From the archives: Canadiana

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Wednesday Book Club: The Rights Revolution

Wednesday, 7 January 2009 — 11:46pm | Book Club, Canadiana, Literature

This week’s selection: The Rights Revolution (2000) by Michael Ignatieff.

In brief: The text of Ignatieff’s appearance in CBC Radio’s Massey Lectures series makes for an effective plainspoken introduction to the complex balance of rights in modern liberal democracies. What remains to be seen is whether the positive vision of Canadian-style governance, founded on civic notions of identity rather than ethnic ones, has a realistic chance of spreading to the societies that need it most.

(The Wednesday Book Club is an ongoing initiative of mine to write a book review every week. I invite you to peruse the index. For more on The Rights Revolution, keep reading below.)

Continued »

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Canada’s theatrical government (or: Stéphane of Arabia)

Monday, 1 December 2008 — 8:15pm | Canadiana

I am typically very strict about preserving this journal as a non-political space, but the events on Parliament Hill are too exciting to pass up. Furthermore, it is my position that everyone involved needs a swift non-partisan kick in the head, and I am more than happy to deliver it.

At this precise moment in history, I am reminded of the scene at the end of Lawrence of Arabia where the Arabs run the Turks out of Damascus and promptly descend into inter-tribal squabbling over basic matters of infrastructure. I am also told that Lawrence of Arabia is Stéphane Dion’s favourite film. If that is so, I’m not sure he was paying attention.

There is no question that the coalition-in-waiting—or, as some have come to call it, the New Libs on the Bloc—has the constitutional and democratic footing to oust the Tory government on a confidence vote. Coalitions are a feature, not a bug, in the parliamentary tradition; in fact, I prefer stable coalitions to outright party mergers.

The legitimacy of the agreement does not mean the move to topple the government is anything but an ill-timed, moronic, and utterly shameless manoeuvre. At least wait for the budget, you dummies. When the electorate has chosen, within the last month and a half, to place their trust in the perceived party of patient fiscal prudence by granting them a stronger plurality (if not a majority) of seats in the Commons, forming an emergency coalition on the basis of unknown hair-trigger stimuli that will no doubt involve concessions to the socialists is not my idea of stable governance.

Irrespective of Gilles Duceppe’s signature on the agreement, the Governor General is within her rights, not to mention her faculties of reasoned thought, to take this to the electorate rather than green-light the coalition. We are looking at a prospective Liberal-NDP government that does not have a plurality in the House, the stability of which rests on the approval of the Bloc Québécois. We are looking at yet another minority serving as a de facto majority on the strength of a non-governing separatist party’s endorsement, only this time it comes signed and sealed. We are looking at a 114-seat government with a 143-seat Official Opposition. The optics are horrendous.

The right move at this juncture is to call an election with the coalition agreement on the table for everyone to see, and make it a referendum on both the proposed coalition and the Tories’ post-election tactics—the political party subsidy, the NDP conference call tape, the works. Sadly, not happening.

Assuming that neither an election nor a prorogue occurs and the coalition takes power, which is shaping up to be the likely scenario, the right move for one or all of Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae, and Dominic LeBlanc is to promise an election call as part of their respective leadership bids. Their fates, and that of the Liberal Party, will ride on whether they manage to facilitate a dramatic economic recovery. The sooner they can be rid of the NDP and the Bloc, the better. Sadly, not happening.

The wrong move, for the Tories, is to dump Stephen Harper without prior pause for thought. Given how much they spent in the last campaign on massaging his middle-class image, he’s in the best position to ride the popular backlash should the economy implode on the coalition’s watch. Sadly, not happening.

On second thought, let’s wait until Peter MacKay goes head-to-head with Michael Ignatieff, the NDP and the Bloc fade into the background like they should, and we can put the inmates back in the asylum and forget this ever happened. Can I dream—or is it written?

