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Book Reviews

Canada and Other Matters of Opinion

by Rex Murphy

As a former Newfoundland politician and a commentator for both The Globe and Mail and CBC’s The National, Rex Murphy is arguably Canada’s most famous pundit. Murphy is widely admired for his clever turns of phrase and for refreshing the plain language and style of news media with his cutting cynicism. And his mirthful, sardonic tone lightens any guilt his audience might feel for sharing his anger and resentment as he pillories yet another public figure or group. (He has particular contempt for politicians and celebrities: “all the strutting icons up there on all those stages are playing a game,” he writes here, “just as politicians play a game, and for very much the same self-serving, egoistic reasons.”)

In this anthology of recent writing we get the chance to look at Murphy’s work as a whole. Unfortunately, we may not like what we find. Despite his obvious intelligence, he does not offer in-depth analysis, strong critical thinking, or well-reasoned fact-based arguments. As he admits in the introduction, “I make no pretence of being earnest [read: correct or true].” His arguments are based more in rhetoric than reason, and his excuse for this is simply that he takes pleasure in expressing his own opinion. For example, Murphy suggests that, by virtue of its longevity as a mainstream Canadian publication, Maclean’s magazine, which he calls “a talisman of the Canadian way,” is immune to criticism for hate speech.

By thus dismissing the seriousness of his contribution to public discourse, he abdicates any social responsibility for being wrong. Those who think Rex’s rants are fun may agree with the unspoken proposition that being right is not as important as being entertaining. But to anyone who considers issues like Canadian sovereignty, the Iraq War, and global warming to be more than mere matters of opinion or entertainment, this book is about as much fun as rolling in a grease fire.