Attention, political leaders: It’s in your interest to step it up

Scott Feschuk: In search of election fever on the super-sized federal election campaign

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(Photo illustration by Sarah MacKinnon and Richard Redditt)

Attention, political leaders: We are now well into this supersized campaign and there’s yet to be a single recorded outbreak of election fever. What are we going to tell our neighbours when they get home from the cottage? “There was a debate, everyone said ‘middle class’ a squillion times and … uh, I guess you’re up-to-date.”

Remember that it’s in your interest to keep things compelling. Otherwise, our minds begin to wander. We start noticing little things—like the luckless staffer charged with shielding Thomas Mulcair’s bald head from the sun. Take it from Tom on this one: Nothing says “friend of the working class” quite like “personal umbrella butler.”

Or we get distracted by outside events. To the Conservatives’ relief, the Mike Duffy case has largely failed to draw widespread public fascination. (Like me, many struggle to maintain interest in any trial that doesn’t wrap up in about half an hour, usually with sardonic banter and the words, “Executive Producer Dick Wolf.”) But the testimony of Nigel Wright, Harper’s former chief of staff— that got people’s attention.

    In the face of fresh evidence, Harper doubled down on his I-knew-nothing version of events. We were asked to accept that Ray Novak, one of the PM’s most trusted confidants, was clueless about the payment to Duffy, despite evidence to the contrary. Even more of a stretch is the idea that the most controlling PM in our history would go full-on slacker when confronted with this damaging scandal. You dudes handle this one, okay? This Pizza Pop isn’t going to eat itself. By now, Canadians know this government well enough not to expect the whole truth. But frankly, we do expect better spin. Happily, there’s still time to give us a plot twist we can believe in. Amnesia? Evil twin? Perhaps a wisecracking ghost of some kind?

    A side note: The many emails used as evidence in the Duffy trial allow us to form an impression of Harper’s senior staff at the time. They come off as competent, professional and waaaaay boring. There are algorithms with more personality.

    I worked in the PMO for two years under Paul Martin. If my emails had been read aloud in a court of law, our great nation would have been treated to creative profanity, Styx lyrics and several compelling Sasquatch theories. There’s an 80 per cent chance the judge would have needed to hold a sidebar to ask, “Who is this Count Chocula guy who keeps coming up?” Bottom line: your loss, Canada.

    Back to the campaign, where we in the media also need to step up our game. A reporter began a recent scrum by saying, “Good morning, Mr. Harper. Thank you for taking our questions today.” That’s weird. Pretty sure voters can do without this “Let me fetch you a refreshing beverage so your throat is not parched by your many verbal wisdoms” genuflection.

    Meanwhile, the time has surely come to formally abolish the phrase “vote-rich Ontario,” which gets used by reporters more often than hyperbole gets used by Donald Trump. Hey, press gallery: Even the least educated among us understands that Ontario has many, many people in it. We see them on the bus.

    Here’s a potential compromise: If the media insist on sticking with “vote-rich,” they should be obliged to devise a similar moniker for all provinces. We can then look forward to reading about vote-scarce Prince Edward Island, vote-weird Quebec and hipster-rich B.C.

      Despite the slow start, some Canadians are at least getting a better sense of the opposition leaders. Watching him on TV, Justin Trudeau has seemed like the kind of guy you’d like to invite into your home—then kick out of your home when you find him in the rec room giving your wife a foot rub. And have you seen Elizabeth May in action? She’s an effective debater and a fine advocate for her party. At rallies, however, she can get a little unhinged. In these moments, she comes off as the eccentric aunt of Canadian politics. May seems equally likely to offer voters genuine environmental progress as she is a lint-covered mint from her purse.

      What’s important is that May’s performance feels genuine. Mulcair, on the other hand, needs to do something about the forced smile he’s been inflicting on us. The NDP leader looks like an eight-year-old who’s been promised a trip to Dairy Queen if he doesn’t screw up the family portrait. Say cheese, Tom, not CHEEEEEEEEESE.

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