Sending Conservative MP Jacques Gourde to grandstand and crash the NDP caucus retreat in Quebec City was just plain dumb. To focus this disruption on an unproven allegation and to refuse to answer questions in English was another equally dumb move. Essentially his mini press conference was an attempt to steal some of the media spotlight from the NDP with a drive-by smear. It wasn't necessary to do this and the consequences will last a lot longer than Jacque Gourde's few minutes in the spotlight.
Traditionally, caucus retreats are a private affair and our political parties have respected each other's privacy. These retreats are essential and their locations are carefully picked to showcase a caucus to a specific region. Caucus members get a chance to interact with each other as well as with those higher up and together they plan the strategy for the coming session of parliament. This Conservative action has all but guaranteed future intrusions into their own caucus events by the other side.
Crashing the other side's meeting is the type of stunt that political war rooms dream up during an election campaign. One can even anticipate something like this during a period of minority government when all of the parties are on a war footing and looking for every opportunity to embarrass each other. Do the Conservatives think that the NDP won't retaliate down the road? Did they not stop to think that they have now given the three opposition parties carte blanche to do the same at Conservative caucus meetings?
You would think that after being in power for five years that the government side could get out of their opposition mindset, dial down the rhetoric and rein in the attack dogs. Gourde's antics reflect that opposition mindset where you have to be constantly on the attack in order to get a headline. With a majority government under their belt, the Conservatives no longer need to resort to these types of stunts to get attention. All they have to do is let a minister speak to the press about a policy item (a somewhat novel concept for the folks in PMO) on a topic of the minister's choosing. The media will be there to listen to the minister if only because they would be shocked to be invited to interview one.
Gourde's mini press conference was based on a comments made by Rebecca Blaikie that people could pick up NDP membership cards at NDP constituency offices. Obviously they can't and Blaikie made a rookie mistake, since corrected by NDP officials. It would have been smarter for the Conservatives to have caught the NDP in the act, rather than tip their hand now. One would also assume that before launching this attack that the folks in PMO had enough sense to check with their own caucus first to make sure that none of their own MPs have done the same thing. It only takes one enterprising reporter to come up with a few instances of Conservative MPs signing up party members in their constituency office for this to turn around and bite the present accusers.
The reason that Gourde crashed the NDP event was to let the media know that he was writing a letter to the Board of Internal Economy to complain about what the NDP might do, without offering any proof that they had been selling memberships from NDP offices. This was hardly worth a press release, never mind crashing the NDP meeting. This business of writing letter to the authorities over every little item that their political researchers read in the newspaper or see on television reminds me of former Liberal MP Marlene Jennings. She would fire off a letter of complaint, release a press release and then, grandstand for interviews in the hope of getting herself and maybe her party some press coverage. It was a dumb tactic that didn't work for the Liberals and it won't work for the Conservatives either.
With a majority government, it is time for the Conservatives to act like one. While these silly games get partisan blood flowing, they do little to impress the voters. Four years from now voters will pass judgement on this government not only for the legislation it has produced, but also for the way it has acted. Stunts like this won't earn them any votes.
It was hoped that Nigel Wright could change the mind set at PMO and make it more professional while applying some adult supervision. If so, he still has he work cut out for him. The public quite rightly roll their eyes at these school yard antics.
Keith Beardsley's political blog can be found at www.atory01.com