I have previously written about the opening of a new parliament, or session of parliament, which begins with the Speech from the Throne, or the Queen’s Speech, as it is called in the United Kingdom.
A new session of Parliament opened 8 May 2013 in the UK, and HRH Queen Elizabeth delivered the Speech in the House of Lords. You can watch that event here, if interested.
One of the most striking differences between the Queen’s Speech and a Speech from the Throne here in Canada is the length of the speech. The Queen’s Speeches are remarkably brief compared to the Speeches delivered by Canadian Governors General.
Today’s speech totalled 845 words. The two previous speeches were of comparable length: the 9 May 2012 Speech ran 827 words, and the 25 May 2010 Speech was slightly longer, coming in at 901 words. But that is perhaps understandable – that speech marked the opening of the current parliament following the May 2010 general election rather than the start of a new session.
Recent Canadian Speeches from the Throne have been significantly longer. The most recent, delivered 3 June 2011, following the May 2011 general election and opening the current Parliament, was 3,677 words long. There were three Throne Speeches delivered during the previous Parliament. The first, which opened the 40th Parliament, delivered on 19 November 2008, totalled 4,218 words. The Throne Speech to open the 2nd session of the 40th Parliament (26 January 2009) was a bit of an anomaly. It was only 749 words long. The Throne Speech to open the 3rd session, however, was a whopping 5,978 words (3 March 2010).
What we find is that the past three UK Queen’s Speeches average 858 words, while the average for a Canadian Speech from the Throne is 3,655 words – over four times longer.
The Queen’s Speech is normally a fairly specific and straight-forward overview of a dozen or so pieces of legislation the Government intends to bring forward in the new session:
A Bill will be introduced to reduce the burden of excessive regulation on businesses. A further Bill will make it easier for businesses to protect their intellectual property.
A draft Bill will be published establishing a simple set of consumer rights to promote competitive markets and growth.
My government will introduce a Bill that closes the Audit Commission.
My government will continue to invest in infrastructure to deliver jobs and growth for the economy.
Legislation will be introduced to enable the building of the ‘High Speed Two’ railway line, providing further opportunities for economic growth in many of Britain’s cities.
My government will continue with legislation to update energy infrastructure and to improve the water industry.
Canadian Speeches from the Throne tend to be far more generalised and include a lot of context – or window-dressing, as we see from the 2011 Speech from the Throne:
Our Government has made Canada’s North a cornerstone of its agenda. The strongest expression of our sovereignty comes through presence and actions, not words. Our Government will continue to exercise leadership in the stewardship of northern lands and waters. It is also committed to working with the Northwest Territories and the private sector to complete the Dempster Highway—by linking Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk—thereby realizing Prime Minister Diefenbaker’s vision of connecting Canada by road from sea to sea to sea.
Canada’s natural environment shapes our national identity, our health and our prosperity. Our Government has expanded protected lands and marine areas to an unprecedented extent, so that current and future generations can continue to enjoy them. In this, the 100th anniversary year of our national parks system, our Government will create significant new protected areas. It will work with provincial, regional, municipal, Aboriginal and community stakeholders toward establishing an urban national park in the Rouge Valley of eastern Toronto. Looking to the future, our Government will engage a broad range of stakeholders on the development of a National Conservation Plan, to move our conservation objectives forward and better connect all Canadians with nature.
Our Government is committed to developing Canada’s extraordinary resource wealth in a way that protects the environment. It will support major new clean energy projects of national or regional significance, such as the planned Lower Churchill hydroelectricity project in Atlantic Canada. It will engage the provinces, territories and industry on ways to improve the regulatory and environmental assessment process for resource projects, while ensuring meaningful consultation with affected communities, including Aboriginal communities.
In the UK, a session of Parliament runs from the State Opening of Parliament, which in the past was usually in November through to the following November. However, in 2010 the Leader of the House announced the Government’s intention to move towards five 12-month sessions over a Parliament, beginning and ending in the spring. Now, Parliament is prorogued every spring, usually some time near the end of April, and the new session opens in early May. Canadian parliamentary sessions are of an indeterminate length, and it is the Government which decides when to prorogue one session and begin a new one. For example, the current Parliament, the 41st, began on 2 June 2011, after the general election in May, and is still in its first session almost two full years later. This factor perhaps makes it easier (and necessary) for the UK government to outline its legislative agenda more specifically, since it knows that, realistically, there are only so many bills which can be dealt with in a one-year period. In Canada, since the Government doesn’t have to adhere to a preset tradition of one-year sessions, it can be much vaguer in outlining its legislative goals.
Personally, I must say that I prefer the UK approach. Speeches from the Throne are notoriously tedious to listen to. The much shorter and to the point Queen’s Speeches make it easier to determine if the Government has achieved what it set out to do by the time the session ends. The vagueness of Canadian Throne Speeches make it much harder to follow if the Government is staying on the course it set out – since it’s not exactly clear what that course is.