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In the span of four hours this morning, Stéphane Dion told the same joke twice while campaigning in Halifax. To paraphrase: "Stephen Harper speaks English better than me. But I can tell the truth in both official languages better than Stephen Harper!" (*Rimshot!*)
Let’s now mine this comedy gold...
First, the good: Dion deserves full credit for co-opting a criticism – his proficiency with the English language – and turning it into a self-deprecating jab. Well done.
Now, the bad: After sealing the set-up and delivering the punch line, Dion seems startled by the applause. Instead of pausing briefly for effect and then continuing, he freezes. He looks around. He smiles. He glances at campaign peeps standing behind. Then he smirks, with a twinkle in his eye that screams: "You see! I did it! I connect with audience! I HUMAN!"
It's Day 10 and our feckless fearless leaders are yakking up a storm. Stéphane Dion is in Halifax. Stephen Harper is in Kitchener. And Barack Layton is in Welland, ground zero for hope and change.
Let us now ignore what was said and instead focus on the visuals at each conference:
Politican: Stephen Harper Look: V-neck sweater, plaid shirt and bulky jacket Look Says: "I like hockey and I like you." Backdrop: Curtain and real estate posters for "Villas in East Terrace" (SOLD) Humans in Background: 0 Body Language: Exasperated head-bob and slow-motion gesturing with
right arm, as if it operates independently from the rest of his body Visual Effectiveness Score: 64
Politician: Barack Layton Look: Black blazer and silky, periwinkle shirt Look Says: "Yes, I care about the downtrodden. But I also appreciate the finer things in life." Backdrop: Road (with a distracting number of passing cars!), evergreen foliage and prominent John Deere sign. Humans in Background: 1 (guy in glasses; looks groggy) Body Language: Clint Eastwood squint meets Clint Black swagger Visual Effectiveness Score: 82
Politician: Stephane Dion Look: Dark suit, white shirt, wide-striped tie Look Says: "I nice man, I buy you drink." Backdrop: Stucco wall Humans in Background: 2 (guy in suit, woman in sunglasses; guy looks confused, woman may be asleep) Body Language: Uncanny impersonation of an android that runs on ice water! Visual Effectiveness Score: 56
Put this in your Election Fever Diary: 7:20 a.m. on Day 10 of the campaign. That's when the Liberals decided to take an active interest in their own grim future...
I'm sitting here, sipping coffee and watching CBC Newsworld. It would appear Bob Rae has descended from Mount Sulk to join Stéphane Dion on the happy trails in Halifax. As anchor Heather Hiscox asks right off the top: "What took you so long?"
For a fleeting moment, Rae looks deeply pained, like he just got nailed in the giblets by a wayward Frisbee. Then he explains why he and other high-profile Liberals have been as invisible as ghosts asleep on white sheets: They've been working hard in their respective ridings, etc. etc. blah blah yawn. Rae proceeds to deliver a number of key messages clearly and articulately, a novelty for his party these days: The Liberals have a strong team! Running a government is not a one-person sport! Stephen Harper "thinks he can control the world. This is nuts for Canada!"
So the race begins... now?
Moving on to more important matters: How awesome is Heather Hiscox? I mean, honestly. The other day, she calmly destroyed Jack Layton on the issue of Elizabeth May's (then) exclusion from the debates. This morning, she was just as gritty with Rae. To all you media trainers out there: If your client is interviewed by Hiscox and she begins a question with, "I'm wondering..." Yeah, your client is pretty much screwed. Can you imagine being in a relationship with her?
Heather: "I'm wondering, when do you plan to take out the recycling?" You: "I was just about --" Heather: "--You know, there a lot of people who say you won't be taking out the recycling. I've been reading notes from people who claim to be your supporters and even they say you've all but abandoned your commitment to the recycling." You: "Honey, can we please cut to a commercial?"
