‘How much do I smile?’ Senators get crash course in how to act in front of cameras as televised sittings set to start

‘How much do I smile?’ Senators get crash course in how to act in front of cameras as televised sittings set to start
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OTTAWA — When the Senate starts broadcasting its proceedings live on Monday evening for the first time, it will be, for senators, an exercise not only in public transparency but also in remembering to take off their lanyards for the cameras.

“The first time that somebody gets caught picking their teeth, people are, you know, we fidget, we’re human beings, right?” said new independent Sen. Paula Simons, a former columnist for the Edmonton Journal. “You sit there for a long time, and you do weird things, and you make strange faces, and I imagine that for a lot of people, myself included, there are going to be some embarrassing moments.”

In preparation for the historic change, the Senate’s communications team sent around a document of “best practices” for broadcast before filming test footage last month. And the last week of February, most senators and staff attended a series of presentations that demonstrated “a bunch of faux pas.”

“For example, one senator had just finished a long speech and after she finished it, she sat down and then she kind of looked up to the sky, and kind of sighed, as if to say, ‘thank God that’s over,’” said a senior Senate official.

Senators sitting near caucus leaders were cautioned that they’d be on camera a lot. One Conservative senator kept looking up at the lights in the ceiling as leader Sen. Larry Smith gave a speech next to him. “His eyes were kind of shooting up into the top of his head,” said the official. Other senators were cautioned about not staring down at the page, without looking up, while they read their speeches.

Although eating isn’t allowed in the chamber, sometimes senators have been known to snack on candy. “People will have a mint, or things like that. And it doesn’t look really cool.” No one was explicitly told “don’t pick your nose.”

Liberal Sen. Dennis Dawson has done this song and dance before. When the House of Commons started broadcasting for the first time in 1977, he was the first MP to give a speech on television. “Pardon my French, but it pissed off a lot of MPs that were caught misbehaving. But it had the advantage of pointing out what was being done and trying to correct it.”

Conservative Sen. Donald Plett, who clarified that “I was never a supporter of this,” said he thinks the House of Commons has created actors out of many MPs. In the Senate, “I would like to believe that it will maybe improve behaviour, and maybe it will,” he said. “But my fear is that it will do the opposite, it will make us more flamboyant and it will make us put on shows for the camera.”

His Tory colleague Sen. Denise Batters had been pushing for the change for years, however. “To me it’s just absolutely essential for accountability and transparency,” she said, although it won’t change much in her daily routine — “I always prepare for the fact that I might be on television.”

But for now, another Senate staffer told the Post, it would be great if senators could just please stop wearing their lanyards, with their security passes, while they are on camera. “I’m kind of shocked by how many senators are still wearing the lanyard,” the staffer said. “It looks like they’re all at a conference.”

He routinely switches false beards, moustaches and hairstyles, even fake tattoos. She swaps wigs, scarves, glasses. Both have a catalog of fantasy names

I am reminded of the Gomery inquiry. Quid pro quos, greasy influence over civil servants, too much power in the PMO: It all seems awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

There’s not much anyone can do about it. In our system, the prime minister decides whether the prime minister should be held to account

In this occasional series, Jordan Peterson writes from his international speaking tour for his book, 12 Rules for Life
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