Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

How China Sees Us

Here's a story I wrote for the Chinese news service Xinhua on the move to bring civility to Question Period. While still maintaining an authoritarian and very centralized regime, the Chinese do value politeness:

Canadian politicians vote to bring civility back to political debate

Mark Bourrie

OTTAWA, (Oct. 8), Xinhua—Canadian politicians, frustrated with the decline in manners in their House of Commons, have passed a motion requiring members of parliament to find ways of improving the quality of debate in the Canadian legislature.
Much of the criticism of parliamentary debate focuses on “Question Period,” a 45-minute session in which members of opposition parties ask government ministers about the administration of their departments. Through the national media, millions of Canadians follow Question Period each day, and the debates make up the bulk of Canadian political coverage.
In recent years, Question Period has, critics say, become nothing more than political grandstanding, with opposition MPs asking politically-loaded questions and ministers replying with answers that rarely address important issues. During the session, the debate is often drowned out by heckling and shouting by MPs.
A recent survey conducted for the Public Policy Forum, a private organization that seeks ways of improving government, found two-thirds of Canadians believe Question Period is a forum for MPs to "grandstand" for the media and score "cheap political points."
The poll also found a majority of Canadians think less of this country's system of government because of what they see and hear in the daily session.
Earlier this week, a motion to reform Question Period, moved by Michael Chong, a member of the governing Conservative Party, was passed in the House of Commons by a vote of 235 to 44. The motion orders a parliamentary committee to study various options and propose changes to reform Question Period, and to complete this task within six months.
According to a recent public opinion poll, Canadians overwhelmingly disapprove of the behavior of government and opposition MPs during Question Period.
“During the election, I promised to reconnect Canadians with the democratic institutions that belong to us all,” Chong told reporters. He added, “Question Period reform is a first, but important, step toward the reform of Parliament.”
“This motion proves that you can build bi-partisan consensus and get things done for all Canadians,” he said.
Glen Pearson an opposition Liberal MP, seconded Chong’s motion, calling Question Period the “most shameful 45 minutes in any parliamentary day.”
Chong’s motion calls for giving the Speaker, who chairs debate in the House of Commons, more powers to discipline disruptive MPs. The time limit for questions and answers would be expanded from 35 seconds so that the exchanges could be more substantive.
And the Prime Minister, who usually attends the session four days a week and answers, on average, six questions, would only be expected to be present one day a week, where he would take questions during the entire 45 minute session.
The motion had the support of MPs from three parties: the governing Conservatives, and opposition Liberals and New Democrats. It was opposed by the Bloc Quebecois, a party that advocates the separation of the province of Quebec from Canada.
"This is a victory for Canadian democracy," Chong said after the vote. "Canadians have indicated they want to see reforms to Parliament. This is the first step, a small but important step toward parliamentary reform. So I'm thrilled."
Chong said he believes the Canadian people have lost faith in parliament because of the spectacle of MPs shouting and insulting each other every day. He says only about half of Canadian adults bother to vote because they have lost faith in the system.
"I think the reason for that is the behavior and the dysfunctionality that they see in the House of Commons is not something that they approve of. So they want us to fix this dysfunctionality."

Good news (for me, at least)

My book will be published after all.
Key Porter let me know late last week. That means six months of work (on top of the research and writing time used to write and research this material when it was a thesis) will not go to waste after all.
I have another manuscript finished and waiting for a green light. It's a look at Canadian war correspondence from the very beginning to the present. I decided to write it when I tried to look up some stuff on Canadian front-line reporters World War II and found there was no book on them and their work. Hopefully, in a year or so, no one will have that problem.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Key Porter

My book, the Fog of War, is scheduled to be published by Key Porter Books on January 25, 2011. Right now, the publisher is in a state of flux. Most of the staff has been let go and the survivors have been moved out of their office and into the distribution facility on Bolton, north of Toronto. Some very talented people have lost their jobs and a very important Canadian cultural institution is in jeopardy. Despite the millions and millions of taxpayers' dollars that have been poured into Canadian book publishing, Key Porter was the last big Canadian company left. All of the rest, including McClelland and Stewart, which still calls itself "the Canadian Publisher" are now foreign-owned.
Key Porter published about 100 books a year. They published some fiction, kids' books, history, military books, political stuff, cook books and hockey titles. Farley Mowat, Jean Chretien, Margaret Atwood, Joan Barfoot and many other top-tier Canadian authors published with them.
My book is done. All the editing, typesetting, proof-reading, the dust jacket (with blurbs by Peter C. Newman, Steve Maher of the Halifax Herald, and Jeff Keshen, who did the definitive book on WWI censorship). It just needs to be printed.
Needless to say, I am sticking close to the phone. There are five years of my life invested in the book, and I know people are going to find it interesting.
I am told I may hear something by Friday.
So hope for the best. Even better, pre-order it now from Chapters-Indigo if you were planning to buy it. Normally, i'd be lobbying for people to buy it from an independent book seller, but in this case I think a big Chapters order might save the book. Plus they're selling it for about $20, which is a good deal.

We're now featured on Metromarks

This blog has been picked up by Metromarks, You can see their pages here. This is great news, and I thank them.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Conservatives and the Establishment: The fight to be Ottawa's "New Men"

These days, I spend quite a bit of time explaining Canada's political system to Chinese journalists who find the whole process more than a little strange. And the fact that Canada's political system, along with its players, is in a constant state of morph does not make things more comprehensible to them or easy for me.
Take the Conservatives. I grew up believing the Conservative Party was the linear descendant of the Family Compact and the Chateau Clique, the closed group of Tory blue-bloods who controlled the patronage machine of Upper and Lower Canada until we got something resembling democratic, responsible government in the 1840s.
Tory politicians were either scions of wealth or were, themselves, well-connected new money, earned, like R.B. Bennett's, from blue-chip corporations like the CPR. The Tories did not welcome people who didn't come from Rosedale, British Properties or Westmount, except as door-knockers and stamp-lickers. Catholics were not welcome, nor were people with a lot of vowels in their names.
Liberals were middle-class and upper-middle class people: small-town lawyers, school teachers, academics. They had a big tent that held ethnic minorities, Jews and Catholics. That, in any case, was the pitch, and it was reinforced by Mackenzie King, who could honestly say he was the grandson of a genuine leftist hell-raiser.
But things have changed. These days, the Conservatives are far from being members of the Canadian Establishment. Any toe-hold they have in it is tenuous and probably transitory. Unlike Brian Mulroney, Stephen Harper did not cultivate Westmount money and American business leaders before going into politics. He is a professional politician from the very fringes of the Canadian Conservative tradition, an outsider, and he acts like one.
Harper is trying hard to gain control of the levers of power and respectability. he's hobbled by the fact that his staff and advisors are also outsiders, people who learned about power and government from books and media articles. Part of their problem lies in the fact that reality does not fit what they've read over the years. Their reaction is to develop rigidity and defensiveness, rather than open their eyes and ears.
It enrages them that the Liberals are the true Establishment party of Canada. No amount of power and perks can, for the Tories, change the fact that the top Liberals were born to power and see themselves that way.
So many are sons of power.
Michael Ignatieff is the son of George Ignatieff, one if the most connected bureaucrats and diplomats in Canada. His mother was a member of the Grant family, solid members of the establishment that sees Queens University as a breeding ground of leaders. The Grants practically created Queens and the clique that grew from it.
Ignatieff was brought to Ottawa by Ian Davey, whose father was the campaign brain of the Trudeau regime
His main challenger, Bob Rae, is the son of diplomat Saul Rae, who moved among the Pearsonian elite in the days when the Department of Foreign Affairs was Canada's most interesting and glamorous ministry. Rae held sway in the years when Canada was shifting its focus from the British to the American empire, and young Bob Rae, like Ignatieff, was dispatched to private schools and good universities. Eventually, he went to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship.
The previous Liberal leader, Stephane Dion, was son of Leon Dion, a man not particularly well-known in English Canada. He was a tough, sometimes ruthless politician who negotiated constitutional issues on behalf of Quebec and is credited with developing the "knife to the throat" tactics that have served Quebec so well in the past 45 years.
The younger Dion surrounded himself with other establishment Liberals with famous last names, including Mick Gzowski, who was saddled with the debacle of Dion's disastrous TV speech during the 2009 coalition attempt.
Of course, to the Tories, Justin Trudeau is the most infuriating "name" Liberal. Trudeau 2.0 has hardly had a stellar career inside or outside of politics. His education is minimal, his work experience before he was elected was unfocused and rather uninspiring. As an MP, he has said nothing of substance. Many Liberals see him as a contender in the next decade, but no one can say what he stands for.
All of these people, and many more senior Liberals, are socially and intellectually hard-wired into the media and the bureaucracy. Old, established Ottawa believes the Harper regime will disappear soon and be forgotten as a sort of quirky anomaly, like E.C. Drury's United Farmers of Ontario provincial government of the early 1920s.
The Harper control freak system, along with the Conservative outreach to rural and new Canadians, is a reaction to that, an attempt to cobble together a coalition big enough to win a majority government that will be taken seriously by Canada's elites. They might be able to pull it off, though I'm really not sure the political talent or the intellectual depth is there.
But certainly the motivation exists. The Tories will either govern long enough to create a new country, in many ways similar to Reagan's America, or they will will be cast aside as a sort of political palate-cleansing.
The next election will probably be the watershed.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Canada's Greatest Freeloaders

