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.

Big vans outside the Moral High Ground this morning

…looks like the NDP is getting ready to move out.  I guess Tom Mulcair’s “very strong desire to keep this confidential” is no longer so “strong.”


I could go on for another half-hour or so, but I have to work.  You get the point, anyway.

The point being: on this mess, the NDP look awful.



In Tuesday’s Sun: hear both sides, or end it

In Latin, it’s called “audi alteram partem.”

That is, “hear the other side.” It’s a principle of what is referred to as natural justice. Put simply, natural justice offers citizens specific procedural rights – the right to be heard, and the right to a hearing free from bias.

Natural justice is an important concept, because it still forms the basis of much of our common law. Hear from both sides, and make it fair when you do: if you ever get in big trouble, that’s what you are entitled to expect.

Liberal MPs Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews are in big trouble. Weeks ago, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau suspended Pacetti and Andrews from the Grit caucus.

When he did so, Trudeau said this: “I am aware of how difficult it is for people to come forward. I believe strongly that those of us in positions of authority have a duty to act upon allegations of this nature…It’s 2014 – we have a duty to protect and encourage individuals in these situations to come forward. The action must be fair but decisive. It must be sensitive to all affected parties but, recognizing how difficult it is to do so, it must give the benefit of the doubt to those who come forward.”

When he rendered that decision, I and others considered it Justin Trudeau’s finest moment. He looked and sounded like a Prime Minister. He took decisive action that could only be harmful to his own cause. He did not identify the complainants in any way, and he acted swiftly.

In the Fall of 2014, when disturbing accounts of sexual harassment have seemingly become as commonplace as leaves on the ground, Trudeau’s actions were welcome. Unlike the CBC in the Jian Ghomeshi case, he did not dither for many months, hoping that the allegations would fade away. Unlike that crowd in Florida over the weekend, he did not give a standing ovation to Bill Cosby.

The revelation that the complainants in the case were New Democratic Party MPs came from the NDP itself. Representatives of the party quietly revealed to the media that members of their own caucus had made the allegations against Pacetti and Andrews. Thereafter, the NDP’s apparatchiks – who would have complained if Trudeau had waited – actually complained that Trudeau had acted too quickly. One of their MPs, a lawyer, even decreed that a crime had taken place. (But he didn’t, as far as we know, go to the police.)

Since then, nothing.

There has been a closed-door meeting on the Hill, apparently, at which participants determined they lacked the means to resolve the matter. There have been editorials and columns written, and plenty of angry recriminations back and forth. There has been the ongoing shunning of Pacetti and Andrews.

The two men may deserve their punishment, they may not. And therein lies the problem: we just don’t know.

Thomas Mulcair is rumoured to be a lawyer. He certainly enjoys styling himself as one in the House of Commons, ablaze with prosecutorial fury, as he peppers government benches with questions, all righteousness.

He’d be expected to know, therefore, that – in our system – individuals are to be afforded a fair hearing, free of bias, at which both sides are heard and tested. But the complainants in the Pacetti and Andrews case do not want to be heard anymore. Mulcair has said the NDP MPs have “a very strong desire to keep this confidential.”

Fair enough, and understandable, too. But it is also fair, and it is also understandable, that Justin Trudeau – and, almost certainly, Messrs. Pacetti and Andrews – possess “a very strong desire” to have the matter fairly and finally resolved, one way or another.

It is time for that to happen. The NDP may not care about natural justice – but they should.

It’s what we, the electorate – their bosses – expect.

Obama just ensured the next occupant of the White House is a Democrat

American conservatives, like some Canadian conservatives, are apparently unaware that the country is changing under their feet.Obama’s move is a masterstroke, and the following paragraphs demonstrate why:

“Republicans are in a bind over immigration: the U.S. electorate is rapidly becoming more diverse, especially more Hispanic. Republican leaders have said the party risks its long-term future if it does not act to solve America’s immigration problems. But many in the party’s conservative base oppose any reform that includes a path to citizenship for those who enter the country illegally.

The White House says the president is exercising his executive authority to tackle immigration reform unilaterally, as Republicans Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush did before him.

Obama, who had been weighing potential executive actions since early summer, planned to sign a pair of presidential memorandums Friday and travel to Las Vegas for an immigration rally as he appeals for support.

As Obama spoke from the White House, immigration supporters with American flags draped over their shoulders marched on the street outside carrying signs that read, “Gracias, Presidente Obama.”

In Friday’s Sun: respect

Canada is more than “a confederation of shopping centres,” Pierre Trudeau once said, decrying the narrow agendas of provincial Premiers.

It is more than that. It has to be more than that. In Trudeau’s view – and I believe he expressed it this way, once, but the quote remains elusive – Canada is also more than a grouping of feudal fiefdoms, held together by bribes doled out by the central government.

In constitutional negotiations, in negotiations of transfer payments and the like, Pierre Trudeau was (in)famously dismissive of the petty ambitions of the Premiers. No one could ever accuse the long-serving Prime Minister of being water boy to regional interests. While he wrote books about the perfection of federalism, his was always a federalism with a strong central government beating at the centre.

And whether you approve of Trudeau’s vision of Canada or not, one fact cannot be denied: Pierre Trudeau would meet with the Premiers. He did so a lot.

He may have disagreed with them. He may have castigated them. But he always remembered they were the duly-elected representatives of the people of their home province, and he treated them as such.

Trudeau did not deny the Premiers the respect their office was due. Do you remember, as I do, weekday evenings spent with Knowlton Nash, taking in reports by David Halton and Peter Mansbridge about endless First Ministers’ gatherings in Ottawa’s Conference centre? Footage of Trudeau’s baleful gaze, arms crossed, as he listened to Peter Lougheed or Rene Levesque demand more, ever more?

If pressed, Stephen Harper would likely agree with Pierre Trudeau on one point: provincial Premiers do not ever travel to Ottawa to state that they are doing fine, thank you very much, and that they require no further federal help. They do not seek meetings with Prime Ministers – be they named Trudeau or Harper or Mulroney – to express satisfaction with the status quo.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, in my view, is already establishing herself as one of the finest provincial leaders to emerge in a generation. She is no separatist like Levesque was, or a perennial antagonist like Lougheed. She is a believer in Canada, and the Canadian concept. She does not take cheap shots at Harper simply because he is a Conservative, and she a Liberal.

But Harper is treating the leader of Canada’s largest province with contempt. This was seen vividly – appallingly – this week, when Wynne released a series of letters seeking a meeting with the Prime Minister about issues ranging from pensions to infrastructure.

Harper’s response? Go “work with the responsible federal ministers,” he wrote, quote unquote. You, a Premier, go meet with my underlings.

This is beyond shameful – it is literally contrary to the way Canada works, and Canada’s traditions. When I had the privilege to work for Jean Chretien, I witnessed first-hand Chretien’s approach.

When he was in Ottawa, he would always be in Question Period. When an Opposition leader asked a question, it would be Chretien who would endeavour to answer it. And when he travelled on the wildly-successfully Team Canada missions, Chretien would spend days in close quarters with the Premiers – no bureaucrats, no aides. Just the First Ministers.

“A French Canadian respecting British Parliamentary traditions,” Chretien once said. “Think of it!”

Harper should think about it, too. His refusal to meet with Kathleen Wynne does not merely disrespect the Ontario Premier – it disrespects the 13.6 million people she was chosen to represent. It disrespects our traditions.

Stephen Harper must meet with Kathleen Wynne, full stop. She may not be coming to see him to flatter him, or engage in small talk. But she is a Premier, and she deserves one thing above all else: