Loi 96: A Zero-Sum Game
June 28, 2022 § Leave a comment
The government of Québec has passed Loi 96, an insanely restrictive language law designed to incapacitate Montréal. Montréal has, in recent years, been Anglicized, or at least it seems that way. Anecdotally, I hear more English across the city in the past few years than I ever have, and not just in the traditional areas of downtown, the sud-ouest, or NDG, but also in Rosemont-Petite Patrie, Parc Ex, Villeray. But it’s not just French and English you hear on the streets of Montréal. In all reality, the city has become incredibly diverse in recent years, and now it is common to hear pretty much any language you can imagine on the streets of the metropole. And this is concerning to the rest of the province, clearly. As it is, the relationship between Montréal and Québec is uncertain; roughly half of the province/nation’s 8.5 million people live in the Montréal sprawl. It is a very large, multicultural, multiethnic, and multilingual city. The rest of Québec, not so much. It is more than predominately French-speaking and white. Immigrants tend to flock to the big city, or the suburbs of Ottawa, as this is where economic opportunity is greatest.
Montréal, though, has nearly died before. In the wake of the Parti Québécois winning power for the first time in 1976, Anglos and business left Montréal in a terrifying wave. For most of Canada’s history, Montréal had been the predominant city, and while it was already fading by 1970, with Toronto assuming the mantle, the wake of 1976 saw an exodus. Corporations left for Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver. So did the people. My own family was part of this exodus. We left for, first, Toronto, in winter 1978 before ultimately making our way west to British Columbia in 1980. The result for Montréal was devastating. A walk down rue Sainte-Catherine or the rue Saint-Denis in the 80s was depressing in that every other store front had an ‘À Louer’ sign on it, and it was no different on other arteries and side streets. Montréal had the highest unemployment rate for an urban centre in Canada for most of the 1980s and 1990s.
Meanwhile, there was a massive amount of instability in the province/nation, provoked by fears of the intentions of the openly separatist PQ government. The first referendum on Québec sovereignty in 1980 ended in a defeat for the aspirations of Premier René Levésque and the PQ. But this ushered in a decade-and-a-half of language laws (most notably Loi 101) and constitutional wrangling between the UK, Canada, its provinces, and its population. Canada’s constitution was patriated from the UK in 1982, but Québec never ratified it. An attempt at a conciliation in 1990, the Meech Lake Accord, was doomed to failure due to an inability of the framers to account for the indigenous. A second attempt in 1992, the Charlottetown Accord, went down to defeat in a national referendum. And then the second referendum on Québec sovereignty was held in 1995, which resulted in a much narrower defeat for Premier Jacques Parizeau and the PQ. In the aftermath of the defeat, Parizeau declared that the sovereigntists lost due to ‘money and the ethnic vote,’ making clear that he felt Anglos and Allophones (as those who are neither Anglo or French are called in Québec) did not belong.
In the aftermath of that second referendum, some certainty returned to Québec, as the PQ refused to consider another referendum under successive premiers Lucien Bouchard, Bernard Landry, and Pauline Marois. As a result, Montréal came back to life, and at one point in the early 21st century was the fastest growing city in Canada. The economy has come roaring back, the ‘À Louer’ signs disappeared and Montréal was once again a vibrant multicultural city.
But, at the same time, the sovereigntist movement, which had begun on the left in the 1960s, began drifting right, and try as Landry and Marois might, they could not, ultimately, stem the tide of the right, and the PQ faded into irrelevance at the same time it was attacked on the left by the ride of Québec Solidaire (which is still a tiny party). Indeed, the Coalition pour l’avenir du Québec, or CAQ, led by former PQ cabinet member, François Legault, stormed to power in 2018 in a landslide victory, signalling the completion of the right-ward turn of the sovereigntist movement.
In the wake of 1995, sovereigntists made an attempt to rebrand themselves to make their vision of Québec more inclusive, welcome to Anglos and Allophones. Those days are over. Legault and the CAQ are very clear who their constituents are and who they govern for. Loi 96 is an obvious example of this.
Interestingly, the CAQ does not have a lot of support on the Île de Montréal, nor in the larger Montréal sprawl in general. On the island, only the two most eastern ridings, Pointe-aux-Trembles and Bourget, swung CAQ, and only one riding in Laval, Sainte-Rose, and one on the south shore, Taillon followed suite. Indeed, Montréal and its sprawl are the power bases of both the federalist Parti Libérale and Québec Solidaire.
