The words that count the most

Yesterday was a really really good day. I won’t bore you with the details, but I went to bed feeling pretty good.

As I usually do, I took a peek at social media. On Twitter, in direct messages, a man – I’ll just call him Dean – had sent me a note asking if I was serious about helping people who are in trouble. I said yes.

He was in Calgary (I already knew that, from previous interactions I’ve had with him about politics) and at a well-known Calgary hotel on the 10th floor. He told me he had broken the window and thrown everything in the suite onto the ground below. He said the police were there, outside the room.

I didn’t know whether to believe him. But I asked him to remain cool and stay in contact with me. He sent me a photo showing that he had indeed broken a window and was sitting on the windowsill, ten floors up.

I kept him engaging with me, but then I got in touch with the Calgary police service. I told them what was happening, and started coordinating responses with them.

A couple times Dean said to me things like “over and out,” and indicating finality. I kept him talking as much as I could. I was scared for him.

(For reasons known only to themselves, Twitter summarily took down his account during all this, thereby ending my ability to engage with Dean. I’m not sure why they do things like that, but it was not very frigging helpful. Fortunately I had a couple phone numbers he had given me.)

Dean’s back-and-forth with me, and with the police, went on for a while. It was clear that he felt he was out of options and unloved. Eventually, however, he surrendered to police and one of their psychologists sent me the message quoted here.

This is all I said to him, and probably the only thing of value I said to him. It is true of him, and it is true of every one of you who experiences what he did, or will experience it in the hard months ahead. Remember it. I believe it.

You are loved.

My latest: the political anniversary everyone wants to forget

An anniversary happened last week. You can be forgiven for missing it.

That’s because no one really celebrated it.

The Canadian federal general election happened on October 21, 2019. It resulted in Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party getting re-elected. It was in all the papers.

Except the first anniversary of Trudeau’s re-election really wasn’t – in the papers, or a victory. Postmedia and CBC published a couple stories, true, in which a couple Paul Martin acolytes were interviewed.

And, to be sure: if you’re writing a story about how to take a perfectly good Parliamentary majority and turn it into a minority or a loss, those are indeed the guys to consult: they are the undisputed experts in wrecking Liberal parties, and losing power.

But the anniversary of the October 2019 election? No one really noticed, or cared. The reason was simple: with a single notable exception, every federal Canadian political party – every federal leader – lost something. They didn’t win.

Justin Trudeau, for example, may have been returned to power. But he lost plenty.

He lost a comfortable Parliamentary majority, and was reduced to a minority, one that the Opposition parties can combine to remove from government. While still clinging to power, Trudeau’s share of the popular vote is puny – just 33 per cent.

Trudeau actually received a lot fewer votes than the Conservative Party. And it was the first time in history that a Canadian political party has formed a government with so little of the popular vote.

It’s not just a numbers game, either. By losing his majority, Trudeau lost control of some powerful House of Commons committees. (And that is why he actually threatened to force an election last week – to prevent the creation of a new committee that would have the authority to subpoena witnesses and documents in the never-ending WE scandal, which has implicated Trudeau and his family.)

Trudeau lost something else in the October 2019 election, too: his reputation. When it was revealed that the Liberal leader wore racist blackface at least three times, he shocked Canadians, and became a figure of ridicule and derision around the world.

And it’s not forgotten, either: just this week, satirist Sacha Baron Cohen savagely mocked Trudeau in his hit Borat movie sequel, showing the Canadian Prime Minister wearing blackface while a teacher at a Vancouver school.

The Conservatives and their former leader lost plenty, too. The Tories were shut out of Canadian cities, and shunned by Canadian women or youth. Despite Trudeau’s myriad scandals – including blackface, which literally broke while the election campaign was underway – the Conservative campaign was disjointed, incoherent and poorly-managed.

Its then-leader, Andrew Scheer, distinguished himself as a remarkably unremarkable politician – and one who couldn’t score on an open net, even on a breakaway.

