O Canada?

Yesterday, when tweeting the throne speech, I was puzzled to find the line “Our Government will also ask Parliament to examine the original gender-neutral wording of the national anthem”. I almost glibly tagged the tweet #wtf but this one seemed like something I’d have to look into further before chirping on it.

Post throne-speech, folks will — as they always have — gather for some drinks and conversation and last night was no exeption. Conservatives were generally perplexed by the line in the speech looking to gender-neutralize our country’s anthem. “I’ll hear about this when I get home [back to the riding]”, admitted one MP. A Conservative staffer thought the whole idea was upsetting while one conservative joked that we’ll change the offending “in all thy sons command” to “in all thy peoples command” or “in all thy womyn command”.

Looking into the history of anthem “correcting”, I found that such an idea had always been dismissed as political correctness run amok. In the past, members from other parties had brought up changing the anthem to a more gender sensitive version, but this time around, I’ve learned that the originator of this change may have been a Conservative Senator. Nancy Ruth is rumoured to have been granted her wish in bringing up her issue for debate, and for some reason, the Prime Minister’s office seems to be intrigued by the idea.

Let’s look at the proposal politically and then deduct what is really going on here.

Do the Conservatives gain by bringing this issue up for debate with those that would seem to care the most about such a change? No. Ardent gender-sensitivity careerists aren’t likely to fall into the “base” category of Conservative voter. I know it’s hard to believe, but believe me, I’ve seen the data.

Does bringing up the issue help Conservatives with accessible (swing) voters? The undecideds usually make up their minds during the last few days of a campaign and last time I checked, we’re not exactly five minutes to midnight on going to the polls.

Does bringing up the issue serve as a diversionary tactic? Perhaps, but such a non-substantive issue doesn’t last too long in the meat grinder of the bigger issues such as taxes, the deficit and spending.

So what’s going on here? At first, I thought it was an attempt to put another Conservative stamp on Canadian patriotism. The Liberals remade the flag, can the Conservatives remake the anthem?

But no, I think that the anthem suggestion serves two other purposes. First and foremost, MPs will receive letters and calls about this. I just spoke to a constituency office manager that says he’s already received a number of calls about it. Staff will diligently be ID’ing these callers as “traditionalist” voters in the Conservative base. But do the Conservatives risk losing these voters by meddling with the anthem? No, because the proposal is framed to allow the opposition to play the meddling role.

Imagine that there is perhaps nothing more horrifying than creating a work of art by committee.

When a parliamentary committee of all parties starts work on O Canada, Conservatives should sit back and let the social engineers in the opposition get to work. Here’s how it will play out:

The line “in all thy sons command” will be changed to “thou dost in us command” to reflect gender neutrality in the anthem.

Oh and while we’re at it, we opposition types also recognize Canada as a secular nation and this whole “God” business in the anthem angers our humanist friends. The line “God keep our land” should be changed to “We keep our land” or maybe to satisfy our green party coalition partners the whole line should be “Gaia keep our Earth, glorious and green”

“Our home and native land” should be changed to “Our home on native land” to recognize the claims of our first nations people. Unsettled land claims are always more “hot” than “not” so we should just recognize this reality, the social justice advocates will argue.

“We stand on guard for thee” sounds too militaristic! Canada is a nation of peacekeepers afterall. We must change this to something more welcoming to others such as “we open our hearts to thee”, they’ll say.

Oh and the Bloc seems to have a problem with the words “O Canada” — too “Canadian” they complain. The Bloc wants to change those words, but the precise wording they never seem to be able to sort out. Somebody is calling for clarity on the issue.

Meanwhile, the Conservative position will be to support the status quo. We like the anthem as it is. We’ve received so many letters on the issue, you see. We are upset by the Frankenstein created by the opposition members who obviously don’t appreciate what real Canadians love about our country.

The opposition will then write a Private Members Bill called “an Act to rewrite O Canada” which will never see any real debate or even make it to any committee to be discussed in legislative form.

In an election, the Prime Minister will campaign against the botched anthem titled “O Land of Post-Patriarchal Peaceful Green Nations”

Wayne Gretzky will stump for the PM.

Michael Bublé will open.

Punch will be served.

Speech from the Throne, full text

If you can read faster than the Governor General, here is the Throne Speech:

Honourable Senators,

Members of the House of Commons,

Ladies and gentlemen,
We are a country whose citizens do not turn back when confronted by obstacles, whatever they are, and never shrink from lending a helping hand to the most disadvantaged, wherever they may be.

Though the effects of the global recession have not fully faded, Canadians are demonstrating a spirit of generosity that is a harbinger of hope to the people of Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, which has been shaken by a disaster of unprecedented scope.

The world we live in remains strong because of the ties of solidarity that we – women, men and young people – forge among ourselves and because of the care we show toward one another.

As the Vancouver Winter Olympics and upcoming Paralympics remind us, there are also circumstances when festive hearts and the sharing of a common humanity are our greatest hope.
I know Canadians will continue to care, and that spirit of solidarity will redefine their sense of sharing as efforts are made to support the economic recovery.

We gather for a new session of Parliament at a time of both great uncertainty and great optimism. Uncertainty because Canadians still feel the lingering effects of a recession that was not of their making. Optimism because our country has weathered the storm better than most and because Canadians over the past year have shown the world as never before both our capacity to care and our capability to act.

The agenda our Government laid before Parliament just over one year ago is largely in place. Through Canada’s Economic Action Plan, our Government took decisive steps to protect incomes, create jobs, ease credit markets, and help workers and communities get back on their feet. As we begin to see modest improvements in growth and employment, the task before us today is to finish the work begun last year.

Jobs and growth remain the top priority. Our Government will complete the second year of Canada’s Economic Action Plan – guided by extensive consultations with leaders in business, industry, and everyday working people and their families – and make refinements where necessary.

At the same time, Canada is poised to emerge from the recession powered by one of the strongest economies in the industrialized world. Therefore, our attention must also encompass the new measures Canada needs for success in the modern economy.
This will require a return to fiscal balance, securing the strong budgetary position that distinguishes our country from so many others.

While the task before us is great, the ingenuity, determination and compassion of Canadians are greater. We will ensure that Canada remains the best place in the world to raise a family. We will continue to stand up for those who built this great country. And we will forge ahead in building a Canada that is strong and united in a changing world.

Getting the Job Done: Completing Canada’s Economic Action Plan

Canadians have confronted the challenges of the past year in the same way they have always met adversity – with pragmatism, resourcefulness and the spirit of partnership.

From the forest floor to the factory floor, Canadians have rallied in the face of the global recession. Businesses have found new ways to adapt to tighter credit and weaker markets. Workers have shared their jobs to spare colleagues from layoff. Many Canadians, out of work for the first time in their lives, have begun training for a new career. And households across the country have adjusted their finances to account for new realities.

Like Canadians themselves, governments across the country have adapted their approaches and joined together in a concerted effort to soften the impact of the recession.

Canada’s Economic Action Plan is working. Tax cuts and enhanced Employment Insurance benefits are providing direct support to Canadians who paid into government programs over the years and now need help.

From coast to coast to coast, almost 16,000 projects are putting Canadians to work while laying the foundation for future prosperity. These projects range from roads and bridges to colleges and universities, from social housing to our cultural and heritage institutions.

Communities and industries most affected by the downturn are being supported. Businesses have begun hiring again, with the economy adding more than 135,000 net new jobs since July 2009. This has restored incomes, confidence and hope for the future for families across the country.

But even as confidence returns to our economy, it would be a mistake to declare that the recession is completely behind us. Too many Canadians still find themselves out of work and events beyond our borders could yet threaten a fragile recovery.
Our Government’s top priority is therefore to complete the second year of Canada’s Economic Action Plan and to continue creating jobs and growth. Our Government will work with its partners in the provinces and territories to make certain that projects are completed now and over the coming year, when the stimulus is most needed.

