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Media Bites: Canadian Media Love to Watch the Throne Speech

10/14/2013 10:54 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

If you ever want an example of what it looks like when the media carries water for the government, just check out any Canadian news outlet in the run-up to a throne speech.

Considering that throne speeches are basically just hour-long, ruling-party infomercials to begin with, there's something more than a little obnoxious about reporters and columnists falling over each other to endlessly "preview" the supposed "content" of the things. It's an overzealous style of journalism that regards the sharing every leak and scoop as a public good unto itself, even when said scoops are little more than calculated releases of government self-congratulation.

In any case, if you've been following the news lately you'll know that Prime Minister Harper's 2013 Throne Speech (gratingly referred to as "#SFT13" in official propaganda) is supposed to contain a bevy of so-called "consumer-friendly" or "consumers first" promises, the consumer, of course, being one of this country's most long-suffering and marginalized demographics.

"Have roaming fees sent your phone bill through the roof? Did you ever buy an airline ticket and get bumped from the flight? Are you paying a bundle for TV programs you never watch?" Well never fear, people of Canada, the Conservative government is here to save the day! That might sound like the cheesy opener of a press release from the Industry Minister, but it's actually the lead-in of a CBC news report. (Told you it was bad.)

According to most reports, Wednesday's Tory promise-fest will introduce a medley of carefully focused-group initiatives to remove some of the minor annoyances from the things we Canadians love to do most of all: watch TV, talk on the phone, and occasionally ride in airplanes.

For couch potatoes, there's the tantalizing offer of á la carte cable subscriptions. For mobile phone Chatty Cathies, a mouthwatering promise to cap roaming fees. For the jet set, a sacred "passengers bill of rights" -- perhaps engraved on two stone tablets -- vowing, among other things, that no Canuck will ever again be stranded at an airport due to some greedy airline overselling their flight to Bowmanville.

Basically, the government appears to be going out of its way to zero-in on some of this country's most perennially irritating first world problems. So what's their angle?

Lawrence Martin at the Globe and Mail is one of many pundits who sees the whole thing as little more than a gimmicky way for the Tories to consolidate their base. Or as Larry calls it, "Geezerland." All those suburban baby boomers who helped give the Tories their majority are getting greyer, and thus more right-wing, he notes, and as their hair follicles die, so too does their "energy, drive, ambition." Bad news for any party that tries to "get the national sap rising" with a lot of junk about foreign policy or the environment or whatever; good news for one that wants to "go out and paint the town beige" with minor regulatory tweaks to how you order the Shopping Network.

Scott Stinson, at the National Post, meanwhile, wrote a much-shared piece on Friday that, although broadly sympathetic to the idea of a "consumers-first" agenda, illustrated that there's a lot more involved in achieving that goal than merely dicking around with flight bookings.

Written in the style of a goofy manifesto, Scott (or at least the character he's channeling) wants any consumer-driven government to address five other areas of customer concern Minister Moore hasn't babbled to the press, and therefore probably won't be in the throne speech. They include: "an end to supply management," which we may recall, is the euphemistic name for the cartel of heavily subsidized Quebec dairy farms that provide Canadians with overpriced milk products, "genuine free trade" -- as in, no more tariffs on American-made cars, clothing, "automobile parts, hair dryers, bicycles, lamps, mattresses, hats, shoes, suitcases, and on and on" -- the abolishment of "uncompetitive sales taxes" that have their way with our wallets every time we buy gas or take a flight (the prototypical Canadian consumer sure travels a lot), no more stupid rock-bottom "de minimus" rates for online shopping (i.e.; "the limit below which you can have something purchased and shipped to your country without paying duty and taxes"), and finally, the overturning of all remaining "Prohibition-era laws that restrict the flow of wine and other libations, even within our own borders." You'd definitely deserve a drink after getting through all that.

Now, these are not the kinds of problems they build men statutes for solving ("He made cheese cheaper"), but they are, as many have noted, the sorts of low stakes/high visibility irritants that preoccupy what the Globe's Geoff Simpson calls the "Holy Grail" of Canadian politics -- relatively comfortable, middle class suburbanites who literally don't have bigger things to worry about.

Given that Canada is a small, relatively comfortable, middle-class suburban country to begin with, it really shouldn't be much of a shocker that piddling consumer concerns are the stuff our politicians have increasingly turned towards. Indeed, if anything, the bigger head-scratcher is why it never occurred to anyone to abolish some of these arcane and unpopular regulations a lot earlier. But ours is also a country whose politicians have never suffered a shortage of ambition for tackling bigger issues than nature has ordained.

To hunker down on consumer concerns may not be as morally righteous as Thomas Mulcair's promise to make First Nations issues his "top priority" or Justin Trudeau's roadmap to democratic renewal in the House of Commons. But the unglamorous reality is that Canadians often vote less with their hearts and more with their wallets.

And perhaps soon their cell phones, TVs, and boarding passes, as well.

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