Category Archives: Canada

Posts about the politics, people and news events of Canada.

Controversy over Canada Day is nothing new

75cbbe6eeabd0167825a8ee3a4973a8dThe Cariboo Indian Girls Pipe Band performed in Ottawa on July 1, 1965

As early as 1867 it had its champions and detractors

WAYNE K. SPEAR | JULY 1, 2021 • CANADA

THE BRITISH NORTH AMERICA ACT came into effect on July 1, 1867, establishing the Dominion of Canada under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick confederated, as did Nova Scotia, but with such opposition in the latter province that voters elected eighteen of the nineteen parliamentary seats held by a secessionist Anti-Confederate party. The theme of a reluctant union reprised in 1949, when a bankrupt Newfoundland under a caretaker government narrowly chose Canada, by an affirmative vote of fifty-two percent. Fully half of the four founding provinces of Canada have challenged Confederation at one time or another. One of them has yet to formally approve the 1982 Constitution Act amending and patriating its 1867 predecessor.

Dominion Day celebration was first advocated by the first Governor General of Canada, Charles Monck, an Anglo-Irish member of the peerage who established the tradition of the Governor General residing at Rideau Hall. Monck’s proposal to create a public holiday was met with hostility, especially in Nova Scotia, where July 1 was for many an occasion for lament. Owing to opposition, a Dominion Day bill introduced in May 1869 by the Barrie businessman and Member of Parliament Thomas McConkey was debated but withdrawn after the second reading. Ten years after this, Senator Robert Carrall sponsored a successful effort to establish Dominion Day as a federal statutory holiday, a designation which occurred on May 15, 1879.

Despite the establishment of a federal statutory holiday, Ottawa played no role in the festivities for the first forty-eight years. Celebration of Dominion Day was a local, informal affair in which village and town committees provisioned space and resources for sporting competitions, theatrical and musical performances, rounds of Quoits, pyrotechnic displays, and Calithumpian processions. An 1888 annual report of the Department of Indian Affairs contains this T.P. Wadsworth description of a Dominion Day on the Mistawasis reserve, west of Prince Albert:

A most pleasing gathering took place on Dominion Day, the agent and instructor invited the settlers and Indians of the agency to attend a picnic a most enjoyable day was spent by all, the amusements being similar to those provided for true entertainments in the east, namely, athletic sports, dancing, singing, speeches, & c. Mr. Chaffie furnished from his private means a fine fat steer and the agent and a few of the settlers provided another, these were killed, dressed, and eaten on the ground; delicacies were also provided – they all had a very enjoyable time, and it had a very good effect upon the Indians who said that it was better than a “sun dance.” It also showed them that they could have plenty of amusement without the “tom-tom.”

Wadsworth’s keenness to induce Mistawasis Nêhiyawak to the amusements of the empire (to say nothing of the implausible, smoke-up-the-arse reaction that he records — better than a sun dance!) reflects the broader assimilationist bent of turn-of-the-century Dominion Day celebrations, as immigration from Eastern Europe and Asia changed the country. The holiday became an occasion for organization committees to, as Robert Cupido puts it, “get at the mind of the foreigner.” Poems, plays, and processions emphasized the British character of Canada and the virtues of assimilation, as for example in parades featuring immigrant parents in Old World dress followed by their Anglicized children. Eventually there were protests and push-backs. Matters came to a head as a result of the head tax and the introduction, on Dominion Day in 1923, of the Chinese Immigration Act. After this, July 1st was known among Chinese Canadians as Humiliation Day.

In 1917, the fiftieth anniversary of Confederation, Canada was at war and the holiday was a lower priority. Ottawa undertook celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee in 1927, marking the first federally-organized observance of Dominion Day. These celebrations featured cross-country historical pageants, one of which was performed at Massey Hall in Toronto with a cast of six hundred children. In his coast-to-coast radio coverage of the day, broadcast from Parliament, Graham Spry described the Dominion of Canada (a phrase that persisted into the 1960s) as “one nation, two cultures; one nationality, two races; one loyalty, two tongues.”

Efforts to rename Dominion Day would not succeed until 1982, and then only by the questionable means of a vote undertaken by twelve MPs, but in 1946 Philéas Côté introduced an unsuccessful bill to rename Dominion Day what it eventually became: Canada Day. Côté also resurrected an 1864 Charlottetown Conference proposal to name the country the Kingdom of Canada, an idea declined by the British Colonial Office, in deference to American sensibilities. “Dominion under the Crown” was effectively London’s compromise.

