Issues

October 2009

Re: “Listen to the North,” by John Ralston Saul

I would like to respond to John Ralston Saul’s suggestions for improvements to the Canadian Ranger programme, as I have had occasion to work with that fine organisation myself – though I think to no greater extent than Mr. Ralston Saul.

While an expansion of the Ranger programme, both in the number of personnel and the quality of training and materiel provided to them, is unquestionably a sound basis for any expanded military presence in the north, I have to object to the suggestion of their being re-rolled as standard primary reserve battalions. To my understanding, the principle advantage of the Canadian Ranger programme is that it emphasizes the strengths of northern culture while leaving out the aspects of a traditional military culture that are less suitable to that environment. The organization is asymmetric (a subject on which I cannot presume to lecture Mr. Ralston Saul, who’s written widely on military asymmetry), highly distributed, and conforms unobtrusively to the communities in which it lodges. The command structure of a Ranger patrol is generally the social “command structure” of the local community, a high premium is placed on individual autonomy, and the unpretentious ball cap and sweatshirt (which I have seen worn outdoors by Rangers on patrol in warmer months) is clothing not unlike that which is generally worn throughout the north.

To attempt to create a primary reserve force out of the Rangers would risk imposing too many of the “southern, urban” qualities that are anathema in the north and could lead to the opposite of the intended result. For example, to even describe to a Ranger patrol the contrivances involved in the storing and handling of ammunition by primary reserve units of the CF would be to make oneself an object of (to my mind, justifiable) ridicule.

A final, technical note: Ranger units in the far north are organised under the Canadian Forces Joint Task Force North and are not, as he suggests, “tributary to the southern commands immediately below them.” Only those Ranger Patrol Groups in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia are organised under their respective “southern” JTFs.

Geoff Hamilton
Montreal, Quebec


Living in Yellowknife for the past 26 years and practising journalism in both the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, I have developed my own sense of what is possible and reasonable. My expectations are quite different from many in the South, certainly with respect to how far the North has come and where it might go in the future.

Southern culture is underpinned by impatience with the status quo. We always want to make things happen, either politically or economically. We get frustrated when such change doesn’t occur at our desired pace mainly because we measure our success by the quality and quantity of progress.

In contrast, northern cultures do not embrace change for its own sake. In fact, historically, changes brought on by large forces in the weather, trade or politics have all presented dangers. Adaptation is the key to survival in the North and adaptation takes time and patience. Haste leads to casualties.

One has only to look at the chronically high suicide rates, alcohol and drug abuse, and family violence stories in the North to get an accurate count of such casualties. For the average person, as most of us are, getting the daily rewards of life and career in a small Arctic community is especially difficult. Booze is quicker.

But a brief read of northern history reveals the stamina of Inuit, Dene and Inuvialuit populations and vision. While non-aboriginal culture chases the carrot, aboriginal leaders and people walk toward political and economic independence. Slow and easy seems to be the approach, and who can deny the progress? All along the Mackenzie Valley—Dehcho, Sahtu, Gwich’in, up to the Inuvialuit and over to the Tlicho—self-government is growing and achieving permanence. Who could have imagined in the 1980s that Nunavut would be created in 1999?

Yet educated southerners lament the examples of inefficient government, mounting social problems, low literacy and educational opportunities. No doubt these negatives all exist. Importing southern expertise and capital might seem the answer. But so did residential schools at one time.

The point is that northerners, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal, have managed, each in their own way yet in partnership with the South, to create societies and governments that should be the envy of the world.

Northern aboriginal cultures and values have proven highly durable and adaptable, which is why assimilation efforts have failed in the past and will in the future.

There is much to be done in Canada’s North, as Mr. Saul has pointed out, but much has been done. The Inuit, Dene and Inuvialuit can claim the credit simply because it would not have happened without them.

Bruce Valpy
Northern News Services
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories


Re: “The End of the World As We Know It?,” by Richard G. Lipsey

Richard Lipsey stirs up the following omelette of platitudes in his review of Peter Victor’s Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster:

On employment, in spite of dire predictions, continued growth has created many more jobs than it has destroyed, holding North American unemployment to levels that can be dealt with fairly easily by public policy.

Where to begin? I guess with the observation that the cliché Lipsey undoubtedly had in mind is “technology has created many more jobs than it has destroyed.” But this still evades the burning question: why would an emeritus professor of economics, who has written a prize winning book on technology and economic growth, need to reach for a cliché precisely at the moment he is addressing the core issues of employment and growth?