Our Government understands the real hardships experienced by Canadian families affected by job loss. Recognizing that unemployment continues to cast a long shadow over the recovery, our Government will continue to work on job creation and job protection. And it will help young Canadians looking to enter today’s tough job market for the first time to make the transition to work.
Planning for Recovery: Returning to Fiscal Balance

Canadians understand that the events of the past year have required governments everywhere to run budgetary deficits. They also know that because our Government made the responsible choice to pay down debt in good economic times, Canada’s debt levels remain by far the smallest in the G7. And they appreciate that this has allowed our country to enact one of the largest stimulus programs in the world without unduly burdening future generations.
At the same time, Canadians live within their means and expect their governments to do the same. Spending designed for a rainy day should not become an all-weather practice.

Canadians also realize that a balanced budget is not an end in itself, but the foundation of a strong and resilient economy. In taking responsible steps to reduce the deficit, our Government will not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Balancing the nation’s books will not come at the expense of pensioners. It will not come by cutting transfer payments for health care and education or by raising taxes on hard-working Canadians. These are simply excuses for a federal government to avoid controlling spending.

Our Government’s first step toward restoring fiscal balance will be to wind down stimulus spending as economic activity rebounds. It will work with its provincial, territorial and municipal partners to ensure that measures under Canada’s Economic Action Plan come to an end by March 31, 2011. And as chair of the G8 and G20 this year, our Government will lead the call for a globally coordinated approach to the withdrawal of economic stimulus.
The second step toward restoring fiscal balance will be to restrain federal program spending overall, while protecting growth in transfers that directly benefit Canadians, such as pensions, health care and education.

Our Government will lead by example, introducing legislation to freeze the salaries of the Prime Minister, Ministers, Members of Parliament and Senators.

It will freeze the overall budget of Ministers’ offices and calls on Members of both Houses of Parliament to do the same.

It will freeze departmental operating budgets, that is, the total amount spent on salaries, administration and overhead.

It will launch a review of administrative services to improve their efficiency and eliminate duplication.

It will aggressively review all departmental spending to ensure value for money and tangible results.

Our Government will also eliminate unnecessary appointments to federal agencies, boards, commissions and Crown corporations.

Building the Jobs and Industries of the Future

Industry and ingenuity have been the hallmarks of Canada’s economy since the beginning. Aboriginal peoples, voyageurs and pioneers established the backbone of our modern trading nation. Immigrants armed only with dreams and determination travelled west to open the land that would become our breadbasket. Bright minds with bold ideas transformed sound and electricity into the communications network that links our world.

But today we face new challenges. Determined new competitors are rising. The relentless pace of technology means that every day there is something newer, faster, better. To succeed in the global economy, Canada must keep step as the world races forward.
Our strategy is clear: we must combine the best of our intellectual and natural resources to create jobs, growth and opportunity.

The success of Canada’s economy depends on a skilled and educated workforce. Through Canada’s Economic Action Plan, our Government will continue to provide enhanced support for skills, apprenticeships and training for Canadian workers. It will make timely information on labour market opportunities available for all Canadians, especially in the area of the skilled trades. It will expand the opportunities for our top graduates to pursue post-doctoral studies and to commercialize their ideas.

Our Government will also work hand-in-hand with Aboriginal communities and provinces and territories to reform and strengthen education, and to support student success and provide greater hope and opportunity.

To fuel the ingenuity of Canada’s best and brightest and bring innovative products to market, our Government will build on the unprecedented investments in Canada’s Economic Action Plan by bolstering its Science and Technology Strategy. It will launch a digital economy strategy to drive the adoption of new technology across the economy. To encourage new ideas and protect the rights of Canadians whose research, development and artistic creativity contribute to Canada’s prosperity, our Government will also strengthen laws governing intellectual property and copyright.

Canada has been a spacefaring nation for nearly 50 years. Our Government will extend support for advanced research, development and prototyping of new space-based technologies, especially in support of Arctic sovereignty.

Low taxes are already helping Canada attract the investment needed to turn ideas into products and services. Our Government will keep tax rates competitive and low, while taking aggressive steps to close unfair tax loopholes that allow a few businesses and individuals to take advantage of hard-working Canadians who pay their fair share.

Our Government will open Canada’s doors further to venture capital and to foreign investment in key sectors, including the satellite and telecommunications industries, giving Canadian firms access to the funds and expertise they need. While safeguarding Canada’s national security, our Government will ensure that unnecessary regulation does not inhibit the growth of Canada’s uranium mining industry by unduly restricting foreign investment. It will also expand investment promotion in key markets.

Ensuring the broadest possible market for Canada’s goods and services will require the aggressive pursuit of free trade. Our Government will implement free trade agreements with Peru and the European Free Trade Association and ask Parliament to ratify new agreements with Colombia, Jordan and Panama. Given the disappointing results of the Doha round of multilateral trade negotiations and the rapidly evolving global marketplace, our Government will aggressively diversify opportunities for Canadian business through bilateral trade agreements. It will continue trade negotiations with the European Union, India, the Republic of Korea, the Caribbean Community and other countries of the Americas. Building on the successful negotiation of new or expanded air agreements with 50 countries around the world, our Government will pursue additional agreements to achieve more competition, more choice for Canadians and more economic growth.

Our Government will also build upon the recent agreement that gives Canadian companies permanent access to state and local government procurement in the United States.

Canada’s strategy for economic success must leverage our considerable strengths, in particular our world-leading financial industry and energy resource endowment.

The unique strength of Canada’s financial industry set Canada apart during the global financial crisis. The World Economic Forum, among others, has recognized Canada’s banking system as the strongest in the world. Our Government will build upon this advantage to make Canada an even stronger world financial centre. Recognizing the critical importance of sound securities regulation – both to attract investment and crack down on white-collar crime – our Government will act, within the ambit of the Constitution, to create a Canadian securities regulator.

Our energy resource endowment provides Canada with an unparalleled economic advantage that we must leverage to secure our place as a clean energy superpower and a leader in green job creation. We are the world’s seventh largest crude oil producer with the second largest proven reserves. We are the third largest natural gas producer, the third largest hydroelectric generator, the largest producer of uranium, and by far the largest supplier of energy resources to the world’s largest marketplace. To support responsible development of Canada’s energy and mineral resources, our Government will untangle the daunting maze of regulations that needlessly complicates project approvals, replacing it with simpler, clearer processes that offer improved environmental protection and greater certainty to industry.

Our Government will continue to invest in clean energy technologies. It will review energy-efficiency and emissions-reduction programs to ensure they are effective. And it will position Canada’s nuclear industry to capitalize on the opportunities of the global nuclear renaissance – beginning with the restructuring of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited.

Finally, our strategy for the economy must create the conditions for continued success in the industries that are the foundation for Canada’s prosperity and support thousands of communities, both rural and urban.

Our Government will partner with the forest industry to enter new markets and deploy new technologies, while respecting the Softwood Lumber Agreement with the United States.

It will introduce new legislation to reform Canada’s outdated system of fisheries management.

It will take steps to support a competitive livestock industry and pursue market access for agricultural products. Our Government will also ensure the freedom of choice for which Western barley farmers overwhelmingly voted, and it will continue to defend supply management of dairy and poultry products.
Small and medium-sized businesses are the engines of the Canadian economy, responsible for the creation of most new jobs. To support them, our Government will continue to identify and remove unnecessary, job-killing regulation and barriers to growth.

It will take further steps to support the competitiveness of Canadian manufacturers. And recognizing the strategic importance of a strong domestic shipbuilding industry, it will continue to support the industry’s sustainable development through a long-term approach to federal procurement.

