Canadian speechmaking: oxymoron!

An Ottawa writer does living autopsy on the state of oral rhetoric in his home country.

What’s the “state of speechwriting” in your country? Chances are, stronger than in Canada, according to Ottawa writer John Phillips, who recently explained in a blog post “Why Canada has no speechmaking tradition.”

Philips cites several reasons why the average Canadian will respond with “a blank stare” when asked to name a famous speech by a Canadian public official: dual (and dueling) official languages, a legislative tradition of recitation over rhetoric, a cultural tendency toward self-effacement and an aversion to risk:

Paul Wells, in his recently published portrait of Stephen Harper in power, The Longer I’m Prime Minister, quotes an unnamed official in the Prime Minister’s Office on Mr. Harper’s approach to speechwriting and speechmaking: “It’s really rare that he would deliver a really meaningful speech. He works at removing memorable terms of phrase and identifiable ideas from speeches. He puts great effort into flattening prose.”

Why does the Prime Minister go to great lengths to suck the life out many if not all of his speeches? According to the source in Wells’s book, “All the best stuff that sounds good in speeches becomes a line in the sand. It gets held against you later. So that stuff is coming out. He (Harper) spends hours subtracting a voice from his speeches.”

What does it matter that Canada’s speechmaking tradition is weak? Phillips concludes: “A tradition of speechmaking would enable Canadians to tell stories about themselves and their land and, in so doing, reinforce their ideals and values, reveal their mistakes and triumphs, and highlight their present problems and future dreams.”

Phillips reminds us of Ted Sorensen’s line: “‘Give me the making of the songs of a nation and I care not who makes its laws,’ could be amended by substituting ‘speeches’ for ‘songs.’”

Indeed. —DM

Leave a Reply

Download Whitepaper

Thank you for your interest. Please enter your email address to view the report.