Category: Canadian History

Response to the Political Scene in Ontario

Thanksgiving has come and gone, the leaves are in glorious colour, and the air is crisp. It’s a new school year, a new season of theatre, concerts and ballet, a Jewish new year. Like many others, it is also time for me to think of new directions ahead.

For months I have been overcome with an all-pervasive gloom which has left me anxious, dispirited, and anything but effervescent. I attribute it in part to the dismal political scene. The United Kingdom is in an existential crisis which has no obvious solution. In the United States, Trump and his Republican toadies continue undermining traditional American values, conventions and institutions in the name of what? Social conservatism? The wealthy who benefit from his tax cuts? The drama of dysfunctionality? The mid-term Congressional elections loom with the possibility of some improvement, but who knows?

Most discouraging has been the irrational Trumpism demonstrated by Doug Ford’s vindictive interference in the current Toronto municipal election. I come from a province which has had some wacky premiers. W.A.C. Bennett comes to mind, and Bill Vander Zalm. But even they never showed such contempt for the conventions of our democracy, nor for the opinions of voters, as did Ford in his recent actions.

To list what he did is to cringe:

1. an irrational and unfair interference in an ongoing municipal election

2. a total failure to consult with the voters involved

3. enacting legislation that contradicted the wishes of the City determined after several years and millions of dollars of consultation about appropriate ward sizes

4. demonstrating an abysmal lack of understanding about the role of the courts in Canada’s constitutional democracy

5. forcing an all-night legislative session trying to pass a Charter “notwithstanding clause” which former Ontario Premier Bill Davis and most other reputable politicians denounced. That Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney, supposedly thoughtful Conservative cabinet ministers who should have known better, supported his madness adds to the sorry nature of his enterprise

A week after Judge Belobaba accepted the argument of the plaintiffs that Ford’s Bill 5 violated s. 2 of the Charter, the Ontario Court of Appeal “stayed” his decision. In their view, Ford’s law may have been unfair, but it was likely not unconstitutional. This meant that Bill 5 creating wards in the city similar to those of M.P.s and M.P.P.s (unlike every other municipal jurisdiction in Canada) and reducing the number of councillors to 25 prevails for the election next week. The Court of Appeal (and perhaps even the Supreme Court of Canada) will consider the case in greater detail only after the election is long past.

The result was not surprising. But that the law permits the voters in the largest city in Canada, the economic engine of the province, to be treated so cavalierly is totally devastating. In my view, if our Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not extend to municipal governance, a huge lacuna cries out to be filled. A constitution which does not recognize how important municipal government is in the daily lives of contemporary voters is woefully out-of-date.

Mike Harris’ Conservative government in Ontario forced amalgamation on Toronto against the overwhelming wishes of the people in 1998, twenty years ago this year. Amalgamation has proven an expensive mistake. Within four months of assuming office, Doug Ford has used the same bullying strategy to impose on Toronto a City Council structure which was explicitly rejected by the city because it is unfair and will not work. He created a crisis where none existed. And the city will bear the cost for the foreseeable future.

This will be the last post that I write on politics for some time. The issues take too much out of me, and leave me too upset. In my self-interest, at an age when time is precious and good health is at a premium, I will focus on the good things going on in the world. Good news would be a welcome change.

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Canada’s Donald Trump in Action

We were right. Doug Ford is a Donald Trump. He is so enamoured with his own self-proclaimed expertise in business that he thinks he can run the government as if it were his private company. Notwithstanding the apparent advice of more experienced politicians around him, he has DECLARED that Toronto’s current ward system for municipal government is obsolete and that Toronto’s amalgamated City Council will be cut from 47 to 25 councillors.

Let us put aside the pros and cons of a reformed City Council. Many may agree that reform at the city level is required. I would agree to that. But there is absolutely no consensus on what kind of City Council we require. How many constituents are best served by a single Councillor? What is the relationship between the overall City Council and local Community Councils? How can a reduced number of councillors serve on the local councils and all City committees as well? All these are issues for empirical data and for discussion.

DOUG FORD HAS PREEMPTED ALL THAT. Just as Mike Harris did in December 1996, when he announced that the City of Toronto would be amalgamated by provincial fiat.

In the face of the public outcry that followed, even the Mike Harris government was forced to have public hearings at Queen’s Park on the issue. As I remember, over 600 individuals, experts and groups made submissions to the Legislature; only four spoke in favour of amalgamation. But Mike Harris’ majority government went ahead anyway, and we have been living with the consequences ever since. Whatever one thinks of the amalgamated City of Toronto, there is no doubt that amalgamation did not save money.

BUT DOUG FORD HAS GONE A STEP FURTHER. In the midst of a municipal election cycle, after most candidates have already registered to contest Council seats in existing wards, are already raising money and putting together their campaigns, and on the precise day nominations were to close, Ford HAS CHANGED THE RULES OF OUR MUNICIPAL ELECTION SET FOR OCTOBER 22nd.

As reported in the press, he has “thrown a bomb into our current municipal election,” so that whether the city can actually conduct the upcoming election is highly problematic. No advance notice. No opportunity for consultation with affected parties and the public. No discussion of the pros and cons of the new system. No reference to recent reforms to make our ward system more democratic. No consideration as to how the change of rules can even be implemented. None of this.

The simple answer, for a simple man unschooled in the subtleties and sophistication of politics, is that the municipal affairs of the City of Toronto will be governed using the constituencies established for federal and provincial purposes. An easy answer… to save taxpayers money.

Oh yeah? Not if I can help it. The last time I was this angry was when Mike Harris made his similar arbitrary announcement about the amalgamation of the City of Toronto. The provincial government, especially with a majority, may have the legal power to change the laws affecting how cities are run. But legal powers exist in the context of legal conventions, many of which are not written.

Canada’s administrative law applicable to all governments and government agencies (over and above the Charter) recognizes that people ought not be deprived of their rights except in accordance with “principles of fundamental justice.” What are “principles of fundamental justice”?

  • the right to know the case against you
  • the right to make representations on your own behalf
  • the right to a fair hearing
  • the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure
  • and, more broadly, “principles of fundamental justice” also include the right to fairness and to freedom from arbitrary action

If these rights are applicable to persons accused of offences before the courts, and to other individuals in civil conflicts with the state, they are equally applicable to candidates in current municipal elections and to voters who expect that our current election will be conducted according to the rules in effect at the time the election cycle begins.

There is nothing fair about changing the rules of our upcoming municipal election less than three months before election date. Doug Ford’s announcement is the epitome of arbitrary action. He doesn’t yet have legislative authority for what he intends to do, and already the upcoming election is thrown into chaos.

Fairness and freedom from arbitrary action are conventions in our political and legislative process which are unwritten but important nevertheless. What is most disturbing about Donald Trump is that he is unaware of existing political and governmental conventions, or ignores them at his pleasure, and does so with little public or political protest.

Doug Ford’s arbitrary and unfair interference in the current City of Toronto municipal process is analogous. I, for one, will not stand by and let it happen. Nor should anyone else. Our fundamental rights as a democracy play out in the context of process. Process is important. The issue is not reform of the Toronto City Council. The issue is the arbitrary and unfair actions of a provincial government which thinks it can change the rules without any input from the people affected.

I will be at City Council Monday morning to hear the continuing debate on what the City plans to do about this matter. I would urge you to take whatever action you can to require that the current election proceed according to existing rules.

 

 

 

 

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Trudeau’s India Trip and the Convicted Attempt Murderer

The Liberal Government fraternizing in India this week with a high-profile Indo-Canadian convicted years ago of attempt murder has stirred up a hornet’s nest. Rightly so. It is shocking that Jaspal Atwal, a businessman from Surrey, B.C. who was once an extremist for Sikh separatism who was convicted of attempt murder, appears in a photograph taken in Mumbai with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi. Worse still, Atwal was invited to an official dinner at the Canadian High Commissioner’s Residence in Delhi, and then, when the story broke, un-invited. Appropriately so.

