Issues

May 2006

Re: “Goodbye, Quebec?,” by Reed Scowen

Re: “Good-bye, Quebec?” by Reed Scowen

Canada is a complex country, the presence in its midst of a French- speaking society concentrated in one province being one important contributor. Language has huge social impact. It determines who we know, what we read, where we work, where we travel. Not surprisingly, the French language in Quebec has contributed to shaping a unique society, with distinctive values and beliefs, a strong attach- ment to its perpetuation and a high level of social trust. An “us” and “them” was created as a result, a sociological reality that some may not like, but that is real nevertheless.

One consequence is the recognition by Québécois that their primary government is their provincial government, relegating the federal government to a convenient structure. Thus, within Canada, there is one province where the majority of its citizens give it their first allegiance. Not surprisingly, Quebec politicians tend to be Quebec-firsters.

Moreover, for the past 30 years, roughly a third of Quebeckers have questioned the wisdom of belonging to Canada: why not have our own country, like most other people on earth? But the other two thirds do not buy that view: they do not want Quebec to part with Canada, and as well as being Québécois, do not mind also being Canadians, although many of them would like to see changes in the current arrangements.

That gives rise to a uniquely Canadian political dynamic. Basically, a straight question on separation will never win more than 40 percent of the vote in a referendum on separation. Tweak the question by proposing, instead of separation, a new deal for Quebec, called souveraineté-association (having your cake and eating it too) and you may reach 50 percent support, at least in the polls. Unfortunately, the rest of Canada will never accept such a “new deal,” and thus such a question will never come to pass. The Clarity Act will also ensure that it is so.

If separation is a non-starter, getting more from Ottawa remains a big winner. Thus Quebec politicians tend to be asking more from Ottawa. But come to think of it, so do most provincial politicians. The difference in Quebec is that the electorate strongly supports these demands. But our federal system has learned over the years to deal with them. After all, this is what democratic government is all about.

My good friend Reed Scowen is discouraged by this situation, having spent most of his lifetime trying to change it. This Don Quixote quest has blindsided him. He would now like to kick Quebec out of Canada. The way he sees it, Québécois will never be good Canadians, will always demand more from Ottawa and prefer their fleur-de-lys flag to Canada’s maple leaf. Well, Reed, that complex identity has been part of the Canadian reality for the past 350 years and will remain so.

Canada has managed to do pretty well with that reality. Our decentralized federalism is alive and well, and copes with pressures coming from Quebec and from other regions. Furthermore, nobody has the right to kick Quebec out of Canada just because a noisy minority of its citizens wishes it. Quebec is here to stay, and Canada is a much better country as a result. Canada can cope with its complexities, including Quebec.

Marcel Côté
Montreal, Quebec


Re: “Good-bye, Quebec?” by Reed Scowen

It is very good that Reed Scowen is returning to his thesis that Quebec and Canada would both be better off separated. But as the saying goes, be careful what you ask for.

He brings excellent insights to the changes since his first edition seven years ago. To put it slightly differently than he does, the topic is now much “cooler,” more rational on both sides. People are examining their interests more now. At the time of the 1995 referendum, passion over reason governed both sides. The new mood is more dangerous.

And he is one of the few writers to see clearly that the Clarity Act is quite the opposite of what most Canadians suppose it to be. If one listened to Jean Chrétien and Stéphane Dion, this was to be the law that finally ended Quebec separatism, because an honest question could never get a “Yes.”

After his incredibly foolish reference of the secession question to the Supreme Court in 1998, Mr. Chrétien was faced with a ruling that separation was indeed a negotiable issue. Answering this with the Clarity Act, he declined to heed warnings that he was in fact crafting a roadmap for any province to separate legally.

Quebec may in due course use this route, and the author believes we would all then be better off. That might very well be. We live in a world where the major duties of a nation-state—security and trade—are now looked after by international alliances and the American superpower. Small states will do just fine, from that point of view. But we mightn’t be better off in quite the way he forecasts. His preferred outcome is that the Rest of Canada would stay together, but a breakup is far more likely. I pointed this out in my Plan B: The Future of the Rest of Canada (Fraser Institute, 1994). Canada is held together by two main forces, those being inertia and sentiment. Both are exceptionally powerful glues, but very brittle, not resilient.

The separation of Quebec would shatter the gluelines and cause every part of the country to re-examine the Canadian deal. The West would be utterly opposed to a new arrangement wherein Ontario went from one third of the central government’s members of Parliament to more than half. Separatist sentiment is already significant in Alberta. B.C. and Saskatchewan would join that province in an independent western grouping wishing well to our old neighbours and sending foreign aid to the Maritimes for a while. Mr. Scowen is entirely correct in drawing this reality to the sovereigntist thinkers of Quebec who universally assume that there would be a comfortable old Canada there to negotiate with. Not so. They would face an indifferent, independent (and very well off) West, a desperate Atlantic and a very annoyed but wholly viable Ontario seeking its own interests.