Perhaps Professor Lipsey’s complacent opinion about how easily unemployment can be dealt with by routine public policies offers a clue. One might ask: if it’s so easy, why is the official unemployment rate in the U.S. now 9.8%? Why is youth unemployment and underemployment at an astounding 32%? Perhaps Professor Lipsey hasn’t heard that a long bout of unemployment in youth has future employment consequences that last a lifetime? Lipsey mixes up his clichés about technology and growth because his concept of the relationship between public policy and employment is also a cliché: public policy creates jobs by stimulating growth. Sure, there are so-called “active labor market policies” but they are ineffectual in the absence of sufficient demand for labor. They are only supplementary to the main game, which is growth, growth, growth.

Of course Peter Victor’s point is all about how we cannot continue with such one-dimensional growth-obsessed policies because of resource constraints and the environmental consequences of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. And not only are there environmental limits to growth but social limits as well, as Fred Hirsch eloquently demonstrated 30 years ago. In his review, Lipsey takes no note of Victor’s extensive discussion of the centrality of the growth imperative in economics, based largely on H.W. Arndt’s 1978 gem, The Rise and Fall of Economic Growth: A Study in Contemporary Thought. If he had, he might have noticed that the growth compulsion in economics relates back to the view that you can’t have full employment without economic growth.

Like any other self-fulfilling prophecy, experience has shown that, indeed, if you eschew any other policy for achieving full employment, then you can’t have full employment without the only policy that you do allow. The old hammer/nail principle. But the converse is not true. You can have economic growth without full employment. And the single-minded pursuit of “only one particular application of an intellectual theorem” over more than a half century has eroded the effectiveness of that strategy. To put it simply, you need more economic growth per job created today than you would have 60 years ago. The GDP is much, much bigger than it was 60 years ago, both in absolute terms and per capita.

What this loose coupling of growth and employment implies for the great green utopian fantasy of uncoupling fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from economic growth is grim indeed. Yes, you can easily achieve relative uncoupling of greenhouse gas emissions per dollar of GDP. But since a large component of GDP is the measurement of energy consumption and throughput, such a relative uncoupling has to be accompanied by a more than compensating increase in market economic activity elsewhere if you are still going have economic growth. And if the rationale for economic growth is that you need it to generate jobs, then you’re going to have to have an ever greater increase in non-energy intensive economic growth to offset the diminishing job-creating effectiveness of the growth policy.

And what is it all for? To ensure the expansion of superfluous labor time. That is to say the point of it all is to expand the amount of work being done regardless of whether or not that work is socially necessary for the production of sufficient material wealth to comfortably feed, clothe, house and educate the entire population.

What is the alternative? Disposable time.
This letter also appears at econospeak.blogspot.com.

Tom Walker


I am pleased that Richard Lipsey finds so much in my book, Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster, with which he agrees: “there can be no doubt that the technologically driven rapid growth of world population and per capita consumption has put enormous strains on the environment.” I describe many of these strains in some detail (and not just greenhouse gases as Lipsey implies). We agree that economies are open systems, “accepting resources and emitting wastes.” Sadly, too few economists appreciate the full implications of economies as subsystems of the environment. One implication is that it is time to challenge the priority that rich countries in particular give to the pursuit of endless economic growth.

On some points, Lipsey does not accurately represent my position. For example, I do not argue “that further growth will not produce full employment, eliminate poverty, remove income inequalities or protect the environment.” What I show is that developed countries could have full employment, reduced environmental risks and more vibrant communities and could eliminate poverty without relying on economic growth, provided we are thoughtful and deliberate. On the cost of bringing all Canadians out of poverty, I do not use a relative measure of poverty. I simply calculated the cost of raising everyone’s income to a fixed minimum level. Also, I do not call for an end to technological change. Rather, I argue that we should benefit from new and improved technology by working less, not by increasing consumption. That way we can maintain high levels of employment without adding to our environmental burden.

On policy matters, Lipsey and I agree on much, but we do have our differences. For example, I think there is a strong case for linking the rate of development of renewable resources to the rate of depletion of non-renewable resources to ensure a continued supply of service. Had we started developing renewable alternatives for fossil fuels much earlier than market prices and profits indicated, we would not now be in such a predicament facing the twin threats of peak oil and climate change.

Of course, innovation will be essential for a better future, but we need innovation in our values, thinking, institutions and policies as much as in technology. And we need a new narrative about what matters in our society and to us as individuals. If managing without growth fails to become part of that narrative, it will not be slower by design, but by disaster.

Peter Victor
Toronto, Ontario


Re: “Integration Is a Two-Way Street,” by Sheema Khan

Sheema Khan misrepresents her fellow Canadians’ legitimate notions of their society when, as an example of Canada’s membership in a “culture club of fear,” she talks about “the hysterical tone over faith-based family arbitration and provincial funding for faith-based schools in Ontario.”

What Khan is referring to, what she is dressing up as bigotry and xenophobia, is a decision to reject religion in two important areas of the public sphere: justice and education.

There is a long history to that rejection, a history to Canadians’ desire to privatize piety and erase a momentous fault line of our past—from opposition to the Anglican clergy reserve lands that was one of the principle causes of the 1837 rebellion to the ugly anti-Roman Catholicism of the Orange Order, to the 19th-century religious divisiveness over education, politics and the execution of Riel, to Laurier’s opposition to the ultramontaine bishops and their state within a state, to the evil institutional presence of religion in the residential schools, to the exclusion of Jews and Roman Catholics from anglo-Canadian elites, to the social repression by the church in Quebec, to the homophobia and misogyny that still lingers on in institutional religion.

We are a society flawed in so many ways. But I think, in the wisdom Canadians have acquired from the evolution of their culture, they have learned to avoid things that divide and embrace things that unify.

I would argue that most Ontarians had no idea there was any religious presence in family dispute mediation and arbitration until the Sharia law issue arose, and that the public will was to erase it entirely: for the Jews and the Ismailis as well as for other branches of Islam. I would also argue that any referendum in Ontario on getting rid of the publicly funded Roman Catholic separate school system would pass overwhelmingly.

Michael Valpy
Toronto, Ontario


Re: “A Millennium of Manners,” by Margaret Visser

The review of my book, Civility: A Cultural History, might have been a little more informative had the reviewer described all the contents and purposes of this multidisciplinary work. Nevertheless, I am thankful for the time and interest invested.

Let me attempt to describe the complete work here while also responding to some of the concerns of the reviewer. This work seeks to present some “plausible explanations” without insisting that they are the only ones possible. The citations (over 825 sources, of which more than 500 are of primary na-ture) are there to show the reader how the topic unfolded for this particular student of culture, while guiding the reader to some good reads. It is hardly a stereotypical sociological work—certainly, anyone providing some insight into the many facets of this complex topic has been invited along for the journey: historians, political thinkers, troubadours, etiquette writers, conduct writers, novelists and poets, philosophers, knights, kings and queens and tyrants, cross-cultural experts, psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists.

The chapters of this work cover many dimensions, none more (or less) important than the others. The work studies civility in France, England and the United States, drawing on various perspectives. It draws on cultural history to help reveal how previous cultural developments continue to affect the civility standards and emotional temperaments of a given nation. It includes numerous reviews of seminal conduct books that influenced notions of ideal manners, etiquette, politeness and civility, as well as some influential developments in Medieval and Renaissance times that escaped the notice of Norbert Elias. It also draws on personal and social psychology, through a discussion of hurt, anger, embarrassment and shame and their critical role in civility and incivility. One chapter contains material not mentioned in full in the review that is the missing link in a humanities discipline obsessed with group discord but mindless of individual sentiments; it thus provides the most comprehensive discussion to date of the “anatomy” of human interaction and civilities/incivilities. It also draws on cross-cultural factors, namely why and how different cultures have different conceptions of politeness and why some fa-vour distancing and others not. Interestingly, it offers some plausible explanations for why anglophone and francophone cultures have had so much trou-ble dealing with one another. The final, 50-page chapter includes some insights gleaned while spending time in the three countries in a non-intrusive and (I would hope) ethical way; it also includes fascinating insights from other cross-cultural writers.

Most assuredly, Civility: A Cultural History is not a book about morality. Let us leave morality aside; cultural “mores” have so often been used to torture and ruin innocent people. The book does, however, suggest without embarrassment that authentic civility would go beyond politeness and include empathy, thereby linking it to ethical standards, an idea shared by many classical and contemporary writers. By this I mean a simple “cause as little harm as possible” approach to the other. The reviewer defines this principle as morality; I define it as a civility of a slightly higher order than non-abrasive interaction.

