November 15, 2003 at 5 PM
I’m in one of those moods where I feel like I have no choice but to write about the one thing about which I’m most sick of reading and hearing. Damn!
Few journalists can make curry out of the pallid national spices that are Canadian politics. This weekend and for most of the last week, our entire national media complex — and by “national”, I mean “Ontario–Quebec-based” — has spent its collective will attempting to make the retirement of our current prime minister and the appointment of his successor seem like a thrilling saga of epic proportions, even though it is nothing more than the foregone conclusion we’ve all known for at least three years.
Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, the cagey, obstinate occupant of our chief executive office, has accomplished little over his ten years at the helm except to show how to stubbornly hold onto power. Not how to use that power to achieve an aim, but just how to keep it. Mine, all mine, he has said for a decade, consolidating the power to make decisions in the Prime Minister’s Office, neutering his rank-and-file party members and even, often, his cabinet.
For several years now, Chrétien’s Liberal Party members have been trying to drive him out and replace him with former finance minister Paul Martin, who is extremely popular with most of the Liberal members of Parliament, and apparently popular throughout the country too. For several years now, the national media, pointedly at odds with Chrétien’s style of politics, have played the Liberal Party’s game by making Martin into a political deity. He isn’t like Chrétien, he’s popular in the strategically important province of Quebec, he curbed the national deficit, he’ll curb the ‘democratic deficit’ of our one-party state, he is smart, he knows policy, he’s open to compromise, blah blah blah. All bow to King Martin, our national saviour.
The media and the Liberals finally have their wish, and now the onrush of Martin propaganda has reached its zenith.
Realizing their strategy has finally worked, the media, in concert with Martin’s Pentagon-sized army of advisors and strategists, have only recently scrambled to explain just who this Martin character really is. The man will soon be the unelected Prime Minister of Canada, and Canadians ought to know who’s in charge, even if they didn’t pick him.
I’ve read countless articles, including one in excess of ten pages, I’ve listened to innumerable interviews with breathless experts, I’ve watched our news anchors boldly proclaim all that is Martin, and no one — not one person — has anything useful to say on who Paul Martin is and what he really stands for.
It’s not for lack of conviction. The reason is illustrated below:
Paul Martin, Liberal Party Leader, is not a person. He’s a brand. And like any good brand, he has a proper logo. Look closely. That’s not how you write the name of a person. It’s all lower case, the two words are squished together and the maple leaf, that tireless (and tiresome) symbol of all that is holy and hockey, is artfully etched into the word, emblazoned on Canadian-flag red. It’s a corporate logo, and it’s backed by one of the most expensive and comprehensive marketing campaigns in national history. The efforts of Martin’s endless parade of handlers and strategists make the latest Tim Horton’s campaign seem by comparison like a lone snowflake in a Newfoundland blizzard. You can mute a commercial for doughnuts, but you can’t shut out what is in the very air that you breathe.
paulmartin™ is everything Canadians want it — er, him, to be. He’s for a strong, united Canada. He’s for strong provinces, an independent voice for the West. He’s for Quebec. He’s for social welfare. He’s for keeping our financial house in good order. Yes, friends, with paulmartin, you can solve even the toughest stains.
Fellow Canadians, we are being sold the concept of Paul. We didn’t elect him to lead the country, though we probably will, eventually, since none of our other political parties have demonstrated in a long time that they actually want or expect to win our support. And because by then we will already be so used to Prime Minister Martin as reality that changing that reality will seem triflesome and pointless. Because it’s too late to stop Paul Martin. Not that we even know why we’d want to stop him, since our man Paul will only do what’s right for us. We are wandering blind in the face of a thousand-watt propaganda flood light that illuminates our immediate and only future.
There is a man named Paul Martin, who will go to Parliament and do his job, shake hands with friends, kiss the babies and his wife, but behind him and all of his actions will be the millions of dollars donated by the Canadian corporate establishment and the years of backroom dealing by the political establishment, the minds and hearts of those who propelled him to the position. Maybe, one day soon, we’ll find out what that means, be it ten more years of Chrétien-style More or Less and Not Too Much, our two national guiding principles, or, maybe, if there is someone back there at Martin HQ who wants actually to Do Something, and, you know, Make A Difference. We’ll find out. But we won’t have much power to do anything about it either way because our minds have already been made up for us by everyone who is already at the core of our political system, whose vested interests are to be taken care of, who has decided, come hell or Hudson’s Bay water, that paulmartin is the brand for Canada.