Saturday, April 23, 2016

My Take on Duffy

People have been asking for my take on Duffy, so here goes: I called it from Day 1. I did the same analysis of the housing "scandal" for Glen McGregor before he wrote his story as the judge did in the decision. And I always saw the expenses as an administration issue: an employer weighs the claim against the expense policy of the enterprise, not what the rest of the world thinks. Was the Senate perktastic, with Hon. Members living in a world divorced from the reality the rest of us face when dealing with employment expenses? Yes. And it should be fixed, with the caveat that senators should be out on the road interacting with Canadians, representing the Government of Canada at things like funerals which, at first glance, don't seem like government business, and seeing what's going on in the rest of the country.
Was Duffy caught up in a sleazy, ham-fisted cover-up run out of Harper's PMO? Yes. And, as Judge Vaillancourt noted, he was under intense pressure from the highest ranks of the Prime Minister's Office and the Conservative Senate caucus to do so. Keep in mind, too, that all the while Duffy insisted his housing expenses were right in the first place.
Should Duffy have been appointed to the Senate to "represent" PEI, even though he had lived in Ottawa for years? That's a tough one. Many people had been in the same situation before, people like Joyce Fairbarn, a former Southam News reporter who worked as press secretary to Pierre Trudeau before being appointed to the Senate to "represent" Alberta. (Senators don't represent anyone or any place. They never have to take a call from a "constituent" and can vote a law in a way utterly contrary to the interests of their province, and contrary to overwhelming public opinion. It is only by the generosity of a senator that he/she even bothers to visit their "home" province at all and interact with the people there. Does this stink? Yes. But it is how it is, and it wasn't Duffy's fault.)
I like Mike Duffy. I know his faults. He is far from being an evil man, and nowhere near a criminal. A lot of media wanted to take him down, and they really thought they had him. The more closely people followed the trial in the media, the more sure they were of conviction. I watched it as someone who studied criminal law and I knew on the second or third day that the Crown had lost the case. Sometimes they were calling witness after witness to try to plug a single hole -- the dog show in Peterborough comes to mind -- and the hole would only get bigger. This was a true show trial, complete with a press release with the assistant commissioner of the RCMP's picture on it when the charges were laid. Judge Vaillancourt wrote a decision that should be read carefully by everyone who covered the Duffy case and anyone who wants to understand Stephen Harper's Ottawa.

I have been his friend for 20 years. Before he started in the Senate, I helped him fight of Internet trolling and I kept doing that when he was appointed. Eventually, he sent me a token payment, something the judge took pains to say was warranted, and was good value for public money. I am glad to see him acquitted. I hope he goes back to the Senate and embraces the one good thing it does: scrutinizing legislation.
And I hope the media, which has come as close as possible -- as I told them in a scrum outside the courthouse in the early day of the trial to much eye-rolling from reporters who were sure he was going to jail -- to killing Duffy, now leave him alone.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Re: Mike Duffy

RE: Canadaland's article:

I do not believe I should have been strong-armed into writing this post. I believe I should have been able to give my evidence at trial. I believe I should have been afforded the protection of privilege in testifying, and that, although sub judice contempt of court is no longer enforced (especially in judge-alone cases), I should follow the rules. However, if I waited to do so, my reputation would have been destroyed by Jesse Brown and David Akin.
I had no idea Canadaland was publishing anything about me until the item appeared. I had implored Akin to leave me alone until I testified. However, they went ahead and, within hours, it was obvious that they meant to do as much harm to me as possible. I spoke with the RCMP, then decided I really had no choice but to write this blog post to try to protect my reputation.
I also had been informed that my witness statements had been turned over to the defence, so there is nothing in this blog post that is unknown to Mike Duffy's defence team.
In 2009, I was a prof at Concordia University in Montreal. Mike Duffy asked me to do some research work on how to deal with troll posts on the Internet. Duff had been a friend of mine for 15 years. His desk was next to mine in the Press Gallery newsroom, before I went to Concordia in 2007 and he went to the Senate in 2009. 
I had not written about the Senate in at least three years as I was no longer doing legal reporting that required me to cover its justice committee. So I did some research over the course of several months. We had never talked about me being paid and I did not expect to be paid. I did decide to never write about Duffy -- to recuse myself, basically, from covering him and the Senate, just because of the fact that he was my friend and I had been to his home. I tried never to develop personal friendships with politicians and kept my personal life and media work very separate.  (This is a much higher standard than usual for Ottawa reporters). 
Several times, he asked me to ask my wife for legal advice. She did not provide him with any or talk to him.
Months later, he sent a cheque to my wife, who had just been called to the Bar. We sent it back. Then he sent a cheque to me from what appeared to be his own company. Since I did not believe I was in any kind of conflict, I cashed it. At that point, I was workimg full-time on my books. I used my gallery membership to go into the Centre Block to have lunch with friends and to use the Library of Parliament to research magazine stories, none of which involved the Senate or Mike Duffy.
I never wrote about Duffy again except in a positive review of Dan Leger's book (where I declared my friendship with Duffy), in a blog post where I talked about my friendship with Duffy and to mention Duffy's "insider" journalism and his Senate expense scandal in my book. (I had to put something in about it.) I never sold Duffy coverage, never wrote journalism that was compromised by my relationship, did nothing unethical in any way. If the Press Gallery had a method of declaring potential conflicts, I would have availed myself of it.

(This is the same press gallery, by the way, that is no soliciting corporate clients for its annual dinner, in which many journalists invite lobbyists.)
Duffy continues to be my friend. I have worried that the stress of the scandal would kill him. I offered him a big hug soon after he had another heart attack.
I have learned a lot about a few of my Hill colleagues and about hungry self-promoters like Jesse Brown. George Bain's complaint of "Gotcha" journalism has a lot of truth to it among the more immature and, frankly, stupid members of the gallery. There are many great journalists in the Gallery and I hope they understand how, in 2009, I expected to live the rest of my life of an academic who just happened to have a rather bizarre friend in the Senate. I have no psychic powers. I acted ethically by making sure I did not cover Duffy in the magazine and newspaper pieces I wrote.
I have been a loyal friend to a man who always treated me well. He and I do not share the same politics. Right now, he is in a lot of trouble. He is still my friend. He may go to jail. I will visit him if he does. I try to be a good friend, even when my friends stumble.

As for the innuendo created by Jesse Brown, David Akin and Canadaland: only one other publication followed up on it. That was Frank Magazine.
Nice work, guys.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Kill the Messengers: The Reviews Are Rolling In!

