The continuing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic and the work needed to recover are the undercurrents of Liberal plans for this session of Parliament and throughout Gov. Gen. Mary Simon’s first speech from the throne.
Just as COVID-19 touched nearly every aspect of Canadian lives, it also appears to influence many of the government’s plans for this coming session.
“Yes, the decade got off to an incredibly difficult start, but this is the time to rebuild,” Simon said in the speech.
The throne speech promises action on climate change, reconciliation with Indigenous communities and growing the economy, all while fighting COVID-19 and rebuilding Canada’s health-care systems.
“I think we were really happy to see so much focus on the collective health and well-being of Canadians as really a key theme. I think that permeated throughout the throne speech,” said Canadian Medical Association president Dr. Katharine Smart.
The government vows to work with provinces and territories on a myriad of health-care issues either highlighted or exacerbated by the health crisis.
“To build a healthy future, we must also strengthen our health-care system and public health supports for all Canadians, especially seniors, veterans, persons with disabilities, vulnerable members of our communities, and those who have faced discrimination by the very system that is meant to heal,” Simon said.
That includes improved health accessibility and bolstering data collection across health systems to inform future decisions — something the government has faced heavy criticism about during the pandemic response.
The government will also work to address delayed procedures, put off while hospitals focused on incoming cases of COVID-19, and the treatment of mental health and addictions.
Simon provided little detail about how the government plans to tackle those issues however.
Now that the priorities have been named, Smart said she looks forward to hearing more about the government’s plans to work with its partner governments to address them.
“We’ve now named all the things we know are issues,” Smart said. “But, of course, now what matters is the action that we take moving forward.”
The NDP, the Liberals’ most likely ally, were unimpressed with the speech’s commitments to health and pandemic recovery.
“We see a throne speech that does not respond to the urgency of the crises that we’re up against,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
While he doesn’t fault the throne speech for its sparse details, he said he didn’t see a clear vision for health-care improvements, or a plan to support Canadians through to the end of the pandemic.
The Governor General said the government is securing next-generation COVID-19 vaccines, boosters and doses for kids aged five to 11.
Canada will keep working to ensure equitable access to vaccines globally as well, she said.
“Building a better future starts with getting the pandemic under control and finishing the job on vaccines,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
Simon also specifically thanked the workers, particularly those in health care, who have kept Canadians safe during this rocky start to the decade, and offered her deepest condolences to those that lost loved ones during the pandemic.
She closed her remarks by reminding parliamentarians that never have Canadians depended so much on their work.
“In addition to ending this pandemic, their priorities for this 44th Parliament are clear: a more resilient economy, and a cleaner and healthier future for all of our kids,” she said.
—Laura Osman, The Canadian Press