The Commons: For serious


The TV cameras were pointed south in expectation of his arrival. But Stephane Dion’s Toyota Prius came from the east, down Mackay Street, which runs perpendicular to Sussex, thereby avoiding an unseemly u-turn on the way in. At least in the literal sense.

Having found some previously unrealized spare time in his schedule, he and his entourage pulled into the drive way at 24 Sussex and after the requisite security check, he and his chief of staff were dropped at the front door. Where Jack Layton nearly ran up the stairs, Mr. Dion walked a little slowly. Where Mr. Layton had eschewed a jacket and rolled up the sleeves on his white shirt, ready to get down to work, Mr. Dion wore a pinstripe suit, apparently unwilling to pretend this was anything but formality. And where Mr. Layton was several minutes late, Mr. Dion was a whole minute early, perhaps eager to have this over with.

A good size crowd had turned out. A dozen spectators gawked from the neighbour’s lawn across the street. The press, numbering perhaps twice as many as were here for the NDP leader, milled about, swapping election-related jokes. The more profitable of the nation’s TV networks had spared no expense, bringing a camera on wheels to the event, perhaps for those slow, panning shots Kubrick used to employ to great effect. While the cameraman tried to find the right mix of sun and shade for a set-up shot, the correspondent fussed over making the evening newscast in Halifax.

While we waited, a man from the Prime Minister’s Office arrived to warm up the crowd. Someone asked him about who was present for the little tea party inside. The Prime Minister, we were told, prefers to have his meetings one-on-one. (Like a real man.) But Dion had insisted on his chief of staff, Johanne Senecal, sitting in. (Because he’s a big baby.) 

So enlightened, we went back to waiting. Not for long, mind you, because at precisely 4:22pm, Mr. Dion emerged from the green door with white drapes and began the minute walk to the microphone waiting for him by the sidewalk. Looking a bit tanned—or is that red-faced?—he approached the scrum with a small smile and launched into a thorough review of his previously stated position. 

“I went to this meeting… to say to the Prime Minister face-to-face… that he cannot calling an election without showing a very bad example to Canadians… A Prime Minister not willing to respect the rule of law… Ready to break, if not the law itself, the spirit of the law, and maybe the law, according to some experts… He cannot do that.”

Someone asked the obvious: Will there be an election?

“Oh yes, oh yes,” Dion said. “And we all know that.”

A wire reporter breathlessly spoke into his cellphone. “Dion says Harper wants an election.”

A few seconds later, he upgraded his dispatch. “Dion says there will be an election.”

Dion batted away questions, a bit angry, a bit befuddled, his head bouncing.

“There’s nothing new,” he said, summing up so much.

“It’s a joke,” he added, summing up even more.

“This is only a charade, a mise en scene,” he concluded. “And we all know that.”

Shortly thereafter he was gone—claiming an intent to win the election and promising a more generous, more ambitious agenda—his Prius making an environmentally friendly exit.

“This is the final nail in the coffin,” the man from TV announced to the nation, speaking live from the Prime Minister’s driveway.

“I think the final nail in the coffin was when they changed the Governor General’s schedule,” he later corrected. “But this is maybe the final, final nail in the coffin.”

On this, a word from the Prime Minister. Or at least his spokesman, who was quickly dispatched to offer the government’s perspective on that nail, who had hammered it and into whose coffin it was driven.

What followed was a bellyache for the ages. Mr. Dion, we were told, had refused to promise that the Liberal opposition would capitulate to the government on every vote from now until October 2009. What’s more, we learned, Mr. Dion had even refused to state exactly when and under what conditions the Liberals might vote against the Conservative side. Parliament, the PM’s man mourned, had grown too partisan to be of any further use and these “uncertain economic times”—a phrase the government side is quite fond of these days—demand assured certainty.

Never mind the Prime Minister’s publicly spoken expectation that an election will only to another of these minority governments. And never mind the business of that fixed election date the Prime Minister was once so keen on honouring.

So an election then?

