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Saturday, 19 November 2022

Mythologizing a Conflict of Solitudes and the Erasure of the Left

Mythologizing a Conflict of Solitudes and the Erasure of the Left

                                                            Jay Sour
                                                            Université Laval
                                                            May 26, 2001

Competing Dramatic narratives   

The objective of this presentation is a discussion of competing dramatic narratives, in fact, melodramas, of Canadian history: a conflict between English and  French solitudes on one hand, and a political struggle opposing the proletariat and a capitalist hegemony on the other. Although neither of these binaries is an adequate structure for the re-telling of Canadian history, 19th century melodrama has proven to be the dominant narrative structure within which the popular media typically constructs contemporary news stories.  This attempt to construct the news and history as a display of strict moral justice, in which a good and innocent protagonist is seen to be oppressed by a stereotypically evil antagonist, has the effect that stories become “news,” are brought to public awareness and general consciousness, because they can be presented in this form.  Narratives are further sustained and gain longevity because they can be presented in terms of the stock features of melodrama: mounting suspense, hidden documents revealed, unexpected reversals, the need for last minute rescues, and even occasional comic relief.  Over time these melodramas become the dominant myths and, as a result, all attempts to tell the story of Canadian historical events are forced to locate themselves in relation to these established binaries in order to have an audience.

Summit of the Americas, April 2001

    My original intention for this presentation was to tease out this competition of narratives from a number of Canadian plays and films, including evidence which has emerged from their productions and receptions.  However, since I first proposed this topic last November, two very obvious examples of what I had intended to “reveal” have been widely and extensively exposed.  The first was the premiere of Pierre Falardeau’s film, entitled Le 15 fevrier, 1839, in which he tells the story of  the rebellion of 1837 in Lower Canada.  The second was the Summit of the Americas held here in Quebec City in April.  
    I must confess that as the Summit approached I became convinced that my argument that the Left existed in a state of erasure in Canada would lose all credibility as the growing attention to the protest and the protesters against the summit (a loosely leftist coalition of  socialists, feminists, ecologists, nationalists, anarchists, human rights advocates and so on)  seemed guaranteed to garner a high profile and visibility.  However, as the television editorialist for the news-magazine show, 60 Minutes II, commented:  “For a week we were shown images of protesters in Quebec, but no-one ever bother to tell us what they were protesting about.”   


Free Trade and the People's Summit

    More striking still was to see Premiere Bernard Landry, whom I have always taken to be a  strong advocate of free trade,  addressing the People’s Summit and describing free trade as a threat to democracy, human rights, the environment and national sovereignty.   In Quebec, the context of his remarks was weeks of media coverage of the debate over Landry’s not having been  invited to address the Summit of the Americas, a battle of signs in which signs put up by Quebec officials were taken down and replaced by those of the summit organizers and vice versa, and a controversy over the fact that Landry had addressed a group of delegates to the summit in French when they were English, Spanish and Portuguese speaking. In short even this ostentatious conflict of proletarian and corporate agendas could, in Quebec, be overwritten as a language debate.

The Prevailing Myth of "Two Solitudes"

    My point in these comments is not to claim that language, culture and politics are mutually exclusive or even separable issues.  In fact, the genesis of my interest in this topic was an interview I did, in 1997, with Marianne Ackerman, founder and Artistic Director of Theatre 1774, a company set up to do cross-over, bilingual and bi- and multi-cultural productions in Montreal.  When I asked Ackerman if the imminent demise of her company was proof that the myth of two solitudes was still intact, she responded, 

“Absolutely.  There is huge resistance to the truth of how Quebecers live, English and French,  which is rather well. On any planetary or historical scale, people here get along well and work together–that’s a fact.  That fact cannot be reflected on stage because it flies in the face of two deeply entrenched visions.”  

The issue I have found myself considering since this interview is not if a conflict of linguistic cultures is allowed to frequently occupy centre stage in the dramas of Canadian and Quebec history and politics--I take this as given--but how and why the dominance of a narrative of conflicting solitudes is maintained.  Seemingly the most obvious response is that this narrative serves the interests of nationalist politicians and the sovereignty movement in Quebec, but even this answer is becoming less and less true. 

Policing the Myth

    In fact, when Ackerman spoke of resistance to her company’s mandate, the institutions she cited were the Centaur Theatre, English Quebec’s main stage, and the Montreal Gazette, the English-language daily.  In an NFB film entitled, Breaking a Leg, Theatre 1774's founding and first production, Echo, directed by Robert Lepage, are documented.  At the company’s first press conference it was Gazette theatre critic Pat Donnelly who asked the question, in French, “What will the  language of the production be?”    As the narrator of the documentary film ominously noted, language would return to haunt the production.  Robert Lévesque, theatre critic for Le Devoir accused the company of false publicity in using a Francophone director and actors for what turned out to be an English-language production.  Pat Donnelly commented that: “If this is what happens when a great French talent crosses over, then maybe separation isn’t such a bad idea.”  And in his own defence, Lepage noted that it was not the production, but the absence of French in the production which had been the basis of criticism of the play.  In other words, no matter what else might have been said about or learned from the production, all discourses were marginalized, displaced, erased or analogized  to the dichotomy of languages, and both English and French critics and the director were drawn into the process. 

Why Mythology works

    These first examples demonstrate that the reason this mythology is invoked is simply that it is easy.   It is an easy means of framing and inflating criticism and offers an equally easy means of deflecting it.   Why this should be so is answered in the fact it is a mythology,  a pattern of beliefs that is almost automatically accepted, with little inquiry into its truth value.  That, of course,  is how myth operates.   The reception of   Pierre Falardeau’s film, Le 15 février, 1839 offers a clear example of the further advantages of appealing to this mythology.

For Love Quebec and Octobre

    To put my reading, and more to the point, my reaction to the film in full context: in the late 70's The Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa, produced a play called For Love, Quebec by Robin Mathews, in which Mathews portrayed the FLQ Crisis of October, 1970, as a working-class rebellion.  The criticism of Mathews' play, at the time, was that in portraying the October crisis as a socialist insurrection he had failed to accurately represent the Quebec situation.  Against this background, in 1977, seeing Pierre Falardeau’s film Octobre, which recounts in detail the kidnapping and murder of Pierre Laporte, I was struck by the similarity between Falardeau’s purportedly highly accurate account of the events and the tenor of the Mathews play.  In both cases a Marxist-socialist discourse dominated the dialogue and, in particular, the characters expression of their intentions.  Although the existence of an oppressive English hierarchy is noted in the film, within the enclosed environment of the film the political struggle is expressed in a conflict between Pierre Laporte, a well-to-do Francophone Québécois and his captures, a group of working-class men who are also Francophone Québécois.  In this instance Falardeau showed a willingness to sublimate the specificities of the Quebec situation and the image of conflicting solitudes to the broader political discourse.

