The Ottawa bubble vs. the not-Ottawa bubble

Stephen Harper’s former director of communications considers the clash between Conservative faithful and the Parliamentary Press Gallery

You don’t know Earl Cowan, but if you’re a member of the Media Party™, he wants you to get off the Prime Minister’s lawn.

According to ornery Earl, the press are lying pieces of sugar, honey, and iced tea. Their crime? Asking the Prime Minister a series of questions about Nigel Wright’s testimony at the Mike Duffy trial.

Upset at the Prime Minister’s treatment by members of the four-letter worded estate, Cowan vented his frustration with an un-parliamentary rant in front of a bank of cameras, thus earning his (small) place in Canadian political history.

Memo to Earl: save your breath. What do you expect from a pig but a grunt?

Related: Earl Cowan, the fly in the Conservatives’ rally ointment

Now before my friends in the media tell me to go stuff myself, I only mean to say that Earl shouldn’t get mad at you for doing your job, i.e. challenging the people in power or those clamouring for power. (Ok, fine, I also thought a farm metaphor might help Earl understand you better.)

But nor should the media get too upset at Earl. He isn’t the vanguard in the assault against democracy. He’s a regular guy who had a bad day – maybe it was too little Metamucil in the morning? Or too much? We’ll never know.

I suspect all in the hotel ballroom that day were disoriented by a type of vertigo that descends whenever the Ottawa bubble brushes up against the not-Ottawa bubble.

You see, the press covering the Prime Minister don’t often run into to people like Earl Cowan. And Earl Cowan definitely doesn’t run into people like the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

The media who cover politics for a profession obsess over the ins and outs of official Ottawa. The die-hard political supporters who show up to campaign events obsess over the ins and outs of things that have absolutely nothing to do with Ottawa.

When the two meet, s–t hits the fan.

This gap in interests—let’s call it the Cowan Coefficient—illustrates how insular a town Ottawa can be.

Which isn’t to say that what the Parliamentary Press cares about doesn’t matter. Only that it doesn’t necessarily matter, or even register with, the people who are deciding which party they want to mind the store for the next mandate.

To wit, Mr. Cowan thought the whole Mike Duffy affair was about the Senator cheating on his tax returns. Or about CTV reporter Laurie Graham not doing hers. Like I said, it was disorienting.

Now I don’t know Earl myself, but the Conservative Party of Canada makes it their business to know a lot about Earl and people like him.

They know that low taxes, tough-on-crime bills, and a smaller government is what Earl wants. His crowd worry about having a job and paying the bills, keeping their kids out of harm’s way, and having enough saved away for retirement.

And so when Earl goes to an election event and hears a question about why the Prime Minister’s answer from yesterday’s press conference on Mike Duffy has deviated by three words from today’s first answer on Mike Duffy, he wants to tell reporters where they can go.

The great worry for the Conservatives is that the Ottawa bubble seeps into Earl’s bubble and bursts their electoral hopes. Lost in the hysteria over Cowan was the fact that his fellow supporter that day was eagerly telling media that he didn’t believe Harper on Duffy and wanted “the truth.”

If even a small sliver of the Conservative faithful start acting like the Ottawa Gallery, it’ll be Harper that gets stuffed on October 19.

Andrew MacDougall is the Senior Executive Consultant at MSLGROUP London and a former director of communications to Stephen Harper.

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