First, a word about that swear-word story. There was no "secret taping" by the Star. It was a conference open to the media and as it happened, when Sen. Ruth made her remarks, I was standing in full view of the room, media tag on, holding my tape recorder up to the speakers. It just happened that I was the only media person in the room; other news outlets chose to put their resources elsewhere yesterday. It's been interesting to see who gives the Star credit for the tape they're all quoting -- as readers of this blog will know, I'm a big fan of linking to other media, including the competition.
But I digress. This post is about shutting up -- knowing when to do it and when to speak up. Nancy Ruth was offering her advice yesterday in the spirit of helpfulness and realism. She told the advocates that they risked a "backlash" from Prime Minister Stephen Harper if they kept up their campaign against Canada's anti-abortion stand on the world stage. On CBC's Power and Politics last night, Harper's old mentor, Tom Flanagan agreed. Think about that for a bit -- serious people, who understand this government and this prime minister, are telling folks that he's a vengeful sort. Hey, nice guys finish last. Look what happened to Stephane Dion. This is not a commendation of politics or the current style of leadership.
Speaking of which, Michael Ignatieff is coming in for some criticism about being a blabbermouth -- not shutting up -- about whether the Governor-General's term should be extended. He was asked his advice and decided to go public with what he told the Secretary to the Queen. It is unusual, and risky. And as Don Martin points out today, it doesn't do much for building the case that he'd respect confidences on the Afghan-detainee files.
But there is also a case to be made for opening up this whole secret GG thing. Remember how frustrated we were about Michaëlle Jean's failure to explain why she granted Stephen Harper his controversial prorogation in late 2008? Note that Canadians seem to feel that Harper, in choosing her successor, should be paying attention to popular sentiment. And Harper has shown his own populist streak in some of his dealings with the GG too, having a rather public spat over the business of who's head of state, for instance. So we're probably seeing a more general unravelling of all this royal secrecy surrounding how the GG does her job, not just about her replacement. Is that a good or a bad thing? It's probably worth discussing.
And one more note about shutting up -- the Liberals' status of women critic, Anita Neville, was initially quite charitable about Senator Ruth's intervention at the aid-experts' meeting yesterday. She was in the room and prefaced her remarks about her fondness for Nancy Ruth. But by late in the day, Neville was quoted in a Liberal news release condemning the "bullying." Why the change of heart? I'm discouraged to report that it's because the Liberals saw a chance to score some points, even if it meant twisting Neville's more nuanced understanding of what happened yesterday.
So, to recap what we learned yesterday: if you have something to say in politics, make sure you don't tick off the Prime Minister, make sure you're not talking about the governor-general and for heaven's sake, avoid nuance. In other words, it's probably best to shut the f--- up.