Tuesday, December 26, 2006

“This was an abusive relationship and I’m glad it’s over”

A quote from recently-jettisoned Hydro One CEO Tom Parkinson, from a Tom Adams-penned piece in the December 21st National Post. It bears reading if you missed it. Adams’s thesis is that Parkinson did a good job, with measurable results. Parkinson’s expenses detailed in the recent Provincial Auditor’s report were in fact legitimate office expenses; others were part of his compensation package and properly approved. Adams argues that the real reason the McGuinty government showed Parkinson the door (and paid the $3-million severance to which he was contractually entitled) is that Parkinson was too critical of government interference at Hydro One. Some excerpts:

Parkinson had sought to control bloated industry-wide pay scales left over from Ontario Hydro. In 2005 Parkinson, challenged the inflated compensation demands of Hydro One’s management union. With his board’s support, Parkinson drew his line - existing entitlements would remain but new staff would only get market rates. Parkinson’s prepared so well for the negotiations that when the union struck for 105 days and consumer demands hit records, the lights stayed on. Unable to take the heat as the strike worn on, Premier Dalton McGuinty caved to the union, thereby saddling consumers with excess costs more than $100-million per year.

In March, speaking to a trade association, Parkinson let fly. Government had mired critical projects in duplicated bureaucracy and indecision. New transmission to accommodate the government’s nuclear and wind power purchases in Bruce area are so stalled that massive amounts of power, already paid for, will stay locked in and wasted.

One option the government did not have was firing Parkinson for cause. When he took the helm, he refocused the company on its core wires business. As a result, Hydro’s performance is way up. Serious accidents dropped from 95 to 68 per year. High-voltage customer satisfaction more than doubled to 91% in 2006. Interruptions at key delivery points dropped from 0.8 to 0.6 events per year. The grid around Toronto was reconfigured on time and budget, including a completely new high-voltage transformer station. Hydro One finally got around to cleaning up dangerously overgrown rural lines neglected by the old Ontario Hydro. A new Grid Control Centre was completed in Barrie on time and budget in 2004. Two months ago, it was certified by the continental power reliability regulator as best in class in North America. Hydro One’s credit rating also improved; progress that will directly save consumers tens of millions.

John Tory came closest to the truth, demanding to know why $3-million in severance was paid since the government claims that Parkinson resigned.

The government’s claim of resignation is a deliberate half truth. Hydro One’s board of directors remained united in their support for their embattled CEO to the end. On Dec. 7, under direct political pressure and Question Period in high rant, Hydro One’s board held an emergency meeting. All in attendance realized the board member’s jobs were at risk.

A deal was stuck. In a tacit admission that there never was cause for firing, the government accepted the contractual severance in return for a resignation. To make its views clear, the board issued a public statement announcing Parkinson’s departure, heaping praise on his contribution.

Parkinson also accepted the deal. “I had no effective alternative. This was an abusive relationship and I’m glad it’s over,” he said in an interview. “This was about commercial compensation in a business that is about to lose the commercial mandate and become a Crown corporation. The writing is on the wall for others.”

What can we expect? Parkinson again. “H1 is too complex, too valuable and too important to the Ontario economy to be in government hands. Career politicians and mediocre ex-CEOs are not up to the complex challenge of running companies like these. The price of chronic government interference is enormous.”

Monday, December 18, 2006

Shades of Crap

I finally had the stomach to sit through “Shades of Black,” the CTV take on the life and pre-trials of Conrad Black that aired two weeks ago. As I feared, it was a clumsy pastiche of well-known anecdotes from Black’s life and career. Black’s longtime business partner, David Radler, was portrayed as a schlemiel straight out of Flatbush. Adding insult to bad writing was the wholly implausible subplot/device involving the Jason Priestley character: a “reporter” to whom Black grants an interview.

But what really irritated me were the funhouse details that compounded the pinball-machine narrative: The fact that the foyer of Black’s childhood home appeared eerily similar to his current Bridle Path home, down to the unusual green paint colour. The patently laughable notion that Lady Black would receive the reporter – whom she scarcely knew and for whom she felt obvious disdain – while reclining on a chaise lounge, undergoing a pedicure, attired in a short negligée. The truly amazing coincidence that every single character who happened to be consuming spirits – no matter the decade or continent – used glassware of the exact same crystal pattern, a low-priced old Cristal d’Arques style that was widely available at such proletarian outlets as Eaton’s and the Bay.

It is an embarrassing production at every level. I have not been able to track down any information on how it fared in the ratings, but I would be surprised if it passed Toronto Sun TV columnist Bill Brioux’s “Brampton Test:” i.e., any show that garners fewer viewers than the population of Brampton (currently 460,000), is a failure.

For a lengthier but equally negative review, I recommend Mark Steyn's in Macleans.

Full disclosure: when I ran for OPCCA president in 1987, one of Black’s companies contributed to my campaign.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The National’s “Road” leads to CFB Trenton, Edmonton and Petawawa

Props to CBC’s The National for doing “Road Stories” segments this week from Canadian Forces bases around the country, namely Trenton, Edmonton and Petawawa. Chief Correspondent Peter Mansbridge travelled to and broadcast from the bases.

The National does not have any related web features up at their website at the moment, but last night’s broadcast from CFB Petawawa can be viewed online here.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Annan unwittingly indicts himself

But his Bush-bash diversion gets more play

I couldn’t believe my ears last night when CBC's "The National" played a clip from the farewell address of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in which he says:

. . . respect for national sovereignty can no longer be used as a shield by governments intent on massacring their own people, or as an excuse for the rest of us to do nothing when such heinous crimes are committed.

But, as [Harry] Truman said, “If we should pay merely lip service to inspiring ideals, and later do violence to simple justice, we would draw down upon us the bitter wrath of generations yet unborn.”

At first I thought he was talking about Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and more specifically the Iraqis Hussein tortured and murdered, and all the UN resolutions he violated. But no, Annan was talking about the UN’s own failure on Darfur:

And when I look at the murder, rape and starvation to which the people of Darfur are being subjected, I fear that we have not got far beyond “lip service.”

Never mind. Annan was only admitting to one failing, not the fact that the UN under his watch has become even more of a talking shop that mouths pious platitudes and high ideals, while doing little to put those ideals into action. It could argued that it has allowed opposite ideals to advance (viz: North Korea, Iran).

But despite the fact that the US and its allies stopped the lip service and delivered simple justice to Saddam Hussein, Annan went on to take what he must have known would be a well-reported slap at President Bush:

The U.S. has given the world an example of a democracy in which everyone, including the most powerful, is subject to legal restraint. Its current moment of world supremacy gives it a priceless opportunity to entrench the same principles at the global level.

As Harry Truman said, “We all have to recognize, no matter how great our strength, that we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please.”

Sadly, many media outlets fell for Kofi’s diversionary tactic and gave airtime to his inference that the US does what it pleases (“If only!” some of us might say), while downplaying the UN’s failure to prevent tyrants and terrorists from doing what they please.

Also recommended:

Say goodnight, Kofi Annan” by Paul Schneidereit in the Halifax Chronicle Herald (hat tip: National Newswatch)

Claudia Rosett at National Review Online, on the speech Annan should have given.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Well, shut my mouth

A few months ago, and several times since, I have expressed the view that “The View” is in a death spiral, due to the blow-up over Star Jones, and the replacing of Meredith Vieira with angry loose cannon Rosie O’Donnell. But ratings don’t lie, and O’Donnell has delivered a ratings boost. From Variety:

Three months in, it's still very apparent that firing Star Jones and replacing her with Rosie O'Donnell was the right ratings move for ABC's "The View."

Daytime strip notched its best-ever November sweeps ratings last month, surging 27% over its year-ago Nielsen numbers. Sweeps period was the first for the show since O'Donnell joined in September.

Overall, "The View" averaged a 1.7 rating in the key demo of women 18-49, making it the No. 4 show in all of daytime.

"The View" also scored record ratings in the total viewer category, attracting an average aud of 3.4 million viewers -- up 15% vs. the same frame in 2005.

Just the other night on Larry King, O’Donnell fan (and Star Jones detractor) Kathy Griffin expressed her awe at the power of the septuagenarian Barbara Walters to make and break careers. Perhaps she is right. I don’t actually watch "The View" anymore. I know that if anything really crazy happens, it will be in Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hill scribes taking gubmint lolly on the side

Ouch. The Harper government continues to break new ground in its dealings with the media, this time by outing longtime Parliament Hill columnists Jeffrey Simpson, Lawrence Martin and Hugh Winsor as having given paid speeches to federal government staffers.

Update: I have been alerted to this story in today’s Ottawa Citizen – in which Liberal MP and former Financial Post editor John Godfrey describes the assembling of the list as a witch hunt – and to this item at CBC Watch.

From the Ottawa Citizen story published in the Regina Leader-Post (hat tip: National Newswatch):

. . . the Harper government has released a list of parliamentary press gallery members who received contracts from the federal government they report on.

The list of journalists receiving government money includes several prominent writers from the Globe and Mail who took speaking fees or honorariums, including national affairs columnist Jeffrey Simpson, who was paid $2,400 for two speeches through the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

The government tabled the list this week in response to an order paper question from Conservative MP Scott Reid.

There are no rules explicitly prohibiting press gallery members from getting paid by the government they are supposed to cover, but the gallery's constitution does not allow journalists to use their membership for their own "benefit." Journalists have been tossed out for using their gallery membership to win government work in the past.

The records show that Lawrence Martin, a Globe and Mail columnist, was paid $2,500 by the Department of Justice to speak to a group of managers on the topic "Leadership in the New Canada" in October 2005. Martin is the author of a biography of former prime minister Jean Chretien and now contributes two columns a week for the Globe.

