Entries from April 2007 ↓

Small angry Tories

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An interesting letter, sent to me Monday evening by a prominent member of the national media. He says, “An old university friend of mine, who wants to remain anonymous, passed on this letter to me, written as kind of an open appeal to Stephen Harper. It’s kind of funny, especially the Stephen King line, but I can’t figure out any way to use it in my paper. Maybe on your well-read blog?”

Maybe, indeed. It seems even PMSH’s ardent supporters are starting to see the swath of anger and vindictiveness that’s been painted over this new Harper Conservative Party, and which I encountered months ago. The man may still, as the letter says, win a majority. But odds are, there’ll be far too little rock ‘n roll in the land, if he does.

Dear Mr. Harper:

You don’t know me, but I am a long-time supporter of yours. My admiration stretches back to the time when you were a principled young MP with the Reform Party in the 1990s. I noticed you because you seemed smarter than the rest of the rabble. You always seemed slightly put off by the rhetorical and partisan excesses of politics. I thought, more than once, that one day you would make a fine prime minister.

Well, here it is, 2007 and you are prime minister. And from all indications, you have a pretty tight rein on the job and you say you’re enjoying yourself.

But I have to tell you something: your supporters are embarrassing you. It’s so bad, Stephen, that I no longer tell people I’m one of your fans, for fear of being associated with that bunch.

sda.jpg First, the Tory bloggers, or blogging Tories, as they officially group themselves on the world wide web. Seriously – have you looked at the hateful spite spewing out of these internet sites? It’s like graffiti you’d find in the washroom of a home for angry old men. They hate everyone. They loathe any woman on television. They detest people who live in cities, perhaps even anyone with indoor plumbing. They scream at anyone who doesn’t think like they do. Do yourself a favour, Mr. Harper: never look at the Small Dead Animals site. Stephen King should be suing these folks for plagiarism. They talk like the evil townsfolk in his horror novels.

I understand you ultimately have no control over these people. So let’s move a little closer to home. And I know this is sort of a touchy subject, but it’s about your, uh, communications. Does “Canada’s New Government” really have to be so nasty? (I’m assuming you do realize that the whole “new government” schtick is also embarrassing. I won’t dwell on that. It’s too late to change that now.)

moore.jpg I had thought that when Conservatives finally came to office, there might be some joy in the land. I thought the people in government might look like they’re having a good time. But everyone in your world looks a little haunted; cowering or glowering in fear. Good-natured MPs and long-time Conservative pundits, like Monte Solberg or James Moore or Jeff Norquay, don’t look very comfortable spouting vitriol on TV. Can’t you make them stop?

Anyway, if it brightens your mood any, I think your poll numbers are actually higher than the ones we’re seeing. I think you might be able to win a majority. But the reason that you seem stalled is that people like me are mortified to tell anyone, even pollsters, that I support you. I just don’t want anyone to think I’m as mean and nasty as all of those who claim to speak for our side.

Good luck, I remain

Anonymously, a loyal Conservative.

On a personal note, if you’re tooling around Campbellville in the next while, and see a Royal LePage sign on my house, relax. Dorothy and I have decided to reduce our footprint on this world, since the two of us (and Cheka) do not need a four-bedroom house and acres of land that I don’t have time to walk on. We plan to find a nice little house in the area that Al Gore would approve of (for his staff). It’s surprising how much less you can do with. My needs are few, besides a warm place for my big new bike, of course. It arrives Friday.
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QP

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Sad, really. But most of what happens in Parliament, among all those 308 MPs in all those House of Commons committees, in all those stone buildings, with all those thousands of staffers, on all those issues affecting thirty-three million Canadians, comes down to 45 minutes a day. At best, just twenty people will participate, and it is the only time any reporter will bother climbing the stone staircase to sit in one of the little wooden seats in the press gallery, and watch.

Here, every word is important, every gaffe monumental, every jab cheered. One side says white, and the other says white. There is no discussion, no debate and no compromise. No points are conceded, no apologies proffered and no compliments passed. This is war. Without prisoners. It’s QP.

Daily, Question Period, despite being pure theatre and largely meaningless, dominates the Parliamentary agenda. Vast amounts of time are spent by opposition members gearing up for the attack, and government ministers preparing their defence. Each side meets first thing in the morning, then refines its strategy during the day for the 2:15 pm moment of engagement, and afterwards spends time spinning for the media, following up with stakeholders, debriefing with analysts and preparing for the next session. In all, QP preparation, the bout itself and its aftermath, accounts for about eight solid, hectic and ever-changing hours each day, on both sides of the Speaker.

