Scout’s Honour or Sons of Anarchy?

August 24, 2015

So far in the Duffy Trial and the federal election campaign we have learned that there are lots of principled people in the inner circle of the Conservative Party, but theirs is a private code of ethics which bears little resemblance to that of the rest of us, so last week when Stephen Harper tried to borrow a bit of scout’s honour for a photo-op, Scouts Canada protested loudly at the intrusion.

For me the narrative which best makes sense of the Conservatives this year is the final season of Sons of Anarchy, the unexpectedly brilliant TV show about a California motorcycle gang which ran for seven years on US cable.

Its protagonist is an intelligent man on an oblique, personal task, required by circumstance to navigate an ethical maze while torn between a desire to free his family from this violent, fetid world, and the irresistible appeal of extreme conflict.

Seen in the context of this tragic drama there was much to admire in Nigel Wright’s testimony this week during the Duffy trial, as was there in Donald Bayne’s defence of the accused Duffy. We watched as Bernard Perrin’s testimony worked its way to the forefront of our consciousness and we realized that the hand of fate now rests upon the shoulder of trusted Harper aide Ray Novak.

Who will be next? We wait for the action to move to the next scene which must deal with the cornered Harper, confronted by the evidence of his monomania, forced to realize his wrong and to bow before our judgement, frightful in his suffering.

That’s the tragic view.

But Shakespeare liked to throw in a steady diet of comedy to keep us on our toes. Who better to play the Chorus than the increasingly put-out National Post correspondent Christie Blatchford, who in daily standups from a hotel lobby heaps ridicule upon the whole charade because she is bored?

And then last Tuesday Earl Cowan strode upon the stage. Shakespeare’s grave-digger had nothing on this guy for comedic chops. Of course the grave-digger’s faulty logic and very limited understanding caused Hamlet and the audience to laugh. Well, Earl played the Angry Conservative to perfection when he told off reporters Hannah Thibedeau and Laurie Graham for asking the wrong questions of Stephen Harper. According to Earl, Duffy had fudged his tax returns a little bit, but no less than the reporters. “Harper doesn’t read tax forms, you idiot! It’s done by people in the tax department. You cheat more on your taxes than Duffy ever did. You’re a lying piece of shit!”

But from this low comedy we quickly moved to a higher concept with the regal Margaret Atwood penning a few reflections on Hair for the National Post, only to react in pique when someone censored her lines. Years ago Brian Mulroney learned his lesson when Atwood famously addressed the Free Trade Debate (back in the pre-Harper era when there was public discourse on such things). She explained to her audience that the official Canadian animal is the beaver. Then she read from a medieval bestiary that the beaver is a rodent which, when threatened, bites off its own testes and presents them as a gift to prevent further harm. She likened this to Canada’s position in the free trade talks.

Anyway, it seems that the Conservative directors of the National Post got wind of the Hair column and ordered it taken down from their website. Atwood tweeted, “I think the National Post has censored me.” Perturbation on Twitter. The Google version of the column quickly went viral. National Post put up a revised version which removed Atwood’s allegations about two million dollars of undisclosed funding in Harper’s leadership campaign. This spawned a series of articles explaining what happened to cause a puff piece about Trudeau and Harper’s hairdos to turn into a frontal attack on the credibility of the National Post.

The four lessons of the week from this ongoing drama? You can’t borrow Scout’s honour for a photo op, the first lesson of crisis management is that you never lie, don’t let Canadians put a face to the Conservative Base, and under no circumstances do you mess with Margaret Atwood.

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