The Liberal government will launch a campaign to create one million jobs as part of its plan to dig the Canadian economy out of the ditch created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
That plan includes extending the Canadian Emergency Wage subsidy program until the summer of 2021, spending money on infrastructure and handing out incentives to employers that hire and retrain workers.
The million jobs promised by the government would return the country to pre-recession levels after the pandemic caused financial devastation even worse than the 2008 financial crisis.
The policies were outlined by Governor General Julie Payette in the speech from the throne, which she delivered in the Senate chamber in Ottawa.
Related: O’Toole, Blanchet throne speech responses complicated by COVID-19 infections
The speech also notes that women have been hit hardest by COVID-19 and promised an “intersectional response to this pandemic and recovery.”
“Recognizing the urgency of this challenge, the government will make a significant, long-term, sustained investment to create a Canada-wide early learning and childcare system,” said Payette. “Canadians need more accessible, affordable, inclusive and high-quality childcare.”
The government also reiterated a previous pledge to subsidize before- and after-school program costs.
After watching COVID-19 tear through long-term care homes in the spring, the government is also planning several measures for elderly Canadians.
The government will amend the Criminal Code to penalize those who “neglect seniors under their care, putting them in danger.” It will also set national standards for long-care homes and attempt to “help people stay in their homes longer.”
The speech also acknowledged that “existing income systems” have not been designed to support Canadians through the pandemic.
“The pandemic has shown that Canada needs an EI system for the 21st century, including for the self-employed and those in the gig economy,” Payette said.
The federal Employment Insurance system will become the main financial support system for Canadians, replacing the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit program put into place earlier this summer to stem losses felt by the pandemic. However, the government has also committed to creating a transitional Canada Recovery Benefit program for those unqualified for EI.
The Liberal government has also promised to help provincial governments increase their testing capacity, following reports of Canadians waiting in line for hours to get a test and in some cases, turned away from test centres. According to the speech, the government will create a Testing Assistance Response Team, designed to meet surge testing needs, including in remote and isolated communities.
The opposition was left unimpressed by the government’s response to a potential second wave of COVID-19.
“It doesn’t address in a real substantial way, issues around testing,” said Conservative deputy leader Candice Bergen. The speech was simply “filled with buzzwords and grand gestures,” she said, adding that the Conservatives will vote against the government’s agenda.
“Today, the government’s throne speech was full of promises we’ve heard before,” said NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. “A throne speech is just words on paper and this PM has shown us that his actions don’t match his empty words.”
Trudeau is expected to reinforce the plans laid out in the throne speech during a nationally televised address scheduled for tonight, in order to underscore the threat of the incoming second wave and urge Canadians to stay resolute.
When he prorogued Parliament in August, Trudeau said his government would present a bold, ambitious agenda and needed the opposition parties to weigh in before moving ahead. Reports indicated the speech would have a climate focus with big potential investments in childcare and pharmacare as well.
He said the speech the government introduced last year didn’t contemplate the pandemic and his government has to get Parliament’s support for a new path forward.
The Liberals will face a confidence vote on the throne speech soon after it is introduced and will need to get support from at least one of the major opposition parties.
After staffers succumbed to infection, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and the BQ’s Yves-Francois Blanchet tested positive for the virus and reman in isolation at their respective homes, where they will watch the speech. Both are hoping to deliver their official replies on Sept. 29, when they’re both out of quarantine.
Earlier today, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer said the country saw an average of 1,123 new COVID-19 cases each day over the past week, compared to 380 cases reported daily in mid-August. She added that the increase is cause for real concern as the country is now on track for what she describes as a “big resurgence” in several provinces. Daily laboratory testing for the virus has risen to almost 70,000 over the past week, with 1.4 per cent of people testing positive for the illness.
Public health officials have warned a return to strict lockdowns might be required to curb a pandemic resurgence.
Stringent lockdowns implemented in the spring caused unprecedented economic disruption, prompting the federal government to spend tens of billions of dollars on wage and other business supports as unemployment skyrocketed. Some of those spending programs, however, are set to end but the government has promised replacements.
With files by Ryan Tumilty and the Canadian Press