Canadians' attitude to U.S. swings from envy to sympathy, poll shows. (Les Perreaux, Globe and Mail)
The rural, hard-right insurgents who may have taken the Ontario Tories hostage. (Martin Regg-Cohn, Toronto Star)
Ontario Votes: Tories' Tim Hudak a man of contradictions. (Karen Howlett, Globe and Mail)
How to bridge the gap between rich and poor and save the middle class. (Don Peck, Atlantic)
Yours for next to nothing: the architectural folly of the failed Adelphia's HQ. (Matt Glynn, Buffalo News)
Own goal: Harper hires francophobe media operative. (Andy Radia, Yahoo News)
Der Spiegel explains the above recent Chinese aerial display as a celebration of the boost in the budget of an increasingly threatening People's Liberation Army. I hope I'm not alone in thinking of it as a "reverse Reagan," a gambit by Beijing to keep America spending heavily on defense despite a Chinese military budget that remains a tiny fraction of America's. Reagan of course hiked defense spending - and the bloated national debt that future generations have been saddled with, as GOP fiscal hawks are wont to say of Dems - though the U.S.S.R. was in every way bankrupt long before Reagan came to office.
The gazillion welfare programs for the rich we never hear about. (Suzanne Mettler, Washington Monthly)
Wolverine State's GOP plan to privatize public-school teaching. (Andy Kroll, Mother Jones)
25 giant corporations whose CEO pay exceeded their firms' 2010 tax bills. (Josh Harkinson, Mother Jones)
The PC isn't pining for the fjords. It's evolving. (Harry McCracken, Time)
The bravery of Harold Macmillan, JFK's favorite fellow head of state. (Ferdinand Mount, London Review of Books)
Racism on the rise throughout Europe (Billy Briggs, Al Jazeera) Scandinavia, we thought we knew you.
66 TIFF films reviewed. (Toronto Star fim critics)
Many of the 34 Canadian films at TIFF are, ahem, racy. (Peter Howell, Toronto Star)
David Hare: "It's absurd, but I feel insecure." (Stuart Jeffries, Guardian)
Sustainable perfection: A Michigan couple's model green home. (Kaid Benfield, Atlantic)
There's a statue in New York Harbor that's commanded worldwide interest for some time now. Less well known, but only because the communities are far smaller, are the mesmerizing statues of Champlain in Quebec, where the greatest Canadian is scanning the St. Lawrence for French supply vessels, and on the western shore of Lake Simcoe, the furthest inland that this great explorer reached from his starting point in Nova Scotia. And another good reason besides Leacock and Lightfoot's legacy for a visit to Orillia.
At left, Champlain at the Place d'Armes in Quebec, a few yards east of the Chateau Frontenac, and not far from where he is believed to be buried. Unlike Wolfe, Montcalm, Brock, Simcoe and so many of our earliest nation-builders, Champlain is buried in the New World, having not retired home to Europe. Sad to say, even John A. Macdonald sought a retirement in England, not his native Scotland or the modern Canada he more than anyone brought into being. (It was not to be; Sir John died in office in 1891 and is buried at Kingston, Ont., where he had long practiced law.) At right, the magnificent Champlain monument near Orillia, Ont., the western terminus of the explorer's extraordinary journeys into the Canadian wilderness.
I've always had a fancy for ladies by the lake, if I can be sexist for a moment. (ed.- No. Never.) One of the Twin Freaks caused a ruckus this week by proposing a gazillion-dollar glitzy entertainment complex on the waterfront financed by private interests. You know, Disney World on Queen's Quay - I put off further those trips to Orlando I intend never to take. Besides, as one urban renewal activist bluntly put it, if the private sector wanted to invest in Toronto's waterfront it would have done so by now.
Far be it for me to meddle in Doug Ford's visionary ways, but does strikes me that we could more expeditiously achieve the goal of a waterfront unlike the others by musing on the three examples that follow.
Above is the new, 26-foot "Marilyn Forever," by architect J. Seward Johnson. Ostensibly landlocked, it's actualy near Chicago's remarkable "front lawn" on Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. It was recently installed by a developer in partnership with an architectural heritage NGO on Michigan Avenue (the famed "Miracle Mile"). This wouldn't be my pick for Toronto Harbour since it's so plainly derivative from another medium - Monroe's famous pose over a subway grate in The Seven Year Itch. And it's an "upskirt" as well, which has not just feminists annoyed.
