PM consults opposition leaders on throne speech

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a closing press conference on the third and final day of the Liberal cabinet retreat in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. Trudeau will begin consultations today with opposition  leaders about next week's throne speech, which could theoretically bring down his minority Liberal government if no opposition party is willing to support it. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a closing press conference on the third and final day of the Liberal cabinet retreat in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. Trudeau will begin consultations today with opposition  leaders about next week’s throne speech, which could theoretically bring down his minority Liberal government if no opposition party is willing to support it. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will begin consultations today with opposition leaders about next week’s throne speech, which could theoretically bring down his minority Liberal government if no opposition party supports it.

He is to speak by phone with Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, who is in self-isolation along with most of his 31 MPs after an aide tested positive Monday for COVID-19.

Blanchet’s wife has also tested positive.

Trudeau also plans to speak with the Green party’s parliamentary leader, Elizabeth May.

He is expected to speak with Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, who is also in isolation after a staffer tested positive, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on Friday.

The throne speech is well on its way to being completed but government officials maintain that doesn’t mean the opposition consultations are an empty gesture.

There is still room to make some last-minute additions. Officials point out that opposition parties have been quite vocal about what they want to see in the speech.

Singh has said he expects the speech to be full of nice but “empty” words and he’s more interested in what actually makes it into the subsequent federal economic update and budget.

Still, the NDP has been clear it wants to see billions more in federal funding for child care and affordable housing. It also wants the government to back off its plan to wind down the $2,000-per-month Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

The Bloc has talked about more funding to help seniors through the pandemic and more health care funding to the provinces, with no strings attached.

The speech is expected to focus on three main areas: further measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 and avoid another nation-wide lockdown; to help Canadians stay afloat while the pandemic continues; and longer-term measures to structurally rebuild the ravaged economy.

It’s expected to include promises of more funding for health care, including long-term care homes that have been hardest hit by the pandemic, and child care, so that women can get back to work.

On Wednesday, following a cabinet retreat, Trudeau continued to say the speech will offer an “ambitious” plan for a healthier, safer, fairer, cleaner and more inclusive Canada.

However, with positive cases of COVID-19 on the rise for the past few weeks, Trudeau and his ministers were also clear that their top, almost all-consuming priority is doing everything possible to prevent a second deadly wave of the novel coronavirus.

The throne speech will be put to a confidence vote. The Liberals will need the support of at least one of the main opposition parties to avoid losing that vote, which would trigger an election.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2020.