In Tuesday’s Sun: out on a limb

Senator Romeo LeBlanc looked around.

It was Spring 1993, and LeBlanc was sitting in a room on Parliament Hill, surrounded by a half-dozen Liberal Party staffers. I was one of them. We called ourselves “the task force,” which we hoped sounded bland. We wanted to avoid being called what we really were, which was the first Liberal Party war room.

LeBlanc was our much-loved boss, and no less than James Carville had personally advised us on how to set ourselves up. Carville had told us what LeBlanc was about to remind us: war room stuff isn’t for the faint of heart.

“Okay guys,” LeBlanc said, softly. “Here’s what I have explained to [Liberal leader Jean] Chretien. The kind of work we are engaged in – the kinds of things we are doing – are going to result in one of you losing a limb. It’s inevitable. If you can’t accept that, you’re in the wrong [expletive deleted] line of work.”

It was true, too. In every war room in which I have volunteered since 1993, someone has indeed lost a limb. It’s just the nature of the work. Doesn’t matter if you are a Grit, Tory or Dipper. It happens.

War roomers do quick response. They chase (or attempt to manufacture) controversy. They continually attempt to attract attention in a crowded news environment.

It’s risky business, you might say.

Me and my war room pals have lost plenty of limbs, over the years. First happened to me in ’93, front-page national news, over my interest in a reporter’s tape of Kim Campbell saying something dumb. Happened again in 2000, with Barney the dinosaur being deployed to mock Stockwell Day. Right wing went crazy over that one.

Provincially, too. Happened infamously in 2007 (with a cartoon about baking cookies), and many times since. Not just with Yours Truly, either. Happens in every campaign, to every war room, pretty much.

Our Grit war rooms may have helped out a little, when we won in 1993, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2007, and 2011. Took a few risks, won.

Because it’s risky work, smart war roomers usually insist on not showing up on any flowcharts. The wiser ones aren’t keen on having a title. In particular, they insist on keeping their tactics away from the leader or the candidate at all times. Protect the boss, always.

Now, over the past few days, I lost yet another limb. It was in all the Toronto papers. Even the paper that gives me space has gotten in on the act. Cartoonish guy Andy Donato – who has previously likened progressives to Hitler, and done up cartoons suggesting battering women is funny – did a cartoon poking fun at Yours Truly.

It was plenty amusing getting a civics lesson from the likes of Donato. But I was fair game.

On a slow news day, I’d criticized an opponent in an ongoing municipal election campaign. I used a strong word – too strong.

What was the criticism about? Well, it drew attention to the fact that a major candidate effectively wants to eliminate transit service to a big part of Canada’s largest city. The area is home to a lot of new Canadians.

I regretted my choice of words, which I did all on my own, with no help from anybody. Apologized to the candidate in question, and he graciously accepted same. I then limped away from the blast radius.

But the issue I was raising, and the candidate I was critiquing, aren’t really the point, here. The point is that, when the media consistently won’t focus on an important issue, war rooms have to. They have no choice.

So, get ready for Stephen Harper and Tom Mulcair’s war room folks to be pushing every and any Justin Trudeau mistake, going back to when the Grit leader was in high school. (That’s why he’s cleverly written a quickie autobiography, by the way: to beat the Tory war room to the punch.)

And, get ready for Trudeau’s gang to be stirring up memories of the Senate spending mess and the Sona election fraud case and quite a few other scandals, too.

Most of all, get ready for quite a few war roomers to be hobbling around on crutches by election’s end. When the stakes are this high, when the very keys to 24 Sussex are up for grabs, it’s going to get nasty. My guess: by January, the war rooms will be going full bore, 24/7.

And take it from this grizzled survivor of the very first Canadian political war room: war room work remains risky work, riskier than ever before.

Inevitably, you lose a limb. I did, this week. But that’s okay.

They grow back.


