3 min

The Speech – pretty austere

It was a bitter minus thirty-two below with the wind chill, and thus, much of the usual pomp and pageantry of this Speech From the Throne was absent. No honour guard to inspect. No band. No red carpet.

As the Usher of the Black Rod met Her Excellency and her husband at the main entrance of the Centre Block, there immediately became the sense that this was almost like a day for the B-team to be present. While Harper met her at the top of the stairs, he was accompanied by Government Leader in the Senate Marjorie LeBreton, the Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff, and the Commissioner of the RCMP. And once inside the Senate, only six of the nine Supreme Court Justices were present, and Mr. Justice Ian Binnie was sitting in for Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin.

Her Excellency looked fantastic, as usual. She wore a nice tailored jacket and knee-length skirt, both in a deep blue that suited her well. But as she sat in her throne in the Red Chamber, she did something that I had never seen her do before. She donned a pair of thick-armed glasses, and in a sense, it transformed her.

Gone was the cheery, Oprah-like figure that Her Excellency has often been compared to. Instead, there sat a woman with a look of deadly seriousness on her face, and the glasses added to a sense that this was serious business. And that’s what the look on her face said – she wasn’t taking any nonsense.

The speech itself lasted just over seven minutes, but it was still full of some choice nonsense.

“Your predecessors, too, were summoned to this chamber at times of great crisis: as Canada struggled to claim her independence,” Jean read out.

Huh? We struggled for independence in this country? I always thought that the fact that we asked politely for it was something that set us apart in the world. And, err, that particular Chamber wasn’t around when Canada became a country. Remember the Great Fire that claimed our Parliament buildings back in 1916. Don’t the government speechwriters ever check their facts?

“The global credit crunch has dragged the world economy into a crisis whose pull we cannot escape.”

Kind of like the Death Star’s tractor beam, I guess.

“The global economy has weakened since Canadians voted in the last general election. In fact, it has weakened further since Parliament met last month.”

Sure. But this is also a likely excuse for the government to claim that their poor fiscal numbers aren’t really their fault, but the fault of the global economic collapse. Contrast this to the analysis of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who said that we were headed for deficit already thanks to this government’s ill-advised tax cuts.

“Our Government approached the dialogue in a spirit of open and non-partisan cooperation.”

Really? Since when?

“Acting on the constructive thoughts and suggestions that have been received, our Government will tomorrow present Canada’s economic stimulus plan.”

Apparently, the only suggestions they would consider were those that came in writing. Or at least, that’s what Conservative MP Ted Menzies maintained on Sunday’s edition of CTV’s Question Period. When the NDP disputed his claim that the opposition party hadn’t brought forward suggestions, he said that they didn’t present them in writing. He also claimed that Jim Flaherty was too busy to meet with the Liberals, despite the fact that they kept sending dates for meetings.

“These actions will be targeted, they will inject immediate stimulus while promoting long-term growth and they will avoid a return to permanent deficits.”

That’s not what John McCallum says, should the rumours of a broad-based permanent middle-class tax cut is indeed in the budget. He says that would create a “structural deficit,” and I’m inclined to trust his economic credentials a little more than Stephen Harper’s at this point (given that he used to be a chief economist for the Royal Bank while Stephen Harper has never actually worked as an economist despite his degree in the field).

And that was the Speech. The Bloc says that they can’t support it because it refers to the previous Speech, which they couldn’t support.

The NDP won’t support it because they don’t trust Harper, especially since they’re now doing things they don’t believe in.

And the Liberals are playing it cautiously. Ignatieff points to several phrases that were verbatim ones he’s been saying over the holidays, but said that the government acts like it has a split personality, and he’s not sure which personality will be presenting the budget. Scott Brison elaborated further, evoking Jekyll and Hyde, saying that this speech was a Jekyll speech in contrast to the Hyde of the Fall Economic Update. Who knows which one will presenting the budget?

The budget comes down at four o’clock today. Ignatieff says that he’ll announce his decision to support or defeat the budget on Wednesday morning.

This is where the fun starts.