P.O.V.: Sex and the City "à la canadienne"

P.O.V.: Sex and the City "à la canadienne" McGill University

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McGill Reporter
May 29, 2008 - Volume 40 Number 18
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 40: 2007-2008 > May 29, 2008 > P.O.V.: Sex and the City "à la canadienne"


Sex and the City "à la canadienne"

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What was Bernier thinking?

By ironic coincidence, the Maxime Bernier-Julie Couillard story is breaking the very same week Canadian movie-goers are anticipating the premiere of Sex and the City on the big screen. And it is the potent combination of sex, power and, of course fashion, that serves as the connection between the two events.

For all of you guys who haven't clued in yet, Sex and the City revolves around the misadventures of party girl Carrie Bradshaw and her erstwhile beau, the powerful, handsome, snazzy dresser known only as "Mr. Big." On Carrie's very first date with this enigmatic fellow, she wears a revealing outfit that her best girlfriends qualify as - ahem - "sex on a stick."

Watching Julie Couillard sashay alongside the then Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Bernier on that sultry day last summer, many of us gals were thinking that Madame Couillard was indeed chanelling Carrie Bradshaw.

It turns out, in a cute twist, that the minister himself picked out that fateful ensemble. Clothes speak louder than words, as the fashionistas who follow Sex and the City know. And, in this case, Max Bernier's words could not have been clearer.

What on Earth was the Minister of Foreign Affairs thinking?

Men in political office do dumb things, especially when confronted with the intoxicating combination of sex and power. That is hardly news: Bill Clinton, Elliott Spitzer - the list goes on and on. The psycho-experts in Oprah-land tell us they are apt to behave in this way because pushing the envelope becomes part of the fun - or, in the case of Mr. Bernier, part of the message.

The larger question, though, is what was the prime minister thinking?

Max Bernier was not the first playboy to occupy a minister's seat, but as a political neophyte, he was as green as they get. Yet Stephen Harper put him in charge of some of the most politically explosive dossiers facing his government. Clearly, the prime minister had what he considered important considerations in doing so: controlling the message and saving face in Quebec.

Message control in a sensitive portfolio is a tricky business. Foreign Affairs is known inside the Queensway as an intensively complex and competitive environment in which substantive expertise is often at the mercy of political strategy. In Max Bernier, the prime minister found the perfect combination of style over substance, the communications guru who, it was thought, could channel Mr. Harper's message as smoothly as silk. And much of that message was clearly aimed at shoring up confidence in the Afghan mission - particularly among voters in Quebec.

Stephen Harper's strategy has now been derailed by a scenario that goes way beyond the sophisticated comedy of Sex and the City: an ex-gangster moll, missing classified documents, tell-all interviews, accusations of wiretaps and everything else that add up to a badly conceived and poorly scripted soap opera.

The Conservative government can sorely afford to lose a minister from Quebec in this way. But the real damage is likely to be felt elsewhere. In the heartland, voters may see in Max Bernier's foibles the shadow of Stephen Harper's own recklessness in putting political strategy above the best interests of Canadians. Further afield, the initial chuckles that may accompany foreign observations about sex in the snow may soon turn to consternation about the political judgment of Canadian leaders on the world stage.

Canada deserves better than to have its politicians behave like characters out of a soap opera and to have its international reputation put on the line in this way. That Canadians are not immune to sex and power, in the city or elsewhere, is amusing in a way. But Canada's political reputation would be better served as something else than a flawed parody of Sex and the City "à la canadienne."

Prof Antonia Maioni is Director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

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