Jody’s ‘truth’ leads back to Ottawa

In holding her Vancouver-Granville seat in Monday’s federal election, Jody Wilson-Reybould proved you can, if your cause is just, “talk truth to power” and win.

“The people are always right” was a mantra of a former Canadian prime minister, John Turner. They were right when his Liberals lost the great trade battle of 1988, and they were right this week when they returned Justin Trudeau to power, albeit with a minority government.

Former Liberal justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould walks to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Canadians voted as they did because they saw no viable alternative to Justin Trudeau, despite some serious policy failures and a slew of personal gaffes — dressing up in blackface, donning native costume in India, and firing Wilson-Reybould, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, who insisted on doing her duty in prosecuting SNC-Lavalin, after it was caught afoul of anti-corruption laws.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer lacked both the force of personality and the clarity of policy to challenge Trudeau. His spunkiest speech of the campaign came in defeat Monday night, promising the Conservatives would be ready, and would win, when the government falls. More than anything, it was Sheer’s strident attacks on the Liberal carbon tax that left his party, absent a meaningful climate change policy, blowing in the wind.

Jagmeet Singh struggled valiantly to hold an NDP bastion in the House of Commons but his ethnicity, — although few will admit this — and his honest criticism of Quebec’s secularism law, cost the party half of its seats. There’ll never be another Orange wave in Quebec. The Bloc Quebecois, back with more than 30 seats, remains the blunt tool of Quebec voters, a handy cudgel to beat more concessions from the federal government.

Now Justin Trudeau, short 14 seats of a majority but with by far the largest number of MPS — 156 at election night count compared to 122 Conservatives, has a clear field to push ahead with the Trans-Mountain pipeline, national pharmacare, increases to old age pensions, and over the next four years, raises in the “price on pollution,” — the carbon tax.

Trudeau need not rely on any one of the Opposition parties to win passage of his legislation, whether it be more deficit budgets or costly new programs that woo the left and infuriate the right, The Conservatives will support him on Trans-Mountain. The ND P, Greens and the Bloc will back his carbon tax strategy, and whatever plan he brings forward on pharmacare.

Proportional representation to dump the first past the post system? Not a chance. Trudeau won’t offer it, and the the three Opposition parties that would benefit from it have no leverage to bring it about.

Andrew Scheer made a brave speech in conceding defeat on election night. The party, if it is ever to seriously challenge the Liberals, has to break out of its narrow base of just one-third of the electorate. Without policies to win support from more than one in three voters, and as long as it remains blind to the urgency of climate change, Conservatives are doomed to languish on the Opposition benches for a long time to come.

Re-elected as an Independent in Vancouver Granville, Wilson-Reybould’s future depends on whether she takes up the leadership of the Green Party. She can have it for the asking. Elizabeth May, tired after four federal elections, has wanted Jody as her successor ever since Reybould-Wilson stepped down from cabinet. May would like to set aside the leadership burden, but before now there’s been no one qualified to take it on. Now there is.

As an Independent MP in Ottawa, Jody will have a lonely time. No colleagues, no research resources, no influence on the government. If she instead takes up the cause of the Greens, she’ll have three  other MPs supporting her and the knowledge that more than a million Canadians — double the previous high — voted Green in 2019. She would add to the environmental mission of the Greens the courage of a woman of proven talent, together a powerful combination for electoral success. 

Add to this mix the emerging climate change majority among Canadians under 45, and the clout of a mobilized Indigenous vote. Together, they’d represent a powerful new force in Canadian politics.. Bring on the election!

Fathers and Sons

Ever since Homer wrote in The Odyssey of the misery of Laertes, the father of Odysseus, over his son’s twenty-year absence following the Trojan War, thinkers have sought to dissect the dynamics of father-son relationships. Marco Polo’s father Niccolo, absent during the first fifteen years of the boy’s life, tried to assuage their long separation by taking him to the court of Kublai Khan, a trip that set the stage for an equally enthralling literary epic. In a later age, Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev wrote of the generation gap in Fathers and Sons and Vincent van Gogh struggled to gain approval of a brooding and melancholy father who punished him severely and often. More infamously, Adolph Hitler in Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”) remembers only a mean and unforgiving father who applied his authority relentlessly and “forbade me to nourish the slightest hope of ever being allowed to study art.”