At left above, sculptor Ivan Shadr at work on his 1934 "Oar Girl," also shown on completion at Gorky Park before her abduction and relocation to obscurity by humorless commisars. The all-nude figure was daring for its time, admittedly. Below is the new, human-sized replica commissioned by the Russian Rowing Association.
The above reprise of a 1934 sculpture by the late Ivan Shadr, a sculpture in Stalin's good books, was recently commissioned by the Russian Rowing Association, which has adopted the "Oar Girl" as its mascot. Erected in Gorky Park on completion, the Oar Girl later was banished to a Ukranian burgh after being deemed too sexy. As I'm sure the Politburo members' Black Sea dashas bore no slight resemblance to Berlusconi's fleshpot retreats, that deprivation was hypocrisy of a tall order - originally 23 feet tall, to be precise. The "Oar Girl" was so revered that replicas of her can still be found throughout Russia, though always clothed, since "There's no sex in the U.S.S.R., as we always joked," a vendor in possession of a mini-Oar Girl icon told the WSJ. The new, non-nude, non-larger-than-life replica (6' 7") stands on the south bank of the Moscow River, rooting for the home crew in regattas. She's a lovely work of art - "If she was a real girl I'd marry her," a passing Muscovite told the Journal - and if only she was still larger than life she'd have my vote.
Here I think we're finally onto something novel, Die Badende, by artist Oliver Ross.
A.k.a. the "Hamburg Water Woman," this 13-foot high, 98-foot-long sculpture installed in the Hamburg waterfront is intriguing, beguiling and daring all at once. And unlike Shadr's all-nude Oar Girl, it would not keep the vice squad from its otherwise appointed rounds. I think the worst to fear is that during orientation week some frosh overly saturated in Jack might attempt to save the damsel from drowning.
'Course, there's nothing says it needs be a female form out there in our harbor - say, Marilyn Bell, first person to swim the width of a Great Lake. It could be Layton, gosh sakes, whose second marriage took place on Toronto Islands, and would help remind us each day that this city so often afraid of its own shadow needs to exercise its imagination. Better, it could be a stylized Rodin, our own tribute to the Unknown Thinker. Whatever.
Certainly we need a counterpoint to our current symbol. We can no longer say of the CN Tower that it's the world's tallest erection, since Russian and Asian developers who got hold of one of those member-extender potions have since eclipsed it.
Leslie Scrivener had a delightful piece in yesterday's Star on the global ego contest among cities that has yielded scores of over-sized (48 stories) ferris wheels. Doug Ford has a compulsion to join the fray. It's a great read on how from Australia to Beijing, these extravagant projects have so often been a bust. Meanwhile, small-scale endeavors like Chicago's human-scale Navy Pier redevelopment - which charmed me immediately, and is described winsomely by Scrivener - are the proper way to go.
Chicago's marvelous Navy Pier, not as glitzy as it appears above. I've found it a serene place for a stroll, to watch jugglers, drop into a lecture on gardening or geopolitics, watch the kids gamboling in imaginative play areas. The closest Canadian counterpart might be Eb Ziedler's Canada Place in Vancouver, a convention hall topped by sail-shaped panels, as used as port of call for Alaskan cruise ships that snuggle up to each side. The Sydney Opera House is another obvious example of merging culture with a maritime community. Toronto once had such a "people pier" (as opposed to the working On The Waterfront variety), jutting out from the shoreline just to the west of the foot of the Humber. It led to an enormous dance hall, and I don't quite get how replicating such a venue where romantic summer evenings swaying to the Benny Goodman orchestra and his band singer Sinatra hasn't made a reappearance after the original fell into disuse with the construction of the Gardiner Expressway and the death of the Sunnyside amusement park of which the pier was a part.
Come to that, it's mostly the modest things we've done by way of civic improvement that have delighted me most. Sugar Beach. The remake of St. George into a grand but not too grand main drag for an overgrown U of T with some 100 buildings now that had been struggling to define its sprawling physical presence. The Evergreen Brickworks. The Distillery District. The Calatrava-inspired Humber bridge near the waterfront, and the replication of a Beaches-style boardwalk as a west-end counterpart, roughly anchored by the aforementioned bridge and the gently refurbished Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion.
Nothing grandiose about those projects, but individually and collectively they've altered the character of the city for the better.
