There’s been a lot of chatter over what was behind Justin Trudeau’s pregnant pause during a news briefing on June 2.
Now, stopping to think before answering is not something politicians are known for. But in this case, it wasn’t a bad idea. After all, the prime minister had just been asked a very tricky question.
Choosing the wrong words would either draw the wrath of the erratic leader of our neighbouring country to the south or, on the other hand, fail to satisfy Canadians who are demanding that Trudeau speak out forcefully against racist provocations.
Given the potential fallout, it was a sticky wicket for our chief parliamentarian.
The question went like this: “You’ve been reluctant to comment on the words and actions of the U.S. president, but we do have Donald Trump now calling for military action against protesters. We saw protesters tear-gassed yesterday to make way for a presidential photo op. I’d like to ask you what you think about that. And, if you don’t want to comment, what message do you think you’re sending?”
Search Contributor/Columnist photo gallery
What followed was 21 seconds of Trudeau staring blankly at the camera, opening his mouth a couple of times to speak and then stopping.
What was going on during that eternity of silence?
Finally, our news service has discovered vital information that just might answer the question. It came late last night in an audio file on a memory stick delivered to our offices via brown envelope.
We’ve suspected for some time that the prime minister receives coaching on his answers via a tiny earpiece concealed under his flowing locks and this audio file appears to prove it. In the recording, you can hear unnamed voices communicating with each other and also with the prime minister during that crucial lapse. It makes for fascinating reading. Here’s a bit of it:
(As the question is delivered)
Voice 1: Oh, that’s a nasty twist at the end of that question, eh? Did you coach Justin on that?
Voice 2: What do you mean, did I coach Justin?
Voice 1: You briefed him, right? On the U.S. situation and how to handle it?
Voice 2: I thought you had.
Voice 1: Bro. WTF?! YOU were supposed to do the briefing.
Voice 2: Whatever, whatever. Look. He’s just standing there. We’ve gotta give him something.
Voice 1: I don’t HAVE anything! Do you think I just pull this stuff out of my butt?
Voice 2: Well, actually, it sounds like it.
Voice 1: Look! He’s dying out there. We have to give him something. I wish Butts was here right now.
Voice 2: Why don’t we just tell him to level with Canadians about Trump? Go ahead and say the president is a dangerous mor.…
Voice 1: Stop it! He heard you!
Trudeau begins to open his mouth to speak.
Voice 1: Justin! Justin! Abort! Abort! Don’t say that!
Trudeau closes his mouth and resumes blank stare.
Voice 2: Wow! That was close. Can you imagine what would happen if he levelled with people?
Voice 1: Come on. Think fast! The clock is ticking.
Voice 2: OK. Time to reach into the tickle trunk. There has to be something safe and generic that he can say.
Voice 1: But the reporter specifically asked about the message he would send if he stayed silent.
Voice 2: I know. I know. But if he talks long enough, people will forget the question anyway.
Voice 1: True dat. OK look. Remember a couple of weeks ago we rehearsed him on the “horror and consternation” message? It’s not perfect, but I think he can deliver.
Voice 2: Right! Mr. Prime Minister, use script 002-01! Script 002-01. Horror and consternation.
After a pause, Justin Trudeau starts, “We all watch in horror and consternation what’s going on in the United States.…” He speaks for more than 30 seconds and then the same reporter asks a followup question.
Reporter: Why though are you so reluctant to comment directly on the words and the actions of the U.S. president?
Voice 1: Oh my gawd! What is the deal with this reporter? What outlet is he from?
Voice 2: CBC.
Voice 1: What? Who?
Voice 2: Tom Parry. Seems the Corp just can’t control him.
Voice 1: Well, CBC is going to find out how much the prime minister appreciates Tom Parry when budget time comes around.
Voice 2: Hang on. I think we’re in the clear. Walsh from the Globe is asking him about racism in Canada. I TOTALLY briefed him on that. We’re good.
Voice 1: I need a drink. See you at D’Arcy’s.
Voice 2: But he’s not done. You can’t go yet.
Voice 1: He’s not done, but we are. You don’t think we’ll wear this one?
Voice 2: Chill, man. We’ll just plant the rumour that he meant to do it … that the long pause is a message in itself.
Voice 1: (Laughing) You know, that might just work.
I cannot vouch for the veracity of this recording. And I know that some of you may be disturbed to learn the prime minister’s answers are coached in real time. I find it reassuring. It’s great to know there are people behind the scenes working hard to provide answers to hard questions, even if those answers are sometimes hard to unravel.
And here I thought the prime minister was just winging it on his own.
Veteran political commentator Doug Firby is president of Troy Media Digital Solutions and publisher of Troy Media.