Throne speeches are notoriously vague and insubstantial. Even at their
best, they serve only as broad indicators of the direction
a government wants to take. Yesterday's speech, delivered by Governor
General Adrienne Clarkson, is made even more nebulous by the
fact that its architect is less than a year and
a half away from retirement.
Jean Chretien's visionary legacy depends not only on having enough
money in a depleted treasury to pay for new programs,
but also on the will of his successor to see
Chretien's agenda implemented. Given that his most likely replacement is
Paul Martin, and that Martin is no fan of the
prime minister, and less than fond of the sort of
traditional Liberal largesse he advocates, that seems unlikely.
Still, even in these uncertain circumstances, there were some notable
initiatives outlined in the speech.
Most importantly, the government has pledged it will come up
with a new plan and appropriate funding to reform the
nation's struggling health-care system. This is significant, because until now,
when criticized for having reduced the federal government's share of
the health-care pie, Chretien and his allies have defended themselves,
saying they have already made new health spending commitments. The
truth is that, in its enthusiasm for taming the deficit
in the '90s, Ottawa reduced its share of health spending
from 18 cents to 14 cents of every health-care dollar.