Categories for Feature

My latest: is it March 2020 all over again?

Remember March 11, 2020?

Of course you do. It was the day the world changed.

It started, as world-endings perhaps do, in unexpected ways. Everyone has their own “where were you” story, like when famous people die suddenly.

This writer was on his couch in Toronto, watching something forgettable on TV, when the unforgettable news blinked onto an iPhone. Tom Hanks and his wife, filming in Australia, announced they had COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Minutes later, a statement from the National Basketball Association appeared. The basketball season was being suspended “until further notice.” A player with the Utah Jazz had it, too.

Truth be told, I wasn’t totally shocked. In my communications class at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law, we had been tracking the coronavirus for weeks, because we were convinced it was going to get worse.

And now it was, dramatically so. I didn’t ever expect the Heralds of Doom would be a Hollywood actor and some basketball players, but perhaps that was needed to communicate that it was real. It was really, really happening.

Observers of the government of Justin Trudeau could be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t, however. In the terrifying days that followed, Trudeau’s witless minister of health told Canadians not to wear masks. She said the risk of getting sick was “low.”

And anyone who politely suggested that we should consider closing borders was called a racist by the Trudeau cabal. Subsequently, their acquisition of vaccines became a fiasco, and Canada would lag far behind the Americans and Europeans.

Well, that was March 11, 2020 and the days thereafter. That was the start of this, the COVID Plague. More than five million people have been killed by it; many millions more made seriously ill, some permanently. Economies crushed, businesses decimated, lives upended.

And now — perhaps, maybe — it is starting to feel a bit like March 11, 2020 all over again.

The Heralds of Doom, this time, weren’t actors and basketball players. It was, properly, governments. Within hours early on Friday, they started closing their borders to travellers from African countries. Markets fell, prices rose.

And we all started watching our phones more closely, asking ourselves: is it here already? Federal health officials don’t know.

The new variant initially bore the bland, antiseptic name B.1.1.529 — but was dubbed Omicron by the World Health Organization on Friday.

All of the previous coronavirus mutations were diabolical — slithering, like snakes, around public health measures and personal immunities.

Omicron, first detected in densely-populated South Africa, is incalculably worse, in two critical ways.

Firstly, it is five times more effective at infecting humans than the very worst of the variants.

Secondly — and this the menacing March 11, 2020 fact — it may be powerful enough to defeat the vaccines most of us have in our bodies. As in, we may be just as vulnerable to sickness and death as we were on March 11, 2020.

The good news, of course, is that we know that masks generally work as well as vaccines. Social distancing and regular handwashing help a great deal, as well. So does closing borders to countries with outbreaks — something now happening within hours, not weeks and months.

Also good news: the new federal Minister of Health, Jean Yves Duclos, has already revealed himself to be far more coherent and capable than his bumbling predecessor.

On Friday afternoon, after Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole demanded immediate action.

Duclos announced multiple restrictions on travel to or from seven different African nations. Anyone who has recently been in one of those countries must immediately enter quarantine and get tested, Duclos declared.

So far, so good. Much is at stake: lives, economies, futures. Will Trudeau and his regime do better, this time?

Because, this time may be March 11, 2020 all over again.

— Warren Kinsella was Chief of Staff to a federal Liberal Minister of Health

My latest: pick a lane, Tories

The conservative conference delegate stood to ask a question.

“Warren,” she said, clutching the microphone one of the conference organizers had passed to her, “do you think we as conservatives should spend more time defining who we are?”

Before providing my answer, let me set the scene. I was at a weekend gathering of the Conservative Leadership Foundation, ably led by my friend John Mykytyshyn. On the noontime panel, held in a stately boardroom in Toronto’s Royal Canadian Military Institute, were two people who were way smarter and way better-looking than me: TVO legend Steve Paikin and Conservative strategist (and fellow Postmedia columnist) Tasha Kheiriddin.

But the question had been addressed to me. So I answered it.

“You conservatives spend way too much time agonizing over who you are,” I said to the assembled delegates, many of whom were masked, and all of whom had been verified as fully vaccinated. “I know who you are. You favour smaller government, less taxes, and law and order. You favour individual liberty. That’s it. That’s who you are.”

