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It was uplifting and unbelievably sad, all at the same time. Jim Watson and I eulogized our friend, or tried to. I was okay, until the end. It was hard.
Some coverage, here. I am officially spent.
While the funeral drew politicos of many stripes, the duo of Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and lawyer, strategist and pundit Warren Kinsella were the self-declared “Liberal quota” on the eulogy stage.
The pair recalled their friendship with Brown during their youth at Carleton University.
“We would always greet each other with ‘Senator,’ no matter where we were,” said Watson.
Kinsella recalled how Brown, in their student government days, had a motion passed declaring Carleton “a communism-free zone.”
“I would now advise, on behalf of Gordie, that any New Democrats who received a degree from Carleton University after 1984 possess an illegal document and should turn themselves in to the authorities,” he joked.
Kinsella and Watson also recalled the group stealing a fake cruise missile from a peace protest camp on Parliament Hill.
The Hot Nasties were a first-wave Calgary punk band who (improbably) have had their stuff covered by the likes of the Palma Violets and Nardwuar, and praised by the frontmen for Fucked Up and the Pursuit of Happiness. When we were together, however, we didn’t have any famous friends. We put on some shows, we put out a couple records, and – properly – we flamed out in 1980.
Nearly four decades later, we’re back! Ras Pierre and me – along with Bjorn von Flapjack III, Rockin’ Al Macdonald and Jake Kirbie – are the new Hot Nasties, and we’ve put together a happenin’ four-song EP, The Ballad of the Social Blemishes EP. It contains live versions of Teenage Lament and Fashion Show at CJSW in Calgary, the all-new Hey There Girl, and the new new tune, The Ballad of the Social Blemishes. It’s about our departed pal, Tom Wolfe, who was the manager of the Blems and our high school co-conspirator.
The record is available on the world’s greatest punk label, Ugly Pop, here. It’s a bargain and will be worth millions when me and Ras Pierre commence our dirt nap.
Herewith, too, is the world premiere of the video for that song – featuring a swaggering Ras Pierre, a bespectacled me, a sleepy Rockin’ Al, Rachel Notley’s former Chief of Staff John Heaney, and a leaping and cavorting Terry “Lost and Profound” Tompkins. That’s Tom Wolfe at the end, after our epic show at Bishop Carroll in 1978. Bjorn gave the video a very powerful ending.
We miss Tom and salute him. Now, go pogo!
And here, to celebrate, is a snippet from my column next week:
Doug Ford – who I know and like, full disclosure – is not a professional politician. He may have been a city councillor for a single term, but he is as far from a professional politician as one can get. He does not have anywhere near the experience that Ontario Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne and Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath have. Not even close.
Unlike the other two, he has never led a political party before. Unlike the other two, he has never ruled a caucus before. Unlike the other two, he has never participated in a leader’s debate before last Monday.
But he’s still winning, and he’s winning. Media polls even suggest he has a twenty-point lead. Internal party polling, meanwhile, suggests that the Grits are heading towards third party status. And perhaps no party status at all.
How could such a thing happen to the once-mighty Ontario Liberal machine? Three reasons. One, Kathleen Wynne needed to take a walk in the proverbial snow way back in 2017. Two, the Grits needed to jettison the profligate Martinite crew around Wynne – the ones who destroyed the federal Liberal party a decade ago. Three, they needed to be infused with new blood and new faces.
They didn’t do any of those things.
Traditional political campaigns do not work against populists.
Populists possess an extraordinary magical power: they are able to transform an attack on them into an attack on those who support them. And that is why virtually everything Kathleen Wynne said to Doug Ford in that first leaders’ debate last week – that he doesn’t understand how government works, that he doesn’t have experience, that he doesn’t get it, that he is out of his depth, blah blah blah – ricocheted off of him and onto the unhappy people who support him. And thereby wedded them more closely to their man, Doug Ford.
An attack on Doug Ford, you see, is an attack on them.
— Warren Kinsella (@kinsellawarren) May 7, 2018
- Doug Ford needed to (a) be standing at the end of the debate, and (b) keep his cool. He did both. Win.