He also received $4,000 for a February 2005 speech to the Canada School of Public Service, a training centre for senior public servants.

Simpson's former colleague, Hugh Winsor, was paid $1,070 by Western Economic Development Canada for a speech in 2004, a year after he retired from the Globe and Mail. Before he left the paper, Winsor wrote a column on politics and the senior public service. He continues to write freelance pieces for the paper occasionally. He said he recalls recycling one of his lectures from a course he teaches at Queen's University for the speech.

Reid's order paper question required every government department and Crown corporation to compare a list of more than 400 parliamentary press gallery members against all the contracts issued over the past four fiscal years -- a time-consuming and likely expensive undertaking.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Is the Zerb for the curb?

On November 20, I noted that the Star’s politics blog and Antonia Zerbisias’s media blog had gone essentially dark. Since then, the politics blog has ramped back up.

The Zerb, however, hinted yesterday that she may be quitting blogging altogether, posting that her recent win as best media blog at the Canadian Blog Awards may well be a posthumous award.” Asked by her readers to explain, she posted the following comment:

Now I am looking at the rest of my life and career and deciding how I want it to play out. Emphasis on the word PLAY. All work and no play makes Antonia a very very grumpy girl. Not to mention a chunky one.

The Zerb doesn’t have much time for what she calls “the Blogging Whories,” George W. Bush, or anything else from our end of the ideological spectrum (which is perhaps what she meant by her realization during her hiatus that “I did not have the time for the pain of some of the regulars here.”)

But if her blog disappears it would be a loss for blogging, as she is one of the few who are paid to do it.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Kennedy: Deal or No Deal?

Holland admits to Dion deal on CBC, Kennedy denies it elsewhere

Almost every leadership campaign has one. A candidate or top campaign official so full of himself or convinced of the historic importance of his sleep-deprived conversations that he agrees to be miked up by a TV network for the purposes of an insider’s-eye-view documentary, not to be shown until after the convention is over (see below for prior examples).

The sucker this time was rookie Ajax-Pickering MP Mark Holland, chair of Gerard Kennedy’s Ontario operation. Holland was the focus of a short insider piece on CBC’s Sunday Night last night (transcript not yet posted). From the beginning Holland speaks of an “arrangement” between Kennedy and Dion. Negotiations with the Dion camp and the “deal” are referred to several times throughout, by Holland and others.

Unfortunately for Holland, his star turn has made a liar of his candidate, Gerard Kennedy. In all the weekend interviews I saw, Kennedy denied that there was a deal between him and Dion. This added a hilarious subtext to one of the first clips in the CBC Sunday documentary, which shows Holland verbally massaging a Dion organizer with the claim that “We’ve got two candidates who can’t lie.” But, as Kennedy’s denials and the documentary suggest, somebody is lying:

Jane Taber: Had you made a deal with Mr. Dion?

Kennedy: No deal. I get nothing for this. We had a lot of conversations. I did with Mr. Rae and Mr. Ignatieff as well. We all have to have that contingency. And to me it’s how do we assemble the party. How do we get the new drive forward.
--Question Period, CTV, December 3 (link to video on this page)

He said he cut no deal in exchange for his support. “I get nothing for this. This was not a negotiation. This is an understanding, this is mutual respect and I know that it's tempting to see it another way.”
--“ All the right moves for Kennedy,” Toronto Star, December 3

The only defence Kennedy would have to this is that he could argue he was engaging in some Clinton-worthy semantics: while the reporters were clearly asking whether or not he had an agreement to move his support to Dion, Kennedy chose to answer a different question, i.e. whether Dion promised him anything beyond the convention. Even if that is the case, it doesn’t do much for his boy scout image.

Update: CP's Joan Bryden is no fool. She caught on too:

. . . the optics were sufficiently bad that even after Kennedy crossed the floor to Dion, the two men continued to insist there had never been any deal.

"There was no agreement. I chose to go because I felt I couldn't win at that point," Kennedy told CBC television on Sunday.

But Kennedy advisers revealed that an agreement was effectively struck late Friday. Nothing was put in writing but there was finally a meeting of the minds and a sense that each genuinely thought the other would make the second-best choice for leader.

Footnote: Longtime Martinite, former Liberal candidate and Rae organizer Richard Mahoney also agreed to be miked for the CBC’s piece, but was smart enough to stick to clichés and not say anything stupid. Watch and learn, Holland.

Previous Leadership Reality TV Stars

In 1989, Simon de Jong, a candidate for the NDP leadership, fell for it. Deciding at one point during voting day that he didn’t want his conversation with his mother to be a matter of public record, de Jong thought he could confound the CBC by speaking to her in Dutch. I guess with all the pressure de Jong didn’t think that the CBC would have the resources to find a translator, which they did by the time the doc aired. The CBC aired the translation of his tearful conversation with mummy.

The most infamous example is that of Ontario Liberal Dwight Duncan, who agreed to wear a mic for a CPAC documentary of the 1996 Ontario Liberal leadership, in which Duncan himself was a tier one candidate.

Duncan thoughtfully provided a moment of high drama for the documentary, namely his surprise decision, after being eliminated, to go to frontrunner Gerard Kennedy instead of Dalton McGuinty as was widely expected. Duncan’s mic faithfully recorded the lead-up to the decision, with Duncan opining that “Dalton’s a nice man but he can’t win seats in Toronto.” Even better, however, was the denouement of Duncan’s betrayal: he wanders across the convention floor in search of his then-wife, encountering angry delegates all along the way, including his chief riding fundraiser, who pronounces herself “disgusted” with Duncan’s decision, and his riding president, who turns his back on Duncan.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Bare bums and pink covers

Have you heard? When it comes to Liberal policy papers, pink is the new red. And for women, skanky is the new empowered. Can “slavery is the new freedom,” be far behind?

Speaking of behinds, the hottest piece of memorabilia at the Liberal leadership convention in Montreal is a black thong with the phrase “I’m Liberal” on the front – mainly because it has no back. When a garment is already testing community standards, advertising its wearer as liberal would seem to be redundant. But more on the thongs later.

On Monday, the Liberal women’s caucus released its “Pink Book” of women’s policies. The book includes cover letters from MPs Belinda Stronach, Judy Sgro and Maria Minna. Sgro’s letter warns that “the work of the Liberal Women’s Caucus could not be more important than it is now, when we see the Conservative government trying to turn back the clock on the progress women have gained in gender equality issues.” Minna writes of “the Conservative government’s regressive approach to women and women’s concerns.”

The report itself repeats decades-old Liberal orthodoxy on: government funding for Status of Women Canada, government funding for government-run day care, government legislation to implement pay equity, government funding for caregivers, raiding the EI fund for larger maternity/paternity benefits, etc. As far as the Liberal party is concerned, the state may have no place in the thongs of the nation, but anything beyond your lingerie drawer is fair game.

Luckily for the Pink Book’s authors, journalists seemed more interested in their overheated rhetoric than their reheated policy ideas. Said Judy Sgro upon the report’s release: “I think Harper and his Conservative government, based on their policies, would clearly prefer women would stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen and move us backwards 40 years.” An old yet still-provocative metaphor, especially given the famously well-shod Belinda Stronach’s participation in the Pink Book. When Stronach crossed the floor to the Liberals last year, her arrival was greeted by then-minister Anne McLellan, who gushed over Stronach’s “great shoes.”

It is always good advice for any observer of politicians to remember this oft-quoted maxim: “Listen to what they say, but watch what they do.” Scarcely 48 hours after Stronach, Sgro and Minna were raising the pink flag of equality, their Liberal sisters were dropping red and black thongs in the Palais des Congrès in Montreal, proving that, while they may be unwilling to go barefoot, bare-assed is totally cool. And on a December night in Montreal, partially numb.

Happily, the titillation was not confined to the souvenir table. On the opening night of the convention, billed as “A Celebration of the Liberal Family,” two very comely female singers were called upon to entertain the crowd as it awaited the arrival of Howard Dean. Unfortunately, no corresponding male eye candy was on offer, Maritime troubadour Lennie Gallant being more reminiscent of the folk singer in “Animal House” whose guitar was smashed by John Belushi.

But a gap between Liberal rhetoric and action when it comes to women is not new, merely unremarked. Whether it is Pierre Trudeau’s purported conquests, John Turner and Iona Campagnolo patting each other’s behinds during the 1984 election, Anne McLellan praising Belinda Stronach’s shoes, or the infamous Globe and Mail pictorial of the all-white, all-male backroomers directing the leadership campaigns, there has long been a, shall we say, “duality” in the Liberal party when it comes to women.

This duality is in keeping with one of the underlying themes of the Liberal party: do as I say, not as I do (or, in this case, not as I renew). And it is a theme apparently undiminished by the party’s recent trials. Having been de-Martinized by both the Gomery commission and an election loss, the Liberals have concluded that their longstanding attitudes and policies – and Bob Rae’s behind – are all looking as good as ever.

Energized by recent polls and their leadership race, Liberals seem firmly in the grip of the same “we’ll be right back” self-delusion that plagued the Ontario conservatives after losing power in 1985. The Liberals are convinced that they too will be right back. Just as wearing a thong is not for the self-conscious, selling thongs while speaking of women’s equality and anticipating a swift return to power are not for a party overburdened by self-reflection.

Justin: HMS JuggerNot II?

Reports from the Liberal convention suggest that the party’s recent experience has hardly dimmed its affinity for the sons of former ministers. For those who missed it on election night, here is a selection of quotes that anticipated the electoral colossus of Paul Martin Jr. In fairness, most of these predictions were made before the worst Auditor-General and Gomery revelations (February 2004 and April 2005, respectively), and prior to the PC/Alliance merger.