Reviews of Kill the Messengers: Stephen Harper's Assault on Your Right to Know

by Mark Bourrie

The book paints Harper as ruthlessly attacking and even silencing journalists, scientists, judges, environmentalists, and intellectuals in a drive to remake Canada, rewrite our history, and keep the Conservatives in power. It is one of the most damning books ever written about a sitting prime minister.
-Paul Gessell, Ottawa Magazine

In thirteen searing chapters, Bourrie details the Harper government's politics-as-war crusade to "to kill many messengers" by blocking media inquiries, gagging watchdogs (especially climate scientists), shuttering archives and laboratories, and ramping up conservative propaganda — all in the service of relegating politics to well-connected insiders. How readers feel about Bourrie's book will no doubt hinge on their personal politics, but he certainly makes some valid points in this razor-witted, accessible account that should interest anyone who cares about Canada's future.
--Publishers Weekly

People are either going to love this book or hate it. Me, I loved it. Stephen Harper may not like it so much but would do well to heed it.
-Georgie Binks, Toronto Star


A sweeping and sobering read.
-Susan Delacourt, Toronto Star


Some of the book’s most valuable sections illustrate how the kind of control applied to the media and the public sphere is being applied to policy-making – think the dismantling of the long-gun registry, cancelling the long-form census, or ignoring declining crime rates when crafting new justice legislation. If you are determined to pass certain kinds of laws, then suppressing the flow of information about how effective the laws are will make them more difficult to criticize.
-Chis Hannay, the Globe and Mail


Examining a Parliament now micromanaged by party whips, MPs who see no reason to attend the House of Commons to debate bills, and a media seemingly no longer able or willing to report on Parliament Hill in scrupulous detail or with a critical lens, Kill the Messengers paints a portrait of a democracy that's hobbled or, as Bourrie puts it, "on autopilot."
-Thomas Hachard, The Tyee


The most important and interesting parts of this book deal with how the prime minister and his staff have been able to manage and manipulate their message, taking advantage of key changes in the way the news media operates. Especially important is that Bourrie, a veteran member of the Parliamentary press gallery, does not refrain from assigning at least some of the blame to the media itself.
-Dan Rowe, Quill and Quire

Kill The Messengers is funny and unnerving. Bourrie takes aim… with a sniper’s precision. The result is the gutsiest account of contemporary Canadian politics to come out of the parliamentary press gallery in a generation.
-Holly Doan, Blacklock’s Reporter

Mark Bourrie's thorough examination of how Stephen Harper keeps the Canadian voter from knowing what the hell is going on, how it muzzles government scientists and everyone else in the civil service, should infuriate everyone who has even the slightest regard for democracy, transparency and open government. The book is also an indictment of a lazy media. Harper has gotten away with a lot because the media has allowed it to happen. The book is wonderfully written. Breezy, very funny at times, but ultimately maddening. I hope everyone who plans to vote in the 2015 federal election ion Canada reads it.
-- Linwood Barclay, Goodreads.

Bourrie correctly identifies the most dangerous precedents Harper has set: Trying to appoint an unqualified judge to the Supreme Court; trying to change the law to make his illegal appointment legal; and publicly rebuking the chief justice of the Supreme Court for trying to tell him he was wrong."There's no point having a free press, functioning Parliament, independent parliamentary watchdogs, unfettered scientists and an end to government propaganda campaigns unless we have free elections and courts that have the power to roll back tyranny," Bourrie pleads."If we lose those, it's all over. They won't be coming back."

True Canadian conservatives support Parliament and democratic traditions. Bourrie is so convinced of the undemocratic tendencies of Harper, that he twice uses the label "fascism" to describe his true ideology.Readers will decide for themselves if Bourrie has overreached, or is accurately depicting Canada's emperor/prime minister as having no democratic clothes.

After all, there's always the next election.
Isn't there?
--Donald Benham, Winnipeg Free Press

By the time you have read chapters five through 10, you will be ready for an election. Even those of conservative ideology should be moved by the cost of Harper’s misguided decisions and the fact that his efforts to control the narrative have caused him to break every pledge of accountability on which he originally campaigned.
-Siri Agrell JSource

Friday, May 16, 2014

Common Law

Time to buy a new Snoopy lunch pail. I heard a couple of months ago that I've been admitted to the University of Ottawa's Common Law program, beginning in September. I was able to tell my dad that before he passed away.
It's something I always wanted to do. I wrote about a lot of legal stuff, and I've wished, over the years, that I had studied law before I wrote any of it. I want to be a go-to lawyer for writers, publishers, people hit by SLAPP suits, and new Internet media start-ups. Fortunately, the University of Ottawa, just down the street from my home, has the faculty and resources to teach me how to do that.
Yea, it's weird to go back to school at an age when people are seriously considering early retirement. But idleness never had much attraction for me. And I've seen an awful lot of people in mid-life thrive in law school. Getting a law degree takes nothing away from what I do as an author, university teacher or historian. And, in 2017, when I graduate, I'll be three years older. That would have happened without law school.
So wish me luck. It's going to be a big change.   

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Paul Bourrie 1931-2014

Paul Bourrie died peacefully on February 28 in Smith’s Falls, Ontario. He had just celebrated his 83d birthday.
He was the son of Ernest Bourrie and (Ellen) Bernadine Lehane, and the brother of Michael Bourrie, all of whom predeceased him. He was also very close to his aunts Mary and Anne Lehane of Toronto.
Mr. Bourrie was born on February 2, 1931, in Lindsay, Ontario and spent most of his childhood at his parents’ home in Midland and on his great-grandmother Elizabeth Donnelly’s farm near Brechin.
He married Margaret Anne Gilman in 1954.
In his teens, Mr. Bourrie worked as a bellhop and bootlegger on the Canadian Pacific passenger ships Assiniboia and Keewatin and attended St. Jerome’s College in Kitchener, where he excelled in boxing. After working for several years for the Toronto brokerage firm of Ross Knowles, he graduated from Lakeshore Teacher’s College. He later studied economics at Waterloo Lutheran University ( Wilfrid Laurier University).
Mr. Bourrie taught in Toronto, New Hamburg, Collingwood, Midland, Northwestern Ontario and Nassau, Bahamas. He specialized in teaching youths who struggled with reading, and, in the last years of his teaching career, worked with First Nations children in the Nakina area north of Lake Superior.
Mr. Bourrie was a founding member of the New Democratic Party. He was on the executives of several riding associations in the Kitchener area and in Northwestern Ontario. He was always keenly interested in public affairs.
He was an avid trout fisherman, like his father.