So it is interesting that Legault’s Loi 96 is designed to strangle the English language. I am an Anglo, yes. But I do not tend to side with Anglos in the language politics of Québec. Montréal is a French city. Québec is a French province/nation. I argued myself into a nationalist (though not separatist) position in reading for my comprehensive exams for my Phd, I have been unable to escape that spot). There are roughly 400,000 Anglos in the city of 4.25 million. You can do the math.
But. Loi 96 is different. Its attacks on English-language government services, education, and health care are a very real threat. Its insistence that immigrants will get all of six months to learn French before all services are in that language is also a very real threat. But even more than that, what Loi 96 will do is kill Montréal. Already employers are talking of pulling out. I was back home last week, and even Le Devoir, the nationalist Montréal newspaper, was attacking the government for this law, which it sees as going too far. The CBC reports today that Montréal’s vibrant video-game industry is at risk, this despite the fact that the largest of these employers, Ubisoft, is French. It is only going to get worse, as Legault seeks to destroy the city.
There will be a provincial election this fall. But I don’t see many reasons to be optimistic. The CAQ is running around 40% in the polls, which is up 3% from 2018. The Liberals are below 20%, and now the Conservatives are in the running as well, around 17%. And, of course, due to the genius of the men who created the Canadian Constitution in 1982, we have the notwithstanding clause, which allows governments to override the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Loi 96 violates both, but Legault has enacted the notwithstanding clause.
Of course, what he also seems to be risking is in killing Montréal, he will kill Québec’s economy, which will hurt everyone. Politics. A zero sum game.
Not All Political Parties are Created Equal
June 24, 2022 § Leave a comment
Roe v. Wade was overturned today by the Supreme Court (SCOTUS). A lot is being made of this decision, and rightly so. It is asinine that a group of conservative justices who constantly torture the Constitution for their decisions, in much the same way that Chief Justice Taney did in 1857 with Dred Scot, would do so again to overturn Roe. This is the damage that Donald Trump continues to do to the United States. Yes, clearly, I am pro-choice. I am pro-choice because I believe it is a woman’s right to choose. I have taken friends for abortions, and even in Canada, we had to run the gauntlet of people who had nothing but hatred in their hearts calling my friends ‘baby killers,’ ‘sluts,’ ‘whores,’ and much, much worse. But I am also an historian, and I know what the cost of a lack of access was in the United States prior to 1973 (Roe) and in Canada prior to 1987 (Morgentaler). And mark my words, women and girls are going to die in the United States due to the flat out moronity of this court.
But. I have something else on my mind today. I was thinking of a conversation I had with a guy at a bar prior to Covid, in 2018 or so, in left-of-centre Western Massachusetts. He was pontificating, he was of a certain age (I am also of a certain age, but I suppose I don’t look it). He was lecturing me on politics in this country. He told me, proudly, that he doesn’t vote because the Democrats and the Republicans are the same. I was gobsmacked. And I pushed back.
Today, I am thinking about that conversation and all the times I have been told that Democrats and Republicans (or in Canada, the Liberals and Conservatives) are the same. Yeah, sure, in many ways they are, all four political parties in both countries are deeply invested in a neo-liberal capitalist order (well, the GOP might not be anymore). But beyond that? Not so much. In the US, there is a wide gulf between the two political parties.
But then I got to thinking who it always is telling me the Democrats and Republicans are the same: white men. Always white men. In fact, it is usually white men who feel like they’ve got the most to lose with the culture wars in the United States. They seem to think that extending basic human rights to African Americans, Asian Americans, the indigenous, women, immigrants, the disabled, LGBTQIA+, and other groups who are discriminated against means that they will lose rights. In actual reality, gender equality does nothing to diminish my rights, though it might look like it will put a dent in my male white privilege. Maybe. But in actual reality, it won’t.
I often think of Isotta Nogarola, a Renaissance woman in 15th century Italy. She is credited as being the first major woman humanist, and she was brilliant. Her ideas and writings were received with nothing but misogyny and hatred. She ultimately retired to her villa, where she carried on her experiments and writing, but published nothing more during her lifetime. When I taught Western Civ or World History, I always made sure to include Nogarola, because I always found myself wondering just how many Nogarolas there have been in the world, the entire world: brilliant women who were never given a chance?
Then imagine a world where Nogarola was able to publish, attain fame, and immortality like all those male Renaissance thinkers. Imagine a world where anyone, regardless of gender, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation was equal.
I am not a Democrat. I am not a Liberal. But I can see the difference between a conservative movement in the US or Canada that seeks to strip rights, protections, and privileges from anyone who is not a white man (or, increasingly, a white conservative man).