I notice the Queen's spending on palaces and staff -- Buckingham Palace, Windsor and Hollyrood (Sandringham and Balmoral are her own property) barely outstrips the cost of our GG's salary, staffing and upkeep of Rideau Hall:

Here's the squawk in the British press:

Here's what Canada's GG costs:

And the Brits get the full tourism draw of the monarchy, while we get Order of Canada ceremonies.

OK. Now for the "crisis."

It's coming, just like the storms of fall.
The economy is tanking again, the Afghanistan pull-out is on the horizon, and Stephen Harper pledged to the G-20 that he would make big spending cuts this spring. Plus stimulus spending ends at the end of March. All-in-all, 2011 is already shaping up to be a hard year.
Plus Ignatieff is shaking off the mantle of Stephane Dion. And the country is warming to the idea that Harper is a control freak.
So, yes, look for the crisis that vapour-locks Parliament and "forces" an election. Will it be a crime bill? The pending mini-budget?
Trust me. It will be something.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

New Sponsor: Ottawa's Best Golf Course

Thanks to Loch March, one of our new sponsors, we have a monetary incentive to keep the blog going. Thanks, Loch March!
Take a good look at their web site. It's a beautiful course with a gorgeous Tudor-style club house.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Messin' with the Deity

You'd think this guy would realize that he's already pissed off God enough. Likely the Almighty bought A Brief History of Time and, like the rest of us, found it to be unreadable.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Adventures in disfunction

I went to a press conference this morning to hear Peter van Loan, who had just come back from a visit to Central and South America, talk about extending free trade into that region. It's an important topic that Canadians should talk about. First, is it a good idea? What's in it for Canada? Will we lose jobs or gain them? What do we get from them and what do they want from us? Will it open the door to more immigration from the region, which is a source of a large migration of unskilled workers from farm regions to cities in Latin America and the US. People's jobs are on the line, and jobs are not that easy to get these days.
So the minister walks up to a podium set up in front of the House of Commons. He reads a rather long statement in French. Then he does the same in English. This has eaten up about 15 minutes. His flacks say there's time for two questions in French, two in English. (This, of course, is not enough for a serious session on trade.)
The first question, in English, is about the trade stuff. Julie van Dusen of the CBC asks the second question. It's about the gun registry. I decide the "two questions" rule really should relate to the subject of trade. I ask how many deals we are going after, and whether NAFTA could be extended deeper into Central America and into South America.
The rest of the questions are about the gun registry, which is obviously the story du jour. Van Loan, who used to be Public Safety minister, doesn't have the good sense to say that's not his department anymore, and if people want to talk to the public safety minister, they should find Vic Toews.
So we have some trade deals cooking with some pleasant and unpleasant states in South and Central America, and with some Caribbean states. Details of the deals? Forget it. No time. Are there going to be human rights links? Wish I could say. Security links? Dunno.
But we do know that Peter van Loan, who is no longer public safety minister, is like the rest of the Harper cabinet and doesn't like the long gun registry. And in Ottawa, today, that's important. That's news. In fact, it's more important than trade and the economy, or your job.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Day in the Life of Your Tax Dollars

Media Advisory: Government of Canada Invests in Quebec's Hops Industry

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Aug. 11, 2010) - The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, on behalf of the Honorable Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister of State (Agriculture) will be in Ile-du-Grand-Calumet, Quebec on Thursday, August 12th to announce an investment in support of Quebec's Hops industry.

Government of Canada Invests in Community Environmental Projects in Regina and Central Saskatchewan

REGINA, SASKATCHEWAN--( Aug. 11, 2010) - Andrew Scheer, Member of Parliament for Regina-Qu'Appelle, on behalf of Canada's Environment Minister, the Honourable Jim Prentice, today announced funding from the EcoAction Community Funding Program for three new environmental projects in Regina and central Saskatchewan. In total, $52,826 in federal funding will support local action to reduce pollution, improve air and water quality, and protect wildlife and natural habita

Media Advisory: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada

FREDERICTON, NEW BRUNSWICK--( Aug. 11, 2010) - The Honourable Keith Ashfield, Minister of National Revenue, Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Minister for the Atlantic Gateway and Member of Parliament for Fredericton, on behalf of the Honourable Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, will announce funding to the University of New Brunswick to help combat homelessness.

Minister Ashfield will be available for a photo op and to answer questions from the media following the announcement.


EDMUNDSTON (NB) – August 11, 2010 – Federal and provincial representatives joined company officials from Fraser Specialty Products Ltd., Beaulieu Plumbing and Mechanical Inc., and IPL Inc. today to announce funding that will help these companies purchase new equipment, expand their operations and create jobs.

The Honourable Keith Ashfield, Minister of National Revenue, Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway; and the Honourable Donald Arseneault, Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour, announced investments totaling close to $2 million toward these projects.


BAYFIELD (NB) – August 11, 2010 – The Cape Jourimain Nature Centre will soon offer improved services to its visitors, thanks to an investment of more than $48,000 from the Government of Canada. The Honourable Carolyn Stewart Olsen, Senator for New Brunswick, on behalf of the Honourable Keith Ashfield, Minister of National Revenue, Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway, today announced funding for the renovation and improvement project.


Summerside, (PE) August 11, 2010 – ACOA is supporting the Air Show with $35,000 through its’ (sic) Business Development Program. The Government of Prince Edward Island will contribute $35,000 through Innovation PEI, and Summerside will contribute $10,000 towards the 2011 event.


