Kicking Ass in Canadian Politics

Kicking Ass in Canadian Politics

by Warren Kinsella



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Kicking Ass in Canadian Politics by Warren Kinsella

Warren Kinsella is Canada's own "Prince of Darkness." From the moment he was recruited to help the Liberals in the campaign to unseat Kim Campbell in 1993, Kinsella became an enthusiastic advocate of tough, in-your-face politics — politics that infuriates opponents, but wins votes. Just last November, the national media reported that his style and tactics were crucial to the campaign that won Prime Minister Jean Chrétien his third term and an unprecedented majority in the House of Commons. Now, for the first time, Kinsella lifts the veil on what really goes on inside campaigns — and it's not pretty. This is the good, the bad and the ugly of partisan politics, and Kinsella argues that all three are necessary for a healthy and democratic political dialogue.

But this isn't a cynic's book on how to manipulate the voting public. The advice from the Prince of Darkness is "stay on message, and stick with the truth." Those practitioners of the black arts who resort to lies and cheating are most often burned at the stake by the voters. And he marshals plenty of evidence and insider stories from the hottest campaigns and campaigners in Canada and the United States — among them, James Carville, Betsey Wright, Haley Barbour and Dick Morris — to prove his point.

You'll learn about push-polling, frugging, ratf**king, quick response, dirty tricks and oppo, and you'll learn how to counter them all. You'll be treated to Kinsella's Twelve Handy Tips for Surviving Encounters with Unethical, Unscrupulous, Unprincipled Political Journalists, as well as to his unique rating system on whose political reporting you can trust.

This is amust-read not only for political junkies but also for marketers and PR flaks alike: it is a handbook, not only on how to win, but how to make sure your opponent loses.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679310853
Publisher: Random House of Canada, Limited
Publication date: 09/11/2001
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.23(w) x 9.27(h) x 0.97(d)

About the Author

Warren Kinsella is a lawyer, a political consultant and a weekly columnist for The Ottawa Citizen. He is the author of the bestselling Web of Hate, on neo-Nazi and white supremacist hate groups in Canada and the U.S. He served as political aide to Jean Chrétien when Chrétien was Leader of the Opposition; he unsuccessfully ran for federal office in 1997 (a race in which he wishes he's kicked ass); and he played key roles in two successful Chrétien campaigns. He lives in Toronto with his wife and family.

Read an Excerpt


Kicking Ass...or how I became the Prince of Darkness

“It’s hard for somebody to hit you when you’ve got your fist in their face.” — James Carville

Tip O’Neill, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives for a decade — and a successful politician for a lot longer than that — knew his way around a political axiom. Some of the many truisms he bequeathed to the political classes include: “Never speak of yourself in the third person” — something certain regal and viceregal personages more than occasionally forget. And: “Never get introduced to the crowd at sporting events” — unless, of course, a tidal wave of boos and catcalls is your cup of tea. And, also, his trenchant phrase: “Any jackass can kick over the barn.”

Well, not quite.

While denizens of the corridors of power will often suggest, with a straight face, that negativity is unnecessary, and unpleasant, and something that requires no special skill or knowledge, these same spinmeisters also know that the truth lies elsewhere. They know, deep in the fetid recesses of their tiny hearts, that negativity and nastiness works. They also know that the practitioners of these dark political arts are a unique breed. While they may indeed be jackasses, they are the only category of jackasses capable of knocking down political barns. Other jackasses merely bray at the barn doors, uncertain about how to get the job done.

I think I know a little about knocking down barns. Along with having acted as an assistant to Canada’s current prime minister, and along withthe days and nights I have spent advising political campaigns in many provinces and regions, I have, I confess, dabbled in these dark political arts. I have helped to lead so-called “quick-response” teams — groups of politicos who respond to attacks and, where necessary, initiate them. I have crashed political rallies with activists dressed up like chickens (to mock party leaders who refused to participate in debates); I have assisted in the creation of television ads depicting lying politicians as Pinocchio (with the nose growing each time a fib is recalled); and I have even arranged to fly a bottle of polluted water by helicopter, at a cost of many hundreds of dollars an hour (to be used as a prop in a pro-environment speech by a candidate). In the process, I have also been described as the Prince of Darkness.

