Moreover, the ability and willingness of the
mass-media to intrude into the personal lives of public figures
means that we are all keenly aware that every hero has feet of clay.
In this context, it takes a measure of courage
to invite the scorn of sophisticates and admit to retaining personal
heroes. As well, in the ambitious world of politics, it is deeply
unfashionable to expose the humility implicit in admitting that
there are those we admire, whom we neither expect nor desire to
Having said all this, I confess to having my
own heroes, whose ethics and examples have inspired me in my work
and in my life. Three in particular stand out: Martin Luther King
Jr; Lester Pearson; and Mahatma Gandhi.
Though subject to all the frailties to which
flesh is heir, all three were also men of integrity and ideals;
all three led more by example than by command; and all three held
public service to be the noblest pursuit.
King had a dream of justice, and led change
in the streets. Pearson had a vision of Canada's national destiny,
and led change in Parliament. Gandhi had a mission to undo imperialism,
and led change as a member of the Congress
It is cheap and easy to deride politics. Certainly,
almost no one in politics today is a King, a Pearson, or a Gandhi.
But just as certainly, every King, Pearson, and Gandhi was a political
actor, and that is a high tribute indeed to a much-maligned calling.
from the Dark Night of the Soul
25 January 2006, 16h05
Political activism is the price we must all
stand prepared to pay if we are to escape being tyrranised over
In this vein, if we are to renew the Liberal
Party, we as ordinary members must lead change from below, rather
than abdicate our responsibility to any one person above.
I should be grateful for the
benefit of your views and your ideas of how together we might
reclaim the Party of Laurier, Pearson, and Trudeau.
Radio One Squared
25 January 2006, 04h57
Later today, I will participate in two live
One broadcasts on the aftermath of the federal election and
the future of the Liberal Party. If you have a chance to listen,
do take a moment to drop me a note with
At 08h30 (staggered nationally across time zones),
I will join The
Current to discuss how the Party's Big Red Machine arrived at
this juncture in our history.
At 12h30 EST, Ontario
Today host Alan Neal and I will take calls from across the province
about the coming leadership race.
I will post a podcast of both programmes at
my web site shortly.
Best of Times, The Worst of Times
24 January 2006, 14h09
Well, that was mildly disturbing. My initial
thoughts before I surrender to sleep are as follows:
Although Elections Canada will not publish
the figures for some time, early reports suggest that voter turnout
increased substantially, for the first time in a generation. Irrespective
of the parties for whom those votes were cast, they collectively
represent a reassuring vote of confidence in Canadian democracy.
The Liberal Party exceeded all (admittedly
much diminished from happier times) expectations of the number of
seats we would garner. The Maritimes and urban Canada especially
kept faith with the Party, and are becoming our new core. The margin
between the Liberal and Conservative caucuses is large enough to
require the Tories to take responsibility for government action
and inaction, but small enough to frustrate worst excesses of the
The steady erosion of the separatist
vote in Quebec is cause for jubilation amongst all Canadians, irrespective
of political persuasion. While I should have preferred to see the
Liberal Party rather than the Conservative Party as the electoral
beneficiary, ultimately, Canada was the greatest winner. The fact
that the Bloquistes lost seats to a federalist party in their traditional
redoubt of rural francophone Québec made this result still
sweeter and more meaningful. Élection référendaire
Despite a healthy percentage of seats,
this election returned to the Liberal Party its second smallest
proportion of the popular vote in Canadian history.
This parliament will be one of the least
stable of the modern era. With the thinnest of pluralities and no
natural allies in the Commons, the Conservative Party will have
exceptional difficulty passing anything more than wind in the House.
Another election is doubtlessly less than a year away.
In the context of a looming election,
the Liberal Party's dire financial disarray may prove cataclysmic.
The Party office is not releasing the figures, but it is likely
to be tens of millions of dollars in debt. Moreover, with 60% to
70% of its revenues traditionally flowing from now prohibited sources
(i.e. corporate contributions and major gifts), it is difficult
to imagine how we will afford both a leadership convention and another
national campaign within a single financial cycle. At the 2003 convention,
many members of Paul Martin's inner circle proclaimed that the Party
executive needed to be led by people "who are more Bay Street
than Main Street" to keep the coffers full. It seems that they
may have led the Party towards financial, as well as intellectual
and electoral, bankruptcy.
Paul Martin's resignation will spare
the Party the bloodshed of another civil war. It may also, however,
cause the leadership race to monopolise the Party's political oxygen.
