Thursday, April 14, 2005

Better to Be Mr. Dithers Than Mr. Cheney

This afternoon, Prime Minister Dithers denied having lunch with Claude Boulay, who (according to Gomery witness Alain Renaud) had supposedly met with the PM over lunch in 1990.

This is of course a much better response than his panicked finger-pointing in the House of Commons yesterday, when Stephen Harper asked the same question.

Why the change in attitude? Probably because Mr. Martin has learned the lesson of the number-two man across the border, Dick Cheney.

People will remember during the 2004 U.S. election, during the vice-presidential debates, Mr. C claimed he couldn't remember meeting his opponent, John Edwards. Then someone posted a picture of them shaking hands. A little embarrassment there, but fortunately not too fatal.

Martin's been put in the same position as Mr. C was last year. One major difference though: the consequences would have been more severe for him in the House of Commons than they would be in front of the press.

One of the Big Rules in Parliament is that you must not deliberately mislead the House. Meaning, you cannot tell a lie that can be easily disproven. If Martin had denied meeting Mr. Boulay for lunch, and proof suddenly circulated that he did, he would certainly lose some parliamentary privileges that would make life even more difficult for him.

Talking to the press is a different matter. If proof now shows up that he did have lunch with Mr. Boulay, then he can, like Mr. C across the border, claim a faulty memory. But at least he can claim he didn't mislead the House.

It's just too bad he used a clumsy tactic to do it. Trying to ignore the question and put the Tories on the defensive over health care may have worked during an election campaign, but not in the house. Because, in his zeal to nail the Tories, he forgot that it's not the Tories who are supposed to answer questions in Question Period; it's the government.

Of course, it could be that Mr. Dithers was practicing to be Opposition Leader. That's probably going to be his next job ... if he's lucky.