The Commons: Stick to the facts

Last time he tried to dazzle with special effects, this time Dominic LeBlanc tries to just make sense

The Scene. “The Prime Minister should have some decency.”

Dominic LeBlanc hasn’t yet mastered the three-word sound bite—he tried this day, with little success, to link the Conservatives with “Enron-style accounting”—but he has a knack for reasonably summarizing, in a sentence or two, the crux of his party’s argument. For instance, here he is on the government’s attitude toward Elections Canada.

“It fits a pattern of Conservative disregard for independent authority … But it’s also the pattern of someone who’s cornered.”

Like LeBlanc’s last press conference—the Liberals seem to be styling him their chief public prosecutor—this one included a power point presentation. This time, though, he stuck to text, instead of trying to dazzle reporters with a combination of words and moving pictures. Not surprisingly, the result was somewhat less excruciating.

Indeed, LeBlanc very carefully laid out the Liberal argument in just the sort of easy-to-understand terms we reporters tend to prefer, especially when the topic is so, like, complicated and stuff.

First, LeBlanc contrasted Conservative “myths” with seemingly objective facts:

Myth: “Nothing new in the affidavit.”
Fact: “Lots new in the affidavit.”

Myth: “This is all legal.”
Fact: “The experts in elections law disagree.”

Myth: “The Prime Minister is a big meany head.”
Fact: “Actually, this is verifiably true.”

So I made that last one up. But you get the point.

LeBlanc, with his dark eyes set deep into his round face, and a pile of black hair atop his head, vaguely resembles a raccoon. At least he did on this day. The raccoon, of course, is an industrious animal, though one that quickly seems a mere pest when you find it picking through your garbage. Make of this comparison what you will.

In any event, from there, the raccoon in the blue suit proceeded to his party’s Five Demands. Here, again, it was easy to foresee trouble—it being very easy to seem shrill and powerless when publicly making demands of authority. 

Still, again, LeBlanc, in that mischievous and sharp, but not slick, way of his, managed to assert his party’s point of view nicely. The government, he said, must release all the ads in question and detail where they appeared. Senior officials directly linked to the scheme—namely executive director Michael Donison, PMO deputy chief of staff Patrick Muttart and Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon—should be suspended until the investigation is complete. The RCMP should be called on to investigate allegations of forgery. All present and former Conservative candidates should be allowed to speak publicly. And the Parliamentary committee looking into the dispute should be allowed to proceed.

The government’s mouthpieces—someone get Peter Van Loan on the line—will have plenty of opportunity over the next 24 to 48 hours to denigrate and dismiss this stuff, but, in the moment, he seemed to be making some sense. (Granted, this is almost always a dangerous thing to say about a politician. No doubt, LeBlanc will do something next week to make this statement seem silly and naive. In all likelihood, he probably already has, we just don’t yet know about it.)

The best stuff for the opposition remains the Prime Minister’s own words. His promises, during the last election, of transparency and accountability and all those attributes we long since stopped expecting from our election officials. Shouldn’t a man who was so aghast at allegations of Liberal abuse be eager now to impart the standards he called for then? Was he not elected on the explicit promise of better, cleaner, more trustworthy government? As a certain radio host asked a certain baby-faced Conservative the other day, what would the Tories do and say if these were allegations related to the Liberals? And so on.

Yes, yes, these are silly, naive questions. We all know the answers. We all know how this stuff works.

But LeBlanc’s most crushing line of the day was the one noted above—”The Prime Minister should have some decency.” Never mind the demands specific to the in-and-out affair, this was the day’s paramount request. One that speaks to an absolute minimum expectation for a holder of high office. One the Liberals know this Prime Minister will not honour.

And one, you can imagine, that will be repeated ad nauseum on the campaign trail should the opposition decide they’ve had enough of merely calling press conferences.

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