In defence of irresponsible Liberal bus metaphors -

In defence of irresponsible Liberal bus metaphors

Colby Cosh on outbreaks of “bad luck” as non-specific indicators of leadership problems


“For the last time: the physical world does not conform itself to journalists’ desire for metaphors!” barked Colleague Coyne in the wake of the breakdown of the Liberal Express yesterday. “Mechanical breakdowns are not “emblematic” of anything, except to reporters who like to press the facts into pre-defined templates of spurious significance (see: narrative), or who think the universe is governed by magic.”

At first I read this and gave a firm, satisfied nod of approval. I don’t think the universe is governed by magic either. But wait: isn’t Michael Ignatieff leader of the Liberal party largely because his predecessor was tried and convicted of exhibiting bad juju?

Thinking back to Stephane Dion’s video suicide, it seems to me that there is some room to regard outbreaks of “bad luck” as non-specific indicators of leadership problems. We call them “leaders” for a reason, right? They cannot be aware of all the details of a campaign, but they are responsible for creating an expectation of professionalism, a spirit of unity, and a climate of accountability. They set the moral tone for an organization and determine how much energy the rank and file will apply to mundane tasks.

If you’ve had a career of any length you’ve probably worked for bad, discouraging bosses and good, inspiring ones: which kind gets the worker bees to mind their p’s and q’s, to put in that little extra soupçon of effort? Which sort of executive will have his people coming into work an hour early because they have to pick a transport supplier and they don’t want the old man to lose face? When patronizing a business, don’t you notice, and judge on the basis of, all kinds of little things like this—things that might be strictly irrelevant in themselves? A smudged countertop, an untidy restroom? And aren’t blameless “accidents” often the way in which an unclear command structure, cronyism, or a dispirited workforce manifest themselves?

I don’t say that yesterday’s stop-and-go should by itself, or will, reflect on the state of the Liberal Party. It really is just a damn bus transmission: I feel faintly silly even suggesting that there could conceivably more to it. But if journalists are somewhat prone to Kremlinological flights of fancy about the internal morale of parties and organizations, there’s a reason for that: by and large, their opportunities for genuine insight are a lot less abundant and useful than you think. The press, aided by ethanol and unscrupulousness, does what it can to ferret out the truth. The better one’s access, the greater the inherent compromises.

The Liberal campaign might be a joyless death march, but the marchers themselves live by an ancient, inflexible code that obliges them to plod on uncomplainingly until they fall. All the rest of us can do is to keep our eyes unerringly fixed upon the place where, ahem, the rubber meets the road.


In defence of irresponsible Liberal bus metaphors

  1. Next time my issue of Maclean's is slightly torn or delivered wet from the rain, I'm gonna blame it on your shoddy journalism. ;)

    • No no no. We're talking about LEADERS. Start at the TOP of the masthead!

      • Yeah! Coyne is to blame!

        • Oh, the crushing irony of it.

        • "Coyne is to blame!"

          Coyne is to blame for everything, don't you know. I always enjoy when Coyne writes anti-corporate subsidy article and then dozens of snarky comments appear about Macleans and money it receives from government and Coyne is hypocrite.

          Like Coyne is the one responsible for Rogers finances, when he isn't writing his column, and what sources of funding Macleans says yes/no to.

          • Yes, I've seen those snarky remarks.

            My take on that topic, is that even if Coyne and the rest of Maclean's were against corporate subsidies, Maclean's would be handicapping itself with respect to the competition by refusing them. There is no honour in sacrificing yourself for no perceived benefit.

            As an analogy, some people might be in favour or personal retirement savings/investment accounts rather than the one-size-fits-all CPP, but they'd have to be crazy to refuse their CPP pension since they've been paying into it their whole lives.

  2. Great analysis Colby. Does anyone know who sourced the bus charter? and were they fired? Would Iggy send the message to his team that they need to make sure triple sure that this kind of amateur hour bs is not acceptable? Before you put the decals on the damn bus… has anyone done a tune-up? Is this bus charter now black-listed for all political parties (as I would hope Air Inuit is…)?

