The Old Man and the C-16

The clouds over the land now rose like mountains and the coast was only a long green line with the grey-blue hills behind it. The water was a dark blue now, so dark that it was almost purple. As he looked down into it he saw the red sifting of the plankton in the dark water and the strange light the sun made now. He watched his lines to see them go straight down out of sight into the water and he was happy to see so much plankton because it meant fish.

Just then the stern line came taut under his foot, where he had kept a loop of the line, and he dropped his oars and felt the weight of the small tuna’s shivering pull as he held the line firm and commenced to haul it in. The shivering increased as he pulled in and he could see the blue back of the fish in the water and the gold of his sides before he swung him over the side and into the boat.

Then he held a news conference.

He was a middle-aged man who sat alone in a seat in the House of Commons and he had gone almost two years now without taking down the government. In the first 40 days two boys, Michael and Bob, had been with him. But after 40 days without a decent poll the boys’ leadership supporters had told them that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unluck. Yet Stéphane Dion actually looked quite chipper as he came galloping into the National Press Theatre this afternoon, trailed by a press secretary whose jeans and track jacket made it clear there was no news conference on the agenda when everybody showed up for work this morning.

Dion took his seat and told us about his fishing vacation. “I cut bait. I caught fish. I won the competition. It tasted like victory. All this because I struck at the right time.” His eyes were the same colour as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated, except for those by-elections in Outremont and Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River.

Then we went to questions. Hey Mr. Dion, any chance of an election this fall? What about this business of Stephen Harper calling the election himself because Parliament doesn’t function?

“The truth is when the parliament has difficulties, it’s because the Conservatives are delaying committees,” Dion said. He referred to a list of blocked legislation from Peter Van Loan, which I haven’t seen but which sounds like fun reading, and called it “pathetic,” and then later in French, “navrant.” “He wants to have an election because of veiled voting? Because of election financing — which passed?”

Well then. What about the Liberals? Is Dion finally ready to bring the House down? “I’m considering different possibilities,” he said, “and one is to stop strategic voting when we disagree with the government.” In other words, Liberals would show out in full force, instead of sending in a corporal’s guard for confidence votes. The chips would then fall where they may! If that’s the possibility Dion goes with. He hasn’t decided yet.

True, “many Canadians are telling me, more and more, we need to have an election.” Still, he doesn’t want to rush into anything. Nor does he want to stall unduly. “Timing is important in politics,” he said. His eyes brightened as he saw another chance to haul the metaphor of the day, kicking and screaming, back into the room. “Like for fishing!”

Since the Liberal leader had called a news conference in response to election-timing speculation, but had nothing to say that might inflect that speculation in any recognizable way, we were left to find our amusement however we might. Dion was asked about Harper’s remarks to the effect that the Conservatives are the real party of multiculturalism and national unity.

Surprisingly, he didn’t bite. Sure, he said, Trudeau introduced the first formal multiculturalism policy — and yet, “it’s something we have to take care not to pretend we have a monopoly on it.” How oddly non-partisan and un-cheap-shotty. So was whatever he said on national unity, although I’m afraid he was speaking English and the only fragment that made it into my notebook was the perhaps not entirely helpful, “This is something we should stop to do.” But trust me: when he said it, it sounded great, whatever it was.

He said he’s still intent on making Canadians Richard Peregrino. Or at least that’s the way I always hear it. Let me explain. A few months ago I had brunch with a friend who had been doing some work on the Liberal platform. (That doesn’t narrow it down at all.) “What do you think of this for a campaign slogan?” she asked. “Richard Peregrino.”

I stared blankly. “It’s a bit… opaque.”

It took me three minutes to figure out that what she’d actually said was “Richer, Fairer, Greener.” Which is what Dion wants to make Canada. But ever since then, the fake mis-heard name is stuck in my cranium, so I now interpret every Dion appearance as, in part, a hearty endorsement of this unseen but apparently commendable fellow Richard Peregrino.

So he is considering options, Liberals don’t have a monopoly on multiculturalism, timing is important, the fish was good, and Richard Peregrino. Anything else?

I did ask him about Georgia. His response was utter boilerplate. He wants the situation to improve! Promptly! I also asked about Harper’s fixed election-date law (C-16, in case you’ve been wondering ever since you read the top of this blog post). He’ll have to “consider” it, if he gets elected prime minister, Dion said, but he suspects “we’ll keep it and we will respect it.” Somewhere, Jean Chrétien is smacking his forehead in frustration. Ah well. Times change, apparently.

Speaking of Chrétien, what does Dion make of his predecessor’s criticism of Harper for failing to attend the Olympic opening ceremonies? He didn’t answer directly on Chrétien’s comments, but he did add, “Mr. Harper should go to the closing ceremonies, to try to repair the damage.” Can he even get a ticket at this late date?

One reporter asked whether, if Harper goes to the Governor General despite C-16 and asks for an election in the next couple of months, Michaëlle Jean could refuse the dissolution and subsequent election Harper would be requesting. Dion mis-heard the question, and hijinx ensued. When he eventually got it straight, Dion said what I have always believed about these things, despite the best attempts of bored colleagues to convince me that every week brings a potential new King-Byng crisis: “In my opinion, the Governor General does what the prime minister asks her.”

And with that, the news conference was over.

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