In Friday’s Sun: Wall’s wilful whoppers

There’s a reason why Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall is consistently ranked as one of the country’s most-popular Premiers.

He knows how to communicate. And he aggressively represents his constituents. He does his job, in effect.

That doesn’t mean he is doing the right thing all the time, however. And it certainly doesn’t mean that Saskatchewan’s interests are identical to the national interest. Or, for that matter, the collective interests of Ontario and Quebec.

Wall, who knows his way around a scrum, is lately in high dudgeon. He is angry – or he is pretending to be – at Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard over the Energy East pipeline.

Speaking to the media a few days ago, Wall said he was “surprised,” “concerned” and “very concerned” about what Wynne and Couillard have said about the $12 billion project, which would carry millions of barrels in Alberta and Saskatchewan crude to refineries in Eastern Canada.

What have Wynne and Couillard said that has whipped up Wall’s wrath? The following:

· Ontario and Quebec have said they’d like to see the pipeline follow environmental best-practices.

· They want some consultation with aboriginal people, over whose land the pipeline will traverse.

· They’d like to see effective emergency response, in case something goes wrong.

· They want some kind of benefit for folks in Ontario and Quebec, and particularly natural gas consumers.

· And…that’s it.

Shocking. Reads like a ransom note, doesn’t it? What’s next? Nationalizing the petroleum industry?

Not quite. Wynne and Couillard are raising eminently-sensible questions about the Energy East pipeline. That’s their job, after all.

That hasn’t stopped Wall from attempting to pick a fight with Ontario and Quebec, however. He has said that Wynne and Couillard are imposing “conditions” – even though they’re not, because they can’t. (Approval for the pipeline falls squarely within federal jurisdiction.)

There is a proud and time-tested tradition, of course, of Canada’s Eastern and the Western parts screaming bloody murder about the arrogance and dominance of the Central part. It results in votes, and sometimes it attracts federal largesse. Sometimes, it’s even right.

In this case, it is not. What Brad Wall is doing is disingenuous, and he knows it.

Take, for instance, Wall’s bunkum about how Western oil is being held to a higher standard than, say, Middle Eastern oil. Wynne and Couillard seem “almost ashamed the country has oil,” Wall huffed.

“Interests in Central Canada” – presumably Wall means the duly-elected representatives of two-thirds of Canada’s population – have “never” raised concerns about imports of “oil from Venezuela, Algeria or Iraq,” Saskatchewan’s Premier claims.

Wall isn’t directly stating that Ontario is getting all of its oil from ISIS enclaves in Iraq, but he probably wouldn’t be upset if Ontario voters were left with that impression.

The reality is that crude oil imports to Canada from afar have significantly decreased. In the first eight months of 2014, in fact, imports from overseas dropped – and less-expensive North American sources now represent about half of all crude oil imports into Canada.

And, when one considers that Ontario ultimately gets 99.7 per cent – that is, just shy of 100 per cent – of its oil from Western Canada, Wall is indulging in the sort of sophistry that assists no one. As the Government of Saskatchewan itself admits on one of its shiny web sites: the amount of Saskatchewan oil that is “shipped to Ontario” is, um, “substantial.” No kidding.

Premier Wall, you are aggressively representing your province’s interests. Fine. You are doing your job. Fine.

But reflect on Alberta Premier Jim Prentice’s approach – he was this week in Ontario to meet with Premier Wynne, and he moved the Energy East pipeline towards approval without indulging in histrionics and petty regionalism.

That’s the best way to represent the people who elected you, Premier Wall: you know, by building the country up, not tearing it down.

In Tuesday’s Sun: courage and the NDP

“Courage, my friends: ’tis not too late to build a better world.”

The New Democrats’ founding father, Tommy Douglas, said that. It could have been said by any one his social democrat successors, however, in the intervening generation or so. Reportedly, it was the Douglas adage that Jack Layton loved the most.

The second part of Douglas’ axiom is probably what Layton and other New Democrats liked best: building a better world. Who can be against building a better world?

But it was the first part – the part about having courage – that probably preoccupies New Democrats the most, these days. For them, the coming months will require no small amount of it.