Federally-sponsored annual Dominion Day celebrations were formally established only in 1958, by a Conservative government concerned with the Liberal trend of eliminating the word Dominion from the government vocabulary. Secretary of State Ellen Fairclough was tasked by Prime Minister Diefenbaker with fashioning Dominion Day celebrations, but even at a date as late as this, there was opposition.

In an article titled “Fireworks, Folk-dancing, and Fostering a National Identity: The Politics of Canada Day,” Matthew Hayday writes that a government official named William Measures “did not consider Canada to be a retrospective country, but rather a forward-looking one that was confident in its future.” Measures also raised concerns over the symbolic elements, noting that both the flag and anthem were unresolved. He furthermore took the view that government ceremonies to celebrate a national day were contrary to Canadian and Commonwealth tradition and unusual in British countries. Some people, he added, regard them as “evidence of national immaturity.”

Yet as Canada matured, Dominion and later Canada Day were larded with more significance, likely for reasons specified by Measures as having to do with confidence in the future. During the 1960s and 70s, celebration of the British empire yielded to displays of multiculturalism and concerns of national identity and national unity. In 1968 Pierre Trudeau became leader of the Liberal party having promised to frustrate the Quebec separatist movement and to unify Canada as a bilingual nation. The celebration of Dominion Day that year was overshadowed by the June 24 St-Jean-Baptiste Day riot, where Quebec separatists threw bottles and rocks at the Prime Minister and shouted “Trudeau to the stake.” Federal interest in Dominion Day reached a low point in the mid-70s, and in 1976 budget cuts cancelled Ottawa’s celebrations altogether.

As 1992 approached, a group of eminent persons was invited by the Secretary of State to an October 1989 Ottawa conference where ways to celebrate Canada’s 125th birthday would be discussed. In a CBC Morningside program covering the event, host Peter Gzowski noted that “no speech made a stronger impact than one that wasn’t celebratory at all.” Here Gzowksi was referring to a spontaneous eight-minute jeremiad by the Assembly of First Nations National Chief Georges Erasmus, later titled Nothing to Celebrate, which conveyed the feelings of many Indigenous people.

There is nothing new under the sun — and certainly not disagreement over a holiday that already in the 1860s had its champions and detractors. Today another Trudeau finds himself amidst another controversy over a Canada Day he has said should be a time of reflection. Still, for the great mass of Canadians, Canada Day has always been a time for recreation and casual entertainment rather than politics or history. Does anyone really expect a grassroots uptake either of cancellations (unless due to Covid-19) or Erin O’Toole’s weird call for a rededication programme? What matters is what happens when life returns on the day after Canada Day, and forward. ⌾

Read this article at the National Post.

Jagmeet Singh’s Charm Offensive

His nice words don’t quite square with nasty realities

✎  Wayne K. Spear | October 5, 2017 ◈ Politics

THE HEADLINES trumpeting Jagmeet Singh’s NDP leadership win each conformed to one of two themes. Either his victory as a “non-white” candidate was unprecedented, or it could be credited to the very-much-precedented appeal of charisma, GQ-worthy style, and handsomeness. The American papers in particular didn’t fail to notice that another Trudeau had arrived on the scene, ending the Prime Minister’s cornering of the charm market. Nor does the ringing of familiar bells end there. Kesh and kara aside, the new NDP leader is political boilerplate: a lawyer from Scarborough who speaks (cautiously) in both official languages and who celebrates Canada’s diversity and wholesomeness in, no doubt, focused-group-tested terms.

Jagmeet SinghCanada’s newest GQ leader

But, of course, he isn’t just another politician. He’s Sikh, and he is now leader of a federal political party, and as such he’s nullified a barrier to political office we should be glad to see nullified. The Charisma War can now begin, and how discouraging this prospect must be for the Conservative leader, Mr. Scheer, whose New York Times headline said: “Canada’s Conservatives Choose Andrew Scheer as Their New Leader.” In the meantime we all know how these battles are going to be fought, and that is with the ammunition of buttery words shot at the hardworking families of the middle class. Gone are the days when a political party might actually have something to fight for or about, such as proletariat revolution or tooth-and-claw capitalism. It’s three parties for the middle class, comrade. So who do you think has the nicest suit?

