Politics is always potentially crazy and fraught with intrigue. And why not. It’s about power and power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. The curious thing is trying to figure out what it is that determines success or failure.
We had a political petri dish in the Sudbury provincial byelection a few weeks ago. It included a star federal NDP politician crossing the floor and jurisdictions to join the provincial Liberals, a popular provincial Liberal candidate denied the opportunity to run for the nomination, secret tapes of the aforementioned Liberal candidate being induced to go quietly into the night, and on-again, off-again OPP investigations strategically leaked to the press on voting day. Hard to cram that much drama into a novel much less real life. To the surprise of many, it concluded with a solid return of the Liberals in Sudbury riding.
It’s all about polytetrafluoroethylene; Teflon for short.
Some politicians can do more or less anything. Rob Ford, Hazel McCallion, Bill Clinton and Jean Chrétien come to mind. Some people can’t get away with anything; Tim Hudak, Paul Martin, Jimmy Carter and Stéphane Dion come to mind.
Kathleen Wynne, with her campaign success in Sudbury, has entered the pantheon of Teflon masters. When a Northern riding chock full of enraged unions and legions of NDP supporters and the attendant organizational strength cannot beat her in a byelection where she has unceremoniously removed the local Liberal candidate before we even get to the tactics — well, “something’s going on here and we don’t know what it is” to paraphrase an old balladeer known to many of us.
This syndrome is not limited to politicians.
Peter Mansbridge (chief correspondent for CBC news) and Amanda Lang (senior business correspondent for CBC news), it turns out, have been in the habit of accepting money for speeches — to the likes of the Canadian Petroleum Institute in Peter’s case, and the Royal Bank in Amanda’s. They responded to criticism with deep, hurt feelings. Peter saying, “I would not, do not, and have not given a speech either promoting oil sands development or opposing it.”
Amanda huffed and puffed and said, “I’m the senior business correspondent at the national broadcaster. I will continue to report on the serious business stories, and that includes Canada’s biggest bank.”
They both evaded the issue. Journalists should not accept money from institutions they will be reporting on. It is a conflict of interest.
Both would have lost their byelection and their jobs if the CBC actually had any rules.
Leslie Roberts, long-time anchor of Global News, wrapped up a stellar career after it was confirmed he was a principal in a PR agency that focused on getting PR from, well, guys like Leslie on national television and, yes, he had interviewed some of his clients on his show.
These folks, it turns out, do not have Teflon. The CBC changed its rules, and Leslie got out five minutes before he was fired after nearly 10 years of influence and success. Brian Williams from NBC is now on a six-month leave without pay for exaggerating his courage.
It’s a federal election year. Tom Mulcair is not a Teflon politician. He is smart and to be feared, but not Teflon. Stephen Harper, no matter how many blue sweaters he wears, is not a Teflon politician and he knows it. He also knows when he sees one. That would be Justin Trudeau.
He never beat his last Teflon opponent, Jean Chrétien. In fact, Chrétien made a fool of him. That said, he learned and he learned quickly.
The only thing that trumps Teflon is lethal force. Don’t like the press? Ignore them. Don’t like parliamentary debate? Put groundbreaking changes in one massive budget omnibus bill. Have an aversion to the Supreme Court? Cast aspersions and try to load up on toadies (so far counterproductive). Find the provinces annoying? Don’t meet with them. Take exception to environmental groups? Get CRA to audit them and, when dealing with opponents, create negative ads long before the election is called to scrape off the Teflon and supplement with taxpayer-funded advertising (Canada’s Economic Action Plan) reinforcing your themes. Finally, create wedge issues your opponent cannot ignore.
Teflon, or its antidote, is good for democracy. It just is.
Watch the federal election. It is likely Teflon, or its antidote, that will determine the result.