I agree with the domestic and international press that both were serious diplomatic gaffes which the Trudeau government should have avoided. Canada, of all countries, should not be seen, or perceived to be seen, as supporting separatist aspirations anywhere abroad. 

Smelling fresh blood, The National Post ran several background stories Friday and Saturday on Jaspal Atwal. Christie Blatchford and John Ivison provide alarming details of his early membership in the International Sikh Youth Federation, which Canada banned as a terrorist group in 2003. The federation’s objective was separatism for Khalistan which John Ivison says is “the would-be Sikh homeland in the Indian state of Punjab.”

Atwal has a very serious record of criminal activity in Canada, promoting separatism in his homeland. In 1985, Atwal was charged with a vicious near-fatal attack on prominent B.C. politician Ujjal Dosanjh, who publicly opposed Khalistan separatism. Although Atwal was later acquitted in court, Dosanjh remains convinced that Atwal was his attacker.

In 1987, a B.C. court convicted Atwal and three others of attempting to assassinate a visiting Indian state cabinet minister who was attending a family wedding on Vancouver Island. Atwal was sentenced to twenty years in jail, a sentence upheld by the B.C. Court of Appeal in 1990. He actually served five years in prison before he was paroled. All this was in the context of the extreme Sikh terrorism, which included the worst mass murder in Canadian history, the 1985 Air India Flight 182 bombing which killed 329 people over Ireland. Sikh terrorists based in British Columbia planted the bomb which took down the airplane.

Atwal’s assertion that he has been rehabilitated from his youthful lawlessness is belied by his recent criminal record. In 2010, while working as a car salesman, Atwal was convicted of an elaborate automobile fraud against the B.C. Insurance Corporation. Two years later, his appeal against that conviction was denied. Under the current rule for pardons (ten years) imposed by the Harper government, he may not yet be eligible for a “pardon.”

In the face of his criminal record, his close ties with the Liberal party are cause for concern. Maura Forrest in The Post catalogued Atwal’s relationship with both the provincial and federal party. He was an executive member of a federal Liberal riding association in Surrey from at least 2011. He was invited to watch the budget speech in the B.C. legislature in 2012. He attended many fundraisers for the Liberals. He has been photographed with Michael Ignatieff, Justin Trudeau, Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough, and Brampton Liberal MP Sonia Sidhu. B.C. Liberal MP Randeep Sarai admitted that he facilitated Atwal’s request to attend the High Commissioner’s event, actions which Trudeau has now said he will investigate further. Apparently, Atwal had been on a list of extremists banned from entry into India. Yet here he was, admitted to India and intimately interacting with the Canadian delegation.

How embarrassing for Trudeau, the government and our country. It is almost as chilling as the picture of the Queen in the company of Colonel Russell Williams, a photo taken before Williams later pleaded guilty to multiple counts of first degree murder. At least, Williams’ crimes were not yet known; the Liberals have no such excuse about Atwal’s history.

The incident raises all sorts of very serious questions. Why was Atwal not vetted by officials at Global Affairs, ISIS, CSIS, or other Canadian intelligence and security? How is it that India lifted the ban against his admission to the country? How is it that the Liberals have been so close to him in recent years?

Maybe this will be a lesson for all Canada’s political parties. They cozy up to anyone for political purposes at their peril. If sexual misconduct is a no-no, surely an existing criminal record and a history of extremism and fraud should also raise a red flag. The pursuit of votes must not come by compromising Canadian values nor, more importantly, safety and security.

This incident is also a useful reminder to all Canadians, and particularly to newcomers to the country who may not know the details of our history, that violent extremism in Canada did not start with the Islamofacist jihadists we fear today.

When I was growing up in British Columbia in the 1950s, the radical Sons of Freedom Doukhobors, a religious sect from Russia who settled in the B.C. interior, bombed electricity power lines in the province and their women demonstrated in public places in the nude, against compulsory public education among other things. The B.C. government responded by arresting the bombers and rounding up their children to make them attend school. I don’t know if they had residential schools for Doukhobor kids; the topic would be worth some research.

During the 1960s, the Quiet Revolution in Quebec prompted the growth of the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec), a Marxist, paramilitary separatist group which used violence to promote its aims. In 1969, the FLQ bombed the Montreal Stock Exchange causing massive destruction and seriously injuring 27 people. The group set off a further series of bombs over the summer which culminated in their bombing the home of Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau. In October 1970, they kidnapped Quebec Deputy Leader and Minister of Labour, Pierre Laporte, whose body was later found in the trunk of his car. This began the October Crisis, when Prime Minister Trudeau the elder invoked the War Measures Act, to the horror of civil libertarians across the country.

When I was a judge sitting in Scarborough from 1995-1999, Tamil gangs, who brought their civil war from back home with them when they immigrated to Canada, plagued the community. Rival gangs were before the courts on many charges. I remember the day when one gang leader, charged with many crimes of violence, attended court with a can of gasoline under his arm. He apparently intended to immolate himself in the court room. When he was stopped by the strict airport-like security set up at the courthouse door, he threw the can of gasoline across the corridor, causing the building to be evacuated. He later received nine months in custody for charges arising out of that incident. This violence ended only after vigorous prosecutions and the intense involvement of the law-abiding Tamil community.

If Sikh separatist extremism is on the rise (who knew?), then it behooves all of us to make sure that we are not seen to be soft on violent extremism, either at home or elsewhere in the world. All politicians should take note.

 

 

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Dior Divertissement: Haute Couture as Therapy

Searching out the upbeat. Choosing what we can control as a diversion from a world run amok with negative news. These are recommended strategies in the age of Trump. If you are feeling anything like me these days, then the Christian Dior exhibit now on display at the Royal Ontario Museum is for you. It’s wonderful.

The haute couture house of Christian Dior opened in Paris in February 1947. The exhibition uses the ROM’S collection of Dior fashions to illustrate the first decade (1947-1957) of designs created for a “clientele of habitually well-dressed women.” Holt Renfrew, the sponsor of the exhibition, obtained the first license to sell and make Christian Dior designs in Canada. These are the actual day dresses, afternoon dresses, and evening dresses worn by Canada’s elite and donated to the museum. They are spectacularly beautiful.

Curator Alexandra Palmer has created a remarkably interesting show. It describes how the house of Dior functioned and how it achieved its international influence in a short ten years. We learn about “The New Look” and how it reflected (and added to) the aspirations of the post-war period. We learn how the house resurrected skills from the 18th and 19th centuries and adapted them to modern designs and materials. We visit the dressmaking atelier, see how the dresses were actually constructed, and what it took in both skill and materials to make “the look.” We see the difference between the original design concepts and the end product. We meet the tradespeople and suppliers of exquisite textiles, sequins, ribbons, and hand embroidery. We learn how their businesses operated and how they flourished with the success of Dior. We come to appreciate the relationship between the designer, the artisans, the models, the suppliers and ultimately between the design house, the merchants, and the clients. We see how the house stimulated other businesses to produce shoes, stockings, handbags, gloves, costume jewellery, and perfumes which promoted Dior’s design principles and added to the lustre of the label.

For a small exhibit with what seems like a modest footprint, it packs a wallop. It’s a fascinating insight into an amazing world.

To get full benefit from the show, make sure to read the electronic placards which describe all the dress designs on display. Klutz that I am with new technology, it took me awhile to figure out how to manipulate the touch screens. Once I did, I was enchanted. The placards describe the name of each design, the collection, the primary dress-maker, the model for whom the design was created, the significance of the design, the choice of the textiles and embellishments, and some of the clients who purchased the dresses. Here you will find copies of the original design drawings which are intriguing and beautiful works of art in themselves. There are also samples  of textiles from which the dresses could be made.

