Everything that is wrong with Ottawa, for now at least

by Paul Wells

Sean Kilpatrick/CP Images

We’re all positively giddy here on the Hill, ladies and gents. The stimulation is so intense we could plotz. There are things happening. There is action. And so much of it is… why, it’s as near as the blackberry in your hand, is what it is! Fun at our fingertips! Insta-politico-tension-drama! And it’s kind of about us, about Hill types, about those who rub elbows with — with — well, with those who know those who — who — well, who are in the know!

You see, Don Martin said something to Dimitri Soudas and something happened. Who’s Don Martin, you may ask? Who’s Dimitri Soudas? What, precisely, happened? Shush. It happened at Hy’s. This is all anyone here needs to know. So there is a story about it and another and, one feels secure in predicting, more soon to come.

You see, the tall skinny Parliamentarian turned out to be pretty good at hitting the shorter stockier Parliamentarian. And le tout Ottawa was there! And it didn’t go the way Ezra Levant expected! And there was a decorous amount of blood! Frissons

You see, a staffer for Alison Redford tweeted something disobliging about Danielle Smith and then didn’t apologize and then apologized and then resigned and a wandering Vancouver-based Globe columnist wrote about it, indelicately, and then the Globe changed the headline and Twitter was off the hook with indignation and cross-accusation and well I guess you really had to be there, is all. But, you know, damnedest thing. Right there on the screen of your Blackberry, if you follow the right people.

I’m even willing to indulge the notion that there’s a nugget of something real in each of these stories. Martin’s employer seems ill-disposed to stand up for their man, although “seems” is the strongest word one can use in the forest of counter-accusation that’s sprung up around a private conversation in a crowded bar that had a lot of drunk people in it. As for the fight, at some level I endorse any event or stimulus that gets John Geddes writing about Hemingway. And the Redford staffer’s Twitter outburst reveals something about the sense of wounded entitlement that is dawning on Alberta PCs as they realize they are in serious danger of getting thumped by Reformers for, what, the fifth time in a generation (Naheed Nenshi, to be fair, providing durable evidence that sometimes the fight does go the other way).

But the connecting thread in these three stories, besides the way they make Ottawa tummies positively flip-flop — Frissons! — is that they don’t have an awful lot to do with the way a country is governed. And I feel like a schoolmarm for making the point, but sometimes I would like to see more emphasis on the way the country is governed. Or just more curiosity about it. Or some perspective.

Here’s something interesting. On Thursday, while most of Ottawa’s reporters were locked indoors with copies of the federal budget and most of the rest were at a committee meeting over the Robocall thing, the government of Canada tabled its last quarterly report on Canada’s role in the Afghanistan war. It didn’t go entirely unnoticed; Jeff Davis at Postmedia noticed and wrote about the report.

I believe the timing of the report’s release to be culpable, but unnecessary. Which is to say, I believe the PMO timed the release to produce minimum coverage. And I believe they needn’t have bothered. If Stephen Harper had walked into the House of Commons wearing a duck suit and sang the contents of the report to the tune of Body and Soul, he would not have received much more coverage than Davis gave it. Why was there no news conference? Because the feds used to provide monthly news conferences about progress in Afghanistan and reporters stopped attending. Years ago. Every news organization in Canada has been taught, diligently, by its readers or viewers or listeners that coverage of Afghanistan produces a decline in the attentive audience. We get this. It’s been a frustrating experience for everyone, from soldiers on out to the general population. We have adjusted our coverage accordingly.

What does the report say? That Canadians did good work in an extraordinarily difficult cause. Thirty-eight of the 44 goals set by the government, on recommendations from John Manley’s commission, have been met in whole (33) or in part (the other 5). They actually got the Dahla dam built, which a lot of us were not sure would ever happen. They built a lot of schools. Many of the schools got to open.

But it’s a bit as though the tenants’ association at the Alamo had struck a beautification subcommittee, because for most of the time Canadians were in Kandahar they were almost hopelessly outnumbered, and when the Americans finally sent reinforcements we left the South, and now that we’re mostly away from the thick of the fight, it’s hard to keep Afghan soldiers and NATO soldiers from killing one another. Three guesses how this will all go when Western forces leave Afghanistan altogether, as is likely to happen before the next election.

