Politics Chatter

POLITICS CHATTER (U.S. election edition): You’d have to be crazy to want this job

By Mark Bourrie

I pity the fool who wins Tuesday’s presidential election.

Not only because I enjoy stealing Mr. T’s favorite line, but also because I think I understand the place that’s already been carved in history for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.

Because no one can get through the next four years and come out looking good unless they have the intellectual caliber of Franklin Roosevelt, the arm-twisting skills of Lyndon Johnson, and the focus of Abraham Lincoln. Unless I am very mistaken about Romney, neither candidate meets those qualifications.

The US is not only mired in an economic Depression, it has serious structural and systemic problems. The Great Depression of the 1930s was worse but, although the banks failed, the factories still existed. When the economy began to turn around, the factories re-opened. Small businesses saw an influx of cash from workers’ pay envelopes. And all this happened before World War II put the economy into over-drive.

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POLITICS CHATTER: Time to stop messing around and give the NCC a firm mandate

“Why do you hate the NCC?” a radio host once asked me.

I was taken aback. Hate the NCC? It seemed like such a bizarre question. (The rest of the interview was just as strange. By the end of it, I was carefully examining the radio host’s hairline, marveling at how well the surgeons hid the lobotomy scar.)

Why would anyone hate the NCC?  It’s sort of like a local Santa, bringing us canal skating and beaches at Meech Lake, Lac Philippe and Lac La Pêche. It makes us snow slides and provides a venue for every drunk in eastern Ontario and west Quebec to show their stuff on Canada Day.

I don’t hate it. But I think the NCC needs work, or could be radically pruned without any harm at all to the National Capital region and the country.

Let me count the reasons.

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POLITICS CHATTER: He can’t win. The real risk for Justin Trudeau is being constantly measured against his father’s legend

Photography by Jean-Marc Carisse

By Mark Bourrie

So Justin Trudeau didn’t take my advice. This makes me very sad. I gave him the best possible reasons not to run for the Liberal leadership, and now he’s about to toss it in the trash.

I say with renewed vigor and enthusiasm that Justin Trudeau is making a terrible mistake. He’s being goaded on by media people who lust at celebrity, who were brought up in a celebrity-obsessed world and who, quite often, are as one-dimensional and superficial as most celebrities.

And he’s being pushed by a party and its operatives who are looking for a ticket back to power. Many of them would run Satan himself if they thought he could get them 40 seats in Quebec, win back Toronto, Vancouver, southwestern Ontario, and some Prairie seats.

But this is such a bad idea.

Not for Canada. Our government is still run by skilled public servants, and our federation is so decentralized that it will survive pretty much anything. It’s not like we need to worry about our leader launching missiles against China. And the country has nothing to worry about at all if voters choose to leave the Liberals as an opposition party.

Where the risk is — and what no one hyping Trudeau even seems to consider — is the threat to the man himself. It had always been wrong for him to go into politics. There’s simply no way for him to come out ahead.

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MAKING TOUGH CHOICES: Politics Chatter takes a Swiftian approach to the economy

Not amused: This cat shows off his tags, noting that he is not a freeloader. But reading on he agrees that Bourrie’s squirrel idea might have some merit…

These are hard times for many Canadians. And parliamentarians, I believe, are willing to share in the tough choices that Canadians must make until Our Leader and Canada’s New Government are able to steer the economy back to calmer waters.

I suggest one place where they might start is at Parliament Hill itself. For too long, a coven of cats has been freeloading on the taxpayers’ dime in subsidized housing at the edge of the Hill.

The Internet has a solution we can all live with, one that draws on both the plump and juicy cats and the skills of the chefs of the Parliamentary Restaurant. Let’s cook the buggers up:

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POLITICS CHATTER: Don’t do it, Justin! Why Justin Trudeau would be wise to wait one more leadership cycle

He's got charisma and he works hard. But, says Mark Bourrie, Justin Trudeau needs to work on his "intellectual heft" before taking on Stephen Harper. Photography by Jean-Marc Carisse

By Mark Bourrie

There are hundreds of Liberal fixers and lobbyists who think the clock can be turned back to that winter day in 1980 when Pierre Trudeau crushed Joe Clark and returned Ottawa to Liberal normalcy. It was a moment captured in one of Toronto Star cartoonist Duncan MacPherson’s greatest pieces, showing Trudeau walking into 24 Sussex, glancing at Clark and telling one of his staffers to “pay the babysitter.”

The Liberals need a leader. They still haven’t got past the idea that they can find a star who will give the party an instant brand. The idea of electing a bright unknown with great organizational skills — like, say, a Stephen Harper — is repellant to them. “Rebuilding,” it seems, means recruiting someone with name recognition and good looks.

Astronauts, smart women lawyers and other upstarts need not apply.

At least one pundit, John Ivison of the National Post, is saying with certainty that Justin’s going for it.

Here are Justin’s plusses:

He’s supposed to be a really nice guy. He puts a lot of energy into raising his young kids in as normal a home as possible, given the circumstances. He appears to lack the cruelty of his father.