One should never underestimate one’s opponents – nor discourage them from overestimating themselves – but overinflated balloons have a tendency to burst.

Martin Juggernaut, we hardly knew ye . . .

Perhaps more than anywhere else in the country, voters in the province have been waiting for Jean Chrétien to retire so their favourite federal Liberal can take over.

Jean-Herman Guay, a professor of political science at the Universite de Sherbrooke, said during an interview yesterday that a change in leadership could be enough to restore the Liberal domination over Quebec that disappeared with Brian Mulroney’s arrival on the federal scene.

“I think that with a new face, the Liberal Party could recapture its hegemony. It used to be that this, not Ontario, was the Liberals’ province,” he said.
--National Post, February 12, 2002

Edmonton Ellerslie MLA Debby Carlson, an active federal Liberal, said Chrétien has weakened his own position by attacking Martin. “It undermines the ability of the prime minister to do his job. I’m looking forward to a federal leadership review.”

Carlson said the Liberals could win six to eight seats across Northern Alberta in the next federal election, with Martin as leader. The Liberals now hold two Edmonton ridings.
--Edmonton Journal, June 2, 2002

The poll, conducted for The Gazette this week by SOM Recherches et Sondages, found that if an election were to be held today, the Liberals under Martin would win a whopping 60.5 per cent of the popular vote in Quebec. Under Chrétien, they would take 33.8 per cent.

If Martin were leader, the Liberal Party would decimate the Bloc Quebecois (which the survey showed would take 20.8 per cent), and would probably steamroll to the largest majority in the province since Brian Mulroney won 63 of 75 seats in 1988.
--Edmonton Journal, June 8, 2003

According to public opinion polled in the immediate aftermath of the extraordinary unpleasantness in Chicoutimi, voters so enthusiastically endorse Jean Chrétien’s departure and his assumed, if delayed, replacement by Martin that Liberals are again the first choice in every region from coast to coast. In that wonderfully shopworn phrase, if an election were held tomorrow Liberals, who won three consecutive majorities with Jean Chrétien, would grab more than 200 seats as they sweep the country behind Martin.
--James Travers, Toronto Star, August 27, 2002

As things stand now, only the Liberals are in contention for the Bloc seats. With Paul Martin as their leader, they figure they can expect to win most of Quebec’s 75 seats. If the Liberals achieve their goal, their re-established dominance of Quebec would allow them to offset any losses in Ontario in the future.
--Chantal Hebert, Toronto Star, September 2, 2002

Paul Martin spoke as if he were already prime minister in an emotional, campaign-style speech Saturday night that rallied Liberal supporters with hope of big ballot-box gains.

“It’s not only a question of us coming out of Western Canada with a large number of seats,” the Liberal leadership front-runner told about 450 of the party faithful at a $100-a-plate dinner.

“It’s not only a question of us coming out with seats in Winnipeg, in Regina and Edmonton and Vancouver,” he said before receiving a standing ovation. He said he wants to make sure the Liberals elect MPs in rural areas such as Drayton Valley, across the four western provinces.

The Liberal message must be that all of Western Canada will be at the table, he said.

“I don’t believe that we will ever have as good a chance as we will have at the next election. The Alliance is going nowhere.”
--Edmonton Journal, May 4, 2003

Even Chrétien was a believer – or was he?

As his rival Paul Martin listened politely, Chrétien told the crowd his legacy ensures Liberals will sweep Quebec in the next federal election. “As leader of the party, I can say that everything is in place for my successor to win a large majority of seats in Quebec at the next general election,” the Prime Minister told the Liberals, who paid at least $500 each to attend the fundraising banquet. “I would say at least 60 seats.” There are 75 seats in Quebec.
--Toronto Star, May 15, 2003

As well, the next election will not just see yet another Liberal victory but, as well, certainly a large Liberal majority as a result of the combination of the proven appeal of Paul Martin and of a couple of dozen seats in Quebec waiting to be snapped up from the now lifeless grasp of the Bloc Quebecois.
--Richard Gwyn, Toronto Star, June 4, 2003

Rod Love, Stockwell Day’s sometime campaign manager, doesn’t think so. He predicted recently that the Liberals under Paul Martin will win about 220 seats in the next federal election; the handful of seats left over will be split about evenly between the NDP and the Alliance. The federal PCs, Love says, will be wiped out.
--Ian Hunter, National Post, June 26, 2003

The federal Liberals are poised to grab up to eight seats in Saskatchewan in the next election, predicts a senior party official. Provincial party president Greg Gallagher said he’s noticed a marked change in the attitude toward the federal government.
--Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, July 15, 2003

Liberal president Stephen LeDrew calls the membership level a party record and says it bodes well for the Grits in the next election, likely the spring of 2004. In particular, he noted the significant gains in B.C. are bad news for the Canadian Alliance, which currently holds 26 of the province’s 34 seats. The Liberals have six and the NDP, two.

“The Liberal party stands poised to gain support in British Columbia in the next election. As far as the Alliance is concerned, it shows that they probably shouldn’t be taking the summer off. If the Alliance is getting the pulse of their membership in B.C., it should be rapidly quickening because we’re on the move,” said LeDrew.
--Vancouver Sun, July 25, 2003

It has also never seemed more natural for Quebecers to abandon the federal Tories for the Liberal family since Charest blazed that particular trail. On that score, Paul Martin’s arrival as Liberal leader will amount to the final nail in the Quebec Tory coffin.
--Chantal Hebert, Toronto Star, September 26, 2003

Martin could make up for any potential Ontario loss in Quebec. But that would involve a shift of sorts in his strategic thinking. So far, his brain trust has treated Quebec as the icing on his election cake. But if the Tories and the Alliance carried out a successful merger, Quebec could become the bread and butter of a Martin majority.
--Chantal Hebert, Toronto Star, September 29, 2003

A Liberal party led by Paul Martin, with his right-of-centre economic message, will be a contender in the West and could win several extra seats. And the New Democratic Party, under its new leader, the charismatic Jack Layton, could pick up a few more seats in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and even British Columbia.

The next election is thus shaping up as a nightmare for both Mr. Harper and Mr. MacKay -- their “mutual assured destruction” in the words of Don Martin, a columnist with the National Post.
--Editorial, Vancouver Sun, October 1, 2003

Yet even using a new leader and a new name, merger math does not necessarily add up to great things for this hybrid. Simply taking any riding where the combined Alliance and Conservative vote exceeds the 2000 Liberal result (and there are 25 in Ontario alone) does not automatically equal a right-wing win.

Polling shows many Tories would rather vote Liberal than anything resembling the Alliance and Martin will have much longer Liberal coat-tails to win new seats in 2004 than Jean Chrétien had in 2000.
--Don Martin, National Post, October 16, 2003

[Joan’s Note: PC/Alliance merger agreement announced October 16, 2003. All quotes from here on are subsequent to that event.]

The advent of a new Conservative party may dampen the already uncertain Liberal prospects for growth in western Canada. It could make Ontario more competitive than it has been in years.

But the one place where it will have little or no impact in the upcoming campaign is Quebec. If there is one region Martin can count on to make up for losses elsewhere in Canada, it is his home province.--Chantal Hebert, Toronto Star, October 20, 2003

Liberals are energized under their new leader, Paul Martin, and the party is ready to win more seats in Alberta, where they now hold only two of 26 ridings, federal Health Minister Anne McLellan said Saturday.

“Our prospects in Alberta look as good as they have in a long time,” the Edmonton West MP said in a phone interview from the Liberal convention in Toronto, where Martin won the leadership Friday night.
--Edmonton Journal, November 16, 2003

The merger of Canada’s two right-wing parties has so far failed to make a dent in the overwhelming popular support for Paul Martin’s Liberals, according to a new poll.

The Compas/National Post poll, conducted last week, found 49% of voters support the Liberals, compared with 19% for the new Conservative Party of Canada.

Heading into a leadership convention next month, the Conservatives are barely ahead of the New Democratic Party, which under leader Jack Layton has edged up to 17% support, the poll found.

“The Liberals are headed for a landslide in the next federal election, if this holds up,” Conrad Winn, the president of Compas Inc., said yesterday. “The public is clearly comfortable with Mr. Martin and with the party.”

A previous poll, taken six weeks earlier, also suggested the new party is less popular than the former Tory and Canadian Alliance parties combined.

That survey, by JMCK Polling of Calgary, placed the Liberals at 42.8%, the Conservatives at 17.5%, the NDP at 12.6% and the Bloc at 8.1%. Two months earlier, the Alliance registered 16% and the Tories 11.2% in a JMCK poll.

In October, a Compas poll put the Liberals under Mr. Martin at 50%, compared with 14% for the Conservatives and 10% for the Alliance. The NDP was at 14% and the Bloc at 9%.

That poll also suggested that against a united conservative party, Liberal support could drop as low as 46%, while the new Conservatives would pull in 29%.
--National Post, February 2, 2004

“They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can’t kill the beast” . . .

. . . is a lyric from the Eagles’ “Hotel California” that comes to mind whenever I read a story about the erstwhile and unlamented Tory, David Orchard. The Star’s Thomas Walkom has an interesting piece today. Some highlights are below.

What it all suggests – or confirms – is that Orchard is neither a Tory nor a Liberal, but a political parasite, and poor Stéphane Dion is merely his chosen host of the moment. Given Orchard’s careful husbanding of “his” 175 delegates, odds are he will be looking for an opportunity to break away from Dion and deliver them to another candidate, in exchange for deal on some policy issue, perhaps on trade, environment or agriculture (though Orchard's claims of being a farmer are bogus, as the National Post exposed a few years ago). And the media will eat it up.

As much as it would amuse me to see the Liberals struggle to rid themselves of Orchard and his batty Orchardistas, My advice to that candidate is: (1) Just say no. (2) If you can’t say no, don’t put it in writing.

