Throne speeches are more than just pomp and circumstance and the opportunity for selfies between political rivals on the beautiful marble floors of the Manitoba legislature building on Broadway. They set the agenda for the legislative session and set the tone for the government as it moves into its new session. Looked at carefully, they also reveal the priorities of the government by what is said, and also what is not said.

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This article was published 22/11/2018 (1281 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

Throne speeches are more than just pomp and circumstance and the opportunity for selfies between political rivals on the beautiful marble floors of the Manitoba legislature building on Broadway. They set the agenda for the legislative session and set the tone for the government as it moves into its new session. Looked at carefully, they also reveal the priorities of the government by what is said, and also what is not said.

But they are also highly symbolic. They are delivered by the lieutenant-governor of the province, who acts as the symbol of the head of state, the Queen, but they are written by speechwriters for the government of the day.

Political scientists have studied the throne speeches delivered at the federal level to understand the thematic commonalities and what they say about nationalism over the past 30 years. Janine Brodie of the University of Alberta, for example, determined that Canadian throne speeches delivered before the 2000s embraced a more neo-liberal tone that was tied to the global economy.

After 2000, an analysis by Tim Nieguth (Laurentian University) and Tracey Raney (Ryerson University) found that Conservative throne speeches tended to focus on neo-conservative themes — emphasizing the family, the military and threats to security — while Liberals’ speeches talked about health care and Indigenous issues.

In Manitoba, the 2018 throne speech, delivered on Tuesday by Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon, reveals that the Pallister government’s agenda is focused on the economy and is one of neo-liberalism. But at the same time, it does seem to have a social conscience, which creates a mixed message and makes it hard to pin down.

First, the neo-liberalism. The economy is front and centre; the speech talks about economic issues that "threaten our prosperity" and how "we must continue to make Manitoba the most improved province, with lower taxes, better outcomes and a stronger economy."

This is nothing new. The 2017 speech also talked about making Manitoba the most improved province with a "focus on long-term, sustainable measures to fix our finances, improve the services relied upon by our citizens and rebuild our economy."

And in 2016, the speech from the throne promised: "Manitoba’s government is setting a new course, one that will focus on long-term, sustainable measures to fix our finances, repair the services relied upon by our citizens, spark the rebuilding of our economy and put our province back on a responsible fiscal track."

In its past two throne speeches, the Pallister government has also given a nod to the military. The 2018 speech from the throne marked the centenary of Armistice Day and the end of the Great War. This is another way in which throne speeches participate in the symbolic process of nation-building, creating a shared sense of identity for a given population. Federally, the Conservatives have prided themselves on Canada’s military prowess, so it follows logically that a Conservative provincial government would do the same.

There’s also the nod in 2018 to populism with a referendum act, calling for a referendum on major tax increases, cutting red tape and regulations, a focus on justice with a commitment to the continuing review of the justice system and the rates of recidivism, as well as changes to impaired driving laws and a potential workfare program for getting people off of welfare. These are all decidedly neo-liberal ideas.

Meanwhile, Pallister’s government, through this throne speech, has committed itself to increasing the number of women on boards, something that should have happened a long time ago. It also focused on domestic violence and sexual harassment and spoke about "supporting victims." In addition, the government’s priorities for a family resolution service to help families dealing with domestic violence is laudable.

Of course, how all this will be implemented remains to be seen but, for the moment, this is all about symbolism. And if a government wants this to be seen as its priority list, then that’s significant.

Sure, a cynic could say that both the Conservatives and the NDP have a bit of a problem getting women interested in voting for them. The NDP have the "Wab" problem: leader Wab Kinew still hasn’t sold himself as being 100 per cent redeemed from his bully past, particularly after more recent video in the provincial legislature showed him towering over wheelchair-bound Independent MLA Steven Fletcher, telling him to keep his mouth shut.

The Conservatives have the "Brian" problem: Premier Brian Pallister is not always socially comfortable, either. Perhaps this latest throne speech is a symbolic way of ensuring the Conservatives can count on women’s support, particularly in vote-rich Winnipeg ridings.

Whatever the reason, it’s hard to fully grasp the motives of Pallister’s Progressive Conservatives through the symbolism of their throne speeches, but their 2018 address certainly provides women with an incentive to push for a more progressive agenda in return for support.

Shannon Sampert is a political scientist at the University of Winnipeg.

s.sampert@uwinnipeg.caTwitter: @paulysigh