    • How do you know there was amateurism? Sometimes good, serviced vehicles break down. it happens. Deal with it.

      • So you got a national leader in a tour attempting to establish his relevance. Good serviced vehicles break down, it happens. Didn't someone prepare for that eventuality?

        It is hard, time consuming and demands exceptional organization to make something like this look seamless. I don't know how one would go about doing that, but I'm not presenting myself to run the country either.

  3. "At first I read this and gave a firm, satisfied nod of approval ….. But wait"

    I had same reaction. Bus broke down, no big deal.

    But Libs and gaffes seem to be happening a lot over the past few years and this is the Natural Governing Party so I think msm is downplaying metaphor of bus breaking down before it barely left town. It is perfect metaphor for incompetence and languishing enthusiasm for Liberal Party.

    Update: Just read Ibittson's column in Globe and there is photo of back of Lib bus with engine exposed and a prominent sticker saying bus is Powered By The Victory Fund. Hahahahahahahahahahha.

    Apparently Liberal supporters are a bit cheap and still aren't donating $$$ to support their own party!

  4. If the Liberal party were on the Apprentice and Ignatieff was the leader.
    Donald Trump says, "Your Fired".

    • Are we playing the "even worse metaphors" contest?

    • If you were on Apprentice and Donald Trump was looking for a fresh pop culture analogy that hadn't been overused and wasn't out of date . . .

      • How about Anne Robinson.
        "Mr Ignatieff your the weakest link."

        • Let`s get that apostrophe inbetween the 'u' and the 'r', and throw in an 'e' at the end, shall we?

  5. Writers are creative people whether they write for newspapers or push their scripts in Hollywood. The trick about creative people is that the creativity is frequently more apparent in their marketing than their product. If a blockbuster film comes out about an asteroid hitting the earth… you can count on at least two followup knock-offs. (No, my movie is completely different … it is a COMET that hits the earth!)

    So too with reporters. Once a story has been written and has some impact, it gets very easy to keep reporting along the same theme, the audience is prepared and your editor is already sold.

  6. Thinking back to Stephane Dion's video suicide, it seems to me that there is some room to regard outbreaks of “bad luck” as non-specific indicators of leadership problems.

    In Dion's case, the indicators of leadership problems weren't just "non-specific". Some of them were pretty darn specific, according to Glen McGregor's unnamed Liberal sources, who blamed "Dion, and Dion only" for the debacle:

    –Dion's office put Gzowski (the videographer) and others working on the video in an impossible position by failing to begin work on the video until after 6 p.m. on Wednesday, when it was supposed to run on network TV shortly after Harper's 7 p.m. address.

    –Dion's staff had focused that day on writing his letter to the Governor General on behalf of the Liberal-NDP coalition, while letting the recording of the crucial video wait until later in the day.

    –Dion repeatedly changed the script of the French language address, causing costly delays and forcing the camera crew to scramble to complete the video. Gzowski had less than 25 minutes to record the two nine-minute videos, one in each language.

    –Dion's office failed to put in place a backup plan, such as a live address.

    • The Dion case is a weak example… he was toast before the video came out, the video gave people something to point at and laugh.

      A better case would be the Joe Clark lost luggage.

      • he was toast before the video came out, the video gave people something to point at and laugh.

        The video destroyed the coalition's mojo, hastened Dion's departure (he was originally going to stick around for another five months, until the Leadership Convention), and resulted in Ignatieff's coronation as leader, instead of a proper leadership race that Bob Rae or another challenger could conceivably have won.

        It was a colossal disaster, and it had nothing to do with "bad luck", even though Dion's team used that excuse in their attempts at damage control.

        I agree that Joe's lost luggage is more comparable to the #lpcx breakdown, in that both were genuinely the result of bad luck (at least in part).

