Warren Kinsella: Prince of Darkness?

Meet the Players

The First in a Series of Interviews with Political Strategists and Candidates

Say what you will about Warren Kinsella–and people have done just that, calling him some very bad names, some very bad names indeed.

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?

WK: Pamela AndersonNeve Campbell and Shannon Tweed.  Do the math.

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.

RA: Time for the Lightning Round. Blackberry or I-Phone?

WK: I’m a victim. I have both.

RA: Facebook or MySpace?

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.

RA: Favourite band? (P.S. You cannot answer your own band, Shit From Hell, whose song Barney Rubble (Is My Double) is synchronized with my bedside clock to ring as my morning alarm. No joke.)

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.

RA: The Great One or Super Mario?

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.

RA: Thomas Carlyle’s Great Man Theory or Herbert Spencer’s Theory of Social Forces? (Do you care either way?)

WK: I don’t care.

RA: Who is the real Captain Canada: Brian Tobin or Steve Nash?

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?

RA: Final Question. Greatest politician never (or never yet?) to become prime minister? (P.S. You cannot answer Edward Blake, Stéphane Dion or the current Liberal leader.)

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.


  1. says

    Richard…goddam. You are single handedly dragging this blog (no offense, Greg) out of the muck into something actually resembling credibility. I am very impressed. Well done.

  2. says

    That’s mighty nice of you, Balbulican. But are you sure you’ve been reading the other posts? My fellow bloggers have posted some pretty good stuff lately. Bookmark this blog, come back often, and see for yourself!

  3. mahmood says

    Yes indeed, excellent work Richard, perhaps, time permitting of course, you could pop over to the Bunker and powerlift that joint out of the muck as well…they really could use some logical and rational threads over there(no offence, Balbull but the stale stench of inane boring threads has really taken grip in ze Bunker).

  4. Dennis Rice says

    “James Carville is the Warren Kinsella of American politics.”

    This is like saying ‘The Rolling Stones are a British Nickelback’. While I find Warren entertaining, his book, The War Room, is an ode to Carville, admitting that he just copied as many of his tactics as he could (when it broke away from his love letter to Chretien, that is). Further, he is clearly unable to answer the question of what Ignatieff’s Liberals offer over the Conservatives, beyond a few generic partisan speaking points. (I’ve always been a Liberal, and would probably vote for them in an election, but God help me, I can’t see what they have to give right now).

    As for the majorities, who couldn’t have gotten a majority in the political climate of the day? Getting Chretien a majority following Mulroney? Meh. If he gets Iggy a majority right now, I’ll be impressed.

  5. Antoine LeBlanc says

    Well done Richard. You continue to make Canadian politics both accessible and interesting, which at times can be no small feat. I look forward to the reamainder of this particular series and learning more about (and from) some of the “players” themselves.
    To my friend Mr. Rice who suggests that Mr Kinsella skirted or failed to adress the question of what his Liberals had over the Conservatives, I’d suggest he in fact hit the nail on the head.
    His answer might be easily dismissed as vague and petty partisan mudd-slinging, but when I, an average Canadian by any estimation, weigh it against the fact that I can’t think of one person i know even casually that supports Harper and his government, Mr Kinsella’s answer seems a lot more candid and on point.
    Before my own assesment is summarily dismissed I’ll offer these credentials…I’m certainly not a “player” on the scene, what I am is one of these much debated and pandered to average Canadians living in the middle of “fat city” Ottawa itself, and a long time service industry worker where I’d wager i meet and talk to more average Canadians than either party leader. These last several years my casual independant research has taught me one glaring thing, that for all the Conservatives condescending reasurances through what has been an undeniably rough time for Canadians, their “Hush now, Daddy knows best” thing is doing nothing to win or even pacify the hearts and minds of their employers.
    So is it trite, or telling that Mr. Kinsella chose to adress the more general and fundamental issues of decency and inteligence, moral fibre, good and evil? It seems to me what the Liberals offer is a man we don’t have to be afraid of or embarrased to stand behind? At least not yet. If the Mr. Kinsella is indeed the prince of darkness, I still say better he and his new friend, than the devil i know.

  6. Natedawg says

    Why couldn’t you ask any tough questions of Catsmeat? For example, what roll he played in Wafergate? And letting him deny being an Iggy advisor, while he’s bragged about it on his blog? Comon!

  7. says

    “(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)”

    Heh. If that’s what he believes, why isn’t he a Conservative? I have much the same reasons for my voting patterns, which I am pretty sure are polar opposite his.

  8. Not Enough Coffee says

    Why couldn’t you ask any tough questions of Catsmeat? For example, what roll he played in Wafergate?

    Let me anticipate that answer for you. He would have responded “none whatsoever.”

    And letting him deny being an Iggy advisor, while he’s bragged about it on his blog? Comon!

    What was he supposed to do? Call Kinsella a liar?

    Until this blog starts attracting better commenters, it has a long way to go.

  9. says

    Until this blog starts attracting better commenters, it has a long way to go.

    Ha, and who are you to judge the quality of the commentators on this blog? You’ve been here reading the comments exactly how long?

  10. says

    To Warren Kinsella,
    I have searched the country over to find a reporter to write a story for me, mostly Alberta and BC, but no such luck. It is a story on corruption and dirty politics and Environmental disasters where everyone in a small town appears to be suppressed and afraid to speak out. I am a true liberal at heart and grew up in Nfld. I found you through an article you wrote in the Calgary sun and I was sure I struck luck especially since you are a lawyer. I believe if you are a true liberal you would also be interested, since this story will test the integrity of many of the individuals who are in the BC Liberal Party who do not deserve to be there as eventually they will destroy what good is left of the party with no chance of revival until those few individuals are exposed. I am sure the late Joseph R. Smallwood premier of NFLD who bought us Newfies into confederation would be very proud of you. You should run for Premier of BC as the party is in turmoil at the moment. At least give me the benifit of a doubt and request a review of my research.
    You can start by going to my posting on the cohen commission of inquirery blog on the salmon collapse and my
    blog “voiceofsalmonarm.wordpress.com . It is only a matter of time before this story breaks and will catch the attention of the world.