The last few days, I’ve been researching and thinking about what I thought would be my next post. It was to be a heart-rending story about the Charter of Rights and the CBC. Two things that go to the heart of Canada’s social, political and cultural identity. Two things I dearly love. My current Prime Minister does not share my love. We’re so different, Stevie and I.
We have lived in “my” Canada for many many years; I suppose it’s only fair that Stevie have Canada the way he likes it, for once.
Anyway, I had overcome the usual barriers to my getting down to writing – all of them either emotional or related to the domestic arts – and I was sitting right here, ready to give it a try.
No, that’s not an idea popping into my head. That’s a representation of the sound my computer makes when I get an email. This email changed my plans..
It was from John Williamson. I don’t know John personally. He’s the Member of Parliament for New Brunswick Southwest. He’s a Tory, as so many of them are these days. You maybe can’t place the name, but most Canadians are familiar with his performance in The House of Commons upon the passage by the Senate of the legislation abolishing the long gun registry:
“Free at last. Free at last. Law abiding Canadians are finally free at last”.
“Oh yeah. That Guy,”
Imagine being known across Canada as “Oh yeah. That guy.” From relative obscurity, John burst into our consciousness and, almost instantly, ascended to the status of famous twit for his impression of Martin Luther King delivering the last lines of his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech. Of course, John modified the speech a bit so that it would refer, not to the end of slavery and the hope of an end to segregation and racial hatred, but to the scuttling of the long gun registry.
Yes, the worst thing about slavery and racial segregation was, like the long gun registry, all those pesky forms to fill out.
If ever anyone in this world needed a “do over”, it was the Honourable Member for New Brunswick Southwest.
Where were his friends, his colleagues? Why was there no one to take him aside and say “John. Buddy. Are you sure you want to do this? Remember, when we speak in the House, we’re on TV and we’re just one click from The YouTube. And the press, John. They’re likely to pick this up. You know they hate us. Think about it.” ?
If he were my friend and he tried out this “free at last” bit on me, I’d rip his notes out of his hands, scream, “Are you out of your fucking mind?” and lock him in a locker in the Members’ gym until the House had adjourned for the day. John had no friends that day. Worse. In the House, his colleagues encouraged him, clapping and cheering – like passers-by on the sidewalk yelling “Jump!” at the guy standing ten storeys up on a window ledge. With friends like this, who needs Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition?
Ironically, John’s performance fell on the week of the 44th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, giving the Globe and Mail an opportunity to note – in a news item, not an editorial – that James Earl Ray killed Dr. King with a long gun. Wow. That’s some bad press, John. No way you could have seen that coming.
So, John has become that irredeemable dweeb who will henceforth be known primarily as “Oh yeah. That guy.”
Those of you who read this blog religiously will recall that I posted something entitled “Free at Last” on November 7, 2011. You may wish to go back and read that now …
Done? Good. Let’s continue.
That post, as you know, was about the legislated death of the Canadian Wheat Board – another item on the Tories’ “Freedom” agenda. I quoted Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in an attempt to savagely mock the ridiculous rhetoric the Tories kicked around when they talked about the CWB – all that nonsense about farmers being “shackled”, references to the CWB as an Orwellian “Big Brother”, and how wheat and barley farmers would finally be liberated by the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act. The Tory talking points were so over the top, it was difficult to mock them. They were self-mocking. But, Gerry Ritz deserved derision, and I thought, what better way to make fun of him and the other Tory Freedom Riders than to pretend that orderly grain marketing was exactly the sort of thing that Dr. King had in mind when he invoked “the words from the old Negro spiritual…”?
I thought it was a way of demonstrating the absurdity of their “Great Liberators” pretensions. Devastating irony.
I guess not.
Of course, John’s inappropriate invocation of MLK is mild compared to what came from the mouth of Larry Miller – the MP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound. Also a Tory – like so, so very many of them. Who? Larry Miller? He’s the guy who said – also in the House of Commons – that the gun registry was an example of the sort of thing that “Adolf Hitler tried to do in the 1930s”.
Oh yeah. That Guy.
That’s right, Larry, start registering long guns and the next thing you know, we’re invading Poland.
Imagine being this stupid. So stupid as to not appreciate that references to Hitler and Nazism, slavery and Jim Crow are not only out-of-place in a debate about the long gun registry, they are offensive – especially to people who have suffered real oppression, been victimized by real evil.
Still, it’s good to know, if Gerry Ritz and Vic Toews are both unavailable, the Tories have a couple of guys who can step up and deliver the message in that distinctly Tory way. To use a sports metaphor: the governing party is “deep” at the twit position.
So, I was sitting in my kitchen, reading about this controversy in my Saturday Globe and Mail and thinking bad things about John and his cell-mates. I got on my iPad and looked up this guy, this John Williamson. He’s not a dumb guy – he has a Master’s degree from the London School of Economics. He was a founding editorial board member of the Nation Post, National Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Association and, just prior to being elected in 2011, was Prime Minister Harper’s Director of Communications. Stunning that a guy with that impressive resume could be “That guy”. He deserves his own chapter in “When Dumb Things Happen to Smart People”.
I found his email address. I agonized over what I would write to him. I’ve never written to an MP before. As I fumed, I became afraid that I was about to do something stupid, something I’d regret. Unlike a Tory MP, however, I stepped back from it. Rather than write some nasty, profane rant that would look creepy and have the Mounties coming to visit me, I just wrote this:Re: “Free at Last?”
I hope you’re getting a lot of flack for that. And I forgot about it. A couple of weeks passed. This morning – “ping” – John replied. He thanked me for sending him my thoughts and he assured me that it was “in no way” his intention to denigrate Martin Luther King. Then he throws out this: “I do not believe, nor did my statement suggest, the struggle for civil rights in the United States is comparable to Canadians abiding by the legal requirements of the registry.” [my emphasis] Denial is the first stage of recovery from political embarrassment, I guess. The next five paragraphs of his email goes on goofily about how bad the gun registry was and how he and all law-abiding Canadians are just so very glad and relieved that it’s gone. He repeats the prescribed nonsense about the registry “criminalizing law-abiding long-gun owners”. It invites the response that the Narcotics Control Act criminalizes law-abiding pot merchants – but I’m learning that these guys don’t have an ear for irony. So, I wrote back: Mr. Williamson,
Thank you for your email. I assume that you have sent this same email to anyone who wrote about your Martin Luther King impression in the House of Commons.
You deny that your statement in the House suggested that “the struggle for civil rights in the United States is comparable to Canadians abiding by the legal requirements of the registry”.
Of course it did.
You should just apologize. Get it over with and hope that this error is not the only enduring image Canadians will have of your time in Parliament. I’ve read about you. You have a lot to offer. You made a mistake. Do this right.
Ross I like to think the best of people. John and I likely won’t be close friends. I won’t be around to shove him into his Parliamentary locker when he gets another crazy idea. I hope someone will. Larry? I have no hope for That Guy.