Ontarians must unite behind the new Progressive Conservative government’s agenda, Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell said in Thursday’s speech from the throne, because the world is too uncertain for us to risk anything else.
The ceremonial speech lays out what the government intends to do over the next few months. It’s traditionally an occasion of grandeur, with buglers and big-gun salutes on the legislature grounds. The elected government supplies the speech and the Queen’s representative delivers it. The speech reflects politicians’ desires and intentions, as it’s supposed to, but in a way that doesn’t seem too partisan and respects that Dowdeswell’s signature is on everything the last government did, too.
The throne speech began its faluting at a duly elevated level. The lieutenant-governor welcomed the MPPs to the legislature and reminded them of their duty to the people who elected them.
“We face mounting challenges at home and abroad,” she went on, without specifying them. “These challenges, if left unchecked, threaten livelihoods and imperil public services. We cannot afford to dither or delay. To overcome these challenges, we must challenge the status quo, reject the old compromises and embrace change.”
Ontario has to “move past the politics of division,” Dowdeswell read. “We must look beyond our differences — in race, region, language, gender, religion, lifestyle, sexual orientation or creed — and recognize that all of us are Ontarians and Canadians first. Because no matter where any of us come from, or how long we have lived here, it should be clear that when Ontarians work together, there is no challenge that cannot be overcome.”
And then the address went straight into close paraphrases of Premier Doug Ford’s populist stump speech.
The government’s plan “includes scrapping the cap-and-trade carbon tax here in Ontario, and opposing other carbon-tax schemes in all of their forms,” Dowdeswell read, for instance. “These oppressive taxes make life unaffordable for families and put thousands of Ontario jobs at risk. In a time of economic uncertainty, a punishing carbon tax is the last thing Ontario families and businesses can afford.”
If the lieutenant-governor seemed bit dour about the whole thing, maybe it’s because as a senior federal public servant in the 1980s, she helped negotiate an early international agreement to fight climate change and went on to lead the United Nations Environment Program for six years.
But Dowdeswell has a different job now and she read the words and the MPPs on the Progressive Conservative side applauded and she did her best not to scowl at them.
“You can also count on your government to respect parents, teachers and students by getting back to basics and replacing failed ideological experiments in the classroom with tried-and-true methods that work,” the speech went on. “It will include scrapping the failed experimental ‘Discovery Math’ curriculum and focusing on the fundamentals that allow our children to succeed. It will also include respecting parents by replacing the current sex-education curriculum with a new age-appropriate one that is based on real consultation with parents.”
Respect for men and women in uniform, especially the police (who will be freed from “onerous restrictions that treat those in uniform as subjects of suspicion and scorn”). An inquiry into Ontario’s public finances (“too many people are feeling excluded from a system that too often seems tilted in the direction of insiders and the elite,” the lieutenant-governor read). A province open for business again.
“Change will not be easy,” Dowdeswell read as she concluded. “It will require a unity of purpose, a clear vision and a lot of hard work.”
The conflict between the calls for unity as Dowdeswell opened and closed and much of the content she read in between is pretty obvious. The Liberals pursued police reform, to take one example, because the number of people, especially black people and people with mental illnesses, being hurt and even killed at police hands was unacceptably high. Casting this immensely complicated issue as a case of insufficient respect for the obvious good guys is not unifying. Reverting to a 20-year-old sex-education curriculum to satisfy a small element of the Tory base is not unifying. Choosing to do nothing at all about climate change is not unifying.
The Tories had a list of promises and they won the election and they get to govern. But how they go about fulfilling their promises matters, and winning doesn’t mean they can expect to be free of criticism or opposition. Calling for unity, as a value in itself, is a call to support the status quo, not to change it.
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