Eleven days is a long time in journalism

This was written 11 days before the election – before the dramatic surge of Jack Layton and the New Democrats that nobody, including the writer, naturally to his possible embarrassment, foresaw. Whether that surge will prove water on the desert’s dusty face, or a historical revolt by voters deeply disenchanted with the two parties that have taken turns running Canada since 1867, the writer won’t predict at this moment – Sunday afternoon, May 1, 2011. If the following more or less holds up, of course he will say “told you so.”

So what do you think of the second, third and fourth runners-up sharing the Stanley Cup?

Each non-winner’s rink placing it in its foyer for four months a year, I guess.

The fourth would logically be assigned summer when its rink is unused, unless it could pout, bitch, threaten to leave the NHL, and thus negotiate a better time.

Not that I mean to elevate the current federal election to the importance of hockey.

Even less to raise the profile of Craig McInnes, one of the earnest, competent Vancouver  Sun columnists few readers could identify, well below the paper’s excellent top tier of opinion-mongers.

The headline over his April 21 column is: “When did compromise become a dirty word?” What journalistic folk call the drop head reads: “ ‘Coalition of losers’ is a legitimate path to majority rule because it would represent the electoral choice of most Canadian voters”. McInnes makes the case for a coalition of Liberals, New Democrats (getting a bit long in the tooth for that “new” tag, isn’t it?) and the Bloc Quebecois, if the Conservatives don’t get a parliamentary majority in the election that Canadians panted to have.

He’s the “Good Citizen McInnes”, like the fictional “Good Soldier Schweik”, who obediently followed orders to the letter and thus  screwed up the cause. Yes, precisely following “the constitution and parliamentary traditions” would serve the constitution and parliamentary traditions. But would the coalition by any euphemism – and Michael Ignatieff would turn the language inside-out to drop the word “coalition” into the deepest linguistic black hole – serve Canada and Canadians?

Not as long as the “traditions” include the bag-of-hammers dumbness of a Canadian government relying on the prop of a separatist party dedicated to destroying the Canadian government, certainly as we know it. But for some Canadians, the variety who resemble the description of a man so liberally open-minded that he won’t defend his own ideas, better to let the country dissolve than to disobey the rules and tradition. Especially if it serves the visceral hatred of the word conservative, of small or capital-C characteristic.

Before continuing my nakedly pro-Conservative, brazenly anti-Iggy, crudely anti-Bloc rant, the present writer draws attention to the observation that McInnes is not a lonely voice. On March 29 the once-grey, now jazzy Globe and Mail of Toronto, under the heading “A curious attack on majority rule”, editorially sneered at Stephen Harper’s early and repeated insistence that it would be undemocratic if the Conservatives failed (again) to win a majority, lost (again) a confidence vote on their budget, and the Liberals generously offered and were granted the formation of a coalition government.

Plodding through their argument, the Front Street sages then incautiously wind up their pitch – and I roll out rare italics to underline their touching trust in any politician’s pronunciamentos:  “The whole thing is a charade, anyway. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has stated flatly that his party will not be part of a coalition.” The Globe has been around for more than a century and a half, and its editorial board accepts at face value the I-swear-on-my-mother’s-grave pledges of a politician, above all a Liberal, courting the votes of the citizenry?

It smarts to those of us in the grand business of print that an anchor for this upstart television gadget, Peter Mansbridge, partly smoked out Ignatieff on his coalition subterfuges. To reveal even one fork in the Ignatieff tongue was a good night’s work.

More recently, and realistically, Adam Radwanski opined on the Globe’s front page that Ignatieff had “breathed life” into Harper’s warning of an anti-Harper coalition, and noted, in so many words, that Iggy hadn’t provided the fine print on his box of political Cheerios.

If Slick Iggy manipulates his way to 23 Sussex Drive, exploiting Canadian political peculiarities and throwing a bone to separatist Gilles Duceppe, or, as I fondly call him, The Fart from Quebec, and another bone to Jack Layton, whose limp uncannily reflects his party’s electoral success since the New Democrats were fashioned from the old socialists  – that would prove what Canadians want. That’s the McInnis thesis.

Wrong. The only proof that Canadians yearn for this back-kitchen political stew would be if the three cooked up an open deal and confronted the Conservatives and Canadian voters with a single alternative party. The Bliberalcats, or something. Who are not on the May 2 ballot.

“When did compromise become a dirty word?” asks the Sun headline, I remind you? When it’s a deal with the Devil, or any power-sharing that involves The Fart from Quebec.

© Trevor Lautens, 2011

Election Fanmail

Here’s a piece of fanmail from the municipal elections:

Pamela Goldsmith-Jones has been re-elected Mayor of West Vancouver! This must provide you with an opportunity to continue with negative reporting for the next three years or until your progressing senile decay sends you to the care of geriatric attention. I will be glad to offer you the addresses of good seniors care facilities A close neighbour of ours has advised me not to be too hash with my remarks and informs me that when seen in our neighbourhood and still walking the dog, he is assured that by your presence that their is a life after death.

