Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Notes on the Harper speech: a PM obsessed with "red tape"

A few observations on the big speech of the day...

First thought, he shouldn't have written it himself (read the entire speech, here, in pdf and watch, here). Principally due to the unnecessary partisanship that was included at the end of his speech, and throughout. It's getting play in the media, as Radwanski puts it, undermining his message. The blatant mischaracterizations the PM injected today are dealt with in those pieces.

That specific partisan attack against the opposition that really had no place here seems to have crept into the rest of the speech too. Harper seems to have been unable to let go of the current political debate over that unaccountable $3 billion fund he's seeking. It seems to have coloured his overall message. He opened the speech with two mentions of "cutting red tape," actually in the first few paragraphs of the speech (the phrase appears 7 times throughout the speech). Not exactly an inspirational attention grabber. He then returned to the red tape theme at the end, devoting a whole section to the topic that morphed into a partisan attack on the opposition. We're left to conclude that one of Mr. Harper's key messages today is that "red tape" is the cause of any delay that might occur in the delivery of this stimulus plan. Either of the bureaucratic or political variety. When we know that's not exactly true, is it? We know what the Harper government has been doing since the spring of 2008 and it's not a heck of a lot of governing. Now they're suffering the inevitable fallout. The PM is under the gun to "fast-track" the plan, talking up the "unprecedented speed" at which they're moving. But the machinery of government is what a PM has to deal with. Legitimate political opposition, that's what a PM has to grapple with. To be focussing the nation's attention on "red tape" at the moment, it feels like a big old excuse being offered up in a prime ministerial speech. That's the takeaway for me and it doesn't add up to a great leadership moment.

On the remainder of the substance of the speech, there was a laundry list of items the government's announced, the home renovation tax credit, for example among others. Missing in tone though, the hope, the inspirational pitch. There was some of it in his appeals for Canadians to throw off their modesty and be confident about the strengths we have. But many of those can be attributed not to his government but to the heavily regulated banking sector and the strong financial position left to him.

Also missing from the speech, an emphasis on jobs. No empathetic language whatsoever to connect with those who have lost them already or are facing such prospects. In fact, just two minor mentions of the word, "jobs," in the entire speech. Strange, particularly when you consider the location he and his team chose for the speech:
The area where Mr. Harper chose to make his speech has seen major job losses as the manufacturing and auto sectors take a beating.
From CP:
A spokesman said the speech locale was chosen because southern Ontario's manufacturing sector has been particularly hard-hit by the recession. Brampton, some 45 kilometres northwest of Toronto, is home to a Chrysler assembly plant and scores of light industry.

The Chrysler plant employs 3,500 people and although it remains open, it was recently idled for a week.
Completely and inexplicably missed the opportunity to address the jobs issue in the hard hit manufacturing base of Ontario. Seems kind of important.