Not with a bang but a press conference: Liveblogging the launch of the coalition government-in-waiting

Liveblogging the launch of the coalition government-in-waiting

For Immediate Release
December 1, 2008

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion, New Democrat Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe will hold a press conference

Date: Monday, December 1, 2008
Time: 4:30 PM
Location: Railway Room
253-D Centre Block
Ottawa, Ontario

Please note that all details are subject to change. All times are local.

– 30 –

This thing really does need a name, lest it become known forever as This … Thing, as one of my colleagues who shall remain meganameless insists on calling it. (For the record, he’s not against it, he just can’t seem to help himself from referring to it that way.)

Anyway, check back at 4:30 or so for full livebloggalicous coverage, live from the Railway Room – unless, of course, the PM pulls the procedural fire alarm and prorogues the House sometime between now and then.

4:19:43 PM
It’s sort of fitting, really, that the first official news conference with the coalition partners would take place here, in a committee room — after all, it was at committee where the opposition parties first “rediscovered their majority”, as NDP strategist Brad Topp put it the other day. “This is far from routine,” notes Senator David Smith as he squeezes past me into one of the four rows of seats for the media. There are a few MPs mingling with the mob of milling journalists – Derek Lee, Olivia Chow – but I think most of them are likely upstairs at the cameras-only photo op where the leaders will sign the satanic pact of ultimate evil, otherwise known as the Sunshine and Rainbows Accord. Okay, I made that up.

Right now, NDP communications director Karl Belanger is explaining the rules, which I managed to totally miss until the end, when he asked us to limit ourselves to one question. Oh, how quickly the mask falls when they get a taste of power!

4:27:53 PM
Apparently, The Triumverate is on its way down from Dion’s office, which is where the photo op took place. (What? That’s the correct use of the term, isn’t it?)

I have to say that the setting for this particular event could be more — dramatic, somehow. There is a long table — half of a committee table, I believe — on a riser, three ubiquitous green chairs, three microphones blinking red and three glasses of water.
Three for one and three for all!

4:32:45 PM
Other suggestions: the Unholy Trinity, the Three-Headed Beast, the Troika. I feel a poll coming on!

Cereberus! That’s the three-headed dog, right?

4:35:57 PM
Apparently, every now and then, you can catch a glimpse of me liveblogging on the live feed on the networks. Hi, everyone! Yes, I’ll stop being all meta soon.

4:38:52 PM
Okay, apparently the Agreement is out now, not that this means much for my coverage, since I can’t type the whole thing out between now and whenever the Triptyche turns up. Sigh. Choices, choices.

4:42:24 PM
I realize now that I have never actually read another Accord on a Cooperative Government to Address the Present Economic Crisis, so I have no frame of refereence for this one. It seems — fairly reasonable? If a tiny bit unrealistic if only for the somewhat adorably naïve inclusion of “A “no surprises” approach” although one that is “within the limits of common sense and the needs of cabinet government.”

4:47:17 PM
And – they’re here! And signing! And looking very, very serious about governing!

4:47:51 PM
Stephane Dion looks taller, somehow. Maybe it’s the haircut – or the aura of history that now surrounds him, for better or for worse.

I just realized that the (current) Prime Minister has been largely incidental to the day’s events. That must drive him absolutely bonkers.

4:51:00 PM
Another oddity – the PMO communications team that has been conspicuous by its absence from the picture. Usually, there are at least a few junior staffers hanging around any gathering of more than three journalists, monitoring the situation and ready to jump in with spin (or counterspin) if necessary. Today? Not a single one in sight – not even outsdie the Liberal caucus earlier this afternoon, when they would have had forty minutes of unlimited access to a captive audience of waiting media. Weird.

4:53:32 PM
Dion is reading out his statement – I’m sure that it has already been posted in its entirety — or at least the highlights — and so far, hasn’t featured any surprises. Well, other than the fact that IT EXISTS Y’ALL OMG WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?!

4:55:10 PM
He has, the PM-in-waiting-or-so-he-says, officially asked the Governor General to give him the opportunity to demonstrate that his party enjoys the confidence of the House, and is ready to ut Canadians and Canada first.

Gilles Duceppe does not, at this point, rise from his seat and denounce the entire endeavour. A good sign!

4:57:22 PM
Now Jack Layton gets to talk, and he describes this as a “crossroads” for the country. “Action must be taken, and now,” he says on the economy, and did I mention that Dion also categorically denied that his government would roll back those corporate tax cuts? Because he did – I guess that was just one of those bits of mis(or dis)information that have been swirling around the Hill.

All three leaders are wearing red ribbons, by the way – World AIDS Day, I believe.

4:59:50 PM
Jack Layton has a direct message to the (current) Prime Minister: You’re going to lose power. Accept it gracefully.” Yeah, not so sure if he’s quite at that point yet, but we’ll see.

5:02:13 PM
And now, Gilles Duceppe, who notes the importance of cooperation and compromise in the House, yet the (current) Prime Minister showed the opposite with his Fiscal and Economic Update. Apparently, the coalition has already agreed on a number of measures – aid for the manufacturing sector, improving access to employment insurance, meeting Canada’s Kyoto commitments – hey, I totally predicted two of the three! – as well as a few other things. He also insists that he is not giving up on the idea of “the Quebec nation”, but believes that now is the time to deal with economic issues.

5:06:18 PM
Twenty minutes of questions! Wow.

A reporter from La Presse “doesn’t want to be rude”, but wasn’t Dion rejected by Canadians in a general election? What gives? Note: I’m paraphrasing slightly. He reminds her that parliamentary democracy doesn’t work that way – whoever has a majority can form government.

