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macleansdebate-featured

What to watch for in the Maclean’s debate

Aaron Wherry | posted Tuesday, Aug 4th, 2015

Control the water supply. That is how the debate is won.

This much was apparently advised in a memo to British Conservative leader David Cameron in 2010, subsequently leaked to the Daily Mail. The author of the advice was a Canadian strategist named Patrick Muttart, a former adviser to Stephen Harper and one of the brighter minds credited with helping to bring the Conservative party to power here in 2006. In what Cameron’s team claimed was an unsolicited submission, Muttart apparently counselled Cameron to “practise staring down” Labour leader Gordon Brown while the camera was focused on the moderators or other leaders, since that “makes your opponent feel uncomfortable.” When attacking or responding to his opponent, though, Cameron should “look at his opponent’s shoulder and not his face,” because “facial reactions can be distracting/destabilising.” Don’t write notes while someone else is speaking, because viewers will find that rude. Personal attacks should be well-constructed, but infrequent. Instead of “abstract ideological musings,” the candidate should “use viable, easy-to-understand solutions.” And mind the water. “Ensure Cameron has room-temperature water,” Muttart was reported to have written. “Cold water (with ice) tightens the throat. You should control his water—not the TV studio.”

Here is how the grandest stage of federal politics is managed—a hint of the fussy preparation and consideration that precedes the modern political debate. And here, perhaps, is some insight into how Harper has quietly won so many of these moments.

Beyond even the gains his party has made in each of the last three elections, the Prime Minister is, arguably, on something of a winning streak. Although he has struggled in French-language confrontations, he has otherwise come out ahead nearly every time he has been put on stage beside his rivals. Going back to 2004, he was judged to be the winner of the English-language debate by 31 per cent of respondents to an Ipsos Reid poll, 13 points ahead of Paul Martin. After a narrow loss to Martin in the first English debate of the 2006 election—32 per cent for Martin, 30 per cent for Harper—Harper won the second English debate by a count of 34 per cent to 31 per cent, according to Ipsos Reid. In 2008, Harper was deemed the winner by a leading 31 per cent, six points ahead of Jack Layton. Three years later, he posted his most decisive victory: 42 per cent of respondents gave the decision to the Prime Minister, 17 points clear of second-place Layton. (Note that, in both 2008 and 2011, the Liberal leader of the day was an also-ran: Stéphane Dion placing fourth in 2008 and Michael Ignatieff placing third in 2011.)

The potential impact of a debate is possibly more nuanced than a quick judgment of who won, but there is much to be said for winning. And while he will not be remembered as a poetic weaver of words, Harper is perhaps not given his due as a master of rhetoric and controller of the moment. Set against the complaints and challenges of his critics, Harper is smooth and unhesitating, but calm and reassuring. Ever ready with a response, he pleads for reasonableness with open palms and dulcet tones. At one point in 2011, as the debate became mired in competing claims about the nature of parliamentary governance, the Prime Minister sounded as if he might cry, as he beseeched voters to give his party a majority. “I’m worried that, quite frankly, this country, at some point, we’re going to lose our focus on the economy, start raising taxes, start doing things that are not good for the long-run interests of the country, just because of the short-run politics of a minority parliament,” he begged. He looks into the camera when he speaks and he smiles when he has a chance. If you prefer to discuss these sorts of events using boxing analogies, he could perhaps be likened to a great defensive fighter, not easily tagged and good on the counterpunch. Unexciting, but effective.

Dion was overmatched in 2008, and Ignatieff seemed unready in 2011. With a certain reliance on one-liners—“We need more zingers,” the late NDP leader told his advisers before the debates in 2011, according to Building the Orange Wave by NDP strategist Brad Lavigne—Jack Layton had good showings in 2008 and 2011, but his most effective moment was a well-timed, and barely challenged, attack on Ignatieff’s attendance in the House of Commons, one that ultimately decided who won the right to sit across from the Prime Minister in question period.

