Categories for Feature

2018: the coming provincial and municipal elections

My former Sun colleague Antonella Artuso got in touch with me to seek my opinion on the coming Ontario and Toronto elections. Her story is here.

And my full response to her excellent questions are here:

Provincially, the Ontario Liberals have a very unpopular leader but a very durable party brand. The Ontario PCs have a not-bad brand, but not nearly enough people know their leader. And the Ontario NDP have a very popular leader – but few folks trust their party in the role of government.

The election will come down to the campaign. Campaigns matter. And I’d say any one of the three parties has a shot at winning – if they have the best campaign.

Municipally, I know both John Tory and Doug Ford and like them both. Doug’s problem is that John is seen as a decent and honest guy – and an antidote to the crazy Ford Nation years. John’s challenge is that the Ford Nation is still a factor.

On balance, I think John will win. There’s no progressive challenger – and Doug needs one in the race to have a fighting chance.

People like John, and likeability matters in this business!


Globe and Mail: Recipe For Hate “shines…Kinsella nails it…absorbing, jarring and raw”!

Wow! This is a great way to end 2017.

And, I am honoured. The Globe and Mail has reviewed Recipe For Hate – and they like it! Their review:

Recipe for Hate

by Warren Kinsella

Dundurn, 304 pages, $14.99

Warren Kinsella’s many professions include author, political strategist and commentator. Is YA author now on the list? Yes and no. Kinsella’s latest book is published for teens and, in many ways, shines as a book for mature younger readers. It focuses on two teenage best friends – Kurt Blank and X – leaders in Maine’s burgeoning 1978 punk scene. When their friend is brutally murdered outside of a club, it’s the beginning of a very dark, violent time for Kurt, X and their punk crew. Portrayals of rebellious and non-conforming teens can feel reductive or contrived but Kinsella nails it without any stereotyping or embellishment. Though this authenticity will have big teen appeal, the novel is also part police procedural, part detailed history on the emergence of punk and part gritty murder mystery, all elements that skew more adult. Classification aside, it’s absorbing, jarring and raw.


The best and worst of Canadian politics in 2017

It’s a cliché, sure. It’s hackneyed and overdone, true. It has been done a million times, agreed.

But it’s fun: the columnist’s year-end political winner/loser list! And, this year, regular readers got in on the act!

But. However.

Just as Yours Truly was typing up this one, a bombshell landed. The federal ethics commissioner ruled that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke multiple federal ethics rules when he hopped onto the Aga Khan’s private helicopter—and stayed on his island retreat—over the holidays in 2016.

In her 74-page ruling, Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson ruled that Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act when he and his family accepted the trip.  She also dismissed various complaints about l’Affaire Aga Khan, but so what. She had found him, a sitting prime minister, guilty of a serious conflict of interest.

Now, this writer had previously and vigorously defended Trudeau on the Aga Khan mess, but none of that particularly matters anymore. While the penalty is puny, Dawson’s decision is something we will be hearing about for years to come. I don’t think this has ever happened to a prime minister before. Ever.

A very unhappy-looking Trudeau accordingly had no option but to accept the report, apologize, and promise never to do it again.

That, then, is the political screw-up of the year, and it came at the very end of the year, too. The other contenders, up until that point, were (a) Trudeau et al. sucking up to Donald Trump, and having nothing to show for it; (b) Andrew Scheer’s relationship with the racist/anti-Semitic luminaries at The Rebel; (c) Jagmeet Singh and his party going into the witness protection program right after their leadership vote, and, naturally, (d) Melanie Joly with her serial screw-ups: Netflix, Canada 150, Holocaust memorial, $6 million non-hockey hockey rink, and doing nothing about the death of dozens of Canadian newspapers.

Those were all solid contenders, but the Trudeau-Aga Khan mess is, indisputably, the political screw-up of the year. (And the PMO staffer who let this happen? You need to be fired, pronto.)

But what about the biggest political win in 2017? Trudeau had a pair, with flipping two CPC ridings in by-elections; Scheer had his come-from-behind leadership victory, narrowly beating out a cocky frontrunner; and, a turban-wearing Sikh man won a party leadership. Write-in candidates included Chrystia Freeland thumbing her nose at the dictator Vladimir Putin—as well as Jason Kenney creating, then taking over, the United Conservative Party in Alberta.

