Tag Archives: Brian Brennan

Canada’s ambassador to Ireland: Once a Cop, Always a Cop

By Brian Brennan
May 28, 2016

It’s hard to tell from the raw television footage if the shaven-headed protester posed any real danger to the Irish and British dignitaries gathered at a Dublin military cemetery this week to honour British soldiers killed during the 1916 Irish rebellion against British rule.

But clearly the Canadian ambassador, Kevin Vickers, felt there was a threat. He made a beeline for the shouting protester, grabbed him by the sleeves of his leather jacket, marched him away from the podium and turned him over to police, who led the man away in handcuffs. The protester, Brian Murphy, was later identified as a republican sympathizer who disrupted the remembrance ceremony to draw attention to the case of two Northern Ireland men convicted and sentenced to life in the 2009 slaying of a Northern Ireland police constable. Their supporters claim the men were wrongly convicted. Murphy has now been criminally charged with a public order offence.

If Vickers had still been the sergeant-of-arms of Canada’s House of Commons, a position he held before being appointed ambassador to Ireland in 2015, his instinctive reaction at the Dublin ceremony would have earned him praise. A former Mountie, he was hailed as a national hero in 2014 when he helped take down a gunman who had stormed Parliament after killing a sentry at the nearby National War Memorial.

But was his action in Dublin appropriate for a diplomat? The people at the Canadian embassy in Ireland aren’t saying and Prime Minister Trudeau, at the G7 conference in Japan, says he has no comment pending a full briefing on the incident. The Irish government hasn’t commented either.

My inclination is to give Vickers the benefit of the doubt. He saw Murphy emerge from the seats set aside for invited guests (he wangled an invitation by claiming to be a relative of someone buried in the cemetery) and walk toward the ceremonial guard, brandishing a document and shouting “this is an insult … a disgrace.” No security person, soldier or police officer moved in to stop him. That’s when Vickers, with his raincoat flapping, rushed into action. Undoubtedly his police training kicked in.

Why would Vickers have felt Murphy posed a threat? Probably because the remembrance ceremony was being held at a time of heightened security in Ireland. Security forces in both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland expressed concern earlier this month about increasing violence by dissident republicans linked to a group calling itself “the new IRA.” British intelligence raised the alert level for a Northern Irish terrorist attack from “moderate” to “substantial.” The remembrance ceremony, boycotted by the Irish republican political party Sinn Féin, was expected to generate controversy because it celebrated what Sinn Féin called “the enemy of the Irish.”

Canadians on social media say Vickers had no right to do what he did: interfere with a “peaceful” Irish protester on Irish soil. Maintaining civil order in Ireland is the job of the Irish authorities, they say. What would Canadians say if China’s ambassador were to take on a Tibetan protester in Ottawa?

I say that Vickers was right to do what he felt was right. He wasn’t acting as a diplomat in this instance. He was acting as someone who has stared violence in the face and didn’t flinch. In the absence of any action on the part of the security forces present, he tackled Murphy and held on to his sleeves to prevent him from grabbing any possible concealed weapon.

“I engaged the suspect and the suspect is deceased,” he said after the armed attack on Parliament in 2014. This week he engaged a suspect and the suspect is now charged. For that, Kevin Vickers deserves our respect.

Copyright Brian Brennan 2016

You might also wish to read this story:

Remembering the Pillar. By Brian Brennan

A century ago, on April 29, 1916, the Irish Republic ended its brief existence with an unconditional surrender. Though successfully thwarted, it set off a series of events that led to the outbreak of an Irish war of independence between 1919 and 1921. Brian Brennan writes about his experience of Ireland’s independence movement halfway between then, and now.

Links:

Canadian ambassador Kevin Vickers tackles protester at Easter Rising event in Dublin, BBC:  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36390617

Wikipedia page for Kevin Vickers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Vickers

Twitter thread on Kevin Vickers: https://twitter.com/search?q=Kevin%20Vickers&src=typd&lang=pl

Brian BrennanBrian Brennan, an Irish journalist living in Canada, is a founding feature writer with Facts and Opinions and a contributor to Arts dispatches and the Loose Leaf salon. His profile of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first original feature in the journal’s inaugural issue, won Runner-up, Best Feature Article, in the 2014 Professional Writers Association of Canada Awards. Brennan was educated at University College Dublin, Vancouver’s Langara College, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the National Critics Institute in Waterford, Connecticut.

Visit him at his website, www.brianbrennan.ca

Brian Brennan also plays jazz piano, for fun and profit.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

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Fort McMurray: from “black pitch” and salt to oil sands

 

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© Greg Locke 2007

 

By Brian Brennan
May 7, 2016

The story of Fort McMurray is one of long hibernation followed by rapid growth. The oilsands developments turned it from a sleepy little northern frontier town into Alberta’s most explosive boom city. But it took almost two centuries for the development to happen.

The boom had been foretold from the time fur trader Peter Pond explored the region in 1778 and marked the location of a deposit of black pitch, along the banks of the Athabasca River, that the aboriginal people used for caulking the seams of their birchbark canoes. Eleven years later, a federal government geologist reported that the region was “stored with a substance of great economic value.” When developed, it would “prove to be one of the wonders of northern Canada.”

