Warren Kinsella: Prince of Darkness?
August 17, 2009 · By Richard Albert
Meet the Players
The First in a Series of Interviews with Political Strategists and Candidates
The Montreal-born, Toronto resident is known in many circles as the Prince of Darkness. That’s a pretty cool nickname, if you ask me. Who wouldn’t want to be a prince of something, anything?
Perhaps the best nickname ever ascribed to Kinsella, however, is the James Carville of Canadian politics. Now that’s a mighty clever nickname, actually. However it does not quite capture the full scope of Kinsella’s reach, influence and political acumen. True, the Carville-Kinsella comparison is apt in many respects. But to do justice to Kinsella, we should probably rephrase the comparison in this way: James Carville is the Warren Kinsella of American politics.
Actually, I take that back. Carville is a giant of a strategist. But so is Kinsella. Imagine the team they would make working together? Wow. Now that’s a partnership that would give nightmares even to a campaign anchored by the very best conservative strategists in North America, namely Tom Flanagan, Rod Love, Frank Luntz and Karl Rove.
It’s easy to understand why Kinsella is regarded as the closest thing to a genius in Canadian politics. After all, he helped Jean Chretien‘s federal Liberal Party win three straight majority governments. He also guided Dalton McGuinty and the Ontario Liberal Party to victory in the last two provincial elections. And today he runs a successful consultancy–the Daisy Group–which has managed to score some of the land’s most prestigious clients.
That’s his record of accomplishment. Or at least part of it.
For more about what Kinsella is up to, what he likes and dislikes, and what he sees unfolding in the Canadian political landscape in the months ahead, I invite you to take a walk through Warren Kinsella’s World, as he participates in a blog interview with me, conducted earlier this afternoon.
Richard Albert (RA): So, our favourite adult soap opera returns to the air in just a few weeks when Parliament reconvenes on September 14. How excited are you?
Warren Kinsella (WK): “Excited” is not a word I associate with a party whose principal spokesman is, seemingly, Pierre Poilievre. It is a little like getting “excited” about a bad rash. It just isn’t done. What I am excited about, in all seriousness, etc., is the possibility of an election–and showing Canadians that we have a superior leader, and team, and plan. That’s exciting.
RA: What should we look for in the first month or so of the new session?
WK: Unfortunately, more job losses, more bankruptcies, and more deficit–because the Reformatories, since being re-elected, have been setting unhelpful records in respect of each one of those. Other issues–like health care, H1N1, isotopes and so on–will factor into the political calculus, too. But on balance, I think just-returned-from-Summer Canadians will conclude this to be the ballot question(s): Who is about hope, and who is fear? Who has a plan, and who is the status quo? Who wants to create jobs, and who just cares about jobs for political cronies?
If that’s the question, and I think it is, we will win the election that follows. And whenever it takes place.
RA: You are advising the current leader of the Liberal Party, Michael Ignatieff. Without getting into details that would risk compromising either your effectiveness as an advisor or your leader’s prospects in the next election, would you consider sharing with us some of the broad strokes of your advice to him? Please? Pretty please?
WK: I’m a volunteer in the Liberal Party, and I haven’t actually admitted–anywhere–who I may or may not be advising. That’s the great thing about being a volunteer: you don’t have to answer every question.
But, volunteer or not, my approach is always the same: I don’t talk about strategy in the media. When you do that, your opponent can pick up the morning paper and read all about your strategy for the cost of the morning paper. And I tend to think a good strategy is worth more than the morning paper, don’t you?
RA: Bottom line: Why, in your view, is your man better for Canada than the man currently at 24 Sussex?
WK: He’s smart. He’s decent. He’s been able to bring the Liberal Party back to the middle–and back to the position of strength it once had.
He believes–as I do, as millions of Canadians do–that we deserve better than we have been getting. It’s not that Stephen Harper and his people are intrinsically evil or anything like that (although Mr. Poilievre tests my resolve in that regard). It’s just that they don’t have a plan for what we have been going through, or even care. It’s just that they don’t share the values of most Canadians. It’s just that some of them seem–truly–to dislike the country they have been given the privilege to serve.
Apart from those things, they’re just swell, I guess.
RA: And while we are on the subject of men, why are we not talking about women running for prime minister? Does your spidey-sense discern any prospective female prime ministerial candidates coming down the pipeline, from any party?
WK: You are right, and there can be no debating it. Why is it that this country’s political parties do such a crummy job of (a) attracting women as candidates and (b) making them into leadership candidates?
In the Liberal Party, Michael Ignatieff is using all of his powers of persuasion–and his authority as Liberal leader–to get us to where we need to be, which is a percentage of women in the House of Commons that reflects their percentage in the country. But can we do more? Yes, we can. And we will.