From “David Orchard is in the house – once again” (Toronto Star, today):

Could David Orchard end up deciding who gets to be the next Liberal leader? At first glance, the idea seems bizarre. But the Saskatchewan organic farmer and anti-free trade agitator — who twice came close to capturing the Progressive Conservative crown — has surfaced at the nail-biting Liberal leadership convention at the head of a band of 175 fiercely loyal delegates, most of whom are determined to support whatever candidate he chooses.

Right now, says Orchard, that is Quebec MP Stéphane Dion.

Canada's political elites don't have much time for Orchard. He's a zealot, in an age when zealotry is viewed with suspicion. He's a perennial outsider in a game dominated by those desperate to be inside players.

But to his followers, he is an almost Messianic figure.

Joan Tomblin-Morris, a B.C. physician waiting to be bumped up from alternate to delegate status, says she first encountered Orchard in 1987 when, out of curiosity, she attended one of his meetings on free trade.

. . . like most Orchardites, she's been with him since. In 1998, she followed him into the Tories when he took on Joe Clark for the leadership — and came close to winning. "I didn't really want to be a Conservative," she admits. But she soldiered on, becoming president of her riding association. When Orchard made his second leadership bid in 2003, she followed.

When MacKay reneged, Orchard fought the merger — unsuccessfully — in the courts. Eventually, he and his supporters abandoned the Conservatives. Last January, he quietly joined the Liberals. His followers, as always, followed.

And so the fabled Orchard organization went to work. In mid-August, he announced his support for Dion. By the end of September, Orchardites had captured a solid bloc of Liberal riding associations — mainly in Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. — for the Quebec contender.

Their speciality was to focus on ridings with no sitting Liberal MP, where the party organization was thin. So now Team Orchard is in Montreal. They are bunked in at an apartment hotel in a seedier part of town. Each evening, they hold a pep rally.

Orchard is coy about who he would support if Dion is eliminated during the voting tomorrow. "I'll cross that bridge when I come to it," he said, smiling.

But in an election that promises to be perilously close, his 175 or so delegates could play a significant role.

Orchard already has more committed delegates than last-place contender Martha Hall Findlay. By the time registration closes today, Orchardites here could easily outnumber those committed to other faint-hope candidates such as MPs Scott Brison and Joe Volpe.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Mike and Bob: revolution and adultery at U of T

Forgive me for not being surprised at the hypocrisy of the McGuinty Liberals, who have attempted to smear PC leader John Tory with Tory’s own youthful admission of his law school toking. After all, is this not the crew headed by Premier Pinocchio, who also “partoked” as a youth, and recently lauded his health minister, Furious George Smitherman, for admitting to a drug addiction?

Fiberal hypocrisy aside, it is propitious that today’s electronic version of the University of Toronto’s Varsity should include some of the published musings of Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae, when they were BMOCs at the University of Toronto. Some excerpts (registration may be required):

If the present administrative system of our society is incapable of salvaging the century, then we must have political and social revolution, a revolution shaped not by an ideology but shaped by the problems we must face. A re-organization of society to snuff out the population bomb, to rebuild the cities, to halt our ecological rape.

Revolution may be impossible within the system. Revolution occurs (here I am more than usually derivative) when elements of the administrative system become demonstrably dysfunctional to the people at large. Thus, the question of whether a revolution in Canada is possible is not answered by saying that radicals across the country are busy outlining an ideology and a strategy for that revolution. Revolution will become possible when ordinary people decide that the system is not realizing the goals that it has set out for itself.
--Michael Ignatieff, Source: The Varsity Review, Sept. 22, 1968

Holidays are essentially hypocritical, in that we feel and say and do friendly things that we hate doing the rest of the year. Freud has said that tribal holidays represented an institutionalized form of de-repression. In other words you could make love to your neighbour's wife one day a year, but never on any other day. Hence the mistletoe. A pretty unsatisfactory replacement, I'd say.
--Bob Rae, Source: The Varsity Review, Dec. 18, 1968

I daresay there are few among us who would not be embarrassed if confronted with our undergraduate pontifications. Prose that appeared bold and profound in its time, may shout "retard" and not soixante-huitard today. Luckily, most of us will not run for leader, and can remain blissfully smug for the rest of our lives.

Woo HOO! Van Loan in cabinet

“Every cloud has a silver lining” is a rule that seems to be more honoured in the breach than in the observance, but not today.

The unfortunate – yet so principled it turned Belinda’s blonde hair brown – resignation of Michael Chong has a happy by-product: the elevation of York-Simcoe MP Peter Van Loan to cabinet. In a political universe increasingly dominated by so-called “stars” who frequently explode or turn into black holes, Peter is one of those brilliant, talented, quiet workhorses whose effort always exceeds their expectation of reward.

I didn’t meet Peter until I was in university, but he was already a leading figure in Progressive Conservative youth politics. He joined the party in high school (I believe he was just 15). While still a high school student, he became Toronto and District youth chairman, building a strong organization and riding associations. For years “T&D” had a successful boat cruise every summer.

Peter was at the centre of the fierce youth battles that marked the early 1980s in Ontario, which were played out not only in party youth elections, but also in the federal leadership review votes of 1981 and 1983, and in the 1983 leadership that elected Brian Mulroney.

Luckily for the party, Peter was not one of those precocious tiny Tories who flame briefly then disappear before they reach 21. He successfully transitioned into major league politics, running for president of the Ontario PC party in 1994. He was up against the older, better-connected lawyer and lobbyist Jeff Lyons (a former employer of Peter’s, in fact). But through hard work and superior organization, Peter prevailed, and was later acclaimed to a second term.

When people think of the Common Sense Revolutionaries of 1995, they usually conjure up names such as Tom Long, Leslie Noble and Guy Giorno, and rightly so. But the organizational and grunt work of people such as Peter was instrumental in getting those ballots into the boxes. Despite having supported Mike Harris’s leadership opponent, Peter’s knowledge, candour, and skill in building the party made him a trusted figure.

Still, all this was technically a hobby, next to Peter’s full-time career as a successful municipal lawyer at the national firm of Fraser Milner Casgrain, where he worked with Ignatieff fixer Senator David Smith. (How ironic that an episode that was sparked by Michael Ignatieff Ignit-ing the Québec “nation” debate should end with Smith’s former law partner being elevated to cabinet.)

Unlike most busy lawyers, Peter saw no reason to end his education with law school. In addition to his degrees in political science/geography and law, he earned degrees in urban planning and international relations – while in legal practice. He has also taught at the University of Toronto and been asked to lecture Stephen Clarkson’s political science students. I have no doubt that someday Peter will add PhD to the many initials that follow his name.

But it hasn’t been all Diet Coke and popcorn for Peter. Until John Tory’s accession to the Ontario PC leadership in 2004, Peter had the distinction of supporting a losing candidate in every single leadership contest since he first toiled for Joe Clark in 1983. He supported Dennis Timbrell for provincial leader twice in the mid-80s, Dianne Cunningham in 1990, Jean Charest in 1993, then Hugh Segal in 1998, and Elizabeth Witmer for provincial leader in 2002.

I will never forget one night on the (second) Timbrell campaign in 1985. Approximately 600 media packages had been prepared to be mailed out, but the “senior” campaign had neglected to include the all-important (in Peter’s eyes) youth package. So the seniors made us a deal: we could steam open the packages and insert the youth materials – and we had one night to do it. An electric kettle was set up in the centre of the youth office and we steamed open the envelopes, inserted our materials and sealed them back up, well into the night. No doubt some of the media outlets receiving the kits wondered why the envelope looked like it had been sealed by a rabid dog.

After playing a key role in restoring the conservatives to power in Ontario, Peter could have easily retreated to the backrooms, or focused on other endeavours. But in 1999 he set out to capture the presidency of the federal PC Party. The party had slightly recovered from its annihilation in 1993, but it had lost its leader Jean Charest to Québec politics, and had just elected 60ish Joe Clark to replace him (and, as I am always obliged to say, voting for Joe in 1998 is the only vote I wish I could take back).

It was a hotly contested race between Peter and Oakville businessman and former PC candidate Stephen Sparling, but Peter ended up with approximately 70 per cent of the vote. In fact, it turned out to be the last contested presidential race in the PC Party’s history. Peter had a detailed platform, but one of his key promises was that he would forego the usual $80,000 annual salary paid to the party president, in deference to the party’s multi-million dollar debt. (When it was revealed the following year that the party was supplementing Joe Clark’s salary by more than $150,000 annually, it made for a poor contrast, to say the least.)

Unfortunately, Peter’s success in the provincial party was not mirrored at the federal level, despite his efforts. In early 2000, just a few months after Peter was elected party president, the Reform Party would morph into the Canadian Alliance and launch a leadership race. The effects on Progressive Conservatives in Ontario were particularly painful. Peter saw dozens of friends, candidates and MPPs he had helped, abandon the federal PC party to support CA leadership candidate Tom Long.

Then in the fall of 2000, Peter was accused of disloyalty to the leader. The allegations were untrue, but Joe Clark’s public comments made it clear that he did not trust his party president, and Peter felt he had no option but to resign.

Joe Clark regarded his achievement of 12 seats in the election that soon followed – the bare minimum required for party status – to be sufficient victory. And he held on to the leadership until just prior to a scheduled review vote in 2002. But after yet another near-death experience, and with fundraising stagnant, many in the party felt that some type of accommodation would have to be reached with the Canadian Alliance.

