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Canada Rex Murphy: A week of two speeches — one dreary, the other dreadfully juvenile

21:30  06 december  2019
21:30  06 december  2019 Source:   nationalpost.com

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Justin Trudeau et al. standing next to a man in a suit and tie: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chats with Princess Anne, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a reception at Buckingham Palace on Dec. 3, 2019.© Yui Mok/AFP via Getty Images Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chats with Princess Anne, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a reception at Buckingham Palace on Dec. 3, 2019.

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

This week has had a comfortable symmetry. It began with a speech no one was supposed to hear and ended with one no one wanted to. The second, what we still call the speech from the throne, is a spiritless anachronism, an outdated piece of parliamentary liturgy. It may not be against the law for a speech from the throne to be interesting, in any way memorable for phrase or thought, but it is evidently the conviction of those who plaster these verbal gumwads together that it is.

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Additionally they are a most curious feat of ventriloquism. The figure reading the speech (the Governor General) is not there in her own person but as an avatar or stand-in for the Queen. The words issuing from the Royal lips are understood by the stale conventions of this piece of theatricality to be of Her Majesty’s own manufacture. (Which is a libel in itself. No queen, and certainly not our long-serving one, could be as bland, flat and turgid as the prose of a throne speech would make her out to be. Charles maybe, but not Her Majesty, Elizabeth II.)

In reality the thing is constructed by the “communications shop” of the Prime Minister’s Office, probably supported by outcalls to a few Giller Prize runners-up or someone working at the Walrus (a local magazine). There you have it: the whole bloated affair is a fantasy of thinnest stagecraft. A woman impersonating another woman reading words we pretend are her own that the world knows are the produce of high-priced hirelings and (possibly) a few freelancers.

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The press of course goes along with this charade in the hope its hopeless drama and ceremony will, ever so little, jolt circulation or viewership. This, too, is a dream. There is not a sane Canadian anywhere in this great land who has so much as postponed a trip to Canadian Tire to pick up a bag of cement or a lug wrench because the throne speech was on. And there is certainly not one Canadian, sane or otherwise, who backed off a dental appointment to harvest the wisdom of after-panels giving lip-service to “what it really means.”

The speech from the throne is the corporate mission statement of the government, and like all corporate mission statements, it is a semantic graveyard, where dullness and pretentiousness conspire, successfully, against the life and lift of our two wonderful official languages.

It is my serious view that hardly anyone really pays any attention to this show except those who are paid to pay attention to it. And even they must sometimes question whether they really profit from the barter.

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Julie Payette holding a cell phone:  Governor General Julie Payette delivers the speech from the throne as Parliament prepares to resume for the first time since the federal election, on Dec. 5, 2019.© Blair Gable/Reuters Governor General Julie Payette delivers the speech from the throne as Parliament prepares to resume for the first time since the federal election, on Dec. 5, 2019.

The other speech, the really interesting speech, the speech that still has people talking and was headlined all over the Western world, came from the prime minister, at his first major international gathering (NATO conference) since his re-election. By calling it a speech I know I’m overdressing it; it was really nothing more than a string of words, spontaneously exchanged between Justin Trudeau and a huddle of other smart boys (Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson and Mark Rutte) with Princess Anne listening in.

They and he appeared to be quite jollified, enjoying quite a little chuckle over (what they would condescendingly regard as) the antics of the erratic President Trump. They were giggling like schoolboys telling their first dirty joke. Mr. Trudeau was at his high-spirited and cheerful best, evidently taking the lead in the exchange and delivering the best howler — “His team’s jaws drop to the floor.” It was all very, shall we say, catty.

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It was, of course, not meant to be heard, not an exchange they would have made to Donald Trump’s face, for that would have been manful. But alas, at high international summits on matters of world security in Buckingham Palace itself, there will be cameras, and microphones. There will be cellphones, too, in every hand or pocket. At such gatherings the walls, indeed, do have ears. So it is not smart for any leader to speak what he does not wish the world to hear.

Boris Johnson et al. standing next to a person in a suit and tie:  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shares a laugh with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Princess Anne during a reception at Buckingham Palace on Dec. 3, 2019.© Yui Mok/AFP via Getty Images Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shares a laugh with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Princess Anne during a reception at Buckingham Palace on Dec. 3, 2019.

What is called a “press pool” camera caught enough of the exchange to be deciphered and soon it whizzed around the planet, front-paged wherever it went, and naturally made it to the eyes and ears of the greatest tweeter the world will ever know. The assassin of 280 characters or less.

Mr. Trump responded as Mr. Trump always does. But not with the full fury and zest we normally associate with this president when he sees himself crossed.

True, he publicly called Trudeau two-faced — certainly not a kind term ever, and one which after Trudeau’s unhappy experience in the recent election — those photos — carried a hefty sting. He called up again Canada’s shortfall in the matter of its NATO commitments. But through it all he repeated that “He’s a nice guy, I find him to be a very nice guy …”. There’s an element of courtesy there, even in his hard reply.

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Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie standing in front of a crowd:  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to U.S. President Donald Trump at the NATO summit in Watford, England, on Dec. 4, 2019, the day after he was caught on video mocking the president.© Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to U.S. President Donald Trump at the NATO summit in Watford, England, on Dec. 4, 2019, the day after he was caught on video mocking the president.

And while some here in Canada professed that it was good that Trudeau was whispering his mind, outside the reaction was not so kind. Bret Stephens of The New York Times, never to be confused with being a Trump supporter, was very harsh: “When Justin Trudeau was overheard at the summit belittling Trump for taking too long with his press conference, the Canadian prime minister sounded to many Americans like a child whining that a working parent had kept him waiting for supper.” Summon the medics.

All in all it was a bad debut for the second term. Especially when so much is at stake, with the trade deal, with Canadian citizens jailed and hostage in China, with so much more for which the Canadian government must have the support of the U.S. government — and the personal favour of Mr. Trump. Sad.

The week of the two speeches, and the main value of the second one, the speech from the throne, was that it partially obscured the adolescent chatter of the first.

Rex Murphy: Capt. Kenney journeys to the heart of the Obfuscation Galaxy .
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