For the next century, however, the oilsands remained a natural oddity, much like the Sargasso Sea or the petrified forest of Colorado, and the promise of Fort McMurray remained unfulfilled. Not until the late 1890s was any serious exploration done in the area.

The first flurry of claim-staking activity occurred in 1898, but not for oil. Klondike gold seekers seemingly misread the map and started looking for nuggets in the streams around Fort McMurray. A few years later, oil explorers drilled a well to see if the bitumen was seeping from a conventional oil reservoir below the sand. The drillers didn’t find any oil but they did find salt, and that became a commercial industry in Fort McMurray for a couple of years during the 1920s. Other local industries included sawmilling and a commercial fishery on Lake Athabasca.

During the First World War, Fort McMurray asphalt was used for road paving in some Canadian locations – including Edmonton, Camrose, Jasper and Ottawa. However, this use soon proved to be basically uneconomic and was discontinued.

By Unknown - http://collectionscanada.gc.ca/ourl/res.php?url_ver=Z39.88-2004&url_tim=2014-06-25T15%3A39%3A41Z&url_ctx_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Actx&rft_dat=3592868&rfr_id=info%3Asid%2Fcollectionscanada.gc.ca%3Apam&lang=eng MIKAN no. 3592868, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4928941

Athabasca oil sands on the banks of the river, c. 1900 Photo: Collections Canada

During the Second World War, the arrival of 3,000 U.S. troops caused the population of Fort McMurray to swell from 1,000 to 4,000. The troops were there to establish a base for the ill-fated Canol pipeline project, which was meant to pump oil from Norman Wells to Whitehorse but ended up becoming what a U.S. Senate committee described as a $120 million “junkyard monument to military stupidity.” After the war, the population of Fort McMurray dropped back down to 1,100. There was some oilsands development during this period, when Abasand Oils began producing diesel oil on a small-scale basis west of Fort McMurray, but that project died when the plant burned down.

Continued interest in developing the Athabasca oilsands came from growing postwar concern about Canada’s dependence on foreign sources of oil. This changed dramatically when a huge conventional crude oil reservoir was discovered at Leduc, Alberta in 1947. As a result of this and other conventional crude discoveries, which were easier and cheaper to recover, oilsands development and the growth of Fort McMurray stalled for several years.

In 1950, an Alberta government report finally concluded that the oilsands were “entering the stage of possible commercial development.” But it took another decade before large-scale commercial development became a reality and Fort McMurray was ready to take flight. In 1961, Fort McMurray was a railway outpost with little more than one gas pump, a rundown hotel, a few stores, no highway link to the rest of the province, and about 1,200 people. Two years later, Fort McMurray and nearby Waterways (then a separate community, now one of the neighbourhoods severely damaged by fire) were bursting at the seams as construction workers poured into the region to build the Great Canadian Oil Sands plant.

By 1973, the population had grown to more than 10,000, and the town wrestled with a housing crisis as southern invaders found temporary shelter in tents and trailers. But this crisis was nothing compared to the chronic housing shortage and other social problems that developed over the next five years when an additional 8,000 migrant construction workers flooded into Fort McMurray to build the giant Syncrude plant. Wayne Skene reported in Maclean’s magazine that it was like a scene out of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath:

“The less fortunate and the less perceptive camped in drafty tents and trailers along ditches of the highway leading into Fort McMurray. The few hotels that existed then were always full. New bungalows – when available – were priced at $80,000 to start. Recreation facilities for the population of 18,000 consisted of a single community centre and any tavern where you could grab a seat. Like ghosts from a Dawson City daguerreotype from the turn-of-the-century gold rush, Fort McMurray inhabitants lined up for the once a week delivery of fresh vegetables at the Safeway store.”

Basic community services such as medical care, fire fighting, and education were woefully insufficient to meet the demand, and crime increased beyond the initial capacity of the police to handle it. “Fort McMurray was all things Canadian communities are not supposed to be,” concluded Skene. “Visually uninviting, socially sordid, and violated by an invasion of single, unemployed transients.” Yet for many of those transients, Fort McMurray was a mecca for partying, brawling, big wages, and ripping off the company. Working on the Syncrude project was – as one worker put it – “the softest touch ever in the States or Canada” for the building trades.

Downtown Fort McMurray in 1991, at the confluence of the Clearwater and Athabasca Rivers. Photo by Gord McKenna via Flickr, Creative Commons

Downtown Fort McMurray in 1991, at the confluence of the Clearwater and Athabasca Rivers. Photo by Gord McKenna via Flickr, Creative Commons

Colourful tales of equipment theft and featherbedding, while impossible to verify, have become part of the folklore of the project during that period.  Canadian Business  magazine writer Robert Bott reported that some of the stories were amusing, if implausible: “A D-9 Cat allegedly turning up grading roads in Stettler, Alta., nearly 400 miles from the Syncrude site … an East Indian youth fired when he was found sitting down, after two weeks of standing around, waiting for someone to tell him what to do … Newfoundlanders staggering into the Fort McMurray post office to mail 100-pound cartons of stolen tools back home … guys who would check out their brass ID tags in the morning and sleep all day until it was time to check them back in at night … workers wandering around the site for days, pretending to look for a missing tool or an absent foreman.”

