Governor General Mary Simon stole the show.
It wasn’t just her purple hair, her well-practiced French, or the Inuktitut she first spoke in Parliament when she read the speech from the throne.
But what does it have to do with that label: “before.” She is, notably, the first indigenous person to represent the Queen in Canada. It’s a role Simon has decided she’ll use a call to action for, and on Tuesday she told the nation what she had in mind.
“We must turn that guilt into action,” she said. He urged lawmakers to learn more about the real realities of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, and urged everyone to embark on a “lifelong journey of healing, respect and understanding.”
“Reconciliation,” she said, “is not a single act, nor does it have an end date.”
Simon also urged action on climate change. If he didn’t understand what he was saying, he repeated it three times, once in each language. “Our planet is in danger,” he said in French. “Time is Running Out.”
While Simon and the Liberals share similar goals on climate and reconciliation, their words had a more memorable effect than the Liberal’s laundry list of priorities, which was taken off the September election platform.
The speech from the throne is a rare opportunity for the governor general to talk about the kind of country he wants to see. In 2020, for example, Julie Payette used the opportunity to express a greater sense of urgency to the government’s stated priorities.
At the time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau argued that prorogation was necessary to hit the reset button and brought the pandemic to light to address growing inequality.
Payette put it powerfully, referring to “excessive weather, wildfires, poverty, conflict, discrimination and inequalities”. He called on Canadian political leaders to help address the common difficulties facing our planet. He spoke of the work needed to “overcome the epidemic” experienced by many who mourned those who had died. She spoke of the enormous debt we owe to those serving on the front lines, and she told us to “rely on science” to help us fight COVID-19.
Despite the controversies surrounding his office and his failures as governor general, that urgency and clarity have stood the test of time. History will undoubtedly draw the same conclusion for Simon.
Simon delivered a welcome jolt of freshness. In the last three throne speeches – in 2019, 2020 and now in 2021 – liberals have expressed similar desires to help the middle class and achieve progress on gender equality, fighting poverty, creating jobs and clean growth, addressing climate change, etc. is underlined. To fight reconciliation, discrimination and celebrate our two official languages.
Still, agenda items in Tuesday’s speech — from strengthening the health care system, to reducing oil and emissions, to increasing immigration, to following through on a buyback program for restricted assault-style weapons — Useful for Canadians to listen to, especially as the government still hasn’t issued mandates that cabinet ministers should have received four weeks ago.
Among the 3,000-word speech, there were also notable omissions. No obvious olive branches were offered to the opposition parties. There is no mention of reforms to employment insurance, or even pharmacare. In 2020, that word found its way into the throne speech. In 2019 – unlike Tuesday – liberals even said that “ideas like universal dental care are worth exploring.”
It is no surprise that NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was not a happy tourist.
But as Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchett said, the speech was so vague that there was little to protest.
While Simon pressured lawmakers to “cooperate” and “listen to each other”, his words made no impression on the conservative leader.
Erin O’Toole struck an aggressive tone in response, telling Canadian liberals that “ideology is fueling division” and promising that conservatives will be “the voice for working Canadians”.
But Blanchett argued that the speech did not go far enough in halting oil and gas development, and O’Toole responded that it did not go far enough. Assistant Oil and gas development, the liberals seem to have once again struck a position on the Goldilocks pact.
The question is no longer whether the Liberal government will lose or not – it will not.
The real question for Grits is whether they can just stop talking about their plans and start executing on them. We’re all watching, including Simon.