Thursday, April 21, 2005

Hey Paul -- Watcha Gonna Say?

All right, Prime Minister, you're all set. At 19h45 hours, you will address the nation. You've managed to get the networks to cooperate, and you'll be all alone -- just you in the studio, no press to ask you annoying questions, no Opposition politicians around to hound you. Just you, a camera and mike, and the rest of Canada's eyes on you.

What will you say?

Obviously, you plan to talk about the Gomery inquiry and the sponsorship scandal and what you're going to do about it. The polls are falling, and you'd like to reverse it obviously. But whatever you say has to be enough to justify interrupting Jeopardy! for air time that could have been sold to lucrative advertisers.

Well, one approach would be to grovel. Apologize to the nation on behalf of the government and the Liberal Party of Canada, for abusing our trust in you and hiring all those crooks, then letting corruption sprout and fester in the system. Outline all the steps that have been taken to prove it'll never happen again, and acknowledge that you hold power only by consent of the people, not by right.

But no. There's that typical Liberal pride in the way. The Natural Governing Party has never apologized for the way it's governed; why start now?

Another approach might be to announce the termination of the Gomery inquiry's testimony phase. You wouldn't be pulling the plug on the Inquiry, because you'd be asking the Judge to write up his report based on the evidence he's already gathered, and present it to Parliament just in time for an early election.

It's a tempting idea, you must admit. It would certainly keep any future witnesses from lobbing bombs in your direction that you don't need right now. And because you'd have the report in hand, you can congratulate the Judge, tuck it away and hope to heck that people toss it once they've read it.

But there are risks, even more than the Opposition accusing you of pulling the plug. The public might see this as judicial interference, and adjust their voting habits accordingly.

There is a further approach, one that involves doing something along the lines of making a "checkers" speech. It's the Richard Nixon approach, making a speech that evokes Canadian values, one that saves your career.

Trouble is, Prime Minister, you are not Richard Nixon. And that's not a compliment. Nixon, for all his faults, was a pretty good orator. You're not. And despite all the comparisons with Watergate, your situation is far worse. Nixon only had to defend his advisors and their aides. You have to defend the Canadian civil service, the Liberal Party, and the Quebec business elite.

In other words, the "checkers" approach is high risk, little gain. Best not attempt it.

Oh, and one more thing, Prime Minister. If you attack the Opposition tonight, either directly or by innuendo, you'll definitely rouse the ire of the mainstream media who granted you the time in the first place. If you attack, everyone -- and I mean everyone -- will regard it as "politics as usual," which translates as "wasting our time." And that will have an impact on the opinion polls, not to mention the ballot box.

So whatever approach you take, Paul ... it better be something spectacular.

Break a leg, Prime Minister. You're going to need all the luck you can get.