PHOTOS: Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets a group of foreign event logistics consultants while travelling abroad (Government of Canada photo). Below: Pierre Trudeau does suppressed fury the right way; Mr. Harper does it with considerably less appeal.
Clearly, the continuing uproar about Stephen Harper’s “event logistics team members” tells us something fundamental about the increasingly fraught relationship between the prime minister of Canada and a very large and apparently growing number of Canadians.
To wit: An awful lot of Canadians now so distrust this man that they really are prepared to believe the worst about him in any situation.
This seems to be what gave legs to the story about the Mayor of Oakville’s controversial Tweets on Friday.
Mayor Rob Burton of the city just west of Toronto, best known as the headquarters of Ford of Canada, got almost everybody’s knickers in a twist by suggesting that since some of the individuals showing up at Conservative campaign stops with duties not far removed from security were former soldiers, this was not that different from what a couple of notorious European dictators might have gotten up to three quarters of a century ago.
This twitted the Conservative Perpetual Outrage Machine sufficiently to result in a considerable amount of intemperate bluster and a few spontaneously combusting hairdos. But this wouldn’t have happened, it’s suggested here, if the accusation hadn’t been just close enough to what a significant percentage of Canadians had actually been privately thinking about the revelation.
The Conservatives tried hard, with a moderate degree of success, to characterize such provocative commentary as an attack on Canadian Armed Forces veterans, which, apparently, all of these contract workers are. I say “apparently” because the actual identities and duties of these individuals are in fact pretty murky, owing to the Harper Conservatives’ penchant for refusing to comment informatively on pretty much anything.
Indeed, the role of the former soldiers now equipped with dark suits and earpieces is only about “our event logistics,” asserted Tory spokesthingy Kory Teneycke, late of the unlamented Sun News Network. Mr. Teneycke even objected to the use of the term “security” to describe the function of these event logisticians. He did suggest – without quite saying – that they are paid by the party, not the taxpayer.
For heaven’s sake, though, for all that casual readers could tell, these veterans could have been anything from an oligarchical private army to a platoon of doddering members of the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires, as Defence Minister Jason Kenney implied, although also didn’t quite say, in one of his many counter-Tweets.
That said, I’ve come to the conclusion we’re looking at this small but revealing story in the wrong way, and therefore possibly drawing the wrong conclusions about it.
If you read between the lines of the original Canadian Press story that prompted the brouhaha in the first place, you will learn that properly trained, publicly paid, soon-to-be-unionized members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are the ones who look after the prime minister’s personal security.
RCMP members also look out for the personal safety of NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and, presumably, the leaders of the smaller parties with members in the House – although I imagine the officer assigned to ensuring Elizabeth May’s security only really has anything to worry about on days when Ezra Levant is in the vicinity aggressively waving his microphone about. (I’ve seen him in action. That mike could put out someone’s eye!)
Naturally, however, in the heat of a political campaign, the possibility of contact with an unsupportive, or even aggrieved, individual by these officers has the potential for misunderstanding. After all, one person’s free speech is another’s threatening behaviour and, as the song explains, “when constabulary duty’s to be done (to be done), a policeman’s lot is not a happy one.”
So perhaps the Tory event logisticians have merely been hired to make the Mounties’ lot a little happier – though perhaps not as happy as Mr. Mulcair’s promise to hire more police officers would.
Regardless, while Mr. Teneycke was characteristically uninformative on this score – “we don’t comment on our event logistics” – a “security consultant” consulted by the Canadian Press explained the role of the ex-soldiers as follows: “Every political party is absolutely trying to avoid going off script. The whole point about having security at these things to is try to avoid somebody else, who has their own agenda … destabilizing the agenda that you have.”
In other words, they’re bouncers!
This too is revealing. Mr. Harper’s campaign stops nowadays are invitation-only affairs, with no admission to anyone wearing orange pigtails or looking as if they might have a cardboard stop sign or a cellular phone with a camera stuffed under their jumper. So you’d think hecklers wouldn’t be a problem – except, of course, as the guests file out past the assembled media with their traditional cries of “idiots” and “lying pieces of …!” Still, I guess, you can’t be too careful if the cameras are rolling, and heaven knows, they’re always rolling nowadays.
Since Mr. Harper doesn’t do clever ripostes to hecklers the way John Diefenbaker or Lester Pearson did – that would imply some respect for opposing views – the need to prevent heckling is obviously paramount. After all, suppressed fury rarely goes over well on television, unless it’s being done by Pierre Trudeau, which is just one more reason for Mr. Harper to hate the entire Trudeau clan.
Now, why the prime minister needs a former sniper like the one observed by the CP reporter giving an unruly invitee the bum’s rush is an open question, but maybe the guy just needed a job.
So, if you ask me, the real question should be this: Do we really want to elect a political party to the important job of running our country that needs to hire bouncers for its own invitation-only affairs?
Seriously, maybe it’s time ask a better class of people to run the place!
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.