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A year in, a year to go: promises made in the last speech from the throne

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper welcomes Governor General David Johnston in the Senate Chamber on October 16, 2013.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS / Justin Tang
October 19, 2014 - 11:29 AM

OTTAWA - When Stephen Harper was first elected prime minister in 2006, he laid out five key priorities for his first term.

Fast forward seven years: in the speech from the throne given in October 2013, the Conservative government listed over 100 things they wanted to achieve.

Some are clearly measurable, like the pledge to balance the budget by 2015. It's nearly certain there will be a checkmark next to that one by the time the next election rolls around, exactly one year from now.

A spokesman for the prime minister's office said to date, they consider their most significant accomplishment their record on taxes.

"We committed to keeping taxes low in the throne speech and that is exactly what our Government has done, and will continue to do for Canadian families," said Jason MacDonald in an e-mail.

"Canadians work hard for their money."

Defining success on some of the others is a matter of perspective. For example, the government pledged its efforts would be renewed to address the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

To what extent has been a point of contention between the Conservatives and the aboriginal community ever since.

Some pledges were event specific, like celebrations for the 200th birthdays of Sir George-Etienne Cartier and Sir John A. Macdonald. Harper celebrated the former at an event in Quebec City and plans are ongoing for Macdonald's birthday next year.

Others were far more ephemeral. "Our government," the throne speech said, "will not hesitate to uphold the fundamental rights of all Canadians wherever they are threatened."

In what way wasn't made clear.

And then there were the pocketbook promises: seemingly simple items directed at consumers that in some cases have turned out to be far more complicated, and from the Opposition's New Democrats perspective, stolen right from their play book.

With exactly a year to go until the next election, here's a look at some of the more specific promises made last fall and what's become of them.

Promises of specific new legislation:

— An act to require balanced budgets in normal economic times: not yet introduced.

— Amendments to the Importation of Intoxication Liquors Act which would allow Canadians to take beer and spirits across provincial borders: became law in June 2014.

— Re-introducing of the Safeguarding Canada's Seas and Skies Act, which deals with oil tanker safety and insurance for airlines: introduced last fall, currently before the Senate.

— Legislation to "enshrine the polluter-pay system into law": Bill C-22 includes the notion of polluter pay in a broader reset of how much offshore oil and gas operations would be required to pay in the event of a spill. The bill has cleared the House of Commons but has not yet come before the Senate.

— Legislation which would create the requirement for one regulation to be removed for every one that is added: introduced in January, still before the House of Commons.

— Victims Bill of Rights to "restore victims to their rightful place at the heart of our justice system": introduced in April, still before the House of Commons.

— Quanto's law, which increases penalties for harming police dogs: introduced in May, still before the House of Commons.

— The throne speech also promised several new measures related to criminal law, including legislation on cyber bullying and new regulations for sentencing. All are in the works.

Promises for new or expanded programs:

— "Expand its National Anti-Drug Strategy to address the growing problem of prescription drug abuse": The 2014 budget allocated $44.9 million over five years towards this plan.

— "Our Government will launch a comprehensive new plan to assist Canadian businesses as they expand abroad": The Global Markets action plan was launched in August.

— "Protect Canada’s rich natural heritage by unveiling a new National Conservation Plan to further increase protected areas": It was launched in May, though is one of many promises the opposition New Democrats say is hardly an achievement. In an analysis, they noted that "the plan does nothing to explain how the government will meet its stated international goal of protecting at least 17 per cent of our land and 10 per cent of our oceans by 2020."

— "Our Government will introduce a new model to select immigrants based on the skills Canadian employers need.": A system called "express entry" is being promised for next year which would see would-be immigrants who meet the criteria for open jobs in Canada get their applications approved faster.

— "Our Government will release an updated Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy": public consultations were held earlier this year but nothing has been published.

Promises that haven't quite worked out:

— "Our government will vigorously defend the constitutionality of Canada's prostitution laws.": At the time, the government was fighting for those laws before the Supreme Court. They lost, with the top court ruling that existing laws do violate the constitution. A new law is currently being considered by Parliament, but some critics have suggested it too won't pass constitutional muster.

— "The Senate must be reformed, or, as with its provincial counterparts vanish. The Government will proceed upon receiving the advice of the Supreme Court.": the government is unlikely to take further action on Senate reform following the decision by the Supreme Court that they can't act unilaterally to make many of the changes the Conservatives were seeking.

— "(Our government) will continue working with First Nations to develop stronger, more effective, and more accountable on-reserve education systems.": A retooled First Nations education plan fell apart this spring after division within the aboriginal community.

MacDonald, the PM's spokesman, acknowledged that there were some clear challenges, saying that needing the consent of the provinces for Senate reform and that of the Assembly of First Nations on education were the reason those were on hold.

"But overall, our focus has not changed: jobs and the economy, safer communities and standing up for Canada," he said.

Pocketbook and personal projects:

— Finding the Franklin: A committed history buff, the prime minister included solving the mystery of Sir John Franklin’s lost Arctic expedition in the section of the speech about Arctic sovereignty. The government announced just last month one of the ships has been found.

— Why pay more?: The speech suggested the government was going to figure out a way for Canadians to stop paying more than Americans for the same goods. The government lifted tariffs on some items, and have also suggested they'll introduced an amendment to the Competition Act that would help more, but haven't yet done so.

— Ending "pay to pay" policies: in the throne speech, in the 2014 budget and again this past August, the government has pledged to introduced legislation that would prevent companies from charging for paper bills. The NDP have been advocating for this since 2012.

“In last year’s throne speech, the Conservatives stole a number of NDP initiatives to woo Canadian consumers," said Glenn Thibeault, the NDP's caucus chair in an e-mail.

"But a year later, they failed to deliver on many of the key promises in the speech, such as ending the Canada-US price gap, cracking down on pay day lenders and ending pay-to-pay fees. Worse still, they cut home postal delivery — something that they had not warned about in the throne speech. Canadians deserve better than broken promises."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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