Politics Chatter

POLITICS CHATTER: Arguing that the Quebec Charter of Values is more than purely cynical — it’s evil

Valeurs_depliant_version_longue-7.jpgQuebec is engaged in a nice, civil, democratic debate over whether a woman wearing a head scarf should be able to sit in the waiting room of a welfare office, or if a Sikh in a turban is such an outrageous affront to the secular state that he’s unfit to sell you a fishing license.

I find this debate as unbelievable as it is nauseous. If it proves anything, it shows that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a joke, as is the mealy-mouthed knock-off, the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Because if a “charter of rights” is so empty that it can allow blatant and cruel discrimination against visible minorities, it is simply a lie to say that it protects anyone from anything.

The Quebec Charter of Values shows politics at its most cynical. It is an evil document drafted by people with an evil intent.

What people don’t seem to remember is that Quebec invited tens of thousands of French-speaking Muslims to settle in the province. Quebec’s birth rate has been in free-fall for two generations, despite big cash bonuses and, more recently, cheap daycare . More pur lainers are dying than are being born. So Quebec took over immigration from the federal government and invited Francophones to settle in the St. Lawrence Valley.

Very few came from France. Instead, they arrived from former French colonies like Algeria and Lebanon. Unlike the locals, the Muslims, at least in the first generation or two, have lots of kids.

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POLITICS CHATTER: Whipped: Documentary asks “Who comes first?” — a politician’s party or his constituents?

You’d think a film called Whipped would be the kind of thing that you’d watch after the kids are asleep. But Sean Holman’s new documentary didn’t come in the 21st century equivalent of a plain brown package. Still, it provokes certain emotions that might leave you a bit shaky.

Holman, founding editor of the pioneering British Columbia-based online investigative political news service Public Eye, made Whipped as his Master’s thesis at Carleton University. The film is about the bind that so many members of legislatures and parliament find themselves in: are they employed by their political party or their constituents?

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POLITICS CHATTER: Sex talk, pornography, and the Tom Flanagan uproar

President Lyndon Johnson once said that the best thing that could happen to one of his political enemies was being found in bed with a dead woman or a live boy.

And the old horn-dog was right. That would finish anyone’s political career.

Because bad sex – and sex talk – can be lethal, Tom Flanagan, a former advisor to Stephen Harper, found out Thursday.

Flanagan is supposed to be some sort of political genius. He was a mentor to Preston Manning, Harper, and the Alberta Wild Rose Party. He was a tenured prof at the University of Calgary, with a regular spot on the CBC’s Power and Politics. The opinion pages of The Globe & Mail and several prestigious magazines were open to him.

That all ended Thursday, the day after he told a crowd of students in Lethbridge that he had an ideological problem with people – invariably men – being sent to jail for looking at pictures of sexualized children.

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POLITICS CHATTER: On Lincoln, democracy, and what Spielberg failed to understand

The king of England stood on a balcony in Westminster, just outside the city of London, and braced himself against the cold. It was a raw January day in 1649, the crowd was noisy, and only a few people could hear him.

But there was a guy near the king who was writing everything down. With a few hours, the king’s speech was on the streets in primitive newspapers.

It was not the sort of rant that Justin Trudeau or even Stephen Harper would come up with, and it certainly was not the work of a Barrack Obama. King Charles I wasn’t running for anything. In fact, his career was quickly winding down. The words he spoke were his own, not those of a speechwriter. They’re sort of dense and Shakespearean, but after you read them once or twice, you’ll get the drift.

“And truly I desire their (the people’s) liberty and freedom as much as anybody whomsoever, but I must tell you, that their liberty and freedom consists in having of government those laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own. It is not for having share in government that is pertaining to them,” the diminutive, cat-like little sovereign said.

“A subject and a sovereign are clean different things, and therefore until you do put the people in that liberty as I say, certainly they will never enjoy themselves.”

He finished up, turned, knelt down, prayed for a moment, and a chap named Brandon took one swing of an axe and chopped off his head.

Few politicians are as up-front in their contempt of democracy, and fewer still have the opportunity to speak with the honesty that’s available to a sentient person who knows he won’t have to worry about that evening’s dinner because he’ll be shorter by a head.

But Charles I was a man of his times, and of our times, too: trashing the press, proroguing parliament, getting very heavy with protesters.

