Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Grewal, Stronach, and Emerson and the death of the middle man

There is an awful lot of commentary from left, right,and center on Harper's decision to appoint to his cabinet David Emerson less than two weeks after he re-elected as a Liberal in Vancouver-Kingsway, most of it critical.

And many have made allusion to the Stronach defection and the Grewal negotiations (for a humorous version, see here).

One point that it seems has escaped the attention of many is that the Emerson defection breaks new ground in the way in which it was both negotiated and communicated ('spun') afterwards.

Consider the Grewal affair. My understanding of the process (and bear with me if you disagree) is thus:
  1. Grewal decided that he wanted to become a Liberal
  2. He contacted a middle-man (or, as it seems now in light of the new information in the Ethics report, middlemen)
  3. The middle-man put him in touch with a prominent Liberal (Dosanjh) and negotiations began
  4. When it became clear that the Liberals were not going to meet Grewal's price (a cabinet seat right away for himself and a senate seat for Nina) negotiations collapsed.
What is interesting for us, I suggest, is that there is a point in the negotiations when communication strategy is discussed. They will tell the world that Grewal didn't approach the Liberals and that the Liberals did not approach Grewal. The middle-man approached both and brought them together.

The Stronach-defection was similar. My understanding (again, bear with me if you disagree):
  1. Belinda became convinced that she had no future in a Conservative Party that she felt was evolving in ways that she disagreed with
  2. She confessed her dissatisfaction with the middle-man, David Peterson, who suggested she become a Liberal
  3. Peterson, Stronach, and representatives of the Liberal government negotiated the matter, the middle-man Peterson suggesting at some point that a cabinet position is appropriate.
Again, notice how the middle-man gets credit for the deal. For public relations purposes, it is important that the Liberals did not initiate the offer, nor that Belinda initiate a request. It is the middle-man who came up with the idea. In the negotiations was Peterson an agent of Belinda or the government? both? neither? It's unclear. But that's the entire point. It is the ambiguity of his position that makes him useful in this little dance.

Now, let us consider Emerson's defection. Where's the middle man? There is none. Today's Globe and Mail reports that it was John Reynolds, former interim Alliance leader, Conservative house leader, and campaign co-chair:
The day after the election, Mr. Reynolds called Mr. Emerson at his Vancouver home.

"I said, 'How would you like to stay in the government?' So we had a conversation about the pros and cons of that, and then, I said, " 'why don't we just sit on it for a couple of days? I'm not talking to anybody. You think about it and we'll get together,' " Mr. Reynolds said.
This is a straight ahead pitch (and more than a little hypocritical in light of this).

And this is why, I suggest, that so many of us are having trouble with the story. It is just too nakedly cynical. Stronach could claim to be leaving a party that was moving away from her main-stream values (perhaps partially true) and had been cooperating with the Bloc (probably not even half-true). Grewal would have also complained about the Bloc and perhaps have thrown in unnecessary elections (pure spin). But at least the unseemliness of defection--which by its very nature implies betrayal and ideological promiscuity--was given a fig-leave of an excuse and the distracting figure of the middle man.

Harper, apparently, decided he needed neither. And that's just too cynical for most of us to accept, regardless of our ideological bent or partisan commitment.


Blogger Zorpheous said...

Oh God, I don't think I take any more of this. This just keeps getting better and better. I think I'm going to buy a lottery ticket tonight!

4:09 PM  
Blogger bylo said...

How soon before John Reynolds gets a Senate seat? Will he have to get himself elected first or will Harper find a weaselly way to welsh on that promise too?

Oink. Oink.

12:07 PM  

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