- Andrea Horwath needed to (a) remind people that she existed, and (b) sound like she knew what she is talking about. She did both. Win.
- Kathleen Wynne needed to (a) not sound like a Deputy Minister and (b) remember she is fighting for her life, and kick the living shit out of her two opponents. She did neither. Fail.
- TV is 70 per cent how you look. Doug looked nervous at the start, but less so as the show went on. Andrea looked like she was having fun. Kathleen looked like she was the meat in the sandwich, stuck between two opponents – and her suffragette outfit made her looked washed out on the CITY-TV set.
- TV is 20 per cent how you sound. Doug sounded scripted at the start and the finish – he (like most populists) is better speaking extemporaneously. Andrea sounded like she’s been preparing for four years for that debate, and totally confident. Kathleen sounded like a bureaucrat.
- TV is 10 per cent what you say. Doug wanted to gently suggest Kathleen is a fibber (“disingenuous,” six million times) and remind everyone about the Hydro exec schmozzle (“six million dollar man,” six million times). Andrea said she had ideas – and people like ideas. Kathleen said stuff you’d expect a policy wonk to say (see above).
- Winners: Doug won by not losing. Andrea won by (finally) being seen and heard.
- Losers: CITY-TV’s constant cutaways were irritating and let the politicians off the hook. The production was a bit amateurish. Meanwhile, Kathleen lost because she didn’t connect. Don’t believe me? Check out my Highly-Scientific™ Poll, above: my dog Roxy topped her!
That’s what we called him – or I did, at least. When someone has been one of your closest friends for almost four decades, calling him anything else didn’t seem right.
It’s not that he didn’t have a lot of titles that could have been appended to his name, however.
He was the Chair of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. He was also the House of Commons Chair of the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group. He was a member of the Trilateral Commission.
He had other titles, too. He was the Official Opposition’s representative on the top-secret National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. Before that, he’d been the powerful Chief Opposition Whip. And, of course, he’d been the elected Member of Parliament for Leeds-Grenville – later, Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes – five times between 2004 and 2015. In 2006, 2008 and 2011, he won with more than 60 per cent of the vote.
But I called him Gordie. Sometimes – like back in our Carleton U. student council days – we’d actually call each other “Senator.” Back then, we’d sit around Bree’s Inn at Carleton’s Residence Commons, drinking cheap beer out of stubbies, watching videos on MTV, and laughing about how we’d all get appointed to the Senate and practice taking naps.
L to R: Gordie, Annie Smith, Jim Watson, James Villeneuve, some guy.
Back then, back in 1983 or so, there was a gang of us. Jim Watson, who would go on to be Ottawa’s Mayor. James Villeneuve, who would become Canada’s Consul General in Los Angeles. Bob Richardson, who would later be Chief of Staff to Ontario’s Leader of the Opposition, a pollster, and an advisor to lots of powerful politicians.
Me, I was destined to be Carleton’s student association president – the highest office I’d ever achieve. But not before I got Gordie’s blessing.
The other guys knew him, because they all lived in Glengarry House, the big student residence building at the South end of campus. I was in Russell, so I didn’t know Gordie that well.
We had decided to run a slate in the 1983 Carleton University Student Association (CUSA) election. We were going to call it No Name, after the generic black-and-yellow food line that university students all ate, because it was cheap. We were mostly Conservatives and Liberals, unhappy with the way the so-called Left had been running things.
So I was summoned to meet with him. If I wanted to be president, I had to get Gordie onside.
Gordie had run Jim’s successful campaign to be the residence association’s president. And he already had a seat on Carleton’s student council. As a result, he was already a big wheel at Carleton.
At our meeting, he was wearing his Beaver Canoe sweatshirt, and he wasn’t smiling. James and Jim and Bob were there, too. All of them kept a straight face, and peppered me with questions about what I’d do as president.
Then Gordie said to me: “We think Carleton should be declared a communism-free zone,” he said. “What do you think about that?”
“Well,” I said, not sure if he was serious or not, “I don’t think that would be constitutional, but we could give it a shot, I guess.”
Gordie burst out laughing. “I’m just kidding,” he said. “I’ll support you.” And so began a decades-long friendship.
After we won the biggest landslide victory in Carleton’s history, Gordie and I did make the communism-free motion, however. We did it to outrage the graduate students, and it worked.
So, too, other stuff we did. My God, we had fun. We were idiots, some days, but we had fun.
I went off to law school in my Calgary home, and Gordie went off to serial achievements in his Gananoque home: running his family’s businesses, serving as a town councillor, acting as president of the Thousand Islands-Gananoque Chamber of Commerce, and chairing the St. Lawrence Parks Commission.
I ran for Parliament in 1997, and lost by many votes. He ran in 2000, and lost, too – but only by fifty-something votes. When he tried again, in 2004, he won big. He wouldn’t look back.
Over the fourteen years he would serve as a Parliamentarian, we would get together as often as we could. We’d talk about our kids, our previous marriages, our Carleton salad days – and politics, of course. It didn’t bug him – and it didn’t bug me – that we belonged to different political tribes. We’d just call each other “Senator,” and we’d laugh.
One time, after I set up my Daisy Group firm in Toronto, Gordie called me. He needed help. The Ontario lottery people wanted to move the Gananoque casino to Kingston. So Gordie and Ontario PC MPP Steve Clark pushed the local municipalities to hire us to fight the casino plan. For Gananoque, Gordie told us, it would mean disaster – the loss of many jobs and plenty of services.
We got to work. But the Gananoque casino was saved, in the end, by Gordie alone – he came up with the idea of commissioning a poll of Kingston residents. It would find that there was massive opposition to moving the casino there. The casino would stay put.
Another time, over breakfast at the Royal York in Toronto, I told Gordie I was pissed off Stephen Harper hadn’t put him in cabinet yet. He deserved it a lot more than many of the idiots with “P.C.” after their names, I told him.
Gordie shrugged. It didn’t bug him, he said, and I could tell he was telling the truth. He didn’t need any honorific alongside his name. He was happy doing what he was doing. He was happy just being Gordie.
A few days ago, Gordie called me on my cell. He’d just gotten back from seeing James out in L.A. “Hey, Warren,” he said. “It’s your favourite MP from Leeds-Grenville Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes and I hope you’re doing well. I was down in L.A. to see our friend James. The other day, we were bringing your name up – and we didn’t even take it in vain!” He laughed. “Anyway, give me a call if you get a chance.”
I didn’t. I was busy. It slipped my mind – until last Wednesday morning, when I got word: Gordie had died of a heart attack at his desk on Parliament Hill, working for his beloved Gananoque.
I hadn’t called him back. I hadn’t gotten a chance to tell him that I loved him like a brother, and that I was so proud of him, and that – even if we never got to be Senators together – he’d always be something way, way better, to me.
Which was Gordie.
Because, you know what should make you want to “vomit?” It’s crypto-fascists like Tanya Granic Allen, who hate other people simply because that’s the way God made them. That is what should make you want to throw up.
Wynne’s war room believed that this lunatic’s homophobia would cause major damage to Doug Ford. By moving so quickly, and decisively, Ford has instead ended up looking like a true progressive conservative.
Like I’ve been saying to people for a long time: Doug Ford is going to surprise you.
At Carleton, my closest political pals were James Villeneuve, Bob Richardson, Jim Watson and Gordie Brown. I haven’t stayed in touch with the other guys as much, over the years, but I always did with Gordie. Despite our different political allegiances, despite living in different places, we always remained very close friends. He was loyal to me, and me to him.
I last saw him on November 30, when he came to my Recipe for Hate book launch in Ottawa. He was the only Ottawa friend who remembered and who came. That was the kind of guy he was.
A few days ago, Gordie called me, after visiting James in L.A. I didn’t call him back. I kept putting it off. I was busy.
This morning, Gordie died of a massive heart attack.
I am in shock and don’t know what to say, other than just two things. One, I loved him as a friend and will miss him as a brother.
Two, when you reach a certain age, and your friends call, call them back.
— Warren Kinsella (@kinsellawarren) November 30, 2017