By 1980, things had settled down. The partying construction workers had moved on, and Fort McMurray had become a stable city of 28,000 with a new hospital, transit system, radio station, community theatre, schools, churches, recreation facilities and door-to-door mail delivery. Crime statistics were down, and the community was no longer being portrayed in the national media as a Wild West town where the per-capita sale of liquor was the highest in the country. “We did it and we survived,” said one seven-year resident. “We didn’t fall apart at the seams, become gibbering idiots, or end up in Valium City.”

The population of Fort McMurray continued to grow during the years following. By the mid-1990s, with Syncrude and Suncor gearing up for massive expansions, the population had reached 38,000. With almost half the residents hailing from Atlantic Canada, the community was – in the words of one local wag – “Newfoundland’s third-largest city.” The community now boasted three golf courses, a dozen shopping malls, nine movie houses, two dozen bars, one gourmet restaurant, 10 liquor stores, and the largest mobile home park in Canada.

At the beginning of the 21st century, Alberta’s most explosive boomtown had become home to more than 40,000 permanent residents, and also had to deal with an influx of 13,000 construction workers contracted to build new or expanded facilities for the big oil companies. While many of these temporary workers were able to find accommodation in company-owned work camps outside the municipal boundary, others scrambled to find shelter in a municipality where all the hotels and motels were full, and as many as five or six workers would cram into one small apartment because of what one realtor described as “zero, zero vacancies.”

In preparation for these new mining developments, the municipality and private sector created a computer model that would give some indication of the future impact of these developments on Fort McMurray’s infrastructure and work force. They expressed the hope that this type of “SimCity” computer-game approach would help Fort McMurray avoid some of the withdrawal pains of other one-industry communities when the oilsands boom eventually turned to bust. Since that time the permanent population of Fort McMurray has grown to more than 80,000, and the municipality has been gearing up to celebrate its history this coming August with the opening of a heritage village containing 17 buildings. That celebration is now on hold following the recent wildfires.

Copyright © Brian Brennan 2016

Related stories:

Fort McMurray: Boom, bust …burned, by Rod Nickel and Liz Hampton

A convoy of evacuees from the Canadian oil town of Fort McMurray drove through the heart of a massive wildfire guided by police and military helicopters as they sought to reach safety to the south of the burning city. “Our life is here. We will go back and rebuild,” vowed one.  …read more

Flames rise in Industrial area south Fort McMurray, Alberta Canada May 3, 2016. Courtesy CBC News/Handout via REUTERS

Flames rise in Industrial area south Fort McMurray, Alberta Canada May 3, 2016. Courtesy CBC News/Handout via REUTERS

Brian BrennanBrian Brennan, an Irish journalist living in Canada, is a founding feature writer with Facts and Opinions and a contributor to Arts dispatches and the Loose Leaf salon. His profile of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first original feature in the journal’s inaugural issue, won Runner-up, Best Feature Article, in the 2014 Professional Writers Association of Canada Awards. Brennan was educated at University College Dublin, Vancouver’s Langara College, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the National Critics Institute in Waterford, Connecticut.

Visit him at his website, www.brianbrennan.ca

Brian Brennan also plays jazz piano, for fun and profit.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers.We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from partisan organizations. Thank you for your patronage, and please tell others about us. Most of our pages are outside our paywall. To help us continue, we suggest a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or for use of the entire site at least $1 for a day pass, and $20 for a year. With enough supporters  paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our ability to offer original works.  Visit our Subscribe page for more details. 

 

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Remembering the Pillar

By Brian Brennan
April, 2016

On the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1966, a terrorist explosion blew away the top half of the iconic Nelson’s Pillar – a slightly smaller version of the Corinthian column in London’s Trafalgar Square – that had dominated Dublin’s skyline for 157 years.

I was sad to see it go. My father had helped me climb the Pillar’s interior spiral staircase when I was a child (168 stone steps, Google now tells me) and we agreed afterwards that the panoramic view from the top was spectacular. Down below were bustling O’Connell Street and the swans and brewery tugboats of the River Liffey. Off away to the south were the misty grey peaks of the Dublin mountains. Over to the east we could catch a glimpse of the blue-green waters of Dublin Bay.

Fair Use via Wikipedia

Fair Use via Wikipedia

The Pillar was the city’s focal point. All the buses stopped there. Downtown office workers ate their lunchtime sandwiches there. They met there again after work to repair to a nearby hostelry for a quick pint before heading home. It was my rendezvous of choice whenever a young lady caught my eye at the Saturday night rugby club dances. “See you on Wednesday evening, then? Meet you at the Pillar.”

Did I ever stop to think this imposing granite column was a symbol of British imperialism on republican Irish soil? Not really. To me, as to the songwriter Pete St. John, it was just a part of Dublin in the rare old times.

Others, obviously, felt differently. They came out in the early morning hours of March 8, 1966 and blew Nelson off his pedestal. Nationalistic sentiment clearly still ran high. Republican bombs in Dublin had earlier dispatched to oblivion the statues of King William of Orange, King George II and Viscount Hugh Gough. It was just a matter of time before Admiral Nelson’s day of reckoning came too.

