Sunday, February 05, 2006

Who Wants To Be A Prime Minister?

I guess we're in the Stephen Harper era for sure now...last night CTV aired a 90 minute special called Canada's Next Great Prime Minister wherein 5 freshly-scrubbed political science students from across the land had to present their freshly-scrubbed ideas on how to make this nation greater, before the most august of panels - four of the five living ex-PMs (not counting Martin...Chretien was the no-show, but I'll bet you if Trudeau were still alive he would have skipped out on this thing as well).

So it was Canadian Idol for college-bound keeners, complete with a Mulroney on the stage and these leader-manqués reciting campaign trail boilerplate much as a contestant on a talent show would approximate their version of The Greatest Love of All - in fact the line "I believe the children are our future" wouldn't be out of place in either environment...

If I had to attach an ideology to this program it would be centre-right for sure, mostly by dint of the political bent of the panel and also the objectives of the show - the contestants who were most able to ape the sounds of a Liberal or Conservative campaigner were the ones most likely to be rewarded (with a 50,000 cash prize at stake) so any contestant proposing to nationalize industrial production would be lucky enough to even make the finals, let alone being spared a very public trip to the woodshed during them. One of the contestants mentioned obliterating the parliamentary system and replacing it with a 'human rights commission' overseeing everything - that was about as close to Allende as anyone tried to get. At any rate, these judges, as opposed to most modern TV talent show judges, were too busy enjoying this brief return to the limelight to bother taking these kids apart for being amateurs. Unlike politics, this entire exercise seemed naive and harmless.

But the fact that you could assemble four of our past heads of state on stage at the John Bassett Theatre to go through the motions of judging a karaoke contest says something about the country in a good and a bad way - you would never see a program like this in the United States - the ex-presidents are only seen together either at their peers' library openings or their funerals, with one notable exception...

Meanwhile, Canada always gets written off as a second-string, rinky-dink country, sometimes even by those who would run for the highest office in the land, and yet I could see ex-PM Harper agreeing to take part in a dog-and-pony TV show like this twenty years down the line...

Still, here they were, the former leaders. First off, they should never have let Turner out of the attic. He kept barking out advice whether or not it was solicited, or even relevant to anything, as if he was in a broad, crowd-pleasing play about a big crazy family, as the comically irascible, senile uncle who keeps wheeling in from stage left. Clark and Campbell have been in the public eye throughout the years. But five years ago you wouldn't have been able to score Brian Mulroney for one of these things - his son's success on TV has helped matters, to say nothing of the prevailing "winds of change" that have given his once-tarnished name back some of its value. You would think five years ago it would have been the kiss of death for a Conservative leader to publicly look to Brian Mulroney for counsel, but the statute of limitations on all that have lapsed, apparently, and Mulroney's smugly enjoying it all, much like Nixon did towards the end of his life. Can you blame him?

I don't think our 'next great prime minister' was anywhere on that stage, God help us. Our next prime ministers (great or more likely otherwise) are interning in a think-tank somewhere and we'll hear from them soon enough...check out pictures of the young Stephen Harper if you don't believe me; his high-school photos made him look like a stoner teenager, except he apparently didn't even smoke pot - i.e. the worst kind of teenager. They wouldn't have had him up on that stage and he wouldn't have wanted to be there either.

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