Meharchand v. Soudas

Another in this week’s series of Frustrated Journalists Losing Their Patience.

Today’s episode pits the CBC’s wildly frustrated Suhana Meharchand against Dimitri Soudas, who, as he says here, speaks for the Harper government, except of course when he takes a day off to speak for the Conservative party.

Meharchand: NDP leader’s Jack Layton’s message today to the prime minister was clear. He said if you want to avoid an election then work with us and the other opposition parties. Layton says he wants to see the government work properly instead of plunging the country in its fourth election in five years. Can you believe it? It actually has been that many in five years, but that, he says, is up to the prime minister. For reaction to this, we’re joined by the spokesperson for the prime minister’s office, Dimitri Soudas. Good to have you on the program. Before I get to layton, maybe you heard the interview, did you with Doug Porter?

Soudas: Yes, I did.

Meharchand: He said, you know, there might be a complication with an election in terms of its effect on the economy. Here’s the deputy chief economist over at BMO saying the prime minister is overstating. What do you say?

Soudas: Well, I think canadians want their elected members of parliament in their offices in parliament working on the economic recovery instead of members of parliament and ministers across the country campaigning. You’re either in your office campaigning or seeking re-election. Right now michael ignatieff wants to send the country back into a fourth election in five years with members of parliament not at work. This is definitely a hand brake for the recovery that we’re starting to see …  The fact is there are risks. We are seeing a recovery. We are seeing positive signs where Canada’s economy is doing better, but more work needs to be done, and Michael Ignatieff is acting like a true opportunist on this issue.

Meharchand: Are you telling me I should be worried, I’m wondering, you know, do I relax, do I feel worried, who do I believe in all of this?

Soudas: I’m telling you, Suhana, that an election will do absolutely nothing to help the Canadian economy.

Meharchand: But will it hurt the economy? Will it hurt the economy is the question. If it does nothing improve the economy that’s one thing, but if it hurts the economy, how much do you think it will hurt and how much?

Soudas: An election will do absolutely nothing to speed up recovery. An election will do absolutely nothing to make sure that government is able to continue implementing its economic action plan. I mean, the facts are there. Michael Ignatieff has one and only idea in mind. He wants to plunge the country into an election instead of working with the other parties and the government in parliament to focus on what’s top of mind in the Canadian population, which is basically they want to see their MPs and their government working to make a through this recession.

Meharchand: Okay. You still didn’t answer my question whether you think it will hurt the economy, it won’t help the economy. But I want to leave that, sometimes i get carried away. One of the things i wanted to talk about… What was that?

Soudas: Jack Layton.

Meharchand: No, I lost my train of thought. Anyway, it will come to me. When we heard from Bob Rae saying that, you know, he wasn’t surprised by Jack Layton, yes, let’s get back for Jack Layton, Jack Layton said it’s up to the prime minister to reach out to the opposition in order to avoid an election. In order, the ball is squarely in your boss’s court. Has the prime minister picked up the phone and said, ‘Hey, you know, Jack, let’s talk about this had?’ Is he planning to do that?

Soudas: Let’s all remember that just a few days ago, last week Mr. Layton had requested to meet the prime minister to discuss the upcoming session of parliament, and the prime minister met with Mr. Layton and as soon as the meeting ended Mr. Layton left the prime minister’s office, went directly in front of cameras and said that the NDP will be the last party to be seen co-operating with the government. He was bragging about the fact that the NDP has voted against the government 79 times, and that even when the government puts forward proposals that the NDP supports, they still vote against them. So, you know, Mr. Layton is very interested, and it’s clear to everybody, that he prefers working with Michael Ignatieff and the Bloc Quebecois, rather than working in the interests of Canadians.

Meharchand: That’s not what he said today.

Souda: He was in a meeting with the prime minister a few days ago. He ran out of that meeting and said, you know, there’s going to be a blue moon before the NDP works with the government.

Meharchand: Hmm, but that’s not what he said today.

Soudas: I guess the Canadian public will judge what he said last week and what he said today, and their conclusion will be that Mr. Layton doesn’t want to see the government working on the economy. He prefers working with his coalition partners, the Bloc Quebecois and Mr. Ignatieff.

Meharchand: Hey, Dimitri, what do you make of this latest CBC/Ekos poll? It shows support for the Conservatives and the Liberals in a dead total heat right down to a tenth of a percentage point. What are the discussions that happen when you look at those kind of polls, do you say ‘oh my goodness, we should make a deal,’ what actually happens in your offices?

Soudas: Well, first of all, back room deals is the specialty of the NDP and Mr. Ignatieff as they did a few months ago. But talking about polls, I think if you take a poll acros the country today on whether or not Canadians want an election, only three people will tell you that they want an election, Michael Ignatieff, the leader of the NDP and the leader of the Bloc Quebecois.

Meharchand: Oh, I don’t know about that. I haven’t done the poll. You can’t say that. I could go out at Yonge and Dundas and ask people maybe I’d get a different answer. So maybe you’re overstating.

Soudas: It doesn’t sound to me you want an election Suhana, either.

Meharchand: Bottom line, do you think it’s going to happen anyway?

Soudas: I, we, definitely hope it won’t happen. It’s not what we need right now. I think it’s important for members of parliament to come back an September 14th and focus on working with a government on the economic recovery. Because this is an important issue.

Meharchand: I have one final question for you, that’s about ads. You know the Liberals have ads that are expected to come out on the weekend. I talked about, you know, Senator Dave Smith yesterday about the tone of those ads, says they’re nice, not attack ads they’re uplifting ads. Do you have a focus on the the ads?

Soudas: The government focuses on governing. Political advertisements is something that parties worry about, but maybe Mr. Ignatieff in those ads will restate certain things that he said over the last few months, such as for example his commitment to raise taxes.

Meharchand: So you’re saying you don’t have ads in the works?

Soudas: The government is focused on nothing else other than the economy and this is what consumes ministers and the prime minister on a daily basis throughout the summer. The government, members of parliament of the government, ministers and the prime minister didn’t take the summer off, they were hard at work on the canadian economy.

Meharchand: So that means no. I don’t know why it’s so hard to get an answer to this question. Are there ads in the works? Yes or no, man.

Soudas: I speak on the government of Canada. In terms of advertizing, that’s the Conservative party and the Liberal party and their machines that worry about it.

Meharchand: Dimitri always interesting to talk to you. I want to thank you for taking the time.

Soudas: Thank you.

Looking for more?

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