Photography by Jon Sturge Credits: Photography by Jon Sturge
On Oct. 18, 2013, Stephen Harper travelled to Brussels and unveiled the Canada–European Union trade agreement. For the prime minister, this was a red-letter day. If ratified, it will be the largest trade deal of its kind to date.
Within moments of the announcement, young people in the Prime Minister's Office took to Twitter and Facebook to declare it the "Wayne Gretzky of trade deals.”
When I saw this scroll across my computer screen, I thought it was simply a staffer attempting (and failing) to master the art of the political metaphor. No such luck. The next day it became evident that this was how the deal was being sold to Canadians.
Cabinet ministers and Conservative MPs across Canada hit the airwaves repeating "Wayne Gretzky of trade deals"over and over again.
If an MP was asked about fishing quotas, car imports or a ratification timeline, somehow The Great One factored into the answer. One parliamentary secretary went on TV and, when pressed about the concerns of Canadian dairy farmers, answered, "To put this in terms Canadians can understand, it's the Wayne Gretzky of trade deals.”
By prefacing his comments with "in terms Canadians can understand" and then moving on to a hockey metaphor, he may as well have said, "We have come to the conclusion that Canadians are inherently stupid, so forget any details. All you need to know is the prime minister went to Europe and put one in the net.”
Canadians are not stupid. Those of us of a certain vintage remember the intense debate that occurred during the initial free trade agreement with the United States. We remember, to a lesser extent, the debate that occurred when Mexico joined the fray and we became members of NAFTA. We get free trade; we have lived with it for two decades.
Governments should understand that it's actually OK to have a conversation with Canadians about complex issues without evoking the national pastime.
I think what really infuriated me about the "Wayne Gretzky of trade deals"metaphor is that it fails on so many levels. When Canadians hear the name Wayne Gretzky and the phrase "trade deal,"they think of one thing: the day Peter Pocklington sold Wayne to Los Angeles for a king's ransom.
Like the prime minister's European trade deal, Pocklington's deal was also the biggest of its kind. Wayne went on TV, cried and then moved to Hollywood. The heart and soul was torn out of the Edmonton Oilers and the franchise instantly became a shell of its former self. Pocklington, who, interestingly enough, once ran for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, eventually went to prison. Turns out, when not selling out his country in trade deals, he was busy committing securities fraud.
Why Stephen Harper would want to evoke that sordid trade deal while selling his own is beyond me. I would suggest he's had too many pucks to the head, but that would violate my plea for a ban on hockey metaphors.
So, in much the same way that we accept a separation of church and state, we need a separation of politics and hockey. This means no more hockey jersey presentations to the Queen of England on her birthday, no more suggestions that one political party enjoys the sport more than another and no more talk of Wayne Gretzky when discussing complex trade agreements. I am sure both the Queen and The Great One will be relieved.
With it being January, one's thoughts turn to resolutions and wishes for the new year. Looking at the blank slate of 2014 is exciting. I feel like a Leafs fan on the first day of the season—hope and optimism burn eternal.
I've never had much luck with personal resolutions, so my mind turns to politics. How can we improve the political climate in our nation's capital? What should I wish for? As with personal resolutions, one must remain practical. Sure, we would all love to see civility in the House of Commons, a transparent and accountable government and an end to Canada's Economic Action Plan commercials, but we know none of those things will happen in our lifetime.
Read more stories by inspiring Canadians, including Nelly Furtado on her life-changing trip to Kenya.
|This story was originally titled "Shtick Handling" in the January 2014 issue.|
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