Our Government will also explore ways to better protect workers when their employers go bankrupt.

Making Canada the Best Place for Families

Regardless of profession or trade, of industry or region, Canadians have always striven toward a common objective – to make a home and nurture a family. For many Canadians, there can be no greater accomplishment than to provide for their children, to contribute to the local community, and to live in a safe and secure country. Our Government shares and supports these aspirations.

To help Canadian families to balance work and family life, our Government introduced the Universal Child Care Benefit to provide $100 per month for each child under the age of six. This is direct financial support to working families that gives them the freedom to choose the best child care for them. Our Government will strengthen this benefit for sole-support, single-parent families.

Protecting the health and safety of Canadians and their families is a priority of our Government. This commitment was reflected in its decision to secure the H1N1 vaccine for every Canadian. To assure parents that their children’s food, medicine and toys are safe, our Government will reintroduce legislation to protect Canadian families from unsafe food, drug and consumer products. Our Government will respect the wishes of Canadians by reintroducing the consumer product safety legislation in its original form.

Our Government will continue to strengthen Canada’s food safety system.

It will ensure that families have the information they need to make informed choices and it will hold those who produce, import and sell goods in Canada accountable for the safety of Canadians.

To prevent accidents that harm our children and youth, our Government will also work in partnership with non-governmental organizations to launch a national strategy on childhood injury prevention.

Just as we know that parents are in the best position to make decisions for their families, the best solutions to the diverse challenges confronting Canada’s communities are often found locally. Every day, the power of innovation is seen at work in communities across this country, as citizens, businesses and charitable groups join forces to tackle local problems.

Too often, however, grassroots efforts are hobbled by red tape. Too often, local solutions are denied access to government assistance because they do not fit the bureaucratic definition of the problem. Too often, the efforts of communities falter not on account of a lack of effort or heart, but because of a lack of expertise to turn good ideas into reality.

Our Government will take steps to support communities in their efforts to tackle local challenges.

It will look to innovative charities and forward-thinking private-sector companies to partner on new approaches to many social challenges.

To recognize the enormous contribution volunteers make to Canada, our Government will also establish a prime ministerial award for volunteerism.

Our communities are built on the rule of law, the cornerstone of peace, order and good government. The law must protect everyone, and those who commit crimes must be held to account. Canadians want a justice system that delivers justice. We know we can protect ourselves without compromising the values that define our country.

Our Government acted decisively to crack down on crime and ensure the safety and security of our neighbourhoods and communities. It introduced laws mandating prison sentences for gun crimes, toughening sentencing for dangerous criminals, raising to 16 from 14 the age of protection from adult sexual predators, and ensuring that criminals serve sentences that reflect the severity of their crimes.

Our Government will now focus on the further protection of children, women and victims of white-collar crime.
It will protect the most vulnerable members of society: our children. It will introduce legislation to increase the penalties for sexual offences against children as well as legislation to strengthen the sex offender registry. It will protect children from Internet luring and cyber abuse.

Our Government will also ensure the youth criminal justice system responds strongly to those few who commit serious and violent crimes, while focusing on the rehabilitation of all young offenders.

Our Government will propose laws ensuring that for multiple murderers, life means life and requiring that violent offenders serve their time in jail, not in the luxury of home. It will reintroduce tough legislation to combat the organized criminal drug trade. Our Government will respect the will of Canadians by reintroducing this legislation in its original form.

Our Government will take additional action to address the disturbing number of unsolved cases of murdered and missing Aboriginal women. The Sisters in Spirit initiative has drawn particular attention to this pressing criminal justice priority.

Our Government will also introduce legislation to crack down on white-collar crime and secure justice for victims through tougher sentences. Hard-working Canadians who entrust their retirement savings to others have a right to see that trust honoured.

Justice must be effective, swift and true. It must also be fair to victims of crime.

To ensure justice is effective, our Government will introduce legislation to give police investigative powers for the twenty-first century. Canada’s police officers and chiefs have asked for these vital tools to stay ahead of the tactics adopted by today’s criminals.

To ensure justice is delivered swiftly, our Government will introduce legislation to improve criminal procedures to cut the number of long, drawn-out trials.

Our Government will also offer tangible support to innocent victims of crime and their families. It will give families of murder victims access to special benefits under Employment Insurance. It will introduce legislation to give employees of federally regulated industries the right to unpaid leave if they or members of their families are victimized by crime. And our Government will introduce legislation to make the victim surcharge mandatory, to better fund victim services.

Just as criminals threaten Canadians’ personal safety, terrorists threaten our country’s security. Our peaceful, prosperous and pluralistic society is one of the safest places in the world to live. Yet Canada faces real, significant and shifting threats. Our Government will take steps to safeguard Canada’s national security.

It will make travel by air safer by employing the latest screening practices and detection technologies for passengers and cargo. While the costs of air security must be borne by businesses and individuals who use air transport, our Government will ensure their contribution is invested responsibly and effectively, and delivers measurable results.

It will introduce a new biometric passport that will significantly improve security.

It will modernize the judicial tools employed to fight terrorism and organized crime.

Working with provinces, territories and the private sector, our Government will implement a cyber-security strategy to protect our digital infrastructure.

Standing Up for Those Who Helped Build Canada

Canadians believe sacrifice and hard work should be recognized. As we strive to create an even better future for our families and communities, our Government will stand up for those who built and defended this country.

Superior health care and quality of life mean that Canadians now enjoy one of the longest life expectancies in the world. As more and more Canadians enter their golden years, our Government will seek to enhance their well-being during the retirement that they have earned. This demographic shift poses a challenge to the sustainability of our social programs and our economy. Our Government will meet the demands of the aging population.

Our Government has taken numerous measures to assure our senior citizens that Canada’s retirement income system is the strongest in the world. Among other measures, our Government has introduced Tax Free Savings Accounts and income splitting for Canada’s pensioners.

To support seniors and those planning for retirement, our Government will continue to work with the provinces and territories on options to further strengthen Canada’s retirement income system.

In recognition of the contributions seniors make to society, our Government will support legislation establishing Seniors Day.

Just as generations of Canadians worked on the home front to build this great country, so too have generations of veterans fought to defend Canada and Canadian values around the world. We are reminded of the bravery and sacrifice of those who serve in our armed forces as we celebrate this year’s centenary of the Royal Canadian Navy and as we mark the passing of John Henry Foster Babcock, the last surviving Canadian veteran of World War I. A national day of commemoration will be held on Vimy Ridge Day, April 9, to celebrate the contribution his generation made to the cause of freedom.

Today, however, a new generation of men and women in uniform continues to stand up for the values and principles Canadians hold dear. In Afghanistan, the Canadian Forces prepare for the end of the military mission in 2011 with the knowledge that – through great sacrifice and with great distinction – their efforts saved Kandahar province from falling back under Taliban control. After 2011, our effort in Afghanistan will focus on development and humanitarian aid.

In Haiti, the Canadian Forces have taken the lessons learned in Afghanistan and put them to use in very different circumstances. Their speed and effectiveness in deployment were and are unsurpassed in the world.

To serve Canada in the profession of arms is an extraordinary and honourable acceptance of risks, many of which cannot be foreseen, and all of which may have profound personal consequences for those who assume them. Our Government has supported our men and women in uniform not only in words, but by making the investments necessary to rebuild Canada’s military. Our Government will continue to stand up for our military and our veterans.

Our Government will change the unfair rules restricting access to benefits under Employment Insurance for military families who have paid into the system for years.

To further commemorate the sacrifices of our armed forces, our Government will bring individuals, groups and businesses together to build community war memorials.

