Oct. 29, 2006: Dog days

The dogs of bore

There must be something positive we can say about the current, ongoing, never-ending, will-it-ever-please-god-soon-end saga of Belinda and Peter, Paul and Belinda, Peter and his dog, Belinda and Tie, Tie and his wronged wife, Belinda and her feigned innocence, Condi and Peter, Peter and his dog… again. And now, of course, Peter and his foot in his mouth… Yet again. Still.

Perhaps the best news is simply the fact the most pressing political question of the day in Canada today is whether Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay really did suggest his former girlfriend and Liberal MP Belinda Stronach was… well, a dog. Surely, a country with nothing more pressing to discuss is a country worth living in?

Or maybe the good news is that this dog’s breakfast of scandal has given Canada’s underappreciated newspaper headline writers a chance to walk their own tortured word-dogs: Howls of Protest, Liberals Won’t Let Dog Lie, MacKay Not Out of the Doghouse, Dogged Determination, NDP Wants to Put a Leash on Commons Hounds … well, you get the picture. Perhaps now we understand why they are so underappreciated.

Or, just possibly, it is the fact this canine contretemps has given newspaper columnists — present company excluded, of course — more than enough fluff to fill up their word counts without having to do the intellectual heavy lifting required to figure out what we’re really doing in Afghanistan, or whether the Tories’ new clean air act is simply hot air or — with apologies to a headline writer somewhere— just a case of smog and mirrors.

Which, if you remember — you’ll be forgiven if you don’t — is where the latest chapter in the Peter-and-Belinda-and-the-dog story actually began last week with a dumb-as-dust retort from MacKay, which was in response to a dumber-than-dust jibe from a Liberal MP about whether Stephen Harper’s new Clean Air Act made MacKay fear for the future of his dog.

MacKay gestured toward Stronach’s empty MP’s chair. “You have her,” he said.

Is. Alleged. To. Have. Said.

I have no trouble believing — without benefit of surgically enhanced audio, voiceprint analysis, a stunning fall collection of signed, sealed and delivered-to-the-Speaker affidavits from eight disinterested, civic-minded Liberal MPs, or even the surprise announcement that the federal Liberal women’s caucus is “absolutely disgusted and offended” by it all — that MacKay really did say what he is alleged to have said. Or that he would deny having said it.

It fits a pattern that goes back at least to MacKay’s now-I-promised-now-I-didn’t promise to Progressive Conservative leadership rival David Orchard not to engineer a merger between the PCs and the right-wing Reform/Alliance/wannabe Republican Party of Canada. Ooops.

It certainly fits too with the descriptions — as laid out in journalist Don Martin’s new biography of Stronach — of MacKay’s bitter, jilted-lover, “volcanic fury” at even seeing Stronach in the immediate aftermath of their very public breakup.

So, OK, he probably, almost certainly, absolutely said what he said.


Where do we go from there?

The short answer is nowhere. It just adds one more pixel to our unflattering six-megapixel mental image of our foreign affairs minister.

Unfortunately, the Opposition in Ottawa now has a dog-with-a-bone (sorry, it’s catching) fixation with what MacKay said or didn’t say. Their almost ludicrously sanctimonious pronouncements — Jack Layton called for MacKay to be a “big enough man” and apologize even if he didn’t actually say what he said because “people believe they heard him say certain things,” while Liberal MP Judy Sgro upped the apology ante by claiming “the fact that he refuses to apologize to the women of Canada frankly is a complete disrespect for himself” — not only threaten to pre-empt the opportunities for this country’s stand-up comedians (their best lines will have all already been said with a straight face) but they also distract us from real issues.

Like Afghanistan. Like climate change. Like cuts to literacy programs. Like our made-in-Washington foreign policy. Like attacks on our civil liberties. Like… well, like almost anything else.

Stephen Kimber, the Maclean Hunter Professor of Journalism at the University of King’s College, is the author of five nonfiction books as well as, Reparations, a novel published this spring by HarperCollins.

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