The True North Strong and Free

November 6, 2017 § 2 Comments

Last week, Canadian Governor General Julie Payette gave a speech at what the Canadian Broadcast Corporation calls ‘a science conference‘ in Ottawa.  There, she expressed incredulity in creationism and climate change denial, and called for a greater acceptance of scientific fact in Canada.  Payette is a former astronaut, holds an MSc in computer engineering, and has worked in the field of Artificial Intelligence.  In other words, when she speaks on this matter, we should listen.

Her comments ignited a storm of controversy in Canada.  Some people are upset at her comments.  Some people are upset the Governor General has an opinion on something.  With respect to the first, Payette spoke to scientific fact.  Full stop. Not opinion.  Fact.  With respect to the second, Governors General and opinions, I will point out that our former Governor General, David Johnston, also freely expressed his opinions.  But, oddly, this did not lead to massive controversy.  What is the difference between Payette and Johnston?  I’ll let one of my tweeps, author Shireen Jeejeebhoy answer:

But then I found a particularly interesting tweet.  The tweet claimed that for the very reason that Canada has the monarchy, the country cannot have democratic elections.

Um, what?  There is no logic to this tweet.  I asked the author of the tweet what he meant. In between a series of insults, he said that he thinks the Governor General, which he mistakenly called an ‘important position,’ should be an elected post.  That gives some clarity to his original post, but he’s still wrong.

Canada is a democracy, full stop.  Elections in Canada are democratic, full stop.

Canada is a constitutional monarchy.  Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State.  The Governor General is her representative in Canada (each province also has a Lieutenant-Governor, the Queen’s representatives in the provincial capitals).  The Queen does appoint the GG (and Lt-Govs), but she does so after the prime minister (or provincial premiers) tell her who is going to be appointed. In other words, Payette has her position because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau selected her.

Canada, unlike the United States, did not gain ‘independence’ in one fell swoop.  In 1848, Queen Victoria granted the United Province of Canada, then a colony, responsible government.  This gave it (present-day Ontario and Québec) control over its internal affairs. All legislation passed by the colonial assembly would gain royal assent via the Governor General.  Following Confederation in 1867, the new Dominion of Canada enjoyed responsible government (which the other colonies that became Canada also had).  But Canada  did not control its external affairs, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and (Northern) Ireland did.  In 1931, the British Parliament passed the Statute of Westminster, which granted control over foreign affairs to the Dominions (Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand).  In 1947, Canadian citizenship was created.  Prior to that, Canadians were subjects of the monarchy.  In 1949, the Supreme Court of Canada became the highest court in the land. Prior to that, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London was.  In 1982, the Canadian Constitution, which had been an act of the London Parliament (the British North America Act, 1867) was patriated and became an act of the Parliament in Ottawa.  So, choosing when Canada became independent is dicey.  You can pick anyone of 1848, 1931, 1947, 1949, or 1982 and be correct, at least in part.  We tend to celebrate 1867, our national holiday, July 1, marks the day the BNA Act came into affect.  That is the day Canada became a nation, but it is not the date of independence.

Either way, Canada is an independent nation.  Lamarche’s claim that, because we are a constitutional monarchy, we do not have free elections is ridiculous.  The role of the monarchy in Canada is entirely symbolic.  The Queen (or the Governor General or Lieutenants Governors) have absolutely no policy input. They have no role in Canadian government beyond the symbolic.  None.

 

I’m not even sure how someone could come to this conclusion other than through sheer ignorance.

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Fiddler’s Green: RIP Gord Downie

October 18, 2017 § 32 Comments

Gord Downie is dead.  This is a sad day.  For better or worse, the Tragically Hip have been the soundtrack of my life.  They have been the soundtrack for almost all Canadians’ lives.

In 1989, I worked as a line cook at an IHOP in suburban Vancouver.  There was this dishwasher there, Greg.  He was around my age, maybe a bit older.  But he got me onto the Hip.  I had seen the video for ‘New Orleans is Sinking‘, of course, it was on heavy rotation on MuchMusic.  But Greg got me into the band, and that brilliant début album, Up To Here.

Downie’s lyrics were what kept me hooked on the Hip.  Sure, the music was great, but Downie’s lyrics.  He wrote songs that seethed and snarled with energy.  He and his band also wrote some pretty ballads, one of which is the title of this post.