Our Government has established the New Veterans Charter and an ombudsman, expanded the Veterans Independence Program and, in recognition of the gallant service of Allied veterans who fought alongside Canadian troops during the Second World War and the Korean War, reinstated benefits under the War Veterans Allowance Act. Our Government will continue to modernize support systems for Canadian veterans.

Honouring those who built this country includes recognizing the contribution of those who make their living on the land and the realities of rural life in Canada. Our Government will continue to support legislation to repeal the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry that targets law-abiding farmers and hunters, not criminals.

Our Government also recognizes the contributions of Canada’s Aboriginal people. Too often, their stories have been ones of sorrow. Our Government will continue to build on its historic apology for the treatment of children in residential schools.

After settling 17 specific claims since this Parliament began, it will continue to work to resolve additional claims.

Having made safe drinking water and effective waste-water treatment on-reserve a national priority, our Government will introduce new legislative measures to further this goal.

It is only 50 years ago that Aboriginal people in Canada were granted the right to vote. To further protect the rights of Aboriginal people, particularly women living on-reserve, our Government will take steps to ensure the equitable distribution of real property assets in the event of death, divorce or separation. It will also introduce legislation to comply with a recent court decision in order to address gender inequality under the Indian Act.

Strengthening a United Canada in a Changing World

Our values as Canadians are rooted in our history and in our institutions. Our parliamentary democracy, which brought together people of many lands, faiths and languages to live in harmony. Our federal system, which recognizes our differences, while advancing our unity. Our official languages. Our northern landscape.

We are a country whose story is still being written. Last month, Canadians took pride in the inspired performances of our Olympic athletes at the Winter Games in Vancouver and cheered when Alexandre Bilodeau won our first-ever Olympic gold medal on our own soil. But our athletes did not stop at just one. They surpassed the record for the most gold medals ever won at a Winter Olympics. We are proud of our medallists and the entire Canadian Olympic team. Next week, the Paralympic Games will officially begin and again we will cheer as our athletes take on the world. Our Government will continue to invest in world-class Canadian athletics.

A shared understanding of Canadian history unites us as citizens. Two years ago, we celebrated the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City. This year we mark the quadricentenary of the settling of Cupids, Newfoundland and Labrador. Two years hence, our Government will engage millions of citizens and strengthen knowledge and pride in Canada by commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812, an event that was key to shaping our identity as Canadians and ultimately our existence as a country. That year Canadians will also celebrate the 60th anniversary of the accession of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, and our Government has established a Diamond Jubilee Committee to prepare for this historic occasion. Our Government will also ask Parliament to examine the original gender-neutral English wording of the national anthem.

We are a country founded on democracy. Our shared values and experiences must be reflected in our national institutions, starting with Parliament. To reflect the growing number of Canadians living in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, our Government will follow through on its commitment to address their under-representation, consistent with the fundamental, democratic, constitutional principle of representation by population in the House of Commons. It will propose legislation to increase voter participation by expanding advance voting in elections. Our Government also remains committed to Senate reform and will continue to pursue measures to make the upper chamber more democratic, effective and accountable.

Our Government recognizes the Public Service of Canada as a critical national institution. Our Government will continue to support the renewal of the Public Service and ensure it is ready for the changes required by the aging of its own and the wider Canadian labour force.

We are a bilingual country. Canada’s two official languages are an integral part of our history and position us uniquely in the world. Building on the recognition that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada, and the Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality, our Government will take steps to strengthen further Canada’s francophone identity. It will also continue to respect provincial jurisdiction and to restrict the use of the federal spending power.

We are a country with an Aboriginal heritage. A growing number of states have given qualified recognition to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Our Government will take steps to endorse this aspirational document in a manner fully consistent with Canada’s Constitution and laws.

We are a country of immigrants. Our identities are bound up in the stories of ancestors from hundreds of lands. To share these stories, our Government will introduce legislation to establish Pier 21 in Halifax – the site where so many began their Canadian journey – as Canada’s National Museum of Immigration. It will continue to work with the provinces to strengthen recognition of foreign credentials through the Pan-Canadian Framework for the Assessment and Recognition of Foreign Qualifications. To better protect would-be immigrants, our Government will take steps to shut down unscrupulous immigration consultants. Our Government will also introduce legislation to speed up the revocation of citizenship of those who have concealed their war crimes.

We are a country of refuge. For those victimized by disaster in their homeland or facing persecution by their own governments, Canada is a beacon. When disaster struck in Haiti, our Government accelerated the adoption process for Haitian orphans. And it is allowing Haitians temporarily in Canada to extend their stays. To remove the years of uncertainty often faced by refugees in genuine need, while closing off avenues for those simply seeking a back door into the country, our Government will propose comprehensive reforms to the refugee system. It supports the establishment of a National Monument to the Victims of Communism and it will support legislation to establish a national Holocaust memorial.

We are a northern country. Canadians are deeply influenced by the vast expanse of our Arctic and its history and legends. Our Government established the Northern Strategy to realize the potential of Canada’s North for northerners and all Canadians.

It will create a world-class High Arctic Research Station.

The Joint Review Panel on the Mackenzie Gas Project has completed its report. Our Government will reform the northern regulatory regime to ensure that the region’s resource potential can be developed where commercially viable while ensuring a better process for protecting our environment.

It will continue to give northerners a greater say over their own future and take further steps toward territorial devolution.

Our Government will continue to vigorously defend Canada’s Arctic sovereignty. It will continue to map our northern resources and waters. It will take action to increase marine safety and reduce pollution from shipping and other maritime traffic.

Our Government will also work with other northern countries to settle boundary disagreements.

We are a country of unparalleled natural beauty. To further protect and preserve the diversity and health of our natural environment, our Government will bolster its Action Plan on Clean Water. And it will build on the creation of more than 85,000 square kilometres of national parks and marine conservation areas as part of its national conservation plan.

We are a country that stands up for what is right in the world. Canadians want their Government to do what is right, not what is popular. They want their country to carry its share of the work in international affairs, not just talk about it. And they want their Government to make only those commitments it intends to keep.

In the debate among nations, our Government will pursue a foreign policy that responds to changing times but remains anchored in Canadian values and an enlightened view of sovereignty that recognizes that national interests are often interconnected.
Through our leadership this year of the North American, G8 and G20 summits, our Government will advocate greater investment in maternal and child health in developing countries. It will continue to push for stronger financial market regulation, modelled after Canada’s world-leading practices. And it will oppose trade protectionism in all its guises.

Our Government will use its voice to speak on behalf of Canada’s commitment to global security and human rights.

Recognizing the danger posed by the proliferation of nuclear materials and technology to global peace and security, our Government will support the initiatives of President Obama and participate fully in the landmark Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in April.

Nowhere is a commitment to principled policy, backed by action, needed more than in addressing climate change. Our Government has advocated for an agreement that includes all the world’s major greenhouse gas emitters, for that is the only way to actually reduce global emissions. And it has pursued a balanced approach to emissions reduction that recognizes the importance of greening the economy for tomorrow and protecting jobs today.

The Copenhagen Accord reflects these principles and is fully supported by the Government of Canada. Together with other industrialized countries, Canada will provide funding to help developing economies reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change. Here at home, our Government will continue to take steps to fight climate change by leading the world in clean electricity generation. And recognizing our integrated continental economic links, our Government will work to reduce emissions through the Canada-U.S. Clean Energy Dialogue launched last year with President Obama’s administration.

Conclusion

Honourable Members of the Senate and Members of the Commons, you are charged with a most important task – to give voice to the values, concerns and aspirations of Canadians.

This is a year when the eyes of the world are on Canada.

A year in which our athletes are excelling here at home at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

A year in which Canada will host world leaders at the North American, G8 and G20 summits.

A year in which Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will celebrate Canada Day with Canadians.

A year in which Canadians are leading the way in humanitarian efforts in Haiti, just as they are standing for freedom – at great cost – in Afghanistan.

And it is a year during which the Canadian economy is emerging from recession as one of the strongest and most resilient in the developed world.

These are all things of which Canadians can be justifiably proud.

They remind every Canadian that our citizenship is more than a contract to pay taxes in exchange for government services. To be Canadian is to show the world that people drawn from every nation can live in harmony. To seek peace but stand on guard for rights, democracy and the rule of law. To be resolute in confronting a global crisis and ambitious in planning for a more prosperous future.

The future to which Canadians aspire will not arrive by chance. Grand visions for a nation’s future will come to nothing if not balanced by the means to pay for them. To realize the hopes Canadians hold for themselves and their families, the economy must remain our Government’s single most urgent priority. Hope is borne on the wings of prosperity.

That is why tomorrow our Government will present a budget focused on jobs and growth – now and for the future.

Honourable Members, let us join together to build a stronger Canada and a stronger economy.

As you set about this vital work, I pray that Divine Providence guide you in your deliberations.

Speech from the Throne, what to expect

The Governor General will deliver the speech from the Throne today in the Senate outlining the government agenda for the 3rd session of the 40th Parliament.

The main focus of the throne speech will be the economy, jobs and growth. Out of the 6,000 word throne speech, the entire first half will focus on what the government has done with respect to the economy and what it plans to do moving forward. This economic agenda section of the throne speech will be split into three parts:

  • the government’s move into completing phase II of the economic action plan, including what the government has done to respond to the global economic crisis. Will also focus on government’s perceived strength among Canadians in building infrastructure and will outline plan for longer term infrastructure (including skills investment and R&D)

  • plan for recovery phase, deficit reduction and fiscal balance. Key themes will include winding down stimulus as economy recovers, restraining federal spending overall and protecting provincial transfers that protect Canadians (including healthcare transfers — government will emphasize that they will not balance budget by cutting healthcare transfers)
  • ensure the continued growth of the Canadian economy. The government will recognize that the private sector has to grow and continue to grow. Government will outline longterm plan for economic growth (including investments listed above). Government seeks to outline a key difference between it and the opposition whereas it seeks to help, not hurt, the private sector. The government will want to contrast itself with Liberals who have said that they would raise taxes and spend on huge projects including national daycare and highspeed rail. Economy remains a top priority of Canadians and the government’s throne speech will reflect a plan to address those concerns.

The second half of the throne speech will focus on the rest of government priorities which are not primarily focused on the economy and jobs.

The three sections of the second half will be “Making Canada the best place for families”, “Standing up for those who helped build Canada”, and “Strengthening a united Canada in a changing world”.

The families section will focus on the government’s plan to make sure that families live in a safe and secure country. Sub-themes include the classic tough-on-crime agenda and making communities safe. On a broader level, this includes national security.

The second section on standing up for those that helped build Canada will address seniors, aboriginals, veterans and will re-emphasize end to combat mission in Afghanistan in 2011 looking forward to a long term plan of reconstruction efforts.

Strengthening a united Canada in a changing world will address the environment, northern sovereignty, foreign affairs, immigration and refugee reform and democratic reform.

The throne speech will provide a broad outline of the government’s plan for the next session of Parliament while the budget will fill in the details.

First Speech from the Throne of the 40th Parliament

Reactions (if you represent a stakeholder and would like to see your release quoted here, email me):

Liberal:

The official Opposition is focused on making Parliament work for all Canadians during this time of economic turmoil and will not oppose today’s Speech from the Throne, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said today.

“By electing a minority government, Canadians are asking Parliament to work together to see our country through the economic challenges that we now face,” said Mr. Dion. “Demanding strong action from this government on the economy will be our primary task as the official Opposition.”

NDP:

“It’s more of the same and people . . . want bold action” (no statement yet on the NDP site)

Canadian Taxpayers Federation:

Today’s throne speech earns a mixed review … The speech contains some good, some bad, and in some cases, downright ugly news for taxpayers moving forward in uncertain economic times.

The federal government will find Canadians are receptive to taking aim at wasteful programs, and a pledge to control the growth in the size and cost of the public service is welcome news. … It is unacceptable that a modern 21st century democracy appoints one quarter of its lawmakers. Keeping Senate reform on the agenda is a good move.

The Throne Speech seems to prepare for a return to deficit spending when it states that it would be “misguided to commit to a balanced budget at any cost.” … It is worrisome that a responsible government would be prepared to spend more than it takes in during tough times … Responsible Canadians do not have this luxury, why should governments? The federal government should leave no stone unturned in its pursuit of keeping the books in the black and getting spending under control is the first step … Taxpayers should be warned that a ‘cap-and-trade’ tax scheme is the evil twin of a carbon tax. Either way, it means higher energy prices and a costly bureaucratic mess that couldn’t come at a worse time. … Also, ugly is a commitment to offer further aid to the auto and aerospace industries.

Federation of Canadian Municipalities:

The Government of Canada has recognized the need to boost Canada’s economy in the face of worldwide financial turmoil and an impending recession, and it has chosen infrastructure spending as one of the remedies. We agree with the diagnosis and applaud this choice of remedy. Spending on infrastructure is a tried-and-true response to an economic slowdown. A study released by FCM earlier this month shows that accelerated infrastructure spending is the best way to boost our country’s economy and immunize it against a recession.

National Union of Public and General Employees:

It’s clear from this throne speech that the Harper government doesn’t view healthcare as a top priority and in fact seems to suggest the job is pretty much done.

That’s a huge disappointment for over-worked health professionals and patients waiting for critical services who are expecting and demanding national leadership on healthcare issues.

Canadian Labour Congress:

Today’s Throne Speech offers little hope or assurance to thousands of people being hit hard by the economic crisis, says Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress.

“This speech is supposed to put forward the government’s vision for the future,” Georgetti says, “but what Canadians heard today won’t help them sleep any easier tonight and some of what they heard may well give them nightmares. People want jobs and if they lose them they want protection but I don’t see those promises here.”

Canadian Housing and Renewal Association:

We commend the federal government for remembering that four million Canadians still cannot afford adequate housing and that 300,000 people experience homelessness in Canada annually. Today’s throne speech made promises for health care, jobs, the environment, and family life in order to help Canadians fully participate in the economy and in society, and it has to be remembered that housing is the foundation of this participation and therefore needs to be a top priority.

Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada:

Today’s Speech from the Throne gives some hope for the four million Canadians who lack decent affordable housing, the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada said today. The government committed to extending the Homelessness Partnering Strategy and helping more Canadians find affordable housing.

The Canadian Lung Association:

The Lung Association is pleased to see the government’s Throne Speech commitment to improving the lung health of Canadians.

Approximately 6 million people in Canada struggle with asthma, COPD, lung cancer and other lung diseases. The fact that the government has recognized how critical it is to improve the lung health of Canadians is excellent news and a clear sign that they wish to continue partnering on building a Canada free of lung disease.

Canadian Bankers Association:

he Canadian Bankers Association (CBA) fully supports the federal government’s commitment to a common securities regulator in Canada as announced in today’s Speech from the Throne. This step, along with other recent initiatives to facilitate credit markets in Canada, indicates that the government continues to take an appropriate and measured approach to deal with the global economic situation.

Canadian Chemical Producers’ Association:

In its Speech from the Throne, the Government of Canada has pledged “To further reduce the cost pressures on Canadian business, our Government will take measures to encourage companies to invest in new machinery and equipment.”

The Canadian Chemical Producers’ Association (CCPA), along with other manufacturers, has been advocating such measures.

