Pimping Illiteracy

PC_090827demers-harper-poignee_8Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press

Last night, whilst watching the bit about the new senate appointees, the cynicism folded onto itself like ham and American cheese in a Denny’s sandwich, compacting itself into a messy little knot in my sternum where it resided, Denny’s sandwich-like, until I finally managed to hork it onto the page.

It’s not so much that the Harper Conservatives have appointed a whack of unelected senators after years and years of bitching about how no government should ever appoint a whack of unelected senators. It’s not even that in so doing, Harper has yet again forsaken his populist Reform principles of governance; years ago, remember, appointing even one unelected senator was tantamount to accepting Ottawa’s “gold-plated pension plan”. Two decades on, the Conservatives are plenty happy with their pensions, and are as at least as eager as your average Liberal to indulge in the odd orgy of patronage.

No, the real pisser is this: Jacques Demers. Flubby, lovable and illiterate Jacques Demers. A funny thing happened the moment Harper appointed the erstwhile Habs coach and quasi-deity to the red chamber. We heard, at the top of every newscast, the soft-lens story of Demers himself, the former truck driver turned hockey coach who spent much of his life hiding the fact that he couldn’t read. Radio-Canada reported that a Montreal illiteracy help line saw a 300 percent increase in the number of calls in the space of an afternoon. Missing, or at least considerably dulled, was the chatter about the above-mentioned hypocrisy. Also largely MIA: the fact that Quebecers are, along with Albertans, traditionally the most ardent voices for Senate reform in the country–a sentiment for which Harper himself was associated back in his Reform days, and which he was quick to harness when courting Quebec’s favour during the last two elections.

Finally, as Vincent Marissal points out, Demers is a convenient media heat score who draws the attention away from the blatant nepotism of Harper’s other senate appointees. Namely, Harper’s advisor and campaign organizer Doug Finley; Harper’s former press flak Carolyn Stewart Olsen; Conservative Party president Don Plett; former CPC candidate Claude Carignan. Instead, we hear about lovable coach Demers, and how he cries when he hears of illiterate children. Well played, Prime Minister.

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