Falardeau's Le 15 février, 1839

    However, in his most recent film, Le 15 février, 1839,  Falardeau conspicuously reverses this tendency.  Although the film recounts a number of the events of the Papineau rebellions, it focuses on the imprisonment and executions of a number of les Patriots in 1839.  As such it becomes an intense psychological drama.  In embracing a melodramatic structure Falardeau overtly constructs les anglais as the personification of evil.  The portrayal of the English as villains is hardly new in Quebec narratives, as William Johnson’s book, Anglophobie: Made in Quebec, extensively documents.  Nonetheless, it is surprising that Falardeau would revert to this caricature at this point in time.  

Brault's Quand je serai parti, vous vivrez encore

    In 1999, Michel Brault, a renowned cinematographer and director released a film entitled Quand je serai parti, vous vivrez encore which presented the same historical events (the rebellion and executions) and characters (les Patriots, including the young François-Marie-Thomas Chevalier de Lorimier).  Brault, like Falardeau, is a recognized sovereigntist and his 1974 film, Les Ordres, also on the October Crisis and its aftermath has been described as a chef d’oeuvre.  In relation to the dominant mythology and to the Falardeau film, Brault’s treatment of 1837 was a breakthrough.  The salient elements of this breakthrough were, for example, that Brault afforded a special, sympathetic status the English-speaking Irish, that the Patriots' lawyer,  Drummond, is portrayed as a passionate, bilingual advocate of his clients, and Brault’s film included passing acknowledgment that a sister rebellion was taking place in Toronto.  

The CBC's A People’s History: Rebellion and Reform (1815 - 1850)

    The same week that Falardeau’s film was released, the CBC was broadcasting A People’s History: Rebellion and Reform (1815 - 1850).   Interviewed on the television show Maisonneuve à l'écoute, Falardeau was categorical that the image presented by CBC that “nous étions tous ensemble était faux” [that is, that the image of the rebellion crossing linguistic and cultural lines was simply false].   Falardeau’s claim was not questioned; he was simply repeating the commonly accepted truths about the rebellions in Lower Canada. 

The Patriot's Rebellion in fact and fiction

      As a parenthesis, I should highlight that in Quebec the Patriots rebellion of 1837 is typically taken as the genesis of the Québécois nationalist movement.   For example, in his introduction to Surrealism and Quebec Literature: History of a Cultural Revolution,  André  G. Bourassa claims:  “The voice of our people was first heard in 1837, and this book begins with writings from that year” (xii).  Every year, I  lead a graduate seminar, which includes a comparison of  Rick Salutin and Theatre Passe Muraille’s 1837: The Farmers Revolt and Jacques Ferron’s Les Grandes Soleils, which treats the 1837 rebellion in Quebec. English Canadian students are frequently unaware of the 1837 uprisings in Toronto, but for Franco-Québécois the existence of this historical event seems to come as a shock, because, I have surmised, it problematizes the received knowledge of  the Quebec rebellions as a conflict in which, to quote at least one of my students, “our ancestors died to protect the French language.” 

In an MA thesis prepared at the Université de Sherbrooke analyzing seven disparate dramatic treatments of the rebellions–Papineau by Louis-Honoré Fréchette (1880), Cérémonial funèbre sur le corps de Jean-Olivier Chénier by Jean-Robert Rémillard (1974),  Les Grandes Soleils by Jacques Ferron (1969), 1837: The Farmers Revolt, by Rick Salutin and theatre Passe Muraille (1975),  “Hero at Hatch’s Mill” by George Salverson  (1967), The Patriots by Eric Cross (1955), and At My Heart’s Core by Robertson Davies (1950)–the author, Rod Wilmot, contends that

In Upper and Lower Canada the sources of trouble were essentially the same: the absence of responsible government and the opportunity this gave a select few to abuse their power. . . .
    All the important differences between the two Rebellions stem from the fact that in Lower Canada the struggle for reform had inescapable racial overtones.  (8)
Wilmot goes on to point out these “racial overtones” would almost immediately come to dominate accounts of the rebellions in Lower Canada.  

The Making of Melodrama

    Returning to Falardeau’s most recent film then, Le 15 février, 1939 could only maintain its melodramatic structure at the expense of an atavistic interpretation of the historical events and a corresponding vision of les anglais as stock villains.   For example, in Falardeau’s portrayal anyone who is identified as English is unable to speak or understand a word of French.  This vision of the English garrison certainly contradicts much of the available historical information.  In fact, in her play L’Affaire Tartuff, or the Garrison Rehearses Molière, which became the signature piece of  Theatre 1774, Marianne Ackerman dramatizes the common practice of the English Garrison in Lower Canada of presenting plays in French.  As Jean Béraud observes in 350 ans de Théatre au Canada français si le goût de théâtre s’implanta rapidement et fermement à Montréal, c’est aux soldats de garnison et aux artistes de langue anglaize que nous le devons” (qt in Théâtre Québécois I 31)   A number of other historical facts would problematize Falardeau’s interpretation of events including the revolt in Toronto, the Chouayens who were the French-speaking antagonists of les Patriots, and  the presence in Lower Canada of a number of English-speaking supporters, including the John Neilson of the Quebec Gazette, and Doctors Wolfred and Robert Nelson who were leaders of  the Rebellion.  Robert Nelson is the subject of Mary Soderstrom’s book, The Words on the Wall: Lower Canada’s Forgotten Hero of the 1837 Rebellion.  

Melodrama Trumps politics

    In a television documentary about the promotion of  Le 15 février,  Falardeau complained about being described by the press as wearing “son costume de revolutionnaire.”  Falardeau’s appearance is always stereotypically lefty, unshaven, cigarette butt between his fingers, leather or denim and workman’s plaid.   Certainly Falardeau decorates this film with leftist rhetoric. However, when Falardeau introduces a moment into the film in which the melodrama of a French-English conflict might be abandoned in a gesture of working-class solidarity, he uses that moment to reinforce the linguistic and cultural divide.   A young English private on guard duty approaches Chevalier de Lorimier to express his sympathy and solidarity.  The young Englishman explains that he was in the street and forced to go into service to save his family from starvation, but in Falardeau’s film de Lorimier refuses to acknowledge him.  On the scaffold, as the young Englishman is placing the noose around his neck, he pleads with de Lorimier to say something to him.   Finally de Lorimier tells him “I’m not afraid anymore.  Now it’s your turn to be afraid.”  To reinforce the melodramatic structure we subsequently see an English soldier rifle butting one of the condemned men swinging from the gallows in front of  the innocent gaze of a little girl who has accompanied her father to the executions to deliver a load of coffins.

