The federal Conservatives say they are looking for signs that the Liberal government will take steps to rein in spending and unite Canadians in today’s speech from the throne.
Deputy Conservative Leader Candice Bergen and Conservative House Leader Gerard Deltell held a news conference ahead of today’s speech, which will be delivered at 3 p.m. ET by Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, to lay out their expectations for the government’s priorities.
The speech will be followed by an address to the nation at 6:30 p.m. ET from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It’s not yet clear who will give the Conservative Party’s formal televised response to the speech, since leader Erin O’Toole is in self-isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh will respond on behalf of his party, as will Yves-François Blanchet, leader of the Bloc Québécois. Blanchet has tested positive for COVID-19, along with his spouse. O’Toole’s spouse, Rebecca O’Toole, also has tested positive.
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Bergen said emergency spending was required to get Canadians through the pandemic crisis that shut down businesses and threw millions of people out of work — but the government must now better manage the nation’s finances and take control of a ballooning deficit.
“We believe that support is needed but there has to be fiscal restraint,” she said. “We’d like to see some fiscal management and some indication that the government understands this and will begin to manage the finances of the country in a responsible way.”
Deltell said emergency measures were necessary but the Liberal government engaged in “superfluous” spending, making announcements about new money “every day, every week.”
Bergen said Liberal policies have failed to help many sectors, including manufacturing, fishing and forestry. She said they also have pitted Canadians against one another and she’s looking for a Liberal promise to unite Canadians with a message of hope.
Ethics controversy simmers
The throne speech comes as the Liberal government tries to get past an ethics controversy over the government’s decision to grant WE Charity a contract to manage a student volunteer grant program. Trudeau did not recuse himself from discussions on the contract, even though members of his family had close ties to the organization.
Parliament reopens today after Trudeau prorogued Parliament last month. At the time, the PM said the move was necessary to reset a government agenda knocked off-course by the global pandemic.
The session kicks off with a scaled-back throne speech ceremony involving a smaller number of attendees in the Senate chamber, due to physical distancing rules.
Deltell said that while Canadians do not want an election right now, the Conservatives will not prop up the government if it fails to address critical priorities in the throne speech. A confidence vote on the speech could trigger an election.
“If it’s bad for Canadians … we will not be supporting it,” Deltell said.
The Conservatives are also pushing for more money for health transfers to the provinces, as well as rapid testing to detect COVID-19 as some jurisdictions struggle with long waits for tests.
Deltell questioned why Trudeau was delivering an address to the nation on the same day as the throne speech, suggesting it could be meant to draw maximum media attention and distract people from the government’s failings.
PM must ‘jolt’ people into action
Samir Gupta, a respirologist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, said he hopes the prime minister will “jolt people into action” as COVID-19 infections rise across the country. He said Trudeau must not sugarcoat the crisis and should ask Canadians to make sacrifices to save lives.
“This can go sideways very easily,” he told CBC News Network.
On Tuesday, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Canada is at a “crossroads” in its pandemic battle and that the behaviour of individual Canadians will decide whether there’s a massive spike in COVID-19 cases coming.
Presenting new modelling on infection projections, she warned that if Canadians don’t step up preventative measures, the virus could spread out of control and trigger a wave of infections bigger than the first one.
According to the projections, new cases could climb to more than 5,000 daily by October — about triple the number the nation saw in the spring.
“With minimal controls, the virus is capable of surging into a very sharp and intense peak because most Canadians don’t have immunity to the virus,” Tam said.