In Sunday’s Sun: Mr. Gray

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.


Update on the email from the John Tory fan

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.

No response.

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.


Exclaim! on the Hot Nasties


“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, 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!”


The Supremes and the Senators: Weston called it, and calls it

Another fine Weston analysis, save and except his reliance on a Justin Trudeau advisor (without identifying him as such).  Bottom line: a referendum is seemingly the only way to circumvent ten ransom-seeking Premiers.

It’s do-able, I think.  The question, however, is this: is the Senate the hill Harper wants to die on? Or can he craft a big win out of it?

I honestly don’t know what he’ll do.  But my suspicion is, if he pushes for a national referendum on abolishing the Senate, he’d win.  Hell, Mulcair already agrees with him, and Trudeau likely would, too.

Interesting times ahead.  Or, not.