Maisonneuve à l'écoute

    When de Maisonneuve, the television interviewer, asked about the English private, Falardeau allowed Luc Picard, the actor who play de Lorimier, to respond.  Picard, who was obviously concerned in his response, claimed that as an actor he saw de Lorimier’s silence as a way of claiming, of insisting upon, the dignity of his own execution.  When de Maisonneuve then asked if  this was a correct interpretation, Falardeau grunt, shrugged and finally said “Oui.”  Nonetheless, this interaction between the working-class Englishman and the upper-class Frenchman flies in the face of a number of attempts to underline the necessity of solidarity for a left-wing revolution and, for that matter, for the independence of Quebec.  Although, as Ric Knowles points out, the reception of David Fennario’s Balconville depended on its “naturalistic, well-made-play structure . . . together with its political softness . . .” and the play is often publicized as a dramatization of the conflict between French and English, the clear intent of the drama is to argue for the necessity of working-class solidarity across linguistic lines.  In Ferron’s Les Grandes Soleils, which uses the events of 1837 in the presentation of a magical fertility ritual, the future of Quebec is seen to depend on the fecundity of Elizabeth Smith who is from England and the only woman in the play.   She is described as “une petite anglaise qu’on a enquébecquoisée” and is portrayed as an ardent Quebec nationalist.  In Ferron’s vision the future of Quebec depends on the creation of a community out of all the elements of its diversity.

Embracing the Myth in English Canada

    When Falardeau arranged a press conference in Ottawa in anticipation of the premiere of  Le 15 février, a television camera crew accompanied him to document the fact that no-one from the English press showed up.  If we can claim that a melodrama of English-French conflict will overshadow other forms of political and historical dramatization in Quebec, the other side of the coin is that any attempt to present Quebec history as a left-wing struggle is equally resisted in  English Canada.  My conjecture at this point, an intuitive conclusion if you will, is that left-wing theses have been resisted in Quebec because they put into question the myth of conflicting solitudes, and they are rejected in English Canada because they give credibility to the image of the Québécois struggling against the oppression of the English.

Reception and Rejection

    I take the reception of Robin Mathews’ For Love, Quebec as one example of the latter.  And the protracted story of the Vancouver Playhouse’s refusal to present George Ryga’s Captives of the Faceless Drummer in 1970 and the consequent departure of David Gardner as artistic director as another.  Within Quebec, when David Fennario presented his play The Death of René Lévesque at Centaur in 1990, it was booed on opening night.  The play presents a cogent argument that René Lévesque and the Parti Québécois came to power with a left-wing agenda but swung to the right once in power.    Robert Lévesque’s vitriolic panning of the play was published on the front page of the Montreal daily Le Devoir.  

Resistance to History:  Paul Almond's For the Record

    The resistance to understanding or abstracting the history of Canada in relation to Quebec as anything other than the already taken for granted conflict of solitudes puts at risk our ability to read the past and to fathom the future.  In 1979, director Paul Almond produced a television film for the CBC’s For the Record series in which an Ontario engineer accidentally discovers a Canadian military plan to invade Quebec.  In order to protect national security the engineer is tried in camera, convicted and sentenced to prison.  What is remarkable about this little CBC film is that it could well have been a true story and there was, as far as I know and I had occasion to meet the director at the time, virtually no public reaction when it was broadcast.  The salient details of the film’s narrative can be found in a Maclean’s magazine cover story, November 1978,  entitled “The Armed Forces: In from the Cold” prepared by Roy MacGregor in which he describes how a 3,500-member Canadian Special Services Forces was

Formed last year by combining a number of crack Petawawa units with the elite Canadian Airborne Regiment, which was transferred under much controversy from Edmonton, the SSF’s lack of any specific task has led to continuing rumours concerning the military and the possible separation of Quebec.  Though the force was planned for more than a decade, its inopportune announcement–just two weeks after the 1976 Parti Québécois victory–and opportune location directly across the river from Quebec have given rise to questions that are also without answers.   (20, 21)

Based on what we now know about how the Airborne Regiment performed in Somalia, we might well have had something to fear in 1978.  And many of you will no doubt remember that in the early 70's a Canadian engineer was in fact arrested, tried and convicted on charges related to National Security.  The public was never allowed to know the reason for his conviction or any information about his crime or the process of his trial.

October Crisis, Keable Inquiry and “Monsieur X”

    I offer these provocative details as my own attempt to provide a competing melodrama of suspense and mystery and, in so doing, to underline that one of the effects of a prevailing mythology is that it prevents us from asking questions.  Histories which partake of the mythologies of a particular audience will be heralded as revelatory, realistic and true.  These same mythologies can also be used as a way to dismiss, or ignore, or claim as an already worn-out story of passed history any number of legitimate and pressing aspirations.  The state of affairs I am describing is one in which a mythology, which can serve as a conduit to communication, becomes a barrier.  Within this state what I continue to find most fascinating is what happens when new information is brought forward which might problematize a mythology.  I will leave you with one more example.  Since at least 1978 there were widely published descriptions of “Monsieur X” who was the sixth member of the Liberation cell responsible for the kidnapping of James Cross.  Testimony in the Keable Inquiry into the October Crisis revealed that police had been aware of his identity since 1970.  It was only in 1980, after the Keable Inquiry, that Nigel Barry Hamer an English Quebecer, who taught electrical engineering at McGill, was arrested as an FLQ terrorist.  In 1981 Hamer was convicted and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for his part in the kidnapping of James Cross.  But who noticed?  What I find myself wondering is this: Is it possible that Nigel Hamer cannot be seen as a significant figure within the Canadian or Québécois collective imaginations because he cannot be rectified with the prevailing mythologies of the historical event of which he was a part?  That is a question, which to my mind, warrants further investigation.  