I paused. “Liberals, and I’ve been one, don’t worry about who we are. We don’t get into big philosophical debates while standing in front of a mirror. We know what we are, above all else: Winning. We win.”

And Canadian conservatives, mostly, don’t. Why? Well, take a gander at what is going on in Ottawa this week.

The vaccination vacillation of Erin O’Toole continued, virtually overshadowing the return of Parliament. One Conservative MP was revealed to have COVID, and any number of others had therefore been possibly exposed at last week’s caucus meeting.

Meanwhile, a number of others were mysteriously absent from the reopening of a Parliament they’d previously insisted needed to reopen. Oh, and a statistically impossible number had “medical exemptions” from vaccination.

So, a question: Do ‘Error O’Terrible’ and his cast of fools think we are dummies? Do they think we’ve not noticed that they’ve equivocated, and obfuscated — and plain old skated — on every reasonable vaccine question directed their way?

Chief of which was, and remains: Are you all vaccinated?

We still don’t know.

As I told the assembled conservative attendees at the aforementioned conference: The COVID-19 pandemic is existential. As in, it directly relates to the existence of human beings. After five million of us have been killed off by this cruel, relentless virus, you’d think O’Toole’s cabal would get this. But they don’t.

“I’m a war room guy,” I told the conservative folk. I’d run majority-winning war rooms for Jean Chretien and Dalton McGuinty. “I don’t care about policy. I care about clarity. That’s what voters want: Clarity.”

That’s the case, I told them, even when the most plain-spoken option is awful. Donald Trump, for example. He was awful. But he spoke in simple, declarative sentences and you knew where he stood.

But with Hillary Clinton — who I proudly worked for, full disclosure, in two states and at her Brooklyn headquarters — you didn’t know where she stood. She was a superior human being to Trump, in every way, and every sane person knew it. But she equivocated. She vacillated. She bobbed and weaved.

Like Erin O’Toole and his team do, on one of the most critical public policy issues of our lifetimes. And he thinks we haven’t noticed.

“We’ve noticed,” I told the conservative conference folks, many of whom were nodding their heads.

“And we’re not impressed.”

— Warren Kinsella has run war rooms for Canadian political parties from B.C. to Ontario.

My latest: the Tory civil wars, 2021 version

With thousands of British Columbians facing dangerous flooding, inflation soaring to 20-year highs, and the virus surging again, it’s comforting to know that the Conservative Party of Canada is focused on the timing of a leadership review.

But, really, that’s just business as usual for the Tories, isn’t it? They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

They’d rather talk about themselves. Not you, Canada.

It’s nothing new, but it’s still plenty weird. They’re the only credible alternative to the worst prime minister in a century. They held him to a minority government, twice, when it looked certain he’d do much better. They have representation in every region and every province.

But their eyes are trained, laser-like, on their own navels.

There they were, again, this week. A Conservative senator from Saskatchewan, Denise Batters, announced the launch of a slick online petition to ditch her leader, Erin O’Toole.

This writer has gotten to know Batters over the past couple years, and can attest to the fact that she is no bloodthirsty Paul Martin-style mutineer. She’s a sensitive and thoughtful person, and therefore harder for Team O’Toole to demonize.

And she’s a fan of irony. “Mr. O’Toole flip-flopped on policies core to our party within the same week, the same day, and even within the same sentence. The members didn’t have a say on that, but we must have one on his leadership,” Batters declared in a statement she released to the media.

This is where the irony part comes in. Said the good senator: “We can’t afford to see our party ripped apart again. When we’re divided, the Liberals win.”

Except, um, publicly calling for your party’s leader to be fired is the dictionary definition of “divided.” That’s what “ripping part” literally is.

Irony meter: Exploded.

Look, this space carries no brief for Ever O’Terrible. He’s remarkably unremarkable, and he prefers to have multiple positions on single issues — carbon taxes, assault weapons, vaccinating his candidates, you name it. The federal Conservative leader is the Chinese food buffet of Canadian politics — an hour after trying him out, you’re feeling hungry again.