There are still things in this world for which and over which people fight and kill and die. The recent history of the Indian and Pakistan Punjab, birthplace of Jagmeet Singh’s parents, comes to mind. Since the British withdrawal from the region in the 1940s, the Punjab and Kashmir regions have been among the world’s most dangerous and volatile. The sectarian hatreds of two nuclear states and their diverse internal populations have engendered horrific violence, and while it may be true that none of this registers with the average Canadian, some of the old-world baggage has found its way to places like Brampton and Surrey and Vancouver. Canadians ought to care about that, more than they do.

There was a time when obscure causes like an independent Sikh state of Khalistan (obscure from a Canadian perspective) made headlines from Halifax to Vancouver. On June 23, 1985, Sikh terrorists associated with Babbar Khalsa put a bomb on Air India Flight 182 as well as on a plane bound for Japan—the latter detonated at the Japanese airport, killing the baggage handlers—one member of Babbar Khalsa having vowed that “we will not rest” until they had killed 50,000 Hindus. There are Sikh nationalists who to this day celebrate as a martyr the man behind this crime, the largest-ever mass murder of Canadian citizens, Talwinder Singh Babbar.

What has this to do with Jagmeet Singh? Nothing, really. But at the prospect of questions about Khalistan and Sikh extremism and the “martyrdom” of Talwinder Singh Babbar, the charming bespoke Jagmeet Singh fade into the curtains to be replaced by a cagey and defensive and lawyerly Jagmeet Singh? Why does he demand that all questions along these lines be submitted in advance and all transcriptions of his answers vetted prior to publication? Probably all the reasons one asks for these things: to prepare an answer, to avoid surprises, to make the best possible impression.

Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 10.52.32 AMA headline from Sikh Siyasat News

To his credit, Jagmeet Singh appeared on the October 2nd episode of Power and Politics despite Terry Milewski’s refusal to grant Singh’s terms. There, Milewski asked, “Do you think that some Canadian Sikhs go too far when they honour Talwinder Singh Babbar as a martyr of the Sikh nation?” Singh argued, falsely in my view, that Sikhs and Hindus co-exist “in peace and harmony, and we need to celebrate that.” (I ask you: how on earth can you square this idea with the Flight 182 bombing?) Pressed further, he said:

So, it is so unacceptable that violence that was committed—the heinous massacre that was committed—is something that Sikhs, Muslim, Hindus all denounced, the violence as perpetrated against innocent Canadian lives, is something we all denounce. I regularly denounce it on the anniversary. It’s something that we all collectively are opposed to. There is no question about this, that innocent lives were killed and it is completely unacceptable and needs to be denounced as a terrorist act.

He never answered the question, “Do you think that some Canadian Sikhs go too far when they honour Talwinder Singh Babbar as a martyr of the Sikh nation?” But he did answer two questions that Terry Milewski didn’t ask. Again I am reminded of Trudeau.

Romeo Dallaire and the 80/20 Rule

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THE DATE WAS Thursday February 15, 2007, and I was on my way to a parliamentary Senate breakfast on Ottawa’s Wellington Street. With me was the former long-time CBC national reporter, Whit Fraser, a man who is never lacking for a quip of the moment. As I opened the door to the Senate building, keen to escape Ottawa’s notorious winds, he remarked: “eighty percent of these people are useless. But the other twenty make up for it.”

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What Did the Prime Minister Really Know About Bruce Carson’s Past?

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MEET BRUCE CARSON, as early as the 1970s a compulsive thief and fraudster and, in more recent decades, a fixture of Parliament Hill. He is the man who today begs the necessary question, Who exactly has failed to do their job?

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Another Way of Looking at Minister Flaherty

flahertyharris

THE CURRENCY of the word outpouring was notable this week: over at the National Post, Michael Den Tandt has not only described the phenomenon, but indulged it himself. His essay “Former finance minister Jim Flaherty’s death leaves a void in the Conservative party” issues high praise, pressing Kipling and Aristotle into the service of a lush panegyric. Again, nothing unusual here – it’s what everyone is doing these days, not only at the National Post, but elsewhere.

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Notes Toward a Candid Conversation About Genocide in Canada

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AS THE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION Commission of Canada hosts its national event this week, in Edmonton, the topic of genocide is once again surfacing. Usually the topic is posed as a question: is Canada “guilty of genocide”? Over the years, I’ve had many conversations that began with this question, and I’ve done a fair amount of reading and thinking. Here are my notes toward an informed conversation about Canada and genocide.

