It was, in no uncertain terms, the embodiment of the dismissive phrase "style over substance."
Speeches from the throne are, as a matter of parliamentary custom, long on esoteric ideological imaginings and short on policy detail and numerical justification. But Wednesday’s presentation by the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — as presented by Governor General Julie Payette in the Senate chamber — was of a constitution so gossamery that it would make a wisp of cotton candy seem, by comparison, like a rock-hard jawbreaker.
And to reinforce the airy nature of his government’s throne-speech aspirations, Mr. Trudeau commandeered the nation’s airwaves early Wednesday evening to deliver an address that did little more than restate the non-specifics of the earlier oratory.
When one considers that the preparation of this throne speech, and the bold plan for Canada’s future it was going to be used to unveil, were the justification offered by Mr. Trudeau when he prorogued Parliament in July, one mightn’t be surprised if most Canadians went to bed Wednesday night feeling much more betrayed than enlightened.
The throne speech was certainly a text-intensive exercise, requiring nearly an hour of out-loud reading by Ms. Payette. And it covered a multitude of subject areas, from generalities related to the requisite pandemic urgencies to such long-since-promised Liberal priorities as a national pharmacare plan, the shift to a green economy, promoting gender equity and addressing systemic racism.
But where Mr. Trudeau had an opportunity — both in the throne speech and in his rather toplofty subsequent television address — to offer Canadians a clearer idea of how his government will help them navigate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he fell woefully short.
Where pandemic-related reassurances were required, recitations of familiar Liberal talking points were offered. That they were delivered in the prime minister’s now-too-familiar sensitive-guy sombre tones was not enough to make the flimsy message of any comfort.
What remains to be seen is whether the speech will trigger a non-confidence vote that sets Canadians on the path to a pandemic election.
Reaction from opposition parties was as swift as it was predictable. The Conservatives — represented by deputy leader Candice Bergen of Manitoba, with newly minted leader Erin O’Toole absent from the chamber owing to a COVID-19 diagnosis — immediately rejected the throne speech because, well, that’s what Canada’s two governing parties do during their times in opposition.
The Bloc Quebecois, in its response, delivered what amounts to a ransom note, demanding a $28-billion increase in federal health-care transfers to provinces within one week under threat of a non-confidence vote.
Which leaves, as it inevitably was going to, the New Democrats in the position of deciding whether they will prop up Mr. Trudeau’s minority government by supporting the throne speech. That support, it seems, will depend on two deliverables: the introduction of a paid sick leave plan for Canadians during the pandemic — already promised by the Liberals — and an assurance that the looming end of the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit and its replacement with an enhanced employment-insurance plan won’t leave Canadians with less supports in a time of greater need.
The betting here is that Mr. Trudeau will be able to finesse his way to an agreement that allows for continuation of government business, but the path ahead will be pocked with other potential non-confidence pitfalls. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was something less than effusive, after all, when he described Wednesday’s throne speech as "talk about nice things" that amounts to not much more than "words on paper."