THE PAUL MARTIN SHOW

THE PAUL MARTIN SHOW

Our new Prime Minister launches another zany season of hijinks

PAUL WELLS February 16 2004
THE PAUL MARTIN SHOW

THE PAUL MARTIN SHOW

Our new Prime Minister launches another zany season of hijinks

PAUL WELLS February 16 2004

THE PAUL MARTIN SHOW

The Back Page

Our new Prime Minister launches another zany season of hijinks

PAUL WELLS

I THINK IT’S GOING pretty well so far, don’t you? “It amazes me,” a colleague told me after Martin submitted himself to a CBC interrogation, “that he doesn’t know the first question is going to be about the Canada Steamship empire, when the entire world knows the first question is going to be about the Canada Steamship empire.”

“He,” of course, is Paul Martin, about whom I wrote almost precisely the same thing four years ago: he will not be chock full of surprises, but he remains easy to surprise. We knew more about this “new” Prime Minister on his first day in the hot seat than we have known about any “new” prime minister since maybe Louis St. Laurent. Better than he seems to know us, or himself.

Our familiarity will be his salvation, if it turns out he ever needs saving. Probably he won’t. Even when he disappoints, it’s in a soothing way, like the hero of some old TV show. Tune in this week for another zany episode of That Darned Paul!

In last week’s episode, That Darned Paul hired a “star candidate” who was a key figure in his leadership campaign 14 years ago, before millions of Canadians were old enough to vote. The guest star was Jean Lapierre, who quit the Liberal party the day Jean Chrétien became leader; helped found the Bloc Québécois; sat with Lucien Bouchard for two years; then took his parliamentary pension and open mind on such questions as, say, national allegiance to the airwaves, becoming a radio and television star in Montreal.

Lapierre joins the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, who was a key figure in his leadership campaign 14 years ago; some partners in Martin’s favourite government-relations firm, who were key figures in his leadership campaign 14 years ago; his cabinet, which is chockablock with key figures from his leadership campaign 14 years ago; and his ideas about government, which were rehearsed at length during his leadership campaign, 14 years ago.

It is all quite comforting, just like Eddie Haskell razzing the Beav behind Mrs. Cleaver’s back. I invited readers of my Weblog

to vent their fury at the sight of a co-founder of the Bloc Québécois on the fast track to a cabinet job in Ottawa. The response was voluminous—and bland. Almost nobody really cared.

Why? Part of it is that Lapierre is a genuinely charming guy. Most of it is that nobody is seriously surprised at his return. You say the Prime Minister has hired a guy who used to work with Bouchard? Ha-ha-ha! Oh, That Darned Paul!

Like a proper comic hero, Martin is true to his word, and when he’s not, it’s not his fault. He said he’d give the cities money? He gives the cities money. He likes schools and hospitals? His Speech from the Throne is all about schools and hospitals. He wants to reform Parliament? He has one of his best men, Jacques Saada, introduce a serious reform package on the session’s third day.

His companies received more federal money than the government first said they had? Whoopsie. “Somebody” should have said something about that, the Prime Minister says crossly.

The heartwarming hero is aided, in all things, by his cartoonish opponents: mustachioed extra-parliamentary NDP leader; bellowing Hamilton leadership ex-rival; smirky back-page columnist. We’re all indistinguishable from Gladys Kravitz next door, standing at the window in a floralprint smock, peering through binoculars at the latest astonishing turn of events in the Langevin Block.

“Abner! Come quick! Canada Steamship got even more money!”

“Abner! Put down that paper! I think he might be about to do something really bad to one of Mr. Chretien’s friends!”

“Abner! He said the reason Francis Fox could go from lobbying straight to government was that ‘He’s not going back.’ Then John Duffy and Cyrus Reporter leave his transition team and go straight back to lobbying!”

Abner grunts. He never lifts his nose from his paper, except to answer the phone when Compas or Ekos call. “I’m voting Liberal.” Hangs up. Back to paper. “Gladys, put those binoculars down.”

You might laugh at That Darned Paul, but you’ll howl at his opponents. The opposition parties scowl at anything he does, even if they asked for it. Reform Parliament? Meaningless, say the heirs of the, ahem, Reform party. Call the auditor general, they shout, until he does. Then they say it’s a distraction.

Hounded by clowns, true to old habits, familiar as the faces at a class reunion 14 years after everyone graduated, That Darned Paul begins another season of hijinks. The network is planning some very special episodes for the sweeps weeks in April and May. The other parties will get a chance to pitch their own series. Me, I’m betting on another four seasons of reruns. 171

To comment: backpage@macleans.ca Read Paul Wells’s Weblog, “Inkless Wells,” at www.macleans.ca/paulwells