Featured Post

Film review: Danton outgrosses Robespierre

Preface: As I've said, oldie writing will be dusted off and plunked blogside (at least at first; new stuff should gradually overtake i...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

So, how "utopian" is Gerard Kennedy anyway?

Just a "quick and dirty" note on Gerard Kennedy, since he survived the Liberal slump and wrested back a formerly Liberal Toronto seat from the NDP in the federal election.

Haven't seen Gerard in decades, but I met him a few times back in the early 80s when he was editorial cartoonist at the University of Alberta student newspaper the Gateway. We had other cartoonists, but there was no doubt in anybody's mind that Kennedy was our BEST, even if he was a bit Aislin-derivative (hey, borrow from the topmost). He drew under the pen-name of Pasken, which years later I finally grokked as being a combination of three letters from his name and three from his hometown of The Pas in Manitoba.

In 1983 a group of us newspaper clowns (NOT including Gerard) ran a "joke slate" in the Student Union election, under the rubric of the "Utopian Pragmatists" and in a masterstroke of publicity we decided to let Gerard draw our caricatures for the campaign poster. He did a fine job, and evry one of us six quasi-politicians saved ten or twenty of the posters as collector items. We knew he was going to amount to something.

A curious memory-fragment of the campaign survives in my Alzheimered brain: the bunch of us going to Gerard's apartment, clutching personal photos for him to operate upon. We had previously offered what we considered a sufficient bribe for the task, a case of beer (which he had accepted), but upon arriving at the Bel Air apartments -- then owned by Peter Pocklington, I think; all weasel journalists should therefore feel free to say that Kennedy "helped line" Peter Huckster-Puckster's pockets with money -- we discovered that Gerard had done some homework, thereby discerning we were funded (as all SU candidates were) by the Student Union, whereupon he matter-of-factly suggested some cash was also required.

We readily agreed to a top-up of $30 or $40 (if memory serves; hell, he was worth at least double) and then left, myself feeling a few twinges of guilt at Gerard's seriousness throughout. We WERE trying to raise issues in our goofy way (one plank in our platform stated that the SU should build a nuclear-missile dense-pack in Quad, so we could negotiate with the provincial government from a position of strength). But somehow Kennedy's steadily sober attitude triggered feelings of unease at our frivolity, at least in my mind.

Shortly after this (or perhaps shortly before, the sequence always eludes me) Gerard walked into the Gateway newsroom one day and approached each staffer to make a contribution to a charity-run (or something of the sort) for "the Hunger Project." Being a charity-doubter on all fronts, and seeing hunger itself as a hideous Hydra beyond solving by mere handouts, I was instantly doubtful about the whole thing. But I contributed a measly amount, mostly on the basis of Kennedy himself. Then I did a bit of research into the Hunger Project's particulars and, finding them somewhat dubious and cult-y wrote about them in my regular column.

Kennedy didn't take this lying down. He promptly wrote a rebuttal, which we also printed. His arguments didn't persuade me --there existed a clear liberal-conservative philosophical split between us, not to mention a differing assessment of the Hunger Project, but I was impressed by the coolness and humor of his reply. Polemic goads were my specialty, and many previous readers of them had responded by popping a cork, so Kennedy's unflappable response was noteworthy.

Moreover, it was shortly after we crossed swords that he founded the Edmonton Food Bank, Canada's first. All in all, I think the sophistication and realism of my ideas flew acrobatic rings around his (that's an unbiased assessment, isn't it?) but the Food Bank, alas, was his clincher. Whatever you might think of the Food Bank's accomplishments (I think they are severely limited) they still comprise some sort of ultimate argument. Doing something always trumps mere talk.

Since then I've followed Kennedy's career with interest, and I note that others who knew him from the early days do so too. I suspect they are impressed by the unflashy solidity of his character (it didn't surprise me at all that he "jumped on the grenade" for Stephane Dion at the leadership convention) and get carried along by his can-do attitude. I also note that most media coverage is favorable and that he seems to inspire fierce loyalty among the people he works with. See for instance:


Note however, that even the Star's columnist, while obviously charmed by Kennedy, still hedges that his presented ideas are "a bit woolly." A more negative judgement (from the Liberal leadership race? --man, gotta get these clippings in order) was a National Post editorial calling his ideas "utopian" (now THERE was an adjective to make my eyes pop!)

Well, maybe Kennedy is somewhat left-idealist, with his views on making the Liberal Party more democratic, and making government more helpful to us common folks and the downtrodden. But he doesn't seem either dreamy or doctrinaire, qualities that very often go in tandem. His father, I hear, was mayor of The Pas and, if I can believe a taxi passenger of mine, the operator of a bulk-fuel depot in town. Neither influence seems conducive to rose-colored glasses.

I suspect if he ever does get into a position of influence/power (a real possibility) his specific proposals for government action would be very criticizable, and I would be among those to howl at them. But that is secondary. Intellect and ideas are only one-tenth as important as "people skills" for a political leader (and I am screwball enough to think that Chretien was a far better Prime Minister than Trudeau for precisely that reason).

On that ground too I would venture that Kennedy has a promising future. All he needs (maybe) is a little more "tempering in the fire." The devilish details of policy can be left to his gang of wonks.

PS: And why is Kennedy suing the National Post?? Can any Facebooker provide the story?


I assume it isn't because the Post tarred him as a utopian...

PPS: Okay, I guess this is a start:


...but I assume that if the lawsuit still awaits a court date (does it?) everyone will be tight-lipped to avoid prejudicing the case...

No comments: