A speech from the throne is a curious thing.
It functions as a mission statement at the opening of a new session of Parliament, so it is effectively a government speaking in addition and about himself to the public at once. In its modern incarnation at least, it has an infomercial subtext in which it quietly extols the good already accomplished and the exploits to come, but because it is delivered by the governor-general as the Queen’s representative, all of that is hidden behind a classy non-partisan appearance.
With lots of pomp, symbolism, and a positive spin, short on details or outright acknowledgment of any displeasure, the Throne Speech may not sound so much like a stereotypical family Christmas letter: Dear family and friends, this is what we celebrate this year and what we hope for next year. In those things, the job loss is reframed as a “career change,” the deadly disease settles with hope and optimism, and the stress and clutter of family life are retouched into neat and engaging vignettes suitable for the front door. someone else’s refrigerator.
The version of the Speech from the Throne of this that Mary Simon, the newly installed governor general and the first indigenous woman to hold that position, delivered this Tuesday before a Senate shrunken by the pandemic, comes at a strange moment for the government and the country. But of course, there are not many moments that have not been strange in the last 20 months.
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dissolved Parliament to trigger an election in the summer because polls seemed friendly and the pandemic seemed to be fading from view. But then a new wave of viruses arrived and voters returned to a nearly identical Parliament in which everyone had clearly been told to sit in a corner and think about what they had done. Now, everything looms in the space between what we just happened and when and how we can, realistically, in the preferred language of the liberal government, “rebuild better.”
So this was not a Speech from the Throne that could triumphantly claim a new public mandate with a straight face or one that claimed to know what was going to happen next, because collectively we had learned some hard lessons about that before.
In fact, the keynote address Simon read nodded to how you can write a beautiful Christmas letter without realizing that by the time next year rolls around, the roof will have blown off your house. “In 2020, Canadians did not know they would face the crisis of a pandemic only in a century. But, as always, no one should be surprised at how Canadians responded, ”he read, also acknowledging the immense suffering and damage in flooded British Columbia at this time. “We adapt. We help each other. And we stayed true to our values. “
The speech seemed to try to both deal with this strange unknown moment and deny it. Each of the section titles declared “this is the time” to do something great: build a healthier today and tomorrow, develop a more resilient economy, for bolder climate action, and so on.
The issue for which the government received the most criticism from opposition conservatives during the campaign, and which is sure to be a dominant issue in the coming months, received slightly defensive treatment. “Inflation is a challenge facing countries around the world,” the speech read. “And while Canada’s economic performance is better than many of our partners, we must continue to address the rising cost of living.” To that end, the government says it will focus on “two top priorities” in the form of housing and childcare.
A series of sexual misconduct allegations at the highest ranks in the Canadian military receive a sensitive mention through a pledge that “fFight against systemic racism, sexism, discrimination, misconduct and abuse, including at our core institutions, will remain a key priority. ” The government wants to “go further, faster” in the fight against climate change in such a way that “no worker or region is left behind”, including the creation of a new National Adaptation Strategy.
Four Speeches at the Throne have already been delivered during the Trudeau administration. Each one, in hindsight, carries the feeling of an invisible threat that was about to fall from the sky.
The 2015 version was brimming with bright optimism and lofty rhetoric about who Canadians were and what they were capable of, along with a shopping list of specific promises drawn from the vast majority of government. Donald Trump’s presidency and the malevolent chaos that would accompany it had yet to be contemplated. The 2019 Throne Speech, delivered after the government was downgraded to a minority, was clearly more grounded and severe, but still comes from a world that had no idea that it was about to be turned off like a light switch and remain. like this for almost two years.
The 2020 Speech from the Throne came after Trudeau prorogued Parliament amid the heat of the WE Charity scandal, in dramatic and orderly symmetry, this was literally something his first Speech from the Throne promised never to do, and was completely concerned about COVID. -19 crisis. But even that speech looks like a photo of someone in the last second before something terrible happens that they still can’t see.
The 2020 speech in no way suggests that the battle for the pandemic is over; It’s worth remembering that when it was delivered just over a year ago, none of the vaccines that now protect three-quarters of Canadians had ever been approved, but it cites with sad horror the death statistics that have been overshadowed by the carnage. and the pain since then: 9,000 Canadians at the time, but nearly 30,000 dead now.
Also at that time the discovery of thousands of unmarked graves of children who died in residential schools was still ahead, although advocates would argue that the underlying horror they pointed to should never have been a surprise or revelation. “This year, Canadians were horrified by the discovery of nameless graves in former residential schools,” Simon read Tuesday, adding: “We know that reconciliation cannot come without the truth.” He went on to list the government’s promises to create a national monument to the survivors and to name a special interlocutor ”.to advance promote justice in residential schools. “
Simon delivered much of this speech in careful and laborious French. It was a clear gesture of effort to the fact that, as she stated when she was appointed to the position, she is bilingual in English and Inuktitut, not English and French, given the path of her life and education before becoming Canada’s first indigenous woman. . governor General.
Because the format and tradition of the Speech from the Throne is inherently formal and dry, even the slightest glimmer of humanity or emotion jumps off the page and off the Senate floor. “This decade is still young,” Simon read near the end of the speech, in French. “With compassion, courage and determination, we have the power to do better than he started.”
This Speech from the Throne was a very polished and polished version of reality that he couldn’t help but glance at the painful and unpredictable outside world, because now he knows that there is no telling when he will walk through the door.