Image of Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre ahead of the 2023 federal budget.
Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre. Credit: Pierre Poilievre / Facebook Credit: Pierre Poilievre / Facebook

I’ve always considered budget speeches performative (one of those terms that suddenly, inexplicably, sprout everywhere. I’m hoping it replaces the TV reporters’ recent, “Give a listen.”) versus substantial.

Example, a Canadian finance minister’s new shoes — though it’s a less elegant prop than the U.K.’s red dispatch box. The most ritualistic part is the lock-up of journalists, who are then released collectively, like the running of the bulls in Pamplona.

I found the most interesting speaking part this round not Chrystia Freeland, but Pierre Poilievre as opposition leader. His instant reaction was, it’s “a frontal attack on the paycheques of hardworking Canadians.”

Hardworking isn’t just a cliché while he thinks of something to say, it’s a call to resentment: You worked hard for your meagre pay and this evil “gatekeeper” wants to gift it to layabout paupers as free dental and daycare for their kids, not yours! He’s good at that.

But the real question for Poilievre is what he’s going to say when Freeland drops her other shoe in next year’s budget showcase just before an election: a big housing program, which they’re clearly prepping. CTV’s Vassy Kapelos nailed this by asking a Tory MP if he thought just speeding up building approvals will solve the housing problem and he pretty much said, yes.

The Globe’s Campbell Clark made the point about Poilievre himself, saying he couldn’t get an answer out of him about the Big Spending Liberal programs, which he enjoys spitting at but wouldn’t outright reject. It’s a dilemma for him. Shiftiness belies rhetoric.

Of course elections are performative too. Not because citizens don’t care about politics but because voting offers such a mild dose: a drive-by hit every four years. So voting has declined drastically, till there’s a crisis because China is trying to influence the thing we’ve cheerily neglected.

The London Review had an intriguing piece called, “What’s so good about elections?” It said our system “makes no sense to people in Mali because it insists that majority opinion is the only way to adjudicate daunting issues … in a complex, heterogeneous society.”

That’s one reason I was moved by Sarah Polley’s film, Women Talking (OK, don’t torture me, I confess she’s a good friend). It suggests that democracy isn’t always about voting and finito; it can be about talking, deliberating, taking the time and reaching a new, inclusive conclusion, that wasn’t there at the start of the process — as she said in her Oscar acceptance speech.

Speaking of which, I was also intrigued by an anonymous column in The Globe by a national security “whistleblower,” clearly aimed at the government.

Former CSIS director Ward Elcock, on CBC, suggested the piece showed signs of being edited, which I found a bit mild. I wondered if it wasn’t ghost written. Why? In the years I wrote for The Globe, I had an editor who’d tell me to bulletproof my stuff against the most obvious attacks. In this case, that’d be a suspicion that the writer was a right-wing convoy sympathizer or even member.

In fact, some convoy leaders were once military, cops or security, like former Mountie Daniel Bulford or Tom Marazzo, ex-military. In the U.S., when the new Republican congress got some of the “deep state” whistleblowers in front of public hearings they were an embarrassment.

One had tweeted, “Cancer! GO FASTER!” about a rumour that Biden was sick. A pro-Trump Fox commentator moaned, “Tell me this is going somewhere.” Anticipating the charge, The Globe Deep State Throat proclaimed they’d even voted Liberal in the past. So shut up.

As for ghost written, the piece ended by invoking Jody Wilson-Raybould as inspiration for standing up against Justin Trudeau. It’s the sort of fillip that hired pens will add to show they were worth the extra bucks. Then … mic drop.

Granted, it’s a hunch, without proof. But if they’re going to play fast and loose, outside the rules of honest attribution, we all get a little extra licence.

This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.