Live, Gord Downie was something else entirely.  He was a madman.  All this energy, whirling about the stage, singing and screaming and moaning his lyrics out.  In between songs, he told us, the audience, weird things.  He told us stories.  At Another Roadside Attraction, on Seabird Island in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia, he stopped in between songs.  He stopped still on the stage, crouched, looking out at the audience, his hand shielding his eyes from the light.  It was hot in the crowd, I was right down front with my man, Mike.  And Downie looked at us and said, ‘You’re a fine looking crowd.  But I wouldn’t get up in the air on any airplanes with any politicians if I were you.  Because if that plane goes down, YOU’RE the first ones they’re gonna eat.’  I have no idea what he meant.  But that was the point.

Gord Downie was the front man of a pretty straight-ahead rock’n’roll band.  And yet, he was a mystic, a poet, a shaman in front of us.  He sang Canada back to us.  He told us of cheap beer and highballs in a bar.  He told us of lake fevers.  He told us about the Legend of Bill Barilko.  We learned stories of the North from him.

I’ve never been able to explain what it was about the Hip that made them so important to Canada.  I’ve never been able to put my finger on what it was that made them our rock band.  It wasn’t the time they told fellow Canadian Lorne Michaels that they wouldn’t shorten their song ‘Nautical Disaster’ for Saturday Night Live. It wasn’t the fact that they could fill hockey arenas and football stadia in Canada, but played bars and concert halls in the US.  It was none of that.

I have been thinking about this since the night of the Hip’s last concert in Kingston, ON, last summer.  The CBC broadcast and streamed it around the world.  And so we were able to watch it in our living room in the mountains of Tennessee, where we lived at the time.  Today, with Downie’s death, I realized what it was that made the Hip so quintessentially Canadian in a way other Canadian artists aren’t: They made us proud to be Canadian.  We are not a proud nation, we are rather humble (and occasionally annoyingly smug).  We don’t really do patriotism, and when we do, it’s kind of sad and forced. We don’t have the great stories of nation formation other countries have.  No ‘Chanson de Roland.’  No King Arthur.  No Paul Revere.  We just kind of evolved into place.  But, in telling us our stories back to us in a way no one ever had, Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip made us proud to be Canadian.

At that Hip-curated travelling festival, Another Roadside Attraction, in 1993, they picked some pretty incendiary live bands to play with them.  Pere Ubu were absolutely nuts on stage.  And then Midnight Oil were the penultimate band. The Oils might be the greatest live band in the history of rock’n’roll.  Frontman Peter Garrett is something like 6’7″, rail thin, and a wild man on the stage.  And his band are louder, more aggressive, more prone to shrieking feedback and punk speeds live than on record.  I remember the end of their gig, the audience was exhausted.  We were spent.  Surely no band in the world could ever top that.

And then, the Tragically Hip wandered on stage.  And let ‘er rip.  I could see Peter Garrett in the wings stage right.  At first he looked shocked and then he had a big grin on his face.  The Oils had been blown off the stage by the Hip.

The early 90s were my hardcore punk days.  And yet, the Hip was something even us punks could agree on.  Our allegiance to the Tragically Hip was manifest at that festival.  Me and my main man Mike went.  But in the crowd, we came across all kinds of our people from Vancouver.

Losing Gord Downie hurts in a way that losing Leonard Cohen last year hurt.  Like Cohen, Downie and his band were the stars of my firmament.  They were the nighttime sky and the lights, distant in the darkness.

Unlike Cohen, whom I met, I never met Downie.  I did see him once on a streetcar in Toronto, though.  And this is what I always loved about Canada.  And still do.  I met Leonard Cohen in a laundromat in Calgary.  I saw Downie on a streetcar.  I talked to Dave Bidini of the Rheostatics once on a downtown street in Ottawa.  When he was the Leader of the Official Opposition, I saw Stéphane Dion walking down the rue Saint-Denis with his wife, shopping, one Sunday morning.  Our stars are our own, they  live and work amongst us.

The sky is going to be a bit dimmer tonight.

Equalization Payments in Canada

July 31, 2017 § Leave a comment

Over the weekend on Twitter, I was caught up in a discussion with an Albertan who didn’t believe that the province, along with British Columbia, is forecast to lead Canada in economic growth.

She argued that the province is still hurting, that big American gas companies had pulled out, and that people were leaving Alberta.  Indeed, in June, Alberta’s unemployment rate was 7.4%, but even then, that was an improvement of 0.4% from May.  But, economic growth does not mean that one can necessarily see the signs of a booming economy.  Alberta’s economy, however, shows signs of recovery, and this 2.9% economic growth, as well as a decline in unemployment rates, shows that.

