On Her Majesty

I’m not quite sure why, but I have been extended the honour of having lunch with Queen Elizabeth in Toronto on Monday. They must have me confused with some other, are more reputable, Kinsella.

In any event, Her Majesty’s arrival in Canada got me – a previously ardent Irish Catholic republican type – reflecting fondly about her reign. Here, from the archives, is the very last column I wrote for the National Post – about the Queen.


A salute to the oldest British monarch

by Warren Kinsella

National Post, December 21, 2007

Yesterday, Queen Elizabeth II became the oldest living British monarch. Being somewhat more than 81 years of age, as she now is, the Queen is older than was her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, at the time of her death in 1901. Buckingham Palace did not make a big deal about all of this, but it is noteworthy, nonetheless.

Personally, I can assure you that it is also somewhat noteworthy that this writer is even writing about it. I am a republican, you see — in the traditional sense, meaning, I believe that supreme power should lie with the citizens who are entitled to vote for their representatives. (Not in the Rudy Giuliani sense — although if I were a Republican, it would be the Giuliani kind, because he believes in equal marriage, reproductive rights for women and is an impressive enough guy to have been named one of Queen Elizabeth’s honorary knights.) Like any good republican, I also believe the Canadian Senate is an anti-democratic abomination, and I strenuously oppose the notion of anyone exercising great authority without having first been elected to do so.

That all said, this republican has grown to grudgingly admire the Queen. Not, I hasten to add, for any of the reasons the Monarchist’s League regularly trots out — you know, that the monarchy provides stability, continuity, identity. Or that it promotes volunteerism and honours and whatnot. All of those things are nice, but elected representatives or even Rotarians do likewise, I think.

No, I admire the Queen — I salute her, in fact –because I am a political hack.

Let me explain. A few years back, former British prime minister Tony Blair told a journalist that one of the best parts of his job was sitting down with Her Majesty, in private, to seek advice. A smile playing on his lips, Mr. Blair confessed that the Queen is a great tactician and — having known many of them, in the form of past prime ministers — an extraordinary political strategist. Queen Elizabeth, he seemed to suggest, is perhaps our greatest living politician.

As my former boss, Jean Chretien, has observed, more than once, the best indicator of political success is longevity. If you have survived for a long time–and, in the Queen’s case, she has survived for half a century — then you are a very successful leader. You are a winner.

Mr. Chretien, too, has often expressed admiration for Her Majesty’s political smarts. Here in the colonies, our entire political class was marked up — fatally in come cases — by successive crises, such as separatist referenda and constitutional upheaval. Her Majesty, meanwhile, has emerged from all of it with nary a scratch. Even in the province considered to be most anti-monarchist, Quebec, her visits are attended by throngs of admirers. Even Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe admitted in 2002 that he respects her.

The Queen is a political survivor. She has survived wars, tragedies, terrorism, economic calamity and — notably — heirs and relatives who frequently misbehave in public. Through it all, her political stock has risen. Through it all, she has been admired — not for the institution she represents, necessarily, but because of the person she is.

So, this political consultant says, with affection: If you ever get tired of this monarchy business, Your Majesty, and you want to run somewhere, just say the word. We could put together a campaign team in no time, raise plenty of dough — and you’d wipe the floor with the opposition.

In the meantime, congratulations.

Best Prime Ministers: Trudeau and Chrétien!

Thank you, Angus Reid, for a great start to Canada Day!

Canadians Think Trudeau is Best Recent PM, as Views on Mulroney Worsen
Jean Chrétien ranks second after Trudeau and has gained five points on the “Best PM” question since October 2007.

[MONTREAL – Jun. 30, 2010] – Pierre Trudeau is still seen as the best Canadian head of government since 1968, while one-in-four respondents think Brian Mulroney has been the worst prime minister of the past four decades, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found.

In the online survey of a representative national sample of 1,009 Canadian adults, 38 per cent of respondents think Trudeau has been the best prime minister since 1968, followed by Jean Chrétien with 13 per cent, Stephen Harper with 11 per cent, and Mulroney with seven per cent.

G20: Liberals demand inquiry, Reformatories say no

Mark Holland, the Liberal party’s safety and national security critic, said Public Safety Minister Vic Toews should appear before another Commons committee, national security, to explain “how they messed this up so badly.

“This was a disaster on just about every level,” the Ajax-Pickering MP told a news conference. “Even after spending a billion dollars they couldn’t even protect store owners along Queen St. and other parts of the city so we are going to need answers for that.”

Dimitri Soudas, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said there is no need for an inquiry.

