Categories for Feature

How will I vote in 2019?

Well, if Trump hasn’t killed us all before we get around to voting, this is kind of where I’m at, as 2018 grinds to a close. All pricing subject to change without notice.

LIBERALS: Like them on most social policies, dislike them on economic stuff. Trudeau seems a phoney to me, most days.

CONSERVATIVES: Like them on most fiscal and energy policy, appalled by their retrograde environmentalism and the anti-immigrant/refugee dog whistle crap. Scheer hard to take seriously.

NDP: There’s little to like. They’re just not ready. They – all of them, not just Singh – have taken what Layton left them and wrecked it. A mess.

GREENS: Feminist, pro-diversity, social justice, equal opportunity, prosperity, democracy, personal and global responsibility, sustainability. I like May. If they can purge the anti-Semitic BDS types, I may just vote Green in 2019!


Joe Strummer, gone so long, gone too soon

The sticker affixed to the London Calling album shrink-wrap, so many years ago, boldly declared that the Clash were “the only band that matters.” If that is true – if it was more than record company hyperbole – then Joe Strummer’s death 15 years ago today, of a heart attack at age 50, was a very big deal indeed.

It wasn’t as big as John Lennon’s murder, of course, which came one year after London Calling was released, and shook an entire generation. Nor as newsworthy, likely, as the suicide of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain in 1994. No, the impact of the sudden death of Joe Strummer – the front man for the Clash, the spokesman for what the Voidoid’s Richard Hell called, at the time, “the blank generation” – will be seen in more subtle ways.

For starters, you weren’t going to see any maudlin Joe Strummer retrospectives on CNN, or hordes of hysterical fans wailing in a park somewhere, clutching candles whilst someone plays ‘White Riot’ on acoustic guitar. Nor would there be a rush by his estate to cash in with grubby compilation and tribute discs. Punk rock, you see, wasn’t merely apart from all that – it was against of all that.

Punk rock was a specific rejection of everything rock’n’roll had become in the 1970s – namely, a business: an arena-sized, coke-addicted, utterly-disconnected-from-reality corporate game played by millionaires at Studio 54. Punk rock, and Joe Strummer, changed all of that. They were loud, loutish, pissed off. They were of the streets, and for the streets. They wanted rock’n’roll to matter again.

I met Joe Strummer for the first time on the night of October 16, 1979, in East Vancouver. Two of my Calgary punk rock buddies, plus my girlfriend and I, were loitering on the main floor at the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE). We were exhilarated and exhausted. We had pooled our meager resources to buy four train tickets to Vancouver, to see Joe Strummer and the Clash in concert. Their performance had been extraordinary (and even featured a mini-riot, midway through). But after the show, we had no money left, and nowhere to stay.

The four of us were discussing this state of affairs when a little boy appeared out of nowhere. It was near midnight, and the Clash, DOA and Ray Campi’s Rockabilly Rebels had long since finished their respective performances. Roadies were up on stage, packing up the Clash’s gear. The little boy looked to be about seven or eight. He was picking up flashcubes left behind by the departed fans.

We started talking to the boy. It turned out he was the son of Mickey Gallagher, the keyboardist the Clash had signed on for the band’s London Calling tour of North America. His father appeared, looking for him. And then, within a matter of minutes, Topper Headon appeared, looking for the Gallaghers.

Topper Headon was admittedly not much to look at: he was stooped, slight and pale, with spiky hair and a quiet manner. But he was The Drummer For The Clash, and had supplied beats for them going back almost to their raw eponymous first album, the one that had changed our lives forever. We were in awe.

Topper asked us where we were from and what we thought of the show. When he heard that we had no place to stay, he said: “Well, you’d better come backstage with me, then.”

Sprawled out in a spartan PNE locker room, Strummer was chatting with lead guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon, along with some Rastafarians and a few of the Rockabilly Rebels. They were all stoned, and grousing about an unnamed promoter of the Vancouver show, who had refused to let them play until he was paid his costs. The Clash, like us, had no money. That made us love them even more.

