Time for another Harper Government Reset Moment

A speech so delicious, Harper will eat his words


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


Time for another Harper Government Reset Moment

    • Harris’s case of Harper Derangement Syndrome is absolute. That’s about all this quote proves

    • What PortageMain said. One savours Harris because of the agony Harper causes him to suffer.

  1. The Ottawa pundit apologists should be launching the Ignatieff snark fest, cheap shot extravaganza, personal attack machine pretty soon. Not Wells of course, he’s above that.
    We always said iggy didn’t know much and wasn’t all that smart.

    • Iggy knew exactly what was going on, had Harper’s number but I think he got messed up by his handlers – who are thankfully all gone thanks to Trudeau. Ignatieff isn’t a politician, doesn’t have the instincts, but he did have some great ideas for Canada. Hope we see them come up again in the future.

  2. here is whats going to happen in the autumn throne speech. their will be no questions about the throne speech by the opposition members, only questions about the senate scandal. after a week of cross examination by opposition parties, harper will cut and run(gutless chicken) away without answering any questions and will look for a trip out of the country until the Christmas break. that schedule is already in the makings. I always used to think paul wells was a good writer, but I think he is sometimes a little too naïve about harper. it seems all the scandals are not as important to mr wells, its all about how to beat the other guy and never whats good or right for the country. thank god for writers like Michael Harris, who speaks the whole truth and nothing but the truth about harper.

    • Reading Harris is certainly fun if you don’t happen to like Harper [as neither you nor i do] but …the whole truth and nothing but the truth about Harper?
      C’mon, admit it, you have to come to someone like Wells for a balanced picture. It’s not his remit[ or choice] to take sides as Harris does. Best to read the best of both eh.
      Besides, do you really want all the good journos to merely echo the Harris quote below? How boring and dull would that be?

  3. Wouldn’t it be more fun to launch and perpetuate a rumour that Harper will resign during the Throne Speech and hand the interim reins over to .. hmm, to whom?

    I think, given the issues in PQ, he will hand them over to the guy from Beauce — I cannot think of his name but the one who had the gangster moll as a girlfriend.

  4. Canada is a cesspool of corruption. Harper is no Conservative, he is a Reformer of his, Northern Foundation days of 1989. So we all know exactly what Harper is. We even went to war, over what Harper is.

    Harper is handing Canada over to Communist China. The High Arctic resources, tar sands, mines, timber and our Canadian farmland. Harper also signed a deal with, the Communist China Army.

    Harper has no honor, decency, ethics nor morals, what-so-ever. I don’t doubt Harper’s prorogue will stretch until after x-mas. Harper has attended Parliament, 5 days in 6 months. I really doubt there will be, a next election. Not that it matters, Harper would cheat to win, as he has done before.

  5. “I’ve got this.” You forgot to add the sotto voce…”So butt out!”

    Nothing wrong in principle with claiming to have a handle on stuff…it’s all the bs, the flagrant lying, the strategic gamesmanship, the incessant wedge politics and the unwillingness to consider other points of view on their merit that gets his critics so riled. But i guess that’s what you really mean by, “I’ve got this”, emphasis on the solitary I.

    • was “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” too many words?

  6. http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/09/20/quebec_government_embraces_stephen_harpers_approach_to_governance_hbert.html

    “Next month, many federal observers will be parsing Harper’s mid-mandate throne speech for elements of the prime minister’s legacy. They would be better advised to look for his obvious transformative impact on the country’s political culture. It is at work these days in the province that otherwise most likes to cast itself as a Harper-free zone.”

    This is what i fear will be the real legacy of SH to come. A smaller govt in Ottawa may well please more than a few Canadians, but in my view the price we will have paid to get there will have been, and already is too steep. Process really does matter. And the means really does effect the ends.

  7. >pit the Conservatives against some of Canada’s largest airlines, telecom companies and financial institutions.

    Or put another way, Pit the Conservatives against the Liberals.

  8. Komarade Wells I’m curious will you be taking time off from writing this drivel to become the Petite Dauphin campaign manager??

    • I bet you worked pretty hard on this comment.

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  10. Halloween is supposed to be a scary time but this year could be the scariest ever. The reform/conservative convention in Calgary is already scaring me. They will probably discussing many things close to the PM’s heart. i.e. how to keep more decisions secret, how to further weaken environmental laws, how to get more money for action plan and hate ads, how to funnel more taxpayer money to big oil, how to cut corporate taxes more, how to avoid press conferences, how to privatize more of healthcare and most importantly how to get more pandas from China for photo ops!

  11. In all honesty, I have not seen a PM of any note in Canada since well before Tru-Doh! – so who really cares about this “reset”

    The vast majority of Canadians probably do not even know it is taking place – which in itself tells me how little people in Canada even care about the running of the country – they are more concerned with paying their power bill and feeding their family.

    The party does not matter – there simply have not been any prime ministers who have improved the lives of average Canadians to any great extent in my lifetime.

  12. Reset. Let’s get closer to Rob Ford.

  13. Hey Paul. I think Harper needs someone to defend him against the charges in this New York Times editorial. Or at least create a diversion re whether it’s signed or not or something like that.

  14. Actually, what I find fascinating is the Harper government’s ability to throw one shiny diversion out there that “owns” the media and water coolers for the few days when we all should be paying attention to the real stuff. Throne speech becomes… a lyric change in O Canada. Budget becomes… bye-bye penny.

    They’ve attempted such tricks often enough that they must have a pretty dim view of the national media. They’ve gotten away with these tricks enough that their pretty dim view is wholly justified.

  15. Hi Paul,

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