The police never caught the culprits. I don’t think they even tried to find them. When a 67-year-old Dublin man, Liam Sutcliffe, went on the radio in 2000 to claim responsibility for the bombing, the police interviewed him briefly and let him go. This was one cold case they seemingly wanted to remain unsolved. Or perhaps, like many Dubliners, they just wanted to treat the event as more of a prank than a serious crime. Nobody had actually been injured in the 1966 blast. The normally humourless president of Ireland, Éamon de Valera, was said to have phoned the Irish Press that morning with a suggested headline for the story: “British Admiral Leaves Dublin by Air.”

Bomber Sutcliffe told the Irish Times in 2003 that he felt a grand gesture was needed to recapture the spirit of Easter 1916, when a motley crew of poorly armed freedom fighters, poets, teachers, dreamers, farmers and trade unionists went out to take on the might of the British army in what was then seen as a losing battle for Irish independence.

“The anniversary of the 1916 Rising was being marked with functions and dinners and the campaign was fizzled out,” Sutcliffe told the Times. “We thought the Rising should be marked with something a bit more dramatic.”

If indeed Sutcliffe was responsible for the Pillar bombing, he did a very clean job. The top half of the monument fell north along the length of O’Connell Street without damaging a car or breaking a window. So reported the newspapers at the time, although researchers have since insisted the damage was more extensive than originally thought. When the Irish army came along a week later to demolish the jagged stump that had survived the explosion, the soldiers blew out many of the nearby plate-glass shop windows with their plastic explosives. “It came down, but not exactly the way we had planned,” said Col. R.G. Mew, the officer in charge of the stump removal operation.

There has been no grand gesture this year to mark the 100th anniversary of the Rising. There have been more functions and dinners, museum displays, lectures, documentaries on television, special commemorative sections in the newspapers, and learned articles written by historians who view the Rising as a transformative event: the first shot fired in a war that eventually led to the establishment of the 26 counties as an independent sovereign republic.

Attitudes in Ireland – particularly in Southern Ireland – have changed. England is no longer viewed as the enemy. The Queen has come to visit and shaken hands with Martin McGuinness, the former IRA chief who did time in prison for his republican activities. Pictures of Kate and William and baby George grace the front pages of the Dublin newspapers just like they do in newspapers elsewhere around the world.

I left Dublin for Canada in November 1966, eight months after the bombing that brought down Admiral Nelson. Ireland then seemed to me like a sleepy backwater and I wanted to see what the rest of the world had to offer.

My patriotic Christian Brothers teachers had brainwashed me into believing that the English should be denounced unto perpetuity for the 400 years of suffering they had visited upon us through the yoke of imperialism. It took a few years before I could get comfortable with the idea of pledging allegiance to the Queen.

Ireland has since become more tolerant, more sophisticated, less nationalistic, more cosmopolitan. It was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote. The restaurant dinner menus are no longer limited to selections of stewed meat and two veg. The country feels now like an integral part of Europe, no longer an isolated island outpost on the western edge of the continent.

I’m relieved to see there was no grand republican gesture to mark this year’s anniversary. I still miss the Pillar. It gave our city a distinctive appearance. During the years it stood there, it provided us with a beacon for visitors as recognizable as the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building. After it was blown to smithereens, it left us with a diminished city core that looked like the monstrosities that pass for human shelter in Luton, Coventry, Birmingham and Bristol. There never was a defensible reason for taking Nelson out. His world had already collapsed when he was toppled from his perch in 1966.

Copyright © Brian Brennan 2016

Next, read Irish scholar Conor Mulvagh’s explainer, What caused Ireland’s rising?

 

Brian BrennanBrian Brennan, an Irish journalist living in Canada, is a founding feature writer with Facts and Opinions and a contributor to Arts dispatches and the Loose Leaf salon. His profile of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first original feature in the journal’s inaugural issue, won Runner-up, Best Feature Article, in the 2014 Professional Writers Association of Canada Awards. Brennan was educated at University College Dublin, Vancouver’s Langara College, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the National Critics Institute in Waterford, Connecticut.

Visit him at his website, www.brianbrennan.ca

Brian Brennan also plays jazz piano, for fun and profit.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers.We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from partisan organizations. Thank you for your patronage, and please tell others about us. Most of our pages are outside our paywall. To help us continue, we suggest a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or for use of the entire site at least $1 for a day pass, and $20 for a year. With enough supporters  paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our ability to offer original works.  Visit our Subscribe page for more details. 

 

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Reporter-turned-politician sues media giant for defamation

By Brian Brennan
December 2015

Former TV journalist Arthur Kent outside court on Nov. 16, 2015. © Jeff McIntosh 2015, used with permission

Former TV journalist Arthur Kent outside court on Nov. 16, 2015. Photo © Jeff McIntosh 2015, used with permission

A long-running defamation lawsuit against Canada’s largest newspaper publisher by an award-winning war correspondent who left journalism to enter provincial politics has concluded in Calgary, Alberta after a five-week trial. Court of Queens Bench justice Jo’Anne Strekaf reserved decision and said she would rule on the case of Arthur Kent versus Postmedia Network “sooner rather than later.”

