On those rare occasions when the prime minister asks for network TV time to speak to the nation, it’s hard for the broadcasters to say no, but given Wednesday night’s unpaid political announcements next time they just might.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought and got 15 minutes of prime airtime on all the major television networks, ostensibly to deliver an important message to Canadians. With COVID-19 making a big comeback in Central and Western Canada, a heightened response from Ottawa wasn’t beyond the realm of possibilities.
But that’s not what we got. The PM spent the first few minutes raising the alarm and imploring Canadians to do what public health officials tell us to do every day. Then he recapped highlights of the government’s throne speech, read a few hours earlier in its plodding, 6,800-word entirety by Gov. Gen. Julie Payette.
Trudeau did manage to recast the COVID-19 resurgence as the dreaded second wave, something federal public health officials hesitated to do earlier Wednesday, then he pretty much cancelled Thanksgiving but held out some hope for Christmas.
“It’s all too likely we won’t be gathering for Thanksgiving, but we still have a shot at Christmas,” Trudeau said as he tried to rally COVID-weary Canadians back into “the fight of our generation.”
In the interest of balance, Trudeau was followed by shorter statements from Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
When all was said and done, those Canadians who stayed tuned for the entire show had a fair idea what to expect from each of the parties come the next federal election, whether that’s later this fall or, more likely, next spring.
The Conservatives and the Bloc have already signaled that they won’t support the throne speech, leaving it up to the NDP to either vote with the Liberals or join the other opposition parties, defeat the government on a confidence motion and send Canadians to the polls.
Singh was hedging his bets Wednesday, repeating his criticism that the Liberals talk a good game but fall short then it comes time to deliver.
After the throne speech, the NDP leader laid out the conditions for his party to back the government. Those were no reduction in the level of income support for Canadians who lost their jobs in the economic devastation of COVID-19’s wake and paid sick leave so Canadian workers can stay home when they’re not well without suffering a complete loss of income.
Thursday morning, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough announced legislation that seems to meet both of Singh’s conditions, clearing the way for the NDP to prop up the minority Liberal government and almost certainly saving Canadians from a fall election.
The sweep of the pandemic’s resurgence, particularly in Ontario and Quebec, was underscored by the fact that two of the four party leaders who spoke Wednesday night — O’Toole and Blanchet — have tested positive for the virus and are currently in isolation. They delivered their remarks at a safe distance from the TV crews.
The long list of reasons why the Conservatives won’t support the throne speech includes its failure address the fiscal ramifications of the massive suite of measures already in place as well as those that are planned plus the new programs promised in the speech.
Trudeau did address the financial implications of the crisis in his televised address, saying the cost of inaction would far exceed the money his government is spending to fight the pandemic and support Canadians through it.
“Doing less would mean a slower recovery and bigger deficits in the long run,”
"While we’re still dealing with this pandemic, I don’t want you — or your parent, or your friend — to take on debt that your government can better shoulder. So yes, in the short term, we’ll keep investing," Trudeau said.
In the final analysis, the televised leaders’ speeches weren’t much more than a distillation of each party’s present political posture.
Trudeau reprieved his popular role from last spring, exhorting the nation to make the necessary sacrifices to get the virus under control and reassuring Canadians that the government has their backs.
O’Toole did what opposition leaders are expected to do and excoriated the Liberals for sins of commission and omission. Blanchet stood up for Quebec, and Singh promised to fight the good fight for Canadians forgotten by the Liberals.
It didn’t make for compelling TV, nor did it warrant a rare request from the PM for the airtime.
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