Tuesday, 25 October 2022

On Swearing an Oath of Allegiance to Chuck 3

 Quebec Leads the way

We Anglo square-heads from the ROC (Rest of Canada) tend to be very slow to acknowledge Quebec's leadership.  Still we turn to Quebec as the model for maternity/paternity leave and government supported day-care.  News programming on Radio-Canada (the French side of CBC) has long stuck me as superior to its English Canadian equivalent. I've been told this is so because of asymmetrical funding:  Quebec gets more than its share of CBC money.  Actually, this tends to be the English Canadian explanation for anything Quebec does better than other provinces.  My admiration for Radio- Canada, I suspect, has to do with the fact that Quebec journalists occupy an interstitial space between Quebec and the rest of Canada, and therefore manage, now and then, to escape the dominant narrative being dictated by the corporations which supply the news feeds. 

"Quebec Is a nation":  Is Canada a nation?

Quebec has even managed to instill a sense of pride in its distinct language and culture among its citizens young and old. In Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism in Canada (1994), Neil Bissoondath described "English Canada..." as "adrift with no sense of its centre" whereas "Quebec redefined its own centre, strengthened it, sought to make it unassailable" (196). (See Constructing English Quebec Ethnicity.) I have not unequivocally supported every piece of legislation ever passed in Quebec. However,  I do see that actively promoting the "imagined community," as Quebec has done, would be a good idea for the Canadian nation as well. In a country like Canada which doesn't make any obvious sense, whose existence is challenged by geography, ethnicity, economics and politics, an independent, richly funded national news service makes perfect sense.  A service dedicated to telling Canadians about Canada and other Canadians seems a minimal requirement for keeping the country together but we are told that we can't afford it.  Can it possibly be true that Canadians just aren't interested in Canada?


 

Chucking Chuck 3

Once again Quebec leads the way as Québécois politicians in the National Assembly and the House of Commons are challenging the obligation to swear a solemn oath of allegiance to King Charles III.  The timing is perfect.  Henry VIII set the bar pretty low for how an English monarch treats his wife. Still, I, like most people in the English-speaking world and beyond, can't imagine fond fealty for the King who made Princess Diana so miserable.

The Constitutional Obligation

"As required by the constitution" is the catch phrase being repeated in the brouhaha over the swearing of allegiance to Charles. True enough, but most Canadians (myself included) might imagine that the Constitution being referred to is the document rewritten in 1982.  In fact, our Constitution is still largely a remnant of our colonial history,  the Constitution Act (aka British North America Act) of 1867.  In 1982, we "repatriated" the Constitution, meaning we gave ourselves or the British gave us (tomato/tomaato) the right to amend our Constitution.  We added the Charter of Rights and Freedoms but, apparently, we still haven't gotten around to amending a lot of outdated passages including those related to the "Oath of Allegiance."

Oath of Allegiance, etc.
Every Member of the Senate or House of Commons of Canada shall before taking his Seat therein take and subscribe before the Governor General or some Person authorized by him, and every Member of a Legislative Council or Legislative Assembly of any Province shall before taking his Seat therein take and subscribe before the Lieutenant Governor of the Province or some Person authorized by him, the Oath of Allegiance contained in the Fifth Schedule to this Act; and every Member of the Senate of Canada and every Member of the Legislative Council of Quebec shall also, before taking his Seat therein, take and subscribe before the Governor General, or some Person authorized by him, the Declaration of Qualification contained in the same Schedule.

The aforementioned "Fifth Schedule" is an even more quaintly anachronistic statement of obligations and qualifications:

THE FIFTH SCHEDULE

Oath of Allegiance

I A.B. do swear, That I will be faithful and bear true Allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Victoria.

Note. — The Name of the King or Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for the Time being is to be substituted from Time to Time, with proper Terms of Reference thereto.

Declaration of Qualification

I A.B. do declare and testify, That I am by Law duly qualified to be appointed a Member of the Senate of Canada [or as the Case may be], and that I am legally or equitably seised as of Freehold for my own Use and Benefit of Lands or Tenements held in Free and Common Socage [or seised or possessed for my own Use and Benefit of Lands or Tenements held in Franc-alleu or in Roture (as the Case may be),] in the Province of Nova Scotia [or as the Case may be] of the Value of Four thousand Dollars over and above all Rents, Dues, Debts, Mortgages, Charges, and Incumbrances due or payable out of or charged on or affecting the same, and that I have not collusively or colourably obtained a Title to or become possessed of the said Lands and Tenements or any Part thereof for the Purpose of enabling me to become a Member of the Senate of Canada [or as the Case may be], and that my Real and Personal Property are together worth Four thousand Dollars over and above my Debts and Liabilities.

 Did you skip reading the qualifications?  You missed the best part. Here's the short version: you must have property, four thousand dollars of wealth, and not be a nouveau-riche social-climber who bought property just to become a Senator.  I have gone searching and can find no evidence that this "Declaration of Qualification" has been amended.

The Constitution of Canada is a slippery beast! 

I was prepared to give myself the task of reading the complete long, boring, official text of the Canadian Constitution.   It's what I do, right, on behalf of my readership (i.e., mostly the guys I play golf with). In this case, I have been unable to find an "official" complete-text document online.  There are endless opportunities to download The Charter of Rights and Freedoms which was added to the constitution in 1982, and boundless discussions about the Canadian Constitution but, so far, I, a Canadian citizen have been unable to find an official complete copy of the text itself, the document which is supposed to be "the" most important text in the country, spelling out the rules that govern us and our political representatives.  What I found in a couple of sources is that part of our Constitution is written, and much of it is unwritten, based on custom and tradition, and underlying assumptions like that we believe in democracy, justice and equality.



Reading parts of the Constitution, like the "Declaration of Qualification" above, I thought, "This archaic language cannot be what is governing us in the third millennia!"  But apparently it is.  The argument by analogy I found on a constitutional-studies website is that "Even though parts of the Constitution are centuries old, it has been referred to as a 'living tree' because its meaning can evolve over time as society changes."  Presumably based on this "living tree" analogy, the House of Commons website claims that "When a Member swears or solemnly affirms allegiance to the Queen as Sovereign of Canada, he or she is also swearing or solemnly affirming allegiance to the institutions the Queen represents, including the concept of democracy."

Same Words; different meaning

I get the argument, to a degree, that we "reinterpret" the Constitution over time.  But the idea that swearing allegiance to a King, the anathema of democratic principle, is actually "affirming allegiance to [ . . .] the concept of democracy" is a stretch too far.  The Monarch is an icon of privilege as birthright, of wealth and social inequality; in other words, a denial and denigration of all those values which we supposedly aspire to these days.  We are told that our Senate, our Governor General and our Monarch are "only" symbolic offices.  That's a lot of expensive symbolism for a country that can't afford a public broadcasting system. And, of course, they are "only" symbolic until they aren't, and the Constitution becomes "the letter of the law." (See The King-Byng Affair.)

