Thirty-six years ago right now

September 4, 1984: 36 years ago today, I was on an Air Canada flight from Ottawa, heading home to Calgary to start law school. The pilot came on the blower. 

“For those of you who are wondering, we are hearing that the Liberal Party has lost every one of its seats,” he said. “And we have a new Conservative majority government.”

The plane erupted in cheers and applause – lots of it. Having just said goodbye to many of my Liberal friends at Ottawa polling stations, and having just finished working for a Liberal cabinet minister on the Hill, I slid further into my seat. A woman beside me noticed I wasn’t as deliriously happy as everyone else. 

“I take it your friends have lost?” she asked. 

“You could say that,” I said. 

On the ground in Calgary, my Dad was there to collect me. We silently listened to John Turner’s concession speech on the way back to my folks’ home on the Bow River. Near the end, Turner said: “The people are always right.’ 

“I’m not so sure about that,” I responded, but – on reflection – I reckoned that Turner was indeed correct: the people are always right. 

And the people had chosen Brian Mulroney, in record numbers. More than seventy-five per cent of eligible voters turned out to give Mulroney an astonishing 211 seats. The Liberals were reduced to a paltry 40 – only ten ahead of the New Democrats.

So began the Mulroney era, and a decade in the wilderness for the Liberal Party of Canada. It was an extraordinary decade, a time of great change, and it is hard to believe it all started 36 years ago today. 

Not many in the media marked Mulroney’s September 4, 1984 triumph, and that is a shame. He changed Canada – not always for the good, but not entirely for the bad, either. 

Meech Lake, Charlottetown, and assorted ministerial resignations, are always cited as the principal failures of the Mulroney era. But the former Conservative leader had successes, too: free trade, which his Liberal successor – my future boss, Jean Chretien – refused to undo. So, too, some of his major economic reforms, which arguably helped return the federation to balanced budgets and surpluses. 

To not a few of us, his most singular achievement was his unflagging opposition to South Africa’s evil apartheid system. This placed him squarely against his closest conservative allies, Britain’s Margaret Thatcher and America’s Ronald Reagan. But Mulroney’s determination to end apartheid put him on the right side of history – and earned him the enduring friendship of Nelson Mandela. 

Why does all this matter now, so many years later? Two reasons.

First, Mulroney extraordinary victory on September 4, 1984 – and the historic events that followed that day – should not be forgotten. Whether you approve of his tenure or not, Mulroney truly changed Canada. 

The second reason really has nothing to do with Brian Mulroney at all. The second reason we should recall September 4 is this: when democratic political change comes, it sometimes comes in a way that is dramatic, decisive, and defining. It can be shocking.

That may be good, that may be bad. Depends on the team you belong to, I suppose.

One thing cannot be disputed, however:

As on September 4, 1984, as today, the people are always right.

Donald Trump is a piece of shit

…and, in my books, if you support him, you are complicit.

In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.

Full story here.

My latest: Erin’s error

The best way to win the Republican presidential nomination, someone once said, is to run as far as possible to the Right.

Then, when one wins the nomination?

Start running back to the centre.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole heeded that advice. His leadership campaign was brimming with the sort of stuff that right-wing folks love. His campaign’s strategy was to depict Peter MacKay as the squishy One World Government crypto-Liberal, and O’Toole the conservative’s Conservative. 

He was the “true blue” Conservative. He was going to do battle with “the Chinese regime,” which would be news to our military.

He was going to start a fight to “take back Canada” – from whom, he never said, but Indigenous people were likely unamused, having always correctly believed they had Canada first. 

And, of course, O’Toole was going to give social conservatives what they wanted. He was their candidate, because he was the only one who could beat the communist MacKay. 


• he suggested he had “concerns” about banning conversion therapy 

• he mused about creating “conscience rights” to make abortions harder to get

• he intoned that he didn’t like medically-assisted death, and would work to limit its use

• he implied he he would give some the “right” to refuse LGBTQ marriage 

• and he said SoCons “will have a seat at the table” when he became Conservative leader. 

Which, after a clown show of a voting process, he eventually did. He won the Tory crown in the wee hours, when most of us had gone to bed. 

And then, as in a dream, Erin O’Toole switched the script.

It was kind of like the Bobby Ewing dream sequence on Dallas, many years ago. JR was dead and we were trying to figure out the identity of the murderer. And then Bobby woke up, and it was all a dream!

The producers of Dallas lost not a few fans with that little stunt, and my suspicion is Erin O’Toole is going to lose some fans, as well.

On the progressive side of the spectrum, he has created a credible case for the criticism that he has a hidden agenda. On the social conservative side – a side he actively and indisputably courted for many months – there will be feelings of betrayal and anger.

That’s what happens when you try and suck and blow at the same time. That’s what happens when you try to be all things to all people. You end up satisfying nobody, really.

O’Toole had an exceedingly competent campaign team. That is obvious. They were up against a likable, experienced former senior cabinet minister. They were up against the widely-held impression that their candidate lacked charisma, name recognition or a policy or two that were in some way newsworthy.

Despite that, they expertly manipulated the Byzantine Conservative voting process and captured ridings that were ridings in name only.  They decisively beat Peter MacKay by doing that. 

But make no mistake: they also did that by pretending to be the most electable social conservative candidate. The other two social conservatives in the race could not speak French – a nonstarter for a truly national political party.

Sure, sure.  It is true that Justin Trudeau is no longer as popular as he once was. It is true that he has become enmeshed  in multiple ethical scandals. It is true that one of those scandals – the one that has soiled his family name – may yet take down his government.

But only a fool would underestimate Justin Trudeau‘s electoral skills. Andrew Scheer did that, and he ended up looking like a fool. He ended up looking like a guy who couldn’t score on an empty net if his life depended on it.

With a pandemic raging, and Canadians worrying about kids returning to school and businesses going under, it may be that Canadians will forget about Erin O’Toole‘s whiplash-inducing flip-flop. Or they may not care. 

But Conservatives are dreaming in technicolor if they think the Liberal electoral machine has not noticed. They are delusional if they think Justin Trudeau will not take full and frequent advantage of their massive volte-face.

In politics, you have to believe In something. You do.

After last week, to both progressives and social conservatives, it is fair to wonder if the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada believes in anything at all.