Tag Archives: Canadian politics

Canada doesn’t need Trump-lite

January 14, 2017

Kevin O'Leary takes the stage. Photo: Randstad Canada/Flickr/Creative Commons

Kevin O’Leary. Photo: Randstad Canada/Flickr/Creative Commons

Donald Trump-lite. It’s a scary idea. Anything that looks like a version of The Donald is bad news for any country. Yet this is what Canada faces with the upcoming candidacy of Kevin O’Leary for the leadership of the Conservative party in Canada. For, make no mistake, Kevin O’Leary is Donald Trump-lite.

Any day now O’Leary is expected to announce his plans to run for the leadership of the Conservative party. It’s an idea he’s been toying with ever since Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party knocked the stuffing out of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in 2015.

O’Leary’s candidacy was always back burner news, scoffed at by many because he did seem to be just a Donald Trump-clone. Awhile back, none of us thought Trump had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the Republican Party nomination, yet alone the United States’ presidency. Well hell got very cold, Trump was elected, and now O’Leary wants to repeat that success in Canada.

Why would Kevin O’Leary believe he can lead Canada? Well the answer is easy. He’s a TV star. His role on the popular US program Shark Tank, on the Canadian version Dragon’s Den, and his many years on the CBC show Lange and O’Leary have made him a well-known figure in Canadian homes. Like Trump, O’Leary is hoping that this early 21st century celebrity status will propel him not only to the leadership of the Conservative party, but eventually into residence at 21 Sussex Dr.

Like Trump, O’Leary also claims that his status as a businessman and entrepreneur give him a leg up on the competition and show that he has the wherewithal to run the country. But also like Trump, O’Leary’s claims of business excellence are somewhat cloudy. Canadians might think O’Leary is a tough, smart businessman because of the persona he adopted for his TV appearances. But a look at his real record reveals a mixed history, including several ventures that can be called out and out failures.

Last year reporter Bruce Livesey detailed the complicated story of O’Leary’s business history. One example was O’Leary Funds, perhaps his best-known financial operation. Started with much fanfare in 2008, Livesey wrote that O’Leary was able to capitalize on his well-known celebrity status as a business guru to convince many investors to buy his funds. And at first it worked, with O’Leary Funds growing to $1.5 billion in assets.

But, wrote Livesey, “The reality was quite different. O’Leary was not even licensed to manage or invest other people’s money. Instead, he hired Connor O’Brien, a former Wall Street investment banker, to run O’Leary Funds. Moreover, by 2012, the funds were in trouble, falling to $1-billion in assets by the end of that year.”

By 2015 when O’Leary sold his company to Canoe the funds were down to $800-million in assets, due to investors pulling their money out.

Like Trump, O’Leary wants people to focus on his celebrity status and his TV persona, rather than the many potholes in his financial history.

Despite all this, O’Leary not only has a chance to win the leadership of the Conservative party, but also to one day become Canada’s prime minister. Why? He’s Trump-lite, and right now that’s the brand to be (although Donald Trump seems to be doing his best to diminish that brand).

I base this observation on a report issued this past week by the National Intelligence Council in the United States.

Every four years the NIC, which consists of the top officers at the various intelligence agencies in America, give their views of where they think the world is headed.  This year’s report – Global Trends: Paradox of Progress – is not a happy one. It predicts that climate change will continue to drive migration around the world, that growth will be flat, that more and more jobs will be lost to automation, that the gap between haves and have-nots will continue to grow, and that what has become known as “fake news” will continue to drive more and more media coverage. The result will be an increasingly angry populace, particularly in the West, which will lead to the election of more Donald Trumps —  well-known celebrities or media figures with little or no political or governing experience who capitalize on public anger about things voters cannot change.

O’Leary also has another couple of things in his favor. Unlike Trump, he does not seem to be distracted by glittery things, nor does he make outrageous sexually perverted comments. He is not taken to ridiculing his opponents as “losers,” at least not yet. And as far as we know, O’Leary has nothing to do with Russia. But have no doubt, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin is watching from a distance, and if he thinks O’Leary’s candidacy can help diminish democracy in the West, or help Russia in some way, don’t be surprised to see a lot of fake news stories about O’Leary’s opponents appearing in Canada.

Ultimately, Canadians opposed to the kind of government that an O’Leary (or a Kelly Leitch, a controversial contender for the party leadership who has proposed screening visitors, refugees and immigrants for “Canadian values” ) would lead need to start taking that possibility seriously right now. It’s no joke. Currently, as a Canadian living in the US, I’m preparing for the worst four years I may have ever known as an adult. I don’t want to see something similar happened to my home and native land. Canadians need to press Trudeau to be a better prime minister, and help restore the NDP to political relevance. (Continuing to insist Trudeau keep his promise on electoral reform, to find better ways to elect MPs, would be a good start.)

The point is to be vigilant, and as Pres. Barack Obama has said in the US, to organize, organize, organize. Canadians’ futures depend on it.

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com


Kevin O’Leary’s Conservative leadership bid should target ‘eager’ millennials, advisers say, by Janyce McGregor, CBC News: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/conservative-leadership-wrap-thursday-1.3932487

The real (and shocking) story of Kevin O’Leary’s business career, by Bruce Livesey:

Global Trends: The Paradox of Progress: https://www.dni.gov/index.php/global-trends-home

Related works on F&O:

Canada’s dark time might be closer than you think, by Tom Regan  Column

After the election of 2015, Canadians probably thought they were safe from the kind of racism and bigotry that has gripped the United States after the election of Donald Trump. Well, I’m sorry to break your little “we’re so great” bubble. Vigilance is needed in Canada, too.

Canada, Fraudster’s Nirvana, by Jonathan Manthorpe   Column

Canada was slammed in a new report on corruption. It matters because tricks –blind trusts, shell companies, anonymous accounts in tax havens — are spurring the kind of populist, enraged politics that elected Donald Trump and are behind Brexit.  Unless Ottawa ensures that Canada’s privileged classes play by the same rules as everyone else Canada, too, will experience a tide of outrage.

From our archives:

Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau gives his victory speech after Canada's federal election in Montreal, Quebec, October 19, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie


Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 



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 only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

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Kevin O'Leary takes the stage. Photo: Randstad Canada/Flickr/Creative Commons

Kevin O’Leary takes the stage. Photo: Randstad Canada/Flickr/Creative Commons


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O Canada … Oh, grow up

June 18, 2016

HMCS Toronto flies a Canadian flag in the Arabian Gulf during Operation Altair with the US Navy, a 2004 mission to monitor shipping in the Arabian Gulf. Photo by MCpl Colin Kelley, Canadian Armed Forces

HMCS Toronto flies a large Canadian flag in the Arabian Gulf in 2004. Photo by MCpl Colin Kelley, Canadian Armed Forces

The year was 1964, and many Canadians were furious.

Although it had been a subject of heated debate already, on June 15th, 1964, then prime minister, the late Lester B. Pearson, and his Liberal government introduced a motion to stop using the “Red Ensign” flag, which prominently featured the Union Jack, and give Canada a flag of its own.

