On May 14, 1884, Sir Wilfred Laurier gave a talk at the Montreal newspaper La Patrie on Parliamentary life. Of Ottawa he remarked: “I would not want to say anything disparaging of the capital, but it is hard to say anything good of it.”
The exception was the natural beauty of the Parliamentary site, and the buildings themselves “entitled to rank with the best architecture of Europe.” Unfortunately he shared the view of (Alexander) Mackenzie that the buildings were “splendidly adapted for a monastery but never for a legislative assembly.”
Laurier talked about the opening of Parliament, and what a great event it was for Ottawa — all the city was excited, spectators lining up to watch “those old customs and antique solemnities transplanted from another world connecting the Middle Ages with our contemporary epoch, carried by (William) the Conqueror from Normandy into England.”
If you actually listened to Tuesday’s speech from the throne, watched the opening of Parliament on television, or even read reports of it, you had failed to heed the signals sent from Ottawa. In advance propaganda, the speech was billed as a no-news event. The public was not supposed to pay attention. The government’s strategy was first to lower public expectations, and then to divert attention away from its agenda.
Based on the text delivered with good grace by the Governor-General, they succeeded in the first objective — unless of course Canadians decide to read the throne speech, discover it is empty, and look forward to the next election when they can vote against the government.
The speech said the government was “turning over a new leaf.” Other than an attempt to court the sports vote in Toronto, what this was about was the accountability act, the first of the government’s five priorities.
The real news about what that means for the citizens of Ottawa, and the rest of the country will have to wait, and it will not come from the government directly.
The speech itself was designed to hide and conceal what the government is getting up to while hiding behind “accountability” and its other so-called promises.
A much better guide to Conservative intentions (and the place to find the raw speech material for the Liberal leadership hopefuls) can be found on the website of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. Its statement on Canadian leadership priorities From Bronze to Gold despite being replete with more clichÃ©s than the throne speech, does set out what we are likely to see over the next years from either the Harper bunch, or its successors on the Liberal side.
The spin on the Harper effort at a throne speech was follow-up from the election. The Conservatives made five electoral promises, and Tuesday was the announcement of a government carrying through true to its word. There were no specifics in the speech, and no timelines. The promises were designed to win approval, not govern a country. The government plans remain secret.
As Laurier noted in his speech “nothing resembles a school more than Parliament” and the opening of Parliament is “just the same as in school on opening day.”
The festivities of parliamentary greetings, introductions, and renewing of acquaintances continued at the dinner and ball given by the Governor-General at Rideau Hall, Tuesday night.
It is certainly worth celebrating the opening of Parliament. As well, the government could have used the day to inspire Parliament, and the country, but that is not what they chose to do. The Conservatives sought to turn the attention of Canadians away from the important issues being addressed by the Harper government: billions in spending cuts being planned, the re-working of the public service to fit with the pre-conceptions of the Prime Minister about the reduced role for government, the centralization of power in his office, the closing off of media access to ministers, the breaking of agreements signed with the provinces, and the willingness to send Canadian soldiers to their death for reasons of Canadian-American diplomacy.
Laurier would have relished getting at them in his reply to the speech from the throne.