Mr. Bourrie is survived by his children Pauline (Robert Woodruff), Mark (Marion Van de Wetering), and Mary Anne (Henri Morin), and by grandchildren Max, Carina, Caitlin and Melissa Morin, Megan, Ian and Maia Bourrie, and Lindsay and Sara Woodruff.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Part of Chapter 1 of Kill the Messengers

In the past, politicians could be adversaries in civil debates without being enemies. They could reject each other’s arguments without attacking them as people. They could debate facts and lines of logic with vigor and humor, without the vicious mockery and, more and more, outright profanity that’s heard in the House of Commons. They could quibble over their interests without attacking their opponents’ patriotism. Canada’s Parliament has never been an academy of selfless Solons tirelessly reflecting on the public good. Six years after Confederation, a journalist wrote: “At Ottawa, little enough is done in the way of practical legislation for the country, but the struggle of parties is carried on vigorously, with a shrill accompaniment of organs on both sides.” Still, there was a sense of collegiality, perhaps inspired by the fact that Ottawa was a forlorn place and the city was awash in booze.
 Now politics is seen as war by another means, with control of patronage and public spending as the prize. In places where politicians look on each other as enemies, “legislatures replace relevance with pure partisanship. Party discipline rules supreme, fraternization is frowned upon, negotiation and compromise are rarely practiced, and debate within the chamber becomes as venomously personal as it is politically meaningless,” Ignatieff told his American audience.
And when political opponents – or any other group -- are cast as enemies of the popular interest, it’s not much of a leap to label them as enemies of the people and enemies of the state: Anne Coulter, the American right-wing controversialist, has made a good living doing precisely that, peddling books attacking liberals, giving the books titles like Treason, Demonic, Guilty, and High Crimes and Misdemeanors. “Fascism took the fatal step from a politics of adversaries into a politics of enemies,” Ignatieff, still hurting from his own electoral beating, warned. “We are not there yet, but it is worth remembering that the fatal declension occurred in a democracy not so dissimilar to our own, in a society plagued by economic crisis, among a battered population looking for someone to blame.”

Democratic politics requires compromise, often a dirty business that can shock and horrify those of us who rarely find the need to hold our noses and make deals with people we don’t particularly like, don’t agree with, and want to see fail. It’s one of the skills that lawyers need, which partly explains why lawyers move so easily into political life. But today’s “politics as war” conjures up ingrained concepts of unconditional surrender, scorched earth, take no prisoners, and divides outcomes into victory or defeat. The idea of compromise for the good of the public disappears pretty fast. High-functioning sociopaths flourish in this environment.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Introduction, Kill the Messengers, with some fixes.