Well, the fat hit the frying pan, and six months of the most heated and nasty debate in Canadian history began.

I know a little something about this because my family was a part of it. My dad, Jim Regan, was a press officer for Pearson. One of his many jobs was helping to sell the idea of a new flag. It was brutal. Neither side would give an inch to the other. I remember dad coming home from work many days looking exhausted.

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In September of that year, Pearson agreed to have a committee consider the flag question. The Conservatives, under John Diefenbaker, thought they had won the day, as the history of “committees” examining politically explosive questions in Canada is not a particularly vigorous one. But after many meetings, both public and private, and lots of suggestions from Canadians, by October 22nd the choice was down to two flags: The “Pearson Pennant”  or one submitted by historian George Stanley, with a single red maple leaf on a white background with two red borders. We all know which flag won.

(Years later dad told me that Pearson was very disappointed that his flag didn’t win, but that he was so anxious just to get it all over with he strongly backed the new one.)

Then followed two more months of raucous debate, until December 15, when the Pearson government invoked closure and a vote was held. Our new flag was approved by 163 to 78. Queen Elizabeth officially proclaimed it in February of 1965, when Pearson and Diefenbaker were in London for the funeral of Winston Churchill.

Now, 50+ years later, the Canadian flag is one of the most recognizable flags in the world. Canadians are rightly proud of it. And the queen has apparently survived the ‘insult.”

A photo from Lester Pearson to Tom Regan's father: "To my constant conductor and guide, Jim Regan. Lester Pearson, Christmas 1963."

A photo from Lester Pearson to Tom Regan’s father: “To my constant conductor and guide, Jim Regan. Lester Pearson, Christmas 1963.”

When I was older, I asked my dad about the flag debate. He laughed and said it was “brutal and fierce.” He said many Canadians accused Pearson of trying to destroy the country, of ridiculing our heritage, of insulting the queen. And that was the polite stuff. There were a few death threats and the like. Dad said one of his happiest days working for Pearson was that December day when the flag was approved and it all went away.

I bring up the flag debate in the context of the decision to change two lines in Canada’s nation anthem, to make it more gender neutral.

It’s deja vue all over again, to quote Yogi Berra. And if you ask me, some Canadians need to grow up a bit.

Seldom has so much ink and indignation been spilled over such a simple matter. Making Canada’s national anthem more open to all people is of course a good idea. It is the very essence of Canada itself and one of the things that separates us from other nations (particularly the US).

And here’s even a better reason … to update a phrase Justin Trudeau used when asked about why his cabinet was 50% men and 50% women: because it’s 2016.

Of course, the main rallying cry of the ‘traditionalists’ – “Political correctness! Political correctness!” – was sounded. Well, if political correctness means changing two words to include a majority of the people who live in Canada, then, yeah, sign me up. I think it bends more towards political inclusiveness.

The whole national anthem debate reminds me very much of the flag debate in this way:

Back in 1964, Canada was becoming a different place. We were just starting the real debate about the place of Quebec in our country. Canada was increasingly forging its own identity on the international stage. We were just about to move into a debate on universal healthcare. Pierre “Trudeaumania” was just three years away. We had fewer and fewer meaningful ties to Great Britain. Those opposed to the new flag just saw it as another attempt to undermine the “natural” order that has been in place for so long, that had served the old guard so well for so long.

It’s much the same with the anthem. Canada is not what it was even 10 years ago. The country is much more inclusive to people of all genders and sexual orientations. The patriarchal musing of the previous version of the anthem just don’t work anymore. There is another Trudeau, who won power on a wave of a desire for change. And those who are opposed to the change are, by and large, opposed for the same reason. They don’t want this new Canada.

But it’s done. It may take a while for Canadians to get used to it. But I’ll wager that 50 years from now, Canadians will be just as proud of their gender-neutral national anthem as they are of their flag.

More information:

Why Canada is changing its national anthem, Christian Science Monitor: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2016/0616/Why-Canada-is-changing-its-national-anthem

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92. He is based near Washington, D.C.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 



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 only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Canada’s Navy: Dying From Neglect

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
May 14, 2016

One highly desirable result of an isolationist Donald Trump presidency is that it would expose in short order the philosophical, economic, political and moral corruption that has been at the heart of Canadian defence policy since the year dot.

Trump says he wants to jettison those allies who are freeloading on the United States and its taxpayers. By any measure, Canada is the worst freeloader of the whole lot. What is almost worse, successive Canadian governments of all political stripes have been utterly shameless in the eagerness with which they suckle the American taxpayers’ milk.

HMCS Toronto flies a Canadian flag in the Arabian Gulf during Operation Altair with the US Navy, a 2004 mission to monitor shipping in the Arabian Gulf. Photo by MCpl Colin Kelley, Canadian Armed Forces

HMCS Toronto flies a Canadian flag in the Arabian Gulf during Operation Altair with the US Navy, a 2004 mission to monitor shipping in the Arabian Gulf. Photo by MCpl Colin Kelley, Canadian Armed Forces

According to NATO figures, Canada’s defence spending amounted to one per cent of gross national product last year, and is already lower this year. In NATO’s league table, that puts Canada down among bottom feeders like the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia. Mind you, the country is still a bit ahead of Luxembourg’s defence spending of 0.47 per cent of GDP, but heading in that direction.

If President Trump took the U.S. out of NATO and the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), the corridors of power in Ottawa would echo with politicians shrieking like stuck pigs, while deputy ministers and the mandarinate of the Privy Council Office would be overcome by apoplexy and faint away in their corner offices.

In its purest form, Trump’s vision of the U.S. as a self-sufficient, gated community decorated with an endless supply of Stepford Wives would for the first time cast Canada out into the cold. For the first century of Canada’s nationhood we relied on Britain to keep us safe. Since the Second World War we have happily clung to Washington’s coattails.

In Trump’s world, Canada’s model for maintaining its security and defending its sovereignty would be Australia. That’s not such a bad thing. Canada doesn’t pay nearly as much attention to Australia as it should. The countries have the same cultural and political heritages. They both have small populations relative to vast landmasses. They are both now immigrant societies wrestling with the challenges of multi-culturalism. Both economies are anchored by resource industries at one end and some of the world’s leading and innovative technological industries at the other.

The big difference is that Canada has got fat and lazy because easy access to the U.S. market has driven the competitive and entrepreneurial genes out of its national DNA, and it’s handed over responsibility for its sovereignty and security to Washington.

Australians, in contrast, have always had to be lean and mean. Their continent is out there at the end of the world. In trade, diplomacy and defence they have never had anyone to rely on but themselves. They have risen to the challenge with fortitude, pragmatism and imagination. In most aspects of international relations, Canada looks naïve, irresolute and terminally short-sighted in comparison.

Australia currently spends 1.8 per cent of its GDP on defence, according to the World Bank. The Canberra government announced in February it intends to increase that to 2 per cent by 2021. There will probably be an election well before then, but one of the significant differences between Australian and Canadian defence policy is that in Australia it tends to be a bi-partisan issue. Defence policy, and especially equipment purchases, tends to carry on relatively seamlessly despite changes of government.

