Friday, 18 February 2005
By Joseph Planta
VANCOUVER - I was just thinking, looking at the guest list for The Commentary's interview segment, On the Line, that last week's guests sure looked awfully 1980s. I talked to a Byfield, a Mulroney, and a former Mulroney era cabinet minister.
In this part of the country, the name Byfield is practically a byword for the Reform movement that emanated from Alberta and took off across Western Canada in the 1980s through the 1990s. Link Byfield was on last week to talk about his public policy effort, the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy. The son of Ted Byfield, both father and son duo was instrumental in giving voice to Western discontent through their publications, the Alberta Report amongst others. Besides heading up the advocacy group, Byfield is a commentator on political affairs, and recently ran in Alberta's Senate elections, hoping to get the attention of Paul Martin and other Canadians to democratise our upper house. In talking to Byfield, I was struck at how important it is that Canadians outside Alberta recognise the necessity of Senate reform. One naturally has their misgivings with the Senate as currently constituted, as well as for some of the proposed remedies. Nonetheless, it is awfully moribund and ineffective. Despite the stereotyping and jokes, there is some talent in the Senate that could be put to better use. Committee work could be more effective if anyone would notice.
The reason why I booked Byfield was to have him on to discuss his organisation's campaign for a referendum on same-sex marriage. Lest anyone think he's just another Albertan right-winger against same-sex marriage, Byfield's just proposing a referendum on the subject, allowing citizens to decide. According to Byfield there are just as many against gay marriage, as there are who are for, who are willing to put this all up for a referendum. It's a potent argument that he makes, and before I distort it or anything like that, perhaps you should listen to it and hear his explanation. As well, visit their site. Byfield's efforts provide an interesting question to ponder, why Canadians are afraid of democracy, and why not let the people decide. Sure there are ramifications to that, as Justice Minister Irwin Cotler will enumerate, but perhaps furthering democracy could do some good in fixing the ails of our system.
Ben Mulroney was an interesting guest. He was on to discuss the Canadian Idol auditions that made their way to Vancouver last week. What struck me was his passion for his job. Obviously, it's a bit of a dream job, and he likes what he does. Moreover, CTV seems to like what he does for them. One realises that it's often very easy for people to sniff at entertainment news, but face it we all care about J. Lo and Paris Hilton-though we're loath to admit it-so why not get our fix from a Canadian outlet.
For me, Canadian Idol was delightful viewing last summer. Being a bit of a fan, we had booked someone from the program to do an interview with me last season. Disappointingly, the guest didn't materialise at the appointed hour, and enquires after weren't answered. Believe me, I'm not bitter about being stood up-and I only mention it to recognise that this year, Idol and CTV were quite accommodating. This year, the publicist called a day or two before to confirm the booking, and arranged for as much time as I needed. Mulroney, in fact, called early, and couldn't have been more generous with his time. If you haven't dabbled in interviewing and/or booking guests, it's not as easy as it looks. Very often guests have more important things to do than hang on the phone for 20 minutes. So, when it goes well, it's a bonus really. Mulroney was also well mannered, and I think that was apparent when I asked him about living in the public eye. Though it had its apparent bonuses, being the progeny of a public person must be difficult. I sense that it must be tiring to have to be referred to constantly as the son of a former prime minister. Though it evokes some pride, I'm sure it's a bit tedious when it's obvious he's already made a name for himself, not to mention a living on his own. Whatever one thinks of Brian and Mila Mulroney, one ought to admit that they did well raising their children.
Speaking of the elder Mulroney, it was indeed fun revisiting the era with former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, Sinclair Stevens. When Mr. Stevens resigned from the Mulroney cabinet in 1986, I was but four years old. Nonetheless, in gaining some interest in Canadian politics as I got older, one got their own perception of the Tory government and its members. Certainly, the literature reflecting the Mulroney years has generally been unkind to Mulroney. Stevens bears a bit of the brunt, as whenever a summation of the public perception of the Mulroney era is drawn, Stevens is often cited as an example, likely of excessive ethical lapses, perceived or otherwise. In books by people like Stevie Cameron, Stevens comes across as some sort of crook or cheat. As I said in our interview, accusations linger and denials evaporate. Stevens has been a victim of that adage having lived with that cloud for nearly 20 years now. At the time, his mug was plastered across the media at every turn. This past December when he was in fact vindicated, it was widely unreported.
In fact, I'm remembering an interview I did in November with Sheila Copps. It's a widely held view that Copps cut her political teeth hammering the Mulroney cabinet, especially Stevens which she did with particular gusto. Political legend has it that she jumped over a table to accost a fleeing Stevens when he was appearing before a Commons committee. In her book, which she publicised on The Commentary in November, she writes about how the media distorted what had happened. She hadn't leapt over a table; in fact, it was only a chair she climbed over. And in fact, she says she was "choked" by one of Stevens's henchmen. But it's funny, isn't it? Stevens considers the attention of the media excessive in 1986, while Copps, who was made famous by her role in the Stevens ouster, claims the media also distorted her role. Such is the mix of politics and people.
The names looked awfully reminiscent of the 1980s, sure, but I think in general it reflects the eclectic nature of THECOMMENTARY.CA's interview segment and the guests that I bring on from time to time. As well, the goal has always been to provide a forum for civilised conversation, where guests can come on, answer my questions and talk about whatever it is they wish to talk about in an arena where they wouldn't get shouted down. I'm not Chris Matthews or Bill O'Reilly. It's a humble effort-with lots to be humble for I'm sure. But for me, it's fun to look back. It's fun, nothing more.
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