Kent launched the suit after the National Post, Calgary Herald and other newspapers in a national chain published a February 2008 column by Ottawa columnist Don Martin that Kent characterized in court as “poisonously false.”

Martin used information from unnamed party sources to contend that Kent’s campaign for a Conservative seat in a Calgary provincial riding was failing because the “self-absorbed” star candidate refused to toe the party line and become “a mere infantry private who exists only to follow orders.”

Martin acknowledged in court that he didn’t make direct contact with Kent for comment before the column appeared.

A key paragraph in the Martin column – retracted by him during the trial – asserted that a number of Alberta Conservatives had referred to Kent as “The Dud Scud,” a phrase repeated in court. It was a mocking reference to Kent’s role in the Persian Gulf war of 1991, when his reporting for NBC News of Iraqi missile attacks on Saudi Arabia brought him fan mail and earned the boyish correspondent the nickname “Scud Stud.”

Kent, now 61, told the Calgary court that the nickname, coined by a San Francisco reporter in a spirit of “dark wartime humour,” later became part of his brand, denoting his high standard of performance as a television reporter, which included winning two Emmy awards. “It’s quick shorthand to describe me,” he said.

Before going into politics, Kent did TV reporting for the BBC, CNN, ABC News, and the CBC in Canada, as well as for NBC. He also wrote for such publications as The Observer newspaper in London, the San Francisco Examiner, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and Maclean’s magazine in Canada.

He returned to Calgary in 2006 and used the city as a jumping-off point for trips to Afghanistan that resulted in a series of independently produced documentaries about Canada’s military mission in Kandahar.

Kent entered Alberta politics in 2007 with the endorsement of former Conservative premier Peter Lougheed, who said the party needed new blood. Kent told the Calgary Herald his native Alberta was losing its economic advantage as a province with low unemployment and low taxes, and he wanted to be part of the solution.

The lawsuit against PostMedia, the successor to CanWest, which owned the newspaper chain at the time of publication, is the third high-profile court case in which Kent has been involved. In 1992 he sued NBC for $25 million, after the network fired him claiming he refused an assignment in Croatia and implied he was a coward.

After an 18-month fight, he won an out-of-court settlement and a public retraction from NBC.

In 2008 he sued the makers of the Tom Hanks-Julia Roberts movie, Charlie Wilson’s War, for unauthorized use of footage and narration from a report Kent produced for the BBC about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He also reached an out-of-court settlement in that case.

Kent suffered a narrow defeat in the 2008 Alberta election. He told the court he felt obliged to take legal action against Postmedia after editors at the National Post and Calgary Herald refused to publish a rebuttal to the Martin column that he submitted six days after the election.

The rebuttal was, he noted, exactly the same length – 754 words – as the offending Martin column. “I was looking for equal space.”

In it, Kent named longtime Conservative party supporters whose noses were out of joint when he opted to campaign with a different team from the one they suggested. Kent also took exception to Martin’s allegation that he “put campaign morale into a tailspin and complicated volunteer recruitment.”

Kent told the court the media defendants refused to run an edited version of his rebuttal, print it as a letter to the editor, publish an apology, or issue a retraction. He said Postmedia continued to make the Martin column available on its websites – more than 35 of them – for more than four years after the original publication.

Calgary Herald editor Lorne Motley, testifying as a designated officer of the Postmedia corporation, told the court he felt the Martin column was defensible: “The main facts it was based on were true.”

He added that Kent’s rebuttal was rejected because editors deemed it not suitable for publication. “It was defamatory in nature. That was the primary reason for our decision.”

The case took more than seven years to get to trial as new evidence came to light. At the outset, for example, Kent did not know one of the unnamed sources for the Martin column was his own campaign lawyer, Kristine Robidoux.

That information only emerged during the pre-trial discovery process in 2009 when Martin unexpectedly revealed Robidoux’s identity. Robidoux, who was suspended in 2014 for four months by the Law Society of Alberta for breaching client confidentiality,  subsequently became a witness for Kent after confessing she did wrong and issuing an apology.

While she admitted leaking the contents of private campaign emails to the columnist in response to a request for “dirt” about Kent, she said she never called Kent a “dud scud” and she “didn’t tell Don Martin most of the things he put in the article.”

She said she was shocked, physically sickened and appalled by the column, which she had hoped would be a positive piece showing that problems within the Kent campaign had been resolved. Instead, she said, the column was “extremely negative” and “a little mean.”

Another series of pre-trial delays occurred after Kent and his lawyers discovered a cache of Postmedia emails relating to the case, which Kent accused the media defendants of withholding even after a judge ordered the documents to be produced.

Witnesses for Kent included a journalism ethics expert, Jeffrey Dvorkin, who testified that the offending column “didn’t meet the standards of journalism at any level.”

He said Martin was a “useful idiot” for veteran Conservative party loyalists who opposed Kent’s candidacy and fed the columnist “spurious information” that should never have been published.

One of those opponents was the late Rod Love, former chief of staff to Alberta premier Ralph Klein and another unnamed source for the Martin column. Love had revealed in a guest column for the Calgary Herald in 1999 that he used leaks strategically as a form of political currency to keep journalists distracted while they pursued potentially problematic stories that might “cause heartburn.” During the 2008 election campaign he publicly registered his disenchantment with Kent by telling a radio interviewer he would be voting for another candidate.

