David O’Brien

  • The battle for Portage and Main

    The fine for illegally walking across Portage and Main after the barriers went up in 1979 was set at $12.25, but with the exception of a few protesters who hopped over the concrete dividers to mark their right to cross the famous intersection, the closure wasn't a huge controversy. There's no record of anyone being tagged for jaywalking.
  • Few vets 'survived' Hong Kong

    Margaret Owen says the Second World War killed both her parents, even though each survived it. Her father died in 1969 from a variety of ailments suffered as a prisoner of the Japanese following the 1941 Battle of Hong Kong. Her mother, "unwilling to be separated from him once again," died of a heart attack a few months later. Today, Owen, a former Winnipeg school teacher, struggles to understand the demons of the past and a father who never really came home. "He was never the same."
  • A sorry fact -- Katz finds it hard to apologize

    A timely apology or mea culpa is not a magic elixir, but it's worked wonders for some public figures, frequently restoring or even boosting their standing in the community. Former president Bill Clinton was a master.
  • Will stereotype perceptions of crack cocaine go to pot?

    Bill Clinton never inhaled; Jack Layton said he never exhaled. Pierre Trudeau is believed to have done it, and so did another prime minister, Kim Campbell. Jean Chr©tien said he'll spark one up when it's legal. "You bet I did. And I enjoyed it," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
  • The German question -- be it unresolved

    I wrote here four years ago that the German Question, which refers to the strategic issues related to Germany's relative strength and weakness during the last 1,000 years, had been resolved. A European Germany, as opposed to a German Europe, had put to rest the old anxieties, or so I thought. Judging by anti-German attitudes in Europe today, however, you'd think the year was 1913, and not 2013. The Hun is back, at least in terms of the virulent rhetoric that is sweeping Europe, from Ireland to Greece and beyond.
  • Why is Pope a Catholic?

    Marc Ouellet, the Canadian cardinal who reportedly was a contender in the recent papal election, has said the church's positions on women, contraception, homosexuality and abortion are "secondary" considerations for the Catholic Church as it moves forward under Pope Francis. The church's primary goal, he said, was to help people unite with God, to form "a relationship" with the Creator.
  • No good idea goes unpunished

    Someone said recently the American Declaration of Independence would never have been approved if it had been subject to the scrutiny of modern media. On the other hand, maybe the historic document would have outlawed slavery if the authors had been barraged by bloggers, mainstream columnists and online reaction.
  • Any idiot could tune TV back then

    Once upon a time, there was a television set. It had rabbit ears that were connected to a roof-top antenna, which captured some kind of invisible broadcast signal in the atmosphere. No one really understood how or why it worked, but the TV was easy to use. There were two channels, which were obtained by getting off the couch and literally turning on the idiot box, as it became known even then. A knob on the set was used to manually change channels. When no one was looking, some kids turned the knob as fast as they could back and forth between channels to see what would happen. They were amazed at how the picture changed instantly. How did it really work?
  • Looking for next 'Convict 79206'

    When Conrad Black was jailed for corporate crimes, I was saddened by the big man's fall. I wouldn't have felt that way about ordinary white-collar criminals, such as Bernie Madoff, although his crimes were extraordinary.
  • Germany has transcended its history

    When the words Germany or German are uttered, the mind is deluged with powerful and contradictory images. It doesn't matter if you are a student of German history or not, or even if your only impressions of the Deutsche are from TV and the movies. Bismarck, the Kaiser, Hitler and the Holocaust. The Nuremberg trials. The Wall and the police state of East Germany. But also Goethe, Hesse and Mann, Wagner, Mozart and Bach, Schweitzer, Kant and Hegel, Von Braun, Guttenberg and Einstein.
  • Didn't get the government we deserve

    We will never know how this campaign might have ended if Tory leader Hugh McFadyen hadn't decided to build a campaign on opportunism alone. It's possible he is a victim of really bad advice, but he is ultimately accountable for the advisers he picks and the advice he heeds. Some politicians might think the voter is stupid, but they should never underestimate the ability of ordinary people to spot a cynic. Mr. McFadyen tried to imitate the tactics of former premier Gary Doer with a smorgasbord of micro promises, but some tricks only work once. The Tory leader needed to present himself as a statesman, a premier in waiting, and at this he failed miserably.
  • Shedding of inconvenient principles

    When this election is over, the odds are that both the Tories and the NDP will each have received more than 40 per cent of the vote, with the Liberals and the Greens picking up the crumbs. Roughly 40 per cent of the people won't vote. Given these facts, assuming they are facts, will anyone be able to say that the election has defined the common good, which is the classical view of what democratic elections are all about? In fact, elections have never defined the common good, or the values we hold in common, yet the victorious always claim they have a mandate of, by and for the people to implement the common good. Even if a majority of voters moved to one party, it still wouldn't represent a vision of the common good, since it's unlikely that such a majority would truly agree on the common good.
  • Canada's dirty little secret too well-known

