For Media Elites Only: Are we sure we're right to laugh at that Throne Speech?

This ad — which the Conservative Party of Canada aired on TV during the 2006 election in a successful attempt to unseat Liberal prime minister Paul Martin — still makes me laugh. Beep Beep! See? You’re smiling, aren’t you?

After all, I’m a sophisticated Media Elite and the production values alone on this ad are enough to make one roll one’s eyes, followed by a condescending chuckle. And don’t get me started on the candidate’s hair! Why it looks like it was done in a hair salon in Wadena! (Media Elites will all get that joke; I’m so sorry you won’t).

And, I must say, as a Media Elite, I laughed at a lot of things  Paul Wells had to say about today’s throne speech. Not only, in my estimation, was he right in his assessment of today’s Speech from the Throne, he was witty and right. That’s not easy to do, folks.  And since I’ve got over feeling jealous that I didn’t write what he did, I’m now happy to quote from this piece: “In April, 2006, after the Harper Conservatives first formed a government, they made a great show of delivering one of the shortest Throne Speeches in modern times: 2,445 words, the equivalent of a mere three Jeffrey Simpson columns.”  (Again: Apologies for including a joke intended largely only for Media Elites who still read Simpson.)  That’s just the second sentence of Paul’s piece but I’m sure a sly grin had already spread across Paul’s face at that point as he warmed up to his topic. And, of course, I realize I shouldn’t giggle. Simpson and I once got paycheques from the same paymaster. The Media Elite world is a small one. But still.

Paul does makes a convincing case that the Speech from the Throne was a “breathtaking spout of free-associating bloviation” and, yet, Paul has  an important Deep Thought buried down at the bottom after the funny bits: “nothing here looks like a new federal program with a new secretariat, a durable entitlement claimed by a large part of the population, or a major new appropriation of public life by the federal state. It all benefits, in Harper’s eyes, from the unequal perception of scale.”

Flipping over to the National Post — where Paul and I also used to collect a paycheque — I find my former colleagues John Ivison and Andrew Coyne (see? super-small Media Elite world or what?) also down on the Speech from the Throne.  Both these men can also produce a column which makes one giggle, but this time out, they seemed less bemused and more disappointed:  “The Conservatives’ Throne Speech was a blatant attempt to convince battling middle-income earners that life will be a little more affordable if they stick with the ones that brung them,” John wrote. “Beyond the obligatory Rotarian optimism of David Johnston, the Governor General, on how honourable, selfless and smart the average Canadian is, the over-riding feeling left by the Throne Speech was dissatisfaction. It lacked conviction, like a Botox treatment gone bad.”

I do fear Nigel will take that kind of assessment personally.  (Again: apologies — Media Elites will know I was referring to  that Nigel and not to that Nigel. The rest of you ought to click on the links to figure it out.)

As for Andrew, this was ” an oddly safe, almost inert speech.” In fact, almost like Paul, Andrew found it: “A lot of boilerplate about the north and our proud history. Perhaps the base will be pleased. The Tories had better hope.”

And what about the opinions of those closer to home around my own newsroom, the Media Elites with whom I currently share a paymaster? Why, there’s John Robson — a professor of history no less — who looks back with fondness on throne speeches of other years, including the 1957 speech delivered by Her Majesty herself, and finds the current effort wanting: “Predictably, then, this year’s offering wasn’t a legislative agenda at all, it was a campaign speech. The Tory war room even tweeted followers ahead of time: ‘We’re counting on your support on the throne speech. Are you with us?’  Instead of courteously addressing legislators, a modern throne speech insultingly bypasses them.” I must say: I find it difficult to disagree with John’s assessment.

But here’s the thing: Someone somewhere noted at some point — I’m going on memory here and I believe it may have been Paul in Right Side Up (but if not, I’m hoping someone will correct me) — that the ad I and other Media Elites snickered at (above) actually did very well in focus groups filled with “hard-working Canadians who play by the rules” and, as a result, was apparently effective enough to move some support to Harper back when he was trying to overcome that Juggernaut in 2006. The point the someone somewhere was making that the opinions of thought leaders — Wells, Ivison, Coyne, Robson, etc. — don’t really matter that much when it comes to winning elections. The cold hard data of a focus group does. The calculus of the wedge issue. The discovery of a data point which can move 30,000 votes in suburban Toronto ridings.

Against that, it matters not that several leading lights among the Media Elites have well-written, hard-to-argue-with pieces about a rather long, rambling, disappointing Speech From the Throne. The Conservatives will recall how wrong snickering Media Elites were about the low-brow focus-group-tested pitch the party made in 2006 (above). And today, in particular, the Media Elite’s dismissal of the Speech from the Throne  fits perfectly into the  Conservative Party narrative, re-born with new vigour today, about  “a new low for the Ottawa media elite.”

As for me: I wish I had time to be as witty or as comprehensive as my friends Paul, Andrew, or either John. My excuse: In order to hit my print deadlines I had to write my column on the Throne Speech while I was hosting a three-hour live-to-air television program about it:

That’s why my Media Elite offering in our papers tomorrow is, I fear, likely to be thinner than others …

… “the more important speech from the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper may actually have been given early in the morning Wednesday on the other side of the world.

While Gov. Gen. David Johnston gave his big speech on Parliament Hill late in the afternoon, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was speaking early Wednesday morning at the World Energy Congress in Daegu, South Korea. There, Oliver was talking about an issue vital to Canada’s long-term prosperity: Finding new customers for our energy products . . .

I promise I’ll try to be funnier.

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