After some hours trying to decipher Angelo Persichilli’s column about the Château Laurier Conspiracy, I think I’ve found the key. One must disconnect Persichilli’s speculation about What It All Means from his actual reporting. It seems likely he overheard or was given access to audio of some genuine conversation, though the whole account is slathered in enough passive-voice sauce to turn anybody’s stomach. Ignore the carefully placed buttresses to the story’s authority and importance, like “This was not an isolated meeting between a few MPs”, and what you’re left with is… an isolated meeting between a few MPs, who bellyache tipsily while Bob Rae listens politely and encourages frank discussion but strongly insists he is not interested in a coup.
This is exactly what you would expect Bob Rae to do if he were a completely loyal lieutenant with no ambitions of his own whatsoever, intent solely on serving as his leader’s eyes and ears. It is also exactly what you would expect Bob Rae to do if he were planning a lightning coup for the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. Most likely, Bob Rae is just what you think he is: an ambitious fellow forced to play a difficult hand, one who may be happy to profit from a regicide but is fully aware that he who draws the dagger rarely survives to wallow in the glory.
Beyond the facts, the column is full of fairly innocuous propositions disguised as dramatic disclosures. Succession to the leadership is a “dominant theme of discussion” in the Liberal Party? Well, sure, that’s what political parties are: machines for ensuring that aligned political interests stick together if something happens to the leader. I promise you that succession to the Conservative leadership is a pretty frequent subject of table-talk when Conservatives get together. (And, in fact, it’s a strength of the Liberal Party, not a weakness, that it has a lot of semi-credible successors around.)
And Persichilli “wouldn’t be surprised” if Ignatieff retreated to his “beloved academic world” at any moment? So who would be? The Liberals imported that danger/hope as part of the package deal when they dragged Ignatieff back from Harvard. Persichilli, I feel, is merely reminding us of the facts of life in a way that makes his eavesdropping seem fraught with urgency and electricity.
The more I concentrated on what is truly knowable and relevant in Persichilli’s story, the more I felt sorry for Bob Rae. Imagine having to stand there, nodding and smiling and nursing a schnapps, while you pretend to take the strategic judgment of Ruby Dhalla and Carolyn “Body Bags” Bennett oh so seriously. To what Christmas fantasy did his mind drift off while Dhalla, an ISO-certifiable ninny, was waxing obnoxious about the party “not doing enough to nurture the next generation of leaders”? Did he dream of being elected Santa Claus, passing in his crimson finery through the gingerbread doors of the Elf Parliament as the Candy-Cane Peace Tower glimmered in the night sky?