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42 years ago tonight

My girlfriend Paula Christison had been over, and we’d been studying, then watching something on the little black and white TV we had. My Carleton roommate, Lee G. Hill, was there too. Lee and I had been great friends in Calgary. In junior high, we’d started a couple fanzines with Beatles-centric themes. In our shared room on Second Russell, we had a couple John Lennon posters up amongst the punk rock stuff.

Paula left for her place downtown, so Lee and I were studying when the phone rang. It was Paula. “John Lennon’s been shot, babe,” she said. “It’s on the radio.”

Lennon wasn’t perfect. In fact, as I much later learned, he was deeply flawed.

But his assassination, on December 8, 1980, was of course a terrible tragedy. It was profoundly sad. It was a loss.

So, to me, was the fact that his last album (before the inevitable avalanche of ham-fisted compilations and retrospectives) was a piece of self-indulgent, saccharine shite like Double Fantasy.

Generally, he always needed Paul as an editor, and vice-versa. But his best album – and one of the best albums of all time, in my view – was Plastic Ono Band. It was like him: it was stark, and raw, and different, and deeply, deeply personal. Some say the LP was the product of his dalliance with primal scream therapy, or his response to the (necessary, and overdue) collapse of the Beatles. To me, it was instead an actual piece of art and great rock’n’roll, improbably found under the same piece of shrink wrap. Like listening to someone’s soul, without having received an invite to do so.

The next morning, exams weren’t cancelled, though it felt to me like they could have been. When I walked into Carleton’s gym, there was a guy sitting there, already wearing a John Lennon T-shirt. I wanted to punch him. Instead, I just took my seat and wrote the stupid exam.

Forty years. I can’t believe he’s been gone that long; I can’t believe I’m way older than he ever got a chance to be. It sucks. Breslin wrote it best.

Here’s my favourite picture of him, the one I used to use on posters I’d make up for Hot Nasties shows.  I liked it because he looked like a punk. That’s Stu in the background, I think.  Also long gone.

Often miss you, John.  Hardly knew you.

My latest: dummies, dumped

Spare a thought and a prayer, if you will, for the convoy types. Because they are sad and lonely, these days.

Their suitor and champion has abandoned them, you see. Pierre Poilievre has ghosted the convoy folk.

It’s no small thing. Poilievre won his Conservative Party’s leadership in a landslide – not despite the convoy folk, but partly because of them. During happier times, Poilievre marched with the convoy enthusiasts, he sang their praises, he brought them coffee and posed for selfies.

And then, the Tory leader became invisible during the convoy cabal’s time of need. Poof! He was gone. Poilievre dumped them, much like Brad Pitt dumped Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie, except with much more skill and a lot less drama.

The inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act was a lot like a criminal prosecution, even if it will make no finding of criminal culpability. But it had all the trappings of one: a judge, a witness stand, court reporters, and an army of lawyers, stacked up like cordwood.

The Public Order Emergency Commission, as it was more formally known, conducted court-like hearings at the federal Library and Archives on Wellington Street. No media reports can be found to describe what would happen when the doors would open there.

Did the convoy leaders turn around in their seats, like in Hollywood movies, expecting Pierre Poilievre to stride in, and take over the conduct of the defence? Did they expect him to arrive like Perry Mason, and free them all from the chains of Trudeau-stan oppression?

Well, he didn’t. In fact, he said nothing as the hearings got going. He did not utter a word – not one, single solitary word – about his relationship with the convoy gang.

And, in so doing, he revealed – to this writer, at least – that he’s a lot smarter than we thought he was.

Consider the evidence, because there was a lot of it. For six weeks, more than 70 witnesses appeared at the inquiry. Hundreds of thousands of documents were submitted. Videos were played. Examinations and cross-examinations took place.

The evidence, for the convoy types – those who occupied Ottawa for weeks, those who blocked border crossings from B.C.’s Pacific Highway to Windsor’s Ambassador Bridge – was very, very bad. Vandalizing the statue of Terry Fox. Desecrating the War Memorial. Defecating and urinating in public. Yelling abuse at masked Ottawa residents, many of whom had not slept in weeks because of truckers leaning on their horns – which is 115 decibels, several times over.

Oh, and the waving of swastika flags. Ironically, it was the convoy folks’ top-notch lawyer who repeatedly tried to make that into an issue. No one else.

And through it all, with the convoy types getting hammered for day after day, where was Pierre Poilievre? Gone, baby, gone. Oh, sure, on an early November B.C. trip, he said he’d have something to say when all the evidence was in – except, the evidence is all in, and he still hasn’t said anything to defend the convoy-ers.

The Conservative leader did say one thing that was interesting, however, when touring the Left Coast. Poilievre said he “condemned” anyone who “broke laws, behaved badly, or blockaded critical infrastructure.”