June 14, 2022 § Leave a comment
Sometimes I see the arguments of Second Amendment over-enthusiasts and I can do nothing but smack my head against the nearest wall. Yes, the Second Amendment sort of says we can have guns in the US, but the Second Amendment also underwent a profound re-reading in the 1980s and 90s, thanks mostly to the NRA. And so we are in the predicament we are right now, where there is a mass shooting pretty much daily in the United States. This is a screen shot from the Gun Violence Archive. It is the mass shootings in the US from 5-12 June 2022, and even at that, it shows only one of five mass shootings on the 5th.
If you’re not feeling the desire to count the lines on that page, it shows 20 mass shootings in the space of a week. Twenty. If you add the other four shootings on 5 June, that’s 24. This next image, from Wikipedia, shows the mass shootings in the 20th and 21st centuries in Canada, from 1969-2021. In case you’re wondering, the line previous to the 1969 one was the Frog Lake Massacre as part of Louis Riel’s second rebellion in 1885. In other words, from 1885-1969, Canada had no mass shootings. And since 1969, Canada has had nine mass shootings. Two of the events in this list, in Toronto in 2018 and in London, Ontario, were vehicle attacks.
Meanwhile, the UK has had 6 mass shootings, excluding the Troubles in Northern Ireland, since the 1990s. I don’t count the Troubles as it was, in essence, a civil war.
So what can we conclude? Mass shootings only happen in the United States. What is the recommendation of Second Amendment over-enthusiasts? More guns. Seriously. They believe in the myth that a good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with a gun. Even the ultra-RWNJ Washington Times could find all of 11 times that has happened in the past 30 years. As a reminder, there were 24 mass shootings in the US from 5-12 June. Eleven armed citizens in 30 years stopped shooters. But none were that week in early June.
Then there’s my favourite of the wingnut explanations. I came across this one on LinkedIn last week:
“Just a Friendly Reminder: Adolf Hitler confiscated guns before killing between 11-20 Million of his people. Joseph Stalin confiscated guns before killing 20-70 Million of his people. Mao Zedong confiscated guns before killing 70-100 million of his people. The list goes on and on, Pol Pot confiscated guns before killing 2 Million of his people, etc, etc. It is as old as time and our founders knew that. For instance, look at the oppression of Scotland under England where weapons of war were banned for the Scottish people, leading to oppression by the English. Read your history. Government OF the people, BY the people, and FOR the people requires citizens NOT subjects. When you disarm a citizen, you make them into a subject. So, don’t allow the balance of power between the government and the people guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment to be removed. And, realize that it is also a matter of national security. No country in the world would risk invading the United States because the largest standing army in the world are the private gun owners of America. The answer to bad guys with guns, is good guys with guns. We should train, educate, qualify, register, and equip every teacher in America for concealed carry. #HardenOurSchools“
I am not going to out the guy who posted this, I am not going to publicly humiliate anyone. Instead, the logic here. First, he points (and this is a common argument amongst this ilk) to Adolph Hitler, Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot. What do those four men have in common? They were dictators. All committed genocide, on both their own people, and in Hitler and Stalin’s case, foreigners. What does the United States not have? That’s right, we don’t have a dictator in the White House. But, interestingly enough, the United States has come very close to a dictatorship, or at least a president willing to claim he won an election he lost and enact a coup to maintain power. Who is that, you wonder? Why, it was Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of these United States.
So, in other words, the darling of the conservative world is the only person who has ever attempted to overthrow the democracy of the United States.
Arguments such as these are ahistorical, they are cherry-picking, and they compare apples to hockey sticks. Not even oranges, as oranges are a fruit like apples. Comparing the government of the United States to Mao’s China is ridiculous. Patently stupid. Outrageously so.
This was not the first time I’ve seen this argument, I’ve seen it almost word-for-word on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and now LinkedIn. This is a common talking point of 2A over-enthusiasts. And yet, it is just so easy to break down the illogic and expose this as a word salad that, ultimately, means nothing.
The fact of the matter remains that the United States has a pandemic of mass shootings because it is the only nation in the western world that has unchecked gun ownership. And what are guns for? Killing things. Period.
That, of course, brings up another wonderful argument of the 2A over-enthusiasts. My neighbour had a car with this bumper sticker, actually. Unfortunately for my purposes here, he’s since sold it, so I don’t have a picture. But. The bumper sticker said: “Is it my spoon’s fault I’m fat?” No, obviously it’s not. But, yet, spoons are not designed to kill. They’re designed to get food from your bowl into your mouth. Similarly, a car is not designed to kill, but to get you from point A to point B. Even knives are not necessarily designed to kill, there’s a lot you can do with a knife. A gun? Not so much.