What do you think?  As I’ve suggested a few days ago, both the police (reputationally) and citizens (constitutionally) would benefit from an independent review of some sort.

Comments are open.

New Campaigns and Elections mag, on new media

Found here. New column:

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Welcome to the bar scene from Star Wars.

So here I am, sitting in a line-up at the Walden Galleria Mall, waiting for Apple to open its doors, so I can be one of the first to snap up a shiny new iPad.  All around me are acned geeks and pudgy, pale nerdlings. They are excited beyond description, like they have been subsisting for weeks on a diet of cheezies and fizzy pop (which, mostly, they have).  The nerdlings have emerged from their Mom’s basement, pajama-less, to be one of the first to purchase Stephen Jobs’ much-hyped computer tablet thing.

It’s just past 5 a.m.: there are about twenty people here, divided into two tidy Apple-esque lines.  One line is for people who have already paid for an iPad.  The other line is for i-losers like me, who thought it would be fun for the readers of this column to see the lengths to which I will go to entertain and inform them about the iPad, and the political ramifications of same.  Upon hearing about this plan, my 14-year-old daughter, who is way smarter than me, observed: “Dad, it’s just an oversized iPod Touch.  Get a grip.”

She’s right, of course.  But here I am, just the same, because I am dedicated to providing a memorable column-reading experience for You, The Reader. A guy beside me, a genial young engineering student, asks another guy in the reserved line – who looks like he was an extra in the Matrix movies, and forgot to remove his costume – why he was lined up three hours before the Apple store opens, to get an iPad he is guaranteed to get anyway.  The Matrix guy shrugs and says: “Now we’re guaranteed guaranteed.”

God help me. I am now, officially, marooned on The Island of Misfit Dweebs.

A few minutes crawl by. One guy – a Canadian, I am ashamed to say – appears carrying a backpack.  It has solar panels on it.  He starts chatting amiably with the young engineer about the efficacy of different types of fibre optic cables.


You know, I think no jury would convict me for what I am thinking about doing right now.


It is many weeks later. At first, I had thought about typing up this column on my iPad, which I have grown to love, like the child I never knew I had.  I had also thought about telling you how the iPad is revolutionary and will change the way in which modern politics is done.  I had considered opining that the iPad – along with the fab technological innovations that have preceded it, like smart phones and Blackberries and whatnot – will utterly transform the political campaign landscape.

But I won’t.  Because it isn’t true.

I can certainly see the iPad being helpful on E Day, or in a door-to-door canvass.  It’s the most amazing clipboard in the history of the world, to be sure, with endless possibilities for quickly storing and sharing GOTV data.  It can be a crucially-important tool for campaign managers, too, because it can bring together so many facets of the campaign in one handy little one-pound device.

But change politics?  Not quite.  As with the myriad software innovations the gadget-crazy political class has seized upon – like blogs, and Twitter, and YouTube and Facebook – the iPad can be a useful addition to a campaign.  But I don’t think it will ever supplant the traditional elements of a campaign – stuff like loping from door-to-door in a canvass, well-attended all-candidates meetings, positive earned media and (for central campaigns) smart TV advertising.

The problem, you see, is this: the strength of the Internet – and iPads and YouTube and blogs are all wholly dependent on the Internet – is its weakness.  As you may have heard, the Internet is super-duper popular, and has attracted billions of eyeballs.  But, because there are literally millions upon millions of web pages and choices to eyeball, it’s super-duper hard to know where to look.  It’s harder, still, to get noticed. Ipso facto, what makes the Internet so popular is its weakness: it has too many channels.

TV doesn’t.  TV, as my smart BC Liberal-and-Democrat friend Don Millar will tell you, TV is still the most effective medium to communicate with the voters you need to win.  Don – an Alberta native who has toiled for big-wheel Democrats in Washington (like Dick Gephardt) and big-time Liberals in Ottawa (like Jean Chretien) – snorts at the suggestion that campaigns can dispense with TV, like it’s an Eight Track Tape machine.  “Politics is about making important choices,” he says.  And TV remains the best way to do that.

Another former colleague – genial former Harper PMO supremo Patrick Muttart, now based in Chicago – has also resisted the temptation to abandon traditional paid spots in favour of, say, a YouTube-based advocacy campaign.  Muttart’s ubiquitous “Stand Up For Canada” spots were everywhere to be seen on TV during the crucial 2006 federal election campaign – because TV was, and remains, the most effective way to reach the widest voter audience.  Despite earlier predictions that the Internet would smash TV’s political primacy, that just hasn’t happened: since 2006, U.S.-based campaigns, in fact, have seen television broadcasters smashing records with revenue derived from political campaigns.  The Internet is more of factor, to be sure.  But my shiny new iPad notwithstanding, TV will dominate the political wars for the foreseeable future.

