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Bob Rae and Rod Love: Throne Speech was too much — and not enough

Former Liberal Member of Parliament Bob Rae and political strategist Rod Love give their take on yesterday's Throne Speech. Was it too much or not enough?

Micro-managing to an absurd extent

As a matter of routine, word goes out from Privy Council Office to departments to get their wish list in for the Throne Speech, and then the central wordsmiths take those items and mix them with the narrative from central casting.

One would have thought that in a government as centrally directed as this one, most of those wish list items would have found their way to the cutting room floor. A shorter, sharper document would have emerged, giving the country a clear sense of the choices ahead.

Instead we have a turgid catch-all, with a nod in almost every direction, and an overall sense that no problem is too small not to have its own special law to make sure it goes away for all time. The occasionally grandiose rhetoric about freedom is followed by the promise that everyone can choose their own cable channels.

The great contradiction is that a government supposedly committed to less interference is in fact motivated by a desire to pass a law on every conceivable subject, no matter how trivial. These guys are micromanaging to an absolutely absurd extent.

A government that has increased Canada’s debt by more than $150-billion delivers a lecture on the importance of balanced budgets, and then promises to pass a law that will bind future governments not to do what the Conservatives did. It is not just the hubris that is breathtaking: It is the absurdity of trying to steer how subsequent governments deal with public finances. A glance at the experience of our American friends might tell us that passing laws on this stuff only creates unnecessary headaches in the future. This is a waste of time and effort, an absurd sideshow. Ted Cruz and the Tea Party are not role models.

The Speech reflects what we know above all about this government: Rather than realities, it is obsessed with symbols and spin, and with appearances and arguments. It was hard to find a substantive thread, because it was so drenched in its own rhetorical self-satisfaction, whacking the opposition parties at almost every turn before returning to another mind-numbing list of micro-promises and mini-pledges.

The calculation seems to be that what worked in 2006, a tax credit for this, a grant for that, will work again, that the appetite for yet another amendment to the Criminal Code will prove, in fact, endless, and that there is no limit to the willingness of 40 per cent of the public to buy into this kind of politics.

This is not just about catering to consumerism. It is vastly more cynical than that. A government that cannot find the answer to the riddle of robocalls or disappearing cheques in the Senate wants us to turn our attention to finding what happened to the Franklin expedition.

Parents trying to quiet a child crying in a crib might wave bright baubles in the air, hoping that one of them will finally catch tear-filled eyes and stop the racket. Mr. Harper will find no such success. The noise will continue because this is not so much a program for governing as it is a series of distractions from the real challenges facing the country and its people.

Mr. Harper's strength was supposed to be a sense that he is a serious man dealing with weighty issues. This throne speech does not, in fact, reinforce that feeling. Rather, it gives full rein to the spin meisters and the experts at message and packaging. Parliament will be set off on a series of wild goose chases that will take it further and further away from the real choices facing Canadians.

Bob Rae is a former member of Parliament and former premier of Ontario.

We need more than a parade of fools in 18th-century robes

Here is the first thing to remember about Wednesday’s ‘Speech From the Throne’: the Throne had nothing to do with it. Neither did the Governor-General.

He read it, but he didn’t write a word of it.

This speech was written by the Prime Minister’s Office after a few months of surveys by their friends in the polling industry, whose billings to the government will never appear in any Public Accounts you can find.

Well, you might find something in Public Accounts – in maybe April of the year 2024, if you have a lot of time and money, but we will all be dead when the truth is told, which is, um, their point.

Don’t get me wrong: I did this for the government of Alberta for a long time – write a political speech, give it to an allegedly non-political person with a nice suit or skirt who sits in a fabulous wooden chair with a canopy, get him or her to read it as a veneer of political independence, and then get on with legislating the political agenda that was all ready to go in the first place.

This is what happens when a 350 year old ‘tradition’ continues long after the world has changed – the absurdities of a British parliamentary democracy trying to impose its age-old traditions on a nation that is clearly independent and has a generation of 14-year-olds with iPads who surf the world and can’t fathom why their parents implore them to vote.

Voter turnout, particularly among youth, is plummeting?


You mean they aren’t gathered around the old black-and-white television to watch the following:

The parade of fools in 18th-century robes, who bang on the elaborate wooden door of the House of Commons, which is opened only to have the visitors told they cannot enter, and that they must be told to turn around and go back to the Senate Chamber – the Senate, where a vote is akin to a VISA – and everybody listens to a speech written by a 25-year-old, Twitter-obsessed pollster.

Who could not get excited?

Regardless of all that, we received a ‘Speech From the Throne’ in October of 2013 that had nothing to do with October of 2013 – and a lot to do with May of 2015, which by an amazing coincidence is the likely month and year of the next federal election.

Fascinated, obsessed, captured, prisoners to the system that has made them virtual inmates, the national Ottawa-based news media sends forth breathless coverage of the Speech From the Throne – live from the foyer of the Center Block!! – to a nation that doesn’t care, a population that has so tuned out the irrelevance of Ottawa that the national mood is simply “leave me alone – make Duffy and Wallin pay up and then call me later.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way – not in a country with this much potential.

Yet, we apparently have a Minister of Democratic Reform. So, how about a Speech From the Throne devoted to one single thing: Democratic Reform?

Let Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s 2014 budget speech cover everything else the government of Canada is going to do and how we are going to pay for it.

How about a Speech From the Throne that actually proposed changing our democratic systems, institutions, nonsensical parliamentary procedural straight-jackets, first-past-the-post voting patters that terribly distort the actual wishes of voters, electoral financial rules that make it impossible to send your private personal contribution to whomever you want, and on and on.

Democratic Reform?

Bring it.

And, to every busybody and special interest group out there that that thinks this is how you get to ride your personal constitutional hobby horse: Stay home.

We are trying to fix a country – not mess it up further.

A younger Stephen Harper actually talked about all this once.

But then, 24 Sussex Drive…

You know.

Rod Love is a consultant who was chief of staff to former Alberta premier Ralph Klein.

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