Canadian Association of Retired Persons:

CARP chapters and retiree groups were disappointed to learn that no action was promised in the Throne Speech to address the threats to their retirement security wrought by the current market chaos.

CARP chapters and other retiree groups across the cross country assembled to listen to the Throne Speech in the hopes of hearing what the government would do to respond to the clamour for immediate relief and longer term protection of their pensions.

Government’s motion on Afghanistan will split Liberals

The following is text of the government’s motion on extending the mission in Afghanistan. My comments appear between segments of the motion. The key point of contention is Canada’s extended role in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar from 2009-2011.

That, whereas the House recognizes the important contribution and sacrifice of Canadian Forces and Canadian civilian personnel as part of the UN mandated, NATO-led mission deployed in Afghanistan at the request of the democratically elected government of Afghanistan;

This sets the scene and important in the emphasis of the internationalist, multilateral mandate that Canada operates under in Afghanistan. The mission operates with the blessing of the UN, an organization in which most Canadians believes strongly and with which Canada self-identifies when it comes to its foreign policy. The UN mandated mission should be something that Liberals can easily subscribe to, but it’s interesting to note that despite the UN’s acceptance of the mission, the NDP and Bloc take a strict isolationist approach.

whereas, as set out in the Speech from the Throne, the House does not believe that Canada should simply abandon the people of Afghanistan after February 2009; that Canada should build on its accomplishments and shift to accelerate the training of the Afghan army and police so that the government of Afghanistan can defend its own sovereignty and ensure that progress in Afghanistan is not lost and that our international commitments and reputation are upheld;

The Speech from the Throne of course is an important reference point. The government received a mandate from Parliament when the Throne Speech passed in the fall. The Liberals, forming the Official Opposition, passed on judging the government’s proposed mandate and abstained from the vote. The Throne Speech first outlined the government’s intention to extend the mission in Kandahar through 2011. So, what has changed since then?

whereas in February 2002, the government took a decision to deploy 850 troops to Kandahar, the Canadian Forces have served in various capacities and locations in Afghanistan since that time and, on May 17, 2006, the House adopted a motion to support a two year extension of Canada’s deployment in Afghanistan;

whereas the House welcomes the report of the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan, chaired by John Manley, and recognizes the important contribution they have made;

What has changed is that John Manley has released his report. Manley expressed that Canada lost its voice on the international stage but has now regained it. Manley stated that when Canada speaks, the world listens. He cited the former Liberal PM Lester B. Pearson as a source for inspiration and for doing the right thing with respect to Canadian foreign policy.

whereas their Report establishes clearly that security is an essential condition of good governance and lasting development and that, for best effect, all three components of a comprehensive strategy military, diplomatic and development need to reinforce each other;

The report by the former Liberal Minister of Foreign Affairs has stressed the need for a mix of a number of Canadian efforts in Afghanistan (including military).

whereas the government accepts the analysis and recommendations of the Panel and is committed to taking action, including revamping Canada’s reconstruction and development efforts to give priority to direct, bilateral project assistance that addresses the immediate, practical
needs of the Afghan people, especially in Kandahar province, as well as effective multi-year aid commitments with concrete objectives and assessments, and, further, to assert strong Canadian leadership to promote better co-ordination of the overall effort in Afghanistan by the international community, and, Afghan authorities;

The government states, in its motion, that it is following the lead of Mr. Manley. Here the motion stresses aid development and international coordination. All of which should be found acceptable to a majority of Parliament.

whereas the results of progress in Afghanistan, including Canada’s military deployment, will be reviewed in 2011 (by which time the Afghanistan Compact will have concluded) and, in advance, the government will provide to the House an assessment and evaluation of progress, drawing on and consistent with the Panel’s recommendations regarding performance standards, results, benchmarks and timelines; and

Full reporting to Parliament on progress in Afghanistan.

whereas the ultimate aim of Canadian policy is to leave Afghanistan to Afghans, in a country that is better governed, more peaceful and more secure;

How could any MP disagree?

therefore, the House supports the continuation of Canada’s current responsibility for security in Kandahar beyond February 2009, to the end of 2011, in a manner fully consistent with the UN mandate on Afghanistan, but with increasing emphasis on training the Afghan National Security Forces expeditiously to take increasing responsibility for security in Kandahar and Afghanistan as a whole so that, as the Afghan National Security Forces gain capability, Canada’s combat role should be commensurately reduced, on condition that:

Stephane Dion has stated that he wishes Canada’s “combat role” in Kandahar to cease by February 2009. John Manley recommends against this. The House will essentially be voting on the recommendations, or at least within the guidelines of the Manley Report. This motion is not inconsistent with John Manley’s recommendations and the Liberal Party (many of whom have incredible respect for Mr. Manley) will find itself divided on this motion if allowed to vote freely. John Manley and Mr. Harper are framing Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan in a Pearsonian perspective; internationalist intervention in failed states is the right thing to do and consistent with values that Canadians cherish. Mr. Dion faces a tough choice. If he chooses to abstain from voting on this important motion, he loses his credibility on speaking on the most important issue facing Parliament today, Canada’s role in Afghanistan. If Dion whips his caucus into voting against, there will be an open revolt against his leadership. If Dion allows a free vote on the motion, internal divisions within the party will be counted as if a roll call and the public division will emphasize that the Liberal party is only a loose collective of membership card holders waiting for the next leadership review.

(a) Canada secure a partner that will provide a battle group of approximately 1,000 to arrive and be operational no later than February 2009, to expand International Security Assistance Force’s security coverage in Kandahar;

A move entirely consistent with a recommendation from the Manley Report. A realistic move to shift some of the weight to a partnering NATO country.

(b) to better ensure the safety and effectiveness of the Canadian contingent, the government secure medium helicopter lift capacity and high performance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance before February 2009.

This is important for Canada’s success in Afghanistan. UAVs are recommended for road surveillance especially during the night in order to spot and help neutralize Taliban fighters planting IEDs at the sides of roads used by the Canadian military and aid workers.

Ignatieff laughs behind Dion’s back

I was sitting up in the gallery on the day after the Speech from the Throne to catch the show after question period. Stephane Dion would be making a decision regarding what path his party would take in response to the government’s proposed mandate for the next parliamentary session.

Observing the Commons first hand can be quite different from watching it on TV. Particularly, the television coverage, wired in and directly controlled by House of Commons staffers often omits peripheral detail when it focuses in on the parliamentarian who happens to be speaking. Thus, catcalls and taunts between government and opposition benches are often barely heard on the television feed. However, this noise can be highly distracting when one has a front row seat.

What the television coverage captured, and which I missed because of my vantage point, was Michael Ignatieff chuckling along with Conservatives when they tossed barbs in the direction of the hapless Stephane Dion when the Liberal leader was delivering his response to the Throne Speech. I had even heard from an observer afterwards that Ignatieff had placed his hand over his mouth to stifle laughter while Dion was speaking.

So, I went back to check the videotape.


The first clip shows Ignatieff smirking and even rolling his eyes at one point . The second clip shows the deputy Liberal leader smiling, grimacing hard and then finally burying his face in his hand. It appears to be a man trying, but without much effort, to contain composure.

Here’s an excerpt what Sheila Copps (former Liberal leadership candidate and now Sun columnist) had to say about the incident:

While Dion has been fighting for his political life, Ignatieff underlings are doing everything possible to finish him off. With friends like those, Dion doesn’t need Conservative enemies.

While Ignatieff has recently taken to the airwaves in support of Dion, his face during the throne speech told a different story.

One eye cocked, and a smirk bubbling below the surface, at one point he even joined Tory guffaws at Dion’s awkward delivery. With Ignatieff’s poorly disguised glee, don’t expect the hemorrhaging in the Liberal Party to end any time soon.

and from Aaron Wherry of Macleans.ca:

The catcalls, meanwhile, grew louder — the government wits even winning a laugh from Ignatieff. As those who remained in the press gallery took turns groaning, the Conservative caucus descended into fits of giggles.

