The Old Man and the C-16


The clouds over the land now rose like mountains and the coast was only a long green line with the grey-blue hills behind it. The water was a dark blue now, so dark that it was almost purple. As he looked down into it he saw the red sifting of the plankton in the dark water and the strange light the sun made now. He watched his lines to see them go straight down out of sight into the water and he was happy to see so much plankton because it meant fish.

Just then the stern line came taut under his foot, where he had kept a loop of the line, and he dropped his oars and felt the weight of the small tuna’s shivering pull as he held the line firm and commenced to haul it in. The shivering increased as he pulled in and he could see the blue back of the fish in the water and the gold of his sides before he swung him over the side and into the boat.

Then he held a news conference.

He was a middle-aged man who sat alone in a seat in the House of Commons and he had gone almost two years now without taking down the government. In the first 40 days two boys, Michael and Bob, had been with him. But after 40 days without a decent poll the boys’ leadership supporters had told them that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unluck. Yet Stéphane Dion actually looked quite chipper as he came galloping into the National Press Theatre this afternoon, trailed by a press secretary whose jeans and track jacket made it clear there was no news conference on the agenda when everybody showed up for work this morning.

Dion took his seat and told us about his fishing vacation. “I cut bait. I caught fish. I won the competition. It tasted like victory. All this because I struck at the right time.” His eyes were the same colour as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated, except for those by-elections in Outremont and Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River.

Then we went to questions. Hey Mr. Dion, any chance of an election this fall? What about this business of Stephen Harper calling the election himself because Parliament doesn’t function?

“The truth is when the parliament has difficulties, it’s because the Conservatives are delaying committees,” Dion said. He referred to a list of blocked legislation from Peter Van Loan, which I haven’t seen but which sounds like fun reading, and called it “pathetic,” and then later in French, “navrant.” “He wants to have an election because of veiled voting? Because of election financing — which passed?”

Well then. What about the Liberals? Is Dion finally ready to bring the House down? “I’m considering different possibilities,” he said, “and one is to stop strategic voting when we disagree with the government.” In other words, Liberals would show out in full force, instead of sending in a corporal’s guard for confidence votes. The chips would then fall where they may! If that’s the possibility Dion goes with. He hasn’t decided yet.

True, “many Canadians are telling me, more and more, we need to have an election.” Still, he doesn’t want to rush into anything. Nor does he want to stall unduly. “Timing is important in politics,” he said. His eyes brightened as he saw another chance to haul the metaphor of the day, kicking and screaming, back into the room. “Like for fishing!”

Since the Liberal leader had called a news conference in response to election-timing speculation, but had nothing to say that might inflect that speculation in any recognizable way, we were left to find our amusement however we might. Dion was asked about Harper’s remarks to the effect that the Conservatives are the real party of multiculturalism and national unity.

Surprisingly, he didn’t bite. Sure, he said, Trudeau introduced the first formal multiculturalism policy — and yet, “it’s something we have to take care not to pretend we have a monopoly on it.” How oddly non-partisan and un-cheap-shotty. So was whatever he said on national unity, although I’m afraid he was speaking English and the only fragment that made it into my notebook was the perhaps not entirely helpful, “This is something we should stop to do.” But trust me: when he said it, it sounded great, whatever it was.

He said he’s still intent on making Canadians Richard Peregrino. Or at least that’s the way I always hear it. Let me explain. A few months ago I had brunch with a friend who had been doing some work on the Liberal platform. (That doesn’t narrow it down at all.) “What do you think of this for a campaign slogan?” she asked. “Richard Peregrino.”

I stared blankly. “It’s a bit… opaque.”

It took me three minutes to figure out that what she’d actually said was “Richer, Fairer, Greener.” Which is what Dion wants to make Canada. But ever since then, the fake mis-heard name is stuck in my cranium, so I now interpret every Dion appearance as, in part, a hearty endorsement of this unseen but apparently commendable fellow Richard Peregrino.

So he is considering options, Liberals don’t have a monopoly on multiculturalism, timing is important, the fish was good, and Richard Peregrino. Anything else?

I did ask him about Georgia. His response was utter boilerplate. He wants the situation to improve! Promptly! I also asked about Harper’s fixed election-date law (C-16, in case you’ve been wondering ever since you read the top of this blog post). He’ll have to “consider” it, if he gets elected prime minister, Dion said, but he suspects “we’ll keep it and we will respect it.” Somewhere, Jean Chrétien is smacking his forehead in frustration. Ah well. Times change, apparently.

Speaking of Chrétien, what does Dion make of his predecessor’s criticism of Harper for failing to attend the Olympic opening ceremonies? He didn’t answer directly on Chrétien’s comments, but he did add, “Mr. Harper should go to the closing ceremonies, to try to repair the damage.” Can he even get a ticket at this late date?