She also expressed a pretty common bitterness from Albertans about Equalization payments in Canada.  These payments might be the most mis-understood aspect of Canadian federalism.  The common belief in Alberta, which is usually a ‘have’ province (meaning it doesn’t receive equalization payments), is that its money, from oil and gas and everything else, is taken from it and given to the ‘have-not’ provinces (those who receive equalization payments).  This is made all the more galling to Albertans because Quebec is the greatest recipient of equalization payments.

This argument, though, is based on a fundamental mis-understanding of how equalization payments work in Canada.  Equalization payments date back to Canadian Confederation in 1867, as most taxation powers accrued to the federal government.  The formal system of equalization payments dates from 1957, largely to help the Atlantic provinces.  At that time, the two wealthiest provinces, Ontario and British Columbia, were the only two ‘have’ provinces.  And this formal system was enshrined in the Constitution in 1982. Section 36, subsection (2) of the Constitution Act reads:

Parliament and the government of Canada are committed to the principle of making equalization payments to ensure that provincial governments have sufficient revenues to provide reasonably comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation.

The general idea behind equalization payments is, of course, that there are economic disparities across the nation.  There is any number of reasons for these disparities, which are calculated on a provincial level.  These can include the geographic size of a province, population, the physical geography, or economic activity.

Quebec is a traditional ‘have not’, which seems incongruous with the size and economy of the province.  Montreal, after a generation-long economic decline from the late 1960s to the mid 1990s, has more or less recovered.  If Quebec were a nation of its own (as separatists desire), it would be the 44th largest economy in the world, just behind Norway. It contributes 19.65% of Canada’s GDP.  But Quebec’s economy is marked by massive inequalities.  This is true in terms of Montreal versus much of the rest of the province.  But it is also true within Montreal itself.  Montreal is home to both the richest neighbourhood in the nation, as well as two of the poorest.  Westmount has a median family income of $220,578.  But Downtown Montreal ($32,841) and Parc Ex ($34,211) are the fourth and fifth poorest, respectively, in Canada.

The formula by which equalization payments are made is based on averages across the country.  Here, we’re talking about taxation rates and revenue-generation, based on the national averages of Canada.  Provinces that fall below these averages are ‘have not’ provinces.  Those who fall above it are ‘have’ provinces.  The three wealthiest provinces are usually Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta.  But all three of these provinces have fallen into ‘have not’ status at various points. In 2017-18, in order of amounts received, the have-nots are: Quebec, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island.  Quebec, it should be noted, will receive more than the other ‘have-nots’ combined.  The ‘have’ provinces this year are Alberta, British Columbia, Newfoundland & Labrador, and Saskatchewan.

The equalization payments, though, are not a case of taking money from Alberta to pay for Quebec’s social programs.  The funds are not based on how much one province pays for its health care system, or for a universal child care system, or cheap tuition at the province’s universities (Quebec has both universal child care and cheap tuition for in-province students).  Rather, the funds come out of the same general revenue stream that Ottawa has to fund ALL of its programmes and services.  And, each and every Canadian contributes to this revenue stream.  Thus, the fine people of Westmount contribute more to equalization payments (and general revenue) than the middle-class residents of suburban Calgary, or a person in a lower income bracket in Saskatchewan.  And, because there are more Quebecers than there are Albertans, Quebec actually contributes more to the equalization payment scheme.

It is not just angry Albertans who believe they are getting hosed by the federal government.  Many Quebecers will rail against their province’s funding priorities and point to the province’s status as a ‘have not’ as to why it should not have these programmes.  Both positions are factually wrong, and based on a fundamental misunderstanding of Canada’s equalization payments.