  7. That post started good, but degenerated into incomprehensibility.

  8. Before the metaphors get too, um, meta, can we be absolutely reassured there was no criminal sabotage of the bus?

    • criminal…. remember just who Ignatieff pissed off the other day!

      This metaphor was taken down through metaphysical sabotage!

      • However, in Harper's defense apparently the devil made him do it.

        • Who's to say the devil isn't pissed at Ignatieff for equating him to someone as milquetoast as Harper?

    • Too late – the first response by Iggy to ' this unfortunate incident ' was to blame it on Harper saying he had been seen running away with oil on his hands! … this was actually very stupid and goes a long wat to explain why Iggy is doomed and make no mistake about it he is doomed. Iggy had the perfect opportunity to get away from the negative campaigning and use self deprecating humour as this way he could have cut off half the medias response and earned a few points for humility – but he didn't so now he is stuck with the metaphor being reality!

      • And I took that Harper accusation as totally tongue-in-cheek. Maybe you could use the dose of humour?

        • tongue in cheek maybe, but still bad taste. There's a lot of rain in prairies these days…blame Harper. Oil spill in St. Lawrence by a CSL ship no less…blame Harper. Liberal leader is useless…blame Harper? The sun rises everyday…blame Harper?

          I agree with psiclone, he could have made this a joke and not used Harper's name…that made it lame.

          • OK, you people are spooking me because you are giving me the ongoing urge to defend Ignatieff.

            But, come on: It was a joke. He was playing to his crowd. I bet they ate it up. And it was so obviously a joke that Harper won't even bother with convening the reporters to "defend myself against the scurrilous accusation for which he had better resign or at least apologize and retract," unless he or an aide can come up with an even wittier retort.

            So you thought it was lame. OK. A politician's stand-up act won't please all of the people all of the time. Do you need to be reminded that IT IS SUMMER, PEOPLE! LIGHTEN UP!

          • I've never been called spooky before…life is good.

      • Hmmm, wasn't Harper also responsible for the talking oil spot in the anti-Dion ad?

  9. "For the last time: the physical world does not conform itself to journalists' desire for metaphors!” barked Colleague Coyne

    Oh, but this won't be the last time…

  10. Cosh's point, as I understand it, is that it's not unreasonable to infer bad leadership from bad luck: not because of superstition, but because "accidents" reflect on the overall competence of the team and hence the leader.

    It's a fair point, and if the bus tour ends up being a series of "accidents" then I'm in complete agreement: something is wrong with the leader.

    So far, though, we have a rainstorm and a bus breakdown. It's a bit much to infer that the entire campaign is somehow star-crossed because of that… particularly since an inconvenient rainstorm really can't be blamed on anyone (other than George Bush of course).

    • I beg to differ. The rainstorm points to a rather deficient weather management strategy. The Liberals need to replace their weather management consultant. I suggest they try the membership list at

      One seems to be advertising "Custom Weather" and another is marketing "Catastrophe Derivatives" although that might lead to insider trading …

    • Or shorter version, fortune favours the prepared.

    • That's pretty funny.

    • Awesome

    • Unbelievable! You can't make this stuff up!

    • the jokes write themsleves .. you know I almost feel sorry for Iggy it is like seeing the writing on the wall right in front of you – Bobby R. is standing right behind Iggy holding his jacket whispering soothing words into his ears.

    • This is an even bigger story. If I were Iggy, I'd say there's no way in heck that the Liberal bus would be fixed in Harper's and I'd tell the tow truck to keep on driving to the next garage.

    • Ah, so the Liberal bus breaks down and the closest repair shop is Harper's eh?

      How convenient.

  11. Rona-talk, devilled eggs, and now buses. Sigh.

    Anyone read the megabill that now runs our lives?

    You know, something important?

    • Did you mean "Anyone read the megabill that now [ruins] our lives?"

      • Nah, I'm still trying to find out whether Harper really ate that communion wafer. You know, something important.