One reporter asked whether, if Harper goes to the Governor General despite C-16 and asks for an election in the next couple of months, Michaëlle Jean could refuse the dissolution and subsequent election Harper would be requesting. Dion mis-heard the question, and hijinx ensued. When he eventually got it straight, Dion said what I have always believed about these things, despite the best attempts of bored colleagues to convince me that every week brings a potential new King-Byng crisis: “In my opinion, the Governor General does what the prime minister asks her.”

And with that, the news conference was over.


The Old Man and the C-16

  1. Sounds dull enough for the new Radio 2 schedule.

  2. Come on, it’s jianghomesheriffic!

  3. I watched a bit of the press conference on cbc and it seemed like the journalists are keen for an election but Dion is clearly waiting until he thinks he can win.

    What can Dion say about Chretien and his comments yesterday? Seems to me that Chretien is whinging because he is being asked pointed questions at ChiCom cocktail parties while he’s there lobbying for Power Corp.

    I think the only way GG would refuse to dissolve parliament is if government has been in power for less than a year.

  4. I am afraid Dion is revealing how little he knows about diplomacy as if I am not misstaken turnaround is considered fair play in the corp and China boycotted our Olmpic games in Montreal becuase we recognize Taiwan therefore it would be a serious loss of face if Harper did go then again it has been quite awhile … however … actually I am torn on this one therefore am not really sure of where to come down on the closing ceremonies .. in either event … Hey Give cudos to Dion at least someone showed up and reported on this so he should get his name in the papers and that is what this was all about.

  5. My comment is awaiting moderation but I forgot to mention that Dion only called this press conference to get Harper off tomorrow’s front pages. Dion must think Harper’s getting too much exposure and something needed to be done.

    Wayne Don’t think it’s any real achievement to get reporters to Liberal press conference. I would be more surprised if no one showed up.

  6. Campell and Curry say he “ratched-up” the election talk. Or at least their headline writer does. Unnamed CTV Web writer replaces ratcheted volume (turned up) on election talk. Were you all at the same presser? And did he serve smoked trout, or was it a catch and release tourney (which would be more sustainable)?

  7. This is our favourite trick ever. We ask a guy about elections, then we say he’s talking a lot about elections. It never gets old.

  8. Herman Mellville I’m sure would be pleased Dion didn’t go whale watching.

  9. SOunds like fun.

  10. Actually the whale watching came last year in Newfoundland, with the media in tow. No whales were seen, but there were many puffins…

  11. Bait: Call me fish meal

  12. Hmmm, I wonder who would play the big white whale?

  13. Sounds dull enough for the new Radio 2 schedule.

    Sometimes I really do get a kick out of Canadian cynicism, especially when it’s so well-crafted and ill-tempered.

  14. Hey KRT that was Melville and not Hemingway!

  15. Yeah, but my press release and speaking points will say that it was indeed Melville, and anyone who disagrees is anti literature.

  16. There are times when I can almost feel sorry for Dion and his friend Richard Peregrino, and then I remember that he actually campaigned for this job.

  17. How is it that Mr. Harper can seriously muse about dissolving Parliament and calling an election, when just over a year ago his government’s law on fixed election dates (C-16) came into force with the express intent of preventing governing parties from being able to do that very thing? Either he takes that law off the books, or he waits until he’s defeated on a confidence motion or October 2009. He can’t have it both ways.

    Regarding his pretext for wanting to call an election — Parliament’s dysfunction — I was struck by a quote in the Globe’s story:

    “Mr. Harper repeated earlier comments that Parliament has become unproductive.

    ‘I think we’ve had a productive 2 1/2 years but I think that has slowed in recent weeks.'”

    Why of course it has slowed in recent weeks:
    The House and Senate haven’t been sitting! Sure, there’s the Ethics committee, but it’s not as though any of his bills are stalled there.

  18. Jowl sed: Dion only called this press conference to get Harper off tomorrow’s front pages. Dion must think Harper’s getting too much exposure and something needed to be done.”

    Yah, and Harper had what idea before he stood before the microphone? Hello pot, your black kettle is boiling!

  19. After reading this blog, I can’t decide if Paul was making fun of Dion or tipping his hat to him.

  20. Maybe he’s worried about Jean Chretien being on the front pages.

  21. And that would be bad because…

  22. I think a Seinfeld analogy would have worked too. Not as lofty as Hemingway, mind you, but the episode where George pretends to be a marine biologist in order to impress a girl (and is subsequently encouraged to rescue a whale – mammal not fish – only to discover an errant Kramer golf ball lodged in the blowhole) does have some metaphorical possibilities.

