It's not exactly my day job, but after hanging onto every word of the Paul Martin's Speech from the Throne this week, I'm ready to offer my services as a discourse analyst. Discourse analysis, as far as I'm able to follow the discourse, is designed to gauge the unconscious effect of key words and phrases in a major document such as a Throne Speech. In contrast to members of opposition parties and the media, who deal with what's happening on the surface level of an event, discourse analysts look at the submerged part of the public mind, that underwater portion of the iceberg that accounts for 90 per cent of mass behaviour.
Politicians sometimes hire discourse analysts so they can practise the black art of hegemony and rule by virtue of the way questions are framed or debated, not what they say about anything in particular.
Take, for example, the fact that Paul Martin plans to change Canada. The word "change" crops up again and again, as if none of us can get as much change as we need from our governments or society.
But Martin will plan change, not force it. Old-style liberals, just like old-style conservatives, used centralized "command and control tools" to effect change: wage and price controls, Crown corporations, Bank of Canada-dictated low or high interest rates, industrial policy, energy policy, farm policy, laws, Mounties, troops and so on.
But I notice that Martin refers to our "capacity for change," the ways Canadians have "embraced change with a new confidence" and want a government that can "lead change" and help us achieve it.
Canada will enjoy sound social foundations - things like well-paid and meaningful work, comprehensive health care and safe cities - when Canadian families and communities "have the tools to find local solutions for local problems," the Throne Speech claims.
"Bravo," I can't help declaring. He has discursively redefined the traditional issues of a national government so they can be downloaded to a local government that has few tools and fewer resources to manage them.
The Throne Speech says Canada depends not on strong federal policies, not on social or health programs, but "on communities that can attract the best talent and compete for investment as vibrant centres of commerce, learning and culture." Further, the speech is specific about how this relates to the new urban agenda. "To this end, the government of Canada is committed to a new deal for Canada's municipalities," the speech says, in case there's any doubt about how the logic is constructed.
The discourse around the "democratic deficit' in the speech is shrewdly handled. The PM could have talked about the social deficit of the last 10 years, when child poverty, homelessness and hunger all increased, but this would have implicated the then minister of finance, Paul Martin. Blame for the democratic deficit belongs to former prime minister Jean Chretien. This is a case where discourse can handle some old grudges.
Other than that, discourse analysis reveals the pro-democracy statements in the Throne Speech to be dull and tepid, focused exclusively on members of Parliament, with nary a reference to expanded rights of citizens or voters.
And the climax of the democratic renewal section promises an expenditure review to prevent government deficits and respect tax dollars. Crafty, shallow and crass, approximately the opposite of democracy.
And in another clever touch, the PM comes clean on the fact that he's taken all his ideas from his favourite book over the past decade, Reinventing Democracy, which is where he gets his point about how governments of the future steer but let the people row. And why he praises all the volunteer and charitable groups that have taken over what used to be government functions. But there's a risk. This steer and row stuff could prompt some wiseacre to refer to the way government polices let people sink, a discourse analyst might note.
In this vein, the Throne Speech indeed promised to support a voluntary sector initiative. No reference was made, however, to demands from voluntary organizations to relax rules that prevent them from spending more resources on advocacy, something that might be considered important if a government wanted to help out citizens who suffer from a democratic deficit.
Nice section on the "smart regulations" and "enabling role" that will lead to the waves of the future, the brave new economy of biotechnology, nanotechnology and communications technology, a discourse analyst could say. You'd never know that a major Canadian industry like steel was going in the same direction as the garment industry, the shipping industry, the farming sector - down the pipes. It's like Stelco's troubles never happened under Martin's watch, an analyst might cheer. The old manufacturing economy once provided decent wages and security to working people, a benchmark that nanotechnology will have trouble matching.
But the PM has no reason to worry. No one does discourse analysis any more, so his discourse won't even be noticed.