William Neville

  • Robertson punctured pretension

    Among the things rightly claimed of a liberal education is that it enlarges one's capacity to think critically and to challenge conventional assumptions. Heather Robertson, who died last week on her 72nd birthday, embodied both capacities, though she needed little such encouragement. She had -- beyond doubt -- an independent mind long before she earned degrees at the University of Manitoba and at Columbia University, which she attended on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. At the University of Manitoba, she served as editor of The Manitoban, making it the liveliest, most controversial student newspaper in the country. Editorially, she broke a long-standing convention and endorsed a party in the mock-parliament elections. Uproar ensued. She questioned the prevailing orthodoxy on the need for a football team. More uproar, and denunciations by sportscasters in the daily media. As the then-president of the student union, I was urged to initiate discipline or dismissal. I did neither -- not because we were friends, but because her opinions easily passed the test of fair public comment.
  • From Dief the Chief to Trudeau II

    The time comes to us all when we come to understand today's events in the wider context of the times through which we ourselves have lived. On the verge of the Liberal leadership decision, I find myself reflecting on an earlier chain of events which, for me, mark the trail to present ones. In December 1956, I was a delegate to the PC leadership convention in Ottawa which chose John Diefenbaker leader of the Progressive Conservative party. My family had recently moved to Edmonton, and by some alchemy I was chosen as an alternate delegate for the riding of Edmonton East. In those days, the PCs in Alberta were so thin on the ground, with so little money in the bank, that there was no expectation that lowly alternate delegates would actually make it to Ottawa.
  • Bill Norrie -- worthy and honourable

    In St. Paul's Cathedral, on the tomb of the great architect Sir Christopher Wren, are inscribed these words: "Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you." The words were appropriate: It was Wren who had recreated St Paul's and rebuilt much of east London following the Great Fire of 1666.
  • A disconcertion of Duff

    Brisk, assertive, commanding, he revived boldness, decisiveness and trenchant criticism... He restored to public affairs a sense that issues mattered, a sense long dulled by the former government's belief that the whole of government was administration. -- W. L. Morton, Manitoba: A History
  • Canadian legend lives on

    Sing lustily and with good courage.

    Beware of singing as if you were half dead,

  • Harper really is dangerous

    It has become increasingly clear that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to prorogue Parliament in December was a serious miscalculation. The public, perhaps not normally attuned to such things, has clearly understood that Harper's decision smells: It smells of the all-consuming political calculations that are a 24-hour-a-day preoccupation with Harper; it smells of an attempt to shut Parliament down at a time when opposition MPs are asking embarrassing but legitimate questions of the government on several fronts; and it smells of a contempt for Parliament and public accountability that, ironically, helped bring the old Reform party into existence -- the same Reform party, need it be added, that first brought Harper to Ottawa.

    Harper has offered a series of justifications for closing down Parliament.

  • Harold Macdonald was the quintessential happy warrior

    HAROLD Macdonald, who died on Dec. 14, will be remembered by many Winnipeggers as an Anglican clergyman and by others as a city councillor during the 1980s. In both roles, he was interesting, engaging and colourful.

    Born in Edmonton, he was educated on Vancouver Island and at the University of Toronto and Yale University. Ordained as an Anglican priest, his first parish was in Edmonton, but he ultimately found himself in Toronto where, with major responsibilities for theological education, he travelled widely across Canada and the U.S. In the late 1960s he became rector of St. Luke's Parish in Winnipeg and, later, Anglican chaplain at the University of Manitoba.

  • Roblin-Doer parallels are many, and significant

    When Gary Doer was re-elected to a third majority government in 2007, it was only the second time in the modern era that such a result had been achieved: the earlier example was provided by Duff Roblin and the Progressive Conservatives who, in 1959, had won a minority government followed by three successive majorities. On election night 2007, commentators speculated on the possibility that Doer might eventually surpass Roblin's record by making it four in a row -- and, as the NDP continued to enjoy significant leads in most polls, that possibility remained right up to this week.

    However, Doer has chosen to leave while still in office and still on top; coincidentally, the last premier to do that was, again, Duff Roblin. Early on, both came to believe that 10 years was enough time in the job and certainly long enough to achieve whatever they were capable of. In both cases, it is true, there was an external inducement: for Doer, the prospect of becoming Canadian ambassador to Washington; for Roblin, the possibility -- ultimately unrealized -- of becoming national leader of his party and prime minister of Canada.

  • Heritage razed for art?

    One quite positive development in Canada over the last 40 years has been our growing awareness of our significant built heritage. This has been reflected in our greater willingness to consider, pursue and confer heritage designations on sites and buildings right across the country.

    In Canada, the assessment and designation of heritage buildings reflects the distribution of political authority across the country. At the national and provincial levels, such decisions are made by the ministers of heritage acting on the recommendations of, respectively, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and, here, the Manitoba Heritage Council.

  • A new legislative reality

    So, Canadians will not go to the polls this summer. There can't be many, inside Parliament or out, who will be unhappy with that. Given the polls, the Conservatives faced an election with the prospect of not enough votes and the Liberals with the prospect of not enough money. Happily, neither was required to admit that their polls or their finances were problematic. Fortunately for both, polls showing 78 per cent of Canadians opposed to a summer election, provided an opportunity to seem sensitive to public opinion.

