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Governor General David Johnston delivers the Speech from the Throne in the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday June 3, 2011.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The opening passages of the Speech from the Throne on Friday gave priority to down-to-earth economic concerns. David Johnston, the Governor-General, spoke of a better future, of jobs and growth, excellence and opportunity, of "hard work and good ideas," in a smarter, more caring nation. The speech did warn of the fragility of the global economy and Canada's own aging work force, but was not alarmist. Skeptics might think that a projected Digital Economy Strategy sounds vague, but the idea includes enhancement of digital infrastructure, which is encouragingly concrete. All this is sensible and welcome.

In effect, Stephen Harper has honoured his promise, immediately after the election, not to present the Canadian public with surprises. There were no marked deviations from the pre-election budget, the election platform or indeed the legislative program in the previous Parliament. Issues with hot-button elements were de-emphasized by placement toward the end of the speech.

The speech rightly pointed to the free-trade agreements achieved since Mr. Harper first took power in 2006, and to those that are works-in-progress, especially the highly promising and ambitious negotiations with the European Union, in which the provinces are full participants. Nevertheless, the assurance - delivered in French as if specifically addressed to Quebec farm interests - that the federal government will keep on defending supply management struck an undesirably stodgy note. And the proposition that the government "will continue to welcome foreign investment that benefits Canada" only serves as a reminder that the Harper government has not yet fulfilled its promise to clarify what "net benefit to Canada" means in the Investment Canada Act.

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The Speech from the Throne did not elaborate on the criminal legislative program that may result in an expensive, disproportionate reliance on incarceration, but Mr. Johnston's words did not suggest an intention to go farther in that direction.

On the whole, the speech effectively communicated the prospect of four years of good governance.

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