As a matter of routine, word goes out from Privy Council Office to departments to get their wish list in for the Throne Speech, and then the central wordsmiths take those items and mix them with the narrative from central casting.
One would have thought that in a government as centrally directed as this one, most of those wish list items would have found their way to the cutting room floor. A shorter, sharper document would have emerged, giving the country a clear sense of the choices ahead.
Instead we have a turgid catch-all, with a nod in almost every direction, and an overall sense that no problem is too small not to have its own special law to make sure it goes away for all time. The occasionally grandiose rhetoric about freedom is followed by the promise that everyone can choose their own cable channels.
The great contradiction is that a government supposedly committed to less interference is in fact motivated by a desire to pass a law on every conceivable subject, not matter how minute. These guys are micro-managing to an absolutely absurd extent.
A government that will have has increased Canada’s debt by over 150 billion dollars delivers a lecture on the importance of balanced budgets, and then promises to pass a law that will bind future governments not to do what the Conservatives did. It is not just the hubris that is breathtaking. It is the absurdity of trying to micromanage how any subsequent government will deal public finances. Surely a brief encounter with our American friends’ experience might tell us that passing laws on this stuff only creates unnecessary headaches for the future. This is a waste of time and effort, an absurd sideshow. Ted Cruz is not a role model.
The Speech reflects what we know above all about this government. It is obsessed with symbols and spin, with appearances and arguments rather than realities. It was hard to find a substantive thread, because it was so drenched in its own rhetorical self-satisfaction, whacking the opposition parties at almost every turn before returning to another mind numbing list of micro-promises and mini-pledges.
The calculation seems to be that what worked in 2006, a tax credit for this, a grant for that, will work again, that the appetite for yet another amendment to the Criminal Code will prove, in fact, endless, and that there is no limit to the willingness of forty percent of the public to buy into this kind of politics.
This is not just about catering to consumerism. It is vastly more cynical than that. A government that cannot find the answer to the riddle of robocalls or disappearing cheques in the Senate wants us to turn our attention to finding what happened to the Franklin expedition.
Parents standing over a baby’s crib try to quiet a crying child by waving bright baubles in the air hoping that one of them will finally catch tear filled eyes and stop the racket. Mr Harper will find no such success. The noise will continue because this is not so much a programme for governing as it is a series of distractions from the real challenges facing the country and its people.
Mr Harper’s strength was supposed to be a sense that he is a serious man dealing with weighty issues. This throne speech does not, in fact, reinforce that feeling. Rather, it gives full rein to the spin meisters and the experts at message and packaging. Parliament will be set off on a series of wild goose chases that will take it further and further away from the real choices facing Canadians.
Bob Rae is a former member of Parliament and former premier of Ontario.