An excellent account of the criminal neglect of its armed forces by successive Canadian governments of both major political stripes was set out by Jack Granatstein in his 2004 book “Who killed the Canadian Military?”

In Canada, of course, cancelling a previous government’s plans to purchase new military equipment has become an almost essential demonstration of machismo. Thus when Jean Chretien became prime minister in 1993 he ostentatiously cancelled the previous Tory government’s contracts to buy new naval helicopters to replace the ageing and dangerous Sea Kings. Officially that cancellation cost about $500 million — though my contacts in the defence business say the real number was about twice that – and 23 years later Canada still doesn’t have replacements for the Sea Kings. It now takes 30 hours of maintenance to keep them in the air for one hour.

The truth is Canada lacks a fleet air arm of any utility. Indeed, it doesn’t have a blue water navy any more. What is left of the Canadian Navy cannot operate independently, and the only warships of any significance  left –  12 Halifax Class frigates – are too limited in their range, armaments and surveillance capabilities to be allowed out alone. The best that can be said is that Canada has a coastal defence force on a par with that possessed by Bangladesh.

The full horror of what has happened to the Canadian Navy was set out last year in a thorough and depressing article in Macleans Magazine by Scott Gilmore. It is worth nailing up this article and seeing what the Australians have done when confronted by very similar demands and pressures as Canada.
As Gilmore describes, fulcrum moments in the destruction of the Canadian Navy came last year. One tipping point was the death form old age and infirmity of the three remaining Iroquois-class destroyers — HMCS Athabaskan, HMCS Huron and HMCS Algonquin. With their superior weapons and radar, these warships were essential to putting a battle group to sea. But, like the Sea King helicopters, the destroyers had got to an age when they just didn’t work properly any more. Without them, the Halifax-class frigates are of limited utility.

The second important development was the beaching of the two supply and replenishment ships – HMCS Protecteur on the west coast, and HMCS Preserver on the east. Without these ships it is impossible for Canada to deploy vessels for a prolonged operation, such as the anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia. But these supply ships were so old that it was no longer possible to get parts for them. Members of the crews are reported to have even resorted to eBay in their hunt for spares.

Protecteur hastened its trip to the knacker’s yard by having a terminal engine fire while off the Hawaiian coast. An American tug was persuaded to tow her back to Esquimalt in return for the value of the fuel oil in her tanks.

The ignominy doesn’t stop there and this is a good point to start looking at what the Australians are doing – and in this case the British Navy as well — when they needed new supply ships in a hurry.

For some years successive governments in Ottawa have been rabbiting on about replacing the supply ships. But they are still only in the design phase and sea trials won’t be until 2021 at the earliest. So, when confronted by the brutal reality last year that the Canadian Navy couldn’t go far out of the sight of land, the then Conservative government rushed to adopt a two-pronged rescue bid. One prong was to rent a supply ship from the Chilean Navy for the west coast and another from the Spanish Navy for the east coast for around $1 million a month each. Meanwhile, Davie Shipyards of Levis, Que., was contracted to convert a commercial tanker into a naval supply and refuelling ship. This will not be ready until 2017 at the earliest.

This is all a classic piece of Canadian defence procurement tomfoolery. While failing to renew equipment in time, governments also insist for reasons of patronage, if not outright corruption, that new ships must be built in Canada. But by the time Ottawa gets around to each contract for more ships, the shipbuilding industry has died, because its last round of construction was a generation prior. So task number one, every time, is to rebuild a Canadian ship-building industry. To put it politely, that doesn’t make much sense.

In 2012 the British Navy decided it needed four modern, twin-hulled resupply and refuelling ships, known as Fleet Auxillaries, and it needed them quickly. So it went to the South Korean shipbuilders Daewoo Shipbuilding and Engineering and bought four tankers. The basic ships were then taken to Britain where they were kitted out with all the value-added, high-tech stuff that made them part of the Royal Navy.

The lead vessel in the class, called Tidespring, was laid down in December 2014 and launched in April 2015 – four months. The second vessel was laid down in June 2015 and launched in November last year. The keel for the third vessel was laid last December and it was launched in March. The first steel for the fourth ship was cut last December and it will be in the water any day now. All four ships will be in service with the Royal Navy by the end of this year.

When a navy needs ships quickly it makes perfect sense to buy hulls and power plants from countries that make them fast and well, such as South Korea, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany, and then focus on adding the CanCon high-tech components here at home.

The Australians have become masters of this approach to building and sustaining their navy.

Canberra also needs to replace supply ships that will come to the end of their usefulness in 2021. Australia is doing a deal with the Spanish naval shipbuilder Navantia to supply two fleet auxillary supply and refuelling ships. Navantia will deliver the basic ships and then Australian companies will supply and fit the combat and communications systems.

Canberra has considerable experience of dealing with Navantia. It has already bought what are euphemistcally called “landing helicopter docks,” or “amphibious assault ships.” Again, Navantia supplied the hulls and the Australians put in the clever stuff.

And to you and me these ships look like aircraft carriers, which is what they in fact are. Australia is only equipping them with helicopters at the moment. But that ski-jump over the bow is not there just for fun. If it ever needs to, the Australian Navy can fly warplanes off these ships, some of the 100 F35s Australia plans to buy, for example. But for now they will be used as, in essence, large and capable supply ships that can move large numbers of troops, equipment and humanitarian aid to wherever they are needed.

Navantia is also a partner in the building of three, and perhaps four new Hobart-class destroyers. Again, Navantia is building the hulls in segments, which are then shipped to Australia for welding together and fitted out. The first of what are described as “air-warfare destroyers,” but which in reality are fully capable air, submarine and surface warships, will be delivered in June next year and the third by mid-2020.

The Canberra-class aircraft carriers and the Hobart-class destroyers are good examples of the Australian Navy’s aspirations and the seriousness with which it takes its responsibility to sustain the country’s security and sovereignty. A major element in any naval fleet for a maritime country is submarines. These vessels provide security at many times their value because any potential intruder can never be sure they know exactly where all the submarines are.

Australia gets this. Canada has never quite managed to make two and two add up to four. In the 1980s, when I was working in the Ottawa Bureau of what was then Southam News, I was given a copy of a letter from the Australian Ministry of Defence to the Canadian counterpart. At the time, then Canadian Defence Minister Perrin Beatty was toying with the idea of buying nuclear-powered submarines from either the French or the British. The Australians, meanwhile, were in the process of developing the program for what became their Collins-class submarines. The letter that I saw from Canberra asked if Ottawa would like to sign on to a joint venture with Australia to produce, use and perhaps sell the Collins-class boats. I was told the Australians never got an answer to their letter.

Since then the Collins-class boats have been produced, served with mixed reviews and are now approaching the time when they must be replaced.

Over the same 30-year period Canada went off the whole idea of submarines for a decade. Twenty years ago Ottawa finally plucked up the courage to again contemplate buying submarines. But instead of doing the sensible thing, Canada somehow got itself bushwacked into buying four old conventional boats laid up as surplus by the British Navy. Well, someone should have spent a little longer kicking the tires and checking the mileage. From the moment they were rolled off the lot the submarines suffered a series of breakdowns, including a deadly fire while one was in passage across the Atlantic. The repairs and equipment changes to make them compatible with other Canadian warships have cost twice the original sticker price on the British used boat lot of $750 million for the four. These modifications included, believe it or not, having to change the entire torpedo tube assemblies so they can fire Canada’s stock of veteran Mk48 torpedoes.

It is a feature of submarines that every time a hole has to be cut in the hull and patched it weakens the whole structure, and limits the depths to which it can dive thereafter. It also affects the life expectancy of the vessel.

The four Victoria-class boats all finally got to sea last year, but what use they are will remain a question. In the Macleans article, Gilmore quotes the commander of the navy, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, as saying the capabilities of the Victoria-class submarines are “fragile.”

That’s just what one needs in a warship.

Australia, meanwhile, is pressing ahead with a $US38 billion program to acquire 12 long-range submarines to replace the ageing Collins-class boats.

It looked for a while as though Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in partnership with Kawasaki Heavy Industries had a lock on the contract for their highly-regarded Soryu-class submarines. So it came as a surprise late last month when the Canberra government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the contract will go to the French armaments company DCN for a conventionally powered adaptation of its Barracuda nuclear-powered attack submarine.

The Japanese made many mistakes in the campaign against the French and the other competitor, Germany’s Thyssen-Krupp Marine Systems. Arms sales abroad is new territory for Japanese companies. Laws have been re-interpreted only recently to allow it to happen, so Japanese companies are still neophytes in the field. Their major mistake, however, was not to appreciate that Australia wanted between 70 and 80 per cent of the construction work to be done in Australia, even if it is under the supervision of the winning company. The Japanese companies have no experience of this kind of offshore build, and their negotiators shrank from putting this option on the table. Instead, the Soryu salesmen relied on the growing strategic partnership in Asia between the Australian and Japanese navies in the face of Chinese aggression.
It was not enough. Australian governments of all parties are keen to keep their shipyards functioning and the shipbuilding skills constantly renewed. So while Canberra is never slow to buy in ready-made ships when it makes sense, it also realises that maintaining and sustaining an effective navy needs foresight and nurturing the necessary store of skilled workers.

Ottawa finds that thought impossible to grasp.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016
Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com
NATO: http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_49198.htm
World Bank: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/MS.MIL.XPND.GD.ZS
The Sinking of the Canadian Navy, Macleans, by Scott Gilmore

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Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”


Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.


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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.


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Justin Trudeau’s speech to his kids

Canada's Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau greets his sons Justin (L), Sacha (R) and Michel after returning home from a foreign trip in Ottawa, in a 1983 file photo. Canada's new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is moving back to the house where he grew up. The Liberal leader, son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, led his party to victory in a federal election on Monday, defeating Stephen Harper's Conservatives by a wide margin. REUTERS/Andy Clark

Canada’s Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau greets his sons Justin (L), Sacha (R) and Michel after returning home from a foreign trip in Ottawa, in a 1983 file photo. Canada’s new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is moving back to the house where he grew up. The Liberal leader, son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, led his party to victory in a federal election Oct. 19, defeating Stephen Harper’s Conservatives by a wide margin. REUTERS/Andy Clark 

October, 2015

“Dear kids, we are starting on a new adventure together,” newly-elected Justin Trudeau said from the giant overhead TV screen. I was standing in Liberal candidate Matt Grant’s post-election party when Trudeau’s acceptance speech appeared on overhead TVs in the Red and White Club in Calgary, Alberta’s, McMahon Stadium. I’d been a poll-watcher, overseeing the ballot count, and I was dropping off the poll sheets. And there was Justin Trudeau, taking up national air time by talking to his kids.

Justin Trudeau is embraced by his wife Sophie Gregoire as he watches results at his election night headquarters in Montreal, Quebec, October 19, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Justin Trudeau is embraced by his wife Sophie Gregoire as he watches results at his election night headquarters in Montreal, Quebec, October 19, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Of course, every candidate starts by thanking family and friends. Trudeau started by talking about positive politics and Wilfrid Laurier’s promise that “sunny ways” win more voters than fearmongering. I was pleased that he thanked his wife, television host Sophie Gregoire, by her full name, and gave her a separate turn in the spotlight. He paused when the crowd picked up her name and chanted, “So-phie! So-phie!” Then he went on to talk to his kids and I thought, by golly, George Lakoff was right!

In 2002, linguist George Lakoff divided conservatives from liberals by their parenting models. The author of “Don’t Think of an Elephant” explained Republican successes by the metaphors the GOP developed to mobilize conservative voters.

Chief among these were the “strict father” hooks Republicans used to practice us-and-them politics. “The conservative worldview, the strict father model, assumes that the world is dangerous and difficult and that children are born bad and must be made good. The strict father is the moral authority who supports and defends the family, tells his wife what to do, and teaches his kids right from wrong,” usually by applying painful discipline, a 2003 Berkeley student magazine quotes Lakoff.

By contrast, Lakoff said that “the progressive worldview is modeled on a nurturant parent family. Briefly, it assumes that the world is basically good and can be made better and that one must work toward that. Children are born good; parents can make them better. Nurturing involves empathy, and the responsibility to take care of oneself and others for whom we are responsible ….”

Conservatives were winning, said Lakoff in 2003, but only because they’d spent 30 years perfecting their marketing techniques, code words and dogwhistles. Also, of course, much of the Conservative base comes from Christian congregations where pastors re-inforce political messages. Liberals had been stuck herding cats while they scrambled to develop language that motivated a much wider group. In 2008 and again 20012, Barack Obama used nurturing parent metaphors (and a beautiful family) to bring new voters into the electoral fold.

Now here was a victorious Justin Trudeau glorying in the nurturing parent metaphor. His beautiful young family is part of his identity and will be part of his public life too. This is a dad who hugs his kids, not one who offers handshakes, who declares that “positive, optimistic, hopeful vision of public life isn’t a naive dream. It can be a powerful force for change.” Sunny ways, my friends. Canada has gone from a Prime Minister who evoked fear and loathing, to one to one who isn’t afraid to appear vulnerable and caring.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is accompanied by his mother Margaret Trudeau (L) and his wife Sophie Gregoire, daughter Ella Grace and sons Hadrien (foreground) and Xavier (R) as he watches results at his election night headquarters in Montreal, Quebec, October 19, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is accompanied by his mother Margaret Trudeau (L) and his wife Sophie Gregoire, daughter Ella Grace and sons Hadrien (foreground) and Xavier (R) as he watches results at his election night headquarters in Montreal, Quebec, October 19, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Copyright Penney Kome 2015

Penney KomePenney Kome is co-editor of Peace: A Dream Unfolding (Sierra Club Books 1986), with a foreward by the Nobel-winning presidents of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War.

Read her bio on Facts and Opinions here.

Contact:  komeca AT yahoo.com


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“Don’t Think of an Elephant, George Layoff:  http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2003/10/27_lakoff.shtml

Berkeley student magazine: http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2003/10/27_lakoff.shtml

Related stories on F&O:


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 are ad-free and spam-free, and we do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Please visit our Subscribe page to chip in at least .27 for one story or $1 for a day site pass. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


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“Throw the bastards out”

By William Thorsell
October, 2015

Not in recent times have Canadian voters had an opportunity to “throw the bastards out” in the classic phrase. Elected officials generally leave office before such public urges get to them.

Brian Mulroney stepped down five months before an election was required in 1993. (Kim Campbell launched that campaign in September running high in the polls.) Voters rather gently rebuked Pierre Trudeau with his close defeat in 1979, but his resurrection in 1980 set the stage anew. Mr. Trudeau stepped down in 1984, nine months before an election was required. (John Turner called an election that July, also running well in the polls.)

This time however, Stephen Harper is sticking his head up above the parapets after nine years in office — nine years generally seen as the Best Before Due Date in politics, as it is for leadership in the private sector. Knowing when to leave is among the more elegant qualities of any CEO, but then Mr. Harper has never laid claim to elegance.

An accumulation of baggage eventually weighs the owner down to the point of stumbling and falling. Mr. Harper is quite overweight in that department. In recessionary times, he is running a primary budget surplus (revenues over program spending) of some 1.4 per cent of GDP — an elementary error in Economics 101, less a matter of ideology than incompetence. Governments should not pull money out of an economy facing strong economic headwinds: We might refer to Stephen “Hoover” in this context, after the hapless U.S. president in the 1930s.

You do not cut the national sales tax in favour of targeted tax goodies in your party’s political interest. Nor do you do so to reduce Ottawa’s capacity to fund grievously inadequate infrastructure, undermining productivity and aggravating social divides. You do not claim success in energy policy having seen no new significant pipelines approved or built on your watch, either domestically or in our interest in the United States. Nor do you sit out the global conversation on climate change in words and action.

You do not exacerbate income inequality by providing significant new tax breaks for the wealthy in tax-free savings and investment accounts.

You do not fan cultural conflict in Canada in the face of unprecedented cultural diversity and high rates of immigration. Canada’s generally successful experience in accommodating diversity needs nurturing attention, not a matador’s incendiary skills.

You do not acquiesce to deteriorating relations with Canada’s First Peoples. You do not evince contempt for science or, for that matter, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the courts mandated to interpret and uphold it. You do not tendentiously attack the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada as cover for your own incompetence in making laws and appointments.

You do not turn your backside to the federal nature of Canada, refusing to meet the premiers and other leaders in congress to explore and debate issues of common national concern.

On your watch, Canada’s relations with the United States appear as cool as they became in Pierre Trudeau’s latter years — a fundamental failure in a critical arena. And you have reduced Canada’s stature in the world at large through excessively partisan positions on matters of great complexity in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, for example.

Barely concealed hostility to China and the United Nations, ineffective diplomacy regarding the Arctic and a general downgrading of Canada’s foreign service personnel and facilities add yet more weight to the baggage. Only apparent enthusiasm in military matters indicates much appetite for engagement in foreign affairs.

New trade agreements may hold promise, though there has been no public consultation and we have seen no details on the large ones.

Prime ministers do not have to be eminently likeable if they are sufficiently competent and inspiring. But to demonstrate qualities of meanness with a scent of pouting in the air makes the wheels on the luggage squeak. Who but the deeply petulant would forbid his entire parliamentary caucus from speaking to the former Progressive Conservative prime minister of Canada on ethereal grounds?

Indeed, who is allowed to speak to Canadian voters themselves in Stephen Harper’s caucus — you know, the voters who hired them? Empty chairs at public forums, gag orders on ministers of the crown, refusals to respond to media enquiries evince deep contempt for the democratic process at its most intensive phase.

All this is consistent with unprecedented contempt for Parliament in the use of closure and reliance on Brodingnagian omnibus bills — not to mention a promise to un-man the Senate, which remains an essential player under the Canadian constitution.

Yes, an unusual opportunity to “throw the bastards out” lies just a few days away, and there are reasons and a chance it may well happen.

Copyright William Thorsell 2015

Editor’s note:  This is the editorial William Thorsell says he would have penned, were he still the editor of the Globe and Mail (which, controversially, endorsed the Harper Government.) It is reprinted here with his permission.

Click here for more works in F&O’s Focus on Canadian politics

ROM2009_11024_371-196x275William Thorsell served for 25 years in newspaper journalism in Canada, including more than 10 years as Editor in Chief of The Globe and Mail in Toronto.  He was Director and CEO of the Royal Ontario Museum from 2008 until his 2010 retirement, invested into the Order of Ontario in 2008, and invested as Chevalier, Order of Arts and Letters,France, in 2010. He is a Senior Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.







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 are ad-free and spam-free, and we do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Please visit our Subscribe page to chip in at least .27 for one story or $1 for a day site pass. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose

October, 2015

Canadians are committing an act of insanity.

Insanity being doing the same thing again and again, and expecting a different result.

On October 19 millions of Canadians are marching to the polls to repeat a time honoured tradition: throw the rascals out! The rascals in this particular situation happened to be the Conservative party who without a doubt deserve to be thrown out.

In its place it is looking more and more like we will substitute the Liberal party, who were the rascals being thrown out a few years ago. Basically every couple of elections we throw the rascals out and replace them with the previous rascals.

The more things change the more they stay the same.

We could try the NDP, of course. And there might be some differences, a few important. But looking at the way that NDP provincial governments have operated over the years, they also tend to turn into the rascals who need to be thrown out at some point.

For the problem, dear Brutus, lies not in our politicians, but in ourselves.

In Canada we like to derisively point a finger at the United States and say “things are so much better here.” And they are in some ways. But after living 35 years in Canada and 25 years in the United States, the differences are a lot more public relations than they are reality.

It’s not as bad as the United States, but basically in Canada we have created a self-perpetuating system that encourages people not to get involved in their own country, to give up, to believe that they can’t make a difference.

Much like the US, it is a system that favours the rich over the poor, whites over everybody else, and corporations over democracy. We might dress it up a little differently, but other than the act of actually voting we really don’t have much control over what happens in the country.

This is compounded by the fact that the people we elect to represent us almost always ended up being co-opted by the system, particularly if they happen to be in government.

Many years ago I was actually involved in the political process. I was the hot young whippersnapper president of the youth wing of the Nova Scotia Liberal party. It was a time after the first fall of Pierre Trudeau and there was lots of talk of reinvigorating the party amongst all us young folks. We all believed the party had lost touch with its roots and we were determined to change it. I had become friends with a Western provincial youth president and I remember long hours talking to him about the kind of things we’d like to see changed.

Several years later, after I had left the party (let’s just say we disagreed on a few things) I ran into him on a street in Ottawa. We talked for about half an hour and in that time I realized that he become one of them. He gotten a job with a federal cabinet minister and was now just repeating all the same things that we used to be so opposed to.

I don’t blame him. It’s hard not to be sucked in. At some point your concern for the good of the country is replaced by your concern for the good of the party.

Hand-in-hand with this is the way the mainstream media treats elections. While the emphasis on the horse race isn’t quite as pronounced as it is in America, it’s still what sells newspapers. Or commercials on TV. And that is all the media really does care about.

Oh journalists may care about more, but their corporate masters don’t. And so the examination and reporting on substantive issues is assigned to obscure pages of a media website, and forgotten about in the rush of reporting of niqabs, how many people turned up for a rally, and the daily mistake.

And finally there is us. A real case of “I have seen the enemy…” The Canadian public is, by and large. like a big slobbering Labrador. We might get annoyed once or twice, and bark a bit, but most of the time you can calm us down by just rubbing our tummies.

We’re moving into a period of history where Canadians will be challenged on several very important fronts: how will we deal with immigration and multiculturalism in the 21st century, what about climate change climate change, are we ready for technology increasingly replacing people, what about our education system, can we afford our health care system, how about how we elect our politicians?

I’m not so sure were ready to deal with this regardless of who wins the election. Most likely we will just sit back, let the Blue Jays distract us, let them rub our tummies, and not do much of anything to repair our broken system … until it’s again time to throw those rascals out!

Copyright Tom Regan 2015

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Click here for more works in F&O’s Focus on Canadian politics



Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.








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.  Please visit our Subscribe page to chip in at least .27 for one story or $1 for a day site pass. Please tell others about us..


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A snapshot of the police beat this week in Toronto, Canada’s biggest city and its national centre of commerce:

The Day the Rob Ford Story Stopped Being Funny

 “If this guy isn’t in jail, why bother having police at all? Why not just round up poor people whenever powerful people get the urge? The least we can do, it seem to me, is let everyone currently serving a sentence for drug use out of prison. Otherwise, the whole system is pure hypocrisy. Rob Ford is a threat to the still scared idea of equality under the law.”

 – Esquire, popular American magazine aimed at men (We suspect the author means “sacred.” But “scared” works.)
Dancing crosswalk guard sidelined by police

“A Toronto crossing guard has been told to stop dancing while on the job out of concern that she could be distracting drivers. Kathleen Byers is known for dancing back and forth across Dufferin Street, south of Dundas Street West, to music from a boombox, which she wears slung over her shoulder.”

– Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, local station report.

Further reading:
Free Range: A Rob Ford Nation. My small comments about the larger political picture; what the choice of mayor by Toronto’s citizenry says about Canada.
Andrew Coyne column in The National Post: Rob Ford mess a monster born of divisive and condescending populism

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Canada’s Mayor

Self-styled “brown guy” Naheed Nenshi has reshaped politics in Canada’s conservative, white-bread energy capital.


October, 2013


Naheed Nenshi (City of Calgary official photo)

The mayor of Calgary, Alberta, was about to give a speech in Toronto when an aide drew him aside to tell of trouble brewing back home. Floodwaters were surging in the Rocky Mountains. Towns upstream of Calgary were already under water, and Calgary would be inundated within a matter of hours. “Get me on the next plane out of here,” said the mayor, Naheed Nenshi. “This is serious business.” He delivered his speech while his staff scrambled to get him on the four-hour flight back to Calgary. Seven hours later, Nenshi was on the ground in his city’s emergency management centre, answering media questions about a calamity that could define his entire mayoralty. Just as Hurricane Sandy drew widespread attention to the leadership skills of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, and 9/11 belonged to Rudy Giuliani, the Calgary Flood of 2013 could become the crisis that established Nenshi as Canada’s mayor.

Calgary, the Dallas of Canada with its cowboy hats and oil barons, is a booming city of 1.1 million in the western province of Alberta. Established in 1875 as a mounted police fort, it is located on a downstream floodplain at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers, 60 miles east of the Canadian Rockies. Spring freshets, triggered by heavy rains and rapid mountain snowmelts, occur regularly. Upstream dams and their adjacent reservoirs, though built primarily for hydroelectric generation, generally keep the swollen rivers in check. Overflow ponds provide additional protection for residents of nearby low-lying areas. In the case of the June 2013 flood, however, these control systems were stretched beyond limits. More than 100,000 Albertans were displaced. Calgary’s downtown core – the nerve centre of Canada’s oil industry – was left waterlogged and without electricity or phone service. Such widespread flood-related disruption had not been seen in the area since 1897, when Calgary had a population of just 4,000 and a similar deluge swept away dozens of homes and businesses.

Mayor Nenshi is a self-styled “brown guy” of South Asian ethnicity. His surprise victory in the October, 2010, Calgary mayoralty race put a new face on civic politics, in what has traditionally been one of Canada’s most conservative white-bread cities. The election had offered a choice between a veteran city councillor (now a provincial Conservative cabinet minister) and a popular local television news anchor. Either was expected to win. Instead, the mayor’s chair went to this roly-poly former business school professor who said, candidly, he was “within spitting distance of zero” in the polls when he first announced his candidacy.


Catastrophic floods hit Calgary after torrential rains and rapid snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains turned creeks and rivers into raging torrents, washed out highways, and destroyed houses upstream in Alberta communities like Canmore, above. © 2013 Evann Gentry

With his wide eyes, big toothy smile, nasal voice, untamed black curly hair, Clark Kent glasses, and rumpled black suit, Naheed (pronounced, Nah-HEAD) Nenshi looks and sounds for all the world like a winning contestant on the American television quiz show, Jeopardy! Now 41, he was born in Toronto, the son of Ismaili Muslim immigrants who came to Canada from Tanzania in 1971. He grew up in a working-class Calgary neighbourhood, and earned degrees in commerce and public policy from the University of Calgary and Harvard before pursuing a career as a business strategist. After professional stints in Toronto and New York, Nenshi returned to Calgary in 2001 at age 29, to teach business at a community college that has since become a university.

At the same time, he immersed himself in local municipal affairs, as a self-appointed city hall watchdog. He wrote a freelance column for a local daily newspaper in which he articulated his “better ideas” for the growing city. These included putting more money into public transit, and legalizing secondary suites in private homes to alleviate a shortage of affordable rental housing. The population was growing at the rate of five percent a year yet, as Nenshi saw it, the city was still functioning in many respects as it had in the 1970s.

His East Coast friends were surprised when Nenshi decided to move back to Calgary. “The New York people and the Harvard people were, like, ‘Naheed, why are you in the middle of the Canadian prairies?'” he told a Reuters correspondent. But Nenshi felt his friends didn’t realize how provincial their own world had become: “When I lived in Toronto and New York – big, big cities – how come I saw the same people all the time? This so-called borderless world had become more insular. The number of times I heard from people, ‘Oh, I ran into so and so on the flight from JFK to Dubai.’ I am very happy to let the Four Seasons (hotel) tribe do their work on global prosperity. I’ll do my work on local prosperity.”

Nenshi switched from watchdog to candidate in 2004 when he first ran for Calgary city council, as an alderman. He came in fourth. “It was a gong show,” he said afterwards. “There were 13 candidates running.” But, he told reporters, it was a terrific learning experience that taught him a lot about local politics. He vowed to try it again when the time seemed right. In the meantime, he returned to his role as self-appointed municipal watchdog. With a group of fellow city hall watchers, he formed the Better Calgary Campaign, a non-profit group dedicated to limiting suburban growth and promoting inner-city high-density living.

