Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MP Alex Ruff said the best word to sum up Wednesday’s throne speech was disappointment.
The rookie Conservative MP said the speech had little to address the concerns of rural communities, including the agricultural sector, and will come at a cost that Canadian taxpayers cannot afford.
“Really there was no connection whatsoever to rural Canada,” Ruff said after the speech.
“Sure they have a lot of words in there, but I don’t know if there is a single word in the whole speech that wasn’t already mentioned in either their campaign promises from the last federal election, in their last throne speech, or even in the last six or seven months in dealing with the pandemic.
“So my question is, why did we prorogue parliament. Why did we shut down all the committee work?”
The Conservatives announced immediately after the speech they would not support it. Ruff said he doesn’t expect the speech to bring down the government, with the Liberals expected to get the needed support from the NDP, but thinks a fiscal update in a few months could lead to the government’s fall.
But while the Conservatives were critical of the speech, Michael Johnston, chair of the Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound Federal Liberal Association, said most everything announced in it is meant to help Canadians and supports families and the middle class, which the Conservatives should be in favour of.
“If the Conservatives don’t want to help Canadians, what do they want to do,” said Johnston. “That is my question.”
Johnston said the speech addressed many issues the Liberal have been wanting to take care of for quite some time.
“I am not surprised by it. There was nothing that completely blew everyone away or completely blew me away,” said Johnston. “Everything that was in the speech is more or less what we have been fighting for in the last year, or even since 2015 – strengthening the middle class, fighting climate change, all those things.”
Ruff said his party recognizes there is a need to spend money during the pandemic,they don’t like the way that the government is going about it. The last projection put the government on pace to post a deficit approaching $350 billion.
“Ultimately my concern is that they just seem to think that the money grows on trees and that there is no need to have a fiscal anchor,” said Ruff. “I don’t want my daughter, our kids and our grandkids, being in a position where the great social programs we have in Canada are compromised because we basically go broke as a nation.”
As for an election, Ruff said he doesn’t want to see Canadians going to the polls until it is safe to do so.
“I don’t think (an election) is in the best interest of Canadians or the constituents of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, nor do we want an election,” he said.
While throne speeches can often be ceremonial events to mark the resumption of Parliament, Wednesday’s – the 150th since Confederation — was seen as something different with Canada in the midst of the pandemic and Canadians looking for guidance from the government.
Delivered in the Senate Chamber by Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, whose office is garnering its own attention for harassment allegations, the speech was all-encompassing and based on four foundations – fighting the pandemic, supporting businesses and people through it, building the country back and standing up for Canada on the international stage.
There were promises of a national early learning and childcare program, new national standards for long-term care and a commitment to a national universal pharmacare program.
The Canadian Emergency Response Benefit will be replaced with a “transitional” Canadian Recovery Benefit through the Employment Insurance system, while the emergency wage subsidy is to be extended through to next summer.
The government also committed to helping the economy through infrastructure investment in things like rural broadband, clean energy and affordable housing. The speech also said the government would work to promote regional airline routes.
For seniors, there were promises of increasing old age security after age 70, boosting the Canada Pension Plan and helping to hire more personal support workers.
There was little in the speech on the agricultural front, with mentions of addressing food security by boosting local supply chains, some kudos for the work done by temporary foreign workers, and promises to continue to support supply managed sectors.
Leading up to the speech, Ruff highlighted areas of importance to him, among them addressing backlogs in beef processing and improvement to risk management in the ag sectors, improved rural broadband Internet for families working from home and children doing remote learning, and support for small businesses as well as the tourism and resource sectors.
Ruff said mentions of agriculture and rural Canada were few and far between and did little to address the true concerns of those communities.
Ruff, retired from the Canadian Armed Forces, was also hoping to see more help for the country’s veterans.
“Veterans were mentioned exactly zero times,” said Ruff. “And National Defence and our military was mentioned briefly in recognition of the incredible work they did and their contribution in the long-term care homes in Ontario and Quebec.”
Ruff said a small bright light to come of the speech was the government finally realizing the importance of getting committees up and running in order to get legislation passed.
“Unlike this special COVID committee that didn’t allow us to do anything except ask questions that they didn’t answer, at least full Parliament is back, just in a unique format,” said Ruff. “I think that is the biggest plus coming out of all of this is that we are at least back to some level of fully functioning.”
Johnston said it is obviously COVID-19 has to be first and foremost in the government’s agenda and that was the case with Wednesday’s speech.
“We are faced with a global pandemic and we have to be focused on fighting that before we can do anything else,” Johnston said.
“People are out of work because of COVID-19 and we can’t turn our backs on them. We are here to support average Canadians and that is what we do.
“Beyond that we are focusing on getting people back to work by bringing back jobs by investing in infrastructure.”
Johnston said that while the Liberals don’t yet have a candidate in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, they will be ready if, and when, an election is called.
“We are on the road to get a candidate and we are well down that road. I have definitely had several people approach me and ask what the process is, but at this point in time we have nobody that is announced,” said Johnston. “If an election is called last minute, we are at a point where we could get a candidate and run an election.”
The speech was followed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressing the nation early Wednesday evening. The speech by the Prime Minister was essentially a plea for Canadians to do their part to get the second wave of COVID-19 under control, as well as hitting on many of the promises made in the throne speech.
He noted the federal government’s COVID alert app and asked Canadians to get their flu shots, continue to wear a mask and practice physical distancing.
He called for resiliency and patience in a time of crisis, and to protect the elderly by following health guidelines.
“It’s all too likely we won’t be gathering for Thanksgiving, but we still have a shot at Christmas,” Trudeau said.