Until the politicians in this country have the guts to confront this issue in an aggressive and progressive manner, nothing is going to change. That archive of gun violence I took that first image from covers mass shootings in the United States in the calendar year of 2022. That archive is 11 pages long. But the archive goes back to 2014. So far this year, there have been 267 mass shootings. In 2014, there were 272 mass shootings. In 2021, there were 692. They have gone up in number each and every year since 2014, with the exception of 2017-18 when the number declined from 382 in 2016 to 348, and then to 336 in 2018. But 2019 saw 417. 2020 brought us 610. Last year there were 692.
This is insanity. Each year since 2014, anywhere between 40,000 and 55,000 people die due to gun violence. This is utter insanity.
Once Rotten Always Rotten
June 11, 2022 § Leave a comment
I’ve been watching Pistol, Danny Boyle’s new TV show about the Sex Pistols. It’s apparently based on guitarist Steve Jones’ autiobiography, Lonely Boy. I have to say, it’s really compelling TV, and the music is killer, even the pre-punk music in the show. It’s well-written and well acted and the cinematography is both repelling and compelling; basically what I always figured late-70s London to be. It’s interesting to see how the Pistols came about and forged a band, at least as refracted from Jones’ memoir through the magic of TV. The running joke was always they couldn’t play their instruments, but that was never true. Both Glen Matlock (bass) and Paul Cook (drums) were actual real musicians when the band formed. Jones learned to play guitar on the fly and Johnny Rotten (née Lydon) learned to be a frontman on the fly (this is all pretty much common knowledge).
John Lydon, however, is unimpressed. He has distanced himself from the show, and used the press to attack it. The official Instagram feed of Public Image Ltd. (aka: PiL), his post-Pistols band, has told us that he wants nothing to do with the social media feeds and merchandising from the Pistols themselves. Lydon sued to keep the show from using the Pistols’ music. He lost. He has complained about damn near everything from the fact that Anson Boon, who plays him, doesn’t even look like him (in Boon’s defence, he IS Johnny Rotten on my TV screen, he has inhabited the role).
I admire Lydon. I can’t say I like his politics all the time. He was pro-Brexit, anti-marriage equality, and flirted with Trumpism (despite becoming a US citizen during the Obama years because he liked the man’s politics). But he has done it his way. He was bitter upon the dissolution of the Pistols (I often have wondered how this would’ve played out had Matlock remained in the band, had Sid Vicious not joined on bass). And it’s not hard to see how. Malcolm McLaren, their manager, was a piece of work, to put it politely. He formed PiL in the immediate aftermath and has refused throughout the long and winding road of the band (and constant line-up changes) to do it his way. He will play the game, but only on his terms. I once interviewed him back in the 90s during a stint as a music writer. His reputation suggests he’s a hard man to talk to. I found the opposite, he was loquacious, erudite, funny, and kind. It was fun to talk to him over the phone for 45 minutes. He answered questions, he expounded on his life (this was around the time he published his first memoir, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs). I liked him.
Watching Pistol, I can’t see how he’d have any issue with his portrayal. Yeah, sure, Boon plays Rotten as an asshole, but he is an asshole with a moral code and not without kindness. And, frankly, everyone in the band, plus McLaren, come off as extreme assholes.
No, his problem is he doesn’t have control. In fact, the Insta post distancing him from the show states that baldly:
‘Despite his face and likeness being used throughout John has no control over this at the moment and it seems quality control is being ignored. The rest of the band and their management are constantly outvoting him on their monopoly.’
A monopoly. Apparently the Pistols today are a sort of democracy and Jones, Matlock, and Cook have different ideas than him. And so, voting 3-1 makes it a ‘monopoly.’ I read these posts and I think, ‘Dude, chill.’ The comments on these posts range from fanboyism to castigating Lydon for his attitude. Both miss the point. Lydon is upset because he doesn’t have control, and that means that Pistol and the merchandising arising therefrom from the actual Sex Pistols, is all happening without his participation. Sure, he could chill and co-operate, but that wouldn’t be very John(ny) Lydon/Rotten, now, would it?
RIP Cathal Coughlan
May 24, 2022 § Leave a comment
Cathal Coughlan has died. You probably don’t know who he was. Coughlan was the frontman of a criminally underrated band in the late 80s/early 90s, The Fatima Mansions. They were an Irish band, from Cork, but they took their name from a housing estate/project in Dublin. They were wild.
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest in the late 80s, it was very hard to get access to what was then called alternative rock. This was especially true in the suburbs of Vancouver, which were pretty bland and boring in those days. Vancouver was going through this massive change, evolving from a backwater outpost of the British Empire into the modern, cosmopolitan city it is today. Part of this was due to Expo 86, part of it was due to global politics. Vancouver had always been a disembarkation point for immigrants from South and East Asia, that much is true. But in the late 80s/early 90s, with the impending handover of Kong Kong back to the Chinese in 1997, there was a massive influx of East Asian immigration to the city, which, combined with the already extant East and South Asian populations, changed the city massively. This had not yet filtered out to the far eastern suburbs of Vancouver.
