Conservatives seek fresh start with Speech from the Throne

New session of parliament likely to be dominated by old issues

On Wednesday, Oct. 16, the Conservatives kicked off a new session of parliament with the Speech from the Throne. The speech came after an extra-long summer break, when the Conservatives delayed the return to the House of Commons by prorogation. Prior to the prorogation, the party attracted media attention for scandals that came to dominate the previous session of parliament.

The strategy in the speech includes a focus on a number of pocketbook issues aimed at appealing to middle-class voters, including promising lower roaming costs and allowing consumers to choose individual television channels instead of having to order blocks of channels.

University of Manitoba assistant professor Fiona MacDonald has a research interest in Canadian politics. MacDonald thinks that the Conservatives’ strategy just might work.

“I would say it’s a smart strategy; it’s a way to get some of the voters who have been isolated from the party back on board. Even though we might be talking about a huge amount of money, these pocketbook issues tend to have a very tangible effect on voters. When it comes to distracting from the current issues, it’s not a bad way to go.”

In the last federal election the Conservatives did very well in middle-class suburban ridings, especially in southern Ontario. According to Royce Koop, assistant professor in political studies at the U of M, it is these voters that the Conservatives are trying to woo with their current focus issues.

“In terms of politics it’s a good strategy, and it’s in keeping with their previous tactics. They are popular amongst middle-class voters, and I think they sense that they’ve found their winning strategy, not in terms of reaching out to expand, but in solidifying their existing support.”

The speech was one of the longest in recent Canadian history, and contained references to an array of issues that the government hopes to address in the coming session of parliament, including new legislation to address cyberbullying, railroad safety, allowing the legal transportation of alcohol across provincial boundaries, and even a renewed effort to find the lost expedition of 19th century explorer Sir John Franklin.

However, Dr. Koop thinks that the speech failed to move the focus past the scandals of the previous session.

“If you wanted to change the channel you’d think you’d do something original, or unorthodox, that would capture some attention. The issues outlined in the speech probably won’t find much traction with voters. But this is [the Conservatives’] pattern; they’ve stuck to the strategy they know. If the goal was to turn the page, it did not work. I don’t think it was a screw-up on the party’s part; it was a conscious decision to stick with the things that work for them, but it certainly didn’t work in terms of moving the government past the Senate scandal.”

The Senate expense scandal had embroiled the Conservative party in the previous session of parliament, when it was discovered that Prime Minister Harper’s top aide Nigel Wright had given a cheque for $90,000 to Senator Mike Duffy to pay for inappropriate expense claims.

The issue of Senate reform, which had been championed by the Conservatives, was largely ignored in the throne speech.

“It’s a lot easier to champion reform when you’re not in power. The longer they’ve been in power, the less they’ve focused on the issue. It’s like electoral reform: it’s great to campaign on when in opposition, but when you’re in power, you’re going to be less inclined to change things; it means the system is working for you,” said MacDonald.

The RCMP are currently carrying out an investigation of three Conservative appointed-senators: Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau. The senators are facing possible suspension.