Brian McInnis, RIP

I was sorry to read about his death in this week’s Hill Times.

Some years ago – while I was in the midst of defending my friend, and my friend’s reputation, during the Gomery Pyle schmozzleMcInnis wrote to me, to pass along a few kind words about the importance of taking a stand, and standing up to thugs.  Even if they’re in your own party.

I understand he had a difficult time due to the role he played in the Reform Party-Heritage Front affair, but I hope he found some peace at the end.


The first protest I ever led was on Parliament Hill in 1984 – against the Trudeau government’s approaches to post-secondary education.  We didn’t overturn any cars or set effigies alight, but we did secure a meeting with Jim Peterson, and we attracted lots of media attention to our cause.  (We kept at it, too.  I even later made a mock run at the Conservative Party leadership, to force politicians to focus on PSE.  We held a car wash to come up with the entrance fee, but came up short!)

I’ve remained  passionate about PSE, since then, because I believe that (a) our collective future depends on it and (b) reducing university and college campuses to playgrounds for the rich, as in much of the US, would be an unmitigated disaster.  Post-secondary education must remain accessible and equitable for all.  It’s in our own self-interest, along with being the right thing to do.

Thus, I’m pretty happy by this move by the McGuinty government.  It will help kids struggling under massive debt loads – and it will help ensure that PSE remains a right, and not a privilege for a few.


Ontario students to get more loans, flexibility in paying back debt (Ont-Student-Aid)
The Canadian Press
Mar 29, 2010 11:33

TORONTO – College and university students in Ontario will get more financial aid and more flexibility on loan repayment options as the province moves to increase new post-secondary spaces this fall.

The changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program include 1,000 new graduate scholarships, a new grant for part-time students and additional support for married students or those with children. The Ontario Student Opportunity Grant threshold, which caps annual student debt, will increase to $7,300 from $7,000 for a two-term academic year, the first increase in 12 years.

Students will also be allowed to keep more of the money they earn from part-time jobs and will get a no-interest period on student loans for six months after graduation.

The changes, which provide details of an $81-million plan promised in the fall economic statement, will improve assistance for about 188,000 students.

The tuition fee framework is also being extended for two more years, limiting tuition fee increases to an average of five per cent annually.

The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, which represents more than 140,000 university students, welcomed the move, calling it a “huge step forward for students relying on government aid to access higher education.”

The alliance says the changes mean the weekly loan limits will increase to $150 from $140 per week.

They also tie the maximum assessment for textbook and supplies costs to the rate of inflation.

“The sustained regulation of tuition fees is promising, however, students in Ontario continue to pay the highest fees in the country,” said OUSA executive director Alexi White.


Covering up

Possible lawbreaker.

BR Ignatieff Veil
The Canadian Press
Mar 27, 2010 3:13

MONTREAL – Michael Ignatieff is weighing in on the Muslim face-covering debate that’s raging in Quebec.

The federal Liberal leader says he supports controversial legislation that would force veiled women in Quebec to uncover their faces when receiving or delivering public services.

Ignatieff says the bill represents a “good Canadian balance” between religious freedom and equal treatment.

Some Muslim groups and other commentators have harshly denounced the bill, branding it as intolerant.

Ignatieff, however, says it’s “ridiculous” to say that Quebec is more intolerant than other parts of the country.

He says all modern societies are grappling with how to reasonably accommodate cultural and religious differences.


I’m not “grappling” with this one, personally. I don’t agree, at all, with the position that my party – or the governing party – have taken, here.  That likely places me in a small minority, but I’m okay with that.

It’s fair to say, however, that I’m also not overly exercised about what Quebec proposes to do:  it’s a poorly-drafted law, one that will face (so to speak) an inevitable constitutional challenge. I just cannot foresee such a law surviving a Section Two Charter review – nor it being regarded as particularly reasonable, under a Section One check.

On the other hand – if I am wrong, and I’m often wrong – and the law eludes a Charter challenge, prepare yourself for the inevitable: every kook and bigot with some spare time on his hands may commence litigation against the Sikh’s turban and beard, the Jew’s kippah and the Hasidic Jew’s clothing,  the Hindu’s tilak facial markings, the styles favoured by traditional Mennonites and the Amish, or perhaps even the ostentatious display of a nun’s habit.  I mean, why not, right?  Any one of those things may serve to obscure a person’s identity in some way. Fair’s fair.

There may indeed be occasions when the provision of certain government services reasonably require that we see a person’s face – checking a passport, crossing a border, perhaps even voting when a person’s bona fides can’t otherwise be confirmed.  But, say, popping by a government office to pay a parking ticket?  Will the new law prohibit that, too?

I think we’re in rather dangerous territory, here, but I’m interested in your thoughts, as always.

Skinny Little Bitch

I have always admired Courtney Love. Not for the drug abuse stuff, obviously, or for her shockingly-poor approach to parenting, or that extremely unfortunate incident at Strummer’s funeral.

I’ve admired her for her music – which has always been strong, and fearless and honest – and for her guts. She’s been accused of every crime imaginable – killing her husband, killing Nirvana, never actually ever writing a song herself (because Cobain or Corgan really wrote her stuff, don’t you know). I always figured that she and Yoko Ono – the other much-reviled rock’n’roll villainess – should get together. They’d have a lot to talk about.

Anyway. Courtney, who is unkillable, is back with Hole (but it’s a Hole in name only, as it’s a brand-new Hole), and she is seriously kicking ass. Her new tune, Skinny Little Bitch, is a ball-busting, blood-and-sweat, take-no-prisoners bit of riffage, with Courtney snarling and spitting over top. It’s amazing, and it’s already charted on Billboard, despite being only out for a few days.

As far as I know, the official vid isn’t out yet. But I liked this fan’s work, and I think you will, too.

Kick it, girl.

Against Me! in Kingston: supping lightning with the gods

This is a fuzzy shot – taken on my iPhone on the periphery of the craziest pit scene I’ve seen in a while – of Tom Gabel onstage in Kingston last night, as a number of young women accompany him on ‘Thrash Unreal.’ They just climbed up out of the sweaty limbs and the chaos, and started singing along. Against Me! loved it. The crowd loved it. It was a perfect punk rock night.

The Kingston show was at an old Eighties-style disco venue called Stages, on Princess Street. For the past few days, Against Me! – who, as you all know by now, is my favorite band on Earth, the one for which I’d throw it all away and travel with as their geriatric roadie – has been on a cross-Canada stadium tour with Billy Tallent.

Being a punk purist, I do not believe punk rock should ever be experienced in a stadium. It’s Satanism. (I also have never quite gotten the Billy Tallent thing.)

So the Kingston show was special. AM were going to be showcasing some of the new songs on their yet-to-be-released album, White Crosses. And no American audience has heard those songs. And they were going to be there with the Cancer Bats, Canada’s best hardcore band ever. (And no Billy Tallent.)

So I had to get to Kingston. I had to.

My brother-of-another-mother Richard Warman – a ska and punk enthusiast of long standing – joined me there. We were easily old enough to be fathers to more half the crowd, a motley crew of mohawked punks, anarchists, peaceable skins and Queen’s jock types. It was wonderful.

What a show! What a night! The Cancer Bats again reminded the locals why they are the heaviest live act in the country – screeching through some tunes from their new record, due out in a couple weeks – and kicking off with a howling take on ‘Hail Destroyer,’ my unofficial Liberal war room anthem. Their version of the Beastie Boys’ ‘Saboutage’ literally took the roof off the place. Amazing.

Against Me!, meanwhile, came on at about 8:30 – it was an all-ages show, which made me regret I did not have my Cancer Bats-loving daughter with me – and proceeded to kick out the jams like you never get to see a band do anymore, and certainly not in a big aircraft hanger-style hall. They sweated, they danced, they pulled kids up onstage wih them to dance and sing.

Everyone there was close enough to know, to feel, that something special was taking place. It had a sense of community and joy about it that you only get at the once-in-a-lifetime gigs. It was like that.

You had to be there, I think, to capture the singularity of the show.  The only words that capture it, truly, are the stylings of The Great One – Lester Bangs, writing in the NME about seeing the Clash live for the first time, almost thirty years ago.  This is what it was like.  I wish you had been with us.

“The politics of rock ‘n’ roll, in England or America or anywhere else, is that a whole lot of kids want to be fried out of their skins by the most scalding propulsion they can find, for a night they can pretend is the rest of their lives, and whether the next day they go back to work in shops or boredom on the dole or American TV doldrums in Mom ‘n’ Daddy’s living room nothing can cancel the reality of that night in the revivifying flames when for once if only then in your life you were blasted out of yourself and the monotony which defines most life anywhere at any time, when you supped on lightning and nothing else in the realms of the living or dead mattered at all.”

UPDATE: “Thank you for whoever took this picture! .. I was the chick with the short blonde hair beside Tom .. and I can’t explain how much of an amazing experience that was!! I was kind of bummed that I didn’t have anything to commemorate that amazing moment in life, but now I do! Thank you so so so much! Alexina”

From the War Room: first Campaigns and Elections column, gratis

I’ll be on the road, shortly, so I can’t get to the link to the new C&E mag, which made its debut today. Here’s my first stab at a column – which anticipated the Ann Coulter flapdoodle, but not the magnitude of it. Hope you like it.