For your next Star Wars convention, however, the iPad can’t be beat.  Wave one around on a crowded street, and you’ll need a stick to beat off the pajama-clad nerdlings and geeks!

G20 and the McGuinty government

I am an Ontario Liberal. I have also given comms advice to the Ontario Liberal caucus, for ages. You may have noticed.

As such, in recent days, I’ve received many emails and comments and calls from folks about what the McGuinty government did, or didn’t do, in respect of the G20. Specifically, the allegation that a law was passed secretly to trample on individual liberties, etc.

I got in touch with people I know in the government. Here is what I can report about the three main criticisms, which are:

1. That the McGuinty cabinet passed new, sweeping/extended/expanded powers for police.

2. That they did so in secret.

3. That these secret new sweeping/extended/expanded powers were what the police used to arrest people, arguably unconstitutionally.

None of the above, I can report, are true.

The Public Works Protection Act has been in place since 1939. It is what is used in courthouses, city halls, police stations and airports to protect citizens and promote security and so on. The relevant part of the Act, today, is the part where you may be asked to produce identification, and have your bags possibly searched, in order to gain admittance. Using the air travel example: you have to show ID, and your bags, prior to boarding the airplane. If you don’t want to get on the plane, you don’t have to do those things.

The same rules were in effect, my sources tell me, to gain entry to the security perimeter (the inner fenced-in portion). That is, you can choose not to show ID or allow your bags to be searched in an airport, but it means you’re not getting on the plane. The same requirement was in effect for the G20 – but, there, it meant you weren’t getting in, near or behind the security perimeter. As at an airport, if you were asked to show ID or to show what you were carrying in your bag – and you refused and still tried to hang out and (possibly) cause trouble – you ran the risk, but not the necessarily guarantee, of arrest.

Next, I asked about this “new” power. Was it needed? Who requested it? Why? Good questions.

I was told police already had this power – both in the above-noted public works legislation in court houses, etc., and through common law for just about anywhere. What Toronto Police asked was to codify the security perimeter fence in regulation for greater clarity. The McGuinty government did that.

Now, the “secrecy” allegation: I was told the notification about the rules were posted online on June 16, many days before the summit. On June 21, the City of Toronto and the joint police forces took out ads in the Toronto Sun and Toronto Star and quite a few community papers. Those ads ran throughout the week, and again on the G20 weekend. The ads specifically said that, if you come down to the security fence you will be asked to show ID and – at police discretion – could be subject to a search. That ad is below.

Finally, on the actual arrests and protests. As far as anyone in the McGuinty government knows, and according to what the Toronto Police Service has told them, nobody was arrested under this public works regulation. As one senior Liberal told me: “People may be upset that police were able to search their bags or ask for ID on the corner of Bay and College, or Queen and Spadina, or sitting in Queen’s Park. I understand that. But the police always had that authority as it is – it had nothing to do with any recent regulations we had passed.”

There you go. That’s what I have been able to find out. Comment away.

O Canada: G20 stories, questions and silence

I’m a Liberal, and I have always been pretty pro-police.  But stories like these are simply too numerous, and too detailed, to now be simply dismissed as false.  They need to be fully investigated.

The federal Opposition parties – including the one for which I used to work – have apparently said nothing about the disturbing events of this past weekend. None of them, we’re told, have called for an investigation – or even raised a question.

I’ve looked all over Google for something, anything, that one of them has said about The Battle of Toronto.  I’ve found nothing.  (If you can find something substantive, send it along, and I will post it.)

Why? Why haven’t they called for some sort of a probe, to determine if these allegations are true?  Whether you are pro-police, or pro-protestor, you have to agree that we have a collective obligation to determine the truth. Both citizens and police officers – whose constitutional rights and reputations, respectively, may be on the line – need to know what really happened.  The rule of law, in fact, demands it.

As a long-time federal Liberal, I would hope that my party will now start asking some questions that need to be asked.

UPDATE: Via Twitter, Parliamentary Press Gallery journalist Juliet O’Neill kindly referred me to this, from the NDP. Much appreciated.  Anything from the Liberals, yet?

UPPERDATE: The Liberals, represented by Bob Rae, will be speaking about this issue live on The Mark at 11 a.m.  Good stuff.  Better late than never.

G20: the morning(s) after

What the world saw as the face of Toronto this weekend.

Knowing the Harper Reformatories a little bit, as I do, I can tell you this: they don’t give a tinker’s damn if you are (a) a Toronto resident and (b) a Toronto resident who is angry and upset about what happened this past weekend in this city.

