15 March 2005

Res ipsa loquitur, once more

Throne Speeches have become dull creatures in some places that follow the British parliamentary tradition. Their words are to the ears and to the heart as paste is to the tongue and the bowels.

By contrast American presidential inaugural addresses are often profound expressions of the desire, of the aspirations of not only the president but of the nation. Sentences are crisp. The words themselves are carefully woven, often through successive drafts and revisions, to create a tapestry of images that still evoke intense emotion many decades after the speech was read.

Throne Speeches can be annual inaugurals. They can renew the commitment of an administration to core themes first introduced during a general election. They can inspire. They can serve as record of accomplishment and a pledge of definitive action that will be taken in the coming year.

Would that the Premier, or any politician, could hone the skill of a simple expression of the passions that move such humble people, as all we humans are, to achieve immortal purposes.

Would that the words of Throne Speeches were knives; blades with which to carve our rough-hewn minds into a weapon that, when wielded with such strength of conviction, we could never fail but to achieve a lasting victory against the demons Circumstance and Folly that have hobbled generations.

Sadly, in place of such a thing the second Williams administration Throne Speech yearns to have the soulfulness of an accountant’s ledger yet fails to attain even the bean counter’s numerical elegance with only 10 digits and a few bits of punctuation.

Amid its 7 200 words, there is the now obligatory 500 word recitation of the Saga of the Atlantic Accord. There is nearly 25% of the speech given to the importance of culture and cultural industries. It lists – yes lists – writers, comedians, musicians, actors and playwrights, as if nothing more than a recitation of WANL’s membership list and a photocopying of hoary platitudes does anything more than mock the talents of the very people to be praised.

We are promised a Strategic Cultural Plan, an Energy Plan and an Innovation Plan (both strangely not Strategic), a Rural Development Strategy (which somehow avoided being branded a Strategic Rural Development Plan) and a Northern Strategic Plan exclusively for Labrador.

There are to be other plans and planning for plans to the point where this government seems in need of an army of bureaucrats devoted solely to planning for the development of plans. This would surely be followed by creation of a new section that would integrate the planning for plan development, followed in turn by the inevitable creation of its cousin secretariat for integrating the actual plans developed by the other planning, planning development and planning integration secretariats.

Some bright soul has already seen the future: the Department of The Few Fish Left is expanding its planning department to accommodate the urgent need for plans.

This speech is a dark cloak of word-mail covering a spindly frame beneath.

I wish I were making this up.

"Now that our people have been reinvigorated by a renewed pride and hope for our future, we as a society must not allow that sense of self-confidence and optimism to fade."

This is a speech which claims credit for finding that which was not lost. It praises the lustre restored to that which had not been dulled. It lauds the cleansing of that which is not sullied. It remembers what was never forgotten. This speech sings hymns of praise to its authors unhindered by modesty or fact.

In this great desert of a speech, there are mysterious oases of action. A pilot program for single parent employment will be started. There is new money – federal money for children. Yet these are small fragrant shrubs, small patches of deep green grass in a limitless grey plain.

"In particular, My Government will create sources of capital to enable businesses to establish, grow, diversify, and prosper."

There are also white tips poking through the sand, portents of the bleached bones of Latvian dinosaurs from the days when another government brought back little more from its wanderings than the crushing weight of debt. It is not for government to create sources of private sector capital out of public money, Premier Williams. One shudders at what the winds of time will expose of that seemingly Smallwoodian tyrannosaur.

This speech evokes nothing except profound disappointment at a government of action turned to a legion preparing for future leaders.

"The time has come for new heroes to step forward: men, women, and young people who can build their community, grow our economy, foster cooperation, and inspire the confidence we need to pursue our dreams together."

In this speech, these things alone speak for themselves. It is a time for new leadership in Newfoundland and Labrador.

This speech should do nothing except hasten their stride.