Wednesday, December 24, 2008



Rex Murphy, one of CBC’s better talking heads, is a very compelling character. He’s a smart Rhodes Scholar and possesses the gift of the gab of his ancestors. He also has a pair of original asymmetrical eyes, a sober and righteously indignant mien, and a broad Newfi accent. When these unique characteristics are combined with his pedantic and scholarly language, his penchant for satire and irony, and his regular use of obscure quotes from the bard and vignettes from Greek and Roman mythology, he comes across as a morally and intellectually superior odd-ball.

Whether it be on The National on CBC television or on CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup which he hosts every Sunday afternoon, I among many Canadians usually find him to be an amusing and informative guy. His ubiquitous media presence has become as much of a Canadian institution as Hockey Night in Canada. There is no one quite like Murphy in Canadian radio and television and one hopes that his career as a boob tube pundit and radio host lasts for a very long time.

He also writes a weekly column for the Globe and Mail. In my opinion, Murphy is not as good with the pen as he is in front of a camera or microphone. To me his columns too often are pretentious intellectual snobbery and for that reason so boring it is hard to read the stuff to the end. His writings all too frequently display a self-indulgent pedantry seemingly written for the benefit of himself, his Oxonian pals or the gifted few he accepts as his intellectual equals. Nonetheless, he warrants his place on the Globe’s Op-ed page and we can only wish that his quality graced the pages of the hapless Calgary Herald.

In Saturday’s Globe and Mail, Murphy penned what was by and large a good column on the arrival of Michael Ignatieff as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada entitled Grit miracle: Iggy to fish in Tory water.

In the piece, Murphy describes Ignatieff’s strengths and promise and the bizarre sequence of events that expedited his recent rise to power. He noted that Ignatieff had reignited Grit party morale and that Canadians were giving him attention. He applauded the new leader’s wooing of Quebec and observed that his style could do well there. All of which was music to the ears of Liberals throughout the country, myself included.

Murphy saved what he thought was the best for the last. He enthusiastically approved of Ignatieff’s stated intention of giving the west due recognition in his future plans. In his inimitable ornate prose Murphy pointed out that,

“The Liberal Party has long treated Western Canada as some kind of political ultima Thule or if I may maul a familiar phrase from Hamlet, an “undiscovered country from whose bourn no Liberal MP returns.”

The Hamlet part didn’t faze me, - but “ultima Thule” - what the hell was that supposed to mean? For those of us of the great unwashed who have never been invited to Murphy’s salon to engage in the scholarly and rigorous intellectual discourse practiced among his lofty peers, this is what the on-line dictionary tells us it means:

The northernmost region of the habitable world as thought of by ancient geographers.
A distant territory or destination.
A remote goal or ideal: “the ultima Thule of technology, the ne plus ultra . . . the answer to every earthly problem” (John Gould).

What he is saying I suppose is but another wrinkle on the old saws about Liberals in the west being protected by the game laws, or having their conventions in telephone booths. They are gross exaggerations.

Let’s consider British Columbia. Gordon Campbell leads a Liberal government in British Columbia. His former finance minister is Carole Taylor, a former CBC Chairperson. Taylor is married to a former Liberal MP during the Trudeau years and former Vancouver Mayor, Art Phillips. Campbell was elected leader and then Premier after Gordon Wilson had led the BC Liberals to become a strong Official Opposition, overtaking the now-defunct Social Credit party. Christy Clark, a noted federal and provincial Liberal who is married to famed federal Grit organizer and mover and shaker Mark Merissen, was Campbell’s Deputy Premier. In fact, in the Federal elections between 1980 and 2006 British Columbia Liberal seats jumped from zero to nine.

Even in conservative Alberta, under the leadership of Laurence Decore, the Provincial Liberals won 32 out of 83 seats and received 39% of the vote in the election of 1993. Federal Grits did well enough in Alberta to win 4 seats in 1993 and hold two until the federal election of 2006. Former Edmonton Liberal MP Anne McLellan served with distinction in many portfolios during those years, including a stint as Deputy Prime Minister. And even in its present weakened state, the Provincial Liberal Party boasts five Liberal MLA’s in Calgary, of all places.

Murphy also dragged out the worn and bedraggled National Energy Program for one more tired turn in front of the footlights. According to Murphy, “That policy burned the house of Liberalism in the West to the ground.” Hardly. Save for a few scattered and muffled voices, neither British Columbia, Saskatchewan, nor Manitoba cared a whit about the NEP. The bellyaching came from Alberta.