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The Sixties Scoop

Sixties Scoop

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS reported this week that Manitoba Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson will host a two-day roundtable with twenty people who were part of something now known as the “Sixties Scoop.” For some of you this will be a new and unfamiliar phrase, and you’ll wonder why adopted aboriginal children are calling for an apology from the federal government of Canada. This essay will attempt to inform you on these and other points.

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Julian Fantino’s blundering career is past its best before date

Julian Fantino

IT CAN BE no mere coincidence that Julian Fantino’s 2007 hardboiled memoir, Duty: The Life of a Cop, is an as-told-to composed by the PR consultant Jerry Amernic – a self-described “developer and executor” of “strategic public relations programs designed to introduce an organization to the media and make them media-friendly.” If there is anyone currently warming an Ottawa cabinet seat who requires a media makeover, that person is Julian Fantino.

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Chuck Strahl, Stephen Harper and the Oily Politics of Contempt

Stephen-Harper-campaigning-in-2004

FOR FAR LONGER than it was defensible to do so, the rabble and occupy elements of the opposition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper maintained the paranoid trope of an extreme and hidden agenda, whose Reform agents awaited the propitious moment to conquer the duped public by stealth. Eight years into the Harper Conservative era, it arrives as a historical irony – as well as a rebuke to an over laboured conspiracy – that the foremost reason to oppose Stephen Harper was also the reason many Canadians had tired of the Liberal Party of Canada. And that reason was the open contempt of the public shown by its government, a contempt whose exercise and underlying agenda was anything but hidden.

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Stephen Harper’s Throne Speech: just a little like Jell-O

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ROUGHLY THREE YEARS ago, on a visit to the office of then Senator Consiglio Di Nino, I was shown a voting card signed by the Progressive Conservative and Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance members who on Wednesday, October 15, 2003 created the Conservative Party of Canada. Acknowledgement of this anniversary — ten years ago, exactly — was understandably absent from a voluminous Throne Speech which noted the approach of several other anniversaries, including Confederation and both World Wars.

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The Demise of Chatter

Justin Trudeau

IT WAS separation from his wife which in 1974 brought the Welsh political columnist Alan Watkins to the first-floor Islington flat of his son, and thereby to the acquaintance of the Telegraph columnist Frank Johnson, who occupied the floor below. Out of the friendship between this witty pair came the popularization of the phrase “the chattering classes,” to designate that portion of the bourgeoisie which earns its daily bread by talking. This week one is likely to summon the well-remunerated speaker and federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in that connection, and in doing so an opportunity arises to look into this important matter of verbal performance — not only as it pertains to the aspiring Trudeau but to his category of persons in general.

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How Mike Duffy Huffed and Puffed and Blew the House Down

Mike Duffy

Mike Duffy proved himself to be effective on the after-dinner speech-and-shakedown circuit, and in exchange for this service the Conservative Party of Canada was willing to turn its gaze from the very things which are now threatening to bring the party down.

I WAS NEVER an enthusiast of Frank magazine, but no one living in Ottawa at the height of its notoriety — from the mid 1990s to the early 2000s — could entirely ignore it. By the time of its demise it had sunk, in my view, to the mental and moral level of a frothy mob. Good satire is a matter of discernment, knowing just who to attack and on what foundation. An example is condensed in the brilliant coinage The Puffster, Geoff Heinricks’ name for the journalist-turned-trough-feeder Mike Duffy. In the ’90s, he was the subject of an ongoing satirical campaign which culminated in a defamation lawsuit (a common occurrence at Frank) later settled out of court. “Puffster” economically and comprehensively summed up the self-regarding Duffy, capturing in one word his swollen ego together with his lack of moral and intellectual gravity.

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How Thought Crime Came to Canada

Jim Keegstra

WITH THOMAS FLANAGAN and William Whatcott so heavily in the news, section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms might well be designated trope of the moment. Section 2(b), as we are of late reminded, grants to Canadian citizens their freedoms of conscience and religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression. The Charter also submits these freedoms only to “such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

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Stephen Harper has good reason to be skeptical of the United Nations

Stephen Harper and the UN

RISING BY NECESSITY from the ash of its discredited predecessor, the United Nations on the 24th of January 1946 adopted its first resolution —  a call for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, particularly of the atomic kind, and thereby for the exclusive, peaceful use of atomic energy.

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