In the end, the nature and worth of the book will be determined by its readers. Meanwhile, some additional opinions regarding the book and an elec-tronic file of its 20-page introduction (explaining content, purpose and journey plan) can be found at http://www.bdavetian.com.

Benet Davetian
University of Prince Edward Island
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island


Re: “Is It All Quebec’s Fault?,” by Lars Osberg

Professor Osberg is an academic of whom I and many others think very highly. He has also spent decades ably proselytizing for policies I think are deeply mistaken. Fearful Symmetry: The Fall and Rise of Canada’s Founding Values constitutes a reasoned assault on many of those policies. There is always a temptation, therefore, for the reviewer to use a review like this to promote his own ideas rather than judiciously commenting on the author’s; Professor Osberg may have ceded ever so slightly to this temptation. Readers may thus be somewhat in the dark about what I actually said.

Fearful Symmetry argues that, on balance, the last half-century has deeply damaged Canada, kept a lot of people out of work and dependent on various kinds of government benefit, undermined our work ethic, harmed the integrity of the family and caused a lot of tax-financed waste. This will cause great discomfort among those who hew to the chattering classes’ approved line that the growth in government, welfare, public employment, taxation and debt has ushered in a kinder, gentler Canada. Indeed, I argue that we abandoned many of the traditional behaviours of Canadians to our cost, since the old way of doing things often produced better results for individuals and families than what we have put in their place.

The changes have not been the result of Keynesian philosopher-kings dispensing “social justice,” although there was lots of such self-delusion too. It is rather that the confluence in 1960s Quebec of a separatist-nationalist movement and a huge baby-boom generation looking for work unleashed a bidding war between Ottawa and Quebec City. Both governments tried to win young Quebeckers’ loyalty by creating dependence on various kinds of welfare, subsidies and public employment.

The result, which I document with sadness, not satisfaction, has been havoc wrought on Quebec society at every level, subsidized by all Canadian taxpayers. Most of the rest of the country was less damaged because while Ottawa couldn’t limit its half of the bidding war to Quebec, it didn’t have to spend so liberally elsewhere. Finally, I suggest we can fix this sorry mess while maintaining the integrity of our beloved country, in part because the labour shortages created by population aging will make the behaviour of the last few decades politically unacceptable.

Andrew Coyne says the book is “nothing less than a revolution in our way of looking at Canada, its history and its future.” I leave it to the reader to decide if Osberg or Coyne offers the more compelling account of Fearful Symmetry.

Brian Lee Crowley
Halifax, Nova Scotia


Re: “Denial and Dignity,” by Anita Ho

While Anita Ho and I are certainly in agreement that some medical teams can be quick to label family members as “in denial,” the cases she cites in her review of That Good Night: Ethicists, Euthanasia and End-of-Life Care actually illuminate a more troubling issue. Helen’s children, Ho tells us, believed “their decisions would symbolize who they were as a tight-knit family” and Jack’s son worried that “he would have to live with the guilt of having given up on [his father] without trying everything.” But because autonomy is a crucial tenet of our medical system, doctors must follow the wishes of the patient, rather than those of the children. So if Jack’s son knew what his father wanted, and went against it, then he should feel very guilty indeed.

The problem, of course, is that too few of us talk to our loved ones about how we want to die. Not only does this mean we’ll have no say in the way our final days play out if we can’t speak for ourselves, but it also invites disputes between families and medical teams, as well as clashes within families.

Ho believes I oversimplify the meaning of a good death and claims “it is apparent that from [my] point of view a dying process like Helen’s, accompa-nied by physical distress brought about by the family’s desired procedures, constitutes a poor one.” Well, I’m sure she sees a lot more death than I ever will (not that I’m complaining) and she would hardly be the first expert to accuse a journalist of oversimplification, but my book never judges how others decide to die, arguing instead that we all have the right to choose our own “good death.”

If Ho can find dignity and meaning in going out on a flotilla of medical technology, I respect her choice. But she shouldn’t expect everyone else to make the same one. Nowadays, even assisted suicide seems more natural than years spent lingering on life support, so I know how I want to die—as does my wife, just in case.

Tim Falconer
Toronto, Ontario


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