Murphy also tells us that “Mr. Ignatieff is the first Liberal leader I’ve heard since the dread days of the NEP to make clear acknowledgment of the resentments and mischiefs it inspired.” Perhaps Murphy should listen more and pontificate less. Had he been listening he would have known that every federal Liberal leader since John Turner has been groveling their NEP mea culpas to the people out here at every opportunity. At Alberta federal Liberal fundraising dinners addressed by visiting Liberal MP guest speakers, it is as common as the plates of rubber chicken on the tables. It is as common as Murphy sporting his Oxonian pedigree with his obscure but weighty Shakespeare and Latin quotations. And as to the real impact of the NEP I urge once again that everyone read:

Let me conclude by wishing all of my readers of all political or other persuasions a Happy Holiday Season and a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Yesterday’s Calgary Herald carried more flatulence from the pen of the editor of the editorial page, Ms. Licia Corbella. Money must be awfully tight at that failing broadsheet these days. There seems to be precious little of it available for talented writers to ply their skills on the editorial page. Why else would Corbella’s turgid Conservative flim-flam appear so frequently?

As might be expected, she takes full advantage of her lofty position in the hierarchy of that soon-to-be relic of a bygone kinder and gentler era – her pieces usually appear smack-dab in the middle of the editorial page. Thus, try as one may, there is just no way to avoid them short of skipping the page or cancelling one’s subscription. Understandably, both of those options are increasingly being taken up by Herald readers.

The title of her piece is “Is Ignatieff the Conservatives’s Grinch?” It can be read here:

Her introduction centered around a comment made by her eleven year-old son. According to her, the young lad said to her, “Doesn’t this guy look like the Grinch?” The guy the little fellow was referring to was new Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. For one of her kids to make that observation speaks volumes about daily conversation around her family dinner table. Corbella's predictable reaction was, “Ha! How perceptive!,” no doubt believing that the kid, like his mother, was just a chip off the old Black. See: Sunday, March 09, 2008

Warming to her Yuletide analogy, Corbella continued with the tiresome pejorative blather she always reserves for Liberals. She remarked that with Iggy’s “bushy eyebrows and sly grin [he] looked like he had stolen something . . . ” and that in fact “he had just snatched the leadership” from his rivals and “the Liberal grassroots as well.” She called the move “furtive” and took the opportunity to remark that no “heavy hitters” were interested in the job and that his only rival Bob Rae had been a “disaster” as Premier of Ontario.

Well, to set the record straight – once again in response to one of Corbella's gross columns – Iggy does not look like a Grinch and neither did he steal anything from anybody. The leadership was bestowed upon him by the party and only a handful of Grits across Canada were critical of the move.

The leadership process was sped up as a result of a justifiable lack of trust among all Liberals in Stephen Harper. They were rightly convinced that if Harper tried to kill off the opposition by shutting down its source of funds, he would call an election during their leadership campaign. Thus they had to act fast, and that is exactly what they did. As a result of the party's decision to quickly confer the leadership upon Ignatieff, the Liberals are now more united than at any other time in this decade.

As for there being no heavyweights who pursued the Liberal crown, that too is false. Both Ignatieff and Rae make each and every Conservative party jackal who will feed on Harper’s carcass at his next misstep look like, well, the lightweight jackals that they are. Both Ignatieff and Rae are great Canadians whose positive contributions to this country and society generally make Harper and his likely successors look like freeloaders.

Being the Conservative flak that she is, Corbella then commented extensively on perceived inconsistencies in Ignatieff’s messaging during the 2006 leadership race. She ignores the fact that Harper’s past utterances, apart from being scary, makes Ignatieff look and sound like the model of consistency. See: Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Altogether another sorry contribution from the editorial pages of a once proud newspaper. CanWest Global common stock closed yesterday at $ 0.507 Cents.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Yesterday at about 11 AM I received a call at home from Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid. He wished to interview me along with a few other Liberals about Michael Ignatieff becoming the new leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. I have known Don for almost thirty years and have followed his career as a reporter and columnist for all of that time. Don is a professional. He has interviewed me many times, always with accuracy and fairness. He is a credit to his profession.

We spoke for the better part of a half hour on the impact of Ignatieff’s elevation to the party leadership. I voiced my agreement that with the coming of Ignatieff longstanding divisions within the party were healed and that it would quickly revitalize itself from Victoria to St. John’s. I also opined that the coming of Ignatieff meant that Harper’s days as Prime Minister and Conservative leader were now numbered.

