A Master in the Art of Political Evasion
David v. David: A Debate on the G-G

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.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author


  • David Frum is the author of six books, most recently, Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again (Doubleday, 2007). While at AEI, he studied recent political, generational, and demographic trends. In 2007, the British newspaper Daily Telegraph named him one of America's fifty most influential conservatives. Mr. Frum is a regular commentator on public radio's Marketplace and a columnist for The Week and Canada's National Post.

What's new on AEI

image Getting it right: US national security policy and al Qaeda since 2011
image Net neutrality rundown: What the NPRM means for you
image The Schuette decision
image Snatching failure from victory in Afghanistan
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
  • 22
  • 23
  • 24
  • 25
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Event Registration is Closed
Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.