, 09.10.2019 07:10 AM

The sounds of (political) silence

Above: example of when a politician should’ve shut up.

The sounds of silence.

It’s not just the name of an old Simon and Garfunkel song. It’s a way to achieve political success, too.

Two anecdotes, from two sides of the political divide.

Several eons ago, this writer was a speechwriter for Jean Chrétien. It was kind of like being the Maytag Repairman, to be honest. Jean Chrétien doesn’t ever need any help in crafting a political tub-thumper. He’s pretty good at that all on his own.

One day, however, our opponents were saying all kinds of nasty things about the then-Liberal leader. The subject matter doesn’t matter. What mattered was Chrétien’s abject refusal to say anything back. Why, Boss, I asked him.

“We don’t have to be in the damn paper every day, young man,” he said. “People don’t like it. They want to hear from us when it’s important. But not all the time. Silence is good.”

Another anecdote, from the other side of the aisle.

Not as long ago, my good friend John Walsh was the president of the Conservative Party. As such, he’d periodically meet with the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

Two times, he did, and Harper held up a newspaper and pointed at a column by – this is the best part of the anecdote, in my opinion – Yours Truly. Both columns talked about how the then-presidents of the Liberal Party of Canada, who shall remain nameless, were in the media way, way too much.

“See what Kinsella said?” Harper asked John Walsh. “He said nobody can name the president of the Conservative Party, and that’s how we know how good at your job you are.”

Harper agreed. Too much media? Bad. Silence? Good.

Brian Mulroney? In the paper all the time, with Meech Lake, Charlottetown Accord, big meetings with big wheels, blah blah blah. His party got reduced to two seats.

Justin Trudeau? This week, the irrepressible David Akin added up all of the stuff Trudeau and his minions have been announcing. The result was shocking, if not sickening: “In August alone, Liberal MPs made 4,545 new spending commitments worth $12.8 billion.”

And, after all of those announcements and all of the resulting news coverage, has Justin Trudeau abruptly gotten a lot more popular? Nope.

In fact, some pollsters are telling this writer that all that ink hasn’t helped Trudeau much at all. Indeed, they say, there’s evidence to suggest the precise opposite is happening.

Another example.

Just over a year ago, the Ontario PCs roared back into power, and commenced holding special sittings of the legislature, energetically passing umpteen laws and getting in the media a lot. A lot, a lot.

Did it boost their popularity? Um, no. Their popularity went South, fast.

So, Premier Doug Ford hired a brilliant ex-newsman to be his Chief of Staff, and reminded his ministers of that old adage – speak when you have something to say, folks. Not when you have to say something.

Doug Ford thereafter stepped into the political equivalent of the witness protection program, and invited his ministers to join him. Result? Morale is way up, controversies are way down.

Just watch: Ford’s numbers are going to start inching up as a result, too. And so will Andrew Scheer’s – because Andrew Scheer benefits when Doug Ford isn’t in the news all the time. (Justin Trudeau, not so much.)

The moral of this cautionary tale is this: in all of those 4,545 new spending commitments Justin Trudeau made in a single month – out of all of that extraordinary $12.8 billion in spending – can you remember a single damn thing that was announced?

The sounds of silence, folks: it’s more than a nice song.

It’s a way of staying out of political trouble, too.


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    the real Sean says:

    My favorite election goody will always be the train stop in Peterborough. This has been announced and re announced for more than ten years by both parties, hundreds of millions of tax payer funded studies (not exaggerating here) and not one f%&king shovel in the ground.

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    Doron says:


    Another strong take by you. Jean had it right: The more you talk, the greater the chance you anger a whole slew of people.

    Simple messaging spaced out over time. That is the key.

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    J.H. says:

    Talk about silence, when a tree falls in the forest does anyone hear it?
    $92 Million to Lib lawyers and consultants and whole forests decimated for more reams of paper to sit on a shelf in Ottawa?
    I imagine Grassy Narrows and others could have used the bucks.
    Predicted this before Inquiry ever started. Sad!
    ‘Thank you for your donation’, indeed.
    I’m sure the legal and lobbying crowd circling the LPC are saying that. FNs not so much.

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    Lance M says:

    Just my take but it should made illegal to introduce new spending withing 4 months of an election. If it was not important enough to announce in the first 3 + years then it is not important enough to announce in the last 4 months. This would reduce the tax payer funded travel to “announce stuff”.

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    Peter says:

    A brilliant insight. Chretien knew it and so did Harper. Unfortunately, down south, no one seems to know it.

    I don’t know how many times in the past few years I’ve tried to imagine myself as an independent or middle American voter and concluded that Trump is an embarrassing disaster, only to pause in disgust at the nonsense spewed out by Dems rushing to the microphone and a media trying to boost profits by slamming the grammar of his tweets and the silliness of his kids. Not good for anybody.

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    The Doctor says:

    It reminds me of the litigator’s rule (not always observed by litigators in practice): say what you have to say as best you can, then shut up and sit down.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Silence also elects politicians (Trump) and in our case (a government). Does anyone think that CPC supporters are going to climb the rooftops and scream out their support? Not a chance.

    But they will vote — and in greater numbers than Liberal members/supporters will.

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    mike jeffries says:

    “Be quick to listen slow to speak” timeless gold!
    Scheer understands that. Justin not.
    But we do, and will soon speak (in the ballot box)…

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    Lance says:

    I also remember you saying something along the lines of “if you’re explaining, you’re losing” or something like that.

    Trudeau is doing an awful lot of explaining.

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    WestGuy says:

    More than a nice song? It’s a f***ing great song.

    People talking without speaking
    People hearing without listening

    Pretty much sums up online discourse these days.

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    The Doctor says:

    If Scheer is a “career political parasite”, then by that measure all of our major federal party leaders are as well. For example, not a single one of them has had a notable career of any significant length in the private sector. Just sayin”.

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    Fred from BC says:

    “All I see is Scheer’s grinning face all day long. Rarely see Trudeau.”

    Mostly because the Conservatives have so much more money to spend right now.

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