Also, sit down and watch the film. Apart from resting your feet, to see the real images of Dior working with the dressmaker and the model to perfect the dress in its last stage is to understand the relationship between them. Join the world’s major fashion buyers and their exclusive clients as they watch the models presenting a new collection of designs on a 1947-1957 runway. Some of the designs we saw on the original runway are on display in the exhibition.

Everyone I heard talking at this show had opinions on what they liked and what they didn’t. All were awestruck by the care put into the creation of the designs and the exquisite workmanship on display.

I took in the exhibit with ease in about ninety minutes. I left with impressions and questions which diverted me for hours. I consider that good therapy. The show runs on the fourth floor of the ROM (using the new elevators to the left of the entrance foyer) until mid-March. See rom.on.ca/whatson for talks and workshops on the subject.

 

 

 

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Renaissance from a Forest Fire

In August 2003, my cousins Doug and Cheryl Fraser were on a fishing trip to Tofino on Vancouver Island when they received an emergency call to return home to Kelowna right away. Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park, a tinderbox of old timber and dried duff which had accumulated for decades, was on fire. The Park sits to the west of their property which was in an area subject to an evacuation alert. Officials watched the progress of the fire which was dependent on the speed and direction of the wind.

Doug and Cheryl, attracted to the Rimrock area by the thick forest on their five-acre property and the view over Okanagan Lake, completed construction of their dream house two years before. Now they faced a desperate scramble to save their home. Doug consulted local fire officials who advised him to move anything flammable away from the house. The woodpile had to go. Doug called in professional woodsmen who felled fifteen trees which were close to the house, cut off all their branches, got rid of the leaves and the pine needles, mulched them, and hauled them away. The tree trunks were left lying on the ground, denuded of all readily flammable vegetation. They put three sprinklers on the roof, and used hoses to water down the cedar soffits.

Their neighbours thought they were crazy, but the plan paid off. One week after the evacuation notice was posted, the fire swept through Rimrock. When Cheryl and Doug returned to their house after the fire, they found the house below in rubble, and the house above razed to the ground. Of thirty houses in the area, fifteen were totally destroyed. Some the fire burned; others blew up when air in the modern-insulated, air-tight homes heated so rapidly that the houses exploded. The forest of trees on their property was charred, black and standing stark. The tallest of the trees, with a thick cambium layer, survived the fire although their trunks were singed close to the ground. Travelling fast through the property, the fire apparently jumped the structure with its soaking roof and no dry plants around to fuel the flames. Their house remained intact, with only a couple of window seals broken, a few spark burns on the roof, and some shingles that had become brittle and needed to be replaced.

After the fire, professional foresters removed five logging truckloads of marketable fir trees from the property. In all: 125 dead trees taken to the local mill where the wood was made into lumber. Within months, Doug and Cheryl started replanting. A local nursery gave everyone in the area a pallet of ponderosa pine seedlings, a total of 100 baby trees each. Doug and his brother Don dug up another 250 two- to three-foot fir, pine and larch trees which were growing under power lines up and down the valley. The brothers planted the young trees in sites across the five acres, strategically placed with open spaces nearby. To the east, is a standing stump from a tree that did not survive. Doug pulled it upright and keeps it for the birds.

It has been another season of forest fires in British Columbia. The worst ever, with hundreds of people evacuated, and fire fighters brought in from across the continent. The sky remains smoky, apparently from forest fires burning in Washington State. British Columbia is an economy based on the forest industry. Fires occur naturally and can be useful to clean out the forests and renew the resource. Out of control, they can bring devastation and disaster. My cousin’s experience in Kelowna is proof, however, that, from all the horror of that 2003 cataclysm, a renaissance has come.

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***** With great thanks to Doug and Cheryl Fraser for sharing their story. *****

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Happy Canada Day

It’s Canada Day tomorrow and time to get into the mood.

How better to do so than to join in song? The music video, “Mon cher Canada/This is My Canada,” launched earlier this month has circulated via email and on social media. Acadian singer-songwriter Jeanette Arsenault wrote the stirring song 25 years ago. New Brunswick songwriter Don Coleman produced this new rendition with the help of a bevy of well-known Canadian music talent including David Clayton Thomas (formerly of Blood, Sweat and Tears), Liberty Silver, The Good Brothers, and Acadian vocalist Wilfred LeBouthillier. I particularly liked the multicultural and highly energetic Young Singers group led by Anna Lynn Murphy and the interjections of twelve-year-old Indigenous dancer, Malakai Daybutch. Apart from the music, splendid photographs from all over the country evoke the beauty of our nation. My only disappointment was that the images did not portray any of the rich diversity and energy of our major cities. Maybe there is only so much that you can do with a limited budget raised from 400 donors in a GoFundMe campaign. As for “Mon cher Canada” becoming our second national song? I applaud the initiative and am happy to have it better known across the country. Take a listen for yourself, here.

The column below, written by former managing editor of the Globe and Mail Geoffrey Stevens, and published in the Waterloo Region Record on June 26, 2017, will evoke rich memories for boomers and pre-boomers. Newcomers to the country and those under 50 may appreciate a bit of history to fill in the context for what we celebrate today. In 1967, we had no idea what would happen within three years and where that would lead. We all went to Montreal for Expo 67, fell in love with Quebec and les Québécois, and then were more than happy to buy into official bilingualism and biculturalism. No one would ever have anticipated the existential threat of the country breaking up which arose with the Second Quebec Referendum in October 1995, nor the constitutional wrangling that continued thereafter. In my view, those years of turmoil were part of the adolescence of our country as it struggled to forge the unique identity that we now take for granted. Quebec has moved on, Canada has moved on, and today the challenge is to reconcile with our Indigenous people and integrate our latest multicultural newcomers. We are now a mature nation with so much to celebrate and to offer the rest of the world. In difficult times when the world is changing before our eyes, may we in Canada feel yet again the optimism and enthusiasm that prevailed in 1967. Canadians are blessed beyond belief. May our certainty of that give us what we need to pursue the future with energy, perseverance and grace.

“Remembering the best birthday bash ever – Canada Day 1967

“The sesquicentennial celebrations marking Canada’s 150 years as a nation on Saturday will feature the biggest birthday bash on Parliament Hill since the centennial in 1967. It will be a great party – and, with a budget of $2.5 million, it should be.

“But no matter how splendid the weather, how spectacular the entertainment, how dramatic the air show, or how eloquent the speeches, this year’s event will not hold a candle to the bash 50 years ago.
Fifty years? Can it be?

“Although I have tried to con my children into believing that I, like the late Jack Benny, am a mere 39 years old, I must confess I was there on Parliament Hill on that day, July 1, 1967, 50 years ago, covering the event for the Globe and Mail.

“The Queen was there. So was the new governor general, Roland Michener, and the soon-to-retire prime minister, Lester Pearson. Although I don’t remember a word any of them said that day, I do remember the Queen cutting the gigantic birthday cake, which rose to a height of 30 feet (the metric system not having come to Canada yet). I remember the bright new Canadian flag fluttering atop the Peace Tower and the centennial flame burning brightly in front of the Centre Block.

“But mostly I remember the crowd, both for its size – there had to be at least 100,000 people from every corner of Canada on the Hill that day – and for its excitement. There was a powerful sense that they were taking part in a historic moment in the life of their country.

“Historians would say later that 1967 was a watershed year, the year Canada emerged as a modern nation, the year we shed the vestiges of a colonial past and realized we had become a grownup independent country.

“It was an emotional year – the year Bobby Gimby’s “CA-NA-DA” became our unofficial anthem, the year that Expo brought the world to our shores, and the year our prime minister sent the president of France, Charles de Gaulle, packing, telling him he was not welcome in Canada after he shouted the separatist slogan, “Vive le Québec libre,” from a balcony at Montreal City Hall.

