What was his touchstone in the speech? The economy, of course, what else could it possibly be from Harper. And he seemed to be doing two things in his speech with that focus in mind.
First, he explained Canada's domestic economic success in a distinctly conservative way. There were at least four references to low taxes. The trade agenda, government efficiencies. Which all seemed to be wrapped in an effort to portray this as some type of value statement, about what economic values Canada possesses. Here is some of it:
“So, friends, knowing these things, in Canada, when times were good, we ran surpluses, and we used them.I hesitate to reiterate all that but it's about showing Mr. Harper's limitations. This seems like the kind of rote thing you'd say to the local Board of Trade. Except for the accompanying effort to spin it all into some kind of economic values system.
“Not to expand the state, but to pay down debt and to lower taxes.
“As a result, since our Government came to office, the average Canadian family now pays about $3,300 (about 2,200 pounds) less in federal taxes every year.
“Canada now also has the lowest rate of tax on new business investment in the G-7.
“Consequently, we are widely regarded as the best place in the world to do business, and we have the best post-recession job creation record among the major developed economies.
“Our values also tell us, as you have put it, Prime Minister, that you cannot borrow your way out of a debt crisis.’
“In Canada, we have no debt crisis, so during the recession we were able, to deliberately borrow to sustain economic activity and confidence, but in a way that was timely, targeted and temporary.
“And we are now returning, gradually but surely, to a balanced budget, without raising taxes.
Then we heard a sort of Harper doctrine. The short version: There are world perils and threats that nations will have to meet but...our national bank account must be liquid, people! Otherwise, it's a no go.
“Countries that do not bring their finances under control or that close their economies to the world, will face consequences.Nothing leads to diminished influence more quickly than the decline of economic performance? Solvency? Shades of JFK but please add the economic fine print to this: "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty." See how much better that is?
“And those consequences are not only economic.
“In the absence of solvency, relevancy will also disappear.
“Nothing can lead more quickly and more completely to diminished influence
in the world than the decline of economic performance and financial credibility.
“Should we fail to faithfully adhere to our values in economic matters the wider values that we wish to protect for all humanity, values of freedom, democracy and justice, of dignity, compassion and security, those valueswill almost certainly be eroded.
“And they will be eroded friends at a time, when they are most needed.
“Because for good to happen in this world, someone must speak up for these values, and have the will and the capacity to act, so that these values are not mere sentiments.
“I speak of the courage to denounce oppressors and aggressors, to counter extremist ideologies,and to confront the abominations that must not be tolerated.
It's also ironic, these conservative leaders talking up the need to have stable domestic economies in order to meet world threats. The right wing policies that leave nations in debt and deplete treasuries are the economic results that have been seen. See also such economy destroying policies as invading Iraq.
More from the same crux of the speech where he defines the central challenge:
“But, make no mistake, if we wish to spread prosperity to others, we must beWithout prosperity there can be no aid, said the Prime Minister who will tout our world leading economic strength yet slashes foreign aid and dismantles CIDA but nevertheless praises Britain for keeping their levels up. The emphasis on western prosperity as what must be guarded rings hollow. There's an us versus them tone to Harper's remarks. We cannot give to you unless we remain well off. We cannot project our values unless we retain our wealth and influence.
“Without prosperity, there can be no aid.
“Indeed, without prosperity, we will have little ability to project any of our values anywhere.
“And, of course, we cannot hope to effectively spread these values unless we live by them ourselves and demonstrate our own success by virtue of doing so.
“Lord Speaker, Mr. Speaker, distinguished guests, I believe this is the challenge we face in the West today.
“There are massive shifts, shifts of epic dimensions, taking place in the world economy.
“To the extent this means that traditionally less fortunate people are beginning to enjoy prosperity, and the other fruits of our values, much of this is a good thing.
“But there are also, as there have always been, rising powers that do not share our values, and dangerous forces that seek to destroy them.
“We cannot, in the face of this, be at all complacent or, as I have said elsewhere,
We cannot entertain the notion, as I think some in the West do, that our wealth and influence can be assumed, that they are some kind of birthright.
“I know, Prime Minister, that neither of our governments think that, which is why we take the difficult decisions we do, to ensure our people will remain among the most fortunate and prosperous for the generations to come.
“But, just as we cannot be complacent about our wealth, neither can we allow our peoples, in these times of tough decisions and shifting fortunes, to become fatalistic.
Honestly, in reading such speeches that are occasions, and caring citizens should take a few moments to consider, you really want to hear and feel a sense of your country in them. But it just doesn't seem to come with Mr. Harper. He doesn't complete the job. Economics is cool territory, there's no heart in it. It doesn't grasp the essence of what Canada is and that could be portrayed to the world if this is a ground shifting moment, as he sees it.
Here is a clip - yes, one exists! - of the MacKenzie King speech to the UK Parliament in 1944 and his speaking of Canada entering the war. Harper included one of King's lines in his remarks, saying we entered "not from obligation, but ‘was the outcome of our deepest political instinct, a love of freedom and a sense of justice.’" Out of our deepest political instinct. Times and instincts have changed...