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.

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