As near as I can tell, the first person to call me the Prince of Darkness (to my face) was Alex Pannu. Pannu is a bright lawyer from Vancouver who, way back when, was an assistant to a former minister of national defence, Kim Campbell. In spring 1993, I was working as a political assistant to Jean Chrétien, leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. At the time, Campbell was running for the leadership of the governing Progressive Conservative Party, which she was almost certain to win. That spring I was a member of a small group of Liberal staffers doing our utmost to make life utterly unbearable for Campbell, attempting to link her to assorted scandals, leaking damaging material to reporters and generally depicting her in the most unflattering light possible. It was rewarding work.
As we settled ourselves in some chairs at a committee room in the East Block, waiting for Campbell to come and speak to the parliamentary committee on defence about yet another mess at the department, Pannu approached me. “You know what we’re calling you, don’t you?” he said, grinning. “We’re all calling you the Prince of Darkness.” After Pannu retreated to his side of the room, one of the young Liberals working with me leaned over and whispered: “Wow! The Prince of Darkness! Is that cool or what?”

In political circles, people often privately react like that. They think take-no-prisoners politicking — the kind you would expect a Prince of Darkness to practise — is, indeed, cool. When appearing on televised pundit panels, or when being quoted by the print media, they know that it is not a good idea to sound too enthusiastic about hardball politics, however. So they will make soothing noises about the need to “do politics differently,” and to avoid “the old politics,” or what is being lately called “the politics of personal destruction.” They make these disclaimers because they know it is what the voting public wants to hear (even if it isn’t what the voting public necessarily believes, but more on that later). Watching them, you would think such politicos seldom would utter a discouraging word about anyone.

But that’s not true, quite frankly. Political people love nasty battles with their adversaries, and people who vote love to watch. That, in short, is what this book is about: even if no one wants to admit it, negative politics work. This book is also about how negative politics is done — about “going neg,” to use the phrase popular among politicos.

Before I became the Prince of Darkness, I was a University of Calgary law student and a part-time newspaper reporter on the police beat. On weekends, I would earn a few extra dollars at the Calgary Herald. Most of the time, I would sit in the newsroom and listen to the police radio. Whenever a drugstore was robbed or someone was murdered, I would hop in my battered old Gremlin and speed out onto Calgary’s freeways to learn more. If the car crashes I heard about over the police band were sufficiently spectacular, I would also file stories about them, and my news editor would almost always assign a photographer to take pictures. When there wasn’t very much else going on in the news world, we would run photos of the car crashes.

Whenever we did that, I was reminded of two things. First, you could publish a fistful of photographs of African children starving to death, corpses floating alongside an overloaded Indian ferry, or the bombed-out wreckage of someone’s home in a war zone, and no one would call in to complain. If they cared, they sure weren’t saying anything about it to us.

Second, if you ran a photo of a car crash involving locals — without bodies, of course — you’d better darn well make sure you had someone around the newsroom to handle the calls of complaint, because you’d get plenty. Subscribers would call in to declare, loudly, that we were insensitive, and ghoulish, and beneath contempt. They would call to cancel their subscriptions. But here’s the funny thing: whenever I was out at those accident scenes, scribbling away in my notepad, I noticed that everyone making their way past the orange pylons and the traffic cops — and I mean everyone — would slow down to take a long hard look. Every once in a while, I’d see them fumbling for a camera, so that they could take some pictures, too.

Table of Contents


KICKING ASS…or, how I became the Prince of Darkness

STAND BY YOUR AD…or, if you are going to do the time, you may as well commit the crime

DAISY AND MR. SAGE…or, how to make mud stick

DAMN SPOT…or, how to makean effective political ad

OPPO…or, how to demonize the opposition in a few easy steps

BARNEY, SPIDERS AND DIRTY TRICKS…or, how to seize the moment by doing silly things

THE NEW COWBOYS…or, how to use a phone (or a modem) to reach out and beat someone

INK-STAINED WRETCHES AND WRETCHESSES…or, why all political journalists must die

CAMPAIGNS MATTER…or, Kinsella's tips on how to survive the next election



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