The Canadian Constitution, the unassailable laws which govern us, barely mentions the Prime Minister. Constitutionally, the Prime Minister is supposed to be no more than "a first among equals," but in practice, in our warped electoral process, which we were promised would be done away with years ago, the Prime Minister enjoys the power of an unconstitutional monarch and an un-elected president.

I understand that for the UK the royal family survives as media celebrities and a tourist attraction.  I have no objection to the British maintaining the royals along with Harry Potter and Hogwarts Castle, in competition with Mickey and Donald and the Kardashians in the USA, but the oath is diminishing for Canada and Canadians.

The Poetry of Quebec resistance

Reading the history of the Oath of Allegiance, I thought, "How poetic--poetic justice, in fact--that Quebec, a historically Catholic province, is leading the protest against an oath of allegiance to King Charles."  The oath did not exist in medieval times. The oath became required with Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy in which Henry split from the Catholic Church and named himself head of the Church of England.  The Act was briefly repealed then declared anew by Henry's daughter, Queen Elizabeth I.  To this day, the English monarch remains head of the Church of England even if he happens to be an adulterer, divorced and married to his mistress. As pointed out on the House of Common's website:

[. . .] the oath of supremacy was primarily directed at preventing Roman Catholics from holding public office. To this was added, in 1678, a declaration against transubstantiation which, with the oath of supremacy, effectively barred Roman Catholics from Parliament.


Sunday, 16 October 2022

Survey Says . . .

Everybody's Screaming "misinformation"

This is a bit of a sidebar but I am shocked by how frequently writers will misquote or misinterpret the sources of their own opinions and arguments.  Big deal, right?  Everybody is screaming about misinformation these days.  Over the years, I've formed the impression that the people who are supposed to be the most reliable sources of information, the people most likely to scream "misinformation," often prove the worst purveyors of misinformation.

Baloney detector

If you have read Carl Sagan's rules for how to detect baloney, you are aware that what is quantifiable is more likely to be credible, factual and true.  In other words, if there is a number attached we can and probably should believe it--whatever "it" is.  The problem is that numbers always have to be interpreted.  With the interpretation, the baloney factor can immediately creep back in.  

The Telephone game

If you have ever been to summer camp, chances are you have played the "telephone game."  The point of the game is to discover how information gets distorted as it is passed (whispered) from one person to another.  Contrary to the argument that the internet would democratize the news, if you google any recent news story you will find all the major news agencies and most of the minor ones covering exactly the same story.  Each media outlet will provide a headline putting a slightly different spin on the news, and the headline that best plays to its target audience, and is most exaggerated, outrageous and enraging will get the most readers.  The old standard used to be that a news story needed at least two authentic sources, but these days you can read the same story in a dozen different places and conclude it must therefore be true, when the media may well be--a la telephone game--just repeating each other with increasingly colourful headlines based on a single questionable or misinterpreted source.  This brings us to the single most frequently misinterpreted and questionable source:  the poll.

The Template for a prelude to war

Following the model established when the US sent VP Joe Biden to Ukraine in 2014 to get the Ukrainians stoked for a war with Russia; recently, the Democrats sent their geriatric warrior princess, Nancy Pelosi, to see what could be done about encouraging a war between Taiwan and China.  (To be fair about the purpose of the visits, in both cases their children were involved.  Nancy's son accompanied her to do some business in the region, and Joe's son was in Ukraine in 2014 on the payroll of a Ukrainian energy company.)  VP Biden's promise, in 2014, of military support for Ukraine was ambiguous.  This time, President Biden has explicitly promised Taiwan the military backing of the USA, but the State Department has been vigorously walking back his statements.  And, of course, Canada, ever eager to imitate big brother USA, followed up by sending five MPs to Taiwan to further irritate China.  Needless to say, Taiwan is in the news because everyone in the West wants to know if, like the Ukrainians, the Taiwanese are ready to go to war with the tyrant next door.

According to the Globe and Mail

The headline in the Globe and Mail (1 October 2022) is radically moderate, outside the mainstream:  "Small minority in Taiwan say they support unification with China."  These days it's pretty radical for anyone in western media to report that even a "small minority" supports China. The article is a series of interviews with Taiwan citizens who are part of this fringe who claim "We are Chinese [ . . .] we should unite [. . .]."  However, just so we Globe readers don't get the wrong idea there is this:

An August poll by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation, an independent and non-partisan organization, found that only 11.8 per cent of respondents favoured "unification" with China.  Fifty per cent of those surveyed said they would opt for independence, and 25.7 backed the status quo.  

This paragraph serves as an inoculation against the content which follows, just in case you might be tempted to take the pro-unification opinions as a representation of reality.  This is the truth:  here are the numbers supplied by an "independent," "non-partisan," "Taiwanese" foundation.  What more could we possibly ask for?

Who Did the survey?  Who supplied the numbers?

Ever the skeptic, I googled "Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation."  Hmm, that's odd.  It's home office is in Washington, DC.  When I googled a bit deeper I discovered its parent organization, the Global Taiwan Institute.  Most of the heavy-weights on its Board of Directors and Staff have ties to the US Defense and/or State Department.  The Board of Directors describes itself online as Taiwanese-Americans and "board members all share a passion for closer ties between the United States and Taiwan." What does "independent" mean?  "Non-partisan"?  What does "Taiwanese" mean?

Numbers don't lie

Still, none of this proves that the survey wasn't carried out with scientific rigour and impartiality.  Numbers don't lie.  However, before there can be numbers there must be questions.  Of course, the poll doesn't ask the question we all want an answer to:  Are the people of Taiwan ready to go to war with China to claim independence?  If ever there is a war, we know this poll will be used as proof that the war is happening because it is the will of the Taiwanese people, who are ready to bravely fight and die for their sovereignty and independence from an evil Chinese empire. 

What Was the question?

Here is the question asked in the poll:

There are debates regarding the future of Taiwan. Some people argue Taiwan should pursue unification with the other side of the [Taiwan] Strait, while others argue Taiwan should pursue its own independence. Do you support Taiwan independence, or unification with the other side?

