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My latest: the greatest Prime Minister

Free political advice: always look both ways.

It’s a sunny, warm June day in 1990 in Calgary.  Along with Eleanor McMahon – one of Jean Chretien’s press assistants, and a future Ontario cabinet minister – I’m on the sidewalk outside the Delta Hotel on Fourth Avenue.  Eleanor and I are on our way somewhere, to prep for another successful Chretien leadership campaign event.  Eleanor behind me, I step off the sidewalk.

And I step into the path of a yellow Calgary cab, moving fast.  

Tires screeched.  Horns blared.  Eleanor screamed.

Later on, in a room at the Calgary General Hospital, Eleanor told me that I had flipped through the air “like a rag doll,” and landed, hard, on the pavement in front of the Delta.  “I thought you were going to die,” she said.

Later on, while recuperating at my parents’ Calgary home, Jean Chretien phoned.  “So, young man,” he said, “was Paul Martin driving that taxi?”

It hurt to laugh, but I laughed anyway.  The leadership vote was a day or so away, and we were going to win it, big time.  Some days before, before my appointment with the bumper of a taxi cab, I had asked Chretien advisor Eddie Goldenberg about “our second ballot strategy.”

Goldenberg laughed.  “We don’t have one,” he said.  “We’re going to win on the first ballot.”

And we did, we did.  Sitting in the Chretien campaign box in Calgary’s Olympic Saddledome with my Dad – surrounded by Chretien loyalists like Keith Davey, Sheila Finestone, Sergio Marchi, Beryl Gaffney, Lawrence MacAulay, Shirley Maheu, Dennis Mills and many, many others – we got the results of the first ballot on June 23, 1990.

Chretien had won the Liberal Party leadership with almost 60 per cent of the delegated vote.  His nearest rival, Paul Martin, took only 25 per cent.  The also-rans – Shela Copps, Tom Wappel and John Nunziata – secured only 15 per cent of the vote put together.

I struggled to my feet using my crutches, overjoyed.  I had been volunteering for Chretien for many months, writing speeches, overseeing his campaign correspondence, assisting in low-level strategy.  Now that the leadership campaign was over, I would return to my legal practice.

Chretien had other plans.  Back in Ottawa, reaching me again on the phone, he told me he wanted me to work for him.  I was shocked.  I never wanted a job, I told him.  I was always planning to return to my litigation practice.

“You can be a lawyer anytime, young man,” the newly-minted Liberal leader said.  “I’m offering a chance to work for me and have some fun.”

So I took him up on his offer, as his Special Assistant, but it wasn’t a lot of fun at the start.  We ran headlong into the Meech Lake Accord, the Oka crisis, and Martin-friendly Liberal MPs quitting caucus to join the nascent Bloc Quebecois.

Chretien would experience a health scare, staff churn, and caucus rumblings, and – later – the Persian Gulf crisis.  Other Opposition leaders may experience a honeymoon in the wake of their win.  But we didn’t.

“You’ve made a big mistake throwing away your legal career to work for Chretien,” some legal and political friends would tell me.  “He’ll never be Prime Minister.”

Well, as I would later delight in telling those Chretien critics, he did okay, didn’t he?

Forty years of never losing an election.  Wrestling the deficit and debt to the ground.  Defeating a burgeoning separatist movement in a nail-biter.  Keeping Canada out of the ill-considered Iraq conflict.  And, along the way, doing what no other leader had done: winning three back-to-back majority governments.

He was – and always will be, to me – the best Prime Minister.  Since he retired in 2003, I’ve seen it many times when I’ve walked on the street with him, in Vancouver or Toronto or Ottawa: Canadians mostly love Jean Chretien.  “Come back,” they say to him, asking for selfies.  “You’d win!”

And he would, he would.  His successors, as Chretienites like to say, always make him look good.

Oh, and as I walked with him on one of those streets one sunny day, Chretien laughed and pointed at me.

“Look both ways this time, young man!”

I wish I had never, ever supported Kristin Raworth

More reasons why, seen in Licia Corbella’s important column today, found here.

My post on Raworth, which you should also read, is here.

In January 2018, an Alberta woman said on Twitter that 10 years earlier, while working at the Alberta legislature — when Hehr was an MLA for the opposition Alberta Liberals between the years of 2008 and 2015 — he called her “yummy” while in an elevator together.She said he made similar remarks or tried to brush up against her in later encounters.The feeding frenzy on Twitter by many thousands of people was swift and near-unanimous. The next day he resigned from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet as sport and disabilities minister.

The Prime Minister’s Office commissioned an independent investigation, which found the woman’s claims were legitimate, but details of the review were kept under wraps by the PMO due to privacy concerns — even though the accuser wanted them made public.

