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More on Glen Murray; random notes

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The commentary continues to flow fast and furiously since former Winnipeg Mayor Glen Murray vaulted back into mainstream politics. As you might have read in my dead-tree column last week, Murray is the Liberal candidate in a provincial by-election in Ontario centre. He has been heralded by Premier Dalton McGuinty as a star candidate and there has been speculation Murray may have a direct line into cabinet should he win. It all sounds so eerily similar to the storyline that accompanied Murray’s 2004 bid to win a seat for the Liberals in the House of Commons. History will show he fell short on that bid, but in Toronto, it’s a much different battleground.

Toronto Centre encompasses many storied downtown neighbourhoods including Rosedale and Regent Park. It also encompasses the country’s largest gay village, which means an openly gay politician like Murray is of particular interest to that city’s gay and lesbian community. Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of buzz in the gay and lesbian media, particular in xtra.ca, a prominent print/on-line publication.

In the Dec. 4 edition of extra, Winnipegger Kaj Hasselriis weighs in on Murray’s then-prospective interest in the Toronto Centre seat. Liberal George Smitherman, the first openly gay Ontario MPP, resigned to seek the mayor’s office in Toronto. Smitherman’s mayoral candidacy ended Murray’s interest in running for mayor, meaning he could easily slide over as the Liberal candidate in the Toronto by-election. Hasselriis, a noted political activist in this city and a former candidate for mayor, wrote a column for xtra that is, to be understated, a love-hate analysis of Winnipeg’s former mayor.

Hasselriis does eventually cover the good, the bad and the ugly of Murray’s political persona. His dynamic vision, his ambitious social agenda, and his unbridled ambition that makes him somewhat unable to finish the big jobs he has undertaken:

"Take it from a Winnipegger: The man who wants to replace George Smitherman as MPP for Toronto-Centre, the riding that includes the country's biggest gay village, is a charismatic, commitment-phobic, power-hungry, eager-to-please crybaby who can't be trusted.
But he deserves every vote he gets."

Okay then. Winnipeggers will probably understand what Hasselriis is trying to say, but will the voters of Toronto Centre? Although this is considered a pretty safe Liberal seat, and Murray is (on paper) exactly the kind of candidate you’d want in that riding, this still stands as the seminal moment in Murray’s career. If he drops the ball, as he did in 2004 when he was outworked and outsmarted by the Tories in Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia, you can bet that this will be the last time anyone will attach the term "star candidate" to Murray.

The by-election goes February 4.

***

Is prorogation THE issue that breaks up the federal political logjam? Too early to tell, but there are some interesting developments.

The lightening-quick decision by the Liberals to launch attack ads focusing on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to prorogue parliament is pretty solid evidence the Grits think there is traction on the issue. The Liberals did not, in contrast, unleash a campaign focused on the Afghan detainee issue, even though poll results show that those Canadians who have heard of the issue are uneasy about the idea of the Canadian government turning prisoners over to Afghan officials knowing they would be tortured. Unfortunately, recent poll results show that only half of Canadians know anything about this issue.

So, what of prorogation?

The earliest poll results show that Canadians are not amused. In contrast to the Afghan detainee issue, the polls show Canadians ARE aware Harper suspended parliament and they do not agree with his decision. Ekos was one of the first pollsters off the mark, and the results of their latest survey show that indeed, 58 per cent of respondents either strongly or somewhat oppose Harper’s prorogation; 31 per cent strongly or somewhat agree with the tactic.

However, does any of this mean the issue will break the logjam that has seen both the Tories and Liberals hovering around their numbers from the 2008 election? The opposition will try to keep prorogation alive in January by returning to work late in the month to resume pre-budget hearings. This will keep the issue on the forefront of the public agenda. However, the Winter Olympics in Vancouver will wipe that agenda clean. And before anyone can moan too much about prorogation in the post-Olympic world, the Tories will be back with a Throne Speech and a budget.

The Tories have always been very, very good at assessing the political risk of issues. Harper clearly does not believe either the Afghan detainee issue, or the prorogation, are going to harm him all that much. And when you look at the way the calendar is shaping up, he’s probably right.

However, perhaps Harper should stop worrying about whether these issues will hurt him, and start worrying about whether they help him. And whether he can ever break through the 40-point barrier of support needed to win a majority with all these niggling issues hanging around his neck.

***

As an issue of democratic reform – a buzz term that most of the mainstream parties have used without conviction – perhaps we should make politicians who utter stupid or offensive comments apologize in person, rather through written statement.

If it’s worth apologizing for, it’s worthy standing in front of reporters to not only apologize, but answer questions about why you said what you said in the first place. Otherwise, a written statement comes across as insincere. It’s really an apology for having said something, not an apology for thinking it in the first place.

Personally, I would have loved to hear Gerald Keddy, a Tory MP, answer a couple of questions after he decided to apologize for recently calling unemployed Nova Scotians "no-good bastards" in an interview in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. "I would like to offer a sincere apology for remarks I made regarding the unemployed in Halifax," Keddy said in, you guessed it, a written statement.

Oh, the questions we could ask Keddy if he dared to step behind the microphone: Are you sorry you said it out loud? Are you sorry you said it to a journalist? Do you really believe what you said, or have you suffered some sort of epiphany that makes you understand that not all unemployed people are really no-good bastards?

Lamentably, there will be no questions and no answers. Which leaves it up to voters to deduce exactly what it is that Keddy really thinks about the unemployed.

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About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.

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