Tag Archives: Globe and Mail

One columnist’s excellent adventure


I always knew I left the employ of the Globe and Mail too soon. Now, I have real evidence that my failure to become a national columnist of weight, gravitas and fulsome wordiness has robbed me of the opportunity to obtain contact highs in the rocky mountains of Colorado.

There, we find the Globe’s Margaret Wente, provocateur-cum-commentator extraordinaire, hanging with some producers of perfectly legal pot, (“In the Weeds”, May 16, 2015).

God, what an assignment!

Give a Russian sailor a bottle of vodka, a credit card and tell him that downtown Halifax in the springtime is his for the plundering, and. . .well, that’s just about the only circumstance that beats what dear, old MW recently encountered in Denver, which is, by the way, “magical at dawn.”

I’ll bet it is, but do go own Ms. Wente: “Along the western horizon, the snow-capped mountains are bathed in pink from the glow of the rising sun. The sky is turning purest blue. The air is crisp and clear, and you can see forever. What a great place to get stoned.”

She goes on (and on, and on, and on. . .hey, is that my hand in front of my face, or just another snow-capped mountain?): “In Colorado, recreational marijuana was legalized on Jan. 1, 2014. Denver now has more pot stores than it has Starbucks. Anyone over the age of 21 can walk into a store and choose from hundreds of varieties of flowers, nibbles, marijuana-infused drinks, oils, ointments and pain patches, as well as a growing array of wax and other supercharged hard-core products. There’s even a sex lube for women, which promises to deliver the most mind-blowing experience of your life.”

Okay. . .too much information even for the stoners in our midst. Still, I get her point. She’s having fun “researching” this business. More power to her.

Except, of course, until recently, Ms. Wente belonged to a strident cohort of Canadian commentators who adamantly refused to accept the logic propounded by sociologists, psychologists, several important lawmakers (both former and current) and almost every cop who ever ran a beat.

For years, they have insisted that decriminalizing marijuana, regulating it as a controlled substance, would save millions of dollars in tax-funded law-enforcement costs and just about as many kids from underserved, breathtakingly damaging incarceration courtesy of the state.

Here’s what The Times of Israel said just the other day: “Signalling a possible shift in attitude towards the recreational use of marijuana, police chief Yohanan Danino called for the government to reassess its current policies in light of growing calls from lawmakers and the public against prohibition of the drug.”

Reported the Times: “Speaking to high school students in Beit Shemesh, Danino told them they will be ‘surprised to hear’ current police policy on cannabis. ‘More and more citizens are demanding marijuana use be permitted,’ he said. ‘I think it’s time for the police, along with the state, to reevaluate its traditional position.’”

So do I. And so, now, does Ms. Wente. Sort of.

“I inhale. . .gingerly,” she writes. “After two or three draws, my cough subsides and I feel relaxed and happy. My entire body seems lighter. The effect is like three or four glasses of chardonnay, but without the heavy, woozy feel. It’s nothing like the stoned sensation I remember, when all I wanted to do was curl up into a fetal position and eat jelly doughnuts.”

Then, she heads home to Toronto, presumably to the waiting arms of her husband who, without a bag of pot at the ready, kisses her on the cheek.

Now, that’s a contact high.

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A lost cause worth fighting


It was a fine and noble attempt to protect their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, even a Cri de Coeur. But as almost all heartfelt outcries fail to achieve the objectives of their champions, so, too, is this one doomed to fall on deaf ears in the nation’s increasingly belligerent capital.

According a report in the Globe and Mail, “public-service unions are asking the federal government for the first time to enshrine scientific integrity language into their collective agreements. The language is intended to ensure that researchers employed by the federal government can speak openly about their work, publish results without fear of censorship and collaborate with peers.”

Federal scientists – those on the payroll of the public service of Canada – have long admonished their bureaucratic bosses and political masters for what they see, not unreasonably, as a coordinated program to muzzle them in the media. For years, they have decried the current government’s determination to vet their public comments through communications officers (even, on occasion, the Prime Minister’s Office).

Indeed, their confederates in the world’s scientific community, dutifully shocked and appalled at the treatment Canadian researchers have received in the bland, dusty halls of Ottawa officialdom, have come to man the ramparts on their behalf and in the interest of scientific enquiry everywhere.

And the issue has, in recent times, caught fire in some of the stalwarts of the international press.