Don’s excellent and objective piece on the Ignatieff succession appeared in this morning’s Herald. See:

My astonishment of course is that nowhere in Braid’s piece did my name appear. Was I really bad copy during the interview? Was it conducted too early in the morning? Did my erudite wit fail me? Why was I left on the Herald’s cutting-room floor? What about my crumbling self-esteem! Why was I excluded?

I have been a loyal and faithful subscriber to the paper all of my adult years, following in the footsteps of my family before me. Surely there has been no greater supporter and booster of the Herald’s excellent journalistic product over the years. Why, just look at some of my recent blogs, in which the Herald has played a front and center role:










Alas, did Braid conclude that I was not up to my usual copy standards? Or do the Herald’s editors believe that “he who lives by the pen, shall die by the pen - or scissors?” Probably I shall never know.

But I do recommend the above blogs to those readers who wish to confirm my continued admiration for that great publication.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


In this morning National Post columnist Don Martin shed crocodile tears over the departure of Stephane Dion as leader of the Liberal Party. See:

He found multiple tragedies of Shakespearean proportions in Dion’s political career and the manner and timing of his leaving the center stage of national politics.

Ah, but as the radio commentator Paul Harvey might say, you haven’t heard ‘the rest of the story.’

Before becoming national leader of the Liberal Party, Dion ate separatists for breakfast. He publicly and rationally beat up on the likes of Lucien Bouchard, Jacques Parizeau and Bernard Landry to the point where much of the Quebec population thought he was too mean to them. In the process Dion gave Canada the ‘Clarity Act,’ which forever demolishes any argument that Quebec can leave Canada as a result of a small victory in a referendum on a confusing question. Canada had been through the wringer in two such referendums precipitated by firebrand separatists in Quebec. The Clarity Act brought a stop to such foolishness. As a result, the separatist threat has subsided and Canadians feel far more confident about the unity of the country. By any standard, this stands as one of the great contributions to Canadian unity in the history of the country.

In addition to his masterful accomplishment on national unity, Dion was the first leader of a major political party in Canada to focus on the environment as an issue of the greatest importance and deserving of the utmost priority. This was another historic accomplishment in Dion's fine political career and another major part of his legacy.

Martin also attempts to coin a new phrase in Canadian political lexicon – “Doing a Dion.” According to Martin, “Doing a Dion” means “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

I submit that “Doing a Dion” will mean something much different in Canadian political lexicon.
“Doing a Dion” will come to mean, “Recognizing the autocrat and stopping him in his tracks." This is what Dion did to Prime Minister Harper. He recognized Harper the autocrat. He banded together with the NDP and the Bloc – the only thing he could do in the circumstances – threatened a coalition, and stopped the autocrat in his tracks. This is another great component to Dion's legacy and is likely to enhance in significance in the years ahead.

It begs the question, what will “Doing a Don Martin” mean historically? It will mean the same thing as “Doing a Joe Clark” and “Doing a Stephen Harper.” It means not being good at math. It means confusing the terms “majority” and “minority.” It means not being able to count, or figure out percentages. It means not being able to identify what is over 50% or under 50%.

If you wish proof of the above proposition, read once again this very prescient piece:

Monday, December 08, 2008


Political events in Ottawa are moving so swiftly that even political junkies can’t keep up. Just in the past few days we have witnessed the rise of a coalition movement, bare-knuckled political acrimony in the House of Commons and on the airwaves, direct emotional appeals to the country by national political leaders, demonstrations across the country for both sides, an unprecedented granting of a prorogation by the Governor – General to avoid a government defeat, and now, what appears to be a sped-up leadership resolution for the Liberals. All in two weeks. And all
because of Stephen Harper, and all because he can’t be trusted.

We need not review the reasons why all of the above is true. All of them have been reported, blogged, discussed in columns, talked about by television's talking heads, and bandied about our daily lives ad nauseum.

There was a time not long ago that Canadian political parties and their leaders, of all stripes in whatever jurisdiction or region, operated on a civilized basis. Politics in Canada had its own Marquis of Queensbury/Geneva Convention rules. Oh, there was partisanship and a competitive spirit to get this edge or that on an issue, or to try for an uptick in the polls with some decision or policy. There were uncomplimentary accusations hurled across the House or the airwaves by the contestants from time to time. Political discourse could get hot and votes of confidence could happen quickly which could end a government, and its leader’s career. But there were rules. There were no surprise attacks during leadership campaigns. There were no television attack ads when there wasn't any election going on. There was no effort to starve opposition parties when money was scarce. There was no kicking an opponent when he was down.