The cultural shift of the city meant many things, including me being confused c. 2004 watching the NHL playoffs and an Air Canada ad that showed a city that looked like Vancouver, all these tall, angular glass towers, and the mountains behind them. It took me awhile to realize this was Hong Kong, not Vancouver. But the other thing that happened is that Vancouver emerged from its cocoon and became the international city it is today.
But all of that was still to come. I had read about The Fatima Mansions in The NME, they counted U2 amongst their supporters and fans. They eventually opened for U2 during one leg of the Zoo TV tour in 1992 in Europe (Pixies were the openers in North America). But it was damn near impossible to get their 1990 album, Viva Dead Ponies. I went to all the usual suspects on Seymour St. downtown (Sam the Record Man, A&A Records and Tapes, A&B Sound, and the indie store, Track Records). No dice. The guy at Track suggested I try Zulu Records on W. 4th in Kitsilano. I didn’t know anything about Kitsilano, but the guy was nice enough to tell me how to get there, the #4 bus. But they woman at Zulu, whilst she had heard of The Fatima Mansions, they didn’t have anything by them.
I did eventually find joy a few months later. Columbia House. Maybe it was a scam, but I sure as hell didn’t think so. Yeah, you could get your Brian Adams and Aerosmith this way. But Columbia House had all this random underground music. I found so much amazing alternative, hip hop, and techno music this way, everything from They Might Be Giants to Living Colour to Public Enemy to Boogie Down Productions to The Sundays and The Stone Roses. And The Fatima Mansions. Viva Dead Ponies was in the catalogue. I ordered it. It was glorious.
Things got a bit easier, music-wise, when I moved to Ottawa for undergrad, as Ottawa had The Record Runner on Rideau St., and they had damn near everything. Including their 1992 album, which actually charted in the UK, Valhalla Avenue. The Fatima Mansions were amazing, they weren’t any one thing in an era when record labels encouraged artists to be one thing. Coughlin was mezmerizing as a front man in their videos, tall, angular, Nordic-looking, and rather intimidating. Their music ranged from vicious industrial-inspired grinding guitars and shouted vocals to the tenderness of their cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘A Singer Must Die,’ on the brilliant 1992 Cohen tribute album, I’m Your Fan.
I don’t think The Fatima Mansions ever came to North America, at least not anywhere near Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, or Vancouver. Maybe they went to New York or Los Angeles. But not Canada. And these were the days, the early 90s, when Vancouver was the starting or end point of most major tours. This led to some amazing shows, when the artist(s) were fresh and stoked for the road trip, or when they were exhausted and drained at the end of it and they dug down for some amazing shit to end it all.
I obsessed over Viva Dead Ponies for a long while after I found it in the Columbia House catalogue. I can’t remember exactly when I got my hands on it, though my memories have me listening to the album, which was supposed to be called Bugs Fucking Bunny (I think it’s kind of obvious why that didn’t happen), over the Christmas break that year. None of my friends liked it, which was interesting, even the ones who liked synth-pop (which also features on Viva Dead Ponies) or industrial. I guess The Fatima Mansions were too many things to be anything. And I suppose this is why they remained obscure, at least in North America. It always felt to me in those days that the Europeans could handle their musical artists being more diverse in their sounds than we could.
I lost track of them after about 1992, and they broke up in 1995, Wikipedia tells me. Coughlan died on 18 May after a long illness. He was only 61. Before Mansions, he had been in Microdisney, who scored a few hit singles in the UK, and after Mansions split, he released a raft of solo music, his last album coming out in 2020.
May he rest in peace.
Adieu Guy Lafleur
May 3, 2022 § Leave a comment
Guy Lafleur is being laid to rest today at Cathédrle Marie-Reine-du-Monde in downtown Montréal this afternoon. Le Démon Blonde has been granted a state funeral by Québec Premier François Legault (he had to get something right eventually), following in the footsteps of Jean Béliveau and Maurice ‘The Rocket’ Richard. Lafleur was a hockey player. He was the best player of his era. But he was so much more than that.