But my regular readers (and me) were nearly-unanimous: something wonderful was said—about us (as a people), and about the victor (as a man) —when Jagmeet Singh won the New Democratic Party leadership on the first ballot. In the Trump-Brexit era, where ignorance and bigotry seemingly hold sway everywhere, Canadians—of every political persuasion—were quietly proud that a bearded, brown-skinned man with a turban could be considered a possible prime minister. A huge win for him, and for us as a people, too.

Most and least-successful politicians varied. But, for the most part, regular readers and commenters agreed: Brad Wall and Justin Trudeau were the top two most-successful politicians in Canada in 2017. Popular write-in candidates, however, included the aforementioned Freeland and Kenney, but also Jane Philpott, and Montreal’s new mayor.

Least-successful politicians?  There were plenty of those. Melanie Joly always ranks high on everyone’s naughty list—and particularly among Liberals, who remain privately livid that such a lightweight could be shoe-horned into cabinet. Bill Morneau, the Liberal Party’s human piñata, also received his fair share of brickbats. Singh, too, for winning the leadership on a wave of expectation and promise—and then promptly disappearing into a witness protection program somewhere.

But it was Andrew Scheer who was seen, almost-universally, as a dud. Some correspondents critiqued the Conservative Party leader for turning invisible (à la Singh) right after his leadership win —and others criticized him for being far too visible (as in his Lynchian, saturnalian “I’m Andrew” ad). Either way, Scheer has underwhelmed many. He is, as my wife put it, remarkably unremarkable.

And the story that will dominate Canadian politics in 2018? Will it be the end of NAFTA? Election upheaval in Ontario, New Brunswick, Quebec? #MeToo finally landing on Parliament Hill and exacting divine retribution?

Respondents were all over the map on this one.  Some thought the, ahem, potpourri of pot laws will be the big story. Others: “God knows, but something Trump-related.” On the provincial front, some ventured to say that Liberals would be returned in New Brunswick—but lose narrowly in Quebec and Ontario.

Personally, this writer remains in awe of #MeToo. It has swept aside the rich, the famous and the powerful—and it shows no sign of slowing down. When it hits Ottawa in 2018, as it will, it will strike with righteous (and overdue) fury—and it will claim the political careers of many creepy little men.

Lots of opinions, lots of dissent. At the end of the year—at the end of the column—one thing unites us all:

Thank God we live in Trudeau’s Canada—and not Trump’s America!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and a wonderful 2018 to all.


I can’t comment on this

But the fact that I’m posting it here should tell you plenty.

From Canadian Lawyer Magazine:

Toronto lawyer Warren Kinsella has settled a claim he launched against a Twitter subsidiary for refusing to take down an allegedly defamatory tweet.

Kinsella sought $200,000 in damages from the social networking service after it declined to remove a tweet sent by a columnist of Your Ward News — a publication described as being racist, homophobic and misogynistic.

“The defendants condoned the tweet by allowing it to remain visible on Twitter and/or by failing to have it removed in a timely manner,” said a statement of claim filed at the Ontario Superior Court.

“Mr. Kinsella pleads that the defendant is responsible for this publication and any other republications.”

The tweet in question was sent by Your Ward News columnist Lawrence McCurry and included an image of a doctored photograph of Kinsella sitting on a porch with text that said he had killed a student who was delivering Your Ward News, according to the statement of claim.

Your Ward News had made headlines recently as the Toronto Police Service arrested the publication’s editor, James Sears, and its publisher, Leroy St. Germaine, in November for promotion of hatred against an identifiable group.

Kinsella and his wife, Lisa, were part of a push to get Canada Post to stop delivering the publication. The couple also later started a private criminal prosecution against Sears and St. Germaine for allegedly uttering threats against them in Your Ward News.

In his statement of claim, Kinsella says McCurry tweeted the allegedly defamatory material to voice his distaste for the private prosecution after court proceedings in September.

Kinsella said the tweet was defamatory, libellous, and “falsely and maliciously implies that Mr. Kinsella murdered another human being.”

Kinsella said he reported the tweet to Twitter the same day it was posted and that the website blocked it from his view. But Twitter refused to take it down entirely and it was still visible to the general public, according to the claim.

Kinsella claimed that Twitter was liable for the publication and republication of the tweet, and that any re-tweets constituted republication. In addition to the $200,000 he sought in general, aggravated and punitive damages, Kinsella requested an order forcing Twitter to remove the Tweet.

It is not clear what the terms of the settlement were, as it was confidential and Kinsella’s lawyer in the matter, Jeff Saikaley, declined to comment on the case.

