The Road to Power

December 7, 2008

The road to power in Canada is to march to the left while claiming to march to the right, and to adapt to every eventuality while proudly proclaiming that you will never change.

Nobody I asked was able to give me the source or precise wording of the above truism, but all agreed that it has been around Canadian history for generations. If any reader can clarify the statement, please drop me a line.

My point with the quotation is that Canadian politicians invariably change after they are elected and discover the true nature of their jobs.  Honourable men and women, regardless of their politics, once in parliament form a strong commitment to doing the best they can with what they have.  For this reason I trust Gilles Duceppe a lot more than Stephen Harper because Duceppe has long demonstrated pragmatic behaviour in the House of Commons, despite his claims to the contrary.  He does his job as defined by his constituents as well as he can, and I believe he will honour his commitment should the coalition take power.

Stephen Harper gained re-election on a promise of pragmatic leadership, but as soon as the opportunity arose, he tore off to the right wing in a spectacularly un-Canadian manner, seeking to settle a few personal scores and upsetting everyone to no good purpose.  When cornered, he let loose blasts of vitriol which I fear have blistered relations within the country for the foreseeable future.  As more and more analysts are now saying, it seems he can’t help himself:  he just has to attack.

In all fairness, though, I can’t go through with my suggestion that Harper is to blame for the closing of the Chaudiere Bridge to Quebec from Ottawa because of crumbling arches.  Last week’s bombast, even though fired in that direction, just wasn’t that powerful.

Speaking of bombast, we had an amazing evening of television last week when Harper asked the networks for time to make a public service announcement and the coalition members asked for equal time.  I wonder if Simpson, Jaccard and Rivers had any inkling of what could happen when they named their 2007 publication Hot Air.  Stephane Dion’s inadvertent endorsement of the book on climate change turned into one of those bizarrely cruel accidents on which the fates of nations turn.

Liberal aide Mike Gzowski mustn’t be much of a photographer. The camera’s automatic focus seemed to be oriented toward the upper left corner of the screen, rather than Mr. Dion’s face in the centre.  Thus the only thing clearly in focus for the entire speech was the end paper of the volume at the corner of the bookshelf in the background, Hot Air.

As I watched I found it very difficult not to take this as an editorial comment upon all that was happening on this fevered and painfully amateurish evening in Ottawa.  First we had Stephen Harper-as-vampire in a darkened red room, heavy with draped Canadian flags, speaking soothing banalities in a strange lisp through bad pancake makeup.

Then came a half-hour of Peter Mansbridge ad-libbing – not an unpleasant experience, by the way.

At long last the tape began with a flash of red, and then Dion’s nose.  Why in the world would anyone set up a camera at this angle?  Gzowski couldn’t figure out how to raise the tripod?  At first I thought it must be deliberate sabotage, or that the nutty professor was trying to use the camera by himself.  If I were to write a comic scene for a novel I couldn’t do better than this.

My mind flipped back to the defining moment of the election campaign in which Dalton McGuinty replaced Ernie Eves as Ontario P.M. The initial goof was a Friday press release from the Tory war room calling McGuinty “an evil, reptilian kitten eater from another planet,” but that wasn’t the defining moment. It came the following day when at a media stop on a dairy farm, a kitten wandered over to the feet of the candidate.  With a grin to the photographers he picked it up and they snapped away. As soon as I saw that picture Monday morning, I knew the thing was won.

In this case, amid the hyperbole, distortions and outright lies emanating from Harper and his Myrmidons, I ran across this word from the gods:  “Hot Air!”  But the only lie so far I had heard from Dion was a vague claim to competence.  From the looks of this film, though, that claim was a real whopper, and it has left Dion’s leadership in tatters.

On Sunday evening as I write this the political landscape in Canada has again changed.  Stephane Dion will resign the leadership prior to the Liberal caucus meeting on Wednesday, and Dominic Leblanc and Bob Rae will throw their support behind Michael Ignatieff as Liberal House Leader.  This puts Ignatieff into the game in time for the return of Parliament on January 26th.

Stephen Harper can’t be happy about this development:  the Liberals have used his time-out to their advantage, and what’s more, he still has a trunkload of anti-Dion ads and only a month or so to dust off some anti-Soviet, anti-Harvard stuff.  What’s more, Iggy will be no pushover.

The play which could still win the day for the CPC would be if Harper resigned or the caucus removed him.  Coalition support would evaporate on the spot.  If they have the guts to do it my next vote is Conservative, because the local MPs seem to be pretty good guys.

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