Québec is not like the rest of Canada or North America. Whether you like that or not, it’s a statement of fact. Québec’s culture has evolved through a separate history than the rest of this continent, in part due to the French colonial era, in part due to the Conquête in 1760, in part due to the continued historical fact of the French language and Catholic religion (despite Lord Durham opining in 1840 that French Canada was a place without a history or culture, or for that matter, future), in part due to the influx of English and Scots Protestants, in part due to the massive influx of Irish immigrants and refugees in the mid-19th century, and the continued influx of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, from Africa, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and East, South, and Southeast Asia, and everywhere else in the world, and also in part due to the continued presence of the indigenous and their insistence on their place in Québec culture and society be respected and accorded.
And for all of this, Guy Lafleur was not just a hockey player.
It is very hard to explain the significance of Guy Lafleur (or Bélieveau or Rocket Richard, for that matter) to non-Quebecers. Whatever language we speak, whatever our cultural heritage, for Quebecers, we know why Lafleur was more than just a hockey player. Lafleur was a manifestation of the nation (however we define it and who defines it, I continue to maintain that we are all of Québec, whatever our language, national origin, ethnicity, I am fully aware that many, including the current government of Québec disagrees with me).
Lafleur was the best player on the best team in hockey. And he was québécois. That means he mattered more than the other superstars he played with (Ken Dryden, Larry Robinson, including other québécois superstars (Jacques Lemaire, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe). Collectively, the Canadiens de Montréal carried the weight of Québec on their shoulders as they won the Stanley Cup seven times in the 1970s (1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1979). And Lafleur carried all of this on his shoulder as he flew down the right wing at the Forum, his blonde hair flying behind him, unleashing his vicious shot, making the goalie look like a fool.
Lafleur understood his role, he took it seriously. If it strained him, you wouldn’t know. He was a kind man, a humble man, and a gentleman. He always had time for his fans. But he knew he wasn’t just a hockey player.
He was the next in a long line of québécois superstars dating back to the 1910s: Georges Vézina, Rocket Richard, Béliveau. Lafleur eventually handed the baton to Patrick Roy. Each of these men were the best players in hockey during their era. And they were all gars de chez nous. It is also worth noting that the Habs have not won a Stanley Cup since 1993; Roy left in 1995, and we have not had a replacement in this lineage since.
Richard and Béliveau were men for a different era. They were superstars on the best team in hockey during the Révolution Tranquille, at the peak of their powers in the 1950s (Richard) and 60s (Béliveau). Lafleur was a new man for the 70s, post-révolution tranquille, when the promise of that movement began to bear fruit, as québécois took control of their province/nation, and as the next part of that revolutionary movement took hold: a separatist/sovereigntist movement. The Parti Québécois won the 1976 provincial election, the first time a sovereigntist party won, under the leadership of René Levésque. In 1980, the PQ held the first referendum on Québec sovereignty. And lost. Lafleur was the best player on the best team in the world throughout this period.
I have no idea what Lafleur’s politics were, if he was a nationalist, a sovereigntist, a federalist, a hybrid of the afore-mentioned, or if he was apolitical. In the end, it doesn’t matter. He was us.
Protesting Against What?
April 24, 2022 § 6 Comments
I am back home in Montréal this weekend. I’m staying in the Centre-Sud, near the corner of Ontario and Berri. Yesterday, I was walking back to my AirBnB along Ontario and has just got back to my flat when a most curious protest made its way down Ontario, with police protection, I may add. These were people protesting for ‘freedom,’ against Covid restrictions and vaccine mandates. Their words, screamed through loud speakers made no sense. Their iconography was even more confused.
I must say I deeply resent this crowd co-opting the Canadian flag. They are not patriots. They do not know the history or culture of this country. They do not understand what Canada stands for either at home or abroad. I am equally resentful of their co-optation of the flag of Québec, for the same reasons. These are not patriots, of either Québec or Canada. They’re Americanized.
Mixed in with the Canadian and Québec flags were American flags, the Gadsden flag, the stars and bars (the Confederate battle flag), a few Trump 2024 flags, and, oddly, the Mohawk Warrior flag. What, exactly do any of those American and Confederate flags have to do with a protest for freedom in Montréal, Québec, Canada? Why were the folks with the bullhorns calling for a chant of Trump’s name (it didn’t take)? Two of the protesters, both young men, were holding up a sign demanding their First and Second Amendment rights. WTF?
I was particularly perplexed by the Mohawk Warrior flag, one that has deep meaning in Québec and Canada, dating back at least to the Oka Crisis of 1990. I talked to my friend, Greg Horn, who is the owner and editor of Iori:wase, the newspaper of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation. He was equally perplexed, but noted that right wing protesters have been co-opting the Warrior flag for awhile now. I should add that every single person in this convoy of about 80 was white. All of them. This is nothing more than cultural co-optation.
