Articles Tagged ‘Michael Ignatieff’

ELECTION CHATTER (DAY 35): How the game has changed

Day 35: In which contributing editor Mark Bourrie tells it like it is — and urges you to give some serious thought to Monday’s vote.

So, it’s all over but the tears and balloons.

And my days as an election blogger have come to an end.

This election went from being a tedious gambit by Stephen Harper to make a bid for a majority government to become the most important election since 1917. In that election, English Canadians supported the military draft while Québécois opposed it. The Union Government, primarily Conservative, of Sir Robert Borden, was elected, and Conservatives were subsequently shut out of Quebec for 40 years.

Some people might argue this election has been even more of an earth-mover. No matter whether the NDP support in the polls translates into real votes and House of Commons seats on election day, the people of Canada have made it very clear that they are not happy.

They’re not thrilled with the Harper Government and its contempt for Parliament, the media, and other institutions that act as the eyes and ears, and sometimes the voices, of Canadians.

Nor are they happy with packaged politicians who pitch “Family Packs” of vacuous promises that sound like deals at fast food restaurants — probably because the same wizards who do the ads for chicken joints also sell politicians as commodities.

In Quebec, people seem to like their social programs, but are sick of sending 50 obstructionists to Ottawa in every election. While it’s fun at first, throwing rocks at windows turns into work after a while.

So a lot of people — not a majority, probably not even a parliamentary minority — have settled on Jack Layton and the NDP.

I could tell people dozens of reasons why this is a bad idea. Unfortunately, I can’t give them any reasons why they should vote for Stephen Harper or Michael Ignatieff.

Harper is a strange man, and not in the “fun at parties” kind of way. He’s a narcissist, someone with not the slightest bit of embarrassment for rebranding the government after himself or hanging walls of photographs of himself in the Government lobby of the House of Commons.

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ELECTION CHATTER (DAY 34): Putting it all into context

Day 34: In which Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie puts this election into context, explaining why it went from being a sleeper to the most important election in more than 100

On March 25, the three opposition parties in Canada’s House of Commons voted no-confidence in the government of Stephen Harper, and Canada was plunged into its fourth federal election in seven years.

All of the national parties — the Conservatives, the New Democrats, and the Liberals — went into the campaign hoping to break a deadlock in Canadian politics that began in 2004, when support for the Liberals collapsed in the wake of the Sponsorship Scandal.

We’ve had seven years of minority government. Usually, that means fairly good government. For people like Stephen Harper, who don’t respect the views or intelligence of their political rivals, this has meant frustration.

For more than a century, the Liberals had been Canada’s “natural governing party”. The Liberals are, in fact, one of the most successful political parties in the world. From 1887 until 2004, every leader of the federal Liberal Party had served at least one term as Prime Minister.

The Conservatives have been Canada’s minority party since they imposed the military draft in World War I. The New Democratic Party, a social democratic movement that was loosely based on the British Labour Party, never placed better than third. In recent years, all it could hope for was to play “kingmaker” in a hung parliament.

When this campaign began, little change was expected. The Conservatives hoped to win a majority the House of Commons. The Liberals believed they had a serious chance to win the most seats and form a minority government. Another scenario saw them combining with the opposition parties to form a coalition government — either a formal one, with cabinet ministers from both the Liberal and New Democratic parties, or an informal one in which all of the ministries were in Liberal hands but the party kept NDP support by adopting some of their policies.

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ELECTION CHATTER (DAY 32): Jack Layton plays with fire in Quebec — and the whole country could get burned

Day 32: In which Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie takes Jack Layton to task for messing with the Quebec nationalism

Bring on the ducks.

I’m ready. I’ll take off my glasses and let them get to work. Because I would rather have my eyes pecked out by ducks than live through another round of constitutional bickering.

Yet that’s what Happy Jack Layton is promising. Anything to get votes in Quebec. We’ve already seen lots of talk from Layton and his candidates of “Quebec and Canada.” That’s the way the Bloc talks, yet NDP candidate Nycole Turmel, former head of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, used that loaded phrase last weekend at a Dipper rally in Gatineau.

What is an NDP breakthrough in Quebec worth? Mind-numbing rounds of constitutional debates, discussions, and referenda, with all of the uncertainty they’d bring? The badly-handled Meech Lake-Charlottetown negotiations directly engendered the Bloc Québécois and a referendum that almost cost us the country. Yeah, Jack, let’s do that again.

