As soon as the PM has finished his morning chat with reporters, ITQ will be heading over to the Liberal lockup (I just accidentally typed “lockout” – was that a Freudian slip?) to count down the minutes until Stephane Dion presents Richard Ferrigrino to the world. I’m pretty sure I won’t be allowed to liveblog my way through the pre-launch background briefing and accompanying festivities, even on time delay (although you better believe I’m going to beg for permission to keep my BlackBerry, at least).
In the interim, I may just try my hand at videoblogthinging from behind the embargo – for broadcast after it lifts, of course – although I can’t promise the same high calibre of avant garde artistic vision that Colleague Wells has been showing off lately.
Anyway, check back here at 11am for full coverage of the announcement, and whatever else I end up doing.
Nothing makes me crankier than to show up an event to find nothing but the crumbs of muffins from media breakfasts gone by. That’ll teach me to lollygag around the Hot Room TV, waiting for the PM to finish up his morning Q&A, although I’ll note that he continues to demonstrate an uncharacteristic lack of discipline when it comes to actually being on time for these things. This morning’s announcementette – youth crime; apparently it’s Justice Week for the Conservatives, although really, isn’t every week? — was a full half hour late, and I was *this* close to bailing and heading over to the background briefing for the Liberals when he finally showed up on the screen.
Anyway, I’m here now – at the Delta in downtown Ottawa, trying my best not to get in the way of the myriad camera crews jostling for position on the platform. An *actual* platform, I should note — like, a riser. Their position on the Liberal platform is, as yet, unknown. I’d ask, but they look sort of stressed out, and I wouldn’t want to be accidentally bonked on the head by a boom mic.
I’m writing all this from behind the embargo, by the way – those foolishly trusting Liberals put us on the honour system, and didn’t wrench our BlackBerries from our cold, unmuffined hands. The room is – not all that big, really, and mostly full already, not by members of the public, tho – it’s mostly journalists, as well as assorted candidates, local and from away.
My colleagues – Wherry and Geddes, currently assembled at the Macleans.ca Tactical Table – will fill you in on all the nitty gritty details of the platform itself. Meanwhile, ITQ can report that the cover features, in clockwise order: A youngish guy with a tool belt installing a solar panel; a green leaf; some sort of — seeds, held in the gracefully wizened hand of an unseen farmer; a smiling Indian woman, and, taking up the entire left quarter of the page, a construction team building a house.
On the back, we have – a closeup of a polar bear nose; another leaf montage; wind turbines; black and white hands entwined; an older gentleman helping a young girl to fish; a random baby; and a grinning doctor-or-nurse wearing a dapper purple tie.
At the front of the room, there’s a long table with — eight chairs, each with a mic. Right now, the organizers are laying down the ground rules for questions, which can be summed up as “first come, first served.” “No list?” Asks one reporter, just to be sure. “No list.”.
The maroon Liberal sign is out too, surrounded by Canadian flags. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. It’s just not red.
More aides bustling between the aisles, and the chatter between reporters is starting to die down as everyone waits for the show to begin – which will apparently happen in one minute, according to the announcement that just came through the loudspeaker. I wouldn’t exactly say we’re agog with anticipation, but it’s not bad.
And there he is – Dion, accompanied by — Martha Hall, Scott Brison, Bob Rae, John McCallum. Marlene Jennings, Dominic Leblanc and – the woman responsible for national policy, whose name I didn’t catch. After a brief round of introductions, Dion starts to speak, and – wow, he sounds as bad as I did last week; his throat is definitely feeling the effects of spending the last two weeks and change on the trail.
And now, realtime (or close to it) liveblogging; the embargo went up (or is it down?) as soon as Dion started speaking, so I can publish at will.
Joan Bourassa! That’s the name of the policy person. (Note: I didn’t remember it, he repeated it.)
So. The platform. Well, it’s about uniting the environment and the economy; it is “the plan we need” for a prosperous and sustainable economy, and — that’s it for the prepared remarks. Onto the questions.
A trio of Ottawa-and-environs area MPs and MP hopefuls – Mauril Belanger, Marcel Proulx and some guy I should totally recognize, but don’t (UPDATE: It was Marc Godbout) are watching the proceedings with remarkable good humour. Lots of smiling and nodding. There are also various staffers milling around the outskirts of the room, most of whom look — tired. Which is understandable, really. Not a defeated kind of tired, just — tired.
