Cheri DiNovo and Bob Hunter (In Response to Warren Kinsella)

Update: 10.14 p.m.: DiNovo wins.

220 polls out of 220 reporting

Cheri DiNovo (NDP)



Sylvia Watson (Liberal)



David Hutcheon (PC)



Frank DeJong (Green)



Stan Grzywna (Family Coalition)



Jim McIntosh (Libertarian)



Silvio Ursomarzo (Freedom)



John C. Turmel (Independent)



Was the negative campaign a factor? That’s speculation for another day. But it is significant that the NDP, using a fresh, untested candidate, were able to snatch a riding from a former city councillor; a riding that the previous Liberal MP, Gerard Kennedy, took with over 50% of the vote.

Over the long term, this changes nothing. I doubt the wider public will remember this by-election in thirteen months, so you shouldn’t expect the Parkdale-High Park campaign to have an influence in, say, Hamilton or Kitchener or Ottawa in October 2007… so long as the Liberals look carefully at what happened here and assess what went wrong and what went right. I’ll have more on this at a later date.

I was thinking about writing this before Warren Kinsella left me his comment. His post has encouraged me to accelerate things a bit. I think it’s been a while since I posted more than one blog post a day.

As I said in my previous post, before this week, I had no idea that there was a by-election in Parkdale-High Park, and I didn’t particularly care whether the Liberals won or lost. I gained an interest in this election because I saw what I considered (and still consider) a smear materialize before my eyes, and I felt that I had to speak out.

This week has been a considerable and unexpected learning experience for me, both in terms of how dirty politics can get, but in the depth of feeling that can exist between particular Liberal and NDP supporters, and also in the history of previous by-elections.

One issue that has materialized since the DiNovo accusations occurred is the suggestion that these accusations are payback for similar accusations made against Liberal candidate Bob Hunter (former Greenpeace founder) by former NDP MP Marilyn Churley. Consider this comment from Jason Cherniak’s blog:

At 4:46 PM, Allah said…

If this is a smear job, it certainly doesn’t set a new low.

That low was set by the NDP themselves when they stooped to attack the artistic freedom of one said Liberal candidate in a 2001 by-election. Bob Hunter was a great man - but he had to endure attacks calling him a pedophile simply because one of the characters in his fictional book had sex with underage prostitutes.

It’s sweet justice to see the NDP candidate now get attacked for questionable comments she herself made.

I’ve already said that this sort of defense is hardly a defense. Either a smear campaign is wrong or it isn’t (and it’s wrong). Since I’ve demonstrated why the comments made in DiNovo’s sermons are innocuous (note that, so far, nobody has rebutted people’s explanations for why DiNovo’s comments do not amount to an endorsement of pedophilia), then the statement that these attacks against DiNovo are justified by slurs and slandars made in the opposite direction is a defense for the use of a tactic that you know is morally wrong.

But, still, I had to think about this. There is no doubt that the campaign against Cheri DiNovo marks the first time that I’ve expressed my outrage so strongly against the Liberals — for a by-election no less! And if something similar happened before, then why was I silent?

The incident against Bob Hunter took place in a by-election for the riding of Beaches-East York, a long time NDP stronghold challenged by the Liberals who had drafted the founder of Greenpeace to their cause. Hunter was a star candidate, and the Liberal’s best chance to take a riding that had been in the NDP’s hands since at least the mid 1970s.

Things got dirty when former NDP MPP Marilyn Churley picked up Bob Hunter’s book, On the Sky, originally published in the late 1980s and now out of print. Quotes this site:

A plain brown envelope containing excerpts from a book written by Bob Hunter in the late 80s was distributed to the press. The book, On the Sky, a fictional work, parodied Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. On the Sky is a story of two 40-something men seeking the meaning to their lives. In the book, a scene with two teen-age Bangkok prostitutes is described. Although she denies distributing the mysterious brown package, the remarkably well-informed NDP MPP Marilyn Churley and supposed friend of Bob Hunter, immediately took up the cause with a frightening vengeance laced with a viciousness and denounced Hunter’s moral character and fitness for office. Based on nothing more than a work of fiction, Churley’s vitriolic remarks left no doubt in the mind of any reasonable person that Hunter was a pedophile, a charge that has sent innocent people to jail.