What folks who strive for the expedient superlative of "biggest" neglect is that the moment you build your biggest, tallest thing, some rival will top it. This goes back at least to the Chrysler Building, which was to be Gotham's tallest office building. At the last minute, circa 1930, the rival developers of the Empire State unclad some sheathing atop their edifice that hid a folded-up superstructure that emerged to scrape the sky a few feet higher than the Chrysler's top spire.
The Yanks wisely gave up on that kind of member-waving not long after the early reception to the World Trade Center and the Sears Tower that soon overtook it in height each met with a tepid reception. They deserted that profitless field - prospect prime tenants began balking at the loss of productivity that comes with commuting from the ground to the 104th floor - to the Pacific Rim, which for two decades have been engaged in the same senseless "mine is taller than yours" contest that characterized N.A. cities in the previous century.
I hope that few of us hanker for a sojourn in Britain's capital for the London Eye rather than the Tate Modern and the British Museum. There's a ferris wheel at the west end of the Tuillieries about the same modest size as the 25-metre wheel at the CNE. And it was kept to that size to not diminish the Arch de Triomphe, the spires of Notre Dame and, of course, la Tour Eiffel.
That's smart planning. Especially commendable among the French, whom you know are consumed with national pride and an unshakeable sense of their greatness. When you have that kind of self-confidence you don't succumb to the Albert Speer mindset of sheer size and bulk to inspire awe, but instead work long and hard to achieve the sublime. Only rarely, as in the Eiffel Tower, does one find both size and grandeur. Though even then, on Eiffel's masterpiece took shape, a petition was signed by Garnier (yes, the opera Garnier) and most other leading Parisian architects to have Eiffel's "eyesore" removed as soon as the exposition of which it was a part came to an end. Garnier claimed the only place he could peaceably take lunch was under Mr. Eiffel's tower, since that was the only place in Paris where he wasn't obliged to look at the hideous thing.
Scrivener also manages the neat trick of not being gratuitious in suggesting how the oversized two-mayors-one-brain currently occupying our mayor's office would naturally glom onto size for its own sake as a civic virtue:
So, a ferris wheel is now part of Councillor Doug Ford’s vision for the Port Lands. Not just a ferris wheel, but the world’s biggest. That should come as no surprise, since it’s clear that with two of Toronto’s biggest wheels, Ford and brother Mayor Rob Ford, size matters.
"We know dollars do far more to create jobs and prosperity in people's hands than they do in the government's." -Rick Perry, Texas governor, GOP presidential candidate and conspicuous snout at the federal trough, August 2011.
Texas has indeed created almost as many jobs as the rest of the country has lost during Perry's decade-long tenure in Austin. But most of the Texas' job growth has been in government, funded by federal stimulus money and a staggering 265% increase in world oil prices and accompanying royalties, over which the governor has no control. (Source: Time. Subscription required.)
Percentage increase in government spending in Texas, 2000-10, during Perry's touted above-average job-creation in the Lone Star State: 76
Percentage increase in government jobs in Texas, 2000-10, including expanded federal spending on NASA and military installations: 19
In private-sector jobs: 8
Percentage increase in government jobs in Texas since the recession began in December 2007: 3.7
Decrease in Texas private-sector jobs in that period: 0.7
Rank of Texas after New York and California among state recipients of federal stimulus money since 2007, which has enabled Perry to balance his state's books and create more jobs: 1
Sum pocketed by Texas in federal stimulus funds, which Perry initially threatened to secede over rather than accept: $14.7 billion
Mother Jones tees off on the Perriwinkle:
Perry's for transparency, unless it's about him. (Andy Kroll)
Six stories you must read about Rick Perry. (Tim Murphy)
Regarding the photo above, I'm informed by NPR that Libya's new governing authority's prime immediate concern is retrieving the firearms from anti-Gadhafi's rebels and others, in a nation in which gun ownership was strictly forbidden during Gadhafi's four-decade rule. "Our people no longer need them, and they're using them now to shoot into the air to celebrate weddings," a national security official with the new Libyan regime said. "It's very worrisome."
Yes it is. It's why Doug MacArthur launched the postwar U.S. occupation of Japan by confiscating every manner of weapon on the home islands, even ceremonial samuri swords that had been in some families for more than a century.
Now the obvious question: To what extent does America export its gun culture? More, less, or to the same degree as McDonald's, Levis and Michael Jordan T-shirts? And, more recently, subprime mortgages and collateralized debt obligations?
