Wednesday, August 17, 2005

It's Time To Talk, Michaëlle

Well, the fat seems to have hit the fire, hasn't it, Ms. Jean?

To be perfectly fair, you weren't the first G-G nominee that people complained about. There was a lot of grumbling when Ray Hnatyshyn got the job, mainly because he was widely perceived as a partisan (he was a cabinet minister during the Mulroney years). That, and nobody could spell his last name.

His situation was probably the most applicable to your current one. Your predecessor was widely perceived, despite the faults naturally attendant on a CBC journalist, to be outside of politics.

You, on the other hand, were recorded in a documentary film by your husband, having a grand time with a lot of sovereigntists. The magazine Le Québécois has all the details, and it's even made the Daily Telegraph in London, which means there'll probably be a call for you-know-who to get involved.

And remember that Ray had one advantage over you -- he didn't have a blogosphere to contend with. There are lots of blogposts out there, mostly right and centre-right, coming down on you like a ton of bricks because of the separatist allegations. (And a few because of your French citizenship, but that's not so serious.)

Never mind that the recorded evidence is over a decade old, that the Canada of today is different from the one of 10 years ago. You should know from your experiences as a journalist that public figures are fair game, and anything -- anything -- on record can be used against you in the court of public opinion.

It's time for you to talk, Ms. Jean. And you have to do it now.

You can't rely on Paul Martin to talk for you. He has to spend his time defending his original decision instead of you. Being a typical Chrétien politician, he'll just elaborate on your good qualities and ignore the accusations altogether. That doesn't impress people, as you can see from this CP story:

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said he's troubled that Martin and his entourage have failed to provide a clear rebuttal of the claims.

"I am waiting to hear somebody in the Prime Minister's Office put out some information that is contrary to what we're reading in the papers now," Harper told CFRA Radio in Ottawa.

Nor can you rely on the public servants at the PMO to help you. Already there are news stories to the effect that they didn't take the time to do a thorough background check on you:

Conservative Senator Marjorie LeBreton, who was director of appointments under former prime minister Brian Mulroney, says that the separatist links might not have been noticed by officials in the Prime Minister's Office, in their haste to make the appointment.

She pointed to comments made by Helene Scherrer, the prime minister's principal secretary, who has proudly taken credit for identifying the former CBC broadcaster to Paul Martin as a candidate during a meeting on June 10.

Ms. Scherrer told the National Post that Mr. Martin ordered her to "go and see her."

"He came back to me on the next Monday to say, 'Did you see her?' " Ms. Scherrer told the Post. "I said, 'No, I didn't think you were that serious on Friday and that it was a rush.' And he said, "Yes, I want you to see her.'

"I said, 'This is it.' And he said, 'Yes it is. That's the one,' " Ms. Scherrer recalled.

Ms. LeBreton says Ms. Scherrer's comments reveal that the appointment may have been made without due diligence.

You see? Anything that anyone in the PMO says to defend the appointment is going to have the air of a panicked civil servant trying to cover assets. To put it mildly.

So you have to talk. And a mere issuing of a press statement isn't going to cut it.

You're going to have to go out to the people. Maybe not a full-blown press conference, but a few well-placed interviews will do a lot. Not the CBC (they've got a strike going) but certainly CTV Newsnet, TQS or TVA, so that you can confront these accusations head on and deal with them as a regular person would. Not like a civil servant shooting out news releases from an ivory tower.

And it's crucial that you put a priority on dealing with the English-language media. Quebeckers already know your work, and they've probably made up their minds about you. It's the rest of Canada, the folks in Nova Scotia and B.C. and Ralph Klein's Alberta, who really don't know you and who are getting information filtered through an ill-informed media from a source with a hostile agenda. The folks of the West are the ones you have to reach.

You know what would really do you good? Going on Cross-Country Checkup. But with the CBC on strike, the next best thing would be the Lowell Green Show or Adler Online. Deal with the callers who are the most hostile towards you, and you can earn points with the rest of us.

You want time to work up some talking points? Fine, but don't take too long. If you wait until Sept. 23rd, it will be too late: you'll have to begin your term with a separatist-made millstone on your neck.

It's time to talk, Ms. Jean. And the time is now.