Trudeau’s tweet from the Throne

Friday’s speech weighed in at just 1,700 words. But there’s a lot of marching in these marching orders.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Sharon Johnston listen as Governor General David Johnston delivers the speech from the throne in the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday December 4, 2015. Sean Kilpatrick/CP;

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Sharon Johnston listen as Governor General David Johnston delivers the speech from the throne in the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday December 4, 2015. Sean Kilpatrick/CP;

I never tire of the optics of Speeches from the Throne. Not the content of each speech, or not only that, but simply the geometry of the event. The feng shui of it. The Senators sit in their plushy red-lined digs and wait while servants run down the hall to fetch the rabble—the ordinary members of Parliament, elected by the grimy unwashed.

Trudging back down the hallway, MPs are permitted to stand at the door of the Upper Chamber but not to enter it. They listen, kids outside a candy shop, while the Queen’s man in Ottawa reads out their orders for the next few years. And then the Governor General tops it all off by handing these rowdy interlopers the bill. “Members of the House of Commons, you will be asked to appropriate the funds required to carry out the services and expenditures authorized by Parliament,” David Johnson said at the end of Friday’s Speech from the Throne.

Related: Maclean’s annotates the Throne Speech with expert analysis and context

They will, in point of fact, be asked to do rather more than that. Much has already been made of how short Friday’s speech was: 1,700 words, barely one-quarter as long as the last speech Johnson delivered at Stephen Harper’s behest in 2013. At the time I called that speech “a breathtaking spout of free-associating bloviation.” This one is a haiku by comparison, shorter by 700 words than any Throne Speech I have ever heard in my approximately 147 years on Parliament Hill.

But word length can be misleading. Ottawa is dedicated to the principle that you can speak forever without saying anything. Similarly, or inversely, or something, you can fit an epoch into a really short Throne Speech. There’s a lot of marching in these marching orders. They began with the wholly unsurprising news that “The Government will, as an immediate priority, deliver a tax cut for the middle class.” But the rest followed at a racehorse tempo: “the new National Child Benefit;” “significant” investments in infrastructure; enhanced pensions and Employment Insurance; easier access to post-secondary education; and a promise to “begin” work on a new health accord with provinces.

That’s just the first page of commitments from the new government. The second page promises electoral reform (“2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system”), Senate reform and House of Commons reform. After that came a price on carbon, a new “nation-to-nation” relationship with First Nations, 25,000 Syrian refugees by February, and legal pot.

None of this was new. That’s by design. Trudeau’s public statements, his written record to date, and the anecdotal evidence I’ve gleaned from people who work with him all suggest he wants to go back to the voters in 2019 with a concrete record of achievement, and he wants that record to resemble his promises in 2015. Repetition and persistence, he hopes, will help his government build that record.

Watch: Jean Chretien gives advice to Justin Trudeau

Any single item on Trudeau’s list, or at least on my barely pared-down précis above, could wreck his government if botched. If the health accord negotiations lead to federal-provincial strife, or legalized marijuana turns into a lurid string of reefer-madness headlines about stoner kids, or the Syrian target isn’t met or if it’s exceeded or whatever, that’s a high-profile failure and a time sink that will distract Trudeau’s attention from everything else he’s trying to get done.

The tempo will be brisk. The refugee deadline is in February. I’m told to expect a second meeting of first ministers in March; a budget later that month; and a national plan for combating climate change for the beginning of April. By sometime later this spring, Trudeau will have filled at least the 22 current Senate vacancies under his new system with its theoretically non-partisan advisory committee, and if they’re duds, everyone will know it.

Even in a short speech, it was possible to note telling silences and lacunae. The Globe columnist Adam Radwanski pointed out, within minutes after the speech concluded, that it does not promise to implement “all” of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations. Tom Mulcair offered one-stop shopping for anyone wondering what else wasn’t in the speech: nothing on child care, nothing on at-the-door mail delivery. Many noticed there is no language about when the federal budget will be balanced again. Maybe never!