But declaring a Tory civil war, right now, is a really bad idea. Three reasons. First, as noted above, it’s a minority Parliament. With the able assistance of The Prime Minister Without A Portfolio, Jagmeet Singh, Justin Trudeau could engineer an election in a snap.

Secondly, as was also noted above, there’s more pressing issues to be pressed. I mean, Senator Batters, have you looked at the footage of what B.C. is experiencing this week? At all?

Thirdly, we in the media positively love every skirmish in every civil war, because if something bleeds, it leads, etc. Writing about political fratricide is a lot more fun than writing about boring old policy stuff.

But you won’t like the result, Team Tory. This writer was a frontline warrior in the Jean Chretien-Paul Martin wars, which went on for years. I personally had a lot of fun, because I’m a walking Irish pub fight. But did anyone else win?

The Liberal Party of Canada sure didn’t. For the political sin of washing its dirty laundry in public, the public put the Grits in the penalty box for a decade.

Will the Conservatives listen to me? Of course not. Nobody listens to me.

Even so, you’d be well-advised to exercise extreme caution, Senator Batters et al. Wars are easy to start.

They’re not ever easy to stop.

— Warren Kinsella was chairman of the federal Liberal war rooms in 1993 and 2000

My latest: punk rock and the plague!

Pandemics aren’t a ton of fun.

The current one has caused economic chaos, political instability and no shortage of anxiety, planet-wide. For musicians and for those who promote live music, however, it’s been really, really — really — bad.

For months, musicians haven’t been able to make a living playing gigs — because, in the era of illegal downloading and low-return streaming, gigging is how most of them keep the lights on. Around 75% of their income is derived from live shows.

Meanwhile, the clubs and bars and arenas that offer shows haven’t been able to do so for 20 months, give or take. The World Economic Forum estimates that the music industry is worth around $50 billion annually — and half that figure, from live shows, simply evaporated when COVID-19 commenced upending our lives.

So, for Calgary punk rock legends Chixdiggit — and for the legendary Bovine Sex Club in Toronto, Canada’s own CBGB — their joint return, this past weekend, was really, really (really) good. It was the 30th anniversary of both the club and the band, and the Bovine was packed — with verified, fully-vaccinated punk rock fans.

Before taking to the Bovine’s stage, Chixdiggit — KJ Jansen (guitar and vocals), Billy Dixon (guitar), Tyler Pickering (drums) and Rob Gruszecki (bass) — gathered in the storied apartment of club owner Daryl Fine, and talked about their first big shows in two years.

“Alberta didn’t really have lockdown, but you guys (in Ontario) had a lockdown,” notes Jansen, the band’s frontman. “Not to get political, but we had a premier that kind of made us jealous of Ontario’s premier.”

Even so, the decision to play the 30th anniversary shows didn’t happen overnight, says Jansen, because the band, and the Bovine, wanted to do them in the right way. The safe way. At the Bovine on the weekend — where Yours Screwly was naturally in attendance, being a bit of a Calgary punk myself — I witnessed more security and screening than I’ve experienced anywhere else.

“The original 30th anniversary party was going to be 40 people in seats, sitting down,” says Fine, the club’s longtime owner, and the guy with one of the biggest Rolodexes in rock’n’roll. “It would have been less of a celebration. Conveniently, (Doug) Ford has opened us up and allowed us to be full capacity.”

Bovine Sex Club owner Daryl Fine.
Bovine Sex Club owner Daryl Fine.

Even with all the precautions they’re taking, Hansen and Fine agree that it was essential that Chixdiggit’s shows were hale, hearty and healthy. Says Fine: “We have a 100% protocol for vaccine passports. We’re checking everyone at the door, plus the Bovine has a 100% staff mandate for two vaccines. We’re not too nervous. And the fact that venues and bars are complying is helping Ontario succeed in lowering the case rate.”

“And that was a big part of Chixdiggit wanting to come out here,” says Hansen. “Alberta’s pandemic was handled very differently. When we looked at Ontario’s vaccination rate compared to Alberta, I thought, holy s***, that sounds like a paradise. So, if we were going to come back and play a show, we wanted to do it at the Bovine in Ontario.”

