Save the Chateau? Buy it

Several lifetimes ago, when this writer was a Chief of Staff in Jean Chretien’s government – and when the Reform Party was a political force to be reckoned with – stuff started to fall out of the sky.

Well, not the sky, actually. Centre Block’s Peace Tower, to be precise.

Bricks and mortar and other stuff was crumbling and falling onto the ground below. Our bureaucrats had to place some brightly-painted construction hoarding on the ground level, to keep tourists from getting a souvenir they’d never forget. But there was clearly a problem that needed to be addressed.

The bureaucrats, as bureaucrats do, came up with a modernizing solution that would involve the expenditure of several million dollars. Anticipating the reaction of the government-hating Reform Party, I was opposed. The Minister in question, David Dingwall, was in favour. He said something to me I will never forget.

“Warren,” said Dingwall, in that Cape Breton lilt of his, “these buildings do not belong to us. They belong to the people. We are going to do this, and there will be not a peep of protest.”

Dingwall was right, and I was wrong. We went ahead with remediation efforts, and nary a peep was heard from the Reformers, or anyone else.

This tale came to mind, recently, as the Rest of Canada has watched official Ottawa tear itself to shreds over the planned modern addition to the Chateau Laurier. It’s not nice, but this writer has found the sturm und drang rather amusing. It perfectly describes Ottawa, in a way: a bunch of people going apoplectic (a) about change, and about (b) something that doesn’t actually belong to them.

Because, you know, the Chateau Laurier doesn’t belong to the government. Lots of government people spend taxpayer money there, naturally, but they don’t own it.

They sure are acting like they do, however. They don’t want the Chateau Laurier’s owners to make an addition to the hotel that looks different than the way the hotel does now.

Their arguments, in the main, seem to be that the Chateau Laurier looks old, so whatever is attached to it has to look old, too. But is that true?

Well, no. As I type this, I am in Toronto, half a block from the Royal Ontario Museum. It’s an incredible building. Its main structure is more than one hundred years old. On the North side, however, the ROM added an explosion of angular glass and metal, one that aroused a lot of controversy when it was proposed. They added that structure about a decade ago, and the architects call it a deconstructivist crystalline-form structure. It’s beautiful. It has won lots of awards.

If you take a minute and think about it, this sort of thing happens a lot, these days. Architects are coming up with way to fuse modern with traditional right across the country, for both private and public buildings. Among other things, it’s a way of preserving historic buildings while making space for modern buildings which are cleaner, safer and more environmental.

Tradition and modernity aren’t inconsistent. If done right, they’re quite complementary. In a country as old as ours – but in a country that is growing as ours is, by leaps and bounds – it is a way to preserve aspects of the past without being bound to the past. It is a way of embracing modern building methods which are frankly far superior to the ways things were done a Century ago.

Now, if you only like old stuff, you don’t like modern design. Modern design is sleek and clean and avoids fluff. People who like old buildings like fluff. Old buildings are often full of it. The Chateau Laurier has the pretensions of a castle, and with all that implies. It needs to be less pretentious.

The debate raging over the privately-owned Chateau Laurier neatly defines Official Ottawa. It recalls the perpetual 24 Sussex debate. The Prime Minister’s Official Residence is generally regarded as a drafty, windy old barn. No one has been living there for years. But Official Ottawa agonizes about it endlessly, deliberating over whether to tear it down or spend the treasury on it. The opted for the latter.

Ottawa, stop embracing the past. Stop celebrating fluff. Consider the possibilities of 2019 and beyond.

Oh, and this: it’s not your building. If you want to keep it the way it is, buy it.

But use your own money for once, please.


In court right now, for sentencing of neo-Nazis


SFH Kinda Suck!

Snipe Yeomanson, Bjorn von Flapjack III and Yours Screwly played last night, and we were godlike geniuses, basically.

Here’s our latest vid, directed by the brilliant Nick “The Knife” Nelson, and starring our Steve Deceive, our Scottish muse. Get it on iTunes here!


Gay conversion “therapy”


Dimples? Simple

Dimples.

That’s what you actually get some Trudeau trolls nattering about online: Andrew Scheer’s dimples.

Seriously.

For some reason beyond the understanding of sane people, the Trudeaupian types think that the Conservative leader’s dimples disqualify him as a candidate for Prime Minister. They go on about it all the time.

The same criticism used to be made about Bill Clinton. The Democratic president’s many Republican antagonists would say that Clinton’s ever-present grin was unsettling. They would say that Clinton seems to be smiling when, you know, he shouldn’t be.

In recent months, the upward tilt of Andrew Scheer’s lips haven’t been as evident. We don’t know if he’s received advice to look less happy, or if he is simply distressed by the state of Confederation. Either way, Andrew Scheer is not smirking nearly as much as he used to.

This tendency of some people to attack politicians for something over which they have no control – to wit, their physical appearance – is nothing really new.

Haters on the left attacked Doug Ford for his weight, just as they did with his deceased brother, Toronto Mayor Rob. Kathleen Wynne was mocked for resembling the Church Lady on Saturday Night Live.

And, as Wynne would certainly know, female politicians are regularly attacked – viciously, ceaselessly, unfairly – for their appearance: their hairstyle, their style of dress, their relative attractiveness. All the time.

Such attacks can change the course of political history. The infamous 1993 Conservative Party ad that pointed out the facial paralysis of my former boss, Jean Chretien, is the most infamous example. On the night those ads hit the airwaves in the midst of the 1993 federal election campaign, this writer was running Chretien’s war room at his Ottawa headquarters.

We did not know those attack ads were coming, and we were shocked when they did. Unidentified voices could be heard asking if the Liberal leader “looked like a Prime Minister.“

My boss had been waiting his whole life for that attack. He responded a few hours later, at a campaign stop in New Brunswick. He pointed out that “this was the face” that God gave him, and – unlike Tories, he said – “I don’t speak out of both sides of my mouth.“

Boom. Tories reduced to two seats.

In political back rooms, however, a great deal of time is still devoted to discussing and debating the physiology of political candidates. Example: prior to this writer arriving in British Columbia in 1996 to assist the BC Liberal campaign, some nameless genius strategist decided to stick BC liberal leader Gordon Campbell in a plaid shirt, so he would look a little more proletarian, and a little less house street.

The gambit backfired dramatically. Campbell was ridiculed for trying to be something that he was not.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau presents a political anomaly. Trudeau, like Gordon Campbell, is a handsome fellow. Even Rolling Stone gushed in a cover story that Trudeau and his family are “photogenic” and “glamorous.”

In Canada, the politicians who tend to succeed are unlike Trudeau. They are the ones who possess the hockey-rink-and-Timmmies Everyman look. Ralph Klein, Rene Levesque, Mel Lastman, Jean Chretien and Rob Ford were frequently attacked by the elites for being dishevelled or, at least, somewhat less than a Hollywood matinee idol.

But voters, clearly, loved them for it. Because, in the main, not too many voters resemble Hollywood matinee idols either.

If they’ve gotten this far, serious students of policy  will be offended by all this talk about physical appearance.

They’re right. We shouldn’t make important decisions based on looks.

But, not long after he lost the aforementioned 1996 BC election, Gordon Campbell ruefully remarked to this writer: “It’s 70 per cent how you look, 20 per cent how you say it, and only 10 per cent what you say.”

Campbell knows whereof he speaks. And, if you don’t believe me, go looking for Andrew Scheer’s dimples.

They’re gone.