All you gotta say is sorry

By Joseph Planta

VANCOUVER - That phrase that's oft been used in describing Paul Martin's address last night is actually quite evocative. It's essentially this, the Prime Minister 'went over the heads of the media and Parliament' 'to speak directly to Canadians'. It seems to want to evoke some sort of heroic leadership quality to Martin's actions. Could it work? In our Oprahised society, sorry seems to be the hardest word. So hard in fact, that saying it probably is all that's needed. When you screw something up, never mind, all you gotta do is just say sorry and it'll die away. There's no making up for what you did. No fixing up what you've fudged and ruined. Say sorry and it'll all pass. Get real.

Paul Martin said sorry, but he hasn't done anything thus far to show how contrite he is. If you're at fault, sorry isn't enough. Contrition is fine, but you have to back it up with deeds, not just empty, hollow words. It's gutless, and frankly, it's boorish.

Martin said the sponsorship scandal-where public money was misdirected and misused-occurred under a Liberal government; Not his, of course, as he was just the finance minister. (I love how one Prof so aptly called the Martin defence, 'the Manuel defence.' Manuel, the inept boob on Fawlty Towers who swore he "know nothing.") He's sorry. He promises not to do it again. What a delicious snipe to the previous regime-and the Chrétienite loyalists-but it sort of seems he wants only to take shots them, rather than make up to the Canadian people who are left to pay for the bickering soap opera within a political party.

Martin then lists the things he has done since taking office. Why under his watch he's cancelled the sponsorship program itself. He's ordered lawsuits to sue some boldfaced names for some $40 million. He fired Alfonso Gagliano (who I hope will considering suing Paul Martin for invoking his name in his address last night, just to make it all the more fun). And look at this: he's called in forensic accountants and the sort to audit his party's books and anything else so as to prop up his government just a little longer. The kicker of course was it was he, who ordered the public inquiry. So, let's see, if the inquiry finds him complicit in anyway, let's let Martin off just because it was at his behest that the inquiry was formed? Specious, no?

Last night, Paul Martin declared that the situation is awfully bad looking. Granted, if his political hide wasn't on the line, he wouldn't have chosen to address the nation in such an extraordinary forum. After all, Trudeau would take to the television to bring in the War Measures Act or wage and price controls. Chrétien took to the air to placate his base and the losers during the 1995 sovereignty referendum in Quebec; Ditto for Mulroney when he lost his Charlottetown referendum. The survival of Paul Martin's minority, frankly doesn't weigh as heavily as any of those previous times when a prime minister needed to speak directly to Canadians. Never mind, he's begged the opposition not to pull the plug. Martin says we should all wait patiently until the release of the Gomery Commission's final report, and within 30 days of receipt of such report, a general election shall be called.

Stephen Harper, the Conservative leader said this in his remarks after the Martin address: "But how can we continue-politically, ethically, or morally-to prop up a government that is under criminal investigation and accusation of criminal conspiracy?" Yes, Mr. Harper, how can you? Pull the plug now, if you so feel that way. Show some guts. Call his bluff. I mean, Martin did say he was ready and willing to be judged now. Call in the electorate, Mr. Harper.

My ample gut tells me however, Harper is playing cautious. His script, which he tried to stay on, but occasionally added to as he delivered it (in a futile effort, I tried following along, but it was obvious he was adding his own stuff to it), was guarded. He knows Canadians won't overwhelmingly elect a Conservative majority, so he wants to play nice. He too is trying to act tough, knowing what's out there-the wrath of public opinion just might not warm up to him just because they'll loath the Liberals. He'd be the one who pulled the plug essentially, so he doesn't want to be blamed for sending Canadians to the polls after just a year since the last vote. Harper's between a rock and a hard place. How he wiggles himself out and decides where to stand will be his first real test of leadership. It'll tell us the mettle of which he is made, should he become prime minister, whether that's very soon, or in the distant future.

Polls tell us that neither the Liberals, Conservatives nor NDP have anything to gain were a general election to be held today. The Bloc Quebecois will certainly gain much, but they're the only ones, and only in Quebec. The status outside of Quebec would probably be quo, with a Conservative minority at the very least. That's not enough for Harper. Harper managed to get the Liberals to a minority already. Conservatives expect him to take them over the top, with a solid majority, not some flimsy minority that could fall in a year, like the Liberals now. Failing that, he's out, and that put the Conservatives in disarray, thus another opportunity missed to bury completely the Liberals.

Martin's message Thursday night was contrite and all an effort to elicit sympathy from an Oprahised society. It doesn't change anything; if anything, it only prolongs his tenuous government's life. Canadians probably bought the jive that the Prime Minister is sorry, that he'll never do it again, and that he'll do better. He promises, of course. The culture succumbs to that cop out, and guess what, it's Harper's who's the bad guy.

But it is a cop out, and Canadians should see what Martin did for what it is. He went over the heads of screaming parliamentarians and tenacious media, sure, but what's changed? Nothing. It's the same old same old until this government falls and the deck's reshuffled during a general election. Harper's gotta act decisively. He said the government has no moral authority, so pull the plug, and get on with an election. Failing to do that, Harper could share that Mr. Dithers moniker with Paul Martin.


On the provincial election front, don't forget to listen to the interview segments from yesterday. They're pretty insightful. (My guests were, not me.) I talked to Terminal City's astute political columnist, the 'Ballotbox Bulldog' himself, Ian King. Listen to that here: And later, I talked with David Schreck, former NDP advisor, MLA etc. Whether you like or dislike Schreck, one thing's for sure, he knows what he's talking about, and he's worth listening to. Get Schreck here:


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