Loose Lips

It’s happened again. Politicians spouting their mouths off and (presumably) regretting it later. It probably happens everywhere, but it is the Canadian examples that gall me.

During the Second Word War there was a poster found in many places that read “loose lips sink ships.” It was a reminder not to talk about any war-related work you might be involved in, just in case you were overheard by spies.

In Canada we do things differently these days. Our loose-lipped politicians tell the media their secrets.

If certain Conservatives had kept quiet, Canadians would have been witness to some very entertaining political theatre on Monday. Instead there was dull routine.

Angry over the ongoing SNC-Lavalin scandal and what they see as a government coverup, the Opposition announced it was going to use various procedural tactics to show their displeasure, tactics that would have delayed today’s federal budget being presented in the House of Commons. Such delaying tactics are not new and have been used by all parties.

However, by announcing the tactic on Sunday, rather than making it a surprise, the Opposition gave the government the opportunity to change the Parliamentary calendar and forestall the delaying tactics. Smart move on their part. So much for the protest and the media attention it would have brought.

You would think politicians would learn from past mistakes, but, like the rest of us, it seems they don’t.

In 2008, with a Conservative minority government, the Opposition was enraged over legislation that would have reduced, then eliminated, the public funding of political parties. They saw it for what it was, an attack on their existence.

They banded together, intending to defeat the government. That vote never happened, because they held a press conference.

Not only did the opposition Liberals and New Democrats join forces, but they brought in the separatist Bloc Quebecois as a partner. They needed the BQ votes to stay in power. But first they had to achieve power. They never got the chance.

The Prime Minister prorogued Parliament, an unprecedented but legal move just weeks after an election. By the time things started up again, a month later, the Opposition coalition had fallen apart. Not only was there squabbling between the parties, but public opinion was clear that giving power to a party dedicated to the breakup of Canada was not something people wanted to see. The Conservatives were in power for another seven years.

If in 2008 the Opposition had not held that press conference, Stephane Dion would have become Prime Minister. Stephen Harper might have been a footnote to history. And there might be no Prime Minister Selfie facing ethics scandals today. All because politicians couldn’t keep their mouths shut about their plans.

Those who didn’t learn the lessons of 2008 missed their chance this time. The scandal will continue, but without their piece of political theatre.

The most recent news reports I have seen say that the Liberal majority on the Justice Committee want to shut down their inquiry. “Nothing to see here” they say, despite the resignations of two cabinet ministers, the Prime Minister’s principal secretary, and, on Monday, Canada’s top civil servant.

When the scandal first broke, I thought it was something that the Liberals would be able to make go away, that Canadians wouldn’t care in the long run. Now I am beginning to wonder if I was wrong.

One piece of advice at this point: if you are planning a surprise, don’t call a press conference.

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