Saint-Léonard, NB – August 10, 2010 – As the Honourable Keith Ashfield, Minister of National Revenue, Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway, continues his working tour of Northern New Brunswick, members of the media are invited to attend an announcement in
Saint-Léonard on August 11.

Town of Saint-Léonard / Club Skirakdoo

Date : August 11, 2010

Time: 3:30 p.m.

Location: 189 Diamond Road, Saint-Léonard, NB

Minister Ashfield will announce funding for a project under the Recreational Infrastructure Canada Fund (RInC) – a key component of Canada’s Economic Action Plan.


ATHOLVILLE (NB) – August 11, 2010 – Federal and provincial representatives joined company officials at Pneus ABC Tires Inc. today to announce funding to help the company purchase specialty equipment to expand its product line and create up to 15 new jobs.

The Honourable Keith Ashfield, Minister of National Revenue, Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway; and Roy Boudreau, MLA for Campbellton-Restigouche Centre, announced investments of more than $1,000,000 toward the equipment purchase.

“Our Government’s investment in Pneus ABC Tires will help the company purchase critical and specialized fabrication equipment,” said Minister Ashfield. “This investment will help enhance the company’s production capacity, positioning it to better compete in markets, create jobs and increase its sales.”

Media Advisory: New Affordable Housing in Halton Region

BURLINGTON, ONTARIO--( Aug. 10, 2010) - The federal, provincial and municipal governments will celebrate two affordable housing projects in Burlington.
Media are invited to join the Honourable Lisa Raitt, Minister of Labour and Member of Parliament for Halton, on behalf of the Honourable Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and Minister Responsible for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC); Jim Bradley, Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing; Gary Carr, Halton Regional Chair, and Cam Jackson, Mayor of the City of Burlington for the announcements.


The Honourable Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety, will join Mr. Curtis Ross, President and CEO of the Thompson Airport, to make an important announcement regarding the Thompson Airport.

Date: Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Monday, June 28, 2010

G-20 violence

If you build it, they will come.
The outcome was as predictable as a math equation: use the G-20 leaders as bait in the center of the country's largest city, deploy thousands of excited cops, many of them completely unfamiliar with the city -- or any large city -- in riot gear after psyching them up for months. Then the usual crowd of lawful protesters, lawless anarchists, shit disturbers, bored people will, of course, show up. Toss in lots of live TV coverage, with panting, delighted commentators, to ensure that everyone plays their part.
It happens at summits all the time. That's why we should have known it would happen in Toronto.
Leaders from countries that don't have Canada's civil rights must get an interesting lesson. Democracy, they are told through the actions of the government, is a veneer. When the chips are down -- and not by much -- democracies like Canada must suspend civil rights, crack down on public dissent, and keep leaders away from the people.
I'm not sure that's the lesson we really wanted to give the Saudis, the Indonesians and Chinese, but actions speak louder than words. We just showed them that democratic states are not "weak," but we also told them that Canada sees mass arrests, riot cops and rubber bullets as "go to" tactics at a relatively low level of provocation.
The events this weekend were part of the polarization of Canada into "ins" and "outs". Toronto, the great Tory whipping boy, known in every cornfield and duckburg as a great center of decadence filled with sketchy people and bad attitude, was thoroughly scourged this weekend. I found it symbolic that the worst trouble was at Queen and Spadina, Toronto's trendiest neighbourhood, the epicenter of the city's arts and media culture.
Anyone with any knowledge of how these things work would have, must have, seen it coming. So, in effect, this is what they wanted.
Stephen Harper left Toronto with a deal that frames his plans to cut the federal budget into a plan by the major countries of the world to cut their deficits. When he brings down tough restraint budget next spring and sparks an election, he will be able to go to the people saying the cuts are mandated by the G-20.
Meanwhile, the people of Canada learned that all the nice trappings of the state -- Question Period silliness, Canada Day pap, royal visits, HST rebate cheques -- are the velvet gloves of modern governments.
This weekend, we saw the fist.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ici on parle Francaise

From the Senate Committee on Official Languages. It seems Francophones are doing OK when it comes to Senate committee memberships and flak jobs:

“Some federal institutions have been slow to act because they do not fully understand the scope of their duties. We would like to emphasize that the entire federal government is responsible for taking positive measures and that a failure to comply with this obligation can now be taken to a court. Our former colleague Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier, now deceased, fought tirelessly to bring a change in attitude within federal institutions. That is why he laboured to amend the Act in 2005,” stated Senator Maria Chaput, committee chair.

For her part, the committee’s deputy chair, Senator Andrée Champagne, added: “While some institutions showed initiative and originality in implementing Part VII, it is our view that the government must provide more guidance to federal institutions, and must do so in a way that makes Parliament’s intent clear. Our observations and recommendations have one purpose alone: to honour the commitment made by the Parliament of Canada in November 2005.”
The report is entitled “Implementation of Part VII of the Official Languages Act: We can still do better” and is based on evidence gathered since May 28, 2007. The committee held 34 meetings and heard from 53 witnesses over the course of this study.
Members of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages include the Honourable Senators Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu (La Salle – Québec), Andrée Champagne, P.C. (Grandville – Québec), Maria Chaput (Manitoba), Pierre De Bané, P.C. (De la Vallière – Québec), Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis (Rougemont – Québec), Rose-Marie Losier-Cool (Tracadie – New Brunswick), Michel Rivard (Les Laurentides – Québec), Judith Seidman (De la Durantaye – Québec), and Claudette Tardif (Alberta).

The full report including recommendations is available on the committee’s website at: http://senate-senat.ca/ol-lo-e.asp.
- 30 -

For information please contact:
Francine Pressault
Media Relations
613-944-4075 or 1-800-267-7362 or 613-299-5359
Danielle Labonté
Committee Clerk
613-949-4379 or 1-800-267-7362

Sunday, June 13, 2010


I'm juggling a couple of job prospects, plus doing the last edits to The Fog of War. I have to match material in the book to the end notes.
Marion was called to the bar Wednesday. That brought in family and friends from out of town. Next week, I'll be on the Hill. Its expected the House will adjourn Thursday and won't be back until the fall. There may even be an election in between, but I wouldn't bet the farm on that.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Just Livin' The Dream

Of course Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul have a little farm in Provence. Doesn't every pretentious twit in Canada?

