Not that anyone asked me, once again, but ...

Apologies, y’all, for the light posting today — this being Ottawa, home of the it’s-a-long weekend-if-we-all-say-it’s-a-long-weekend philosophy on fixed-date statutory holidays, the city has apparently declared this an honourary holiday – Canada Eve Day, as it were. Don’t worry, the business of governing the country goes on, I’m sure — via BlackBerry, most likely from a sunny back deck, and possibly with a margarita in hand, but governed all the same.

Meanwhile, over at Conservative Party headquarters, the grudge-holding apparently goes on as well, according to the Toronto Star’s Susan Delacourt:

Here’s a riddle: What is the similarity between Prime Minister Stephen Harper throwing a football on the lawn of Parliament in 2005 and Liberal leader Stephane Dion doing the weather on CITY TV in 2008?

On immediate consideration, the answer would seem to be – nothing much.

But the Conservative spin machine sees a similarity, I guess, which explains why TWO of us at the Star have received messages from the party’s HQ in the last 24 hours – asking us if we’re going to write or comment on Dion’s weatherman stint the same way we did about Harper throwing the football with Peter MacKay after Belinda Stronach’s dramatic floor-crossing in May, 2005.

I apparently was on TV afterward in 2005, saying the Harper-MacKay stunt made me cringe (still does, actually). So Conservatives wanted to know if Dion doing the weather made me cringe too. Another of us had called the football game a PR display, so the Conservatives wanted to know if that’s how he’d write about Dion doing the weather.

I’m assuming that if two of us got these messages at the Star, there are other reporters out there getting them too. In other words, they’re now digging through their three-year-old records, looking for stuff said about Harper while he was in opposition – stuff that made them mad, apparently – and trying to leverage that into negative coverage of Dion.

So far, ITQ has yet to hear a peep from the Tories any apparent lack of consistency in mocking publicity stunts by opposition leaders. (Or anything else, come to think of it. O, Ryan Sparrow, where has our love gone?) That, of course, isn’t going to stop me from responding to what the Conservatives appear to be implying.

First of all, I don’t actually remember the Harper/MacKay pick-up faux football game getting that much coverage at all, positive or negative. Sure, there were a few photos in the weekend papers, and I’m pretty sure it made it into the pages of my ex-haunting ground, the Hill Times – but it was hardly a feeding frenzy, perhaps because by the time it happened, we were all feeling a bit frazzled from four days that felt like forty days of nonstop political craziness. If anyone else recalls otherwise, feel free to post links/etc in the comments, but as far as I can tell, it was pretty much forgotten within a few days. Hardly the stuff of legend, as far as disastrous politial gambits go. (Harper’s infamously unwise decision to go vest when going west for the Calgary Stampede, will never, ever stop being ridiculous, as would be the case regardless of who wore it.)

Secondly, I have to say I agree with Susan: I really don’t see all that much similarity between Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay tossing the football around on the front lawn, and Stephane Dion taking his Green Shift pitch to the people via CityTV. At no point were we expected to believe that Stephane Dion, unpredictable scamp that he is, had suddenly, and with no warning, leapt in front of the camera to deliver a weather forecast. It was obviously planned, scripted and staged – and I’m sure as many people found it cringe-inducingly cheesy as endearingly quirky, which is pretty much how these things usually go. Nobody, however, treated it as anything other than a photo op – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The Harper/MacKay football frolic, on the other hand, was presented as an entirely natural, unplanned and spontaneous bonding moment that just happened – by chance – to be caught on film. Reporters were supposed to buy into the idea that these two men – who, it’s worth noting, had up until that moment never been viewed as particularly close – spontaneously decided to grab a football and head outside for an impromptu game of catch, only to find – gasp! – reporters waiting outside, cameras at the ready.

In Dion’s case, the weatherman schtick was a hook to the larger story: the Liberal leader’s summer-long campaign to sell the Green Shift. For better or for worse, it also played on his image as the earnest, awkward wonk who really, really wants Canadians to understand why he’s so worried about climate change, even if it means wandering the streets of Toronto explaining the difference between carbon tax and cap-and-trade.

The football game, on the other hand, was yet another attempt by the party to portray Harper as an ordinary guy – an ordinary Canadian, just like you! – who would rather be outside playing ball with the boys than holed up in his office reading a treatise on economic policy. It could not have been more obvious that it was a photo op, and a fairly brazen one, which is probably why it was largely dismissed as such.

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