The Liberals released a new TV ad last night. Summary: Stephen Harper hates Ontario. Stephen Harper hates the economy. Stephen Harper hates the environment. And he may even hate ice cream. As for the Liberals, they have a plan. So let's get started! Oh, but before we begin, a question: Why was Stéphane Dion MIA in this latest ad? Who will lead us to greener pastures?
The Conservative lead is shrinking. (Aren't rolling polls fun?) So, obviously, Mr. Harper needs to intensify his attacks on Mr. Dion. Here now, Five Things The PM Can Do To Keep Dion Dead:
1. Release secret document that shows Dion never watched Canadian Idol 2. Promise massive tax cuts to Canadians with pets not named Kyoto 3. Unveil new attack ad that shows polar bear defecating on Dion 4. Convince Bob Rae to switch sides 5. Tell voters Dion plans to introduce new levy on oxygen
You can tell a lot about a democracy by the merchandise political parties hawk during an election campaign. South of the border, all manner of partisan kitsch (official and unofficial) is available.
Democrats can soothe their now jittery nerves with an Obama '08 Yes We Can Blue Bracelet. His store even has online aisles for women and students. Republicans, meanwhile, can collect an entire collection of $15 John McCain T-shirts, including ones emblazoned with the words Integrity, Leadership, Experience and Honor. (This word was conspicuously absent.) Recently, an American company unveiled a line of Sarah Palin action figures. In the first, the woman who might be vice president of the United States of America is garbed in a sensible blazer and pants, like a hotter and less nefarious Dick Cheney. In the second, she's dressed as a "school girl," replete with tartan skirt, white blouse and red bra. In the third, our bespectacled heroine is bedecked in a white miniskirt and Matrix-style leather jacket. She also has a holster strapped to her left thigh, like Lara Croft poised to kick some ass (terrorist and/or moose) from an unlikely base of operations. So now I must ask: Since our own election appears to be riddled with creepy campaign photo-ops and foregone conclusions, don't Canadians deserve some cheap political toys to help pass the hours until we trudge to the polls on October 14? How about a Stephen Harper Action Figure? It plays the piano, recites key messages in a monotone, smiles awkwardly and comes with a removable cowboy hat and sweater vest.
Or how about a Jack Layton Doll? Accessories include a kitchen table, shirt with rolled-up sleeves, detachable 'stache and Malibu Olivia. A Special Collector's Edition could come with a telephone booth: Kids, watch as Jack morphs into Super Obama and flies toward a planet called Hope!
The Stephane Dion Figurine, meanwhile, could be mass-produced very economically, since it doesn't do much of anything.
It's week two of the election nobody wanted and this much is clear: Stéphane Dion is Stéphane Dion's worst enemy. To most voters, his Green Shift plan is more like a black hole: Nebulous, difficult to grasp, vaguely threatening, out there, and likely to suck us into a parallel universe where we're ultimately enslaved by a race of evil penguins. A Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll released this weekend suggests the biggest obstacle facing the Liberals is a leadership gap. As the incomparable Chantal Hébert notes in her column today:
Unless he moves the needle of the polls his way over the
next five days, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion will spend the rest of the
campaign playing the underdog in an opposition sideshow while Stephen
Harper turns the main event into a one-man act.
Dion has at
most a week to recast himself as a credible alternative to Harper or
else the Liberals will find themselves on an irreversible course to a
near-historical defeat next month.
Even as a non-partisan (and a Toronto Maple Leafs fan!), this implosion is painful to behold. Come on, Mr. Dion! Pull yourself together! Finish your sentences! Stand up straight! Stop blinking so much! Get yourself a sweater vest, like the guy in this ad!
As it turns out, this isn't so much a federal election as a national referendum on the Liberal leadership. Did they pick the wrong guy? It sure seems that way.
But where have all the other Liberals gone? Why is Dion getting no support from his teammates as he slides across the ice on his belly with his stick between his legs? How many times is Dion mentioned here? Or here?
Dion now has four weeks to reverse his misfortunes and untie the noose he has tied around his neck. Otherwise, after Oct. 14, there will be plenty of time for all of this.