I have to say that I hadn’t heard of this at all. I knew that Bob Hunter had run for the Liberals in a by-election in an NDP stronghold. I was vaguely aware that the campaign was heated and dirty, but I had no idea that the late Bob Hunter had been accused of pedophilia. I had no idea he had written a work of fiction.

But then I looked up when that famous by-election took place, and was surprised to learn that the date was September 20, 2001.

Where was I on September 20, 2001? Not blogging, that’s for sure. Indeed, at that time, I hadn’t even heard of blogs. I hadn’t heard of Warren Kinsella. I certainly wasn’t active in reading the political blogosphere. I only knew Bob Hunter from his news items on City TV. I was busy moving into my new house, and working at the University of Waterloo. I wasn’t paying much attention to the media, beyond following the fall-out from the September 11 attacks.

So, if I failed to follow a dirty political campaign in a particular riding that I was not residing in, this might be an explanation. Moreover, I have serious doubts whether the NDP blogs that I tend to read these days, Idealistic Pragmatist and Sinister Thoughts, would engage in this sort of activity, which makes it even less likely that I could see the smear in action, and get as upset as I am now.

Make no mistake, the facts strongly suggest that Bob Hunter was slandered during the Beaches-East York campaign. He has a defense as solid as DiNovo’s; whereas DiNovo is talking about Christ’s edict to love your enemies and not that unrepentant pedophiles need to be kept free to sin, the attacks against Hunter is based on a work of fiction that parodied another work of fiction, which talks about a real and tragic situation (teenage prostitution in Bangkok). And to damn the campaign against Hunter further, if the accusations against him had any merit, why did they only come out during a political campaign? Do you have any idea how many schools Bob Hunter visited during his long and distinguished career? It would have been irresponsible to hold back such evidence during those visits, and raising them only when he was a political threat casts serious doubt on the accusations’ authenticity.

But that’s still largely irrelevant to the Parkdale-High Park campaign, here. If this is “payback”, then it’s only marginally applicable if Sylvia Watson is running against Marilyn Churley. She’s not. DiNovo is engaged in her first political campaign and is thus untainted from Churley’s slanders against Bob Hunter.

And even if this were not the case, the fact remains that the best that I as a voter can say about these tactics around the Watson campaign is: “congratulations! You have the political ethics of Marilyn Churley!”

“Why should I vote for you guys again?”

If September 20, 2001 was today, and I was seeing this situation in reverse on NDP blogs that I frequented, I think my reaction would be the same. If I discovered that the accusations made against Hunter were based on a work of fiction, I would point that out. “You do realize that what Hunter wrote is a piece of fiction and not autobiographical?” I’d say. I’d then sit back and wait for a retraction. If no retraction came, I’d raise my voice. Rinse, repeat, louder.

Seeing what happened in Beaches-East York does lower my opinion of Howard Hampton, but I’ve never really thought much of his tenure as NDP leader. DiNovo, however, is a clean canvas, and the attacks on her, as I explained in detail, are, at best, wild overreactions to innocuous statements that any citizen should be free to make.

Finally, the saddest thing of all is that the best argument one can make against critics of these attacks against DiNovo is: well Tory did it first. Well, Hampton’s one to talk. Basically you’re saying: why attack us? This is just how the game is played.

I seem to recall a time when politics was meant to express society’s aspirations, rather than pander to our baser instincts.

McGuinty won the 2003 election because he rose above the dirty politics. He addressed Ontarians and spoke to them of the glories of what was possible, and not the slime of what was. I hate dirty politics in all its forms. This campaign may just be the latest in a long line of examples, but it still disgusts me. The fact that I’m only now able to express this to an audience doesn’t change that fact. Politicians and campaign workers which engage in these lows do a disservice to the voters. They do a disservice to society.

And the only way to change that is to finally say “Stop!”

And Now, To Respond Specifically…

Warren Kinsella writes:

The only reason I am responding is I like you.

I appreciate that. I like you too. I like what you’ve done on exposing the network of hate groups in Canada. I like the love you show for your family, and your intelligence. And I like Jason as well for his energy and enthusiasm. If you look around through the blogosphere, I have defended Jason against some personal and vicious attacks because, as I said, turnabout is not fair play.

