It was the best picture Frank never had.
Just after being reminded for the umpteenth time by Liberal caucus communications toadie Brynn Langille that I was intruding on the private reception that followed the recent cabinet swearing-in ceremony at Pier 21, I headed for the exit. Brynn was right. These poor Liberals deserved their privacy, away from the prying eyes of the press. And I’d had enough, anyway.
It had been a long morning. For one thing, it seemed at times that Liberal communications toadies and fartcatchers outnumbered the reporters. And a place where such a critical mass of communications toadies congregate isn’t a place where reporters like to be.
Before News 95.7 news reader-turned Liberal caucus office toadie Brynn expended considerable effort trying to vamoose my goodself from the reception, highly paid Communications Nova Scotia operative Tina Thibeau (2016 salary: $92,510.34) had been attempting — mostly unsuccessfully — to keep the gathered media throng locked away in their assigned pen at the back of the room.
At one point near the end of the ceremony, when the “dignitaries,” as they say, positioned themselves on stage for the first official snapshot of Stephen McNeil’s Cabinet 2.0 — the newbies Derek Mombourquette, Patricia Arab and Iain Rankin grinning the widest, along with perhaps Education Minister (snicker — ed.) Zach Churchill and Geoff MacLellan, simply out of relief that the electors returned him to his cushy job, albeit by the slimmest of margins — it was hardly a surprise that the reporters and cameramen stepped forward to take the shot.
Hardly a surprise, that is, unless you were Tina Thibeau, who protested briefly before dramatically throwing up her hands in mock frustration. She stopped just short of putting her hands on her hips and declaring, “Just what am I going to do with you people?”
Back at the beginning, she had instructed us all that if we wished to move to the side of the stage for up-close swearing-in action shots — Ms. Arab giving her traditional halal blessing and whatnot — she would be happy to accompany anyone who wished such access to the front of the room.
Nobody was clear why we might need a chaperon for the journey to the front, which hardly looked arduous. Except, that is, for the Liberal government toadies and fartcatchers, like Tina, who wandered the perimeter of the circa 250-strong crowd.
Their mere presence can be trying, certainly. Besides Brynn and Tina, there was Communications NS fella Andrew Preeper ($74,008.22); Stephen McNeil’s principal secretary, ex-CBC/CTV national reportrix Laurie Graham (circa $160,000); Cabinet Office outreach thingy/policy adviser Jackie Foster, formerly of CTV; Premier’s Office media relations thingy/former Chronicle Herald political reporter David Jackson; and Premier’s Office deputy minister/former Live at Five hostess Laura Lee Langley ($183,342.38). Of course it goes without saying that I’m missing a few.
Therein lies the reason why reporters required a government-assigned den mother to walk them 40 paces to the front of the room.
There are so many of them, with such luxuriant government salaries, it behooves each of them to look the officious part and stalk around in a harried manner, waving their arms around and saying things, lest some superior gets it in his head that a cull is required. What things must they be saying? It hardly matters.
“A chaperon is required to accompany you to the front of the room,” one communications toadie declares.
“I shall be the one who furrows my brow and shakes my head,” says another.
“It is I who will mind the sweets!” says a third.
But during the reception, the sweets-minder wasn’t at his post.
As I headed for the exit at the reception, I could hardly believe what I saw out of the corner of my eye. It was Mary Clancy, in all of her usual caped and be-hatted splendour, purse on a table, filling it with sundry cakes and squares and sweets from a tray.
I paused. But I didn’t react in time. By the time I brought my camera up to capture the moment, she had sealed up her bag and taken it off the table. As I said up top, it was the best picture Frank never had.
As much as this looked at the outset to be a narrative featuring a classic man vs. man conflict — featuring a heroic reporter battling the scourge of dastardly communications toadies — this is, in fact, more of a man vs. himself sorta thing.
Missing that Pulitzer-potential photograph wasn’t Brynn Langille’s fault. Tina Thibeau didn’t make me miss it. Ditto for Andrew Preeper and Jackie Foster, David Jackson and Laura Lee. The fault lies within myself. I need only look in the mirror to find the person to blame.
Missing that photograph, what would have been a perfect pictoral representation of Mary Clancy’s entire life at the trough, from her time as a troughing MP, to her time as the troughing Canadian Counsel General to Boston, to present day, as a troughing government pensioner shovelling sweets into her handbag at a Liberal government event, will haunt me for the rest of my days.
I grabbed a few sweets on the way out the door. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, I suppose. Toadie Tina tells me the reception was catered by RCR Hospitality, Pier 21’s in-house caterer. The final bill isn’t in yet, but the province was quoted a cost of $8,827.28, including tax and mandatory gratuity.