June 2015

Welcome to the June issue of the LRC. Here’s what’s in store this month.

What does the rise of the federal Conservatives say about future political directions in Canada, and how does this square with opposing electoral trends in many provinces? In this month’s lead essay, Michael Adams suggests that electoral results often mask longer term shifts in attitudes, and it is these more gradual shifts that give the best sense of where we’re headed as a country. Itemizing the most crucial of these longer term changes, Adams explains how, in today’s highly charged political environment, parties need to track them carefully if they are to build effective electoral strategies.

Museums rarely operate in a political vacuum. In Alberta, members of the Blackfoot First Nations launched a successful lobby to have a set of aboriginal sacred objects repatriated from Calgary’s Glenbow Museum. The broader ramifications are revealing, says our reviewer Victor Rabinovitch. “Canadian museum actions now differ markedly from the ethnocentrism of European institutions,” he writes, “where even the word ‘repatriation’ elicits shudders from people who cannot imagine the validity of institutions deferring to communities and individuals. This is a unique achievement.”

First-person journalism is not easy to master, which is why it is so useful to pay attention to those who manage the feat. Dana Hansen looks at recently published collections by Jeet Heer and Rick Salutin. While showing some of the stylistic tools they employed, she details how the personally infused stances both writers adopt help us understand the importance of examining our own shifting biases and limitations as we view the world around us. A self-evident point perhaps, but one that “bears repeating in an age of fiercely guarded prejudices and fearful, intractable minds.”

What are Canada’s prisons like on the inside? Rose Ricciardelli introduces us to a memoir highlighting the essential humanity of prisoners and to a pictorial depiction of the infamous Kingston Penitentiary. In different ways, says Ricciardelli, each book projects a sense of “a physical reality in which prisoners all too easily become suspect, their trust in each other mislaid, their faith in humanity shattered.” If nothing else, she concludes, more attention needs to be given to the task of turning prisons from sites of dehumanizing dysfunction into places where long-lasting rehabilitation is at least possible.

Our fiction pages feature a double review of Russell Smith’s collection of interlinked stories Confidence and Danila Botha’s novel Too Much on the Inside. As highlighted by our reviewer Amy Lavender Harris, the setting for each is the gritty west side of Toronto’s downtown core. She introduces us to some of the abruptly shifting lives that appear in each book—lives that in many ways echo the wider changes in Toronto—and concludes that both authors provide “meaningful additions to the story of the city.”

Do think tanks in Canada play much of a role in shaping political attitudes? The usual view is that such institutions are decidedly more powerful in the United States and Britain. In her review of a new book on this subject, Beth Haddon provides a useful rejoinder. With the aid of some fascinating foreign commentary, she makes the case that Canada’s homegrown think tanks— those on the right in particular—may be having a far greater influence on our thinking and policies than they are often given credit for.

Few can be identified as having pioneered the role of intellectual in anglophone Canada—a claim made about Frank Underhill in Kenneth Dewar’s new book on the historian’s political ideas. Our reviewer Michiel Horn admits to liking and admiring Underhill when the two were acquainted in the 1960s. Horn is not convinced Underhill’s role is as central as Dewar’s statement suggests, but notes there is much that is compelling about Underhill’s long and colourful career, not least his substantial contributions to progressive politics in Depression-era Canada.

To the uninitiated, sport may seem quite possible to ignore. But at our own peril, says Christopher Dornan in his review of a new collection of essays on communication and sport in Canada. “A truth of our times,” writes Dornan, is “the massive expansion of sport as a feature of the contemporary moment.” And the form of sport whose influence is exploding is not the sort we are used to. The types at today’s cutting edge involve novel forms of mediated experience— increasingly entertainment driven, simulated rather than real, immersive rather than participatory. In some ways, a chilling prophecy.

In addition to all this, Les Horswill analyzes how a declining region’s chase for government money can become an all-encompassing obsession, Marian Botsford Fraser reminds us exactly why Carol Shields left such a mark on Canadian literature, James Roots chronicles a successful life lived in the shadow of paralysis and chronic pain, and Dianne Chisholm reveals the life-changing potential of the act of walking. Our poetry pages feature the works of Richard Therrien, Cassy Welburn, Dean Steadman and Barry Dempster.

In this month’s letters section are responses to articles in the April issue by Andrew Coyne, Paul Knox and Michael Valpy, and to articles in the May issue by Adam Chapnick, Christopher Waddell, David Layton and Joseph Heath. Thanks to those readers who take the time to provide feedback on the books and topics we cover in these pages. Your responses do so much to enliven our magazine.

Mark Lovewell

Interim Editor