Quiet now, everyone! After almost a year of blogging and forty two posts covering a hundred and fifty five pages of an awful novel, we’re finally here! We’re about to hear the Prime Minister speak! Here he is, ladies and gentlemen! The man who’s won a majority government at least twice in the bloody arena that is Canadian politics, the Right Honourable Jack Hemp!
The prime minister brought the meeting to order with a rambling announcement of his priorities and strategies. General Bishop stared at the table, thinking grimly that nothing in Hemp’s experience had prepared him even remotely for the reality of this moment. “We have the initiative in this situation, folks,” Hemp blithered. “The ordinary native person is with us…the native leaders will come around given a few concessions…nothing major…The chiefs just need to give the people an impression of success to get elected again…I understand that. We’re all politicians. Perhaps more seats at more federal conferences or just more money, you know the Kelowna thing? Just bigger. So let’s hear ideas. Where’s that election night go-get-‘em spirit? Where’s the ‘A hundred days of decisions’? Now, that was slick.”
Eddie Geldt joined in. “Yes, sir, prime minister. Glad I thought of it. Okay people, you heard the PM. Who’s first?” Hemp frowned at Geldt and the room sank into an embarrassed silence.
Oh yeah. Feel those shivers run up your spine…
So in Douglas Bland’s novel, the Prime Minister of Canada is a jabbering lunatic and no one seems to mind. In real life, walking into the room and immediately launching into a weird, disjointed speech about ‘having the situation under control’ would lead to gasps of dismay across the table. Maybe Eddie Geldt would hurry to his side and ask softly when the last time was the Prime Minister had gotten some sleep?
This is the kind of speech I would expect to hear if maybe Jack Hemp had been awake since Sunday and was now on the verge of cracking up. In a movie I would expect any character talking this way to also have dark circles under their eyes and a slight tremor in their hands as they gestured frantically. And they’d be chain smoking furiously. Even though that’s no longer allowed in government buildings.
However, this is not a man on the brink of collapse. This is apparently how Jack Hemp speaks on a regular basis.
This goes beyond a poorly done character voice. The main conceit of Uprising is that it is allegedly the result of meticulous research and study. This is how he believes politicians think and act in a crisis. Or maybe just the left-wing ones.
That’s more than a bit insulting, although not quite as insulting as Bland’s portrayal of the CDS’s reaction to Jack Hemp’s comments:
…General Bishop stared at the table, thinking grimly that nothing in Hemp’s experience had prepared him even remotely for the reality of this moment…
Gen Bishop’s reaction here is interesting to note, because the only reason he’s sitting at this table at all is because Jack Hemp appointed him to be the Chief of Defence Staff. If we look back to when we first met Gen Andy Bishop, we learn that:
In January 2010 he commanded the Commonwealth Humanitarian Intervention Force, CHIF, deployed to Zimbabwe under a UN “reponsibility to protect” mandate issued by the Commonwealth leaders. He personally conceived and directed the strategy that destroyed Zimbabwea’s air force in two days, eliminated its army’s combat capability in seven, and put a Commonwealth “Save the People” directorship in place immediately afterwards. His reward was the thanks of Parliament, promotion to full general, and appointment to CDS. [Emphasis mine.]
At the time, I focussed on what this passage was saying about Bland’s world-building. Specifically the fact that a Canadian-led UN (sorry, Commonwealth) task force had essentially invaded and taken over a sovereign nation. Gen Bishop led this invasion, crushed their air force and army (likely killing thousands), and overthrew their government. Now leaving aside the fact that, if there’s been one lesson that western and NATO forces should have learned from the 1990s and early 2000s, it’s that military power is not necessarily the best tool for nation-building, there’s the fact that – in cannon – Bishop was promoted to his current job by Jack Hemp.
CDSs typically serve a three year term (real life CDS Gen Rick Hillier was considered exceptional when he was kept on for three and a half) which means that Bishop owes his promotion and his post to one Jack Hemp of the PPC. Something that might be worth considering when one is evaluating just how prepared the PM is for this crisis. But wait! There’s more! Bland is saying here that it was Bishop’s leadership in the Zimbabwean Intervention which led to his promotion. Does that mean Jack Hemp okayed the invasion of a Commonwealth nation?
Here again we see the effects of careless world-building and how it lends itself to a messed up world view. Bishop was promoted for the Zimbabwean Intervention, and he could not have held his post for more than three years, so does that mean the Intervention was Jack Hemp’s idea?
I’d say that Douglas Bland has painted himself into a corner with this one, except that he doesn’t seem to have noticed at all.
