I’m boycotting Ford this week. The bleak implications of the Scarborough transit snafu was nailed by Ed Keenan. Ford’s robocall Tuesday is self explanatory. On Wednesday he didn’t just suggest a city worker should be fired after getting caught napping at work, but had the gall to call the incident “a complete embarrassment and a black eye on our city.” Imagine Jimmy Kimmel and Jon Stewart passing on “Toronto mayor walks face first into camera and allegedly smokes crack,” opting instead for a segment about the anonymous city worker who fell asleep. Anyway, social media almost instantly produced a picture of Ford himself sleeping during a meeting. So with nothing else to say, I turn to national news.
While Mayor Ford chastised a single government employee for sleeping, our federal parliament woke up from a month-long proroguing power nap Instead of an alarm clock they are awoken by speech from the throne. It’s very fancy, filled with pomp and ceremony.
We aren’t in city hall anymore, where I’ve seen a Toronto citizen carrying a helmet and a fold up scooter with her to watch a council meeting. Here, the pre-written speech was delivered by Governor General David Johnson to invited guests, none of whom carried scooters. The language changes in this atmosphere of formal, pseudo dignity: rather than “subways, subways, subways,” we get a quote from Thomas D’Arcy McGee, a father of confederation, who makes an allusion to Achilles’ famous shield described in Homer’s Iliad. This contrast in language represents the different brands of bullshit currently found in city hall and in Ottawa, stupid low brow versus phoney high.
The speech from the throne is a Stephen Harper YouTube commercial that the media doesn’t skip after 5 seconds. It catalogued his glorious achievements to date and described the even more promising future, a fantasy projection of how the Tories would like to be perceived. The speech made the Conservative government out to be flawless on every file, it invoked their role in creating and preserving Canada’s history and mythology, and presumed we trusted them to keep us secure against vague threats off our shore. In a sense, it was a bit North Korea.
Every segment of the population was systematically acknowledged, though some all too briefly and perfunctorily. Life sentences will be granted for “the worst criminals of all,” meaning an actual lifetime of jail. Laws on the agenda will address cyber bullying and sexting. Harsher laws against child predators. At risk are murdered and missing aboriginal women, female victims of prostitution, and police dogs. A highway in the Northwest Territories leading to the Arctic Ocean will connect Canada from “sea to sea to sea” (apparently an easier accomplishment and a higher priority than properly connecting the GTA). They aggressively touted economic and military security, to nobody’s surprise. Climate change was a party guest the host accidentally made eye contact with before turning away and ignoring him the rest of the evening.
It’s nothing if not contrived, so how much to make of the speech is unclear: it’s not as if the content of the speech is destined to materialize in the actual world now that it’s been spoken aloud. Strictly speaking, the things discussed aren’t news yet, as they haven’t happened. It’s funny to hear a speech explicitly outlining such a wide range of Conservative policy when they’re so often accused of having a secret agenda. Either their secret is ill concealed, or it’s still secret and the speech itself is useless or worse.
Interpretations about the speech varied.
John Ivison at the National Post called it a “blatant attempt to convince battling middle-income earners that life will be a little more affordable if they stick with the ones that brung them.” He is talking about the Conservatives’ vow to limit roaming fees, getting banks to expand no-cost basic service, and ending cable channel bundling. He claims they’re adopting NDP tactics.
Rick Smith, the director of the Broadbent Institute, wrote, “Harper government’s fiscal agenda is to run budget surpluses while cutting taxes for the affluent, all of which is to be funded by even more cuts to the programs upon which Canadians rely,” and called the promise to curb roaming charges “bogus consumer-first goodies after eight years of lax regulation that put industry first… consumers second.”
Andrew Coyne thought it was a safe, inert speech meant to shore up the Tory base knowing that Trudeau would target fiscal conservatives. Ibbitson, Chase, and Curry (in a combined article) at The Globe reasoned it was an effort to fuse core supporters with swing voters who bit on one of the various tiny bones the Tories offer.
Power’s effect on language jumps out at me. Ford calls citizens “taxpayers” because his power consists of limiting new taxes and refraining from spending tax dollars on much needed public servants. But the federal government has some power to control banks, telecommunication companies, and more, so they don’t use the term “tax payers,” but “consumers.” This makes them appear concerned about how much money they leave in our pocket as consumers by making us forget how much money they take from us as tax payers. The strong military tone jumps out at me too. It was funny to mention Achilles’ shield in a speech so explicitly designed to rebrand Canada from peacemakers to militarily fearsome. It is one of the complicated symbols of antiquity, to be fair.
Still, while the amount of BS was overwhelming (a speech brimming with self-proclaimed superiority on the world stage also claimed Canadians “deplore self-satisfaction”), there are federal governments locking up gays and butchering their own tax payers and consumers. When it comes to the main things, basic freedoms, the speech identifies us as Canadians. This is correct. And hearing Homer, even briefly, instead of the loathsome “subways, subways, subways” is a real vacation.
Correction: This article previously misidentified Thomas D’arcy McGee as Darcy D’arcy McGee. It was just a little brain fart. We regret the error.
Jeff Halperin is a Toronto-based writer. You can follow him on Twitter @JDhalperin.