Op-ed: Three quotes from the throne speech that will affect Ottawa-Gatineau businesses

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Plane troubles meant Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had to take a red-eye flight to be in the red Chamber in time for Thursday’s speech from the throne to open Canada’s 43rd Parliament, Trudeau’s first as leader of a minority government.

While Governor General Julie Payette, a former astronaut, spoke briefly (and bizarrely) about the space-time continuum, the intended message of the speech was to call for unity and common ground here at home.

The speech – which is largely written by the prime minister’s office and read by the Queen’s representative in Canada – called on Parliamentarians to work together to move Canada forward.

We’ll soon see how long the conciliatory, collaborative tone lasts. (My guess is about 18 months.)

Minority governments’ throne speeches are often vague. This one was also rather short. But for those of us here in Ottawa-Gatineau, I counted three quotes of note.

'Make life better for Canadians'

“…That includes…investments in infrastructure, public transit, science and innovation.”

Trudeau’s Liberals have dropped any commitment to balance the federal budget any time soon. That gives them room to spend even more than they did in their first term. And spend they shall. They want to win another majority, after all.

While economists are split on the wisdom of deficits outside of recessions, anyone who makes their living off government procurement or who is in the business of building public assets can expect the good times to keep rolling – for now, at least.

'Climate action now'

“Canada’s children and grandchildren will judge this generation by its action – or inaction…”

Doubling down on both a national carbon tax and a pledge to achieve “net zero emissions by 2050,” the speech committed the government to working with businesses to make Canada the best place to start and grow a clean technology company.

While mentioning clean power, zero-emission vehicles and energy efficient homes particularly, the government clearly wants to signal a friendly environment and warm investment climate for green businesses of all sorts. During her latest election campaign, Ottawa-Centre MP Catherine McKenna said she would work to make the capital a “cleantech hub” – funding behind these government initiatives might flow towards some local cleantech companies.

Digital rule review

“To ensure fairness for all in the new digital space, the Government will review the rules currently in place.”

The Liberals’ campaign platform was explicit about taxing global tech giants like Google, Facebook and Microsoft more on revenues they earn in Canada. It promised to hike taxes on big-tech companies by three per cent until the OECD could put in place a new regime agreed by its 134 members. That won’t happen until next year at the earliest, but the Liberal promise was seen as a way to level the field somewhat with smaller, domestic digital firms and encourage innovation. Given that the Conservatives and NDP proposed similar digital tax measures of their own, expect to see this in the Liberals’ first budget to help offset another promise: a middle-class tax cut.  

Cabinet clout

In the days since Trudeau unveiled his new cabinet, we’ve learned a bit more about the roles two ministers from Ottawa will play.

The aforementioned McKenna will hold the strings to billions in infrastructure spending and she has already revealed that climate change mitigation and adaptation will be a focus for her. (There were several nods to that in Thursday’s speech, too.)

After a couple of rocky first interviews for rookie Mona Fortier, we now have a slightly better sense of what a minister for middle class prosperity will, in fact, do. My sources say Fortier, who helped craft the Liberals’ electoral platform on behalf of her caucus colleagues, will now be responsible for turning those promises into action. It essentially means keeping the government honest politically, while also tilling the ground for the next campaign – whenever that comes.

It’s a big job, though not as complex as the space-time continuum, surely. 

Expect more details on all ministerial taskings when the government makes public ministerial mandate letters, likely within a few weeks. 

Debate on the throne speech gets underway Friday morning in the House, which is due to rise for a six-week break next Friday.

While the Bloc Quebecois has indicated it will support the speech from the throne – allowing this Liberal government to survive its first major vote – there will be many more confidence tests in the weeks and months ahead.

One wrong move and the Trudeau government could fall.

That’s the reality of minority Parliaments: the stakes are always high. It could pay dividends for local businesses to keep a close eye on the hill in the coming weeks. 

Chris Day is president of Winston-Wilmont, Inc., a bilingual public affairs consultancy based in Ottawa. He has previously served in executive roles in public, private and not-for-profit organizations.