The Speech from the Throne uses Canada’s recent success at the Vancouver Olympics and generosity toward Haiti to set a ringingly patriotic tone. Beneath its expected rhetoric about jobs, family and security, a surprising number of specific new initiatives are sketched. But sketched is the word—the speech doesn’t fill in much detail. From my first read-through, at least five striking examples cry out for more precision, sometime very soon.
1. There’s a promise to “aggressively review all departmental spending.” The Conservatives announced on Sept. 25, 2006, that they had “eliminated wasteful and ineffective programs” after a review launched in their very first budget in 2006. How much new waste has crept into the system since then? In other words, how much spending do they expect to cut? (Maybe tomorrow’s budget will tell us.)
2. There’s a promise to “open Canada’s doors further to venture capital and to foreign investment in key sectors, including the satellite and telecommunications industries…” Does this suggest that last year’s controversial Globalive decision was, despite government claims that it did not open the door to more foreign ownership, a harbinger things to come?
3. There’s a promise to support businesses by removing “unnecessary and job-killing regulation and barriers to growth.” The small-business lobby puts cutting red tape right behind reducing taxes as a priority. On the other hand, after the financial meltdown of 2008 was blamed largely on lax regulation, the word no longer carries negative connotations in talk about the economy. So exactly which federal regulations are pointless rather than prudent?
4. There’s a promise to “look to innovative charities and forward-thinking private-sector companies to partner on new approaches to many social challenges.” Does this mean more initiatives like Winnipeg’s recent and controversial government-funded Youth for Christ community centre project? Exactly which social challenges are best handled by private charities or even companies? And what sorts of charities and companies?
5. There are promises to “give police investigative powers for the twenty-first century” and “modernize the judicial tools employed to fight terrorism and organized crime.” Police chiefs often complain that they lack manpower; criminal courts face backlogs. But what are the investigative and judicial powers, rather than resources, that police and judges currently lack when it comes to properly enforcing the law?
We ask, they answer. Here’s Industry Minister Tony Clement a little while back responding on the Hill to reporters’ questions on what the government intends for the telecommunications sector:
“Well, these will be coming out in due course. Clearly what we’ve heard from the sector as well as the satellite sector is that in order for them to continue to grow, to continue to innovate, to continue to create new jobs and new opportunity for Canadians there has to be a review of this policy. This was obviously recommended by the original report on competitiveness, the Red Wilson Report and clearly we’ll be following up on that.”