Politics Chatter

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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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