“Over the last few years, the government of has made it harder and harder for publicly financed scientists to communicate with the public and with other scientists,” former New York Times editorial board member Verlyn Klinkenborg opined in 2013. “There was trouble of this kind here (the United States) in the George W. Bush years, when scientists were asked to toe the party line on climate policy and endangered species. But nothing came close to what is being done in Canada.”

Mr. Klinkenborg further observed: “It is also designed to make sure that nothing gets in the way of the northern resource rush – the feverish effort to mine the earth and the ocean with little regard for environmental consequences. The policy seems designed to make sure that the tar sands project proceeds quietly. . .To all the other kinds of pollution the tar sands will yield, we must now add another: the degradation of vital streams of research and information.”

Yes, we might.

Still, despite Mr. Klinkenbord’s principled objection to official Canadian government policy – and, in fact, this new, bold effort by this nation’s public-service unions to “enshrine” the rights of scientists in their collective agreements – nothing meaningful is likely to happen; certainly, nothing significant in an election year.

That’s because, though most adult Canadians who are polled about such matters express a “sincere” desire for freedom of expression, especially among the educated, informed and well-intentioned, when push comes to shove, they still prefer the strong arm of this cabinet’s patriarchal approach to governance. They still believe that imminent peril lurks behind every street corner and that, in the end, loose lips sink ships.

Consider, as evidence, the latest public opinion surveys, which show the current Conservative government enjoying a fairly healthy lead over both the national NDP and Liberal parties. The reason: people in this country tend to fall into the gravity well of an incumbent who has not totally screwed up the economy or abandoned the largely apocryphal, though resonant, storyboard of threats to domestic security.

We may yet hope that freedom of speech, even for government employees, is a Cri de Coeur that will be heard.

More likely, though, it will remain a heartbreak nursed only in silence.

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When getting answers from Ottawa, the cost is worth the price


Go ahead, ask a question of one of Canada’s esteemed government members. I dare you.

We unelected peasants are, of course, accustomed to obfuscation masquerading as straight talk from those who we periodically install to purportedly defend our democracy.

But it may surprise you to learn that one Conservative backbencher has actually obtained a price tag for every query his fellow parliamentarians — Tory or not — toss at cabinet members in the simple prosecution of their duties.

It’s $117,188 and change.

That’s not for answers to trivial inquires, such as “Will the minister please explain why the socks he is wearing today do not match?” or “Why does this government insist on telling Canadians that sartorial standards require that all attendees to baseball games wear straw boaters, when clearly brimmed caps are the norm?”

No, it’s the cost associated with replying to weightier interrogatives related to such matters as “the percentage of Employment Canada benefits applications that are rejected and how many people have to wait longer than 28 days for a response; which government department is responsible for monitoring the transportation of fissile radioactive material inside our borders; how much money Ottawa has spent developing software since 2011 and what the software actually does; and the amount the government spent on travel expenses while negotiating the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union.”

The quote comes from a Globe and Mail editorial published last Thursday. It refers to actual questions on the Order Paper, which provides mostly opposition MPs with a constitutionally valuable means to ascertain just how much horse pucky a reigning government manages to sling during any given parliamentary session.

Now, Tory MP Mike Wallace wonders whether the cost to Canadian taxpayers is worth the effort to remain accountable to Canadian citizens, if only in this one, time-honoured way.

To be clear, he asked a question, placed on the Order Paper (presumably costing $177,188) that, reportedly, went like this: “Are we sure we’re getting value for the dollar?” In an interview with the Globe, he elaborated: “I think it’s just important that it’s on the record. I think government and Parliament could run more efficiently and effectively in a lot of areas and this is just one little, tiny example of where. . .are we sure we’re getting value for the dollar?”

To ask whether it’s prudent to ask questions of government members, knowing that the question itself will add to the putative $1.2-million, annual bill you’re railing against in the first place, is the apex of right-wing disrespect for, and cynicism about, 145 years of wise, parliamentary procedure.

You might have simply emailed my old colleague Sean Fine, justice reporter at the Globe, with your thoughts. No harm, no foul.

As for you now, though, for shame, Mr. Wallace, for shame!

Still, know that you are not the only one of your ilk who owes an apology to the Canadian electorate.

There is the little matter of your overlord’s constantly fractious relationship with this country’s judiciary, in which he has impugned the reputation of its head, for no apparent reason except spite; slammed its obligations to patiently review the exigencies of government’s legislative branch in the context of constitutional justice; and all but repealed an enlightened policy of his own design because a few big mouths in his circle chose to speak out against him.

