“Now the real fun begins”

A tongue-in-cheek warning for new governments.

Politicians campaign in poetry but have to govern in prose. It’s a rough transition from the former to the latter. Just ask Bob Rae, a surprise NDP victor in the 1990 provincial election in Ontario, who once wrote, “there is probably no worse training in the world for becoming premier than spending a career in opposition”.

Poor training can be worsened by lack of planning. Awaking after euphoric election nights with little more in hand than campaign slogans, new first ministers are expected to quickly appoint cabinets, corral potentially hostile bureaucrats and turn promises into action. Pass the Aspirin. It’s time to get down to work.

Brian Mulroney’s landslide victory in 1984, a win based in part on his famous “You had an option, Sir” retort to John Turner, ushered in first Progressive Conservative majority government in 22 years. Ottawa insider Bill Neville led the transition prep team, vowing to do things differently. His team put together a comprehensive guide to assuming office in a hulking three-ring binder. As David Zussman wrote in his book Off and Running, the transition guide began with the line, “Congratulations. Now the real fun begins”. This document formed the basis for everything the new government did in its first months.

The difficulties involved in taking charge can be more dire still when outgoing government personnel deliberately throw sand in your gears. There’s a story that goes that incoming provincial Liberal staffers in Ontario once found vandalized equipment awaiting them at their new desks: each keyboard with its ‘L’ key meticulously plucked out and thrown away. Unless new keyboards were quickly found, the government would be forced to issue press releases reading: “The iberals today announced…” (Some of the things we remember best at Parli never happened.)

Image source: Wikimedia

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