Werner Patels (with stress on the second syllable: pa-TELS) is a freelance translator, interpreter and writer in Calgary, Alberta. After spending his formative years in Britain, Austria and Canada, he finally settled down in Canada (by choice). He holds degrees in translation/languages and political science. Werner Patels is a keen observer of politics and society. With an academic background in political science and experience inside a number of (federal and provincial) political parties, he has developed a good sense for all things political but is strictly non-partisan, yet utterly opinionated.
What made you decide to start blogging?
First, I started blogging about translation, language and culture, but then I graduated to political blogging. There was too much bad stuff happening in Canada at the time, in 2005, and so I began to air my views and opinions publicly. In the beginning, it was really more like a valve for me, so that I could vent. Nowadays, however, I pursue more journalistic objectives (at least, I hope I do).
What is your best blogging experience?
At the time of the Beijing Olympics, I had posted a brief note about how our entire family would boycott the Games because of the human rights violations in China and the recent treatment of Tibetans. Canada’s leading national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, somehow got wind of my little personal remark, did an entire interview with me and featured me on the front page.
And your worst?
There’s no particular event. Generally, though, I really despise anonymous trolls who come out of the woodwork and leave silly or insulting comments on other people’s blogs. I also dislike bloggers who launch a hate campaign against one individual they don’t like because of his/her ideology or something he/she may have written. I am a firm believer in the freedom of speech, but that degrading nonsense, which often deteriorates into malicious defamation and libel, however, isn’t free speech and is what gives the blogosphere a bad name.
What do you regard as your best blog entry?
I provide two types of “blog posts”: regular blog posts (i.e., daily “musings” and such) and “web columns”, with the latter meeting the standard requirements applicable to columns or op-ed pieces printed in newspapers or magazines. They’re always at least 600-800 words in length and 100% original content (i.e., no quotation boxes with material gleaned from other sites or sources). I can’t pick any one entry in particular, so I’ll say that all my “posts” marked as “web column” represent the “best in Werner’s blogging”.
In the UK, I really like Iain Dale and Letters from a Tory. Among American blogs, Michelle Malkin’s is one that I read regularly – I don’t always agree with her (Canadian and US conservatives tend to see things quite differently). I also enjoy reading the various blogs produced by the staff of The Atlantic, such as Andrew Sullivan, The Huffington Post, etc. I also occasionally read some of the blogs associated with Bloggers4Labour. In Canada, I read virtually all main blogs, regardless of their ideology, that discuss whatever subject it is that I am currently researching. I always try to get as wide a variety of views as possible before writing about something myself.
You have said a no of times that Canada is not a country. In what way is it not?
Being next door to the US, it is only natural that we would compare ourselves to our siblings south of the border. One can say a lot of things about the US, good and bad, but one thing that the country has going for it is its cohesion. In Canada, it’s always provincial governments against other provincial governments, and all provincial governments against the federal government. Most Canadians don’t identify themselves as such, but as Quebeckers, Albertans, Ontarians, etc. There is no sense of national unity and cohesion the way we see it in the US. After 9/11, for example, it was said that Americans from coast to coast had really come together as one nation, as one people, in support of New York City. In Canada, this would have been impossible. If, say, Toronto had been hit, people in Québec and in Alberta would have staged major celebrations.
Americans are deeply rooted in their country, and everything that America represents. We don’t have that kind of thing in Canada. Honestly, if one province suddenly declared independence, and this is just a matter of when rather than if, people in other parts of the country would hardly notice. There’d be an outcry in the mainstream media and in the chattering classes, but the average Canadian wouldn’t be fazed or surprised. In fact, he would probably send that province a farewell card.
It’s what I call a dysfunctional country, one that only exists on paper, as a utopian ideal, if you will, but not in reality. I’d love for Canada to become what it is supposed to be, but I doubt it’ll ever happen.
How would you define the Canadian blogosphere?
It is extremely partisan: Liberals versus Conservatives versus Social Democrats versus “Progressive” bloggers, etc. Scanning the comments left on all those blogs, one sees a lot of venom and partisan drivel. I am proud to say that I don’t belong to any of these partisan groups or blogging aggregators. Yes, I am, for the most part, a conservative, but I don’t believe in blind ideology. What matters to me is common sense, plausibility and logical thought. In a way, I could summarize it in the words of TV judge Judy Sheindlin: “If something doesn’t sound right, it’s usually not true.”
