What Stephen Harper must say on Oct. 16

Time for another Conservative Reset Moment


Chris Wattie / Reuters

Wake the kids, phone the neighbours, it’s time for another Harper Government Reset Moment.

Every few months, the press gallery decides the government is getting tired and that it’s time to hit the reset button. The last Reset Moment came in July, when the Prime Minister shuffled his cabinet. But, perhaps surprisingly, the jolt of adrenalin that resulted from watching Rob Nicholson and Peter MacKay switch portfolios turned out to be fleeting.

Before that, Stephen Harper was hoping to use the Conservative convention in Calgary to relaunch after a lousy spring. But in June, the heavens opened and much of Alberta was flooded out, so the Conservative convention was postponed until Halloween.

So the next Reset Moment will come on Oct. 16, when Governor General David Johnston will read the Speech from the Throne outlining the Harper government’s policy plans. From John Ivison, a National Post columnist whose virtues include a good pipeline into the government, comes news that this Throne Speech will feature a “consumers first” agenda that will “pit the Conservatives against some of Canada’s largest airlines, telecom companies and financial institutions.” There’s apparently talk of a “consumer bill of rights” that would mandate or, at least, plead for, less confusing airline-ticket pricing and cheaper phone bills.

The notion has a lot to recommend it. It’s populist stuff that would seek to keep this government closely identified with the concerns of middle-class families. And it exploits a potential emerging weakness in the NDP. Former leader Jack Layton was big on the concerns of ordinary Canadians. He was always talking about policies “for the kitchen table, not the boardroom table.” The new guy, Tom Mulcair, might be less persuasive in that role, as might the Liberal, Justin Trudeau. Parking himself at the kitchen table offers at least a chance for Harper to burnish his regular-guy credentials.

Finally, getting righteous on behalf of consumers would have the virtue of novelty. If this government stands up for consumers, it has until now been bashful about saying so. The most recent Throne Speech, only 25 months ago, contained no mention of the word “consumer.” Previous Throne Speeches—there have been six in total from various Harper governments up to now—contained hardly any more language on consumers’ rights. But those old speeches make fun reading today anyway, for their mix of forced rhetoric, policy dead ends and, here and there, a few real portents of what Harper had in store.

On Oct. 16, 2007, Michaëlle Jean delivered the Harper government’s second Throne Speech. It contained one reference to consumers. “Our government shares the concern of parents about the safety of consumer products and food.” It also promised “binding national regulations on greenhouse-gas emissions across all major industrial sectors—with requirements for emissions reductions starting this year.” Six years later, there are still no regulations for the oil sands.

On Nov. 19, 2008, after Harper’s first re-election, everyone was back in the Senate for another big speech. “Our government will follow through with legislation providing better oversight of food, drug and consumer products,” Jean said. The government also promised to “respect the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories and . . . enshrine its principles of federalism in a charter of open federalism.” That didn’t happen.

The 2008 Speech’s odes to Parliament’s greatness read a little funny in retrospect. “Parliament is Canada’s most important national institution . . . Parliament should be an expression of our highest ideals and deepest values, our greatest hopes and grandest dreams for the future of our children.” Two weeks later, the three opposition parties tried to give Harper’s job to Stéphane Dion. Harper promptly petitioned the GG to prorogue the session, thereby saving his bacon. Rarely since has Parliament expressed anyone’s values or hopes. Even Harper prefers to express his values and hopes as far from the Commons as he can get.

The next Throne Speech, on Jan. 26, 2009, was so short, it would have fit into 35 tweets of 140 characters each. “Our government is acting to ensure access to credit for businesses and consumers,” it said, and not much else.

The Throne Speech of March 3, 2010 (“Our government will reintroduce legislation to protect Canadian families from unsafe food, drug and consumer products”), contained one colossal screw-up: the proposal, shelved before nightfall amid nationwide derision, to “ask Parliament to examine the original gender-neutral English wording of the national anthem.” Amid the hoots and guffaws, audiences might have missed serious news. To eliminate the jumbo, recession-fuelled deficit, Harper (via Jean, still; it would be her last Throne Speech) promised “to restrain federal program spending overall, while protecting growth in transfers that directly benefit Canadians, such as pensions, health care and education.” Those cuts in Ottawa, made all the sharper because transfers to individuals and provinces were held steady, have guided Harper’s actions consistently since.