“The fixed election date law provides for this exact situation. Mr. Dion may not understand what that law is,” the PM’s man said. “If Mr. Dion wanted to avoid an election date, if he wanted to respect the spirit of the fixed election date law, he would give some assurance that the government could survive.”

At this, my tape recorder seemed to pick up an audible laugh from someone in the crowd.

The TV correspondent was soon back in front of the camera. “It’s on really for sure now,” he said.


The Commons: For serious

  1. Thanks Aaron..good non-partisan stuff. Looking forward to more.

  2. You kow you wouldn’t think that the government of the day would make a talking point about “uncertain economic times”. Sure anybody thnking about would realise that the Canadian government had little to do with a US housing collapse, but stil, the optics of the government (you know, for the last two budgets) pointing out how crummy the economy is seems a little funny.

    But then, maybe they think that is all Dalton McGuinty’s fault?

  3. Graham Robertson from CTV is the TV man. We could see you (and Kady and Paul) desperately trying to get into his frame — get your own web-based TV show, will ya? Call it “The BTC/ITQ/Inkless Newshour”.

    The PMO spokesman was on the record, so there is no need to hide his name. It was 10Eeek, of course. Interesting that the PM – so desperate to win seats in Quebec – would send out a unilingual (and a marginal one at that) to speak on his behalf.

    If Harper really wants to stick it to Dion, he’ll call it while the Liberals are having their caucus in Winnipeg.

  4. If Harper were smart he would wait to call an election that conforms with his fixed election date legislation. I guess he didn’t mean we should have fixed election dates this election, just all the next ones.

  5. Chris B, the government probably feels confident about discussing uncertain economic times because the main opposition party is intent on running on a policy that will create even more uncertain economic times.

  6. “Graham Robertson” – er, Richardson.

  7. Thank you for providing a transcript of what I saw on TV. I needed to double-check my original perception, which is that Dion really missed out on doing the main task he was supposed to do there as a Party Leader …

    … and that’s frame the ballot question he wants to run on. For pete’s sake it’s the only job of an opposition leader on the eve of an election on the doorstep of 24 Sussex! He couldn’t even get that right? (You think it’s easy to make scrums?, I can hear PW writing)

    All he basically did is admit that he got snookered, even if it’s not fair or it’s a charade or whatever else it is. He did not tell anyone why they should vote for him or his party.

    This is going to be brutal …

  8. That’s the thing, kontrol, if Harper wasn’t running scared, he’d let Parliament resume as normal, call a confidence vote as the first order of business, and have his MPs stay home. Dion would then have the task of either voting for the government in enough numbers to support it, or go into an election in the manner by which the conservative party initially laid out — by fixed date or a loss of confidence. Rather cunning, and some liberal supporters would no doubt scream, but I know I personally would be much happier as it avoids making our government look like such an obvious farce.

    There’s even precedent for it, as on certain contentious and extremely vital issues to the nation, it is not unknown for parties to recuse some of their members when their opposition is missing some due to illness, as a means of demonstrating fairness.

    That Harper is unwilling to wait the 15 days until Parliament resumes demonstrates his desparation. He really doesn’t want something to happen between when we go to the polls now, and when we would if he waited another 15 days.

    What’s happening in that time period? Well, Elections Canada has a deadline of October 14 to get in their response to the conservatives written statements. Also, it looks likely as though the independant examination of the Cadman affair tape will be coming back right around then. Now, if the conservatives really felt confident that they’d be exonerated by such, you think they’d be so worried?

  9. T. Whim, or maybe none of that stuff matters, despite how much effort you put into justifying your own premise.

    Personally, I’m not sure why Liberals aren’t more excited about having the opportunity to knock Harper off. I mean, if things are as bad as y’all keep saying.

  10. Well, I dont’ know about everyone else, but I’m excited Dennis. And I think it is smart of the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc to hammer over and over the fact that Harper broke his own fix election date legislation.

  11. Well, first, I’m no Liberal. I’m just sick of liars, and the conservatives and their flag-wavers are the most obvious hypocrites running around at the moment.

