Pundits and puffery

Bob Wakeham
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Having covered countless speeches from the throne, those self-congratulatory, self-serving exercises in public relations so smothered in platitudes that a government can promise the moon, I get it: journalists have a problem generating interest in their coverage of the piece of puffery that traditionally opens a session of the legislature.

The throne speech is usually as dull as dishwater, but still operates as the ultimate cheerleading vehicle for a party in power, and one without limitations.    

“Mr. Speaker, my ministers will ensure there will not be one hour of rain, drizzle or fog in the St. John’s area this spring!”

“Here, here!”

“Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, my government will put an end to world hunger.”

“Here, here!”

But surely, VOCM, now celebrating 75 years of broadcasting in Newfoundland (as it has been continually telling us of late), could have been more inventive in its “Question of the Day” this past Tuesday (not that there’s been a history of provocative queries posed during that shockingly amateur polling slot). 


Lightweight offering

The station with the “award-winning news” — a centrepiece for its advertising is the fact that legendary American journalist Edward R. Murrow’s name is affixed to an award its reporters managed to receive a few years back — came up with this doozy of a question: “Did you like the speech from the throne?”

Yessir. On-the-edge journalism. A question that could only be composed by an “award-winning” news station.

And some of the answers, at least the ones I heard while driving along Torbay Road one afternoon this week, were as substantive as the question itself. 

“I thought it was good,” one fella offered. “And I thought John Crosbie did a good job.”

There was not a hint of sarcasm in the voice of the Question of the Day respondent, oblivious, as he apparently was, to the fact that Crosbie, of course, in his job as lieutenant-governor, merely reads the words penned by highly paid government speech writers.

(It’s kinda sad to see Crosbie performing like the obedient puppet on throne speech day, such a contradiction to his long history of political bluntness, a philosophy of “No Holds Barred,” as he titled his autobiography, but there you have it.)

As to the throne speech itself, that particular snoozer was promoted in some circles, and accurately so, as Kathy Dunderdale’s initial opportunity to mark her territory, as it were; her very first throne speech as premier. 

And she was able to get the aforementioned John Crosbie to talk about some of the social issues obviously close to her heart, childcare and transitional houses for women, for example.

But there was no mistaking the fact that the ghost of Danny Williams was still hovering over the legislature, his Lower Churchill deal — or what the government continues to claim is a deal — front and centre in the speech, the flowery language in full glow (with no shortage of modesty), as in Muskrat Falls exemplifying the administration’s “tenacity” to secure a “path to prosperity” for all of Newfoundland’s impoverished souls. 

What a magnificent crowd, Mr. Speaker!



Speaking of Danny (even journalists, columnists and commentators are going through a bout of withdrawal since the saviour made his mysterious departure), I noticed Shawn Skinner was bemoaning the fact that his former boss will not be making an appearance at a gala dinner in his honour next week.

Skinner, the co-chairman of the PC Convention, indicated that the organizers will soldier on and do whatever it takes to honour their benefactor (an event, I’m sure, that will not lack in shameless glorification).

No reason has been given for Williams’ decision to stay in the shadows, but perhaps he can still be convinced to make at least a token appearance and draw for the door prize.

And with a room full of loyal Tories, the winner could get the patronage position of his or her choice.

How about a spot on the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board?

Then VOCM could pose the penetrating question: “Did you like the appointment to the offshore petroleum board?”


Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: PC Convention, Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Torbay Road, Muskrat Falls

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Recent comments

  • Ursula Dowler
    March 26, 2011 - 10:33

    Orwell notes that it is is easier, to think with poor English because the language is in decline. And as the language declines, "foolish" thoughts become even easier, reinforcing the original cause .