Speech from the Throne – a preview

From a variety of sources, I’ve pieced together a few themes about today’s speech from the throne which is set to occur in just under an hour.

I’ve learned that the speech will be very short, just about 30 minutes in length. The Conservative government wants to emphasize a very focused vision for Canada. This seems to contrast with what people often criticized in Paul Martin’s leadership.

The speech will be about ‘turning a new leaf’ which indicates this government’s desire to bring change.

The GG will outline the Conservative vision for Canada which will focus on ordinary ‘working Canadians’. The speech will also introduce the new government to Canadians.

Of course, the main content of the speech will focus on Harper’s five priorities:

  • Bringing accountability back to Ottawa
  • Helping ordinary Canadians and their families
  • Tackling crime
  • Providing child care choice and support
  • Ensuring Canadians get the health care they have paid for

The throne speech will also have a special nod to Quebec emphasizing that the government will deliver on promises made during the election campaign in that province.

The speech will not outline a big hand-waving emphatic vision for Canada, it will instead indicate to Canadians that the governement is ready to ‘get down to business’ and start working hard for Canadians.

UPDATE: The throne speech may include an apology for the Chinese Head Tax.

UPDATE (now after the speech): David Akin has a PDF of the speech.

UPDATE: It appears that the key Liberal response to the speech is that “it was too short”. I guess that’s how throne speeches go when you cut out all the “very very importants”. Remember, Paul Martin had 56 #1 priorities.

The Speaker’s Election

1:16pm: Bill Blaikie calls for order. I assume that he’s looking over the proceedings because he’s the most senior member.
1:18pm: Blaikie casts the last ballot.
1:44pm: The bells have started (5 minutes until the first ballot results are revealed)
1:48pm: Blaikie calls for order.
1:49pm: Peter Milliken has been elected Speaker over Diane Marleau and Marcel Proulx (first ballot).
1:50pm: Milliken is escorted to the Speaker’s chair by the PM and the Leader of the Opposition.
1:51pm: Milliken thanks his constituents and his electors.
1:54pm: Prime Minister Harper rises to speak. Offers his congratulations to Milliken.
1:57pm: Bill Graham rises to speak. Congratulates Milliken and Marleau and Proulx. Graham calls for ordered and dignified behaviour in the House.
1:59pm: Duceppe rises to speak. Congratulates Milliken, thanks other candidates.
2:01pm: Layton rises to speak. Congratulates Milliken, takes the opportunity to point out that his caucus is now bigger. Thanks Blaikie for overseeing the proceedures. Thanks the other candidates. Calls Milliken a person of integrity. Cites Ed Broadbent, calls on everyone to have more civil discussion. Calls for democratic debate (what are you getting at there, Jack?). Layton forgets to invoke Tommy Douglas and ‘working families’ this time…
2:06pm: Milliken announces the memo that the GG will arrive at Parliament tomorrow at 3pm to open the 39th session of Parliament.
2:07pm: Milliken adjourns the House.

Harper and the media (Montreal radio)

I just finished up as a guest on Aphrodite Salas’ show in Montreal after being invited to speak on the topic of Harper’s alleged control of the media’s access regarding his cabinet ministers. During the election, Salas’ producers called and re-scheduled more than a couple times as the dynamic schedule of the election and even that of this blogger’s life were often incompatible with each other (especially for early morning radio). Now that things aren’t as hectic, I’m glad that I had the privilege of appearing on Salas’ show as an invited guest. Her producer was very accommodating and Salas is a good host.

Anyways, there are a few points that I’d like to make (or make clear) that may have briefly come up during the short discussion:

  • The current media preference of blocking up any ministerial escape after cabinet is not a constitutionally protected tradition of Parliament or anything to that effect. Certainly, Harper’s communication team is changing the routine and they certainly have a right to do so.
  • It’s always a slow news day/week when the media does a story on itself and how its job is becoming more difficult.
  • This IS a communications strategy! This IS a political strategy! Welcome to Ottawa. Harper is going to have to balance his control of information with the story that he’s controlling the flow of information. It’s obviously a carefully measured plan.
  • The upstairs lobby may have served as a good area to scrum in the past, but the number of reporters/technicians/cameras packing that hallway is not ideal. Consider also that the location at which this scrum packs in is also the nodal point which leads to the opposition member’s gallery, the Speaker’s gallery, the main access stairway for the PM and cabinet to the House of Commons. Moving these large scrums downstairs to the main lobby is more accommodating.
  • The head of the Parliamentary Press Gallery has noted that Stephen Harper has been the most-available PM to the PPG in many years.
  • As a blogger, I have to make my own calls and create my own opportunities. Granted, the reporters that Harper’s new strategy affects the most are the television people who need their image, whereas print journalists can pick up the phone and get a comment from a minister.
  • The House opens today, there will be plenty of access.

Emails from Jack

…and how they are a continuous source of inspiration for blog posts.

A couple of days ago, I received the general mailing list email that gets sent out to subscribers of the e.ndp newsletter. This edition provided insight into the base level of rhetorical tone that the NDP is likely to set during the next session of Parliamentary debate.