    That, however, would have been insufficient -- or at least insufficiently plausible -- to still the drums of electoral warfare. Both needed a substantive basis upon which to call a truce, however temporary. To that end they agreed on a bi-partisan panel to examine Conservative claims and Liberal concerns as to the adequacy of our existing unemployment insurance coverage which, in this deep recession, has become more and more urgent for more and more Canadians.

  • From pathos to bathos

    If tragedy describes gifted and complex characters destroyed by a fatal flaw, Brian Mulroney may have at least some of the makings of a tragic hero.

    I was one of many long-time supporters of the old Progressive Conservative party who, repelled by sins of omission and commission and by Mulroney's persona, gradually withdrew from the party during the last years of his premiership.

  • Taken by surprise

    Hardly a day seems to have gone by in the last two weeks, without some new story -- or the recapitulation of an old one -- about Susan Boyle. She, for those not following such things, is the 47-year-old Scottish woman who soared over the first hurdle in an initial round of the TV show Britain's Got Talent. The show is a UK variant of American Idol, with the British TV personality Simon Cowell as producer and chief inquisitor in both cases.

    Though there are, apparently, several variations of these shows now being aired, they share a substantially common format in which virtually unknown performers -- singers, musicians, dancers and others -- have opportunities to strut their stuff by competing before live, prime-time audiences in search of a rags-to-riches break-through into the world of big-time entertainment.

  • Ignatieff leaves a sulking Jack Layton at the altar

    Over the last five months, Canadians have been subjected to an unnecessary election which largely replicated the results of the previous one; a political crisis precipitated by a prime minister who, even in a gathering economic storm, could not forgo the opportunity to play politics; and a prorogation of Parliament that placed many urgent issues in limbo, including the legitimacy of the government itself. Those Canadians, irrespective of party, who weren't in some measure disgusted with all this, were paying insufficient attention.

    Canada finds itself now, in a time of urgency, if not emergency -- with the waters poisoned or muddied and distrust between our politicians honed to razor sharpness. It is in these circumstances that Harper's government brought down its budget. It prompts several observations.

  • Inaugural speech lacked catchphrase but that’s a good thing

    NATIONS, no less than individ­uals, live by selected fictions. Both, in some measure, choose to see themselves in very particular ways, whatever the objective evidence may be. This phenomenon is more pro­nounced among children but is probably never completely outgrown even among adults.

  • Remembering those to whom we owe thanks

    Last month, I entered my 20th year as a freelance writer on these pages. Back in 1989, having retired from municipal politics, I was invited, by then editor John Dafoe to write bi-weekly on city hall.

    This, unquestionably, was a classic case of poacher turned gamekeeper. Some former colleagues on council came to feel the columns showed a distinct lack of sympathy for the problems and conflicts to which civic politicians (and all others, for that matter) are heir. You were once in our shoes and are now ignoring the challenges we face, was an observation made more than once.

  • Useful discourse hard if one must defer to lunatic fringe

    It was noted in this space last week that Canadians have been considerably more enthusiastic about the election of Barack Obama than that of our own Stephen Harper. The observation, perhaps not surprisingly, brought angry and indignant responses from several Canadian conservatives who see Obama as something between the devil incarnate and the end of Western civilization as we have known it. If it is the latter, history will surely record that it was that conservative soothsayer, George W Bush, who got the ball rolling.

    Obama's overriding sin -- if it is not that he is black -- is that he is a liberal and, as we know from the late election, some would have that he is a socialist and a few that he is a communist. It is difficult, however, to sustain any useful discourse if one is constantly to defer to the lunatic fringe even if, as in this case, it included the Republican vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin.

  • Comparing Washington and Ottawa is illuminating

    Polls conducted before the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 4 indicated that over 60 per cent of Canadians -- and even larger majorities in most other countries polled -- would have voted for Barack Obama if they'd had the opportunity.

    It's a safe bet that most Canadians have been further impressed by the calibre of the Obama administration being assembled over the last month: It has included significant bipartisan and non-partisan elements, while being more broadly representative in terms of gender and ethnicity than any previous administration.

  • Harper finally gets his comeuppance

    A few weeks ago, with the electoral wars over, Prime Minister Stephen Harper indicated a willingness to abandon the confrontational approach that had been the hallmark of his first stint as prime minister. This seemed to be an acknowledgment of something quite basic: Since recourse to another early election was not an option, this Parliament needed to work, not least because of the impending financial crisis. Regrettably, Harper's conciliatory tone proved an aberration at best and, at worst and most likely, a sham and a crass political ploy. Neither in this nor any future Parliament is the opposition ever likely to trust him again.

    Like Richard Nixon, Harper seems obsessed not merely with defeating his opponents, but with destroying them. The fact that he could not restrain himself, even in a minority position, bespeaks a kind of sickness better explained by pathology than politics. It is poetic justice that after Harper's repeatedly goading, taunting and humiliating his opponents, they finally sucked up their guts and kicked him in the privates.

  • A gift of friendship

    The death of Paul Scofield last week ends the life and career of one of the true giants of the English theatre. His passing, even at the age of 86, will be mourned by those familiar with his professional achievements -- ones marked by countless outstanding performances and numerous forms of recognition, including an Oscar, two BAFTAs (Oscar's British equivalent), an Emmy and a Tony, among others. But there was something else as well: as Richard Eyre, former artistic directors of Britain's National Theatre, has commented, "It is hard not to be Polyanna-ish about Paul because he is such a manifestly good man, so humane and decent, and curiously void of ego. All the pride he has is channelled through the thing that he does brilliantly."

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