And now for your monthly forecast. On Jan. 20, on a bright, sun-dappled Washington mall, millions of Americans will watch Barack Obama take the presidential oath of office. Backed by solid majorities in both houses of Congress, advised by a formidable cabinet that includes a Nobel prizewinner, and supported, for now, by millions of Americans who didn’t even vote for him but who admire his spirit and see no reason to wish him ill, the young new president will embark on a serious program of reform to his country’s economic policy, its social programs, its war craft and its relationship with its allies abroad.
Six days later in Ottawa, your members of Parliament will reconvene for yet another high-stakes championship round of Hey, Pull My Finger.
Our poor neighbours to the south will be bogged down in the tedious search for real solutions to real problems. Up here it’s just empty calories. Fun! When Michaëlle Jean reads the government’s latest Throne Speech—the fourth in three years—le tout Ottawa will be poring over the print version for hints of Stephen Harper’s latest poison-pill attack on the opposition parties.
“ ‘My fellow Canadians’—what the hell does he mean by that?”
“Lloyd, the speech didn’t mention infrastructure. Sources say the PM wants to lure the opposition into criticizing him on that so he can sneak around back and bushwhack them with a surprise infrastructure bill that—if it’s defeated—could lead to a surprise election call or . . .”
Every time Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton wander to within three feet of each other, teams of crack semioticians will swing into action, scrutinizing the duo’s body language for hints about the future of the Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition government-in-waiting/agony (pick one). Folded arms! Awkward small talk! Oh my God oh my God they’re wearing the same watch . . . Anything—absolutely anything—could be the telltale tipoff announcing an imminent bloodless coup/election/prorogation/new Liberal leadership race/devastating round of negative pre-writ TV ads/fiscal stimulus/constitutional overture to Quebec/carbon tax (choose one or several).
In this heady environment there is little danger that anyone will mistake Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s Jan. 27 budget for a plan to allocate $220 billion worth of spending in pursuit of long-term goals. Where’s the fun in that? No, instead we’re all going to treat Flaherty’s budget as the trigger for a brand-new confidence crisis. We haven’t had one since December, after all, and we’re starting to jones. So here’s the deal. Budget Day is a Tuesday. If we can’t get the headlines “CRISIS” and “NOBODY COULD HAVE SEEN THIS COMING” onto the front page of the Globe by Saturday at the latest, then by God, we’re just not trying hard enough.
Meanwhile, in Washington, that killjoy Obama will be sitting down for a bunch of “meetings” with his “advisers” to look for “solutions” to “problems” that can be addressed with “legislation” in the hope that citizens’ “lives” will “improve.” BORING.
Here in Canada, we got over all that solutions-to-problems crap way back in the summer of ’02, when Paul Martin changed our politics forever by announcing that he might have to quit the Chrétien cabinet over something Jean Chrétien might have said, but that he couldn’t bring himself to decide. This led to a weekend of wild speculation and rumours that was so much better than sex—especially Ottawa sex—that nobody in the capital has been able to kick the rumours-and-speculation habit ever since. Absolutely nobody. Government, opposition, reporters, hairdressers, cabbies, the mayor: here in the 613, we are all stone deaf on the What Just Happened because we’ve got the volume knobs turned up to 11 on the What Do You Suppose Might Happen Next. I’m telling you, this city is a trip. The guy who runs my local magazine shop greets me with a hale, “So d’you think this coalition thing is gonna fly?” People at the cineplex debate the relative worth of Michael Ignatieff and Ken Dryden. (“This new Liberal guy,” somebody on the train back to Ottawa after Christmas was saying, “I can’t even pronounce his name.”)
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