Few modern politicians will come out and say the people really have no business being involved in government. A few more will echo the king’s assertion that governments exist to protect people’s property and keep taxes down. But not that many are willing to stick their necks out to make a point.

Which brings us to the Oscars.

Charles I never blubbered through the end of Silver Linings Playbook or wondered why anyone would like Beasts of the Southern Wild. And he most certainly would not have enjoyed Lincoln.

There’s some controversy about Lincoln. A recent, rather catty piece in Harper’s magazine says Steven Spielberg is telling a story that has been told many times, and often better. I don’t agree. I have never seen a movie or TV show that explained how the freeing of the slaves was such a close-run thing, or raised the idea that the Civil War might well have ended with the Union being saved, and slavery surviving.

Most people get the Civil War wrong. It was not a war to liberate African-American slaves any more than World War II was fought to save Jews.

Abraham Lincoln said, over and over, that if keeping slavery was the price of pulling the breakaway southern states back into the Union, he would pay it.

The war was about protecting the Union. Those words have become an empty phrase. But back then they meant something.

And the Civil War was about something else, the thing that lies in the heart of the Gettysburg Address. Everyone’s heard of that short speech – it wasn’t much longer than poor Charles’s last words – but few people have read it carefully.

The address starts with a little history lesson and a very slight side-swipe of the slavery issue. Then it gets down to business: the blood of the Union troops at Gettysburg was spilled so that government of the people, by the people, for the people, should not perish from this earth.

People reading the speech always put the emphasis on the “of, by, for” words. But the real meat of the phrase is in the last six words.

Because in 1863, the United States was the most revolutionary country on Earth. It was the only major power that was a democracy. And it seemed likely to be the last one, an experiment that failed.

France had twice tried to create a democracy between 1789 and 1863 and failed miserably. Britain was partly there, but few men had the right to vote, and power lay in the hands of aristocrats and industrialists. Canada was a little farther along, but most politicians gagged at the idea of true democracy, and they’d crushed democratic rebellions 25 years earlier. The great empires and small countries of Europe were all monarchies.

Revolutionaries in central and South America had overthrown their Spanish colonial masters and had tried to create democracies. All had failed.

There were no democracies in Africa. Or Asia. Or, for that matter, in the Confederacy.

So, in many ways, Lincoln, when he stood on the platform at Gettysburg, was very much alone as the leader of the world’s last democracy. And that’s one thing that Spielberg missed.

It would have been a useful lesson for these times. Democracy is not the natural order of things. Democracy – real involvement by the people in their own government — is not the default position

of governments, even in the West. It’s something that you have to nurture, preserve and, in the most dire times, kill and die for.

That was the ideology that drove Lincoln and made him, when it came to restoring the U.S. Constitution, so uncompromising. I wish Spielberg had understood.


POLITICS CHATTER: Pondering the wisdom of casting Jack Layton as a saint in CBC TV’s upcoming biopic “Jack”

Rick Roberts plays Jack Layton, while Sook-Yin Lee takes the part of Olivia Chow in the made-for-TV movie "Jack"

Politics Chatter by contributing editor Mark Bourrie is published weekly at OttawaMagazine.com. Follow him on Twitter @IsotelusRex.

Well, all we need is the blessing of the next Pope, and Jack Layton will officially become a saint.

The CBC has worked hard to fast-track the canonization. On March 10, TV viewers will forgo the delights of NetFlix and TLC’s Gypsy Sisters, to sit, enthralled, in front of the magic box, watching a biopic called JACK, the story of Jack Layton’s rise to greatness.

The makers of Jack are having an invitation-only launch at the Mayfair on March 5. If you’re really lucky, you can score an invitation to the opening at the downtown Winnipeg IMAX two days later. The IMAX should be a delight. You’ll feel like you were there.

Which, for me, is sort of true. I was there through Layton’s career on the Hill. Jack Layton scolded me every time we talked. I was not impressed by him as a speaker or parliamentarian, but I was shocked when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I had expected him to beat it — several friends and acquaintances did manage to do that — so it was a double, saddening shock when the disease killed him.

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POLITICS CHATTER: With the Senate (and senators) in the news, a defence of sorts for Senator Mike Duffy

Mike Duffy is just one of the journalists to have been appointed to the Senate over the years.

Stevie Cameron, a fine person, brilliant journalist, and best-selling author who’s about to be inducted into the Order of Canada, is no prophet.