In 2001, Peter participated in an effort labelled Forward Thinking, aimed at getting the party to look at working with the Alliance. Several PC MPs were receptive, but Clark and many remaining party stalwarts, not to mention the Orchardistas, would not be moved. Clark’s intransigence, coupled with new CA leader Stephen Harper – who campaigned on a plank of “not playing telephone tag with Joe Clark” – made the prospects for accommodation seem utterly hopeless. In any event, a provincial leadership was underway during this time, meaning there was little time to stew over federal matters.

When Peter MacKay and Stephen Harper made their historic agreement in October of 2003, Peter led the Yes! campaign to ensure the deal would be ratified overwhelmingly by the party. Never one to presume an easy victory, it was his idea to publish a full-page ad in the Globe and Mail listing several hundred recognizable names who supported the pact. This ensured that there was little reneging when the inevitable harping and second-guessing took place leading up to the December vote. When the results of the ratification vote were announced in Ottawa, Peter’s hand was among the first to be shaken by Peter MacKay.

When Peter set his cap for the nomination in York-Simcoe – home of his family’s farm – he brought to the nomination campaign the same running-from-behind attitude that he applied to all campaigns. On nomination night it ensured him a first-ballot victory. What a thrill it was during the 2004 general election to see a huge semi-trailer parked on the east side of Highway 400, announcing his name and slogan “Change for the Better” to hundreds of thousands of commuters and cottage-goers. He handily defeated the Liberal candidate.

Peter managed to increase his margin of victory in his re-election effort in January, despite devoting some of his time to the central campaign. When Peter was not named to cabinet in February, I tried not to be too disappointed, knowing that – barring a sex change – Peter’s appointment would not fulfil any demographic imperatives. But I knew that Peter’s time would come. And so it has.

Monday, November 27, 2006

“There are a lot of dumb bastards in the world. Lou is one of the smart ones.”

. . . is one of many entertaining quotes in a lengthy Ken Auletta profile of CNN windbag Lou Dobbs in The New Yorker.

For those of you old enough to remember the Mary Tyler Moore show: Dobbs has always struck me as having something of the Ted Baxter about him, i.e. he thinks success is 50% looks, 50% charm, and 50% bravado.

One of CNN’s funniest programming decisions occurred when they revamped their evening lineup and scheduled Wolf Blitzer’s new show, "The Situation Room," in two parts on either side of Dobbs’ 6:00 p.m. slot (4-6 p.m. and 7-8 p.m.). I guess Lou would not be moved.

Hey, nothing says a network is behind a show like chopping it up from its inception. The move reminded me of David Letterman’s first show on NBC, a morning affair in the summer of 1980. The show was 90 minutes long, but affiliates had the option of airing 30, 60, 90 or – as Dave often joked – none of the show.

Justin Trudeau, Puppetmaster

Take that, Bob Fulford! Justin Trudeau has just registered his first measurable achievement in public life: forcing a first-tier leadership candidate to take a position in defiance of the Liberal caucus and the party’s acknowledged expert on constitutional matters.

Update: From today's Star:

Cementing himself as the candidate of the Pierre Trudeau wing of the Liberal party, sources said Kennedy conferred with the former prime minister's eldest son, Justin, about the issue over the weekend.

Justin Trudeau has already endorsed his candidacy and today Pierre Trudeau's former principal secretary, Tom Axworthy, will also climb aboard the Kennedy bandwagon.

From CTV.ca:

Liberal leadership hopeful Gerard Kennedy has decided to buck the tide of political opinion, coming out against a parliamentary motion recognizing Quebecers as a nation within a united Canada.

The Canadian Press has learned that Kennedy will issue a statement Monday opposing the motion, just as the House of Commons prepares to debate the surprise resolution introduced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week.

In so doing, Kennedy will become the only Liberal leadership contender to reject the motion, which has been embraced with varying degrees of unease by his seven rival candidates, Harper's Conservatives, most Liberal MPs and the New Democrats. Even the separatist Bloc Quebecois has come on side.

Kennedy has only two per cent support among Quebec delegates to the leadership convention in Montreal and, therefore, little to lose by distinguishing himself from his rivals.

He could also be hailed as a hero by the so-called Trudeau federalists in the party, who agree with the late Liberal icon Pierre Trudeau's adamant rejection of anything that smacks of special status for Quebec. The former prime minister's sons, Justin and Alexandre Trudeau, have spoken out against the motion. Justin last week endorsed Kennedy.

Kennedy’s stance would appear to be a complete 180 from his previous attempts to cool the passions stirred when Michael Ignatieff first Ignite-d the issue. From the Globe:

The resolution could reignite a divisive convention battle that the Liberals thought they had narrowly avoided when Mr. Harper unexpectedly introduced a motion calling for Quebeckers to be recognized as a nation within a united Canada — countering a Bloc Québécois version. A similar Liberal Party resolution, endorsed by Mr. Ignatieff, sparked a backlash against his campaign from Liberals outside Quebec, and his rivals, notably Mr. Rae and Mr. Dion, criticized the Liberal motion as divisive.

Mr. Kennedy, who had acted as peacemaker in that battle and preached a calming of emotions, may now emerge as the leader of those who oppose recognizing Quebec as a nation, although campaign insiders said he does not want to be a rallying point for opponents.

Dead men tell no tales, the saying goes. But in the Liberal party they can still vote (hello, Joe Volpe!). And sometimes they set policy for leadership candidates.

Friday, November 24, 2006

"I was not deemed to be a Star person"

The December Report on Business Magazine (in today's Globe and Mail) has a little surprise tucked inside its back cover: an interview with recently-exited Toronto Star editor Giles Gherson. Some of the Qs & As:

Were you upholding the principles of social justice laid down by legendary editor Joe Atkinson?
The paper under my editorship was pursuing the Atkinson principles in a fairly aggressive way. We were doing socially progressive journalism.

Yet some people in the organization felt you weren't?
I think that was a canard. It was said by some people, but if you look at the record, they would be very, very hard-pressed to make the case. If you look at stuff we did on the working poor, the health care system, the education system for natives, and others, it was vigorous and effective.

So what should you have done differently?
In terms of substance, nothing. We moved pretty fast; I thought we had a lot of momentum. But if you want to talk about politics—which I can't get into—yes, some things could have been done differently. But that was not my battle. These were discussions in the upper reaches of the company.

What would be your advice to your successor, Fred Kuntz?
Stay the course. Fred has a longer tradition at the Star. I was a change agent from the outside. I found the newsroom extremely welcoming, but I know in the organization as a whole, I was not deemed to be a Star person. It's no accident that my successor, and Michael's successor [Jagoda Pike], are both from within the company. The Star has a very strong sense of itself, its culture and tradition. The question is whether that can lead to the kinds of changes necessary at a time of huge upheavals in the newspaper industry.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

“From the pages of the medical journal Duh . . .”

. . . or so would go Norm Macdonald’s punchline when he anchored SNL’s Weekend Update, after reading an item about a painfully obvious fact that some institution felt compelled to go out and research anyway.

Today, the above-the-fold front page story in the Toronto Star is that people who live in wealthier neighbourhoods enjoy better health, supported by a study released yesterday by CIHI:

In general, residents of neighbourhoods with a higher-than-average percentage of postsecondary graduates and a higher than-average median income are more likely to report excellent or very good health status and to be physically active, and less likely to report being smokers.
--“Improving the Health of Canadians: An Introduction to Health in Urban Places,”Canadian Institute for Health Information, page 27

You don’t say. Maybe it’s because, if they live in those neighbourhoods, they are more likely to be wealthier and better educated themselves and therefore their health has nothing to do with the neighbourhood they live in, but with their own personal circumstances. Ya think?

This is sadly typical of many studies that end up proving a mere correlation between two facts –not a causal relationship – usually to serve the political agenda of whomever is doing the study.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Richards: It’s Bush’s fault

Watching Michael Richards’ apology last night on Letterman, I was not surprised when, barely a minute in, he tried to cast George W. Bush as the iceberg to his Titanic:

There’s a great deal of disturbance in this country and how blacks feel about what happened in Katrina, and, you know, many of the comics, many of performers are in Las Vegas and New Orleans trying to raise money for what happened there, and for this to happen, for me to be in a comedy club and flip out and say this crap, you know, I’m deeply, deeply sorry.

And I’ll get to the force field of this hostility, why it’s there, why the rage is in any of us, why the trash takes place, whether or not it’s between me and a couple of hecklers in the audience or between this country and another nation, the rage...

Monday, November 20, 2006

Star bloggers MIA

The Toronto Star’s blog page has really fallen down of late.

The last entry in the Star’s political blog, maintained by the staff of their Ottawa and Queen’s Park bureaus (comprising at least ten reporters and columnists), is dated October 23rd. It’s not as if those legislatures have been in recess. And hey, aren't the Liberals picking a new leader? What produces more dirt and rumour than a leadership race?

In even worse shape, however, is the blog of media columnist Antonia Zerbisias. In late August, the Zerb notified readers that she was taking some time off. In October she promised to be back by Halloween.

Three weeks hence, there’s been nothing (leaving aside the tribute to Sid Adilman) save a tedious, 200-plus comments thread, which includes a few from the Zerb herself, such as this November 6th comment: “Everything is fine. Just chillin!”

That’s a relief. But if I still subscribed to the Star, I’d be pretty peeved.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Jack Layton: I couldn’t imagine Stephen Harper at a pub

Or so Layton supposedly told a table of University of Toronto students, according to this article in The Varsity.

Talking and laughing with a handful of students at a local pub on Tuesday night, and dipping his famous moustache into a glass of red wine, Jack Layton joked he couldn’t imagine Stephen Harper in a similar setting. The NDP leader has a knack for talking to young people that’s coming in handy on a current campus tour that has him crisscrossing the country from Dalhousie to UBC.

Layton and NDP MP Olivia Chow, Canada’s most famous political couple, are touring universities while parliament is out of session in an attempt to shore up support for a federal election that, Layton hinted, could come as early as next spring.