Postmedia’s own journalism ethics expert, Dean Jobb, testified he found nothing wrong with the Martin column.

He said he was satisfied the columnist followed accepted journalistic practices: “He’s researching a campaign. He’s talking to two key insiders. He’s able to obtain an internal email that backs up and corroborates what he’s hearing. This is consistent with the ethical conduct of a journalist.”

Two Martin sources who testified for the defence – the man rejected by Kent as his campaign manager and the man who actually became his manager – said they spoke to the columnist with the understanding their remarks would be off the record and not published.

They said they were concerned Kent had damaged the party when he publicly scolded the leader, Ed Stelmach, for cancelling a planned appearance at a fund-raising breakfast for Kent, and they wanted to mitigate the damage.

Martin testified he decided to write about Kent when he heard from campaign lawyer Robidoux that the campaign was in disarray, and when a columnist for Canada’s other national newspaper – The Globe and Mail – wrote that Kent was defying conventional wisdom by running against his own party. “The future versus the past. It worked brilliantly for (Premier) Klein,” wrote Globe columnist Roy MacGregor.

Martin told the court he wanted to write the Kent story for a national readership because he seemed like a rogue candidate with his own agenda. “Instead of circling the wagons around the leader, he was shooting inwards.”

When asked by Postmedia lawyer Scott Watson who gave him the “dud scud” quote, Martin said he couldn’t recall. Later, under cross-examination by Kent’s lawyer, Michael Bates, he admitted that the contentious paragraph was not true.

He said that perhaps one – not several – Conservatives had called Kent a “dud scud” as he asserted in the column, and he could not remember who that source have might been. “I’d write it differently today.”

When asked about this admission, Postmedia ethics expert Jobb acknowledged that the paragraph “certainly shouldn’t read that way.”

Watson argued that the only untrue aspect of the “dud scud” quote was the fact that “rather than being a plural source attribution, there was only one.” He added that in general the column was a “fair and honest comment” on a matter of public interest and that if there were factual inaccuracies in the column, “it doesn’t amount to malice.”

In his closing argument, Kent’s lawyer Kent Jesse characterized the Martin column as a “hit piece” written with “trumped-up, mocking, ridiculing language” in a “reckless disregard for the truth” to turn public opinion against Kent. “They took Arthur Kent’s brand and they trashed it.”

Watson responded that the column was written within the context of previously published articles about a growing rift between Kent and the Conservative party hierarchy in the provincial capital, Edmonton. “We take issue with the allegation that the article was defamatory. The pith and substance of the column was that Kent’s campaign was not functioning well.”

Copyright © Brian Brennan 2015

Real journalism is not free. If you value evidence-based, non-partisan, spam-free information, please support Facts and Opinions, an employee-owned collaboration of professional journalists.  Details here.

 

Brian BrennanBrian Brennan, an Irish journalist living in Canada, is a founding feature writer with Facts and Opinions and a contributor to Arts dispatches and the Loose Leaf salon. He is the author of the Brief Encounters series. (Payment required). His profile of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first original feature in the journal’s inaugural issue, won Runner-up, Best Feature Article, in the 2014 Professional Writers Association of Canada Awards. Brennan was educated at University College Dublin, Vancouver’s Langara College, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the National Critics Institute in Waterford, Connecticut.

Visit him at his website, www.brianbrennan.ca

Brian Brennan also plays jazz piano, for fun and profit.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers.We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from partisan organizations. Thank you for your patronage, and please tell others about us. Most of our pages are outside our paywall. To help us continue, we suggest a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or for use of the entire site at least $1 for a day pass, and $20 for a year. With enough supporters  paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our ability to offer original works.  Visit our Subscribe page for more details. 

 

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Protected: Getting Back to his Country Roots: Kenny Rogers

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Protected: Singer, Songwriter … Novelist: Sylvia Tyson

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Rachel Notley was born to lead Alberta NDP

Photo Dave Cournoyer via Flickr, Creative Commons

Alberta’s newly-elected NDP premier, Rachel Notley Photo Dave Cournoyer via Flickr, Creative Commons

Alberta is once again the New Jerusalem, writes historian, author and F&O columnist Brian Brennan. An excerpt of his dispatch:

Alberta, the home province of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has been viewed for 80 years – ever since the right-wing Social Credit Party was elected in 1935 – as Canada’s bastion of rock-ribbed conservatism. Or, as Alberta author Aritha van Herk put it, Alberta has been stereotyped as a province defined by such terms as “redneck, intolerant, racist, conservative, neo-Christian, suspicious of anything new, home of white supremacists, gun lovers, and not a few book-banning school boards.” Until now, after Albertans went to the polls to elect a new provincial government and change that image.

