By Peter DonoloContributor
Mon., Feb. 28, 2022timer3 min. read
Phew. It’s finally over. And this year it was more brutal than ever.
T.S. Eliot was wrong. April isn’t the cruellest month; February is. At least in Canada it is. It’s the time our collective cabin fever makes us snarlier than ever. And turns our politics into one extended primal scream.
I first took note of this seasonal madness a quarter century ago, when I was Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s Director of Communications. The PM, on a skiing vacation in British Columbia, was unable to make it on time to attend the funeral of Jordan’s King Hussein.
Like the U.S. and other nations, we sent our Foreign Minister to represent us. But the PM’s absence touched off a weeklong orgy of outrage in the House of Commons and the national media. Opposition MPs who wouldn’t have been able to find Jordan on a map were in high dudgeon. Newspapers and pundits — including in this newspaper — were unanimous in their judgement that the PM’s absence was an unprecedented diplomatic black eye for Canada.
Then just as suddenly, the media and political class snapped out of it. As if a fever had lifted, nobody mentioned King Hussein’s funeral again. In fact, when his son and heir, King Abdullah, made a state visit to Canada later that very year, he didn’t get a single question at his news conference about the Prime Minister’s supposed historic snub.
That’s what started me thinking. And reflecting. Simple acts that go unnoticed – or at least put in perspective — at any other time or year touch off a veritable February firestorm in this country. The national uproar over Pierre Trudeau’s “fuddle duddle” — February. Justin Trudeau’s costume-bedecked trip to India? Mr. Chrétien’s “Shawinigan Handshake” throttling of a protester? The political bombshell of SNC Lavalin and Jody Wilson-Raybould’s cabinet resignation? You guessed it – February.
Hell, the only February federal election in this country’s history – in 1980 – resulted in Joe Clark’s government being turfed out – after less than a year in office!
Canadians are surly and hostile at this dark and harsh midpoint of our Canadian winters. And our media and political class are on a hair trigger, ready to fly off the handle sooner than you can say, well, “fuddle duddle.”
That’s why, for the past 20 years, I have had one piece of rock-solid, unbendable advice for any government considering making a major announcement in February: don’t. Wait for our month of national neurosis to pass. And let Canadians return to their usual more normal, phlegmatic, equanimical selves after the long ordeal that is the shortest month.
But this year – 2022 – represented the mother of all Canadian Februaries. So insane was the second month of this year, that what would have normally counted as banner February Fever event — a successful putsch by the Official Opposition Party against its own leader — was relegated to a mere sidebar.
Instead, we were treated to a veritable Carnival of Crazy by the horn-blaring, hot-tubbing, bouncy-castled, and quite lawless occupation of our nation’s capital by several hundred anti-vaxxers and assorted hooligans and louts. So around the bend was this three-week hootenanny of hysteria that even the first-ever invocation of Canada’s Emergencies Act seemed like an anti-climax.
Even by Canadian standards, this February went way off the Richter Scale.
Well, drastic times call for drastic measures.
My usual advice of ignoring February clearly doesn’t cut it anymore. Instead, and with apologies to Jonathan Swift, I offer a modest proposal.
Let’s cancel the month altogether. No more February, no more February cabin fever. We can be boring, stolid Canadians all year long.
And there would be an unexpected and completely fringe benefit for this northern nation: cancelling February would shorten winter by 28 days (and, every four years, by 29 days!). What more could we ask for?
Peter Donolo is Vice Chair of Hill+Knowlton Strategies.