No vision from Throne Speech

  • October 26, 2007
{mosimage}The Speech from the Throne, read with pomp and ceremony by the Governor General of Canada, is supposed to represent a vision of hope and ambition for the entire nation. In fact, this is just what Stephen Harper’s Conservative government promised in its Oct. 16 address to Parliament. Unfortunately, this vision appears myopic and stunted, a thing focused less on building a grand nation than winning the next election.

The mass media coverage of the speech concentrated on the political machinations surrounding it. Who wins? Who loses? Will there be an election and when? But such ephemeral questions entirely miss the point of a throne speech. More important is: How will this government lead the nation?

The speech provides important answers to that question, though they are not found in the rhetoric about being a “generous society” concerned with the “well-being of others” and protecting the “spirit of this bountiful land.” The real answers are found in what the government proposes to do over the next couple of months — in between playing cat-and-mouse with the Opposition in the House of Commons.

It is in that nitty-gritty detail that Canadians will find the real government agenda. Unfortunately, it is one bereft of generosity, or hope, or compassion. Instead, it reflects the Conservatives’ preoccupation with issues on the fringes of the real concerns of Canadians: a tough crime bill to be introduced as violent crime continues to decline; another cut to the Goods and Services Tax despite all credible economic testimony that such tax reductions do nothing for the nation’s well-being; half-hearted measures to battle global warming; reducing federal power to build national social programs by legislating away its right to develop new shared-cost programs with the provinces; reforming the Senate. These are not issues that animate the bulk of Canadians. Nor do they address the truly urgent challenges facing the nation.

Such measures will do little to fight poverty among women and children. They will barely make a dent in our non-stop increase in greenhouse gases. They entirely miss the roots of crime found in our neglected and decaying urban infrastructure, our overtaxed social safety net and our churlish approach to immigrants and refugees.

Granted, between the copious paragraphs on tax cuts and harsh crime-fighting measures, there are occasional bits of light. There is a recognition that more needs to be done to provide affordable housing in the North for First Nations. There is recognition that Canada’s mission in Afghanistan must shift from fighting to helping the Afghan people defend themselves (though with the caveat that the fighting will likely continue two years past the 2009 end date for the mission). But the paucity of detail on both these issues suggest Canadians can expect more of the status quo.

After having to read such a miserly speech, Governor General Michaëlle Jean must have almost choked when she was called upon in the text’s final sentence to enjoin “Divine Providence” to guide the parliamentarians in their work. They surely need God’s guidance, but not to enact this mess.

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