Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Teflon Blonde

So it looks like Lisa Raitt will be keeping her job. For now. I can't say I'm surprised, although I do expect that after the next cabinet shuffle she just might find herself sitting next to Gary Lunn as the Deputy Minister of Hockey Rinks.

It's very difficult for me to keep my personal feelings out of it when I talk about Lisa Raitt. After all, I spent five weeks helping Garth Turner campaign against this woman. Five weeks of fielding some pretty frightening anonymous calls to the campaign office, watching volunteer sign crews go out again and again to replace stolen signs, and seeing our campaign manager's face turn white when she found out that her son and granddaughter just had their names and faces splashed across the internet - collateral damage in an especially tawdry political smear.

And most of all, having to listen to that nasal, condescending, sanctimonious voice day after day in the media, complaining about Turner's "pornographic" website and telling him to "take a time out" - all while her supporters were out stalking him and harassing him and calling his wife and his staff whores. None of which, of course, could in any way be proven to be her doing.

So yeah. You're goddamned right it's personal.

That said, I do believe that Dr.Dawg is right when he calls for a little perspective here.

Let's keep our eye on the ball. The issue is not a vainglorious Minister with a taste for fame, perks and expensive lunches. It's not even, in this instance, her cover-up of the full magnitude of the Chalk River fiasco. The issue is a government that proceeds under the confident assumption that it should be able to do whatever it wants.

It's a government that goes to court to argue that a Canadian citizen can be exiled by ministerial fiat. It's a government that insists that it has no obligation to any Canadian citizen outside our borders. It's a government that, from on high, revokes a training grant because a Minister has been called a name. It's a government that has allowed Border Security to screen the political opinions to which we might be exposed. And now it's a government that has just tried to drop the hammer on freedom of the press to spare itself--what? A little embarrassment?

In the grand scheme of things, Lisa Raitt is only a symptom of a much wider problem in the Conservative Party, and in our government in general. It's a problem in which the media and even the public is complicit, because most of us simply don't pay attention to serious issues unless sex, scandal or secret tapes are involved. So it shouldn't surprise any of us to hear a cabinet minister cynically discussing a complex and vital public health and safety issue purely in terms of P.R. value, spin and career potential.

These are the signals that have become embedded in the system. This is the kind of thing the public reacts to, so, in an almost reverse-Pavlovian response, this is what our politicians seek to provide. And so they focus, not on issues or policy or doing their jobs, but on the creation and careful maintenance of favourable public perception (or negative public perception against their enemies) by whatever mean necessary.

In fact, I found Raitt's most telling comments to be, not about the 'sexiness' of the isotope crisis, but about the political naiveté of her fellow MPs - Leona Aglukkaq...

“Oh, God. She’s such a capable woman, but it’s hard for her to come out of a co-operative government into this rough-and-tumble. She had a question in the House yesterday, or two days ago, that planked. I really hope she never gets anything hot.”

... and Joy Smith:

“I don’t do the Hy’s thing,” she says. “I can’t. I’d love to, but I can’t. That’ll be a career-limiting move, as we would say. Speaking of career-limiting moves, I’m in shock that that MP Joy Smith brought forward private member’s legislation on human trafficking.

“I didn’t see that,” says Ms. MacDonnell.

“She’s on Canada AM. And the reason being is that there’s no way any of us should be introducing anything around justice issues or finance issues right now. You just can’t touch those two things.”

If any further proof were needed that spin trumps substance in the government and the media, note that the emerging story today is that John Baird stacked the Toronto Port Authority Board last year in an attempt to override the board's ongoing objections to the Island Airport expansion, and also possibly to bury questions about Raitt's expenses during her tenure there. Which is great - except that some of us were banging that drum back in December, and nobody saw fit to run with it back then. But now that the Teflon Blonde has been touched by scandal - now that her perfectly polished image has been tarnished - well, anything might stick to her!

Garth Turner has his own personal reasons for wanting to see Lisa Raitt go down in flames, but he had some surprisingly cogent things to say about all this in a now-rare politically-themed blog post yesterday:

This is the callous, egocentric chatter you hear a lot of in Ottawa. Reputations are made or broken in the “managing” of “files.” Ministers or high-profile MPs who get their spins across in the media or QP can rocket in status overnight, and it’s that political momentum which is more important than the people affected by the actual issues.

This focus on party, leader and personal career is a cancer all its own eating away at the public body.

And not the sexy kind of cancer, either.


  1. This is only the first day, Jennifer.

    If cancer patients and groups start to get a lot of publicity about how outraged they are.. and it resonates with the public.. you know as well as I do that a poll reader like Harper will dump her very quickly.

    The opposition needs to keep the pressure on and keep demanding her resignation.

  2. Blonde?

    Bottle redhead. LOL.

    I keep recalling that nasty set of ads the Cons ran against Chretien, and the uproar and the drop in the polls. Canadians used to really hate nastiness, I hope they think this is just as unacceptable.

  3. Terrific article .... good to see at all in one place ....

  4. Jennifer
    While what happened in Halton during the election was upsetting - it happened everywhere even in the solitude of the Sunshine Coast.

    As for Lisa - she is not a teflon blonde more like a hen that will come home to lay rotten eggs all over the cabinet.

    She will not be there by the end of next week.

  5. Yep, and hold on. We haven't heard or seen everything on the tapes. This will keep on giving for a while. Now, it's comments about Jim Prentice and initial reports about the tapes said even the PM is mentioned. The week is young.

  6. Scott -

    I really hope you're right. But as much as I truly believe that she doesn't deserve to be an MP let alone a cabinet minister, at this point I'd settle for an apology. Is that really so hard? For God's sake, even Baird managed to choke out an apology. Baird!

    Pale -

    She's not really blonde. Nor is she actually skinny.

    Bonnie N -

    Yeah, it was ugly all over. It may have seemed worse here because a) we are so close to Guelph where there were actual incidents of brake lines being cut, and b) we knew Harper had a personal score to settle against Turner - and in fact Raitt ended up with an election budget that ran right up to the limit. And I can tell you, that money didn't come from the riding.

    As for her being gone by week's end, we live in hope.