‘Boring, vague, and unobjectionable.’ - The Orca

‘Boring, vague, and unobjectionable.’

Rob Shaw 2

If you’re underwhelmed by yesterday’s throne speech, Rob Shaw says it worked as intended.

As throne speeches go, B.C.’s latest was boring, vague and unobjectionable. In other words: Exactly how the NDP government wanted it.

I wrote previously about how the government would be walking a tightrope in its speech from the throne Monday, trying to balance planning a post-COVID-19 economic recovery without taking for granted the province is battling through a third wave and its worst daily case counts ever.

To the NDP’s credit, it managed to mostly pull that off, crafting a speech that spent the bulk of its time encouraging British Columbians to brace themselves for a “final push” through the pandemic.

“Keeping people healthy and safe until we have crossed the finish line is our collective responsibility,” read the speech.

“It is an essential precondition for economic recovery and a return to normal life. And it will remain your government’s top priority.”

This was an important hierarchy to establish – that vaccinating the public comes first, above all else. To gloss over this or take it for granted would have caused a backlash from an increasingly-frustrated public already second-guessing most of the government’s pandemic decisions and wondering if its leaders have lost their way.

It was also important not to pretend life is about to immediately get better, when all indications – from rising variants to the potential of a vaccine shortage later this month – are that the worst may be yet to come.

“The difficult times are not over yet,” read the speech.

“As we begin this legislative session, your government urges you not to lose sight of what has made our province so resilient.”

And so the speech went. The tone was the right one, full of rallying cries to come together and push back the virus, and stuffed with cliched marathon metaphors about being close to the finish line and how the race is always toughest near the end.

Content-wise, however, the throne speech ranked a zero.

It’s almost impossible to gauge the NDP government’s plan for the rest of the year based on the 18-page document read in the house Monday. Although there’s some reference to recovery, and key investments, it’s entirely devoid of details or even a whiff of specifics.

But then again, that’s how throne speeches have been for a decade. The last premier to treat them as an actual event from which to announce policy was Gordon Campbell, who often shifted government on a dime toward a First Nations reconciliation agenda or climate change focus with the throne speech as the first public pivot point.

That all ended when Christy Clark took power in 2011. Outwardly, she seemed to loathe throne speeches, and was far more inclined to announce new government programs on her own terms, in front of splashy backdrops (hardhats optional) and surrounded by key validators. Her calculation was simple: No one in the real world actually watches the throne speech.

It was smart politics, but it also means the current New Democrat government is under no obligation to divulge its plans for the year in the throne speech, despite cries from the Opposition BC Liberals on Monday to do so.

There are some hints: Planned “record investments” in infrastructure, an overhaul of long-term seniors’ care to fix “the cracks COVID-19 has exposed,” a “redouble” of efforts on mental health supports, new surgical wait time strategies, extra childcare funding, anti-racism legislation and thousands of new spaces of “missing middle” rental homes (loosely defined as anything in between single-family homes and mid-rise condo towers, such as duplexes, townhouses, courtyard buildings, triplexes and live-work mixed developments).

On those promises, the devil is in the details – and we won’t know any until the April 20 provincial budget.

Until then we just shrug our shoulders and move on. Which was actually what the government wanted.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 13 years covering BC politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for The Orca. He is the co-author of the national best-selling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.