We should look to unite, not divide

A traditional rumble of discontent followed Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon’s delivery of the Throne Speech on February 10. It was, shouted leaders of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition a “half hour of emptiness”.

NDP leader John Horgan, not well known for thinking before delivering what he thinks are mortal blows to political enemies, accused Premier Clark (author of the speech read by the Lieut.-Governor) of squandering an opportunity to help people “crushed” by higher Hydro bills, increased Medical Service Plan payments and nudging-up ICBC rates.

She should, he implied, have given the Lt.- Gov a magic wand to wave and end the incessant nibbling at what we call our disposable income. If he is elected premier of BC in 2017 he will, presumably, produce that wand himself and we shall all be modestly richer.

But don’t bet on it.

The “speech” – which would be better called a “Reading from the Throne” – was, Hogan said, waste “of a half hour none of us will ever get back”. And the local newspaper piously noted he was commenting on “the speech which traditionally lays out the government’s agenda for the spring sitting of the Legislature.”

Having survived a fair number of Throne Speeches in my decades as a political reporter I can’t remember one that offered a “written in stone” agenda for the future. The best ever offered would be a “shopping list” of things the government would like to do – and that would be a tenuous list to be fleshed out when the annual budget was unveiled – or forgotten because desirable though the dream was, funding  couldn’t be found make it real.

Members of the Legislature – government and opposition – love the so called “debate” that follows the Throne Speech because it gives them a wonderful opportunity to inform all and sundry on almost any topic they choose – mostly a chamber of commerce hymn of praise of the riding they serve. There’s high prestige in getting your name in Hansard.

A trawl through old and growing ancient Throne Speeches reveals a few gems, but very few. The “debate” in praise or critical of the “Speech” is thin in quality of content, but not entirely devoid of profitable information.

Dave Barrett’s first Throne Speech, delivered by Lieutenant Governor John Robert Nicholson on October 18, 1972, was seven paragraphs long, and took three or four minutes to read at a slow, well enunciated pace. It contained only promise “the first guaranteed minimum income of $200 month for senior citizens.” It would cost a “substantial amount of money” but would have high priority because “this wealthy province has the funds available and it is a matter or some urgency that these funds be put into the hands of our senior citizens as quickly as possible.”

There followed a title list of 13 provincial acts the government intended to amend during the legislative session and needed to be formally placed on the legislative agenda. And it was from start to finish the shortest Throne Speech- Opening Day on record.

The debate that followed offered a few bright spots one being a wonderful history lesson by Daisy Webster, NDP, Vancouver South. It was her maiden speech and she used it to deliver a thumb-nail concise history of the socialist movement in Canada. She did mention the Throne Speech but only in fleeting passage and as demanded by protocol.

It’s worth digging out and reading as is the entire record of that day in history when British Columbians witnessed a Legislature dominated for the first time by a socialist party.

Another new member, seconding Daisy Webster’s motion to accept the Throne Speech, was Graham Lea, NDP Prince Rupert. In his maiden speech he took the Legislature on a good humoured tour of his riding but with one serious message: “I think we should always look to unite rather than divide, because it is only together and working together that we can build a better society in British Columbia.”

Sound advice to all MLA’s, new or old but nobody listened back then, and by the sound of the hyped reaction to this year’s innocuous, traditional, opening day on what should simply be a celebration of democracy, nobody’s listening now.

(A Google of The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia will lead  to transcripts of past debates and proceedings)


One comment

  1. Thank you once again, Jim for your insights. I worked briefly in caucus and what was happening in the house was piped into the office. What surprised me was how few MLAs could do a decent job of public speaking. It was actually shocking how poor many of them were. Graham Lea was a true orator, a skill I naively thought was a prerequisite for a politician.

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