November 6, 2009 · By Richard Albert
Meet the Players
The Eighth in a Series of Interviews with Political Strategists and Candidates
“Not Left. Not Right. Moving Forward.” That is the slogan that greets all visitors to Martha Hall Findlay’s website. It’s easy to write off that greeting as mere political rhetoric, empty words, or, as we say in my native French, la langue de bois.
They may indeed be empty words when spoken by most politicians but they aren’t when spoken by Hall Findlay. (Or at least I would like to think they aren’t!)
Proof positive is the text of the interview that follows below. Hall Findlay, as you will read, appears genuinely interested both in inviting and engaging in constructive dialogue. Whether ideas trace their origin to the left or to the right does not seem to matter to her as much as whether those ideas can lead to better solutions to enduring problems.
Why can’t we have more people like her in Parliament?
There is much to find compelling about Hall Findlay. A quick look through her life’s work will show you why. Championship skier, distinguished graduate of the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall, attorney at a high-powered international law firm here, corporate executive there, 2006 Liberal leadership contender, and now Member of Parliament for Willowdale—all while raising three children, aged 24, 26, and 28. To describe all of that as impressive might be the understatement of the year.
What impresses me most about Hall Findlay, though, is a certain quality she possesses, one that eludes most people in her current line of work: authenticity.
Some are eloquent, some have great organizational skill, others have born leadership ability, many are smart, most are ambitious, and all have worked indefatigably to win their seat in the House of Commons.
But few exhibit authenticity.
Whether Hall Findlay is authentically authentic, or whether it is a carefully developed and deliberately managed strategy developed over her years of successfully navigating vast and competitive social structures, I cannot say for sure. But I sure hope she is authentically authentic because I’m convinced that she is.
But you can decide for yourself in this eighth installment of our continuing Meet the Players series.
One quick word about the mechanics of the interview: Hall Findlay received my questions by email on September 12, 2009—just as speculation about a Fall election reached its apex. But I did not receive her answers until a few days ago. To be fair, September and October were busy times for Liberal MPs, so I hope you will forgive her delay, as I have.
You will see that it has been well worth the wait.
Richard Albert (RA): So, Martha, what’s your latest take on whether Canadians are heading to the polls this Fall? I’m skeptical. So much so, in fact, that I’ve issued an open invitation to my readers: I’ll give 30-1 odds against an election taking place this Fall. (And while I got you on the line, you’re a lawyer, right? Perhaps you can tell me whether the famous Carbolic Smoke Ball case applies to my open bet. I hope not!)
Martha Hall Findlay (MHF): Wow, it sure shows how long it’s taken me to answer your questions, when the first one is about whether we’ll have an election this Fall. My feeling badly about taking so long is reinforced by the fact that it now already feels like winter outside. The good news is that we’ve come so far this Fall without an election. Did anyone take you up on your 30-1 bet against one happening? You’re looking more prescient every day… As for whether the Carbolic Smoke Ball case would apply (even though it was 25 years ago when I first studied it, I remember it fondly)—you didn’t put any money on the line. No consideration, not a valid contract. A no-risk proposition, one might say, other than reputational damage if you turned out to be way wrong. Good news for all, it looks like you might be right.
RA: Your predecessor in Willowdale, Liberal MP Jim Peterson, held your seat in Parliament since 1980 (with one term of interrupted service as a result of the conservative sweep of 1984). Based on my back-of-the-envelope calculations, Peterson achieved over 50 percent of the vote in every federal election since 1988, including the last election he contested in 2006.
In 2008, which was your first general election following Peterson’s resignation, you earned less—a little less, but still less—than 50 percent. Any idea why Peterson’s supporters did not all move to you?
MHF: Jim Peterson indeed did very well in almost all of his campaigns in Willowdale. An almost continuous run of 27 years. (We don’t talk much about 84-88, or his first run in 1979 which he lost.) You are correct that in the General Election I managed just under 50%. I will note that in the by-election in March, 2008, when I was first elected, I managed just shy of 60% of the vote. In the general election of 2008, the same thing happened in Willowdale as happened all across the country—the Conservative Party vote in fact went down; the NDP vote went down. The problem was that a lot of Liberals stayed home, and the Liberal vote went down even further. We look forward to getting those wonderful Willowdalean liberal voters back out the next time—just not anytime soon.
RA: You recently said that the next election will be “fought on attitudes.” Interesting. What did you mean by that?