The wording of the question will always affect the outcome of a survey.  I would question the use of "the other side" as opposed to the official designation,  "Peoples Republic of China"  or even the vernacular "mainland China."  Nonetheless, here are the results of the survey of just over a thousand respondents, in July 2022, which are being repeated in the Globe and Mail.

The Results

The poll finds among Taiwanese adults aged 20 years and older, 50% said they support Taiwan independence, 11.8% for unification, 25.7% for maintaining status quo.

 The Interpretation of the numbers

These are the number which will eventually be used in western media to justify a war between Taiwan and China. However, before we send the people of Taiwan into battle for their independence, we should note that 50% of respondents did not express a desire for independence.  Moreover, based on a relatively small sample (1,035 people), the margin of error is 3.5%.  The survey, as a whole, danced around the question of a war with China--reactions to war games, Pelosi's visit, Biden's promises, confidence in Taiwan's military, etc--but never asked the obvious question: Are you ready to go to war with China over Taiwan's independence?

The only direct "war question" in the survey was "Do you think war with China is imminent?" and 39% of respondents thought war was likely, 53% thought it was not and the rest didn't answer. Obviously, many of the people who said they wanted independence weren't thinking about going to war for it. 

The same survey question about Taiwan independence has repeatedly been asked on surveys since 1994.  In many respects the 50% for independence number is an aberration, the highest that has ever been recorded.  One year earlier, the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation results for the same question claimed 46.6% in favour of independence.  Nonetheless, according to the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation report: 

This is yet another data point to support our long-established observation that the majority of the Taiwanese public, when offered the options, prefer Taiwan independence above all other options including “status quo”. The narrative that “a majority of Taiwanese want to maintain status quo” is simply a myth that is unfortunately embraced by the current leadership of both major political parties (DPP and KMT) which is not supported by polling data.

 This conclusion eerily echoes the "will of the people" argument which was used to justify the overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Ukraine in 2014.  While the report claims that the survey showed a preference for "Taiwan independence above all other options including "status quo'," we should note that the question asked was a binary--independence or unification--and did not offer "status quo" or any other possibility as an acceptable answer.  In other words, those who answered "status quo" had to ignore and go outside the question to answer.  Given that Taiwan is an island and has been politically dissociated from mainland China since 1949, it is surprising how few Taiwanese chose independence to answer a survey question phrased as it was. 

Diving deeper

What I have been quoting is an English excerpt based on the full survey. The excerpt  claims: "The full release in Chinese language is available on our official website."  Even with the help of Google translate, I was unable to track down the "full release." However, in the course of my attempts, I did discover that the address of the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation was said to be "2F, No. 170, Fuxing North Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei City" (not Washington, DC).  All the information I read on the website destined for a Taiwanese audience was scrubbed of reference to the USA. 

Survey Says . . . 

Eventually I found another Taiwanese survey on the same question, and this time (as far as I could determine) the organization does seem to be Taiwanese, in Taiwan and under the umbrella of a Taiwanese university: Election Study Center, National Chengehi University.  Unfortunately, access to their data requires a special permission which I do not have.  But I was able to copy this chart (click on the link if you can't read what I copied):

As this graph shows, there are seven possible answers to the "Unification-Independence" question, and the Election Study Center has asked the question every year since 1994.  From 1994 to June of 2022, "Independence as soon as possible" has consistently scored second lowest of the seven possibilities.  Only "Unification as soon as possible" consistently scored lower.  For eighteen years, the Taiwanese have consistently demonstrated that they do not want to be pushed into independence or into unification with China, and they have elected governments which reflect those wishes.  Perhaps this is what should be reported in western media before we find ourselves with another proxy war.

Wednesday, 12 October 2022

On "Blaming America for Russian Aggression"

 "Eloquent rebuttals"

According to an article in Bulwark entitled "Blaming America for Russian Aggression, Then and Now":

The claim that American actions, especially pushing to enlarge NATO, precipitated Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has been asserted not only by Kremlin officials but also by foreign policy realists, anti-establishment pundits, and “anti-imperialists” in the West. It persists despite eloquent rebuttals by Cathy Young, Chris Miller, Peter Dickinson, former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, and many others.

As a novice, newly self-discovered foreign policy realist now being lumped together with "Kremlin officials," I guess it's time for me to face the truth about what caused the Russian invasion of Ukraine and how the USA was innocent of blame.  How do these articles rebut my recent hypotheses that the USA and western allies supported the overthrow of the democratically-elected President of Ukraine in a bloody coup in 2014 which was "a" provocation if not "the" provocation of the Russian invasion days later?

Niranjan Shankar's "Blaming America" article makes no mention of the Maidan Uprising.  Shankar glosses the time period saying: "Putin forced the country to renege on a proposal to join the EU in 2013 and subsequently invaded in 2014." Obviously, Ukraine is still not a member of the EU.  The suggestion that the 2013 trade agreement (which was signed in 2014, after Maidan) was "a proposal to join the EU" is an exaggeration.  "Putin forced the country" is Shankar's interpretation of the fact that Putin invited Ukraine to join a Eurasian Customs Union and offered a bailout of $15 billion. "Reneged" is a questionable choice of word to describe Yanucovych's decision to end the negotiations and accept the Russian offer when the EU showed little interest in providing a bailout.  

"Putin's Bogus Blame-NATO Excuse"

 Cathy Young's "Putin's Bogus Blame-NATO Excuse" at least mentions the Maidan Uprising.  She writes:

Indeed, the 2013-14 “Euromaidan” protests that led to a new revolution in Ukraine—and to the beginning of Russia’s protracted war against its neighbor—were sparked when Putin strong-armed and cajoled Yanukovych, who succeeded Yushchenko in 2010, into abruptly abandoning an about-to-be signed EU trade agreement and ditching several bills meant to fulfill the EU’s conditions for the pact. 

Young seems to acknowledge a cause-and-effect relationship between Maidan and the Russian invasion but she says nothing more about the uprising.  Her claim that "Putin strong-armed and cajoled Yanukovych" suggests that she was in the room when the strong-arming and cajoling were happening--which seems unlikely.  Yes, Yanukovych "succeeded Yushchenko in 2010" in what she fails to mention was a democratic election, supervised and accredited by the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe).  Consequently, if the great majority of Ukrainians (West and East) objected to Yanukovych and his trade deals, rather than a a bloody coup in 2014, they could have voted him out of office in 2015.

