In Sunday’s Sun: Parliament’s giant

Weep for Parliament. Irwin Cotler is gone.

You may be unfamiliar with Irwin Cotler’s name – he was a politician, but a quiet one. He was totally unlike many other politicians, in fact. He was not a shouter, or a showboater. He was one of a kind, and – even you didn’t know about him – it’s also a fact that our politics were elevated by his presence.

The Montreal Liberal MP this week announced that he will not be running again. For his party – for his constituents, for Canada – it is a big loss. Cotler is, truly, a giant in a political landscape populated by lilliputian underachievers.

Take a look around. In today’s House of Commons, we remain cursed with the ongoing pestilence of Rob Anders – who called Nelson Mandela a terrorist, and who literally falls asleep on the job. We still are obliged to listen to the likes of Pipsqueak Pierre Poilievre – who, coincidentally we’re sure, announced election-fraud reforms on the very day the supposedly-independent RCMP charged two ex-Senators with fraud.

And, if that wasn’t enough to make you depressed, we have a new MP – Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland – heckled Tuesday in the Commons (and mocked by a Vancouver media troglodyte) for, wait for it, the sound of her voice. Use your “big girl voice,” the media misogynist said.

It is an ugly, unintelligent political culture. But Irwin Cotler stood above and apart of all that. He was the kind of leader our parents used to tell us about: a dignified, decent, brilliant man. A statesman.

In Canada, ironically, Cotler didn’t ever quite achieve the sort of fame bestowed on him internationally. Around the democratic world, however, Cotler was rightly regarded as a human rights expert, and he was therefore regularly consulted by governments in Israel, the United States, and places in between.

He was legal counsel to the aforementioned Mandela, and an advisor to Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky – who later became Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister. Cotler acted as lawyer to the wrongly-accused Maher Arar. He defended both Palestinians and Israelis against their own governments.

He pursued war criminals. He helped draft anti-terrorism legislation. He crafted constitutions, here and abroad.

He was a moderate, too, in a time when extremists rule the podium and the pulpit. Unlike Harper and a few demagogues within the Jewish community’s leadership, Cotler did not regard fair-minded criticism of Israeli government policy to be “anti-Semitic.” For that, he was reviled by some far-right special interests. But Cotler knew that true democracies – and Israel is indisputably one – must always be prepared to take, and consider, reasonable criticism.

Since 1999, he has represented the Mount Royal riding once held by Pierre Trudeau, racking up huge majorities. For a decade, the Harper Conservatives were obsessed with defeating Cotler, but without success. He won every time. (Their last challenger, a man they devoted considerable resources to help out, is now facing fraud charges in the Montreal municipal politics scandal.)

The last time I saw Cotler was at the anti-climactic Ottawa gathering that saw Justin Trudeau annointed Liberal leader. We surrounded Cotler, beseeching him to run again. He demurred.

“It’s time for me to go,” he said. “It’s not a big deal.”

But it is. Cotler’s much-admired right-hand man, Howard Liebman, will likely keep the seat for the Grits. But his boss leaves a legacy that will be difficult to match.

Politicians get criticized all the time for their shortcomings, and rightly so. It isn’t a rare thing.

Much rarer are politicians like Irwin Cotler, who radiate wisdom, courage and good judgment.

You may not know of him – but you should know this: our politics is greatly diminished by his departure.

SFH, a professional portrait

I had this commissioned, and it cost me a million bucks, give or take. From left to right, Davey Snot, Bjorn Von Flapjack III, Winkie Nuclear Age Smith. Clip and save.


Question Time! “Warren, are you going to the Liberal convention thing?”


“Quite a few of you have asked me this, and God knows why. But, no.

One, I’m too busy at work and with my kids.

Two, I don’t understand the Liberal party’s insistence on having conventions in the dead of winter, in the coldest parts of the country. It’s stupid.

Three, one of Trudeau’s senior advisers contacted a campaign with which I may or may not be associated, and suggested there would be…consequences. Apparently they were upset about the column I wrote about the move they made in the Senate. I am not making this up.

Good thing I don’t write a politics column in the biggest newspaper chain in the country, etc.”

Thornhill and Niagara Falls: check the second-to-last paragraph

The rule I have always followed is this: in any letter or email, the message being conveyed is always contained in the second-to-last paragraph. The first part is just throat-clearing and the end part is just sign-off.

So, too stories about polling, it seems. The way I read it, the Star has finally figured out it look’s like a horse’s ass pimping all those Forum “Research” polls – the accuracy of which are discussed here and here – and they’re now hedging their bets. Thus, the second-to-last paragraph:

“Like most polling firms, Forum uses a proprietary weighting formula, which has been shared with the Star, to more accurately reflect the broader electorate. Raw data from this poll will be housed in the Political Science Data Library at the University of Toronto.”

So, if you want to see how wildly they’re off this time, you’d better start your trek through the snow to U of T, you hear?

Anyway. After talking to various pollsters and politicos, your Free Warren Poll™ is this:

  • The Wynne Liberals are in third place in North, Southwestern Ontario and Eastern Ontario, and have been for some time;
  • The chances of the Hudak PCs losing Thornhill, when the Libs bizarrely called the by-election at the same Stephen Harper was in Israel,  are somewhere between slim and none;
  • The Board are doing to the Ontario Liberals what they did ten years ago to the federal Liberals;
  • The Hudak PCs, like the Wynne Liberals, are now both attacking the Horwath NDP in paid and earned, which tells you all you need to know; and
  • The Wynne Liberal pollster has told cabinet that all they can now hope to hold is fortress Toronto, but they can hold onto government, if they pick up a few GTA seats – which is more on crack that Rob Ford is.

This Free Warren Poll™ is completely 100 per cent accurate, 20 times out of 20.  You’re welcome.