Jack may be popular with the press and with voters who don’t know him, but with Layton, it’s always about Jack. Even when he’s celebrating the Canadian men’s hockey team’s Olympic gold.

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ELECTION CHATTER (DAY 26): Is the national media lying to you?

Day 26: In which Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie despairs for democracy — and accuses the national media of playing partisan games

I just survived a virus called System Tool.

It’s a nasty thing. I had it at Christmas, too. System Tool infects your computer’s hard drive. It pretends to be something useful, a virus scan software. But instead of sweeping your computer for viruses, it hijacks your computer and ruins it.

You can try to buy off the software by sending your credit card info to the Russian mafia or the Hong Kong triads or whoever created System Tool. But you won’t get your computer back. That’s why, for the past 10 maddening days, I’ve been using the kids’ laptop.

System Tool is not the only thing around that looks like something useful but is, in fact, evil. We’re in the middle of the most dishonest and dirty election campaign I’ve seen, and there are so many system tools infecting democracy that I don’t think we’ll be able to wipe our hard drives and get rid of them.

Take the pollsters. I don’t care about their results. Lazy journalists rely on these system tools to drive news coverage. Pollsters are cheap, much less expensive than journalistic boots on the ground. We don’t need them. This isn’t a racetrack, and a vote is not a bet on a winner. We need honest, detailed examination and discussion of the people seeking office and insightful examinations of their policies.

“War rooms” are also system tools. Ever since the movie The War Room came out after Bill Clinton’s first win in 1992, every politically-inclined dweeb who couldn’t get a date without the help of a $100 bill fancies himself a James Carville.

By their very nature, war rooms are filled with liars and manipulators. Yet the media treat these people like great political play-yahhhs, gurus of spin. The most outrageous liars and political saboteurs are praised for their cleverness. Richard Nixon’s Dirty Tricksters ended up in jail. Ours get regular spots on TV and radio political panels.

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ELECTION CHATTER (DAY 19): Who stole Iggy’s brain?

Day 19: In which Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie asks ‘Who stole Iggy’s brain?’

There’s a story going around that Michael Ignatieff was glad-handing in a small-town café in Manitoba when a guy at the coffee counter refused to shake the candidate’s hand. Instead, the man turned on his heels and walked away.

There aren’t many times in our lives when we get the chance to flip off a person who has a respectable shot at being prime minister (although at least one PM has flipped the bird to Canadians). Probably most of us wouldn’t do it, anyway, simply because our moms brought us up better.

I wonder why some rube in the ass end of Nowhere, Manitoba, thinks so poorly of Michael Ignatieff that he’d snub the Liberal leader. No one (other than me, with my remarks about the Undead and vague hints that Iggy travels with a coffin) has suggested Michael Ignatieff is a particularly evil man. Even his political enemies can’t come up with much worse than “opportunistic.”

Yet the idea has sunk in that somehow Michael Ignatieff is unfit to be prime minister. It is a textbook case of branding (on the part of the Tories) and failure to launch (on the part of the Liberals).

Let’s look at some CVs. Ignatieff has a gold-plated education, culminating with a Harvard PhD. He’s never been a professional politician or hanger-on. Instead, he was a BCC war correspondent, author of prize-winning books (fiction and non-fiction), and head of a prestigious department at his university.

He could have stayed put where he was, probably grossing $500K a year, or come back home to head one of the better Canadian universities at twice that amount.

Compare him to Stephen Harper, a professional politician who started off as a flunky to a backbench Tory MP during the Mulroney years, then jumped to Preston Manning. He earned a master’s degree at the University of Calgary but it was never published, nor was it even turned into an academic paper. Other than a few years as a lobbyist for the mysterious National Citizen’s Coalition, he’s either been a pol or a hanger-on.

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ELECTION CHATTER (DAY 18): Mark Bourrie joins Michael Ignatieff in kicking drunken sailors when they’re down

Day 18: In which Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie joins Michael Ignatieff in kicking drunken sailors when they’re down

I knew when I heard Michael Ignatieff say it that somewhere, someone would take offense.

“I’m not going to surrender the economy to this guy (Stephen Harper),” Ignatieff said on CTV’s Question Period this past weekend. “He’s been spending like a drunken sailor.”

Yes. The dreaded drunken sailor lobby. Because, like cotton pickers, who Ignatieff deliberately provoked and offended not more than two months ago, there had to be a lobby for pissed-up folk who go down to the sea in ships.

