dragging the referee, unassisted, off the ice

politics

Barry Blitt’s illustration accompanied “O Quebec,” Mordecai Richler’s Letter From Canada published in the May 30, 1994 edition of The New Yorker.

Politics and hockey share a season in Canada, and it’s one that fills the entire calendar year. Is it any surprise, then, that their respective languages mingle every now and again? If recent history is a guide, politics tends to borrow more of hockey’s idioms than vice-versa. When was the last time you heard Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice praising his penalty-killers for filibustering Vancouver’s powerplay? Speaking of which: is Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis only proroguing the inevitable by not firing coach John Tortorella right now? Not that the politicians always get their metaphors exactly right.

Several recent cases:

• In early February, federal Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver talked to CTV’s Question Period about his government’s hopes for a decision from U.S. President Barack Obama on the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. “I certainly hope he won’t drag the puck,” Oliver said. “We feel that the reasons to go ahead are very strong, that the environmental issues have been dealt with.”

At least, that’s what CTV thought he said. When @ctvqp quoted the remarks on Twitter, @joeoliver1 was quick on the backcheck:

Actually I said I hope he won’t rag the puck.

Once that was cleared up, journalists were all too pleased to join the rush. Here’s Alexander Panetta from The Canadian Press, dateline Washington:

The Canadian government is asking Barack Obama not to “rag the puck” on a Keystone XL decision. But to hear the U.S. administration tell it, the president doesn’t have the puck on his stick, isn’t anywhere near it, and won’t commit to touching it soon.

Nitpicking Minister Oliver’s comments from a strictly hockey point of view, if we’re going to do that, which we are, here’s the thing: it makes no sense to tell the other team what you don’t want them to do. Don’t rag the puck? You might as well ask them not to bother crossing the blue line and trying for a shot on net. If they’re ragging the puck, they’re doing it to baffle and deny you, throw you off your game, waste the time you need to beat them. That’s the whole point of puck-ragging.

Assuming, of course, that Minister Oliver considers President Obama to be on the other team. I guess we should get that clarified for once and for all. If he thinks of him as a teammate, that’s a whole other problem. Unless he himself is the captain of team to the President’s rookie — Alex Ovechkin, say, lecturing Evgeny Kuznetsov. That would work, I guess.

• Also in February: doing his best to explain changes regarding the role of the head of Elections Canada as laid out in the government’s proposed Fair Elections Act, Minister of State (Democratic Reform) Pierre Poilievre said that it was important that the referee of elections not wear a team jersey.

Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand was quick to respond: in his view, the bill would “take the referee off the ice,” and might even make it harder for some voters to cast their ballots.

“The only jersey I think I’m wearing, if we have to carry the analogy, I believe is the one with the stripes, white and black,” Mayrand told reporters, who noted his grimace. “What I know from this bill is that the referee will no longer be on the ice.”

Which, of course, the NHL would never allow. Though of course, in a hockey context, the discussion would have been snuffed even as it started. Badmouthing referees is a big no-no, and if Minister Poilievre were a coach, the league would have been slapping a fine on him even as the words were leaving his mouth. Something in the order of $US10,000, maybe, which is what Chicago’s Joel Quenneville was docked in April of 2012 for comments (they included the word “disgrace”) on the refereeing involved when Phoenix’s Raffi Torres hit Marian Hossa? Or what about Tortorella, in his previous job with the New York Rangers, also in 2012: the NHL fined him $US30,000 for his ref-rant that year. Which is not to equate Minister Poilievre and Coach Tortorella: I, for one, have every confidence that the former would have started Roberto Luongo at this year’s Heritage Classic.

•  On March 1, former Reform party leader Preston Manning delivered the keynote address at the Manning Centre conference in Ottawa.  “Next Steps For The Conservative Movement” was his subject, and we’re not really going to get into those here, other than to suggest that maybe one of them might involve more thoroughly vetting future public hockey allusions.

From Manning’s prepared text:

‘There is no such thing as an unassisted goal’ proclaims that Canadian Tire commercial. And it’s true! Sid Crosby’s game winning, gold winning goal at the 2010 Olympics was assisted — by Jarome Iginla. Marie-Philip Poulin’s game winning, gold winning goal at the 2014 Olympics was assisted – by Laura Fortino.

There is no such thing as an unassisted election victory. There is no such thing as an unassisted policy achievement. There is no such thing as an unassisted political career. And no one is more conscious of this than myself — whatever I’ve been able to accomplish politically has always and in every instance been facilitated and enabled by others.

If you want to transfer that last general point in to the ice — whatever you do as a hockey player, you’re part of a team, so pass the puck, pick up your winger, & etcetera — well, it’s not a bad one, if a little obvious. The first part, though, Sid and Iggy, Marie-Philip and Laura? That’s a mess.

Despite what Canada’s beloved automotive retailer and purveyor of fake money you never end up spending may say, there is such a thing as an unassisted goal: it’s called an unassisted goal. There were six of them scored in the NHL the night Manning gave his speech, Washington’s Joel Ward on a backhand, Florida’s Shawn Matthias via a wrist shot … you get the idea. Five more went in the following night. Those great goals Manning’s cites? Those were assisted goals. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.