Friday, April 30, 2010

Canada's evolving military censorship

On September 4, 1942, Canada’s most famous war correspondent, Ross Munro, told a packed rally at the Montreal Forum that Allied commandoes had murdered 150 German prisoners at the height of the Dieppe raid just a few weeks before.
Speaking on a government-sponsored propaganda tour, Munro said Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat’s British commando unit captured a German coastal battery in one of the few successful moments of the raid. “Some of the Germans had been killed in the skirmish but many of them were left,” Munro said told the Montrealers. “Then,” Munro continued, “in an aristocratic tone Lord Lovat said to the remainder, ‘I’m sorry, but we will have to erase you’ and erase them they did.’”
This was murder, even in wartime. Why did Munro, only 28 years old but still one of the sharpest minds among the Canadian reporters stationed in Britain – he was to have scoop after scoop until the last days of the war and went on to a distinguished peacetime career – make the allegation? Killing 150 POWs in cold blood would, if true, be a war crime.
It could have been a defining moment of Canada’s participation in the war, like the modern debate on alleged abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan. Instead, Canada’s press censors and journalists covered up the allegation.
Munro was in a position to know what happened. He had gone into Dieppe and managed to survive the raid, then spent days interviewing the soldiers who had managed to get back to England.
The day after the Forum rally, Canadian military intelligence agents scrambled to shut down coverage of Munro’s claim. Munro later said he could not remember making the statement, which seems rather bizarre considering the details of the Gazette’s quote. Newspapers across the country were warned not to use anything about Lovat’s supposed actions. The editors obeyed, but the Montreal Gazette story was already on the streets of Canada’s largest city and nothing could be done to take it back.
So the Canadian government had good reason to fear German retaliation against the Canadians captured at Dieppe. It came quickly: the Nazis ordered Canadian POWs captured at Dieppe to be chained or handcuffed in retaliation for alleged mistreatment of German POWs. Then Germans held in Canada were chained up in retaliation, sparking a riot at the Bowmanville POW camp west of Toronto that was hit by a news blackout by Canada’s censors.
Canada’s wartime editors were hardly free press crusaders, although, for various reasons, many of them partisan, the Globe and Mail, Winnipeg Tribune, the Montreal Gazette and Montreal’s Le Devoir stood up to Canada’s wartime censors. The rest maintained Canada’s long tradition of talking a good fight about freedom of speech.
Still, the World War II censorship system was benign compared to the one imposed during World War I.
Any second-rate police state would have approved of the Canadian press censorship system in World War I. At first, it was branch operation of the British censorship system, which strangled all real debate about the war and tried to warp public opinion to believe the war was a glorious crusade, not a murderous slaughter of young men led by incompetents.
Canada’s Postmaster General, acting as a deputy of the British Chief Press Censor, could ban any publication that questioned the government’s version of the military situation or suggested the Allies were in any way responsible for causing the war. Nothing could be written that undermined recruiting or might dissuade the Americans from joining the Allies.
The maximum penalty for writing, publishing, circulating or possessing anything banned by the Postmaster General was a fine of $5,000 (about $600,000 in today’s money) and/or five years imprisonment. The owners of the print shop where the material was published faced the same fines and jail terms, and the presses could be seized.
These rules were enshrined in the War Measures Act, passed on August 22, 1914 but made retroactive to August 4, the day that Britain had declared war. Editors of the country’s larger newspapers went to Ottawa to help write the censorship rules. These were printed in a pamphlet and mailed to newspaper offices, publishing firms, advertising and public relations agencies, government departments, police departments, military intelligence officers, and to allied governments.
The censors dealt mainly with two types of news: domestic stories from Canada and pro-German articles from the United States, which was neutral for nearly three years. The government had no worries about coverage from the front. There wasn’t any. The British and French controlled all access to the fighting zone and threatened to shoot any journalists who went near the trenches.
“War correspondence” from France came mostly from Britain’s official “eyewitness” who was, through most of the war, Canadian Max Aiken (Lord Beaverbrook). Aiken was eyewitness to very little. He rarely went near the front, and simply re-wrote press releases drafted by army officers who likely hadn’t seen much action, either.
Censors spent most of their time killing stories that might change public opinion. The war could not be won unless the public gave its full support, and, as the streets filled with crippled men, the newspapers carried pages of casualty lists and the great breakthroughs announced by the army never seemed to change the lines on the map, that support weakened. Enlistment plunged and bond money dried up.
As the disaster dragged on, the Canadian censorship system became increasingly invasive and powerful. An Order in Council (a Canadian cabinet order) passed September 12, 1914, banned any news about troop movements, and, two months later, Cabinet outlawed publications “calculated to be, or that might be, directly or indirectly useful to the enemy, or containing articles bearing on the war and not in accordance with the facts.”
In the spring of 1915, Canada got its own Chief Censor, Ernest J. Chambers, an old Fleet Street reporter and militia officer who served as Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod of the Canadian Senate (the upper house’s head of security). His previous war work involved wiretapping overseas telegraph cables.
Month after month, Chambers tightened the censorship screws. Films and plays fell under censorship. In the last months of the war, the censors began poking through record stores. Just a few weeks before the end of the war, the government banned all printed material in the languages of the enemy powers, which included newspapers in Polish, Ukrainian, and the many other minority languages of Germany’s main ally, the Austrian empire.
No Canadian could publicly criticize the way the army and navy did their work. They, like the people in Britain, were not allowed to advocate a negotiated peace. it. The government, along with most newspaper and magazine owners, flooded propaganda into the marketplace of ideas. Censorship created the illusion that these official ideas were the only version of reality.
People might have expected the censorship to end when the Germans quit. But the Russian Revolution had created a whole new set of villains, and the Communists had some supporters in Canada. At the first post-war cabinet meeting, held on November 13, 1918, federal ministers tried to outlaw seditious talk. They criminalized the printing of anything advocating socialist revolution or criticizing capitalism. It was the only time in Canadian history that the media was officially censored for political ideas in peacetime.
The system survived, with a few tweaks, until December 20, 1919, when all of the Orders in Council dealing with press censorship were repealed.
Chambers didn’t spend his workdays breaking up print shops. Press censorship in World War I operated as a voluntary system, with editors and publishers engaged in self-censorship. Except for the Victoria Week, the Sault Ste. Marie Express, Le Bulletin of Montreal and Quebec City’s La Croix, all of which were banned, editors of commercial newspapers toed the line. They chose to ignore the obvious futility of the war and did not, like the banned Sault Ste. Marie paper, question the sanity of sending more Canadian soldiers to the front.
The government was more subtle in World War II, deliberately seeking out respected journalists to run the press censorship stories. He wanted a voluntary censorship system, based on a very clear set of rules. And he feared the rise of a powerful propagandist, knowing he lacked the charisma to be that person.
Still, when the Allies seemed to be losing the war, military officers and some senior politicians wanted a much tighter censorship system. “In the twilight war everyone had been reasonable and tolerant; as the bad news poured in and the foundations of life were shaken, reason gave way to passion and tolerance to blind fury,” Chief English Press Censor Wilfrid Eggleston, a former Toronto Star reporter, wrote in his memoirs.
The top mandarins, used to life under pressure, hung tough. O. D. Skelton, senior bureaucrat at External Affairs, Ernest Lapointe, the Justice minister, and Mackenzie King, himself a former reporter, backed the censors and rejected demands from lesser ministers and from military officers for tighter censorship of Canadian newspapers and the banning of Isolationist U.S. publications like the Chicago Tribune and The Saturday Evening Post .
Canada could not escape the war. Much more of it arrived on our shores than we learn in the paltry bits of history taught in school. About 300 people drowned, burned or froze to death in submarine attacks within sight of the Canadian (and Newfoundland) shore. Japanese balloon bombs drifted over the West carrying God-knew-what. As hundreds of thousands of Canadian men went off to war, thousands of German POWs were brought into the country and had to be guarded and put to work. Sometimes these prisoners rebelled, although the public never knew.
In Quebec, the French-speaking majority was at odds over whether the war was Canada’s business at all, and many people on both sides of the debate took to the streets to make their views clear to the government. Le Devoir and other nationalists papers opposed Canadian participation in the war, and Quebec City’s L’Evenement Journal carried, in the first weeks of the war, semi-satirical “letters from Adolf Hitler” pleading with Quebeckers to abandon Britain and France.
The federal government used a combination of censorship and judicial review to cover up the military’s failures at Hong Kong. In early 1942, Sir Lyman Duff was appointed a one-man Royal Commission to look into the lack of training and shortage of weapons among the troops that surrendered to the Japanese on Christmas day, 1941. King and Duff were close friends, and King extended his term on the court.
Ontario Conservative leader George Drew was “opposition” counsel on the Duff Commission. He denounced Duff’s secret hearings and the judge’s decision not to force senior generals to testify. When Duff’s report came out, Drew righty criticized it as a whitewash. To circumvent Duff’s powers to jail him for contempt of court, Drew asked King to table in the House of Commons Drew’s 32-page response to the Duff Report. King refused, newspaper editors were warned not to touch Drew’s letter, and the Hong Kong veterans were left to fight for years to put the truth on the record.
After the war, the government decided overt press censorship would no longer work. Instead, it used secrecy and subversion laws against journalists. In World War II, the federal government did not jail any reporters or editors for breaking the censorship or secrecy laws, but in 1970 Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa had 17 journalists arrested under the War Measures Act.
And in 1978, the Trudeau government charged Toronto Sun editor Peter Worthington under the Official Secrets Act for publishing the names of 16 Canadians recruited as spies by the KGB, the Soviet Union’s secret police and spy agency.
The federal government has, in fact, chosen to accept some of the recommendations of the last two press censors, Warren Baldwin (who went on to become a Globe and Mail parliamentary correspondent) and Fulgence Charpentier, a prominent francophone journalist.
They argued, in their secret 1946 report on wartime censorship, that information, once it gets into the hands of reporters or the public, can’t be suppressed. Instead of harassing journalists, governments had to do a better job of keeping secrets.
But they also argued that the military, and democracy, function much better when they’re scrutinized by a well-informed press and public. They suggested the government create commissions of military officers and journalists in wartime to vet information to determine if it really poses a threat to the war effort.
Instead, the Harper government has chosen to “redact” information from the files on the Afghan detainee issue before releasing them to opposition Mps and the media. The names and positions of the censors have not been made public. Since the documents are exempt from the federal Access to Information law because they deal with military issues, there’s no right of appeal.
At the same time, the government has hired a former Supreme Court justice to go over the material in secret and decide, as Duff did in 1942, whether the government and the military are at fault on a contentious wartime issue. In censorship, as in war, the battlefields may change but the battles tend to repeat themselves.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Coming Soon to a Store Near You

