Peter Mansbridge and the leaders' fields of dreams
Comedian Steve Patterson watches and reviews The National's leader interviews
Everyone in Canada knows Peter Mansbridge is outstanding in his field. But as it turns out, he's pretty good out sitting in other people's fields too.
This was proven last week during his field interviews with the four national party leaders, which were conducted, literally, in fields across the country.
This is what happens when you have a prime minister who refuses to be questioned in a traditional format. You end up in a farmer's field, where the scent of false answers might be masked by actual fertilizer.
Nevertheless, Peter went to the trouble of doing these interviews, so we should watch them to find out what he found out. Or at least, I watched them so maybe you won't have to.
Here are the highlights and lowlights as far as I'm concerned from the Peter Mansbridge "Field Interviews."
The attempted exorcism of Stephen Harper
There is no other way I can describe this interview than the exorcism scene from "The Exorcist." Peter plays the persistent priest, trying to draw out his subject. While Harper's version of the infamous Linda Blair character couldn't have had more spin if his head actually spun.
When Peter mentioned the "r word" (recession) Harper shot back with "I disagree with the analysis you just gave." Analysis? Peter was just reporting the news. But Harper maintained "the matter is still up for debate among economists."
This gave the green light for Peter's finest sarcastic moment in all the interviews: "Gosh what a surprise! Debate among economists!?" Not surprisingly, Harper didn't laugh.
When asked about the Duffy scandal and why he didn't fire all the people who apparently knew what he didn't, Mr. Harper responded with "you had problems with Jian Ghomeshi and Evan Solomon at CBC and you don't go around firing everyone that worked with them." Wow. The reason more people at CBC weren't let go is because they were already gone from Harper's cutbacks. That's a low blow Steve.
I will however give Harper credit for the understatement of the decade when he explained why Canadians should vote for him again, by saying: "I'm not perfect and I've done as good a job as I can do." Holy crap. Not perfect? That sounds like a relief pitcher who just gave up a hit to lose the game, not the most powerful man in the country in real danger of losing that power.
But Peter didn't say that. Because he was alone in a field with this man (and, presumably, several of his heavily armed security team).
Justin Trudeau: 'I am not my father'
The interview with Justin Trudeau, conducted near the Parliament buildings, (but of course in a FIELD outside them) was perhaps the most telling. It had the vibe of a guidance counselor talking to a promising student (Mansbridge is the guidance counselor in this. Just so we're clear.)
On why he is different than Mulcair, you could see it took everything Justin had to not just blurt out "look how OLD he is! Look how YOUNG I am Peter!" What he actually said was "confident countries invest in their future and that's what we're going to do."
Not bad, young Jedi.
Then, when pushed further by Peter, who accused the Liberals of trying to "out-socialist" the traditionally socialist NDP, Justin shot back "I'll let folks like you try to put us on a political spectrum. I'm focused on what actually matters." Nice answer. He probably should have dropped the mic at that point and walked out of the room. But he couldn't, because, remember, they weren't IN a room.
Then Justin got himself in a little trouble.
Peter asked whether the Liberals would reduce taxes on small businesses and Justin answered "a large percentage of businesses in Canada are just ways for wealthy Canadians to save on taxes."
Even the gaggle of geese assembled nearby couldn't help themselves and started heckling as if to say, "Hey! We're working our tail-feathers off and we can't even afford sufficient housing for the winter!"
But the really interesting part came when Peter asked about transparency in the Prime Minister's Office. Not only did Justin say he would do things differently than Stephen Harper, he admitted tight control of the PMO began with his own father, Pierre!
The shock on Peter's face was reminiscent of every man who unwittingly went to see "The Crying Game" in a theatre.
"That is what is believed to be the case," Peter agreed, "I just didn't think we'd hear YOU say that!"
"Well," Justin continued "my father had a particular way of doing things. I have a different way."
Finally, the campaign had it's Darth Vader-Luke Skywalker moment.
Up to this point, many of Justin's supporters have been counting on him being the second coming of his father. For Justin to say he'd do things differently is significant, but might not play well outside of Alberta.