Hehr said then and maintains today that he doesn’t recall meeting the woman at the legislature or calling her or anyone else “yummy” — ever...

It’s vital to point out that Hehr has zero feeling in his hands or forearms. He relies on his shoulder muscles to move his arms and can’t fully control where his arms end up. Indeed, Hehr has received third-degree burns to his hands from a hot cup of coffee offered to him by a well-meaning person — feeling nothing as layers of skin peeled away, requiring medical treatment.

At the age of 21, on Oct. 3, 1991, Hehr, a bystander, was shot in a drive-by shooting in Calgary. The resulting spinal cord injury rendered him a quadriplegic, with no feeling below his breastbone.

In Hehr’s Facebook post, which has received more than 2,500 likes, 610 overwhelmingly positive comments and 346 shares, he writes that what he went through came into “sharp focus” on April 30 “when the woman who accused me of sexual harassment in 2018 apologized for making libellous statements about Canadian public figure Warren Kinsella.” She made false claims, was forced to retract her statements, apologize and pay his legal bills. “Kinsella wrote an article that provided some context for all of this …. Here’s how he closed it: ‘ … to Kent Hehr, wherever you are: I now wonder whether you deserved better. I wonder that a lot.’”

My latest: when zero tolerance doesn’t mean zero

Zero tolerance. 

That’s what he said.  Those are the words he used. 

Justin Trudeau has said, many times, that he and his party have “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. 

As recently as 2018, he gave inspiring interviews to Canadian Press and CBC about the subject.  Here’s what he said. 

“We have no tolerance for this — we will not brush things under the rug, but we will take action on it immediately,” he declared to The Canadian Press, describing how his political party and government regard sexual harassment. 

He said the same sort of thing to CBC Radio in an interview around the same time.  There, the self-proclaimed Feminist Prime Minister proclaimed: “I’ve been very, very careful all my life to be thoughtful, to be respectful of people’s space and people’s headspace as well.”

He respects your headspace, our Prime Minister does.  So, as if to emphasize the point, he noted he had earlier banished a pair of Liberal MPs for alleged sexual impropriety. 

In 2014, he expelled two MPs from the Liberal caucus — Scott Andrews and Massimo Pacetti — before he told them why.  An investigation came later, and it determined that Andrews had indeed engaged in harassing behaviour (groping and grinding), while Pacetti was found to have had having sex with someone (without explicit consent). 

So far so good.  We don’t need sexual creeps and crawlies in our lives.  We particularly don’t need them in Canadian public life.  Well done, Trudeau. 

And then, two years ago this week, this writer received a message from a female Member of Parliament.  One who really was a feminist, and one who had female friends in all of the political parties in the Hill. 

“Have you seen the story about Trudeau groping a reporter in BC?” she said.  “It happened years ago, but still.”

I had not, I told her.  The Liberal Party’s “zero tolerance” policy was a hot topic, that June, because of a controversy swirling around Liberal cabinet member Kent Hehr.  An Alberta woman, Kristin Raworth, had tweeted to me vague allegations of sexual impropriety by Hehr, who was and is a quadriplegic. 

Hehr properly removed himself from cabinet while an investigation was underway.  He later lost his Calgary seat in the 2019 election.  (Tellingly, perhaps, Raworth was later obliged to apologize, retract, and pay substantial damages for false allegations – “he hit his wife” – she made against this writer in March.)

But two years ago, the Kent Hehr story had made sexual harassment stories big news.  Me Too, too. 

And a Member of Parliament had just told me Justin Trudeau had groped a reporter in BC.  She had the article, she said.  She sent it to me. 

It was an editorial, unsigned, from the Creston Valley Advance.  It was easy to determine who the author was, but I would not name her (and have never named her).  I posted a screenshot of the editorial, the reporter’s name on the Advance’s masthead removed.  Apart from asking “what?” in the title of the post, I said nothing else. 

The editorial was titled “Open Eyes.”  The author stated that Trudeau had groped her, quote unquote, at a beer festival in 2000.  Trudeau had “inappropriately handled the reporter,” the editorial read, while she was in assignment for the Advance as well as the National Post. 

When confronted about his actions – which, in many other cases, would be regarded as a sexual assault – Trudeau offered an explanation, not a real apology.  “I’m sorry,“ he said.  “If I had known you were reporting for a national paper, I would have never been so forward.”

Meaning: you’re fair game, woman, if you’re reporting for a small paper. 

When I posted the screenshot of the editorial, it went viral, as they say.  It became international news.  When Trudeau – now a Prime Minister – finally deigned to respond, he offered up an explanation that has since become an object of ridicule.  There hadn’t been a “negative interaction,” he said, although the editorial certainly suggested that was not the case. 