If the Party is to be worth leading, it needs more than a new leader;
it needs root and branch reform. But I will have more on this after
I have first taken some badly needed sleep.
our Skin by First Saving our Soul
22 January 2006, 20h55
In 1996, several of my university
friends who had fallen-in with that most disreputable of crowds,
Labour Party, undertook the well-worn pilgrimage of the trans-Atlantic
left to work on the Democratic
presidential campaign. As a result, I frequently received calls
providing awed updates of the vast sums being spilled in the effort
to convince the American electorate that Bob
Dole was in fact the reincarnation of Richard
During one such conversation, I enquired idly
after their strategy to increase overall voter
turnout. "Oh," came the cheerful reply, "we don't
have one. We don't want one, either."
I expected her justification to be based on
efficient use of scarce resources. The cost of inducing a non-voter
to register and then cast a ballot for a specific candidate is doubtlessly
greater than the cost of convincing a registered Democrat to simply
vote, or to convince a registered Republican
to vote Democrat. To my astonishment, however, she provided a policy-based
argument against expanding voter turnout.
"Look," she opined, "every adult
who wants to can vote, and it's not hard to do it. If you can't
be bothered to vote without being pushed into it, then you must
be lazy, or unintelligent, or unpatriotic. In any case, you aren't
the sort of person we should be encouraging to influence affairs
In my view, to be a Liberal is to believe that
the wisdom of society lies in the many and not the few. Unlike the
conservative parties that came before us and the socialist parties
that came after us, liberal parties were the first parties of genuine
mass-membership. We were the first to uphold the creed that the
best judges of a nation's interest are the people themselves, and
not small privileged groups, be they in the manor house or in the
politburo. We were the first to strike a blow for the ideal of government
by the governed.
Howsoever my Party fares in tomorrow's election,
in the long term, our interests and the cause of Liberalism can
only be augmented by a strong voter turnout.
There are certainly successful organisers in
every party who argue that suppression of turnout amongst dissident
voters is a legitimate political tool. They are wrong. All of us
in the political process must be patriots before we are partisans,
and recognise that it is better that Canadians vote against our
parties than not vote at all.
Irrespective of the outcome at the ballot box,
the Liberal Party will have much to do on Tuesday and thereafter
to rebuild, to rejuvenate, and to cast off the tyranny of low expectations.
We must begin this process by remembering that we can not save our
Party's skin without first saving its soul, and that the best way
of retaining or returning to power is to be worthy of power.
you attack the Tories with negative ads, you will destroy a mighty
19 January 2006, 03h19
Pollsters are to modern democracies what the
at Delphi was to the ancient Greeks. The ruling and aspirant
classes consult them religiously to guide their actions in the present,
in the hopes of attaining their ambitions in the future. But just
destroyed his empire by interpreting the Oracle's equivocal
pronouncements according to his heart's desires, so too are political
parties hostage to the hidden meaning behind pollsters' numbers.
Yesterday, an SES
survey commissioned by CPAC
showed the Conservative lead over the Liberal Party contracting
to 5%, at 37% to 32%. Given regional distributions of support, such
a divide could deliver a near equivalent number of seats to both
parties, with the NDP and BQ holding the role of king-makers.
Simultaneously, a Strategic
Counsel poll commissioned by the Globe
and Mail yielded a colossal 18% lead for the Conservatives,
at 42% to 24%. This would suggest not only a crushing majority for
the Conservatives, but the potential annihilation of the Liberal
Party as a viable parliamentary party.
Both polls were conducted over the weekend,
both involved sample sizes of 1'200 to 1'500, and both profess to
have margins of error of less than 3% (19 times out of 20).
Certainly, public opinion is volatile, but no
level of volatility can reconcile these figures. My own theory is
that the ease with which pollsters can gauge public opinion is tumbling
faster than the public's regard for politicians.
The flaw with traditional polls is that they
are based entirely upon the responses of people who are willing
and able to receive and respond to a pollster's questions.
Given the pace of modern life, most Canadians
spend precious little time at home, and are therefore largely inaccessible
to pollsters contacting us by telephone. When pollsters do reach
us, few of us wish to fritter away our time mumbling "strongly",
"somewhat", or "not at all".
Thus, polls are frequently accurate measurements
of the views of people who are utterly unlike the majority of Canadians.
Whichever poll proves correct on Monday (I believe
they will both shy of the mark), the pollsters will likely find
a way to stretch the 1 time out of 20 to cover the results.
The Poisoned Chalice
17 January 2006, 13h32
While it may have been inevitable, and even
late in coming, the event itself was no less momentous for me. This
morning, I received my first "Leadership Telephone Call"
With less than a week left in the election campaign,
potential leadership candidates and their surrogates are organising
in earnest. At the risk of sounding uncharitable, the call I received
came from an MP whose main contribution to a leadership contest
would be to increase the number of candidates in, rather than the
quality of, the field. Nevertheless, this is part of a trend that
bodes ill for the Liberal Party.
