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Ontario Politics

Thespian Politicians: The Press Conference as Political Theatre

At the Tim Hudak eco fee Press Conference in Toronto

It is amazing the lengths that politicians will go to in order to give a rather mundane message a twist, a hook, a pull, some pizzazz, or often, a point. Sometimes they can do it all – and sometimes the assembled media are left scratching their heads while the political hangers-on clap wildly at the slight (non) announcement.

At Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak’s press conference in Christie Pits this morning attested, thespian as politician is equal to or greater than the political theatre press conference. Such pomp and circumstance for what turned out to be a rather disappointing announcement: namely, that – get this – Dalton McGuinty is an evil tax-grabbing Liberal, the eco fee is a sneaky eco tax, and that under a Hudak government, the ‘tax’ it will be eliminated on all the items it currently applies to. And aside from the fact that he has no credible (or hell, even an absurd) alternative to the current plan, it was a rather dull affair, over in twenty minutes. And I have written previously about how wrong Hudak is on the eco fee as an eco tax that I wont even dive into that here.

Because what amazed me today was the spectacle, the pomp, for what amounted to a confirmation of poorly kept secrets.

I showed up at Dominico Field baseball diamond in Christie Pitts for a press conference on eco fees, which was already a bad sign. This was clearly one of the most awkward and out-of-context places to hold this event I could imagine. As I walked down the valley and onto the field, I noticed people actually playing baseball. At first I thought it was a hipster league team trying to practice, until I noticed all the players were these clean-cut youngsters in Ontario PC t-shirts. The Tories had actually arranged for teens to be playing baseball in the background! Teens from the very families Hudak is trying to save from the scourge of Liberalism! And they were playing with gloves and wooden bats and a hardball!

Presser in Centre Field

Still not getting the baseball theme of the day (which I admit, I still fully don’t), I walked towards the scrum of cameras to hear some PC bagman complaining that a Liberal was in their midst handing out sheets of paper with question on it for the media to ask Hudak. The Liberals had sent someone to infiltrate the press conference, as if this was 007 stuff and Hudak was an Eastern European art-collecting tycoon with ties to the Iranian underground who were smuggled nuclear-tipped missiles into Chechnya! Amazing!

But even better was Hudak’s introduction and speech which were laden with baseball metaphors, strike out lines, and ‘yerrrrr outta here!’ one-liners without ever explaining the connection to eco fees. My favourite mixed metaphor? When Hudak and local candidate Mike Yen claimed that Dalton McGuinty had scored a double play with the HST/eco fee last July 1st. I wondered if they knew that double plays were good things to score, unless they were trying to say that McGuinty had scored a double play against the taxpayers. But if I need to put this much thought into understanding your metaphor, it has failed. Badly.

All this for what? So Hudak could announce that if he is elected in October, he will remove eco fees, those things that add a few cents to your purchase when you buy batteries, cleaning detergents, or an iPod. And when pressed to explain what he would do about keeping all these materials currently under the program from ending up in landfill, he said he would have to examine Stewardship Ontario and the Ontario Electronic Stewardship to find wastes and inefficiencies. Which, in case you were wondering, is not actually an answer to the question. But lucky for Hudak, the media only wanted to talk about his stance on HST, and his hospitalized daughter.

In and out in twenty minutes. Quick and dirty politics. So much bang, but so little buck. But if nothing else, I enjoyed the theatre of it all, and maybe that is in and of itself why they do it. The circus still draws crowds, as Hudak and company attested to this morning with their absurd location, creepy youth in matching t-shirts playing baseball who had clearly drank the Kool-Aid (you could see it in their eyes), and constant reinforcement of something I am adamant that Hudak must knows is a lie – namely, that the eco fee benefits the average Ontarian, but perhaps not in immediately quantifiable ways.

But spectacle is spectacle. And these days, the thespian politician is greater than or equal to the political theatre press conference.

When did actually saying something of value become passe, and putting on a show the priority?

– – –

You can watch the full Press Conference below. I filmed it. Yeah – I’m that guy.

About awreeves

Editor-in-chief at Alternatives Journal. Author of 'Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian carp Crisis'.


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