Said Trudeau about his victim: “Who knows where her mind was, and I fully respect her ability to experience something differently.”

Implying the victim had some unnamed mental instability, and declaring that she experienced sexual assault “differently” doesn’t sound terribly feminist, does it?  But Justin Trudeau survived the scandal.  He was re-elected. 

Two years later, the issue is back.  This time, a Liberal backbencher is facing assault, break and enter, and criminal harassment charges from 2015.  A woman is among the victims.

And Trudeau knew all about it.  The allegations were substantiated by an internal Liberal Party probe, the CBC revealed this week. 

But Trudeau let the backbencher run under his party’s banner anyway.  Trudeau signed the MP’s nomination papers.  

We could go on, but – by now – you get the point.  And the point is this. 

When Justin Trudeau said he had a “zero tolerance” policy, he didn’t actually mean there was “zero tolerance” for sexual misconduct. 

He meant there was literally zero that he wouldn’t tolerate.

My latest: 2020 sucks

It’s more like an ordeal, than a year. That has been 2020. 

In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens famously declared that “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” 

But you can’t really say that about these times. They are the worst in living memory. There is no glorious revolution to celebrate, as Dickens did. 

The three horsemen of the current apocalypse are well-known: the coronavirus, the collapse of the world economy, and the lethal racism that seemingly permeates too many institutions. It is not an exaggeration to say that these three things have reordered our present view of the world. 

Indeed, against those three things – Covid-19, global recession and widespread systemic racism – many have been measured. Many have been judged. 

Many have been found lacking. 

So, Donald Trump will lose in November because he has failed the test of all three. He called the coronavirus “a hoax.” He repeatedly promised an economic rebirth that never came. And – because, he is in his essence a white supremacist – he badly miscalculated how to respond to the historic rebellion against police racism and brutality. His response: threaten to send in American troops to confront the American people.

But others are in the process of being judged, too.  And not just in the United States. 

In the middle of an unprecedented global uprising against racism, Conservative leadership candidate Erin O’Toole issued an unambiguous dog-whistle, proclaiming he wanted to “take Canada back.” From whom, he didn’t say. He didn’t have to: his is, and was, the party of the barbaric practices hotline. 

Justin Trudeau was caught wearing racist blackface, and was so completely lacking in self-awareness – so incapable of shame – he later turned a Black Lives Matter protest into the backdrop for a photo op. Plunging into a crowd on Parliament Hill when, just the days before, he had exhorted us all to keep away from crowds. 

The RCMP, once our proud national police force – once even a symbol of the country itself – is being judged, too. As the Mounties’ leadership plays semantic games about what “systemic racism” means, its membership shoot an Indigenous woman to death during “a wellness check.” They gun down an Indigenous man in a New Brunswick street – why, we do not know. And they brutalize and beat another Indigenous man – a respected chief in Alberta – in a parking lot. All this, from a police force whose Commissioner told the Globe and Mail “we don’t have systemic racism,” before reversing herself.

Many media have done a commendable job documenting all of these serial failures by those who are supposed to know better. In the grinding, grueling Spring of 2020, our media have mostly served us well. 

Not CBC, however.

CBC recently decided to destroy the career of Wendy Mesley, a Gemini-winning journalist who has worked at the national broadcaster for 40 years.  Her offence? To express concern about a possible panelist who might use the N-word. 

Mesley did not say the word on air.  She was in a private meeting with CBC staff, discussing the suitability of the guest who might say it.  She expressed disapproval.

That didn’t matter to the craven, dissembling cowards who run the CBC.  They summarily cancelled the remaining episodes of Mesley’s show, and suspended the award-winning journalist.  Mesley had apologized, quickly and unambiguously.  Veteran CBC journalists like Neil MacDonald and Bruce Dowbiggin had come to her defence. But the CBC’s “leadership” was undeterred.  Mesley was gone, and few expect her to come back.

This would be the same CBC, of course, who once gave a platform to the founder of the American Nazi Party to spew white supremacy and anti-Semitic bile on-air.  The same CBC who brought robed Klansmen onto a show to advocate separation of the races.  The same CBC who hosted Anne Coulter, who calls non-white immigration “genocide.”

The same CBC which, not long ago, gave an uncritical platform to Gavin McInnes, the founder of the white supremacist Proud Boys.  While the clueless CBC host did precisely nothing, McInnes advocated “issuing a bounty” on Indigenous people.  McInnes – who had previously written “Ten Things I Hate About Jews” for Rebel Media, and called Muslims “sandbox savages” – was permitted by CBC to spew racist invective without opposition, without context.