My greatest fear for the Liberal Party is, however,
not the perpetuation of internecine warfare. It is the instinct
of organisers that the answer to one fallen messiah is the installation
of a new one.
If there is no fundamental reform to and rejuvenation
of the Liberal Party itself, then no matter how talented or well-intentioned
the next leader may be, that person will suffer the same fate as
In a democracy, we never receive the government
or the Party we deserve. We only receive the government and the
Party we demand and that we help to create. The next Liberal leader
will only succeed if we renew our Party, and rebuild it upon liberal-democratic
ideals rather than a hollow cult of personality or the empty pursuit
of power for its own sake.
The Liberal Party must change itself, not just
exchange its leader.
Such Stuff as Dreams
Are Made On
16 January 2006, 16h24
Since childhood, I have nursed a fascination
with Astrophysics: it has the ideal mixture of scholarship, monumental
grandeur, and a physical inaccessibility that shelters hope for
even the most absurd theories. At university, with the febrile passions
of youth, my interests veered from the laboratory to the library,
and I ultimately took my degree in the
Nevertheless, I have maintained an amateur interest
in the universe beyond the horizon, and I have remained in touch
with my friends in white coats (no, not of the ilk that have one
This past weekend, some of those friends who
now call Berkeley
home asked if I would pass on a broad request for help with NASA's
Stardust Comet Chaser programme. I could describe this as an
opportunity for each of us as ordinary people to advance human understanding
of the physical essence of life, the universe, and everything. I
could also describe it as staring at a screen, looking for dust.
Two years ago, the Stardust Spacecraft intercepted
Comet Wild 2, flew through the comet's tail and coma, and collected
samples of comet dust. Yesterday, a capsule containing that dust
made a successful hard landing in Utah. If scientists are able to
analyse the dust, we will gain a better understanding of comets,
Belt and Oort
Cloud (the area at the outer boundary of our solar system),
and perhaps even the seeding of the conditions for life across space.
However, before we can analyse the dust, we
must find it. There are likely only 45 grains of dust in the 1000
square centimetre collector. Isolating the dust is akin to finding
45 ants in a football field.
To do so, NASA
will need an army of volunteers, using Berkeley's virtual microscope
programme over the internet, to examine images from their home computers.
Volunteers who succeed in isolating dust particles will be listed
as co-authors in the scientific papers announcing the discovery.
It may not amount to having our names graven in history, but it
Most surprisingly, I have yet to receive a single
adverse response, but this may be because in Canada a mari usque
ad mare we tend to be pathologically reluctant to offer criticism.
I strongly encourage anyone who disagrees with my position to drop
me a few lines, as I have always held that it is only through an
honourable and thoughtful clash of ideas that we as individuals
expand our outlooks, and that we as Canadians forge a genuine national
12 January 2006, 14h38
I will add little here to the argument I offer
in the article, other than to emphasise that I believe passionately
in the clause's role as the guarantor of the supremacy of popular
sovereignty in Canada.
I realise that Paul Martin, as my Party's leader,
has staked out a contrary position. I also realise that there will
be those who will argue that loyalty to our Party sometimes demands
that we stifle our principles. However, I believe that we serve
our Party best by serving our country first.
If Paul were surrounded by people willing to
tell him what he needs to know, rather than simply what they think
he wants to hear, the central campaign would undoubtedly agree.
We Rise and Fall Based
on Where We Stand
11 January 2006, 03h22
As one might imagine, I had been planning to
scribble a bit about the results of the English and French language
leaders' debates. I should, however, pre-empt myself (as it were)
to congratulate the Western
Standard for becoming the first publication to take cognisance
of the fact that, for some time, the Liberal Party platform has
been inadvertently available at the Party web site.
The platform was (and is) not visible on any
Party web page, but the central campaign prematurely loaded the
platform document file into a server that is freely accessible to
anyone with internet access, a web browser, and a modicum of ingenuity.
In a democracy, parties rise and fall based
on where they stand. It is, therefore, all the more regrettable
that the PMO has still not released the Party platform, even as
the shadow of their
blitzkrieg advertisements creeps longer over the campaign.
Update: It seems that the Western Standard
had sources other than the Liberal Party web site, and obtained
the platform from elsewhere. They deserve full marks for upholding
the all but lost art of investigative journalism, though it does
raise the question, is the legendary "mole" of the central
Liberal Party campaign more than just idle chatter?