The first book-length study of Canada's World War Two press censorship. What stories did Ottawa cover up? Find out in a few months!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Helena Guergis, Busty Hookers, Coke and Sodomy

I just threw in the latter, simply because it sounded good. I have no proof that she engages in utterly frightening sex acts. Then, no one has any evidence -- real, solid, testable, get-into-court evidence -- that Helena Guergis has ever been near cocaine or what the Toronto Star keeps calling "busty hookers." But for the rest of her life, say another two decades or more of her working years and the forty or fifty years that she can be reasonably expected to live, she will always be saddled with the introductory phrase "disgraced former cabinet minister Helena Guergis."
Helena Guergis seems like a high-maintenance woman without a particularly sharpened intellect. Like many hicks who arrive in Ottawa, the perks of power seem to be her prime motivator. She and her husband strike me as the kind of young sophisticates that haunt the Byward Market in Ottawa and the ski clubs at Blue Mountain, back in Guergis' riding. But it's not against the law to be a vacuous twit. It may hinder your rise in the cabinet, but that's debatable.
Here's what we know:
Guergis' husband got busted for what, if you think about it, were some embarrassing charges involving great personal stupidity. The charges were not a huge surprise: Jaffer was always known as a big-time partier. I figure anyone who drives drunk probably has a problem with alcohol and personal limits. He may also have a coke problem.
And, as a sort of consultant, Jaffer may well have fallen into the company of douchebags, knowingly or not. It becomes harder all the time to know if business people are legit. And even legit business people can live sleazy lives and haunt strip clubs, I suppose. Guergis was not in the car with Jaffer. In fact, the night of the busty hookers and coke bust, she was out of the province.
So we may have a woman who is married to a guy who has drinking and drug problems and may cavort with women described as "busty" and "high-class" hookers, even though there's been a strange absence of innuendo that any sex actually happened. The hookers seem to have hung around with these guys at the bar, which strikes me as a rather poor utilization of the alleged skills of busty, high-price sex workers.
Getting back to Guergis. Maybe, politically, having a sometimes petulant cabinet minister married to a guy with booze and coke issues is not such a good thing for the Fam-Val crowd who really run the Tory party. But throwing her out of the Conservative party and calling in the cops seems pretty strong. I can't imagine how it will go at Guergis' next job interview when she is asked why and how she left her last job.
In fairness, Harper had the right to call in the police and to drop Guergis from cabinet, but he didn't have to throw her to the press dogs, then keep the story alive by refusing to come clean about the allegations against her. He could have done it with some class by saying the government takes accusations seriously enough to investigate them, and, in the interest of maintaining the credibility of cabinet, has asked Guergis to step aside from Cabinet until a quick but thorough investigation is completed.
But then, with Steve it's always about Steve.
Like the busty hookers, Guergis has been ill-used.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Just asking...

Do any of you who watched Question Period today know if they put John Baird on industrial-strength Quaaludes?

Vimy Ridge: The Original Coverage

Stewart Lyon, The Canadian Press

Lyon was the managing editor of the Globe. He was the first Canadian war correspondent in France, arriving in March, 1917. Lyon missed the attack at Vimy Ridge, and no other Allied reporters were on the battlefield.

Canadian Headquarters in France, April 12 (via London) – From the last position held by them on Vimy Ridge the Germans were swept this morning (Thursday) after one of the most fiercely contested engagements in which the Canadians have recently taken part. This morning at 5:30 o’clock during a blinding snowstorm, an assaulting column was dispatched to drive the enemy from the height known as “The Pimple,” occupying a dominating position on the ridge, to the northeast of Souchez. Though wearied by the constant struggle against the enemy and elements the last four days, the men responded splendidly. Swarming up the height, they attacked the enemy garrison, which included troops specially brought up to hold the position, among them the Fifth battalion of the Prussian Grenadier Guards.
The Germans fought under the peremptory orders to hold the position at all costs. The Canadians were not to be denied, however. Over the shell-plowed land and machine gun-fire, they climbed to the summit, and by 7 o’clock the flower of the German army were fleeing to the east and sought shelter in the village of Givenchy. This victory, the second within a week, gives our army absolute command of the entire ridge. Monday’s success opened the way by the capture of Hill 145. That hill is the highest point on the ridge. It had to be secured before the attack on “The Pimple” could be made with any hope of success.
By today’s win on the part of the Canadians, and the victory of the British, who carried Bois en Hache, on the west side of the Souchez River, the entire valley of Souchez is in our hands and we can look down on the enemy’s positions in the plain of Cambrai.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Spy Among Us