Introduction: Democracy, Messengers, and the Harper Revolution

The King of England stood on a balcony in Westminster, just outside the city of London, and braced himself against the cold. It was a raw January day in 1649, the crowd was noisy, and only a few people could hear him.
But there was a guy near the king who was writing everything down. With a few hours, the king’s speech was on the streets in primitive newspapers.
It was not the sort of rant that Justin Trudeau or even Stephen Harper would come up with, and it certainly was not the work of a Barrack Obama. King Charles I wasn’t running for anything. In fact, his career was quickly winding down. The words he spoke were his own, not those of a speechwriter. They’re sort of dense and Shakespearean, but after you read them once or twice, you’ll get the drift.
“And truly I desire their (the people’s) liberty and freedom as much as anybody whomsoever, but I must tell you, that their liberty and freedom consists in having of government those laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own. It is not for having a share in government that is pertaining to them,” the diminutive, cat-like sovereign said.
“A subject and a sovereign are clean different things, and therefore until you do put the people in that liberty as I say, certainly they will never enjoy themselves.”
He finished up, turned, knelt down, prayed for a moment, and a chap named Brandon took one swing of an axe and chopped off his head.
Few politicians are as up-front in their contempt of democracy, and fewer still have the opportunity to speak with the honesty that’s available to a sentient person who knows he won’t have to worry about that evening’s dinner because he’ll be shorter by a head. But Charles I was a man of his times, and of our times, too: trashing the press, proroguing parliament, getting very heavy with people who disagreed. Few modern politicians will come out and say the people really have no business being involved in government. A few more will echo the king’s assertion that governments exist to protect people’s property and keep taxes down. But not that many are willing to stick their necks that far out to make a point.
Two hundred years later, the Americans fought their own Civil War. This one was about crushing secessionist states that had broken up the country because they believed their slave economy was in jeopardy. But this war was about something else, the thing that lies in the heart of the Gettysburg Address. Everyone’s heard of that short speech – it wasn’t much longer than poor Charles’s last words – but few people have read it carefully. The address starts with a little history lesson and a very slight side-swipe of the slavery issue. Then it gets down to business: the blood of the Union troops at Gettysburg was spilled so that government of the people, by the people, for the people, should not perish from this earth.
People reading the speech always put the emphasis on the “of, by, for” words. But the real meat of the phrase is in the last six words. In 1863, the United States was the most revolutionary country on Earth. It was the only major power that was anything resembling a real democracy. And it seemed likely to be the last one, an experiment that failed. France had twice tried to create a democracy between 1789 and 1863 and their revolutions went badly. One ended up bathed in blood. Both were undermined by public revulsion and ended with a return to monarchy. Britain was emerging as democratic state, but few men had the right to vote and power lay in the hands of aristocrats and industrialists. Canada was a little farther along, but most politicians gagged at the idea of true democracy. Anti-democratic feeling ran strong among members of Canada’s elites, many of them linear descendants of monarchist refugees from the American Revolution. They feared the political power of French-Canadians and the Irish who were streaming into the country, and many remembered the fun time they had crushing the Rebellions of 1837-1838.
The great empires and small countries of Europe were all monarchies. Revolutionaries in central and South America had overthrown their Spanish colonial masters and had tried to create democracies. All had failed. There were no democracies in Africa. Or Asia. Or, for that matter, in the Confederacy.
Democracy was an anomaly until the end of the First World War. Going into it, the Great Powers consisted of four Imperial monarchies (Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Japan), two democracies (France and the United States), a new junta trying to secularize an Islamic state (Turkey) and a parliamentary monarchy that was well on its way to being a democracy (Britain). Most of the rest of the small industrialized powers were military dictatorships, ludicrous small monarchies (the Tsar of Bulgaria comes to mind), colonies or satellite nations of the larger powers. Canada was both a colony and an emerging democracy). By the end of the war, democracy or systems resembling it had been foisted on most of the new European countries created by the Treaty of Versailles and on Central Powers. The postwar settlement of 1919 was a rush forward for democracy in Europe, though many nations created in that settlement would not get much of a chance to act like one for another seventy years.
After the Second World War, democracy would get another boost, not just in Europe (outside the Soviet occupation zones) but also in the Third World, where Britain tried, with temporary and minimal success, to create Westminster systems in its old colonies.    
 So, in many ways, Lincoln, when he stood on the platform at Gettysburg, was very much alone as the leader of what he feared was the world’s last democracy. Democracy – real involvement by the people in their government, which they, as citizens own -- is not the default position of governments, even in the West. It’s something that takes great struggle to create and has to be nurtured, preserved, and, in dire times, fought for. As we’ve seen in the misfire of the “Arab Spring,” faith in democracy and in the civil society institutions that protect it needs to be deep and wide in society. Elections and political parties do not make democracy. It cannot survive with without the rule of law – honest courts, enforceable agreements, fair treatment of accused criminals – along with an inquisitive press and a solid, accessible system of public education. State religions undermine democracy because they enforce intellectual and social conformity. So does tribalism. Class warfare, which does exist, can undermine democracy, too. People need the freedom to be able to do business together in corporations, but they also need the liberty to work together to form trade unions. Any country that has a huge gap between the wealthy and the poor is so wracked with systemic inequality that the political voice of the impoverished is too weak to be heard.
The fear of being the last, failed steward of democracy drove Lincoln. Like Vladimir Lenin during the years when the Communists were losing the Russian Civil War, Lincoln became ruthless. Believing freedom could not, on its own, save democracy, he did not back away from censoring the press. At one point, he even considered jailing the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, who was a die-hard pro-slavery, states-rights man. In the end, once the rebellion had been crushed, Lincoln quickly moved to restore state legislatures in Dixie and to bring congressmen from the Confederate states to the newly-finished Capitol. Democracy of the people, by the people, had been, as much as was possible in 19th century America, saved from extinction.
Lincoln ended his life with a bullet in the brain, but the idea of democracy as a practical system of government survived both the war and Lincoln. Public support and the political will for real democracy has ebbed and flowed, but the target was always there. Democracy has many flaws, including the obvious fact that it’s very difficult for people to listen to each other and to prevent the strong from dominating the weak. Still, it is the system of government that offers people more freedom than any other. In fact, democracy simply can’t work unless people have a deeply ingrained sense of liberty, not only for their own thoughts, speech, and religion, but for those they disagree with. Liberty of conscience unleashes all kinds of creativity and inquiry, along with economic opportunity and social mobility. That’s one of the reasons why democracies tend to be so wealthy.  
But ideology of democracy, so taken for granted in places that have benefitted from it, is in trouble, not just in Canada, but in most Western countries. Corporate communications strategy, retail politics, intrusive technology and the de-fanging of media and other governmental watchdogs have become normal. Courts and the justice system are being undermined, both from outside and from within. A new kind of controlling, arrogant and often vindictive government has emerged since the 1980s and is getting more emboldened and entrenched. It is not simply a neo-conservative creation. It’s loose in Barack Obama’s Washington, where “hope” and “change” did not involve the rolling back of the post-9/11 security state and the opening up of government to scrutiny and criticism.
                Here in Canada, Stephen Harper, like Jean Chretien before him, relishes the idea of being a “G-8 world leader.” Because Canada was invited to join the annual summit of world economic powers – mainly because France got to bring Italy to the table, U.S. president Gerald Ford insisted his country should bring Canada – Ottawa strangely sees itself as a capital rivaling Paris, London and Tokyo. Really, although it’s a great place to live, it’s a rather backwater capital of a very decentralized state where power over important issues like education, health care, and social services lies with the provinces. The importance – or self-importance – that goes along with this pretence of Canada being a major world power was used as an excuse for Harper’s security detail to transport an armored Cadillac to India for one summit, as though there are no safe limos in the subcontinent, or that anyone would recognize him if he walked down the street.
In Ottawa, Harper has adopted a style that can only be termed lordly. He travels to work in a motorcade of black limos and SUVs with tinted windows. They circle Parliament Hill until a suitable, discrete entrance is found, far from the curious tourists, and the Prime Minister and his retinue are whisked into the Centre Block. John Diefenbaker, Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau often walked to work. It’s not clear why Ottawa is considered by Harper’s security people believe Ottawa to be so dangerous. It could be that Harper has an intense fear of assassination. Or maybe the motorcade is just a rather ridiculous symbol of power. If Harper wants to use his business office, the same motorcade takes the Prime Minister across Wellington Street to the big, ugly Langevin Block. The nasty building was named after a newspaper editor who became a Public Works minister and had his career destroyed by a kickback scandal. The sandstone building is literally rotting along the street level because the stone is dissolved by road salt. Inside, the halls of the Langevin Block are covered with photographs of Stephen Harper.
Crash-proof barriers have been installed at the Prime Minister’s mansion at 24 Sussex Drive – which is also falling apart from neglect and shabby maintenance -- and the old chef’s quarters have been turned into an RCMP security detail command centre. (The Harpers and chefs have never really worked out. A previous chef quit and sued, saying it was not part of his job to bury the Harper family’s dead cat, which was flattened by a car.)
