As you may know, participant Bruce Poon Tip will be speaking on Wednesday night, along with lawyer Eddie Greenspan. Have a look at this segment done on him for CEO TV.


The Launch Week

March 30, 2008

As some of you may know, we have our book launch coming up this week. It will take place at Casa Loma, 1 Austin Terrace, in Toronto. It will begin at 7:00 pm on Wednesday, April 2. We are thrilled so many people have RSVP’ed, but, to tell you the truth, we are all a little nervous.


Casa Loma in all its over-the-top glory (photo:

Nervous, perhaps, because this is the culmination of a three year project. One that’s consumed us, at times divided us and – thanks to the great participants we’ve had – often inspired us. Way back in February of ’05, we sat down for our first interview with none other than TV personality Valerie Pringle. Alex was pretty shaky during that encounter, being the first time he’d ever been on the question-asking side of an interview. But Valerie was generous with her time and gave some great answers. She has said she’ll attend the launch, which lends the event a nice piece of symmetry.

“…the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started…”

We are also lucky enough to have two (possibly three) of our most interesting features speaking at our event. Eddie Greenspan will regale us with the ups and downs of his start in the criminal justice field. Bruce Poon Tip will talk about founding his unique eco-tourism company, GAP Adventures. Come one, come all: it’s sure to be an interesting evening.


A young Eddie Greenspan with his wife, Suzy.

I know we shouldn’t bend over in reflexive reverence for the opinions of those who have left Canada for grander stages, but how can you help wanting to know what such gymnastic minds as Malcolm Gladwell and Adam Gopnik have to say about our national identity?

This morning on CBC Radio’s The Current, the New Yorker stalwarts (who will square off on March 30 at the University of Toronto as part of a discussion called Canada: Nation or Notion?) chatted (rather intelligently, if perhaps from a greater remove than they’d like to admit) about what Canada means in the 21st century.

Gopnik rightly points out that the two writers approach the question from wholly different perspectives: he from a sentimental and symbolic perspective and Gladwell from a more empirical, policy-related one. But what it boils down to for both writers is that Canada means far more in the international community than we give ourselves credit for.

Gopnik’s issue is identity and our lack thereof. To him, that’s a strength, not a weakness, because we show the world that a country can function (and well) without a set of shared beliefs and icons. We show the world that the Romantic model of nationalism under which so many other countries were born is unnecessary, if not often damaging.

Gladwell is far less interested in issues of identity and culture. He’s interested in potential policy power. In Gladwell’s mind, our smallness (in terms of population and military power) is gradually making us more important. He contends that problem solving today is less about consensus building and more about looking to successful models. As a result, the decline of Canada’s image as an “honest broker” is inconsequential. What matters far more is that our size allows us to do what larger states, with heftier populations and more entrenched fueding animosities can never do.

Example? If Canada took it upon itself to initiate the most effective and progressive energy policy in the world, we could. Not many states can say that. And if we did, our huge (and much in-demand) energy resources would give us power.

To Gladwell, small may not be beautiful, but it is powerful – because our scale (and our historical ability to move beyond divisions and differences) gives us the opportunity to take bold chances.

This is a powerful thought, but not one that many in the corridors of power seem likely to take onboard. Though they may listen to the CBC and Joni Mitchell in their New York offices, Gladwell and Gopnik still inhabit a separate sphere than most of those who still live and work in Canada. That distance allows them a certain lattitude that is inspiring on first listen, but may not stand-up to the realities we experience watching our government day-to-day. ‘Yes, that would work,’ we say to ourselves as Gladwell speaks (he’s not, by the way, the first to say such things). And it should. But for some reason it seems unlikely.

Perhaps that’s because we value our role on the international stage so little. Perhaps it’s because it’s easier to simply throw up our hands up and say ‘the problem is bigger than us.’ It is, after all. So why not grab at the money while it’s there, sell off our companies to foreigners who see Canada as a bargain outlet for resources?