Right about now – right about the time you are squinting at the inaugural offering From the War Room! – American political pundit Ann Coulter is somewhere in Canada, shrieking about something or the other.

We’re not quite sure how she got in. But one thing is for certain: we must make a collective effort to ensure that she never, ever enters Canuckistan again. Ever. We have anti-banshee importation laws up here, you know.

The presence of such a, er, famous U.S. pundit presents us with a timely opportunity to answer a few questions that I, as a charter member of the commentariat, am often asked: what is a pundit, exactly? Who gets to be one? Do the media decide, or the political parties? Do pundits get paid vast sums for their scintillating insights and witty repartee? If so, how does one get invited back? What makes for effective punditry, and what will serve to embarrass your family members and closest friends, for generations to come?


That – that little thing right there – is something that a pundit (on TV or radio political panels, at least) should never say “um.” Also: “er.” Equally unhelpful: “you know.”

To be effective, to rhetorically slay all partisan opponents within the immediate vicinity, it is essential that a pundit sounds like he or she knows what he or she is opining about. (Even when, often, you don’t.) Gaps in your banter suggest to your adversaries – and, worse, the panel’s host, and Joe and Jane Frontporch, suspiciously eyeballing the on-air shenanigans at home – that you are making it up as you go along.

Which, as mentioned, pundits often do.

The simple fact of on-air punditry is this: there is not enough time in the day to prepare for a five-minute-long TV appearance, on which any number of verbal curveballs may be tossed your way. Some hosts, in fact – like CTV’s Tom Clark, who is an expert at this – delight in surprising his Conservative, Liberal and New Democrat panelists with an unexpected question or factoid. When in receipt of same, and the fire alarm is too far away to be pulled, I simply say: “Speaking for myself only…” In that way, your political party of choice is not compelled to disown you. Which happens, believe me.

So what, you query, is a pundit anyway? Mostly, it’s a gal or guy who editorializes about an issue. He or she attacks the other side, and defends their own. That’s it: attack and defend, attack and defend.

One of the best TV and radio pundits around is the guy I spar with most often: the Conservative Party’s Tim Powers. Tim, a Newfoundland-born rugby player with a ready grin, knows one of the cardinal rules of punditry: never take the punditocracy stuff too seriously.

On air, Powers is self-deprecating when the circumstances demand it – and he also knows when to concede a point, and laugh at himself and his team. Also easy-going is his fellow Tory, former Stephen Harper comms boss, Kory Teneycke. Kory, who looks about twelve years old, never lets an opponent get under his skin, and never loses his cool. But he gets his point across, in a viewer/listener-friendly way.

TV punditry in particular, you see, is mostly about entertainment. That’s not to say there isn’t room for serious, sober reflection when on-air – and the New Democrat’s highly-respected Anne McGrath, is one of the best in the business at relating useful information in a manner that doesn’t sound like a three-hour political science lecture – but, generally, TV punditry isn’t about information. It’s about emotion.

Long, long ago – when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, and Treasury Board president Stockwell Day was there to witness them with his own eyes (sorry, I sometimes just can’t help myself) – my approach to punditry was to treat it like an exam: study, study, study, and cram as much information as possible into my tiny cranium. I would then show up at the studio, crib notes clutched in my sweaty hands, and use the minutes-long segment to recite as many statistics and facts as the schedule permitted. Dead pan.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The best approach to punditry – and, for that matter, speech-writing and scrums and legislative work – is to do what The Great Communicator himself, Ronald Reagan, used to do. Have one main theme, and no more than two or three supportive related themes. Stick to them religiously. Keep it simple, keep it relevant, keep it as upbeat as the circumstances permit. That’s winning political communications. That’s punditry that works.

What doesn’t work, in my opinion, is becoming the story – which the aforementioned Ms. Coulter, now jetting to and fro in Canada on her broom, does on a regular basis. What doesn’t work is indulging in rhetoric that is so extreme, so hysterical, that the only people who end up paying attention to you are other hysterical, extremist red-necked mouth-breathers (like, well, Ms. Coulter). What doesn’t work is becoming a circus sideshow. Like Ann Coulter is.

Political punditry is fun and often funny. It is no way to get rich, but your mother may be happy to see you (occasionally) on her TV screen.

And the best pundit rule of all? Watch Ann Coulter, then say and do the reverse.

Works every time.