It has also been reported that Ignatieff remained seated for a number of standing ovations that the Liberals gave Dion during his speech. Here’s what Don Martin wrote:

One Liberal’s reaction was particularly telling. When all other MPs rose to celebrate a rare good jab in Mr. Dion’s address, deputy leader Michael Ignatieff seemed to stay in his seat most of the time. I’m not sure whether this was a sudden attack of leg cramps or the opening shot of a leadership challenge, but the optic was hard to miss.

Here’s a video summary of the standing ovations given to Dion during his speech. Also, look for Dion’s quick check of Ignatieff who isn’t applauding like the rest of caucus at 1min 18s (-1:41)


Tonight’s Throne Speech

Prime Minister Harper has penned the mandate he seeks from Parliament for its next session and Governor General Michaelle Jean will deliver the Speech from the Throne tonight in the Red Chamber in about 2.5 hours time.

Most observers expect that the Prime Minister will be asking a lot of Parliament as Stephane Dion, the Liberal and Opposition leader is weakened by fratricide within his own party. The recent recruitment of former Liberal leadership hopeful John Manley will also allow the Prime Minister to pen a few more ideological lines into the speech and dare Dion to vote against.

There are a few factors which will determine the outcome of any brinkmanship that’s anticipated by some, however. For example, does the Prime Minister want to seek a defensible mandate and extend his term without triggering an election. In some cases, this is an advantageous move for Harper; the more time that he governs, the more of a record he has to run when he finally faces the electorate.

However, Dion is in a wounded state and could eventually recover through his own strategy (more unlikely) or via unforeseen “events” (less unlikely). Depending on the crises and issues faced by the Prime Minister over the next year, public opinion may turn. For example, the economy is healthy right now. What will we see in one year’s time? Should Harper go for an election now?

We can be certain that the NDP and the Bloc will be sure to come out immediately and oppose the Throne Speech claiming that they are they only principled opposition in Parliament to Stephen Harper and that Dion and the Liberals are weak. This will allow Jack Layton to represent the Canadian left and Gilles Duceppe to claim to represent both that constituency and Quebec’s interests. This has the benefit for both leaders of being the anti-Harper choice and of taking away Liberal votes as the Grits try and sort out what they stand for. Almost immediately after the Throne Speech, I can picture Layton claiming that the throne speech favours the rich (if personal tax cuts are a theme), the boardrooms (if corporate tax cuts are mentioned) and that this comes at the expense of “working families”. Duceppe will state that Harper cannot appeal to Quebec’s interests. Layton and Duceppe would also be wise to point out that Dion will not stand up to Harper and that the Liberal leader is ineffective and inconsequential.

Dion is of course between a rock and a hard place. He has few options and none seem to portray him in a good light. Dion does not want to trigger an election for a few reasons. In the best of interpretations it’ll be seen as suicidal and in the worst interpretation it’ll seem absolutely foolish. Further, for this weakened leader, what he doesn’t need is to draw the scorn of a Canadian electorate for precipitating an election that his own deputy declared somewhat prophetically that Canadians “don’t want”.

If Dion votes for the Throne Speech (after demands that Harper won’t meet fully, if at all), he will be seen to be an ineffective opposition leader. In fact, this voting outcome is a very possible scenario; we haven’t heard much pushback from Dion on Harper’s stated goals.

In one scenario we could see Dion voting against the speech with the strategy of showing up with a only a handful of Liberal MPs in order to prevent the fall of government. The Conservatives have 126 MPs, and the Opposition (minus Liberals) has 79 (let’s leave out the 3 independents for the sake of an easier model). This leaves a 47 vote difference that Dion has to make up in order to tie the Conservatives (with the Speaker breaking the tie). Therefore, Dion must have at most 47 MPs show up to vote against the speech, unless he wants to trigger an election (which he most certainly does not want to do). Here’s where Harper could have some fun. The Prime Minister could order 46 of his MPs to be absent from the vote leaving 80 to vote “yay”. With the 79 non-Liberals opposition members with 79 voting “nay”, this leaves Dion to show up and vote alone. Those close to Harper say the man likes to play strategy with the issues rather than with the musical chairs in Parliament. Therefore this final scenario, while amusing, is unlikely.

I do, however, think of it more likely that Dion will eventually vote against the speech. The embattled Liberal leader has to save face and any further wishy-washy behaviour by him will only encourage his enemies within his party.

It is pretty much assured that the NDP and Bloc will seat every member for the Throne Speech vote.

However, if we see Dion vote against, I wonder if we will see if his “honourable friends” in caucus line up behind him, triggering the election that he doesn’t want.

UPDATE AFTER THE SPEECH: Jack Layton won’t support the speech.

Gilles Duceppe won’t support the speech.

Elizabeth May would support the speech, but she hasn’t any members.

Stephane Dion says… ‘uh… we’ll sleep on it’. However, it’s likely that he will support the throne speech after overtures such as “well we knew it wasn’t going to be a Liberal throne speech” and “we’ll let you know tomorrow at 3:15pm” and “no government’s ever been defeated on the Throne Speech”. Although there’s news that members of his caucus are encouraging him to go (election-wise and therefore also into retirement).

If Dion supports the throne speech, the NDP will jump all over them and emphasize that the Liberals are an ineffective opposition. The Conservatives will also continue along the “Stephane Dion is not a leader” line and this is evident in the titling and branding of the Throne Speech, “Strong Leadership. A Better Canada.”

“Canadians don’t want an election right now”

The line “Canadians don’t want an election right now” is becoming an interesting bit of spin now used by both the Liberals and the Conservatives regarding both the lifespans of their respective governments and now by the Liberals, in Opposition.

I suppose that part of the rationale for this new but now becoming ensconced in the political lexicon is that for the past three years and three months, we’ve had two successive minority governments and the possibility of an election falling upon Canadians by parliamentary discordance has become more and more probable. The last time we, as Canadians, had a majority government it was up to the Prime Minister to determine when Canadians wanted an elected (or didn’t, whatever the strategy may be). However, now that Prime Minister Harper has passed legislation taking this out of the hands of future majority Prime Ministers, elections will happen for majority governments on fixed dates and the mood of the electorate on such timing issues is moot. Yet, here we are with two successive minority governments and “electoral mood” is something to consider, even if it is unmeasured and declared by party spokesman for whatever strategic reason.

Consider Paul Martin’s minority government in the spring of 2005. The Opposition Conservatives at the time pulled out all of the stops in order to force an election on Paul Martin, a frantic and frenzied leader who looked uncomfortable with the power he sought his whole life. Paul Martin wanted to govern. Desperately. Couple this with mounting scandal and a general consensus that the man that promised over 200 Liberal seats when he took over the reins was floundering and may at best only pull off another minority.

Governments in power declare that Canadians don’t want an election because of a sincere desire to govern. For Paul Martin, this desire to govern was a function of his desire to avoid the dreaded fate of another minority (and leadership review to follow) or worse, defeat to the Conservatives.

The good news for Prime Minister Stephen Harper is that today, there isn’t a looming scandal and the barbarians in Opposition aren’t taking a battering ram to the gate of his small but secure fortress. Indeed, Stephane Dion is at the weakest point in his leadership since he was chosen by Liberal delegates in December of 2006. Harper doesn’t have the benefit of 13 years in power and thus doesn’t as much of a record to run on. When Harper says that “Canadians don’t want an election right now”, like Martin it means that he wants to govern, but unlike Martin it means that he wants to build a solid foundation of trust with Canadians rather than desperately try to patch together the semblance of a working government build upon the cracked concrete of waste and scandal.

