My latest: character matters

When does a politician’s character get revealed?

Because, as Ken Dryden once memorably said about hockey, character doesn’t get built by the political life. It gets revealed.

Our history is full of those unplanned, unscheduled moments when a leader’s character is revealed. During the October Crisis, when Canadians were terrorized by separatist murderers, Pierre Trudeau famously said: “Just watch me.” And Canadians watched, and rallied to him.

When Conservatives and Paul Martin acolytes were hissing that Jean Chretien was too old, and yesterday’s man, my former boss literally jumped on a single water ski – and figuratively flipped his enemies the bird. Canadians laughed, and rallied to him.

And when he was elected a minority Prime Minister, the very first thing Stephen Harper did was apologize for abuses at residential schools, and announce compensation. Canadians nodded, and would go on to support Harper for nearly a decade.

By the by: Harper did that notwithstanding the braying and screeching of Pipsqueak Conservatives like Pierre Poilievre, who had insinuated that Indigenous people were lazy and dishonest. That was a moment when character was revealed, but perhaps not in a way that Poilievre would like.

All those things (and more) show character, and reveal a leader’s better nature. That’s what voters are looking for. That’s what citizens are desperate for. Character.

Doug Ford’s character was revealed early on in the pandemic, twice. Neither were momentous occasions that will be written about by historians for decades to come. But they told a story.

In April 2020, when COVID-19 was rampaging and killing innocents, Ford held a press conference. He looked profoundly sad and sombre. He said: “You deserve to know what I know when you’re making decisions for yourself, your family and your community.” And Ford gave Ontarians the grim facts about COVID infections and deaths – something that he would go on to do on a near-daily basis for the next two years.

And in the same week, someone snapped a cell phone shot of Ford helping to load a donation of surgical masks at a dentist‘s office in Markham. No political aides or official photographers captured it. It was simply Ford, making an impromptu decision to help out himself. Personally.

More recently, Ford’s character was again seen in a positive light: when extremists and anarchists occupied Ottawa, and barricaded the borders, it was Ford – not Justin Trudeau – who first declared a state of emergency, who first beefed up police presence, and who first cracked down on the lawlessness. Lawlessness, by the by, that the aforementioned Poilievre had supported. And still does.

For Ontarians who remembered the old Doug Ford – the one who was often forced to angrily defend his brother’s many lapses – the new Doug Ford was a surprise. The new Doug Ford showed character, and he attracted the support of people who thought they would never give it – including people like my friend, top lawyer Marie Henein.

In a much-discussed column in the Globe and Mail, Henein – no knuckle dragging Conservative – said: “Doug Ford is the leader Ontario needs.”

Many agreed with her, and still do. During the pandemic, Ford was not perfect, as he himself admitted many times. But as the likes of Henein also noted, he did a far better job than many expected.

In times of crisis, in times of conflict, we learn things about each other. In those times, we particularly learn things about the leaders we elect.

Doug Ford revealed himself to be a good and decent man.

And one who most of us feel deserves reelection.

[Kinsella advises a trade union active in the Ontario election campaign.]

My latest: Jason, we badly knew ye

Wither thou goest, Conservatives, in thine dark blue car at night?

Sorry to get all Jack Kerouac on y’all, but that little line from On The Road kind of fits, doesn’t it? I mean, after Conservatives committed ritual mass political suicide on Wednesday night — in the Conservative heartland, no less — it is fair for the rest of us to wonder: What the hell?

Jason Kenney — he who was Stephen Harper’s right hand, he who delivered the elusive ethnic vote and a majority, he who united the warring factions of the right and defeated the socialists — is gone. It is mindboggling.

As my colleague Brian Lilley put it to a few of us at the Sun: “Jason Kenney not being conservative enough for Alberta? The implications for the federal leadership race are huge.”

And Lilley is indisputably right. Kenney’s conservative credentials were impeccable. Nobody in Western Canada worked harder to advance the interests of Team Blue. And in Ottawa, Kenney was feared and respected — and could always be counted on to be the happy warrior for his side.

As premier, Kenney waged endless war with Liberal Justin Trudeau, or cheered on other Conservative politicians, or travelled tirelessly — just a few days ago to Washington, to advocate for Canadian energy — to push for policies that conservatives favoured.

So what happened? How can Conservatives win, as Lilley noted, if even Kenney isn’t good enough?

As a member of the Alberta diaspora, I was and am dumbfounded by Kenney’s ouster. Kenney possesses a brilliant, agile political mind. He always seemed to be several steps ahead of his opponents.

And now, this, and his career is in ruins. Was it because the UCP malcontents felt he had become, in Preston Manning’s words, “Ottawashed,” and out of touch with his home province?

