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Goodbye to all that

Parting words from a back-page columnist.

outdoor patio with people working on it

Since this is my final column for Nation­al, I’ll take the op­por­tunity to be com­pletely self-in­dul­gent. It’s been a privilege for the last 15 years to entertain you and share my thoughts and feelings on legal developments and the relationships between law, the legal profession, popular culture and society. I’ll answer some lingering questions that readers may have.

Are you a witty bon vivant in real life? Actually no. Those who know me say I’m a dour ultra-conservative who spends his waking hours thinking about administrative law. My friend Steve Raby described me as impersonating and living off the notoriety of Doug Mah the magazine writer and when the real Doug Mah finds out about it, he’s going to be really mad.

How will we find out what happens with your children? Many readers comment how they’ve come to know my children and have followed their progress through the column. I report that Kate, who at this writing is finishing her third year of political science at University of Alberta, has a summer job in Washington as Barack Obama’s foreign policy adviser. (Actually, she’ll be an intern at the USDA, dealing with food inspection). 

My son Edward is a North American-ranked player in his favourite video game and I’m currently costing out good military schools for him. You’ll have to follow them on social media for further updates. 

The serious business of being funny. People ask: Are you funny in person? Well, I try to be when that’s my intention, but I tell you, it’s no picnic being funny on demand. In a recent arbitration, the arbitrator turned to me and said, “Say something funny. Tell us a joke.” I wish it worked that way. It’s a process of discerning the irony in life and then delivering it with words. And many don’t think I’m funny at all. (See next section.)

What’s it like being a famous writer? Well, I don’t really know, I guess I’ll have to ask one. For my part, I’ve made it through a decade and a half with only the odd lawsuit and death threat. 

Any tips on writing? Recently I had the chance to deliver a guest lecture on the topic of effective writing at Mask­wacis Cultural College, an indigenous people’s college located in a wholly aboriginal community in Alberta. My message to the class was that effective writing is the ability to convey meaning through the medium of the written word in a way that evokes thought or feeling. If a writer can make a person think, persuade someone, or bring out an intended emotion in the reader, then the writing is effective. It is best achieved through structure, clarity and economy.

With the internet as today’s primary marketplace, there has never been a better time to be a writer. Since the time of Gutenberg and up until the very latter part of the last century, the process of delivering content to readers was linear and required the successive steps of con­ceptualizing, writing, editing, proofs, printing and distribution. Now it is all done at once, instantaneously, by one person, through social media. The internet allows everyone to be a writer, as noted in Grant v Torstar, 2009 SCC 61 and R v National Post, 2010 SCC 16.

Goodbye to All That is the title of Robert Graves’ 1929 biography written on the occasion of his departure, for good, from England and the recognition of a new social order gripping the world. I’m borrowing the title because it aptly describes my own leave-taking from National which, starting next issue, will be presented to you in a revamped format.

I extend thanks to my original editor Jordan Furlong, who promoted me from the minors to the bigs and who himself is now a rock star legal profession consultant. I also thank current National editor Beverley Spencer and the staff for their unfailing support. I wish them all continued success and prosperity in this competitive environment. Renewal and response to societal change are essential to any entity, whether a magazine or a profession, if it wants to avoid diminishing into irrelevance. 

As for my intentions, well, I still have to keep working at my day job. I’ll continue to write legal textbooks and teach my university course in law to aspiring writers. I plan to take a short hiatus from this writing and may relaunch from a different platform. Readers who want to know if I take up again can follow me (in the social media sense, not the cult sense) on LinkedIn or Twitter. 

Finally, I want to thank you, the readers, each and every one of you, for your support and encouragement over the years.

And with that, I’m done.