Again, the Globe reports: “Last year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that selection panels of MPs from the major political parties would assess candidates being considered for the Supreme Court of Canada, in consultation with leading judges and lawyers, though the actual appointment would remain a Crown prerogative.”

Now, we learn, alongside Mr. Wallace’s concerns about sharing information too freely among the hoi polloi, that this noble exercise in accountability is “being reviewed” for the simple reason that it produced too much accountability, too much truth about Ottawa’s wheelhouses of power and influence, too much public information made too readily to the very people who install these bozos to defend our democracy — we, the peasants.

Dare we ask questions? We’re damed if we don’t.

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When our knowledge is unequal to our opinion



Whenever a columnist, book reviewer or any other species of gum-flapper, who’s paid to pontificate windily about the world’s state of affairs, writes something like, “I don’t know much about this subject, but that’s never stopped me before,” I usually take that as a helpful invitation to stop reading.

Occasionally, though, curiosity gets the better of me. 

So it was the other morning when I stumbled across a line in Margaret Wente’s latest attempt to speak for the common man from her lofty perch, at the Globe and Mail,  as one of Canada’s best-known columnists.

In her diatribe against “liberal policy elites” who are snapping up copies of French economist Thomas Piketty’s new book about the growing divide between those who have and those who have not in western societies, Mrs. Wente declared, “I’m not qualified to analyze Mr. Piketty’s work (Capital in the Twenty-First Century), which even critics have described as ‘brilliant’. My question is why now?”

Her answer was transparently deflective: “The progressive elites have been completely captured by the declinist narrative. . .There’s just one problem with this. Although highly educated social progressives are alarmed by the scenario, hardly anybody else is.”

She then “proves” her point by quoting surveys that show that regular folk – you know, “real” people – couldn’t give a toss about so-called income inequality. In fact, what Joe and Jane Public care most about is government incompetence and waste.

Now, there’s a straw man if ever one came tumbling out of the opinion pages of Canada’s national newspaper. 

Ms. Wente may not like “policy elites”. She may have reasons to distrust them. But that doesn’t mean they’re wrong about the deleterious socio-economic effects of the ever-widening gulf between the rich and rest. 

Equally, the apparent sanguinity of the general public doesn’t automatically denote that the average man and woman on the street is right. In fact, it doesn’t even go to the root of the problem.

Has it occurred to Ms. Wente that one reason why middle earners are more ticked off with governments than rich people is that they recognize how tax policies,  which were supposed to protect the common interest, have effectively accelerated the concentration of wealth among the one per cent?   

Besides, asking someone directly whether he’s worried about income and wealth inequities is like asking a farmer whether he’s concerned about crop failure. Sure, in a general sort of way. But it’s not real until it happens, up close and personal. And in this regard, data trumps anecdote every time. 

Earlier this year, a formerly confidential government report (made public through an Access to Information request by Canadian Press) declared that “the Canadian dream is a myth more than a reality.”

In fact, its findings pointed to “a middle class that isn’t growing in the marketplace, is increasingly indebted though it has a relatively modest standard of living, and is less likely to move to higher income (i.e., the middle class is no springboard to higher incomes).”

Other findings included:

“Over 1993-2007, there has been a slight hollowing out of the middle class, and the face of the middle class has changed considerably. Couples without young children and unattached individuals now account for most middle-class families.”

Meanwhile, “although middle-income families experienced a good progression in after-tax income, the same cannot be said of their earnings. In particular, the wages of middle-income workers have stagnate. . .Although the middle class holds a relatively fair share of the ‘wealth pie’, higher-income families have far greater nest eggs. Furthermore, wealth is not equally divided among middle-income families, with those headed by younger individuals being at a disadvantage.”

Compared with other western nations, Canada actually fares pretty well. But for how long? 

The economics of rampant income inequality is not an issue of pocketbook envy. Disparities in the currency that makes everyone’s world go round generate disparities in every avenue of life, from education to health care and, eventually, to the consumer sectors that sustain all goods and service-producing industries.

Although I am one of those gum-flappers who gets paid to pontificate windily, this time you can trust me.

I actually do know a little something about these things.


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Early learning programs play critical role



A debate now rages over what constitutes a proper grade-school education in Canada. Should it be, for example, a straight, by-the-numbers approach (literally) to teaching math? Or should it be a more flexible, creative, play-based model of problem solving?

It matters, because, until just recently, Canadian children have lagged their counterparts in other developed countries on international tests of basic numeracy and literacy skills. Increasingly, the best jobs in the world are going to European kids, whose educational systems have given them a leg up in the competitive, knowledge-reliant global economy.