Incumbent Calgary mayors, unless they’ve been tainted by scandal, are generally a shoo-in for re-election once they’ve been in office for a term or more. As a result, more serious contenders for the mayor’s job tend to bide their time until the mayor of the day decides to step down. That’s what happened in 2010 when the incumbent mayor opted not to seek a fourth term. Nenshi decided to try for the top job rather than run for one of the 14 aldermanic seats on council. He still thought of himself as more of a policy wonk than “the guy in the front of the room.” But opportunity beckoned.

Nenshi’s rivals offered political experience or PR skills. Nenshi offered a dozen new ideas and “politics in full sentences.”


In their election platforms, Nenshi’s main rivals offered political experience (in the case of the former alderman) and public relations skills (in the case of the television anchor). Nenshi offered new ideas. Among them was a plan to cut city hall red tape to make Calgary a magnet for business investment. He rolled out the rest of his “better ideas,” one per week, over the course of his 12-week campaign. All told, they added up to more than the combined platforms of the other 14 mayoralty candidates.


Nenshi and the Chinook Country Line Dancers. © 2013 Neil Zeller (City of Calgary photo)

The local media made much of the fact Nenshi was a social media aficionado who used Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to build his support base. But tweeting doesn’t win elections. Smart ideas win elections. “People are really hungry for ideas,” a Calgary oilman told Toronto’s Globe and Mail. “Previously, they’ve been so apathetic because they’ve been treated like idiots, with just sound bites. So at least Naheed’s tried to make longer discussions. He didn’t dumb things down.”

Nenshi called it “politics in full sentences.” He joked to a CBC Radio announcer that it took him 45 seconds to pronounce his name. His aim was to conduct detailed discussions about complicated issues “and we’re not boiling it down to simple solutions and bullet points.” During the campaign, he talked about transit, accountability, and open government. He promised to curb urban sprawl by charging homebuilders more for building in the suburbs. He insisted that Calgarians wanted a conversation about their city, and would support him because he and his team didn’t condescend to people.

The victory of this man dubbed “Canada’s first big-city Muslim mayor” caused heads to turn across the country. “The election of Naheed Nenshi as mayor of Calgary is the most exciting political event of the year,” wrote a Globe and Mail columnist. No longer could Calgary be characterized, as it often was in Canada’s mainstream media, as “a town of rednecks and cowboy hats.” Nenshi represented an increasingly diverse population in a city that was now home to 230,000 visible-minority residents. An astonished Calgary Herald columnist wrote, “We just didn’t realize that Nenshi was the face in Calgary’s mirror.”

Nenshi acknowledged that his election might serve to give the city a new vision of itself. “Today, Calgary is a different place than it was yesterday. A better place.” He also acknowledged that he carried an added responsibility because of his heritage and religion. “I do a good job and it’s, like, brown guys are OK. Muslims can do a good job. I do a bad job and I take people down with me.”

Doing a good job proved challenging for Nenshi. The mayor holds only one of the 15 ballots cast by council members. Calgary, like many Canadian municipalities, has a “weak-mayor” system of government where the mayor wields no veto power and has to rely on at least half the aldermen for support. In major American cities, by contrast, the mayors carry considerable independence and clout, and have the ability to override council decisions.

Nenshi had mixed success with propositions he supported during his first two years in office. He did manage to persuade council to eliminate park-and-ride fees at transit stations, to authorize food trucks and downtown bicycle lanes, and to improve snow removal in residential areas. And, most important for Nenshi, he got council to approve construction of a $294-million airport runway tunnel that will eventually become a key transit corridor. But he couldn’t get his colleagues to support legalizing secondary suites, which left students in this four-university city with a limited range of housing options. Nor could he get them to cut the police budget, as council struggled to find ways of reducing debt without raising taxes.

Outside of council chambers, Nenshi shone as a public speaker. He is invariably well prepared, intelligent, witty, self-deprecating, and articulate. In a typical speech, to a group of public library employees, he quoted from a book by Alberta author Aritha van Herk, describing how the province is viewed by some outsiders: “Redneck, intolerant, racist, conservative, neo-Christian, suspicious of anything new, home of white supremacists, gun lovers, and not a few book-banning school boards.” Was there any truth to this characterization? Nenshi joked that he thought he had read “that exact paragraph in the newspapers, last week. In MANY papers last week – accompanied by a picture of me.”

“You have a duty to get the facts right,” Nenshi told reporters. “If you get the facts wrong, I’m going to call you on it. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”



Naheed Nenshi. © 2013 Neil Zeller (City of Calgary photo)

Reporters enjoyed sparring with him in media scrums after council meetings because, notwithstanding his preference for doing “politics in full sentences,” Nenshi proved to be a master of the sound bite. In one typical exchange, he accused a local tabloid of “making stuff up” in its reporting on inflation rates. He told the assembled reporters he was putting the newspaper on notice: “If you’re going to engage as a journalist, regardless of what medium, you have a duty to get the facts right. If you get the facts wrong, I’m going to call you on it. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen or find a new profession.”

Occasionally he found that shooting from the hip could land him in trouble. When a blogging city hall watcher accused Nenshi of being an “extreme lefty” for allowing Occupy Calgary protestors to squat in a city plaza without penalty, the mayor tweeted back, “I know I shouldn’t bother you when you’re off your meds, but I love how freedom of speech is now an extreme lefty issue.” Nenshi later apologized for his “off your meds” comment, but said he wasn’t about to sacrifice his Twitter “authenticity” for the sake of political correctness.

In September, 2012, as he neared the end of his second year in office, Nenshi enjoyed one of the highest public approval ratings (76 percent) of any mayor in Canada. He had been a popular guest on local and national television public affairs programs, and been interviewed by CNN and the BBC. But he had made enemies. He had annoyed members of the Alberta provincial government – which has jurisdiction over education, welfare, inter-city transportation and health care – by pushing for more autonomy and taxing authority for cities. (One provincial cabinet minister dismissed him as a “peacock.”) He had alienated Calgary homebuilders, who accused him of favouring inner-city condos at the expense of suburban development. (The homebuilders endeavoured to get more pro-suburban people on council by donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to a private foundation that trains political candidates to govern “in accordance with conservative values.” Nenshi responded by saying city politics was largely devoid of partisanship: “Is it a conservative or a liberal idea to plough residential roads?”) And Nenshi had alienated his fellow city councillors, saying they treated taxpayers like bank machines whenever they tried to add new spending to the city budget. (One alderman called him “petulant” and “disrespectful.”)

Notwithstanding his high public approval rating, it looked for a while as if Nenshi might be facing stiff competition in the October 2013 municipal election. The homebuilders and others in the business community were looking for candidates who would better represent their interests at city hall. Complaints were being voiced about the city’s growing debt load and annual tax hikes. Among those mentioned as a possibility for mayor was a popular radio talk-show host, well known for his right-wing views.

Then came the Flood of 2013.