I’ve seen the people behind the politics, and I realize that they are as much people as I am. And whatever my political opinions, it is my hope that individuals who disagree with me will look beyond my opinions and see me, and see the interests that I have beyond politics, and respect me for who I am as a whole, and not just what I believe in, within a few limited subjects.

1) As a Tory,

A number of Blogging Tories will be surprised to hear me called a Tory. I have called myself a Red Tory in the past, but I’m no longer certain whether the label is applicable. I’ve voted Liberal, Progressive Conservative, NDP and Green. As I said, I am not a member of any political party, and I’ve never been involved in a campaign. I’m just a voter, with my own opinions (naive though they may be) on how politicians of all stripes should behave.

will you now - right out in the open - condemn John Tory for mocking Jean Chretien’s facial paralysis?

Absolutely. It was dumb, unfair, cynical, and all sort of other things I could say if I had a thesaurus handy. And it also had a big part to play in costing the Progressive Conservatives the 1993 election. He paid for his mistake. Are you saying that Sylvia Watson should pay for her campaign’s as well?

I also note that your problems with Tory’s advertisement did little to discourage you from assisting John Tory’s campaign for the mayor of the City of Toronto. You and I both respect John Tory, not only personally, but as a politician (at least, in terms of the fresh ideas he brought to the mayoralty race. Toronto would have been well served with him as mayor).

Moreover, it wasn’t Tory making the complaint that you complained about, but PC candidate David Hutcheon, who engaged in no such tactics, as far as I can see, and who suffered from a smear campaign against him during the 1997 municipal elections. As I said before, you don’t have to be ideologically pure in order to say that something is wrong.

2) As someone urging people to vote NDP, will you now agree that Howard Hampton must apologize to the Hunter family for the filth he and his fellow New Democrats spewed about Bob Hunter?

See above. An apology would be most refreshing.

3) As someone who writes sometimes about religion, will you tell Catholics like me why we shouldn’t find her statements about the Pope - ie. that he was indifferent about genocide, and arguably caused same - offensive or even hateful?

The thing is, she didn’t actually say that he personally was indifferent about genocide. She merely pointed out the Catholic church’s inability to stop the obstensibly Catholic Rwandan regime. Okay, nobody was able to do the same, so she may be wrong in singling out the Catholic Church’s hierarchy so. But the Papacy’s opposition to birth control is controversial, even among Catholics, including my Catholic wife, and my Catholic best friend. As I intend to say in the near future, the Catholic policy on birth control does not make sense theologically, and saying so does not make me anti-Catholic.

You yourself disagree with the Catholic Church on same-sex marriage. Is it not our right to say so, and to discuss the implications of their standpoint?

James, you write critically about politicians - and quote their dumb statements - on your web site evry single day. Every day.

This is a nitpick on my part, but that’s a bit of an exaggeration you’re making, surely. I only typically write a post a day, if that. This past month so far, I’ve written twelve posts, including this one. Of these, only five discuss Canadian politics. One other dealt with the Papacy’s condemnation of the Harry Potter book series. Last month, I posted twenty-four times, including six posts on my travelogue about Yonge Street, three posts (I think) about the Middle East crisis, two book reviews, and two posts on whether or not Pluto was a planet.

I do talk about politics more than your average Canadian (which is saying a heck of a lot), but that’s because I want something better out of society, and politics is the only means I know of trying to get it. I like to believe that I’m politically non-partisan, even though I’m very political. I’ve criticized Jack Layton for his stance on Afghanistan, and I’ve criticized Harper for removing key accountability provisions and appearing to enable the distribution of regional pork. But I’ve also said good things about politicians as well, when they had good ideas.

Why do you get to do so, but not others, James? Is it because you - like the Tories - have concluded that your party can’t win, and you’d rather the seat go to the NDP, even if it means looking the other way about this woman’s crazy public record?

The thing is, I’m not actually stopping anybody from saying those things about Cheri DiNovo. I object to any suggestion that Jason Cherniak’s activities should get him fired from being co-chair of Stephane Dion’s blog campaign. Turnabout is not fair play. But I do believe that what has been said about DiNovo is seriously inaccurate, and I believe that it has the appearance of a political attack. And I believe such tactics to be wrong.

You have a right to an opinion on whether or not DiNovo should win Parkdale-High Park. That’s not in question. But I have a right to an opinion on the reasons you give and post publicly about on your blog. That’s democracy. And I won’t give that up.

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