Putting a year of curveballs to bed

I got fired, made national headlines and lost an election in the same year.

I’m not typically one for New Year’s observances, but if there was a year worthy of reflection it’s 2018.

Perhaps last year I tempted fate with my column eviscerating the pomp and pretence of New Year’s Eve.

This year is a bit different.

I started 2018 as a radio broadcaster covering an unexpected PC leadership race and ended it without a radio show and having been a PC candidate in an election. I didn’t see any of that coming.

While this year’s zigs and zags were unforeseen, they weren’t unforeseeable.

I’d been contemplating running in Ontario’s provincial election as far back as the summer of 2017, but opted against it. By the time this past March came around, things had changed.

I was happy with Doug Ford’s election as the new PC leader, and my preferred riding, London West, still didn’t have a PC candidate.

On March 26, Ford was in London for a victory rally. As was the custom with conservative politicians coming to town, Ford did an in-studio interview on my show. I attended the rally that evening, encouraged by the energy in the room.

On the drive home, I once again questioned whether to bite the bullet and run for office. The challenge was whether something so uncertain could justify walking away from a secure job.

The next morning, I was fired. I smiled all the way home.

Within a few hours I had lined up meetings in Toronto and Montreal with players in the media industry as I plotted my next move. In parallel, I started exploring a political run.

(Spoiler alert: the political run didn’t end up precluding me from doing other things).

My wife and I were a true team through this. In true foodie fashion, we made the final decision over a five-course tasting menu at a restaurant’s closing night. (Because what newly unemployed person doesn’t patronize such boîtes?)

My eight weeks as a politician formed one of the most difficult chapters of my life. Anyone who opened a computer in May knows why. Beyond the political implications of my candidacy, there was a personal toll to being in the media’s crosshairs that I wrote about not long after the election.

It’s taken me some time to truly grasp what I took away from this time, however.

A number of people I thought were friends seemed to have only a relationship with my status when I hosted a daily radio show and had a national column. When it became trendy to hate me, a few of these fair-weather “friends” jumped on the bandwagon.

Some did it openly. Others were more duplicitous.

But these people are dwarfed in number (and in character) by those in the opposite camp – people whose friendship I didn’t fully appreciate or understand who were there for me in ways for which I will be forever grateful.

Friends from across the political spectrum chose to see my heart instead of headlines. That was the spirit that got me through this time.

My family supported me every step of the way. My church community shrouded me in prayer.

My wife gave me the ability to understand what it means to say someone is your rock. She was. From a handwritten letter on my nightstand every day of the campaign to tending to my blistered feet (you try knocking on 20,000 doors in six weeks!), she was there in ways I never knew possible. As she was every day before and every day since.

Tumultuous as the experience was, it strengthened our bond. That’s true of my relationships with most of those closest to me.

My father was out from the wee hours of morning until late at night installing and repairing signs.

My mother put in countless hours staffing my campaign office.

My in-laws were just as dedicated.

Friends old and new donated, volunteered, and most importantly let me know they supported me, even if they weren’t going to vote for me.

Though a special thank you to the 17,133 people who did vote for me.

By the time I lost on June 7, I had a legion of people around me to ask “What’s next?” on June 8.

The last six months have been among the most fruitful and joyous in my career as I’ve been able to pursue opportunities I wouldn’t have been able to had the year shaped up differently.

From my fellowship at the True North Initiative to columns at The Interim and Loonie Politics to producing events for Mark Steyn, 2018 has ended on a high note.

I look forward to whatever 2019 brings. The stats of abandoned New Year’s resolutions alone suggest making one is a fool’s errand. Though I endeavor to continue what I’ve tried to do throughout the latter half of 2018 – appreciate those who have been there for me, and be there for others in the same way.

Even so, perhaps 2019 can be a tad less eventful.

Leave Means Leave: In conversation with Andrew Lilico, lead economist for Brexit Leave campaign

When I was in the United Kingdom last month, I was quite surprised to see how people were demonstrating daily against Brexit, despite its cemented fate.

Even so, dozens of chanters waving European Union flags took to the streets of London every day, urging the government to reconsider, or have another referendum (and keep going until they win, I suppose.)

Though it remains a certainty that the U.K. will leave the E.U., what the arrangement between the two countries will look like is still unclear. I’ve been among those advocating a hard Brexit, replaced if the parties wish with a trade deal.

Many of the Europhiles have been advocating for a role that would make it difficult to imagine that a departure from the E.U. even existed.

I sat down on behalf of the True North Initiative with Andrew Lilico to discuss all of these dynamics. Lilico is the executive director of Europe Economics, and also served as the lead economist on the official Leave campaign.

Free Speech at Sea: Andrew Lawton on the Mark Steyn Show

Mark Steyn and I have completed our Freaky Friday role reversal. Just a few weeks after he and I sat down for a full-length interview for True North Initiative, it was my turn in the hot seat, joining singer-songwriter Tal Bachman and author Kathy Shaidle on a free speech edition of the Mark Steyn Show, filmed in front of a live audience aboard the maiden Mark Steyn Cruise.

From Tal’s background as a successful musician, Kathy’s as a published poet, and my own navigation of the world of media and politics in Canada, there was a general understanding that the threats to free speech are coming about from within the cultural sphere and not just from statist forces.

It was a great pleasure to be on the panel, so I hope you’ll enjoy watching.

Mark Steyn on diversity, citizenship and western values

As I write this, I’m cruising the Atlantic with legendary author and broadcaster Mark Steyn as part of the first Mark Steyn Cruise, which I’m both producing and speaking on.

It’s a fitting time to release a full-length interview I did with Mark for the True North Initiative at his New England headquarters.

We spoke about immigration, free speech and diversity. While global issues, they’re of particular concern in Canada, where the ruling government has prioritized diversity above any other aspect of Canadian identity and culture. Justin Trudeau won’t even recognize the existence of any such identity and culture.

It was a true delight, and I can only hope western lawmakers pay attention. Either way, enjoy!

These things are made possible by the generous support of True North Initiative patrons, so please consider becoming one if you aren’t already.

Compelled speech is the new censorship

A few weeks back I was at a forum in Toronto dedicated to unmasking the perils of compelled speech. Specifically, the event looked at how Bill C-16, a piece of Canadian legislation adding gender identity to the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code, forces specific speech with regard to gender pronouns.

It was the law that catapulted Prof. Jordan Peterson to infamy. Though his crusade against C-16 didn’t stop the bill from passing, it did galvanize Canadians to understand the perils of state intervention on matters of so-called social justice.

Before the forum, I sat down with National Post columnist Barbara Kay to discuss the insidious nature of compelled speech, and why transgender politics have become so central to the broader discussions of free speech and censorship.