He points out that he does, in fact, have ministerial experience — more than anyone except Ralph Goodale, whose skills he will likely be seeking – Finance Minister alert!

5:10:15 PM
Dion warns that “legally speaking” it would debateable whether a request for prorogation should be granted, but it would be “morally indefensible.”

Jack Layton, for his part, hopes that Harper accepts the verdict of his peers, but Duceppe, characteristically, gets off the best line, noting that the (current) Prime Minister has been ‘pulling a number of rabbits out of his hat” – but Canadians need a PM, not a magician.

5:12:40 PM
In response to a question from the Globe and Mail about timing, and when the coalition government will “get to work” on its economic plan, Dion points out that it’s hard to answer that question when he doesn’t know exactly when the new government will take power.

5:14:51 PM
Keith Boag wonders if there’s any chance at all that Dion will stick around past the leadership convention – and whether he may end up re-running for the job – but the maybe-PM-in-waiting comes as close to a categorical dismissal as he can without bursting into hysterical laughter. So that’s a maybe!

Oh, and as for the *actual* leadership candidates, he won’t say whether they’ll definitely be in cabinet, but it’s probably a fairly good bet.

5:17:09 PM
Oooh, Dion plans to make appointments to the Senate – with the advice of Jack Layton, whose party wants to abolish said Senate. That will be fun in so many ways!

5:18:53 PM
Harper “abused” the confidence vote, says Dion – he doesn’t plan on doing that, and the Bloc is only pledging to support the government on confidence matters.

5:19:49 PM
The Toronto Star’s Richard Brennan wonders how long it will take to put together an auto sector package, and what it would involve, and both Dion and Layton give fairly broad answers.

5:20:46 PM
Tim Naumetz totally asks the question that I would have asked: Would Dion appoint Tories to the Senate, since Harper has refused to do so, and it is the Conservative caucus that has been so badly eroded by attrition. I can’t quite tell what the answer is, but I’m going to go with “yes”. In theory.

Steve Maher provokes giggles by asking if Elizabeth May might be one of those senators — and gets a similarly generalish answer.

5:23:48 PM
No Green Shift! No Carbon Tax! Obama! Working together! (That was in response to David Akin’s question about whether the You Know What would be reincarnated by a coalition government.)

5:25:52 PM
Is this a really long press conference? Or does it just feel that way because there are three of them?

5:27:05 PM
More questions about the GDP and the economy. Duceppe points out that actually, his party came up with suggestions for dealing with the economic crisis, which even the Finance minister admitted weren’t bad at all – but he then promptly ignored them.

This agreement – this coalition – is all about the economy, Dion reminds the room. Duceppe concurs, and Layton points out that this is, in fact, “doing politics differently” – hope! Change! – and then winds it into a pitch for proportional representation. “I think this is likely to produce very good government,” he says. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t he here.

Duceppe recalls that he is “just as much a sovereignist” today as he was in 2004, when he, Layton and Harper signed a letter to the Governor General, and conducted the same sort of consultations as those that resulted in this agreement.

5:33:23 PM
And that’s it for this “information session”, according to the moderator, Karl Belanger – but not, alas, for ITQ, since apparently, Jim Prentice and John Baird are about to hold their own press conference in a few minutes, and I guess the ITQ fairness doctrine requires that I cover that, too. Meet me back here in five, and I’ll fill you in.

5:39:11 PM
Okay, so — Jim Prentice and James Moore, huh? Interesting — I get the feeling that the former has been under increasing pressure to be more front and centre in delivering the anti-coalition message.

I have no idea what to expect from this, really – it may be a Little Shop-esque rant (although wouldn’t they have brought in Jason Kenney for that?) or — no, that’s pretty much what I’m expecting.

5:45:34 PM
Nobody – well, nobody currently sitting around the Charles Lynch press theatre grumbling over the chronic lateness of Conservative-organized media events – can see a graceful way for the government to extricate itself from this imbroglio. It’s like a Tarantino standoff.

5:50:22 PM
I love trying to guess what’s going on outside in the hall from the synchronized swerves and swoops of the cameras.

5:54:14 PM
Okay, this is getting engrumpifying. You invited *us*, guys.

5:56:30 PM
Finally, they’re here, and apparently, Jim Prentice has “spoken with the Prime Minister” and this is a “very serious situation”. Not serious enough for him to hold his own press conference, apparently. He then goes on to deliver — pretty much the same talking points that we’ve heard for the last three days: undemocratic, unprecedented, separatists.

There’s the PMO communications strikeforce! Well, Dimitri, Earnest Mike White and Bill Rodgers, at least.

5:58:39 PM
Question from CanWest: Is proroguing “on the table”? The government will consider “all options” – but Keith Boag wonders what other options there *are*, exactly.

Does the government have any precedent for *its* position, wonders another reporter. The precedence is “common sense”, according to Prentice. Which isn’t actually precedence.

6:00:02 PM
James Moore accuses the parties – all three of them – of “going back” on their respective campaign pledges not to enter into a coalition, but saves his most bitter venom for Dion, who started his career fighting separatists, and is now working with one.

6:01:13 PM
Best question of the night from Rosemary Thompson: “You talk about stepping back – but what about reaching out?” Dimitri tries to shut down the news conference, announcing that “we’ll take one more question” only to be corrected swiftly from the back of the room by Richard Brennan, who reminds him that the gallery controls the questions here – not PMO. “Thank you, Richard,” Dimitri snips.

Ooh, take that, new regime of openness.

Dimitri then tries twice and fails once to shut down the press conference, but after one more question, he herds the ministers out. Exeunt, pursued by “But sir…”S as it were.
The general reaction amongst the reporters who waited around for nearly a half hour for this: What the hell was *that?*