    Depending on who you talk to, Canada's dirty secret is the Alberta tarsands, the export of asbestos, our outdated laws on animal rights, the testing of Agent Orange on Canadian soldiers in the 1960s, inaction on the environment and even the problems caused by subprime mortgages, which everyone thinks was an American-only phenomenon. The cliché is obviously overused, but I remember first reading it in a New York Times reference book, circa 1970. The editors said Canada's dirty secret -- probably our original sin -- was the shameful treatment of its aboriginal population, which was described as living in Third World conditions on grubby little reserves far removed from polite society. Out of sight and out of mind.
  • Janey Mack! Can you believe that?

    The Queen is in Ireland and my grandmother is turning in her grave. The historic hatred between Catholics and Protestants, the Irish and the British, seems almost arcane today, but it was a source of very real grief in my grandmother's day. She was born Elizabeth Rogers, a Methodist, in 1901 near the village of Dunkineely in County Donegal, which is now the northernmost district of the Republic of Ireland. As the name Rogers would have suggested to some at the time, they were not real Irish, even though they had lived there for hundreds of years, but usurpers of Irish land and members of the oppressor class, planters, as they were called, from Scotland.
  • The Canadian Museum for Human Right's lightning rod

    Most mornings, Stuart Murray arrives at his office in the Federal Building on Main Street, looks out the window of his fourth floor office at the construction site of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and feels like the luckiest man in the world.  
  • Of lies, damned lies and polls

    There's a principle in science called the Observer Effect that says the phenomenon being observed is changed by the act of observation. If the same principle were applied to the science of polling, someone might reasonably ask if the canvassing of public opinion during elections is actually altering the outcomes.
  • What if we had sent troops into Rwanda?

    Just three weeks after a no-fly zone was imposed on Libya, the fear is growing that maybe it was a mistake to intervene in another country's internal problems. Once again, the critics say, western nations are at risk of becoming embroiled in an unending and unwinnable nasty little war.
  • Right to protect Libyans?

    It should be clear by now the United Nations and the world's major powers just do not have the stomach for difficult decisions, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise. The response to the Libyan crisis has been largely confined to hot air and lame excuses about the risks of intervention, or how difficult it is to establish no-fly zones.
  • Why lead when you can follow?

    I don't know if Manitoba Conservation Minister Bill Blaikie shops on Sunday, but if he does, it would be just another example of how people change with the times. For Blaikie, an ordained minister, it would be a very significant adjustment, indeed. When the Lord's Day Act was struck down in 1985, Blaikie, then a federal NDP MP, bitterly opposed any move to turn Sunday into just another shopping day.
  • Can councillors serve two masters?

    When a snap provincial election was called in 1988 following the NDP's defeat on a critical budget vote, eight city councillors, including then-mayor Bill Norrie, announced they were considering running for the legislature. There was so much interest among councillors, in fact, that Norrie said he was worried the 29-person council could theoretically be devastated, creating havoc in the business of civic government.
  • The problem with the future

    The world seems as if it's on a path of accelerated technological change, where new developments are limited only by the ability to imagine them. If that's true, however, why do we seem less imaginative and hopeful about the future than we were in the past?  
  • Soldiers and their sex lives

    You can get condoms, as many as you want, for free at military dispensaries in Kandahar Airfield, but using them is another matter. The Canadian Defence Department, along with most other military organizations in the theatre, has strict rules against fraternization and personal relations between (or within) the sexes.
  • Best mayor Winnipeg never had

    Most people in Winnipeg today probably couldn't name their deputy mayor, but for a brief period in the 1970s the deputy mayor was the most powerful elected official at city hall. For most of that period, the job was held by Bernie Wolfe, whom some would argue was the real mayor of Winnipeg, and not his rival, the charismatic and mercurial Steve Juba.
  • One hell of a Canadian story

    An architect in French Polynesia wants to build a mosque on an oil platform. A lawyer in Toronto wants to build a mosque every year for 30 years in Ontario. A city in Sweden wants a mosque for its 20,000 Muslims, most of whom are Iraqi refugees who have no place to worship. These and other stories about communities that want to build Islamic places of worship were inspired by the little mosque that was built in Winnipeg and is now wending its way to Inuvik on the Arctic Ocean.
  • Colonel should reload -- with facts

    When Veterans Ombudsman Pat Stogran took to the stage this week with bitter complaints about shabby treatment for injured Canadian soldiers, I assumed it was a story that would carry on for a few days, at least. It turned out to be a one-day flash-in-the pan because the story immediately morphed into a condemnation of the Harper government and the way it muzzles civil servants and gets rid of those it doesn't like.

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