But since the statement of claim was filed, the tweet in question has been taken down. McCurry says he was locked out of his account until he removed the tweet. He adds that the tweet’s contents were satire.

Toronto lawyer Gil Zvulony, who was not involved in the matter, says the law around the question of whether internet intermediaries can be held liable for the defamatory statements of their users is a grey area, as these types of claims often settle.

“There are a lot of different views and not a lot of common law decisions that take a united approach to the issue, which means there is a lot of wiggle room for parties to argue one way or another, and that leads to uncertainty in the law,” he says.

He adds the Law Commission of Ontario is currently looking at the issue in a review of the provincial defamation laws and how they should be updated for the internet age.

Twitter Canada did not provide comment by deadline.


Joe Strummer, gone so long, gone too soon

The sticker affixed to the London Calling album shrink-wrap, 38 years ago this month, 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.


The Ballad of the Social Blemishes, 40 years later

Forty years.

Forty years ago tonight, the Social Blemishes – me, Ras Pierre, Rockin’ Al and a few others miscreants – took to the makeshift stage in the gym at Bishop Carroll High School in Calgary for the first-ever performance of a punk band in our hometown. In all of Alberta, too.

We were opening for local luminaries Fosterchild, and we were terrible. But we were hooked: maybe this punk rock stuff would never win us fame or riches or groupies, but could there be any better way to alienate our parents, teachers and peers?  Nope.

And, besides: it was fun. Case in point: we even got our picture in the Calgary Herald, up above.  The guy on the far left (ahem) was John Heaney, who went on to be Rachel Notley’s Chief of Staff; beside him, Ras Pierre, now a multimillionaire engineer in Alberta (and my best friend, still); Yours Screwly, in shades, homemade Sex Pistols T-shirt and (seriously) a dog collar; Rockin’ Al, a standout stand-up comedian and performer; Allen Baekeland, later a famous Western Canadian DJ; Pat O’Heran, an award-winning Hollywood filmmaker; and, behind the skins, Ronnie Macdonald, another successful engineering technologist type, but in B.C.

Me and Ras Pierre would leave the Blems to form the Hot Nasties – and Al and Ronnie would go on to the Sturgeons or the Mild Chaps or Riot 303.  Along the way, one of the songs we wrote, Invasion of the Tribbles, was to be covered by British chart-toppers the Palma Violets. Another one, Barney Rubble Is My Double, ended up covered by Nardwuar and the Evaporators.  And Secret of Immortality was to be covered by Moe Berg of Pursuit of Happiness.  Not bad.

Anyway, because I’m going to taking a dirt nap any day now – or so says one of my sons, now the same age I was in that photo, up above – I’ve immortalized the Social Blemishes in Recipe For Hate and its sequel, New Dark Ages. Meanwhile, The Ballad of the Social Blemishes is a song about our departed-too-soon former manager, Tom Wolfe, and will be out in the New Year on Ugly Pop Records.  A demo outtake of the tune is here.

Forty years: I can’t fucking believe I’m so old.

The only solution is to continue acting like I’m seventeen.  (Sorry, Lisa.)

Gabba gabba hey!


Watch this Rosemary Barton exchange with Justin Trudeau. Wow.

It is truly something else.  Among other things, it means that Trudeau needs to get better prepared before he scrums again on this mess.

And it means CBC needs to get Barton back to the Hill, where she can do more of this sort of grilling. Fearless. Wow.

The first thirty seconds here are brutal.  This is an election ad.



Trudeau broke ethics rules?

Yes. So says the Ethics commissioner:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke multiple federal ethics rules when he accepted a ride on the Aga Khan’s private helicopter and stayed on his private island over the holidays in 2016, the ethics commissioner has ruled.

In a ruling posted on the website of the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Wednesday morning, Commissioner Mary Dawson said that her investigation into two complaints about the trip found that Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act when he and his family accepted the trip but also dismissed several of the specific violations brought within those complaints.

Well.

I have previously defended Trudeau on this “controversy,” but that doesn’t matter anymore. While the penalty is puny, this decision is something we will be hearing about for years. I don’t think this has ever happened to a Prime Minister before. Ever.

Trudeau has no option but to accept the report, apologize, and promise never to do it again. And staff heads need to roll at PMO, I think. Who let this happen?

Anyway. Those year-end interviews aren’t going to be a lot of fun, now.

Nope.