But the promises you keep aren’t the ones that cause trouble. It’s the ones you miss or the things you do without warning. The 2011 Throne Speech featured promises to complete free-trade negotiations with Europe in 2012, and India in 2013. Neither goal will be met. Truth be told, the big guy hates Throne Speeches, read haltingly by someone else in a stuffy room with lousy visuals. Worst of all, they restrict what he treasures, his room to improvise in the face of changing events. Stephen Harper’s ideal Throne Speech would be three words long and read by Harper himself: “I’ve got this.”

On the web: For more Paul Wells, visit his blog at macleans.ca/inklesswells


What Stephen Harper must say on Oct. 16

  1. I suspect the “reset” will result in a return to “default” mode. They’ll just put lipstick on the pig and try to sell it as a poodle.

    • It’s really simple to govern a country,all you have to do is respect and listen to the
      people who you work for!!

      • Well, since that hasn’t in North America for decades it’s apparently more complicated than it sounds.

      • That would require honesty.

  2. Maybe Harper should start work on giving EC more investigative powers, like he promised to do and seems to have forgotten about. What’s up with that, Harper? You afraid of what EC will find out about you and your Cons?

  3. What reset, same stuff repackaged, taking the word “consumer” from the last NDP proposal for a consumers bill of righta redressing it and calling it their own. They only represent the consumer insofar as their full fledged support for the corporate sector. As for regulations for oil and gas they are waiting for the industry to write them thus ensuring they are absolutely useless in terms of greenhouse gas emission reductions, so we will never see them from this bunch of clowns. You know the song, “send in the clowns, don’t bother, they’re here”

  4. All I want to hear from him is GOODBYE. Resign . Do Canada some good

    • Don’t hold your breath.

  5. “What Stephen Harper must say on Oct. 16″

    He should start with an abject apology for his disastrous choices of Senators and close circle of advisors, some of whom seem to be … um… unfit for much of anything. A few are even unsure of where they live.

    He could follow with an apology for being a close-mouthed control freak who is the complete opposite of what he promised as a government; open, accountable, honest.

    And if he has any courage, any dignity, he might actually resign and run on his cabinet’s sorry record of Vic Toews quotes, Tony ‘Gazebo” Clement’s national security schemes and his Senatorial appointments’ (something he swore he’d never do) public record of financial dishonesty.

    He should hire people with personal integrity this time to run the campaign. The last lot seem, to many of us, (the majority in fact), to have acted fraudulently.


    That’s what you might say and do, Mr. Harper. Most of us Canadians are simply disgusted by you, your personal choices, your penchant for distrust and control and your inability to build bridges anywhere.

    In a very Canadian way, Sir, save a shred of your own dignity and resign before we fire you.

  6. To: a party that has come to confuse the economy with corporate interests
    re: October 16th Speech from the Throne

    Dear members of the Conservative Reform Alliance Party,

    If you are serious about helping Canadian consumers, please announce your intention to pass legislation that labels GMO products in the food that Canadians eat, please tax corporations and the wealthy at a level that is commensurate with the rest of the electorate – a late June “tax free day” (what the average Canadian experiences) would be much fairer than the January 30th that corporations currently enjoy; and do something about making the environment that we all share and upon which we all rely for ours and our children’s futures into something that will be protected for its intrinsic as well as its extrinsic worth. If you do these things, we will eat healthier foods and thus lead more productive lives, we can afford more essential services through transfer payments that support health care and education, and perhaps we can rummage around at the bottom of Pandora’s Box and find hope once again as Canadians and as one of the species on planet earth.

    Sincerely yours,
    Terry Korman

    • The throne speech in a nutshell.

      “All trade pacts are now passed by order in council.”

      The Governor General

      “Parliament is now porouged until September 2015”

      Prime Minister

      “Have a nice day”.

  7. Sounds like the plan is throw some change on the floor and let the rubes dive for it, most Canadians are a bit more sophisticated. It’s housing and the cost of living stupid it’s also insulting to counter those concerns with employment numbers/merger deals/foreign investment/blither.

    This is the NDP heartland and they know how to address those real concerns not for us (a Canadian trait) directly but for our children. The NDP are going to strengthen the message “It’s Your Turn to Make A Difference”. People had a real stake in the last election they could make a difference and they still can. Cut to Jack rolling up sleeve…Booomm! standing beside Tom double….Booomm!

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