Oh, Good Lord, Jack and Gilles!

Predictable, really, the nonsense that spun forth, from the leaders of the NDP and Bloc Québecois yesterday in the wake of the Throne Speech. What’s even more predictable, of course, is that they were treated seriously by the political media in attendance.

Speeches from the Throne lay out broad outlines. They are not meant to speak to specific details. Remember the Parliamentary fiction that surrounds them: the Monarch (in the person of the Governor-General) reads a speech that purports to be what “Her” (in the sense of Section 6 of the Constitution, “The Queen is the Sole Executive Authority in Canada”) Government purports to do, i.e. that it has Royal “blessing”. The speech, of course, is written in the Prime Minister’s Office and whether the Royal Reader approves, disapproves, or even despises the content it must be read. So Governments avoid anything smacking of the details, and the Monarchy stays out of politics. Sometimes fictions serve more valuable purposes, and say more (by being truths), than fidelity to the facts would do.

Now any Throne Speech given in November, 2008, would need to in some way devote its primary thrust to the economic storms lashing the nation. Much has changed even since election day, only five weeks ago. Yet matters of the economy are also budget matters (be that a full-blown operational budget or an economic statement) — and that, by tradition, must follow the Throne Speech. So even if the tradition of guarding the Monarchy from policy positions and critique for them didn’t hold, one shouldn’t expect spending details: merely broad directions.

Give Stéphane Dion, Ralph Goodale and other Liberals their due: they gets this, at least up to the time of writing (the Leaders’ Statements in response come later today). He called the Throne Speech what it is — a statement of intention — and said that governments should not be felled for mere intentions. “Let us see the economic statement before passing judgement”: quite sound.

Ah, but wave a microphone and camera lens in front of Jack and Gilles, who went up the Hill, and we are blown over by the wave of illogic which flows so freely from their tongues unencumbered by responsibility. (Memo to Jack Layton: you want to be Prime Minister? Act at all times as though you have the responsibility of government.)

Now Gilles we could (although I am not feeling charitable toward the BQ today) cut some slack, for he and his senior members have the opportunity to aid and abet their provincial counterparts, the PQ, in the Québec election, by carrying certain messages directly into the Québec media. Besides, there is never “what Québec wants” in anything, and, frankly, I think it’s time Québec showed a little restraint in constantly being in “demand” mode. (I do not expect gratitude: it is a false emotion, usually really resentment rather than one of pleasure, despite the smiles. But a little sense of responsibility and reason wouldn’t go amiss.)

So, en réalité, we are left with Jack and his well-cultivated indignation, aided and encouraged by those who allow him lengthy airtime and softball questions.

The Throne Speech told Canadians of a policy shift: a deficit for a short period of time would not be ruled out. Jack is against that: how dare Mr. Harper go against every Canadian sensibility about the sacred trust of remaining in surplus! Then, too, how dare Mr. Harper limit his options? — what if he needs deficits for a long time in this economic storm? Would he leave amelioration of conditions undone for ideological reasons?

How one can hold both propositions in their head simultaneously is beyond me, but Orwellian Newspeak and Doublethink is alive and well chez Jack, evidently, and in our political punditry, too, who did not break out laughing in response. (If the Ottawa doyens of the media could outright laugh at Paul Martin during the press conference for Belinda Stronach’s crossing the floor for his doublespeak, why not this?)

But Jack is not done: the kitchen table of “ordinary Canadians” has yet to be pounded by the shoe of indignation. Spending on infrastructure is a bad thing, because it takes money away from saving Canadians’ jobs, yet not spending on infrastructure is failing to create jobs. Reviewing other government programmes to afford the efforts to ameliorate economic distress is horrific — “how dare they betray these sacred trusts?” — and yet “the Government must focus on the needs of Canadians”.

Oh, and please bail out the industrial sector, starting with the auto industry, but don’t cut corporate taxes and perhaps even raise them — after all, they’re rich, they can pay.

Drivel is drivel. I have had many good things to say about Jack Layton in the past, but he lost me today. Threatening to bring down the Government over the Throne Speech (“if it doesn’t fall, it’s because the other parties won’t do their part”) over this bag of mixed up priorities? Who are we trying to kid?

Yet the media laps it up without a word of question. No surprise there, though: for twenty years the trend has been to eschew reporting and avoid thinking in favour of catch-phrases, repetition of talking points, press-releases masquerading as reporting, and let’s get to the talking heads, because they’re cheaper than the field work — plus they stay on schedule, which is good for the commercials.

So I guess it’s up to me to bell the cat. Jack, you are irrational. You foam out clichés and talking points without even listening to yourself. You destroy your credibility in a few indignant sentences. You just set your party back — don’t be surprised at seat losses next time around.

No, you don’t have to support the Government. Vote against them as you and your caucus see fit. But you owe Canadians some integrity (you might remember that a position has integrity because its parts fit together and are in accord with facts in the real world) in your opposition, not merely a grab bag approach.

Frankly, as well, to your charge that the Government didn’t “listen to the Opposition parties”: hogwash! Weren’t you the one who held the Martin Government up to ransom over infrastructure spending? Or is that if you don’t hear your own sound-bites, with attribution, you can’t figure it out?

I would cheerfully supporting keeping these two off the air until they figure out the difference between being irrational spoilt brats and being effective politicians for the twenty-first century.

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