One year of B.C. throne and 'clone' speeches reveals era of historic political changes
Can a single image capture an entire government's priorities and vision? A 'word cloud' can, and Metro tracked shifting priorities through a year of unprecedented upheaval in B.C. politics.
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"The story of British Columbia is the story of our people," Lt. Gov. Judith Guichon began Tuesday, after acknowledging the Indigenous territory and honouring those who died last year.
Her speech from the throne opens every Legislature sitting, and though it's typically short on budget details, it tells a story of the current government's priorities and message.
Of course, the speeches are written by the party in power, not Guichon herself. And historically they've ranged in tone from visionary to mundane in B.C. But one thing is always true: they reflect the image the province hopes to project to its voters.
Inspired by a tweet from urban planner Andy Yan, Metro created illustrations known as "word clouds" — graphics arranging the most-common 100 words sized relative to their frequency.
The results help capture the changes in throne speeches over the past year, since the B.C. Liberal government's last pre-election speech one year ago Wednesday (with common words and "B.C." and "government" excluded for clarity, and "childcare" standardized as one word):
Feb. 14, 2017 (B.C. Liberals pre-election)
Now compare that to Tuesday's speech from the NDP government and the differences become clearer:
Feb. 13, 2018 (B.C. NDP)
Notable about Tuesday's speech, the first of the year and one that presages the NDP's first full budget by a week, is it's emphasis on "the people" of B.C., offering in flowery populist prose a vision of a province where life is easier for families "working paycheque to paycheque … anxious and uncertain about the future because no matter how hard they work they don’t seem to get ahead," Lt. Gov. Judith Guichon read.
And the left-leaning administration put forward its idea of what a government should be: "making life more affordable" for regular folks who "expect to share in the economic prosperity B.C. enjoys," the speech noted. "… Government can make life better."
That's a stark contrast to the language of the B.C. Liberals' last throne speech before the 2017 election, which saw them eke out a short-lived minority government — before Guichon handed the reins to the NDP, which despite holding fewer seats than the Liberals formed an alliance with the three Green MLAs.
From that pact came the NDP's first throne speech in September 2017. Here's a word-cloud for that NDP-Green alliance's first speech ahead of their budget update last fall:
Sept. 8, 2017 (B.C. NDP's first with Green backing)
But the Liberals also had a knack for poetic speeches, and their Feb. 14, 2017 one didn't shy away from rhythmic prose and attempts to inspire — but the emphasis on economics, risk, and small government was in stark contrast to the NDP's emphasis on government action, for instance funding child care and housing.
"… The torch has been passed to us to keep B.C. strong, today and for future generations," that speech noted. "But risk is all around us … Live within our means; grow the economy, not the size of government; believe in our citizens, not dogmas, doctrines or ideologies; create jobs so that British Columbians can build a future; and protect this magnificent place we call home for future generations."
But there was one notable exception to the B.C. Liberal decades of small-government, free-market rhetoric: their only post-election throne speech just days before they were turfed from power last June.
Some dubbed it the "Clone" Speech because it cribbed from the key planks of the B.C. Greens and NDP on issues like child care, affordable housing, and environment. It was widely seen as a last-ditch effort to hold onto power by then-Premier Christy Clark, offering the Greens in particular key promises the government hoped would woo them away from their alliance with the NDP. It didn't work.
But here's how it looked (followed by the Feb. 14 NDP speech for comparison):
June 22, 2017 (B.C. Liberal minority, post-election)
Feb. 13, 2018 (B.C. NDP)