MHF: Attitudes—Ken Dryden put it best when he described the Harper government as “pinched”. It’s the perfect word. “Let’s see what little we can do. Let’s give as much up to the provinces. Let’s see how far back we can pull from our Canadian participation on the international stage.” It’s pinched. I find it all rather grumpy. I just don’t believe that Stephen Harper has much optimism about Canada—I get the impression that he’d be just as happy if we were one of the United States of America. I don’t. I see Canada as a place, and as a group of people, with immense potential to do so much, both at home and abroad. Glass half full v. glass half empty. I am definitely a glass half full person. I feel a personal responsibility to start a de-grumpification process. (Yes, that’s my own word, but it’s pretty good, no?)
RA: Bottom line, though, Martha. Why is your leader better for Canada than the current prime minister, Stephen Harper?
MHF: Michael Ignatieff is better than Stephen Harper for a number of reasons, but first and foremost relates to my last answer. Michael is hugely optimistic about Canada and Canadians—what we are, what we have been able to accomplish, what we can do going forward, what we can become—leaders once again in the combination of economic prosperity, but prosperity with a purpose—a social justice purpose.
RA: My very first guest in this interview series was Warren Kinsella, the master Liberal strategist who is apparently slated to run your Party’s war room in the next election. I asked him whether he thought the Liberal Party was doing enough to be more inclusive to, and encouraging of, female candidates. To his credit, he said no and expressed his wish that your Party do more. Surely you agree, as I do. But can you articulate for our readers precisely why it is so important to have more women in Parliament?
MHF: We do need more women in government. At the federal level, we make up only 21% of MPs. Compare that with the fact that we women make up 52% of the population as a whole (yes, that’s a majority!). As such, we are the ‘consumers’, or ‘recipients’, if you will—the majority of those affected by—legislation. My answer is therefore simple: women make up more than half of those affected by legislation, therefore more than half of the people around the table when that legislation is put forward, debated, and passed, should be women.
MHF: It used to bother me a bit. As a lawyer and businessperson, with a considerable focus in past lives on international relations and international trade and business, I used to respond with, “Can we please talk about economics, finance or foreign affairs?” But particularly after the 2006 Leadership campaign, I recognized that I am seen as representing a minority that shouldn’t be one, and I do feel a responsibility to work to effect that kind of change. I also realize that an awful lot of women, young and old, are really interested in getting involved, but don’t really know how—and more importantly don’t know just how accessible political involvement is. I really enjoy encouraging more women to run, by sharing my experiences, giving advice, occasionally being a shoulder, etc… I rebel at the label “a woman in politics”—I am “a politician”. But (based on the last time I checked ) I AM also a woman, who happens to be in politics, so therefore have a role and a responsibility that I enjoy taking on.
RA: It is admittedly still a little early, in my view, to assess people and events from the 1990s. We need more distance. Nonetheless, how do you think history will remember Kim Campbell, Canada’s first and only (until you become Liberal leader, perhaps?) female prime minister? Has she been treated fairly since her departure from Canadian politics?
MHF: Kim Campbell will be recognized, rightly and importantly, as the first female Canadian Prime Minister. She faced a huge challenge insofar as the federal Conservative Party itself was facing a huge challenge from the Reform Party at the time—and the story of what happened in the election in which she, and the Conservative Party, suffered so much, was in my view much less a story about her (despite much of what was said and written) but rather much more about the success of the Reform Party. As such, I do not think she was treated fairly, nor do I feel she was treated fairly by her own party as the situation became so clearly challenging. The fall, at the time, of the Conservative Party was by no means the fault of Kim Campbell alone, yet she bore, unfairly, much of the blame. Remember that she was, before that, an extremely highly respected Minister of Justice and was highly regarded for her performance in other roles.
RA: So, on another topic, where is your Big Red Bus? It is still fueled up somewhere, ready to go next time around?
MHF: The Big Red Bus did its job well, and has been granted appropriate retirement—at least from me. The MHF wrapping was removed, and my “home” for many months was sold. I hope that the new owners are enjoying travelling across this fabulous country as much as I did!
RA: Let’s transition to a couple of lighter questions as we prepare for the super-fun lightning round. If you could have any superpower, what it would be? And why?
MHF: Any “superpower”? Is “wisdom” a superpower? I think it should be, although it doesn’t exactly make for exciting comic book material. No matter—I choose “wisdom”. I dare you to come up with an exciting costume for that one.
RA: (A costume for Captain Wisdom? I bet some people would think a mask that looks like this would be just right. Others, though, might think this is more like it. My own personal choice, though, would be this.)