Joe Strummer, with his squared jaw and Elvis-style hairdo, didn’t seem to care about the band’s money woes. While Mick Jones flirted with my girlfriend, Strummer started questioning me about my Clash T-shirt. It was homemade, and Strummer was seemingly impressed by it. I could barely speak. There I was, speaking with one of the most important rock’n’rollers ever to walk the Earth – and he was acting just like a regular guy. Like he wasn’t anything special.

But he was, he was. From their first incendiary album in 1977 (wherein they raged against racism, and youth unemployment, and hippies), to their final waxing as the real Clash in 1982 (the cartoonish Combat Rock, which signaled the end was near, and appropriately so), Strummer was the actual personification of everything that was the Clash. They were avowedly political and idealistic; they were unrelentingly angry and loud; most of all, they were smarter and more hopeful than the other punk groups, the cynical, nihilistic ones like the Sex Pistols. They believed that the future was worth fighting for.

The Clash were the ones who actually read books – and encouraged their fans to read them, too. They wrote songs that emphasized that politics were important (and, in my own case, taught me that fighting intolerance, and maintaining a capacity for outrage, was always worthwhile). They were the first punk band to attempt to unify disparate cultures – for example, introducing choppy reggae and Blue Beat rhythms to their music.

They weren’t perfect, naturally. Their dalliances with rebel movements like the Sandinistas, circa 1980, smacked of showy dilettante politics. But they weren’t afraid to take risks, and make mistakes.

Born John Graham Mellor in 1952 in Turkey to the son of a diplomat, Strummer started off as a busker in London, and then formed the 101ers, a pub rock outfit, in 1974. Two years later, he saw the Pistols play one of their first gigs. Strummer, Jones and Simonon immediately formed the Clash, and set about rewriting the rules.

While political, they also knew how to put together good old rock’n’roll. Strummer and Jones effectively became the punk world’s Lennon and McCartney, churning out big hits in Britain, and attracting a lot of favourable critical acclaim in North America. Some of their singles, ‘White Man in Hammersmith Palais’ and ‘Complete Control,’ are among the best rock’n’roll 45s – ever. Their double London Calling LP is regularly cited as one of history’s best rock albums.

After the Clash broke up, Strummer played with the Pogues, wrote soundtrack music and formed a new group, the world beat-sounding Mescaleros. He married, and became a father. But he never again achieved the adulation that greeted the Clash wherever they went.

Strummer didn’t seem to care. When I saw him for the last time – at a show in one of HMV’s stores on Yonge Street in July 2001, which (typically) he agreed to give at no cost – Strummer and his Mescaleros stomped around on the tiny stage, having the time of their lives. They didn’t play any Clash songs, but that was okay by us. Joe Strummer’s joy was infectious, that night.

As the gig ended, Strummer squatted at the edge of the stage – sweaty, resplendent, grinning – to speak with the fans gathered there. They looked about as old as I was, when I first met him back in October 1979. As corny as it sounds, it was a magical moment, for me: I just watched him for a while, the voice of my generation, speaking to the next one.

I hope they heard what he had to say.


Kinsella’s year-end Hill Times’ political winners and losers

The year-end political winners and losers column is as clichéd, hackneyed and overdone as it gets.

But no one ever accused this writer of being, you know, original.

So, heretofore and herewith, 2018’s political winners and losers, all jumbled together. Some are found in both categories, so pay attention, Virginia.

Justin Trudeau: winner and loser. Canadians still like him (see: polls) but aren’t sure he’s a grown-up yet (see: India). Also: just when you think he’s weak internationally (see: India), along comes Trump et al. to make him look like a genius. Just when you think he’s weak domestically (see: no pipeline, no electoral reform, no First Nation empowerment, no big legislative achievements), along comes Messrs. Scheer and Singh to make him look like a Parliamentary giant. Just when you think he’s weak ethically (Aga Khan, the grope thing, etc.), along comes serial scandals elsewhere – mainly from the U.S. – that make him look like a saint. The Ronald Reagan of Canadian politics: you know he’s repeating someone else’s talking points when he’s talking to you, but he does it so well, you don’t care.

Andrew Scheer: winner and loser. Like Trudeau, the Conservative leader’s got pluses and minuses. Positive stuff: the economy is faltering, voters are moving right, Trudeau is less popular, and Scheer’s strong on fundraising and GOTV. Negative stuff: Mad Max splits the conservative vote, NDP are cratering, provincial conservative friendly fire, Andy’s still Blandy.

