Throne speech: Seize Canada’s moment, and suffocate it

A breathtaking spout of free-associating bloviation


What a breathtaking spout of free-associating bloviation. What an epic ramble.

In April, 2006, after the Harper Conservatives first formed a government, they made a great show of delivering one of the shortest Throne Speeches in modern times: 2,445 words, the equivalent of a mere three Jeffrey Simpson columns. Jean Chrétien used to hand down much longer speeches — 3,660 words in February, 1996. Paul Martin’s were even longer: 6,308 words in February 2004, 4,668 in October of the same year.

Remember Paul Martin? Mister 50 Priorities? Mister All Things to All Canadians? This Throne Speech is 7,240 words, 900 words longer than Paul Martin’s longest, almost three times the length of Harper’s first.

“This is Canada’s moment,” David Johnston read obediently. “Together we will seize it.” Why? “We are on the cusp of a moment that is uniquely Canada’s.” So? “Just as our founders dared, so too must we.” It’s the least we can do. After all, our founders did their daring way back before Canada’s moment, on the cusp of moments that were Swiss or Nigerian or Japanese; now here comes our unique moment and we’re not supposed to dare? That’s not how it works in Stephen Harper’s Canada, Mister. For instance, we will dare to write and deliver really long throne speeches. Our founders would be impressed.

But there’s more than just words in here! There’s things to do. In an excellent season for Canadian literature, the Prime Minister will pay personal tribute to Stephen Leacock by riding madly off in all directions.

He will introduce balanced-budget legislation as reliable and airtight as his fixed-election legislation. He will sell off federal assets, if he feels like it. He will encourage foreign investment, if he likes it. He will, by state fiat, find the Franklin Expedition. He’ll release a new science strategy. He’ll “crack down on predatory payday lenders,” something he already did once this year when he fired Nigel Wright. He’ll implement the Leslie Report on moving military resources from National Defence Headquarters to someplace more useful — not because the report’s ideas were self-evidently useful, but because Andrew Leslie is now in the business of giving ideas to Justin Trudeau. He’ll make Malala a Canadian citizen. He will celebrate the hell out of Canada’s 150th birthday.

Somewhere in there, at about the point where Tom Hanks would be starting to feel mighty thirsty if this had been a screening of Captain Phillips, there are a few paragraphs about consumer rights. Far less than there is about the 150th birthday celebrations. And far, far less than there is about continuing to crack down on criminals, people who look like criminals, people who might be criminals, and people who might know where there are some criminals. But the PMO assiduously leaked these table scraps about consumer protections for days before the big read, and everyone played the consumer stuff up big in the pre-throne-speech stories, and the CBC spent two hours talking nonstop about the “consumer agenda” after the speech as though there had actually been one in it. The great thing about leaking news is that you can create news where there is none, durably, long after your ruse should have been noticed. No wonder it’s so addictive.

So what’s going on here? Two things, I think. First, Harper seems to have concluded that part of his trouble in the spring, with the Duffy and the cheque and the Senate thing and the Rathgeber and the Warawa and the Woodworth and the this and the that, was that he had left rather too many idle hands in his caucus. MPs popping up six times a day with Really! Great! Ideas! about how to redefine abortion. Vast arid wastelands on the news where a federal government should be, and nothing to fill it with but Bob Fife’s latest revelation or the latest updates from Planet Robocall. As one Hill wag pointed out at the time:

A government is like a shark. If it stops swimming, it drowns. Harper has lasted 11 years as a party leader for two reasons: He was never alone and he had a plan…. And now? He is increasingly alone and isolated.

He has plainly decided to unleash every pet project he can deem as helpful or at least nearly harmless, the better to fill both the news agenda and some of the empty longing in the pits of his MPs’ stomachs.