The New Democrats lost, as well. When the election was called, Jagmeet Singh’s party had nearly 40 seats. When it ended, Singh had lost almost half of them. His share of the popular vote plummeted.

In the intervening year, Singh has further diminished his party by cravenly propping up Justin Trudeau’s government – simply because Singh and his NDP lack the money, and the strength, to fight another election. His New Democrats have handed Trudeau a majority in all but name, in exchange for nothing.

The Green Party – which, full disclosure, was the only party with which my political consulting firm had a contract – devoted money and resources to winning many more seats. In the end, it only added one. And its quixotic leader, Elizabeth May, finally was obliged to take a hint and resign.

Finally, Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party did not win a single seat. Not one. And the only seat it had – Bernier’s, which had been previously held by his father – was lost, crushed by his Conservative opponent.

So who won the October 2019 election?

The separatists did. Under Yves-François Blanchet, the Bloc Québécois dramatically improved its standing in the House of Commons – from ten seats at dissolution, to 32 now.

Blanchet eviscerated the NDP, denied the Liberals a majority, and helped reduce the Conservatives’ presence in Quebec. His Bloc is now the third-largest group in the House of Commons, and arguably the most effective Opposition party.

All of that explains, then why the anniversary of Canada’s October 2019 election didn’t attract much attention:

Every Canadian political party lost – except the political party that wants to break up Canada.

Apology by Kristin Raworth

Kristin Raworth is a woman who works for the Alberta government and who used to follow me on Twitter. About two years ago, Raworth publicly tweeted at me that she had been sexually harassed by Kent Hehr, a Liberal member of the federal cabinet who represented a Calgary riding.

I quickly got in touch with Raworth privately, and cautioned her that she was making a serious allegation and that she needed proof. She insisted that she had proof, and would keep tweeting.

As expected, the news media took notice. After she went public, Raworth claimed that she was starting to receive “hundreds” of threats and attacks. She insisted that she was afraid and had PTSD.

I supported her; I believed her. I defended her on the radio, in newspaper columns, in social media, and on this website. I even worked to find her legal representation, pro bono.

There was an investigation into her allegations. Hehr stepped aside from the cabinet while the investigation was underway, but remained a member of the Liberal caucus.

Its results were not made public. Hehr apologized, however, and was later defeated in the 2019 election. Raworth went on to become a micro-celebrity, and commenced advertising herself as a #MeToo survivor.

I did not know her personally. I only met Raworth once, when she came to hear me speak at the University of Alberta’s faculty of law. She said she was a fan.

Raworth would also regularly message me privately, asking me to retweet statements that she had written on Twitter. I’d usually do so.

Last year, around Christmas, Raworth abruptly soured on me. She became very critical online. People choose sides in divorces, and Raworth didn’t choose mine. That’s fine. I wrote to her and said I was sad she felt the way she did, but I wished her the best. I ignored her after that.

Until the last night of March, that is. On that night, some of my readers sent me a screencap of a post Raworth had put on Twitter and addressed to national radio broadcaster Charles Adler and the entire #cdnpoli hashtag.

She told Adler I shouldn’t be allowed on his show because I “abuse” women, plural, and I had “hit my wife.” Those are quotes.

I was astonished; I was literally winded. I felt sick to my stomach that she – or anyone – could willfully publish such a despicable lie about me.

I went online to see if the tweet was still there. There were lots and lots of tweets; I couldn’t see it. I didn’t sleep much that night.

The next morning, I hired a lawyer and sent Kristin Raworth a libel notice. After a month, that has finally resulted in the apology you see above; the payment of my legal fees; and a substantial donation, at my insistence, to Equal Voice.

At the end of this sickening episode, I’ve only got three things to say. One, anyone who falsely alleges that I hit or abuse women, ever, is also going to get sued. And they are going to pay a steep price, as Kristin Raworth did.

Two, I wish I had never, ever supported Kristin Raworth.