“Trouble in Quebec was on the horizon in 1967. Terrorist bombings had begun the year before and five bombs went off on New Year`s Day, 1967. Before the year was over, René Lévesque, a charismatic former journalist, would leave the Quebec Liberals to form his own sovereignist party. Within three years, the Front de libération du Québec would kidnap British Trade Commissioner James Cross and murder Quebec’s Labour Minister Pierre Laporte, and the War Measures Act would be invoked in Quebec. Three years after that, Lévesque and his separatist Parti Québécois would be elected in Quebec.

“The year 1967 was also the year when the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup. It would be the last Stanley for the Leafs for 50 years, and counting, although the crowd on Parliament Hill on that July 1 had no way of foreseeing this dismal fact.

“The mood that day 50 years ago was one of optimism and enthusiasm. There was a sense that anything was possible, that a new era was dawning. In terms of political leadership, it was true. Two months after the bash on the Hill, the Progressive Conservatives dumped their leader and former prime minister, John Diefenbaker, and replaced him with Robert Stanfield, the premier of Nova Scotia. Nine months after that, Pearson was gone and in his place the Liberals chose Pierre Trudeau, a swinging bachelor who made lady voters swoon and their significant others fume.

“He immediately called an election and swept to victory in June 1968. The “Trudeaumania election,” as it became known, was the most exciting election I ever covered. Yes I was there, on the planes and press buses, and one day I’ll tell my grandchildren all about it, even though I am still only 39.”


*****
This column is reprinted here with the kind permission of Mr. Stevens. 

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A Gem of a Concert

It is a striking story rich in imagery and drama. In the summer of 1701, over 1300 Native delegates paddled the northern rivers in their canoes headed for the colonial town of Montreal. They came from around the Great Lakes, from across the French colony, and from as far as Acadia, from 39 indigenous nations in all, to attend a peace conference called to put an end to decades of strife between them. In the middle of the conference, one of the leading organizers, Kandiaronk, a highly respected Wendat from Wendake (Huronia), fell ill and died. After funeral rites in both the Native and the French traditions, condolence ceremonies, and a funeral procession led by French troops, Huron warriors, clergy, the Native leaders and French officials, he was buried in Notre Dame Church in Montreal. Historians have said that his death brought everyone together and encouraged the signing of the peace treaty which was followed by feasting, dancing, singing and the exchange of goods.

The Toronto Consort, the nine-person ensemble of singers and instrumentalists led by David Fallis and known for their early music, turned the story of this “Great Peace of Montreal” into a haunting “choral documentary” which stunned the audience present for two sold-out Toronto performances on the weekend. Wendat scholar, poet and song-writer Georges Sioui brought the gravitas of his language, the wisdom of his poetry and the lyricism of his traditional music. Native singers and drummers, Ojibway Marilyn George and Wahta Mohawk Shirley Hay added their distinctive voices and drums. Wolastoq (Maliseet) composer and vocalist Jeremy Dutcher extrapolated from the oldest known recordings of songs by his Indigenous peoples along the St. John River basin, to produce a unique classical and operatic sound that brought the house down. He is now producing a CD, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, described as “part composition, part musical ethnography, part linguistic reclamation” that will be worth watching for.

The second half of the concert was a performance of “Wendake/Huronia,” another choral documentary, composed by Canadian composer and educator John Beckwith to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the first encounter between Samuel de Champlain and the First Nations people in the province of Ontario, at Wendake (present-day Huronia). Commissioned by John French and the Midland-based Brookside Music Association, it had its première in the 2015 Festival of the Bays. Joining the Consort for this performance were the 40-plus member Toronto Chamber Choir and several singers who sang in the première.

“Wendake/Huronia” is written for choir, alto soloist, narrator, early-period instruments with indigenous drums, and sung in French and Wendat. Surtitles help with the translation. Beckwith first compiled a text from historical sources to summarize the Wendat experience before, during and after contact with the Europeans. His music simulates the use of snowshoes and canoes, both modes of transportation which fascinated the French. It evokes the appeal to the Europeans of exploring over the seas. There is “a musical depiction” of the traditional “Feast of the Dead” which so intrigued all who encountered it. “Lamentation, 1642” reflects on the epidemics and warfare which decimated the population. It ends with a French version of a poem by George Sioui which expresses hope for peace and reconciliation. The music is a melange of modern and First Nation traditional; the story is our history which is well worth knowing. The effect of the performance on the audience was mesmerizing. John Beckwith, who celebrates his 90th birthday in March, was present to share in the acclaim.

This very ambitious and successful triumph blew away whatever elusive expectations I had for the evening. Congratulations to the Toronto Consort.

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“The Promise of Canada” by Charlotte Gray

With the ground shaking under our feet and accepted truths under attack, how better to prepare for the challenges ahead, than to remind ourselves of who we are, and what we represent? For Canadians, that means refreshing our memory about what makes Canada unique and about what we need to champion going forward. Charlotte Gray’s new book The Promise of Canada, published in October in anticipation of Canada’s 150th birthday, seems even more relevant in the aftermath of the American election.

Gray immigrated from Britain to Canada (and to winters in Ottawa) in 1979 when the exuberance of the Centennial, the new flag, and Trudeaumania had given way to fears of Quebec separatism and “regular spasms of insecurity.” Continuing “concerns about whether there was enough glue to keep the country together” was the prevailing preoccupation.

As she has “gradually morphed into a Canadian,” Gray has concluded that, “There is no master narrative for Canadian history: there are too many stories to package into a tidy, tightly scripted identity. Yet Canada exerts a sense of endless promise because… it has successfully managed so many competing pressures: parallel identities, layers of allegiance, deep-rooted hostilities, overlapping loyalties.”

Her book is a Petri dish approach to our history. She focuses on the lives of nine plus individual Canadians “whose stories reflect the evolution of Canada over the past 150 years,” and whose “reflections on being Canadian have become embedded in our collective subconscious.”

There are those she describes who “laid the foundation” of our national subconscious. George-Étienne Cartier preserved the French culture of Lower Canada by ensuring a federal system of government, and the protection of minority rights. Samuel Steele personified the North West Mounted Police as it imposed “peace, order and good government” in the Canadian west and during the Gold Rush in the Yukon. Emily Carr embraced her local Indigenous culture, and turned outward to Europe and Eastern Canada to inspire the modern artistic sensibility she brought to the lush forests of the west coast. Professor Harold Innis used his canoe trips on wild northern rivers as “dirt research” for his economic history of Canada as a northern nation that naturally grew east to west because of the fur trade.

Gray then describes individuals who have helped Canada become “a different kind of country.” Tommy Douglas and the CCF government in Saskatchewan (1944-1961) created a host of social programs (including but by no means limited to state-funded medicare) which became prototypes for similar social initiatives across the country. Margaret Atwood’s influence “landscaping Canadian literature” in her Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (1972) nurtured a rich garden of Canadian literature which has flourished and gone global. Bertha Wilson, who came to Canada in 1949 as an “accompanying spouse” of a Presbyterian minister, in 1982 became the first woman on the Supreme Court of Canada, and helped shape the rights we enjoy under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The last section of the book, “Straining at the Seams,” talks of the pressures on the country in recent decades, as Quebec separatism continued simmering, Indigenous people demanded self-government, western alienation became more vocal, and hundreds of thousands of new immigrants from different cultures adapted to life in Canada. The profile of Elijah Harper is searing, not only for his dramatic “No” to discussion of the Meech Lake Accord in the Manitoba Legislature on June 14, 1990, effectively killing the Accord, but also for what it shows about the history of the indigenous people in Canada, our shared responsibility for their continuing problems, and their increasing determination to be “Silent No More.” To answer the question, “What does the West Want?,” she describes Preston Manning’s response to the populist politics of Alberta and how his alternative vision for the country has influenced the mainstream. She concludes with a pastiche of new Canadians who have grown up with the enthusiasm, energy and creativity to achieve personal success and reinvent the country with them.