But there’s something else going on here too. As the same wiseacre pundit pointed out a little earlier this spring:

Canadians have little intuitive grasp of decimal places. A government does not get 1,000 times more credit for spending $1 billion on something than it does for spending $1 million. In fact, it does not get twice as much credit. As long as the government notices a problem and nods at it, it wins approval from voters who care about that problem. So not long after his man Jim Flaherty started delivering budgets, a Harper era of small and essentially symbolic investment began.

The same notion helps explain almost all the measures in this throne speech. There’s everything Harper needs here to ensure Andrew Coyne writes 47 columns lamenting the death of conservatism and assuring Canadians we have been teleported to Bucharest in 1974.

But nothing here looks like a new federal program with a new secretariat, a durable entitlement claimed by a large part of the population, or a major new appropriation of public life by the federal state. It all benefits, in Harper’s eyes, from the unequal perception of scale I described in the quote just above.

Meanwhile, big long-term rules and plans continue to lock in the progressive constraining of the Canadian federal government. A freeze on operating spending will continue; as the first Parliamentary Budget Officer pointed out, that puts a continuous pressure on the feds to keep cutting spending in affected departments. There will be “further targeted reductions to internal government spending” on top, apparently, of the spending freeze. And there are four paragraphs on curtailing public-service pay and benefits — as significant a component of the speech as the so-called consumers’ agenda.

If you cut a billion and spend a few million on ten different things, you can create an activist impression quite at odds with the government-limiting trend. This is what Stephen Harper came to Ottawa to do. Canada’s moment, he is sure, is here because he is in charge. He will stretch the moment out as long as he possibly can.



Throne speech: Seize Canada’s moment, and suffocate it

  1. Canada elected a party that doesn’t believe in govt……….and then is surprised to find itself without a govt?

    • Canada voted for the only party with any direction, even if it was straight to the bottom at least it pointed somewhere. The Libs have been headless for a decade now, and the NDP realized they had none only after they managed Official Opposition.

      • Is there any direction in particular you want Canada to go, or are you just waiting for someone else to tell you what that is?

        • “Is there any direction in particular you want Canada to go ….”

          Kang – forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!

          • Cons have already made Canada into a Simpson’s episode.

          • A Con MP just tabled a petition against This Hour has 22 Minutes because … wait for it … they made fun of something sacred. Something sacred to him, that is. Because that’s the most important thing he could think of doing the morning after his party’s pathetic SFT.

          • LOL I hadn’t heard that one yet….that’s a comedy routine in itself!

            Cons….the people so big on the right to ‘free speech’ are upset because ’22 minutes’ ….made fun of something!

            So far I haven’t heard one kind word about the SFT….and yet it took an hour to get through!

          • Well, they have to do something to fill the time. Which MP was it?

          • Mike Wallace from Burlington; apparently he has in the past presented a similar petition against 22 Minutes. He says they made fun of holy eucharist. I can’t imagine a show like 22 Minutes making fun of anything “sacred,” can you? I mean, next thing you know, Rick Mercer will start being satirical!

          • What an earnest little man. I guessed he missed Monty Python.

          • Every sperm is sacred

        • I this case they seem to be waiting for the NDP to tell them what that is.

          Who woulda thunk it that the Conservatives had to steal ideas from a socialist party since they have no direction or original thoughts of their own.

          • Yes….5 ideas from the NDP wasn’t it? I don’t know what all they counted but the minute I heard about unbundling cable and fixing the price gap between the US and here….!

        • My personal desire for direction is irrelevant, I was simply pointing out how the current gov’t managed to gain power. All parties have failed us, honestly. Canadians voted for the best of a bad situation. The NDP were the only alternative, and we see how badly they’ve dropped the ball without being helmed by Jack, rest his soul.

        • I find it funny that my post was so heavily downvoted when I’m simply telling the truth. We need an effective opposition to Harpers regime and currently we have none. Both opposing parties are headless right now and it dissapoints me.

          • We have two opposition parties. Both have leaders.

            Choose one.

