Liberals to announce support for childcare, health care in upcoming throne speech

The Liberal government is expected to prioritize childcare and health spending, including money for long-term care, in the upcoming throne speech.

The Sept. 23 Speech from the Throne will reset the government’s agenda and define Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s priorities. The throne speech will have a tone of urgency and immediacy — focusing on addressing the threat of the ongoing pandemic — which the government views as remaining at crisis levels, a senior government source told Global News.

The government is expected to stress vigilance against the virus, and acknowledge that the current crisis could last as long as two years.

The speech is expected to have three major parts: a focus on preventing a spike in coronavirus cases that would trigger another national lockdown; measures and changes to social programs to help Canadians deal with the effects of the virus; and building resiliency and economic recovery.

The Liberals will look in particular to assist those hardest hit by the pandemic — low-wage earning women and racialized Canadians — focusing on programs that will allow them to participate fully in the economy.

The focus on growing the workforce will translate into spending on childcare and investments in housing as well, the source said.

Expanded access and flexibility for Employment Insurance and social programs will figure prominently, as will money for the provinces to fight COVID-19, especially around long-term care homes.

Multiple government sources told Global News to expect programs that signal significant government spending that abandons traditional fiscal anchors, like the debt-to-GDP ratio, in the short term.

But the plan is to pay for the current and new measures by boosting economic growth and Canada’s GDP.

The government is not expected to provide a lot of detail on the price tags for the new initiatives in the throne speech — that will come in the fall economic update and spring budget.

The lack of detail in the speech may help the Liberals to pass the confidence vote soon after their plan is delivered, with Opposition parties potentially holding off to see what the details look like.

The Liberals were considering rolling out historic green investments, sources say, but those plans have been scaled back.

Global News has learned a memo to cabinet was being prepared from the environment minister’s office that proposed up to $100 billion in green spending, big changes in environmental regulation and incentives to promote electric cars.

The plan was shelved over concerns that the government could be seen as taking advantage of the pandemic to execute its agenda.

Sources say the government will still focus on a structural recovery that will include a “green” and “clean” recovery plan and industrial strategy.

Multiple sources suggested the Liberals will renew their commitment to hitting Canada’s 2030 emissions targets through regulatory change and incentives for taxpayers. There has been discussion of regulatory changes that would increase the cost of fuel, but some fear that moves perceived to increase the cost of living (despite rebates) will play badly with Canadians.

The recovery will focus on making the Canadian economy and industry more resilient, the senior government sources said, including the building and protection of critical supply chains that were shown to be vulnerable during COVID-19.

Canada is on track to post a $343-billion deficit this fiscal year. The parliamentary budget officer has warned that the current level of deficit incurred by the Liberals in their coronavirus emergency spending runs the risk of becoming “unsustainable” without a plan to shrink it back down within one to two years.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Trudeau was asked by a reporter whether the throne speech will include any kind of fiscal anchors — or benchmarks — to set its spending.

“I know people are eager to see what’s going to be in the throne speech and I’ve been very clear it’s going to be an ambitious, responsible plan for helping Canadians right now and building a stronger future for us all into the coming years,” Trudeau responded.

A source told Global News that the government intends to return to using a benchmark — such as the debt to GDP ratio — at some point after the pandemic is over.

— With files from Amanda Connolly, Global News

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