Categories for Musings
Column I wrote for the Sun chain way back in April 2010 (have they kept me around that long?). Offered here for your amusement.
He’s amiable. He’s smart. He’s reasonably bilingual. He’s well respected. He’s got movie star good looks. He’s seen as a moderate in a cabinet bursting at the seams with deconstructed Reformers.
And, most notably, he is the Conservative who lots of Liberals fear the most.
He’s Jim Prentice.
As everyone knows by now – and as Sun alumnus Greg Weston first revealed in an online scoop – Prentice shocked the somnolent capital yesterday afternoon, when he stood at the end of Question Period to offer his immediate resignation.
Clearly choked up, Prentice told the stunned House that he had taken a job at CIBC – where, presumably, he will not be working as a teller. The faces of his soon-to-be-former caucus colleagues were mostly inscrutable.
Some Reformer types, perhaps, were inwardly happy that one of the few Progressive Conservatives in the Harper government were leaving. Others, however, looked worried.
They should be.
For starters, the former Environment minister gave the Harper government a honest-to-goodness centrist, one whose instincts are much more attuned to his Ontario birthplace. Just last week, for example, Prentice surprised many with his decision to veto a gold mine at Fish Lake in B.C.’s interior.
Now liberated from the restrictions that cabinet places on every politicians’ ambition, Jim Prentice is free to do, and say, pretty much whatever he wants. And the question on every federal politico’s mind, last night, was whether Prentice wants the top job – Stephen Harper’s.
It’s not an idle question. As a formerly active federal Liberal, I can tell you that Prentice has always been the Conservative who made Grits nervous.
In three successive elections, Harper has shown he is singularly incapable of capturing his a Parliamentary majority. Women, younger voters, and not a few Central Canadians just can’t bring themselves to trust the moody, angry Conservative leader.
Prentice, however, has the style and sensibility that could easily attract a lot of soft Liberal vote. He’s clearly much more moderate than Harper – and he doesn’t attract speculation that he harbours a nasty hidden agenda.
For example, I can reveal that Jim Prentice is probably the only member of the Harper regime who was respected enough, and knowledgeable enough, to be hired by the previous Liberal government. Prentice’s skills as a negotiator attracted the attention of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, whose government retained him to work on aboriginal files in the 1990s.
The question, then, is whether Prentice plans to use his new job as a launching pad for a run at the Conservative leadership – when Harper takes his foot-stomp in the snow, that is.
Running for a party’s leadership from the outside cabinet is pretty much the only way to win. The aforementioned Chretien did it in 1990, as did John Turner in 1984 and Paul Martin in 2003. Harper himself ran as an outsider in 2002, for the Canadian Alliance leadership. (Kim Campbell ran while still a minister, of course, but we all know how that turned out.)
What will Jim Prentice do? Only he knows for sure.
But one thing is clear: he’s the candidate who makes ambitious people nervous.
On both sides of the House.
Two politicians who deserve some credit and kudos: federal Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and provincial Finance Minister Charles Sousa.
Now, that’s a bit of a change from just a few days ago. Earlier this month, Baird and Sousa came in for criticism for their apparent disinterest in the case of the forgotten detainee, as Sun News called him: Khaled al-Qazzaz. Khaled is a Mississauga man, a good man, who has been held in a Hellish Egyptian prison for nearly ten months. His wife Sarah is Canadian, and so are his four young kids.
His crime? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Khaled had been working as an official in the democratically-elected government of the Freedom and Justice Party, advising president Mohammed Morsi about human rights issues. His focus had been improving the lives of Christians and Jews in Egypt, and women’s equality.
Until July 3 of last year, that is. On that day, black-shirted thugs marched into his Cairo office and grabbed Khaled. They threw him into a tiny cell in the worst part of Cairo’s al-Aqrab prison, where he has remained ever since. No bed, no pillow, nothing: just a thin blanket. No access to his heart medication, no access to his doctor or his lawyer. And, worst of all, no contact with Sarah or his kids.
He’s been getting sicker. His arm is paralyzed, and his condition is worsening. And, outside the walls of the prison, the situation in Egypt has gotten worse, too. Just yesterday, an Egyptian judge sentenced nearly 700 Muslim Brotherhood members to death for the slaying of a policeman. Hundreds of others linked to Morsi’s democratically-elected government have previously been executed by Egypt’s military regime. But the mass trial result has stunned Western governments and human rights groups.
For the past few days, Khaled’s schoolteacher wife has been back home in Canada, trying to draw attention to his plight. She’s been supported by many others, among them Canadian filmmaker John Greyson, who was unlawfully detained in Egypt for two months last year – as well as, full disclosure, members of my family and work colleagues.
Late last week, Sousa took time out of what must be a very busy schedule (he plans to table Ontario’s budget this week) to speak at length with Sarah about Khaled. Sousa, who was the Qazzaz family’s MPP, pledged to use all the means at his disposal to press for better conditions for Khaled and, ultimately, seek his release.
Baird, meanwhile, has been in Egypt on a Middle Eastern tour. While Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister doesn’t normally raise the cases of permanent residents, like Khaled, he did so anyway. “Minister Baird inquired about the family being able to visit Mr. al-Qazzaz, and [the Egyptians] assured that they could,” said one of his senior advisors this week. “Post-visit, Canadian officials also exchanged a diplomatic note with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs dealing with the family being able to visit.”
