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Who to believe?

Paul Martin went to Holy Cross High School in Saskatoon yesterday to find a sympathetic audience and a nice background for a 10 second sound bite on the national evening news. Two bloggers covered the event and came up with different views on how he came off.

First we have Paul Wells, who flew in on PM Paul's plane and was generally positive (though he suggested it might be due to a touch of Stockholm Syndrome.) He was impressed by the range and depth of Martin's knowledge of foreign policy and history:

But I didn't say the guy was perfect. What he did was show himself to be competent and engaging in a discussion about foreign policy, trade policy, security policy. The very stuff and essence of a national government's unique role.

I can't imagine why he doesn't talk like this more often, instead of trying to get himself elected health minister of Alberta or mayor of Ste-Tite. There are 13 governments in Canada trying to do the work of provinces and territories. Tens of thousands doing the work of cities and towns. There can only be one Canadian government. And while every leader in this election has a health-care plan, not all of them can find Dakar on a map.

(Though I bet they know the difference between Norway and Normandy. I notice the PM erased that gaffe from the record of his speech on the Liberal website.)

Then we have Theresa Zolner, a local blogger who crashed the party. She was less impressed and found the whole exercise to be quite crude electioneering. She was particularly irritated by the blaring of "Beautiful Day" by U2 over loudspeakers when the band and choir had practiced their own music for the occasion. As to him being 'competent and engaging in a discussion about foreign policy', she sensed he was just fishing for the right question to make the points he wanted to make, not really dealing with what they were saying. She sums up his visit:

It was all about hype and him, and none of it really was about the kids at all. It was grandstanding... in a high school.

The PM's attempt to look Socratic was a miserable failure, and he seemed very insensitive to the students as he pushed them for their opinions on international policy. Then, after donning a Crusaders sweatshirt, he left, before the award-winning Holy Cross, grade-11 band could play their last piece.

I think the real source of Martin's obsessive drive to be Prime Minister is the desire to be on the world stage and wrestle with the 'big issues' that will be the subject of the obsessively footnoted books of the future. He's not interested in the nitty-gritty details of running a country, which involve dealing with the things that affect the lives of voters. His Zelig-like performance in this area -- ingratiating himself with Kofi Annan one day, then impressing the neo-cons in Washington the next -- suggest he doesn't have any strong beliefs in this area, he just wants to be part of the club. He must be a little disappointed that the only people he can shoot the breeze with about the troubles in the Sudan are a bunch of high school kids that have no choice on whether to listen to him or not.

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