Throne speeches – invitations to be cynical

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday October 23 2013 in Opinion
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Most parliaments, as they begin a new session, will have an address by the incumbent government laying out its plans and dreams. The Queen does it at the House of Lords in Westminster in the United Kingdom; the President does it in the United States ­ known as the State of the Union address. Here in Canada, the Governor General, in lieu of the Queen, usually delivers it.


The content, particularly among Westminster-model parliaments, is prepared by the government to present a rose-coloured picture of the country (or province), and the broad strokes of its plans to improve on some areas during the ensuing session of parliament.


Prime Minister Harper’s Conservatives followed the tradition last week, preceded by the usual pomp and circumstances that normally accompany the beginning of a new session. And, as expected, the nice, positive words were there. For example: “Consider this: we are inclusive. We are 35 million people gathered from every part of the world. We welcome the contribution of all those who inhabit this land – from the first of us to the latest among us.”


Or: “We are united, prosperous and free precisely because we ensure that Canadians have opportunities to learn, excel, advance and thus to contribute.”


I daresay, for a section of the population, this outlook may well be right on. For another segment, one can visualize a collective looking quizzically at each other as if to ask: “We are?”


To be sure, I do not expect throne speeches to be negative. Rather, they are and should be essentially positive and hopeful. It is, if you will, the goals of a government which aims to improve the lot of its population. So, it is fair to expect that those goals present a positive outlook. What bothers me, particularly with this version of the Throne Speech, is that there appears to be little or no acknowledgement of failures or realities.


The quotes above, and other parts of the speech, leave one with the impression that throughout its history, Canada has been inclusive, etc.; that the contributions of all have been equally welcomed.


Maybe it is just me, but it would be encouraging if there were acknowledgements of imperfections and mistakes ­ I would be more comfortable, and feel more included in this panoramic vision of Canada. It would even be more significant since one of the running themes of the speech was the upcoming 150th anniversary of confederation.


The government indicates in its speech that it plans to ensure that victims of crimes will be protected through a Victims Bill of Rights. That is fine. It also wants to ensure that “a life sentence means a sentence for life”. Then, in the next line, “Aboriginal women are disproportionately the victims of violent crime. Our government will renew its efforts to address the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.”


Again, is it just me or is there a lack of urgency and conviction in that statement? One gets the sense that someone at the last moment said: “Let’s throw that line in although we haven’t a clue as to what to do.” The government has long resisted calls for a formal inquiry into this matter.


And to further demonstrate its lack of concern, or perhaps its lack of ideas, the speech ignores the ongoing gun violence, particularly within the Black community. It would have been encouraging, at the very least, if this matter was reflected within this document, demonstrating that the government cared. How nice it would have been if they had said something such as: “Our government will take a close look at the “Roots of Youth Violence” report for the Ontario government to see how we can better tackle this problem”, or something like that.


Finally, the Prime Minister announced recently that he will not be attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in Sri Lanka. Additionally, he announced that his government will be reviewing its financial contributions to the Commonwealth. His reason for that decision appears to be a condemnation of human rights violations by the Sri Lankan government.


Whether one supports the Commonwealth, given its historical perspective ­ former British colonies ­ there is a feeling that the majority of its member states have an opportunity to relate to each other. It is no coincidence that the majority of those states are Black.


The relationship with the Commonwealth was not mentioned in the Speech from the Throne. Under the section entitled “Promoting Canadian Values” in the introductory paragraph, the government asserts that “the true character of Canadians ­ honourable in our dealings, faithful to our commitments, loyal to our friends”. I wonder if Brazil would agree with that.


The Speech curiously does mention one country specifically. “Canada does not go along to get along. Our government defends Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, the lone outpost of freedom and democracy in a dangerous region.” Why was it so significant that Israel was the only country to receive a specific mention in the speech?

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