    And, from what I can tell, Liberals are excited. None of them are saying we shouldn’t have an election, they’re saying the conservatives are breaking their own word by calling it this way.

    As I mentioned elsewhere, with his first act as Prime Minister being the breaking of his word, it’s vaguely fitting that that he end it the same way.

    Or do you have some other sort of justification why Harper is willing to take the flack, and make various of his MPs look like idiots or liars, rather than waiting the two weeks until Parliament is back in session? No? Thought not.

  12. for the first time in my over 40 years of life I am seriously considering getting a Liberal Party membership.

  13. …and Coullard’s book is due out on October 14, and all of the above, etc. etc. He doesn’t even care that it’s a Jewish holiday, not that he ever really cared about such things. I still think he knows something nobody else knows, that it has to do with the US election, maybe an “October surprise” that could close the border, something he doesn’t want to be in office to deal with. In any case, the man is clearly desperate, in a hurry, and maybe wants to be in fact the loser he is in principle.

  14. Why the date of October 14? It is a Jewish holiday. Why not the following week? What is the “rush”.

    Why on earth would a few days matter – very suspicious.

    The economy issue won’t be any different a week later.

    Ah – legal issues, Coulliard book to name a few.

    Harper is a weasel. I know, I know – Chretien took advantage of what would be best for him BUT the difference is Chretien didn’t have a fixed election date law, Chretien never promised to not take advantage – Harper made a promise and a law and he’s breaking it for his own advantage.

    Yet, our mediocre MSM just falls on the ground whenever Harper wants them to. God, we need some quality media in the country really bad.

    I am so disgusted with the way our country has gone, the pathetic media and are so lazy they don’t even bother to look into anything. They all get on the same bandwagon, same topic day in day out. Example – keep dwelling on Dion. It’s easy and don’t have to work for their money.

    Get to work “media” – it’s time you did.

  15. The Electoral law specifies that the next election will be held October 19, 2009. Will the next government need to amend the law – or will the next election still be held on October 19, 2009?

  16. I had the same question, Loraine, but as LKO pointed out, it says the “First such election will be October 19, 2009.”

    Since it wouldn’t be the first, I think it makes that sentence, with the date, meaningless.

  17. If you haven’t seen the media scrum with Dion after meeting Harper, the video is up on the blog, A BCer in Toronto. After watching it, I couldn’t understand Wherry’s comments about Dion. I didn’t see anything matching Wherry’s description, just Dion forcefully answering a lot of questions in a short time.

    Was there some other part of the scrum? The video does start rather abruptly.

    Dion made it clear that he thinks Harper is setting a bad example, by going back on his word about his fixed election date law, but I wouldn’t call that anger. There was nothing remotely like kicking or throwing a chair, as when Harper gets angry. And I didn’t see any befuddlement of bobbing. Is this the same scrum we are talking about?

  18. Loraine, I think Harper has made it clear we can all forget about the new fixed election date law. Harper is using the clause that says the Governor General reserves all her usual powers. If the GG must grant an election to a minority PM who asks, when the opposition is all saying they would return to Parliament this month, it is obvious that the GG must grant an election to a majority PM when he asks.

    The fixed election date law can stay on the books as a historical reminder of what Harper once thought passed as major electoral reform and drastically diminished his powers (Lukuwski referred to it as Harper voluntarily giving up his “big tool”), but it has been demonstrated as being completely meaningless. This is assuming, of course, that Harper follows through on his threat and asks for an election.

  19. The PM had its spin ready before the meeting, so what’s wrong with Dion? No speechwriters available on the weekend?

    Here’s a freebie Libs, you can use it later if you like:

    “Stephen Harper wants us to say yes before we hear the question. He gets angry when we refuse. Say no to Stephen Harper.”

  20. So Dion thinks it’s a joke and a charade … well to that we shall see and to be honest I do not think that the after the polls close he is going to be laughing very much (next sound you hear Iggy and Bobby sharpening knives)

  21. Wayne, a charade is only a joke to those who laugh at deception.

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