OpEd: Western Canada finds little to love in Liberal throne speech
The Trudeau Liberal government had the opportunity to reset its relationship with Alberta and Western Canada in Wednesday’s speech from the throne which outlined the federal government’s legislative priorities for the next session of Parliament.
They missed it. It’s not that they tried and fell flat, it’s that they didn’t try at all.
So what could have been included?
One: A commitment to attack the barriers to resource investment in Canada, many of which were imposed by the current federal government.
Sure, there were long-term commitments to supporting the transition to clean energy included in the speech, but that’s not good enough for working families worried about next month’s bills and facing uncertainty as their industry continues to evaporate. Nor does it address the obvious opportunity on the horizon: global demand for oil is still projected to increase — especially as the global economy reopens — and we have an environmentally responsible industry right here in Canada. The only barriers are political and regulatory. It seems the timer counting down to the long-promised help to the energy sector coming in “hours, not days” (as stated on March 25) wasn’t counting down to Wednesday afternoon.
Two: A commitment to revisit a fundamentally unfair stabilization formula.
The economic situation across Canada, but especially in the West, has changed considerably since the formula was last revisited by the previous federal government. When the Liberals last had the opportunity to revisit it, they instead chose to quietly renew the status quo without asking the provinces.
Three: A commitment to increasing health transfers to the provinces.
If Ottawa insists on blazing fearlessly into endless spending with little regard to future debt implications and very real consequences, it might as well better support governments already doing the actual heavy lifting in responding to the pandemic.
The anxieties felt today across the western provinces are real; for energy workers and the families who depend on them, for farmers facing increasing uncertainty about next season, for those suffering from the scourge of opioid addiction, and for those worried about making ends meet.
Most of these got barely a few seconds of acknowledgment in the throne speech.
Frankly speaking, throne speeches in general over the years have become government communications opportunities and not legitimate outlines of the legislative session (only the recent throne speeches in Alberta buck this trend).
In other words, they are as much about what is included and mentioned as what is left out.
Among the realities ignored was the one buried in last month’s job numbers from Statistics Canada. An estimated 9,000 resource-based jobs were lost last month. Of those, 7,000 — the vast majority — were in Alberta.
It’s a stark reminder that the challenges facing our province today are not solely the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to global challenges earlier this year, several years’ worth of regulatory challenges and political decisions have been driving resource investment out of Canada.
The changed circumstances are largely of Liberal Ottawa’s own doing: serial attacks on the economy-driving resource sector. Killing one pipeline by cabinet order (Northern Gateway), killing another through an ever-changing regulatory regime (Energy East), damaging legislation like bills C-69 and C-48, causing the private sector to abandon several projects (Kinder Morgan, Teck).
The list goes on — but you’re likely more than familiar.
Let’s be honest: even before the coronavirus hit, the situation faced by many households was far from ideal. An Ipsos poll released last October found that nearly half of Canadians were $200 or less away from financial insolvency. The average Canadian in that pre-pandemic time, the poll found, had $557 left over each month after the bills are paid.
A lot of the early reaction to the throne speech, especially from conservatives, seems to be on the debt implications of the federal government’s open-ended spending promises.
Far more damning is the realization that Liberal Ottawa is completely checked out when it comes to the concerns of working Canadians and those who depend on them.
Trudeau may have intended to address the nation with his throne speech, but he left Western Canada fully out of the picture.
Originally Published in the Calgary Herald