As the documents that lay out the government’s policy agenda for the next couple of years, throne speeches are by nature tendentious.
In the service of making what is a curse to many citizens appear to be a blessing they tend to be faintly Orwellian as well. That is, they often say the opposite of what they mean with a little artificial sweetener sprinkled on top.
Yesterday’s first throne speech from the United Conservative government of Premier Jason Kenney, elected on April 16, was quite typical in this regard.
There was precious little actual news in it, mostly just market fundamentalist nostrums, unachievable promises from the campaign trail, and assignment of blame for their inevitable failure, reheated together in the legislature’s rhetorical microwave.
Indeed, the news was mostly in the gaps or between the lines. Sure, the carbon tax will be gone in a week with revenues already collected rolled into general revenues. But what will happen to the thousands of job-creating projects the tax was funding? No information.
Stand by for “tough fiscal decisions,” Kenney told reporters in a news conference before the speech. “There will have to be some reduction in the overall size of the Alberta public sector,” he said.
If you were paying attention during the campaign, though, you’d heard most of the speech before. If you weren’t, you’re not likely to pay attention now, are you?
Some credit should go to the anonymous author of yesterday’s effort for at least making it sound as if it were written by a grownup. This is a significant improvement from the throne speeches of the late Progressive Conservative era, which often sounded as if the task had been handed to someone’s bright 11-year-old niece or nephew. This grownup tone is an unacknowledged tribute to the practice of the former NDP government.
Had the speech been written by one of my past undergraduate journalism students, I would have given it a B+ were it not for the unfortunate effort at springtime poetry in the opening lines — which, translated, in effect meant, “Nyaa-nyaa da boo-boo, we won!”
Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell provided a clear and professional reading, as befits her role as a vice-regal personage, with only a few understandable stumbles. Her gentle correction of newly elected Speaker Nathan Cooper’s mispronunciation of “lieutenant” was subtly done, as if she were just enunciating unusually clearly, avoiding hurt feelings. I am confident Cooper, who is known to be a bright spark, will not say lootenant ever again.
As a service to readers, I have provided accurate translations of some of the more tendentious passages from the speech in italics after each quote. Readers should feel welcome to provide their own translations of other passages in the comments section. No swears, please.
When they say … they really mean …
“Recognizing that our province is beset by severe external political and economic constraints, and consequently saddled with serious internal fiscal challenges requiring urgent action …” (Everything we used to say was the NDP’s fault isn’t our fault!”)
“A relentless focus on policies designed to create jobs, growth, and economic diversification.” (We’re going to cut taxes for rich people and do whatever the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers tells us.)
“Making life better for all Albertans, by ensuring the quality and effectiveness of our public services, especially in health care and education …” (You’re getting choice! We’re going to privatize a whole whack of public health care and education.)
“Bill 1, as promised, will be the Carbon Tax Repeal Act. In providing $1.4 billion in tax relief, it will make everything more affordable for Albertans.” (You won’t notice a thing, just like you never actually noticed the carbon tax.)
“Strengthen the rights of Albertans within unions.” (Unconstitutionally weaken unions so that you get paid less and have fewer rights.)
“Economists estimate that this (business tax) reduction will generate 55,000 new full time jobs, and increase the size of our economy by $12.7 billion.” (It’ll be about as successful as it was in Oklahoma. But don’t worry, we’ll blame someone else.)
“A commitment to curriculum reform, based on proven pedagogy that teaches essential knowledge needed to achieve foundational competences …” (We’ll repackage the NDP’s curriculum reform, the one we called too ideological, and call it a huge improvement. Thanks for the idea, Mr. Trump!)
“In a world where the demand for energy will continue to rise, Alberta can, should, and will be one of the largest suppliers.” (That stuff we said on Page 1 about diversification? Forget it. We’re going with Drill! Drill! Drill!)
“The political forces standing in the way of this inevitable destiny today are external and temporary.” (We plan to blame Quebec and British Columbia, plus Justin Trudeau and the Tides Foundation, for any promises we can’t keep. As for doing anything about climate change, forget that too.)
“A public inquiry into the foreign sources of funds responsible for the campaign to landlock Alberta’s energy.” (This is how we’re going to blame them. The inquiry’s mandate will not extend to foreign funding we like, like the Koch brothers’ cash machine.)
“My government will take action to address climate change with … a Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction Fund.” (Forget controlling carbon outputs, we don’t really believe that climate change stuff anyway. We’re bringing back the carbon capture boondoggle!”)
“A great tradition of ordered liberty.” (Order for you. Liberty for us. “Guided democracy” is next.)
“It is our duty and our destiny to renew Alberta’s role as an economic and political leader within Canada.” (I, Jason Kenney, will be prime minister of Canada soon.)
(That’s enough! Ed.)
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
Photo: David J. Climenhaga
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