Cranky White Men and Viola Desmond

December 14, 2016 § 4 Comments

Last week, the Canadian government announced a new face for the $10 bill.  Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald (1867-73; 1878-91), has long been featured on the $10, but Canada has sought to modernize our money and to introduce new faces to the $5 and $10 bills.  A decision on the $5, which currently features our first French Canadian PM, Sir Wilfrid Laurier (1896-1911), will be made at a later date.

viola-desmond

Viola Desmond will be the face of the $10 bill starting in 2018.  Desmond is a central figure in Canadian history.  On 8 November 1946, Desmond’s car broke down in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.  Desmond was a cosemetician, trained in Montréal and New York, and operated her own beauty school in Halifax. And she was quite successful.  So, stuck in New Glasgow over night, she went to see a movie to kill some time.  She bought her ticket and took her seat.  Desmond was near-sighted, so she sat in a floor seat.  Problem is, she was black. And Nova Scotia was segregated; whites only on the floor, black people had the balcony.  She was arrested.  The next morning, she was tried and convicted of fraud. Not only were black people prohibited from sitting in the main bowl of the theatre, they also had to pay an extra cent tax on their tickets.  Desmond had attempted to pay this tax, but apparently was refused by the theatre.  So, she was fined $20 and made to pay $6 in court costs.

Desmond is often referred to as the ‘Canadian Rosa Parks,’ but truth be told, Rosa Parks is the American Viola Desmond. Unlike Parks, though, Desmond wasn’t a community organizer, she didn’t train for her moment of civil disobedience.  But, Nova Scotia’s sizeable African Canadian community protested on her behalf.  But, not surprisingly, they were ignored.  She also left Nova Scotia, first moving to Montréal, where she enrolled in business college, before settling in New York, where she died on 7 February 1965 of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage at the age of 50.

I am on a listserv of a collection of Canadian academics and policy wonks.  I have been for a long time, since the late 1990s.  A discussion has broken out, not surprisingly, about Desmond being chosen as the new face of the $10.  The government initially intended to put a woman on the bill.  A collection of white, middle-aged men on this listserv are not pleased.  They have erupted in typical white, middle-aged male rage.

One complains that the Trudeau government commits new outrages daily and he is upset that “they are going to remove John A. Macdonald from the ten dollar bill to replace him with some obscure woman from Nova Scotia whom hardly anyone has ever heard of.” He also charges that Trudeau’s government would never do this to Laurier (another Liberal), whereas Sir John A. was a Conservative.  On that he’s dead wrong.

Another complains that:

Relative to John A., Viola Desmond is no doubt a morally superior human being. If we are to avoid generating our own version of Trumpism, we must be careful not to tear down symbols of our shared history by applying current, progressive criteria to determine who figures on the currency.

Imagine with what relish Trump would tear into his opponents if the US eliminated George Washington and Thomas Jefferson from their currency. Both were slave owners – presumably far worse crimes in present terms than John A’s alcoholism or casual attitude to bribery.

Seriously. All I can say to this is “Oh, brother.”  But it gets worse.  A third states that:

I have to agree with —–’s sentiment here. We have to stop doing nice, progressive things just because we can. There is a culture war, and we need to be careful about arming the other side.
But I would say that having such things enacted by a government elected by a minority of Canadians doesn’t help. (Likely, the NDP and the Greens and even some Conservatives would have supported such a resolution, but) it does contribute to a sense of government acting illegitimately. It contributes to cynicism and outrage to have Trump as president-in-waiting with fewer votes than Clinton, for example.
With this one, I don’t even know where to start.  Since the advent of a viable, permanent 3rd party in Canadian politics, with the NDP in the 1960s, Canada has had exactly one Prime Minister garner a majority of votes in an election. That was Brian Mulroney in 1984.  he got exactly 50.0% of the vote.
Frankly, a collection of cranky middle-aged white men going on in this manner doesn’t really surprise me.  The first commentator has denigrated Desmond in this manner (“some obscure woman”) in each of his subsequent posts (and has diagnosed me with a variety of psychological problems for deigning to disagree with him).  They, especially the first one, take it as a personal insult that the government should seek to democratize our money, to have the faces on our currency greater reflect the nation, which is one of the most diverse in the world.  For some reason, they see this as an affront, as a challenge to their privilege.
And, thus, they make the perfect argument as to why Viola Desmond should be the face of the new $10 bill in Canada.  I don’t agree that she is obscure, I don’t think many African Canadians, people of colour, or Canadian historians would say so.  This is a positive step on the part of the Canadian government.

 

Remembering the Montreal Massacre

December 6, 2016 § 2 Comments

Today is the 27th anniversary of the École Polytechnique Massacre, also known as the Montreal Massacre.  On this morning, 6 December, in 1989, an armed gunman walked into the École Polytechnique, separated the men from the women, and shot 28 people, executing 14 female students.  Why? Because they were women and he felt that feminists had ruined his life.  As per usual, I refuse to name him.  He should be forgotten, he does not deserve infamy (he killed himself at the scene).  His suicide letter contained the names of 19 other Quebec feminists he wished to kill.

