Rex Murphy, one of CBC’s better talking heads, is a very compelling character. He’s a smart Rhodes Scholar and possesses the gift of the gab of his ancestors. He also has a pair of original asymmetrical eyes, a sober and righteously indignant mien, and a broad Newfi accent. When these unique characteristics are combined with his pedantic and scholarly language, his penchant for satire and irony, and his regular use of obscure quotes from the bard and vignettes from Greek and Roman mythology, he comes across as a morally and intellectually superior odd-ball.
Whether it be on The National on CBC television or on CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup which he hosts every Sunday afternoon, I among many Canadians usually find him to be an amusing and informative guy. His ubiquitous media presence has become as much of a Canadian institution as Hockey Night in Canada. There is no one quite like Murphy in Canadian radio and television and one hopes that his career as a boob tube pundit and radio host lasts for a very long time.
He also writes a weekly column for the Globe and Mail. In my opinion, Murphy is not as good with the pen as he is in front of a camera or microphone. To me his columns too often are pretentious intellectual snobbery and for that reason so boring it is hard to read the stuff to the end. His writings all too frequently display a self-indulgent pedantry seemingly written for the benefit of himself, his Oxonian pals or the gifted few he accepts as his intellectual equals. Nonetheless, he warrants his place on the Globe’s Op-ed page and we can only wish that his quality graced the pages of the hapless Calgary Herald.
In Saturday’s Globe and Mail, Murphy penned what was by and large a good column on the arrival of Michael Ignatieff as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada entitled Grit miracle: Iggy to fish in Tory water.
In the piece, Murphy describes Ignatieff’s strengths and promise and the bizarre sequence of events that expedited his recent rise to power. He noted that Ignatieff had reignited Grit party morale and that Canadians were giving him attention. He applauded the new leader’s wooing of Quebec and observed that his style could do well there. All of which was music to the ears of Liberals throughout the country, myself included.
Murphy saved what he thought was the best for the last. He enthusiastically approved of Ignatieff’s stated intention of giving the west due recognition in his future plans. In his inimitable ornate prose Murphy pointed out that,
“The Liberal Party has long treated Western Canada as some kind of political ultima Thule or if I may maul a familiar phrase from Hamlet, an “undiscovered country from whose bourn no Liberal MP returns.”
The Hamlet part didn’t faze me, - but “ultima Thule” - what the hell was that supposed to mean? For those of us of the great unwashed who have never been invited to Murphy’s salon to engage in the scholarly and rigorous intellectual discourse practiced among his lofty peers, this is what the on-line dictionary tells us it means:
The northernmost region of the habitable world as thought of by ancient geographers.
A distant territory or destination.
A remote goal or ideal: “the ultima Thule of technology, the ne plus ultra . . . the answer to every earthly problem” (John Gould).
What he is saying I suppose is but another wrinkle on the old saws about Liberals in the west being protected by the game laws, or having their conventions in telephone booths. They are gross exaggerations.
Let’s consider British Columbia. Gordon Campbell leads a Liberal government in British Columbia. His former finance minister is Carole Taylor, a former CBC Chairperson. Taylor is married to a former Liberal MP during the Trudeau years and former Vancouver Mayor, Art Phillips. Campbell was elected leader and then Premier after Gordon Wilson had led the BC Liberals to become a strong Official Opposition, overtaking the now-defunct Social Credit party. Christy Clark, a noted federal and provincial Liberal who is married to famed federal Grit organizer and mover and shaker Mark Merissen, was Campbell’s Deputy Premier. In fact, in the Federal elections between 1980 and 2006 British Columbia Liberal seats jumped from zero to nine.
Even in conservative Alberta, under the leadership of Laurence Decore, the Provincial Liberals won 32 out of 83 seats and received 39% of the vote in the election of 1993. Federal Grits did well enough in Alberta to win 4 seats in 1993 and hold two until the federal election of 2006. Former Edmonton Liberal MP Anne McLellan served with distinction in many portfolios during those years, including a stint as Deputy Prime Minister. And even in its present weakened state, the Provincial Liberal Party boasts five Liberal MLA’s in Calgary, of all places.
Murphy also dragged out the worn and bedraggled National Energy Program for one more tired turn in front of the footlights. According to Murphy, “That policy burned the house of Liberalism in the West to the ground.” Hardly. Save for a few scattered and muffled voices, neither British Columbia, Saskatchewan, nor Manitoba cared a whit about the NEP. The bellyaching came from Alberta.
Murphy also tells us that “Mr. Ignatieff is the first Liberal leader I’ve heard since the dread days of the NEP to make clear acknowledgment of the resentments and mischiefs it inspired.” Perhaps Murphy should listen more and pontificate less. Had he been listening he would have known that every federal Liberal leader since John Turner has been groveling their NEP mea culpas to the people out here at every opportunity. At Alberta federal Liberal fundraising dinners addressed by visiting Liberal MP guest speakers, it is as common as the plates of rubber chicken on the tables. It is as common as Murphy sporting his Oxonian pedigree with his obscure but weighty Shakespeare and Latin quotations. And as to the real impact of the NEP I urge once again that everyone read:
Let me conclude by wishing all of my readers of all political or other persuasions a Happy Holiday Season and a Happy and Prosperous New Year.