Sometimes, to my amazement, and certainly against my better judgement, I find myself sympathizing with our current federal government. These moments — some might call them lapses — occur very occasionally. The last one, for example, was in June of last year, when the Cons reversed themselves on the idea of charging a fee to foreign musicians who wanted to play in Canada. The fee was a mistake, to be sure — a misguided attempt to buttress Canadian musicians (and make some revenue off the rest). But at least it was an attempt. And at least they reversed it.
Now we have Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre on the defensive because he used public servants to shoot two videos promoting the government’s proposed changes to the universal child benefit. The NDP insisted he shouldn’t be using government employees to create “partisan self-promotional videos” and the Liberals declared that he was “bilking taxpayers.” And pretty much everybody piled on because he filmed one of the videos on a Sunday, and so had to pay the staffers overtime.
The story broke last Friday, and CBC’s Power and Politics resurrected it on Tuesday, as if it couldn’t be allowed to disappear down the Victoria Weekend memory hole.
But what the difference is between using staffers to write and distribute a press release, and Poilievre’s use of them to shoot videos, beats me. Both foreground whichever Minister or other politician has something to tout; both try to make the government look good. As for the poor suffering taxpayer, I expect Polievre’s missioning, even on a Sunday, cost a good deal less than shipping the job off to an ad agency would have. For once, the Conservatives’ claim to be good money managers might actually be true.
I think the real reason Poilievre wants to make movies is because he’s looking pretty buff these days and wants everyone to celebrate the gloriousness that is him. I mean, observe him in that video shot in the Parliament Buildings — so tapered, so trim; why it’s enough to make a man leave behind everything he’s ever known and . . . never mind. (I wish I knew how ta quit ya, Pierre.) But it also reflects the fact that he’s a lot younger (35) than a lot of his critics, and knows that the old crank-out-a-release method doesn’t cut it anymore. If you go to Polievre’s website, you’re immediately greeted by an autoplay video; it’s obnoxious, but also savvy; you don’t have to do anything so prehistoric as to, say, read words in order to get his message.
It is a problem that Conservative politicians aren’t nearly as accessible to the cameras of journalists as they are to those of their videographers. It is a problem that Poilievre is touting changes that haven’t even passed Parliament yet. It is a problem that when those changes are passed, it’ll probably be as part of some 500 lb. omnibus bill. Those are abuses that matter. But that Poilievre dragged some staffers out on a Sunday to make a video? Let’s leave his staffers’ spouses and cats to get testy about that. With so much misconduct going on in this government, its critics are on full-time alert, like civilians in a war zone. But if they don’t start to pick their fights more carefully, they risk being seen as hysterics, or what Spiro Agnew once called “nattering nabobs of negativism.”
Emphasis on the nattering.