Well, so much for a "different kind" of throne speech.
Though Minister Moore and his bored allies in the press had gone out of their way to hype the idea that yesterday's state-of-the-Tory-agenda address to Parliament would be laser-like in its focus on the plight of Canada's middle-class consumers, Stephen Harper's #SFT13 ended up sounding very much like all the others -- hashtag notwithstanding.
All that exciting stuff we were supposed to hear about unbundled cable channels, capped cell phone roaming charges, and a "passengers' bill of rights" for victims of oversold flights? Such pledges amounted to a measly 300 words out of over 7,000 -- excluding the stuff about airline reform, which didn't end up making its way into the speech at all. Nearly as many words were devoted to talking immigration (278), trade (288), and natural resource development (324), and considerably more were given to job creation (370), crime (410), and the military (479).
Similarly, considering the number of surprise big-reveals in the speech, including a '90s throwback promise to pass "balanced-budget legislation" and a cryptically ambitious vow to "introduce the first comprehensive reforms to the Citizenship Act in more than a generation," not to mention the sheer goofiness of some of the traditional over-the-top grandiosities ("We will work with renewed determination and an expanded team of partners to discover the fate of Sir John Franklin's lost Arctic expedition"), it hardly goes without saying that a few clipped sentences about cheaper cell phones and visible credit card fees will prove the afternoon's most memorable lines.
For anyone expecting an unorthodox outburst of novelty on the Senate floor, in short, well -- let's just say Brigette dePape wasn't exactly given a run for her money.
Still, even with the Tories' scatter-shot approach it was possible to suss a few overarching themes from SFT13. Class appeal, mainly. In that sense, at least, all the pre-speech pundit predictions were completely right -- the majority of the speech was decidedly naked in its attempts to pander to the sensibilities of bourgeois suburbia.
There were endless references to "Canadian families" and metaphors of domestic life. "Canadian families know they cannot prosper by continually spending more than they earn," read Governor General Johnston -- and so does your Conservative government! Forget state-run daycare, the Tories trust "the real experts on child care--mom and dad." The case for reigning in wireless rates included a particularly cringe-inducing zinger about how households across the land know well the pain of high phone bills -- "especially families with teenagers." Even a pledge to invest more federal cash in provincial bridge construction was spun as a promise for "shorter commutes and more time with family."
The need to get tough on criminals, meanwhile, was framed largely as a way to protect the kiddies, not only via the ostentatious name-dropping of Amanda Todd et al as prototypical victims of a horrifying new wave of cyber-crime, but also through the repeated references to criminals either invading or being released into "our communities" -- a familial, homey location that's largely eclipsed the vaguer (and decidedly more urban) setting of "the streets" so popular in political rhetoric past.
Even little Fido -- or at least dog owners -- got a shout out. We recognize "the daily risks taken by police officers and their service animals," said the GG, so we're gonna "bring forward Quanto's law in honour of them." Quanto, of course, was an adorable police dog who was brutally stabbed to death by some thug in Edmonton last week. No one exactly knows what "Quanto's law" will entail, but one imagines any legislation vowing no mercy for German Shepard-stabbing will play well with the critical "pet people" demographic.
Any remaining speech gaps were filled with gentle tributes to the sorts of soft virtues David Frum once described as the moral core of the bourgeoisie: thrift, diligence, sobriety, fidelity, procedure and orderliness. When in doubt, thought Doc Johnson's writers, you can never go wrong cramming dead air with honeyed words about how the citizens of this country are "honourable" and "selfless" with an "abiding concern for the common good of our neighbours," and so on. It is the shopkeepers and cab drivers who comprise "the quiet, unsung Canadians who are building our country," concluded the Governor General near the end -- though perhaps "unsung" was pushing it by that point.
As Sun News' David Akin observed in a wonderfully sarcastic post on his blog last night, the Canadian news media -- excuse me, the media elite -- has displayed a consistently pronounced tendency over the years to get endlessly haughty and derisive about the faux-bougie populism of the federal Conservatives, particularly the cornball way in which they choose to market their agenda and leader -- fake talk show commercials? Sweater vests? That stupid hockey book? -- and the reaction to the copious amounts of cheese in Throne Speech 2013 has been little different.
Geoffrey Simpson at the Globe and Mail scoffed at these insulting "bribes" to the middle class. Paul Wells at Maclean's mocked "a breathtaking spout of free-associating bloviation." Most cruelly of all, Jon Ivision at the National Post heard a speech so vain and self-congratulatory it was "like a Botox treatment gone bad."
But as Akin noted, well, we're in Harper's third term now. And if the Tories have learned one consistent lesson in achieving that tally, it's that the clucking tongues of media types "don't really matter that much when it comes to winning elections. The cold hard data of a focus group does."
As that great middle class philosopher -- your dad -- once put it, "it may not look pretty, but hey, it works."