Was it because he was one of those politicians — like Paul Martin, say, or Al Gore — who needed a stronger, savvier boss in charge? Without Harper around, Kenney never seemed to be entirely what he had been. Or could have been.

Was it because Conservatives in Alberta have utterly lost any discipline? That they lack self-control and common sense?

Or was it because — as Lilley suggests — Kenney, of all people, was seen as insufficiently conservative? Was it because Kenney wasn’t right-wing enough?

If so, conservatives — federally, at least — are doomed. Kenney was a real-deal Tory. If Alberta Conservatives want someone even more to the right, they’ll perhaps get it. But they won’t get the support of most Canadian voters.

Voters, too, will be unimpressed by this latest conservative blood-letting. The federal Conservative leadership candidates were bad enough — smearing each other, calling each other liars, accusing each other of scandal and law-breaking.

But this? Jason Kenney led a majority government, and polls suggested he had a reasonable shot at re-election. To jettison him now doesn’t mean that he wasn’t good enough — it means that a lot of Alberta Conservatives have lost their minds. And their once-sterling commitment to political discipline.

Which leads us back to that first question.

Whither thou goest, Conservatives, in thine dark blue car at night?

From here, it looks like you are heading for the ditch.

My latest: get wasted, get violent, get away with it

We Canadians like to feel superior to the Americans.

The Yanks regularly give us reasons to feel superior. There’s their fetishization of all manner of guns, which results in mass-shootings, 693 of them last year alone. Then there’s their schismatic politics, which saw a racist groper elected to the White House, and a violent insurrection against their seat of government, leaving nearly ten people dead.

And then, in recent days, there has been the draft opinion crafted by a few unelected, unaccountable extremists on the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision that will end American women’s constitutional right to control their own bodies.

Canadians eyeball all that, and we feel better about ourselves. We think we have peace, order and good government. Better decisions coming from our highest court, too.

Well, not always. Take, for example, R. v. Brown.

In the blink of an eye last week, Canada’s Supreme Court rendered this country a less-safe place. Unanimously, too. Unless and until it is remedied, R. v. Brown is a decision that will see rapists and murderers walk free here. Guaranteed.

The facts, first, as taken from the high court’s own brief: “On the night of Jan. 12, 2018, Matthew Winston Brown consumed alcohol and ‘magic mushrooms’ at a party in Calgary, Alberta. The mushrooms contain psilocybin, an illegal drug that can cause hallucinations.

“Mr. Brown lost his grip on reality, left the party and broke into a nearby home, violently attacking a woman inside. The woman suffered permanent injuries as a result of the attack. When Mr. Brown broke into another house, the couple living there called the police. Mr. Brown said he had no memory of the incidents.”

The “permanent injuries” blandly referred to, there, were basically the destruction of Janet Hamnett’s arms and hands. Brown, a body-building athlete, broke into her home, and attacked her, over and over and over, with a broom handle.

The case made its way up to our highest court, where Hamnett — and women’s groups, and victim’s rights groups — were essentially told: Too bad, so sad. Writing for an unanimous Supreme Court, Justice Nicholas Kasirer said the “extreme intoxication” section of the Criminal Code violates the Charter in a way that cannot be justified in a free and democratic society and is thereby unconstitutional.

Why, you ask? Good question. Kasirer and his colleagues felt that the section violates the Charter because society could interpret someone’s intent to become intoxicated as an intention to commit a violent offence.

Get that? The section — which was passed by the government of my former boss Jean Chretien — has been in place for a generation, and reflects the state of the law in most other democratic nations on Earth. It reflects common sense, too: If rapists and killers know that getting wasted may get them out of jail — well, we all know what many of them are going to argue, now.

The Supremes don’t know, or they don’t give a damn. The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund did and does, however. They intervened in the case, pointing to the well-established reality: “The harm caused to women as a result of intoxicated violence is devastating and infringes on their right to security and equality.”

Janet Hamnett, meanwhile, has been left with no justice, and no recourse. Said Hamnett: “I am very disappointed with this decision, (but) it is not about me at this stage.”

“The Supreme Court basically said it’s allowable to attack, hurt, and even kill someone, if the perpetrator is out of control due to drugs or alcohol that were most likely ingested intentionally and willingly.”

Hamnett told the media that the decision creates a precedent, one that tilts the scales in favour of violent criminals. Said she: “Where is the justice in that? This opens a terrifying floodgate … and I fear for future victims.”

So should we all. The Supreme Court’s decision in R. v. Brown is appalling and dangerous. Until it is challenged with a new law — the federal attorney general meekly says he is only “assessing” the ruling — there will be blood.

There will be a bit less willingness to believe we are always better than the Americans, too.

Because, in this case, we just aren’t.

— Warren Kinsella is a lawyer and was an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law