Soap Opera Politics

Lacklustre leadership in Ottawa has led the political discussion to scandal rather than substance, says Rex.

Lacklustre leadership in Ottawa has led the political discussion to scandal rather than substance, says Rex.


Read the transcript of this Rex Murphy episode

Rex Murphy

April 29, 2010

Yesterday’s Commons installment of busty hookers wasn't much of a grabber.  The hearings were good news for shut-ins, a nice change from As the World Turns, or Dr. Oz, but I don't think the earth shook politically during Nazim Gillani's almost cheerful unfolding of his version of this scattered and increasingly tedious saga. A lot of chatter about networking, about Green Power Generation and Jaffer's scribbled-over MP's business card, but just the slightest reference to the aforesaid hookers of bust, who after all were the real primers for this story – the rocket boosters if you will – when it broke. The BH's have clicked their commercial heels and tottered out of the drama altogether.   

This greatly diminishes the scandal potential and the whole sad story's appeal – kinda like Desperate Housewives without the desperation, or Jersey Shore without Snooki.

The polls bear this out.  There's been some movement between the Liberals and the Tories, but essentially they're stuck in the same near 30% range they've been in for nearly two years now.  Neither the Jaffer-Guergis fable, or the more consequential detainee issue and the Speaker’s ruling, have altered the public's reluctant, partial embrace of either of them.

Neither party can make a real leap, or break away from the other. In large part this is a function of their leaders.   For example, as soon as Mr. Harper – as he has on a few occasions – seems to tiptoe near to a majority number in the polls, the public gets spooked and the Liberals almost inevitably rebound.

It's odd, even touching. Stephen Harper approaching a potential majority is Michael Ignatieff's most reliable lifebuoy.

But equally, as soon as the Liberals edge really close to the Tories, and it looks as if Mr. Ignatieff has finally got something going, the Tories rebound.

The doubts about Ignatieff, his sad underperformance since he finessed the leadership from Bob Rae, those doubts are Mr. Harper's most reliable support.  If Mr. Ignatieff had any power to inspire, to excite, or to communicate a sense of the country – the dour Mr. Harper would have been toast long ago.

Likewise, if Mr. Harper had taken the cues about his style, given Ministers some real independence, abandoned his bristling sense of control, offered Parliament some real signals of respect, Mr. Ignatieff and the Liberals would be far worse off than they are. 

In a curious way, Mr. Harper is Mr. Ignatieff's best political friend, and vice versa. As soon as the pool of uncommitted voters starts to tip one way, it self-corrects. This odd dynamic is not likely to change until we have an election, and at least one of them as a consequence is removed from the equation.

‘Til then, our politics will be mainly bad soap operas and gnarly Question Periods, because that's all either party has on offer.  Neither party, under current leadership, has what it takes to ignite a majority.

For The National, I’m Rex Murphy.