It is the lives of famous sons of famous fathers that attract the closest scrutiny, particularly when they occupy significant public positions. In Canada, the most notable example is of course that of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. British Columbia produced father and son premiers in William Bennett who followed an ebullient parent, W.A.C. Bennett, into office. Justin Trudeau, dealing with new issues a generation on from his father, exhibits the same activist government philosophy of his parent. The younger Bennett, driven by a fierce free enterprise ethic learned from his father, presided over the greatest period ever of B.C. economic expansion.

In a longer history, the United States has had two father-son presidential successions: George W. Bush, 43rd president and son of George H.W. Bush, the 41st; and John Quincy Adams, 6th president and son of John Adams, the country’s 2nd president. You can see some parallels in their careers. The younger Bush, misled by faulty intelligence that led him to make war on Iraq, appears to have been motivated to “finish the job” begun by his father in the 1990-91 Gulf War. The sorrowful outcome, one is wont to think, is probably more regretted by the father than by the son.

Two of the foremost pariah states of the twenty-first century, Syria and North Korea, are led by family progeny. Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria since 2000, is the son of Hafez al-Assad who held power from 1971 to 2000. Kim Jong Un, chair of the Workers’ Party of Korea, represents an even more entrenched dynasty: his father and grandfather had since 1948 controlled the destiny of twenty-five million North Korean countrymen.

In every case of father to son succession, it might be asked if it was the fathers who set the sons on their course toward political power, or might they have achieved such destiny without parental example? In thousands of papers and hundreds of books, psychiatrists and psychologists have put forth a dizzying variety of findings on the influence of fathers on their sons’ choices in life.

These experts agree on many aspects of parenting and they are the most in agreement when it comes to down to earth, common sense conclusions. More than one study has found that love is the most important thing a father can offer a son, or a daughter, for that matter. Other most often mentioned qualities of a strong father-son relationship are the fathers’ availability when they’re needed, their involvement in their childrens’ day-to-day lives, their success as a provider, and their position as a role model.

All of these qualities seem timeless, but are embedded in deeply held social attitudes that change over the generations. Throughout, we’ve lived with the “good dad/bad dad” dichotomy while realizing there’s probably a bit of both in most fathers. Almost the worst thing a father can do, even worse than being drunk or a poor provider, is to be absent, according to some experts. On the other hand, how about he negative qualities that some fathers impart to their children? There’s a song for this: Cat’s in the Cradle, by Harry Chapin.

My child arrived just the other day

He came to the world in the usual way

But there were planes to catch and bills to pay

He learned to walk while I was away.

As the boy grows, he insists “I’m gonna be like you, dad.” And when dad is retired and wants to spend time with his son, he finds he is too busy to see him. “He’d grown up just like me.”

There can be more serious consequences of fatherly misdirection that mere emulation of busyness. Many studies have shown how self-centered, competitive and arrogant fathers can damage their sons’ personalities. These men are perfectionists who see their children as extensions of themselves. Their sons, especially, grow up insecure.

Ronald F, Levant, past president of the American Psychological Association, would agree. “Fathers were expected to model, encourage, and even to demand masculinity in their sons,” he has written. The results, according to studies by Levant, were too often low self-esteem and excessive use of alcohol by sons who felt they had failed to measure up to their dads’ demanding standards.

So now we get to the big questions: In an age of same-sex marriage, are fathers really necessary – other than biologically? And are the negative qualities of some fathers so profound that their children would be better off with them absent from their lives? Arguably yes, to both. Adolph Hitler or Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter, might never have turned out as they did but for their fathers’ impact on their personalities. (Paddock’s father was an escaped bank robber described by the FBI as a “psychopath” who should be treated as “armed and very dangerous.”) These men, like all of us, yearned for fatherly approval. Circumstance as well as genetics shaped their personalities.