So, it should come as no surprise that a recent study on the efficacy of full-day kindergarten in Ontario – introduced four gears ago – is generating ample heat in the pages of the nation’s self-appointed arbiter of social values.

Last week, the Globe and Mail’s education reporter, Caroline Alphonso, bylined a story claiming that a new analysis from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto “is raising questions about the value of full-day kindergarten, showing children attending the program in Ontario are no better in reading, writing and number knowledge at the end if Grade 1 than their half-day peers.”

The piece quoted study leader Janette Pelletier, a professor at OISE, thusly: “I would say the challenge is to improve play-based programs that contribute to lasting change in things like writing and number knowledge. And we want to make sure that learning in Grades 1 and 2 builds on engaging learning in full-day kindergarten.” 

Within a day of the article’s publication, the Globe’s letters page bristled with commentary, both for and against FDK, starting with Professor Pelletier, herself. “Your report on my preliminary research,” she wrote, “did not put enough emphasis on the significant benefits of full-day kindergarten. I stressed that the findings of the study show the strong vocabulary and self-regulation benefits of full-day kindergarten. These are the cornerstones for life-long benefits of early childhood programs, including better education and mental health.”

Moreover, she scolded, “cherry-picking to create a negative impression regarding positive research results is not helpful to the public discourse about something as important as early childhood education.”  

Such are the perils, perhaps, of reporting from the front lines of the great and eternal conflict over human perfectibility. How do we measure achievement, and which achievements are more relevant than others at various stages in a kid’s academic career? What’s more, whose opinions should we heed? 

Doretta Wilson of the Society for Quality Education in Toronto thinks that would be her. In a letter she wrote wrote to the Globe, she insisted that “the best way to ensure that children are prepared to learn is to implement explicit, direct instruction of primary reading and mathematics in Grades 1 to 3.”

But is this actually verifiable? Is the best way to make kids active learners to keep them out of early childhood education programs and away from school until the last, possible minute and only then commence drilling math and language concepts into their supple minds. 

All of which, of course, misses the larger point about play-oriented (yet, also structured) early childhood education: Its true value, as Professor Pelletier and other experts in the field attest, is in its capacity to nurture and encourage certain qualities of character and habits of mind and expression that are foundation stones to later learning.

In her letter to the Globe on March 31, Kerry McCuaig, fellow in early childhood policy at the Atkinson Centre of the University of Toronto, wrote, “all the full-day children (in the OISE study) were significantly ahead of their half-day counterparts in self-regulation, which includes impulse control and the ability to focus on tasks. Research is showing that self-regulation may be far more important than IQ in determining the grades children achieve in school, attendance, time spent on homework, how aggressive they are, and even how vulnerable they are to risky behaviour as teens.” 

In fact, the body of evidence suggests that early childhood learning before and right through full-day kindergarten is not the expensive frill its detractors claim; rather, it is an essential aspect of a student’s entire academic career, and a fundamental predictor of human health and social stability. 

The only debate that now makes sense having is how best to implement these programs universally and publicly across Canada. 


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Big Brother wants a blood test

The truth has gone to ground

The truth has gone to ground

The only aspect of Canadian Justice Minister Peter MacKay’s flirtation with the notion of sampling and storing the DNA of suspects to serious crimes is its undue caution. Why stop there, with the merely apprehended? Why not cast that genetic dragnet across the entire country, capturing the guilty and innocent, alike?

Somehow, you suspect, that’s an itch he’s just dying to scratch.

“I know there’s always privacy considerations,” he tells the Globe and Mail this week, though he says they are in the background. “It has to balanced in the bigger picture. But I think that, you know, the timing of the taking of DNA is something that could very well emerge in the future as another issue of importance.”

It’s a crying shame, he seems to be saying, that “right now we’re limited to taking it (DNA) on conviction. It could be expanded to take on arrest, like a fingerprint. . .I maintain that, you know, a genetic fingerprint is no different and could be used in my view as an investigative tool.”

Oh really, Mr. Minister?

Here’s what my fingerprints, on file with the RCMP, can tell the cops: My name and address. With this information, they can find me without too much trouble in the time it takes me to plunder my bank account en route to the car dealership.

On the other hand, according to a source in the Guardian not long ago, here’s what my DNA can tell them: The colour of my hair and eyes, my gender, whether or not I am an insomniac, how long I’m likely to live, whether or not I have a propensity towards obesity, the degree to which I am at risk of developing certain types of cancer, Huntington’s Chorea and Parkinson’s disease.

