The Morning Brief – 09.17.20

By Bruce Carson


The Path to the Speech from the Throne (Part 2)

Results of the Trudeau Cabinet Retreat

What a Difference a Month Makes

In those same parlours where folks sat around and discussed the possible date of the next election last week, their discussions have now turned to the subject matter of the upcoming Speech from the Throne, (SFT) to be delivered on September 23, less than a week away.

It was August 18, just a few weeks ago when Prime Minister Trudeau visited the Governor General seeking the prorogation of parliament. It was also on that day that Deputy Prime Minister Freeland took on the additional role of finance minister, vacated the day before by Bill Morneau.

Both Trudeau and Freeland made statements on that day and answered questions as they set out the need to seize the moment provided by the pandemic. It would allow the government to display what it had learned and set a path forward with a new SFT, a new beginning, which would set Canada on a different course, one that would be more inclusive, fairer, equitable and above all greener than Canadians had previously experienced.

The SFT would set the path for the Trudeau government to Build Canada Back Better.

At the time, newly minted Finance Minister Freeland stated “the question about decarbonisation as part of our economic plan going forward, of course it has to be part of it.” She went on to say “I think all Canadians understand that the restart of our economy needs to be green. It also has to be equitable, it needs to be inclusive and we need to focus very much on jobs and growth.” Prime Minister Trudeau added “this is our moment to change the future for the better.” This was a moment of great optimism for them both.

The Sun chain, not a big fan of this government set out in an editorial after these statements “we need recovery, not decarbonisation.” It went on to say “it’s also hard to imagine all Canadians agreeing that the restart needs to be green.” Also the question was put, will we be moving towards Trudeau’s once stated goal of “phasing out” the oil sands? The editorial asked, does this mean the carbon tax will increase?

The editorial concludes by urging the government to focus on getting the economy firing on all cylinders “not using ideological arguments to favour one sector over another.”

In the period between August 18 and today, a number of matters converged which may have moved the government some distance away from its green agenda, and forced it to focus more on the health of Canadians and the economy as it affects the 1.8 million Canadians who have either lost jobs or who are still employed but working fewer hours as a direct result of the pandemic.

In the weeks since August 18, and particularly as economies opened up and schools reopened and the days grew shorter and cooler, the number of cases of COVID-19 began to rise, particularly in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.

In addition to the health of Canadians, the other matter that emerged was economic. While there seems, initially, no great divergence of views among political parties, or the business community, money will have to be dedicated to mend the country’s torn economic, health and social safety net.

However, there seems to be reluctance in some quarters to move beyond help dedicated directly to Canadians. Large expenditures on greening the economy take the focus off the needs of Canadians facing a second wave of COVID-19.

The economic situation that Canada finds itself in was addressed by the Business Council of Canada which argued that the new finance minister quickly establish clear fiscal targets and release a long term plan which would return the country to economic growth. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce said that Canada needs to address its lack of competitiveness.

Perhaps Minister Freeland summed up best what seem to be competing values on Tuesday in a media availability set up to deal with the U.S. change of position on aluminum tariffs.

She made three points: first, COVID-19 isn’t over yet; second, there is no choice between health care and the economy, we have to make the right choices on health care, but they will be costly; and third, COVID-19 is in our future but we need economic growth and jobs for Canadians.

Freeland added “The most important economic policy is keeping COVID-19 under control.” Put another way “if we continue to do the right thing on health care, it will be right for the economy.” As far as she is concerned the economic priority now is to get COVID-19 under control.

In an answer to a question from the Globe’s Bill Curry she did say the fight against the virus does not negate any other policies being pursued.

Going into the cabinet retreat on Monday, Trudeau made it clear that his priority was stopping the resurgence of COVID-19. While he didn’t say it, it was obvious that fighting the virus had had moved to the top of the cabinet agenda, which means all other matters move down in prominence and importance.

Yesterday at the end of the cabinet retreat he spoke about building safer, inclusive, and cleaner communities. The government will support Canadians who have lost jobs and hours of work.

From all of this, it seems safe to conclude that matters such as childcare, addressing deficiencies in long term care homes for the elderly, health care, making changes to EI and introducing the Canada Recovery Benefit; all shortcomings exposed by the pandemic will be addressed in the SFT.

In addition, the vulnerabilities shown by COVID regarding Canada’s Indigenous people, women, youth and racialized Canadians will be addressed, but it is not clear at this point what measures will be announced.

One of the main issues that Trudeau will confront is that most of the challenges he wishes to address fall within the legislative jurisdiction of the provinces. He can announce funding, but he will not, without agreement, be able to assure success. However, Trudeau could point to the recent $19 billion restart agreement with the provinces as an example of cooperation.

On environment and climate change, perhaps they can be addressed in a peripheral way, setting out initiatives that could be triggered as the virus subsides or jobs are created by a national retrofit initiative or green home renovation tax credit.

There are other matters that deserve mention in the SFT, those left over from other speeches such as gun control. There will have to be at least a paragraph or two addressing Western alienation and the same dealing with the role of Canada’s armed forces dealing with COVID in long term care homes.

The concept of a basic annual income which is on the agenda at the next Liberal policy convention deserves comment. This could be done in the section dealing with continuing financial supports to persons and the phasing out of CERB. CERB came as close as any program to providing a basic annual income.

On Tuesday, The Morning Brief will look at how all of this is to be paid for and where the new fiscal anchor may be found.

To Come

September 18
  • Retail trade numbers for July to be released
  • Wholesale trade numbers for July to be released
September 23
  • Speech from the Throne
September 29
  • First presidential debate
September 30
  • GDP numbers for July to be released

The Morning Brief returns on Tuesday, September 22.

– BC