And what a show it was. Chixdiggit reminded all in attendance why they are considered Canada’s best-ever punk band. Their tunes — about girls, growing up and hockey — are catchier than a drawer full of fish hooks. And, at the Bovine over the weekend, they had the place rockin’ like it hasn’t in a long, long time.

“We want to put on a great show,” concludes Hansen, “and we want to keep everyone safe.”

And they did, on both counts.

— Warren Kinsella, who is older than dirt, was a member of Calgary’s first punk band, the Hot Nasties, and we’re not sure why we let him in here.

My latest: the unappealing truth about Trudeau

How can you tell that Justin Trudeau is lying to you?

We know, we know: when his lips are moving. Old joke.

But there’s a more recent example of Trudeaupian dishonesty — one that took place in real time, in real life. And, even coming from the sophists who make up Trudeau’s cabal, it was pretty shocking.

On Friday night — not during the day, but “Friday night,” as CBC News , no less, reported — word came that the Trudeau government had quietly filed what is called a Notice of Appeal. It read as follows:

“Canada acknowledges the finding of systemic discrimination and does not oppose the general principle that compensation to First Nations individuals who experienced pain and suffering as a result of government misconduct should be provided.

“Awarding compensation to individuals in the manner ordered by the Tribunal, however, was inconsistent with the nature of the complaint, the evidence, past jurisprudence, and the Canadian Human Rights Act.”

There’s a fair bit of legalese, there. What’s it about?

Well, it’s about a 2019 decision by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, ordering Ottawa to compensate Indigenous children for denying them government services.

What’s it mean? It means the Government of Canada wants to overturn the tribunal’s decision. Period.

But that’s not the impression the Trudeau government wants to give you. Here’s what they want you to think. They issued an official statement and everything.

“Today, the Government of Canada and the parties, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and Assembly of First Nations, are announcing that we have agreed to sit down immediately and work towards reaching a global resolution by December 2021 on outstanding issues that have been the subject of litigation.”

Some in the media immediately fell for it, hook, line and sinker. CBC’s Chief Political Correspondent, Rosemary Barton, promptly tweeted this:

“All sides have agreed to a pause in legal action. All parties will continue to negotiate to reach a global settlement. They have until December. The appeal buys all sides time to reach that agreement.”


So, back to the very first question: how can you tell the Trudeau government is lying to you?

Five ways.

• They issued statement late on a Friday. In political parlance, that’s known as “taking out the garbage.“ When you’ve got something bad to say, you say it late on a Friday, when you know fewer people are paying attention. When you are playing fast and loose with the truth, you don’t want anyone paying attention.

• Their lead spokesperson is in Europe. You know: that Justin Trudeau guy. Purely coincidently, we’re sure, Trudeau was literally out of the country, junketing around Europe and thereby being very difficult to reach. He left the appeal revelation to a couple minor Liberal politicians back in Canada on, as noted, a Friday night.

• They pretend settlement discussions are big news — except settlements can happen at any time. Forgive me for being a lawyer and everything, but settlement was possible at any moment before now. You can have settlement discussions before a case begins. You can have settlement discussions when the trial is underway. You can have settlement discussions when a case is before a jury. You can even have settlement discussions after a verdict is reached. Contrary to what Barton tweeted, no settlement discussions were “continuing.“ What was “continuing” was Trudeau’s multi-million-dollar scheming to deny Indigenous children justice.

• They appeal and pretend it’s not an appeal. Because, you know, that’s what the Trudeau government did. They literally researched the appeal. They wrote the appeal. They typed up the appeal. They filed the appeal in the court registry — and even got an official stamp on the front of it. When it looks like an appeal, and is filed as an appeal, it’s an appeal.

• Their lips are moving. Old joke, yes, and repetitive. But it is no less true for that. The Trudeau regime has taken dishonesty to an entirely new realm. In the B.S. Olympics, they are consistent gold medallists. They are without equal.

Because they are lying to you, again. More particularly, they are lying to thousands of Indigenous children who they continue to fight in court.

It all resembles what Donald Trump likes to call “the big lie.”

Because, if you’ve decided to tell one, make it a whopper.

— Kinsella was Jean Chretien’s Special Assistant