The Zimbabwean Intervention was apparently a master stroke of brilliant generalship. A modern, 21st century lightning campaign that smashed an enemy and secured a country in barely a fortnight. It’s the reason we know that Bishop is just so cool you guys! At the same time, the Zimbabwean Intervention is now supposedly a drawn out, pointless (and unheroic) Peacekeeping mission. In fact, it’s so awful and wasteful that the only decent Regiment of the entire Canadian Forces (1 RCR-they’re just so cool you guys!) has been deployed out of the country and will not be around to save the day.
So how does this work? Zimbabwe was cool when Gen Bishop did it, but once Jack Hemp stepped in it sucked and became a liability?
Also, I’m not sure if I’m reading too much into this, but there’s kind of ‘Entitlement’ vibe in the last (bolded) sentence here. It kind of feels like Bland portrayed Bishop receiving his just rewards, like a Roman general receiving his triumph along with the riches and power that goes with it. Just to be clear, all soldiers deserve the thanks of their government and a successful soldier even more so. However, at the CDS level you promote the person you need, not the one who racked up the greatest successes. As messed up as it may initially sound to say this, ‘Hero’ does not automatically equal ‘Leader.’
This is Redvers Buller the commander of the British forces during the early phases of the Boer War. Among British Generals, he was unique in that he had been awarded a Victoria Cross (the highest award for Valour in the Commonwealth) for his service during the Zulu War. In the Boer War he led his forces into multiple ill-planned battles against the Boer Commandos, which culminated in a catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Colenso. Throughout this campaign, he displayed incredible heroism, to the point where he was wounded trying to rescue a battery of guns during the retreat at Colenso. Nevertheless, he was an unmittigated failure as a General.
General Bishop definitely deserved the thanks of Parliament and Canada, but he didn’t necessarily deserve promotion and the highest command in the nation. If he receives that promotion then it is because his Prime Minister, Jack Hemp, saw some value in it. Hemp decided that he wanted this particular RCAF General as his top soldier and then made it happen.
So we got the PM stammering like a blood vessel just popped in his head, and a CDS staring at the desk like a petulant child. Just for contrast, let’s go back in time to the Oka Crisis, and Deputy Minister Harry Swain‘s memoires of that government’s response.
[The days immediately after the SQ police raid]
July 12 was a busy day, as reaction to the events of the day before set in. The media were all over the story. DIAND communications staff worked frenziedly to prepare backgrounders, set up a hot (not “war”) room, field media calls…
…To begin the discussion, Fred Drummie summarized the events of July 11-12. He then spoke of [Quebec Indian Affairs Minister] John Ciaccia’s efforts over the past several months, noting that the Quebec minister had procured a verbal promise of a moratorium on golf course construciton from Mayor Ouellette, had given an undertaking that the federal govenrment would negotiate the purchase of the ninety-seven acres in question and had agreed to the proposed establishment of a special review group composed of representatives of four governments, including the Kanesatake band council…
[After Swain had given a press briefing describing Mohawk criminal activity]
I was at the Centre Block by ten the next morning. The smirks of junior PCO officials, bustling in and out of the cabinet room with their papers and messages, did nothing to improve my sense of doing something for the last time. Eventually the Oka item came up on the agenda, and one of the junior officials summoned me in through the carved double doors…
…Convention has it that an official summoned to cabinet goes to sit beside his minister, speaking only when spoken to and then only on matters of fact or analysis. I paused, looking for the minister to whom I had been unable to speak for sixteen hours. All of a sudden, the prime minister spotted me standing there miserably.
“Well, look who’s here,” boomed Brian Mulroney, “the only guy in this room who could win a by-election today!” And off he went, kidding about “background” press conferences…
[As the crisis progressed]
There were all sorts of these back-stairs conversations going on at the time, especially involving those not at the official tables; I for one did not want to see any avenue for a peaceable solution left unexplored because of [the Minister of] Justice’s strictures about which Mohawk group was legally in charge. There had been some threats against me, which resulted in the RCMP Protective Service parking a car and a Mountie in our driveway from the time I got home until 10:00PM, which was shift change time. The Mountie departed, since in Ottawa all assaults happen by ten, and shortly afterward the [Mohawk] Confederacy men, who had been waiting at the corner, came to call…Between the chiefs, Siddon and Shannon, I often got very little sleep before our daily early-morning meetins
Some of you might be too young to really remember the government of Brian Mulroney, and I’m willing to bet that my readers outside of Canada know virtually nothing about him, so here’s the thing to keep in mind. The Prime Minister of the government being described here was popularly perceived as the quintessential oily politician. He was conservative, in favour of big business and free trade, and his smooth manner seemed deliberately calculated to hide some kind of shady intentions.
Hell, his deep, drawn out ‘Hiiiii, how’ya doing?’ was his trademark identifier for the political comedy troupe, the Royal Canadian Air Farce. Although he was generally a pretty capable leader, towards the end of his nine years in office he had really worn out his welcom and was deeply unpopular (he left politics in ’93, so by the time Oka happened he was already on the downward leg).