In 2013, when Prime Minister Harper took his teenage son Ben to the Centre Block’s very informal fifth floor cafeteria for a burger, the Harpers were accompanied by at least four skittish, bulky men with wires in their ears and a photographer who snapped almost every second of that magic moment. Much eye-rolling ensued. It must have been strange for the high schooler. It certainly was for those of us who sat, eating out lunches, and watched. The situation became comical as the security people filled the tiny cafeteria and eyeballed the journalists, MPs, office workers and political staffers who sat at the rows of cafeteria-style tables. There was no reason why the two Harpers could not have quietly walked into the room, without the goons and photographers, and sat down for lunch. But, in true Stephen Harper style, father and son sat in a secluded corner of the room, protected by Prime Ministerial staffers, heavies and photographers, and, rather than have a low-key family moment, enjoyed a photo-op instead.
Then there’s Halloween at the Harper house, called “24” in Tory code speak. Starting in 2012, kids who want candy from the Harpers are put through metal detectors first. As Gulliver found out, even the little people can make your life miserable. Our G-8 country world-leader was kept safe from witches, pirates, Darth Vaders and other sketchy small people, who arrived at his doorstep disarmed and thoroughly screened, made to walk through airport-style metal detectors.
If you think this kind of nonsense is the brainchild of the security staff, and that the PM has no say in how it works, think again. The Prime Minister is the boss, and if he really thought the head of his RCMP security team was pushing him around, that cop would, within a few weeks, be showing store clerks in Iqaluit how to spot fake toonies. He likes this. He likes this far too much.
Of course, in a city full of enemies, kids packing plastic light sabers and rubber pirate swords are the least of your worries if you’re the Prime Minister of Canada. Harper and his courtiers spend a lot of time worrying about enemies in the media, universities, bureaucracy, First Nations and even in churches and soup kitchens. And, of course, there are the enemies sitting on the other side of the House of Commons. Gone were the days of grudging professional respect and sometimes real friendship among Members of Parliament. The House of Commons stumbles toward irrelevance during the Harper regime and the ever more toxic atmosphere and vicious partisanship has worked its way down into the committees, where most of Parliament’s real work gets done. Whatever people say about former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, by the time his political career crashed he understood the danger of separating the people’s representatives into “us” and “them,” and then trashing the “thems” as unpatriotic, evil, stupid and corrupt. “The opposition performs an adversarial function critical to democracy itself,” Ignatieff said in a speech at Stanford University in October, 2012. “Governments have no right to question the loyalty of those who oppose them. Adversaries remain citizens of the same state, common subjects of the same sovereign, servants of the same law.”
In the past, politicians could be adversaries in civil debates without being enemies. They could reject each other’s arguments without attacking them as people. They could debate facts and lines of logic with vigor and humor, without the vicious mockery and, more and more, outright profanity that’s heard in the House of Commons. They could quibble over their interests without attacking their opponents’ patriotism. But in places where politicians look on each other as enemies, “legislatures replace relevance with pure partisanship. Party discipline rules supreme, fraternization is frowned upon, negotiation and compromise are rarely practiced, and debate within the chamber becomes as venomously personal as it is politically meaningless,” Ignatieff told his American audience.
And when political opponents – or any other group -- are cast as enemies of the popular interest, it’s not much of a leap to label them as enemies of the people and enemies of the state: Anne Coulter, the American right-wing controversialist, has made a good living doing precisely that, peddling books attacking liberals, giving the books titles like Treason, Demonic, Guilty, and High Crimes and Misdemeanors. “Fascism took the fatal step from a politics of adversaries into a politics of enemies,” Ignatieff, still hurting from his own electoral beating, warned. “We are not there yet, but it is worth remembering that the fatal declension occurred in a democracy not so dissimilar to our own, in a society plagued by economic crisis, among a battered population looking for someone to blame.”
Democratic politics requires compromise, often a dirty business that can shock and horrify those of us who rarely find the need to hold our noses and make deals with people we don’t particularly like, don’t agree with, and want to see fail. It’s one of the skills that lawyers need, which partly explains why lawyers move so easily into political life. But today’s “politics as war” conjures up ingrained concepts of unconditional surrender, scorched earth, take no prisoners, and divides outcomes into victory or defeat. The idea of compromise for the good of the public disappears pretty fast. High-functioning sociopaths flourish in this environment.
War talk, Ignatieff said, should be saved for real enemies. “We should focus martial energies where they are needed: [against] those adversaries who actively threaten the liberty of other peoples and our own. Towards those within our borders, however heatedly we may disagree, we should work from a simple persuasive, but saving, assumption: In the house of democracy there are no enemies.”
Ignatieff said democracy is threatened while money dominated politics. And parties have to loosen their grips on the nomination process so talented people who are unknown to the central leadership can come forward. Elected representatives have to be freed from party whips. Ignatieff had rarely worried about these problems when he held the knout as leader of the Liberal Party, but he was right.[i]
But Ignatieff’s visions aren’t shared in the Langevin Block. Even Harper supporters have not been immune to their leader’s thirst for control: Tom Flanagan, Harper’s political and academic mentor, was driven out when he wrote Harper’s Team without clearing the book with the boss. The prime minister had tried to talk Flanagan into killing the book, which has very little controversial material and puts Harper in a fairly good light. Flanagan later told author Lawrence Martin that Harper didn’t want Flanagan to write any book, no matter how supportive it might be.
Flanagan himself, in a 2007 interview, said the goal of Harper and the Tories was to change the very real perception among Canadians that Liberal governments are normal and Conservative administrations are just oddballs and flukes that last just long enough to maintain the pretence that Canada is a two-party democracy. “The Liberals had identified themselves as the party of government, people used to talk about the natural governing party and all this bullshit. He’s (Harper) got a definite communication strategy to associate the Conservative party with government and make it seem normal to have a Conservative government after so many years in which the Liberals made it seem that no other party than the Liberals could govern. Conservative parties around the world tend to be successful when they can align themselves with the values of patriotism. That’s the norm, that the conservative party is the patriotic party.”[ii]
And Flanagan had a point. Since the end of the First World War, Conservative federal governments in Canada have been rare and relatively short-lived. Almost to the day when Harper was sworn in, conventional wisdom, especially in the Parliament Hill media, was that the Liberals were mathematically certain to hold power for a very, very long time. Jeffrey Simpson, The Globe and Mail’s main Ottawa columnist and the authoritative voice of conventional wisdom for both the bureaucratic and media elites, even published a book, The Friendly Dictatorship, about the threat to democracy of the Liberals’ seemingly unbreakable lock on power. If he had learned anything in the first years of the century, Harper had discovered that every political party, even the Liberal Party of Canada -- which ranks as one of the world’s great political success stories -- can be humbled and even broken. There is no “forever” in politics.
            The creation of the Conservative Party of Canada took more than a decade, and building it required the co-opting of the Reform Party, a 1980s populist reaction to the sleaze, deficit spending and regional compromises of Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives. The people in Western Canada and rural and small-town Ontario who supported Reform often had legitimate beefs. Starting in the 1970s, Canada has been through a series of recessions that have hit farm country and small towns particularly hard. Cities, riding real estate booms fuelled by immigration, missed much of the pain. In many small communities, the tough recessions of the early 1980s and early 1990s never ended. Many factories that were shut never re-opened. Well-paying jobs in mills, mines, and on railways never came back. The split from the 1980s onwards between the prosperity of the cities -- especially white collar Toronto -- and the depopulation and poverty in the countryside and in resource communities –opened up enmities and political opportunities that were far more effectively exploited by neo-conservatives. Young people abandoned rural and small-town Canada, causing anguish and bitterness for the parents they left behind. The aging of rural Canada was another factor that helped Reform grow and pick up Parliamentary seats. At the same time, Christianity split between dying older denominations and more fundamentalist churches, and Manning, a conservative Christian, was able to pull fellow evangelicals into his political crusade.
The conversation in Canada was muted by the gutting of community journalism as independent small-town papers were absorbed into national newspaper chains and ruined. Big city journalism abandoned small-town Canada. The Globe and Mail had built itself on regional distribution. It became the dominant political newspaper in Ontario because its circulation department memorized railway timetables and made sure every farmer, main street business owner and small-town lawyer had the paper first thing in the morning. (The Globe’s creator, George Brown, made his fortune in the 1850s by getting the paper to the train on time. George McCullagh, founder of The Globe and Mail, started in the newspaper business in the 1920s as a kid wandering the back concessions of Ontario, betting farmers that he could plow a straighter furrow than they could, with a Globe subscription as the stakes.) The Globe and Mail threw away farm and small-town readers and stopped covering most local and provincial issues in a deliberate decision made in 1988. The ad industry lusted for the urban, wealthy demographic, even if it’s not large enough to support a great newspaper. People in the West and small-town Canada clued in quickly. No one likes to feel unwanted.
Manning’s greatest contribution to this country was actually a negative, He could have exploited western separatist sympathies, but he didn’t. Instead, Reform would storm Babylon, muck out the mess in Ottawa, make everyone from every part of Canada equally important in Ottawa, get rid of careerist politicians and those who lied to get elected, and have MPs who really represented their constituents. If they let the people down, voters would be able to “recall” them. It really was “reform” and much of it was, and still is, badly needed. Reform Party supporters – politically-aware people from small-town Canada who are not thrilled to see fundraising prowess and patronage take over the political system – should be just as horrified as anyone else with what’s happening in Ottawa.
Politics is run by professional strategists, pollsters and fundraisers who usually work for lobbying firms and sell their influence to the highest bidder between elections.  The professionalization of politics, along with the Conservatives’ extreme message control, lack of accountability and the almost complete ignoring of the “grass roots” until the party needs some money or some votes runs completely opposite to what the Reform Party stood for in the early 1990s.