It is surely possible that the 2015 debates will present Harper with a greater challenge. Although he will come to these meetings with far more experience than his challengers, he is also, after another four years in power, more vulnerable than he was in 2008 or 2011. Since that second debate in 2006, he has come to stage with a lead. In at least the first debate, he will be the underdog. And over the last few months, Harper has seemed in the House to be a man who is conscious that he must fight to keep his job—more aggressive, more urgent—which perhaps portends a more combative debater.

His competition is potentially strong—at the very least, intriguing. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, widely noted for his QP performances and touted by Brian Mulroney as the best Opposition leader since John Diefenbaker, is the most aggressive challenger Harper has faced, and he has shown some ability to think on his feet. One pre-debate poll even made the NDP leader the favourite—37 per cent of respondents telling pollster Nik Nanos’s firm that they expect Mulcair to win a leaders debate, compared to 26 per cent for Harper and just 16 per cent for Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.The fast-talking and undaunted NDP leader will also come to the first debate as the presumptive favourite to become the next prime minister after this fall’s vote. That is an idea he can either confirm or undermine.

The stakes for the third-place Trudeau are different, but similar. The Conservatives have expended great effort portraying him as an unworthy goof, and now he can either confirm or exceed that portrayal. New to the arena and relegated to a few questions, Trudeau struggled within the confines of question period to establish himself beside the leading clash of Mulcair and Harper, but he is also supposed to be something of a skilled and likable communicator. And the televised debate is something different than the cacophonous confrontation of QP.

And then there is May. She was last seen in a leaders debate in 2008, and it might be remembered that she was an interesting challenge for the Prime Minister then, not only as a source of pointed criticism, but as a changer of the dynamic. Bruce Carson, a former adviser to Harper who participated in preparing the Conservative leader for the 2008 debates, has written in his political memoir, 14 Days, of worrying that one wrong move with May could ruin the Conservative party’s efforts to build support among women.

Set against relative parity in opinion polls and the first real three-way race in federal history, there are struggles within the struggle here: Mulcair and Trudeau have not only to best Harper, but also each other, and May might like to see the Greens win more than one seat this fall. But it will surely be most interesting to see whether anyone can beat the Prime Minister, who, presumably, will be well-prepared.

Pending water temperature, it is perhaps down now to who chokes.

Click here for the Federal Leaders Debate.

Maclean’s: What it feels like to be Canadian

Maclean's | posted Tuesday, Jun 30th, 2015

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To celebrate Canada’s 148th birthday, Maclean’s has produced 148 short videos that showcase the vibrancy and breadth of Canadian experiences from coast-to-coast. “What it feels like to be Canadian” bring audiences closer to the action.

From joining the Sourtoe Cocktail Club in Dawson City and climbing an ice-covered Niagara Falls to an intimate concert with the Barenaked Ladies, the diversity of content reflects the lives of Canadians from across our nation.

Categories include sports, outdoors, heritage, experience, adventure, and arts.

Click here to watch the series of 148 videos.

Photo essay: Otherworldly selfies in the natural world

Aaron Hutchins | posted Tuesday, Jan 20th, 2015

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For years, Paul Zizka used to dislike photos of the wilderness if there was a human element to them. No people. No buildings. But then, on a picturesque winter’s night walking alone along the shore of Lake Minnewanka, Alta., Zizka just couldn’t find the perfect foreground. So, he put himself in the picture. What he discovered was that the photo told an entirely different story. “Sometimes, if you include a person, you can convey a sense of vulnerability,” he says from his home in Banff, Alta. “It makes some people think: ‘That’s the last place I’d want to be.’ Or sometimes it’s: ‘That’s the first place I’d want to be.’ A moment of bliss in the mountains.”