Gray acknowledges the warts and the inequities which, from our contemporary perspective, have stained the history of the nation. But she remains optimistic. “It helps to recall,” she says, “Canada’s extraordinary resilience during constant turbulent change, and to recognize subconscious as well as conscious change.” Ours is not a singular tribal identity. For all our differences, “we have learned to share this land and for the most part live in neighbourly sympathy.”

The Promise of Canada is a great read which raised my spirits and made me glad that I live in Canada. Maybe it will do the same for you.

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What Has the Trudeau Government Done, July-December 2016?

My single most popular post last year was my listing on July 5th of the Trudeau government’s accomplishments, to date. Six months later, it is useful to take up the catalogue again, with a little help from my stash of newspaper clippings, my increasingly informative e-news sources, and related webpages. Here is another list: what the government has done in the second half of its first year in office. I apologize in advance that this is more wordy than the previous one. Skip the details, if you like. Or print the post as a hard copy.

1. The government developed a transparent, predictable process for appointing Justices for the Supreme Court of Canada, and defined criteria for qualities of the judges they wanted. The criteria included “functional bilingualism” in both Canada’s official languages, and sensitivity to the diversity of Canada’s population. Although the Prime Minister retained the right to make the appointment, an independent Advisory Committee chaired by former Prime Minister Kim Campbell was struck to vet applications and make recommendations. The competition was opened to any lawyer in Canada who applied for the position. The existence of a pool of candidates who self-identify as potential Supremes is very useful. Future candidates are on notice about the qualifications expected for the job and the government will be able to make future appointments more expeditiously

2. In the face of widespread pressure to retain the customary regional allocation of Supreme Court judges, the government appointed Canada’s first Supreme Court of Canada justice from Newfoundland. Mr. Justice Malcolm Rowe is a white male from a rural fishing family who is more than “functionally bilingual” in French and who has a personal track record demonstrating his appreciation of Canada’s diversity. His appointment has been widely applauded.

3. On October 20th, the government appointed 25 new s.96 justices across the country. One to the Tax Court, three to the Superior Court of B.C., two to the Alberta Court of Appeal, five to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, three to the Manitoba Queen’s Bench, three to the Superior Court of Nova Scotia, one to the Ontario Court of Appeal, five to the Ontario Superior Court and one to the Quebec Court of Appeal. These appointments do not expand the complement, nor even fill all existing vacancies, but they are a start. Biographical information about all new appointments is available on the Department of Justice website.

4. On November 23rd, they appointed 22 Deputy Judges for the Superior Courts of Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. These part-time positions were appointed from existing jurists across the country.

5. The government defined a new transparent procedure for future s. 96 judicial appointments. Each province will have an Advisory Committee to solicit and vet applications. Committees will consist of representatives from the provincial Attorneys General, the major legal professional bodies, and three lay representatives. Anyone interested in serving as a lay member of these committees had to submit an application by mid-November. Clarifying the process and broadening the base of input into judicial recommendations will encourage the diversity that a responsible judiciary requires.

6. The process of building a new independent Senate was initiated. The government established an Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments consisting of a chair, two federal members and fourteen members representing the provinces. The role of the Advisory Board is to receive applications and provide recommendations on Senate appointments to the Prime Minister. The board is to advertise vacancies as they occur, and apply public, merit-based criteria “in order to identify Canadians who will make significant contribution to the work of Parliament.” On October 27th, the government announced nine individuals named to the Senate under the new procedure to fill vacancies in B.C., Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Their biographies are on the webpage of the Advisory Board.

7. The Terms of Reference of the Advisory Board require a report to the Prime Minister within three months of submitting names for appointments. On December 21st, the Advisory Board published its report on the first cycle of their permanent process from July to November 2016. The report indicates that 2,757 applications were received, 308 from B.C., 145 from Manitoba, 127 from New Brunswick, 174 from Nova Scotia, 1169 from Ontario, 768 from Quebec, and 66 from Prince Edward Island, 39.9 % female, 60.1% male, 67.9% English, 31.3% French, 21.08% unknown, self-identified diversity of 3.74% LGBTQ, 19.59% ethnic/cultural group, 13.57% Indigenous, 24.99% visible minority, and 9.03% people with disabilities. All of this information is also found on the website of the Board.

8. Canadians can now apply online “until 23:59 Eastern Time on January 25, 2017” for six Senate vacancies expected in 2017 in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario. The assessment criteria, forms and templates, frequently asked questions, and guidance on how to create a profile and submit an application are all on the website of the Advisory Board, as above.

9. The initiatives above are described in great detail on government websites which are user-friendly and readily accessible. These are a welcome contrast to the opaque government websites under the previous regime, notable for their singular lack of accessible information. 

10. The government concluded and ratified the Canada Europe Free Trade Agreement. Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland is generally credited with having acquitted herself well in the last-minute negotiations.

11. In September, Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna both met with officials in China to encourage more bilateral trade, address climate change initiatives, and deal with more specific issues between them. Canada renewed its commitment to support of the CCICED (an international advisory body established in 1992 to provide China’s State Council with research-based policy recommendations on environment and development issues). During Prime Minister Trudeau’s official visit to China (August 30 – September 6, 2016), the two countries agreed to address climate change through the Paris Agreement, and signed a statement of cooperation between Parks Canada and the National Development and Reform Commission of China regarding establishment, conservation, and management of protected areas.

12. In October, the government announced a pan-Canadian approach to pricing carbon pollution. Provinces and territories will have flexibility in deciding whether to implement the policy by a direct price on carbon pollution or by adopting a cap-and-trade system. Although the provinces will choose the specific nature of their own climate change policies, the federal government has set a national “floor price” on carbon that all provinces must levy by 2018. The price is to be $10 per tonne of carbon dioxide emissions in 2018, rising by $10 each year to $50 a tonne by 2022. The federal policy provides that all proceeds from carbon pricing will return to the provinces implementing the policy. See CBC news coverage of this initiative. 

13. In October, they announced plans for a “Canada Infrastructure and Development Bank” to be promoted with large international institutional investors in a conference featuring Trudeau and Moreau in November. See my previous post, “Private Money for Public Infrastructure?” 

14. In late November, the government approved twinning of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby. If constructed, the number of tankers carrying diluted bitumen travelling through Vancouver harbour, the Salish Sea and Juan de Fuca Strait will increase from approximately five to 34 a month. The project is almost universally opposed by local municipal governments, environmentalists and Indigenous groups. Trudeau said the government expects Kinder Morgan to “meet and exceed” the 157 conditions imposed by the National Energy Board in April. Earlier in the month, the federal government announced a $1.5 billion ocean protection plan to improve responses to tanker and fuel spills in coastal oceans.

15. The same day, Trudeau announced that the government is approving the new Enbridge Line 3 renewal to transport oil from a terminal near Hardisty, Alberta to Gretna, Manitoba, near the Canada-US border. There, it will continue through northern Minnesota to refineries in the USA. A 1,659-kilometre project worth $7.5 billion dollars, the renewal will double the volume of oil carried by the existing pipeline, funnelling nearly three million barrels a day of Alberta oil to the United States. The National Energy Board approved that project in April with 89 conditions affecting the Canadian section. The project will need further permit approvals from the state of Minnesota where there is considerable opposition to running a pipeline through environments important for their water supply.

16. At the same time, Trudeau announced that the federal government would not approve Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to Kitimat in northern B.C for export via the northern coast of B.C. He also announced that the government will introduce a new law in 2017 to impose a moratorium on crude oil tankers along B.C.’s North Coast.

17. Opponents of this pipelines policy vow continued opposition to the government’s decision so that they may never be built. Environmentalists are also concerned that pipelines for fossil fuels undercut Canada’s commitment to climate change. Trudeau replied that the pipelines were in the national interest, support the Canadian economy and help the Alberta economy to access foreign markets. He also insisted that transporting oil by train (the current practice) is more hazardous to the environment and public safety than use of pipelines.