    • How would we miss Ottawa? Provinces can pick up CPP and after that Ottawa is pretty much useless to the average productive person and their families in Canada.

      • Dave we are either one country or we’re ten….make up your mind.

        • Ten sounds good. Shakes the dead weight freeloaders out of my wallet. Where do I vote? Oh wait, we are not democratic nor free. Just government managed herd animals.

          • So you want to break up the country? You’re a separatist?

            Has it occurred to you that would produce ten federal govts instead of the one we have now?

            And that you’d still have to pay taxes for a military, a court system, a police force, border guards, highways, trains and so on?

            Separatism isn’t a money-saver Dave… just changes the geographic location of your national govt.

          • Dead weight freeloaders like Harper?

      • Just an FYI, Dave: Your lazy, fact-free cynicism was pretty much played out with your first comment.

        • Sure paid me well to be in cash for the 2008 crash as I didn’t have my eyes wide shut.

          Fact is this is the new economy and it isn’t going to get better. In fact, it is going to get a lot worse shortly. You will see it as hidden inflation. Enjoy the ride.

        • I saw 2008 crash coming. About due for another. USD is losing value and debt bubble fraud will break…only a mater of time now.

          Look up Argentina, Asian and other historical currency crisis.

          • You may very well be right. What you don’t say though is that in most cases, these countries are banana republics like Canada and the US are becoming.

  2. Fascinating musings, as always, Mr. Wells. This government is getting lamer and lamer. The good ideas are from the NDP, and the bad ones are just horrendous. The balanced budget legislation is ideological nonsense straight out of the Republican playbook. The immaturity is increasingly apparent.

    • is it possible, harper ‘ jumped the shark today ‘ ?

      • If you want to really see Mr. Harper jump the shark, wait for next year’s Throne Speech after next year’s prorogation.

      • For me, it was the census. It still boggles the mind that an educated person could make such a decision.

        • Who, in this government, is educated? They seem to be proud of the fact they aren’t.

    • You can tell when our Governing party of one, Mr Harper, is clutching at straws. He fulminates against the very thing he has had as a corner stone of his political and social platform ” Less Government intervention and the Free market correcting any imbalance”: by giving a throne speech filled with Government intervention into the free market to aid the middle class which; it must be said he has disdained since coming to power. Who does he think he is kidding.

  3. Canada passed legislation dealing with predatory lending ages ago, both criminal usury and the so called “payday loans”. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to to enforce but the framework is there, and frankly it’s not like the CPC will really be doing the heavy lifting to make a difference. Like so so so many other things, the Liberals actually solved the problem, the CPC comes along and fibs about how bad things are, they pass a new dumber law and, at best, things stay the same.

  4. 2006 Election: There
    was no appropriate consequence for Harper’s Conservatives (Reform Party)
    breaking Canada’s election law. Harper
    spent $1.3 million more than allowed to by law, “won” the election, was
    charged **and convicted** and paid a penalty of $52,000 (granted this was the
    highest penalty the courts were allowed to charge Harper with, but still,
    pretty low sum).

    The reward? Gaining
    access to the levers of power and deciding how to spend the Government of
    Canada’s $270.5 billion dollar budget.

    • Which reminds me: did we ever get to know where the abundant moola that got Harper elected in 2006 came from? There were queries about it, refusals to reply, a minor penalty to pay and that’s it. Did we really never learn whose moola began this sorry tale?

  5. Oh, but surely … our great national free trade nightmare is over, no?
    The cheese is free sorta, eh ? And as the nooze tells us, scorned by
    “special interests”. The interests who welcome it are not special at all.
    Poor mundane, banal, beige interests they be. Oh, well …

  6. I didn’t hear the speech. How much was dedicated to increasing the powers of Elections Canada and democratic reform?

    • Hilarious.

    • ..Democratic reform? Stephen Harper, Introverted Twerp appointed Pierre Poilievre as our democratic reform MP.. no need to mention it in the Speech!!