Canadian politics is falling back into its historical alignments. Before Jack Layton made history in 2011, and catapulted the New Democrats into the role of Official Opposition, the NDP had always been in third place, federally.

Layton is gone, now, and so too Michael Ignatieff. The two men who were principally responsible for the historic shift of 2011 are no longer on the political stage. They have been replaced by Justin Trudeau (who is no Ignatieff), and Tom Mulcair (who is no Layton). The fundamentals have changed, and multiple by-election results, and successive polls, reflect that: the NDP is slipping back into third place.

Is it too late for the NDP to build a better world? What will they do, to hold onto what they got in 2011? Three things.

The first relates to Quebec, which embraced Layton like no other province in 2011. Shortly after the 2011 election concluded, Leger Marketing determined that about half of the Quebeckers who had voted NDP agreed with this statement: “I’ve had enough of the other parties and I wanted change.” Months later, the party conducted focus groups to see if Quebec’s electorate were having second thoughts.

According to Jack Layton advisor Brad Lavigne, the answer was no. “[They] did not regret their choice,” Lavigne wrote in his 2013 book Building The Orange Wave.

But, with the arrival of Justin Trudeau, do they still feel that way? An Abacus poll released last week suggests they do. “The numbers show the NDP remains very popular in a province where it captured 59 of 75 seats and 43 per cent of the vote in 2011 under late leader Jack Layton,” Abacus concluded. Off the island of Montreal, Thomas Mulcair remains a very serious contender for the job of Prime Minister, Abacus found.

The second thing the NDP will do, strategically, is concentrate on the rough alliance that saw Layton’s NDP add an astonishing 67 seats in the House of Commons. That is, urban voters, young people, new Canadians, francophone Quebeckers and aboriginal Canadians. In 2011, these demographics abandoned the Liberal Party and enthusiastically embraced the Layton NDP. Expect the Mulcair New Democrats, say Lavigne and others, to maintain a laser-like focus on those Canadian voters.

The third objective for New Democrats, says Lavigne and like-minded New Democrats, is to continue to avoid becoming what they came into being to replace: the Liberals. The NDP’s core heartily detest Trudeau and his party, especially lately, and are determined to offer voters a progressive alternative that isn’t simply the Liberal Party with a coat of orange paint.

Will they succeed? We shall see. The New Democrats remain highly competitive in Quebec, and they have spared no effort to hold onto the 2011 Layton coalition. They have also successfully avoided morphing into a Liberal replica.

Mulcair’s problem, however, is this: voters agree with him. They don’t want a Liberal carbon-copy, either. They want the real thing.

And that, as Tommy Douglas might say, is something that will require a lot of NDP courage.

Before anyone gets too enthusiastic about Jonathan Kay, read this

Kay, in his transition to the new boss at The Walrus, has energetically sought to position himself as the sort of sensitive, progressive urban Toronto latte-sipper he spent the last decade or so attacking.  Thus, all over Twitter and Facebook on the weekend, Kay’s polemic about He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named-Here got all kinds of enthusiastic retweeting in deepest Annex.  Yay! Jonathan Kay is just like us!

Not quite.  Here’s just one of Kay’s more notable misadventures on the far right, and the result:


On Monday, the National Post posted on its web blog a column by Jonathan Kay that repeated allegations made by Bernard Klatt in a 2006 sworn affidavit against lawyer and Canadian human rights activist Richard Warman. Mr. Klatt has alleged that a racist posting on Freedomsite about Senator Anne Cools was made by Mr. Warman in 2003. The National Post has no evidence to support Mr. Klatt’s allegation against Mr. Warman and it hereby retracts any suggestion that Mr. Warman manufactured any statement about Senator Cools. The National Post apologizes for any embarrassment this has caused Mr. Warman. [February 20, 2008].

Two fun guess questions:

1.  Guess who Kay’s source Bernard Klatt was? Surprise, surprise: a guy who hosted web sites for the Heritage Front, the Euro-Canadian Defence League and the Canadian Patriot’s Network, plus folks like the White Power Skinheads, Berserk, New Order and Nordland.  Great source, Jon!

2.  And guess who relied on what Kay wrote, and repeated it? Yep.  You guessed it: He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named-Here.  Surprise, surprise!