So it is good to think about these things. It is also good to recognize (as does the author) that in fact the first and successful user of the Clarity Act might be Alberta. Maybe in ten years or so.

Gordon Gibson
Vancouver, British Columbia


Re: “Half-Full or Half-Empty?,” by Peter Calamai

Re: “Half Full or Half Empty?,” by Peter Calamai

I appreciated and enjoyed Peter Calamai’s review in the May 2006 issue. Undoubtedly, there are mistakes in my book. But Calamai makes me look better than I deserve by erring himself in the two mistakes he takes issue with. He calls a “schoolboy howler” my statement on page 176 that “warming may also melt part of the polar icecaps, causing sea level rise.” My scientist colleagues confirm the veracity of this statement. Because some of the Arctic and most of the Antarctic polar icecaps are over land, their melting will indeed raise sea levels. Calamai then notes that my focus on greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 when discussing the Kyoto protocol deadline, instead of the average of 2008–2012, is “factually wrong” and “makes a huge difference.” Actually, it does not. Because of the inertia in a given economy’s infrastructure, buildings, plant and equipment, greenhouse gases must be trending downward in 2008 for a country such as Canada to hit its Kyoto target in 2010 and they will still be falling in 2012. This means that emissions in 2010 will be very close to the average of emissions over the period 2008–12. I can confirm this from my energy-economy model of Canada and those of my colleagues in other countries. To avoid unnecessary and confusing pedantry, many analysts therefore focus just on 2010 when discussing emissions commitments under Kyoto.

Mark Jaccard
Vancouver, British Columbia


Re: “Half- Full or Half-Empty?” by Peter Calamai

Peter Calamai’s review of the Tim Flannery and Marc Jaccard books on climate change is bang-on. While Flannery’s The Weather Makers is a useful attempt to wake up those who are not aware of or convinced of the extent to which climate change is likely to affect our ecosystem, Jaccard’s Sustainable Fossil Fuels is a rare gem that provides a rigorous scientific, economic and social analysis of the energy-climate-environment relationship, followed by a carefully considered policy prescription that is as ideology-free as I have seen.

Mark Jaccard’s title alone sets off alarm bells in green circles, and it has probably prevented many from picking up the book. How can the use of fossil fuels ever be considered “sustainable”?

If you want to know, you really have to read the book. Jaccard so carefully and objectively sets out his premises, his research, his criteria and his ultimate policy prescriptions that I could never do his argument justice in a mere 400 words. Suffice it to say that I found Jaccard’s recent speech to an intrigued and skeptical Ottawa audience so provocative that I had to buy a copy for myself and read it carefully from introduction to index.

My conclusion: Jaccard has delivered a rigorous examination of all aspects of the energy debate. He has set out an approach that should provide people (in both developed and developing countries) with a safer, cleaner, more reliable supply of energy for centuries to come, and in a way that is as politically, socially and environmentally acceptable as currently possible. His argument addresses all aspects of the debate: the availability and extent of primary energy sources, portability, storage, safety, cost and impacts on habitat, air, water, soil, landscapes and more.

His approach is free of preconceived solutions and examines all options, even those like nuclear and coal, which green-minded individuals might reflexively rule out. And that is the key to reading and appreciating this book, just as it is the key to engaging in a serious examination of a way to move towards greater sustainability. Opening this book requires the reader to set aside assumptions, but not deeply held values. Jaccard gives us a compelling set of criteria for what he feels constitutes a sustainable energy system, then scrutinizes all the options currently available, leaving us with an initial road map—one to which any political party would do well to give thorough consideration.

David Chernushenko
Green Party of Canada
Toronto, Ontario


Re: “Skulking to the Right,” by Ray Conlogue

Re: “Skulking to the Right,” by Ray Conlogue

Ray Conlogue has performed a public service with his insightful piece on the shift to the political right in the Canadian print media and the dumbing down of content. Although Canada has never produced a daily that comes close to the quality of Le Monde, The Guardian, El Pais or the New York Times, some of our newspapers used to reach in that direction, especially The Globe and Mail. No longer, it seems. As well as running columns of frothy “Chick Introspection,” that paper cut back on its influential op-ed section to make space for a page of health tips.

Conlogue also notes that in the reduced space Canadian papers still reserve for serious commentary, there is a growing ideological divide between the right-wing tone of what is published and the more liberal values of the Canadian public. This may be true, for the moment, but I suspect that our vaunted “Canadian values” may soon be a subject for PhD theses in history departments. Values are never static. Faced with a steady barrage of commentary directing them to think differently about issues, people will eventually fall into line.

