CANADA’S illustrious Prime Minister, The Rt. Hon. Jean Chrétian, recently visited Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, while he was in London. During tea, Mr. Chrétian asked a favour of Her Majesty:
“In the course of political life, it is often useful to be able to differentiate the sharp from the dull,” the Prime Minister began. “What do you do, Your Majesty, to distinguish one from the other?”
“I am always pleased to assist my loyal subjects, where I can,” said the Queen. “Thank you so much for asking. What I do is ask a question. I’ll show you now.” She signalled a footman to bring a telephone and after he had withdrawn, the Queen dialled the number for 10 Downing Street.
“Hello. Tony Blair here.”
“Hello, Mr. Blair.”
“Your Majesty! This is an honour. What can I do for you?”
“You can answer a question, if you have a minute.”
“Yes of course. It would be my pleasure.”
“Quite. Mr. Blair, if your mother had a child and your father had a child, but that child was neither your sister nor your brother, who would that child be?”
“Why, that child would be me, Your Majesty.”
“Exactly correct. I thank you for your assistance, Mr. Blair. It has been a great pleasure, as it always is, speaking to you this afternoon.”
“Thank you, Mum.”
The Queen of England then turned to the Prime Minister of Canada:
“And that, Mr. Chrétian, is how it is done. That is how I distinguish the sharp from the dull.”
“Your Majesty, I am in your debt. May I use your technique when I return to Canada?”
“Of course you may. I hope it helps you.”
A few days later, the Rt. Hon. Jean Crétian was in his office wondering how to reshuffle his Cabinet. “I shall use what Her Majesty has taught me so I can separate the quick from the dead,” the Prime Minister muttered under his breath. He picked up his phone and dialled a number.
“Mrs. Copps, this is the Prime Minister. Would you please come to my office?”
In a few minutes, Sheila Copps was sitting in front of the Prime Minister. “Mrs. Copps, I have a question for you: If your mother had a child and your father had a child, but that child was neither your sister nor your brother, who would that child be?”
Knowing the answer to the question was the key to her political future, Sheila Copps thought long and hard. Minutes passed. The Prime Minister began to drum his fingers. Suddenly Mrs. Copps blurted, “I know this is a very important question, Mr. Prime Minister, could I consider it in depth in my office?”
“Yes, of course you can. Let me know when you have the answer.”
Upon returning to her office, Mrs. Copps thought long and hard. When the answer failed to materialize, she called in her trusted Executive Assistant. But he too failed to solve the puzzle. In vain, Mrs. Copps queried the Liberal Party Caucus at its meeting the next morning. Nobody had an answer, although one Member had a suggestion. “We could hire a consulting firm I know in Montréal to work on the problem. It won’t cost more than twenty or thirty million.” The suggestion was approved, but after several weeks the firm advised the Caucus Secretary that more money would be required if the government would like the consultants to spend any more time solving the problem. More time was hired.
Months later, Mrs. Copps became frantic when she heard there was still no answer. In desperation she called the Leader of The Opposition, Mr. Steven Harper.
“Hello, Mr. Harper? This is Sheila Copps. Do you have a minute?”
“Mrs. Copps, how nice of you to call. How can I help?”
“Mr. Harper, I have a question for you to answer.”
“Mr. Harper, if your mother had a child and your father had a child, but that child was neither your sister nor your brother, who would that child be?”
“That child would be me, Mrs. Copps.”
“Thank you Mr. Harper. You have rendered a great service to your country.”
Armed with the correct answer at last, Sheila Copps rang the Prime Minster and soon she was seated in the Prime Minister’s office.
“What do you have to report, after three months working on the problem?” the Prime Minister asked.
“I know the answer to your question, Mr. Prime Minister.”
“Well then, if your mother had a child and your father had a child, but that child was neither your sister nor your brother, who would that child be, Mrs. Copps?”
“The child would be Steven Harper,” Mrs. Copps answered with pride.
“What! The child would not be Steven Harper, you stupid woman. The child would be Tony Blair!”
And that is how it’s done in Ottawa.
© Morley Leonard Evans 2003