Sunday Poem: “Old Stones”

 

Old stones, ancient lines.

Boundaries.

Demarcated. Decimated.

The blind lead the Blinded.

 

Summer unfurls, thunder rumbles;

in the distance.

Special reports, queries.

Dimly perceived, a whiff of malfeasance.

 

Foundations laid bare.

A People laid bare.

Old stones, ancient lines.

 

There is nothing quite like a prairie sunrise.

 

By W.N. Branson

Review: Memories

Thursday, August 6, 1981 was a day to remember. At 11 am Eastern the Bank of Canada raised the prime rate to 21 percent. The country had a million unemployed for the first time since the Dustbowl. Farmers and small business owners had a hunted look. Mortgage and trust companies collapsed, 17 of them, and then the banks.

No one who survived the summer of ’81 ever forgot it. “Scarring,” the economists call it now. At a 2017 hearing of the Commons agriculture committee, members were chattily debating farm debt when an oldtimer, then-MP Bev Shipley (Lambton-Kent, Ont.), spoke up. “I remember the 1980s,” he said. The room froze.

Author Aaron Hughes’ 10 Days That Shaped Modern Canada omits that date to remember. Hughes acknowledges his work is necessarily subjective. Hughes’ favourite dates are neither mine nor yours. That is not the point.

“Not all days are created equal,” writes Hughes. “While the vast majority of days ebb and flow in a repetitive fashion, some become singularly momentous to a nation’s formation and outlook that, although their importance is recognized at the time, the true significance becomes apparent only after the fact.”

Memory is selective and intimate. It rarely travels well. In 1927 Maclean’s magazine asked readers, “Who is the greatest living Canadian?” The top response was Charles Saunders. Find the Maclean’s editor today who could identify Saunders (a plant geneticist) or recall what he did (developed Marquis Wheat that made Canada a global food exporter).

Hughes is a professor of humanities at the University of Rochester. He has not lived in Canada in ten years. “I have had to listen to Americans talk about themselves,” he writes.

“In all of these conversations I frequently find my eyes glazing over while asking myself questions like: What does it mean to be a Canadian?” he writes. “What dates and events have shaped us as a nation?” 10 Days is quirky and compelling. It is excellent book club material. It is a good way to start a fight.

Hughes’ Top Ten list includes bizarre entries. He cites July 21, 1988, “the day the Multiculturalism Act was signed into law” (!) and August 6, 2016, “the day of The Tragically Hip’s last concert” (!!)

He omits the January 1, 1989 enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement that cost 495,000 factory jobs. He makes no mention of the October 26, 1992 Charlottetown Accord referendum, “a defeat for the elites of this country,” said Izzy Asper, then-chair of CanWest Global Broadcasting Corp.

Professor Hughes’ memory, like each of ours, is his own creation. “This vision is largely liberal, progressive, anglophone and centralist,” he writes. “As universal as it may seem however, it is nonetheless important to realize it is by definition also particular.”

“Just as the book was going to press a large truck convoy rolled into Ottawa and blocked some border crossings with the United States protesting Covid-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions,” writes Hughes. “The convoy and its protests ended after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau temporarily invoked the Emergencies Act thereby suspending the rights of citizens to free movement or assembly. Clearly modern Canada is still in the process of being shaped.”

By Holly Doan

10 Days That Shaped Modern Canada by Aaron W. Hughes; University of Alberta Press; 288 pages; ISBN 978-177212-6327; $27.99

CBC Jumped To Revise Story

CBC managers “pushed through the correction” of a news story mildly critical of the federal government, Access To Information records show. CEO Catherine Tait has repeatedly denied any political interference in ensuring “correct” CBC News coverage: “Complaints are treated as confidential.”

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O’Regan Joins Departing MPs

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan yesterday abruptly quit cabinet. O’Regan is the third Liberal MP to confirm he won’t seek re-election in Newfoundland and Labrador where a provincial Liberal government has campaigned against the federal carbon tax: “Nerves are rubbed raw.”

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A Case Of Click, Send, Uh-Oh

A hasty email breached privacy rights of more than 1,000 Canada Student Loan borrowers, says Northwest Territories Privacy Commissioner Andrew Fox. The Commissioner yesterday detailed his investigation into a hurried email that mistakenly disclosed two years’ worth of financial records on borrowers: “A moment’s inattention led to a privacy breach that affected 1,159 people.”

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Business Partner Admits Lie

Employment Minister Randy Boissonnault’s business partner yesterday admitted he lied to reporters about company dealings. Stephen Anderson, an Edmonton importer, was threatened with contempt by the Commons ethics committee: “The jig is up.”

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Senate Chauffeurs Get 11.7%

Senate chauffeurs, mail clerks and maintenance workers have won a three-year wage hike compounded at 11.7 percent. Total spending by the Senate is estimated at $134.9 million this year, according to budget documents: “We have not looked at the impact of potential reductions.”

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More Staffers For Fewer Vets

A decline in the number of veterans in Canada is no reason to cut the Department of Veterans Affairs, says a federal briefing note. The departmental payroll has grown 26 percent since 2015 even as managers overestimated the dwindling number of veterans they serve: “How is that possible?”

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Must Save Atlantic Landmark

The Department of Fisheries yesterday pledged to save Canada’s tallest lighthouse, a 10-storey clifftop landmark at Gaspé, Que. built in 1858. It follows a federal audit that faulted the Government of Canada for allowing heritage structures to crumble into disrepair: “I mean, the government doesn’t look good.”

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Repeats “First Woman” Claim

Chrystia Freeland says she considers herself a regular working mom and “the first woman finance minister in Canada.” She isn’t. Speaking to tax lobbyists in Vancouver, Freeland omitted all reference to the true record holder and mistakenly claimed no other finance minister knew “what it is like to pump your breast milk.”

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No More Media Leaks: Memo

Whistleblower leaks to reporters hurt democracy, says an Access To Information memo from the Department of Immigration. Managers told employees to send any grievance to an anonymous electronic suggestion box but acknowledged media were bound to hear about it anyway: ‘Disclosing privileged information to media erodes the very trust on which government depends.’

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Vets’ Emergency Aid Up 53%

A federal program to provide emergency food and shelter to destitute veterans went 53 percent over budget last year, records show. Most applicants were homeless or suffered addiction or mental health issues, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs: “The shelters are full.”

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