But Trudeau has loaded up his plate for his first years as prime minister. His opponents argued, in effect, that he wanted this job to be someone, not to do something. He is eager to prove them wrong. Every opportunity to succeed is an opportunity to fail, so it should be a fun ride.

Related: The Throne Speech is over. Now what?


Trudeau’s tweet from the Throne

  1. Dear me – any chance you could explain (in brackets) to the great unwashed what “bloviation” means. Guess my undergrad degree doesn’t quality me to read your articles.

    • Definition of BLOVIATE
      intransitive verb
      : to speak or write verbosely and windily

      Search engines are a marvelous invention to counteract ignorance …

      • The difficulty with “bloviating” is not the term itself. It lies in figuring out how not to associate it with the bland “all talk and no sense” Trudeau, and how to associate it with the “terse talk and no-nonsense “Harper. Remembering that we live in a “topsy turvy” planet where black is called white and white is referred to as black might be of a little bit of help. Since search engines are not geared to cater to “altered realities”, it is always best to go back to the Wizard of Oz himself, namely Paul Wells. Or better yet, wait till the Narcotics legislation promised in the throne speech becomes a reality and takes full effect.

    • Guessing your undergrad degree didn’t teach you how to proof read your spelling either.

  2. The first paragraph appears to have been written by a community college journalism major channeling 1968.

    • Paul can get a bit full of himself sometimes.

  3. Hello all;

    RE: “This one is a haiku by comparison, shorter by 700 words than any throne speech I have ever heard in my approximately 147 years on Parliament Hill.”

    “haiku” The haiku is a Japanese verse in three lines. Line one has 5 syllables, line 2 has 7 syllables and line three has 5 syllables. Haiku is a mood poem and it doesn’t use any metaphors or similes.

    147 years on Parliament Hill is a long time, but you have managed to maintain your acumen, veracity and alertness.

    Well done Mr. Wells, well done. We ordinary mortals who shuffle off our mortal coil usually much earlier, can only stop, wish perhaps, and admire.

    Either that or else it is a typo . . . (smiling)

    Best wishes and best regards,

    Mr. Brian Leslie Engler

  4. I see Trudeau as the second coming of a Danny Williams Government of NL, the man with the Midas Touch, whatever Williams done, whether he was right or wrong, it was the way he approached everything with genuine sincerity and honesty. Williams broke the spending scandal in his own caucus when first elect, his numbers went up and he also kept NLs in the loop on everything, always getting out ahead his message being open and transparent. If I could make one complaint about the new Trudeau government, it’s their tardiness with doing pressers.

    • I meant tardiness in both pressers and announcements.

  5. I don’t think I’m liking the media much these days. They seem to be vultures around a carcass, they’re like sharks smelling blood, and circling around the area to catch their prey… And I’m not saying this to be spiteful, but really… Really… Give the man a chance. I voted for him not because he was promising all this stuff you talk about Mr. Wells, but because he seems inspired, willing, and yes, why not say it, he has ambition… And for a politician in this country, that is not a sin, but a virtue that I fully commend.

    • I did not vote for him as even I could see where he would not and could not live up to his promises.Being from the West many of us have learn not to trust the Easterners.

      • Being from the West simply means you’re genetically unable to vote for anyone who’s not a Conservative…. a pig could be elected in the west, as long it draped itself in Tory blue.

        • Alberta has a NDP government.

  6. If Stephen Harper had appointed a unilingual (english) Speaker of the Senate, would the mainstream media cover it up as they have for Justin Trudeau?

    • I have to admit you’ve got one there.

    • Oh dear.
      If Stephen Harper had appointed any speaker I’m guessing the media would have covered it.
      But I’m pretty sure that never happened.

  7. This may be the first government where opposition MPs are secretly happier and have more actual meaningful work to do and more respect than when their own party was in power.

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