My reply:

Thank you for your thoughtful words – I’m always pleased to receive fan mail and of course will repeat your words in my next column, space allowing.

While you are flipping through the Yellow Pages for a good seniors home for me – may I, with the kindliest of intentions, suggest you reflect on your ageism, which some people consider as vicious as racism, anti-Semitism or sexism? – you might spend some time pondering the numbers showing that the
mayor was not supported by a very clear majority of voters in a virtual three-way race. The margin of her rejection was significant and would trouble any politician, especially an incumbent, looking at such figures.

You’ll also appreciate that I was, as far as I know, the only practitioner in the media in the world who openly and without qualification predicted the mayor’s victory. One would have expected at least a modicum of gratitude.

Tell your neighbour I’d be delighted if he/she would describe symptoms of “life after death” that can be observed through a man walking with his dog.

I thank you again, most sincerely, for your message. I appreciate anyone who takes time to contact me in this busy world.


trevor L.

Nothing like a negative post to get things going…

Dear Mr Lautens,

To my surprise I attended the North Shore Mayors’ Debate at the Capilano Golf Club this afternoon. The surprise came from a misunderstanding led by my friend who believed that he was inviting me to a North Vancouver All Candidates meeting. I am a North Vancouver resident and since my Mayor enjoys acclamation to office this time my interest in this format was mediocre until the exchange between the West Vancouver Candidates (for Mayor) and the delivery of their message held my attention.

I am normaly cynical in judging incumbents and lean to the underdog (s) but I soon conceded that this is a one horse race, or should be, and I felt like rushing to phone my uppity friends in West Van and telling them where to place their bets. Mrs Goldsmith-Jones passed the post to Win, a furlong, or two, behind to Place came Mr Clark and trailing the field to Show ambled Mrs Vaughan. In this event Goldsmith-Jones shone like a star, responding to questions from the audience, with clarity, intelligence, fiscal knowledge and even humour and bringing them to their feet and I swear some were evne bowing before her and the shallow digs she received from her oppnents were brushed aside by her wit and demeanor. Mrs Vaughan frustrated the audience with her failure to respond to questions to the point when someone actually asked her to answer simply Yes or No and she went into a long diatribe providing the audience with more frustration. She trailed the field. Mr Clark tried to justify his reasons for running but he too was out of his league.

My reason for writing comes from a discussion subsequent to the debate when someone at our table stated that even if Mrs Goldsmith-Jones could prove that she could walk on water, Trevor Lautens through his column would claim that she had inflated shoes. You were referred to as the master of negativity and since I don’t read the North Shore News regularly and can’t recall reading anything in your column I will be interested to read the next week edition. I asked for and was given your e-mail address from the North Shore News since you make it public I was told.

Sincerely [name withheld].


Dear [Name withheld]:

Many thanks for your letter. I always appreciate it when readers – or, in your case, non-readers – take time to write, whatever they say.

I delight in the table talk that cast me as a master of negativity: In the evergreen words of Oscar Wilde, one cannot be too careful in one’s choice of one’s enemies. I much enjoyed your Win-Place-Show analogy, having once spent happy years in a thoroughbred race horse syndicate. Are you too fond of horse flesh and the turf and possibly a flutter?

I’m ashamed to say that I am so hardened to both praise and criticism after 55 years and 20 days in the newspaper business, and writing columns off and mostly on since 1957, that neither – praise or criticism, or even a couple of death threats and anonymous hate calls and letters – influence me much.

I hope you read the North Shore News Wednesday edition. The two front-page news stories report, and report very well, some information that you may well describe as negative regarding the mayor. And, after 18 years of contributing my daft opinions to the NSN, I have no reason whatever to suspect that the paper’s leadership is hostile to the mayor’s public performance, even less to her bubbling personality.

As for winning the charm contest – and of course armed with the huge advantage of an incumbent mayor’s access to information, staff and the tools of PR (like West Van municipal hall’s “Tidings”, frequently published in the NSN and which of course ignores all “negative” municipal matters) that part-time counsellors like Clark and Vaughan can’t possibly match – I’m not in the least surprised that you found the mayor the vastly clear winner in the debate you attended. She’s a charming woman. Politicians are salesmen. And saleswomen. They sell their particular goods through talk and image. Incumbents have resources at their beck and call that their opponents very rarely can match. Surprise! 

I’d advise you not to trouble yourself reading my piece in tomorrow’s NSN. Very negative stuff.

I thank you again – very sincerely – for your e-mail. You do me a favour by writing it, intended or not. And I apologize for the length of this reply. Alas, I write all too swiftly, too readily, having been at the chore of using and abusing the language since my first story written in Grade 2 (it was so well received I was prodded to read it to the principal’s Grade 8 class – the high point of a “career” that has been progressively downhill since), which was quite a long time ago.

Regards, Trevor L.