Before taking any self-portraits, Zizka will shoot the entire scene without any man or man-made elements. Then, once he’s done with his nature shots, he’ll jump on the other side of the lens and get creative. Rarely will you see Zizka’s face in his self-portraits, however. “It would make the image more about me,” he says, “than the magic of having a person there, part of nature.”

It can be lonely work. The wind is howling. The mountains can be intimidating. And how many people are willing to venture out alone into the cold winter’s night and wait for hours for that perfect background to shoot? “You hear the odd noise in the bush and you know there’s nobody around for kilometres,” he says. “It can be a bit daunting.” He has pictures to prove it.

To see the full gallery, click here.

The year’s top YouTube stars

Adrian Lee | posted Tuesday, Dec 16th, 2014

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Is this the year the Internet found its soul? Some of 2014’s most viral videos had an eye on issues—from a woman filming her catcall-filled walk around New York, to Emma Watson’s stirring speech about feminism at the UN. One, First Kiss, a short film where 20 strangers lock lips, was both artful and sweet. Then again, that catcall walk spawned a number of spoof spin-offs (“5 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Jets fan”). And some of the year’s other biggest hits involved a man getting kicked in the head by a train engineer while taking a selfie, and a “devil baby” prank video. Honourable mentions: The Tonight Show’s edit of clips from news anchor Brian Williams so that he performed Rapper’s Delight; and Too Many Cooks, an absurdist swell of genre films and sitcom tropes plucked from intentioned obscurity that propelled scores of think pieces. Here’s some of the best videos from the year that was:

Schadenfreude is a powerful, addictive thing, and this video of a selfie-taker being kicked in the head by the driver of a passing train proves it, with its 35-million views.

A newscaster takes advantage of a break to let loose and dance to the viral-on-its-own remix of a quote from the rapper T.I.—to the dismay of his co-anchor.

An argument between three toddlers over how to precisely describe how much it had rained ended up poking more than 11-million people right in the heart.

The Tonight Show edits NBC newsmen Brian Williams and Lester Holt to rap the Sugarhill Gang’s seminal song—with respects due to Sugarhill Gang’s real-life Big Bank Hank, who passed away this year.

This trailer for an otherwise forgettable horror flick loosed an animatronic ‘devil baby’ in the streets of New York, ratcheting up a stunning 48-million views. But while New Yorkers’ terror is amusing, the video’s popularity can perhaps be exclusively explained by the unimpressed passerby in the video’s middle portion.

The message of “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” was powerful, but just as the enduring legacy of “S*** Girls Say” was its template for spin-offs of other niche categories, the video’s real success can be measured in the copycats it spawned. Some were equally stirring (“10 hours of walking in NYC as a woman in a hijab”); others were more jocular (“10 hours of walking in NYC as a Lamborghini”).

Good news: Emma Watson, refusing the typical dance that some female actresses feel the need to practice to avoid talking about feminism, made a speech to the United Nations that helped push it to the fore. Bad news: it earned her threats from men’s rights trolls on the controversial network 4chan.

It was never meant to live—it was intentionally consigned by absurdist cartoon purveyors Adult Swim to 4 a.m. infomercials—but we’re better off that someone loaded the catchy Too Many Cooks up to Youtube for the masses to relish. Ends up too many cooks don’t spoil the broth, after all.

Lauren Hill, a freshman player on Mount St. Joseph’s basketball team who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour, lays in the game’s opening basket—to the roar of another school’s crowd.

More from the sports file: five days before Isaiah Austin was expected to be drafted in the first round of the NBA draft, his draft physicals found a genetic disease that would immediately end his career, before it could even begin. So on draft day, the league commissioner Adam Silver decided he needed to right that cosmic wrong.

Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe is a wizard after all—at rapping, at least.

Viral videos are sometimes all about luck. This pilot lost the camera he had attached to his plane and it plummets, somehow, landing intact and face-up—where it is greeted by a confused yet hungry pig.