They went to the electric chair in alphabetical order: Haupt, Heinck, Kerling, Neubauer, Quirin and Thiel, six German spies and saboteurs who were dropped from U-boats on Long Island and in Florida. The two colleagues who ratted them out sat pensively in another cellblock of the Washington City Jail.
It had happened so quickly. In June, 1942, they had come ashore and, within days, had been betrayed. In July, they were tried by a special military commission, (the last time such a court was used until the trials of suspected al Qeada terrorists at Guantanamo). They were found guilty August 1 and, within five days, President Franklin Roosevelt had chosen the place, method and time of their execution.
On August 8, it had taken just over an hour to kill them in the Washington jail’s electric chair in America’s largest mass execution of the 20th century. Roosevelt chose the electric chair because of its horrors. The British might shoot Nazi spies in exotic and romantic places like the Tower of London, but the President wanted the deaths of the Operation Pastorius spies to deter any other Nazis who might come ashore on the Atlantic seaboard.
The story of the six executions filled the front pages of newspapers throughout the Allied nations. In Ottawa, they certainly had an avid reader: Alfred Langbein, the most interesting guest at Ottawa’s Grand Hotel.
Langbein had landed on the New Brunswick coast a month before the Operation Pastorius spies arrived. To this day, his mission is vague. He claimed to have been sent to Halifax or Montreal to watch for convoys and report ship departures so U-boats could position themselves. Supposedly, he decided not to spy, to simply lie low in Canada for the duration.
Yet, of all the places in Canada he could go on the thick bankroll he’d been given by Germany’s Abwehr spy agency, he chose the Grand Hotel, a long-gone rookery on the west side of the Market. The Chateau Laurier is the only hotel closer to Parliament Hill, but even Nazi Germany had some budget constraints.
So what was Albert Langbein doing in Ottawa for more than two years while he lived at centre of Canada’s wartime capital, camped out in a room over a busy beer parlor favored by politicians and military officers? We may never know because, it seems, no one has ever asked.
Langbein’s adventure began April 25, 1942 when Amelung von Varendorff, captain of U-213 had a secret agent come aboard his U-boat in sub pens at Lorient, France. Off the coast of Portugal, U-213 stalked a British convoy but, before von Varendorff could get his torpedoes off, he was attacked by a British destroyer. The sub’s crew raced forward to weigh down the U-boat’s nose as it crash-dove to 200 metres.
Ten depth charges went off, close enough to make the lights flicker and the hull shake. Several of the sailors, most of them fishermen from the Baltic Sea, began to cry and sob. The sub’s tough first officer tried to talk them back to their senses while the captain lay silently on his bunk, his automatic pistol at his side.
The rest of the trip was tedious. The sub fought the Bay of Fundy’s and emerged May 12 near St. Martin’s, New Brunswick. Just after midnight, the sub surfaced, popped the hatches prepared a dinghy for launch.
Langbein left with a Lt. Kueltz and two sailors who helped haul Langbein and his gear cross the boulder-strewn beach and scale the 80 metre bluff along the shore. By 7:30, the dinghy arrived back at the sub and U-213 disappeared. Six weeks later, U-213 was sunk off the Azores by three British warships firing depth charges. The captain and his 50 crew members died.
The man they left behind was born on April 6, 1903 in Graefenthal, Thuringia, Germany. His father, Willy, worked as an insurance broker, but Alfred liked to travel. First, he went to Shanghai and found a job as a special constable on the Shanghai police force. He returned to Germany in 1926.
Things were grim in Germany. His father’s firm was failing. In 1928, Langbein sailed for Halifax. He took a train across Canada to find a family in Pearce, Alberta that he had met on the ship. In Alberta, he found a job as a surveyor, then went to Northern Manitoba to work as a railway laborer. Langbein had been caught in a cat house in Flin Flon, but never got into serious trouble.
He wandered to Ontario, where he worked briefly as a freelance writer. Langbein arrived home just as Hitler took power.
Through the rest of the Depression, Langbein ran a small factory in Germany, then supervised construction of four kilometers of an autobahn – jobs that have a whiff of Party patronage. By the beginning of the war he was married with a daughter (a son had died soon after birth) and he was waiting for his army call-up papers to arrive in the mail.
Instead, Langbein got a phone call from an old school friend, Oscar Homann, who invited him to Hannover to talk business with a mysterious stranger, Dr. Nicolaus Bensmann, a former patent agent for a U.S. oil company operating in Romania. After a few formalities, Langbein was packed off to “The Nest,” the spy training school in Bremen that also taught sabotage to Abwehr agents.
Langbein turned down one assignment, parachuting into England to scout airfields and anti-aircraft gun emplacements, saying his German-Canadian accent would betray him. Then, his spymasters planned to set him up in a fishing boat operated by Belgian collaborators that would scout the English coast. This plan was foiled when British planes sank the fishing boat in Flushing, Holland.
A spying expedition with Bensmann in Romania was also a failure. Instead of spying, Bensmann spent most of the time trying to collect money owed to his American employers.
The Abwehr had a new plan: a U-boat drop in Canada, bury his equipment, get to Halifax or Montreal where British convoys assembled, find a job and blend in for about three months, then return to the landing place to get his radio. After three months, the Germans would listen for his signal every night at 11 p.m. German summer time. If Langbein did not retrieve his radio, he could write letters in invisible ink and send them to mail drops in neutral Switzerland and Portugal.
Langbein christened the mission “Operation Gretl” after his wife.
U-213’s was crew led to believe he was a reporter in Germany’s elite Propaganda Kompany. Langbein was given his fake ID and $7500 in US $50 bills, the same type used on Operation Pastorius. The spy realized with some horror that the wartime registration card, vital for employment, was made out to A.B. Haskins, Young Street, Toronto. Langbein knew Toronto’s main street had been spelled wrong, and he was sure someone would catch him because of it.
After the sub left, Langbein slept for a few hours. Then he traipsed through bogs to St. Martins, New Brunswick, where be bought a razor and some soap. The spy managed to hitch a ride to St. John in a lumber truck. He told the driver he had a cold, and spoke in hoarse whispers to disguise his strong German accent.
His biggest challenge was cashing those American $50 bills. He spent much of the next two years shopping, looking for stores that would accept large-denomination bills. Usually, he let them keep the 10 per cent exchange.
Arriving in Montreal by train, the spy checked into a rooming house where he had stayed in a decade before. On June 18, while the eight Operation Pastorius spies were still free in the States, Langbein went to a store to buy a couple of pipes. The owner couldn’t make change for the $50 bill Langbein offered, but a furtive little man grabbed him by the shirt sleeves and pulled him down St. Catherine Street and into a house on a side street. It was a bordello. The madam said she could get change.
Langbein, no stranger to Canadian whore houses, later said he stayed long enough to collect his change and have a beer, but he didn’t drink it fast enough to avoid a police raid. The cops booked him as a “found-in” under the name A.B. Haskins – his lack of real ID and strong German accent obviously of little concern to the vice cops – and eventually let him go on $50 bail, the Canadian change from his American $50.
When he got back to his rooming house, he packed his stuff and caught the first train to Ottawa. The spy claimed he flagged a cab at the Ottawa train station (now the Government Conference Centre, right across from the Chateau Laurier) and asked the driver to take him to a good hotel.
If Langbein told the truth, the cabbie drove him about a block, to the Grand Hotel on Sussex, about where the Rideau Street Chapters store now has its parking lot. There, Langbein made himself at home.
The hotel was a watering hole for politicians, civil servants and the hundreds of soldiers rolling through the city at any given time. It is exactly the place you’d expect a spy to set up shop.
Yet, for more than a year, in a city that was the headquarters of the RCMP and Canada’s military intelligence, the 40-year-old stranger with a heavy German accent and a seemingly never-ending supply of American $50 bills held court within shouting distance of Parliament and a five-minute walk from the military’s headquarters on Cartier Square (now the site of Ottawa’s city hall).
“The night after I arrived in Ottawa, I seriously considered surrendering myself to the RCMP or any other suitable authority and spent considerable time consulting the phone book to decide the most suitable authority to approach,” Langbein later told Canadian intelligence agents. Instead, he adapted to life in Ottawa and made an interesting group of friends.
Langbein bought a ping-pong table from a store on Rideau Street because one of his Air Force friends liked the game. So did Langbein: he had learned ping-pong from a friend in the Abwehr. He made friends with some of the hotel staff. Two of them had girlfriends who worked as secretaries for Naval Intelligence.
During his first six months in Ottawa, the spy left the hotel at 9 o’clock every morning and returned about five in the afternoon. “I would put in the day as best I could, taking long walks, going to picture shows and taking in any sporting events that might be in progress.”
Eddie Sabourin, a cook in the hotel, was his best friend. Through him, the spy became part of a group of young people who liked to party at the Grand Hotel. On summer weekend, they took short drives to Constance Bay and Buckingham to picnic and drink beer. Langbein usually picked up most of the tab.
Yet Langbein’s friends seemed to be of little interest to the spy’s interrogators. At least once, a friend had taken him into the Naval Intelligence offices in Temporary Building 8 at the Experimental Farm. Still, month after month went by without Langbein raising suspicion from the dozens of army, navy and airforce officers, the politicians and political staffers, and the war bureaucrats who drank with him at the Grand Hotel. His biggest problem was homesickness.
There was just one close call. In the early summer of 1943, while riding home from a Hull bar in a cab with “Bea”, the sister-in-law of the owner of the Grand Hotel, and her soldier boyfriend, Bea’s friend was a soldier. He looked at Langbein and said “I think you’re a spy.” When the drunken soldier left the cab in Hull to look for a cop, Langbein talked Bea and the cabbie into heading for Ottawa. Presumably, the Hull police paid no attention to the soldier’s accurate suspicions.
Once he got back to the Grand Hotel, Langbein avoided Bea and started looking for a new place to live. With some help from a waiter in the Grand’s beer parlor, he found a place to live in Lowertown.

