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Prime Minister Stephen Harper, right, speaks with the CBC's Peter Mansbridge on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, right, speaks with the CBC's Peter Mansbridge on Tuesday.

John Doyle: Television

TV's 'Mister But' heralds a coming election Add to ...

Generally, when you leave Canada for a few days, you expect that when you return, things will be pretty much the same. Usually, they are.

Returning on the weekend, to me things seemed tickety-boo, on the surface. Same old. The only CBC shows hovering around two million viewers are still Hockey Night in Canada and Dragons' Den. Hockey and business, that's us. Pastor Mansbridge and Claire Martin are still trying to be flirtatious cut-ups on The National, while failing to deliver a clear weather forecast, as they do over at CTV News Channel.

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Yet, quite clearly, there have been monumental changes. You can see it pretty much every time you turn on the darn TV. There's an election coming. Probably coming anyway. The first serious hint was during the bizarre gold-medal game at the World Juniors. Guileless Canadians of all persuasions and ages who were settling in to watch Canada give the Russians a thumping were treated to shots of Our Glorious Leader on the couch at home, decked out in a Team Canada sweater and an inappropriate grin. Nobody has said it out loud, but OGL jinxed the ensuing encounter.

Anyway, this is what was being hinted at - hey look at me, average Canadian, dad, hockey fan. The idea is that once seen, this image refuses to leave the mind. The expected result is votes. Since then, the pre-election prancing has gone into overdrive. And TV is where it's happening.

Our Glorious Leader's two-part chat this week with Pastor Mansbridge was a major event in all of this. The iconography of the encounter was splendidly rich in meanings. OGL sat there like a real man, an average guy. Not relaxed-snooty like a city fella. Gut out, leaning forward and with his trousers pulled up almost to his knees to reveal plain, old-fashioned socks of intemperate length, he chatted. All that was missing was the "eh" at the end of his cocky but evasive answers to an inordinately impressed Pastor.

The evasive answers had the whiff of practised-for-TV prevarication. OGL says something and a little later, says, "But...." The most notorious example was on the capital-punishment issue: "Well, I personally think there are times where capital punishment is appropriate," Harper said. "But I've also committed that I'm not, you know, in the next Parliament, I'm not - no plans to bring that issue forward."

On the matter of raising taxes: "Raising our taxes will - you know, we can get some more revenue this year - but frankly it's going to make this a less competitive country, a less good place to invest," he said.

On the matter of Canadians being uneasy about a majority Conservative government being ruled by the right-wing, Reform end of the party: "My own sense is Canadians have gotten comfortable with this government," he said. "That doesn't mean all Canadians agree with this government. Certainly many don't. But I think most Canadians understand that we're a government that is, whether they agree with us or not, reasonably confident, focused on real issues, on trying to make the country better, not trying to enrich or glorify ourselves."

See that? Bland statement followed by a "but." Sometimes a big "but." Pretty soon someone is going to start calling this guy "Mister But."

Then there are the potential-election ads. Seen them? Masterpieces of television persuasion. There's Our Glorious Leader at his desk, working. The word "working" is used over and over. Guy with jacket off, plain shirt and tie, dealing with files on his desk. Probably got a sandwich in a lunch pail within reach. "We're in safe hands with Stephen Harper," says the voiceover. Most intriguing bit is when OGL (a.k.a. "Mister But") sips coffee. What kinda coffee mug does he have on his desk? Why, it's a Beatles mug. Deftly reminding viewers that he's a rock 'n' roll kinda guy in his spare time. A small detail, but very telling. The things you learn from TV ads, I'm telling ya.

As for the attack ads on Iggy, well, never mind the blather about how Michael Ignatieff "didn't come back for you." The key visual image is Iggy blowing kisses, over and over, in slow-motion. Honestly, who blows kisses? Not a real man, but some kind of slicker in an expensive suit. Seen anyone at Tim's blowing kisses? Nope. At Tim's you see a fella sitting with his elbows on his knees, leaning forward and with his trousers pulled up to reveal old-fashioned socks the length of a city block. That's what you see.

These are fun times we're in. Bring on the election - more drama, comedy and way more subtext than an entire season's worth of TV shows.

AIRING TONIGHT

Thoroughly Modern Marriage (CBC, 9 p.m. on Doc Zone) is definitely worth your time. Sue Ridout's doc (she was interviewed in yesterday's paper) delves into the motley nature of marriage these days, choosing several intriguing couples to profile. The program stands as an excellent counterpoint to both those TV shows that sell marriage as a wedding, not a union of souls, and all those network romantic comedies that sell marriage as a trap for immature men.

Check local listings.

 

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