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Governor General Mary Simon delivers Speech from the Throne

On November 23, the Governor General of Canada delivered the Speech from the Throne to open the 44th Parliament of Canada. The speech officially launches Justin Trudeau’s third term and outlines the government’s vision for the country over the course of this mandate.

The Throne Speech reintroduced high-level commitments to strengthen Canada’s health care system in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there were no new health care commitments made during today’s speech, the government reinforced that it will prioritize:

  • Improving accessibility of our health care system, particularly in rural communities
  • Addressing delayed procedures as a result of COVID-19

  • Increasing mental health and addiction treatment

  • Improving the long-term care system

  • Improving data collection across health systems to inform future decisions and to receive the best possible results

With health care falling under provincial and territorial jurisdiction, the government announced they “will work collaboratively with provinces, territories, and other partners” to deliver on these commitments.

What was missing?

As expected, today’s speech did not provide many specific details on health care policies or priorities. Until mandate letters are released, the Liberal campaign platform will remain the best source to assess the government’s health agenda. The platform included commitments to hire more doctors and nurses, deliver a significant wage boost for PSWs, establish national standards for long-term care along with an increase in funding for the sector, and create a dedicated mental health transfer.

More significantly, neither pharmacare or the life sciences sector was referenced in today’s Speech from the Throne. However, health care “accessibility” was flagged as a priority and the government could use this theme to encompass pharmacare. Although the government first announced a national pharmacare program as a distinct commitment in the 2019 Federal Budget, it has gradually been relegated to back pages of government documents and received no mention whatsoever today. The government has previously made high profile commitments to establish a national formulary, develop rare drugs strategy and create the Canadian Drug Agency. While the Liberals recommitted to the rare drugs strategy and associated funding in their campaign platform, there has been no equivalent commitment, either in their platform or today’s speech, to the national formulary or Canadian Drug Agency.

In the life sciences sector, while the Throne Speech did make reference to “ensuring our supply chains are strong and resilient”, there was no reference to the pre-election federal biomanufacturing strategy, nor the government’s previous commitments on drug pricing. It remains to be seen if these omissions, or the omission of any other previously identified priorities, are a sign that these items are no longer on the government’s agenda.

The broader government agenda

Overall, the speech covered a wide range of challenges facing the country, all of which will require significant attention. Most notably, the government is tasked with navigating the country out of the COVID-19 pandemic and back to a sense of normalcy, while growing the economy. Implementing a concrete plan on climate change mitigation, a strategy to address Canadians’ growing affordability concerns, and continuing the path of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada will also be core areas of focus for the Trudeau Government.

These commitments must be balanced with a national deficit that has risen to $337 billion in 2020-2021. The government acknowledged the growing deficit in the Throne Speech, indicating that spending will be reigned in, focusing on “more targeted support, while prudently managing spending.”

Addressing these competing priorities is easier said than done in a minority parliament. Implementing this ambitious agenda and avoiding an election before much of it can come to fruition is going to require support from the NDP, the Bloc, or the Conservatives. Each of these parties have shared priorities, as well as areas of strong disagreement, in the health care sector, and we expect to see negotiations continuing throughout the life of this parliament.

Whats next?

  • Parliament’s short session: The House of Commons will only sit for a short four weeks before rising for the holiday break on December 17, 2021 and resuming in the new year on January 31, 2022. The Liberals have identified multiple bills that they will try to pass in their first 100 days, including introducing criminal sanctions for those who block access to hospitals, vaccine clinics, testing centres, and abortion clinics; re-introducing a ban on conversion therapy; and passing a bill that would guarantee federal workers 10 days of paid sick leave.
  • Mandate letters: Expected to be released in the coming weeks, the new mandate letters will identify each minister’s top legislative and budgetary priorities, establish leadership on commitments and highlight joint-ministerial commitments. It is important to note that an omission of a policy from the mandate letters does not mean it is no longer a priority, however sustained advocacy may be necessary to put it on the government’s agenda.

  • Parliamentary Secretaries: Parliamentary Secretaries, who offer a second tier of ministerial responsibility, will soon be appointed. A Parliamentary Secretary’s role depends on how much responsibility a minister delegates or if the Prime Minister directly assigns a particular file, as was the case for example when then Parliamentary Secretary Bill Blair was assigned the cannabis legalization file.

  • Cabinet Committee Membership: While we already know who holds senior cabinet posts, we have yet to understand the pecking order of Ministers behind the scenes. Cabinet committees play an important role in overseeing the work of the government and the Prime Minister has the ability to structure these committees and their memberships how they see fit. The all-important Treasury Board membership was quietly posted, with Minister of State Helena Jaczek taking on the role as Vice-Chair.

  • Standing Committee Membership: Members will be appointed to Standing Committees during the early days of this parliamentary session, with membership of the Finance Committee likely to be prioritized in order to continue the work on pre-budget consultations. Once committees are formalized, members will develop a plan outlining the specific studies they wish to undertake.

If you have any questions about today’s Speech from the Throne and next steps in the parliamentary process, please contact your Santis Health lead.