2020 Throne Speech Makes Commitments to a Blue-Green and Just Recovery
Yesterday's Throne Speech made ambitious promises to make Canada a more sustainable, more just and more equitable country. Of course, the devil is always in the details, and what matters more than commitments is how the government plans to follow through.
Last week we shared our thoughts on what we might look for in yesterday’s Throne Speech with respect to water security, equity and a blue-green recovery. Using that framework, we are sharing some things that stood out for us as positive first steps in the speech.
The Throne Speech focused, necessarily, on the pandemic and how we support our communities through these challenging times. We were pleased to see the government recognize that the pandemic “reminded us of the importance in nature”, and followed this with a commitment to expand urban parks and access to green space. We hope this commitment to urban green space is combined with a greater investment in nature-based solutions; we don’t only need more open grass spaces but also diverse ecosystems like urban forests, wetlands, and native plant gardens. These nature-based solutions are also an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to reducing the impact of climate-related disasters like floods and fires.
To this end, we will be looking toward our next federal budget to invest in a dedicated natural infrastructure fund. This will be the best way to drive all the co-benefits of green spaces—including climate adaptation and mitigation, water security, biodiversity, and mental health and wellbeing (among others).
Another good news item in the Throne Speech was a firm commitment to create a new Canada Water Agency. This Agency, if done right, could be our best shot at addressing some of the water challenges we are dealing with coast-to-coast-to-coast. We look forward to efforts to continue to shape the priorities for this new Agency. However, we would have liked to see this commitment linked to the speech’s comments around equity and reconciliation. A new Water Agency marks an opportunity to evolve how we govern shared ecosystems. If Indigenous communities are involved right from the beginning in the design of the Water Agency, we might be able to realize a true water co-governance system. We would like to see a stronger commitment towards this.
The speech made commitments in line with a just recovery, including around reconciliation, equity and fighting racism. Specifically, it committed to making an important step to introduce legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples before the end of this year. No doubt, more targeted action is necessary to truly address systemic racism and violence in the justice system. Commitments to support elders, and to a Canada-wide daycare program are other highlights that fall under a Just Recovery programme.
Other blue-green commitments included:
- Achieving net-zero emissions by 2050;
- Protecting a quarter of land and oceans in five years;
- Planting 2 billion trees;
- Banning single-use plastics by next year;
- Modernizing the Environmental Protection Act;
- Investing in more resilient water and irrigation infrastructure;
- Making more investments to ensure clean drinking water in First Nations communities.
Overall, there are some important commitments made in the speech. Commitments that we, in principle, support. Now, at a time when spending and budgets have ballooned, the challenge will be in how to resource them effectively to drive impacts and results. The speech references new taxes on extreme wealth and measures to address tax avoidance, which could be significant new revenue sources if they are followed through with.
As Canada faces the dual crisis of global climate change and a pandemic, we agree with the Governor General that “now is not the time for austerity.” We have an incredible opportunity to change the future to make Canada a more sustainable, inclusive and just place. The public commitments have been made; now we wait to see how these are reflected in the budget.