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Wednesday Book Club: The Manticore

Wednesday, 2 July 2008 — 6:38am | Book Club, Canadiana, Literature

This week’s selection: The Manticore (1972) by Robertson Davies.

In brief: The second novel in the Deptford Trilogy never quite attains the the ambitious moral order and dramatic unity of its sublime predecessor, but it doesn’t need to, as it is a very different book tailor-made for a very different narrator. The story on the surface (a rationalist lawyer exorcises his personal demons with the aid of Jungian psychiatry) is not by itself earth-shattering. Where Davies’ genius shows its hand is in his depth of vision and talent for expository voice, best displayed when the book interlaces its characters and events with those of the previous volume. The Manticore stands independently, but with diminished elegance; I recommend it as essential reading for anyone who loved Fifth Business, which should or will be all of you.

(The Wednesday Book Club is an ongoing initiative of mine to write a book review every week. I invite you to peruse the index. For more on The Manticore, keep reading below.)

Continued »

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The sun never sets (and a few words about rats)

Sunday, 1 July 2007 — 10:39pm | Animation, Canadiana, Film

It’s Canada Day. But before I go on: only $47M? Where were you all this weekend when you were supposed to be seeing Ratatouille?

This is the first time in several years that I’ve not posted here for the entire span of a month, but I assure you that I had an unfinished post from two weeks ago about Pixar’s latest sitting around, which I abandoned in part because it was hopelessly redundant. It went like this:

To absolutely nobody’s surprise, I cancelled all of my plans and zipped off to see Ratatouille as soon as I found out it was playing last night, two weeks ahead of its general release. By now everybody is familiar with the way I gush over every new Pixar film, so I’ll confirm that it’s just about perfect, declare my intention to revisit it several times when it opens, and marvel at how Pixar is a perfect eight for eight and is now indisputably the greatest feature film studio of all time. You know the routine.

… followed by a potpourri of trivial observations that I’ve decided to save until I’ve seen the film a few more times. (For example: was that Chinese take-out box in Linguini’s refrigerator the same model as the magician’s cabinet in A Bug’s Life? And where, if anywhere, is the elusive A113?) More on all this later – and if time permits, a few words about Brad Bird and the American Dream: a post-scriptum to what I wrote about The Incredibles, after a fashion.

Time will probably not permit. I have a lot of Harry Potter to get through. Again.

And now, back to the British Empire (as most things should be).

It’s my country’s special day, of course (musical recommendations: Kenny Barron’s rendition of “Canadian Sunset” on the album Live at Bradley’s, and as always, the entirety of Oscar Peterson’s Canadiana Suite), but that’s not the only special occasion involving the progeny of the Union Jack.

I don’t look favourably upon celebrity culture, so even as a loyalist I’ve never understood the extent of all the fuss over Princess Diana, but I do have to make a special mention of a moment buried in the sea of washed-up pop icons at her Wembley Stadium memorial. It involved Andrew Lloyd Webber, and you can see a segment of it here starring Sarah “I was singing this role before Emmy Rossum was toilet-trained” Brightman and Josh “I’m way too talented for the music I’m given, but Nick’s mother stalks me anyway” Groban.

The other event associated with this particular 1 July was the tenth anniversary of Britain’s loss of the colony of Hong Kong. On the upside, the Hong Kong SAR has managed to retain its autonomy in relative peace for a whole decade. At the same time, that only leaves forty years for the PRC to fall (the sooner, the better) lest the whole operation go to pot. It remains my learned opinion that the PRC basically extorted the place from the British crown by taking advantage of a post-Falklands moment of weakness. And before any of the vehemently anti-colonial types interject, let me point out that there’s a world of difference between a) decolonization in the name of self-determination and b) a transfer of sovereignty to a communist regime that we already knew couldn’t be trusted.

As I was pointing out not long ago to my comrade-in-arms Kyle Kawanami, the British government should have given Deng Xiaoping the finger and fulfilled its contractual obligation to the letter by handing the New Territories over to Taiwan.