Nevertheless, despite his shmoozing and glad-handing demeanor and despite the fact that he had no military background at all, when the chips were down he kept his priorities straight. He marshalled a diverse group of professionals (each with an accompanying ego) and handled a deadly emergency a lot better than others might have.
This is how professionals do things in real life. Even the ones we think of as slimy and corrupt. Set up a hot room to keep the noise and panic contained so that the decision makers can focus on their jobs. They get everyone on the same page with a careful statement of the facts, then establish some basic working guidelines so no one takes off with their on agenda. They lighten the mood as necessary with a few jokes. And they keep the back-channels open in case opportunities arise.
In contrast, the scene we got here should have the assembled Ministers and public servants wondering if the PM is about to have a stroke. As his loyal chief of staff and (presumably) friend, Eddie Geldt should be hustling Jack Hemp out of the room and summoning a doctor. Meanwhile the Deputy PM should be stepping up to chair the meeting, beginning by reassuring those present that Jack was likely exhausted. “We all know how seriously he’s been taking this situation, even to the detriment of his health.”
The question of “What is our message and how to we deliver it?” should be the very last thing on the agenda. The first thing should be to agree on the facts of the situation, and devise an appropriate response. After all, the government’s response to the uprising is the message, no matter how it gets sold in the media.
Finally Riley spoke up. “Prime minister, we could review the latest intelligence first. It’ll take about ten minutes and then we’ll know where we are and where we might go.” Hemp hesitated and looked to Geldt, but Riley pressed his point. “It might be useful, prime minister. You really should hear this.”
Hemp shrugged, and without waiting the CDS motioned Ian Dobson to the head of the table where, without notes, the colonel began the briefing.
Gasp! Now we know that Jack Hemp is an awful person. He actually wanted to skip the briefing!
***Today’s Featured Image is Brian Mulroney (left) at the time of his retirement in 1993, and the Air Farce’s Don Ferguson (right) playing Mulroney in a 1992 New Year’s Eve Special.***
 In the absence of any formal details about the mission that’s keeping a surprising number of Canadian soldiers out of the country, I suppose we’ll have to come up with a name for this mission as well. So my vote is for the Zimbabwean Intervention.
 Fuck. I sound like a hipster talking about a band. ‘I was a fan back before they sold out!’
 Even this brave act was indicative of bad leadership. The army was retreating, and it was his job to stay alive in order to manage that retreat. To extract as many of his troops as possible and keep them intact as a fighting force. He had no business getting tangled up in a localized action which could just as easily have been handled by one of his aides.
 Today they’re better known for their long-running TV show, but for nearly two decades before then the Royal Canadian Air Farce were almost exclusively a radio show, meaning that they had to be able to identify a given politician instantly with a tag line. Pierre Elliot Trudeau (our current PM’s father) had his self-satisfied, “Well, you know…” while Jean Chretien sharper “Okay for sure on dat!” Reform Party leader Preston Manning was lucky(?) enough to have a distinct nasal drawl, so he was identified by his drawn out pronunciation of the word “Refooooorm!”.
 In all fairness it is not stated in Swain’s memoire whether Mulroney was aware of his clandestine meetings with the Mohawk Confederacy Chiefs, but I’m willing to bet he would have been fine with it as long as everything was kept quiet.
3 thoughts on “43-The boss?”
The author’s treatment of elected politicians reflects typical one for 1980s/90s action thrillers like Tom Clancy/Larry Bond (on the high end) or Don Pendelton/Barry Sadler (on the lower end) – they were all slimy cowards at heart who thought of nothing but themselves, getting power and holding onto it. It’s usually contrasted with the noble, selfless military types who are “doing what needs to be done” so that the citizens can get on with their lives (Jack Ryan gets his pass because he was an “ex-Marine”). The way the author takes it here serves to further emphasize his pro-fascist leanings – none of the elected leaders are in any way admirable, working for the betterment of the people who choose them to lead, instead every last one of them, from the elected band chiefs to the PM, are spineless unprincipled cowards who are unable to organize an orgy in a brothel, let alone deal with the crisis presented.
Compare and contrast to the non-elected leaders shown – Molly, Stevenson, Gabriel, Buccanier, Bishop, etc. None of them are reliant on anything as wimpy as the “consent of the governed”, they have assumed the mantle of leadership through their innate superiority and their ability to dominate those lesser souls. And these traits are presented in a far more positive light than any elected office.
The better authors can pull off using these tropes by using them sparingly, having the elected officials exercise strength of character, and giving realistic motivations to their characters – the author doesn’t. Instead he uses very poorly fleshed out tropes that instead emphasize his own worldview – which comes across as “the strong must rule the weak, because only we know what’s good for them.”