Anyway, sorry to be dreary. Incidentally the Prime Minister also shredded his word and commitment on an appointments commissioner on Thursday, and we could debate the tens of millions spent on science in the budget until the cows come home, and the country’s populations and power are shifting to reflect the new opportunities and costs of an extended resource boom, but it’s hard to talk about any of this in 140 characters, and did you see the hurting Trudeau put on Brazeau? Wham!




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Everything that is wrong with Ottawa, for now at least

  1. and did you see the hurting Trudeau put on Brazeau? Wham!

    It was Andrew Coyne’s short stint at training, reported by Scott Feschuk, that laid the groundwork:

    That’s why our publisher, Ken Whyte, recently spent $300-million to build a computer-generated, 3D environment – an intricately rendered, futuristic world we’re calling Justonia. On Justonia, Parliament is always in session, lobbyists are always currying favour and inedible cocktail meatballs are always on the simmer…

    But Ken got the job done, dammit. And I am honoured to report that Mr. Whyte has chosen me to be the “driver” of the Justin Trudeau avatar. (The competition wasn’t as tough as you might think: Wherry failed the physical and Coyne kept making “Justin” punch himself in the face.)

    http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/01/13/the-mailbag-stephen-harper-justin-trudeau-the-shocking-truth-about-kady-o%e2%80%99malley/

  2. Given how little our government actually governs these days.. what with closing debates, non-answers in QP, etc, what did you expect?

  3. Don’t forget the news that Charlie Angus has ceased usingTwitter. This should further fan the flames of irrelevant news by reporters.

    • My day was made when I read that item this morning. Where are the reporte about the 60,000 that were going to be cut from the civil service. Of course the media without any basis in fact simply quoted the union leaders in the days before the budget in order to hype their members and scare the crap out of them.

      Say something no matter whether its based on fact, gossip, speculation or fabrication and it gets reported.

  4. Boy Wells…your summary of that report was awfully different than Davis’. Are you sure you read the same report?

    the feds used to provide monthly news conferences about progress in Afghanistan and reporters stopped attending. Years
    ago. Every news organization in Canada has been taught, diligently, by
    its readers or viewers or listeners that coverage of Afghanistan
    produces a decline in the attentive audience.

    On stuff like this, in some way I feel for you guys. It’s a tough world to cover serious events and give proper, well thought out analysis on complicated issues when the $ are driven by the mentality of our tabloid reading, celebrity obsessed culture. I don’t know how you solve that problem; but I do think a non-trivial part of the problem is that the media was only interested in the mission to cover the bad news (soldier deaths) and as a club to beat the government with (e.g the contrast between yours and Davis’ take on this latest report; the amount to with the detainee issue was overplayed, etc.), and more and more people are noticing the agenda at play & tuning out.

    •  Mark Davis is an ugly caricature of what we must never, ever let Canada become.

        •  I assume he means Mark Davis the radio commentator in Texas.  If I am mistaken I withdraw my above comment pending further clarification from john g.

          • Oh wait, john g probably meant JEFF Davis, didn’t he? I feel a bit foolish here.

          •  My first clue should probably have been what would that crazy guy down in texas be doing commenting on a Canadian progress report in Afghanistan, but stragner things have happened I guess.

          • We all make mistakes. I made a whopper in my latest Mulcair column. Onward. 

          •  I wonder what Sammy Davis Jr would have thought?

  5. It’s like a reality show with no reality. We need a SOS to the world.

  6. I’d rather read about Brazeau/Trudeau than wade through Barbara Amiel on dogs, which I notice is also on this page.

    • Not just Barbara Amiel on Dogs, but an EXCLUSIVE Barbara Amiel on Dogs story. Wells must want to just shoot himself some days.

    • Actually, I’ve never thought that most of the writing at a general-interest magazine should be about politics and government. I just like the people who are posted to Ottawa to show a sense of perspective.

      • It’s telling that media, after giving name to the tactic known as the “Friday night document dump”, haven’t adjusted their work week.

  7.  One of the most respected Canadian journalists, Val Sears of the Star, talking to his colleagues in 1962, reportedly said: “To work, gentlemen, we have a government to overthrow.”

    He claims he never said it….but it has a ‘truthiness’ about it people recognize.

    SOME journalists are keen to report actual news and events, but on the whole the media determines what we see and hear.

    So we got slightly rehashed govt press releases on Afghanistan on how ‘everything is going swimmingly….which nobody believed, until it devolved into ‘Afghanistan?  Never heard of it’

    ‘Coalition govts are illegal, immoral, and an attempted coup’…..was never corrected. Neither was proroging or the role of the GG.