So far, so good – and Sousa and Baird deserve some credit for dialing up the pressure on the homicidal Egyptian regime. However, Khaled still remains in prison, and he’s still getting sicker. And the cabal that imprisoned him is becoming ever-more erratic, with the mass death sentence trial being the most recent example.
More needs to be done, and soon. This week, Sarah is in Ottawa to meet with returning MPs and plead for help. Let’s hope she gets it.
Let me you tell my Herb Gray stories.
First off, this: Herb Gray was an eminent citizen. He was a special person. He had an impact on this country. He was, truly, a great Canadian.
Each of those accolades has a specific meaning. Each one has been used to describe Herb Gray for a reason. I’ll tell you why at the end of this column.
Before that, however, let me tell you about Mr. Gray. That’s what we called him, those of us who had the privilege to work for and with him on Parliament Hill: “Mr. Gray.” Other MPs, and even cabinet ministers, might be called by their first names. Not Mr. Gray.
I met him in the Fall of 1990, when I quit my law practice to work in the office of Jean Chretien as his Special Assistant. Chretien had won the Liberal leadership in June, but he hadn’t won a seat in the House of Commons yet. Until he did so, Mr. Gray was acting leader in the House of Commons, and he ran the show in Question Period.
Assisted by the likes of Jerry Yanover and Bruce Hartley and Rick Wackid and others, Mr. Gray was a giant. He had kept the Liberal Party viable towards the end of John Turner’s reign – and, during a fractious Liberal leadership race, Mr. Gray was the glue that kept the party together.
One time, he asked me to write a speech for him. I can’t remember what it was about, but I remember he drove me crazy. Through draft after draft, revision after revision, Mr. Gray revealed himself to be a perfectionist – with no detail too small.
I would sit in his office, surrounded by hundreds of editorial cartoons about Herb Gray on the walls, and watch him run a pencil under certain phrases. “For emphasis,” he told me, and then he went to deliver the speech in a monotone that was his oratorical hallmark.
He was kind, and he was perceptive, too. When one issue broke in 1991 – the collapse of the shadowy Bank of Credit and Commerce International – I was on holiday with my family in Maine. I called Mr. Gray from a pay phone.
“I sense that you want to come back,” he said, correctly. “But stay there with your family. You need a break. We will keep it alive until you get back.” And so he did.
I never saw him lose his temper. I never saw him be rude. I never saw him exhibit anything but gentlemanly grace towards the women who worked for him for years, and who clearly adored him.
Mr. Gray wasn’t perfect, of course. He remained conspicuously absent from the Liberal leadership wars – leaving some of us Chretien loyalists wondering about the faith we had placed in him. (The Martin people probably wondered the same thing.)
He was inscrutable, but about some things, his love was apparent. His country, for whom he had become the first Jewish cabinet minister. His party, which he never let down. And his family – and particularly his remarkable wife Sharon, who achieved distinction in health care without any assistance from her powerful husband.
Mr. Gray died a few days ago, at the age of 82. I, and many others, were very sad to see him go.
Oh, and those words at the outset?
You know: that he was an eminent Canadian. That he was a special person. That he had an impact on this country. That he was, truly, a great Canadian.
Each of those descriptions are the requirements, if you will, for someone deserving of a state funeral. They’re taken right from the Government of Canada web site about state funerals.
I don’t think anyone begrudges Jim Flaherty getting a state funeral. Not at all.
But if Mr. Flaherty deserved one, then Mr. Gray sure as Hell did, too.
And that’s not just a Herb Gray story. That’s the truth.
Put the (now much-read) email up this morning, here. People said I should go to the cops, sue, etc. Instead, I figured I’d give the John Tory campaign an opportunity to respond to her claim that she was working in their campaign headquarters just last week. Maybe it wasn’t true, maybe she was a crank, etc. So I waited.
So then I wrote to Tom Allison, who is supposedly the top guy over there. On that Facebook message thing, I gave him the whole email and her name, contact info and so on. Here’s a screen cap of the Facebook exchange:
Kind of terse response from Tom, eh? In any event, he still hasn’t responded to last question, there, which I don’t think is an entirely unreasonable one: is she telling the truth or not when she says she’s worked in your campaign headquarters?
The silence suggests that Tom (a) is a busy guy, or (b) “S.J.” is indeed a Tory campaign worker, and they’re having a Tory-style meeting involving 15 people to agonize and dither about what to do.
Anyway, if they think I’m going to let this one go – well, they’re more out-of-touch than I thought.
“Today, Hot Nasties are probably best known as Liberal Party strategist Warren Kinsella’s old band or that old Canadian punk group UK upstarts Palma Violets covered. But they were one of the first punk groups in Calgary, and 1980’s The Invasion of the Tribbles EP (Ugly Pop, www.uglypop.bigcartel.com) is the only material they managed to release. A lot of first-wave punk acts get a lot of credit just for making it into a recording studio, but it’s clear Hot Nasties were a cut above many of their peers. “I am A Confused Teenager” alone shows they were a band more concerned with penning catchy tunes than battling the establishment.”
I’m not a Liberal strategist, BTW. I’m not an anything strategist. I hate all political parties, a ce moment, equally.
And as I always tell Pierre, my BFF and fellow Hot Nasties founder: “If we’d stayed together, I’d be through my country-punk and synth-punk stages, my second heroin addiction, my third marriage to one of the Slits, and my fourth dalliance with Buddhism. Just think what we missed!”