For Canadians of my generation, the Massacre was and remains deeply shocking.  It resonates. I remember where I was when I heard the news, I remember the shock I felt, and then the anger.  I grew up in a violent household, my mother the target of my step-father during drunken outbursts.  His violence appalled me.  All violence against women appalls me.  Deeply.

And here we are, 27 years on, and violence against women is still prevalent.  For this reason, name and remember the victims of the Massacre in Montreal 27 years ago, to honour them. May they continue to rest in peace:

  • Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student, age 21.
  • Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student, age 23.
  • Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student, age 23.
  • Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student, age 22.
  • Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student, age 21.
  • Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student, age 29.
  • Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department, age 25.
  • Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student, age 23.
  • Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student, age 22.
  • Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student, age 28.
  • Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student, age 21.
  • Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student, age 23.
  • Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student age 20.
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student, age 31.

The Centre Of The Universe?

December 2, 2016 § 2 Comments

An interesting thing has occurred in the realm of Canadian sports journalism in the past few weeks.  For those of you who don’t know, the English-language Canadian media is centred in Toronto, which every media outlet will remind you is “Canada’s largest city.”  The much smaller French-language media is centred in Montréal, which is Canada’s second largest city.  Toronto’s got a population of around 4.7 million, compared to Montréal’s 3.8 million.  Vancouver is third, closing in on 2 million.  And Edmonton, Calgary, and Ottawa are all around 1 million.  So we’re not looking at the situation in the UK, where London is the largest city and about 5 times larger than the second city, Birmingham.

But, reading Canadian sports media these days, and you’d be convinced that Toronto is the only city in Canada and that its sports teams are all wondrous, virtuous conquering heroes.  Never mind the fact that Toronto teams don’t really win much of anything ever.  The basketball Raptors and soccer Toronto FC have never won anything.  The hockey Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967.  And the Blue Jays last won in 1993.  The Argonauts of the Canadian Football League are the really the only continually successful Toronto sports team, having last won the Grey Cup in 2012 (but, the CFL is a 9-team league, so law of averages…).

Toronto FC was engaged in a tense two-leg Eastern Conference final in the MLS Cup Playoffs against the Impact de Montréal, or IMFC.  An all-Canadian conference final should be one of those things that grip the nation, or at least get the media to recognize its import.  And while Sportsnet, the second of Canada’s sports networks, largely has, TSN, the largest sports network and MLS rights holder, has not.  It has openly and blatantly cheered for a TFC victory, and its coverage has exclusively treated IMFC as an interloper in TFC’s eventual, wondrous assent to the top of the North American soccer world.  On Wednesday afternoon, in advance of the second leg of the series, to be played at BMO Field in Toronto, TSN posted this article about the five keys to the match as its headline on TSN.ca.  Note that it’s all about what TFC needs to do to win.  This is just the most egregious example.  The rest of the coverage on TSN.ca Wednesday afternoon was all slanted towards TFC: its mindset heading into the match, which players it needs to excel, and so on.  Not a word from IMFC’s perspective, except for a feel-good story about the club’s 38-year old captain, and Montréal native, Patrice Bernier.

In the aftermath of the TFC’s victory Wednesday night, in a tense 5-2 match that went to Extra Time, allowing TFC to advance 7-5 on aggregate, TSN’s homepage was a torrent of TFC.  And while this is a good thing, and deserved, TFC won, it’s also still one-sided.  This was especially true of the headline that said “TFC MAKES CANADIAN SOCCER HISTORY.”  Factually, yes, it did.  It made the finals of the MLS Cup for the first time and is the first Canadian club to do so.  But, it did so after making history in an all-Canadian conference final.  And there was not a single story about IMFC and its own very improbable run to the conference finals.  TSN has continually picked against IMFC all season.  It predicted the Montréal side would miss the playoffs.  Then it wouldn’t get past DC United in the first round, or New York Red Bulls in the second round.  And so on.

On Thursday morning, TSN.ca’s home page featured no fewer than 12 features and stories about TFC out of the 28 in total.  Of the remaining 16 stories and features, 10 were about the Maples Leafs (7), Raptors (2), and Blue Jays (1).  One story was about how the Calgary Flames pummeled the Maple Leafs Wednesday night and another mocked Montréal Canadiens winger Andrew Shaw and his bad temper.  There’s a reason why Canadians in the Rest of Canada tend to dismiss TSN as Toronto’s Sports Network.