  7. With all the Grcoery List chekced off…er…Throne Speech list…Canadians had better get used to the two-step of legal challanges and Supreme Court Rulings for sometime to come…

  8. Brilliant. As usual. Incisive.

    And I think the press core should just stop covering anything this government says.

    • So you can complain about how Harper avoids the press?

      • I’d rather complain about how he avoids accountability

      • You’re very funny.

        • Or…he’s just very very stupid.

          • Is that Rick, Stephen, or both?

      • I’d rather complain about how Harper avoids the press, and then the Tories send out fundraising letters complaining that the press isn’t covering them.

        To ban reporters from the PM’s speech to his caucus and then immediately complain that the press didn’t cover the PM’s speech to his caucus is the very definition of hypocrisy.

        • If the press were more focused on the public interest, it would be easier to take their side. As it stands, this is a quarrel between petty, overpaid pretenders.

          • Reporters being allowed to ask the Prime Minister questions is transparently in the public interest. The answer to “I think the questions reporters ask of politicians are petty and quarrelsome” isn’t “let’s stop reporters from asking politicians questions”.

      • He doesn’t avoid the press he runs like a whippet from them.

  9. Excellent throne speech.

    Incremental change is all Canadians can handle.

    • Er, actually that’s all SH thinks it can and should handle. There is a difference believe it or not.

      • How much are you able to handle?

        Tell us how much Pat Martin got from the unions to pay off his personal debt?

        Can you handle knowing the truth?

        • Yes, this is such staggering news it will bring Canadians to their knees. We cannot handle such a horrific scandal!

          • It’s not that Canadians can’t handle it; of course they can (and yes, I fully understand that your comment is in jest).

            But it is better for the opposition parties to not talk about their own politicians abusing the system, so that the abuse by members of the CPC is highlighted all the more. That is the aim of the opposition parties and that is the aim of people who do not WANT to know how much Pat Martin got from the unions.

            But I want all politicians to be treated equally. And I don’t care that you don’t want to treat politicians equally, but don’t come crying when you find out that yet again some politicians see a way our for abusing the system, because you are one of the people granting those abusers a way out.

          • You say you want all politicians to be treated equally. Does that mean you want to get to the bottom of all the hypocrisy in this government’s election wins?

        • Do you ever post sources?
          By the by, I’ve got news for you. SH is PM and has been for 7 very long years. PM has been out of office for about as long, oddly enough.

        • you tell us who funded King Stephens leadership funds and I’ll tell about Pat Martin

    • There is incremental, and then there is just piddling around.

    • “Incremental change is all Canadians can handle.”

      Francien, look up the concept of projection as a defense mechanism.

      • Look up Frankfurt School.

        • I did. The relevance?

  10. Half that crap can be handled via Orders in Council.

    • Exactly, seven years on and they don’t even know the basics of governing.

      They’re either stamping their feet and expecting civil servants to do things that the legislation doesn’t permit, introducing legislation that won’t withstand a charter challenge, or making grand announcements about plans to implement things the cabinet could do on its own authority any Wednesday morning if they weren’t so afraid of the madmen wannabes in the PMO.

      • But you forget that they must struggle uphill against the mighty civil service! And the media, which is entirely against them, without exception! Why else would it have taken four years to ditch the long gun registry? Surely not the fact that they could refer to its continuing existence in their weekly fundraising emails…

      • “..madman AND wannabes”

  11. I’m increasingly fascinated by the what might emerge out of this paint by the numbers picture PWs ,almost alone ,keeps on returning to, again and again. Not that i think he’s far off the mark. What is the ideal endgame for Harper ? What will he actually have achieved on our behalf should he succeed in throttling the federal spending powers in its cradle? Presumably provinces will fill the tax room and almost certainly unevenly so. We could be looking at a Canada with enormous and uneven gaps In social programmes. A country increasingly like the US. On top of which we’d have a federal govt virtually powerless to do anything about it.
    I’d hate to think I know exactly what Canadians uniformly want ( Holinm should be along to fix that presently) but I feel pretty confident in stating there’s no burning desire in this country to become a poor mans USA.

