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Governor General Mary May Simon

Pandemic-era throne speech reflects many minority Liberals’ pre-announcements and election pledges

Tuesday, November 23, 2021 @ 5:05 PM | By Cristin Schmitz

Last Updated: Tuesday, November 23, 2021 @ 5:25 PM

In its latest pandemic-focused throne speech, the minority Liberal government has promised to “continue increasing immigration levels” while pledging to also bring forward measures to ban “conversion therapy” and deal with harmful online expression.

In broad strokes, the government outlined an agenda for the 44th Parliament over the coming months which largely reflects the Liberals’ election promises, as well as measures the government has already announced, or legislative changes it previously introduced in the 43rd Parliament, but failed to enact. 

Governor General Mary May Simon

The stripped-down, socially distanced and masked Senate ceremony Nov. 23 was marked by the usual pomp, but by unusual circumstances, including pointed remarks authored by Governor General Mary May Simon, who also departed from tradition by delivering her remarks, not just in Canada’s two official languages, but also in Inuktitut — a first in Canadian history.

Watched by comparatively few onlookers in the red chamber, including a scarlet-robed Chief Justice of Canada, Richard Wagner, who sat alone where he normally would have been joined by his eight fellow judges of the Supreme Court of Canada, Simon noted that her customary acknowledgment that Parliament Hill sits on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnabe people is “not a symbolic declaration” but Canada’s “true history.”

Canada’s first Indigenous governor general urged MPs in all ridings to “seek out the truth and to learn about the lived realities in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities” — all of which she said share a desire to “chart a way forward together towards reconciliation” — which is not a single act, but rather “a lifelong journey of healing, respect and understanding.”

Simon said the discovery of unmarked graves of children at former residential schools “shows how the actions of governments and institutions of the past have devastated Indigenous Peoples and continue to impact them today. 

We cannot hide from these discoveries — they open deep wounds,” she said.

Yet despite “the profound pain,” there is also hope, said Simon, who since her July 2021 swearing-in as the Crown’s representative in Canada has already “seen how Canadians are committed to reconciliation.”

“Indigenous Peoples are reclaiming our history, stories, culture and language through action,” Simon said. “Non-Indigenous Peoples are coming to understand and accept the true impact of the past and the pain suffered by generations of Indigenous Peoples. Together they are walking the path towards reconciliation,” she said.  

She admonished “we must turn the guilt we carry into action,” repeating in English, Inuktitut and French that there must be “action on reconciliation; action on our collective health and well-being; action on climate change.”

Simon read out a Liberal roadmap, which the government billed as “bold” but which was quickly dismissed by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh as “slim on ideas.” 

The minority government, which will need to gain the support of at least one major opposition party to pass its proposed initiatives, committed itself to putting the COVID-19 pandemic behind the country, tackling inflation and affordability, “growing an economy that works for everyone,” and “fighting climate change, moving forward on the path of reconciliation and making sure our communities are safe, healthy and inclusive.”

The government pledged to continue working to “finalize agreements” with Ontario and one other province that has not yet taken up Ottawa’s proposal to contribute financial support to $10-dollar-a-day daycare.

On economic- and justice-related priorities, the government included pledges to:
  • “Continue increasing” immigration levels and reducing wait times, while supporting family reunification and “delivering a world-leading refugee resettlement program.”
  • “Move faster on the path of reconciliation.” This includes continuing to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action; creating a national monument to honour survivors; appointing a “Special Interlocutor to further advance justice on residential schools; as well as investing “significantly” in a “distinctions-based mental health and wellness strategy, guided by Indigenous peoples, survivors and their families.”
  • “Accelerate work” with Indigenous partners to address “the national tragedy of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+” people.
  • “Ensure” that Indigenous communities have the support to keep families together, “while ensuring fair and equitable compensation for those harmed by the First Nations Child and Family Services program.”
  • Eliminate all remaining long-term drinking water advisories and implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • Strengthen gun control with measures such as “a mandatory buyback of banned assault-style weapons and move forward with any province or territory that wants to ban handguns.”
  • Move forward with a 10-year national action plan to reduce gender-based violence and continue fighting hate and racism, including with “a renewed Anti-Racism Strategy.”
  • Fight systemic racism, sexism, discrimination, misconduct and abuse, including in core federal institutions (such as the military and the RCMP), as “a key priority.”
  • Continue to reform the criminal justice system and policing, including rebuilding and investing in the empowerment of Black and racialized Canadians and Indigenous peoples. 
  • Continue to fight harmful online content, and “stand up for LGBTQ2 communities”, including banning so-called “conversion therapy” — a legislative version of which died in the previous Parliament.
  • Move to “cap and cut” oil- and gas-sector emissions, “while accelerating our path to a 100-per-cent net-zero electricity future” and “increasing the price on pollution.”
  • Create the Canada Water Agency to “safeguard that vital resource and support our farmers.”
  • Develop Canada’s first “National Adaptation Strategy” and strengthen action to prevent and prepare for floods, wildfires, droughts, coastline erosion and other extreme weather worsened by climate change and help communities devastated by such events.
  • Reintroduce legislation proposed in the 43rd Parliament for “the Substantive Equality of French and English and the Strengthening of the Official Languages Act.”
  • Reintroduce legislation to reform the Broadcasting Act “and ensure web giants pay their fair share for the creation and promotion of Canadian content.”

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