My point isn’t about Bernard Klatt or He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named-Here. My point is this: for many, many years, Jonathan Kay fanatically promoted the very views and people he is now busily attempting to discredit.

That should tell you all you need to know about the new editor of The Walrus – and, sadly, what that means for the magazine’s long-term prospects.

Kinsella krest kicks

That’s a weird alliteration, I know, but I’m pooped.  You get what you pay for, etc. etc.

Anyway: my gal Lala is back from Ireland! Very, very happy about that.  And she brought me back various Celtic cadeaux (there I go again), among them this Kinsella family crest, plus accompanying history.

She bought it in Dublin, she told me, and only spotted the bit at the bottom afterwards.  Check it out: I’m heretofore a notable Kinsella! My billable rate is going way up, now!


In Friday’s Sun: TV killed the radio star (and others, too)

It’s quaint, almost, the notion that other media are more important than television. Watching a CTV helicopter hover over King Street East in Toronto at lunchtime on Wednesday should have dispensed with it, once and for all.

The helicopter was there, clattering overhead like a antediluvian bird of prey, for most of the lunch hour.  It was there, budgets be damned, to catch a glimpse of Jian Ghomeshi leaving court.  That’s it. What did it cost CTV, to do that? As those on the ground gawked up at it, did anyone recall O.J. Simpson in that iconic white Ford Bronco SUV, helicopters trailing it down a Los Angeles freeway over twenty years ago?

Probably.  The former CBC star was present to post bail, and listen to the charges against him.  Accordingly, there was a literal army of media on hand to dutifully report on the little that was left to them, after a publication ban had been imposed: shorter haircut, glum expression, jacket no tie.  No statements to the media.

And hovering overhead, throughout, like the unblinking eye of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg in The Great Gatsby, was TV.  Above the print folk, the radio folk, the Internet folk, still more important than all of them put together: TV.

If it didn’t happen on TV, someone once said, it didn’t happen at all.  The reappearance of Jian Ghomeshi – the former radio star, note – shows to be that indisputably true.  TV still rules all.

There are reasons for this, some scientific, some not.  Successive studies have shown citizens regard TV news as more in-depth, and more trustworthy, than newspapers.  As someone who writes for newspapers – and loves newspapers and literally cannot imagine a world without them – this seems like insanity.  But it’s still true.

Some will say, at this point, that the Internet is the new king.  But they’re wrong.  The Internet’s strength is its weakness: it has billions of pages, which is certainly proof that people have embraced it.  But no one can keep track of something with billions of channels – and no one channel can ever dominate for long.  So TV, with its finite number of choices, and its ubiquitousness, still rules.

You know where this is going, of course.

If television is King (and it is), and if nothing happens unless it happens on TV (and it doesn’t), then what are the implications for our politics?

Ask anyone who was is the House of Commons  in 1977, when television cameras were bolted to the stately wooden walls in the Commons: they’ll tell you.   Everything changed.

Does anyone really think that John Diefenbaker would have won as much as he did, if television cameras had been capturing his swinging jowls, his rheumy eyes, every single day? Does anyone believe that a man as decent and as thoughtful as Joe Clark would have had as short a tenure as Prime Minister, had TV cameras not been installed, two years before?  Does anyone think – even for a commercial break – that Pierre Trudeau, Intellectual, was not keenly aware of the power of TV?

More particularly, does anyone actually believe that Trudeau’s eldest son didn’t learn about television’s impact on political fortunes? Does anyone think that his opponent’s relative positions in the polls aren’t tied, in some measureable way, to how they look on TV?  You know, the bearded guy, and the guy with the cold eyes?

Television, the Internet notwithstanding, still rules all.  And whoever has mastery over it – whoever understands it best – is usually the one to beat.

Therefore, Messrs. Harper and Mulcair, look way up: you may think yourself smarter than Justin Trudeau, or more substantial than him.

But do you really think, if the three of you were exiting a building one lunchtime, the helicopter with the TV crew would be following you, and not Trudeau?

Think again.  TV killed the radio star, this week.

And it still has the power to kill the ambitions of the likes of you, too.