Here for all Canadians?

Here for all Canadians was the title of the government’s Speech from the Throne as the 41st Parliament embarked on its spring session. The Speech offered a cautious, respectful tone that suggests that the new Conservative majority government recognizes that it must govern for all Canadians. The Speech offered no surprises, but committed the government to the agenda it had promised during the election campaign.

Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) is hopeful that this new majority government will continue to take a conciliatory approach to the Opposition as parliamentary business resumes, respectful of the fact that over 60% of voters opted for other parties and policies.

CPJ also appreciates the fact that the Speech did not offer any hasty promises in order to reach the target of eliminating the deficit a year earlier, but promised to maintain individual transfers and provincial transfers for pensions, health and education. Rather than immediate cuts, the government is implementing a Strategic and Operating Review of government.

Silence on poverty and climate change

However, we are disappointed that the Speech from the Throne continued the government’s silence on the issues of poverty and economic insecurity in Canada. The word poverty was not mentioned, and the only reference to “the most vulnerable in society” came in relation to the government’s crime agenda. The government’s whole approach to economic security is jobs and growth. While the renewal of the Health Transfer in 2014 was referenced, the Social Transfer, due for renewal at the same time, was not mentioned.

Poverty is a significant challenge confronting our country, both now and for the future. 1 in 10 Canadians is economically vulnerable and socially marginalized. Many more Canadians live on the verge of poverty, one missed paycheque or one precarious job away from poverty. This has profound implications for the well-being of all Canadians, as well as the vitality of our labour force and the costs of our health, social services and legal systems. Poverty harms the dignity of our neighbours, created in the image of God, giving us a moral and ethical imperative to address poverty. We are called to practice God’s love towards the poor and marginalized.

CPJ is also disappointed that the Speech from the Throne does not promise any action on climate change or environmental protection. We need a credible strategy with appropriate funding in order to move our economy towards sustainability.

Positive steps

The Speech from the Throne did offer some promising policy commitments. While we will need to wait until the budget to see the details of the promised increase to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors, CPJ applauds the commitment to helping our seniors make ends meet. Canada’s record on seniors’ poverty – often considered the bright light of our income security policy – has been slipping over the past few years, and this will provide a welcome boost to the incomes of the poorest seniors, helping Canadians to preserve their dignity as they age.

The commitments to Canada’s Aboriginal peoples are also very welcome. The Speech from the Throne recognizes that “Concerted action is needed to address the barriers to social and economic participation that many Aboriginal Canadians face.” It promises that the government will work with Aboriginal communities to meet these challenges, including greater economic development, access to clean water, and concrete changes in pursuit of better education for First Nations children and adults.

It is astonishing that in the 21st century, many Aboriginal Canadians do not have access to the clean water, education and employment opportunities that most Canadians take for granted. These are challenges that are well-deserving of government attention, and the commitment to work hand-in-hand with Aboriginal communities to solve them is very important. CPJ hopes that this commitment will be followed up with concrete budgetary measures in Monday’s budget.

Opportunities for public justice

The government will provide a more detailed look at its policy agenda on Monday, with the introduction of a new budget. We hope that the budget will continue the cautious, conciliatory tone of the Speech from the Throne. But we also hope that as the government moves forward with its agenda over the next four years, it finds a way to work with the opposition parties to meaningfully address poverty, economic inequality and climate change. Ultimately, governing for all Canadians means that the government must take into account the most marginalized and vulnerable Canadians and the land in which we live.