Jagmeet Singh: loser. Ran an amazing leadership campaign. Was impressive as deputy leader of the Ontario NDP. And then…what happened? His caucus distrust/dislike him, his party’s members are dispirited, and he’s about to lead the New Democratic Party to disaster. If Singh loses that Burnaby by-election, no amount of flattering GQ profiles will save him. Worst federal party leader since Stockwell Day, hands down.

Jane Philpott: winner. Considered by Canada’s indigenous leaders to be sincere, effective and focussed.

Carolyn Bennett, er. Um, considered not to be Jane Philpott. Remind us again why we need two ministers for one department?

Doug Ford: winner. About a year ago, the party he leads was leaderless, riven by division, and mired in a #MeToo scandal. About 140 days after that, Ford was elected Premier of Canada’s largest province with a massive majority. Like him or not, Ford is a winner, and he and his capable team have upended the electoral formula in Canada. The Barney Rubble of political Canada, and that’s a complement, Wilma.

Dominic LeBlanc: winner. The best communicator in Justin Trudeau’s cabinet. Likeable and liked. Vulnerable on patronage, but remains the guy to see if your cousin needs a fishing licence without filling out lots of forms and whatnot.

Melanie Joly, loser. The worst cabinet minister in the history of Confederation: rendered our 150th anniversary celebration a debacle; her Netflix deal was a fiasco; and she forgot to mention “Jews” on the side of the new Holocaust Museum. After her historically-bad run in Heritage – where she made Bev Oda look like Margaret Thatcher, and Stockwell Day seem positively Churchillian – Trudeau tried to hide his friend in Tourism, where she would be kept away from sharp objects and hard surfaces. Her presence in cabinet is an ongoing source of rage on the Liberal backbenches. Super-duper loser.

Jason Kenney: winner and loser. He was a gay-hating, abortion-loathing social conservative mouth-breather, but now he wants Albertans to believe he’s become a SNAG, sensitive new-age guy. No one believes it for a minute, but he’s going to win anyway.

John Tory, winner. Toronto’s mayor – on whose 2018 campaign, full disclosure, this writer toiled – won 65 per cent of the vote against a tough and credible opponent. That’s a feat no federal leader has achieved, ever. As mayor of Canada’s biggest city, he has more clout than any MP and any minister. Likes me, which is a major plus, though puzzling.

Francois Legault, loser. How does one lose by winning? By willingly and needlessly becoming an anti-Muslim, anti-anglophone bigot the day after the election, that’s how. This guy is going single-handedly revive separatism – the desire for the rest of Canada to separate from an increasingly-intolerant Quebec, that is.

Pablo Rodriguez, winner. Smart, charming, affable and a welcome antidote to the calamitous Joly era. Winning praise from Heritage stakeholders for his deft handling of cultural issues in an era when culture has become a major hot button. One to watch.

Svend Robinson, winner. And he doesn’t even have a seat yet! Still remembered as the most effective Parliamentarian in generations. Will he return from Europe to run in this writer’s old stomping grounds, in Burnaby North Seymour? Hope so. His party, and Canada, could benefit from Svend’s svengali touch. The Socialist Family Robinson say: Svend, come home!

Trudeau’s backbench, winners and losers: There is a lot of talent behind the Liberal leader, dutifully (but morosely) clapping every time Trudeau repeats Butts/Telford talking points. But their talents go unrewarded. Some are reaching the conclusion that they will never get into cabinet, and are getting decidedly restless. Watch for more floor-crossings and acts of rebellion in the New Year. Could get bouncy.

We could go on, but editor Kate Malloy (another winner) says the Hill Times (in its 20th winning winning year!) doesn’t have the space.

So, to our winning readers and subscribers, we say thank you – and happy holidays!


Could Justin Trudeau lose next year? Maybe. Possibly.

Could Justin Trudeau lose?

Because, increasingly, some smart politicos – including ones of the Liberal persuasion – are saying it’s possible.  Likely, even.

Now, “loss,” here, includes loss of the Liberal leader’s Parliamentary majority.  Not just losing power – which, most agree, is still unlikely.  But losing the majority?  That is decidedly within the realm of possibility.