Now, former Reformers hold many of the levers of power. The West’s biggest economic worries have been taken care of. Alberta’s energy sector is safe from high taxation and tough regulations, and the government backs the pipelines that could take Alberta crude to world markets. Farmers don’t have to sell their grain to the Canadian Wheat Board. And, probably coincidentally, since not even Stephen Harper can dictate the price of oil, most of the West is booming. (Harper, though, should re-read the books of economist Harold Innis to see where this is going. In a nutshell, Innis, a brilliant University of Toronto economist, warned in 1956 that this country has, too often, relied on just one or two big resource industries and has paid heavily when the world stopped paying us the price we want.) But to win power, the party changed. Readers of George Orwell’s Animal Farm will be familiar with the story line. These days, the Conservative Party of Canada bears a striking resemblance to the Mulroney-led party that Preston Manning destroyed. It’s hard to believe old Reformers ever expected to see their party defending Mulroney in the House of Commons for taking $300,000 in large bills from German arms dealer-lobbyist Karl-Heinz Schreiber, with the utterly lame response that the Liberals had skimmed millions through the Sponsorship scandal. They never would have said, back when Manning was stumping prairie villages, that Senate expense account padding wasn’t worth much public condemnation because the Ontario Liberals were engaged in a succession of scandals, as though one negates the other in some sort of weird hierarchy of corruption.
So the message has to be controlled. The Harper government has set out to kill many messengers. The media is obviously one of them. And, while Harper’s war with journalists has generated some coverage and interest – though perhaps more among journalists than other people – it’s just a small and relatively easy part of the remaking of how Ottawa works. The Ottawa media had been withering for years, battered by the collapse of the news business. There are many other watchdogs in Ottawa, and Harper’s team set out to defang them, along with anyone who made much noise about it.
First, there was Parliament, an institution, like the media, that has seen better days and has needed serious reform for a long time. Somewhere between Preston manning’s 1980s speeches in rural Saskatchewan about democracy and the Harper government’s decision to slap time limits on debate of most important bills, someone didn’t get the message that MPs are supposed to be more than voting puppets. (The status of legislators had already been undercut by Neo-cons, who’ve pretty much erased the concept of “representative” from the public mind and replaced it with “politician.” This type of propaganda was expressed quite blatantly by the Conservative government of Neo-con darling Mike Harris. His bill to scrap local democracy and replace small community councils with less responsive amalgamated city administrations was called The Fewer Municipal Politicians Act, 1999. People might have looked at it differently if it was called The Reduced Representation Act or The Kiss Local Democracy Goodbye Act. The Harper government has come up with the same triumphal names for laws, which are talked about later in the book.)
Who are the people that Harper wants muzzled? There are federal watchdogs who make sure the government doesn’t waste money. They protect people’s civil rights. They consult with environmental scientists and engineers to decide whether or not a pipeline can be built safely. They inspect our food so we don’t get poisoned. They make sure the government’s spies do not pry into the lives of law-abiding people. Some of them were never, before Harper’s regime went after them, seen as watchdogs at all. For example, very few people ten years ago would have added environmental scientists to any list of people who might be considered dangers to the state. Now, in Harper’s Ottawa, they’re kept isolated and gagged and, if possible, turfed from their jobs. Their labs are shut down and their research libraries shuttered. Everyone within the government’s grasp is barred from speaking publicly in case they say something that might inconvenience or embarrass the government. The national institutions paid for by Canadians are to speak with just one voice, and it is linked to the mind of Stephen Harper, an introverted former computer nerd with a master’s degree in economics, no real experience in the world of business or professions, who never managed anything in his life, other than a small and secretive pressure group called the National Citizens Coalition, before winning the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, and, within a few years, the premiership of Canada.
A lot of this controlling, targeting, and, when need arises, attacking, is done to make life easier at “the centre” – the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which is the political department run by Stephen Harper, and the Council Office (PCO), the supposedly somewhat objective and brainy group that advises all ministers on policy and finds ways for the public service to carry out the decisions of the Cabinet. Both of these agencies are now the person tool of Stephen Harper, and he uses them with great enthusiasm to enforce his will throughout the government. Years ago, ministers actually headed government departments. Now they are figureheads, and they can’t hire or fire their deputies or the chiefs of staff that run ministerial offices. The deputies and the chiefs of staff owe their jobs to the Prime Minister. So government departments really aren’t really answerable to elected MPs serving as cabinet ministers, and the ministers are no longer answerable to Parliament. The days when ministers would quit, and possibly end their political careers because of major blunders or corruption in their departments are now far in the past. And it makes some sense. Why accept blame for something that really is out of your control, especially when someone else will get the credit when things go well?
So what’s the point of the Harper government? Like the men who were the previous two tenants of 24 Sussex, it’s difficult to see what great, driving impulse motivates this government. Some Prime Ministers come into office with goals, like John A. Macdonald’s nation-building, Pierre Trudeau’s constitution and Brian Mulroney’s trade deals and his attempts to defuse, or, at least, re-channel Quebec nationalism. Harper’s critics used to accuse him of having a hidden political agenda to remake the social fabric of Canada and get rid of abortion rights, non-white immigration and other things that didn’t sit well with rural Canada and many Christian fundamentalists. But Harper has refused to go anywhere near the abortion issue. Immigration patterns have not changed and the number of people coming to Canada has stayed impressively high, even during recession years when the Harper government could have easily argued that reducing immigration would protect Canadian workers from competition. The “hidden agenda,” for the most part, has stayed hidden, and, unless Harper radically changes his government priorities, he’ll be taking that hidden agenda with him when he leaves.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been a Harper revolution. It exists, but, except for environmentalists, few people saw where it would break out. First, the Prime Minister has tried to muzzle and delegitimize all criticism to a frightening degree. That’s been done quietly and incrementally, with few people, especially outside Ottawa, noticing. Taken in the bits and pieces that you see in the news, it all seems like inside baseball. In fact, it’s really the biggest assault on liberty and democracy since Pierre Trudeau imposed the War Measures Act, but, unlike Trudeau’s emergency law supposedly aimed at terrorists, these changes are meant to change the way this country is governed and will keep Canadians very far removed from the government that they supposedly own.
Harper is also intent on changing the way Canadians see their own country. He once said Canadians would not recognize the country after he was finished with it, and he’s done a lot to make sure that they do see it in a different light: as an energy and resource superpower instead of a country of factories and businesses; as a warrior nation instead of a peacekeeper; as an arctic nation instead of clusters of cities along the American border; as a country of self-reliant entrepreneurs instead of a nation that shares among its people and its regions.
To remake Canada into that kind of country, you have to change the way Canadians think about themselves, their country and the way they are governed. You have to lobotomize a large part of the country’s cultural memory by trashing archives and re-making museums and replace it with stories of a “warrior nation.” You have to limit public debate by preventing the people from being able to argue knowledgeably about important issues like the safety of the oil sands and whether Canada should be a country that fights wars or tries to end them. You have to keep federal experts, who still command the public’s respect, from saying anything you don’t want to hear. You stop people from listening to your critics by maligning the motives of journalists, opposition politicians, and activists of every stripe.
You run election campaigns that are just a series of staged events, with media allowed to film you but not ask questions, and keep ordinary Canadians far away. You hold cabinet meetings at secret times and hidden locations, and make sure reporters don’t get many chances to ask ministers questions. When ministers are cornered, you demand that they repeat talking points, no matter how incredibly stupid they may sound.
You deny that the scrutiny of journalists has any role or value to democracy and the governance of Canada. You facilitate the creation of arm’s length sycophantic attack media, both “mainstream” and in the “blogosphere,” to handle low-road messaging, float trial balloons and appeal to the most prejudiced and nasty opinions of your “base.”   
You get rid of objective data from the census and from scientists so no one can challenge your narrative on crime, the environmental damage caused by resource exploitation, climate change and anything else that’s complex. You create bogus think-tanks and pressure groups to push for “ethical oil” and trash your “enemies,” who, in your world, include First Nations people, students, journalists, pacifists and scientists. When that doesn’t work, you send the federal tax department in to threaten the charitable status of the organizations that you don’t like.
You destroy Parliament’s ability to scrutinize new laws and the way the government taxes and spends. You cloak decision-making in secrecy. You spend billions to beef up intelligence agencies and get rid of meaningful oversight, to the point of hiring criminals and lobbyists to be the public’s watchdogs of the domestic spy agency CSIS.
And you always stay on the attack. The election campaign must never stop. People must be diverted by the struggle for power and should not spend time and energy examining how they’re actually governed.  
The people who create and enforce your will have to be utterly loyal and, very often, ruthless. They have to be willing to kill the messengers so that there’s only one message – yours – that will be heard. In the end, if all goes your way, the government and the country itself will belong to people who we thought are elected to represent, not to dictate. And if anyone thinks a new regime, whether a different Conservative prime minister or an NDP or Liberal government, will roll back this revolution, they’re dreaming.
If Harper does succeed, he’ll have created a new way of ruling Canada, one that will make it much easier for the next leader of the country to ignore what’s left of democracy in this country and impose his or her version of Harper’s revolution on Canada. And there won’t be much anyone can do about it. We’re not about to start holding our rulers to the same kind of account that Charles I faced when he tried to trash the rights of Parliament so long ago. That is, unless people demand better from everyone in Ottawa who plays a role in our democracy.