18. In December, Trudeau met with heads of the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Manitoba Métis Federation. The Prime Minister committed to an annual meeting with the heads of the organizations, “to develop shared priorities and to monitor progress” on implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools. In addition, similar meetings with key cabinet ministers will take place at least twice a year. Indigenous leaders were pleased with, at least “a strategy and plan moving forward.” Senator Murray Sinclair, former head of the TRC, was pleased with the announcement. See Gloria Galloway’s article from the December 16, 2016 Globe and Mail.

19. In December, Canada contracted with Polaris Industries ($28 million) to deliver 78 of its Ultra Light Combat Vehicles (DAGOR), described as “dune buggies on steroids,” to Canada’s Special Operations Forces Command. The first 52 vehicles were purchased immediately for delivery in 2017, the remaining 26 will be delivered in early 2018. The vehicle will add a weapons turret for off-road operations and will be transported by a variety of military aircraft, including helicopters. The contract includes technical and logistics support for two years through Black’s Corners Motorsports (BCM), in Carleton Place, Ottawa. See David Pugliese’s recent article in the Ottawa Citizen.

20. In December, Science Minister Kirsty Duncan announced a ban on asbestos and asbestos-containing products by 2018. Canada’s last asbestos mines closed in 2011, but Canada has been slow to meet international anti-asbestos standards. The government announced that it will draft a new regulation under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to ban “manufacture, use, import and export” of asbestos-containing products including building materials and brake pads. It will also introduce new federal workplace health and safety rules to “drastically” limit the risk of on-the-job asbestos exposure, expand the current list of asbestos-containing buildings owned or leased by the Canadian government, and work with the provinces to include a prohibition on use of asbestos in building codes, affecting new construction and renovations. Read Tavia Grant’s Globe and Mail article, where she reports that advocates have termed the ban “a win for public health,” but long overdue. Note that “under its proposed regulation, the mining and processing of asbestos tailings and residue in Quebec” will be excluded from the ban.

21. In December, the government received the Report of the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation chaired by Anne McLellan. Even Chris Selley in the National Post (“The clock starts now for pot legalization retitled for web-posting) said it “is the picture of bold common sense: set a minimum age of 18 for purchase, leaves to the provinces to determine retail models preferably keeping weed separate from alcohol, enforce labelling standards for higher strains and potency, allow people to grow a few plants at home, get busy studying the implications for impaired driving.” To meet the problem of higher potency marijuana, there will be a higher tax on higher potency. As Selley noted, “this file remains an opportunity for the Liberals to expend some capital doing the right thing, coherently and backed by evidence, for the right reasons—freeing up justice system resources, liberating people from ridiculous and counter-productive threat of criminal sanction, putting gangsters out of business.” Anne McLellan indicated that the consultations of her Committee were comprehensive and intensive, open to hearing all interests. The age group 18-24 is the age cohort most using cannabis, which they now obtain from the illegal market. The CMA had recommended 25 years of age (after the developing brain is intact) as the minimum legal age. The government compromised, 18 or 19 years of age, like alcohol, as determined by the provinces, in the expectation that young people of that age can make an informed decision after considering the risks.

23. In December, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains announced further details of a program called “Connect to Innovate,” a five-year program to invest $500 million in expanded broadband internet access in 300 remote and rural communities. Companies seeking funding under the initiative have until March 13, 2017 to make their applications.

24. The government prepared plans to respond to the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. They publicly adopted an international stance in favour of trade, immigration and diversity. Paul Wells, in the Toronto Star December 16th, noted that Trudeau told reporters from the Guardian, Britain’s leading centre-left newspaper: “If we can show—as we are working very hard to demonstrate—that you can have engaged global perspectives and growth that works for everyone, then that diffuses a lot of the uncertainty, the anger, the populism that is surfacing in different parts of the world.” Pie in the sky? Or a real new role for Canada? It’s too early to tell, but at least the Trudeau government has staked out the Canadian alternative.

25. Patrick Gossage for CBC News on December 30th suggested that “the celebrity status of Trudeau and Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau in the United States” will be to their advantage in dealing with president-elect Trump. They are very popular there and, just as Reagan got along with Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Trump will likely get along with Justin. He also noted that their shared support of the Keystone XL pipeline in the USA will be “a gift” for Canada, and that Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, “knows Canada well, and Exxon has large holdings in Canadian oil retail, exploration and development.”

25. In December, Health Minister Jane Philpott and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale introduced Bill C-37, a new law and regulations amending the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Customs Act and the Proceeds of Crime and Terrorist Financing Act. These changes will make it easier for safe injection sites to open and make it harder to smuggle fentanyl into the country. Empirical data based on the Vancouver Insite clinic shows that such facilities save lives, allow addicts to access appropriate services, and do not have any negative impact on criminality. The new law repeals entirely the 26 criteria the previous government had passed which made it next to impossible for additional sites across the country to adopt the elements of the Vancouver model. The new strategy also puts drug policy back under the Health ministry and away from the Department of Justice.

26. The government made numerous changes in Canada’s taxation laws, which I will leave aside for the moment, as they are undoubtedly complex and I would need to defer to my son who is the tax specialist in the family. I do note, however, that my favourite children’s toy shop and bookstore is advertising the new “Teacher and Early Childhood Educator School Supply Tax Benefit.” This tax change will provide a cash benefit of up to $150 for purchases of supplies and materials up to $1000 made by all certified teachers and educators for their classes. I am normally opposed to tax “expenditures” of this kind but, if they must exist, providing some compensation for teachers is a good thing. Apparently, “the list of allowable school supplies will draw on best practices in Prince Edward Island, which has already implemented a provincial school supply tax benefit.” There are many ways to craft cooperative federalism. Imitating best practices from other jurisdictions is one of them. According to the promotional material, this tax benefit “will apply for the 2016 tax year and subsequent taxation years, and will generate $60 million annually in tax savings for teachers and early childhood educators across the country.”

27. In August, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and a team of Ministers announced that the federal government would spend $450 million over three years on a peace and stabilization fund that will be used for renewal of Canadian participation in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations. The allocation will extend to 150 police officers, an increase to $47 million in the RCMP stabilization fund, and up to 600 Canadian troops, the provision of air transport, medical, engineering and training components. During the fall, consultations continued with the United Nations and NATO allies about where deployment(s) would occur. The countries reviewed by the Defence Minister include Mali, the Congo and the Central African Republic. In January, Global Affairs, the newly renamed Department of Foreign Affairs, has scheduled a day-long strategy session with government officials and experts to give flesh to this policy. Expect details of how the new deployment will be “branded” and where it will occur. See the article by Mike Blanchfield in National Observer.

28. In November, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced that the government would purchase 18 Boeing Super Hornet fighter jets, in addition to holding a competition down the road for replacement of the C-18 fleet. The Super Hornet is considered to be a cheaper alternative to the F-35 stealth fighter jets selected by the Conservative government. Both types of jets are used by Canada’s allies. There is concern, however, that punting the decision about the F-35s down the road amounts to a “final decision” on the issue for the foreseeable future.

I don’t know about you, but I consider this list a pretty full agenda. Not bad at all for the second six months in office.

Understandably, there is disagreement over the specifics of particular policies. Partisans on all sides have strong positions. Whether for or against, I think that the government has done a great deal. Theirs may be a middle position, even a conservative position, but at least they have taken a position on many issues and are prepared to go forward. To say, as does Paul Wells in the Toronto Star in his December 16th article, “Global darling Trudeau fails to deliver at home,” that the Liberal government has done nothing is incorrect. “False news,” even.