Odd, I've never held a real firearm in my hands in 54 years. Yet I was crazy about toy guns as a kid, when I also thought it fun to toss lit firecrackers into friends' faces. Some of us grow up.
Kudos to Dan Amira at New York's Daily Intel blog for his take on Michele Bachmann's latest volte-face:
Michele Bachmann reiterated last night that her remarks about God communicating through Hurricane Irene were not serious. "Of course I was being humorous when I said that. It would be absurd to think it was anything else," she insisted at a campaign event in Miami. "I am a person who loves humor. I have a great sense of humor." Okay, fine, our bad for the misunderstanding. Maybe the joke would have been more successful with a different setup. Let's try this: "Why did 40 people die in Hurricane Irene over the past three days? Because God is upset about the budget!" Hmmm, no, it's still not working.
I swear I don't know what most of the the GOP prez wannabes' games are. I certain Oral Robert U grad Bachmann ardently hopes to be taken seriously, but she has to know that can't happen until she connects with folks other than fellow poltergeists.
Huntsman just unveiled a jobs strategy identical to that of Romney, et al, confessing as much, and arguing only that unlike his rivals, he'll actually implement his plan. If the ex-Utah governor's numbers ever emerge from "margin of error" territory it will only be with intervention from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
The absurdist Newt is running for sheriff of Uranus, far as I can tell. Palin's risking a backlash if, on deciding not to join the fracas, she reveals herself a two-time quitter. (You recall she was very briefly a governor or something before reality TV beckoned.) So I'm still betting on Mitt. But his imitation of a lifesize cutout is just too eerily convincing.
Photo: Getty Images
Conrad Black is no longer to be addressed as Prisoner 18330-424, since he will not be returning to Florida's Coleman Federal Corrections Institute. ("Institute," what a name, it sounds like they correct one's spelling there.) Seems the two women Coleman employees who earlier testified that Black a was hard case have succeeded in having the disgraced press baron transferred, fearing - Black himself says -that he will assault them on return.
Meanwhile, in the apple (allegedly) doesn't fall far from the tree department, son Jonathan Black faces charges of assaulting his ex-girlfriend. No word on whether he's also planning to create an overleveraged print-media empire crowned by a national daily that fails to turn a profit in its entire existence.
Two things about Black stories. They're hugely well read, not quite up there with Leafs game summaries and even blue-and-white trades, real and hoped-for, but otherwise very popular. What this says about Canucks I don't exactly know. (I have ideas, but that's for some other time.)
Second thing is that, as easy as one might imagine they are to write (if one takes him to be a career businessperson rather than a discouraged writer, which I don't, he's easily the most quotable businessperson in Canadian history), they're actually difficult to do. That's because of the high reader expectations, natural enough given what's come before. He's a sort of reporter's pinata when it comes to the ill-formed penses that spill like Niagara from his mouth.
So, full credit to my colleague Jennifer Wells for her lively preview of Black's jailhouse memoir, A Matter of Principle, which, without reading it, I can tell you is, like Black's books, far too long. (Ms. Wells finds herself pausing for breath at page 445, asserting that this apparently is where the memoir appears to actually begin.)
That being the case, here are some highlights on what we most want to know, namely what does Lord Double-Crossharbour think of certain others:
Rupert Murdoch, whose Times of London sealed Black's fate by sapping Black's rival Daily Telegraph and thereby the entire Black empire of cash flow: Roop has an "airtight ruthlessness."
Eric Sussman, lead prosecutor at Black's Chicago trial, has a head that "looked like the flight-deck on an Essex-class aircraft carrier."
Richard Breeden, the former SEC chief brought in by Hollinger International directors once they'd disposed of CEO Black to pronounce on the "corporate kleptocracy" the erstwhile expelled UCC student ran at HI, had a "bloodless, piscine coldness of someone whose power vastly exceeded his intelligence."
Henry K, fairweather friend and Hollinger International director who abandoned ship early in the drama, "meant me no harm, any more than a cat dislikes animals it tries to kill."
And longtime partner David Radler, who played Judas in the final scene, "was too distasteful to be pitiful, too diminished to remind anyone of his days of consequence, too banal to arouse any interest at all."
Which plainly isn't true, or Black wouldn't have devoted those 24 carefully chosen words to him. Better to have left him out; that would have have brought on heartburn for the real architect of Black's fortune.
