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Caption: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to reporters at a June 22 news conference in Ottawa. Photo by Art Babych.

The year that was

The humble scribe gets something right, something wrong — and something in between

By Dennis Gruending


Jeffrey Simpson, the excellent but now retired columnist for The Globe and Mail would write at year’s end about what he got right — and where he had been wrong. This will be my 20th blog post of 2016 for The Observer. Most of my entries attract just a few comments, but one about climate-change deniers attracted numerous replies. It seems that writing about deniers is like kicking a hornet’s nest. They come after you in swarms although I must say that some other readers rallied to my defense, too. For this particular post, though, I make no apologies. I refer my denier critics to an investigative article just published in the New York Review of Books. It describes how thousands of scientists in the employ of ExxonMobil have warned their bosses for decades that climate change is real and that its consequences will be dramatic. In fact, their conclusions are similar to that of scientists at NASA and elsewhere. And despite that, ExxonMobile has regularly given money — usually through right-wing think tanks — to groups of climate-change deniers. The intent is to sow confusion and buy time.

In another post, however, I made a comment that was ill-considered and unfair. I wrote about Katharine Hayhoe, a scientist, evangelical Christian and Canadian who teaches at Texas Tech University. She’s very good at speaking to church goers about climate change in terms that they understand, and she’s gaining a positive reputation for doing so. My conclusion was that while she’s doing important work, it’s less effective than that accomplished by people who organize rallies to send politicians an activist message.

A United Church of Canada minister replied to me on Twitter, saying: “I've taken to the streets, listened to Katharine while sitting in a pew and preached from my pulpit!” Hayhoe also responded on Twitter: “I question the utility of trying to identify a single ‘best’ approach. I don't believe it's either effective or scriptural.” Ouch. They were both right, and I was wrong and uncharitable.

Another one of my entries that drew criticism was about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s political honeymoon. In the January post, I gave him credit for an important shift in tone from that of the Conservative government that preceded his. But I also said that he had “over-promised” in the election campaign and that he would inevitably “under-deliver” in policy terms. In some quarters, I was criticized for being too hasty in my judgment.

That’s fair enough. But today, the Liberals are 14 months into their mandate. More recently, Trudeau gave a lengthy news conference, talking about the year that was. Neil Macdonald, a veteran and crusty CBC journalist, described it this way:  “Justin Trudeau manages to say less than most of his predecessors, and takes longer to do it. Listening to him is like trying to drink cappuccino foam.”

So on that note, let’s just wait to see what Trudeau does in 2017. And to all a good night.


Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
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