UP FRONT

CHANGING THE GAME

Hockey is trying to improve. It’s time for politicians to get the message as well.

Peter Mansbridge August 29 2005
UP FRONT

CHANGING THE GAME

Hockey is trying to improve. It’s time for politicians to get the message as well.

Peter Mansbridge August 29 2005

CHANGING THE GAME

UP FRONT

Mansbridge on the Record

Hockey is trying to improve. It’s time for politicians to get the message as well.

Peter Mansbridge

NOW THAT THEY'VE finished cutting up the available cash, those who deliver the NHL to its fans will soon address the changes that may actually make a difference in how the game is perceived. There are all sorts of rule changes coming, designed to make the game faster, cleaner and more exciting. Here’s the one I like: they’re going to make the net larger. Well, not really, but they are going to make goalies’ pads smaller, which will, as a result, make more of the net available for those trying to fire a puck into it. Hands up if you feel that’s a good thing.

My hand is in the air, if for no other reason than I’d like to see the idea result in similar rule changes in other sports, especially ones I have trouble perfecting. Like golf. The old saying “Drive for show, putt for dough” underlines the fact that most of us average golfers rack up at least one-third of our strokes putting, just trying to bang the ball into a TA-inchdiameter hole. So for better scoring in golf the solution is simple—make the hole larger.

Lower the net in tennis? Make the ball smaller in basketball? Okay, I appreciate that some rule changes could be dangerous to the integrity of a game, but others could make things more exciting, and may even deliver a better product, which is certainly what professional hockey is hoping for.

Hockey is said to be Canada’s favourite pastime, and the new look that will soon hit the ice may ensure that remains the case.

Some think our second favourite pastime is politics, and its national edition is due to start up again at roughly the same time after what has been a muchneeded summer break.

The political players quite likely have similar aims—clean up their image, and get people interested in an activity that attracted nothing but derision just months ago. Maybe there’s room for change in this game, too. If my mail counts for something, Canadians probably wouldn’t be too shy about modifying the way politics is played. Here are two consistent concerns that cross my desk:

1. “Answer the question.” This one is directed at those politicians who, many feel, will do anything to avoid giving a simple answer to a direct query. Instead, many give responses spoon-fed to them by staffers, and as a result they have a kind of blank look on their faces as they repeat exactly what it was they were told to say. This is what’s called “message track,” and all sides are guilty here—ministers are the most obvious, as witnessed by the daily show that is Question Period, but senior opposition members often look no different when they’re challenged on their own policies.

2. “Talk about what we talk about.” The frustration here is on the part of those who watch the action in Ottawa, media included, and rarely see any connection between it and the world they inhabit. One recent example: as the price of oil continues to climb, I’ve often heard from Canadians wondering why politicians seem to ignore the issue, focusing instead on topics that only Ottawa finds fascinating.

Some interesting ideas, but then, at least for me, so is the idea of enlarging the golf hole. Should we hold our breath for changes? That hole may well be one of sport’s most durable traditions—when a randomly picked hole cutter was first used in 1829, it just happened to be Alk inches in diameter. The size has never changed. Sound like politics? M

Peter Mansbridge is Chief Correspondent of CBC Television News and Anchor of The National.

To comment: letters@macleans.ca