[i] The Ignatieff quotes are from John Ibbitson, “Michael Ignatieff’s timely warning on the politics of fascism.” The Globe and Mail, Oct. 30, 2012. 
[ii] Tim Naumetz, Ottawa Citizen, March 12, 2007 p. 5 Harper Tactics

Sunday, January 19, 2014

On Manning and Duffy

Ina truly bizarre column published in the Globe and Mail during the 2013 Christmas season, Preston Manning tried to blame the Parliamentary Press Gallery for the Senate mess. Manning got his hands on a copy of the gallery’s small handbook, which mostly instructs new Hill reporters about things like parking policies and where pictures can be taken. Manning seized on the rule that a journalist can be expelled from the gallery if “such member uses his membership or the facilities of the Gallery to obtain a benefit other than by journalism …” Duffy, Manning said, had been lobbying for the Red Chamber for many years before Harper put the broadcaster (along with Pamela Wallin, who had been a member of the press gallery in the late 1980s) into the Senate. So, in Manning’s world, the press gallery should somehow have stopped Duffy.
Manning ignored several key facts. The most glaring one was that, while Duffy did make his availability known to various prime ministers, both Tory and Liberal, craving a Senate seat is hardly unethical or cause for firing from any job. (Manning’s own father had been appointed to the Senate). The other hole in Manning’s argument was that somehow Duffy had used the Press Gallery’s resources to win the job. The only “resource” of any value that Duffy may have co-opted was his job as a host on CTV NewsNet, since it was that employment that put him face-to-face with politicians. It was up to CTV, not the press gallery, to discipline its employees if they crossed the company’s ethical policies.
Manning, who certainly knew more facts about Senate appointments than he let on, was certainly aware that journalists had been appointed to the Senate since Confederation and some had served with distinction. Globe and Mail editor Richard Doyle had been appointed by Brian Mulroney and became one of the hardest-working legislators in the chamber. As members of the Senate’s justice committee, Doyle and Senator Gerard Beaudoin, the former dean of the University of Ottawa law school, had scoured legislation that normally would have been rubber-stamped by the Senate and found many foul-ups and bad law. Jean Chretien had appointed, among other journalists, Joan Fraser, who had been pushed out of her job as editor of the Montreal Gazette because Conrad Black, who owned the paper, thought she was too liberal.
Manning was trying to somehow make the Press Gallery “wear” the Duffy scandal, as though the Press Gallery could somehow bar one of its members from accepting a Senate seat or prevent one from being offered. In the real world, it’s probably a bad idea for journalists to leap from the media into any kind of government service. It may be profitable for the journalist, but it is likely hurts the press gallery or any other association of journalists to be a steno pool for people looking for more secure or better-paying work.
But while Duffy and Wallin were members of the Press Gallery, they had the backing of their employers, were popular with their colleagues, and had, unlike most Hill journalists, they had fans across the country. Duffy made a lot of money on the paid speakers’ circuit, and, when he was appointed to the Senate, he simply continued that work to raise money for the Tories. In the Press Gallery, he had a reputation as an honest man. The 2013 allegations of improper expenses – broken by members of the Press Gallery -- were surprising to many journalists who knew Duffy. Author Stevie Cameron described him, during the Mulroney years, as one of the gallery’s few stars and, in a piece of prophecy that would turn to irony, wrote that none of Duffy’s colleagues would be surprised or dismayed if he was appointed to the Senate. Duffy was a gregarious man, much more friendly and generous with his time than most high-profile TV journalists, many of whom are outright snobs. I worked near him for many years and found him to be interesting, friendly and considerate. I visited him at his Prince Edward Island home in the summer of 2009 and found the Senate had not changed his personality, though he was more sharply partisan. I also defended him on the Internet when trolls tried to smear him. Like many of his friends, I felt shock, pity and sadness when details of the Senate scandal emerged.
In his Globe piece, Manning told Globe readers: “It is in their (the press gallery’s) interests especially that action be taken by the gallery to ensure that their reputations and the reputation of their institution are not unjustly tarnished by the unethical behaviour of the few.” But what was this behavior? Impressing and befriending politicians? Being ideologically in sync with the government? Letting or encouraging a prime minister come to the conclusion that you’d accept a Senate seat? And just how would journalists enforce this on their peers? Yank their credentials and bar them from Parliament Hill for seeming a tad too friendly to politicians? At any given time, there are journalists, many of them paid to write their opinion, who agree with the Liberals, the Tories, the NDP, or the Greens. If we were to audit enough consciences and put windows into some souls, we probably would find a few who agree with some very fringy ideologies. And it will stay that way as long as Canada is a free country.
            Manning might have dropped into the Prime Minister’s office and asked, say, Harper’s speechwriters about the ethics of moving from media into political service. Some had been press gallery members. One had been the editor of the Ottawa Citizen. Yes, Ottawa is an incestuous little place, whether the Tories or the Liberals are in power. But blaming Mike Duffy’s colleagues in the media for the senator’s supposed transgressions is absurd. Stephen Harper had appointed Duffy, Wallin, and Brazeau to the Senate. (Jean Chretien had appointed Mac Harb, the fourth senator caught in the 2013 scandal.) Conservative senators had tried to control the damage of the Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin allegations. Stephen Harper’s office had been involved in what may well prove to be obstruction of justice. His staffers, and perhaps the Prime Minister himself, had lied to Parliament and the Canadian people. No one in the press gallery had made Harper and his team make those choices. Manning’s weird column was just a sad attempt to blow smoke and shift blame. Members of the Press Gallery have many faults and have committed many sins, but appointing Mike Duffy to the Senate, fiddling with his expense accounts and arranging a cover-up are not among them

