The throne speech and the limitations of pro-consumer politics -

The throne speech and the limitations of pro-consumer politics

John Geddes on the promise and potential of consumer-friendly policies


Unless all the advance buzz—the floating of trial balloons, the testing of messages and the telegraphing of themes—is wrong, tomorrow’s Speech from the Throne will speak to Canadians, first and foremost, as consumers.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper (through his vice-regal master of ceremonies, Governor General David Johnston) will reportedly assure the mythic middle-class voter that the Conservative government has his or her back, when it comes to, say, paying for only the cable TV stations you like or securing justice when the airline bumps you off your flight.

This might seem like a mere variation in tone, a political salesman donning a different checkered jacket. After all, Harper’s government has always appealed to Canadians in no small part by offering tactically focused measures that help out with personal finances, especially all those niche tax breaks for kids’ sports and arts lessons and transit riders’ monthly passes and what have you.

But if the Conservatives are serious about repackaging themselves as the party of consumers, and if they keep it up until the 2015 election, this change will amount to more than a minor marketing adjustment. Consider the throne speech Harper crafted in 2011, not so long ago, after his first majority election triumph. Riffing on the slogan “here for Canadians,” it broke down exactly which Canadians the government was “here for” in, by my count, seven quite precise ways.

On the economic front, the government was “here for jobs and growth” and “here to eliminate the deficit.” In other words, the throne speech spoke to Canadians as taxpayers worried about the state of the nation’s finances and as gainfully employed workers anxious to stay that way.

It was “here to stand on guard for Canada”—backing a strong armed forces as a marker for patriotism—and “here for law-abiding Canadians”—pushing yet again tougher sentences for criminals as a tribute to those who have the decency to obey the law.

It was “here for communities and industries,” code for those rural and resource-based constituencies that are such a reliable part of the Conservative base. And, finally, “here for integrity and accountability,” the only “here-for” category that seemed to address us as citizens in the most fundamental sense, bound by our shared stake in honest, responsible government.

We work, pay our taxes, belong to families and live in communities, stay out of trouble and love the country, and the 2011 throne speech tried to reach us on all these levels. What that first majority agenda of the Harper government did not do was try to push our buttons as consumers—buyers goods and services, shoppers who stand in line or languish on hold until the next agent is available to take our call.

“This is a pro-consumer government,” Employment Minister Jason Kenney says now. You’d hope so. Yet the problem with this as a way of reenergizing, or even re-defining, the government is its lack of deep emotional content. Sure, we all enjoy buying stuff. And we’d like to get it cheaper. But is that the sort of desire that vibrates at the basic, vote-driving level?

I’m not so sure. It’s not a matter of the dollar figures in play. Many of those Tory niche tax breaks were small potatoes in terms of how much money they actually left in any given family’s bank account. But they often carried heavy emotional content: We’re with you in the most important thing you do—raising your kids. Lots of parents appreciated the gesture. Can federal policies designed to change the way you pay for cable or complain to the airline hope to elicit anything like the same response?

The promised consumer-friendly policies sound like they might be popular enough. The question is whether there is any way to connect them to the cherished values of voters, the stories we tell ourselves about what really matters to us.

The late Doug Finley, the most important Conservative campaign strategist behind Harper’s rise to power, once summed up the party’s main goals and sustained promises to me this way: “strengthening the economy, strengthening the military, strengthening communities.”

Had Finley added “strengthening consumers” to his list, it would have diluted the message.


The throne speech and the limitations of pro-consumer politics

  1. Throne Speech…..translation

    The economy is a mess with the biggest deficit in our history and a ballooning debt……the military is a wasteland with none of the things they were promised….the govt is deep in scandal….there’s no daycare….no free trade agreements….no pipeline…..overcrowded prisons…..and we’re into an argument with everybody…..from the UN, the Commonwealth and the US….right down to little Sri Lanka….

    But rejoice… a free market….they’re going to interfere in your cable choices…..!

    Cons are here to sell you snake oil.

    • Yep, the Achilles heel of false democracy, pandering with other peoples money and grand kids debt for a greed fix today.

      I say false democracy as I don’t see a less expensive government as an option on an of my ballots be it city, provincial and federal. And if one does exist, media will arrange for its demise.

