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Game of Throne (speeches)

Maclean Kay
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Maclean Kay: The NDP’s latest Throne Speech had observers wondering, ‘What’s the point?’ Exactly as a Throne Speech should…

In the Gordon Campbell governments, throne speeches were densely packed with news and announcements.

That changed. I can say this with some certainty because I wrote most of the ones afterward. By design, throne speeches became shorter (well…less long, anyway), less specific, and more about framing than announcing.

There was, and is, good reason for this. There’s precious little value in having the Lieutenant-Governor announce major programs, and even less to drop a bunch at once. For one thing, nobody can vote for them. And no Lieutenant-Governor will deliver a markedly partisan message, or even snippets of one. (This is a good thing, for the record.)

Sure, this approach also has some downside; the media has less to chew on, and the opposition parties can use words like “shallow,” “empty,” and “devoid of new ideas,” which is four words, but still: from the government’s point of view, it’s a favourable tradeoff.

The intention is to convey a broad vision, hint at a few announcements to come, and stall for time until the budget.

Despite that, one always finds a few interesting nuggets in throne speeches. They’re either written and/or closely vetted by the most senior people in government; that means almost no accidental reveals or casual asides.

Most throne speeches go through some weekend edits; this one was no different. I obviously wasn’t helping with this one, but the telltale signs are everywhere: abrupt narrative shifts; lines that could only have been added over the weekend; and my personal nitpicky favourite, missing or extra spaces between words – AKA the smoking gun of track changes.

With that in mind, here are five observations from today’s Speech from the Throne.

Back to black?

The speech contains an explicit promise to balance budgets “after the pandemic ends…as the economy recovers.”

Before COVID, many observers, including myself, projected the NDP would need some good luck or a change of direction to avoid deficits – the numbers were heading in that direction. The NDP would have received very little benefit of the doubt for inheriting a record surplus and going back into the red.

The pandemic changed everything – but the government is showing awareness that after we’re all vaccinated, they can’t get away with continuing to spend like it’s 2020.

Whose line is it anyway?

Someone’s plagiarized someone.

Page 8 contains the line “Put another way: we are all in the same storm, but not in the same boat.” This is pretty close to verbatim repetition of a line from federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s weekend convention speech.

Too close to be coincidence, which means either someone had a hand in both speeches (entirely plausible), or someone liked Singh’s line and had it added (more last-second edits.)

One pandemic, one epidemic

This government continues to frame the overdose crisis as a theatre of the COVID-19 pandemic, instead of a separate crisis.

This is a mistake. Obviously COVID-19 has exacerbated things, but the sad fact is BC was setting records for overdose deaths before the first lockdowns, and things have only gotten worse. The NDP created “Canada’s first stand-alone Ministry of Mental Health,” but continues to hamstring it with a vanishingly small budget and almost no areas or levers of unique responsibility. In many ways, it’s better understood as a Ministry of State under the Ministry of Health.

You gotta accen-tuate the positive, elim-inate the negative

One of the most persistent headaches of the NDP government continues to be pandemic relief.

This is a long way of saying “we messed up – but are trying to fix it.”

Overshadowed

Realistically, the throne speech was always going to be overshadowed by Monday’s COVID briefing. But sections like “putting the pandemic behind us” and “the final push” seemed tone-deaf when an hour later, BC set another record for patients in intensive care, part of the vaccine supply was described as “not reliably arriving,” and Dr. Bonnie Henry said BC is in the third wave – and once again discouraged British Columbians from even seeing people outside their household.

When the NDP called a snap election last fall, numbers were low, and BC was still performing well relative to its neighbours. The spring 2021 throne speech was probably targeted as a “mission accomplished” moment. And it is – just more in the George W. Bush sense.

Unfortunately, things have only gone downhill. But the good news is, in a week, the budget will make all of this moot.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca

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