Dispatch from the Front Line: Health Minister Patty Hajdu is underway, with challenges

More violence in Strathcona; a stalwart defense of the CBC; and the National Post launches ... a newsletter!

Sometimes, Line readers, though we always strive to be fair, we cannot deny that certain politicians are just fun to skewer. Because some of them are just terrible, terrible people, and while we polite Canadians don't normally report too much on the personal lives of our elected leaders, well, what can we say? When you can, within responsible journalistic bounds, give a dirtbag a hard time for falling down on the job, hey. Life is good!

Patty Hajdu, the federal minister of health, is actually ... perfectly pleasant. This isn't unheard of in our politicians, but it's rare enough to mention here, all to make very clear that we take no particular pleasure in reporting on her pathetic performance this week. But report it we must. And pathetic it surely was.

Under sharp questioning by Tory MP Michelle Rempel Garner, Hajdu very carefully and deliberately aimed a soon-to-be-banned .44 Magnum revolver at her foot, waited a dramatic second for effect, and then figuratively blew her poor extremity to smithereens. Rempel Garner had been asking about the abysmally broken state of the federal access-to-information systems, and Hajdu, with all-too-Liberal scorn, stood up and declared:

"Mr. Speaker, I have spoken to hundreds, if not thousands, of Canadians since the pandemic was first announced, when COVID-19 arrived on our shores. In fact, not once has a Canadian asked me to put more resources into freedom of information officers. What they have asked me for is to ensure that all the resources of Canada are devoted to one thing, and that is the health, safety and economic prosperity of our country. We are going to continue to make sure that Canada has the most robust response possible."

There are two gigantic problems with Hajdu's answer there.

The first is that Canada's access-to-information regime is notoriously dysfunctional, and her government has long admitted that. Indeed, fixing this disgrace was a major plank in the party's 2015 platform.


In the years since, the government has effectively accomplished the square root of zero. Line contributor Justin Ling wrote the definitive piece on this for The Walrus last year. We'd reprint the entire thing here if we could, and encourage you all to read it, but this section is particularly relevant (we have condensed it for length, but please do check out the full version):

"I wanted to get a glimpse at the internal machinations of [the FOI system]. Two months later, the documents I requested arrived. (The act technically requires that requests be answered within thirty days, but provides departments almost unending latitude to extend and frustrate that deadline.) Dozens of pages were withheld. Others were whited out almost entirely. ...

"So I filed a complaint. ... More than a year [later], the commissioner concluded that information had been improperly withheld. The office of the commissioner managed to get more pages released, [which totalled] [t]wo sentences floating, mid-page, in a sea of nothing. ... I complained again. I ... for a second time, won my crusade for information. I ripped open the manila envelope to find a CD, dug out an old laptop with a drive capable of reading that CD, and opened the single PDF it contained. ... The whole page was now legible. It was a letter from Treasury Board President Scott Brison addressed to Conservative MP Blaine Calkins ... The letter, in short, said: 'Thank you.'

"Another thirty-five documents remained secret and withheld — despite the fact that this 'Phase I' legislation had already come out. ... The government was, paradoxically, keeping information secret even after it had become public."

We cannot stress enough how important it is to read the entire essay. It is scathing. And this isn't just something weirdo journos like us should care about. Researchers of all kinds rely on disclosures of federal information. The routine insistence on keeping this information secret, in stark contrast to the vastly more transparent U.S. government — we aren't kidding, dealing with the U.S. can leave a Canadian journalist reduced to bitter tears of confusion and envy — directly contributes to making Canadians dumber.

Including especially, perhaps, our affable health minister. 

Anyway, the whole affair was so embarrassing that the federal Office of the Information Commissioner took Hajdu to task on Twitter:

Hajdu, for her part, meekly trotted out this response:

We present our response to the minister’s response with the assistance of Jennifer Lawrence:

No doubt the prime minister will trip all over himself fixing this mess. After all, he's so into transparency.

OK, phew. Glad to get that off our chests. But there's another reason why what Hajdu said is abjectly stupid. Let's see that quote again, this time with our emphasis added:

"Mr. Speaker, I have spoken to hundreds, if not thousands, of Canadians since the pandemic was first announced, when COVID-19 arrived on our shores. In fact, not once has a Canadian asked me to put more resources into freedom of information officers. What they have asked me for is to ensure that all the resources of Canada are devoted to one thing, and that is the health, safety and economic prosperity of our country. We are going to continue to make sure that Canada has the most robust response possible."

Yup, indeed, the Liberals have been laser-focused on health, safety and the economic recovery. They haven't taken their eyes off the ball, not for a single moment. Absolutely nothing has been able to distract them of late. 

Well, except, of course, banning conversion therapy, banning single-use plastics, subsidizing domestic electric vehicle production, figuring out when Canadians can legally have a doctor kill them, funding 85 anti-racism projects, with specific emphasis on supporting Black entrepreneurs, telling people what to say to their relatives at Thanksgiving, something to do with superclusters that we honestly don't really understand, coughing up a billion bucks to get more women involved in agriculture, building more bike paths, something about girls in politics that we also don't really understand, and, most critical of all, in a clear demonstration that the Liberals absolutely grasp what matters most to Canadians right now, they arranged for the prime minister to appear via videolink at a special session of the United Nations to encourage other countries to support a UN biodiversity plan.

But other than that, yeah, like we said. Minister Hajdu is right. Those Liberals haven’t wavered in their focus on the minister’s “one thing.”

Those of you loyal readers who have followed The Line since its inception will remember one of our most widely read pieces from Vancouver-based writer Katie Lewis, Fights, drugs, and threats to our kids: Politicians do nothing as our neighbourhood spirals out of control.