The subject line optimistically declares:

Parliament opens Monday!

Multiple exclamation marks are perhaps even a little too profligate of Canada’s most socialist party, but that single one does indicate anticipation to sit in Parliament again. Anticipation is a symptom of purpose, and it would seem that the NDP will be looking forward to achieving something during this session.

The NDP email begins:

Parliament re-opens Monday, and the new NDP caucus are ready to go. We’ll be fighting to move forward on our working families agenda while ensuring Canada does not move backward on key issues.

While it is particularly encouraging that Jack and crew plan to fight for ‘working families’ (which by last count was almost everyone’s family), the promise not to compromise on “forwards-backwards” issues is there for his base. Of course, one’s reference point on “forwards” vs. “backwards” is completely dependent on the direction (“left” vs. “right”) that one is facing.

However, I get the sense that Layton and the NDP will want to get things to work during this session of Parliament.

In fact, the NDP immediately seeks to distance their party from what they predict will be an ineffective Liberal opposition which will merely seek to oppose:

The Liberals say they’ll oppose everything — they say they don’t have to work with anyone. People expect better from their minority Parliament, and New Democrats will deliver the principled opposition Canadians deserve.

I get the impression that the NDP has realized that it’s now safe to distrust the Liberals now that their agenda isn’t dependent upon them. And yes, they do go so far as to call the Liberal party unprincipled. Here the NDP also indicates that they are willing to be constructive with the Conservative government on a variety of issues:

In this session, NDP MPs will be fighting to put working families first by working to:

* Strengthen public health care.

This fits in with the Conservative plan to introduce a Patient’s Wait-Time Guarantee. While ‘strengthening public health care’ will never include taking Chaoulli out to the ice-flows, the NDP will be happy to participate with the government by partnering to create a wait-times guarantee.

* Ensure care for seniors and opportunities for young people.

While these two areas are not explicitly included in the government’s list of 5 priorities, creating a more prosperous country by reducing the tax burden on these low income earners by cutting the GST and cracking down on crime are two of Harper’s policy initiatives that resounded well with this segment of the electorate.

* Provide economic security for families and communities.

The child tax allowance of $1200 per child under the age of 6 will certain help create flexibility in the options available to parents seeking childcare for their children. I understand that this is counter to the NDP’s approach for raising children, but when “economic security for communities” is uncovered as a “dental plan and strike pay for local 382”, Canadians will always select the freedom to choose their daycare options.

* Protect the environment.

Who doesn’t want to protect the environment? Look for a made-in-Canada solution soon that addresses our air, water and land. Hopefully environmental protection will soon be removed from the concept of wealth-transfer to developing nations. (Let us debate that issue under the terms of “international development, but we should never dishonestly promote ID as “environmental policy”).

* Deliver real change for Aboriginal people.

Sounds good. Unfortunately, while we all want to help improve the situation, we disagree on the method.

* Introduce electoral reform.

Yeah, that one’s likely on the end of the Conservative list too. As conservatives, we believe in the power of bottom-up approach rather than the top-down. Since electoral reform hasn’t been a deal-breaker in the past, it’s unlikely to become a deal breaker now.

There are a few paragraphs on specific issues from the Chinese Head Tax apology (which the NDP notes that they are in agreement with the Conservatives on this issue), foreign ownership limitations on telecommunications, and a critique on Conservative lobbyists (here the NDP does not honestly differentiate between a CPC party worker and a partisan government employee — the latter would be banned from lobbying for 5 years under the Conservative government’s new plan).

The NDP closes their email, not by taking aim at the Conservative government, but by taking another parting shot at the disgraced Liberal party on their anticipated unprincipled opposition. The party quotes a Globe and Mail editorial:

“It is a bit rich for the Liberals to be nailing their colours to the mast of daycare, since they were notorious while in government for pledging action on child care in Throne Speech after Throne Speech and then delaying.”

On January 23rd, Canadians certainly did vote for change and they voted for a new ethic of governance. The NDP seems to realize that while Canadians handed Stephen Harper a minority Parliament, they also granted him a modest mandate at the same time. Harper ran on a platform with 5 clear priorities. Because he did so, he can now be reasonably expected to implement the policies that Canadians asked for.

The GST cut proposal was arguably one of the most popular proposals during the campaign. Opposition will be expected from the Liberals, but the NDP and Bloc should be expected to vote for a GST reduction as this will benefit the marginalized people they purport to represent.

Similarly, the childcare tax allowance marked one of moments when the campaign turned towards the Conservative Party. Real relief for hard-working parents was contrasted with nanny-statism-knows-best. Conservatives will continue to champion all parents who face a variety of situations regarding their childcare. These are the people that handed Harper a mandate.

The Federal Accountability Act is sure to be the easiest hurdle to pass with consent from all parties.

While there are obvious points of contention, I see many areas where the Conservative government can work with the NDP on issues in this upcoming session of Parliament. I’m encouraged that the party is predicting an obstructionist Liberal opposition as this indicates a potential constructive relationship that the Dippers may take with the government.