The Code of the Centre Block Schoolyard

“The Prime Minister should apologize” whines Her Majesty’s Loyal Official Opposition in reaction to Stephen Harper’s latest attack on the sensibilities of the Liberal Party. This week in the House, in reaction to a call from Stephane Dion for the Defense Minister to resign, the Prime Minister retorted,

“I can understand the passion that the leader of the Opposition and members of his party feel for Taliban prisoners. I just wish occasionally they would show the same passion for Canadian soldiers.”

How dare he? Who does he think he is? Liberals are offended!

Of course, this brings up thoughts of the recent incident involving the Prime Minister and his quoting from a recent Kim Bolan article (which was included in Quorum that day, no less) which suggested familial ties between a Liberal MP and the Air India investigation. Outrage from the Liberal benches! How dare he? The Parliamentary Press Gallery went into a tizzy and questioned the Prime Minister’s tactics and found him to be quite rude in his reading.

Of course, baiting the Liberals is turning into a sport for Mr. Harper. The now famous attack ads on Stephane Dion famously put a spotlight on the Opposition Leader’s whine “This is unfair!” to then-opponent and fellow leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff.

The main street Canadian, as PMO strategic whiz Patrick Muttart’s psychographics must show, is not very likely to sympathize with the pain from the verbal bruises that Stephen Harper is handing out to the Liberal benches. Frankly, those of us who live outside of the Parliamentary bubble understand that tattling to the adults (the public and the press, in this case) in the face of Prime Ministerial bullying isn’t likely to earn much respect. In fact, this is a thread on which the press, by sympathizing with Dion, is finding itself out of touch with Canadians. When Peter MacKay allegedly implied that his former girlfriend Belinda Stronach was a dog, the press covered the incident for two weeks and while claiming that the public was being turned off by the degrading decorum in the House, the press felt that the story had enough traction to sell tons of newsprint. We weren’t sold on the outrage; we were tuned in because of the same reason why kids drop what they’re doing and converge whenever they hear the far off words “fight, fight, fight” during recess.

Similarly, when Stephane Dion whines that Stephen Harper is being unfair, he is not appealing to our sense of sympathy, he is unwittingly appealing to our schoolyard instincts. Nobody likes the whiner and his whiny mother in the press gallery who called our parents and the principal (besides, we’re pretty sure that our dad can beat up his dad). Instead, we all like the guy with the snappy comeback.

Too bad for Stephane, he can’t whine and take his ball home. This Parliament is Harper’s and our pal Steve is the king of the court.

LIBERAL DEBRIEF: I figured that this would be necessary. This article does not condone bullying. It is in fact a piece of creative writing that describes the parliamentary arena as if it were a schoolyard full of children. The piece describes the dramatis personae including the bullies, the victims, the other kids, the parents and even the principal. If Harper is the bully and Dion is the victim, we’re the other children and we act as such (like it or not), and we reinforce the model. As parliamentary observers, we tend to reflect the psychology of schoolyard children when it comes to observing Harper being aggressive with Dion. When Dion cries “unfair”, he doesn’t get sympathy from the rest of us.

Schoolyard analogies aside… Dion is all grown up now, and he has a job in federal politics.

UDPATE: The National Post weighs in (3/24):

“This is certainly a pattern,” Mr. Dion told Parliament, referring to the Prime Minister, “where he acts as a bully and I don’t want to follow this way, I don’t want to do that.”

Then don’t follow it, Mr. Dion. Or do. Either way, stop whining like a child whose older brother just got a bigger lollypop. Act like a leader, or at least a grownup politician. Accept that in the cut-and-thrust of political jousting your opponents are going to make allegations against you and your party every bit as outsized as the ones you make against them.

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