There just had to be. This is Canada.

It only took two days for the first rumblings from the marine hinterland. A poor Navy pensioner called Lowell Green’s Ottawa talk show in a state of outrage that was quite impressive, considering he was probably not applying for government funding for his cause.

“Ignatieff has insulted all the men and women who have served in the Armed Forces,” the crusty caller spat out, “especially people in the Navy.”

Well, there ya go. For all we know, Ignatieff holds secret Sunday drinking nights for old Kriegmariners, so the U-boaters can trade yucks about the torpedoing of the Caribou and the Esquimalt.

They might laugh, too, about Canada’s fleet of used British diesel subs. How long have we had those lethal old lemons? And now it’s finally come out that the torpedoes that we have in storage don’t fit. I can just see the old Nazis blowing schnapps out their noses over that.

I could easily defend Ignatieff, drawing on my extensive personal experience with drunken sailors.

There was that old great uncle of mine who rolled back into Midland just before Christmas every year, after another season on the iron boats that ran from Sept Isle to Cleveland. He would fill my grandfather’s shed with rye and the two of them would stay hammered until Easter.

(Perhaps he doesn’t qualify because he was smart enough to buy in bulk.)

Then there were the lads I drank with at a frightening establishment named Uncle Sam’s on the main drag of Fort William. A young schoolteacher friend of mine took me there to meet his brother and friends. This turned out to be a very bad idea.

We went in just after noon. These young fellas had just arrived by lake freighter. And they made it very, very, very clear that we were expected to stay until the bar closed, which, back in the Paleozoic, was at the merciful hour of 1 a.m.

The air was filled with pot smoke and the tables were covered with shells of draft and glasses of rye with various kinds of mix. I am no drinker, and the afternoon and evening were an ordeal, an exercise in looking like I was drinking but keeping the volume down, while buying my share of rounds and engaging in other diplomatic maneuvering that would make Henry Kissinger proud.

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ELECTION CHATTER (DAY 12): Analyzing Michael Ignatieff’s Quebec problem (a.k.a. André Forbes)

Day 12: Analyzing Michael Ignatieff’s Quebec problem (a.k.a. ex-Liberal candidate André Forbes)

I spent last weekend in Quebec City. It was nice to see some cheery French Canadians for a change, after so many weeks working on Parliament Hill.

I was not the only tourist in the Distinct Society. The Ignatieff campaign is in Quebec, hunting for votes in ridings that used to be owned by Pierre Trudeau and the Liberals.

I accidentally did an advance run of Ignatieff’s two-day campaign route, travelling a full circle around the St. Lawrence Valley from Pointe-Claire through the Eastern Townships, Drummondville, Quebec City, Trois-Rivières, and back to Montreal. The countryside was still locked in winter, with a foot of snow on the Plains of Abraham and dirty ice piles stashed behind the stone buildings of Old Quebec.

From what I saw and heard, Ignatieff has a long way to go if he hopes to win in that province. Most people seem to be ignoring the election. If they do put up signs, they’re for Bloc candidates in the countryside and Conservatives within the walls of Quebec City and in the ugly suburbs that surround it.

Ignatieff is a tough sell on a good day. He is, indeed, bicultural: in English Canada, some people run for their mallets and wooden heart stakes when they see the Count. In Quebec, he evokes cultural memories of the loup garou, and his staff has a hard time denying Ignatieff flinches every time he passes a roadside shrine.

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ELECTION CHATTER (DAY 10): Tory attack ads, party leaders’ personalities, and pot laws

Day 10: In which Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie dissects Tory attack ads, compliments two party leaders on their engaging personalities, and opines on pot laws.

I could just see the attack ads the Tories could launch against me.

“Mark Bourrie. He didn’t come to Ottawa for you.”

And it’s true. I doubt I’ve ever done much for you, really. I’ve written a few cheques to my favorite charities, but, unless you’re a street person or an alcoholic, I’ve probably never lifted a finger to help you. Sorry about that, but, as the guy in the chair says: “That’s just the way she goes.”*


“Mark Bourrie. He claims to have finished college, but how can you trust a guy who failed Grade 11 physics. Twice.”

Guilty again. Yup, it left me narcoleptic the first time. Second go-round was worse than the first. My apologies to any physicists out there, but dropping ice cubes into beakers of hot boiling water, then noting the fact that the water cooled down, seemed like a waste of time.