What a heck of a guy! Especially when you remember that Layton is – as the Varsity’s stenographer describes him – “the third most powerful man in the country.”

I'm not sure Layton's the third most powerful guy in his own household.

“I would describe his leadership as Rumsfeldian in its incompetence”

That’s erstwhile Ontario Liberal party keynote speaker James Carville, speaking of imminent Liberal party keynote speaker, DNC chairman Howard Dean. From today’s New York Times:

State Democratic leaders are saying Howard Dean, the party chairman, is not receiving the credit he deserves for the triumph.

Offering a rather different view, two leading party strategists rebuked Mr. Dean on Wednesday, saying the Democrats could have captured 40 House seats rather than 29 had Mr. Dean bowed to demands by Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, leader of the effort to recapture the House, to put more money into Congressional races.

“I would describe his leadership as Rumsfeldian in its incompetence,” one strategist, James Carville, said of Mr. Dean.

So it was that Stan Greenberg, the Democratic pollster, and Mr. Carville used the forum of a Monitor Breakfast, a gathering of newsmakers and reporters, to say Mr. Dean wasted an opportunity to make historic gains by refusing to take resources out of his effort to build up parties in all 50 states and put them into Congressional races.

Mr. Greenberg said that Republicans held 14 seats by a single percentage point and that a small investment by Mr. Dean could have put Democrats into a commanding position for the rest of the decade.

“There was a missed opportunity here,” he said. “I’ve sat down with Republican pollsters to discuss this race: They believe we left 10 to 20 seats on the table.”

Mr. Carville, whose close ties to former President Bill Clinton and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York have prompted speculation that he is attacking Mr. Dean on their behalf, said the Democratic National Committee had taken out a $10 million line of credit and used barely half of it.

“They left money on the table,” he said.

Asked whether Mr. Dean should step down, he responded, loudly, in the affirmative. “He should be held accountable,” Mr. Carville said.

In an interview later, he asked, “Do we want to go into ’08 with a C minus general at the D.N.C.?”

Aides to Mr. and Mrs. Clinton said Mr. Carville had not cleared his attacks on Mr. Dean with them.

Carville was also on CNN’s "The Situation Room" last night, repeating his criticisms of Dean.

This, and the less-than-enthused reaction of some Liberals to Dean's appearance, could make for some interesting news when Dean speaks at the leadership convention two weeks hence. But then perhaps Dean will follow Carville’s example, and refuse to take questions from lowly Canuck scribes.

Dr. Roy is also on the case.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Lies, damned lies, and Toronto Star headlines

Some days, they make it just too easy:

HEADLINE: Ottawa to share Caledonia costs: Ramsay

EXCERPT: “They’ve agreed to pursue the cost-sharing aspect of managing the dispute to date and in the future and we’re very pleased about that,” [Ontario native affairs minister David] Ramsay told reporters yesterday. “They’ve agreed in principle that they will talk to us about that rather than saying no. I think what that means is they’re prepared to enter into some cost sharing. What that will be will be decided by our officials.”

A spokeswoman for Prentice, who is in China on government business, declined to discuss details of the conversation between the two ministers and their officials. “It was a private meeting and we’re quite content to keep the contents of that meeting private for the time being,” said press secretary Deidre McCracken.
--Toronto Star, today

HEADLINE: Ottawa ‘understands’ occupation, McGuinty says

EXCERPT: Ottawa has a new understanding of the urgent need to end the nine-month aboriginal occupation in Caledonia following recent, low-key meetings with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the federal Indian Affairs minister, Premier Dalton McGuinty said today.

Although Harper didn’t agree to pay the $40-million cost of the occupation when the pair met Nov. 4, McGuinty said he expects to see the federal government show new determination to end the long-running dispute.

But the two levels of government still appear to be singing from different songbooks. Deirdra McCracken, a spokeswoman for Prentice, said she doesn’t know what Ramsay meant in his comment about Ottawa’s new “leadership role.”

The federal government will continue to sit at the negotiating table, as it has from the beginning, she said.

“If we had something to announce coming out of that meeting, we would have done so,” McCracken said. “We’ve been at the tables now, just as long as Ontario has . . . We have played an active role so far in the negotiations.”
--Toronto Star, yesterday

UPDATE: Shoulda finished going through the Star's website before posting. Here's the hat trick:

HEADLINE: Tough week on by-election front

EXCERPT: It hasn't been the best of weeks for Liberals in the federal by-election campaign in London North Centre.
--Toronto Star, today

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

That's right -- I am breaking up with YOU

Whatever, Garth Costanza.

But I do have one question for the Prince of Garthness: When independent MPs succeed in "break[ing] the Party stronghold and bring[ing] about what the people want - free votes, more free thought and a better political system" -- then who runs the government and who is accountable for government decisions?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Union control?! What union control?

I am shocked – shocked! – to hear of a possible “takeover by teachers’ and staff unions” at the Toronto District School Board, if union-backed trustee candidates are successful in Monday’s municipal elections. From today’s Star:

“If parents knew in this election there is a prospect their school board could be run by a union, there would be outrage across the city,” parent Dan Lang says.

“The union is employed by the board. It’s a conflict of interest. It’s like developers buying councillors,” said Lillyann Goldstein, whose son attends Northern Secondary School.

But Jim McQueen, former head of the secondary teachers’ union Toronto local who is now running for trustee, said no union takeover is afoot.

“These people can make these accusations but unless they have some credible proof that the board is being taken over by the unions, it has to be rejected.”

While union backing of school trustees is not new in Toronto, politicians and parents on both sides say the move is more deliberate, and intense, in this election.

Those endorsed by the Campaign for Public Education — a union and parent coalition — are being accused of flouting board policies that prohibit campaigning on school property and vandalizing election signs.

The campaign, backed by the board’s support workers’ and teachers’ unions, has ads in community newspapers attacking some incumbents, including those who favoured balancing the board’s budget last month.

Those trustees, including Chair Sheila Ward, say they don’t have the deep pockets of unions to fight back. Nor do they have access to the board’s 35,000 unionized employees.

Ward said she — along with Trustees Howard Goodman, Gary Crawford, John Campbell, David Shory, Scott Harrison and Gerri Gershon — are worried voters who aren’t directly involved in the school system won’t know what to believe.

“A number of us are waking up in the middle of the night, wondering what to do and how to do it,” she said

Anyone reading auditor Al Rosen’s 2002 report into the board’s bloated contracts would know that the takeover happened long ago. That, and the past conduct of trustees such as, oh, Sheila Ward, would suggest that many trustees were content with this state of affairs, until they ended up on the wrong side of the union endorsement list.

As I noted in August, during my summer walks home along the side streets of west-end Toronto, I couldn’t help but notice that almost every single street had a public school on it. When I consulted a map, I counted 22 schools in a square measuring 2 kilometres on each side. But you know what the great thing is about half-empty schools? They all need to be staffed, cleaned, maintained and repaired. That’s jobs for the boys, folks.

Despite two headline-making budget deficit crises in four years, the board has never tackled its cost structure, cut all programs that are not funded by the province, nor rationalized its stock of emptying schools. That’s why my stock response to anyone who complains about Mike Harris’s record on education is this: “He didn’t go far enough!” i.e. abolish school boards.

Given the current state of affairs, actually controlling the trustees would seem to be a mere formality. Time once again to link to my award-winning (no, really!) op-ed, “Take back our public services.”

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Shut up and Retire

Klein also pointed out that Stronach, who had been dating Leafs tough guy Tie Domi, had been a Conservative when she roasted him, but was now a Liberal MP.

"I wasn't surprised she crossed over," he said, setting up the punchline. "I don't think she ever did have a Conservative bone in her body -- well, maybe one."

Klein paused, waiting for the laughter to fade, then said: "Speaking of Peter MacKay... While the last comment was clearly audible in a televised recording of the speech, Klein's spokesman, Marisa Etmanski, said he skipped over the reference to Stronach's former boyfriend, the Conservative foreign affairs minister -- although it was included in his prepared written remarks.

Etmanski said the bawdy line had the crowd roaring and prompted one person sitting near her to spew.
--Toronto Sun, today

Monday, November 06, 2006

Toronto Star demonstrates the correct method for calling a woman a bitch

From Jennifer Wells' quickie review of the new biography of Lord and Lady Black by British author Tom Bower:

Barbara Amiel: Lady Black or Cruella De Vil?

Bower argues the latter while slathering on salacious details of what he claims are Amiel’s many sexual conquests.

Yes, there is a laundry list of leg-overs printed here.

And Bower casts her as frequently, and nastily, ill-tempered, screaming, he writes, at her senior butler: “Andrew! The towels are in the wrong place!”

This recalls Leona Helmsley foaming over water droplets on the lettuce, Martha Stewart excoriating her husband for failing to stack firewood with precision and Joan Crawford’s murderous anger should anyone make the mistake of placing a wire hanger in her closet.

It is, writes Bower, Andrew the butler who would take new household staff up to the roof of the home at Cottesmore Gardens in London. “Make sure the landing lights are on at all times,” the butler would instruct, “because Madame takes off from here on her broomstick looking for cats. She needs the lights to guide her return.”

So that's how it's done, kids. And take note, Norman Spector! But then I guess it also helps if the woman in question is already reviled in media circles.

Lord Black’s response to published excerpts of the book is here. (h/t Adam Daifallah.) Full disclosure: When I ran for OPCCA president in 1987 (yikes) one of Lord Black's companies donated to my campaign.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Never mind McGuinty’s broken promise to fix the funding formula, I’M running against Mike Harris!