(For the rest of this story, see the April, 2010 issue of Ottawa magazine

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Helena Guergis, She Be Dead

At least politically. And in a week that was a real news drought, there were many happy faces in the Press Gallery when Helena's pretty little neck was laid upon the block. It sure beat covering the 93d anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and send-off of the last WWI vet, a guy who never actually left England for the European continent. (He had enough class and good sense to realize the last real fighting vets died a while ago).
No matter. Next week we'll see just one or two more days of the Helena Guergis wake as reporters speculate on just what evil generated the photogenic minister's political gutting. Then everyone will move on, wondering, say, about the PM's new pick for GG, Iggy's poll results, or the latest plan for Senate reform. Maybe some more highway maintenance announcements will come out. Pundits will claim Tory MPs are benefiting, while neglecting to mention that most highways are in Tory ridings while most streets are in Liberal constituencies, places where infrastructure "stimulus" money is spent on subways and other stuff.
Right now, Ottawa is in a deadlock. Most Hill reporters are more concerned about the future of their own jobs than the state of their country. The big stories are being broken outside the city by reporters like the Toronto Star's Kevin Donovan. In Ottawa, skeletal news bureaus can barely do the basics, hampered by the Harper government's media freeze-out and an effective news blackout in the entire civil service. Parliamentary debate has been replaced by posturing.
This is not good for democracy. And it's a poor way to run a country.

Friday, April 09, 2010


Oh, how do you deal with Miss Huronia?
Having grown up in, lived in, and covered Huronia for the Globe and the Star more than a decade, I can see how this has happened. People in that area, especially those who hold political office, have come to expect the perks of Third World-style government and there's a hefty feeling of entitlement among the "quality." Quite literally a dumping ground for all of Toronto's chemical and human effluvia, the place is run by real estate agents, sub-dividers, soil-strippers, condo builders and other vermin. It's the kind of place that's good for tourism for a week or two, but you don't get to know how things work.
Helena Guergis is politically dead in the water, but she has a great future in Huronia, perhaps replacing one of her cousins as warden of Simcoe County. She could use her parliamentary severance to become one of the trust-funders who swan around Collingwood pretending to have meaningful careers. I won't be surprised to see her mug on a real estate sign. "Above the Crowd" indeed.
This might be a really good time to ask what we expect of cabinet ministers. Are they hired for looks? Gender? Geographic representation? Because maybe, just maybe, the running of the government of Canada should be in the hands of people who are smart and competent. Some of them might be ugly. Some might talk funny. I think we should be able to live with that.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Limbaugh on Coulter

Since this is the first time I've agreed with Limbaugh on anything important, I thought I would post what he had to say:

RUSH: I’ve met Ann Coulter a number of times. I can say that I know her, and she is decent, and she’s funny. Dirty little secret here, Ari: She actually doesn’t mind this at all. She’s in the front page, above-the-fold in the local newspaper. Everybody around the world is talking about this, and she has successfully illustrated just what a bunch of bigots there are at this university. So this is something that she’s out there laughing about. This hasn’t even happened at the stupidest American university, as she says. Ari, I’m glad you called. Thank you very much.

Ann Coulter played the University of Ottawa like a virtuoso. The university could have let her come, speak to a few hundred people, then leave. Instead, it got into a shit-flinging match with someone who has a much bigger podium. Provost Francois Houle and student union president Seamus Wolfe have a tin ear for media, and, in their efforts to be big men on campus have done serious harm to the world-wide reputation of the University of Ottawa. Coulter will go on to the next dust-up (they're her stock in trade) but we members of the University of Ottawa community will have to live with the damage caused by Houle and Wolfe.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Other People's Troubles

I've been getting a steady strem of e-mail from people telling me that a guy I used to fight with on the Internet is having marital problems. Well, you can stop sending me this stuff, guys. Not my business. I don't want to know.
Look, lots of marriages have problems. Sometimes, bumps in the road -- even serious ones -- occur, and people still work out their differences. That's always the outcome that I hope for, especially when there are kids involved.
If a marriage has, indeed, foundered, well, that's none of my business. I just hope everyone extricates themselves with the least amount of collateral damage.
Is it news? Only if it's a PM's wife going berzerk in public. Otherwise, well, it's just another drag, just another bummer in a world where lawyers rarely starve.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Goin' Fishin'

It's March Break, and we're going out of town for a week. The Hill is pretty much mired in the same tedium that gripped it last fall. When I get back, I'll analyze some of the legislative decisions Harper's government has taken since the House returned.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Peter Woodcock, March 5, 1939-March 5, 2010