    We got a complete rundown of Ignatieff’s personal life from birth onwards, but to this day know very little about Harper….not even if he HAS a family.

    We get what have become slogans…’power is moving to the west’.  And ‘Libya?  Of course we should bomb it’…..which in it’s turn will become ‘Libya?  Never heard of it.’

    When Harper travels anywhere….you’d never know others were there, or said anything. I think I saw just one report that when Harper stood to speak ….about pensions, and transformational changes etc…he was talking to a mosly empty room, everyone having left when he got up.

    He was listed here as the ‘keynote speaker’ and a ‘key speaker’….and he was neither.

    All of this gives a false impression to the people back in Canada.

    But nowadays we can read the news from the media around the world….and people know when they’re being fobbed off….or treated like mushrooms…’kept in the dark and fed sh*t’.  And they tune out.

    So the trivia is about the only real things being reported….an MP did box with a Senator,  a political twitter war did break out in Alberta, there was an argument in a bar in Ottawa….and while it’s all minor stuff…..it’s often all we have to read that’s real.  So we do.

    And who determines what’s real?  The media.

  8. I think Canadian msm decision to behave like they don’t have opinions, that they are above it all, has been disastrous. Journos pretending they don’t have opinions means that pols and bureaucrats don’t really ever get questioned thoroughly. It is easy for pols to fob off journos with nonsensical answers when they know there will be no follow up questions. 

    I don’t understand exactly why but all Canadian msm, not just political section, is lacking in policy reporting and analysis. One part of my job is to read auto news around the world, and then write up quick reports, so consultants are aware of what’s happening in world. Canadian sources are the worst for news and analysis – I get loads of info from papers around world on their domestic auto industries and Canada sections is always the thinnest, most sparse. 

    It seems to me that many Canadian journos have profound lack of curiosity about what’s happening around them.

    • I agree with you. The media are looking for the low hanging fruit all the time. As you say we see little real analysis. The media usually are quoting the government or opposition parties with little investigation on their part to determine the actual facts. If we wanted to simply see what the Conservatives or the Liberals are saying why not just publish their press releases. Quit pretending its journalism.

      Part of the problem is the 24 hours news cycle and the need to beat the other guy. I think that a cleaning out of the parliamentary press gallery of those who have been there for years and have become jaded, cynical and political. A fresh perspective is what is needed.

      When you have media people partying with politicos and then getting into a fight is not a sign of independence. Its a sign of a club.

      • I agree with that.  I think political journalists and sports journalists should switch places for awhile.  After all, politics is just a ‘game’ and winning is everything and all that, and it might be fun for a sports journalist to get to hear something more than they gave it 110%, as it might be for a political journalist to get an actual answer (yes, sure, a stock answer, but still) to an actual question actually asked.

  9. You have dissected the cadaver skillfully. What we have become is sad. So what are the solutions? Nothing less than a mass epiphany it seems. Appreciate the insights, now just sell all the other wise scribes and beat us over the head. Maybe salvation will be possible.

  10. Wells is right. It is always about the Press Gallery and their wants and needs isn’t it. After all they are the unelected official opposition.  That’s why Canadians by and large have tuned them out. They have become so partisan it’s virtually predictable what will be said about a particular issue.
    With the constant navel gazing and their eye on potential scandal (if its not there they will create it) the media in Canada both print and electronic have lost their way.

    So we have the latest so called scandal called robocalls. The media is fixated on it like a dog with a bone thinking their is something juicy here. Hardly, 250 calls among 308 ridings. While pretending to be EC is a crime making harassing phone calls last I heard is not illegal. Besides if you listen to the left leaning media and the anti Harper crowd no need for an investigation take them out and hang them a dawn they are as guilty as sin.

    • 250 open cases among the ridings, not calls.  1 case in Guelph turned out to be around 7000 calls.
      At least have the respect to lie in a manner that takes more than a cursory flip through the coverage to figure out.

      • Ignorant leftie!

        • Yeah, like that.

  11. Lol… Oh my, Wells, this really made me laugh. Having left the Hill just under two years ago, I sincerely miss being at the centre of all things federal politics. However, there is still a yuk-aftertaste in my mouth from the debutante behaviour of staffers who think they have much in common with Hollywood starlets, and would be shocked to learn the level of total indifference to these things as soon as you leave downtown Ottawa.