Rainfall of biblical proportions struck southern Alberta


On Wednesday, June 19, rainfall of biblical proportions struck southern Alberta. New York City had experienced a similar downpour in the wake of tropical storm Andrea, but Calgary had not seen rain like this for more than eight decades. Over a 24-hour period, more rain fell than the city normally gets in a month. A dozen towns west and south of Calgary declared states of emergency. Mudslides closed the highways between Calgary and the Rockies. Mayor Nenshi cut short his speaking tour of Ontario and gave his first media briefing in Calgary while low-lying areas of the city were being evacuated. “The Bow River looks like an ocean at the moment,” he said. He got little sleep for the next 36 hours.

More than 75,000 Calgarians were forced to leave their homes. High River, a bedroom community of 13,000 immediately south of Calgary, was emptied in its entirety. With evacuations from other surrounding communities added in, the total reached 100,000. Miraculously, only four people died. Canadian soldiers were deployed to build temporary berms for controlling riverbank erosion. Calgary had installed a permanent $20 million berm in one vulnerable neighbourhood after a 2005 flood, and it protected dozens of homes from damage in the 2013 flood. Would additional berms have saved other neighbourhoods? Nenshi didn’t think so. “I strongly believe that this flood was of such force and magnitude, nothing would have helped.”


Nenshi thanking some of the Canadian Armed Forces members who helped Albertans hit by floods. © 2013 Neil Zeller (City of Calgary photo)

Nenshi was ever-present on television and radio and the Internet, providing updates on river water levels, road closures, and cleanup activities. Sometimes he was the compassionate neighbour, sympathizing with residents who lost their homes. Sometimes he was the chiding grown-up, warning thrill-seekers to stay off the rivers: “I have a large number of nouns that I can use to describe the people I saw in a canoe on the Bow River today. I’m not allowed to use any of them.” Within minutes, the hash tag “#Nenshinoun” was trending on Twitter.

Nenshi worked around the clock during the week after the flood, giving news conferences in the middle of the night to keep Calgarians informed. His Twitter followers, who increased from 89,000 to 120,000 over the course of a few days, urged him to take a nap. A Globe and Mail editorial characterized him as “such a superbly effective leader that he appears on his way to folk-hero status.” The talk-radio host who had briefly mused about challenging Nenshi in the fall municipal elections quickly changed his mind. The Calgary Herald predicted Nenshi would have little serious competition in the election. “Even political tire-kickers are wary of running against Nenshi.” The only credible challenger to file nomination papers was a former alderman who admitted he had little chance of winning. But he wanted to prevent Nenshi from “coasting into his second term via virtual coronation.” As it turned out, Nenshi’s re-election victory, October 21, 2013, indeed resembled a coronation. He captured 74 percent of the votes cast while his nearest challenger, the former alderman, captured less than 22 percent.

Environmentalists were quick to connect the June flooding to global climate variability. Wrote Andrew Nikiforuk, a Calgary journalist known for criticizing Canada’s federal government and the oil industry on the climate change file: “I only hope my city’s nightmare is the climate-change wake-up Alberta, and Canada, needs. Climate change is now eroding civilization as surely as it has changed my beloved city.”

Jason Kenney, an MP from Calgary and a minister in Canada’s Conservative federal government, denied that climate change played a role in the flood. “This is a once-in-a-century event, and there was no one talking about man-made climate change in 1897, when we saw the last flood of this nature.”

Nenshi considers the climate-change narrative too simplified, and says stopping a pipeline wouldn’t expiate “the sins of the carbon economy.”


Nenshi, despite being mayor of Canada’s energy capital, sidesteps getting embroiled in the climate-change debates. When the subject had come up earlier, in talks between Ottawa and Washington about the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline to transport oilsands bitumen from Alberta to refineries in Texas, Nenshi said the climate-change narrative was becoming too simplified. “You’re either for the environment or you’re for the pipeline,” he told a CBC Radio interviewer. “But the real world is significantly more complex.” Stopping the pipeline wouldn’t expiate what Nenshi called “the sins of the carbon economy.” The industry and the Canadian government would simply find other ways, such as rail transport, to get the bitumen to market, because oil exports are vital to the national economy. “And the odds of those other methods being more climate-damaging than this pipeline are very high,” said Nenshi. (As if to underscore his comment, a deadly derailment and explosion of 72 oil-filled railway tank cars killed 47 people and leveled 40 buildings in a small Quebec town on July 6.) So the real question to be resolved was, “how do we secure future economic prosperity for our country while mitigating the environmental aspects as best we can?”

Canada’s perennial dithering on the climate-change file was back in the headlines on June 25 when President Obama announced he would only approve the remaining portion of the $5.3 billion (U.S.) Keystone XL pipeline if it did not “significantly exacerbate” the problem of carbon pollution. Later, in a July 27 interview with The New York Times, Obama said it was possible that Canada could “potentially be doing more to mitigate carbon release.” Bitumen from the Alberta oilsands was already being labelled “dirty oil” by environmentalists in Europe as well as in the United States, so Canada clearly needed to do something more to rehabilitate the tarnished image of its most valuable export. Obama’s comments were followed by a letter from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, offering to work with the Americans on a joint plan to reduce carbon emissions.


Nenshi insists that his job is as Calgary’s mayor, and it’s up to other people to deal with provincial, national or international issues such as climate change. His supporters agree. © 2013 Neil Zeller (City of Calgary photo)

Nenshi insists that his job is as the mayor of Calgary; it’s other people’s jobs to deal with provincial, federal, and international issues. And as Nenshi sees it, it’s his priority to prepare Calgary for the next big flood. Scientists, the insurance industry, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others predict that extreme weather events are likely to occur more frequently, and Calgary is particularly vulnerable. “When you live on a floodplain, it’s not you MIGHT get flooded, it’s you WILL get flooded,” says hydrologist John Pomeroy. “The question is when. It’s guaranteed.”

Nenshi acknowledged that the berms, dams and other infrastructure that mitigate the impact of flooding are not a “hugely sexy thing,” because they are expensive to build and just sit there as protection against presumed future weather events that are hard to predict. But with insurance companies estimating Calgary’s total cleanup and repair bills from the 2013 flood at some $3 billion, he agreed it was time to start talking more about smart spending on flood prevention. “It’s long past time to have those conversations. And I’m very happy to think through the best ways of doing that.” On July 23, he appointed an advisory panel on flood mitigation to get the conversations started.

As for how governments should deal with the larger question of global temperature and climate variability increases, Nenshi pointed to one inescapable fact: “Whether or not you believe in human-generated climate change, the point is that the weather is different now. It’s very clear that we’re seeing these kinds of incidents more often. And as such, we have to continue to make sure that we build a city that continues to be resilient.”

Copyright © 2013 Brian Brennan


June floods from the Rocky Mountains led to four deaths, destroyed roads and displaced 100,000 people. © 2013 Evann Gentry


Related on F&O:

The Canada We Hope For. By Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, October, 2015

Crafting an ideal Canada—the Canada to which we aspire—lies in engaging muscularly with the past and the future. It means a thousand simple acts of service and a million tiny acts of heroism. It means acting at the community level: on our streets, in our neighbourhoods, and in our schools. It means refusing to accept the politics of fear. And then it means exporting the very best of Canada, that ideal and real Canada, to the rest of the world.


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