Friday, 30 May 2008

Folie a Duh: Final Thoughts on the Bernier/Couillard Fiasco

I'm sure you've all noticed that l'affaire Bernier has already begun its descent into the dark, dank oubliette of media indifference, where it will add to the already compelling testimony of forgotten outrages such as NAFTAgate, Cadscam, and the detainee imbroglio that our media--still hung over from its Sponsorship binge--is jaded far beyond the capacity for scandal and that no outrage, no matter how egregious, has the power to command its attention for longer than two full news cycles.

Thus, Liberal and NDP partisans hoping to gloat over weakened CPC public support will need to get used to the fact that, in a nation so thoroughly demoralised that it expects political corruption and is consequently satisfied with mere ineptitude, and with Westerners apparently willing to vote for the embryo of a rhesus monkey floating in a jar of formaldehyde as long as it's leading the "Conservative" Party, very little can be expected to threaten government support until and unless our major networks broadcast footage of Stephen Harper, totally wrecked on a quart of screech, staggering down Bank Street in a torn cocktail dress and a pair of stiletto heels whilst slurring a sloppy rendition of "Drop-Kick Me Jesus Through the Goal Posts of Life", after which, I grant you, one could expect a slight, temporary dip in CPC support.

I know that many of you will not be terribly sad to see this mess fall below the horizon of public awareness. You probably expect your scandals to have a moral centre--someone to root for, a protagonist, as it were. You are what might be called "Spielberg" people (or "Von Trier" people, if you are art-house inclined). Frankly, the Bernier cock-up is very much a "Tarantino" production (or a "Solondz"): all the players are ghastly, and the world they inhabit is squalid. Sure, the fiasco may provide us with the scandal's classic consolatory benefit--allowing us to feel better about ourselves than we deserve--but contemplating the affair forces us to breathe a stench from which we've already become sick, and the more we learn, the sicker we're liable to become.

A relevant piece in the Globe and Mail provides morbidly fascinating insight into the nature of the Stephen Harper Party. One "Conservative" operative and Bernier intimate admiringly describes Bernier's working methods:

Maxime Bernier was notorious for misplacing cabinet documents and leaving them where he shouldn't. He would rip pages from the ring binders containing cabinet documents to show them to other ministers.

"He'd just rip it out of the book, which is really refreshing, in a way, that he's not, you know, burdened by these kinds of things," a Conservative insider said. "He'd just rip crap out and walk around the office and say, 'Do you agree with this?' "

Usually, his staff would find the papers, keeping him out of
We note that it is apparently deemed, by certain elements of the "Conservative" party, to be "refreshing"--just wonderfully and arousingly zany--for the Minister of Foreign Affairs to tear Cabinet documents out of binders, thrust them into the face of anyone who's handy and finally forget where he left them. One can only wonder what Bernier would have achieved had he been given time to explore this monumental breakthrough in thinking-outside-the-box, can-do innovation. Why, he could have flung folders full of sensitive documents from the Peace Tower, or "refreshingly" faxed top-secret files to Al-Qaeda's head of Intelligence/Counter-Intelligence. I don't doubt that the CPC is crawling with ministers and staff who are similarly "unburdened" by prudence or common sense, and I'm confident that one of them will pry the torch of fecklessness from Bernier's cold, stiff fingers.

The article continues:

The friend said that Mr. Bernier should never have been shuffled to Foreign Affairs from Industry - an economic post that he enjoyed and was arguably doing well at. The friend said he didn't have much interest in the top diplomatic post. It began to show.
Here again, we see the CPC's commitment to innovatory dynamism at work. A Luddite blindly following tired, discredited governance paradigms would have appointed to Foreign Affairs someone passionately engaged with geo-strategic questions and keen to promote Canada's international influence and prestige. Harper brilliantly chose a man who transparently cared little (and likely knew less) about global affairs, thus, for perhaps the first time in our history, making barren, sullen indifference the effective executor of our foreign policy. Thank God for that frontier spirit native to Prairie folk; otherwise, these wild, brazen forays into newly discovered management wildernesses might not have been taken.

We learn in another article that Julie Couillard's notorious dress was actually Bernier's idea:

Couillard, a former model and aspiring actress [what else?], first got Canadians' attention when she attended Bernier's swearing-in ceremony in August 2007 wearing a low-cut dress for the occasion that reportedly drew an admonishment for Bernier from Harper later.
She said Monday that was her first experience with protocol and she had asked Bernier for advice on what to wear. He suggested the now infamous dress.

"Literally the next day I knew I should've listened to my gut feeling and not worn that dress," she said. "(I felt) used. Because then I saw the reaction of Maxime and all the press it brought him. He didn't even hide the fact that was exactly what he wanted to do."

I think it was so thoughtful of Harper to gift Canada--notoriously a nation of staid, dour, old fuddy-duddies--with a minister whose behaviour at foreign ceremonial occasions was guaranteed to be motivated by the "refreshing" view that wearing a dress made for club-hopping with Lindsay, Paris and Britney satisfies the kind of protocol expected at Government House.

I find the tale of their initial meeting quite amusing:

Couillard met Bernier at a supper hosted by a friend in 2007. She said she had been recently approached by the Conservatives who had sounded her out about becoming a candidate. She said she and Bernier had a nightcap and became involved about a month later.
You know, the "old-style" parties waste far too much time pursuing shiftless nobodies as candidates--lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc. It's nice to see that at least one party is summoning into its ranks the kinds of people whose integrity, wisdom, expertise and commitment we can simply no longer do without. I especially commend the CPC for soliciting the candidacy of someone who could give voice to that long-suffering, disenfranchised community--the unemployed "actress-and-model", sugar-daddy-leeching parasites.

