Book Review: “I’m Betting On You…”

From 1949 to 1955 cabinet created two Royal Commissions on culture, one on arts and literature, the other on broadcasting. After beating Hitler and mastering hydro dams, the country for the first time was affluent enough to ask what it meant to be Canadian. Ordinary people subscribed to the Book Of The Month Club, and their children read W.O. Mitchell at school. Canadian writers – Morley Callaghan, Mordecai Richler, Farley Mowat, Al Purdy – were genuine celebrities, and dailies like the Winnipeg Free Press ran a weekly Young Authors contest.

The University of Alberta Press documents the era through the warm, nostalgic filter of private letters between one of the country’s most acclaimed novelists and her publisher. It is a sweet book, funny and angry by turn, and a delight to read.

Margaret Laurence was a writer from Neepawa, Man. whose early novels were an unvarnished depiction of life in a small town. Her publisher Jack McClelland was a chain-smoking cultural nationalist who drove himself to an ulcer. Letters follows their intimate correspondence from 1959 to Laurence’s death. It was a time of “cultural awakening”, editors note. “Moments in their letters are reminders of the humanity of these figures.”

As Laurence wrote in a “Dear Jack” letter in 1963, “If it is true (as I once heard Farley Mowat say in a radio talk) that in Canada people buy fewer books per year than in any other country except Siam, then one does not expect miracles.”

Laurence was a giant. Her novels including The Stone Angel and A Jest Of God were genuine bestsellers. One was sold as a screenplay for the 1968 Paul Newman film Rachel, Rachel. The other was famous enough to make it into Coles Notes. “If you haven’t seen it, don’t,” wrote Laurence. “It is vile. Chapter summaries, for God’s sake – no need to read the book! To see a novel mushed down into miniature, in somebody’s crass prose – it nearly made me throw up.”

Canadian publishing, then and now, is a hardscrabble business. Laurence was giddy on receiving a $5,000 grant from the Canada Council in 1966, the modern equivalent of $38,000, just enough to buy an SUV. “Domestic life has been rather distracting lately as our water pipes froze,” she wrote McClelland. Her publisher remarked, “The strain of this idiotic business never seems to ease. In fact, it gets worse.”

Editors Laura K. Davis of Red Deer College and Linda M. Morra of Bishop’s University compiled Letters from archival records deposited by the authors’ estates, including correspondence only recently opened to scholars. The result is a treasure, tender and cynical.

“I am mad as hell about the fact you didn’t receive the Governor-General’s Award for Fiction,” McClelland wrote in 1965; “It’s a goddamn disgrace.”

From Laurence: “Roses are red/violets are blue/Be heartened old buddy/I’m betting on you.” From McClelland: “My dear, we have had our best years. If we don’t have too many more, that may not be all bad.”

Laurence died in 1987 at 61. McClelland died in 2004 at 81. Their correspondence is gold.

By Holly Doan

Margaret Laurence and Jack McClelland, Letters; edited by Laura K. Davis and Linda M. Morra; University of Alberta Press; 680 pages; ISBN 9781-77212-3357; $39.95

PM Pays $100 Ethics Penalty

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been fined $100 for another breach of Parliament’s ethics code, this time involving a gift from the Premier of Prince Edward Island. Neither the breach nor fine were disclosed until Parliament prepared to adjourn for summer recess.

“The Prime Minister has great respect for the work of the Commissioner’s office and will continue to follow his advice and guidance,” said Eleanore Catenaro, press secretary to the Prime Minister. The Commissioner did not comment.

Trudeau was censured for failing to disclose a 2017 gift from P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan, two pairs of leather-covered aviator sunglasses valued at some $700. The glasses were donated by an Island manufacturer, Fellow Earthlings Co. of Guernsey Cove, P.E.I.

Under the Conflict Of Interest Act all public office holders must disclose within 30 days any gifts valued at $200 or more. The Prime Minister paid his fine on June 18, nearly a year after skipping the deadline.

Trudeau was photographed wearing the handout eyewear on a subsequent 2017 visit to Vietnam. Staff blamed a clerical mistake for the breach of the Act.

“This was a gift from the Premier of Prince Edward Island,” said Secretary Catenaro. “As a result of administrative error, the proper forms were not completed and the gift was not declared within 30 days.”

Catenaro declined further comment. Premier MacLauchlan’s office did not elaborate. “The Premier is always pleased to showcase locally-made products,” said Mary Moszynski, spokesperson.

The Act permits modest fines up to $500. Penalties are typically nominal. Finance Minister Bill Morneau in 2017 was fined $200 for failing to disclose all his corporate directorships.

