Modern spin doctors teach clients in trouble a very special kind of non-denial denial:
Q: "Did your company dump toxins into Lake Dithers?"
A: "I am very proud of my company's environmental record."
Q: "Was that you in those photographs frolicking with bikini babes in Bimini?"
A: "My wife and I are fully committed to our marriage."
Q: "Is it true that the Mafia helped launch your singing career?"
A: "I have never belonged to a criminal organization."
Over the past two weeks, a series of questions have been raised about governor-general designate Michaelle Jean and her husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond. On Wednesday, Jean answered those questions with a public statement.
Did Jean vote "oui" in the 1995 referendum?
"I want to tell you unequivocally that both [Lafond] and I are proud to be Canadians and that we have the greatest respect for the institutions of our country."
Did she and her husband keep company with convicted terrorist murderers?
"We are fully committed to Canada."
Was she filmed toasting political revolution and independence for Quebec?
"We have never belonged to a political party or supported the separatist movement."
You have to give the new G-G credit. A month ago, she was just another mid-level CBC face. In just a few short days of study, she has thoroughly mastered the arts of political evasion. Of course, to do justice, she has had the benefit of intensive tutoring from some of Canada's leading experts.
Then again, how expert at evasion does Jean have to be when the Canadian media are so pathetically eager to be spun?
Within hours--minutes really--of her statement, the airwaves and front pages of Canada were filled by commentators eager to declare the matter closed. As the editors of the Globe and Mail inimitably phrased it: "With yesterday's forthright statement on the record, Canadians can move beyond any talk of loyalty tests and get to know their next governor-general better in her own right."
Actually, by now I think most Canadians have learned quite a lot about their next governor-general. She is a person skilled at telling different groups of people what they want to hear. With the sovereigntists, she is a sovereigntist; with the revolutionaries, she is a revolutionary--and when offered Rideau Hall, she is "fully committed to Canada."
But this story was never about Michaelle Jean. As an individual person, she seems harmless enough: personable, cultured, conformist, not precisely a high achiever, but also not blind to the main chance. She will adapt to the prevailing norms of Paul Martin's Ottawa just as she previously adapted to the norms that prevailed in left-wing Montreal. And anyway, even if she did retain any tinge of sympathy for Quebec sovereignty--or (for that matter) for the murderous extremism of her husband’s friends and associates--what could she do about it in the powerless sinecure of the governor-generalcy?
No, this story is about the people who appointed Michaelle Jean. In that context, the "loyalty tests" so piously deplored by the Globe and Mail and (what a coincidence!) the Prime Minister's spinmeisters suddenly become very relevant indeed.
Let us remember, please, that the one and only excuse offered Canadians for the unwholesome bargains that kept Paul Martin in office this spring was ... the utter moral illegitimacy of having any contact of any kind with Quebec separatism.
So Paul Martin argued that it was intolerable to Canada to have an election when his poll numbers dipped after the sponsorship revelations because only "the separatists benefit from a premature election, and it is beyond belief to me why Stephen Harper wants to play that game."
Jack Layton and the NDP had campaigned in 2004 on a promise to "get tough on sleaze." Yet when the sleaze of the sponsorship scandal was exposed, Layton negotiated a deal to keep the sleazy in power. How did he justify that? In a speech in Halifax on April 28, he argued that as a Canadian patriot he had no choice: to vote against the government was to "get in bed" with the separatists.
And when the vote did finally loom, and the Martin government was saved by the surprise defection of Belinda Stronach, guess what reason she gave? Interviewed on Canada AM the morning after her switch, Stronach said: "I don't believe it's right to line up with the Bloc Quebecois, who have a separatist agenda, to bring down the government." Then, to drive the point home, she repeated her little talking point three times more.
When it was useful to them this spring, the Martinites applied loyalty tests with a zeal that would have done credit to Senator McCarthy himself. But the spring was such a long time ago. In those buried and bygone days, it was an affront and an offense to join with separatists to defeat a corrupt government. But it is a very different matter to appoint apparent separatists to sustain a corrupt government! That's OK! That's better than OK! That is (in the words of my friend John Duffy in this newspaper yesterday) "an appointment that has given the Canadian cause in Quebec its first good day in a year and a half."
If all the irresponsibility, all the slovenliness, all the mediocrity, all the arrogance, all the cynicism, all the hypocrisy, and all the deceit summed up in the Jean appointment add up to a good day, it is really impossible to imagine what would count as a bad one.
David Frum is a resident fellow at AEI.