Read this boneheaded non-sequitur from the campaign flyer of Toronto public school trustee candidate Nellie Pedro. Then tell me I’m a bad citizen for deciding not to vote in the trustee race:

Having been a provincial Liberal candidate in 2003, I remember my party’s promises including the “Excellence for all” and “Funding Schools for Success” that stated, “We will not let schools fail because of a flawed funding formula. We will create a fair model to reflect the local needs of diverse communities.” However, Toronto’s schools continue to suffer the impact of Conservative cuts to public education that I fought against.

Come again? I guess I can understand a lame attempt to blame Mike Harris coming from one of McGuinty’s 2003 candidates, but why mention McGuinty’s unfulfilled promise to change the Harris government’s per-pupil funding formula?

Pedro’s flyer also has a clever graphic of her name printed onto an old-fashioned school slate. Resting on a corner of the slate is an eraser – a rubber eraser. Okay, maybe Pedro doesn’t know that rubber erasers are for paper, not slates. Or maybe it’s a subliminal message that no matter how many times she runs and loses, we can’t erase her.

Under Pedro’s photo is this grammatically challenged blurb: “I’m looking forward to once again represent the people of Davenport at the TDSB.” Sigh. And I’m looking forward to moving to the 905 in a couple of years.

As I noted in August, the Toronto public board has never addressed its bloated cost structure (which was exposed in detail in auditor Al Rosen’s 2002 report), not even in its most recent budget “crisis” when it was looking at an $84-million deficit.

Unfortunately, Pedro is no worse than the other trustee candidates in my ward. All are running on similar Beer-and-Skittles platforms, promising to defend Toronto’s existing unfunded programs, and bring in even more.

Friday, October 27, 2006

American to address McGuintyites this weekend

In the dying days of the kerfuffle over whether or not the dog barked, so to speak, comes a helpful reminder from the Ontario Liberal Party about their convention in Toronto this weekend, which will no doubt be abuzz with federal leadership politicking. The official star attraction, however, is American political consultant, author and bomb maker (e.g. exec producing “All the King’s Men”) James Carville.

Carville once said of Paula Jones – who sued Bill Clinton for sexual harassment she alleged occurred when Clinton was Arkansas governor – that “If you drag a hundred dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you'll find.” Now I guess there is no objective measure of these things, but that strikes me as a tad harsher than being compared to a dog.

It was Clinton’s shading of the truth in his deposition given in the Paula Jones lawsuit that led to the Lewinsky revelations and his eventual impeachment, which he survived. Jones ultimately collected $850,000 from Clinton in settlement of her sexual harassment lawsuit. That’s about half the $1.6 million “All the King’s Men” made in its second week of release, having earned $3.7 and finishing number 7 in its opening week.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Liberals, timing and fair play

Liberals are howling* that the Prime Minister has called two by-elections to be held on the eve of the Liberals’ leadership convention.

For the record, and as a handy reminder, here are a few examples of the Liberals’ sensitive timing when it came to general elections. Not by-elections – general elections.

April, 1997: Jean Chrétien drops writ for June general election on April 27th – Orthodox Easter Sunday.

October, 2000: Jean Chrétien drops writ for November general election – four months after Stockwell Day was elected leader of the Canadian Alliance (yes, Day dared Chrétien to drop the writ, but that's not why they did it).

May, 2004: Paul Martin drops writ for June general election – two months after Stephen Harper was elected leader of the new Conservative Party (Team Martin was actually hoping to do it even earlier, but pesky sponsorship revelations kept forcing them to push the date back).

It's called the Golden Rule, boys and girls. Sucks, doesn’t it? So suck it. Hard.

Kitchener Conservative has also posted on this topic.

*Liberal party president Mike Eizinga calls it "a conniving, tactical play." Isn't Eizinga the guy for whom Team Martin booted Akash Maharaj out of the way for the party presidency? Well, I guess he would know from conniving.

Friday, October 13, 2006

What I might have written about the Pope’s Regensburg speech (if I were smart enough)

I recommend this column by Father Raymond J. De Souza in the September 29th edition of Maclean’s. Some excerpts:

The main point of the Regensburg address was that faith and reason need each other as paths to truth. Benedict defended this as an essential part of Christian belief because the God who reveals himself (faith) is also the author of the natural order and the human capacity to understand it (reason). The Pope highlighted that the prologue of John's Gospel begins, "In the beginning was the word (logos)," and logos is the Greek word for reason. God is reasonable, and so to act contrary to reason is to act contrary to God.

Faith without reason gives rises to fundamentalism. Reason without faith produces a secularism that cannot address the most fundamental of human questions about origin, destiny and meaning. The bulk of Benedict's address was directed against the latter phenomenon, criticizing a modern secularism that has nothing to say to people of faith, and nothing to say about the foundations of human culture. In criticizing the neglect of reason in favour of faith alone, Benedict criticized a major figure in the history of Christian philosophy (John Duns Scotus), who he considered to have made this mistake.

So why, if that was Benedict's main point, get into Islam at all? Why the incendiary quotation from Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus on the evil of Islam, spreading faith by the sword?

One of the potential consequences of a faith-only fundamentalism is violence. Violent force -- which by its nature does not seek to persuade -- can grow out of a zeal to convert without recourse to reason. It is simply a fact that Islamic violence is a growing problem around the world. Muslims themselves are the first victims of it, but Christians in Islamic countries regularly face harassment and persecution. Benedict wants to clarify that the roots of this violence lie in a perversion of Islam, not its authentic theology. That's a task only Muslims can accomplish, but the Pope has a pulpit sufficient to draw attention to the issue.

When the controversy first broke, I read the Pope’s speech several times. I was tampted to post about it but hesitated, given my lack of knowledge about the issues the Pope addressed. In the interim, I have come across several columnists who shared some of the same impressions I drew from the speech: that violence is incompatible with faith, that faith without reason is dangerous, and that it is not immediately apparent why the Pope mentions Islam at all in a speech that is largely about the reconciliation of faith and reason within Christianity.

As for the Pope quoting the 600-year-old observation of a Byzantine (i.e. Orthodox, not Catholic) emperor about Mohammad’s “command to spread by the sword the faith he preached,” at the time of the speech I happened to be reading John Keegan’s A History of Warfare, which includes the following:

Christians, indeed, have never found unanimity in the belief that the man of war may also be a man of religion; the ideal of martyrdom has always been as strong as that of the justified struggle and remains strong to this day. The Arabs of the conquest years were not caught on that crux. Their new religion, Islam, was a creed of conflict, that taught the necessity of submission to its revealed teachings and the right of its believers to take arms against those who opposed them. It was Islam that inspired the Arab conquests, the ideas of Islam that made the Arabs a military people and the example of its founder, Muhammad, that taught them to become warriors.

Muhammad was not only a warrior himself, who had been wounded in a battle at Medina against the men of Mecca in 625. He preached as well as practiced war. In his last visit to Mecca in 632 he laid down that, though all Muslims were brethren and should not fight each other, they should fight all other men until they said ‘There is no god but God.’ The Koran, which Muslims believe to have been taken down from his words by disciples, elaborates this command extensively. Even more specifically than Christ had done, Muhammad insisted that those who accepted the word of God thereby formed a community (umma) whose members owed each other responsibilities; thus it was not enough simply to avoid fratricide: Muslims were under an obligation to do positive good to less fortunate Muslims by assigning a certain portion of their income to charity; they also had a duty to care for each other’s consciences. Beyond the umma, however, the obligation was reversed: ‘O you who believe, fight the unbelievers who are near to you.’ This was not a call to forcible conversion. Non-believers who were prepared to live under Koranic authority were positively entitled to protection and, in strict theory, those outside the umma who kept the peace ought not to be attacked. In practice, however, the bounds of the umma came to coincide with the House of Submission (Dar al-Islam), while outside inevitably lay the House of War (Dar-el-Harb). Against the House of War, Islam fell into conflict from the moment of the prophet Muhammad’s death in 632.

Another factor greatly assisted the Arabs who, in the last years of Muhammad’s life, set out to extend the boundaries of Islam: the kingdoms on which their force fell were in decline. . . .

When, therefore, in 633 an Arab army invaded northern Mesopotamia, the Persian army was not what it had been; neither was the Byzantine. Audaciously, the Arabs chose to operate against both simultaneously and, though compelled to transfer forces between the two fronts, they succeeded in holding their own; in 637 at Qadisiyah, near modern Baghdad, they won a victory that ensured the triumph of Islam in Persia; the significance of that victory remains so great in the Arab world that in the 1980s it was constantly evoked by Saddam Hussein during his war of attrition with Iran. Meanwhile other Arab armies were conquering Syria (636), Egypt (642) and pressing westward along the Mediterranean coast toward the Byzantine provinces in North Africa. In 674 Mu’awiya, the fifth caliph or ‘successor’ to Muhammad, decided to lay siege directly to Constantinople, and though the Arabs gave up the effort in 677, they returned in 717. By that year, they had taken the whole of North Africa (705), crossed to Spain (711) and reached the Pyrenees, over which they shortly invaded France. In the east they conquered Afghanistan, raided into north-west India, annexed part of Anatolia (modern Turkey), pushed their northernmost boundary to the line of the Caucasus mountains and crossed the Oxus into Transoxiana where, at the Talas River in 751, they fought a decisive battle with the Chinese for dominance over the great cities of Bokhara and Samarkand, on the Silk Road which led to the Great Wall.
--from A History of Warfare, pp. 193-195

Footnote: The Associated Press reported yesterday today that jihadists have beheaded an Orthodox priest in Iraq.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Peter Naglik, 1967-2006

I worked with Peter Naglik between 1997 and 2001 at Queen’s Park in what was then called Government Members’ Services, in the research and communications shop.

Though our team included people who had worked in the Premier’s Office, in ministers’ offices, and the former top civil servant in an Atlantic province, we suspected that we were looked upon with a mixture of pity and derision by many of our colleagues who got paid by the Government of Ontario, and not by the Legislative Assembly.


In opposition, caucus service bureaus face huge demands and are relied upon heavily by leaders and members. But in government -- free of the inertia of the bureaucracy, and largely ignored by the media -- they are able to devote much of their resources to pure, unadulterated politics, i.e. F-U-N. Opposition research. Attack releases. Recording, transcribing and regurgitating the careless bluster of hapless critics and MPPs.

Prudence and modesty preclude me from detailing our exploits more fully. Suffice to say our boss liked to inspire us with this quote from “Conan the Barbarian:”

Mongol General: Conan, what is best in life?
Conan: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women!

With Conan’s bloodlust as our credo, we hardly missed the turgid briefing notes, endless meetings, Question Period, or angry calls from the Premier’s Office (though they knew they could count on us when needed) – the quicksand that pushed at both ends of every government staffer’s day. Why would we?

One of Peter’s moments of glory came during the 1999 general election, when he was doing media monitoring late one night. He spotted a new Liberal ad, one featuring a clip of the Premier describing himself as “mean, mad Mike Harris.” Peter thought he recognized it from an old Focus Ontario broadcast. By morning, the tape had been located, reviewed and our war room was all over the fact that the Liberals had taken Harris’s quote wildly out of context. Harris had in fact been hypothesizing about what his reaction would be if the federal Liberals were to waste the money they cut from transfer payments to the provinces on a new program, instead of balancing the budget. (As history and Gomery have recorded, they ended up doing both.)

There are few bigger coups during an election than having your opponent’s paid media blow up in his face. Peter could have bragged about having bagged that rarest of election game, but didn’t. The thrill of nailing the Liberals was reward enough.

Peter not only had a sharp eye, and an even sharper pen, but a gift for the invented word and pointed phrase. Caribbana was, in his view, “Scary-bana.” He referred to gay conservatives – some of whom were genuine friends – as “homo-cons.” The PC-DRC alliance was the “Tory Dorks.” Commenting on the personal hygiene of a certain member of the Queen’s Park Press Gallery, he remarked that said reporter always looked like a “glazed donut.” He occasionally referred to one of our MPPs, Carl De Faria, as “Count Chocula.” There was no malice in any of this – it was merely Peter’s mischievous yet accurate shorthand.

Peter was an exacting writer, but it amused him to see others hammer perfectly innocent words into ungainly shapes to fit their political ends. He particularly enjoyed the way the word “community” was seized upon by any group grasping for political, societal or professional legitimacy, such as the “actuarial community” – a real example. He would have been tickled that the Ottawa Citizen report of his death included not one, but two quotes featuring the phrase “political community.”

Peter’s and my time at GMS was concurrent with a turbulent yet seemingly hopeless era in federal politics. How far away now seem the passions that surrounded Reform’s reinvention as the Canadian Alliance, the leadership of Stockwell Day, and the futile attempts to merge with the broke-but-proud PCs. Peter had respect for many of us PCs, even the ones who opposed merger – though he did try to rile me with offhand remarks about how the PC party was really being run by David Orchard.

Working on the CA’s 2000 election campaign left him slightly bruised, but unbowed. When he went to work in the leader’s office for Day in 2001, I told him I thought what he was doing was honourable, though the truth unacknowledged between us was that it was probably a lost cause. Day, already wounded by his own mistakes, was besieged by a cabal that had never accepted his wresting of the leadership from Preston Manning.

But Peter went anyway. For all of his respect for strategy and tactics, focus and discipline, Peter still believed that substance matters. That politics is about more than being with the winner, or a $25,000 cheque for two months’ work on a leadership campaign. Sometimes it’s about helping a friend who’s in a tougher race than he expected. Sometimes it’s helping someone track down a report or quote they can’t remember the title or date of. To turn Vince Lombardi on his head: in politics, winning may be everything, but to Peter it wasn’t the only thing.

When I took Peter for a farewell lunch at the Hart House Gallery Club, then councillor Tom Jakobek and former councillor Dennis Fotinos recognized him and greeted him warmly. That was typical of the “Naglik knows” myth that was 5 per cent myth and 95 per cent reality. Once he participated in a “dead pool” at Queen’s Park and predicted that then Globe and Mail editor William Thorsell would meet his maker sometime in the following year. A Queen’s Park columnist immediately e-mailed Peter, demanding “What do you know?” Nothing, as it turned out. But Peter relished having set the cat among the pigeons.

Peter had a strong faith, which I envied desperately. He respected most religions, but scoffed at those that seemed determined to sand down all their surfaces until only a toothpick remained. When we attended a Canadian Club luncheon, he expressed sarcastic astonishment that the United Church minister who said grace actually uttered the word “Jesus.”

I have no doubt that Peter’s faith was the soil from which his general cheer and equanimity grew. Once during a conversation we were having about the state of the world, he said that he believed we were living in the “end times” (I wasn’t always sure when he was pulling my leg). I responded with something forgettable – which I have forgotten – to which he chuckled, threw up his hands and replied, “I gotta go sometime.”

That his sometime has come now, has broken my heart in a way that I thought it could never be broken again. But I will not begrudge him the break. He deserves that and more.

Rest in peace, unique one. Or as you would say, “Bye for now.”

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Never mind the wife and kids, I’M the victim here

Well, Belinda Stronach is in the news again and, yet again, she is the victim of dastardly forces determined to deny Canadians the benefit of her goodness and leadership.

Stronach has decided that what is important in the Domi divorce is not the break-up of a marriage nor its three children, but that yet again she is the victim of a political culture that is biased against women in general and her in particular. From today’s Globe and Mail:

During a television interview yesterday, she refused to discuss the seriousness of her relationship with Mr. Domi, but said female politicians appear more likely to face scrutiny of their private lives.

“I'd really like to say that, in a country like Canada, there isn't, but I do believe there is a double standard,” she told CTV's Mike Duffy Live. “When I decided to enter public life, I didn't realize how public it would be.”

She suggested that this attitude, coupled with the confrontational nature of the House of Commons, could affect women willing to run for office.

“It's unfortunate for other women in this country that want to seek political office and to make a contribution,” she said.

As implied above, it wouldn’t be the first time Stronach demonstrated a narcissism to rival Bill Clinton’s (no wonder they’re simpatico).

She cut and run from the Conservative party, because she had irreconcilable political differences with Stephen Harper – not because she wasn’t getting enough attention or being promoted enough. Yet she has seen Harper close up in her role in brokering the merger of the Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties in 2003, and from the leadership race in 2004.

She couldn’t run for Liberal leader, because the party wasn’t going to allow a pure one-member, one-vote process – not because she was politically radioactive and new election laws prevented her from financing a lavish campaign out of her own pocket like she did in 2004. Yet in the Conservative leadership race she argued in favour of the riding-weighted one member, one vote process, likely because it would have given her an edge in Québec.

Now she is alleged to have been the trigger that ended a 13-year marriage that has produced three children. (As they have been neither admitted nor proven, I am not going to assume that the allegations are true.)

Here’s one option she could have taken: through a spokesperson, express concern for the family and decline further comment. Here’s what she did: gave a TV interview in which she refused to confirm or deny the alleged affair, instead focussing on her own suffering and attempting to hitch it to the larger issue of the travails of public life.

Of course, Stronach would or should have known that the interview was destined to spawn another round of stories about the divorce allegations. Yes, it is fair to say that Mrs. Domi must shoulder most of the blame for drawing attention to the situation, with the explosive and detailed allegations set out in her divorce papers. But Stronach, had she paused to reflect, should know better. She’s been a public figure for years, has two children, and has been through two divorces herself. Leanne Domi and her three kids haven’t.

It may also be that Stronach’s concern for women in public life is yet another injection-moulded spin from the Magna assembly line. Despite her lamentations on CTV, and current position as head of the Liberal women’s caucus, Stronach’s sister act may be more talk than walk, if Leanne Domi’s divorce papers are to be believed:

Leanne says Stronach "insinuated herself" into the Domis' life in the summer of 2005 when she attended the Formula One races in Montreal and dropped into a cocktail party. The Magna heiress coolly said, "hello" and then ignored Leanne and other wives -- who offered her champagne -- and "doted on the men (she sat directly beside Tie) as though they might disappear at any minute, the document says.
--Ottawa Sun, September 26

But, in Stronach’s defence, why would she pay attention to the “wives of?” In the eyes of someone who has never grasped the concept of a team, wives are just another amorphous group of lower life forms – like a caucus. When you are a star, ignoring lower-status women is not necessarily sexism, just good time management.

As I noted recently, Stronach is the only person in the world who fails to grasp that, were she not a wealthy, attractive, woman, she would have no public life which to lament. And, her hypothesis that men would not be subjected to similar attention in similar circumstances is unconvincing, as the case of the late Ontario cabinet minister Al Palladini suggests.

In 1995, Palladini was the target of a claim for child support from a former girlfriend. At the time of the suit and during their relationship, Palladini was married. The details, allegations, and headlines were ugly and painful to everyone involved. (I was working for him at the time.)

He did not enjoy the experience, and I’m pretty sure there were some reporters he wanted to deck, but he never once publicly whined about his situation, nor blamed the furor on his Italian heritage (hello, Joe Volpe) or on some other fatuous reason – even after the Toronto Star’s Tracey Tyler followed him to his former girlfriend’s house and photographed him through a window, which photo appeared on page A1. Why? Because Al Palladini was a man. You’d think that by now, Stronach would know how one acts.

There is one winner in all of this: National Post columnist Don Martin, who has a book on Stronach coming out, and must have despaired when she took a pass on the leadership. Looks like he will have a happy Christmas after all.