Clark's words for some ears only

I'VE always wanted a chance to shout "I've been thrown out of better places than this!" while being escorted to the exit.

As of last Tuesday, my chances improved substantially because the Pinnacle Hotel's ballroom is now officially the fanciest place I've been thrown out of.

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Your loyal correspondent wasn't getting rowdy, and the unfailingly friendly Pinnacle staff had no part whatsoever in my ejection. The problem was that the B.C. Liberals can't even throw a little party these days without throwing in a collection of blunders.

A few weeks back, we got an invitation from the North Vancouver-Lonsdale Liberal Association to "A North Shore Evening with Premier Christy Clark."

It would be, the invitation promised, "a fantastic and unique opportunity to meet the Premier and hear her vision for the province and the North Shore."

So really, where else is a North Shore political columnist going to spend his Tuesday night?

I showed up at the Pinnacle without much hope I'd get more than a moment, if that, to talk with Premier Clark. But I like to go to these things if only to see who else shows up and listen to the speeches. We don't get many North Shore-specific speeches from the premier, after all.

I gave my card to the people at the registration desk, and they wrote out a name tag for me. Well, actually it was for Ben Aldridge. People misspell my name all the time, but they don't normally have my card in front of them when they do. Anyway, I took the sticker and used it to adhere my North Shore News press pass onto my shirt.

I had a brief chat near the door with Jane Thornthwaite, MLA for North Vancouver-Seymour, and explained I wasn't expecting any interviews, I just planned to mill around and hear the premier's address.

Before long there were maybe a few hundred folks also milling around and snacking on hors d'oeuvres. I chatted with some local businesspeople and politicians and a few Liberal staffers I've gotten to know. I was buttonholed by a lady who planned to hand Clark a letter protesting animal testing at UBC. Then, with no fanfare whatsoever, in through a side door walked the premier with her entourage. Her arrival was so low-key that Thornthwaite had to grab the mike and announce her entrance.

I didn't have much appetite to elbow through the ensuing mob just to squeeze in a question that surely wouldn't have earned a much of an answer. But I'd barely finished that thought when a very worriedlooking man walked up to me, shook my one hand and pressed his card into the other: Gabe Garfinkel, Executive Assistant to the Premier.

Pleased to meet you, Mr. Garfinkel.

I could tell from his "I-am-oh-so-very-sorry" demeanour that this wasn't the standard "Who are you, who do you work for, what are you hoping for?" quiz that I routinely get from politicians' handlers.

"We didn't know you were going to be here," he began. "It's not a media event."

Well, you guys invited me.

"That might have been one of the riding associations," he said.

That's correct.

"This is a private, ticketed event," he said, as hundreds of people circulated in and out of the three large open doors of North Vancouver's largest ballroom.

I showed him my invitation and pointed out that I identified myself to the Liberal gatekeepers at the door.

"Maybe you were just on a list or something," he said, increasingly miserable.

Maybe, Mr. Garfinkel, just like everyone else here. What's the problem anyway?

"When the premier speaks, we would rather her comments not be reported."

Really? Why not?

I'll condense the next part for you.

"I am so sorry / I really sincerely apologize / It was a really awful mistake at the door / etc."

But why don't you want the premier's "vision for the province and the North Shore" printed in the North Shore News?

Then he said it.

"I'm sure you can understand that we don't want comments made in front of a private audience made public," said Garfinkel, executive assistant to Premier Christy Clark.

Take a moment to think about that one.

I made him squirm a bit longer, toyed with the idea of making him physically throw me out, but then left peacefully and chalked it up to an early quittin' time.

My guess is I missed a wholly predictable speech, replete with terrifying tales of the mortal danger posed by the NDP, the vote-splitting folly of the B.C. Conservatives, and the desperate need to bail out her listing ship of state. Well, maybe she didn't put it quite like that. She probably retouted her recent reannouncement of all the money Gordon Campbell spent over the past decade, found a way to claim credit for North Vancouver's federal shipbuilding windfall, and she might also have riffed off the laughably nonsensical slogan I saw in a Naomi Yamamoto ad the other day: Canada Starts in North Vancouver.

What does that even mean? Geography may not be a Liberal strength.

I doubt Clark said a solitary thing that we haven't all heard before in ye olde campaign/ fundraising speech. Or maybe I'm completely wrong. I suggest you ask Mayor Richard Walton, or Coun. Don Bell, or any one of the literally hundreds of people who were entrusted with secrets that you and I must never hear. If you're feeling lucky, you could even ask your MLA directly: "What's with the secrecy?"

Message control is part of politics, and it's true that the message for the faithful is often different from the message to the broader public. But they shouldn't be so different that you have to conceal one. A premier worthy of the name is able to finesse this, and a senior staff member worth their pay doesn't advertise the boss's inability to do so. It's also a bit troubling that the premier's right-hand man thinks tossing one person out of a crowded ballroom is how you keep secrets.

Memo to Clark and Garfinkel: If you don't want the press at your event, don't invite them. If some staffer or volunteer made a minor error (and I don't know if that's even true), show some class and don't throw them under the bus.

Lastly, if some unexpected, mildly annoying reporter does show up at your swanky ballroom event, for Pete's sake don't say, in essence: Please go away, we have something to hide.

balldritt@nsnews.com

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