Three, to Kent Hehr, wherever you are: I now wonder whether you deserved better.

I wonder that a lot.

My latest in The Spec: Will voters forget Trump’s sins?

Two years ago, in a limitless and sunny August when a global pandemic seemed like an impossibility, my daughter and I knocked on doors for the Democrats in Portland, Maine.

We were using a list of registered Democrats living in a tidy West Portland neighbourhood. The houses weren’t terribly big, but nor were they terribly small. They were average. Middle America.

The people behind the mostly-unlocked doors were uniformly nice, and prototypically Democrat: single-Mom nurses, retired male government employees, nervous-looking new American citizens with pronounced accents and little kids swarming around their knees.

My daughter and I loped from door to door, a couple Canadian progressives intent on finding mid-term American progressives who detested Donald Trump, just as we did. What we encountered surprised us. Worried us, even.

We had thought it would be easy. Trump had been in the news two years ago, as he always is, threatening to take away American birthright citizenship. Or scheming to gut the Affordable Care Act. or shrugging off allegations of Russia-Trump electoral fraud, then still a live issue.

But the folks we met on the doorsteps didn’t want to talk about any of that. One elderly fellow, his grown daughter at his elbow, said he was a proud Democrat, “up and down the ticket,” as the Americans like to say.

“We’re Democrats. But don’t keep telling me what Trump has done wrong,” this man said, as his daughter nodded vigorously. “Forget it. Tell me what you’re going to do.”

“Forget it.” After a few such encounters, my daughter and I retreated to the sidewalk. She had the best assessment: “It’s not that they don’t dislike Trump,” she said. “It’s like they’ve just forgotten all the millions of bad things that he’s done.”

The Democratic thinker David Shenk had a name for this phenomenon: data smog. Every day, via the Internet, regular folks — like the ones found in that Portland, Maine neighbourhood — get bombarded by hundreds of thousands of words and images. It is overwhelming and relentless, and in the Trump era, it has gotten even worse.

So, Shenk postulates, people — voters, in our case — just tune it out. There’s too much information, too often. It’s data smog. So they turn it off.

And then they forget about it.

On a recent Sunday, the New York Times filled an entire 10-page section of their newspaper with a stirring editorial about Trump’s myriad crimes, political and legal. I scanned it. There were so many of them, I had forgotten about most. There are too many to list here, even partially.

The Times editorial board acknowledged this reality. “The enormity and variety of Mr. Trump’s misdeeds can feel overwhelming,“ they wrote. “Repetition has dulled the sense of outrage, and the accumulation of new outrages leaves little time to dwell on the particulars. This is the moment when Americans must recover that sense of outrage.“

When I ran winning war rooms for Jean Chrétien and Dalton McGuinty, I would always tell the youngsters who worked there the same thing, over and over: “We have a national memory of seven minutes,” I’d tell them. “The job of any good war room is to remind voters about the bad things the other side did. Because they forget.”

It’s not that voters are dumb. In my quarter-Century experience of running political campaigns, my conviction remains that voters are always smart and intuitive and aware. Always.

It’s just that they’re, well, busy: ferrying kids to hockey games and ballet practice, trying to get across town to work or an appointment, catching up on sleep after worrying all day about mortgage or rent payments. They’re busy.

And in the midst of a brutal global pandemic, it’s gotten even worse.

So they don’t scrutinize political parties’ shiny multi-page election platforms. They don’t listen to speeches. They barely watch entire debates. And they forget things.

It’s normal, to forget. It’s human. It’s a survival mechanism.

In the Trump era, we forget things even more. The terrible things he has done, in particular.

Because there have been too, too many.

If Donald Trump somehow squeaks out another victory — thereby throwing America into further chaos and division, hastening it’s end, and further destabilizing a world in disarray — it will be mainly because of one insight about voters, about humans, that he knows better than anyone else alive: We forget.

Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator

Make America America again