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Throne speech aims at Arctic sovereignty

The Conservative government is championing Aung San Suu Kyi.During Tuesday’s throne speech it called on MPs to immediately grant honourary…

The Conservative government is championing Aung San Suu Kyi.

During Tuesday’s throne speech it called on MPs to immediately grant honourary citizenship to Burma’s pro-democratic dissident.

The move pleased Yukon Liberal MP Larry Bagnell, chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Burma.

The all-party group has been lobbying for more recognition of Suu Kyi, currently under house arrest in a country in lockdown after recent pro-democracy protests.

“It’s very prestigious,” said Bagnell in an interview from Ottawa.

“I believe there’s never been a woman before her to be granted honorary citizenship. It’s excellent. I’m very excited about that.”

The Conservative government also outlined a northern strategy in its throne speech, renewing promises to improve Arctic sovereignty.

A “world-class” research station in the North, the intention to map Canada’s Arctic seabed, an expansion of the Arctic Rangers and new patrol ships and surveillance planes were promised in the speech, which laid bare the government’s priorities for the next session of Parliament.

The research station will be built by northerners and will focus on environmental science and resource development.

There are a number of things promised in the speech Liberals can agree with, said Bagnell, who is the party’s northern affairs critic.

But the speech lacked movement on social justice issues, he said.

“This is national homelessness and poverty week and it’s a shame there was nothing in the speech about poverty, or nothing for the health-care system — they didn’t have an answer for any of it,” said Bagnell.

The Yukon MP had the distinction of asking the first question in Parliament in response to the throne speech, which was read by Governor-General Michaelle Jean in the Senate Chamber.

Because the speech is a confidence motion, the minority government could fall and trigger an election if opposition parties vote against it.

The NDP and the Bloc Quebecois Party have said their MPs will not support the speech, leaving the government’s fate in the hands of the Liberals and its leader, Stephane Dion.

A Liberal caucus meeting Wednesday morning will determine the party’s position on the speech, said Bagnell.

He declined to say how he would vote, but said he’s ready for an election.

“There’s a number of people in the Yukon who don’t want an election at this time, so if we didn’t go to an election it’d give us a chance to work on some issues,” said Bagnell.

“But if we do, we’d get to those areas, like poverty and daycare, missing in the speech much faster.”

The speech set an agenda that includes broad tax cuts to businesses and individuals, a tough-on-crime grab bag of several pieces of crime legislation, new measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the intention to apologize to residential school survivors.

Commentators have said the speech is largely a rehash of measures the government failed to get through Parliament in its first session, including plans to hold Senate elections, impose term limits and its tough-on-crime legislation.

A promise to hold a vote on extending Canada’s Afghanistan mission from 2009 to 2011 was also mentioned.

“People want to know why Canada is always on the frontline in Afghanistan,” said Bagnell. “We could move towards more development work — training local police — that would be more palatable to Canadians.”

New measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions signaled the death of Canada’s commitment to the Kyoto Accord.

The government plans to cut a certain percentage of greenhouse gas emissions from major polluters across all industries and sectors.

“But all industry is not the same,” said Bagnell.

“The same cuts across the board with no regards into industry-specific needs could bankrupt companies. It’s more rational to negotiate cuts sector by sector.”