But so, too, is the transfer of American politics onto Québec and Canada. Clearly, these protesters don’t realize that Canada is a sovereign nation. They didn’t mention any Canadian politicians as they passed me, nor did they mention any Canadian political parties. Not even the People’s Party of Canada, the most extreme right wing party in the country. No. They focused on American politics.
Greg and I agreed this can only be wilful blindness to reality.
6 December 1989
December 6, 2020 § Leave a comment
It was a cold and wet day in the suburbs of Vancouver. Then again, most every day in the Pacific Northwest from November to March was cold and wet. How we did not develop webbed feet and moss is something I never understood. I was 16 years old, disaffected and bored beyond words in suburbia. It was an unremarkable day.
That evening, I was in the living room with my parental units watching the news. We weren’t really people for tradition, but the news was sacrosanct. The Old Man sat in his Command Centre, a reclining chair with his remote. My mom sat in the corner of the couch closest to him. They watched the early news at 5pm on BCTV, the Vancouver affiliate of CTV. Then they watched the national news at 5.30. And then at 6pm, the News Hour with Tony Parsons came on. Tony Parsons was the official voice of the news in our house. He was taciturn, with a deep voice, and these brown eyes that were soulful. His was a trustworthy face, his was a trustworthy voice. The rest of British Columbia agreed, as the News Hour was, by far, the most watched news programme in the province.
I didn’t spend a lot of time with the Rental Units, but for some reason, I was with them that night. I watched the early news with them and the News Hour. I don’t recall why, it’s possible that my mom called me in when the 5pm news began. There was news from Montréal, from whence my mom, me, and my sister came from. There’d been a shooting. Hours earlier, a lone gunman had walked into the Êcole Polytechnique de Montréal, part of the Université de Montréal. The school is on UdeM’s campus, which is nested under the northern side of Mont-Royal, between Outremont and Cote-des-Neiges, two Montréal neighbourhoods. Cote-des-Neiges is the neighbourhood just north of where both sets of my grandparents had lived when I was a kid in Snowdon.
We watched the news, shocked, dismayed, saddened. This gunman had opened fire at l’École Polytechnique because he ‘hated feminists,’ whom he believed had ruined his life. I knew what misogyny looked like, I knew what violence looked like. This wasn’t sexism, this was misogyny.
My mom raised me as a feminist, as she was. Her friends were feminists. My mom had worked in the 1980s helping divorced women get back on their feet, to find jobs and a means to support themselves after being essentially dumped by their husbands, quite often with the children. This was the 1980s, and the women my mom worked with were of a generation where they had quit work when they got married, or at the latest, when they got pregnant. By the time they were dumped, they’d been at home with the kids from anywhere from 5 to 15 years, they had no recent experience, they had no clue.
I spent a fair amount of time in my mom’s office, her colleagues, Christine, Audrey, and Gail, were all really nice to me, and even as an eight year old, I could see what was going on, even if I couldn’t name it. I saw they did good in the world, I was proud of my mom and I was proud of her colleagues.
By the time I was 16, I was a feminist, I believed in equality. I believed in the equality of men and women, but also of people of all ethnicities and races. I thought that Canada as a whole saw things in the same way I did, though I knew better.
We were collectively, as a nation, shocked by what happened in Montréal that day. We didn’t have mass shootings. Even today, 31 years on, the number of mass shootings in Canada can be counted on one hand. We don’t have paralyzing discussions about the rights of individuals versus collective rights. Guns are not part of our national myths and culture.
And whilst misogyny wasn’t hard to find, and men did beat their girlfriends, wives, daughters, mothers, and they sometimes they killed them. One of my dad’s soccer teammates, a few years later, spent a stretch in prison for attempting to murder his girlfriend. Everyone was shocked. I was not. But that didn’t mean that these crimes manifested into massacres. Except on 6 December 1989, they did.
The gunman that day made misogyny a national crisis, he took all that violence and hatred, and fear, of women, and he manifested it onto the national stage.
The great Canadian novelist, Margaret Atwood, sometime in the early 80s, in an interview, said something along the lines of:
“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine.
“‘They are afraid women will laugh at them’, he said, ‘undercut their world view.’
“Then I asked some women students, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ “‘They are afraid of being killed,’ they said.”
Thirty-one years on, we have made all the right noises, every 6 December, we repeat the same lines, from the Prime Minister one down. But just as I argued recently that Canada is an inherently racist society, it is also true that we are an inherently misogynistic society.
