Gov. Gen. Julie Payette reads as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Senator Marc Gold, right, listen during the throne speech in the Senate chamber in Ottawa on Sept. 23. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

Throne speech promises COVID-19 support, childcare, internet upgrades

Yukon premier said he is “cautiously optimistic” about many commitments

The federal government’s throne speech made big promises for spending, but exactly how much the North will see will have to wait until the next fiscal update.

“This is not the time for austerity,” said Governor General Julie Payette in her national delivery of the speech on Sept. 23.

Large national commitments from the government included extended COVID-19 support for businesses and individuals, a new national childcare system and a national pharmacare program that would cover prescription drugs for Canadians.

The government also committed to infrastructure investments, clean energy projects, affordable housing and rural broadband “particularly for Indigenous Peoples and northern communities.”

Food security, particularly for Indigenous communities, was also mentioned in the speech.

The government said it is launching a campaign to create over one million jobs with social sector and infrastructure spending, training programs and incentives for employers to hire and retain workers. The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy will be extended to next summer and further supports for travel and tourism will be introduced.

Individuals will be transitioned from CERB into a reformed Employment Insurance program.

Following the address, Yukon MP Larry Bagnell said many Yukoners are likely to feel relieved that financial supports will be extended and he expects those efforts to keep the doors of local businesses open.

“One of the biggest things I’ve been lobbying for all summer is the fact that our tourism industry, which is a bigger part of our economy than most of the country, is hurting really badly. It was specifically acknowledged in that speech that travel, tourism, hospitality and cultural industries are especially hard hit, and there’ll be extra support for them. So that’s huge for the Yukon,” Bagnell said.

“When people are in crisis, when businesses are about to collapse, when people don’t know if they can pay for rent or food, that is not a time to cut back those supports. But when we get through this together, and we’re in good shape, both economically and health-wise, then we certainly have to be fiscally responsible,” he said.

The speech also indicated plans to address chronic homelessness and housing affordability, two issues present in the territory. Bagnell said the childcare program will also consider the importance of before and after school programs.

He said he is also hopeful that new broadband projects could improve rural internet access in the territory and provide relief to Xplornet customers who may lose satellite internet by 2021.

The federal government recently announced new funding for green energy projects in the Yukon. The throne speech referenced both Canadian expertise and natural resources – including nickel and copper – that will be needed for zero-emissions technology.

The throne speech typically outlines broad priorities for the new session of parliament.

Specific financial details, including what kind of spending and projects, are expected in a fiscal update to be released later this fall.

Opposition parties criticized the speech, but the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Yukon office and the territorial government welcomed the announcements.

AFN Regional Chief Kluane Adamek released a statement praising the renewed commitment to the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, climate action and an emphasis on health and mental wellness.

“Alongside these two commitments are opportunities for the federal government to invite First Nations into the decision-making process, especially as they relate to the funding commitments for internet broadband, access to healthcare and affordable housing, and partnering with First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities and community leaders to find solutions to food insecurity,” Adamek said.

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said there were many highlights in the speech to be “cautiously optimistic” about.

“There were several commitments that are extremely important. Long-term care was part of it, getting people back to work, support for tourism and cultural sectors, an action plan for women, initiatives on climate change, green energy, and of course, universal daycare as well,” Silver said.

The premier added that “the devil is in the details” when it comes to issues like pharmacare or childcare, but he said fall conversations about health transfer payments are on the horizon.

“There’s lots of lots of things to talk about and we’ll be waiting for more of the details as we work with our federal counterparts, but cautiously optimistic on a lot of themes here, he said.

Economic Development Minister Ranj Pillai said the territorial government is now in the process of deciphering the throne speech and figuring out how to combine federal programming with business relief efforts in the Yukon.

A $19 billion “Safe Restart Agreement” that doles out funds to provinces and territories to continue coping with the pandemic was released earlier in the month.

Yukon will receive around $13.4 million from the government as part of that funding. The money will go towards COVID-19 testing, homelessness support, PPE, child care and sick leave for workers.

With the funding, the territory said it will be able to continue to maintain its ability to perform 60 tests per day, with the ability to scale up to 160 tests per day in the case of a surge.

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com

Throne Speech

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