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Trudeau promises to get coronavirus under control, move ‘further, faster’ on climate crisis

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Nov. 23 after the Speech from the Throne was delivered. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, deprived again of the majority he sought in an unpopular snap pandemic election in September, pledged Tuesday to get the pandemic under control and go “further, faster” to fight climate change.

His plan, presented in the Speech from the Throne for a new session of Parliament, was mostly a rehash of promises he has made in past addresses, budgets and campaign platforms, such as building affordable housing, working with the provinces to create a national child-care system, increasing immigration and advancing reconciliation with Indigenous people.

The address was delivered in a ceremony filled with ancient traditions, pomp and pageantry by the governor general, who represents Queen Elizabeth II in Canada, but it was written by the prime minister and his aides.

It came more than two months after a federal election that produced a Parliament that looks virtually unchanged from the last one. Trudeau called the election betting voters would reward him for his response to the coronavirus pandemic with a majority government.

Instead, they left his party 11 seats short of the 170 needed for a majority in the House of Commons, and dependent again on the backing of opposition parties to pass his agenda.

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The speech said voters gave Parliament “clear” direction.

“Not only do they want parliamentarians to work together to put this pandemic behind us,” said Governor General Mary Simon, reading the address. “They also want bold, concrete solutions to meet the other challenges we face.”

The speech was the first delivered by Simon, Canada’s first Indigenous governor general. The former diplomat, who is bilingual in English and Inuktitut, delivered parts of the address in both of those languages, as well as French, a language she has pledged to learn.

In a preface to the speech written by Simon herself, she noted the discoveries this year of unmarked graves near the sites of former residential schools for Indigenous children and urged Canadians to turn their “guilt” into action on reconciliation. She also delivered a stark warning about the planet.

“Our Earth is in danger,” Simon said. “From a warming Arctic to the increasing devastation of natural disasters, our land and our people need help. We must move talk into action and adapt where we must. We cannot afford to wait.”

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Much as in the old Parliament, Trudeau is expected to rely on the left-leaning New Democratic Party and the separatist Bloc Québécois for support. Those parties are aligned with him on several key policy areas, including combating climate change.

The throne speech is typically put to a vote that the government must win to stay in power. The Bloc Québécois appeared to indicate that it would not bring the government down over the speech.

“Supporting might not be the best word,” Bloc leader Yves-François Blanchet said. “We will live with this empty piece of paper gently read in three languages.”

Other party leaders panned the speech.

“It really looked really empty,” said New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh. “It was a government that’s run out of ideas and run out of steam. We see a throne speech that does not respond to the urgency of the crises that we’re up against.”

Still, he declined to say whether he would vote against it.

Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said that the throne speech lacked “a plan for the economy” and “a plan to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.”

“The reality facing Canadian families seem to be something that the Liberal government [is] all too happy to blissfully ignore,” he said.

The address contained one reference to inflation, which it described as “a challenge that countries around the world are facing,” and said the government would “prudently” manage spending and move toward “more targeted” economic aid for sectors still affected by the pandemic.

The speech came as the government responds to the aftermath of a once-in-a-century storm in British Columbia last week that caused flooding and landslides that have been blamed for at least four deaths, led to fuel rationing and destroyed key highways, effectively choking Vancouver off from much of the rest of Canada.

It pledged to cap and cut oil and gas sector emissions and to “strengthen action to prevent and prepare for floods, wildfires, droughts, coastline erosion and other extreme weather worsened by climate change.”

“The government is taking real action to fight climate change,” the government said. “Now, we must go further, faster.”

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The speech, which is read in the Senate, usually provides a broad overview of a government’s agenda, but rarely provides nitty-gritty details on how programs might work or what they will cost. This one was no different.

It foreshadowed potential flash points, including a plan to revive a controversial bill from the last session of Parliament that would ensure streaming services “pay their fair share for the creation and promotion of Canadian content.”

With the pandemic not yet over, it remained unclear what format the new session of Parliament would take. The Liberals favor a hybrid Parliament with some lawmakers physically present in the House of Commons and others joining remotely. The Conservatives and the Bloc want all lawmakers to attend in-person.

“We want to see Parliament return to proper function,” O’Toole said.

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