The gunman that day pointed this out to us. He killed fourteen women for the sin of seeking an education. He wounded ten more women and four men. The dead:
- Geneviève Bergeron, 21, civil engineering student
- Hélène Colgan, 23, mechanical engineering student
- Nathalie Croteau, 23, mechanical engineering student
- Barbara Daigneault, 22, mechanical engineering student
- Anne-Marie Edward, 21, chemical engineering student
- Maud Haviernick, 29, materials engineering student
- Maryse Laganière, 25, budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
- Maryse Leclair, 23, materials engineering student
- Anne-Marie Lemay, 22, mechanical engineering student
- Sonia Pelletier, 28, mechanical engineering student
- Michèle Richard, 21, materials engineering student
- Annie St-Arneault, 23, mechanical engineering student
- Annie Turcotte, 20, materials engineering student
- Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, 31, nursing student.
May they rest in power.
December 1, 2020 § 2 Comments
I have to say I didn’t mean to allow this blog to die. To explain, around the time I stopped updating here, I began writing for The Typescript, an on-line journal of culture, news, and commentary that I began with an old friend from graduate school, Matthew Friedman, and a friend of his, Theresa Smalec. We’ve worked hard to grow the magazine and our work is starting to pay off.
I write commentary on politics, culture, and history there, and I am also the Music Editor, and I’ve been working on building up our presence in the indie music world. We’ve been lucky to develop good working relationships with a few PR firms in New York City and London, as well as a few record labels in Canada, the US, and the UK. And we’ve also developed relationships with some indie artists directly. We publish singles/video reviews every Monday, usually two of them, plus ep and long player reviews Tuesday and Thursday, and we run a review of a Classic album on Friday. I have a stable of capable and talented writers and, well, I’m kind of proud of what we’ve done there.
So that has taken up a lot of my extra time. And so this site has gone dormant. I have, however, begun writing a second book and I have plans for at least one more book brewing in the back of my head. And there is a lot going in the world that I don’t think necessarily fits on Typescript that I’d like to start working out here.
My original plan when I created this site away back around 2010 was that it would be a place I work out research ideas and questions, and ponder issues in the world around me. I never really expected anyone to read this blog, and yet, people do. I have been surprised and gratified by the fact that things I’ve written here over the years have generated so many comments in the past year.
So, I hope I can get this blog back to at least a semi-regular posting schedule in the next few weeks.
Famine as Governmental Policy Tool
April 22, 2019 § Leave a comment
Last week, I was teaching the Great Leap Forward (1958-62) and the Great Chinese Famine in my Modern China course. One thing that struck my students was that this wasn’t really a famine, it was a manufactured crisis. The granaries of the People’s Republic of China were full, and yet, Mao and his underlings refused to open them up. Rather, this was an attempt by Mao Zedong to remake the Chinese countryside and peasantry, to increase industrial output, and to modernize the nation. This came in the wake of a purification campaign in the country in the early 1950s, as the Communists attempted to stamp their imprint on the nation.
As we discussed the manufactured nature of this famine, and we discussed Mao’s insistence on ideological reform of China, something struck me. Famines are rarely just that, famines. They are often manufactured crisis. One of my students is a interested in the Soviet Union and Russian history in general, and he noted that the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33 was a man-made one, too.
This led to a discussion about ideology, reform, and the costs of absolutism, though both of our examples were communist. But then I thought of the Irish Famine. Like China and the Ukraine, the Great Hunger was a manufactured crisis. And, of course, the United Kingdom was, in the mid-19th century, the most powerful nation the world had ever seen.
In both China and the Ukraine, famine was the result of collectivization, but this was not the case in Ireland. There, famine came because the potato crop failed for several years, beginning in 1845, due to a fungal infection. But the failure of the crop became a humanitarian crisis due to the policies of the British government.
Charles Trevelyan, the assistant Secretary of the Treasury, was very clear in his response to the Famine He termed the Famine an ‘effective mechanism for reducing surplus population.’ But he wasn’t done, he also stated that ‘[t]he real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.’
And thus, as a devotee of laissez-faire liberalism, Trevelyan was slow to respond to the Irish crisis, seeing it as a gift from the Almighty. And while he was only a civil servant, ultimately, he was backed by his political bosses. That this was so was acknowledged by Tony Blair when he was the British Prime Minister in the late 90s. On the 150th anniversary of Black ’47, the worst year of the Famine, he issued an apology for the role of the British government in the Famine.
The Great Hunger of Ireland was a manufactured crisis, and as Irish food continued to be exported to Great Britain, the Irish starved. The United Kingdom, thus, is no different than Mao’s China or Stalin’s Soviet Union.
And so, famine is often used as a political tool, as a means of forcing reform on a recalcitrant population.
And Sir Charles Trevelyan, knighted for his ‘services’ to Ireland, along with the leadership of the UK at the time, most notably Lord John Russell and even Queen Victoria, fit right in there with Mao Zedong and Josef Stalin.