THE BACK PAGES

Short stories. Very long knive

PAUL WELLS September 8 2008
THE BACK PAGES

Short stories. Very long knive

PAUL WELLS September 8 2008

People of Canada, we shall be lied to with class!

Feschuk

The political war room—it's a campaign tradition that transcends party and leader and, most important, truthfulness. But the impending federal election promises something new: the Conservatives will boast the lar-

gest, most advanced and costliest war room in our nation's history. Rejoice, people of Canada! This time we're going to be lied to with class.

For many years now, loyalists of all partisan stripes—many of them young, most of them well-meaning, all of them going to hell if God’s a stickler on the whole “honesty” thing—have ritually surrendered several weeks of their lives during campaigns to toil around the clock in their party’s war room. It is my belief they do this largely because it is called “the war room.” Calling it “the war room” makes it sound as though Eisenhower himself is in there, boldly plotting a strategy to save the free world from Nazis, when in fact it’s mostly just a bunch of 24-year-old men watching CPAC and neglecting to shower. Fewer would volunteer if the premises were called by the more accurate name of Room That Still Smells of the Luncheon Meat Tray That Was Delivered Three Days Ago.

Still, the war room has become a campaign staple—the source of news releases, fact checks and, above all, cultish hyperbole. During the coming campaign, Conservatives will funnel more money into their operation than ever because they believe a superior war room will provide a crucial advantage in a media age defined by the 24-hour news cycle, an influential blogosphere and Mike Duffy habitually reading stuff directly to his TV audience from his BlackBerry without corroborating the information in any way whatsoever. “This just in: a Nigerian widow has made me a millionaire—so long, suckers!”

No matter your party affiliation, it always feels good to tell the first lie in a new war

room. Break the honesty cherry. Get a feel for the place and see how she handles. In the same way that a new ship is christened by taking a bottle of champagne and smashing it against the hull, the Conservative war room will be christened on the first day of the coming campaign by takingjohn Baird and using him to beat the truth to death.

The carnage will take place in luxurious confines. According to media reports, the

Conservative war room runs to about 17,000 sq. feet, which is an incredible amount of floor space and bolsters my personal theory that Stephen Harper intends to unveil and promote all his new policies through the grace and persuasive power of interpretative dance. Frustratingly, no one down at Liberal HQ believes me, which explains why the party is so far behind in establishing its Quick Response Breakdancing Team.

The Conservative war room has scores of desks, banks of telephones, televisions and computers, a makeup room, a meeting room, helpful signage so campaign workers can remember the difference between “misinformation” and “disinformation,” ergonomic chairs, ergonomic interns, a kitchenette, a Starbucks, a shark tank and a bottomless pit into which Harper can hurl ineffectual blackclad henchmen. Also: free muffins!

Clearly, the party has come a long way from the election of 1980, when the Conservative war room basically consisted of one lonely guy responding to opposition slurs by yelling through a bullhorn: “I know you are but what am I?” (Alas, the tactic failed: Trudeau’s Liberals had already double-stampedno-erased their assertions.)

The centrepiece of the new Conservative war room is a high-tech television studio that features a teleprompter and what has been described as “Hollywood-worthy lighting.” The studio will come in handy during the day, when party operatives will use it to respond instantly to opposition slights, and also around 3 o’clock in the morning, when Peter MacKay will sneak in to direct and star in his own fanepisode of Magnum P.I. The good news for

Canadians is that, with so much video being produced, there’s a chance we’ll we get to see the look of surprise on Michael Fortier’s face when he discovers that this time he actually has to run for office.

Having their own studio gives Conservatives an edge. It allows them to assign screen time to some of the cabinet ministers whom Harper has allowed to gain renown and national profile, including... uhh... That Guy With the Glasses and the other one, What’s His Nose—the Tallish Dude. It also enables the party to produce high-quality video material for the Internet, enabling the Prime Minister to speak directly to Canadians and tell them why he ought to be allowed to stay at 24 Sussex (Reason No. 1: “All my stuff? Already there.”)

So the Conservatives have a big head start for a presumptive fall campaign—but don’t count out the opposition just yet. The Liberals plan to unveil their own war room, just as soon as the front desk at the Holiday Inn says their deluxe with two double beds is ready. NI

ON THE WEB: To read Feschuk on the famous, visit his blog, www.macleans.ca/feschuk

The war room will showcase Harper cabinet stars, like What’s his Nose—the Tallish Dude