Meanwhile: Hockey.  The top team in the NHL right now is the Montréal Canadiens.  But, TSN’s coverage is almost exclusively about the amazing, wondrous Toronto Maple Leafs, who have a collection of burgeoning young stars and actually look like they might be a good team again one day.  There are also, you might note, five more Canadian teams in the NHL.  Sucks to be a fan of one of them: TSN just doesn’t care, other than to note the ways in which they’re failing.

And then Sportsnet.  Sportsnet is the rights holder for the NHL in Canada.  And while its coverage tends to be more national in nature, in that it notes that there are indeed teams in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Montréal, besides Toronto, how about them kids in the T-Dot, y’all?  But Sportsnet can even out-do TSN.  On Wednesday, the American-based Forbes published its annual list of NHL teams ranked by value.  As always, the New York Rangers are the most valuable hockey team.  The Rangers are worth $1.25 billion USD.  But Sportsnet’s headline reads: “Maple Leafs Rank Third in Forbes’ Annual Most Valuable Team List.”  So, you think, well, that makes sense.  But, wait, what’s the second most valuable team in the National Hockey League?  Chicago?  Los Angeles?  The New York Islanders?  Nope.  It’s the Montréal Canadiens.

Now, I know we Quebecers had ourselves a couple of referenda on leaving the country, and we still harbour a pretty strong separatist movement; at any given time, around 35% of us want out of Canada.  But, in both 1980 and 1995, we chose to stay.  And 65% of us at any given time want to stick around in Canada.  And we keep giving Canada Prime Ministers.  In my lifetime, five of 9 prime ministers have been Quebecers.

So, in other words, my dear TSN and Sportsnet, Québec is part of Canada.  And Montréal remains one of the largest cities in North America, and also remains a major centre of global commerce.  And its soccer team isn’t that bad, even if its appearance in the Conference Finals is a surprise.  And its hockey team, which is, after all, the most decorated hockey team in the world, is the most valuable Canadian team.

And, if you just so happen to be one of those provincials from the rest of the country, well, as we say back home, tant pis.

The New York Times Re-Writes History

November 28, 2016 § 2 Comments

Fidel Castro died this weekend. He was 90.  Whatever you think of him, and I am largely ambivalent, he was a giant of the past half century.  He was the dictator of a tiny, poor Caribbean nation with a population about that of New York City, and yet, he was a giant on the world stage.  Even after the Soviet Empire collapsed and all that support for Fidel’s Castro dried up, he maintained power.  Of course, his was a totalitarian state and, yes, dissent was dealt with harshly. And, yes, millions of refugees fled in dire circumstances for the United States.

But, what I take issue with is the New York Times declaring that Castro was “the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959.”  Um. No.  He did not bring the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere.  It was already here.  One of the two major belligerents of the Cold War, the United States, is located just north of Cuba.  The CIA, meanwhile, was already running around Latin America by the time Fidel and his revolutionaries marched into Havana in January 1959, overthrowing the corrupt American puppet-dictator, Fulgencio Batista.

In 1948, the United States interfered in a civil war in Costa Rica in favour of José Figueres Ferrer, in order to rid the country of Communist rule (hint, Costa Rica wasn’t communist).  Six years later, in 1954, the democratically-elected President of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, attempted to seize land belonging to United Fruit for a land redistribution programme.  Instead, he incurred the wrath of the CIA, which, at best co-operated with, at worst, bullied, the Guatemalan Army, forcing Guzmán to resign. I could go on.

And at any rate, the Cold War came to the Western Hemisphere in 1945, a cypher clerk at the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa (Apparently the Times needs a reminder that Canada is in the Western Hemisphere?) walked out of the embassy and wandered over to the Ottawa Journal newspaper offices to tell his story.  It took awhile, but Gouzenko became the first defector to Canada, complete with Soviet secrets.

The Times‘s headline about Castro bringing the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere is simply factually wrong.  And this is what concerns me.  History and facts DO matter, and to play fast and loose with them is dangerous. It leads to mis-information running rampant in society.  We are currently reeling from revelations of the role of fake news sites in the Presidential Election.  The New York Times, however, is usually regarded as the leading American newspaper, amongst the most well-regarded globally.  It would behoove the headline writers, writers, reporters, and editors of the august institution to learn history.

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