Friday, March 31, 2006

The Prime Ministers: Louis St. Laurent

My correspondence on the CPAC series continues:
Hmmm... This is a strange series. I didn't like this episode either. He was voted our greatest post-war Prime Minister, yet they spent little time explaining why he'd get the vote of so many historians. What truly positive material we did see came from his own family (relevant, but not very surprising, one would think).

This emphasis on the 'Uncle Louis' facade, and, later, his, and his cabinet's, air of entitlement - which seemed to be much worse than the situations that fall under that category today - were not flattering. And whatever the true proportion of these episodes during his entire leadership, by paying lip service to his great achievements and lack of involvement in the PR machine, the producers are passing judgment on the man.

And this isn't the first example of that. I just found this one to be particularly heavy handed. Man, and I thought CPAC was a more balanced alternative to the CBC; guess no one can resist the opportunity to spin.

Later correspondence focused on Byfield's negativity:
Well, he's a journalist, and I have to say, I valued his perspective on St. Laurent more than, say, on Laurier, because Byfield was there covering the '57 election, for example. The fact that he relates how all the old-timers in his profession were unhappy with the government at that time, for example, is fine with me. I want to know. But it's the producer's job to balance that with St. Laurent's earlier success, and give Byfield a chance to reflect on that, if possible (don't know if he was even working then).

And CPAC's spin:
Well, I for one would seize any media source that showed the sort of balance I'm talkin' about; and I wouldn't let 'em go. :-) I know there are other people who feel that way too. There is such a thing as scoopin' and spinnin' yourself to death, I think. You're certainly sentencing your credibility to death, let's say.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

La Convivencia

I just finished watching the BBC documentary An Islamic History of Europe. Its stirring depiction of la Convivencia, with Muslims and Christians sharing the best of their cultures in Spain, while hotly contested, got me thinking about these first decades of the 21st century: it may be naïve, but I feel that Canada is well placed to revive this idea of coexistence.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Prime Ministers: William Lyon Mackenzie King

My correspondence on the CPAC series continues:
Well, in my opinion, the blame for [the seemingly harsh comments of Jack Granatstein and Ted Byfield] falls on the editors of this series; I was actually going to use the adjective 'stupid' in that sentence (take your pick of places; more than one's appropriate), but thought better of it. They are focusing on inconsequential crap, and, given that, I think both Granatstein and Byfield did a good job of relating what we - unfortunately - know about King's private life, in all its strange detail, but without dwelling on it, and then getting on to the "and so what?" of it all. Who cares? Byfield ends a segment with I think his decisions ultimately were always pragmatic. He did his job, in other words.

I [also feel it wasn't write to publish King's diary, instead of burying it with him, as was his wish]. Did his family make that decision? Did they come to regret it, I wonder? People are entitled to their private thoughts; and they're entitled to put them down for later review. You can't keep a life of thoughts in your head, and being able to read them would probably help one sort through a lot of problems. That aside, whatever his reasons for writing, the public doesn't have the right to read it, just because he wrote it.

The Prime Ministers: Wilfrid Laurier: Addendum

In the light of all this nonsense about Harper's waistline - no, I won't even hyperlink to it and give any 'news' site the satisfaction of traffic - I thought this later point in the correspondence was also germane:
... and Chretien made a point of saying the press didn't question [Laurier]. I thought that was fantastic! Imagine knowing no more about your prime minister's private life than, say, your doctor's.

It does not matter, people.

The job they're doing, that's what it's all about.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Prime Ministers: Wilfrid Laurier

This is the first of a few posts on correspondence I've had re CPAC's The Prime Ministers television series:
When a Quebec supporter complained few immigrants were francophone, Laurier said, We trust in the long run they will come out right true Canadians.

I love this line. That was the highlight of the show, so I thought I'd lead with it. I'll be pullin' that one out in a future conversation with Dad, you can be sure, that, and the “tough” people that made Western Canada under him. (Canadians are English and French... Pffft!) ;-)

I was struck by how strongly people need heroes. The man described for most of the thirty minutes was well beyond his considerable 6' frame. Chretien said he was an institution in his family, and clearly he isn't alone. (I found him very convincing in that moment, by the way; very sincere. I didn't think much of his comments overall, but when he spoke about francophones talking their place after Laurier, I felt the importance of it.)

But clearly he was human. I mean, however reverently it was read, Laurier's thoughts on politics were clearly that the end - his “certain object” - justifies the means, which “could not be approved of”. I don't agree, but acknowledge that I prefer to think in the ideal, and have long since ruled out a career in politics as a result. :-)

Finally, all the comments on Laurier's appearance went over the top, eventually; somewhere around the comment that he probably spent a lot of time in front of a mirror. I certainly wouldn't want to be remembered that way.

This is Canada

Many months ago, I received an e-mail message entitled This is an article printed in the Toronto Star, CANADA full of the worst vitriol. Worse still, it was plagiarized vitriol, originally written by an American a number of years ago.

I'm embarrassed to admit that the sender fully supported the message. I wish I'd read John Ralston Saul's beautiful speech Citizenship, Immigration and Federalism: The Complexity of Modern Democracy in Canada before I'd responded to it, but I'm still satisfied with what I wrote:

I'm reading In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong by Amin Maalouf right now, and in it, he talks about how, depending on the current situation, an individual will associate with one part of their identity more than others (e.g., they're Catholic, or they're French, etc.), when, in reality, they're still the complex mix of cultures, histories, beliefs, etc. that they always were.

This culture has been developed over centuries of struggles, trials, and victories by millions of men and women who have sought freedom... We speak ENGLISH/FRENCH, not Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or any other language...

I don't know how far back this guy wants to go, but I'll always be able to find examples to contradict him. This idea of Canada as a snapshot in time, after the war of 1812 or some such, is just silly. Canada, like every other nation around the world, is changing with each passing year, and how it is changing is all a matter of your perspective, what part of your identity you most strongly associate with today.

Let's look at some examples from 1921:

BC: English, 221145, Chinese, 23533...
ON: French, 248275, German, 130545...

Canada was much more than English and French, and many of the immigrants who spent time in internment camps during the two World Wars would question the universal freedom this guy speaks of.

Aside: I am not, in any way, disparaging the sacrifice made by the more than one hundred thousand brave Canadians who died in those two wars. I'm merely using it as an example of how perspective makes all the difference in the world.

God is part of our culture...

Christanity is part of our history, and, in one form or another, part of the history of most of the known world. Some of its tenets are now part of our culture of respect (embodied in such foundations of our nation as the Charter), but Christanity is no more part of our culture today than any other religion. The right to practice the religion of your choice is part of our culture, however, and, yes, to practice it without fear of offending anyone.

We are happy with our culture and have no desire to change...

As I've said, this idea of culture as static does not reflect reality. Canada is distinct and great, not because of our history, but because we are a nation that recognizes the inherent dignity in every human being, and are working towards a day when all of us (not just Canadians, but the world at large) can be free from the fear of harm and death for the thoughts we conceive and choose to express.

Finally, I found this correction re our national motto to be amusing.