Speech from the Throne: Health Highlights and More

Wednesday, September 23, 2020


After proroguing Parliament on August 18, Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, delivered a highly-anticipated Speech from the Throne. The speech opened the second session of the 43rd Parliament and outlined the government’s plan to recover from the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Following the throne speech, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the nation in a plea to control the second wave that is “already underway”. In addition to urging Canadians to download the COVID-19 alert app, the Prime Minister reiterated the economic and health-related measures announced earlier in the afternoon by the Governor General. 

Much has changed in the 36 days since the throne speech was initially announced. Ontario and Quebec collectively called for increased federal health transfers, the Prime Minister committed to include long-term care in the government’s priorities and two federal party leaders tested positive for COVID-19, while cases have surged across the country.

With all eyes on the Trudeau Government, this afternoon’s 54-minute throne speech focused on a stronger and more resilient Canada. 

The government’s new plan is based on four pillars:

  1. Fight the pandemic and save lives.

  2. Support Canadians and businesses through the crisis.

  3. Create a stronger, more resilient Canada.

  4. Stand up for who we are as Canadians.

The government’s direction for health care

The speech notes that over the past six months, “it has become clearer than ever why Canadians need a resilient health care system”. Long-term care, people with disabilities, pharmacare, mental health and virtual care — all of which made headlines and were especially impacted by the pandemic — were all included as top priorities moving forward.

The government’s specific commitments to health care are outlined below.

Commitments to seniors, long-term care and home care

  • Work with the provinces and territories to set new, national standards for long-term care so that seniors get the best support possible.

  • Take additional action to help people stay in their homes longer.

  • Amend the Criminal Code to penalize those who neglect seniors under their care.

  • Increases to the Old Age Security and Canada Pension Plan survivor’s benefit to keep seniors at home longer.

Government still committed to Pharmacare

  • Focus on next steps to accelerate a national, universal pharmacare program.

  • Develop a rare-disease strategy to help Canadian families save money on high-cost drugs.

  • Establish a national formulary to keep drug prices low.

  • Work with provinces and territories willing to move this commitment forward without delay.

Supporting people with disabilities

  • A new Canadian Disability Benefit modelled after the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors.

  • A robust employment strategy for Canadians with disabilities.

  • A better process to determine eligibility for Government disability programs and benefits.

Other health commitments

  • Look at further targeted measures for personal support workers.

  • Ensure that everyone – including in rural and remote areas – has access to a family doctor or primary care team.

  • Expand capacity to deliver virtual health care.

  • Further increase access to mental health resources.

Other recovery tools

The government will expand on some existing COVID-19 programs, such as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) which will be extended through to summer 2021, and will launch a campaign to create 1 million new jobs, with hopes of restoring employment to pre-pandemic levels.

The speech also signals plans to raise tax revenue as the government will “identify additional ways to tax extreme wealth inequality.” The government will do this through “limiting the stock-option deduction for wealthy individuals at large, established corporations, and addressing corporate tax avoidance by digital giants.”

Not surprisingly, climate change was also a major priority in the speech, with the Carbon Tax staying as is. “The Government will continue its policy of putting a price on pollution, while putting that money back in the pockets of Canadians. It cannot be free to pollute”.

The government also signaled their re-commitment to immigration as an economic driver, and “as part of both the short-term economic recovery and a long-term plan for growth, the Government will leverage the advantage we have on immigration to keep Canada competitive on the world stage”.

What is missing?

The COVID-19 pandemic is the largest public health crisis most Canadians will experience in their lifetime. Despite this, there are no mentions of improving, bolstering or supporting the public health system.

Provincial and territorial health transfers were also left out of the speech, however considering ongoing conversations with the Prime Minister and first ministers, we can expect a boost in transfers in the future – especially with the government re-committing to national, universal pharmacare.

Pre-pandemic health care priorities including health research, antimicrobial resistance, vaping legislation, marketing to kids and front-of-package labelling were noticeably absent from the throne speech. This is not entirely surprising as such initiatives have traditionally been highlighted in the Health Minister’s Mandate Letter. The plan also only contains one mention of the opioid epidemic, which has been exacerbated by COVID-19.

Looking forward

New mandate letters will likely be issued shortly, that are reflective of the government’s plan moving forward. These letters will echo what was presented in the Speech from the Throne, however they will more specifically lay out what commitments the government intends to fulfill, what policies are no longer a priority and what new priorities will be placed on ministers’ shoulders.

The speech also signals a fiscal update in Fall 2020, with no indication of a formal budget. Keeping in mind a budget was not presented for fiscal 2020, the government will likely plan to:

  • Adjust spending plans impacted by COVID-19.

  • Undertake a truncated and limited consultation process to support the government’s fiscal update.

  • Continue internal government budget planning processes that have no-doubt already commenced for 2021-2022. The government will likely — following the fiscal update — launch an online consultation process for proposals and priorities that they should focus on in the lead up to a Spring 2021 Federal Budget.

There will indeed be confidence votes this fall, on the throne speech, EI legislation, the fiscal update and regular supply motions. While it is not anticipated that Canada will head to the polls this fall, the dynamics of a minority parliament will result in constant election speculation highlighting the precarious nature of minority governments.


Additional reading

Read the Speech from the Throne here.