(THE SCENE: A television studio just moments before airtime: Host Brian Cohen sits at a news desk checking his earpiece and getting last minute make-up. Various assistants and cameramen are bustling about.)
DIRECTOR: “Okay everybody, we’re on in 3... 2... (The floor manager points to Cohen, and the centre camera red light goes on):
BRIAN COHEN: “Good evening and welcome to a special edition of Face of the Nation. We’re on location in New Westminster, B.C., on the eve of a byelection to fill the seat vacated by MP Dawn Black, who resigned to sit in the provincial legislature.
“Fin Donnelly, who hopes to retain the seat for the NDP, is the odds-on favourite. He’s a New Westminster native who served seven years on Coquitlam City council and is perhaps best known for twice swimming the length of the Fraser River.
“His main challenger is Conservative candidate Diana Dilworth—at least that’s the rumour. The Port Moody councillor has ducked interviews with reporters from The Tyee, The Georgia Straight, Tri-City News and The Vancouver Sun. She also refused to attend two recent all-candidates meetings. How she hopes to run a successful campaign by running away from reporters and voters is a mystery, but it’s one that we hope to resolve tonight on Face of the Nation.
Thanks to the persuasive efforts of our producers we have managed to convince her to appear on the show. (He gets up to greet her but there is a short, uncomfortable pause. Cohen puts his hand to his earpiece and looks slightly away from the camera.) What?… you’re sure? (looks at the camera).
It seems that there has been a change in plans and instead Prime Minster Stephen Harper has come to speak on her behalf. (Harper enters and the two shake hands.) Prime Minister, always good to see you, but we were expecting Diana Dilworth.”
STEPHEN HARPER: “Here she is, Brian.” (Harper hold up his left hand which he had been hiding and on which is a lamb sock puppet with Dilworth's face superimposed.)
COHEN: (pause) “What’s with the puppet?”
HARPER: “Diana’s come under a lot of attack for her campaign strategy, so I thought I’d better set things straight.”
COHEN: “Come again?”
HARPER: “Diana is a great candidate, and the fact that she chose to run a low-key campaign is her business. What the media thinks about it is unimportant—it’s the voters who matter, and she has met plenty of them.
COHEN: (Looks at Harper, then at the sockpuppet, then again at Harper) “You expect me to talk to a sockpuppet!?"
HARPER: “ ‘Talk to the Sock’ is my new media initiative to protect candidates from hostile reporters.
Talk to the Sock
HARPER: “Remember last time when I explained my government’s philosophy—one leader, one thought, one truth? Well the media still don’t get it. They repeatedly expect candidates to answer awkward questions when instead they could just check my office’s press releases for the relevant information.
COHEN: “Isn’t asking critical questions pretty much what a reporter is supposed to do?”
HARPER:“The vast majority of reporters, and especially voters, are hostile to my government, and their questions make my candidates uneasy. That’s why Diana and others avoid reporters and public forums, so I come in to help them.”
COHEN: “But a sockpuppet?! That’s so in…”
HARPER: “…genious? Yes. This way nobody goes off script. Go ahead and ask Diana a question.” (Shakes his left hand playfully)
COHEN: (feeling more than a little weirded out, he realizes he’s stuck and resigns himself to playing along. Turns to the sockpuppet) Um…‘Diana’ you're on record as pledging to vote for the Harmonized Sales Tax if elected, even though it will place an even heavier burden on individuals and families. How do you explain to voters that the HST is a good idea?”
“DIANA DILWORTH”: (Harper starts doing a very bad female voice impersonation) “The tax is a provincial issue. I want to talk about getting tough on crime and making streets safer.”
COHEN: “But you support the HST.”
“DILWORTH”: “Yes, but the need to get tough on crime and increase jail terms is much more important.”
COHEN: “Why won’t you explain your position on the HST?”
HARPER: (puts “Dilworth” down) “This is precisely why Conservative candidates don’t like the media. The HST is good for business and that means its good for Canada. Of course, families won’t like it, so what’s the point in having Diana or anyone stand up in a room full of angry people and try to defend it? By having reporters talk to the sock, I… the candidate can run for office without having to fear voter reaction. After all, the answer is not going to be any different.”
COHEN: “But it’s voters who will decide if you…, er, she wins or loses. Don’t they deserve a candidate who has the courage and intelligence to defend her positions? Give voters one good reason to vote for Diana Dilworth.”
HARPER: “Ask her yourself.” (waggles his hand)
COHEN: (sighs) “ ‘Diana,’ why should voters send you to Ottawa?”
“DILWORTH”: Because a vote for me is a vote for Stephen Harper and a vote for Stephen Harper is a vote for a strong Canada.
COHEN: “Prime Minister, have you ever seen the movie The Stepford Wives?”
HARPER: “No. Why?”
COHEN: “It's about a town where women are kidnapped and replaced with vacuous, dutiful robots that lack even the semblance of intellectual independence.”
HARPER: “What does that have to do with the byelection?”
COHEN: “Perhaps nothing. Anyway, it looks like time is almost up. I'd like to thank you and ‘Diana’ for being on the show (shakes Harper’s hand. To the camera). Well, the mystery of Diana Dilworth’s campaign is still pretty much unsolved, Tune in tomorrow to WTFN News for the results in what is shaping up to be a runaway victory for Fin Donnelly. Good night from New Westminster.”