If like me you're not clear on what "airtight" means in that context, or like 6.3 billion of us don't have a photographic memory for the design characteristics of British warships, I trust you'll join me in determining what his Funkship is getting at just as soon as we finish waxing the car for the last time of the season, clamoring onto the roof to determine if it truly requires the $11,000 recommended repair, and completing, finally, Remembrances of Things Past. (Remember, reading Swann's Way doesn't qualify one to boast of having read Proust, alas.)
Okay, it's a propagandistic rag. But still, the New York Post's 700,000 or so copies should provide a smidgeon of news on which to base its ceaseless smear of President Obama.
Regarding a speech on job creation to a joint session of Congress that Obama requested of House Speaker John Boehner, the Post is infuratiated with Mr. O's obvious political gambit in initially seeking an 8 p.m. slot next Wednesday.
That happens to when a long-scheduled debate among GOP presidential candidates takes place - the third, I believe. I seem to recall the Dems held 22 or 23 of these in the last cycle. At this early stage, such events are more loke cattle calls than viewable TV, at least until the field narrows.
But never mind, Obama was obviously trying to upstage Bachmann, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman & Co. and, I suppose, subvert the democratic process with "Another cheap stunt."
Here's the Post's take on it, as of - note the time - 9:21 a.m:
Update your indignant story, Post editors. The MSM has been reporting all morning that Obama consented to Boehner's request for a different day, moving his address to Congress a day forward, to next Thursday. The MSM is correctly reporting that this is the first time a President ever has been denied a request to speak to the American people in its most hallowed forum at a time most convenient to the busy WH.
By speaking on Thursday instead of Wednesday, Mr. O will now be competing for audience with the NFL's opening day. Bottom line: Boehner and the GOP-controlled Congress played politics and won, the WH and the Dems lost. Was that a "cheap stunt?" Certainly its was a classy president or one doing his roll-over thing again, depending on where you are on the progressive spectrum.
U.S. conservatives can't take "yes" for an answer. They're the squawling baby who's been given what it wants and still won't stop complaining. This is the same GOP whose mouthpieces whine everytime Obama dares raise the record of the spectacular failure of a predecessor whose legacy he inherits - though FDR did so for his entire first term.
I sometimes think the Dems at least grasp by now what they're dealing with - uber-partisans acting solely in their own interests, not the country's. They've been doing this since the advent of take-no-prisoners Newt Gingrich. But I'm beginning to doubt we'll ever see Dems - certainly not this administration and Dems on the Hill - treating their adversaries in kind.
There's a line between being "presidential" and appearing to be wimps and losers. That's why for progressives Andrew Shepherd's last-reel speech in The American President is an endless loop. Couldn't Obama administer just one such well-deserved dressing-down?
A characteristic of this presidency that will occupy the analysis of historians is the dearth of support Obama has had from surrogates, the fellow partisans on the Hill, the statehouses and mayor's chairs. James Carville, the political consultant most credited with the winning strategy of the 1992 Clinton, long since reinvented as a paid talking head, wasted no time this morning in chastising Obama for playing politics with the timing of his speech to Congress, saying he'd rather watch the GOP WH wannabes than a president of his own party addressing the nation on one of its most pressing issues.
Two responses come to mind.
Churchill was told by a friend that "You know that I'll always be with you when you're right." Winnie replied, "I need people with me when I'm wrong."
The other is from a Michigan friend who has lived up to her description of someone you'd want with you in a foxhole. It's a test Carville and so many prominent Dems have failed again and again. They were loud about Carter denying members of Congress use of the WH tennis court, an extravagance in hard times, the president thought. Lieberman was the first senator to rise in that chamber and denounce his president as a moral cripple over Lewinskygate. His punishment was to be chosen Al Gore's ineffectual running mate, and later still to keep a committee chairmanship that Obama intervened with Reid to ensure he held, since stripping him of it would look vindicative.
In the good old days of LBJ and Nixon, even those partisans suspected of insufficient effusive support of the president - never mind criticism - were ostracized. For the past generation Dems have known they can freelance and shoot their mouths off in ways unhelpful to their own leader and party with no fear of retribution. It's no wonder they've rarely held power in the modern era.
