RICHARD CANNINGS: A closer look at the speech from the throne

Kootenay MP ponders what’s to come this year.

It’s a new year, a new decade, and a time to look forward.

The new parliament sat for two weeks in early December, time enough to get an indication how the government intends to move forward. Most Canadians want the government to work collaboratively with other parties to tackle the issues of our time, and the NDP is very willing to work with the government to enact policies that will help all Canadians.

The government’s intentions are spelled out in the speech from the throne of course, but they are also revealed in a more subtle way by personal interactions on Parliament Hill. I was heartened by the collegial attitude of several ministers I met in December. While relationships between MPs from all parties are generally more cordial at the start of a Parliament, I’ve never found meetings with ministers to happen so promptly, and the conversations more open and frank, than the ones I had in December.

But will this translate into a co-operative session this spring? And what did the speech from the throne promise? I’ll mention a few of the salient points.

It specifically mentioned pharmacare as “the key missing piece of universal health care in this country.” What it failed to say was whether this would be a fully public program, a subtle but important distinction since a patchwork, public-private system would forgo the significant cost savings that a single payer program would create.

The speech also talked about affordable housing — one of the most important issues across the country. The Liberals promised this in the last parliament, but according to the Parliamentary Budget Office they ended up spending less on housing than the Harper Conservatives did. Hopefully that will change this time around.

And there was the eternal promise of lower taxes for the middle class. This was also promised in the last parliament, but that change only helped the upper middle class — the lower limit for benefits was an annual taxable income of $45,000. Since the average income in this riding is around $40,000, less than half of the residents came out ahead. The new promise aims to cover all Canadians, but unfortunately, the vast majority of benefit falls to those who make well over $100,000 per year.

The NDP has put forward a plan to limit those tax cuts to individuals making $90,000 or less. That would benefit the people who need it most and free up billions of dollars in savings (yes, tax cuts cost money just as much as new programs do). Again, the Parliamentary Budget Office has calculated that those savings would be enough to implement a new dental care plan for all Canadians who need it. Now that is something that would literally change lives.

In her speech, the Governor General mentioned that “Canada’s Senate is increasingly non-partisan, and measures will be taken to help it continue along that path.” I met with Diane Griffin in December, one of the senators who had formed the new Canadian Senators Group, to discuss some of these changes and how they might affect legislation passing through the House of Commons. She re-introduced my private member’s bill on the use of wood in government infrastructure into the Senate in mid-December, where hopefully it will move more quickly through the system and come back before the House of Commons in the spring.

If you would like to get in touch with me about any issues or concerns, email richard.cannings@parl.gc.ca or call 250-770-4484. Happy New Year!

Richard Cannings is the New Democrat MP for South Okanagan–West Kootenay

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