    Rod in Whitby

  12. The drunken Martin scandal is aleast as big as 5-10 of the various Harper is ruining Canada scandals that the Ottawa Press gallery generated and hyped for the last few years.

    When will Don Martin  resign from the Ottawa Press gallery.  Will the president of the Ottawa Press Gallery take responsibility for the actions of his members?

  13. Brazeau did not look good at all.  His fitness was questionable.

  14. Which in many fewer words means journalism is irrelevant.

  15.  When someone with the credibility of Ezra Levant gets star billing on a quasi-national quasi-news outlet, you know things have gone from bad to worse.

  16. By the way, as a consequence of the Globe and Mail’s last revamp, there is now almost no real news reporting by the paper’s own employees in the first section.  Rather the Globeites produce what are essentially magazine-style pieces full of comment (aka “context”) and opinion instead of straight news.  That–what little of if appears in print–is left to CP and various foreign news agencies.

    A sad decline from being a real newspaper as opposed to a “viewspaper”.  And very thin news gruel.  For serious information–quite a bit of which could well be in the first section if somewhat reworked–one must go to the “Report on Business”.  Still worth reading: if it were an option I would subscribe in print to the RoB only and ditch the rest.

    Mark
    Ottawa

    • just wonder in the past couple years if it’s corporate control or Government -? we’ve gone the way of U.S. media:  I hardly see the context journalism anymore even when I scour a few newspapers.
      All I know it seems in a big way to me that many reporters, journalists are somewhat muzzled.

  17. Wow, Paul Wells thinks there are too many smug-ass careerist politico insider lifers on Parliament Hill.

  18. Blaming a decline in the attentive audience upon “its readers or viewers or listeners” appearing uninterested in stories about issues covered in press conferences “reporters stopped attending. Years ago.” ignores entirely the effects on the readership of the disdain shown by the same pack of reporters for stories which bolstered our military people. And a disdain evident and flying in the face of claims of impartiality and freedom from bias! Hypocrites. We get that you are mostly all progressives or liberals or whatever but stop faking it like you’re unbiased. The mean spirited coverage offered by our press, especially the Parliamentary Gallery, shows clearly the lack of respect for the brave people that stand on the walls for us all. The failure to consistently cover stories about the outstanding successes of Her Majesty’s soldiers speaks poorly about our thoroughly entrenched media and their biases about what the readers _should_ find interesting.

    Does this Parliamentarian scrap mean fighting in hockey is once again acceptable? Or is pummeling only worthy when done for charitable causes? Maybe the NHL could offer $5 to UNICEF for every scrap on ice.

    Dana Arnason @57dana:twitter
    Leader – WIP

  19.  NDP defence critic Jack Harris described the report — particularly the timing of its release — as “largely self-serving.”
     The Wells says,” I believe the timing of the report’s release to be culpable, but unnecessary.” What a load of hooey. Do these reports have a shelf life of 2 hours and self-destruct?  Any reporter that was concerned about journalism, or interested about Afghanistan,could have done a story. Hundreds of stories were written about the phony ‘detainee crisis’, and none about the Liberal hoax that it turned about to be.  If it bleeds,it leads,and if it is a Conservative ‘bleeding’ it will be bled dry,whether it’s true or pure speculation.

  20. Was there a Taliban body count?  Cause if there wasn’t, there should have been.

  21. The media, and primarily the PPG are obsessed with they’re self declared “war” against the Government Canadians chose to elect. An unhealthy obsession that ultimately becomes the story. The PPG and the media in general are so myopically consumed with manufacturing “scandal” and waging “war” against the Government, so consumed with their own “war”, and frustrated at it’s impotency, they descend deeper and deeper into an ever increasing fog of hatred, anger, irrationality and ultimately, irrelevance. Gossip, anonymous “sources” and well placed insiders are the key words in most “stories” coming out of Ottawa these days and it’s insulting to anyone who isn’t on the side of the “Liberal”, “Progressive” cause… not to mention counter productive and divisive. I never thought I would use the phrase “Magnificent Bastard” and Paul Wells in the same sentence, but there it is, I did it. Good for you Paul… I hope you’re Parliamentary colleagues aren’t too angry with you… I think they all owe you a nice single malt scotch, or at least a beer.       

  22. Sounds like Martin and Soudas should be the next boxing ring contenders!

    Don is in hiding…c’mon Don…man up..show your face. 

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