Quebec City is well served by its rooftop revolving hotel restaurant, otherwise a relic of 1970s architectural gimmickery. Brian Topp was indifferent about the plate in front of him as he spoke with a mixture of awe and bitterness about the NDP's fortunes in not just Quebec but Central Canada. He looked out the window. We were facing the mouth of the St. Lawrence, with the National Assembly coming into view.
It was the NDP's 2006 annual policy convention, taking place in Quebec City, hostile ground for the NDP, and chosen by Jack Layton for that reason. From the time he took the leadership of an NDP by then in its 74th year, Layton was determined to make an party breakthrough in his native province.
"They'll never take us seriously until we we make big progress in Quebec," Layton had told me some years earlier, when I commiserated with him about the studied indifference of media bigfoots like Chantal Hebert and Jeffery Simpson toward Layton and his party.
Which you really had to wonder about. My problem with Layton was that he stood for too many things. He wasn't focused. An anti-poverty activist, a gay rights advocate, a champion of affordable housing, a scold about the vulnerability of Central Canadian manufacturing jobs for lack of an industrial policy worthy of the name, an early opponent of our Afghan combat mission, and of society's indfferent regard for spousal abuse, successful ultimately in ramping up the installation of street and parking garage lighting in the city's darkest corners.
But man, he was prescient. Eventually supreme courts in three provinces struck down discrimination against gay marriage as a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Chretien made same-sex marriage the law of the land. Those vulnerable manufacturing jobs did in fact disappear - about 200,000 of them in Ontario alone - a decade after Layton first sounded the alarm. Police responding to "domestics" no longer take anyone's word for it that a woman covered with bruises fell down the stairs - so even she says, fearing the loss of income the arrest of her partner would mean - and lay charges anyway, mindful of a Layton-founded White Ribbon campaign that raised awareness about that most common of scourges. And the Afghan mission John Manley talked Chretien into hastily launching to make nice with Bush after staying clear of the Iraq fiasco has turned out to be a cruel fiasco, costing more than 100 Canadian soldiers' lives and far more Afghan civilian lives without achieving anything noble - the fate of every outside power to ever attempt occupying that congeries of feuding warlords and prodigious poppy fields that is a country in name only.
Turned out, on May 2, that standing for all those things paid off as so many Canadians felt they had a stake in what Layton was on about. That same day, the Grits' learned a painful lesson about appearing not to stand for anything.
Layton had pretty much given up on the Star's Hebert, whom he regarded as too much a Quebec nationalist to look favorably on national political leaders not resident in Quebec. Layton had of course long since decamped from his ex-urban Montreal childhood home of Hudson, Que. to Toronto, becoming so immersed in Hogtown's politics - to the point of running unsuccessfully for mayor - that a Layton-led NDP did indeed seem an unlikely representative of Quebeckers in Parliament. As the party had been since its inception.
In my one meeting with Jack after the historic May 2 triumph of no less than 59 Quebec seats, and 103 seats in total - "the greatest home run in Canadian political history," one of my Tory neighbors and friends readily concedes - Layton told me "I finally convinced them I'm from Quebec. It took years and years for that to get through, that I am one of them. And then we won."
That milestone was five years off when Topp pondered the mystery of Quebec. And for that matter, Ontario, where the socialist party held just a smattering of seats, and only three in the GTA - including that of the party leader and that of his wife, Olivia Chow.
"In the West, we don't have horns and a tail," Topp was saying, still watching the skyline as the sun finally set. Topp had worked seven years as deputy chief of staff to Roy Romanow when Romanow was NDP premier of Saskatchewan, birthplace of Medicare, from 1993 to 2000. "It's a two-party system, for the most part," Topp said by way of explaining how the NDP had routinely formed governments in B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In the modern era, the NDP always has been the only alternative, always the government-in-waiting when not the government itself.
By the late 2000s, the NDP had formed governments in Ontario and Nova Scotia, as well, proving its viability at the ballot box in half the provinces. Yet never had it come remotely close to governing at the federal level, save for the oh-so-close coalition negotiations that Topp was in the thick of in Novmeber 2008. Ultimately, the Grits chose not to play - no surprise given the traditionally much greater animosity between the socialists and Grits than the NDP and Tories. That year the Grits threw away that chance of returning to power, sealing their fate by marching solo behind Michael Ignatieff, one of the least-well-chosen party leaders in Canadian history. Down the street from the Quebec City Loews Hotel where Topp and I were dining, the 2006 Grits were holding one of the series of leadership debates that would culiminate in another debacle, the elevation of Stephane Dion as their leader.