This writer ran into a very senior and very experienced Liberal strategist on the street a few days ago.  This strategist knew Justin Trudeau’s father well, and had campaigned for him.  And he remembered, too, Pierre Trudeau losing his majority in 1972 – to a Conservative opponent who, like Andrew Scheer, had been routinely dismissed as dull and unremarkable.

Could Trudeau lose the majority, I asked this Liberal guru.

“Absolutely,” said the guru, without hesitating.  “I’d say that’s what is going to happen, at this point.”

Huddled on a cold sidewalk, we riffed through the regions.  Lower Mainland?  Trudeau may lose seats to both the Tories and the Dippers, if the latter have the sense to acquire new and improved leadership.  In Alberta, it’s worse than it was back in the NEP days: a total wipeout is inevitable.  In Saskatchewan, the Goodale seat is safe, if turning-seventy Goodale sticks around.  In Manitoba, some seats will be lost.  Same goes for Southwestern Ontario, Eastern Ontario and the ‘burbs around Toronto.

In Quebec, Trudeau has been bested by the Conservatives in byelections – and he now faces Maxime Bernier around Quebec City, too.  In Atlantic Canada, it will be impossible to hold onto as much as Trudeau won in 2015 – particularly with his provincial cousins diminishing the Liberal brand there.

“That all adds up to a minority, or worse,” said the Grit guru, preparing to head off for lunch.  “It may not be pretty.”

Some pollsters are making similar noises.  Some aren’t.

A few days ago, Forum came up with a whopper of a survey, one that claimed Scheer’s Conservatives were in majority territory, a full nine points ahead of the governing Liberals.  That poll was dismissed by many (this writer included) – until Nanos revealed that it, too, found the Tories ahead of the Grits, but by just a point.

The arbiter, in these matters, has become the CBC’s guy with a calculator, Eric Grenier.  Says Grenier: “[There was]a big jump for Nanos, and much of it has occurred in Ontario where the Liberals have dropped 12 points and the Conservatives have gained 12 points [in the] last week. This is unusual…and worth watching to see if trend continues.”

Even though Forum has consistently been out of step with other polls, Grenier says, the reality has been that “the Liberals slide, and the Conservatives make gains.”

What’s noteworthy is that the Conservatives have gained on the Liberals – or have eclipsed them, if you believe Forum – when the conventional wisdom has been that Andrew Scheer is being held back by factors beyond his control.  Selfsame factors include: controversial decisions made by Ford Nation, Trudeau’s successful completion of a new NAFTA, and the aforementioned Mad Max refusing to disappear.

All of that said, Mainstreet’s Quito Maggi – one of the country’s best pollsters – insists it is still dangerous to bet against Trudeau.  A minority, to Maggi, remains very unlikely.

“[A minority is] possible, yes.  But, just because it’s possible, doesn’t mean it’s likely,” says Maggi.

Mainstreet’s founder says that the relative performance of NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and People’s Party Maxime Bernier will signal what could happen next October. “If Singh wins in Burnaby and makes gains, in Ontario and Quebec especially, that starts eating into a majority,” says Maggi.  “And if Bernier fades in the New Year – say, he can’t get any candidates to run in the coming by-elections for example, and his fundraising is reduced – that could mean that Scheer can consolidate the Right vote and cause a minority.”

Maggi adds: “Those are two big ifs.  And that would be a complete reversal for both.”

The present reality is that Bernier’s ceiling is no more than around is seven per cent nationally.  Singh, meanwhile, is moving in the opposite direction, Maggi says.  “He might not even win Burnaby. His MPs are bailing for other levels of government – or announcing they won’t run.  Fundraising is down. If he loses Burnaby, it could lead to a leadership race with months to the election.”

And that, says Maggi, ironically represents a real threat to Trudeau’s Liberals – and a possible minority. “[That] could actually be the likeliest path to a Liberal minority,” he says. “If a new NDP leader can capitalize on the attention of a [leadership] race and make gains in Quebec.”

Big ifs.  Lots of variables.  One thing is for certain: Justin Trudeau remains the guy to beat.  And doing so, the pollsters agree, will be no simple task.