 Click to read Alberta once again the New Jerusalem.

~~~

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. 

 

 

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Alberta once again the New Jerusalem

Photo Dave Cournoyer via Flickr, Creative Commons

Rachel Notley’s father advised: “Don’t talk about it, just do it.” On May 5 she did, leading Alberta’s NDP to power. Photo by Dave Cournoyer/Flickr, Creative Commons

By Brian Brennan 
May 6, 2015 

In 1971, the year the now irrelevant Progressive Conservative party first rose to power in Alberta, a Canadian folk-pop group from Montreal called The Bells had a million-selling hit titled “Stay Awhile.” It stayed in the American Top 50 for 11 weeks. The last line of the chorus went, “guess I’m gonna stay with you awhile.” That could have been a mantra for the PCs of that era. They remained at the helm for the next 44 years. 

Alberta, the home province of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has been viewed for 80 years – ever since the right-wing Social Credit Party was elected in 1935 – as Canada’s bastion of rock-ribbed conservatism. Or, as Alberta author Aritha van Herk put it, Alberta has been stereotyped as a province defined by such terms as “redneck, intolerant, racist, conservative, neo-Christian, suspicious of anything new, home of white supremacists, gun lovers, and not a few book-banning school boards.”

On Tuesday, Albertans went to the polls to elect a new provincial government and change that image. A month ago, when Premier Jim Prentice called the election, it was widely expected that his Progressive Conservatives would cakewalk to another victory. Their only serious opposition in the previous, 2012 election had been the Wildrose Party, running to their right. But the Wildrosers had been reduced to a five-seat rump after one member left to sit as an independent and 11 more, including party leader Danielle Smith, crossed the floor to join the PCs. That gave the Tories 70 seats in the 87-seat legislature.

The other parties didn’t seem to pose much of a threat. The third-place Liberals also held five seats at dissolution. The left-leaning New Democratic Party came in fourth and last with four seats. Neither was expected to figure prominently in the 2015 vote, mainly because the Liberals hadn’t formed a government since the United Farmers of Alberta dispatched them in 1921, and the NDP had never come anywhere close to forming a government.

But the Alberta of 2015 is not the Alberta of 1921. Nor is it the province that put Social Credit in power in 1935. Nor is it the one that handed the reins to the Tories in 1971. The province’s two biggest cities, Calgary and Edmonton, are both led by progressive mayors: Naheed Nenshi and Don Iveson. The Alberta of the 21st century is increasingly cosmopolitan, forward-thinking, diverse and inclusive. Collapsing oil prices have taken away some of the province’s financial robustness. But they haven’t taken away its spirit or its optimism.

From the start of the campaign, it became clear – if it hadn’t been so before – that the Progressive Conservatives represented a party run by and for the business elite of the province. Premier Prentice announced that the election would be tantamount to a vote on his first budget; an austerity document that imposed 59 new taxes or levies on individuals, but none on corporations. This provided great ammunition for NDP leader Rachel Notley who told her supporters that if the affluent and the well-connected were to contribute just a little bit more – specifically, a two percent increase in the current corporate tax rate of 10 percent – hospital wait times would be reduced, health care would improve, and 12,000 children would have teachers when they showed up for school next fall. From that point on, Prentice stopped talking about his budget, and began to talk about the dangers of electing a socialist government in Alberta that would lead the province to financial ruin.

Notley, one of the finest platform speakers in Alberta politics, struck an immediate and resonant chord with voters. Speaking without notes and dappling her speeches with good-humoured digs at what she called “this never-ending circus instead of a government,” she drew loud cheers every time she told her listeners they didn’t have to keep repeating history in this province; they could make history by voting for progressive change. 

Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice, Incumbent premier. Photo: premier's office

Jim Prentice resigned both his seat and his leadership of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative party, immediately after the election. Photo: premier’s office

Notley’s message undoubtedly got through. On Tuesday night, Albertans voted for the first social-democratic government in the province’s history, giving 53 seats to the NDP, 21 seats to the revitalized Wildrose, and relegating the Tories to third place with 10 seats. Premier Prentice immediately resigned as party leader and his newly recaptured seat as MLA. A former federal politician, he had not re-entered public life to lead the third party in the provincial legislature. The Liberals were left with one seat and the new left-leaning Alberta Party also took one seat.

Notley was born to play the role of NDP leader. Her father, a self-styled “middle-of-the-road socialist” named Grant Notley, was a pioneering politician who scored the NDP’s first seat in the Alberta legislature in 1971, the same year the Tories began their 44-year reign. Grant Notley served as a one-man caucus for much of the next 13 years. When he died in 1984, in a light plane crash at age 45, his daughter was a 20-year-old law school undergraduate. She then worked as a labour lawyer and honed her skills as a backroom political operative for close to two decades before entering Alberta politics as a 43-year-old MLA in 2008. The best bit of political advice her father had ever given her: “Don’t talk about it, just do it.”

On Tuesday night she did it. Against all odds, Notley won a majority government with a party of mostly untried political rookies who have never sat in a legislature before. In that respect, Notley’s NDPers of 2015 are no different than William Aberhart’s Social Crediters of 1935 or Peter Lougheed’s Progressive Conservatives of 1971. Most of them were political neophytes too. For progressive-minded voters, Alberta – as the evangelical preacher Aberhart liked to say – has once again become the New Jerusalem.

Notley’s first challenge will be to convince the Alberta business community that she’s not the scary monster portrayed by her desperate opponents during the final days of the campaign, when all the polls were pointing to an NDP victory. With a $7-billion crater in the province’s finances, she has her work cut out for her. But Albertans clearly trust her and feel she’s up to the task. Her father would have been proud.

One of the other million-selling hits of 1971 was a song by country singer Jerry Reed titled “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot.” It too stayed in the American charts for 11 weeks. The second line of the chorus went, “and when you’re not, you’re not.” That could have become the new mantra for Alberta’s routed Progressive Conservatives on Tuesday night.

Copyright Brian Brennan 2015

Clarification: This story has been changed for clarity, to note that Albertans voted in a social-democratic (instead of a “socialist”) government.

References:

Alberta Elections, results: http://results.elections.ab.ca/wtResultsPGE.htm

Related on F&O:

NOTEBOOK: a bellwether election for Alberta? Sean Holman on Alberta’s lack of transparency, and Penney Kome on Alberta politics

Canada’s Mayor: Naheed Nenshi. By Brian Brennan, Facts and Opinions magazine feature (paywall)

Video:

Rachel Notley’s victory speech (click here for text transcript on NDP site): 

Jim Prentice’s concession speech:

 

 

Brian Brennan

Brian Brennan, an Irish journalist living in Canada, is a founding feature writer with Facts and Opinions, author of the Brief Encounters arts column, and a contributor to Arts dispatches and the Loose Leaf salon. His profile of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first original feature in the journal’s inaugural issue, won Runner-up, Best Feature Article, in the 2014 Professional Writers Association of Canada Awards. Brennan was educated at University College Dublin, Vancouver’s Langara College, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the National Critics Institute in Waterford, Connecticut. 

Visit him at his website, www.brianbrennan.ca

Brian Brennan also plays jazz piano, for fun and profit.  