    • Harper seems convinced that more or less everything our parliamentary system has achieved since the 60s has either been an enormous swindle on the Public, or an abomination, or both. it never seems to occur to him that this has largely met public approval. It hasn’t been all foisted on the country by the liberals; it hasn’t even come about solely because of liberals. It’s mostly been a broad if mushy agenda, seasoned with some fairly radical rights legislation, signed off on by a broad and slightly mushy middle class consensus .
      Harpers a modern day Sisyphus, who, sooner or later is gonna get run over by the mushy middle class Canadian consensus.

      • Very interesting thoughts. However, I fear that our antiquated, undemocratic electoral system may yet put Harper back in power. Someone soon should have the guts and foresight to implement proportional representation. Both sides of the political spectrum have been on the short end of the first-past-the-post stick over the past 20 years; they should make sure that it never happens again.

  12. “What a breathtaking spout of free-associating bloviation. What an epic ramble.”

    You know you could have just said:

    “What a gia-normous pile of s**t”.

    • We have to at least try to seem cultured. But I get your point.

    • Did you mean “..pile of Stephen Harper, Introverted Twerp” ??

  13. I think one problem the Conservatives will have in the next election is losing their loyal support from pro-life people and from others who have been loyal to Harper but have been taken for granted.

    • I don’t see it happening. Harper’s “base” may be disgruntled, but where would they go? They’ve been told for years that Liberals are evil, the NDP are dangerous socialists and Greens are environmental extremists.

      From I’ve seen, those messages seem to have stuck.

      • All true, but some might choose to not vote at all, or vote for the Christian Heritage Party or something.

      • 2011 election

        ..that was 39. something% of the vote, which was 24% of possible votes of which 7% were swing votes, (progressives). Stephen Harper, Introverted Twerp’s margins are very thin. With Jack Layton’s passing and JT’s rise holding, vote splitting on the left will be less of an issue. Stephen Harper, Introverted Twerp is done like dinner!!

  14. “Bloviation”, please stick to English. The discipline might result in a more coherent review of this important topic.

    • Well, it might, but realistically, what are the odds.

      • You should stick to windy. “Bloviation” just sounds like you’re one of them furiners what writes books or sumthin’.

    • “Bloviation”, please stick to English.

      Just checked the OED and bloviation is right there.

      bloviation, n. A bombastic speech, esp. of a fawning or time-serving nature. Also as a mass noun.

      First use in print 1850. Most recent quote in the OED is from Time, 2002.

      I trust most people are still using the OED as the ultimate judge of what is, and what is not “English”.

      • Interesting – i would have guessed it was much more recent than 1850s. I would have said since 2000 or somesuch.

        • Apparently, the first use of “bloviate”, the verb from which the noun “bloviation” derives was in 1845. It seems to have begun life in Ohio as a term (not surprisingly) used in relation to politicians. It was popularized by U.S. President Warren G. Harding (1921-23), an Ohio native. Locally in Ohio, it apparently began life as a term for simple idle chatter. It went out of favour, but saw a resurgence in the late 20th century, and apparently wasn’t added to the OED until 2004.

      • Nope, no cigar.
        OED is out, Fowler is out, Twitter Dict is in.
        Twitter Dict – published by the NDPee and available free from your local Commissar.

    • Thumbed up by a gentleman called Johnny Canuck…

    • It’s so hard to understand English when writers use too big of words, isn’t it?

  15. Harper left for Bruxelles – can we trade him for something they have?

    • Some excellent beer maybe?

    • CHEESE!