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Impromptu for unaccompanied nation and state

Monday, 4 July 2005 — 8:57pm | Canadiana, Music

I’m aware that today is a national holiday in a little country I actually like quite a lot, replete with festivities commemorating tea parties and dangling modifiers. I still fondly recall the last time I spent the Fourth of July down south: it involved a visit to an ice cream parlour in historic Princeton with the founding fathers of my old stomping grounds at the Entmoot forums, which you’ll note was a lot more interesting than what I did last year (watching digital fireworks with virtual furry animals in Animal Crossing so Tortimer would come by and award me a piece of furniture). I don’t remember much about the ice cream parlour itself, but it’s still the best one I’ve found east of MacKay’s.

Aside from an obligatory tea party, a double waffle cone of peanut butter and chocolate and discovering that first-printing hardcovers of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire are still on shelves with the Priori Incantatem continuity goof on page 579 intact, there wasn’t so much to celebrate today up here in the land of absent hockey, misty giants and wacky marriage legislation about which some people out there apparently harbour opinions.

We had our party of patriots three days ago, when I chanced upon a free public performance by a fantastic a cappella quartet on Banff Avenue right across the street from the Grizzly House, capitol of the carnivorous connoisseur. They caught my attention with “Use the Force”, a complete retelling of the original Star Wars featuring mock lightsabre duels onstage and Darth Vader breathing, and held it until after their set when I walked out with two of their albums and autographs to boot.

The ensemble was none other than the Heebee-Jeebees, a Calgarian foursome I first heard of years ago (thanks to their accomplishment of concocting the world’s most boring song, appropriately entitled “The Boring Song”) but never had the pleasure to see in person. It turns out they hit Banff every Canada Day, when admission to the National Park comes at no cost, and I highly recommend seeing them. They also perform at the Stampede in a week’s time, for those of you spending the summer in Alberta’s better city.

This was also when I discovered that their bass singer, who has a remarkable talent for reaching depths lower than das boot in Das Boot, is none other than former Rose Bowl-winning clarinetist Cedric Blary, who was first known to me (although we did not meet per se) over a decade ago as we shared a composition instructor at Mount Royal College back when I hadn’t moved beyond scribbling fat major triads in basic triple time, and I saw him perform his own piece in a student recital. This was years before I started playing the clarinet myself, but it was an important stepping stone in verifying that it was indeed what I intended to pursue as a second instrument. Last I heard, Mr. Blary had taken up the position of being the clarinet clinician at this staple of local musical education.

Somewhere in all this is a segue to a point about the value of celebrating a national holiday, but I am going to forgo a seamless transition in favour of what the calculus-literate refer to as a jump discontinuity.

I’m going to do something unorthodox here and, in an obliquely politico-avoidant manner, reply to what Steve Smith wrote in his entry dated 1 July and the comment box therein.

Mr. Smith has a proven record of thinking national pride is silly, so it comes as no surprise that he doesn’t give a Carlos’ jackass about feeling all whoop-dee-doo when it comes to observing the birthday of the political entity to which he may or may not pay his taxes. He then proceeds to draw the salient distinction between nations and states, the timeworn semantic trademark of those with at least a freshman’s understanding of political theory who respectfully don’t want anything to do with those without the same.

I would contend that Canada’s history of not being and never having been a Westphalian nation-state is precisely why among its class of holidays, Canada Day is something unique and worth applauding.

Over the past few decades, Canada has retooled itself as a most admirable experiment in permitting the divorce of cultural identity from ethnic origin, and encouraging the severance of political allegiance from both. In this sense, separatist movements in both Quebec and to a lesser extent Alberta are a reaction to this project, not a progression.

We’re too good for homogeneous cultural isolation walled behind the borders on a map. While national self-determination is a stabilizing destination in the pre-national world, Canada is a post-national country, and that’s where the state is relevant to its citizens on an individual level. The fact that it has survived this way for yet another year is worth a cheer and a beer.

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