This afternoon, in the looming shadow of a second wave of COVID-19, Prime Minister Trudeau set his government’s new agenda. The government’s response to the pandemic and its plans for a national recovery to the crisis will impact our country for years to come.
As I watched the Throne Speech this afternoon, I wondered which direction the government would take. Will the coming months bring more privatization and underfunding public services, or will we see a new era of public investment? Will corporate insiders drive the government agenda, or will this government listen to the people and be transparent and publicly accountable?
Canadians are ready for change. You and I and millions of others recognize that we can’t go back to business-as-usual after the COVID-19 pandemic. Seventy-three per cent of Canadians expect a “broad transformation of society.”
Today the government made significant promises to move forward on many important social programs, including national pharmacare, childcare and national standards for long-term care.
Our work is not done. We will have to continue to push the government to implement these policies in a timely way. But I hope you join me in taking a moment to reflect and celebrate the work that Council supporters like you have done to push the government to promise long-term investments in public services that are equitable and publicly accountable.
The Throne Speech also pledges to introduce legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the end of this year. At the Council, we will be looking to see whether it will apply to existing and proposed projects and activities on Indigenous lands and if it will include Free, Prior, Informed, Consent.
The Throne Speech was short on details and you and I need to demand the concrete changes needed to ensure a just recovery for all, address the crisis of racism and police violence against Black, Indigenous and people of colour communities, and rise to the challenge of the climate crisis.
The vast majority – more than 80 per cent – of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in seniors’ care and long-term care homes, according to research done by independent journalist Nora Loreto. Long-term care workers warned governments of the staffing crisis in homes long before COVID-19 hit Canada. That crisis, combined with the failure to provide personal protective equipment to workers and the devaluing of seniors in our society led to this systemic failure. The dangers of health and senior care privatization and austerity have been warned about for years. The pandemic deaths at long-term care homes should be the final straw that leads to these facilities being brought into the public system.
Council supporters have clearly stated that you think the federal government has a role to play in long-term care. More than 15,000 Council supporters like you sent letters to the federal government, calling on them to provide a coordinated seniors’ care strategy to be implemented in all provinces and territories. This summer, the Council also met with the Minister of Health’s office this summer to bring your demand for a federal strategy to the Minister. Today’s Throne Speech commits to “working with the provinces to set new national standards for LTC so that seniors get the best support possible.”
As millions of Canadians are losing their jobs, many are also losing access to employer-paid benefits plans. This makes public, universal pharmacare more urgent than ever. Studies have shown that implementing a national program that covers the cost of medications for everyone will save billions. Today the government promised to accelerate a national, universal pharmacare program.
A Just Recovery and a Green New Deal
While the west coast of the U.S. has been on fire and producing so much toxic smoke that people in B.C. have had to stay indoors, the Trudeau government continues to back climate killing pipelines like Trans Mountain and Coastal Gas Link.
At a time when renewable electricity generation is surpassing fossil fuels, our government is doubling down on climate-killing projects. The federal government has bailed out Big Oil, despite the fact that oil and gas operations worsen air quality while exacerbating the climate crisis – a move that is even more reckless than usual during a pandemic that attacks the respiratory system.
We have been calling for massive investment in expanding public services and creating thousands of good, green jobs, as part of a just recovery from the pandemic. Today we heard that the federal government will invest in creating one million jobs with climate action as a “cornerstone,” but we’re a bit skeptical of what that means: the Trudeau government has shown its support for infrastructure privatization for months. Jobs linked to infrastructure privatization offer less protections for workers and creates infrastructure that is more costly and less useful to the public. The government must protect and expand public services like public transit and supports frontline workers, including migrant workers, with personal protective equipment and status for all.
The climate “commitments” in the Throne Speech are a far cry from what the climate crisis demands of us in this moment. The government committed to “net zero emissions by 2050” which sounds good on the surface but leaves a lot of room for interpretation. “Net zero” can be used as a cover for carbon capture and storage, which is a false climate solution. We want to see real emissions reductions, on a 2030 timeline.
We need to keep up the pressure for a just recovery and a Green New Deal that centres Indigenous rights, reduces real emissions by at least 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 (not just net zero by 2050), and creates a million good, public jobs in the process.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought into sharp focus how important water is to our lives and to public health and revealed how much more needs to be done to fully guarantee water and sanitation is available to everyone, both as a human right and as a critical way to protect our communities.
Across Canada, there are still over 100 First Nations communities without access to safe, clean water. In the Throne Speech today, the government pledged additional investments to meet their commitment to lift all long-term drinking water advisories by 2021 – a commitment that had seemed unlikely. We will be holding the government accountable to this promise.
For years, the Council of Canadians has been calling for a modernization of federal water policies, including the establishment of the Ministry of Water to coordinate water protection, management and stewardship. The Throne Speech committed to fulfilling the government's promise for "a new Canada Water Agency to keep our water safe, clean, and well-managed." The Council of Canadians sees the urgency and need to establish a Canada Water Agency. This new agency must play a key role in implementing the human right to water and sanitation at the federal level; strengthen freshwater protection legislation; increase collaboration and coordination across federal agencies and jurisdictions, and exemplify the process of co-development of policies with Indigenous Peoples.
This is an historic moment. Decisions made in the coming weeks will affect all of us and the country for years to come. The Council of Canadians will continue to work nationally and in communities to push elected leaders to support a COVID-19 recovery plan that puts people and communities first.