They don’t care because they don’t have any seats here, and aren’t likely to anytime soon. Moreover, they don’t care because they think the rest of Canada dislikes Toronto, and they believe that, when Toronto is unhappy about something, the rest of Canada is amused. Ipso facto, they don’t care about Toronto.

They may be right. But they are sadly mistaken if they think the communications disaster that was the G20 weekend won’t be a significant political problem for them in the coming weeks and months. Mainly, that is because Canada’s mainstream media establishment are all in Toronto. And – due to extraordinary events like this one, and this one (which – because I know the family who was terrorized – has left me livid about the truly fascistic quality of it) – the media establishment is seriously pissed off.

They’re also pissed off that an event like the G20 was held in the centre of a major city.  They’re pissed off about the obscene cost.  They’re pissed off that the police seemed much more interested in protecting a few politicians, and not at all interested in protecting taxpayers and taxpayers’ property.  They’re pissed off about the police doing little on Saturday, and then way too much on Sunday.  They’re pissed off that a few black-clad scumbags were able to shut down the centre of one of the world’s largest cities with total impunity. They’re pissed off that the scumbags seemed to get out of town, and won’t pay for the damage they did. They’re pissed off with the repeated violation of law-abiding citizen’s constitutional rights. They’re pissed off that what should have been an important discussion – about a world beset by recession, and terrorism and war – was completely overshadowed by “The Battle of Toronto.”

So, as Conservative staffers and ministers and MPs sit at their desks this morning, scanning for some news coverage that will convince them that it was worth all the trouble, I say: good luck to you.  With the coming onslaught of investigative reports, lawsuits, complaints and demands for inquiry, you’ll need luck aplenty, boys and girls.  Watch this little bit of footage, if you doubt my words: this what singing ‘O Canada’ got some people this weekend.

The Toronto Star’s publisher – someone not to be trifled with, and no bleeding-heart liberal, either – says it better than I ever could.  He speaks for many of us, in fact:


June 28, 2010

John Cruickshank

The G20 security strategy has been spectacularly successful at cocooning the world’s leading politicians and staggeringly ineffective at protecting the property and peace of mind of Torontonians. And the one, inevitably, led to the other.

By bringing in thousands of heavily armed strangers and throwing up barricades everywhere to regular traffic, frightening off good and decent citizens, Canadian authorities created a ghost town in the heart of our city.

Perfect for the political leaders. Protesters were kept blocks away from where the deliberations were going on.

And most protesters conducted themselves faultlessly as the global good and great met behind rings of gulag-like fencing and battalions of police beating Plexiglas shields with batons in a primitive show of might.

It was, however, less than perfect for the city, its businesses and its inhabitants. The only force that can prevent vandalism and mayhem in a city is the presence of its population. Surely that was the lesson every urban planner learned from looking south to the hollowed-out urban war zones of the United States in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

No police force, no matter how large, how well armed, how empowered to limit the civil rights of citizens, can stop vandalism in the empty shell of a city. Canadian authorities have proved that two days and nights running.

The strategy that ensured G20 leaders would never have to see a Canadian who wasn’t a politician, a police officer or a waiter lacked even a glimmer of common sense when it came to the security of Toronto and Torontonians.

They took our city to hold a meeting and bullied us out of the core, damaging the commerce of thousands of merchants and inconveniencing the entire population. Then, they failed to protect our property. Along Yonge St., as self-described anarchists were smashing stores unopposed, terrified merchants and their staffs sought shelter behind counters and in basements. If these establishments had been set alight, all of the thousands of fearsomely equipped police would have been able to do little more to save our citizens than they did to save their burning cruisers.

For the last few days, the city has looked like a vast reality TV set, where heavily garbed gladiators in black, burdened under bullet-proof vests, guns, walkie-talkies, shields and batons, try to chase down a wild, quick-footed band of anti-gladiators in black sweat suits and bandanas. And it cost us $1.2-billion to stage and choreograph this grossly unequal contest.

Canadian authorities knew that this overweening show of paramilitary hubris would draw the violent dregs of nihilism from around the world. Previous summits offered stark and certain warnings. Given that, the attempt to provide security for the city and its inhabitants has been a sad and disturbing failure.

What is the critical lesson?

Don’t even try to hold international political conferences with this kind of explosive ideological charge in the heart of a major urban centre. You sacrifice either the safety of the politicians or the safety of the city.

The idea that this was an effective way to show off Toronto to foreign guests is bewilderingly stupid.

Canadian authorities created a city no citizen could recognize and no visitor could admire. Then, they allowed a pack of brutes to trash it.