 ~~~ 

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us with a donation, by clicking below; by telling others about us; or purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

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Brian Brennan: a Brief Encounter with Sophia Loren

 

Brian Brennan interviewing Sophia Loren in 1987.

Brian Brennan interviewing Sophia Loren in 1987.

Arts columnist Brian Brennan was told he couldn’t ask Sophia Loren about the sentence she served in a Naples prison for tax evasion. But he went ahead and asked anyhow, and received a surprising answer. An excerpt of Brennan’s Brief Encounters column, Absolutely Fabulous: Sophia Loren:

 

Sophia Loren hardly ever talked to reporters, and hadn’t planned to do so when she came to Canada in 1987 to promote some beauty products. But after I talked to her publicity people, I was told I could interview her as long as I didn’t ask her about two things:

1. How was she getting along with Carlo Ponti, her much older (by 24 years) director husband? There were repeated rumours of a rift and of extramarital affairs by both, but Miss Loren would not be speaking about such matters.

2. How did she end up spending 17 days in a Naples prison in 1982 for income tax evasion? Couldn’t she have paid a fine or come to some other kind of arrangement with the Italian judicial authorities, given that she was one of the country’s major film stars? Again, Miss Loren would not be speaking about such matters.

She would, however be happy to talk to me about the jasmine-and-roses Coty perfume to which she had lent her famous name in 1980… log in to read Absolutely Fabulous: Sophia Loren (subscription required*)

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Here is Brian Brennan’s columnist page;  here is F&O’s page to purchase a subscription or $1 site day pass

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.

 

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A brief encounter with Brian Moore

At age 60, Irish writer Brian Moore decided to switch from novels to plays. However, as Arts columnist Brian Brennan reports, it was an experiment not destined to be repeated. An excerpt of Brennan’s Brief Encounters column, A Prolific Novelist on Diverse Themes: Brian Moore (subscription needed):

After 25 years of writing novels, Brian Moore was trying his hand at playwriting when I met him in Edmonton in 1981. He had adapted his novella Catholics for television in 1973 and now was preparing it for its Canadian stage debut at the Citadel Theatre. He was enjoying the experience of working with a theatre group, not least because it got him out of the house “As one goes on writing novels, one spends more and more time alone,” he said wistfully. 

Brian Moore

 
Moore had been living in North America for more than 30 of his 60 years, first in Montreal and more recently in Malibu, in California. You could still hear the unmistakeable sound of his native Belfast in his speech. While he often had to correct people’s pronunciation of his first name, Moore still pronounced it the way his Gaelic-speaking mother had sounded it out when he was a child: “Bree-ann.” 
Moore told me that being around actors and other theatre people gave him a welcome opportunity to recapture the kind of camaraderie he had enjoyed as a young reporter in Montreal when he moved to Canada in 1948. After sharpening his skills by writing pseudonymous thrillers, Moore settled into the life of a full-time novelist following the publication of what he considered his first serious literary work, Judith Hearne, in 1955. From that point on, Moore missed “the normal sort of working relationship that other people have” because novel writing kept him “divorced from ordinary day-to-day life.” 
But he didn’t want people to see Catholics – set in a remote island monastery off the coast of Ireland – as a metaphor for the isolated life of the writer. … log in* to read  Prolific Novelist on Diverse Themes: Brian Moore.

*You’ll find lots of great free stories on our pages, but much of our original work is behind a paywall — we do not sell advertising. We do need and appreciate your support – a day pass is a buck and a monthly subscription costs less than a cup of coffee.

Here is Brian Brennan’s columnist page;  here is F&O’s page to purchase a subscription or $1 site day pass

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.

 

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