Once Mansbridge started down the roads of ISIS, bill C-51 and whether he thought the party with the most seats should automatically be given a shot at governing, Justin's answers were softball lobs Peter couldn't resist hitting out of the park in rebuttal. (Which is not quite true. Because they were in a very large park.)
It's clear Mr. Trudeau doesn't quite understand how our government works. In fairness, neither do I. The important difference here is, I'm not running for prime minister.
Tom Mulcair: 'Stay Calm Tom'
The third interview was NDP Leader Tom Mulcair. This time on the shores of a lake in Quebec that Tom "used to swim in as a child." So, no wonder he looked so much more relaxed than Harper.
That and the fact that, at the time of the interview, he was leading in the polls (an unprecedented position in federal NDP history!). So Tom could be forgiven for his "merde-manging" grin, the first since the campaign began that didn't look forced.
Peter began by asking Tom what he offered that Justin Trudeau didn't. Tom answered (still smiling), "consistency." And then listed issues that Justin had flip-flopped on, such as budget deficits and bill C-51. All was going pretty well for Tom.
Then Peter asked about NDP balanced budgets and things took a turn. Tom said "the NDP has the best record of balanced budgets and we plan to keep that going." This is when many Ontario viewers who had lived through the Bob-Rae-as-premier experiment started swearing at their screens.
But instead of referencing that, Peter shot back with "it's not happening in Manitoba right now" (this is what makes Peter the Man-sbridge).
At this point, Tom looked like he wouldn't mind jumping back into the lake he used to swim in as a child or, better yet, throwing Peter into it. But instead, he calmly replied "no, but they face challenges." An interesting answer, since every province and indeed every Canadian faces challenges. But that was the only point where Tom looked like he might revert back to "angry Tom" and perhaps bust out of his clothing and turn green.
Mulcair was even able to make Peter laugh on a couple occasions, such as when he called the Clarity Act "anything but clear" and when asked to provide one-word answers on a few questions, retorted "you're asking a lot to ask a politician for a one-word answer."
The only thing lacking in the interview was pressing Tom to lay out actual math for some of his promises. Peter came close when he said, "what if the economy turns worse, like it was in 2008" and Mulcair answered "we're not there." Fair enough. Politicians only get hypothetical about the future when they are making promises, not when reporters point out the inconvenience of reality.
Tom's best quote was in responding to how difficult it might be to govern with a Senate he admitted openly (again) he wants to abolish. "Are you worried about that?" Peter asked. "No," replied Tom. "We get into this job because the easy things have already been done." That's a good answer in pretty much every interview for any job.
Elizabeth May: The reasonable candidate
Of all the interviews, the only one that made sense being in a lush, green field was the Green Party's Elizabeth May. However, hers was in a more intimate outdoor environment that, for all I know, might have been her own backyard.
The tone was different than the others for the simple reason that Ms. May knows she ISN'T going to be PM at the end of this. So her answers were less scripted, more honest and, in a word, better.
When asked about how many seats she was "in her wildest dreams" hoping for she answered, honestly, "15." Perfect. So her caucus meetings could be moved up to a cargo van from a smart car.
When asked how she felt about taking away votes from left-leaning parties, she said she wanted to be a "mediator between the two," and deftly pointed out her party is the only one with actual time spent in actual environmental research. So, should the NDP or Liberals win, they should take her with them to the climate summit in Paris later this year. Brilliant! So this whole election for her is to get in on a taxpayer-funded trip to Paris? Fair enough.
In all seriousness, May was the most straight-forward. She knows exactly what her party is about, what they can and can't do and where they fit in the Canadian consciousness: at the forefront theoretically but, come election day, on the periphery of the periphery.
She just wants to work WITH everybody. She wants the fighting to stop. And she treats all the other party leaders with respect (except Stephen Harper when she is drunk and addressing the National Press Gallery).
In all, though, the May interview was a nice reminder that the Canadian political spectrum is not just black and white. Or red and blue… and orange. The Green Party represents the grey area of voters' conscience. And Elizabeth May has shown so far arguably the best grey matter of any of the candidates interviewed.
With that, the interviews were done. All the candidates headed off in their different directions, literally and philosophically, to continue their campaigns. And Peter, presumably, came in from the fields.