If I am an unwilling guest at one of Canada’s finer penal institutions, then I should properly expect to lose any right to privacy I might have imagined for myself. But if I have not been convicted of any crime – only arrested on suspicion of having committed an offence – what gives the state the prerogative to profile me in such exquisite detail and keep a record of this information until the sun goes nova?

As William Trudell of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence told the Globe, “It’s really sort of cataloguing the innocent. Until someone is found guilty, the presumption of innocence really has to mean something.”

In fact, Mr. MacKay is coming somewhat late to Big Brother’s most recent soiree. This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of law enforcement officials in 28 states to collect DNA from suspects who have not yet been charged of serious crimes. An item in thinkprogress.org states that “the 5-4 ruling overrules a state court determination that Maryland’s DNA collection law permits unconstitutionally invasive searches. . .Justice Antonin Scalia warns in a dissent joined by three of the court’s more liberal justices that the court’s reasoning would apply equally to someone accused of any crime or violation at all: ‘Make no mistake about it. As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.’”

The implications have alarmed more than one American jurist. In a commentary, published by the Chicago Tribune last month, former Las Vegas district court judge Jackie Glass observed, “The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures and requires warrants to be issued based on probable cause. This Maryland v. King decision will allow for warrantless searches to occur based on failed logic. Justice Kennedy and his majority owed American citizens a better justification. Using DNA for standard identification is unnecessary and makes no sense.”

Still, on one level, it makes perfect sense.

In the absence of true leadership, in the presence of failed social policy, politicians are always on the prowl for the enemy within. Now, with a handy DNA test, indiscriminately administered, they can prove that the enemy is us – guilty by association with the code written into our genes.

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Climate science’s vaporous certainties

Ooops! Are my windmills suddenly blowing hot air?

Ooops! Are my windmills suddenly blowing hot air?


Mother Nature abhors a pigeon hole. Just when we think we’ve labelled and tagged her and put her to bed for the night, she flies the coop, leaving us with the uneasy feeling that when it comes to the vagaries of creation we don’t actually know as much as we thought we did.

That proposition must be dawning in the minds of several scientists these days as they prepare to receive the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) fifth report on global warming. Conventional wisdom would expect the document to confirm the inexorable, upward rise of global temperature as a result, in large part, to manmade sources of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Conventional wisdom would be wrong.

Instead, according to information leaked to the world’s media, the report will likely observe that the planet’s average surface temperature has held pretty much steadily since the turn of the century and that increases in the near-to-medium-term will probably not be as dramatic as was once predicted back in 2007, when Al Gore and co. snagged a Nobel Peace Prize for playing the environment’s Cassandra.

It is, to say the least, an inconvenient truth. Or, as IPCC member Shang-Ping Xie, a California-based oceanographer, told the Los Angeles Times last week, “It’s contentious. The stakes have been raised by various people, especially the skeptics.”

So, what went wrong? The broad consensus is: Nobody knows.

Some criticize the IPCC for its bloody-minded swagger over the past several years. Judith Curry, a Georgia Institute of Technology climatologist – who was herself a panel assessor – told the LA Times, “All other things being equal, adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere will have a warming effect on the planet. However, all things are never equal, and what we are seeing is natural climate variability dominating over human impact.”

Others insist that anthropogenic warming is still extant. It’s just on vacation. Meanwhile, researchers, including Xie, are floating a theory that the Pacific Ocean – the world’s largest body of water – has been sucking the heat out of the atmosphere and storing it presumably until such time as it belches it back out.

Evidence for this phenomenon apparently shows up in average sea levels, which are continuing to rise. Quoting one climate scientist, the LA Times writes that this proves  “that greenhouse gases are continuing to heat the planet. . .(because). . .as ocean water warms, it expands and drives sea levels higher.”

Still, if we can’t reliably predict how the climate will behave, we have no such difficulty anticipating the opprobrium among the world’s chattering skeptics. A virtual tidal wave of “I-told-you-so” now threatens to drown what remains of the science.

“Too many people have too much invested in perpetuating this fiction,” Cal Thomas of the Tribune Content Agency writes, without actually commenting on the latest IPCC report. “Billions of dollars and other currencies have been diverted into ‘green’ projects in a Chicken Little attempt to stop the sky from falling. The BBC reports it as fact in virtually every story it does on the environment. Ditto the American media. Most media ignore evidence that counters climate change proponents.

