OTTAWA — Gov. Gen. Mary Simon officially kicked off a new session of Parliament on Tuesday with a throne speech delivered on behalf of the government. Here are five key take-aways from the speech:
1. Canada's relationship with Indigenous Peoples was front and centre.
The Governor General’s first words were in her native Inuktitut, which she used several times throughout the rest of the speech alongside French and English. Simon encouraged members of Parliament off the top to learn more about the Indigenous history of their ridings. She also took special care to note the enduring legacy of Canada’s former residential schools, including the discovery of unmarked graves. The speech later spoke of the government's commitment to reconciliation and addressing issues such as boil-water advisories in Indigenous communities and implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It also made note of a planned national monument for residential school survivors.
2. Diversity and inclusiveness were touchstones.
The Liberal government, which has been criticized for not doing more to address sexual misconduct in the Canadian military, promised to move ahead with its national plan for tackling gender-based violence. It also promised a renewed anti-racism strategy. The previous strategy was launched in 2019 and is set to expire next year. The government committed to finalizing a ban on LGBTQ conversion therapy, legislation for which died when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the election in August. The speech also spoke of the government’s plans to strengthen the Official Languages Act and promote French outside Quebec. Afterward, Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan of Quebec criticized Simon's French skills and what he described as a dearth of the language in the speech. "This speech is a slap in the face to all French-speaking Canadians," Carignan said in a statement. Simon has acknowledged her lack of French and said she plans to take lessons.
3. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic was referenced numerous times.
That included a mention of Josée Forest-Niesing, the 56-year-old senator who died last week after a battle with COVID-19. The government promised to work with provinces and territories to ensure all Canadians have access to adequate physical and mental health care, including communities and people who have tended to be underserved. It also committed to providing vaccines at home and abroad, and while underscoring some of the economic measures that it plans to either introduce or continue in the coming months. The speech specifically spoke of “targeted support,” including toward industries and sectors particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
4. The Liberals laid out a number of priorities for the new session.
Those included plans to move ahead on a mandatory buyback of assault-style firearms, increasing immigration levels, reintroducing legislation to regulate online content and creating a new national water agency. The government made one mention of skyrocketing inflation, and said its plan to tackle the problem is to complete implementation of a national child-care program, and to roll out several measures on affordable housing.
5. The government signalled a pivot in its approach toward Asia.
While China was not specifically mentioned, the speech noted there has been a rise in authoritarianism and "great power competition." A reference to deepening partnerships in the Indo-Pacific comes as many of Canada's closest allies have increasingly turned to the challenge posed by Beijing, and suggests India and the surrounding region will play a role in trying to check China's influence. Also not mentioned in the speech: A decision on whether to ban Chinese telecom giant Huawei from Canada's 5G networks.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2021.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press