Everything that is wrong with Ottawa, for now at least

Sean Kilpatrick/CP Images

We’re all positively giddy here on the Hill, ladies and gents. The stimulation is so intense we could plotz. There are things happening. There is action. And so much of it is… why, it’s as near as the blackberry in your hand, is what it is! Fun at our fingertips! Insta-politico-tension-drama! And it’s kind of about us, about Hill types, about those who rub elbows with — with — well, with those who know those who — who — well, who are in the know!

You see, Don Martin said something to Dimitri Soudas and something happened. Who’s Don Martin, you may ask? Who’s Dimitri Soudas? What, precisely, happened? Shush. It happened at Hy’s. This is all anyone here needs to know. So there is a story about it and another and, one feels secure in predicting, more soon to come.

You see, the tall skinny Parliamentarian turned out to be pretty good at hitting the shorter stockier Parliamentarian. And le tout Ottawa was there! And it didn’t go the way Ezra Levant expected! And there was a decorous amount of blood! Frissons

You see, a staffer for Alison Redford tweeted something disobliging about Danielle Smith and then didn’t apologize and then apologized and then resigned and a wandering Vancouver-based Globe columnist wrote about it, indelicately, and then the Globe changed the headline and Twitter was off the hook with indignation and cross-accusation and well I guess you really had to be there, is all. But, you know, damnedest thing. Right there on the screen of your Blackberry, if you follow the right people.

I’m even willing to indulge the notion that there’s a nugget of something real in each of these stories. Martin’s employer seems ill-disposed to stand up for their man, although “seems” is the strongest word one can use in the forest of counter-accusation that’s sprung up around a private conversation in a crowded bar that had a lot of drunk people in it. As for the fight, at some level I endorse any event or stimulus that gets John Geddes writing about Hemingway. And the Redford staffer’s Twitter outburst reveals something about the sense of wounded entitlement that is dawning on Alberta PCs as they realize they are in serious danger of getting thumped by Reformers for, what, the fifth time in a generation (Naheed Nenshi, to be fair, providing durable evidence that sometimes the fight does go the other way).

But the connecting thread in these three stories, besides the way they make Ottawa tummies positively flip-flop — Frissons! — is that they don’t have an awful lot to do with the way a country is governed. And I feel like a schoolmarm for making the point, but sometimes I would like to see more emphasis on the way the country is governed. Or just more curiosity about it. Or some perspective.

Here’s something interesting. On Thursday, while most of Ottawa’s reporters were locked indoors with copies of the federal budget and most of the rest were at a committee meeting over the Robocall thing, the government of Canada tabled its last quarterly report on Canada’s role in the Afghanistan war. It didn’t go entirely unnoticed; Jeff Davis at Postmedia noticed and wrote about the report.

I believe the timing of the report’s release to be culpable, but unnecessary. Which is to say, I believe the PMO timed the release to produce minimum coverage. And I believe they needn’t have bothered. If Stephen Harper had walked into the House of Commons wearing a duck suit and sang the contents of the report to the tune of Body and Soul, he would not have received much more coverage than Davis gave it. Why was there no news conference? Because the feds used to provide monthly news conferences about progress in Afghanistan and reporters stopped attending. Years ago. Every news organization in Canada has been taught, diligently, by its readers or viewers or listeners that coverage of Afghanistan produces a decline in the attentive audience. We get this. It’s been a frustrating experience for everyone, from soldiers on out to the general population. We have adjusted our coverage accordingly.

What does the report say? That Canadians did good work in an extraordinarily difficult cause. Thirty-eight of the 44 goals set by the government, on recommendations from John Manley’s commission, have been met in whole (33) or in part (the other 5). They actually got the Dahla dam built, which a lot of us were not sure would ever happen. They built a lot of schools. Many of the schools got to open.

But it’s a bit as though the tenants’ association at the Alamo had struck a beautification subcommittee, because for most of the time Canadians were in Kandahar they were almost hopelessly outnumbered, and when the Americans finally sent reinforcements we left the South, and now that we’re mostly away from the thick of the fight, it’s hard to keep Afghan soldiers and NATO soldiers from killing one another. Three guesses how this will all go when Western forces leave Afghanistan altogether, as is likely to happen before the next election.

Anyway, sorry to be dreary. Incidentally the Prime Minister also shredded his word and commitment on an appointments commissioner on Thursday, and we could debate the tens of millions spent on science in the budget until the cows come home, and the country’s populations and power are shifting to reflect the new opportunities and costs of an extended resource boom, but it’s hard to talk about any of this in 140 characters, and did you see the hurting Trudeau put on Brazeau? Wham!

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.