Which three living Canadians (whom you do not yet know nor have ever met either in person or virtually) would you most like to host for dinner at Pourquoi Pas?, one of the finest restaurants in your riding? Why?
MHF: Having been to Pourquoi Pas? a few times already, I would certainly love to go back with any of my favourite people. As for three living Canadians whom I’ve not yet met … Hmmmm … That’s a challenge because I’ve been so fortunate to have met so many interesting Canadians with whom I’d love to have longer conversations. So I’m going to break your rule, and list three I’d love to have longer conversations with, whether I’ve met them or not.
Alice Munro, because I love her work. Her stories suggest that she’s had many experiences that resonate with my own personal experiences, and it would be fascinating to hear more about them.
Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada, because he occupies an incredibly influential position that, ironically, prevents him from doing too much—I’d like to know what he really thinks.
Preston Manning, because although he and I disagree on many policy issues, I am a big fan of his trying to make change that he honestly felt would benefit Canada and Canadians—I’d like to learn from his experiences.
RA: Mac or PC?
MHF: PC (although kudos to MAC for great marketing).
RA: Less filling or tastes great?
MHF: Oh, good heavens—it has to taste great! Our team actually has to work to make sure I eat enough. “Less filling” is not an issue for me. (Example: I never drink “light” beer—that’s for girls.).
RA: Favourite band?
MHF: I’m listening to Dave Matthews’ Band as I’m writing this, but that’s just because they were next in my iTunes library list. There are so many great bands… so instead of “favourite”, I’ll plug the newest addition to my collection, a great young duo from Toronto called Dala. Great harmonies and some really good songs.
MHF: Sid the Kid. (Sorry, Wayne.) I mean, that Tim Horton’s ad where he gets off the bus and joins the kids on the outdoor rink? How can you not love the guy?
MHF: I bristle at the concept of “Great Men”, but only because it ignores all of the great women who either influenced history and events themselves, or hugely influenced the men who ended up as “great” in their influence of history and events. That being said, I agree with Carlyle’s theory. I believe in the power of individuals to make change. If, as Spencer suggests, those individuals become who they are because of other factors, so be it—it is the individuals who ultimately go through those doors, take those chances, take those risks, make those decisions.
MHF: Not having met Blake and despite political challenges, my great respect for Stéphane Dion’s honesty, integrity, vision and passion for Canada remains strong and undiminished.
RA: Greatest Canadian?
MHF: There is no one Canadian who can be called “greatest”. That does a massive disservice to all of the many, many Canadians, some unsung heroes, who have contributed so much to this country and its people. Sorry, I know that’s avoiding the easy answer, but that’s how I really feel. When you think of it, maybe that’s quintessentially Canadian—we’re not big on singling out individuals, but really proud of what we can do collectively.
RA: Two more questions, Martha. Greatest prime minister?
MHF: I have a three-way tie.
Pierre Trudeau, mostly because of how he inspired Canadians and made us all feel so hopeful about what we could, individually and collectively, accomplish, both here and abroad, but also, of course, because of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Lester Pearson, for the obvious peacekeeping initiatives and how he established such respect for Canada abroad, but also because under his watch we established health care, CPP, the flag—no small feats.
And Louis St. Laurent, for quietly accomplishing a great deal for this country, but doing so in a way that was always conscious and respectful of the English and French duality of Canada, and his insistence on conducting politics with respect and civility.
RA: And greatest politician never (or never yet) to become prime minister? (P.S. You cannot say the current Liberal leader, nor can you choose Stéphane Dion or Edward Blake.)
MHF: I can’t speculate on the future, and you’ve limited my options. I also assume you mean Canadian politicians (as opposed to others from other countries) who have not become Prime Minister. My Liberal friends may not be happy, but out of Canadian history, I would say Robert Stanfield. He was respected by a great many people, of all political stripes. That says a lot.
RA: It does indeed say a lot. Not only about Bob Stanfield. But about you. That you would say such nice things about a Tory like Stanfield and also about a movement conservative like Preston Manning is out of the ordinary for a Liberal politician, at least in the current political climate enveloping Parliament. I hope some of your grace rubs off on your colleagues—of all parties.
Thank you for participating in our Meet the Players series, Martha, and for sharing a bit about yourself and your views with our readers. We’re grateful. Continued best wishes to you.
