Issues

March 2016

Welcome to the March issue of the LRC. Here’s what’s in store in this first of our spring instalments.

Animals loom large in this issue, with dolphins taking a star turn. What do we know about dolphins’ mental capacities, and what remains to be discovered? Andrew Westoll takes us on a fascinating tour through dolphin-human interaction, giving us a glimpse into a barely charted psychic world – one completely alien to our sensibilities yet one that we find almost metaphysical in its foreignness. “When you extrapolate from the findings that a dolphin’s brain is essentially working at warp speed,” says Westoll, “and that its emotional centre is three times larger than a human’s, perhaps we can begin to conceptualize how a dolphin might indeed be operating on a level that appears supernatural.”

Another enigma that takes centre stage in this issue is far more prosaic – how to explain that most inexplicable of homegrown political brands, Toronto’s onetime Ford Nation. As our contributor Michael Booth observes, there seems little desire on the part of Torontonians to try answering the question at the moment: “It is as if the slow painful exit of Rob Ford from the public stage has been relegated to some dark corner of Toronto’s collective unconscious.” But temporary denial cannot hide the infamous story’s significance, nor the fact that its tragic hero is very much the product of the city he calls home. Booth reminds us that “for all the madness, infuriating obfuscation and dishonesty, whirlwind of inconceivable events and characters, allegations, accusations and paranoid hyperbole in the Ford story, at the centre of it all was a human being.”

Is Canada’s constitutional culture becoming ever more American? Our contributor Emmett Macfarlane details a healthy division of opinion on this point. “There are people for whom the threat of Americanization apparently looms over the Canadian collective consciousness like a cultural guillotine,” he observes. Yet while all experts agree there has been strong American influence on Canada’s constitution from Confederation onwards, the notion that this influence sharply expanded in recent years, especially under former prime minister Stephen Harper is, in Macfarlane’s words, “unconvincing.”

The job of Ontario premier is one of the hardest in the country, something amply illustrated by Dalton McGuinty’s time in the post. Reviewing the former premier’s new memoir, Steve Paikin itemizes the considerable accomplishments of McGuinty’s controversial decade in office. He also points to the fact that this consummate politician was able to remain so decent and well-intentioned throughout his time in power. “The McGuinty haters,” Paikin concludes, “who are always very easy to find on social media, will have to ask themselves how a politician they despise so much managed to hold the second toughest political job in the country for nine years and 111 days.”

How are today’s geopolitical trends affecting development aid? The focus has moved away from the age-old dichotomy between developed and developing worlds, says Elissa Golberg, assistant deputy minister at Global Affairs Canada. Instead, we see a new dichotomy arising between fragile places and all the rest. “Fragility and violence are not conditions confined to developing countries alone,” she contends. “Indeed, we have witnessed varying levels of fragility in distinct regions or even cities within middle income and advanced economies.” What is needed is a new view of development assistance, based on what Golberg calls “positive and sustainable economic opportunities in fragile environments,” with the aim to “encourage the stability and prosperity of those communities, and to harness the full potential of all their citizens.”

To the outside observer, trends in environmental regulation can seem a hopeless muddle. The current picture is so complex, says Andrew Heintzman in his review of three books on contemporary environmental policy, that “perhaps being bipolar on the environmental question is the sanest and most logical position for a Canadian environmentalist.” What are the two poles he is referring to? At one end, “the alarmist, who understands that things are truly not well and that our current course is not likely to fix it,’ and at the other, “the optimist, who understands that we have all the tools that we need and with some reasonable readjustment we could fix it.” To understand the overall direction of change, we need to recognize how the two poles play off one another, In Heintzman’s words, “it is only in the depths of pessimism that one can get truly excited at the prospect that we might just save ourselves.”

The reputations of few other Canadian authors have fallen as far and as fast as that of Robertson Davies. Charlotte Gray recalls he was once described as Canada’s foremost man of letters. No longer. “His world seemed incurably Anglo-Canadian, drenched in colonial nostalgia and patrician accents,” she notes. But with the appearance of the first volume of his diaries there are reasons for renewed respect. “The vocabulary and the speech rhythms may be mid-century British,” Gray concludes after itemizing some of the surprising revelations the diaries contain, not least in his dealings with the Massey family at the establishment of the College for which he served as founding Master, “but the wit and good humour are timeless.”

And there is much more, Rouba Al-Fattal explores the future of Arab youth and their likely impact on the societies in which they live; Don LePan takes uson a chilling tour of contemporary factory farming; Mark Starowicz introduces us to the cast of characters in Margaret Macmillan’s historical treatment of personal traits from hubris to the art of leadership; and Stephen Reid recountsthe compelling tale of a Yukon silver heist that went terribly wrong. Brett Josef Grubisic and Rashi Khilnani review new works of fiction by Mona Awad andFarzana Doctor, and our poetry pages feature the works of A. J. Stainsby, Richard Greene, Alex Pierce and Brian Henderson.

In this month’s letters section there are responses from Brian Gorman, Marc Edge, Heather Whiteside and Robert Matas on reviews by Paul Knox, Michael Fenn and Valerie Knowles in the January/February issue and from Michael Decter on Hugh Segal’s essay on Senate reform in the same issue.

All in all, an eclectic smorgasbord that I hope will provide satisfying reading throughout this first month of spring. Enjoy!

Mark Lovewell
Interim Editor