Couillard, the article notes, maintains that she was not a "biker's chick", although she admits this much:

She said she told [Bernier] she dated Gilles Giguere, a reputed Montreal crime figure, but that he only knew a man named Bob Savard, who knew Maurice (Mom)Boucher, a Hells Angels kingpin who was one of the generals in Quebec's biker war. Savard has been identified as a Boucher lieutenant but Couillard said neither Giguere nor Savard were bikers.

She acknowledged husband Stephane Sirois was a member of the Rockers, a Hells puppet club, when she met him. "When I met Stephane, yes he was a biker and I told him that I was not interested in seeing him because of that fact," she said. "Stephane made a choice of leaving the biker gang that he was with, the Rockers, and while I was with him he was not a biker anymore."

She said categorically: "I was not a biker's chick" and denied having any other contact with that world.

Giguere, who met Couillard in 1993, was found dead in a ditch in 1996 after he became a police informant. They had arrested him with a cache of submachine-guns and drugs.

Couillard may have a point. Perhaps one shouldn't jump to hasty conclusions simply because she found herself sleeping with two bikers in quick succession; this may not suggest that she frequented their criminal circles and sought them out. Surely all of us--while going about our daily business of attending classes, slaving away at the office, and nipping out for a few pints with the boys or the girls--routinely bump into so many members of the criminal underworld and of our nation's violent fringes that any given blind date can find us sitting next to someone from the Hells Angels, a posse, a Triad, the Cosa Nostra or the Church of the Creator. If you hang out with the right crowd, you've got as good a chance of bagging two bikers in a row as two Geminis.

Or so says a woman Stephen Harper's party thought was qualified to be a Member of Parliament. Sadly, according to current standards, they were right.


Ti-Guy said...

There's a lot to address here in this sensational and mystifying contretemps, but one issue I've been fascinated with is how Canada is being held hostage to these myths of rural/exurban "values" and traditions that largely don't exist anymore (and even when they were widely-held, were always supported by a very large dose of hypocrisy, as anyone who's grown up in a small town knows).

What has replaced them is the screechy invective of the few remaining, poorly-socialised primitives (as represented by Doug/Diane Finlay, Cheryl Gallant, Maurice Vellacott, Leon Benoit and The Blogging Tories) still inhabiting/representing the unpopulated/de-populated hinterland and the poorly-socialised and dull-witted suburbanites who become incredibly ill-tempered when they have to address anything more substantial than shopping, their cellphones, their uninteresting jobs, the price of gas, or the latest episode of CSI (represented by every online Conservative partisan commenter, almost without exception).

What these types fail to understand is that the morality and ethics of decent people in French Canada have always co-existed uneasily alongside criminality (petty and more substantive); the difference is that French Canadians substitute hypocrisy with judicious discretion or deliberate obliviousness; you can't be a hypocrite if you simply don't ever talk about/take great pains to not know anything about any of the smelly little activities going on around you. And when the law gets wind of it, well, you're on your own.

The charge of hypocrisie is much more severe among francophones and can usually only be legitimately challenged on the basis of genuine witlessness (which might be the case with Maxime Bernier). If it's challenged by lying (and Fench Canadians have very sensitive bullshit detectors), that's usually the end of the discussion, marked with the *gallic shrug*...if you're lucky.

It's no wonder this has happened (it also happened with Chrétien and Mulroney). What's really of great concern is the marriage between hypocrisy (that devolves quickly into lying when it's exposed...vide Peter Van Loon) and that minority of Québécois who manipulate that hypocrisy and lying to its advantage.

What we need to find out is the degree of genuine credulousness in the "Conservative" machine versus the degree of genuine dishonesty. What did they know, when did they know it and what have they been lying about this whole time?

In any case, we can all agree on one thing; all of this is low class. I'm finding lately that the people I know (mostly middle class, at least what used to be considered middle-class) are increasingly overcoming their overwheening fear of being accused of elitism and cheap snobbery to describe these things that way. It's certainly a lot less exhausting than having to engage in long, elaborate discussions burdened with rules of evidence (the kind of discussions *conservatives* never have) to explain all of this neutrally in terms of socio-economics.

Sir Francis said...

What did they know, when did they know it and what have they been lying about this whole time?

Yes, I suppose the act of lying must presuppose knowledge; frankly, though, the CPC seems full of people who manage to lie, reflexively, without genuinely knowing very much at all. Quite extraordinary, really...

Ti-Guy said...

...the CPC seems full of people who manage to lie, reflexively, without genuinely knowing very much at all.

That's still lying and experience shows that most of the people who do this are eventually exposed as bone fide liars.

They lie like teenagers do.

Anyway, sorry for the ramble. I'm not really paying attention to the detail of this all that much, because so much of what we're hearing is hearsay and media hysteria. I'll wait for the inquiry, the trial, the book, the movie of the week or, most likely, the cartoon.

Sir Francis said...

...or, most likely, the cartoon.

Oh, I think we've already seen the cartoon...

Aeneas the Younger said...

THESE are the inheritors to the tradition of Howard Green and Joe Clark?