“Failures” to date:

  1. The Special Committee of MPs studying Electoral Reform recommended that the government hold a referendum that pits the current First Past the Post system against a system of proportional representation, but apparently did not recommend a particular method of proportional representation. Notwithstanding this result, the Liberal members of the committee do not agree that a referendum should be held and the NDP and Green members issued a joint supplementary report which also questions the need for a referendum. Minister of Democratic Reform Maryam Monsef rebuked the committee for failing to recommend a specific type of proportional representation system. Among other things, she said they had “shirked their responsibility.” It is not surprising that she was later forced to apologize for her remarks. I have not read the reports, but clearly the government looks bad on this issue. They benefit from the FPTP system and have little incentive, except fulfilling an election promise, to change it. I agree that previous referenda about electoral reform have all failed. In my view, they failed because more resources were spent on the consultation process than on educating the public about the nature of the alternative proposal. When the electorate is confused, and comes out in low numbers, any referendum is useless. If a referendum were desired, it strikes me that ours should follow the Irish model. There, they have high voter turnout and have made significant constitutional changes. See my previous posts entitled “Lessons from the Irish Referendum for Canada” and “Revelling in the Results of the Irish Referendum.” If nothing else, maybe the Liberal government could pass legislation making it mandatory that people vote. That would be an excellent “electoral reform” to implement before the next election. Who would disagree with that? There are precedents in other parts of the world.

2. In late December, Finance Minister Bill Morneau began negotiations with the provinces and Territories about the new federal Canada Health Transfer (CHT). The current federal contribution of 6% is scheduled to end next year. He offered to raise the minimum annual increase the government had previously offered from 3% to 3.5%, add an extra $8 billion over ten years for home care and mental health, as well as $544 million over five years for prescription drug and “innovation” initiatives. Talks broke down and that offer is now off the table. Most provinces rejected the offer because provincial demands for the base CHT were considerably higher, and because the extra funds came with federal strings attached. Later in the week, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia broke ranks with the rest of the provinces and entered into bilateral agreements with the federal government. They accepted the federal offer of 3% plus the add-ons, with the proviso that should other provinces receive a higher base transfer, they too would get the higher rate. Moreau had said before the meeting that that if no deal could be reached, federal support would revert to an annual increase in health transfers of 3%, or nominal economic growth, and provide $3 billion for home care. This federal “take it or leave it” approach angered most provinces and, in my view, is a bluff. Expect further negotiations in January. I’m betting that all provinces will be on board eventually, and that some arrangement will be made so that “strings attached” will accommodate “the special nature of Quebec.”

3. The primary concern of the opposition parties and the media seems to be “access in exchange for political funding.” Trudeau may not be living up to his lofty standards, and certainly not the standards imposed by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. But, as Tom Flanagan argued in the Globe and Mail on December 16th, what they are doing is no different from the same thing done by other parties. As Flanagan warns, and Andrew Coyne took up in the National Post this morning, if critics are not careful, the Liberals may well restore government financial subsidies to political parties based on the vote, first implemented by Prime Minister Chrétien and later terminated with relish by Harper. The Tories would hate that, although the NDP, Green Party, and Liberals would be delighted. Wouldn’t that be an interesting twist?

In my view, that the opposition (and the conservative media) is obsessed with this issue, in the face of all the other things the government has done August to December, speaks to their weakness. Preoccupied as they are with choosing new leaders, the Trudeau government can get on with its agenda.

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Toronto’s Great War Attic

Have you heard of the City of Toronto’s Great War Attic? I hadn’t until just this week. To commemorate the centenary of World War I, the City of Toronto in 2014 undertook to document how ordinary citizens experienced the First World War and how their ancestors continue their connection with it.

In what was conceived as a type of Antiques Roadshow, the City invited citizens to identify any World War One artefacts they might have in their possession and bring them with their stories to a series of twelve “pop-up museum” events. There, curators and historians photographed these keepsakes and recorded the oral history stories for permanent display in the Canadian Encyclopedia. The stories have been passed down through several generations. The artefacts were sometimes found unexpectedly in attics, chests, closets and basements. You can see the virtual museum of these personal experiences of the war on the internet

Ten short documentary films were also produced to feature some of the stories and artefacts. Among others, the films tell of a poetry book that came back home after the poet died at Ypres in 1915, a small suitcase of medical equipment used by a wartime field nurse, letters long left unopened describing the last thoughts of a young soldier who died just before his 19th birthday. The ten videos can be seen on The Great War Attic webpage

Monday night, I was privileged to see three of these videos, meet the storytellers and learn about their artefacts. Marylyn Perringer, a professional storyteller and my friend, told the story of her father’s autograph book from the Verdala Prisoner of War camp in Malta. The Salter Album:Encounters in Malta’s Prisoner of War Camps 1914-1920 is now available at the Toronto Public Library. I have described Marylyn’s odyssey to share and preserve her parent’s experience in a previous post, Reconnecting with Roots. It’s a wonderful story of how prisoners from countries in conflict experienced their common humanity in a detention centre.

John Metcalfe, formerly in the Toronto theatre scene and now a teacher of special needs children, told of how he inherited his grandfather’s World War One trench coat and what it meant to him when he wore it growing up. Funny isn’t it? Until Monday night, I had never thought of what we commonly call “a trench coat” as originating in World War One.

Kanwar Singh, whose paintings have been exhibited across North America, Europe and India, was born in the Punjab and grew up in Toronto. He described how his study of history at York University formed the basis for the development of his artistic style. He was approached by a small museum in Malta to do a painting of a Sikh soldier in World War One. Over 200,000 Sikhs fought in World War One, primarily in the British forces, and a few with Canada. Now that India is independent, the loss of thousands of Sikh lives in military campaigns on behalf of Britain and the Empire at the time is ignored. He discovered that one such Sikh who fought for Canada was Buckam Singh who is buried in Kitchener. With no photo of his subject available, he re-imagined him as a symbol of all those Sikhs whom the artist sought to honour.

The Great War Attic project is a joint venture of the City of Toronto Museums and Heritage Services department, Historica Canada (the proprietor of the Canadian Encyclopedia), the York University History Department and the Multicultural History Society of Ontario. I commend it to you. The stories are fascinating, the artefacts moving, and the venture a most worthy memorial of those who gave all they had in war that we might have peace.

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Why Only One Bank NOTE-able Canadian Woman?

This spring, the Bank of Canada and the Trudeau government announced that the face of a woman other than the queen will be appear for the first time on a Bank of Canada bank note. Apparently a new series of bank notes is being released in 2018, and one of that series will feature the face of a woman.

The Bank launched a public consultation process to select “an iconic Canadian woman.” From March 8th to April 15th, over 26,000 names were suggested. On April 4th, an Advisory Council of seven diverse Canadians was appointed. The Council includes two historians, a sociologist, a university president, a youth activist, a young writer, and a champion 100-metre hurdler who has “earned more international medals and titles than any other female track and field athlete in Canadian history.” It’s a very impressive group whose biographical information you can read on the internet. Two experts were also appointed to advise on consultation strategies.

The first consultation generated 461 names of women who met the qualifying criteria: Canadian by birth or naturalization, “outstanding leadership, achievement or distinction” in any field benefitting the people of Canada, and deceased for at least 25 years. These names went to the Advisory Council to develop a “long list.”

See A Bank NOTE-able Canadian woman and find out how many names you recognize on this first list. I am chagrined to report that, despite my multiple university degrees, lengthy professional career, and lifelong feminism, I only recognized 33 of the names. And of even these, only most vaguely. Test yourself. How many names do you know from the list? Can you say anything specific about even those you recognize? If you are anything like me, our collective knowledge about the contributions of women over Canada’s history is abysmal.

The Advisory Council identified a “long list” of twelve nominees for the potential “NOTE-able woman.” They applied four criteria: the woman should have broken or overcome barriers, be inspirational, have made a significant change, and left a lasting legacy. They also considered three operating principles: the woman should “resonate with Canadians, reflect the diversity of Canada, and her achievements must be seen in the context of the time they lived.”