You have recently blogged about the problems Michael Ignatief faces as Liberal Party leader. Can you see him leading a Canadian government within the next few years?
Yes, I can. In fact, I think we’ll see him in the Prime Minister’s chair within the next 12 months. But let me make one thing quite clear: All our political leaders have baggage and problems. This is true of Mr. Ignatieff, as it is of our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. It comes with the territory of being in politics. I am convinced, however, that Mr. Ignatieff will prevail in the end for a number of reasons. First, he represents, or at least appears to represent, “classical liberalism”, rather than the statist and Big-Government version of “Liberalism” pursued by the Liberal Party of Canada thus far. As such, he will be able to attract both liberal and conservative voters in the next election, and since a growing number of conservatives are absolutely appalled at and disappointed with their “conservative” prime minister, there is indeed a very good chance that Mr. Ignatieff will win next time. Personally, I wouldn’t see that as such a bad thing. It might actually be quite good for Canada if he had a few years at the helm.
Is there anywhere abroad which you haven't been to, that you would like to visit?
China. Despite what I said earlier, about the country’s human rights abuses, etc., I am fascinated by China on some level. I also have all my Mandarin textbooks and tapes and CDs sitting on my shelf, waiting there to be studied.
Is there anywhere abroad you have visited, that you would love to revisit?
Greece is a country that I used to travel all over. I have fond memories of the place – even used to be quite fluent in Greek too. Sometimes when I’m in a foul mood, I picture myself in some of my favourite spots in Greece and it calms me down right away.
Do you have a favourite political figure in history?
You may not agree, perhaps, but Margaret Thatcher is certainly in my personal Top 3. However, I couldn’t just name one, because they all did achieve different things at different times and under very different circumstances. If you’ll let me list three, I’ll say, in no particular order, Thatcher, Obama and Tony Blair. I suppose my list proves that I am truly “post-partisan”. Being generally of a conservative persuasion, I remember attending a speech given by Blair in Calgary a while back, and I and many other conservatives in the audience were cheering him on, urging him to become the next premier of Alberta. He turned down our generous offer, of course.
I supported Obama throughout the US election, and I still think that America got the best president available at the time. I don’t always agree with what the Democrats have been doing lately, as a matter of fact, I have found myself at opposing ends with them, but Obama is a good guy.
Which figure has been your greatest inspiration?
This may sound corny, but I’ll say my mother. She’s the one who taught me to go through life with both ears and eyes wide open and always to apply common sense.
Favourite Bond movie?
Being a bit selfish here, I’d have to say “The Living Daylights”, because I was an extra in the film, on location in Vienna.
Favourite Doctor Who?
David Tennant, hands-down. I don’t know, but David has been just remarkable in the way he’s portrayed the Doctor. He comes across as a real nutter, and I have to admit that this really appeals to me. I’ll catch the remaining specials with him, and I’ll continue to follow the series, but I am really sorry to see David go.
Chocolate, vanilla, or mint?
Vanilla, vanilla, and again vanilla. My fridge is stacked with bottles and bottles of vanilla milkshakes.
Which Band, past or present, would you most like to see in concert?
I’d say Johnny Cash and the whole “Cash & Carter gang”. I saw them in concert several times – in Europe and Canada – and if they hadn’t died, I’d love to see them in concert again.
In terms of visiting for the weekend, Vancouver, Ottawa, or Montreal?
Just for the weekend? Montréal, this way, at least, I can have some real poutine.
Favourite national newspaper?
Globe and Mail.
What would you say your hobbies were?
Reading, languages, learning any new things in general, music, playing with my two Yorkshire Terriers, watching (quality) TV, etc.
And what would you say were your three favourite songs and three favourite books (Bar the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare)?
Books: anything written by John Grisham. Songs: Anything from the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s – sorry, no particular favourites. Oh, and I’m a real sucker for TV soundtracks. I have a vast collection of almost every TV theme from all over the world.