“Former Vice President Al Gore has made a personal fortune promoting the cult of global warming, a cult being partially defined as a belief system that ignores proof contrary to its beliefs. Perhaps the climate change counter-revolutionaries should adopt the yo-yo as their symbol and send Gore and his apostles a box of them.”

The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente comments more circumspectly: “When it comes to the intricacies of climate change, the science is notoriously unsettled. the only consensus that exists is the well-established fact that human activity is contributing to global warming. Beyond that, it’s all hypothesis and speculation.”

What’s more, there’s now less certainty in research circles about the deleterious effects of climate change. Some experts (though, not many) are beginning to suggest that slightly milder temperatures might actually benefit societies, especially those north of the equator.

Again, though, who’s to say?

About the only certain comfort the world’s climatologists can take from all of this is that the renewed uncertainty about the weather is not born of inexpert opinion.

They, the scientists themselves, observe nature’s fickle response to the incontrovertible facts they thought they knew.

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Driven by their distractions

The political process as we know it in Canada

The political process as we know it in Canada

Political commentators are, as a rule, enormously fond of the sound of their own voices, especially when handed the opportunity to contextualize a galloping controversy. I should know. I can’t count the number of times I’ve used the word “distraction” to describe some office holder’s goof-up.

But, I’m beginning to think we who observe-cum-scribble for a living are coming perilously close to spraining our backs for all the bending over we do in our attempt to perceive the bigger pictures in public life.

Yesterday, my esteemed colleague Jeffrey Simpson, the Globe and Mail’s national affairs columnist, deployed the word, “distraction” twice in one paragraph. “For a government already adrift at midterm, the Nigel Wright-Mike Duffy affair, coupled with the resignation from caucus of another Conservative senator, Pamela Wallin, represents an unwelcome distraction,” he wrote. “It’s doubtful that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s speech to his caucus on Tuesday – in which he declared himself ‘very upset‘ – will quickly end the distraction.”

In this, he may only have parroted Mr. Duffy, himself, who had characterized his contretemps as a “significant distraction” to his Tory caucus colleagues, before resigning to sit as an Independent.

Still, I’m left wondering: From what, exactly, is all this stuff a distraction? A good government? A sound economy? A functioning Senate? A ribbon-cutting ceremony somewhere near Nowhereville, New Brunswick?

Why can’t we see Senategate for what it is? To wit: A damn good news story that cuts to the heart of democracy in Canada, demanding all the remorseless attention to detail for which the Cosa Nostra of our craft is famous.

I might pose the same question to members of Hog Town’s Ford Nation whenever they cluck disapprovingly at the Toronto Star’s coverage of their man, Mayor Rob, whose talent for landing himself in hot water is downright promethean.

How the burgermeister of Canada’s biggest city manages to survive his days and nights at the cutting edge of contention is one of the great mysteries of the modern age. But survive he does, despite headlines that would reduce most in his position to a quivering pool of gelatin.

“Five days after two media outlets published reports on a video that appears to show him smoking crack cocaine, Mayor Rob Ford again offered no explanation on Tuesday,” thestar.com reported this week. “He did not say whether he has smoked crack while in office. He did not say whether he used an anti-gay slur. Despite an expression of concern from the premier and renewed pleas from council allies, he did not say anything at all.”

Meanwhile, American late-night TV was having a ball at hizzoner’s expense. “Both Jimmy Kimmel and The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart discussed the controversy at the tops of their shows,” thestar.com observed. “Jay Leno also mentioned Ford on Monday’s Tonight Show, joking that if the allegations are true, he’d still be qualified to be the mayor of Washington, D.C.”

In her commentary, Star columnist Heather Mallick noted, “There have been 42 low points in Ford’s mayoralty. . .from sexist and racist slurs, to drunken arguments in public, to a chaotic home life, to repeated court hearings on alleged financial wrongdoing, to, oh dozens more, a relentless sordid drip. I’m worried that unless he resigns, he’s going to punch a baby in the face or run himself over. I’m waiting for spontaneous Ford combustion, right there on the sidewalk.”

None of this, it’s safe to say, is a “distraction” from the business of running a major metropolitan area. In fact, in a palpable sense, it is the business of running a major metropolitan area. At least, it is lately.

The comportment of one’s mayor – or Senator – speaks volumes about the condition of one’s public institutions. It also points a fat finger at the electorate who, either directly or indirectly, play a role in selecting those for high public office.

By suggesting otherwise, well. . .the only thing from which we distract ourselves is the truth of our frequently flawed systems of government.

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