Poor Warren Kinsella.
For those not living inside the Ottawa bubble, or floating around #cdnpoli Twitter, his name might not mean all that much. But to bubble dwellers and political junkies, Kinsella is known as a practitioner of political dark arts, and we were just spared becoming victims to his alchemy.
I wish that was an understatement.
Kinsella had been tapped to help the electoral chances of Elizabeth May, and for the first time in recent memory, a hired gun was getting as much attention as the leader he represented.
Men like Kinsella are cut from a certain cloth. He is strategic, mischievous, ruthless, and convincing. He appears to view his opponents as enemies, where the ends often justify the means. But he can also be too cunning for his own good, sometimes finding himself in scandal, or having to fall on his sword.
Kinsella, who reflects back to his days as Jean Chretien’s war room strategist like Al Bundy reminiscing over high school football, is literally known as the Prince of Darkness. His reputation among many insiders is that of an alleged dirty tricks merchant who seems ready and willing to find and weaponize opposition research. Liberal Party executives, elected MPs, and other party insiders apparently grew tired of Kinsella over a decade ago. In 2014, when he announced his intentions to become a Liberal candidate, the PMO reportedly made it known that Kinsella was not what the party had in mind.
Kinsella once indicated to me in person that Katie Telford, the top Trudeau adviser, was responsible for blocking his nomination. He also once threatened to take my house after I implied he was dishonest in a blog post.
I was renting at the time.
I have seen the twisting of the truth come out of Kinsella, who seems to fancy himself as a Sith Lord of political strategy, even if he technically doesn’t have a dog in the fight.
In 2018, he unearthed an old photo of Patrick Brown touching the hair of a black female staffer and posted it on his blog. This was when Brown was facing allegations of sexual misconduct, and the implication was that the photo demonstrated a pattern of bad behaviour towards women. I spoke with the staffer who told me that she encouraged Brown to rub her head for luck if he was ever feeling nervous. Not only was consent freely given, the contact was initiated by her, and Kinsella tried to use that image as a prop to further discredit a man who would be vindicated later that year.
After I wrote about this unethical and dishonest ploy on my Facebook page, and after a phone call from the staffer’s mother, Kinsella removed the blog post. The tacit admission of wrongdoing was a rarity for him, but I should give credit where credit is due – he was caught red-handed posting something that was meant to cause further damage to a politician already embroiled in scandal, and put his tail between his legs. Like him or not, he actually did the right thing.
Still, he did once write that I was paid by Brown, which is a lie, and he has yet to correct the record, probably because I did not sue him withing the 3 months permitted by civil law. The blog post is still up, and it is still a lie, but Warren doesn’t seem to mind misleading his sparse audience.
Out of all the men who lurk behind the curtain of political wanna-bes, Kinsella is probably the weakest. He seems to be an odd mix of anger, cynicism, desperation, and spin, and nobody, save for a brief moment in time by Elizabeth May, really takes him seriously anymore. Kinsella is slippery enough to stir up controversy, but even then it often ends up hurting the candidate he represents. Just ask Allan Rock. And Michael Ignatieff. And Olivia Chow. And Sandra Puppatello. The truth is, Kinsella hasn’t been responsible for the success of a candidate in close to two decades.
One source who used to know him from Liberal party inner circles claims Kinsella would utilize affidavits against allies who he thought were undermining him. The source said that Kinsella had called him to talk about the Liberals disastrous 2013 election results. Kinsella apparently suggested that some people were talking about a possible merger with the NDP. After engaging in hypothetical discussions about what a merger would look like, Kinsella allegedly filed an affidavit saying that this Liberal executive was floating the idea. Allegedly, the idea was to technically tell the truth but completely butcher the context of the discussion to make the executive look like a traitor.
And somehow, this is who May had hired to help her win the next election. Lucky for her, she has had a change of heart.
For May, Kinsella was more than just off-brand; he was a potential albatross that could have sunk her hopes of victory, and simultaneously propel Scheer into the PMO. He does not have a track record of successful campaigns. As it stands, Kinsella is a has-been, a relic from war rooms gone by, and a peculiar figure given his status as a former insider who morphed into a disgruntled ex Liberal strategist.
But hey, this is what being a master of the dark arts is all about, right? Maybe, but Kinsella’s shortcomings, his thin skin, and his penchant for stirring the pot on Twitter, were contrary to May’s public image of a principled leader who preaches decorum and political etiquette, if you exclude the time she praised Omar Khadr for having more class than “the whole fucking cabinet” of the Harper Government.
(Kinsella probably chuckled at that one, while the rest of us cringed and hoped her hangover wasn’t too bad).
Kinsella was simply too toxic for May. When she first announced her hiring of the former politico, the Twitterverse exploded with condemnation and surprise. Nobody really expected May’s Green Party to win the election, but for May even a few seats would have felt like a victory.
She probably has a better shot at realizing those seats now that she has put the has-been to pasture, while the only one who may have thought it was a bad move to fire him is Andrew Scheer, who will have to rely on his own dark arts professional, Hamish Marshall, to do his dirty work against the Liberals
Either way, May has rolled in the mud, and has just finished towelling off after taking a well-needed shower. The rest, as they say, is up to her.