On the other hand, virality can also require the extreme, delicate precision needed to hand-craft tiny burritos to feed to a hamster.Either way, this is adorable.

John Oliver’s takedown of net neutrality may not have received as many eyeballs as most of the clips on this list, but the fact that a video about deeply wonkish material got 7-million views—and inspired one legislator to actually deny the video’s claim that he was a dingo—means it well-earned its spot.

Chris Picco was set to have a child with his wife Ashley. But then Ashley died suddenly during childbirth, and his son, Lennon, had to bedelivered prematurely by C-section. Knowing that he would likely pass away too, Chris sang the Beatles’ mournful tune. Lennon died the next day.

Richard Dunn, trapped alone in the Las Vegas airport, filmed a creative music video for Celine Dion’s All By Myself—earning more than 16-million views and a plaudit from Celine herself.

All by myself from Richard Dunn on Vimeo.

With remarkably advanced moves, this plump baby from Korea captured more than 13-million hearts. (The one on the left gives a valiant effort, also.)

This artful short film of 20 strangers kissing ended up being an ad for a clothing line—but wasn’t a less cynical time when we simply believed in the pure spontaneity of 20 beautiful people making out?

Project 97: A conversation on sexual assault, abuse & harassment

Maclean's | posted Wednesday, Dec 3rd, 2014

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Take a quick glance at the data on sexual assault in Canada and you will find a disturbing set of numbers. Like 472,000: the number of Canadian women who reported being sexually assaulted in 2009, the last year Statistics Canada conducted a comprehensive survey. Or 1,680: the number of assault reports that ended with convictions in Canadian courts in 2011. Or 67: the percentage of Canadians who say they know at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted.

The vast majority of sexual assaults against women in this country — about 97 per cent — are never recorded as crimes by police. It is an outrageous statistic, and it’s the reason we have decided to launch a year-long project examining Canada’s staggering problems with sexual violence.

In most cases, police don’t investigate because assault victims haven’t come forward — though the 97 per cent figure also reflects the fact that some report but later withdraw their complaints. Women have plenty of reasons to want to avoid pressing charges: many find their encounters with the legal system, particularly the highly adversarial courtroom experience, as traumatizing as the original assault. They worry about how others will perceive them if they come forward as victims — particularly in the pile-on-and-think-later world of social media.

They may believe the justice system will be biased against them; they certainly know that once inside it, their own actions will be scrutinized. (Did they have a drink before the assault occurred? Perhaps they’d once dated their assailant?) In some cases, victims feel they are just too busy with careers, school and families to have the time to go back to the police station.

That 97 per cent must change — because in any just and civil society, victims of sexual assault shouldn’t be suffering in silence, feeling that they can’t speak up, believing that they have no chance of seeing justice.

The silence may be ending. At the very least, a new conversation could be beginning — one that Canadians have needed for years. The stunning criminal charges against former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi; the heart-wrenching accounts of the tortured final year of Nova Scotia teenager Rehtaeh Parsons; the allegations against comedian Bill Cosby of serial sexual assaults on a number of women — these cases have sparked fresh discussion about what needs to be done to change such appalling statistics.

“The best solution, if there is such a thing, is for people to know that it’s not going to be quiet anymore,” says Cheri DiNovo, a Toronto member of the Ontario legislature who shared her own story of rape by an ex-boyfriend for this project.”This is not going to be hush-hush.”

We want to keep that conversation going. Over the course of the next 12 months, Rogers Media — through its publishing and broadcasting outlets, including Chatelaine, Maclean’s, Canadian Business, Flare, Today’s Parent, Châtelaine, L’actualité and CityNews — will explore issues of sexual assault, abuse and harassment as it affects both women and men.

Watch for our journalism at www.project97.ca and on each publication’s website. We hope you’ll read these stories and share some of your own as we embark on this year-long exploration of what it’ll take to make that number, 97 per cent, a lot lower.

Rogers is the parent company of this station and website.

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