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Rough material -- Canada and war in the 21st century

In his 2012 book What We talk About When We Talk About War, Noah Richler analyzed the re-making of Canada into a “warrior nation.” He described the hyping of the “Vimy Myth,” the idea that Canada was forged on a World War I battlefield when, for the first time, all of the Canadian contingent fought together and took a hill defended by well-entrenched, determined German soldiers. Propaganda from the time doesn’t fit with the Vimy Myth. Canadians, even in the Second World War, were portrayed as junior partners of the British Empire. And it’s arguable that Canada showed its first signs of independence during the Chanak Crisis, when, for the first time, the Canadian government said no to a British request for troops. But no matter. Vimy symbolizes glorious sacrifice, not independence. It’s about strength. And it ascribes some sort of meaning to a war that, especially after the passing of a century, seems like such an utter waste of blood and money.[i] But the Vimy Myth is really an antidote to the Liberal-era worship of peacekeeping and peacemaking.
Richler attributed the phrase to former Chief of the Defence Staff Rick Hillier, an officer who was never mistaken for a social worker. He coined in 2007 and used before the Conference of Defence Associations and on the speaking circuit. The phrase was so catchy that Hillier used it in his 2010 book Leadership:  50 Points of Wisdom for Today’s Leaders. Hillier used Vimy as a sort of magic moment in which Canadian soldiers perform admirably and Canada’s wartime officer corps, so often trashed by the British in both world wars, shone. After Vimy, Canadians had a seat at the big war conferences and got to sign the Treaty of Versailles, which formerly ended that war (and set the stage for the next one). Vimy, Richler said, was used by Hillier to create a model for the new, fighting Canadian Forces that had previously “meandered aimlessly, perceived as essentially just another department of government.” So it really wasn’t independence that Canadians were fighting for. It was international influence. And that influence had to be paid for constantly. Canada had made that payment in the Second World War but in the post-war years had failed to pull its weight in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. While liberals liked peacekeeping, being part of international missions to dangerous places like the Balkans in the 1990s made no impression on our allies or enemies. The country needed a fighting force, especially after the attacks of September 11, 2001, when Canada went to war in Afghanistan. ( Richler 70-71)
            The Vimy Myth, as Richler points out, was one of the cornerstones of a new “warrior nation” Canadian self-image. One of the best examples of this mythology finding its way into the arts was the 2007 movie Passchendaele, filmed in Alberta in 2007. It was a remarkable film that won several Canadian awards. The film gathered up and re-used First World War mythology, including a variation of the story of “the crucified Canadian,” a story that motivated many Canadian units to stop taking prisoners on the Western Front.  In the culminating scene in the movie Sgt. Michael Dunne (played by writer-producer Paul Gross) dies after saving a man who had been flung by an exploding shell onto a cross of debris erected in No Man’s land. Dunne drags the injured man back to the Canadian lines as German soldiers watch in silence, their rifles and machine guns stilled. (In the wartime myth, a Canadian was spiked to a barn door with bayonets by leering German sadists. The story cropped up in both world wars and was believed by many Canadian soldiers.  The Dominion-Historica Institute used the film as a teaching aid, issuing material to go along with the film as part of its “Passchendaele in the Classroom.” “Of all the Allies, the Canadians were the most feared,” Gross write in it, repeating the popular view that the war represented the country’s “coming of age” and that “our notion of what it means to be Canadian was forged in the crucible of the Western Front.” Gross received an Order of Canada soon after the Passchenaele project. (Richler 86.) The conservative Canadian military clique, with its media boosters like Jack Granatstein and Mark Steyn, is a formidable group, as journalists who have crossed them have learned at great cost and pain. Yet in Britain and Germany, historians abandoned the myth of a heroic First World War long ago and the United States pretty much ignores the entire conflict as a sort of military-political train wreck.
            Canada clings to it because the country’s leaders believe it needs war heroes. After Canadians began fighting in Afghanistan, journalists set out to make two groups of heroes. One group was the journalists themselves, who tried to be as swashbuckling as the great 19th Century colonial correspondents who filed from that same nasty little corner of the world. The other heroes were the dead. Using the same propaganda constructs that Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Northcliffe used so well for the British in the First World War, the dead were not – as confidential military reports of the First World War called them – “wastage.” And they were not “killed.” They made “sacrifices.” The Highway of Heroes, the stretch of Highway 401 in southern Ontario leading from the big air base at Trenton to the media capital of Toronto, was re-named “the Highway of Heroes,” and people stood on bridges over the highway not to see the triumphant return of the living but to wave to the dead. Richler examined then-Globe and Mail columnist Christie Blatchford’s rephrasing of Capt. Nichola Goddard’s death in Afghanistan as “heroic” rather than “tragic”: “Her death, wrote Batchford  in May 2006 was “not a tragedy at all [but] an  honourable death, a soldier’s death, in the service of her country and of another, Afghanistan, she had come to admire and love.”  There could be no question of this new definition of heroics. (Richler 204-205). There would be no decoration ceremonies to remind the Canadian people of killing. Instead, the government wanted people to see each dead soldier as a sort of payment for our nationhood.
            A new war museum opened in Ottawa, mainly because of the lobbying of Granatstein. The new road built beside it was, of course, called Vimy Place. The museum’s tone was upbeat up-beat about war.  Canada’s peacekeeping, and the idea of peace and loss itself, was kept down to a dull roar. There is little in the museum to suggest war causes actual death and maiming: almost no mention of military medicine, for instance. There’s virtually nothing about displaced people (who made up such a large group of Canadian immigrants) or of domestic opposition to any war.
At the same time, the Vimy Myth crowd went to work to dismantle what was left of the country’s self-image as a peacekeeper. Sean Maloney, a professor at professor at Kingston’s Royal Military attacked Canada’ss “feel goodism” and the “hollow fa├žade” of peacekeeping’s “myth-making exercise.” Canada may have been involved in peacekeeping for years and had even built a now-ignored monument to it within sight of Parliament Hill, but what Canada really needed to do to be a real power was to link itself to the hard power of NATO (Richler 67) The attacks of 9-11 helped move that along. The Canadian Forces began recruiting infantry, changing its ads to focus on combat rather than on peacekeeping and learning trades and leadership.

[i] For the best study of the re-making of war memory, see Vance, Jonathan, Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning and the First World War (1997).