Between Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, the Senate, and all those questions about credibility in the Prime Minister’s Office, these have been stupendously interesting times. It would be enough to make grown men and women cry, if we weren’t so cynical. Maybe crying would actually make us feel better.
With Ford, we all witnessed true blue raw reality TV. The personal demons and abuses made it, in a sick way, kind of funny at the beginning and just oh-so-sad as it continued to unravel. And the world watched: when was the last time a Canadian politician was featured so prominently on CNN, or a skit about him or her opened Saturday Night Live?
As for the ongoing saga in the Senate, that story seems to write itself. Senators Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy bring reality TV up a level or two. They make it celebrity reality TV and people can’t stop themselves from following it. And there are so many moving parts. Political drama played out in the highest offi ce in the land with that distinct scent of political scandal that has the blood hounds barking. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is no longer the same leader because he no longer has the same invincible leadership mystique he had before.
The Nixon questions – “What did he know?” and “When did he know it?” – are being asked.
Celebrity, power and a crack smoking mayor in Toronto have pushed up ratings on all of the cable news channels. So, give the people more and more of what they want and keep the ratings in the stratosphere.
It is often said that all-news television drives the news agenda for all the other media. It was interesting to see last month how the thousands of deaths in the Philippines was not always the lead item on the news. It depended on what happened with Ford and what new development there was in the Senate saga. It is not to say the Philippines were ignored, it is more of an examination of what is seen to be of more interest to news consumers.
News channels and their viewers love their juicy stories and once they start telling them they can’t stop. There is an adrenalin drive that goes with having celebrities in trouble, and the biggest adrenalin rush comes from having the most powerful person in the country in political diffi culty. The blood sport of covering politics is often about getting to the top, getting to prove rot, corruption and untruths in the highest of places. It doesn’t mean there is rot, corruption and untruths in high offi ce, but it does mean every journalist dreams of being the one to expose them, if there were.
Politics is “the Sopranos without guns,” wrote the National Post’s Andrew Coyne in his October 23 column. What an apt description. What happens to the leader of a crime organization, a political organization, any organization, when things go wrong? Those leaders, let’s say nine times out of 10, are never as strong again.
The clock begins ticking toward their leadership ending and the television networks are in a feeding frenzy looking for their own Watergates. But the rules of engagement are very different now than they were in the 1970s. There were no all-news channels to drive the agenda back then. If there were, all those Watergate secrets would never have remained secret for as long as they did.
As the damage piles up from the Ford saga, the celebrity senators and questionable credibility in high office, there is the little known Liberal senator who seems to have slipped away from public scrutiny.
Mac Harb resigned his Senate seat after paying back more than $231,000 he allegedly owed the government. While his case remains under RCMP investigation, the former senator can thank his lack of national profile for being moved off the radar screen.
Before being appointed to the Senate by Jean Chrétien in 2003, Harb spent almost 15 years as MP for Ottawa Centre. His combined Commons/Senate pension is worth $125,000 annually. By resigning, his pension is guaranteed, even if he is charged and convicted of any wrong doing. Had he not resigned, and if he were to be convicted, his pension would not be guaranteed. Resigning fi rst was a well thought-out business decision as his pension is almost as big as his Senate paycheque.
In today’s world of 24-hour all-news channels, the luckiest senators are the non-celebrities who will leave this mess with a handsome, guaranteed, fully indexed pension, regardless.