Mark Donnelly’s firing wasn’t political, but you’ll have a hard time convincing Don Cherry.
The longtime Canucks anthem singer is now the former Canucks anthem singer after team owner Francesco Aquilini got wind of Donnelly preparing to perform the Canadian national anthem at an anti-mask rally on the weekend. Aquilini unceremoniously fired the singer over Twitter, but it’s a move that has been a long time coming.
Over the last few seasons, the Canucks had already shifted more of the pre-game anthem singing to Marie Hui, previously the official anthem singer for the Vancouver Whitecaps. When the Canucks needed an anthem over video for their return to the playoffs after a four-year absence, Hui was tapped instead of Donnelly.
The melodramatic circumstances of Donnelly’s dismissal made it much more than a simple shift from his operatic stylings to Hui’s more modern approach. His alliance with the conspiratorial thinking of an anti-mask group in the middle of a global pandemic gave his firing an oversized sense of importance, which is fitting for Donnelly.
It also brought out some new allies, such as Don Cherry, who was fired from his longtime role on Hockey Night in Canada one year ago.
“When you give your opinion, you better be prepared to pay the price,” said Cherry to the Toronto Sun’s Joe Warmington. “Going to a ‘no-mask rally’ was not the politically correct thing to do. You have to do what the left media want now. I should know.”
According to Cherry, the lesson to be learned is “you can’t go against left-wing media’s rules” or “be more popular than the owner.”
Both are absolutely absurd statements.
Donnelly’s firing has nothing to do with some left-versus-right political binary or the left-wing media. Neither did Cherry’s firing one year ago.
A billionaire owner of a hockey team and a multi-billion dollar corporation firing a person can’t possibly be some sort of left-wing political statement. It’s just good old-fashioned capitalism. Donnelly promoting an anti-mask agenda while explicitly connected to the Canucks was bad for business.
Likewise, Cherry making a blatantly racist statement live on the air was bad PR for Sportsnet, who finally took action after years of similarly xenophobic statements. Sportsnet likely didn’t mind that it also took Cherry’s salary off the books.
Some want to suggest that Donnelly was fired for his personal opinion, but there are a few issues with that argument.
The first is that Donnelly’s right-wing views have been known for years now. He performed the anthem at an anti-abortion rally in 2012. He wasn’t fired at the time, despite the extreme imagery used by the anti-abortion group with whom he stood.
When the lyrics to “O Canada” were updated from “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command,” Donnelly silently protested — quite literally. While Donnelly’s go-to move was always to stop singing after the fourth bar and allow the crowd to take over singing, “With glowing hearts we see thee rise,” after the lyrics change he stopped singing a bar earlier so as not to ever sing “in all of us command.”
Donnelly wasn’t fired for expressing himself this way, even though it was literally his job to sing the anthem and he was doing less of his job than ever.
In 2018, Donnelly sought political office, pursuing the Conservative Party nomination for South Surrey-White Rock. He traded on his reputation as the self-proclaimed “Mr. O Canada,” railing against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for “running Canada off a cliff.” For this explicitly political statement, Donnelly wasn’t fired. He kept singing the anthem before Canucks games.
Clearly, Donnelly’s firing wasn’t political and it wasn’t for his conservative political views. If it was, the Canucks would have fired him long ago.
The Canucks gave him a platform to sing the national anthem, associating him with the Canucks’ brand. He used that platform in ways that connected the Canucks’ brand to something that made the Canucks look bad. Therefore, the Canucks took the platform away.
Frankly, Donnelly could have still attended the anti-mask rally as a private citizen. He would have been in violation of current provincial health orders restricting events and social gatherings, but he would have been unlikely to lose his job as a result. Instead, he both sang the anthem and spoke at the rally, explicitly using his public persona as the Canucks’ anthem singer. Capitalism did the rest.
As for left-wing media, Francesco Aquilini quote-tweeted an article from the Vancouver Sun when announcing Donnelly had been given the ax. While individual writers have many-varied political views, the Sun is owned by Postmedia, which has consistently endorsed Conservative politicians.
Then there’s Cherry’s odd claim that Donnelly was fired for being more popular than Aquilini. Even if Aquilini has his detractors — whether for business practices or being too involved in hockey operations — he’s not exactly unpopular among Canucks fans, with many even appreciating his willingness to spend to the salary cap every season.
More to the point, Donnelly quickly made himself very, very unpopular.
Eight in ten Canadians believe that masks should be mandatory in public places during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a July poll from Ipsos, with British Columbia reporting some of the highest support (83%) in Canada. That support has not waned. A petition for B.C. to adopt a mandatory mask policy reached over 21,000 signatures before Dr. Bonnie Henry put a mask mandate in place.
In other words, masks are very popular right now, and it’s not hard to understand why. They’re supported by science, we’re in a global pandemic that has seen the deaths of nearly 13,000 Canadians, and anti-mask claims are rooted in conspiratorial thinking that is easily debunked.
Far from Donnelly being more popular, by aligning himself with anti-maskers he sunk his popularity and, because of his association with the Canucks, threatened to hurt the team as well.
Firing Donnelly was certainly a popular move for Aquilini — support for the move has been overwhelming — but even that is means to an end. Good PR is good for business. And we’re back to capitalism.
Honestly, for someone who has spent so much time complaining about “left-wing pinkos,” Don Cherry should have been happy to see capitalism getting such great publicity.