James Fitz-Morris, a former CBC reporter now director of communications for the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Affairs, was fined $200 for failing to sell penny stock in a Peruvian potash company. Dan Brien, communications director for the Minister of Public Safety, was fined $100 for ignoring repeated requests from the Ethics Commissioner to sell investments in a U.S. real estate fund. “I told them, ‘Oh, gosh, I’m sorry,'” Brien said in an earlier interview.

Commissioner Mario Dion in a March 7 letter to the Commons ethics committee sought amendments to the Act that would allow for stiffer penalties. “This would help to build trust with the Canadian public,” wrote Dion.

Trudeau’s sunglasses fine came six months after he was cited for accepting a $215,000 vacation on a private Bahamian island owned by the Aga Khan. The Prime Minister apologized for the holiday with family, staff and friends over Christmas 2016.

The Conflict Of Interest Code For MPs prohibits legislators from accepting gifts that “might reasonably be seen to have given to influence them in the exercise of an official power, duty or function.” The Aga Khan Foundation has received $330 million in federal grants since 1981.

“Neither Mr. Trudeau nor his family should have vacationed on the Aga Khan’s private island,” said the December 20 Trudeau Report by the ethics office; “Mr. Trudeau has a number of official dealings relating to the Aga Khan and his institutions where he was exercising an official power, duty or function.”

By Tom Korski

Stamp Prices To Rise 6%

Canada Post is raising stamp rates 6 percent in a hike originally vetoed by cabinet three years ago. The rate increase would see consumers pay up to $1.05 to mail a domestic letter that cost 54¢ as late as 2010: “It hurts small business more than others.”

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Accommodate Or Pay $20K

Federally-regulated employers are liable for compensation payments of up to $20,000 to individuals who suffer discrimination on the basis of ability. A cabinet bill says offences would include “attitudinal” barriers to the disabled: “The legislation has to have teeth.”

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Seeks $30M Privacy Penalties

Corporations that flagrantly breach federal privacy law would be subject to maximum $30 million fines under a Commons bill. It follows complaints by the House privacy committee that scofflaws face few sanctions in Canada: “What we need is a regulator.”

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MP Protests Corp. Crime Bill

A Conservative MP yesterday protested quick passage of a cabinet bill waiving jail time for white-collar criminals. The provision inserted in a 560-page omnibus budget bill passed into law without debate or committee scrutiny: “How does that make Canadians safer?”

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More Carbon Tax Exemptions

Cabinet has quietly approved another carbon tax exemption, this one for commercial aviation in the Territories. A Conservative senator who won the concession predicted more appeals for tax waivers as the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act takes effect: ‘The precedent has been set.’

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1 In 5 Do Not Trust Gov’t

One in five Canadians do not trust federal departments with their personal information, says in-house research by the Treasury Board. The findings echoed a 2017 study that found a significant minority is wary of surrendering bank account numbers to the government for direct deposit of tax refunds and benefits: “Is it safe?”

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Senate Wary Of Budget Chief

Senators yesterday expressed wariness over the appointment of a Canada Revenue Agency manager as the next Parliamentary Budget Officer. The Agency spent five years stonewalling requests for information from the last Officer, senators said: “That is a question I’ve asked myself a lot.”

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Hope Wheat Ban Is Short

An Asian ban on Canadian wheat exports should end by August, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency yesterday told the Commons agriculture committee. Japan and South Korea suspended shipments after an unlicensed strain of genetically-modified wheat was found in southern Alberta: “This is new for us.”

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Cannabis Bill Is Law 55-29

The Senate last night by a vote of 52 to 29 passed into law a bill to make Canada only the second country after Uruguay to legalize recreational marijuana. Opponents predicted quick court challenges: “We certainly don’t want to bring confusion to this at all.”

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Failure A Stain On Gov’t

Auditor General Michael Ferguson yesterday described the $1 billion Phoenix Pay System failure as a stain on the federal government. The bungled program illustrates a mania for civil service box-checking instead of problem-solving, Ferguson told the Commons public accounts committee: “What were the root causes?”

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85% Of Drugs Fail Check

A Health Canada spot check of cross-border pharmaceutical shipments identified 25 percent were fake, and another 60 percent were unfit for sale. The findings were based on thousands of shipments intercepted by the Canada Border Services Agency in a single week-long period last September: “This is alarming.”

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Will Repeal Blasphemy Law

A 19th century law against blasphemous libel is outdated and should be repealed, scholars have told the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee. The Criminal Code provision was last used to prosecute a film distributor over the 1979 Monty Python production Life Of Brian: “This offence is obsolete.”

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