Meet the Players: Interviews with Political Strategists and Candidates
- Warren Kinsella, August 17, 2009
- Tim Powers, August 20, 2009
- Kyle Seeback, August 26, 2009
- Rocco Rossi, September 2, 2009
- Mark Holland, September 12, 2009
- Ryan Hastman, September 21, 2009
- Elizabeth May, November 1, 2009
August 26, 2009 · By Richard Albert
Meet the Players
The Third in a Series of Interviews with Political Strategists and Candidates
From an early age, Kyle Seeback has been successful–often at the very highest levels–in everything he has done.
He was a world-class swimmer on the Canadian national team. He then took his international medals to the University of Nebraska, where he was a star swimmer on one of best athletic programs in the NCAA.
Seeback later returned to Canada, entering law school, where he excelled academically while nonetheless playing and coaching for a varsity team in the CIS.
Then as a successful lawyer, Seeback served as president of the Brampton West federal riding association for almost a decade, helping candidates win local, provincial and federal elections.
Running for office is not entirely knew to him, though. He ran in the 2008 federal election against Andrew Kania, coming within a hair’s breadth–literally 232 votes–of winning the race. But now, says Seeback, the outcome will be different.
Whether or not Seeback will win is hard to say, particularly given that he is squaring off against an incumbent Liberal Member of Parliament in a riding that has been a Liberal stronghold since 1993.
But if Seeback’s record of athletic, academic and professional success has taught us anything, it is to never bet against him.
In this third installment of our continuing Meet the Players series of interviews with political strategists and candidates, Kyle Seeback takes a moment to field questions about his past, present and future.
Richard Albert (RA): You’re preparing to run for a second time in the riding of Brampton West. Last time, in the 2008 federal election, you came within fewer than 235 votes of winning the race against then-candidate, and now incumbent MP, Andrew Kania of the Liberal Party. What do you need to do differently this time in order to win?
Kyle Seeback (KS): I am sure that you don’t actually want me to tell what I will do differently. Given the size of your readership, any real plans I disclose would likely get back to Andrew Kania within minutes. What I can tell you, though, is that we will work harder than last time. The team will be bigger and more experienced. We have worked very hard at the grassroots level between the last election and now, and it will have an impact in the next election.
RA: Can you say something nice about your Liberal opponent, Andrew Kania?
KS: Andrew Kania is a dedicated and hardworking public servant. I can say that as I know Andrew personally. He is a little misguided, but so is virtually every Liberal. (I had to take a least one partisan shot in this interview, didn’t I?) Was that nice enough?
RA: Absolutely. Very gracious, just as I had expected given your reputation as an honourable person. So, moving on, the next election could be held as soon as October. What are the most pressing needs and priorities for Brampton West?
KS: There are so many pressing needs in Brampton and Brampton West that I could spend all my time dealing with this question alone. To keep things short, I think I will list three in no specific order.
First, we need a youth violence strategy. Youth violence continues to go up year after year in Brampton. We must develop a local strategy to deal with this, including more services for young people to keep them away from crime, namely programs for mentoring, drug and addiction, tutoring and educational assistance. All of these programs could be started and funded with some strong local leadership.
Second, health care. We need the Brampton Civic Hospital up and running at full capacity. We have one of the lowest ratios of population-to-hospital-beds in the country, and it is affecting people’s health.
Three, poverty and settlement services. We have one of the fastest growing immigrant communities in Canada and we need to make sure that new Canadians are able to access services that are going to allow them to obtain jobs and to overcome the economic hardships that many newcomers face.
RA: Despite the critical importance of local issues, federal elections often hinge on the performance and perception of party leaders. Why, in your view, is Stephen Harper a better leader for Canada than Michael Ignatieff?
KS: Stephen Harper is an average Canadian. He was raised in a middle class family like the vast majority of Canadians. He understands the issues that are important to Canadians because he has lived through the same issues that all of us face, like getting a job, raising a family and paying a mortgage.
I think that political leaders should personally understand the challenges that face average Canadians. Stephen Harper understands this perfectly insofar as he has lived through it personally.
Stephen Harper is also a person who does what he thinks is right, not necessarily what is politically popular. He governs on principle, not polls. That, to me, is a critical function of leadership.
RA: What is your biggest personal strength?
KS: Dedication and compassion. First, dediction–hard work and pursuing your goals and dreams–is the key to success in all aspects of life. Second, compassion and empathy for others are the fundamental building blocks to being able to properly represent people and their interests. Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is critical to understanding, and responding to, their concerns.
RA: What is your biggest weakness and how, if at all, have you tried to turn it into one of your strengths?
KS: Like many people, procrastination is my biggest weakness. Not sure how I can turn that into a strength. Do you think it is easy to make priorities? Bad joke, I know, but worth a try.