Until recently party behaviour in Canada most always fell short of meanness and bullying and wanting to do your opponents in forever. There was too much respect for our democratic institutions for that, even amongst vigorous partisans. Amid spirited and sometimes disrespectful debate, pre-Harper political contestants fell short of trampling their opponents into oblivion. There was a respect for political parties and a respect for democracy and a respect for fair play. There were some things that were over the line. It was always a matter of judgment as to what they were, but the contestants intuitively knew when they were nearing the line and almost always pulled back.

That changed with Stephen Harper. Harper's infamous attack ads, his accusations that the Liberal Prime Minister supported child pornography, his smearing a Liberal Sikh MP in the House, his relishing the scene of Liberals grovel to refrain from participating in confidence votes to avoid an election which they could ill-afford are just a few of his actions that were directed at changing the rules of the game. The list is extensive and well known.

And when Harper saw his chance to destroy the opposition by cutting off its money, he took it. To stop his abuse - and that is what it was, abuse – of the democratic process, the opposition did the only thing it could to try to bring him into line, they formed a perfectly legitimate and democratic coalition movement. The uproar about the Bloc agreeing to support the coalition is a red-herring promoted by Conservatives who can’t think beyond their expectations of their very own pork out of the barrel.

What will happen to the coalition between now and when the House convenes next month is anyone’s guess. But the reason it formed should be obvious to everybody. Harper cannot be trusted. He is a dangerous force in Canadian politics and his influence must be curtailed.

The Liberals now believe it is necessary to speed up their leadership process. They are confronted with the reality that Harper would likely take advantage of a longer leadership race by calling an election in the middle of it. It would be entirely consistent with his super-partisan, scorched earth philosophy of government - Destroy your enemies at any cost, even if you have to destroy your institutions. In fact, given his recent over-the-top statements about fighting the inclusion of the Bloc in the coalition, one can conclude he is even prepared to risk the survival of the country to attain his personal political goals.

This is a sad and dangerous time. Harper has got to go!

Friday, December 05, 2008




Yesterday evening I attended a Calgary Christmas party hosted by a financial consulting firm, a couple of whose partners are friends of mine. Given the present political turmoil in Ottawa and the fact that I am known as an unrepentant contrariarian Grit in a sea of Conservatives, I had some trepidation about the event.

On the Conservative side, passions are running high in these parts. A coalition deal with the Bloc and NDP is about as popular in Calgary as a personal appearance at the Petroleum Club by Pierre Trudeau in the early eighties. For all of his efforts to sell the Greenshift plan and now his dalliances with the Socialists and separatists, Stephane Dion is an object of scorn and derision in the cowtown's downtown business establishment. I thought for sure that some of the guests would try to take it out on me, as has happened many times in the past.

I tried to prepare myself for the onslaught that I thought was sure to come by deciding to talk about Stephen Harper whenever the subject of the Liberals in Ottawa was to arise. And boy, did my strategy work! I am here to tell you today, that the members of the business community that I spoke to last night - oilmen, professionals, financial advisors, planners, small business owners, and big business movers and shakers - to a man (or woman), believe that Stephen Harper should be given the boot by the Conservative Party. No kidding! Bringing up Harper's name generated derision, anger, disgust and vituperation, the like of which I had not heard here since the dying days of the Mulroney government. In fact, the anger in the crowd directed at Harper was more palpable than it was at Dion. The mention of Dion at least generated some chortling at his gaffes. There was no laughter at Harper.

In addition, the men and women that I spoke to had 'got it' about Harper. They went after him for his meanness, his bully-boy tactics and his blatant attempt to choke off the opposition. They spoke of him as the one who was mostly responsible for the parliamentary crisis, and that he had squandered his good will and his strong minority for all time to come.

And remarkably, each had settled upon the same conclusion for the Conservatives, namely, that Harper should be dumped and replaced by Jim Prentice as leader with all due haste, after which they predicted everything would settle down. For further evidence of hostility towards Harper, see:

Believe me, that event was as good a snapshot of opinion in Calgary's downtown business community as any as I've attended. Calgary remains a dogmatic conservative city and the voting habits of its people in federal elections are not likely to change soon. But they 'get it' about Harper.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Coming soon to the Conservative Caucus?

Hot off the Press
Conservative propagandist Bourque Newswatch announced today that conservative talk-show host Lowell Green of Ottawa radio station CFRA has reported that "If coalition forms gvt, Tory MPs may resign en masse ..."

My God, what's next for the beleaguered Conservative caucus? Kool-Ade?