What is a Throne Speech, Anyway?
By Natasha Kornak
You might’ve heard a lot of buzz in the media the past few weeks about the upcoming Throne Speech (or Speech from the Throne, if you want to be fancy). If you have no idea what I’m talking about (because you’re busy trying to maintain basic functionality during a global pandemic), that’s okay! I’m here to break down what exactly a Throne Speech is and why you should pay close attention to the one happening this Wednesday, September 23.
What even is a throne speech?
In Commonwealth countries, every new session of Parliament is kicked off with a Speech from the Throne. This is a formal address delivered by the Head of State outlining the government’s priorities. In the UK, it’s delivered by the reigning Monarch (Queen Elizabeth II). In Canada, it is delivered by the Monarch’s representative—the Governor General, federally, or a province’s Lieutenant Governor.
The last Throne Speech was delivered by Governor General Julie Payette on December 5, 2019, just after Canadians elected a Liberal minority government.
So why are we having one now?
I’m glad you asked! The government can move to prorogue parliament at any given time, if they get consent from the majority of the Governor General. This is effectively like saying “school’s out” to Parliament. All bills that are in the process of being debated, whether they are in the House of Commons or in the Senate, are effectively dead. The work of all Parliamentary committees stops, too. It’s like hitting a giant reset button.
In late August, Justin Trudeau did just that. But Parliament has to resume at some point, and when they do, they’ll launch into another “session” of Parliament. This requires another formal opening of Parliament with, you guessed it, another Throne Speech.
But why did Justin Trudeau prorogue Parliament to begin with?
That’s a loaded question. There’s a number of reasons you’ll hear thrown around by politicians, political scientists, and pundits alike.
For starters, the first Thone Speech back in 2019 set out a list of priorities well before COVID-19 was on the government’s radar. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, the government has dug deep into its pockets (to the tune of a $343 billion deficit) to combat the health and economic ramifications of the pandemic.
With cases on the rise and a vaccine still far from being ready, the Liberals are now saying that the government needs to regroup and come back with a clear plan for combatting the pandemic.
This is complemented by the appointment of Chrystia Freeland as Canada’s new (and first female) finance minister, replacing Bill Morneau after he stepped down, which brings me to my next point …
There was also the WE Charity scandal, which saw the Prime Minister and former Finance Minister Bill Morneau in hot water over their personal and familial connections to the organization, which was awarded a sole-source contract back in May.
This hurt the Liberals’ popularity and resulted in Parliament’s Finance Committee investigating the contract. Proroguing Parliament stops the ongoing work of all committees, including that set up to investigate the WE contract. Prorogation gives the Liberals an opportunity to change the narrative and win back support.
That’s cool and all, but what does the Throne Speech mean for me?
I’m glad you asked! The formality of the Throne Speech can leave us feeling estranged from its impact on our daily lives, but this one comes at a particularly critical moment in time and will likely lay the groundwork for policies that could impact you.
It might (but probably won’t) send you to the polls.
The Liberals are currently governing in a minority Parliament, they hold the most seats overall with 154, but are 15 seats shy from holding 50%. Once a throne speech is introduced, it is debated and voted upon in what is known as a vote of confidence. Should the Liberals not receive a majority of votes in the House, an election will be triggered.
This has major political implications for the Liberals. They are already unlikely to see support from the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois. They’ll need the support of the NDP, who hold 24 seats, which may impact the type of policies outlined in the throne speech.
It could mean new programs and services for you.
There have been lots of stories leaking to the press about what the throne speech might contain. Many expect the government to announce massive new spending initiatives in an effort to “build back better.”
For example, there are growing calls for a feminist recovery that includes supports for women, who have been hit the hardest by the economic impact of the pandemic. We can expect more money for childcare, EI reforms, and health care. The Prime Minister has said that Canadians won’t see new taxes to help pay for this spending, but that remains to be seen.
Ok, so to recap …
Basically, Justin Trudeau’s minority government took a break to hit the reset button on its political agenda. They will present a new agenda in the Speech from the Throne, which will be delivered Wednesday, September 23 at 1 PM EST.
The speech will outline the government’s new agenda to address the COVID-19 pandemic and is speculated to be a highly ambitious and costly plan. But the government will need to secure over 50% of support from the House of Commons in order to stay in government long enough to put it into action.