Because, as Gopnik points out, we’ve managed to do some pretty remarkable things in the past. We’ve managed to present the world with a model for how to get along, for how to be a nation with dueling (or at least separate) nationalities. We’ve also managed to produce innovators and problem solvers that have left a significant mark on the world.

We’re bigger than we think. It’s time to start taking ourselves and our role more seriously.

Give ‘er a listen.

Oh, and the punchline to that joke? You ask them politely.

Ok. Maybe we need a bit of a flashback. Forget about how Kickstart got into Indigo or onto Amazon. Let’s talk about how we got a publishing deal. We were nobodies, literally. None of us, save a couple articles here and there, had ever published anything. We had no agent.

We followed the proper procedure: we wrote query letters, we sent chapter excerpts, we had initial meetings. But… nothing.

The interesting thing – though more than a little frustrating at the time – was that compared to the overwhelming response we were getting from our interview requests with successful Canadians, the local publishing industry was rather demure. Why is that? we wondered.

Then we found Dundurn. They were willing to take risks on us. And for that we are forever grateful. But how did it happen?

It came down to luck. We happened to bump into the right people at the right time. One of our features, Liberal MP John Godfrey, was able to guide us in the right direction. And a lot of publishing – hell, everything – comes down to that: having a champion – someone who’s well-known and wants to see your project come to fruition.

The publishing industry in Canada is extremely risk-averse. It’s understandable. Ninety percent of titles don’t make back their money. There’s a huge influx of cheaply produced mass runs from the US market. But we’re happy our friends at Dundurn threw caution to the wind – and said Yes. It’s an entrepreneurial spirit we need more of in the arts business. Especially in Canada.

More Dashan Xiangsheng

March 26, 2008

For those who wanted to see Dashan do xiangsheng, here’s another video – this time, it’s solo. For his famous first performance, check out this old post.

Well no, Paul didn’t wear suspenders, but he did go on Breakfast Television this morning, and he did drink a lot of complimentary Maxwell House coffee, and he did accidentally swear on air. It was short, but it was sweet, and we really appreciate the Producers and Kevin for allowing him to come on.

You can watch the segment here.

Caught onto this hilarious satirical video today on David Eaves’ blog. It’s from a Norwegian TV show called Øystein & Meg back in 2001. A wicked spoof on the struggles of adapting to changing technology. The funniest thing is that one day I may have to teach my great grandchildren (or just my children) how to open and manipulate a book in a very similar fashion.

In 2005, Michael Sparaga went on the road across Canada with his quirky and quite successful film Sidekick. He decided to bring his camera along with him to make a doc about why people don’t see Canadian films. Here’s a trailer for the film, called Maple Flavor Films, which appears as part of the Canadian Film Fest in Toronto tomorrow at 3:30 pm.

National Post editor-at-large Diane Francis was on CBC Radio’s The Current with Anna-Maria Tremonti today, talking about her exciting new book, Who Owns Canada Now?

In the book, Francis exposes the extent to which the Canadian Establishment contrinues to morph and change. The reigning plutocracy that owned so much of the country twenty years ago (when Francis wrote Controlling Interest: Who Owns Canada) has given way to a multitude of self-made billionaires (more than the Forbes list acknowledges, Francis claims). And this new group doesn’t look anything like their predecessors at the top. To a large extent, they are of the Gates and Buffett school – the type of international entrepreneurs who aren’t likely to hand over their businesses to soft-headed children.

A business writing vet with a mind like a steel trap, Francis seems to have convinced a large number of otherwise reclusive billionaires on to her conversation couch. We haven’t read the book yet, but based on the interview (Tremonti’s are always good) it sounds like an intriguing look at money and influence in today’s Canada.

You can listen to the show here.

Tomorrow morning (Wednesday, March 26th), Paul will reach his life’s apotheosis when he appears on City TV (Toronto)’s Breakfast Television alongside Kevin Frankish (who has a great start-up story of his own). The interview will go on air sometime between 7 and 8am and will no doubt feature a suspender-off.