"Vladimir Putin Fears Ukrainian Democracy not NATO"

If Cathy Young sounds like she was in the room, in "Vladimir Putin Fears Ukrainian Democracy not NATO," Peter Dickinson sounds like he was at Putin's bedside recording his every murmur, dream and nightmare.  Like Young, Dickinson suggests cause and effect between Maidan and the Russian invasion.  He argues that Putin responded to the "Ukrainian pro-democracy uprising by ordering the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine." Like Young, Dickinson has nothing more to say about the subject of Maidan.  It is striking that in an article on "Ukrainian Democracy," Dickinson seems undisturbed that the democratically-elected President was overthrown in a bloody coup, and blithely describes the coup as a "pro-democracy uprising." 

"What Putin Really Wants"

 In "What Putin Really Wants"  Christopher Miller has nothing to say about and makes no allusion to the Maidan Uprising that I can detect.  However, Miller makes the kind of claim that always catches my attention:  "The vast majority of Ukrainians reject them [the Minsk Accords]."  The Minsk Protocol was an agreement between Russia and the Ukraine in 2014 overseen by the OSCE and mediated by France and Germany to end the fighting between East and West Ukraine by granting increased autonomy to the eastern regions.  Miller's source for the claim that the vast majority of Ukrainians reject the agreements is an article in Euromaidan Press"Three-fourths of Ukrainians oppose Minsk accords in current form, poll shows."

Contrary to MIller's claim that "the vast majority of Ukrainians reject them," the article states, right off the top, that the poll "showed that the majority of Ukrainians (54%) believe that the Minsk accords should be revised." [Bold highlighting is in the original article.]  The debate outlined in the source article concerns variations in the format and which countries should be involved.  Western analysts may be eager to conclude that Ukrainians reject the Minsk Accords, but that is not what the poll shows.

I dove into the poll which is the source for both articles (thank God for Google Translate and BTW, am I the only person in the world who checks the polls quoted in the press?  Help me out here, people!)   The poll being cited is a general survey of the "Socio-political attitudes of the [Ukrainian] population" based on telephone interviews with 2500 respondents in December 2021, excluding residents of the Donbas and Crimea.  Although Miller sounds categorical that the vast majority reject the accords, according to the poll, only 11% of respondents (275 people) said they were very familiar with the content of the Minsk Agreements.  If anything, the poll reflects general support for the idea of the Minsk Accords, ending the east-west conflict, despite differences of opinion on and knowledge of the details.

The mistake is to believe that any thought or feeling is shared by the vast majority of Ukrainians.   According to the poll, if an election were to be held the next day, 23.5% of decided voters would vote for Volodymyr Zelensky--well ahead of his rivals but far from the 100% support we in the West are encouraged to imagine he enjoys.  In the poll, 33% of respondents identified Zelensky as the candidate they would "not vote for under any circumstances."

"What Putin Fears Most" 

Of the four "eloquent rebuttals" Shankar lists, only Michael McFaul's "What Putin Fears Most" has much to say about the Maidan Uprising.  After the predictable list of what Putin thinks, feels, dreams, wants and fears, McFaul and his co-author Robert Person write:

Putin believes that Russian national interests have been threatened by what he portrays as U.S.-supported coups. After each of them—Serbia in 2000, Georgia in 2003, Ukraine in 2004, the Arab Spring in 2011, Russia in 2011–12, and Ukraine in 2013–14—Putin has pivoted to more hostile policies toward the United States, and then invoked the NATO threat as justification for doing so.

Are the authors telling us that these are all Putin-imagined coups and have no connection with reality?  The only example I have researched, "Ukraine in 2013-14," appears to be an overt US-supported coup. If the USA supported the overthrow of the pro-Russian President of Ukraine twice, wouldn't that be a justification for Putin to view NATO as a threat?

The authors describe the Maidan Uprising and its context as follows:

The next democratic mobilization to threaten Putin happened a second time in Ukraine in 2013–14. After the Orange Revolution in 2004, Putin did not invade Ukraine, but wielded other instruments of influence to help his protégé, Viktor Yanukovych, narrowly win the Ukrainian presidency six years later. Yanukovych, however, turned out not to be a loyal Kremlin servant, but tried to cultivate ties with both Russia and the West. Putin finally compelled Yanukovych to make a choice, and the Ukrainian president chose Russia in the fall of 2013 when he reneged on signing an EU association agreement in favor of membership in Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union.

Sometimes, the choice of words is everything.  A bloody coup is a "democratic mobilization";  the billionaire president is a "protégé" and "servant"; "wielded other instruments of influence" like campaign financing (?); to be elected with a margin of the popular vote which would put most US presidential elections to shame is to "narrowly win."  Yes, Yanucovych backed out of the negotiations and was pushed by Russia to do so; but, as reported by Reuters at the time (19 December 2013),  "the unwillingness of the EU and International Monetary Fund to be flexible in their demands of Ukraine also had an effect, making them less attractive partners."

When Person and McFaul come to describe the Maidan, they claim:

To the surprise of everyone in Moscow, Kyiv, Brussels, and Washington, Yanukovych’s decision to scuttle this agreement with the EU triggered mass demonstrations in Ukraine again, bringing hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians into the streets in what would become known as the Euromaidan or “Revolution of Dignity” to protest Yanukovych’s turn away from the democratic West. The street protests lasted several weeks, punctuated by the killing of dozens of peaceful protestors by Yanukovych’s government, the eventual collapse of that government and Yanukovych’s flight to Russia in February 2014, and a new pro-Western government taking power in Kyiv. Putin had “lost” Ukraine for the second time in a decade.

"To the surprise of everyone":  this phrasing stretches credulity.  The size and rapidity of the demonstrations prove advanced planning and, as we have seen, sources inside Ukraine pointed to TechCamps in the US embassy as the training ground if not the hub. "The killing of dozens of peaceful protestors by Yanukovych's government":  as we have confirmed from multiple sources  the protesters were armed, fired on and killed police officers. Most shockingly, if the detailed report based on video, interviews with Maidan protesters, and bullet impact studies, by political scientist, Ivan Katchanovski of the University of Ottawa, is to be believed, the uprising was orchestrated by an alliance of right-wing ultra nationalists who fired upon their fellow protestors.  

Who's Afraid of Democracy? 

It is a truism in literary studies that when writers want to avoid politics they focus on individual psychology.  As I read these detailed comments on Vladimir Putin's psyche, I wonder if these political analysts are trying to avoid politics.  Putin may very well be afraid of democracy, but so are those who preferred a bloody coup in 2014 to a Presidential election in Ukraine in 2015.


Sunday, 9 October 2022

"Unlikely Canada": First Quebec and Now Alberta

Does Canada make sense?

