Today the Governor General delivered the Canada – Speech from the Throne – September 2020 which opened the second session of the 43rd Parliament. The federal government had prorogued or shut down Parliament this past summer; the Speech from the Throne signals a whole new session. It outlines the government’s intentions in terms of policies, legislation, and financial activities.
This speech reflects the current coronavirus pandemic and its impact on Canadians. It is organized around four pillars each of which is influenced by the pandemic:
- Fighting the pandemic and saving lives
- Supporting people and businesses
- Building back a stronger, more resilient Canada
- Standing up for who we are as Canadians
As is typically the case, the Speech from the Throne does not mention adult literacy.
The closest reference to adult education and training is a promise to create 1 million jobs including “immediate training to quickly skill up workers.” Apparently, the government intends to make the “largest investment in Canadian history in training for workers” including,
- Supporting Canadians as they build new skills in growing sectors;
- Helping workers receive education and accreditation;
- And strengthening workers’ futures, by connecting them to employers and good jobs, in order to grow and strengthen the middle class.
The pandemic brought into the open what many, especially the labour movement, had pointed out for years – the problems with the Employment Insurance system. EI does not cover all workers and the government had to move in with the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. The Speech from the Throne proposes another short term solution – the Canada Recovery Benefit – while at the same time pledging to reform the EI system so that more people qualify including the self-employed and those working in the gig economy. Since training is integral to the EI system, improved literacy programming is possible.
The Speech from the Throne acknowledges the many gaps and inequalities in our society lay bare by the pandemic. Commitments to invest in early learning and childcare (based on the Quebec model), housing, rural broadband access, before and after school programs will have direct impact on adults’ ability to seek further education and training.
The government has heard the calls to address the “she-cession” created by the pandemic recognizing its impact on women, especially mothers, committing to ensuring women’s safety, and creating an action plan for women in the economy.
The government also has named systemic racism as a reality in our country and outlined steps to address it, a list that mirrors much of what we’ve heard from the Black Lives Matter movement. And it will continue its slow progress towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
I was encouraged to see the government boldly acknowledge inequality, systemic racism, and unequal opportunity in our society. The very act of naming these issues is a step in the right direction. Inequality, lack of opportunity and racism affect people’s ability to participate in education and training. As usual, the devil is in the details but for the moment the outline presented today holds much potential.