KS: I would seek his counsel before I ever left for Ottawa. It would be my father. No person could ask for a better role model or person to go to for guidance.
RA: With a family–a wife and two very young children–it must be difficult spending so much time away from home in order to mount your campaign. I suspect you will be away from home for even longer stretches of time if you end up winning your race. How have you and your family dealt with that?
KS: It’s really hard. There is nothing I love more than spending time with my family. Nothing comes before my family, neither work nor politics. I am a very hands-on father and I miss my children terribly when I am away from them. I honestly don’t know how I will deal with being away from them five days a week, six months a year.
RA: Apart from working to improve the lives of your constituents in Brampton West, are there any larger or national legislative projects you would like to explore if you get elected?
KS: Health care. My mother passed away in January after a year-long battle with cancer. I saw first-hand how stretched our health care system really is. Don’t take this the wrong way, because throughout that difficult time I saw and met so many wonderful and dedicated doctors and nurses. That is not where the problem lies. What I witnessed, though, was how overworked they were and how stressed the system is. It must get fixed because healthcare is one of the things that Canadians hold dearly and are so proud of–and rightfully so.
RA: Let’s turn to some of your personal interests. While in law school at the University of Western Ontario, you coached the university waterpolo team. Were you really that bored with law school that you had to resort to waterpolo to pass the time?
KS: Yes, law school was extremely boring. How else can you describe having to read thousand of pages of legal cases day-in, day-out?!
Seriously though, I needed an outlet from law school. I had played waterpolo for a year for the University of Western Ontario during my first year of law school and it was a ton of fun. The coach retired and the university asked me if I would consider taking over. It was a great experience and, if I had stayed in London to practice law, I would have continued to do it. Mentoring and coaching young people is such a valuable and rewarding way to spend your spare time.
A man is standing in line at the bank. It is a long line and suddenly he feels his shoulders and back being massaged by the person behind him. He turns around and asks the person what he is doing. The person says, “my job is a massage therapist and I was just trying to help you out.” The lawyer says, “yeah so what, I’m a lawyer and you don’t see me trying to screw the person in front of me, do you?”
RA: Before jumping into politics, you were a scholarship swimmer at the University of Nebraska, a star member of the Canadian national swimming team, and ranked among the top 16 swimmers in the world. Wow. What have you learned from competitive swimming, if anything, that will help you win your riding and become a good public servant?
KS: Swimming was all about hard work. It is one of a few sports that is all about working hard day-in, day-out for hours and hours every day. Swimming taught me that the only way to be successful is to work harder than the other person. I think that my work ethic will be enormously beneficial to my constituents if I am privileged enough to get elected.
RA: Now for my favourite question: Which three departed Canadians would you most like to host for dinner at Aggie Martin, one of Brampton’s finest restaurants? Why?
1. Sir John A. MacDonald. What can I say? He was the best prime minister in Canadian history and a conservative to boot!
2. Alexander Graham Bell. Inventor of the telephone. Would love to give him my Blackberry and see what he thinks.
3. Billy Bishop. First World War fighter ace. The stories he could tell would be amazing.
RA. Parlez-vous français?
KS: Un petit peu.
RA: Mac or PC?
RA: Less filling or tastes great?
KS: Tastes great, of course. What’s the point of counting calories when drinking beer?
RA: Boxers or briefs?
KS: Boxer briefs, actually.
RA: Favourite band?
KS: Tough one, the Beatles when I was younger but now I don’t really have a favourite. I listen to all kinds of music now: Green Day, Black Eyed Peas, Third Eye Blind, Van Morrison, Eminem, Shania Twain. You name it, I like it.
KS: Neither. Gretzky all the way. 92 goals in one season, 215 points in one season. These days 50 goals is rare, and 100 points is a big deal.
KS: Are you kidding? I live in Brampton just up the street from Premier Davis. Granted, he’s 80 years old. But don’t let that fool you. If I had chosen otherwise, he could still walk up the street and kick my… .
RA: Greatest Canadian?
KS: Without a doubt, Sir John A. MacDonald. Without him, there would be no Canada or certainly not the one we have today.
RA: Final Question, Kyle. Greatest politician never to become prime minister?
KS: Preston Manning. What a great person with such a great mind. He had it all.
RA: Kyle, thanks so much. I hope you had as much fun answering these question as I had interviewing you. A tough race awaits, so I won’t keep you any longer. Go hit that pavement. Very best of luck.
Meet the Players: Interviews with Political Strategists and Candidates
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.