Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dominic LeBlanc to bloggers: Will Conservatives’ throne speech be flash or substance?

On throne speech eve, I took part in a Liberal bloggers conference call with Dominic LeBlanc, MP for Beauséjour and Liberal house leader, where he discussed the party's plans for the fall session of parliament and what we're expecting from today's speech from the throne.

LeBlanc said the Liberals are open to supporting good legislation should it be brought forward by the government. He expects they've spent the summer preparing a whole raft of bills that will be put on notice for debate with Parliament's return; the Liberals will want to scrutinize those closely. It will be a compressed session due to the prorogation; the Conservatives will want legislative victories but he’s curious to see how much of their agenda will actually be substantive, effective measures.

Some of what we've heard telegraphed as far as throne speech content has been positive, said LeBlanc, and indeed some of it mirrors what Liberal leader Justin Trudeau discussed during his campaign and in the House of Commons in May and June – economic measures to help middle class Canadians. Liberals may be able to support some of the measures in principle, but the test will be are they effective measures, or just a series of gimmicks.

“If some of them are effective, sure, I don’t know why we wouldn't support things that move the yardsticks forward,” said LeBlanc. “But our desire is to see what substantive things are contemplated, not just what James Moore talked about on the Sunday talk shows.”

It's unclear yet how many opposition days will be allocated for the fall supply period, said LeBlanc. That’s something the speaker will need to determine. Likely, the Liberals will have one day, maybe two. It hasn't yet been discussed by caucus, but LeBlanc said he expects Trudeau will want to keep the focus on the government’s failings with respect to middle class families, and the increasing economic pressures people are facing in their daily and monthly existence. Incomes aren't keeping up with the cost of living, and the economic pressure on families is making for a great deal on anxiety.

“I would think we’ll focus on issues like job creation and employment prospects, and retirement security. I have colleagues working on ideas around retirement security, improving CPP and other instruments that can help,” said LeBlanc.

In a nod to the Liberal grassroots though, LeBlanc said while the caucus will continue to respond substantively to current events and government actions, they also want to see what comes out of the Liberal policy convention happening in February in Montreal, which will be the culmination of a process of local and regional policy meetings happening across the country between now and then.

“We won’t be making great platform pronouncements until we hear what Liberals have to say at the convention,” said LeBlanc.

Over the summer, both in his riding and travelling the country, LeBlanc said two things struck him. One, people are profoundly disturbed by some of the ethical lapses that dominated public attention in May and June. Harper ran a very sanctimonious campaign about restoring honesty and transparency to government, and they’re unhappy with the culture of secrecy and vindictiveness that has instead set in. 

And second, there’s still a great deal of economic angst. Many people think we’re still in a recession; they don’t feel the recovery that the government talks about in their lives. There are concerns about jobs, about retirement, about the costs of goods and services. Small businesses feel squeezed. Conservatives have picked up on this too. Again, the question is will they offer gimmicks or substantive action to help.

Finally, on a side note, LeBlanc said it appears the Conservatives may not allow any debate or a vote on the throne speech. As it stands now they’re not scheduling any debate on the speech, when six days of debate are pro forma, though he cautions they could easily change their minds up until the last moment. But it appears they will go straight to debate on a legislative matter on Thursday.

It’s strange, said LeBlanc, as throne speech debate is usually pretty general, and the government gets the most speaking slots. Perhaps, he said, the Conservative leadership doesn't want, or trust, its backbenchers to speak broadly on the throne speech or the government’s agenda. Which would be telling, giving how stunningly un-conservative some of the leaked interventionist measures seem.

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