As someone who was rightly pilloried for making a sexist joke about a political opponent (Note to readers: Kinsella apologised for this on July24, 2007 –RA), I think the root cause of this shameful gender imbalance is just that–sexism. We need to change the attitudes of men–in the media, in political backrooms, in every other place, too. That’s going to take some work, but it has to be done.
RA: You are slated to run the Liberal Party war room in the next federal election. How are you preparing for that?
WK: I never said I was doing that. Other people have said I’m doing that.
Whatever I do, you can be sure of this: it will not have a title, and I will not show up on a flow chart somewhere.
I will, however, do all that I can to restore a Liberal government. It’s time.
RA: So apparently Paul Wells does not think you are as good a strategist as people say and think you are. What gives? Surely you deserve some credit for helping to engineer the only majority government victories Canada has seen in the last sixteen years. And you did write the leading book on campaign strategy in Canada. (But Paul Wells is no slouch either. He knows a thing or two about politics himself.)
WK: He’s right. I’m not particularly good at that, or anything else, for that matter.
But I love politics (for the cut-and-thrust, for the immediacy, for the passion of it), and I am a Liberal (because I always believe government has a role to play, because I am unenthusiastic about capitalism without limits, because I favour tolerance and diversity and hope). So, whether the Grits want me or not, they’ve got me.
If I’m good at anything, it’s obscure punk rock trivia. That is my forté.
RA: You were the Liberal candidate in North Vancouver in the 1997 federal election. I suspect that you volunteered (or were involuntarily volunteered) for this role in order to help the Liberal Party field a full slate of candidates, consistent with the Party’s policy of being a truly national party. Nonetheless, I still cannot believe that you actually ran (and lost). What happened?
WK: Honest to God: I ran because I felt I had a contribution to make. At the time, my wife thought I was crazier than usual–I think she voted against me, truth be told–but it was an honour and privilege. We hadn’t won the riding in a generation, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
Some folks insinuate that I was parachuted into the riding, but that isn’t true: I fought for months to get the nomination, and was thrilled when I won it at a nomination meeting. But a variety of factors (calling an election during the ’97 Winnipeg flood was one) led to my keester getting kicked.
My wife, then pregnant with the second of four children, was delighted.
RA: You run one of the most popular blogs on Canadian politics. What makes your blog so successful? Is it that Warren Kinsella writes it—and that people want to know what Warren Kinsella has to say—or is it that the stuff you write is just that good? Or maybe both?
WK: I don’t know if it is successful, but some folks read it. How come? Three reasons.
It’s free. Seriously, that counts. If people have to choose between a Liberal columnist who is free, or one who costs them something, they’ll usually go for the former over the latter. People like free stuff.
I also get read, I suspect, because the blogosweird is so dominated by white, angry conservative fellas. Being a black helicopter-driving, One World-loving, secular humanist, I tend to stand out.
Finally, the owners of the mainstream media have cut back so much–cut back reporters, editors and resources–that they have taken away the reasons why readers were attracted to quality journalism in the first place. If you don’t believe in your own model, your customers won’t either. It’s simple.
The reason why web logs and the like are increasingly popular is also simple: they’re free, they’re controversial, and they’re filling a gap.
RA: Which three living Canadians (whom you do not yet know nor have never met either in person or virtually) would you most like to host for dinner at l’Auberge du Pommier, one of Toronto’s finest restaurants? Why?
RA: Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer taking your guests to a much less fancy—though no less tasty—place, say, Burrito Boyz on Adelaide?
WK: I’m sure.
WK: I’m a victim. I have both.
WK: FB because it has multiple applications–you can make it whatever you want. Sad post script: I’m a Facebook “whale”–I am closing in on 2,000 friends. I even know some of them, too.
RA: Mac or PC?
WK: PC, simply because the piety of Mac users is so irritating. I also am driven to their distraction by their “no viruses in Macs” urban mythology, too. Uh-huh. Sure. Oh, look! It’s a yeti!
RA: Less filling or tastes great?
WK: You will not be surprised to hear that I despise ad lines. That happens when you’ve drafted some.
RA: Boxers or briefs?
WK: Boxers. At a certain age, you need to consider the impact you are having on the visual environment.
WK: Are you kidding? Our song? Man, I like you more already.
Fave band is Florida’s Against Me! They are godlike geniuses, and you must rush out and buy (not illegally download) their records right now.
WK: The Great One, even though everyone in Calgary (my hometown for most of my life) called him “Whine Gripesky.” Not nice, but a guaranteed laugh-getter in Calgary pubs for years.
WK: I don’t care.
WK: Nash. Sorry, Brian.
RA: Greatest Canadian?
WK: Terry Fox.
RA: Greatest prime minister?
WK: You don’t expect me to answer anyone other than my friend, do you?
WK: Lloyd Robertson. I can just picture Lloyd as Prime Minister. He reassures me.
RA: Thanks so much for doing this, Warren. Good luck to you and your team when the writ drops. Whenever that happens to be.