In my book The End of Days: Tolerance, Tyranny and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain, I explored how a major shift in the political consensus was effected centuries ago in medieval Spain. Once the most pluralist, religiously tolerant country of Europe, Spain eventually became the most rigid and closed, with an Inquisition and two ethnic expulsions. How did this happen? With the limited communications of the day, it took the determined elites (the Catholic church, the monarchy) several centuries to alter the national ideology by manufacturing and propagating bigotry. A values shift of similarly major proportions would take far less time today.

Here’s a more contemporary example. As I write this letter, the Canadian parliament is preparing to debate extending our Afghan mission. Public support for the war has been dropping, but the Harper Conservatives are intent. In anticipation of the discussion, this morning’s Globe published a column by Marcus Gee, in which he scolded Canadians for not supporting the mission in language that openly mimicked the Bush White House (“Evil must be resisted with force”). An editorial in the same edition said much the same: Our “honour is at stake.” Marcus Gee is also editorials editor. As such he carries responsibility for the unsigned Afghan editorial as well as for his signed column.

The Afghan issue shows every sign of becoming a watershed; and since the Globe remains Canada’s most influential newspaper, it is disturbing to realize that one individual has been accorded so much power over the shaping of public opinion on Canadian foreign policy. In terms of their content, both the column and the editorial deliberately reinterpreted commonly understood “Canadian values” where “honour” has traditionally consisted in making peace, not war. Like it or not, unless there is a prominent debate in our media, Gee and others like him will alter the “values” consensus in the country by virtue of the media space they control and the constant repetition of their message.

Erna Paris
Toronto


Re: “Skulking to the Right,” by Ray Conlogue

I don’t know Ray Conlogue. I don’t know your publication. Perhaps that makes me illiterate.

No matter. What I do know is that comparing me to Ann Coulter—even “Ann Coulter Lite”—is an, eek!, absurdity, but typical of the intellectual laxity that characterizes so much of polemical commentary in this country.

Again, no matter. I understand that Conlogue is using Coulter as the worst insult that comes to mind, regardless of how unfitting the correlation. She is a pretty idiot. I would say I’m neither.

But Conlogue goes beyond the pale by snidely mocking the death of my father, or at least the manner in which I wrote about it. My God, are there no depths to which some people won’t descend? Unforgivable—indeed, grounds for doing violence to him—is Conlogue’s assertion that I feel guilty for having disliked my dad. From where does he get this astonishing invention? I have no lack of guilt in my life. But I’ve never professed, in person or in print, anything other than love for my father. To think that anyone reading this article would be misled into believing such a gobsmacking lie makes me, literally, sick to my stomach.

By stopping at nothing to diminish me, Conlogue has done harm to a dead man he never met.

Shame, shame, shame. You are a disgrace, Conlogue. I hope I can tell you that to your face, some day.

Rosie DiManno
Toronto, Ontario

A response from Ray Conlogue

Ms. DiManno’s reply illustrates perfectly the double standard on which “personal” journalism is based.

Had her article been about the Toronto police, or the deployment to Afghanistan, Ms. DiManno would (I hope) have gracefully accepted reader disagreement. Hundreds of thousands of readers are not obliged to share one pundit’s view.

But notice what happens when the writer recounts an intimate and painful personal story. A different standard is introduced. Here, as in a family gathering, she demands sympathy. Should a nephew break in with, “Yeah, but, Rosie, your father was a colossal pain. I don’t know why you keep pretending you liked him,” a solicitous aunt would make disapproving sounds and tightened lips all around would alert the nephew to his faux pas.

However, it is different when this story is recounted in a forum where it will be read by countless strangers. Here the writer has herself broken the rules of private decorum. It is unreasonable to order anonymous readers to respect them.

In the case of the story about her father, we read that he is “the angriest man I have ever known,” that “he’d swear at me, rain curses on my head,” and that when he was dying he refused to hold her hand, saying, “go away or I’ll rip out your heart.”

Having recounted these things, Ms. DiManno now observes that she has never professed anything but love for her father. Perhaps that’s true. However, I have formed an opinion in reading this publicly published article—as I have every right to do—and my opinion is that Ms. DiManno disliked her father. She may also have suffered from unrequited love, because the human heart is full of paradox. The two can coexist, and my view is that in this case they do.

Ms. DiManno is outraged that I have this opinion. She says I have demeaned a dead man. She all but cries vendetta.

In other words, she is informing the world that it must respect the rules of private decorum when she writes about her private life—even though she herself is breaking those rules by doing so.

This is why traditional political journalists were taught never to use the pronoun “I” and never to recount personal material in their columns. To do so confuses the reader, who expects well-informed analysis and does not seek an emotional relationship with the writer.

It is a sign of the desperation of Canadian newspaper publishers that they have broken this covenant with the reader. They know, of course, that most people can’t resist peeking into the personal lives of celebrities, and journalists are minor celebrities.

By encouraging this, publishers are treating both journalist and reader as patsies. The journalist becomes a monster of vanity, and the reader wakes up one morning to find she has lots of thoughts about Margaret Wente and Rosie DiManno and not many about anything else.


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