I have only daughters and from them I have learned much about the often-fraught relationship between the generations. My father had many good qualities but when I needed him most, in my teen-age years, he was an aged veteran of the First World War – a shell of what he had been as a younger man – with little left to give. Wounds from shrapnel he’d taken at Vimy Ridge ran as open sores on his right calf. When my stepmother insisted he strap me for having landed a dirt-encrusted snowball on a bed sheet fluttering on the clothesline, he took me to the garage, razor strop in hand. “When I slap the bench,” he told me, “I want you to holler.” It was his way of saying he loved me.

How Winston Churchill beat the writing game

If you want to want to get rich don’t try to do it as a writer, any wise parent would advise their offspring. Unless, perhaps, by writing for corporations or big-time politicians. Winston Church did all three – became a tax-avoiding corporation, was a gifted and highly-paid author, and a brilliant statesman who led Britain and the West through World War II.

What would he think of the pressure on today’s emerging writers to write for free – for news blogs, commercial publishers, and for the general public?

Not much, according to an insifghtful biography of the great statesman. In Mr. Churchill’s Profession: Statesman, Orator, Writer, Peter Clarke examines how the wartime leader conned publishers, beat the tax man, and crafted great literary works while staying just a dodge ahead of his creditors.

41erRtXG9uL._AC_AA160_

Churchill secured his position in history as a statesman, but Clarke makes it clear that “writing was his profession.” His country home of Chartwell became a “word factory” And through most of his life, his earnings from writing made up the bulk of his income.

How did Churchill do this? Born to a distinguished line of nobility, Churchill had friends at every level of high society and all of them – from his American-born other to prime minsters – helped him in his literary career even while they sometimes opposed his political ambitions.

Churchill made a name for himself as a newspaper correspondent at the time of the Spanish-American war and the South Africa, or Boer war. He was clever enough to turn his dispatches for the Daily Post from the Sudan – having earlier served in the 4th Hussars in India – into a best-selling book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force. His participation in a British expedition up the Nile led to a another success, The River War, published in two volumes.

Churchill didn’t have to look far for his earliest inspiration. He achieved early success with a book on his father. Lord Randolph Churchill became his great defence of his father, a key figure in British politics until his early death from syphilis. The book, together with proceeds from My African Journal and a novel, Savrola, earned Churchill over three thousand pounds in 1908-09 – half as much again as his salary as a government MP.

While Peter Clarke is meticulous in detailing Winston Churchill’s hereditary and personal life, it is when he digs into Churchill’s management of his literary income that he is most fascinating.

Throughout his life, Churchill was up against a wall of debt, built primarily from his exorbitant spending on personal pleasures such as wine and whisky. His 1935 accounts show four hundred pounds for wines and spirits supplied to his country home of Chartwell (another extravagance Churchill could hardly afford.)

In 1930, Churchill published an autobiography, My Early Life, and began work on what would be his greatest literary project, his History of the English Speaking Peoples. For the next decade, he stalled and delayed, promising but failing to deliver a completed manuscript of 400,000 words by 1937. He sucked up advances, and cleverly arranged for his publisher, Cassells, to buy the copyright to the work rather pay a royalty. In this way, the income became a capital gain and was free of tax under the laws of that time.

Churchill would not finish his monumental History until the 1950s. World War II got in the way. But the war did give rise to another great literary work, the Second World War.

Together, they stamped Churchill as one of the great figures f English literary, as well as of statesmanship.

Peter Clarke shrewdly observes that “The cash-strapped literary drudge who turned immediately from one big book to the next nevertheless lived in mouth-watering, eye-popping luxury.” And why not? In his own defence, Churchill often quoted Samuel Johnson: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”