Ten reasons why no one should weep if Tim Horton’s is sold

I’m aware I’m committing treason, but the truth must prevail. To wit:

1. The food is lousy.
2. The service ain’t so hot, either.
3. The food isn’t “always fresh.” It’s frozen.
4. The coffee is better elsewhere.
5. It stopped being Canadian owned in 1995.
6. The cups aren’t recyclable.
7. They don’t support local farmers.
8. The Conservative Party loves it.
9. They treat employees terribly: most are minimum wage part-timers with no benefits or security.
10. The kicked out a gay couple. Wouldn’t let kid having asthma attack call 911. They wouldn’t let employees show support for troops. Kicked out a paraplegic for using a wheelchair. They fired a worker for giving a kid a free Timbit.

And so on and so on.

Check the Internet, folks. Timmies is Terrible.

Oh, and Burger King? Here’s hoping your whopper of a deal goes through!

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As the father of four children, I nominate this woman for a Nobel Prize

“A U.S. mother has created an Android app that offers parents a very modern solution to an old problem: What to do when your child won’t return your phone calls?

The “Ignore No More” app gives parents the ability to remotely lock their child’s smartphone, in the event their offspring’s ignoring their phone calls and text messages. The phone can only be re-activated if the child calls their parents back.”

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All Fired Up in the Big Smoke: read this

Sent to me this morn, and now I send it to you. Apologies for the length, but the erroneous Globe report has me wanting to ensure some of you read it. Full post here.

Now, back the beach! (And, into the breach.)

I begin this already doubting its relevance to the wider general public. Which may ultimately be the point of it, I guess. Although, why bother then, you could ask.

Indeed.

Earlier this week a whole lot of dust was kicked up when noted political thingie and Olivia Chow campaign volunteer whatsit, Warren Kinsella, referred to mayoral rival John Tory’s Smart Track transit plan as ‘Segregationist Track’ in a tweet. Outrage ensued. How Dare Hes abounded. Demands for an apology were issued.

The offending tweet was deleted. Kinsella apologized, put up a Gone Fishin’ sign, and went silent. The Chow team put some distance between itself and Kinsella, the volunteer. New news broke. People moved on. The earth kept spinning.

Honestly. Did you hear about any of this?

If not, maybe the actual intent of the tweet is still at work.

During the initial fury, amidst the calls of misappropriation of the word and the accusations of ugly intimations of racism contained in the tweet aimed at John Tory, Siri Agrell, a communications strategist, consultant and a David Soknacki (another mayoral candidate) fan, dropped this into the debate:

“If intent is to plant a counter-narrative that Tory is racist, is getting everyone in the media to report tweet really a strategic stumble?”

Ahhhhhh!

Essentially, have someone who gives you plausible deniability take the hit for a contentious public statement and when the heat cools, the heat always cools especially in a 10 month long election campaign, what’s left behind, the residue if you will, is the question of why anyone would want to make you think John Tory is a racist.

Arguably, Kinsella’s choice of words was inappropriate. Arguably, he should’ve apologized quicker and louder. Pull the pin. Detonate the grenade. Brush the smoke smudge from your face. Ooops. Sorry. Step back from the damage.

Still.

A couple days on now and all that really lingers, if anything is lingering from the incident at all, is that question. Why would anyone suggest that John Tory is a racist? ‘Segregationist Track’? What’s that even mean?

And then the explanation.

Take a look at Tory’s Smart Track map. That dark blue void of nothingness, up in the left hand corner, where a bright red line should be, representing the Finch West LRT and new rapid transit options for the residents of northwestern Toronto. A part of the city home to many of the city’s non-John Tory phenotypes, let’s say. New Canadians hailing from non-white countries around the globe. People representing places that give us bragging rights to our official municipal motto, Diversity, Our Strength.

How come John Tory isn’t prioritizing their transit needs? Why is he ignoring a fully funded by the province piece of vital transit infrastructure in their neighbourhoods? Does John Tory not care about visible minorities?

Don’t be ridiculous. I mean, seriously. Just stop… being ridiculous. John Tory isn’t a racist. Some of his best—Don’t be ridiculous.

OK, fine. Then why has John Tory’s Smart Track plan wiped the Finch West LRT off the transit map? Can he explain that for us?

There you have it. This thing that began as a question of Olivia Chow’s character judgement about those who are working on her campaign, even peripherally, becomes more a question of John Tory’s priorities and who he’s actually looking out for. Who exactly is part of John Tory’s vision of the city?