climate action," Petrevan said.
"I think it will be essential for this government to work with the other parties across the floor to deliver on their commitments in a meaningful way. All of these parties have to work together to realize the vision that Canadians elected them to achieve. We would prefer for climate to feature highly and we think it's reasonable to expect that."
Petrevan said she hopes the speech will explain how the fight to curb global warming will be a "whole-of-government" effort — one that isn't driven solely by Environment and Climate Change Canada but by other departments as well, such as Infrastructure Canada and Transport Canada.
The government also is expected to reiterate its commitment to implementing more stringent regulations on firearms. The Liberal Party promised to ban military-style assault rifles in the last election campaign.
The speech likely will include more talk about closing the gap in care for Indigenous children living on reserves, following the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal order that the government compensate kids who were subjected to sub-par conditions in the First Nations child welfare system.
CBC coverage of Thursday's throne speech
Rosemary Barton hosts special coverage of the speech from the throne beginning at 2 p.m. ET on CBC News Network, CBCnews.ca and Facebook. Tune in to CBC Radio One for coverage of the speech starting just before 3:30 p.m. ET. And find analysis and reaction on CBC News Network's Power & Politics at 5 p.m. ET, World at 6 on CBC Radio One and on CBC TV's The National at 10 p.m.
Thursday promises to be a busy day on Parliament Hill. Before the throne speech, members of Parliament will elect a House of Commons Speaker. The incumbent, Geoff Regan, is running again.
Following that ranked-ballot election for Speaker, the Governor General will make her way to the Senate chamber, now housed in Ottawa's old central train station.
The opening of every new session of Parliament requires a proclamation by the Governor General. Parliamentary convention dictates that the Queen and her viceregal are forbidden from entering the Commons — a practice that has been in place since 1642, when King Charles I stormed the Commons in London and tried to arrest the famous "Five Members" of Parliament. That is why the speech is read in the Senate.
The Senate Speaker, Newfoundland and Labrador Sen. George Furey, will direct Usher of the Black Rod Greg Peters, the Queen's messenger in Parliament, to go to the Commons to summon MPs to the Senate for the speech. The MPs will board a bus to travel from West Block to the Senate; the two temporary chambers where MPs and senators are working during the Centre Block renovations are about half a kilometre apart.
Parliamentary tradition says MPs are not allowed on the floor of the Senate, so they will remain behind the brass bar at the chamber's entrance. The bar is intended to signal that both houses of Parliament should remain independent.
The only MP allowed on the floor for the speech is the prime minister himself.