As we sat there, Topp reminded me of an ace feature writer and friend at the Globe and Mail in the 1980s who habitually waited until about 4 p.m. to sit himself before a computer and turn out 3,000 words of beautifully crafted prose. Those of us with routine news reports to file got cracking on them by 11 a.m. and in some cases were still toiling on them after Arthur filed his majestical pieces by 5:15 p.m. Topp had his leader's keynote speech to draft and then rewrite, perhaps twice, at the instruction of Layton, Chow and two other top strategiests. And here he was toying with dessert, his laptop up and running in his hotel room like a sort of getaway car ready to pounce. But that could wait just a bit longer.
"In the all-important social-justice issues, Quebeckers are far more aligned with the NDP than any party," Topp said. "No one believes us, but we are working this province hard. We absolutely must have Quebec to be viable. It won't be long before we stun everyone by winning it."
With that, Topp pushed back his chair and headed for the elevators to draft one of the best political speeches I've heard - gracious to the national Grits assembled in town, enumerating a half dozen core policy issues without wonkery, slipping in Jack's requisite self-deprecation, and keeping the French parts long enough to be substantive and brief enough to keep the mostly unilingual anglophones in the audience from getting restless. It was a tour de force - a quiet one, not a barn-burner - but perfectly suited to its time and place. And every word of its sounded like Jack.
I'm a competitive fellow. I aim to be the best at whatever I do, no matter how hopeless that goal might be. At about the one-third mark in Layton's address I decided I would not be joining his speechwriting shop, after all. Anything I wrote would fall short of Topp, and sensibily would be passed onto him to fix. And Lord knows he was fast enough to do so, and between strategy sessions at that.
Topp has long been associated with political success, in a way that Bob (Shrummy) Shrum is indelibly associated with failure, holding the record for managing the largest number of botched U.S. presidential campaigns.
The fluently bilingual Montreal native and McGill grad helped get Phil Edmunston, a political novelty item (author of the Lemon-Aid car guides), elected as the NDP's first-ever Quebec MP in 1990, then left Quebec to work with Edmonston in Ottawa. It's been all-good since.
Topp, 51, helped keep Romanow in power after his government was reduced to a minority by striking a coalition with the Liberals. He ran Layton-led NDP campaigns that increased the NDP seat count with each successive election, finding time along the way to assist on the 2003 Toronto mayoralty campaign that first brought David Miller to office. His sure touch already has been recruited by Adrian Dix, who signed Topp to manage the B.C. NDP's campaign this fall.
Topp's day job all this time has been in labor, with the Credit Union Central Canada and then longtime executive director of ACTRA (the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists).
He is, I think, the obvious best choice to next lead the NDP.
As noted frequently in the succession speculation since Layton's death, Topp has always worked behind the scenes. But few Canadians knew of Layton,either, when he became NDP leader, and he now is among the most beloved figures in our history. True, Topp would be a second Torontonian in a row to take the leadership. But his Western credentials are substantial, as are his Quebec roots and principal role in the Quebec breakthrough May 2. And Topp is a moderate. He's passionate about social justice but in a way calculated not to scare the children.
Thomas Mulcair can take the lion's share of credit for the Quebec inroads. But he is not ready for prime time, having a volcanic temper and a proclivity for gaffes. Neither Olivia Chow nor deputy leader Libby Davies, currently mooted as successors, is bilingual.
Earlier this year, the NDP by acclamation chose Topp as party president. They should, and I think will, give him the nod in the upcoming leadership race. He doesn't have a seat, but then neither did Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien or Layton himself when they became party leaders. And, sadly, a seat has just opened up in Toronto-Danforth.
What most intrigues me about a Topp leadership is his coalition-building experience. He's right that our traditional three-party system (excluding the Bloc and Greens) has effectively kept the NDP from power federally. Topp was sufficiently engaged in the 2008 gambit of forging a coalition with the Grits to write an illuminating book on the episode, How We Almost Gave The Tories The Boot: The Inside Story Behind the Coalition.