  23. “it’s something we have to take care not to pretend we have a monopoly on it”

    This may be the most shocking statement I’ve heard from a Canadian politician in years, for the very reason Paul points out with an impressive flourish of hyphens (“oddly non-partisan and un-cheap-shotty”). It’s an endearing if unfortunately fruitless way of dealing with lob-ball questions. If only seriousness and candor were considered political virtues.

  24. I donno……. there is something about this guy’s quiet determination

  25. Paul,I started reading and then blipped over everything but the first six words of the first sentence of each paragraph until I reached paragraph five. I still don’t know, nor care, what you were talking about in pars. 1-4.

    If this is supposed to go into the print edition, I’d start it off with something like:

    “Pow! Pow! Pow! Three shots tore into my groin as the Liberal Leader ascended the stage.”

    You know, something a bit more lively…

  26. you did not mis-hear him

    the election is about me

  27. Sounds like bigcitylib wants the next blog to be called “The Old Man and the M16”

  28. So after all this, what was the point of the press conference?

    The most interesting part of Wells’ commentary was the comment about the jeans and track jacket clad press secretary. His observation perfectly captured the essence of Dion’s communication team.

    Are they even trying anymore? Is there a message to keep? What is their game plan going into the fall?

  29. “Richard Peregrino” – I thought of San Pellegrino, and overpriced fizzy water.

    Something in that?


    Anyway, I’m bored. I still want an election.

  30. So Dion says Harper should fly to China to seek forgiveness from the Communist Party? I thought Canada was a sovereign country. I guess Dion wants Canada to become another Chinese province.

    It would be good to ask Dion if Canada should seek to have the same status as the province of Beijing, Tibet, Guangdong or Taiwan.

    It isn’t EZ being a leader! Do you think it’s EZ?

  31. sf,

    You’re correct. Clearly Dion believes that Canada should become a Chinese province. I think that must be his hidden agenda. I mean, seriously, if you don’t think Harper should go, that’s great, but come up with an actual diplomatic argument, rather than trying to make a joke out of something that really and truly is not easy. I support Harper’s decision not to go, but I think he put a bit of thought into it. My guess is he didn’t say, “Well, you know, if we go, Canadians will think that I want us to become a province of China. So, better not.”

  32. D. Jones:
    Sorry that I cannot live up to your exacting standards of discourse.
    But really, i was making a point, and if you can’t handle the exaggeration, then it’s not a failing on my part.
    It’s not EZ formulating suitable dialogue for the denizens of this outpost of the cybersphere. It’s not EZ.

  33. After days of being reduced to reading partisan schlock from live-blogging of the Ethics committee..your article was greatly appreciated.

    Alright, your Georgia stuff was ok..

    Thank you Mr. Wells.

  34. If we have an election, and no one votes for anyone, can we just leave Parliament dissolved and try just living life under the laws we have for a while, and see if everything just works out OK on its own?

    ‘Cause seriously, partisanship aside, aren’t we all kinda to the point where no one wants any of these people “leading” us?

    Given the choices presented of Harper, Dion, Layton and Duceppe (and lest we forget their assorted bungling minions) is there anyone left in the nation that wouldn’t choose “None of the above” if given half a chance? Could pseudo-anarchy (we do have laws on the books) be that bad? What could possibly happen that could be worse than the spectacle of idiocy, childishness, inanity and general incompetence currently before us?

    I really want to put this Parliament out of our misery, but I’m no so much hungry to dissolve Parliament and have an election, as I am to just dissolve Parliament (full stop) and never have an election ever again.

    Who’s with me?

  35. I’m not. Harper has provided good government over the past two and half years and deserves re-election. The Liberals need to regroup under someone who has the confidence of the rank and file and who can instill confidence among Canadians.

    As it is, Dion’s weak leadership has resulted in the Liberals going back to their bad instincts: trying to get power for power’s sake instead of presenting a coherent and plausible electoral platform. (Sorry, The Green Shift ™ is not it.)

  36. And what exactly are we poor political reporters supposed to do under your utopian scenario, LKO? Will there be training programs? Transitional funding? An adjustment to the current EI seasonal work requirements? And what about the grief counseling? Won’t someone please, please think of the press gallery?

  37. Election now! Election now! Election now!

  38. Re Dion, Chretien and the chattering classes going on about Harper missing the opening of the Olympics – the Canadian Lung Association missed a big one here.

    Considering the PM is asthmatic, he’s doing himself a favour by not subjecting his lungs to the air in Beijing. Kudos to the PM for looking after his health so he can fight the good fight against Dion when the timing is right!