“If (Mike) Duffy is appointed to the Senate – the rumour that makes its way around the circuit at least twice a year,” Cameron wrote in her 1989 best-seller Ottawa Inside Out, “not even his fellow journalists, usually an envious lot, will mind.”

Well, it seems they do mind.

Many journalists have been appointed to the Senate through the years: Charles Bishop of the Ottawa Citizen, Richard Doyle of the Globe and Mail, Joan Fraser of the Montreal Gazette, Betty Kennedy of Toronto radio station CFRB, Linda Frum, part-time columnist at the National Post, for starters.

But Duffy has been a lightning rod. From the moment of his appointment, he’s been whacked by his former colleagues and opposition parties for supposedly trading partisan reporting for a soft landing in the Senate.

Maybe there’s some truth to that, but most journalists appointed to the Senate had showed their political stripes. Doyle ran a fine Tory newspaper. Fraser landed in the Senate when Conrad Black fired her for being too liberal, and Jean Chrétien wanted to rub mud in Black’s face. Frum was partisan in her infrequent Post writings. And Charlie Bishop was lead political columnist on a paper that was pro-Tory (after a brief flirtation with Social Credit).

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POLITICS CHATTER: The crooked politician provides all (if you’re a reporter with bills to pay)

Years ago, when I was a skinny, skittish young cub reporter, I found myself kicking a chair and cursing at some outrageous stupidity committed by a politician. A long time has gone by. I no longer remember who I was angry at or the nature of his transgression.

But I do remember, as clearly as the day it happened, a wizened old city editor beckoning me over to his desk. Moving a couple of ashtrays aside so he could set down his coffee, he leaned over, his yellow teeth shining in the green light of the primitive video display monitor, placed his right hand on my shoulder, and uttered these words, which I recount here exactly as he told them to me:

“Embrace the crooked MP, bonehead mayor, the greedy Indian chief, the smug and profligate premier, my son. Let them roam in packs across the land.

“The crooked politician will provide all.

“The crooked MP gives our children straight teeth. He digs our swimming pool. He fills our mutual funds and RRSPs.

“He puts clothes on our backs. Food on our tables. Gas in our cars. The crooked MP makes the car itself and fixes it when it breaks.

“The bonehead mayor gives us trips to Jamaica and puts new roofs on our cottages. She makes us bookcases and fills them with books. She pays the hydro and phone bill.

“Someday, she will buy you an iPhone 5, whatever that is, and pay your monthly cell phone bill.

“The greedy Indian chief provides for us even in the most lean of times. He fills our pages when there is nothing but weather stories and tracts about the meaning of Santa.

“The smug premier makes our suits. He crafts nice watches. He feeds our pets, fixes our appliances, cleans our carpets. He makes donations to charities in our name, gives toonies to panhandlers, and buys  General Tao’s Chicken and delivers it to our homes when we are too tired to cook.

“So be careful what you wish for, my son. Do not hunt these great and generous creatures to extinction. Embrace them, nurture them. Let them run free to do their work.

“Just do not love them.”

POLITICS CHATTER: Taking the Toronto Star to task for playing sexual politics

It took a minute to sink in. I had to check again to see if I was reading it right. Maybe it was a hoax. Maybe I was reading the Sun by mistake.

“The knock against (Ontario Liberal leadership candidate Kathleen) Wynne is that she is not ‘electable’ — code, as she puts it herself, for being ‘a lesbian from Toronto.’”

This remarkable sentence was in a Toronto Star editorial endorsing the grating and unpleasant Sandra Pupatello for leader of the Ontario Liberals and, automatically, and probably temporarily, the next premier of Ontario.

I think I know Ontario pretty well. I’ve lived in every part of the province, half my life in small towns, half in cities. And I think that statement says a lot about the Toronto Star and very little about the voters of Ontario.

Because I don’t believe most Ontarians who would consider voting Liberal give a damn about Kathleen Wynne’s sexuality. Even most social conservatives are well past that kind of discrimination. Canada has several successful gay and lesbian high-profile politicians — Scott Brison, elected in rural Nova Scotia;  John Baird, who wins handily in Nepean-Carleton; Glen Murray, former mayor of Winnipeg, now a provincial cabinet minister and a solid contender for the Ontario Liberal leadership down the road; and, of course, Wynne herself, who’s held three big portfolios.

