Roundup: Uncritical about the playwright’s lament

Toronto playwright Michael Healy apparently took to the Twitter Machine to plead with the government to ditch their talking points and talk like human beings. Aaron Wherry in turn wrote this up as wondering why politicians don’t talk like they’re on the West Wing, but didn’t actually look at the reasons why message control has taken hold – never mind that nobody actually talks like they’re in an Aaron Sorkin production (because honestly, the sanctimony alone…) But in all honesty, it would have been a useful exercise to see why some of this has become entrenched.

For one, part of the problem is the format of Question Period in the Commons, where the strict 35-second clock makes reasonable answers all-but impossible in most cases. I’ve had staffers tell me that they have to prepare scripts, not because their ministers don’t know the subject matter, but because they need to keep it within those 35 seconds and that’s the easiest way. I can’t say that I’m necessarily sold on that – or too sympathetic – but I can see why the temptation is there.

Part of the problem is the way in which branding has taken hold of politics to such a degree that there is a perceived need to drill slogans into people’s brains – things like “Strong, Stable Conservative Majority™,” or “The Middle Class and Those Looking to Join It™.” One of my pet peeves is “The Environment and The Economy Go Together™” because I know that the minister who keeps saying that is capable of answering questions in a reasonable manner and could do so if she stopped delivering that line, but that’s the message that she wants to drive home. Even though we get it.

And part of the problem is the way that We The Media treat frankness – we punish them for it. Witness what happened two weeks ago when Carla Qualtrough went on CTV’s Question Period, and Evan Solomon picked the $1 billion figure for a possible Phoenix price tag out of thin air, and when Qualtrough said, frankly, that she didn’t know but she couldn’t rule it out, suddenly CTV ran with the “billion dollar” headline, and absolutely everyone else followed suit. It’s now stuck to the Phoenix issue in most headlines, never mind that it wasn’t what she actually said, but her moment of frankness is now being treated as some confession that we will tar the issue with. We The Media have been repeating the mendacious and disingenuous framing devices around the interminable Morneau Shepell questions uncritically – and in some cases, fuelling them in a complete absence of fact of context *cough*Globe and Mail*cough* and anything that the ministers say becomes a trap.

So why, then, would any minister want to be frank in their answers, if we’re just going to punish them for it? Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have the self-awareness to process this – that we are part of the problem that drives this issue to turn all government messages into pabulum. We do this to ourselves. Let’s think about that.

Good reads:

  • It was Auditor General day, and he had reports on Syrian refugee resettlement, CRA’s call centre responses, outcomes at the Royal Military College, female prisoners, and of course, the Phoenix pay system debacle.
  • The latest round of NAFTA talks wrapped up with little progress made.
  • The government unveiled their draft regulations around recreational marijuana, including packaging restrictions, licensing, and monitoring of the marketplace.
  • Health Canada wants higher tobacco taxes to reduce smoking rates, but don’t seem to be proposing measures to deal with the black-market push that would result.
  • The PBO says that a growing economy will mean that our defence spending will fall even further below NATO targets as a percentage of GDP.
  • The Toronto Star got a glimpse at the disciplinary actions taken against CSE employees in the past few years.
  • Experts predict another wave of Haitian asylum claimants as the Trump administration announced an end date to their Temporary Protected Status.
  • MPs are debating the creation of a commission to organise leadership debates during federal elections.
  • There is some talk about the PM possibly appointing Justice Abella as Chief Justice instead of Justice Wagner, which could be politically dangerous.
  • Andrew Scheer is pointing out the debacle at Laurier University as to why he wants to pursue a campus free speech policy. (I am dubious as to his motives).
  • The National Post compiled the list of current and former senators receiving their own Canada 150 medals.
  • Susan Delacourt casts an eye over the AG’s report and this government’s seeming inability to get things done.
  • My column looks at how instant party memberships for leadership contests are corrosive to our democratic system.

Odds and ends:

Here’s a look at the written questions on the Order Paper related to Morneau Shepell.

Montreal’s wax museum has a new Justin Trudeau figure that…doesn’t really look like Justin Trudeau.

4 thoughts on “Roundup: Uncritical about the playwright’s lament

  1. Superb article. I might add that whenever I speak to my (Liberal) MP, I get honest, complex, well-thought-out answers to my questions. The same thing happens in his frequent town halls. QP is nothing more than an unentertaining circus. Perhaps if the cameras were not there, the hooliganism and oft-repeated mendacious questions would lessen, but I doubt it. When people like Rempel and Kent take to American media to complain about the resolution of a problem their party spent almost a decade helping to create, there seems to be little hope for responsible, adult behaviour.

  2. “questions… related to Morneau Shepell.”

    There’s a great piece by Terence Corcoran in today’s Financial Post, especially if you feel Bill Morneau is being unfairly targeted (or you like conspiracy theories). Corcoran figures the campaign to sink Morneau has nothing to do with ethics, and everything to do with killing the proposed target-benefit plans of Bill C-27. It’s here:

    • Hmm… That’s certainly the case for the NDP, but not the Conservatives. They smell blood in the water and are snapping at anything to try and wound Morneau, grasping at any straw, including this one, to try and score a point.

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