The Commons: Playtime

Jack Layton’s car—a Ford Focus with Quebec license plates—arrived from the south, seven minutes late of the 1pm time set for Mr. Layton’s meeting with Mr. Harper. Worse, this stretch of Sussex Drive, just before the roundabout in front of Rideau, does not allow for left turns though, so the NDP leader’s driver was forced to make an illegal u-turn around the cobblestone median to get to the Prime Minister’s driveway.

A graceful approach to history this was not.

Four television trucks, half a dozen television cameras, a few still photographers and a smatter of correspondents and scribes had gathered on the sidewalk, the horde descending upon the Ford Focus as soon as it reached the iron gate with the fleurs-de-lys spikes on top. Layton pretended not to notice. The gate opened, the large black security bar descended into the ground and the Ford Focus proceeded maybe 20 feet up the drive where it was dutifully swept for explosives. At 1:09pm, the car parked, Layton, in crisp white shirt and purple-striped tie (no jacket), bounded up the 24 Sussex stairs and through the door, his chief-of-staff trailing behind.

For 40 minutes then, we waited, periodically looking up the lane at the green door with white curtains in search of movement. Tourists and locals drove by, some slowing to gawk, some taking pictures (as if on safari, observing the journalistic herd grazing in its natural habitat). 

At precisely 1:49pm, Layton re-emerged and began the minute walk down the driveway to the assigned microphone where he would address the sweaty, thirsty wretches. When he arrived his brow was furrowed, his voice lowered an octave, his eyes cast downward, his hands fidgeting. This was Serious Jack. Solemn Jack. Sad Jack, lamenting the decline of Canadian democracy and the degradation of responsible governance.

He spoke in French, then English. He spoke of the crises facing the country—financial, environmental, medical and bacterial. “As Prime Minister, I told him, I would have been convening the leaders to figure out how we work on these key issues,” Layton said. “Because those are the ones that are on the minds of Canadian families as they sit down at their kitchen tables right now.”

Bad news for Jack: He’s not yet Prime Minister. Good news for Jack: The job’s about to come open. 

“Seems to me that he’s rather intent on quitting his job,” Layton said. “I told him that if he’s prepared to quit his job, he can explain that failure to Canadians. I intend to apply for his job with a team of New Democrats and a set of ideas that will respond to the real concerns of Canadians.”

Layton, standing so close to 24 Sussex (and yet so far from it), seemed to think this something of an audition.

“I got no sense that the Prime Minister is willing to do what I would do if I were Prime Minister,” he said.

“I suggested to him that as Prime Minister I would do things differently than he seems intent on doing them,” he added.

Shortly thereafter, Layton took his leave, reporters screaming questions about Elizabeth May at his car window as the Ford Focus drove away.

A few minutes later, another kind of audition, this time for the role of victim.

“Well, it’s very clear, coming out of the meeting, that Mr. Layton does not have confidence in the direction of the government,” the Prime Minister’s press secretary lamented for the cameras. “This is not a surprise to us. Although the Prime Minister and Mr. Layton have had a good relationship and are always able to speak frankly and cordially together, Mr. Layton has voted more consistently than any other opposition against the government on matters of confidence.”

The nerve.

“I think what the fundamental point is in this is that they have very different perspectives on the direction of the country.”

So what now, some asked. What about Mr. Dion?

“The Prime Minister has been seeking a meeting with Mr. Dion for some weeks now. And, to date, we not only have not been able to secure a meeting with Mr. Dion, but he’s refused to even take a phone call. I think we take that as evidence that Mr. Dion in fact does not want to talk to the Prime Minister.”

And no doubt Mr. Harper is heartbroken.

A short while later, with the cameras put away, but the Prime Minister’s man still speaking for the sake of the tape recorders and notepads, someone brought up the small matter of Mr. Dion’s actually wanting to speak with Mr. Harper. And, more specifically, why Mr. Dion’s proposed date of Sept. 9 (slightly more than a week from now) was too far off for the Prime Minister’s fragile constitution to bear.

“Well, it’s how many weeks and months do you want to wait for a meeting?” the man in the suit begged. “I think the offer of the 9th is simply the Liberals playing games.”

Why the Liberals should be denied the chance to do as everyone else is was left unanswered.

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