But years later when I read about the workings of the uranium and plutonium atomic bombs, no one had to explain that twice. I often show my students how to make a simple gun-type Hiroshima bomb in a little two-minute lecture. All of a sudden, a class of bored 18-year-olds perks right up. Go figure.

“Mark Bourrie. He says he believes in law and order,
but he has smoked pot.”

Sure have. Not for about 30 years, but I smoked lots of weed. May account for my trouble with physics. My friends will also remind me that I bought much less than I smoked. Coming from a family that was, in earlier generations, thick with alcoholics, I decided a long time ago that I preferred the company of potheads to drunks.

I even wrote a book explaining how we turned a non-problem into a multi-billion-dollar trough for the police and prison industries and made drug dealers rich. How much of a non-problem was it? It was so unbad that Canadian officials banned pot in 1923, forgot they did it, and Parliament banned it again in 1937. That was the basis of my master’s thesis, which was published as the now-remaindered pro-pot tract, Hemp.

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ELECTION CHATTER (Day 2): Is it more important that a candidate be smart or that he remember your name? Discuss.

DAY 2: Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie says candidates have to be smart — and remember his name

Franklin Roosevelt had it. John Turner has it. So does Jim Watson.

I don’t have it. You probably don’t, either. And if those of us who don’t have it really want it, we can’t get it.

There’s no name for it, but it’s a very valuable thing. It’s the ability to remember names and people — forever. I’m a bit young to have known Franklin Roosevelt, but those who saw him from time to time knew that FDR could resume a conversation that had begun years before. He remembered the names of everyone he met and could point out near-strangers in a room and call out their names.

Turner and Watson have this skill. With Mayor Jim, the gift is astounding. I saw him about once every two years since his last term as mayor, yet he remembers me and our previous conversations, our mutual friends, and other stuff, as though he actually cares.

I have no illusions that I am particularly special, or that I am more important or memorable than the thousands upon thousands of developers, campaign workers, lobbyists, city staffers, city hall reporters, family, friends and neighbours of Jim Watson.

So I chalk it up to The Gift and look on with envy. Introduce me to strangers at a party, and, like most people, I’ll have to struggle to remember their names, and I’ll probably fail. That’s why God invented business cards.

Caring is a big deal in politics. No matter what happens in this campaign, it will be hard for me not to vote for Paul Dewar because he came up to me and asked how my six-year-old daughter was doing after she crushed her finger in a steel gymnasium door last year. His wife, Julia, who teaches at my little girl’s school, told Paul about it.

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ELECTION CHATTER (Day 1): Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie somehow works groundhogs into his election blog series

DAY 1: Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie launches his election campaign blog by pondering insanity, groundhogs, and other uncertainties on the campaign trail.

Back in the early 1970s, psychiatrists at what was then called the Ontario Hospital for the Criminally Insane came up with a great idea to cure psychopaths and serial killers. They would crowd them into a small room, prevent them from leaving, and force them to learn co-operation and empathy. For 100 days, they would be cut off from visitors, mail, radio, TV, newspapers. They were not allowed to smoke cigarettes. The lack of physical space was supposed cause them to make small concessions to each other. They would learn empathy. But the Hundred Day Hate-In was a failure. Rather than communicate with each other and change their ways, the inmates spent their time in isolation looking out the window, watching groundhogs frolic in the green fields of Penetanguishene.

Imagine being locked for 37 days in a steel tube with Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatieff, or Jack Layton, plus their handlers and a bunch of reporters. Certainly, there’s a psychiatry thesis in there somewhere. It may not be 100 days, but the potential for crazy-making must be about the same. And, as most of us know, there are no groundhogs at 40,000 feet.

That’s why anything can happen in a campaign. Canadians always say they don’t want an election. Unfortunately, we cannot export our ballots to Egyptians and Yemenis, who have faced tanks to win the right to vote. Nor, yet, have we outsourced our politics to Calcutta or Xinjiang. So we are stuck with elections and the strangeness they create. Serious issues will be reduced to slogans. The workings of a $250-billion-a-year government will be explained in platitudes. Strangers will come to your door. People in very expensive suits will say how worried they are about your job.

None of them will take your kid to the dentist, although Jack Layton would probably do it if his hip didn’t hurt so much. As for your laundry, you’d probably have to explain the workings of the machine to Michael Ignatieff. You could count on Stephen Harper to feed your cat, when he’s in town. The guy loading your garden shed onto a flatbed truck with Quebec plates is Gilles Duceppe.

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