They Know What We Are
09 January 2006, 17h02
debates are nigh, and the blogosphere is awash with comments,
predictions, and halting analysis. However, as I traditionally seek
to be untraditional, I thought I might swim somewhat against the
Clearly, the strategic needs of all three national
party leaders are obvious, and merit little new comment.
Stephen Harper, who currently enjoys the fickle
favour of poll momentum, will find himself the object of much fear
and loathing (again). He will need to retain a positive posture
and project the airs of a statesman, if he is to continue to shed
his persona as the creature who hides under small children's beds
at night. He will also need to win support amongst the legions who
abhor the prospect of an untrammelled Conservative majority, by
convincing us that such an outcome is too absurd to be contemplated
(at least before 23 January).
Jack Layton will stand in the shadow of the
2004 election, when progressive voters, recoiling from the mere
thought of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, fled the NDP en masse
to support the Liberal Party. Layton will need to persuade Canadians
that a vote for the NDP is a vote to restrain whomever forms government,
rather then a vote for a Conservative majority. He will also need
to practice self-restraint over his own appetite to play to the
cameras with intellectually vacuous hucksterism. Canadians want
leaders who are more interested in making a difference than in making
Will any of the three succeed in these objectives?
According to the "talking points" that have long been written and
are already circulating across the country from the three national
campaigns (hours before anyone has even entered the debating hall),
their respective leaders exceeded their wildest hopes, while the
other leaders were pale shadows of men by comparison.
Talking points are meant to give campaign volunteers
their opinions, and to help them effectively simulate spontaneous
reaction and original comment consistent with those opinions.
Telling people what they saw and heard, and
therefore what they think, is a critical instrument in the dark
arts of spin. In the leaders' debates, the operative assumption
is that fewer people will actually hear the debates than will hear
and read about them. Thus, he who controls post-debate chatter
has the power to re-write history.
I have but one plea to anyone who has read this
far: whatever your political persuasions, keep an open mind, watch
the debates, draw your own conclusions, and never let anyone tell
you what you think.
If whoever becomes Prime Minister after the
debates is remotely worthy of Canada, he could not possibly want
anything less of Canadians.
Death, Diction, and
08 January 2006, 20h39
Dakar Rally is perhaps best known in Canada for commentator
eccentric lilt, as he grapples with the pronunciation of non-anglophone
names. However, this year's Rally is well worth viewing even with
the sound turned off.
At the midway mark of the eight-thousand kilometre
race, the returning champion, France's Stephane
Peterhansel, finds himself spending the rest day a trifling
thrity-two seconds ahead of his Mitsubishi team-mate, Luc
Crossing ergs, dunes, mudflats, and some of
the most punishing terrain on the planet, the Paris Dakar Rally
is not for the faint of heart, or indeed the sane of head. What
I find to be its most attractive feature is that the majority of
its participants are amateurs: the race democratises the opportunity
to die a glorious if meaningless death in a land beyond the back
Really, why would anyone do anything else?
Curse of the Kennedys
07 January 2006, 18h52
After telling the nation that he was dealing
with a drinking problem, an addiction that plagues vast numbers
of MPs in the UK, Canada, and around the globe, Liberals and the
broad citizenry of Britain lined up to support him. Moreover, not
a single member of his caucus had the courage to oppose him in the
leadership convention he called to allow anoyone to democratically
test his support.
However, a raft of the same MPs who would not
face him in public nevertheless assailed him in private, and made
it impossible for him to carry on as leader.
Although I did not know him well, on the modest
number of occasions that Charles and I met, most recently when he
invited me to address his party’s policy committee at one of their
conferences, I found him to be a decent man. Even though I am
a near teetotaller, nothing about Charles' admission lowers my opinion
Would that I could say the same for some of
his political assasins.
Lies, Damned Lies,
06 January 2006, 19h00
The media consensus appears to be that the end
is nigh for the Liberal Party, and all that remains is for the cadavers
to be properly dressed for internment. It will surprise no one that
I think this is all a little premature.
The Liberal Party faced a far more serious deficit
in the polls in 2004, at roughly the same juncture in the campaign,
and the election results did little to cheer either the Conservative
Party or its morticians.
However, if history does indeed repeat itself
first as tragedy and second as farce, the question that the Liberal
Party’s war room will now face is whether to “go negative” against
Stephen Harper and the Tories. I know that the overwhelming consensus
in the central campaign is to do precisely this: “it worked last
time, so why wouldn’t it work this time?” goes the argument.
From a practical perspective, though it may
seem counter-intuitive, the fact that this tactic succeeded in 2004
is precisely why it is less likely to succeed in 2006. The more
Canadians hear about how terrifying Harper is, the more they become
inured to this message.