At 103 seats, assuming the now vacant Toronto-Danforth remains safe for the party, the NDP remains far distant from power - 52 seats shy of a majority, to be precise. Only once has the CCF/NDP won more than that many seats or more, last May. Indeed, 52 seats is close to the high-water mark for the Bloc when it owned Quebec. As for the Grits, rebuilding the party - which has lost seats in each of the past three elections - from their current 34 ridings will be quite a chore. "Strategic voters" intent on ousting the Tories now will likely vote NDP, given its relative proximity to power compared with the Liberals.
A merger of the parties makes for 137 seats, just 18 ridings short of forming a majority government. That would require, say, a pickup of only 7 new seats in each of the West and Ontario, 2 in Quebec and 2 in Atlantic Canada. Very doable.
And it's not like the Grits aren't tempted. Interim leader Bob Rae's immediate reaction to the epic May 2 Liberal collapse was to speculate about a merger. Jean Chretien and erstwhile leadership candidate Denis Coderre have warmly embraced a combo. The hard reality for Grits, as Warren Kinsella noted during the "orange surge" prior to the balloting, is that the NDP might no longer feel the need for taking in the Grits.
But progressives need a merger. So does the country, now governed by a party that commanded just 40% popular approval May 2, the majority 60% of Canadians having opted for progressive parties. It was Layton's over-arching ambition, as he told me more than once, to remove the Grits from the political scene, by merger if possible, by crushing them at the polls if necessary. That task has been largely accomplished, Canada's former Natural Governing Party having been reduced to less than three dozen seats - an historic low.
Whatever it is the Grits have been selling these past few elections, Canadians have not been buying. That was most powerfully clear May 2 when Bloc defectors shifted - en masse, as Quebeckers are wont to do - not back to the Grits, as in most elections, or the Tories, as in 1984 and 1988, but to the unknown, untested, even alien NDP. That's how strong the NDP appeal has become in Quebec, and how irrelevant the Liberals are regarded there.
Canada is a progressive nation. Its instincts are civility, mutual accommodation and the well-being of the entire Canadian community. The Tory strategy, infected by Karl Rove's playbook, is a narrow, focused appeal to selective groups in the country. In no civilized nation would a Kelowna Accord that finally came close to justice for aboriginal peoples be scrapped by an incoming government on ideological whim. But then, Canada's First Nations are not part of Harper's Canada. In no civilized community would majority opinion stand for libertarian fear of privacy violation destroy the census and Statscan's reputation as one of the best statistics-gathering agencies in the world. Are we to be ruled by libertarians? Canadians in the majority say no. They aren't buying what the Tories are selling, either.
"Why did we ever have the audacity to hope?" a friend wrote me recently, on the fall in favor of Barack Obama. I could only respond that without the audacity to hope the Jews would not have found sanctuary in the Promised Land, the Wright brothers and Banting and Best would have forsaken their experiments, and Canada would not exist. I do have the audacity to hope that Canadians will have a clear choice between reactionary and progressive governance. Between governance afraid of its own shadow, and bold, persistent experimentation to create the world's most caring society.
The most expeditious route to a more caring society is a federal NDP government, and the best prospect of that is an NDP led by Brian Topp.
At least, that's how I'll be voting.
Journalists at credible news organizations are discouraged from or forbidden to take political party membership, and certainly cannot be active in political organizations. There are countless good reasons for that. And so I've abided that rule. But I am a card-carrying NDPer, to my chagrin.
Jack Layton might have been aware of that rule when he nonetheless sold me a party membership in an east-end Toronto washroom several years ago. I was, shall we say, preoccupied. And this man larger than life turned on me, having strategically done his business faster than I, and pushed a membership card into my right arm. "David, we can't go on meeting like this unless we're on the same team." I protested of course, as best I could, craning my neck to talk. Jack just kept talking over me until I signed the damned card mostly in order to get out of the washroom.
"Uh, David," I heard Layton calling as I strode back to our pool table, "that'll be ten dollars. These aren't free, you know." Suddenly I remembered Jack's unofficial career as an auctioneer without equal, raising probably more than million dollars for the NDP over the years. I'd seen him in action, in church halls and banquet rooms above dim sum emporia, unloading the most hideous apparel and furniture onto party donors of all walks of life. What made me think I'd know Jack for 20-odd years without him someday making an impression on my wallet?
Election signs and TV spots aren't free either, I know.
But still, talk about audacity.
David Olive is a business and current affairs columnist at the Star, which he joined in 2001 after stints at the Globe and Mail, National Post and Financial Post.
"If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion."
- George Bernard Shaw