      So the system degrades to being one of tax the middle class productive poor to feed welfare, corruption, bailouts, inflated contracts, money for nothing programs and more waste.

      Corrupt-statism is a great idea so long as the credit is good and other people pay for it. When the credit runs out and those that pay for it leave, they can all share having nothing but unemployment, debt and discontentment.

      Canada has a pretty bleak economic outlook, Greece, Cyprus, Ireland, Iceland and others come to mind as the only sustainable outcome of todays government statism bloat is sustainable decline.

  2. Here is whats going to happen new CONsumer throne goodies speech. The CONsumer companies that the cons will go after, will find other ways to keep your bills high in the future. These greedy companies don’t like to give up money that easy. And the airlines will find some other small print to put on their ticket sales in order to fudge the legislation in their favor before the ink hits the paper for the new CONsumer friendly governments throne speech.

    • And I assume you just love to give up money? You give 100% of your paycheck to charity, right? Give me a break with this “greedy company” crap. Do you work for a company that hates making money? What kind of economy do you think we’d have if companies didn’t make money?

  3. In the last half of the 19th century people of the working class in Europe were beginning to show interest in the ideas of socialism and syndicalism. Some members of the intelligentsia, particularly the Catholic intelligentsia, decided to formulate an alternative to socialism which would emphasize social justice without the radical solution of the abolition of private property. The result was called Corporatism.

    The basic idea of corporatism is that the society and economy of a country should be organized into major interest groups (sometimes called corporations) and representatives of those interest groups settle any problems through negotiation and joint agreement. In contrast to a market economy which operates through competition a corporate economic works through collective bargaining.

    • Forget the complexity.

      Any system no mater what the name is will ultimately fail if all parties don’t profit profit from the deals. When one party dictates to the other, it is going to ultimately fail, just a mater of time for failure to occur. Any good system has to have fair balances and that doesn’t occur for long if any party gets too much control over your life as the temptation is to dictate.

      Ethics and accountability have more to do with success or failure of any economy. When like today, you get low accountability and poor ethics, you get depressions and economic failure as productive people don’t get to keep enough of their wealth, as you are feeding 5 layers of corruption, city, prov, Ottawa, mafia and FN…all on the backs of productive middle class.

      Largest growth in standard of living and in population was when 96% of us didn’t pay income tax and customs taxes were considerablly lower. We had more local governemtn and a lot less federal governemtn. Total tax load on productive people was a lot less than today, as not supporting “government children” we had more of our own children.

      But hey, “Canadian socialism” is really fleabagger mentality of freeloaders. Always looking for other peoples money for nothing without regards to what it does for society. So modern day taxation has become modern day slavery as not much value comes back to producers.

  4. “And, finally, “here for integrity and accountability,” the only “here-for” category that seemed to address us as citizens in the most fundamental sense, bound by our shared stake in honest, responsible government.”

    Well, promise made, promise kept, amirite?

    • LOL!!!

  5. They were going with ‘A chicken in every pot’ but were worried the word pot would only bring more attention to Trudeau. And of course the word chicken would bring up the dreaded supply management which they go out of their way to avoid discussing. I am looking forward to that $100 a month check for my cable bill though.

  6. All talk, all BS and no real tangible action. The type of deception the Canadians love.

    No one questioning the #1 reason why life in Canada is so expensive. Always blame deflect to vendors right?

    None of these parties represent you, they represent their back room buddies and lobbiests. Your only choice on the ballot is which corrupt party gets more of your own money to fund their buddies, bailouts, inflated contracts and waste. Not one option leaves you with more of your own money, not a one. All are statism bloat parties representing back room interests.

    As the real #1 cost making Canada expensive is the governments themselves. $40+ billion in tariffs and price fixing CRTC, RIV, dairy boards, et al. Thus is where the inflated costs really are.

    CRA charges are 3.5% of each tax dollar, Credit card companies do a whole lot more in credit, terminal count and transactions, including income reports, collections, credit and all for their 2-3%. CRA charges a lot more to do a lot less transactions, no facilitation of business activity, no credit, just KGB like confiscation of peoples money. So Competition Bureau, another useless part of governemtn ignores government costs yet pins credit card companies as the cause, typical government deception.

    But we are brainwashed from G1 forward never to question the most expensive item in our lives, government. Yep, we are well managed in how we think.