For the Liberals, as Official Opposition, the QP planning process begins formally at 8 am, but anyone hoping to pose a question must have their work finished by 7:30. Presided over by House Leader Ralph Goodale, around the table there are members of the whip’s staff, the leader’s office and the research bureau. They assess the day’s headlines, background information and MPs’ questions. That rolls into the daily Tactics meeting, to which more people are added, including key MPs. Topics are decided, questions determined, and the makeup of the questioners set – regional balance, male/female, English/French.

An hour before QP, a meeting is held of all questioners in the leader’s wooden-paneled boardroom, which features a full-size replica of a desk in the House. Those selected to hurl their missives practice delivering them from behind the desk, while they’re timed (max, 35 seconds) and analyzed for content, tone, force and political impact. Suggestions are made, questions rewritten and final refinements done to the questions the leader is preparing for, down the hall in his corner office.

One floor below, in the prime minister’s suite in Centre Block, cabinet ministers are doing exactly the same, being presented with thick briefing books with tear-out pages on all the hot topics. They’re also primed to attack the attackers – a favourite strategy for the Conservatives, who often find it easier and more effective to harken back to 13 years of Liberals rather than defend their own decisions.

Each side files into the gilded chamber, then waits for Mr. Speaker to announce the next inquisitor. The ministers brace, remembering who is assigned to respond to each assault, yet always glancing over to see if Stephen Harper will decide to rise and handle it himself. Across the aisle, the MPs support their troops, applauding the questions, hooting the answers or jumping to their feet to give a standing ‘o’ to ministers under attack. Questions are intended to draw blood, rather than responses. Answers are shields to ward off the barbarians. And high above, the reporters look down, to assess the damage and chart the attack.

Meanwhile, outside on the street and off the Hill, strangely, life goes on. Almost as if QP did not matter. Incredible.

MPtv caught up with Opposition House Leader Goodale today. Here is his take on question period, from the inside out.

To view the video, click here.

Not good enough, John

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In case you missed it, Al Gore spoke on the weekend to a packed audience of citizens in Toronto, doing his “Inconvenient truth” thing. When it was over, people cheered. At the same consumer environment show, another audience watched a video presentation made by John Baird. They booed. A bunch of people got up and left. This was the same venue that Baird ran headlong into David Suzuki on Friday, which led to a seven-second clip the minister’s handlers hoped would never happen.

The Harper Administration’s green plan was barely hours old last Thursday when it ran headlong into a wall of anger. Gore – albeit a Yank, but a green god nevertheless – called it a “complete fraud.” Suzuki waved a famous finger under Baird’s nose and said, condescendingly, “Not good enough, John.” In fact, the only voices strongly in support of the thing seemed to come from the Albertan oil patch. “Tough, but fair,” was the refrain.

What Mr. Harper sought to do, of course, was replace Kyoto with something new, made-in-Canada, and achievable without breaking into a sweat. By ushering in his second environmental strategy in less than a year (the first one failed utterly, and was rejected by all parties), he was attempting to go around Parliament’s clear request that Ottawa live up the deal it made with the world – or at least devise a workable, affordable version of it.

Instead, Baird and PMSH decided Canada would be the only one of 169 countries which signed the Kyoto Protocol to rat it out. And the signal that sends – wealthy, consumption-driven, first-world, energy-gobbling society, unwilling to meet its global obligation – sucks. It should make the prime minister and the environment minister ashamed. Makes me ashamed.

So, I read the plan over the weekend. The packaging and design and typography and presentation and graphics are first-rate. It’s a snazzy piece of retail politics, packaged up the way you’d expect a new plasma TV. But the plan is an embarrassment. It misses the targets we agreed to by more than a decade, while the government does inane, photo-op stuff like banning incandescent light bulbs.

Once again, Mr. Harper – whose hand is the guiding one behind all of this – proves he’s still a climate change denier, doing the absolute minimum amount to pay lip service to whatever it is Al Gore is saying (PMSH still has not seen the movie). He may not actually care that much what kind of world his grand children inherit, but most Canadians do. The man is getting further and further out of step with the people who live here, proven every day by this issue, and the ones I wrote about on the weekend. It is why I have concluded we cannot go on, without an election.