The Throne Speech Matters, Now More Than Ever

Click here to see this article where it was originally published, in Policy Magazine

Elizabeth May

September 17, 2020


What will Parliament look like next week?

Honestly, no one knows.

Even a few days ago, I would not have imagined that the entire Bloc Québécois caucus would be in isolation due to a staffer with COVID-19. Will they be able to get health permission to attend in person? What protocols will be needed in parliament given active cases?

We have not even resolved the basic questions for standing orders next week.

Will the Liberal draft motion for our rules of engagement, circulating to the party whips and already reported in the media, receive unanimous consent? It proposes some of what we were doing before prorogation with virtual and in-person participation. And it proposes voting remotely.

How will we keep COVID-19 protocols during the Speech from the Throne? Members of Parliament cannot be crowded together at the back of the Senate, rooted in our place as commoners while the “Lords” of the Senate have a regal audience. I for one will watch it on Parlvu — with my mask on.

More importantly, are we in the early stages of a Liberal-set up to a snap election?

A month ago, I would have dismissed the idea out of hand. But the minority government of Blaine Higgs in New Brunswick has broken the glass on that particular emergency lever. His opportunism has been rewarded as the Conservatives emerged triumphant from a cynical snap election. Not only did Higgs secure a majority of the seats, the Liberal leader, our former Sergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers, did not win a seat and has now resigned. Other than the Conservatives, only the New Brunswick Greens improved their vote share, holding on to all three seats.

Here in British Columbia, despite the smoke shrouding everything else in a fog, it does appear clear that John Horgan, an NDP premier with a minority government, is itching for a snap election.

He has a valid Confidence and Supply Agreement with the BC Greens that lasts until 2021. The newly-elected Green leader, Shawnigan Lake MLA Sonia Furstenau, has urged Premier Horgan to stick to governing in a pandemic.

The political winds in BC still seem to be blowing toward a snap election. Just this Tuesday, the popular mayor of Tofino, Josie Osborne, announced she is running for the NDP. I do not think we have to wait long to hear that former prominent federal NDP MPs Finn Donnelly and Nathan Cullen are throwing their hats in the provincial ring.

How does the prospect of opportunistic provincial premiers moving to snap elections impact the federal scene? I think it is most likely that the Trudeau Liberals do not want an election, but even more certainly, the newly elected Conservative leader. Erin O’Toole, does not want to go to the polls.

Clearly, neither do the NDP, as Jagmeet Singh downplayed the importance of the Speech from the Throne as opposed to the federal budget this week. While the NDP hasn’t ruled out a vote of no-confidence on the Throne Speech, supporting the government buys them some time to prepare for an election (translation: fundraise).

But the substance of the Speech from the Throne is more essential now than ever.

How will we keep COVID-19 protocols during the Speech from the Throne?  Members of Parliament cannot be crowded together at the back of the  Senate, rooted in our place as commoners while the “Lords” of the Senate have a regal audience. I for one will watch it on Parlvu — with my mask on.

We remain in a public health crisis. And we are in a climate emergency. One — COVID-19 — is happening now. The other is also happening now, and despite the apocalyptic damage being inflicted by wildfires up and down the West Coast, the even worse impacts remain decades off. Our terrifying fate (one lying in wait for our children, not us as we can mercifully die leaving our kids to their Mad Max future) will be sealed within months. We no longer have years to meet the scientific realities set out in the October 2018 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). To avoid runaway global warming (also dubbed “Hothouse Earth”) our odds are vastly improved if we hold to no more than a 1.5 degree C global average temperature rise. Above that, our odds of survival are seriously weakened.

And as the IPCC warned, the window on holding to 1.5 degrees will close soon. We must, globally, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030. Blowing past 1.5 degrees may lock us into an unlivable world. Our short- term response must be clear, decisive and chart a course to a fossil fuel-free economy.

Fortunately, the pursuit of economic recovery and climate action both lead to the same solutions. We need to follow the economic prescription set out by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Sir Nicholas Stern (author of the watershed report on the economic risks of climate chaos). Their new economic study released this spring was based on interviews with over 200 economists and members of central banks in G20 countries.

That study, relying on empirical evidence, sets out that the best path to economic recovery lies in investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation in built infrastructure and tree-planting on a massive scale. The path to economic recovery must be built on social justice, respect for indigenous rights and climate action. The Speech from the Throne is critical. And Greens will treat it as a critical question of confidence.

Contributing Writer Elizabeth May, the MP for Saanich Gulf Islands, is the former Leader of the Green Party and its House leader.