    • Maybe we can get Tintin or Captain Haddock in a trade. Sadly, however, I think we’d only get Thompson or Thomson (not both) (or rather, Dupondt or Dupont, if you are an originalist)

    • He exudes cheesiness. That would be a trade that is not only free, but fair.

  16. Ah, but they have cheap cheese coming from Belgium. Nothing buys votes like cheap cheese (I mean, you know, unless you’re a dairy farmer). I’m already considering changing my vote. I only hope they have Gouda.

    • I don’t think there’s any promise that the cheese will be cheap, just that there’ll be more of it.

    • Gouda on you!!

  17. I was reading old McLeans articles (the internet is awesome) on Jean Chretiens 1997 Speech from the Throne. The media reaction and commentary hasn’t changed at all from that day to now. Plus ca change plus c’est pareil. Harper is much like Chretien was back then. H recognizes that a bored media craves entertainment which meaningless things like Throne speeches, polls, endless election speculation and “where is the bold vision?” provide. The media is obsessed with politics and personality but is completely uninterested in government. Harper and Chretien knew this instinctively and use the media’s weaknesses to their advantage. Both used an incremental “no-drama” approach to government to accomplish things. The difference is that Harpers incremental changes will last as Chretiens did not (is there anything left of Chretien/Martin legacy beyond the current parlous state of the ruins of Tteam Martin” the once great Liberal Party of Canada?)

    • You may be on to something. I thought of Chretien as the worst prime minister ever until Harper came along.

      • Unsurprising. It doesn’t take a lot of examination to realize that Harper is merely Chretien v2.0

      • Yes, I think Harper is approaching Chretien-like lousiness. An important similarity is how each flipped on an important principle: Chretien going ahead with NAFTA and Harper spending like crazy (granted, Harper had a minority government). Really, they aren’t too far apart on some issues, even.

    • I think Paul Wells has compared Harper to Chretien before as well.

  18. We may be in for a big surprise once Harper comes back from Europe…this may not have been your normal Throne Speech because it may have actually been an election platform…the best time to catch Trudeau unprepared is now.

    • Silly citizen. We have a fixed election law which ensures that our next election won’t occur until 2015.

  19. We are in for bad times and Harper knows it.

    Trouble is none of these parties represent me or productive people. They all represent their own back room buddies and lobbyists. All options on my rigged ballot represent more government and less for productive people. Not a one is for more efficient government and less taxes.

    Probably why a lot of people don’t vote, so they don’t feel like a chump.

    • I’m afraid you are cynical for the wrong reasons. The party system is not ideal, but it does provide a number of credible options. Government is not the opposite of “productive people” (whatever that means). Government is not making society less “productive.” And government is more efficient than is generally estimated. Moreover, the private sector is full of inefficiencies. That is the nature of all human endeavours: they are flawed. Finally, Canada’s taxes are on the low end of what is needed to fund our social programs and public goods. Taxpayers are doing quite well these days, particularly in terms of federal taxation. I encourage you to read and learn more and see if your views change.

      • Productive means you produce something of tagible value.

        Consumptive means you use other productive peoples earned wealth for purposes of consumption.

        Government is consumption. Alble on welfare is consumption… G8 parties are consumption. PM, Senate et al are consumption.

        If consumptive take too much from productive, productive need higher wages and become non-competitive as a result. Less jobs too as job and wealth move elsewhere.

        It is why Greece, Iceland, Cyprus and others are broken down economies of debt, as debt is consumption.

        But hey, our universities don’t teach old style real economics. They teach BS and scams, debt can be infinite and no one needs to really be productive crap. This consumptive versus productive stuff is right out of some 30s, 40s and 50s economics texts. People like Keynes were unemployed economists looking for a job, got jobs pandering feel good to politicians that they could spend without repercussions.

        Didn’t work out. Answer this, if Keynes and debt-spend economics so good how come so many are unemployed and crappy economy now that it has been standard fare since 2006?

        As Einsien sad, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting better results. The greed of a debt fix blinds people from the truths.