Most recently, we’ve seen Michael Ignatieff muse in Opposition that “Canadians don’t want an election right now.” First of all, it is the Opposition’s role to oppose the government. Is this the deputy Liberal leader’s way of lowering expectations for what we should expect from the Liberals on their “opposition” to the Throne Speech. Is Ignatieff preparing us so that we aren’t shocked when Dion and only a handful of Liberals show up to symbolically vote against? But on the topic of the desirability of an election to Canadians, to the best of my knowledge, this poll question has not been asked as of late, so we can safely assume that this is rather a reflection of Liberal wishful thinking that Canadians will spare political parties of judgment at the polls, at least for the next little while. It is indicating, yet not surprising that the Liberals fear judgment of their party, rather than the incumbent Conservatives.

Nobody could reasonably spin that Stephen Harper fears the voters, yet it doesn’t take much creative interpretation to muse that the Liberals are terrified of their own electoral prospects. For which reasons do Canadians desire elections? At a base level, Canadians desire to make their democratic will known at least every 5 years. But to want an election for reasons beyond that, there has to be an overwhelming desire for change. Since such a desire does not exist, Ignatieff is likely right when he says that Canadians don’t want an election right now. However, his reasons (and those of his embattled caucus and leader) are clearly different from those of Canadians and if the Liberals hope to lead, their desires regarding election timing and change must be aligned with at least that of a plurality of the electorate.

PM does Q&A

The Prime Minister held a press conference today in the National Press Theatre to the surprise of Ottawa observers and certainly the Parliamentary Press Gallery. Roger Smith alluded to the PM’s presence there but joked that he didn’t want to use up his one question to address the PM’s choice of venue.

The presser served as a general Q&A going into the next parliamentary session. The Prime Minister addressed questions primarily on the Throne Speech and on the topic of the Afghan mission. Other issues addressed had primarily to do with the mandate that the PM is seeking including crime, the environment, and the economy.

On Afghanistan, Harper emphasized that it is his belief that anyone who wants to hold the office of PM has to look to the long term security of the country and cannot govern by uniformed political sentiment. Another important development has been the Prime Minister’s admission that “consensus” was perhaps the wrong word to use to describe what would be needed to continue past February 2009. Consensus implied unanimity on the issue, whereas the PM states that a he’d seek a majority in the House on the future of the Afghan mission. The PM says that the opposition parties need to consider all options on Afghanistan responsibly. Harper stated that it would be irresponsible for Canada to “pull up stakes” and leave Kandahar, but that they must leave responsibly. Leaving Kandahar in February 2009 would be “hard to imagine”. On a question about why Canada is shouldering a heavy burden in Afghanistan compared to other countries, the PM said that other countries do need to do more and that we’re shouldering a heavy burden because of the decision of the previous Liberal government to engage in Kandahar province, perhaps the most dangerous in that country. Finally, the Prime Minister stated that Canada has a moral responsibility to finish the job and to hand the country over to an Afghan security force that is ready to stand up on its own.

Concerning the Throne Speech, the PM was asked about the Bloc and Liberals’ non-negotiable demands for the speech. Harper mused that while he’s not a pundit, the losses of the BQ and the Liberals during the Quebec by-elections may suggest that they cannot make non-negotiable demands. The PM said that while the Throne speech may not meet the demands of the Opposition, it will try and address its concerns. Among other concerns stated above, the Throne Speech will also address Canada’s place in the world, and our sovereignty. The Prime Minister expressed that he desires to strengthen the state of Canada’s federation and therefore he will not be able to meet all of the ‘non-negotiable’ demands of the Bloc. The passing of the Throne Speech will be perceived as a mandate to govern and Harper emphasized that the Opposition cannot support the Throne Speech and then perturb his efforts to achieve that mandate. Predictably, Harper stated that an election precipitated by a defeat of the Throne Speech is not the preferred outcome. Regarding the Opposition, the Prime Minister stated that those parties must “fish or cut bait”. Asked why he wouldn’t take advantage of the disarray on the left and engineer his own defeat, Harper replied that he wants to govern, present defensible policies to Canadians and stated that the longer his party is in government, the better record they build to eventually run upon.

Peripheral questions included one about the Prime Minister’s opinion on Rick Hillier and whether or not the Chief of Defense staff faces a foreseeable termination date. The Prime Minister provided a spirited defense of the General. Another question came up regarding the Canadian Wheat Board. The Prime Minister stated that it is the policy of his government to push the policy of allowing farmers to sell wheat on an open market system.

On the economy, the Prime Minister noted that because of the high dollar, Canadian companies are now buying American companies and remarked sarcastically that we’ll soon be hearing alarm bells concerning the “hollowing out of the American economy” by Canadians.

Throne Speech and Fall Election

The Parliamentary break is effectively over as Ottawa Hillites are speculating about the future of the government, of Stephane Dion’s career and, of course, about a future election which would significantly affect both.

The traffic levels at Blogging Tories shook off the relatively low summer numbers on the night of the Quebec by-elections and traffic patterns are back up to normal as they were prior to the break. While Parliament has not yet resumed, everyone is hungry for politics.

Everyone, that is, except for the Canadian electorate. Just as I laughed when the Liberals said it back when they had a minority government, the other day I had to chuckle when a heard a Conservative tell a reporter on TV that “Canadians don’t want an election right now”. For people that watch politics, an election is like the Olympics; an election only happens every two years and it’s what the political junkie lives for, and what their “heroes” train for. Politicians and reporters can easily find themselves out of touch with the Canadian reality as they try and match Wellington st. with Main st. Do Canadians want an election right now? It’s pure speculation.

However, we can be sure about a few things concerning this fall in politics. First, the Liberal leader Stephane Dion and the Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe came from quite a beating in those Quebec by-elections a couple of weeks ago. Despite this, Duceppe has released his demands for the throne speech including some particularly difficult requests for the government to meet including the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan and the cessation of federal spending powers in Quebec. Some say that Duceppe is staking his priorities against Harper to show that the Bloc is the real champion of Quebec’s interests when the Prime Minister inevitably turns him down.

As for Stephane Dion, it is pretty much assured that the professor doesn’t want to fight the Prime Minister at the moment. The Liberal party lacks momentum, especially in Quebec, a traditional stronghold. Dion has also made some lofty demands of the Prime Minister including a similar demand for withdrawal from Afghanistan after February 2009, and a promise to keep the Liberals’ controversial private members bill on Kyoto alive. If the Prime Minister balks at a clear position on both, the Liberals for their sake will at least have two wedge issues to run a campaign on.

Despite this, Dion must not be particularly excited about his prospects. If anyone around him is telling him privately that they are excited about an imminent election, he should fire them now. Dion still has a lot of building (and recovering) to do if he is to even crack Harper’s incumbent seat total, not to mention score a weak minority. As opposition leader, Dion will not vote for the throne speech, but it will be difficult to abstain from it as well as such a move plays towards the “not a leader” narrative and the Conservatives will capitalize on this. Likely, the plan for Dion is to show up, make a symbolic vote against the government but ensure enough of his MPs “have the flu” as would be needed to allow the renewed mandate of the government to pass, but allow him to save face with Canadians. However, if we see too many Liberals show up to defeat the government’s throne speech, it may be a sign of Ignatieff and Rae supporters showing up to eject Dion via election. Pundits will say that Dion couldn’t count that day, however, it may be indicative of some Liberals ready to push Dion on their own sword.

We haven’t been hearing too much from the NDP regarding their demands for the throne speech and I think that this is indicative of their intent to support the government. Layton may have realized that with newly acquired momentum from Outremont, there’s more wedging to be done with the Conservatives to gut the ambiguous Liberal middle both left and right.