The Prime Minister gave himself a half-hour window to appear in the foyer. Somehow still he managed to arrive eight minutes late. Not that one should read into that any indication of his office’s relative state at this point. If anything was to blame it was probably a malfunctioning teleprompter which had various techies sweating and muttering in the moments before Mr. Harper arrived.
While they fiddled, an official from the PMO handed out a piece of paper filled with months-old quotes of Stephane Dion’s, each seeming to dismiss the idea of a coalition with the NDP. The title at the top of the page—”Just the Facts”—mirrored the heading of each missive sent out by the Tory war room during the last election.
Mr. Harper emerged from the House of Commons, the grand theatre of our democracy lit for the occasion, and gazed, for a moment, up at the second floor balcony above. Looking down from just outside his office were Jay Hill, John Baird and Patrick Muttart. None of whom, one hopes, having told the Prime Minister this vote subsidy thing was a great idea.
Once at the podium, Mr. Harper spoke as if a military coup were imminent. The opposition, he said, sought to “overturn” the results of October’s election. They would, he warned, “install” Stephane Dion as prime minister.
He was surely tempted to invoke the War Measures Act. Slightly cooler heads having prevailed he opted instead for a slightly less authoritarian tact. The opposition would, he explained, be allowed to vote against his government. Only not next week. Perhaps the week after.
As his spokesman explained to reporters beforehand, the government will simply prevent the opposition from moving forward with its confidence motion on Monday. Apparently they can do that. Canadian democracy is wonderfully flexible that way. Though not flexible enough, mind you, to tolerate a coalition government comprised of three parties representing more than 60% of voters.
Mr. Harper spoke quietly. He sounded small, even a bit nasally. The foyer was quiet and dark, a massive Christmas tree gleaming in the middle of the room, perhaps ten feet in front of the Prime Minister’s podium.
He came to the end of his prepared remarks and wished the assembled journalists, political aides, rivals and onlookers a good weekend. He then turned towards the House and made his retreat. A few reporters dared shout questions at the back of his head.
“Sir,” asked one, “did you make a mistake?”
The Prime Minister kept walking, appearing to shake his head and mutter to himself as he turned the corner.