“Behaved badly.” Which, of course, was pretty much all of them. You don’t hold a major city hostage for weeks in the name of “freedom” and then get a gold star, boys and girls. Ditto crippling border trade, or any of the other clearly-bad behaviour.

So, why was Pierre Poilievre smart to abandon Tamara Lich and her bridesmaids – Chris Barber, Pat King, James Bauder and Benjamin Dichter – at the altar? Well, Nanos has the answer.

The pollster did a poll, released this week, and found that nearly 70 per cent of Canadians fully supported the Trudeau government’s use of the Emergencies Act. Fifty per cent said the inquiry left them with an even worse impression of the convoy participants.

And the Poilievre Conservatives’ lead in the polls? Gone. Evaporated. Disappeared. As Nanos top guy, Nik Nanos put it, in an understatement for the ages: “If there continues to be a focus on the convoy…it could be a potential risk for Pierre Poilievre.”

No kidding. And you know who knows that most of all? Pierre Poilievre does.

Which is why he’s ghosted the convoy folks. Which is why he’s kept quiet. Which is why he’s not dumb.

And which is why the convoy types are feeling sad and lonely, these days.

Fourteen reasons

…why we still need effective gun safety laws, and why we need to stop violence against women.

So many years ago.

  1. Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
  2. Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  3. Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  4. Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  5. Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
  6. Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
  7. Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
  8. Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
  9. Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  10. Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
  11. Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
  12. Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  13. Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
  14. Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student

My latest: be smaller, win bigger

If you believe that big political graves are dug with tiny shovels – and you should, because they are – then you should also believe the reverse is true.

That is, big political successes are usually constructed with the little things.  Not grand, sweeping gestures: voters have become justifiably suspicious of over-the-top political rhetoric.  They like it when leaders underpromise, and overdeliver.

Which explains quite a bit of Justin Trudeau’s political problems, circa 2022.  He overpromised and underdelivered, a lot.  The political landscape is littered with the corpses of his unfulfilled promises: electoral reform, balanced budgets, ethical government, clean water on reserves, better relations with the provinces.  Sunny ways.  Remember that stuff?  Not so sunny, after 2015.

The Liberal leader made things appreciably worse for himself – and was thereby reduced to serial minority governments – with his soaring rhetoric.  Like Brian Mulroney, with whom he was closer than with any previous Liberal Prime Minister, Trudeau always preferred grandiloquence and hyperbole – more sizzle than steak.

It got him into lots of trouble.  And, as is always the case in politics, it was no single thing that dragged down his reputation.  It was a bunch of things.

A lot of folks were surprised late last week, therefore, when Justin Trudeau grabbed a tiny shovel and started digging himself out. Because he looked, and sounded, more Prime Ministerial than he had in a long time – perhaps ever.

Appearing as the last witness at the inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act during the Ottawa occupation, Trudeau was calm, clear and coherent.  There was none of the oratorical overkill of the past.  In hours of questioning by a battery of lawyers, Trudeau did not once lose his cool.

If you have ever been subjected to hours of cross-examination in court – I have, and I do not recommend it – Trudeau’s achievement was all the more extraordinary.  As an experienced litigator reminded me this week: “No witness ever wins in cross.  The best you can hope for is a draw.”

But Trudeau won with his appearance at the inquiry.  And, more than any of his ministers, he laid out a compelling and convincing argument for how he acted during the occupation, and why.

His appearance wasn’t without missteps, of course.  This writer originally supported the freezing of some bank accounts, but does no longer – because it was an extraordinary step that the evidence, now all in, simply does not support.  It was unjustified.  And Trudeau did, in fact, called occupiers names.  Even though he said he didn’t.

But, otherwise, it was a big win for him – because he said less, not more.

But Trudeau was not the only political winner, in recent days. He is not the only leader who won big by doing little.  Because Pierre Poilievre won, too.

The job of the Official Opposition is to oppose, not propose.  As an Opposition leader, you get up in the morning, dress, have breakfast, and then spend the rest of the day calling the Prime Minister names and demanding judicial inquiries.  Lots of sound and fury, directed entirely at then governing party. It’s a simple formula.

But last week, Poilievre didn’t do that.  You can be forgiven, too, for not noticing that, on the day Justin Trudeau was giving his evidence and thereafter, Pierre Poilievre was very, very quiet.  Quiet as a church-mouse.

Did he know that Trudeau was going to do well? Unlikely.  None of us did.  More likely is this: Poilievre used the occupiers to win the Conservative Party leadership.  But – because he is not stupid – he is now starting to quietly brush them off his sleeves, like so much Ottawa snow.  Poilievre knows they are uncontrollable, and ultimately more trouble than they’re worth.

So, Pierre Poilievre was silent, and won.  And Justin Trudeau said less, and won.

