The Canadian government plans to crack down on crime and stand up for consumers, according to Wednesday’s (Oct. 16) speech from the throne.
Gov. Gen. David Johnston delivered the speech in the Senate chamber as he opened the fall 2013 session of Canada’s 41st parliament.
At more than 7,200 words, it was the longest since the Conservatives took power in 2006.
He said Canada would take steps to protect consumers from “predatory” payday lenders, force cable companies to offer unbundled packages allowing subscribers to select channels individually, work to improve competition in the cell phone industry and cap the amount a cell phone user can pay for roaming charges while on Canadian networks.
Johnston added the government would move to stop wireless companies from charging for paper bills, expand no-cost basic banking and end “geographical price discrimination against Canadians” by working to reduce trade tariffs so consumers aren’t paying more for identical products available south of the border.
Johnston said the government intends to crack down on cyber-bullying in part by passing a new law making the distribution of an intimate image without a person’s permission a specific offence. Sentence reductions for child sex offenders and violent offenders will be outlawed.
The government also intends to create a Victim’s Bill of Rights and pass legislation making it harder for the “worst” criminals to get parole, in other words to make sure “a life sentence is a sentence for life.”
In practically the same breath, he said Canada would defend the constitutionality of its prostitution laws, referring to the Ontario judge who threw them out earlier this year because they put women at risk, and “renew efforts” to address the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
Johnson said the Tories would balance the federal budget by 2015 by freezing overall government spending and restraining hiring. He said the government would “reform way federal system manages spending,” sell assets if it makes sense to the well-being of Canadians and continue tax cuts for individuals and families once the deficit is eliminated.
Taking it a step further, he said the Tories would pass a balanced budget law forbidding future governments from running deficits in normal economic conditions. In the case of recession, the law would lay out “concrete timelines” to return to a balanced budget.
Sitting in the very chamber that has been such a source of ire for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Johnston said the government maintains its position that for the Senate, the status quo is not acceptable.
“The Senate must be reformed or, as with its provincial counterparts, vanish,” he said. “The Government will proceed upon receiving the advice of the Supreme Court.”
After the lengthy speech was delivered, New Democrat MP Irene Mathyssen (London-Fanshawe) said she is fed up with “shady tactics and obfuscation” from the Conservatives.
“The more I wrote the angrier I got,” Mathyssen said of her speech throne notes. “They talked a whole lot about all the rotten things they have done to Canada and Canadians for the past seven years and now they’re going to fix it all with tax credits.”
She was referring to the change to tax law that allows seniors to split their income. She said that provision only benefits high-income seniors with something to split.
“If you have nothing to split, that means nothing to you,” the NDP’s critic for seniors’ issues said. “And there’s nothing if you’re single. Many of those seniors are below the poverty line, so they don’t pay any taxes anyway.”
She said the Conservatives put forward a number of ideas in the throne speech that they actually voted against when the NDP brought them up in the house: an air traveller’s bill of rights, pay-to-pay practices (charging customers to send them a paper bill), free basic banking services and payday lenders.
“Pat Martin has been on a payday loan crusade for years,” Mathyssen said. “If you like our ideas, fine, but there have been a lot of throne speeches with no deliveries since they took power.”
Mathyssen said she was concerned London residents would “see little benefit from the Conservative agenda.”
Conservative MP Ed Holder (London West), on the other hand, said the throne speech “put Canadians first.”
“In broad terms it checked all the boxes in terms of what is important to London,” Holder said, adding London residents could be encouraged by the government’s “driven focus” on job creation and economic development.
He said and that increased military spending coupled with local procurement rules “absolutely” bodes well for the city’s defence industry and a free trade agreement being negotiated with the European Union would open new markets for London’s commercial agri-food industry.
“We’ll continue to do the right thing for all Canadians.”