Peter Zeihan's 2015 anatomy of world geopolitics, The Accidental Super Power, is fascinating reading largely because of his bold and confident predictions about the near future (2015 to 2030).  I felt both taken aback and vindicated to read his chapter entitled "Unlikely Canada."  I was taken aback to read that my country is unlikely to exist for much longer but vindicated that his rationale echoed an observation I made in in a presentation entitled "The Concept Formerly Known as Nationalism" in 2002 at the University of Toronto. I pointed out:

At first glance, Canada doesn’t make sense as a country.  Everything about the country’s social and physical geography suggests that it should not exist.  We live in a country that is three thousand miles long, in which 90% of the population lives within a hundred miles of the American border; the vast territories to the north remain largely unknown to the majority of the population.   We are divided by language, race, ethnicity, gender, by sexual and political orientation, province, region and class.  The urban centres are growing, largely in isolation from one another, while every place else stagnates and shrinks.

My point, unlike Zeihan's predictions of disintegration, was that "Such a place can only be held together through conscious and considerable human effort."  If geography, demographics, economics, provincialism and short-term self interest are allowed to play out uncontested, then Canada's future, as Zeihan claims, is "unlikely."

First Quebec

As a citizen of Quebec, I witnessed the independence movement grow from a fringe terrorist group, the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec), in 1970 to the ruling Parti Québécois in 1976. Through two referendums on independence--1980 (40.44% for; 59.56% against) and 1995 (49.42% for; 50.58% against)--I came to realize how messy, unpredictable and even mercurial democracy and the future of nations can be.

Zeihan's take sounds a lot like the Quebec bashing I'm used to hearing from Anglo Canadians, especially when he describes the federal system of equalization payments as "bribing Quebec" to the tune of $16 billion a year using tax money from Alberta. 

Indirectly, Zeihan makes a point I have unsuccessfully tried to present to my Québécois friends: Canada wouldn't necessarily survive provincial independence. As a Québécois comedian quipped during an early referendum campaign, "According to advocates of independence, Quebec will still have Canadian passports, Canadian money, and the Canadian military. Gee, maybe we're already independent and don't know it!"  

The underlying motivation for Quebec's independence tends to be maintenance of the language, culture and identity; in other words, all the features of ethnic homogeneity while at the same time adamantly denying ethnic nationalism.  The rational justification for independence is that a sovereign Quebec would be a better country than Canada.  I have argued that you can't have a sovereign Quebec and a strong, thriving  Canada; you can't have your Canadian cake and eat it too.  Most Quebec independentists refuse to acknowledge this claim, perhaps because there isn't an exact translation of this expression (French equivalent is, roughly,  "you can't have the money and the butter"), but more likely because French language and culture would arguably fare less well without a Canada, in an expanded USA or as one of a number of Balkanized countries on the US northern border. 

Having outlined in detail how Quebec secession would be the end of Canada, Zeihan then concludes categorically that "the Quebec question is answered. Quebec will not secede and so the question won’t kill Canada."

PartyElected
TotalVotesShare
Coalition Avenir Québec90
901,682,95241.0%
Quebec Liberal Party21
21590,17114.4%
Québec Solidaire11
11633,41415.4%
Parti Québécois3
3599,67814.6%
Conservative Party of Quebec0
0530,80412.9%

While Zeihan's certainty might reassure some Canadians, we should not lose track of the fact that three of the four parties in Quebec's National Assembly are officially in favour of independence.  In the most recent Quebec election (3 October 2022) the CAQ (Coalition Avenir Québec), led by Bernard Legault, a former PQ (Parti Québécois)  minister, won a commanding majority.  Legault is rightly described as an étapist, adhering to a step-by-step strategy to Quebec sovereignty. His current dominance might well prove a step in that direction.

The Liberal Party of Quebec, the only federalist party to hold seats, barely managed to form the official opposition by winning seats in and around Montreal and western Quebec.  But the Liberals won less of the popular vote than the independence-minded parties which placed third and fourth on October 3rd.

Now Alberta

I have, in moments of gallows humour, predicted that if Quebec were to leave Canada, it would not be the first province to do so.  It would be third behind Alberta and British Columbia.  Zeihan is humourlessly adamant that Alberta's future is neither to remain part of Canada nor to become sovereign.  Alberta's manifest destiny is to join the USA.

With an unencumbered market for its oil and grain, and an influx of young, highly-skilled American labour, Alberta, according to Zeihan, "as a U.S. state would not simply be rich—the richest in the Union, in fact—but would have a vibrantly well-financed and diverse economy that would put its former (and a lot of its newfound) countrymen to shame."  Zeihan's evidence for Albert's immanent secession was the election of the Wildrose Party as the official opposition in 2012.  The Wildrose Party has since disintegrated but, in recent days, the former leader of the party, Danielle Smith, was elected to lead the United Conservative Party and became de facto Premier of Alberta.  Smith has promised a  sovereign Alberta inside a strong and thriving Canada.  We now have étapist Premiers in both Quebec and Alberta.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Keeps a country together?

Both Zeihan and Tim Marshall display how countries are arbitrary--accidents of history, lines on a map.  Sometimes countries hold together because of geography (mountains, deserts, rivers and coastlines) or economics or religion or ethnicity or military might or a common enemy.  None of these hold Canada together; in fact, they tend to divide us.  I often think of Canada as a poker player who picks up his hand and sees four aces but is reluctant to bet because the guy across the table is smiling like he might have a royal flush.  Canada has everything, now and for the future.  Canada is a really good idea but I am frequently amazed at how difficult it is to sell this idea to Canadians.

The Concept formerly known as nationalism

In my presentation to the Association for Canadian Theatre Research, somewhat tongue-in-cheek for an academic plenary, I said:

I grew up being told that this country was held together by a railway.  The railway was sold because the truth was that in an age of communications the country was really tied together through its public broadcasting system.  As soon as this notion had installed itself, the budgets of the CBC were massively slashed.  Most recently the truism has become that Canada is held together by its distinctive network of social programmes: no sooner said than those programmes are under attack at every level of government in the country.  On the basis of recent history, I am not about to propose that the theatre is or should be a means of holding the country together. 

We need to take a chance and build a unified and independent Canada. And if we are not willing to do that then, at least, let's have an open discussion about why not.

 

Mythologizing a Conflict of Solitudes and the Erasure of the Left

Mythologizing a Conflict of Solitudes and the Erasure of the Left                                                                     Jay So...