So who actually made the long list? The women chosen were: Pitseolak Ashoona, Thérèse Casgrain, Emily Carr, Viola Desmond, Lotta Hitschmanova, Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake), Elsie MacGill, Nellie McClung, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Fanny (Bobbie) Rosenfeld, Gabrielle Roy, and Idola Saint-Jean. Check out their basic biographical details on the above website. Be warned: the details are basic. 

According to an Angus Reid survey in early May, 27% of 1,517 Canadian members on an online forum favoured Nellie McClung as their number one choice. Thérèse Casgrain, Elsie MacGill, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Emily Carr and Viola Desmond were in the top six.

I knew little of the above when I read by chance this summer Nellie McClung’s The Stream Runs Fast: My Own Story (1945 reissued in 2007 by Thomas Allen). McClung is a wonderful writer whose life as an author, prairie reformer, suffragette, legislator, and representative of Canada on the international scene, is much more significant than her participation in the Persons Case. If her life is typical, all the top nominees from this very elaborate “recognition of women” process warrant a place on a bank note.

Reading her autobiography makes it clear to me that choosing one Bank NOTE-able Canadian Woman is the worst kind of tokenism. The bank notes in question are projected for 2018. Why are not all the top nominees included on the next set of bank notes? As this very elaborate process has indicated, there is no shortage of qualified women. Do we not have five bank notes? Of course we do. We have a $5, $10, $20, $50, $100, and even higher bills.

If Canadian women deserve recognition on one bank note, they deserve recognition on a whole series of bank notes. What other subject in the new series could be more important than recognizing the forgotten contributions of diverse women in Canadian history? The Bank of Canada Museum website describes all our Canadian bank note series. There is a bank note series on “Canadian landscapes,” “Canadian scenes,” “Canadian birds,” “Canadian journeys,” a “Commemorative” series on firsts, and a “Bilingual” series. Given this track record, why not an entire series on “iconic Canadian women?” If the Advisory Council is to achieve its operating principles, there can be no other choice. It is, after all, 2016.

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Has John Ibbitson forgotten the contribution of Western Canada to our Peaceable Kingdom?

On July 2nd, John Ibbitson wrote an article in the Globe and Mail called “The peaceable kingdom in an increasingly populist world.” The question he posed was, “What [is] inoculating [Canada] against the intolerance infecting other Western countries?”

His response was that “Part of the answer could be in Quebec [which] since the days of the Quiet Revolution has pursued a socially progressive communitarian agenda.” What he said was true, but it misses a much more important point… that socially progressive communitarian values had evolved out of western Canada decades earlier. Since 1932, an ongoing and vibrant social democratic third political party has existed in Canada which has contributed to “the forward-thinking approach to social policy [which] is the principle reason that Canada ranks so highly on the Social Progress Index.” For a Canadian-born journalist acclaimed for his political analysis, this is a singular omission. Has Central Canada forgotten the history of the Canadian West and what it has contributed to Canadian society?

The Canadian Commonwealth Federation (the C.C.F. and the forerunner of the current New Democratic Party) was founded in Calgary, Alberta in 1932 by a coalition of socialist, agrarian, cooperative, labour and academic groups reacting to the economic depression of the 1930s. They and their descendants came to Canada 1880-1914 to populate the Canadian prairies served by the new railroad. These were “the hearty peasant folk from Europe,” the Ukrainians, Poles, Doukhobors, Mennonites, Hungarians, Romanians, Icelanders, Finns, and Scandinavians who worked the farms and created the Canadian West. They were joined by hordes of British immigrants who tended to be less successful farmers, lived in the cities and small towns, and practiced their Methodist and Presbyterian “social gospel” from their newly built local churches. These were the immigrants who laid the foundations for two new provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan, in 1905.

There is no dispute that the C.C.F. which emerged from the dustbowls of the dirty ’30s planted the roots of the social welfare system that we enjoy in Canada today. The farmers, preachers, academics, and trade unionists gathered in Regina in 1933 to hammer out the Regina Manifesto wanted a pension, health insurance, unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, and farm security. In 1935, five C.C.F. members were elected to Parliament, including Baptist minister Tommy Douglas.

Less than a decade later, on June 15, 1944, Tommy Douglas and the C.C.F. won 47 out of 52 seats in the Saskatchewan provincial election and formed the first socialist government in North America. Theirs was a highly innovative government which transformed the relatively poor and agrarian province of Saskatchewan into “Canada’s leader in progressive social policy.”

The catalogue of their achievements in the post-war years is breathtaking and well worth the attention of newcomers who may not know the details of western Canadian history.

The Tommy Douglas C.C.F government brought Medicare to Canada. They did so in steps. First, they provided free health care for pensioners, free psychiatrist hospital treatment for the mentally ill, free cancer treatment for the needy, organized the first comprehensive health services regions, constructed new health care facilities, created a medical school at the University of Saskatchewan, and an Air Ambulance service. On January 1, 1947, they brought in the first universal and compulsory hospital insurance program in North America. It provided complete hospital benefits to all residents including access to 21 new hospitals built over four years, x-ray and lab services, common drugs, and compensation for out of province medical hospital costs. The plan cost $5 per person to a maximum of $30 per family per year. From 1959-1962, in the face of vigorous opposition from the province’s doctors, the C.C.F. government brought in the Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act. This provided universal comprehensive medical insurance for all residents. The intent of the universal public system was to keep the costs of insurance premiums affordable ($12 per year for an individual, $24 for a family), justify the large expenditure of public funds that would be necessary to make the program work, and make sure that the government would be accountable for its management.

Other “firsts” from the Tommy Douglas C.C.F. government were extensive. They consolidated the public school system, increased wages for teachers, brought in new school curricula, funded grants to universities and colleges, gave entrance scholarships for high school graduates, enacted trade union laws guaranteeing workers the right to organize and bargain collectively, and set up a Labour Relations Board and a Workers’ Compensation Board. 

They also created a Social Welfare Department which increased old age pensions, mothers’ allowances and welfare benefits, assumed wardship of orphaned children, set up a better adoption system, and took responsibility for youth corrections. In addition, the Douglas government created the Saskatchewan Government Insurance Office (1945) for everything except life insurance. The next year, they expanded it to include compulsory no-fault auto insurance.

They protected farm owners from foreclosure and repossession (1944), increased resource royalties, and allowed for government development projects, established the Saskatchewan Power Corporation (1949), the Saskatchewan Government Telephone (1944), and the Saskatchewan Transportation Company (1946) to provide cheap bus service. They passed the Rural Electrification Act (1951), to bring power to farmers and rural communities. They negotiated with the federal government of John Diefenbaker for joint funding of The South Saskatchewan River Dam Development Project (1958), to irrigate farmland and generate hydroelectric power.

They enacted the Archives Act (1945), the Regional Libraries Act (1946), and set up the Saskatchewan Arts Board (1948), the first on the continent to create scholarships for art, music and handicrafts and to fund performers, agencies and schools.

This C.C.F. government enacted Canada’s first Bill of Rights (1947) including a ban on racial and religious discrimination, and protection of freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and elections.

There is a reason that the 2004 CBC poll found Tommy Douglas to be “The Greatest Canadian of All Time.” It may not be fashionable to say so these days, but the social democratic government of Tommy Douglas created the prototypes, fought the battles, and set the standard which other governments emulated and which stimulated the social policy we enjoy today. Knowing the history is important.

***** I submitted the original of this piece to the Globe and Mail several weeks ago. I guess they found it too long, too dense, or too politically incorrect to publish. Hopefully, John Ibbitson is not offended if one takes issue with his analysis. Thanks to Steve Pticek who told me that Tommy Douglas had been his hero when he came to Canada from Croatia and had helped “mellow” his own political views. My conversation with Steve reminded me that I could publish this piece in The Effervescent Bubble.

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