It’s an interesting little case study, one that Messrs. Trudeau and Poilievre should ponder: it’s the little things that’ll kill you, yes.

But it’s the little things that help you win, too.

My latest: the beast is awake – everywhere

STOCKHOLM — Extremism comes on tiny feet. You almost don’t see it until it’s too late.

Take this IKEA, for example, on Regeringsgatan, near the old city of Stockholm. Here, tucked between grandiose 16th-century buildings and charming cobblestone streets, is another IKEA.

It’s just like the ones in Canada, found from Vancouver to Halifax. Everything’s the same. Same corporate colours, same stuff for sale, even the same meatballs and lingonberries. (Which are as ubiquitous as they are delicious, by the way.)

IKEA advertises everything from candles to pillows, but it doesn’t advertise one important fact: It was founded by a fellow who was an extremist. A neo-Nazi, in fact.

Oh, sure, IKEA doesn’t completely hide who their founder was. He was a genial-looking fellow named Ingvar Kamprad, who — says IKEA’s website— was “rebel-hearted.” Uh-huh. Ingvar had “a dream to create a better life for as many people as possible — whatever the size of their wallet — (which) is and will always be our driving force.”

Well, not exactly everyone.

Ingvar, who died in 2018 at the age of 91, wasn’t too fussy about foreigners, Jews and other minorities. He wasn’t so enthusiastic about “creating a better life” for them, actually. Ingvar was a member of the fascist New Swedish Movement. The IKEA website doesn’t have a whole lot of information about that.

Ingvar joined the New Swedish Movement when he was a teenager, even before he founded IKEA as a mail order company in his family’s backyard. The leader of the far-right group was rabid anti-Semite and Adolf Hitler fan Per Engdahl, who said Hitler was “God’s saviour of Europe.”

Historians record that Ingvar recruited members and raised funds for Engdahl’s pro-Nazi group, even while the Second World War was still raging. And he remained a confidante of Engdahl for many years after that.

When caught, Ingvar insisted his involvement with fascism was “a mistake.” But, in her wonderfully-titled book “Made in Sweden: How the Swedes Are Not Nearly So Egalitarian, Tolerant, Hospitable or Cozy As They Would Like to Have You Think,” author Elisabeth Asbrink wrote the Swedish security service had a bulging file on Ingvar titled “Nazi.”

And, as recently as 2010, when Canadians were still gleefully assembling IKEA bookcases with Allen keys, Ingvar told Asbrink that “Per Engdahl is a great man, and I will maintain that as long as I live.”

So, there you go. We are all sitting on couches that, at one point, funded Nazism. Extremism, in other words.

That’s relevant, these days, because there’s quite a bit of it to be seen just about everywhere you look. Not just Sweden.

Here in Sweden in September, the extremist Sweden Democrats took more than 20% of the vote in the national election, making them the second-largest party in the Riksdag legislature.

The Sweden Democrats trace their beginnings to this country’s neo-Nazi movement. They don’t particularly like Muslims or immigrants, and said during the election they favour giving foreigners “one-way tickets” back to Kabul.

To the extent that the world pays any attention whatsoever to Swedes who don’t play hockey, the huge success of a political party with actual pro-Nazi roots went more or less unnoticed. How come?

Well, because the beast is awake everywhere, pretty much. Extremism is to be seen in a lot of surprising places, these days.

Not, we hasten to say, in the policies of the parties led by Justin Trudeau or Pierre Poilievre or Jagmeet Singh. Not even in Poilievre’s Conservative Party, which may be conservative, but is on record as favouring the admission of more immigrants — and at a faster pace, too.

No, extremism is seen in less-visible ways.

When some people wave around a swastika flag during the Ottawa occupation, for example, and nobody does a damn thing to take it away from them. Or when white supremacist members of Diagolon are caught heading to the Coutts, Alta., border crossing with a cache of weapons, allegedly to murder police, and people shrug.

Or even when the richest man in the world gives a rabid anti-Semite like Kanye West back his Twitter account. After he said he was going to go “Def Con” on Jews. Or how Twitter blithely allows extremist threats against my Postmedia colleagues, and other journalists, all the time. All that.

So, we should probably give the Swedes a break, the fascist leanings of IKEA’s founder notwithstanding. They’ve got a problem with extremism, yes.

And, if we’re honest with ourselves, we increasingly do, too.

Back in the garage with my bullshit detector

I have had an amazing time in London. Finally saw the Churchill war rooms – a real War Room! – and it was quite amazing. Did a punk rock tour of Soho, went to Camden Town with my old high school pal Lee Hill, and tonight I am finally seeing the real Sham 69, with Jimmy Pursey!

Here’s a shot Lee snapped when we were in Camden. Anybody recognize where I was?