Well we, at The Line, were livid when we opened our Twitter browsers last weekend and read this note:

We spoke to Lewis by phone to ensure that she is — relatively — alright. Our concern, of course, was that any of our writers would be physically attacked for writing about what was going on in her community. Of course, it’s impossible to know at this juncture what the motive of the attacker might have been. But we hope the police take this case seriously and that Lewis enjoys a speedy recovery. We will prod her to write again for us as she is able.

It’s been a busy and unpleasant week for another contributor to The Line. Known annoying Marxist Justin Ling is being threatened with legal action by that bastion of free speech, The Rebel. We linked to Ling’s response because it’s funny.

On a more serious note:

In other news: several weeks late to this game, the National Post has decided to convince us all that it still has a raison d'être. In a major editorial, the paper declared itself a “safe space” for controversial opinions. “What has never changed is our central mission: to challenge the accepted, often flaccid and left-leaning thinking that prevails in most of Canada’s institutions, from its media, to its political class, to its academies.”

Well. Good! Never let an internal staff revolt get you down, we say.

We at The Line say that a day late and a dollar short with a good idea is still better than never and broke. (Wait, does that make sense? We’re still going with it.)

In coming days, the Post notes, new and exciting faces that aren’t just Conrad Black and Rex Murphy will appear in their pages. Barbara Kay will return after her previous public bailing. The paper will expand its letters to the editors package and: “for those who wish to sign up, a new newsletter will launch next week.”

A newsletter, you say! We can’t wait.

Speaking of reader feedback, we received a surprising amount of feedback about Peter Menzies’ piece, Is It Time for the CBC to Call it a Day? in which he questioned the CBC’s never-ending obsession with the bêtes noires of the American left. And some of that feedback has hailed from some surprising places…

But, alas, not everyone was pleased. We did receive an angry letter from one reader named Andrew Simon in Montreal. Simon’s response wasn’t long enough to warrant a full Flipping of The Line, so we include it here for your perusal.

“Hello Mr./Ms. Editor:

Disclosure: I spent some 30 years working for CBC, in just about every medium and in four locations.

I have not had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Menzies and am surprised you included his views given your assertion that you don’t accept bullshit. He — and Erin O’Toole — are hugely wrong; our country needs a national broadcasting system just as much now as in 1936, when Parliament created it. Given Mr. Menzie’s CRTC background, I appreciate his listing the reasons CBC was needed back then, and certainly it is no less needed now. He is confusing his finding excessive U.S, coverage in news programming with the validity of a Canadian broadcast service. I too find it too much but do recognize that the Donald Trump fiasco is a world entity, which of course interests Canadians. If you find it too much, tell the specific programmers. Of course, eliminating just CBC English television, as O’Toole suggests, without English radio and the French media, is a complete non-starter in in our bicultural country. Cheap politics is what we are getting, to appeal to a Conservative constituency which values no public enterprise.”

In The Line’s now seemingly perennial Friday feature “New York Times ad absurdum,” the New York Times discovers that Canada has a wine region.

To wit:

“Could the country that gave the world such delicacies as seal flipper pie, shmoo cake and poutine become the land of pinot noir, and enter the pantheon of famed winemaking regions like Bordeaux, Napa Valley and Tuscany?”

Boo. Hiss.

Lastly kind, dear, lovely, beautiful subscribers of The Line. We did warn you that, on occasion, we would shamelessly hit you up for dollars. If you have enjoyed our faithful missives to date, consider supporting us financially. Already, we think, you’ll find that our mere existence has had a small salutary effect on Canadian media.

The media industry in this country is a small, insular and somewhat timid place; and in such an environment, it’s useful to have some graceless asshole around to poke a stick in all the soft and puffy bits. But we cannot do that unless readers like you are willing to ensure we and our children are not left to go cold and hungry in the night. If you haven’t already, please share this email with your friends and family along with a few rave reviews.

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  • Meaghie Champion weighed in on the ongoing B.C. election, and asked, if NDP John Horgan can be as easily pushed around by outrage mobs as he's shown he can, how can anyone actually know what he stands for? If I voted for him it would be because I trusted him to be in control of that process," Champion wrote. "When he bows down before the demands of whoever is running the "woke" movement and tries to obey their rules — even when their rules are screwy and sometimes unjust — then I don't know who would be in charge of the provincial government if I voted for him. Would it really be him or would it be the unelected people who are trying to place themselves above him and all of us without winning any elections?

  • Phoebe Maltz Bovy grabbed a firm hold of the #MeToobin fiasco that blew up in all our faces this week. "In trying to make sense of what had happened and the state of the discourse (dickscourse) du jour, I tweeted a hypothetical, asking what the reaction would be if a woman were putting on nail polish during a Zoom work meeting," she wrote. We don't know, to be honest. But it's a much more pleasant mental image than the other one we were stuck with. 

  • Josh Dehaas wrote on Ontario's bizarre and constantly shifting rules around social gatherings during the pandemic. "At a recent family barbecue with several adults and several children, somebody asked if we were technically breaking the gathering-size law," he recounted. "My brother-in-law seemed to think it was legal because there were fewer than 75 people present — a logical conclusion considering that 75 people was the limit at his workplace. My sister seemed to think we could have 15 to 20 — or maybe that was just the limit at daycares? It turns out the limit was 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors."

  • Jen Gerson tried to have a friendly interview with another Canadian who also has an organization called The Line, and folks? It. Was. INSANE. We can’t summarize it better than that. Just read it, and weep.

The Line is Canada’s last, best hope for irreverent commentary. We reject bullshit. We love lively writing. Please consider supporting us by subscribing. Follow us on Twitter @the_lineca. Fight with us on Facebook. Pitch us something: lineeditor@protonmail.com