I don’t care who wins this weekend’s leadership vote. It probably doesn’t matter all that much. But for the Toronto Star to suggest Wynne is somehow politically crippled because she’s a lesbian is both striking and bizarre.

I think the Star’s editorial board lives in the downtown Toronto universe where everyone is hip and cool and gay-friendly, and the rest of the province is seemingly populated by mouth-breathing yokels who, after the scrape the manure off their boots and enter the polling station, would never cast their vote for a lesbian.

As I said, I think the Star’s bizarre commentary says more about how they see Ontarians outside the downtown Toronto bubble than about Ontarians themselves.

It doesn’t matter that Wynne sits virtually tied with Pupatello with about a quarter of the elected delegates, or that she has strong support from Liberals in all parts of the province. Nor, it seems, does the Star notice that Wynne’s sexuality has not been raised at all-candidates’ meetings in the boonies or by small-town newspapers.

It’s that kind of disconnect that has caused considerable withering of the readership of the Star and the Globe and Mail. Its writers have become far too smug, insular, and ignorant people who simply have no grasp of the province outside a few square kilometres in the Toronto core.

When, as the Star did, you say that people outside Toronto won’t vote for a lesbian, you’ve completely misread the people of the province. And you are skating dangerously close to saying gays and lesbians should know their place and stay out of sight because they harm the electoral fortunes of their own party.

It’s an astounding attitude in 2013. Hopefully, Wynne and the people of this province will get the chance to prove the Star wrong.





POLITICS CHATTER: “Strong, complex, and full of interesting characters.” Reviewing ‘Warlords,’ up for the Charles Taylor Prize

By Mark Bourrie

Prime Ministers always talk about how tough it is to govern Canada. The House of Commons can be an ugly place. The hours a PM spends on paperwork, in meetings, and travelling are brutal. The job is hell on families.

Tim Cook, First World War specialist at the Canadian War Museum and the best of the country’s new generation of military historians, has written a new book about two Prime Ministers who had very, very bad days. It’s just been shortlisted for the Charles Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction.

Warlords: Borden, Mackenzie King and Canada’s World Wars, looks at the two very different men who piloted the country through the great conflicts of the 20th century. (Read more about the author and the book in an Ottawa Magazine profile published in the September 2012 edition).

First, there was Robert Borden, a big, very Victorian man who had pried power out of the hands of Wilfrid Laurier, only to be stuck with the job of leading the nation through a conflict that touched virtually every home with the loss or maiming of a loved one.

I suspect Borden’s worst day was aboard the Calgarian, a ship taking him to England in February, 1917. In Ottawa, the Parliament Building was a burned-out ruin. The country was split on whether troops should be drafted and, in Quebec, there was very little support for the war. The Allies were losing. The Americans were still neutral, the Russian government had just been overthrown, and there was a good chance the German divisions that were grinding away in Poland would be freed to come west against the British and French.

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POLITICS CHATTER: Blaming the G-8 for the Prime Minister’s delusions of grandeur

By Mark Bourrie 

We all make mistakes. That first cigarette. Wearing Speedos when we’re overweight and over 40. Sending 50,000 smutty e-mails from military laptops to married women whose computers are being monitored by the FBI and hoping our wives don’t find out.

But when the world powers make a mistake, it can be a dandy. Take, for instance, the decision by Britain, Germany, Italy, and Japan in 1976 to cave into American and French pressure to accept Canada as a member of what was then the G-6 group of economic powers. (It took another 21 years for the Russians to join the club and make it the G-8.)

Since then, the idea that Canadian prime ministers somehow rank with the president of the United States, the chancellor of Germany and the president of France has become a real problem in Ottawa.

We should face a few facts about Canada. It’s a great country to live in, mainly because we’re a small number of people sitting on a whole lot of gold, oil, natural gas, diamonds, silver, copper, trees and fresh water. Most of our country is rocks, swamps and arctic desert, but we still have enough farm land to pretty much support ourselves.

You’d have to be pretty thick not to be able to make a go as a nation with just 33 million people and half of a continent, even if it’s not the best half.

Our politicians like to take credit for our prosperity. The rest of us can live with that as long as they don’t screw things up too badly or get an over-developed sense of their own importance.

That’s where this G-8 silliness comes in.

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