On December 5, author-provocateur Peter C. Newman sat down with CBC’s Donna McElligott to discuss his new biography of Canadian media mogul Izzy Asper. With Parliament prorogued a week earlier however, and an author who happens to be an Ottawa insider notorious for great stories and juicy gossip, the talk quickly turned to politics of a most interesting sort.
Almost immediately after taking his seat before the audience, Mr. Newman pulled a banana out of his jacket pocket and waved it around, saying “We now live in a banana republic – that is what you’ve witnessed. What’s happening is absurd.” Shortly thereafter, his eyes glazed over as he watched a young woman enter the library. “My daughter has just arrived!” he announced, prompting everyone in the room to turn around in their seats and stare awkwardly. Upon hearing that her father had just pulled a banana out of his jacket she replied dryly, “We’re lucky it wasn’t in his pants.”
Despite Mr. Asper’s messy financial legacy, wily business tactics, and controversial sense of humour, the author’s admiration for the corporate giant is clear. Others were not so lucky.
Mr. Newman revealed that Stephane Dion uses cutlery to eat hot dogs and asserted, “He will never set the world on fire except by accident.” About Stephen Harper he said, “His obsession with eliminating all opposition is just not democratic, and it’s not right.” And while he does not support a coalition of opposition parties, he had some kind words for their MPs. Jack Layton is very intelligent, he said, adding that Bob Rae is a “good leader and a good person.” He also noted that Michael Ignatieff is someone “Canadians can be proud of” in a global context, calling him a “world-class intellectual.”
The conversation eventually returned to the subject of his latest book, Izzy Asper. Mr. Newman claims he has written “a tough book about a tough guy.”
“His three loves were Canada, Israel, and Winnipeg, though not in that order,” he said.
Those affections linger in his proposed Canadian Museum of Human Rights, a project undertaken by his daughter, Gail Asper, who is tenacious in her fight for federal funding and a staunch advocate for Winnipeg as its home.
International Human Rights Day was celebrated at the library later that week. Sandra Crazy Bull opened with a Blackfoot prayer, MLA Manmeet Bhullar reflected on the importance of empathetic communication, and a choir sang Oscar Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom. Olivier Mills, of the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology, gave a humorous but provocative speech focusing on health concerns stemming from substandard human waste disposal technology in the developing world. Prominent guests included teachers Brent Novodvorski and Genevieve Balogun, City Alderman Joe Ceci, MLA Dr. David Swann, MLA Harry Chase, and president of the African Community Association Michael Embaie. Veggie platters, juice and cookies were served.
Published in National Post, December 20 2008