11:52 a.m. ET This just in: Stephen Harper has been alerted to the fact that a) we have an economy, and b) it is in recession. He seems to be handling the news as well as can be expected. As Canadians, we can only assume he had forgotten about both, for it has been months since our Prime Minister spoke to us at length about either.
Over the last three months, according to his official web site, Harper celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the United Macedonians Organization of Canada, celebrated the Year of the Ox, attended the Rotary Pond Hockey Tournament in Mirimachi (research for his book on hockey, no doubt – wink!), presented the Outstanding Achievement Award for the Public Service of Canada, joined in Chanukah celebration at menorah lighting ceremony and supported the Christmas Trees for Troop Families program.
With a schedule like that, it’s not surprising the leader of a G8 country would have trouble squeezing in a few words about something as insignificant as the greatest global financial crisis in three-quarters of a century.
But today, Stephen Harper finally makes the time. A whole entire speech devoted to the economy. Nouns, adjectives, hairspray – the whole deal. Head’s up, recession – today our Prime Minister is totally going to, like, describe you. The TV, the newspapers and the Interwebs are dutifully reporting that Harper spent the whole weekend (wink!) writing all 3,000 words of this speech (nudge!) all by his lonesome (ha!). The only mystery is what the other 2,993 words will be after he says of the current state of the economy: “Move along, please. Nothing to see here.”
12:33 p.m. Interesting strategy – Harper’s come to one of the worst-hit areas of Canada (Ontario), to the home of one of the worst-hit industries in Canada (automobile manufacturing), to make the case to ordinary people in Brampton, Ont., and beyond that… things aren’t actually that bad! Looking forward to the climactic proof point – the fact that he still has a job. All in all, isn’t this a bit like writing a 3,000-word speech about how great television is and then delivering it on According to Jim?
12:35 Harper: “I’m joining you today to talk about our economic action plan.” He adds that he’s determined “to stimulate our economy at the appropriate time.” First, it needs a bubble bath and a massage.
12:36 “We are cutting enormous amounts of red tape and we are doing it quickly.” We have an early favourite in the line most likely to be cited three years from now at Gomery Commission II: Whatever Happened to That $30-billion Again?”
12:37 “I tell people the floor of my office is littered with this red tape. I assure you it’s not blood, it’s just red tape.” These sentences brought to you by The Place Where Politicians’ Jokes Go To Die.
12:40 Every politician has his or her strengths and weaknesses. Doing “hope” is not one of Stephen Harper’s strengths. He’s not a guy who gives off vibes suggesting he’s in possession of things like optimism, confidence or a human heart. Whenever he attempts a grin, I can’t help but feel for the 12 facial muscles being called into action to form the “smile.” They’re like the Teamsters of his face. “What? Again?? We just worked last August.”
12:42 People clap as Harper mentions the strength of our banking system. “Only a financial crisis can get Canadians to applaud the banks.” OK, that was a good one.
12:43 Not sure about how his argument here is going to resonate with people. The whole premise is that we’re better off — or, at least, less worse off — than other nations. Harper talks about our debt-to-GDP ratio being strongest in the G8. But does that matter to you if you’ve just lost your job, or if you’re worried about losing your job? The PM mentions that Japan has been hit by this recession four times as hard as Canada. But can someone in Japan be four times more unemployed that you?
12:44 The Prime Minister has come with visual aids! No doubt he spent all weekend designing them himself <cough notreally cough>. Can’t wait for the one of Ignatieff in the black hat and handlebar moustache tying the Canadian economy to the train tracks.
12:45 Tonally, the whole speech seems waaaay off. Harper just cited Canada’s “comparative” resilience in the face of recession and declared: “If there ever was a time to put away that legendary Canadian modesty, it is now!” Uhh, didn’t we just lose a record number of jobs last month? Hope is one thing, but rubbing tens of thousands of people’s faces in it is quite another.
12:47 Harper hasn’t yet declared this a “great buying opportunity.” But it’s pretty clear that today if a terrific opportunity to demonstrate one’s complete out-of-touchness with the mood of the country and the sentiment on the ground. Barack Obama tried to inspire Americans by citing previous challenges and saying that, although times are tough, America and Americans will prevail. Harper’s message appears to be: “I’d prefer for everything to be great and for our economy to be strong, so let’s pretend it is. P.S. My life is going great!”
12:50 “This is an opportunity to position ourselves to be among the first to go forward when the economy is restored.” Harper’s into the “we can use this recession to our advantage” portion of his address — which would be fine if he’d deployed even a single word to describe, relate to or empathize with the plight of the many thousands of Canadians behind the grim statistics. If he were any more tone deaf he’d be wearing a T-shirt reading, “Recessions Rock!” This is a guy who’d show up at an airplane crash and talk about amazing it is the black box doesn’t have a dent on it.
12:53 Harper references the government’s tax credit on home renovations — then, under the guise of describing how the credit works, he quips: “If you own a home and you have a wife, you will probably be doing home reonvations this year.” HAS ANYONE TOLD THIS MAN WHAT A RECESSION IS, AND HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE BEEN AFFECTED BY IT, AND HOW AVERAGE PEOPLE WHO ARE AFFECTED BY IT OR WORRIED ABOUT IT PROBABLY WON’T BE SPENDING THE SUMMER BUILDING A GODDAMN SOLARIUM?? Harper would be been quite the hit during the Great Depression. “Let me describe to you the details of our three-piece-suit tax credit… hey, why’s everyone here wearing a barrel??!! Wheeeeeeee!”
12:55 Harper says all this stimulus spending is affordable and our deficits will be temporary and dear God — I have never seen Harper look so jazzed and alive. I hesitate to say this but… it’s as though this economic crisis is turning him on. And the way he describes the recession — he makes it sound like the greatest thing ever to happen to Canada. We should have you over every year, Recession! And bring your friend, Deflation!!
12:58 Harper is “very frustrated” with the opposition. Possibly because they don’t respect the complete and utter awesomeness of this wickedly cool recession.
1:00 “Canadians are a… compassionate… people” — well, with the one obvious exception.
1:01 Harper wraps up his speech, probably because he has more pressing duties to attend to, such as asking the recession to marry him.
1:08 I have to admit: I’m kind of stunned. Even I can’t believe that Harper would take three months to give a speech about the economy, and then turn it into a mash note to the recession. Dear Economic Freefall: I love you. You’re so good for Canada. Will you come to my birthday party? A final thought: Our Prime Minister talked three times about debt-to-GDP ratios, and zero times about the daily lives of ordinary Canadians, including the many who despair at what the present offers and fear for what the future holds. I guess he wrote this speech himself after all. No speechwriter could be so inept.