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Trudeau Throne speech: Why this is a big moment for Canadian PM

As Canada’s parliament returns and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seeks to put an ethics scandal behind him, his government will this week unveil its plans for the country’s pandemic response and recovery.

The last time Mr Trudeau’s government held a Throne Speech – where a government outlines its policies and programmes as a parliamentary session begins – was less than a year ago.

That was before the global coronavirus pandemic upended the economy and the lives of many Canadians.

The prime minister also found himself bogged down over the summer by a charity ethics scandal that ended up costing his finance minister his job.

In August, he made a controversial decision to prorogue – or suspend – parliament and return on 23 September with a new Throne Speech to address the realities of the pandemic.

As parliamentarians head back to Ottawa, Mr Trudeau’s government faces chatter of a possible election and a new opposition leader who will be seeking to make his mark.

Here’s what to expect.

‘Ambitious and bold’

The Liberal government is expected to announce plans to tackle both the immediate crisis – a new surge in Covid-19 cases as the country enters the colder months – and to a roadmap for a longer term recovery.

Mr Trudeau has said he sees this moment as an opportunity to “build back better” because a “window of opportunity won’t be open for long”.

He has also said that, beyond the future challenges, dealing with a pandemic is “job one”.

What might all that look like?

Mr Trudeau said that recovery means a greener, healthier and more competitive Canada.

More specifically, Reuters reports that the immediate to-do list will include investments in child care, an expanded employment insurance programme, and funds for long-term care homes, which were particularly hard-hit early in the pandemic.

The prime minister has been getting spending wish lists from provincial premiers, whose demands include increased federal funding for healthcare.

Others are also seeking continued help amid the pandemic.

A group of 1,200 restaurants, fearing mass closures, are asking for wage subsidies to be extended into 2021, for long-term rent relief, and for politicians to find ways to encourage Canadians to visit restaurants.

Election talk and a new opposition

The Throne Speech has led to plenty of speculation about Canadians heading to the polls this autumn.

The speech will prompt a confidence vote in the House of Commons – a key test of whether a sitting government has the “confidence” of the majority.

A government must maintain the confidence of the House of Commons in order to continue to govern.

Mr Trudeau’s Liberals were re-elected last year with a minority, and it will need the support of at least one other federal political party to avoid the possibility of triggering a snap election.

Last week, the prime minister consulted with opposition party leaders over the speech.

The Conservatives – who recently elected a new leader, Erin O’Toole – say they will be pushing for increased Covid-19 testing across Canada and for support for small business.

The NDP – seen as the party most likely to support the Liberals – is seeking more funding for long-term care homes, the creation of a pharmacare programme, and universal childcare.

The party will also pressure the government not to sunset the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (cerb), which has been Canada’s main financial support programme for workers affected by the coronavirus lockdown. Cerb is due to be replaced 27 September with an expanded employment benefits programme.

While NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said he is “absolutely prepared to fight an election” he added that “it is not my goal” to do so.

If the Liberals survive the confidence vote, they will still face questions over the WE Charity scandal.

Opposition parties will be turning the heat back up on the controversy after the suspension of parliament ended House committee investigations into the affair.

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