  12. As I said at Coyne's place. Since summer tours are supposed to be dry runs in a low risk environment this shouldnt be a big deal. However, if this is more than just the usual "off broadway" summer run, as in Iggy's last chance recovery tour, then this becomes a bigger deal.

    Summer runs are supposed to work out the kinks, which means kinks will be present. But they may have pumped this up too much and that means it has to act like an election tour.

    Liberal internal reaction will be the telling sign. The Libs either just get down to work use it as an excuse to raise their game, or the brown envelopes and anonymice make start showing up.

    But sometimes a bus breakdown is just a bus breakdown….but if I were Donolo and Iggy I would make sure it or soemthign like it dont happen again, no need to feed the meme.

  13. What a hoot .. what a way to start your tour Iggy – your bus pulled over to the side of the road and being hustled into a taxi faster than the knife you stuck in Dion's back … ROFL! … this is way too easy and much like the Igster himself the jokes write themselves … the main thing is I see is that the NDP are deciding the time is right to reach out to frustrated left wingers in the LPT by attacking Iggy now see the Piggy comments (too funny) which is so easy now as the Igster is giving his ammunition away …. too much fun … keep up the good work Liberals as you are making this summer to be way more fun than I thought it would be and who knows xconsdering the way things are going the NDP could become the official opposition!

  14. Examples of boring and predictable: (a) some reporters jumping all over and propagating hyperbole about the broken-down bus "story" and (b) most of Cosh's blog postings.

    • Cosh, boring sometimes – predictable? Predictably unpredictable maybe. You shoulda thought up the insult and then posted it, not posted the insult and then thought it up.

      • Why can I then predict what his position is going to be on various issues for about 90% of his postings? That, by definition, is predictable.

  15. Interesting take, Colby!

  16. "Managing"


    "Accomplishing things"

    All new to the Ivory tower academic coccooned in tenured academia. We should cut him some slack.

    I say baby steps for him. Once he's capable of managing a cross country bus tour, he can move onto bigger things, like a donut shop. Maybe in forty to fifty years he'll be able to run this great country of ours.

  17. Colby why bother? Short on substance and long on hperbole. Spare us your pathetic commentary.. Kudos to Iggy for getting out there admist all this critical press. We will get the government we deserve, be it unscrupulous, incompetant and smelling like sulpher.

    • It is clear why he bothers… he gets paid quite a bit more for his contributions than anyone else in this thread.

  18. Speaking of metaphors, is the race car sponsored by the CPC still driving around in endless, endless circles?

    • I like the "endless" part.

  19. Don't forget Grant Mitchell, who's "Next Premier of Alberta" election campaign died from the get-go when the Alberta Liberal bus broke down literally in the first 200 yards after the writ was dropped.

    To add to the hilarity, Mitchell's bus remained broken down for several days as the Liberals couldn't secure a mechanic to repair the vehicle which was proudly touted in media releases only a few days earlier (the 1997 Alberta Provincial Election wasn't exactly a huge surprise: the precise date of the election had been known a week and a half before the official writ-dropping, and even the day that the election would be called was known — it wasn't like the Liberals didn't have time to double check everything).

    Even for the Alberta Liberals the Grant Mitchell campaign was an embarrassment: after Ralph Klein's immortal first four years of obliterating government services, the Liberals went from 32 seats to 18.

  20. I find it hilarious, the piece in her.The bus breaking down, its all things liberal.Too funny

    • Did no one think to have a second bus tagging along as a spare? This is Canada where bus repair facilities can be few and far between. What if there had been no Harper's repair shop nearby? Back in my salad days taking a bus from St Johns Newfoundland to Cornerbrook there were 4 buses loaded with passengers ….and four empty "spares" just in case. As I said it's Canada and anything can go wrong and you have to be prepared. The Liberals are not prepared to run a bus tour or run the country.

      • Well, the guy actually running the country , just gave us the mess that was the G20. I'd say he wasn' t prepared.

      • They couldn't organise a sup up in a brewery