Dion is being quizzed – in French, hence the lack of blow-by-blow transcription – on the possibility that his government will run a deficit, and he tries to remind reporters that – hey, it was a Liberal goverment that balanced the books after Mulroney, so what’s with the mistrust? CTV’s Graham Richardson still seems sceptical. “What if people don’t believe you?” After getting off what seems to have been a good line that I couldn’t quite catch — something about politicians giving their word, Dion assures Richardson that he’s not asking for a “blank cheque” from Canadians. This will be something that will happen over years.
Dominic Leblanc keeps making John McCallum laugh with his sadly inaudible asides. Scott Brison, meanwhile, has his Very Very Serious Face on, and is staring fixedly at Dion.
Oh, there’s John McCallum, who never lets his hideously mangleprone French get in the way of making his argument — in this case, he’s mostly backing up what Dion said, only – why didn’t he do it in English? So far, the English networks have precious little video to accompany their launch stories.
According to Dion, at the end of the day, the Kelowna Accord will be “fully funded”.
The steel pixie of Global TV, Hannah Thibidault, wonders how Canadians can get back more in income taxes than the Green Shift would impose on carbon use – $60 billion vs. $40 billion, in fact. Dion reminds her that most of the tax increases will be paid by corporations – large emiters – not individuals, whoch is why there will be more available for tax cuts than has been shifted onto the carbon trade, and you know, he probably should’ve been highlighting that fact a lot more up until now, because I don’t think that’s the general understanding of the “shift” amongst Canadians. Although I guess corporations that invest in green technologies or take advantage of other incentives would also benefit from the new revenue as well.
It really is complicated, isn’t it?
A question on justice – and, serendipitously, the Justice critic, Marlene Jennings, is here to take it. Not surprisingly, she is somewhat sceptical of the latest anti-youth-gone-wild measures to be promised by the Conservatives, Dion concurs. “It doesn’t work,” he says baldly. In French.
Susan Bonner points out that the entire plan rests on the economy growing by 4%, and wonders if he really believes that will happen. Dion notes that it is actually the inflation figure she’s asking about, and then McCallum goes into Irascible Economist Mode, and tells her that the numbers were taken from the last budget; even if growth slows, there are other factors, including infmation and commodity prices. The point, however, he insists, is that the Liberals would reestablish the big comfy contingency fund couch at $3 billion. Nobody can predict the future, he says, but Canadians would be protected by that reserve.
Susan Bonner isn’t finished with this yet, tho – she notes that the proposed budget also includes $12 billion in “reallocations” – which some might call “cuts”. Isn’t this a little hypocritical, given all the keening and breastbeating over the Conservative cuts to art funding and other programs? Why yes, Dion admits. I kid. Of course. No, this is totally different – these would be an open, transparent process – not a series of late-Friday-afternoon backdoor announcements.
John McCallum reminds everyone that he was on the Expenditure Review Committee, and there was barely a peep from the media or the public when it unveiled its proposals for program cuts, because it wasn’t ideological in nature. “Look at the website,” he suggests – the Finance website circa 2005, that is – it’s still there.
“All we’re asking from government is the same discipline that Canadians show in managing household budgets,” says Brison, speaking up for the first time. This is all about better services for Canadians.
You know, looking at the candidates – first timers and veteran MPs, all in a jumble – it reminds me a little of the first week at high school — the freshmen – and women, of course — proudly brandish their nametags, pins and assorted other signage that donates their new status as MP-in-waiting; the incumbents, on the other hand, tuck theirs discreetly under their jackets, and rarely wear their own campaign buttons. They’re too cool for that sort of thing, I guess.
The media wrangler keeps trying to end this press conference, but Dion is stubborn, and reporters – as always – insatiable. If he catches the gist of a shouted question – even without the go-ahead from the wrangler – he’ll answer it.
Okay, that seems to be it for the formal launch – lots more post-presser milling and buttonholing, of course, and there’s a rumour that some scamps from the NDP may be outside with pointedly sarcastic t-shirts. I’ll let you know if that’s the case, but the announcer seems to be trying to get us out of the room, so I’ll sign off for now. I’m nothing if not obedient, right?