He works hard. Justin Trudeau busts his ass to raise money for his party and to pull in crowds at rallies for lesser lights. His father was always quite lazy in this regard. Once Pierre got control of the Liberal party in 1968, he left the nitty-gritty of fundraising and organizing to pros like Keith Davey. It was the professionalization of the Liberals that smothered its grass roots, leaving it with the problems it has today.

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POLITICS CHATTER: On Joyce Fairbairn, Alzheimer’s, and the human condition

Years ago, my grandfather would fly from Toronto to Thunder Bay once a year to visit my mom and to take his driver’s test. He was over 80 and knew that he couldn’t pass the test if he did it at home. None of us ever thought to tell him he was a menace on the roads. When he became so poorly co-ordinated that the Thunder Bay testers would no longer pass him, my grandfather — then pushing 90 — finally stopped driving.

His quality of life tumbled, he became more dependent on friends and relatives, and his health finally failed. The loss of independence was almost impossible for him to bear.

One of my elderly great-uncles faced similar troubles. He could almost look after himself in his early 80s. Almost. But sometimes he’d forget he had pots on the stove. He’d fall asleep in a chair while smoking. And he’d forget to do basic things like pay bills.

So what did the rest of the family do? Well, we did what millions of other Canadians do in similar circumstances: we tried to make it possible for him to live independently, then, when thing got worse, we suggested he go into a nursing home. But he didn’t want to go until we suggested he do it for the winter, then see what happened.

I knew for a couple of years that Senator Joyce Fairbairn was having problems. I interviewed her in the summer of 2009 for my book on wartime press censorship. She had been close to Tommy Shoyama, the federal mandarin who had been a young Japanese-Canadian newspaper editor during the Second World War. She gave me a few good anecdotes and was generous with her time.

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POLITICS CHATTER: The blame game. Pondering news in an era when North American newspapers are scared of their own shadows

Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie accuses North  North American newspapers of being scared of their own shadows. 

Imagine you worked with a guy – let’s call him Johnny – who took the blame for every mistake made by everyone in your business or office.

The business isn’t making any money? Don’t blame the CEO. Blame Johnny.

The staff’s become moribund and lazy? Blame Johnny. No one’s come up with a new marketing idea in three decades? Johnny will take the blame.

So your business jacks up its prices and makes a lousier product every year? No one gets fired. Just point your thumb over your shoulder at Johnny.

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POLITICS CHATTER: The Harper government’s War on Brains

Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie ponders the direction of the federal public service cuts and wonders whether the stupid will inherit the earth.

A year into the Harper government’s majority, we’re at war. Not just in Afghanistan, where, it seems, our troop pull-out failed to be bellum interruptus. Or in the Arctic, where, yet again and with much fanfare, we’ve unleashed our Inuit militiamen to intimidate the Russians.

We’re at war right here in Ottawa. The battles are being fought in government labs, in libraries, on the floors of slaughterhouses. We’re engaged in a War on Brains and, so far, brains are losing.

The War on Brains was first identified by American social satirist Jim Earl, formerly of the Daily Show and more recently with the now-defunct  Air America radio network. In the States, the War on Brains was fought by the Bush administration against academics who questioned the war in Iraq, studied climate, and challenged the administration’s economic policy.

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INSIDER: Dishing on last night’s Politics and the Pen dinner. Hint: Barbara Amiel rocked it

Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie (author of The Fog of War, hence the invite) dishes on his first visit to last night’s star-studded Politics & the Pen dinner.

I was not the star of the show. Short, fat, bald, middle-aged, unfamous married men rarely are.

Nor were the MCs: David Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, and Gary Doer, Canada’s man in Washington.

Lots of TV recognizables — the lovely Amanda Lang, the owlish Craig Oliver, the stern Chantal Hébert. But they weren’t the stars.

Nor was Cohen Prize winner Richard Gwyn or the three other brilliant writers who competed for the prize and actually showed up.

No. It was Her.

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POLITICS CHATTER: Why the Alberta vote should strike fear into the heart of the Harper government

Contributing editor Mark Bourrie explains the surprise Alberta election result — and why it bodes badly for the federal Tories.

The web is being scrubbed clean of all the commentary about the new Wild Rose majority government and how it signals a sea-change in Canada’s political system. But unfortunately newspapers still come out on paper.

The edition of the Globe and Mail that was sold in Ottawa this morning has “Alberta prepares for change but challenges remain the same” as its main headline. The National Post is even more chock-a-block with “Dewey Defeats Truman” talk. “Unless something astonishing happens, the Wildrose Party will form the next government of Alberta,” Andrew Coyne blusters on the front page, under the headline “Wildrose changed political game.” Says Coyne: “All that remained at time of writing, assuming the polls were not completely off, was whether it would be a minority or majority.”

Inside, under the headline “Tories’ big tent torn open in campaign,” newly-minted kid pundit Jen Gerson is a little more careful and, being on the ground in Alberta, understands that this election was a battle between two very different kinds of conservatism. Her last quote is a guy saying “I’m baffled by it.”

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