Yes, Peter Woodcock died on his own birthday.
Who was he?
In my childhood, he was the bogeyman. My parents actually warned me, when I was little, that there were bad people like him around. I remember, as a three or four-year-old, riding past the CNE grounds and my father pointing and saying "that's where the guy killed the little kid."
And Woodcock killed another boy at Cherry Beach. A few months later, he murdered a little girl under the Bloor Viaduct. He was caught a few days later and sent to the old hospital for the criminally insane at Penetang. Woodcock was 16 years old.
I was born the week he was sentenced, and he spent every day of my life in custody. That institutionalization was relaxed in the early 1990s. Staff of the Brockville hospital where Woodcock was held took him to the Smiths Falls railway museum to indulge his train fetish. They took him to see Silence of the Lambs.
Then they decided he was ready for escorted day passes with friends. His first escort was Bruce Hamill, a murderer who had been released from Penetang. On their first day out, they butchered Dennis Kerr, a Brockville psychiatric patient. Woodcock had convinced Hamill that an alien brotherhood would solve all his problems in return for Kerr's sacrifice.
Woodcock had a persuasiveness that would make a real estate agent frantic. He seemed like a nice guy, and he could be made to behave like one, if he was carefully supervised. He never really wanted to be free. His biggest real concern was the quality of his food, which abruptly deteriorated twenty years ago when the provincial government contracted out Penetang's kitchen. Anything else complicated his life, and he didn't do well when things changed.
I got to know him well over a 15-year period beginning just after Kerr's murder. I still don't understand why he was a psychopathic serial killer. It may have been baby trauma, when his mother abandoned him and he bounced from one foster home to another. It might have been some kind of brain malfunction, perhaps from birth.
I do understand he was morally flawed. He knew it, too. In fact, he understood that much better than the medical staff at Penetang, who, for years, tried to pretend he had a simple wiring problem that "treatment" or time could fix.
There are what-ifs: if the psychiatrists hired by his wealthy adoptive family had realized the danger, he might have been stopped; if some of the dozens of kids molested by Woodcock had talked before he killed, he might have been caught much earlier; if he had been kept in simple comfort but under real supervision, he might not have killed a fourth person.
He was incarcerated for 53 years. He was told when he was 16 that he would never be free. He was put through LSD therapy, forced to live in a jammed room for 40 days to learn empathy, placed for days in an artificial womb.
He was interviewed, studied, probed, written about. He got his eyes fixed, made a few bucks from a lawsuit against the union representing his guards, was on TV a few times.
I wrote a book, By Reason of Insanity, about him. The title cast a wide net. It was the first verdict against him. It was also an indictment of a system that sought to medicalize a person and a condition, psychopathy, that probably can't be medicalized because it involves a great arrogance, a belief that one's desires trump all the rights of another person.
And it mocked a system that wedded ideas of psychiatric patient activists -- including Scientologists -- with government cost-cutting to rush people out of institutions. Many former inmates had already screwed up and some of them had killed again before Woodcock was released. His case was just so outrageous and so ludicrous that it could be used as a blunt instrument against the system.
But it didn't change much. Jeffery Arenberg, who gunned down Ottawa sportscaster Brian Smith in cold blood, was held at Penetang for just three years before being declared cured. Released from all supervision -- Arenburg does not even have a criminal record -- he was back in custody within months, this time for hitting a US border guard. After serving a couple of years for that, he''s out on the streets again. And he's still crazy as hell.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Person note

Rebel Steve K., can you e-mail me at mbourrie@yahoo.com. Have lost all your co-ordinates.

World o' Wusses

Couldn't the Liberals come up with a better strategy than "Harper's destroying Canada but we know we can't convince the people of Canada of that fact, so we'll wait until the Tories somehow screw up bigger-time."

The Maple Leaf Forever

We could always go back this:

In Days of yore,
From Britain's shore
Wolfe the dauntless hero came
And planted firm Britannia's flag
On Canada's fair domain.
Here may it wave,
Our boast, our pride
And joined in love together,
The thistle, shamrock, rose entwined,
The Maple Leaf Forever.

The Maple Leaf
Our Emblem Dear,
The Maple Leaf Forever.
God save our Queen and heaven bless,
The Maple Leaf Forever.

At Queenston Heights and Lundy's Lane
Our brave fathers side by side
For freedom's home and loved ones dear,
Firmly stood and nobly died.
And so their rights which they maintained,
We swear to yeild them never.
Our watchword ever more shall be
The Maple Leaf Forever


Our fair Dominion now extends
From Cape Race to Nootka Sound
May peace forever be our lot
And plenty a store abound
And may those ties of love be ours
Which discord cannot sever
And flourish green for freedom's home
The Maple Leaf Forever

Not that The Maple Leaf Forever wasn't tampered with. My mother, who went to school in Orange, Protestant York County learned the song in the 1930s with these lines

The Maple Leaf
Our Emblem Dear,
The Maple Leaf Forever.
God save our Queen and heaven bless,
The Maple Leaf Forever.

sung as this:

The Shamrock, Thistle, Rose entwined
The Maple Leaf forever.
God save our King and heaven bless
The Maple Leaf Forever

But my father, who was educated in a Roman Catholic private school in Kitchener at about the same time, learned those lines as:

The Lily, Thistle, Rose entwined
The Maple Leaf forever...

I've always thought the words of O Canada were something like:

O Canada, our home-made naked land
(or "our home on Native land")
then mumble mumble mumble until the music stops. At least, that's the way everyone seems to sing it.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Budget

Well, here it is.

It's certainly a budget crafted by a government that does not want to risk losing power. In its spending patterns and rosy predictions of growth taking care of the deficit, it reminds me so much of Michael Wilson's budgets in the Mulroney years. The budget was always going to be balanced in five years, but the five-year clock re-started every year.
Nothing to deal with the huge growth in bureaucracy in the past decade.
No real help to Ontario's manufacturing, to forestry or to other sectors in trouble. I guess in Harper's world we can all push paper and computer keyboards and the Chinese will keep lending us money to buy their stuff.
I suspect we will very much regret the opportunity that is lost here. We were still relatively financially healthy, compared to most G-20 countries. Harper is governing like Mulroney, buying off the regions and loading us and our kids with debt. Next, of course, will come higher interest rates and even more decline in the living standards of Canada's working families.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Throne speech highlights

It's an election manifesto as much as a legislative to-do list. Here are the highlights:

• Freeze in departmental salary and overhead budgets.
• Review of all departmental spending
• A new emphasis on achieving efficiencies and ending duplication in the public service.
• Freeze on MP, Ministers, Senators and PM’s salaries.
• Freeze on ministerial office budgets
• More funding for skills development and apprenticeship programs
• Strengthened education opportunities for Native peoples.
• Emphasis on technology research and development, with strengthening of copyright laws.
• Allow foreign investment in telecommunications comapnies.
• Space-based technologies that will help support Arctic sovereignty (probably a polar spy satellite system).
• Encouragement of foreign investment in Canadian space technology.
• More work on Free Trade.
• National securities regulator.
• Cut red tape for new energy projects and small business.
• Invest in clean energy research.
• Help for the marketing of forestry and farm products.
• Reform Canada’s fisheries management.
• Find ways to protect workers in bankrupt companies.
• Better food safety research.
• Tougher youth crime laws, increased penalties for sex offenders who prey on children, including Internet luring and cyber abuse.
• Life in jail without parole for multiple murders.
• No house arrest for violent offenders.
• Re-introduce legislation toughening the laws on illegal drug trafficking
• “Improve criminal procedures” to cut the number of long, drawn-out crimes.
• More help for victims of crime.
• More anti-terrorism funding, including more airport screening and biometric passports.
• More judicial tools to fight terrorism and organized crime.
• Protection of seniors’ income and a national Seniors Day.
• Access to EI for soldiers.
• More money for war memorials and a memorial to the victims of Communism.
• Modernize support systems for veterans.
• More help for Native reserves, including environmental clean-ups, settlements of land claims, and breaking down barriers to gender equality for Native women.
• Strengthen Francophone identity and restrict the use of the federal spending power in areas of provincial jurisdiction.
• Place an emphasis on Arctic research, including sustainable development in the North.