Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

“I didn’t know!” – the death throes of a desperate squirmer

The Conservatives are losing their favourite, time-tested tactic to reset public opinion: just say the word “sponsorship.”

For seven long years, anytime they could be criticised for ethical lapses, for cronyism and corruption, for pork and for secrecy (in a word, umm, always), they could simply refer back to “sponsorship” and be assured that the public would growl at horrific memories of Liberal sleaze, and we’d remind ourselves how grateful we should be that things are, at the very least, not that bad.

Except that they are. And you know that they are when a Prime Minister not only refutes something, not only ignores something, but says he “didn’t know about it.”

Paul Martin “didn’t know” about sponsorship. Jean Chrétien “didn’t know” either. The entire scandal was supposed to come down to the over-zealous shenanigans of backroom functionaries, whose fealty to their Party blinded them to fair play – and, in their fealty, they also knew better than to even tell their Party leaders anything about it. To protect them.

People see this as squirmery. For a leader to say he “didn’t know” about something, anything, absolutely reeks of it. Any politician volunteering that he is both ignorant and a poor manager will damage him, but he does it to protect him from the greater damage that the truth would inflict. And that missing truth is all that people see. 

No one believed that Chrétien “didn’t know,” or that Martin “didn’t know” about the actions of their own office. The Reformer/Conservatives didn’t believe it! For them, though, it’s now become nigh on impossible to trade on their old 2004 outrage, having themselves now sunk to having today’s Prime Minister, in all his micromanaging obsession, through his hawk-eyed economist’s lens, have to come out and say that he just “didn’t know.”

Outrage for sponsorship is no longer a tradeable commodity, desperate though Harper is to revert to familiar tactics. His TV address was effectively the very same speech he liked to give when he was Leader of the Opposition, eight, nine, even ten years ago: he’d like the Senate to be reformed, and believes Ottawa needs to be more transparent. 

After seven years in power, the Senate is worse, and transparency is markedly, shamefully poorer. And so, Stephen Harper’s ethical conundrum: the more he repeats his old adage about” demanding better,” the more Canadians actually will.

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Can’t buy me truth

It’s been a few days since I’ve posted anything – sorry! If only I had a communications budget, I could satisfy myself with doing this full-time.

Why, coincidentally, a communications budget is just what this is about! Stephen Harper, despite a famous disdain and disregard for facing the press himself, puts a lot of stock in managing the message. He’s spent money designing websites which do nothing but crudely mock his opponents. He’s got spooks trawling newspaper comment boards, paid to post loyal partisan garbage and to cheerlead any and every boneheaded policy the Prime Minister’s introduced. All of that costs cash.

How much is it worth to our *throat clearing noise* fiscally conservative PM? Nearly $10 million. That’s a $1 million budget hike from the previous year.

What the media can’t be trusted to deduce on their own, they must be force-fed, I suppose is the Harperian logic here. That as well as the full knowledge that his party is really a sprawling motley crew of far-right Reformers who don’t believe in evolution, along with occasional red/centre Tories – with such profound potential for internal strife and contradiction, this PM has been very clear he’ll wield an iron-clad and incredibly well-resourced communications machine to present the Conservative Party as something unified, accountable, and moderate – and to do that primarily, of course, by obsessively demonising the Liberals.

Prime Minister’s Office communications budgets, though, are drawn from public funds. The PMO is not meant to be a giant clunking arm of the ruling party, with its associated propaganda. Drawing $10 million from public coffers for partisan purposes seems, to me, like something that ought to outrage actual fiscal conservatives out there, who supposedly supported Harper once upon a time because he seemed genuine in his small-state convictions and his accountability mantra. What conservative voters have got, though, is a spendthrift who’s plunged the Canadian economy from longstanding surplus to a $50 billion (and counting) deficit, and now spends even more to better manage the message.

But, oh, can we blame them. Brain transplants are expensive, and surely that’s going to be a line item in the new comms budget, what with Stockwell Day talking in public! According to Day, we need to build more prisons because, while violent crime rates are going down, 2004 StatsCan figures indicate that unreported crime (though non-violent) is going up. He also suggests that StatsCan data is unreliable and outdated, which is why they’re scrappnig the mandatory long form.

Having your cake and eating it too, are you? Or just smearing it all over your face?

The reporters at this press conference are brilliant. “You’re not making sense,” says one. Suppose there’s no clearer rationale for a $10 million communications budget than this.

But, back to a point raised earlier in the post. Harper’s monitoring of online chat and comment boards. It comes as little surprise to me, as someone who spends some time on the Globe and Mail boards – the excruciatingly high volume of redundant partisan noise coming from the Blue Tribe just doesn’t jive with the lacklustre 30% polling that the Tories manage nationwide.

If only the government could pay them to think, too. Unfortunately for them, hiring trolls to cheerlead Harper as “best PM ever!!!” and to parrot anti-Liberal talking points doesn’t really fool anyone. It only raises eyebrows and turns middle-of-the-road voters off from the barking nutbar crowd in Harper’s employ.

Oh well, what’s another bullet in the foot, eh Steve?

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , ,

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