Canada ‘a northern country,’ throne speech declares

If you like cable TV, cheap cell phone bills and the long-lost Franklin Expedition, you'll love Wednesday's federal speech from the throne.

If you like cable TV, cheap cell phone bills and the long-lost Franklin Expedition, you’ll love Wednesday’s federal speech from the throne.

Governor General David Johnston made a raft of promises – many of them rehashes of the federal government’s previous commitments – as he recalled Parliament and announced the goals and direction of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in Ottawa.

The speech, which focused heavily on “kitchen table” promises like reducing cell-phone roaming charges, widening the reach of high-speed broadband Internet and freeing up cable TV packages, also had news for northerners.

“We are a northern country. We are a northern people,” the speech read.

“Canada’s greatest dreams are to be found in our highest latitudes. They are the dreams of a North confident and prosperous, the True North, strong and free,” it said.

In all, the 7,000-word speech referenced the North 15 times. Among other things, it promised to complete the $145-million High Arctic Research Station in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. The centre was first promised in 2007.

The speech also promised to extend the Dempster Highway from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk. That commitment was first made in 2011.

The speech made no direct reference to the Yukon. But residents can expect to see an increase in resource extraction, with a promise that more of the royalties stay within our borders, said MP Ryan Leef. “That includes, of course, the commitment to work alongside Inuit, First Nation and territorial governments,” he said.

Last week, Leef joined a growing chorus calling for a public inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women, despite his government’s resistance to creating one. On Thursday, Leef said he was satisfied with the issue’s mentioned in the speech, and that Canadians should wait until a parliamentary committee finishes studying the issue this winter.

The committee is expected to issue its report in February. It could recommend a public inquiry if it finds one is needed, Leef said.

“I think they were pretty succinct. Aboriginal women are disproportionately the victims of violent crime. That needs to be said over and over and over. There is no denial. There is no trying to cover this up or water it down by any means,” he said.

A key promise in Johnston’s speech was a commitment to legislate that Ottawa must keep its budgets in the black during good financial times, and create a rigid structure to guide a return to zero-deficit spending when things go awry.

Leef insisted that these rules on deficit spending aren’t coming from lessons of the past five years, as the Conservatives have struggled with a growing debt.

When the Conservatives took office in 2006, Canada enjoyed a $13 billion surplus. By the time the financial crisis hit in 2008, that was down to a structural deficit.

At first leery of using stimulus money to buoy Canada through the difficult downturn, the Conservatives later embraced such measures, pushing the national debt up from $457 billion to $618 billion.

“We’ve had a longstanding commitment to balance the budget,” said Leef. “We made that promise in the campaign in 2011 and we’re serious about it. Long into our future, governments need to think that way, and we need to legislate that.”

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