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Open Book Clement: The Cottager's Revenge

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Open Book Clement: The Cottager's Revenge

The Internet has won! Newspapers are dead!! (AP. July 24, 2008-U.S.Regional and national newspaper publishers, already staggering with a drop in ad revenue more severe than the industry has seen since the Great Depression, say the second half of 2008 may be even worse. )Well, it's not over quite yet. Sure, the Net has forced fading newspapers to make many changes, few of them good – major lay-offs, less foreign coverage, less analysis, more fears, more tears, more fluff. But there is one space desperately pressured editors dare not touch. And it's a surprising one in the era of chat rooms, text messaging and Facebook -- Letters to the Editor. From the portentous national dailies to the rambling, often silly local rags, Letters to the Editor continue to dominate even the most threatened opinion pages.

I was reminded of their still-stinging power and the shallowness of the skin of some of their targets when I engaged in a skirmish with (take a deep breath) the Federal Minister of Health and and the Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, the very right, Honourable Tony Clement, who's also my MP in the riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka.

It's a little-known fact that Clement is world parachute-jumping champion having been dropped into more ridings than Britain's infamous 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, or "One Para" to the cognescenti. Clement's latest leap was executed in 2006, just in time for the federal election, that he and the other Conservatives won. Clement does have a cottage in this Muskoka playground that he now conveniently calls his permanent home.

Clement has provend to be an assiduous writer to the Huntsville Forester extolling the virtues of newcomers — him — to the district. I took issue with his claims, some what irrevererently, and always referred to him as Cottager Clement.

A few warm, summer, mosquito-slapping evenings ago, I bumped in to my neighbour, Jack, who had a rather large bone to gnaw with me:

"So you don't like Conservatives?" he grunted.

"Not really. I don't like their Bush-league politics."

Jack took this as another attack on his beloved Conservative Party and the erectile hairs on the back of his neck suffered no dysfunction. We both knew we were talking about the Cottager.

"Well, you should know how hard he works. Just the other day, he personally signed four thousand letters to his constituents."

"And one of them went straight to me."

"Huh?"

The Cottager had had enough of my silly, human jibes in the Huntsville Forester each week as he wrote more of his self-aggrandising missives. The last jibe was the last straw. The skin of the lion of Parry Sound-Muskoka could take no more slings and arrows of an outrageous journalist:

Hello John:

For someone with such a cosmopolitan background, and one who obviously
aspires to sophistication in your commentary on world affairs, why do you engage in such sarcastic, mean-spirited and xenophobic criticism of me?

Tony Clement, MP
PORT SYDNEY

My response was to offer the Cottager tea at twenty paces. He said he would get back to me. Yeah, right. But Jack had another surprise. He would be meeting the Cottager that night. In fact Jack would be driving him around since minister knew his own riding so well. Jack would see to it that the Cottager and I would sip tea together. That was two weeks ago. Haven't heard anything since. May be the Cottager is slathering himself with pest repellent and giving it time to sink into is shallow skin before we meet.

Yeah, that's gotta be it.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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John Scully

John Scully has been a journalist for almost fifty years and has covered stories in seventy countries for major international news and current affairs organizations. His book, Am I Dead Yet? A Journalist's Perspective on Terrorism, was published in spring 2008 by Fitzhenry and Whiteside.

Go to John Scully’s Author Page