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It’s another great day in the life of the Leader of the Opposition. (CHRIS WATTIE)
It’s another great day in the life of the Leader of the Opposition. (CHRIS WATTIE)

Margaret Wente

Another great day in opposition Add to ...

We need to get this story line back on track. Must discuss with Ian and Zsuzsanna. Last week, we thought we had it nailed. We would show our strength and our unity and our resolve to bring down the government, even though, fortunately for us, that could not possibly happen. We had our message straight. And then that slimy little traitor stabbed me in the back. "Wounded Ignatieff," blared the headlines, as if people actually cared about some crummy little infighting in Quebec. The media went nuts. But really. Cauchon, Coderre - who's ever heard of them? I can barely keep those guys straight myself.

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So there I am in Quebec, putting down an insurrection, and Stephen Harper shows up at a rich gala subsidized by taxpayers and plays a Beatles song. He demonstrates that he can carry a tune. Laureen talks Yo-Yo Ma into playing backup, and the media go nuts. Give me a break! He hates the arts. Everybody knows that. I'd bet a loonie that Laureen had to tell him who Yo-Yo Ma was.

What I need is a little help from my friends. Trouble is, they're getting scarce. I never figured my worst enemies would turn out to be in my own party. If only I'd brushed up on the past 25 years of Liberal Party politics, I might have known that Liberals can make snakepits look like love-ins. Thank goodness for Zsuzsanna. As I told that writer from The Observer, you just need someone to love. At least there's someone at home who thinks I'm okay.

Actually, people have no idea how tough I really am. Everyone thinks I lived in an ivory tower, but I lived as a freelance, I lived by my wits, for 15 years, and it wasn't always easy. That's what I told The Observer. I said that if you lived in literary London and had as many bad reviews as I did, you kind of toughen up. I'm not a kid any more. I feel I know some things about human beings.

If only I knew some things about politics, too. I don't seem to have the instincts yet. They told me to attack Stephen Harper for believing that taxes and big governments are bad, so I did that. Then they told me to attack him for reckless spending, so I did that. Canadians need to understand that no matter how hard the Conservatives pretend to act like Liberals, they don't really mean it. For example, last week they promised to extend parental leave to self-employed workers. That's exactly the kind of idea we should have thought up. Just who do they think they're kidding?

I confess that learning on the job is harder than I thought. I decided I would force a fall election because I'm tough. Then it turned out we'd be creamed. We got lucky with Jack Layton. Then I decided to stay away from specific ideas for the country, because look what happened to Stéphane Dion. Now I'm being hammered for having no specific ideas about the country. Zsuzsanna thinks we need a change of strategy. But what?

Frankly, we never thought we'd need a storyline. People would just naturally get sick of Harper and boot him out. That's what they told me when they recruited me from Harvard. I'd be the second coming of Trudeau. Or maybe Garibaldi, coming back to Italy to unite his country. It turns out that's the easy part. The hard part is uniting the Liberals, especially when most of them are busy knifing me.

Oh, well. It's another great day in the life of the Leader of the Opposition. The best part of what I've been doing in the past four years (as I told The Observer) has been listening intently to Canadians in big rooms and small rooms, in wharves and bars and airport lounges, just trying to pick up the music here, so that what's really on their minds gets into the policies.

If only I could carry a tune.

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