  39. “Considering the PM is asthmatic, he’s doing himself a favour by not subjecting his lungs to the air in Beijing. Kudos to the PM for looking after his health so he can fight the good fight against Dion when the timing is right!”

    Carol, you get 10 points for coming up with the most original excuse I’ve heard to date.

  40. Won’t someone please, please think of the press gallery?

    We already took away your beer machine. Behave yourselves, or the hot room may be relocated. With the construction on the hill they could use the office space, and I hear office space in Vanier is cheap…

  41. bigcitylib, you’re right, the top of this post is crap. I don’t know what kind of illiterate fool would write bollocks like those first two paragraphs.

  42. SK- E-zed? why should anything be e-zed? Oh, you mean Easy! Right, because running a government and prioritizing (equally valid and important) cabinate decisions is definitely not hard.

  43. Glad we agree, Paul. When it comes to literary exemplars, Mickey beats Ernst any day.

  44. At what point do we have to consider the possibility that not only is Dion not charismatic nor very astute politically, but he is also not that intelligent. The three pillars approach (richer-fairer-greener) is all he has come up with in 2 and a half years.

  45. If anyone is interested, Michael Coren is having Dion on his show Thursday (tomorrow) for an hour of one-on-one conversation. Should be interesting.

  46. The difficulty people have is in thinking that what *they* think is important is the *only* thing that has importance.

    Objective measures of worth? Are those deriding arts funding not thinking of the incentive this provides for people attempting to do art? Of how this incentive leads to much art being produced and therefore lowering the price of *all* art to some degree, or of how it allows the creation of art galleries and various supply stores as a viable business. Have you thought of how it keeps these people doing art actually producing something for their government welfare as opposed to just going on welfare? True, perhaps what they produce may not be to your personal taste, but that’s the problem of living in a society with other people.. not everybody has your tastes.

  47. Tulip: In 13 years, all the conservatives came up with was 5 priorities. Seems to be running at about the same rate.

  48. Thwim: Re. Objective measures of worth?

    There are none. It all comes down to appeasing the ones who hold the purse-strings. Specific complaints about cuts to popular programs carries far more weight than abstract and whiny rhetoric about destroying culture.

    Surely you’re not saying the government should fund art that appeals to all tastes. If that was case, we could indeed get rid of welfare altogether.

  49. You just didn’t bother reading the second paragraph at all, did you?

    I listed a number of objective measures people could examine.

    And no, I did not suggest that the government should fund art that appeals to all tastes. I suggested that no art would appeal to all tastes, but that any individual not liking a piece of art isn’t sufficient reason to declare the art worthless.

  50. Good grief. I just realized that I was in the wrong forum when answering this. Should have been over in the arts cuts forum.. except for the response to tulip.

  51. T.Thwim,
    Interesting argument: “Of how this incentive leads to much art being produced and therefore lowering the price of *all* art to some degree,”

    You are suggesting that the supply of art is affected by the existence of subsidies, and by increasing the supply, the unit cost will come down?

    So if we encourage more pictures to be painted, the average cost of a picture will be reduced? And this is good for the consumer, but since the cost of producing a picture is static (n hours of painting plus materials), this will reduce the average income of artists, thus providing a disincentive to art production.

    If art was so nicely ruled by supply and demand, then we should in fact reduce subsidies to zero, thus reducing the supply and thus increasing the average return to the remaining producers.

    Or maybe, as historical evidence suggests, art production is independent of both government subsidy, and supply and demand.

  52. Oo. You have evidence? Present please.

  53. Sorry I got sucked into the wrong thread too :)

    I read the second paragraph, but I’m not sure what it has to do with how governments should decide what to fund. Are you saying we should only fund artists with sales to galleries? I’m also not clear on how the art supply store sales can influence policy here.

    Feel free to redirect replies to the correct forum.

  54. Thwim,
    Well, do you need a long list of artists who produced their art not only without government subsidy, but also with no expectation of financial return at all? Or of artists who produced against the active opposition of the government and in conditions of poverty and need?

    It is a pretty long list and it goes back a long way. It is also quite modern. Some chap called Solzhenitsyn might be on that list.

  55. I feel bad that I didn’t think of Kady when I came up with my “let’s just get rid of government all together” plan. OK, so we do need to actually keep people in Ottawa, ’cause I don’t know what I’d do without the ITQ live blogging.

    So, fine. I’ll learn to put up with our inane “leaders” (all parties included). But only for the entertainment value.

    Kady O’Malley everyone. One of the very few redeeming aspects of Canadian democracy.

    Other than as fodder for the great Maclean’s blogs though, I still maintain we’d be better off without any of these people. It’s been said before, and I’ll say it again. Democracy just doesn’t work.

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