According to Webster's, an "outrage" is defined as something that makes someone "rage out." Okay, maybe that's not exactly what it says, but for my purposes, close enough.
In compiling this list of five of the most memorably unhinged, disgusting, or moronic editorial columns published in the mainstream Canadian press this year, I specifically wanted to avoid tagging them with corrupted terms like controversial or offensive. "Controversial," after all, merely means "that which provokes debate" and debate is the lifeblood of a free society.
Calling an editorial "offensive," meanwhile, simply implies hurt feelings, which implies cruel motive, which demands censorship. Not a string of conclusions I'm eager to draw in a society with constitutionally-protected freedom of expression.
No, the following five editorials are merely "outrageous," in the sense they got a great many folks riled up, shocked, annoyed or befuddled. That's not always a bad thing.
"Ford Nation: Canada's ultimate reality show?" Joe Warmington, Toronto Sun
The conservative-leaning Toronto Sun, like many on the Canadian right, spent much of 2013 in a contorted state of confusion over Mayor Rob Ford. On the one hand, the paper endorsed his candidacy in 2010 and spent years enthusiastically backing his small-government agenda of gravy-train derailment. On the other hand... well, how much time do you have?
By late October when the infamous crack video was confirmed to be a real thing, the mayor was clearly testing the limits of the paper's patience. On November 2 their editorial board finally demanded the man "step down or step aside, and get his life in order."
But then a couple days later it was revealed that the Sun's television offshoot, Sun News, had scored the rights to produce a sympathetic TV special starring ol' RoFo himself. In order to maintain brand consistency, all Sun properties had to abruptly whiplash back into Ford apologist mode.
The end result was a truly painful, schizophrenic offering from Joe Warmington, the Toronto Sun pundit who apparently drew the newsroom's short straw and was assigned the ungodly task of writing a column that managed to both uphold the Sun paper line that Mayor Ford was an unstable drug-addled lunatic unfit for public office and the Sun TV line that he was a great martyr of principle whom all Canadians should be eager to watch.
Showing a predictable lack of finesse for this impossible task, Joe's piece clumsily bounces back and forth between breezy advertorial hype ("The show is going to be fun... you never do know what is going to come out of the embattled mayor's mouth!") and somber statements of fact ("Rob Ford has admitted he has smoked crack cocaine, purchased illegal drugs and has driven after drinking"). Shameless doesn't begin to describe it.
"Why not a royal baby named 'Greg Thompson'?" Heather Mallick, Toronto Star
With Mayor Ford the Canadian media's near-unanimous choice of newsmaker of the year, it's easy to forget that as recently as last summer our press was going ga-ga for an entirely different chubby-cheeked doughball, Prince George Alexander Louis, eldest scion of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Since we Canadians are still technically subjects of the British Empire, or British Commonwealth, or whatever it's called when your country's nominally under the British queen's meaningless non-authority, it's customary for our nation's pundits to occasionally weigh in on matters royal out of some route sense of colonial obligation. Little George presented a particular challenge in this regard, however. I mean, it's hard enough to offer compelling commentary on a family whose adult members do nothing of interest or importance, let alone the babies.
The Star's Heather Mallick, who declares herself to have "no interest in the royal nonsense," attempted the task last July by penning a bizarre 700-word column that starts out bemoaning the fact that the spoiled little prince won't have a common-person name (like "Greg Thompson"), before descending into a rambling treatise on "Hitler groupies" and how Michael Jackon's daughter tried to kill herself with an axe -- plus lots of useful name-ological advice ("I avoid all Jasons but love all Noras"). Another compelling argument for cutting our ties to the crown, as far as I'm concerned.
"Conservative reboot rained out," Chris Selley, National Post
No one has a better sense of humour than Canadians! You know it's true because we always say it! Puns, wordplay, double-entendres, we love 'em all! Except in Edmonton, apparently.
Chris Selley's otherwise unremarkable June 24 "Full Pundit" column contained a throwaway gag near the end, a sarcastic quip that just because Calgary was dealing with its epic flood with grace and aplomb, that was no reason for them to get all chest-puffy about it. I mean, it's not like Edmonton "would be a smoking hole in the ground at this point, infested with twitchy-eyed, machete-wielding savages," snarked Chris.
Well, to say Edmonton didn't get the joke would be an understatement. In the days that followed, Selley's quip would proceed to be denounced by the mayor, the chamber of commerce and leading media outlets, all of whom asserted with great stone-faced indignity that their city was neither twitchy-eyed nor machete-wielding, but a very nice place to raise your children, thank you very much, Mr. Bigshot Toronto Newspaper Man.
It was all very groan-worthy, but as I noted at the time these ultra-defensive reactions weren't entirely specious. Anyone who's spent any time in Alberta will be familiar with the smug Calgary stereotype of Edmonton as some kind of squalid, lawless hellhole, so in that context, Selley's words -- unintentionally or not -- may have cut a bit close to the bone. This is a big country and some jokes don't survive long journeys.
"Land mines in our sexual landscape," Barbara Amiel, Maclean's
Forget what I said earlier about "offensive" being a pointless, empty slur. If the term has any useful definition at all, it's this March 23 Maclean's column from Mrs. Conrad Black, Barbara Amiel.
In just nine short paragraphs, Babs manages to cast aspersions on the Steubenville gang-rape victim ("in a normal society, the girl's mother would have locked her up for a week"), denounce child porn laws ("rounding up people for what they privately watch on their computers") and spread (as is distressingly common in the columns of the Black family) some mean and unprovable gossip about public figures -- in this case Toronto journalist and ex-mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson, who is claimed to have once sexually propositioned herself to Lord Conrad.
I'm told many outraged dentists cancelled their subscriptions over this one.
"10 reasons why Harper isn't really Canadian," Elizabeth May, Huffington Post
Lastly, lest anyone think we're pulling from a biased sample here, it should be noted that one of 2013's kookiest pieces of Canadian crack-pottery originated with us. Though perhaps this one should only count for partial credit, considering there was no actual journalist involved, let alone actual journalism.
Back in June, noted party-of-one leader Elizabeth May asserted in an interview that she questioned the credibility of the Prime Minister's patriotism. Frankly, she said, "he's not Canadian."
Such a statement, agreed everyone immediately, was appalling and exactly the sort of ad hominem mud sensible politicians are not supposed to sling. But since Elizabeth May is not a sensible politician, the next day she proceeded to dig her hole deeper and churned out a lengthy HuffPost essay in which she expanded her Harper-is-not-Canadian thesis into a full-fledged, ten-point conspiracy theory.
It centred around the allegation (still uncorroborated, as far as I know) that lil' Harper once attended a "Young Republican summer camp south of the border" where he was brainwashed to idolize "a different system" of government and became some manner of Yankee sleeper agent Manchurian candidate devoted to destroying everything that makes Canada holy and good.
May also admitted that she made her original comment because she was sleepy. She should have ended it there.