Monthly Archives: June 2007

Canada isn’t all that bad after all

As we prepare for a quintessentially Canadian celebration of our national holiday, hoping the long weekend traffic is not made intolerable by native blockades, I seek reasons to wave a flag. I’ve settled on the national beer glass being well over half full.

I know, I know. “It could be much worse” is a quintessentially Canadian rallying cry. I would like to be more positive. But I cannot do a Maple Leaf Forever kind of column, not least because that aspect of our heritage is not exactly popular with the smart set. Americans generally lay aside their grievances on the 4th of July because they regard their history as fundamentally glorious. But here the official view is quite different. Our statesmen were bigots, our industrialists rapacious, our scholars hegemonist, our soldiers war criminals, and our past a shabby nightmare from which we are only now awakening.

As a typical article in the History Society magazine The Beaver grumped a few years back, “Expo ’67 promoted a narrow notion of Canada suggested by the title of the world fair — Man and His World — a place where white, Western, and well-heeled values were paramount. But Expo was a last gasp for a Canadian identity that marginalized the voices of women, Québécois, aboriginal peoples, and new Canadians, even while it celebrated world culture.” Who doesn’t feel like setting off a few fireworks after reading that passage? Continue reading

Selective use of Latin gives us class

The University of Ottawa has decided to stop issuing diplomas in Latin because it’s like not cool and hard to translate. Sic transit, I am tempted to say. But people might think I was talking about a Punjabi bus company, so I’d better settle for “whatever.”

The Citizen says U of O had previously allowed students to get a diploma in Latin, English or French, and only five per cent (from the Latin per centum) chose the language of Cicero. Would it be snide to suggest that as an educational institution, the University of Ottawa had other options when faced with what the news story referred to as “declining student interest” in having Latin on their diplomas? Like making an ancient language compulsory. Or explaining to students that there are occasions, such as graduating from a prestigious institution of higher learning in the nation’s capital, that call for a degree of, you know, solemnity.

Regiments, universities and the Order of Canada have Latin mottos precisely because there are moments when we should rise above the mundane (from mundanus, worldly). And curiously enough, the motto of the University of Ottawa, right there on its coat of arms, is Deus Scientiarum Dominus Est (“God is the Lord of the Sciences”), which, times being what they are, you might not want people to understand lest it provoke a court case. Mind you, at hockey games and political events we cheerfully sing “Car ton bras sait porter l’épée/ Il sait porter la croix!” without turning into George W. Bush, so the habit of not thinking about what we’re saying may be sufficiently entrenched to relieve us of any legal worries. Continue reading

No Eureka moment in this tepid political bath

Marshall McLuhan once said people don’t read the morning paper, they slip into it like a warm bath. I doubt the recent Citizen series on parking tickets had that effect. But modern political documents certainly aim to. Take Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory’s health plan. Please.

Even if you didn’t read it you probably feel vaguely as if you had. And if I quote it, you’ll get that familiar, drowsy feeling, starting with the contrived quotation (in the “Policy Update” on the Ontario PC party website) that: “‘When I think about our health care system, I don’t think of it with the perspective of a politician. I think of it as a father, a son, a husband and a patient myself,” said Tory. “I don’t think about dollars and equipment, but of patients and providers. I believe we can manage our system better, we can eliminate waste and we can drive dollars to patient care.”

Soporific, yet offensive drivel. For one thing, why doesn’t he think about health care as a politician? He is one, no? As a father, son, husband and patient, he might reasonably just write to his MPP demanding detailed practical solutions. As a politician, he must do better. He must offer them, starting with a frank analysis of what’s wrong with how it’s been managed so far. Continue reading

If you want to play politics, learn the rules

“Don’t prorogue! Don’t prorogue!” Believe it not, I was about ready to join Phil Fontaine, Gerry Barr and David Suzuki on the barricades under this singularly obscure slogan. Until I discovered that once again, the appropriate banner in Canada’s capital these days is “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

The story starts with my rushing to attend a joint press conference on Tuesday by the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, the chair of Make Poverty History, and the environmentalist world-famous in Canada. When I realized the three of them were incensed about a technical issue of parliamentary procedure I could not contain my enthusiasm. It’s just the kind of guy I am. Always living on the edge.

Of narcolepsy, arguably. But never mind. Our governmental structures are collapsing and I’ve got a bit of time for anyone who cares. So there I was, listening to Mr. Fontaine, Mr. Barr and Mr. Suzuki, deep in the bowels of the Centre Block, complaining that three bills they considered important were about to be squashed by an obscure parliamentary manoeuvre. Specifically, three private members’ bills: Bill C-292, the Kelowna Accord Implementation Act; Bill C-288, the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act; and Bill C-293, the Development Assistance Accountability Act. All three have passed the House of Commons and are likely to pass the Senate unless, they said, Parliament was “prorogued” for the summer. Continue reading

Seeing no evil is an immoral policy

Suppose that somewhere in the world a repressive regime was not merely slaughtering practitioners of a peaceful religion but selling their organs. Should we try to do something? Besides ignoring it because they’re good trading partners, I mean?

The answer is not as obvious as it might seem. We may be unable to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries even when they need it very badly. But we cannot avoid the issue; there are credible accusations that China is not only harassing and imprisoning practitioners of Falun Gong, but murdering them and then harvesting their corneas, kidneys and other organs for sale to those needing transplants.

I know it sounds too horrible to be true, and maybe it isn’t true. But the past century taught us that nothing is too horrible to be true. And respected former Canadian MP David Kilgour and B’nai Brith senior counsel David Matas have produced enough evidence (see their report at report0701/report20070131-eng.pdf) to command our attention. Continue reading