Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has unveiled an “ambitious plan for an unprecedented reality” amid rising Covid-19 cases.
His expansive new legislative agenda includes new investments and initiatives to help the country recover from the pandemic.
It came with a vow to support Canadians “through this crisis as long as it lasts, whatever it takes”.
Opposition parties have criticised the Liberals’ plan.
The Conservatives said it lacked a commitment to fiscal restraint and failed to address the needs of “everyday Canadians”.
The four-pronged approach to the pandemic and the recovery was delivered on Wednesday by Governor General Julie Payette, the Queen’s representative in Canada, in a Speech from the Throne.
Mr Trudeau warned Canadians in a televised address following the speech that a second wave of the pandemic was “already under way”.
“We’re on the brink of a fall that could be much worse than the spring,” he said.
What are some of the promises?
The Liberal federal government said it would work with Canadian provinces to improve testing capacity.
There were also vows to assist in the economic recovery, including a plan to create more than a million jobs, a commitment to extend wage subsidies until next summer, and support for industries hardest hit by Covid-19, like the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors.
There was a promise to make a significant, long-term investment in childcare, which is seen by some economists as key to helping women fully return to the workforce.
Long-term care homes were especially hard hit early in the pandemic in Canada, highlighting issues of inadequate care within the system. The speech included commitments to bring in national standards of care and tougher penalties for cases of neglect.
Climate initiatives were billed as the “cornerstone” of the recovery efforts, including the creation of green jobs.
Canada’s chief public health officer said this week the country was at a “crossroads” because of the accelerating national count of Covid-19 cases.
In the last week, an average of about 1,100 cases were reported daily, compared to 380 cases reported each day in mid-August.
There have been over 146,000 cases in Canada and over 9,200 deaths.
What was the reaction?
While the speech made no specific spending commitments – those will come later – it said this was “not the time for austerity”.
Opposition Conservatives quickly panned the speech for failing to include more support for small businesses and measures to control government spending, and to address issues of national unity.
Earlier this year, Canada projected its largest budget deficit since World War Two – C$343bn, with more than C$212bn in direct Covid-19 support.
“We support Canadians but there has to be some fiscal stability,” said Conservative MP Candice Bergen.
The Bloc Quebecois said the plan did not respect provincial jurisdiction over healthcare and did not address the request from provinces for increased healthcare transfers.
Mr Trudeau’s Liberals formed a minority government last autumn, when they won more seats than any other party at a general election but failed to secure an overall majority in parliament.
The speech will prompt a confidence vote in the House of Commons – a key test of whether a sitting government has the “confidence” of the majority.
The Liberals will need the support of at least one other federal political party to avoid possibly triggering a snap election. That vote could happen as early as next week.
New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jagmeet Singh said on Wednesday his party had yet to decide whether it will support the government.
The NDP will push for more support for Canadian workers who lost work due to the pandemic and for paid sick leave, he said.