From an ethical perspective, a negative campaign
is an affront to the public good and to all the better traditions
of Liberalism. I wrote an article for
the National Post during the 2004 campaign, calling on Paul
Martin to resist the siren song of those who would put short-term
gain ahead of the national interest. I believe the article remains
Casting the Runes
05 January 2006, 03h10
I imagine this is a milestone of sorts: my first
posting at an altogether ungodly hour of the morning.
I understand from my colleagues in the Liberal
Party's national campaign that La Presse will release polling
figures from Ekos later today, showing the Conservatives pulling
ahead of the Liberal Party nationally, with standings of 36.2% to
I will be looking over the numbers as they arrive,
but I suspect that the campaign is about to change radically.
Damned with Much Praise
04 January 2006, 15h00
Tomorrow morning, CBC Radio One’s The
Current will host a debate on how we can restore vision to Canadian
politics. Anna Maria Tremonti will moderate, with Adam
Daifallah speaking for the Conservatives, Judy
Rebick for the NDP, and me from a Liberal perspective.
The programme was taped earlier today, as the
broadcast is staggered nationally across time zones. I found the
discussion generally constructive, with only stray wisps of partisan
cant leaking out of each of us.
Unfortunately, it provided me with a rather
unwanted education in ways to damn an adversary.
I had already been exposed to the usual rhetorical
lexicon wielded in political debates: mock pity (e.g. "I am
distressed that someone as apparently intelligent as you has been
reduced to making such transparently false arguments."); high
dudgeon (e.g. "Never in all my years of being shocked and horrified
have I been as shocked and horrified as I am now, putting aside
the last time I was shocked an horrified."); abject misrepresentation
of another’s views (e.g. "So what you are saying is that we
should all eat babies, just like you do."). In the midst of
our debate, however, Judy pulled out a rather exotic weapon: tactical
As a partisan, one can survive almost any jab
from an opponent, but wily praise can inflict a wound that will
I will post a podcast of the programme at my
web site soon after the broadcast.
Update: Online streams of the debate
are now available at the CBC
Radio One website. The gods of the editing room smiled on me,
and Judy's velvet jabs ended up on the cutting room floor!
03 January 2006, 14h45
I trust no one will begrudge me a minor posting
to vent frustration
I have been trying for some time to obtain a
differential for my 1979 MGB roadster, to replace the spider gears
that I appear to have ground into metal fragments from driving around
hairpin turns with perhaps excessive effervescence. After waiting
three months for a prospective differential to arrive, I have learned
today that I will have to begin looking anew.
I have always adhered to the MG owner's maxim,
that it is better to push an MG than drive a modern car. It is a
good thing I do: I suspect I may end up spending next summer behind
and under my car more than in it.
Blogosphere Bites Blogger
02 January 2006, 12h35
I must confess that the extent to which blogs
have stormed the barricades of Canada’s political discourse took
With the unpremeditated immediacy of a casual
conversation, they have encouraged their authors to write with an
unguarded pen. With the untrammelled nature of the internet, they
have exposed the resultant literary indiscretions to the world.
With the permanence of online archiving, they have made embarrassing
words impossible to withdraw.
Mike Klander, arguably now the most famous Executive
Vice-President in the history of the Liberal Party of Canada in
Ontario (and whom, I should mention in the interests of disclosure,
I have known well for a decade), has of course recently lived through
this in the most glaring manner. However, his case also displays
a still more interesting effect of the blogosphere, the community
of bloggers, on media dynamics.
The mainstream media had been aware for some
time of Mike's
speculations about Oliva Chow's, ahem, paternity; there had
been a few minor paragraphs scattered hither and yon in the Toronto
press. However, it was not until a persistent crescendo of online
scribbling rose up in the blogosphere that the media proceeded with
its avalanche of coverage, transforming the matter from a local
issue of sophomoric humour to a national preoccupation affecting
the party leaders' agendas.
It seems that the blogosphere has discovered
an ability not only to place items on the public agenda, but also
to drive those items from the back page to the front page.
A New Year's Blogging
01 January 2006, 16h30
New Year's resolutions, like second marriages,
very much symbolise the triumph of hope over experience. Nevertheless,
I have thrown caution to the wind, and resolved that I will put
pen to paper (or rather fingers to keyboard) more regularly, and
begin a weblog.
Will my blog be inspiring, profound, and fundamentally
life altering? Alas, only if you lead a relatively sheltered life.
But at least it will be reasonably regular.
In particular, I hope you will feel free to
contact me if my writings over the coming
months elicit a reaction from you other than narcoleptic shock.
Although have not yet attached a message board to my blog, I sincerely
welcome your thoughts.