This afternoon, Governor General David Johnston delivered the Speech from the Throne, a Hail Mary of oratory, with which Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants to put a summer of scandal behind him. Proroguing Parliament in mid-August, the government said they need an extra month and half to prepare a new list of objects they wanted to tackle in the fall session, and the result was a veritable recital of Conservative talking points on the issues of budget, economy and law and order. But the question remains: are the opposition and Canadians willing to hear the government out on their new wish list, or continue to fight the battles already in progress?
The Canadian Press outlined the highlights from the Throne Speech, which included:
Legislation coming to require balanced budgets during normal economic times and strict timelines for restoring balance in the event of an crisis.
Ugh. I have a big problem with this because it promotes the erroneous notion that balancing a government budget and budgeting a household are roughly analogous even when accounting for scale. Also, it does seem odd for the Conservatives to come out with this after years of deficit budgets. I realize there's been extenuating circumstances since 2008,o f course, but this is a government that inherited huge surpluses and was continuing to project huge surpluses as late as spring 2008. Still, it's good talking point for the Conservative base, and a good piece of election policy. Can they deliver though? That's the question, and even the base has its doubts.
Negotiations will soon be complete in a long-awaited comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union.
Much to Canadian dairy producers' chagrin since it will allow the import of cheaper European cheeses. The government says that they'll offer compensation for dairy producers, which might cause a hiccup for this next point...
The overall federal operating budget will be frozen.
Does that mean there'll be no new spending cuts, or just no new spending?
Government hiring will be restrained, spending systems will be reformed and public service pay and benefits will be "reasonable, responsible and in the public interest."
Again, what does that mean? Are we looking at freezing government wages and benefits? Now Canadians would like to see some government workers lose benefits and get their pay cut or frozen, but somehow I don't think these are the workers the government has in mind.
Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani activist who was targeted by the Taliban over her efforts to promote education for girls, will be given honorary Canadian citizenship.
She took a bullet to the head for pushing the idea of girls getting educated, who wouldn't be in favour of making her an honourary Canadian?
Canadians will be permitted to take beer and spirits across provincial boundaries for personal consumption.
A very pressing issue, obviously.
The government will take steps to reduce cell phone roaming costs and will require TV providers to unbundle channels to allow consumers to pick and choose.
Another irksome issue, but hardly one that requires immediate action. It's here in the throne speech purely to appeal to middle class, suburban voters. "I can't get the cable channels I want! I can't get the phone plan I want!" #firstworldproblems. Also, who will pay for the Conservatives generosity when cable and wireless companies are looking compensate for lost revenue?
The government says it will renew efforts to address the issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women.
Important issue, but this seems like lip service more than anything else.
New tough-on-crime legislation will ensure that the worst criminals serve sentences for life and will end the practice of automatic early release for serious, repeat offenders.
Again, playing to the base. Do we have some kind of epidemic of lawlessness in this country where we have to build bigger prisons and make sentences more stringent? Because I could swear the violent crime rate is going down...
The government will get tougher on drug policy and "close loopholes that allow for the feeding of addiction under the guise of treatment."
More appeals. If you do drugs, you go to jail. No ifs, ands, or buts!
The government will reach out to offer more support to homeless veterans and build on a program to put veterans in good jobs.
Like aboriginal issues, this gets a lot of people talking, but not to the extent that anything ever gets done. Still, it would be nice to see a government so intent on spending millions on the hardware of war, spread some of the wealth to the people coming out the other side of war, some of whom really need the extra help.
The National War Memorial will be re-dedicated to the memory of all who fought for the country.
Let's quote Michael Blais, president of Canadian Veterans Advocacy. "[It's] Fluff. [...] “It’s important that veterans be recognized, yes, but the Conservatives are just wrapping themselves in the flag. It’s headlines without substance, to make themselves look good."
If Blias' reaction is any indication, then the throne speech will achieve exactly nothing in terms of clearing the air and getting Parliament down to business. Adding insult to injury, Harper will be ducking the first Question Period of the fall session, and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair got his knives out while talking to the CBC's Evan Solomon, calling Harper's Question Period hall pass an example of "cowardly behaviour" that was both both "undignified and unprecedented."
"He can run, even to Brussels, but he can't hide," Mulcair said channeling boxer Joe Louis.
Even Justin Trudeau got in a Harper slam. "I think we've gotten used to a prime minister that prefers not to be held accountable," the Liberal leader said.
Sadly for the Prime Minister, it looks like his fresh start is half-baked.