The CBC, in its scramble to look tolerant, now looks like something else entirely: a farce.

We live in profoundly troubled times.  We are at risk of losing much to a troika of grim threats – coronavirus, recession, systemic racism. We need leadership.

Too often, this year, we’re not getting it.



Because it’s 2020

On sexual assault, and sexual harassment, Justin Trudeau is not to be believed. He just isn’t.

But will some self-described Liberal “feminists” go on TV and defend it? You know they will.

Member of Parliament Marwan Tabbara — who is expected to appear in court today to face assault and criminal harassment charges — was approved to run for the Liberals in the 2019 federal election despite a party investigation into allegations of sexual harassment made against him during his last mandate, CBC News has learned.

The Liberals looked into detailed allegations of misconduct made against the Kitchener South-Hespeler MP that included inappropriate touching and unwelcome sexual comments directed at a female staffer, according to sources with knowledge of the allegations. The allegations date back to the 2015 election campaign, the source said.

The sources who spoke to CBC News requested anonymity, citing the risk of being blacklisted within Liberal circles and it negatively impacting their careers.

CBC News has confirmed the party’s internal investigation determined that some of the allegations were substantiated, but has not been able to learn whether Tabbara faced any consequences.

Despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s zero-tolerance policy on sexual misconduct in the workplace, the party approved Tabbara as a Liberal candidate last year.

Kent Hehr speaks

When you read this important essay, keep in mind that Kristin Rayworth was obliged to apologize to me, retract, pay my legal fees, and make a donation to Equal Voice on my behalf.

That says plenty. So does Mr. Hehr.

More than two years have passed since I faced the #MeToo accusations that led to me resigning from Cabinet. While it has been a whirlwind, I have taken pause every day since to reflect not just on the accusations, but how I have lived my life.

This came into sharp focus a month ago when the woman who accused me of sexual harassment in 2018 apologized for making libellous statements about Canadian public figure Warren Kinsella. She falsely claimed that he had abused women and hit his wife, and was forced to retract these statements. Kinsella wrote an article that provided some context for all of this, and you can read it in the link below. Here’s how he closed it: “… to Kent Hehr, wherever you are: I now wonder whether you deserved better. I wonder that a lot.”

When I read this, my mind immediately went to the classic Clint Eastwood film, Unforgiven. My favourite scene is when Eastwood’s character, an aging outlaw killer, stands above the corrupt sheriff who pleads, “I don’t deserve this, to die like this. I was building a house.” Eastwood’s character replies, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”

I stand by what I wrote to Canadians in the spring of 2018. The same woman who accused Kinsella alleged, when I was an MLA twelve years ago and she worked at the legislature, that I had called her “yummy” in an elevator. I did not, and do not, recall ever meeting her. I certainly don’t recall ever saying “yummy” to her (or to anyone, for that matter).

In response to this accusation I wrote, “I have never been perfect but have always strived to do better,” and this remains true today. The important question for me is whether I could become a better person from the #MeToo movement. The answer has proven to be yes.

I used to think that I could call myself a feminist simply because I was a progressive. I thought it was enough that I believed in equal pay for equal work, a woman’s right to choose, and national daycare. I thought it was enough that I ran in elections under the Liberal banner, as a champion of women’s liberation and gender equality.

But it was not enough, not even close.

I have learned that it matters not just who you affiliate with, but how you speak and listen. Being a progressive is a choice each and every day, to fight for certain values as well as to live by them. It meant looking at my own behaviour and language. It means humility by consistently choosing to be humble. It means renouncing attitudes once taken for granted.

The truth is: I have acted inappropriately at times in my life—sometimes inadvertently, sometimes by choice. I grew up playing hockey, and if there was ever a place for toxic masculinity to fester it was in the dressing room. Everything centred around sex; it was far from healthy or respectful, and I willingly took part. I spent more than my fair share of time sitting around a pub table where improper conversations about women were commonplace.

I didn’t see, or try to see, the inherent harm in what I thought was harmless banter. This was wrong. Even as an elected politician, I could revel in a bad joke with friends, colleagues and my own staff. I realize now more than ever that this was also wrong. I take personal responsibility, and what I stated in 2018 doesn’t just stand: it takes on new meaning for me every day.

Here’s another quote I love from Unforgiven. The Schofield Kid says, “Yeah…well, I guess they had it comin’.” Eastwood’s character replies, “We all have it comin’, kid.” I agree: sometimes we do have it coming, whether we deserve it or not.

At 50, there are more days behind me than ahead. I’ve learned during my time rolling this earth that, while “deserve” may have nothing to do with it, forgiveness does. I hope to be forgiven and I want to forgive others as well.