Happy Birthday Canada!

Well.  Between my little rant last night, the fact that I got to do my civic duty as a voter not once but TWICE this month (in addition to our provincial election earlier this month my riding had a federal by-election yesterday), the evidence that journalism might just have a redemptive future in the form of one of my former students who is now an intern with a major news organization and who is producing wonderful articles (as evidenced here: http://globalnews.ca/news/1425365/climbing-parliament-hill-on-wheels/), the fact that I’m not affected (directly, anyway) by the insanity of SCOTUS’ latest decision (seriously, SCOTUS?  WTF?), the end of a wonderful World Pride- lovingly hosted by my hometown, and the fact that THREE of my very favourite Canucks were awarded the Order of Canada, I’m back to being the shiny-happy Maple Leaf Forever cole of yore.

Chris Hadfield- our astronaut extraordinaire- was one of recipients.  While he was up there on the International Space Station, along with recording an awesome version of Space Oddity, he did an incredible job of educating our young folk about the importance of, well, education.  Since his return he continues to lead by example- talking about the beauty of this planet we call home and the need to majorly up our concern about its future.

Still brings a tear of pride to my eye.

Rick Mercer has long been my fave homegrown comedic relief to the ins and outs of the political realm.  His rants are things of glory and insight spoken with an honesty that is becoming all too rare.

He’s off for the summer, but his remarks about the ‘mayor’ are points well taken.  The problem isn’t all with the train wreck that is the person, it’s the fact that the politics still resonate with too many people.  Who don’t know better.  And don’t want to know better.  Wait.  That’s taking me back toward my rant of yesterday.  And today I’m shiny-happy cole.

Guy Gavriel Kay… Jebus.  What can I say about that guy?  I have a post that has been languishing in my drafts folder for almost a year now.  I just haven’t been able to bring myself to hit ‘publish’ as of yet.  Any words of mine seem to pale brutally in comparison to his mastery of character and history and plot.  Suffice it to say- for now, at least- that he is my favourite Canadian author.  Someday I will stop with the hyper-self-editing and offer up my fulsome praise of the novels that have impacted me so greatly.

A friend and I have this thing we do when a correspondence requires a complete response and we don’t have the time- or insight- to provide one immediately.  We send a ‘placeholder’ text or email which marks our intention to get back to the discussion asap.

Let’s call this a placeholder about Guy.


My Canadianess is a complicated thing.  I love our people, our diversity, our landscapes and lakefronts.  Our history of making important- if sometimes understated- marks on the world stage is something in which I take great and ever-growing pride.

But it’s summertime.  And in summer my thoughts turn, as they often do, to music.  OUR music- one of our enduring contributions to the record of humanity north of the 49th parallel.

So… the Shuffle Daemon has the wheel today.

When I first got up this morning- to cloudy skies and heavy rain (which have since cleared up), my pal Booksy had beat me to the punch with her literary/musical Canada Day tribute.  It’s awesome.  Go have a look: http://lostandfoundbooks.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/mixed-tape-canada-day-music-for-book-lovers/.  I second every single one of her choices (especially the Rheostatics, her Hip choice and, of course, Gordie Lightfoot) and won’t duplicate her selections in my list here.’

But… since we were just talking about the Hip…

‘Courage’ was my original choice- it is, as Booksy noted, based on Hugh MacLennan’s Governor General’s Award Winning The Watch That Ends the Night– and therefore Canadian times two.  But ‘Bobcaygeon’, like much of the Hip’s music, is infused with that same sense of completeness in its Canadianism.

Named for a small town in the Kawartha Lakes district of Ontario (and not far from where I spent my first cottage weekend of the season a couple of weeks ago), the song references the 1933 Christie Pits riot in Toronto (that I spoke about briefly in the post about my Grandad) started by a bunch of xenophobic anti-semites during the Great Depression.  The song evokes both the complicated history of our multicultural heritage and the wonder to be found as the ‘constellations reveal themselves’ in the sky over cottage country.  Love.

Arguably the best thing to come out of Hamilton (I’m from Toronto, I’m supposed to dis Hamilton).  I bought Teenage Head’s ‘Tornado’ on 45 at the ‘5 and Dime’ in Wiarton, Ontario (while on our annual family vacation to a Lodge on Lake Huron) more years ago than I care to acknowledge.  They were Canadian punk heroes and I love them.  Okay, so they caused a riot at my Horseshoe Tavern in 1978, and then again at Ontario Place in 1980, but for this I forgive them.  I was waaaaaay to young to have been there, anyway.

Wow, just realized I’ve been referencing a whole lot of riots in this post.  We’re not a riotous people, really we aren’t.

Back to the Daemon…

I’ve been thinking about this band a lot lately- started a post all about them, actually.  But, once again, haven’t had the time to devote to doing them justice.  There seems to be a renewal of chatter about them out there lately- that 80’s resurgence thing, I guess- and I’m following Ivan on the Facebook and the Twitter.

Back in the early 80’s they screamed Canada to me.  Not only were they offering up solid synth-based danceable and fun tunes, they incorporated both official languages in the songs on their Rhythm of Youth album.  I think I wore out the tape, playing it on my Walkman so often.  This will be another of those placeholders– the band was certainly part of my youthful exuberance.

One placeholder leads to another… The Band.  On the Wikipedia they are described as ‘American-Canadian’, but Robbie is ours.  They deserve their own post, and they’ll get it, eventually.

For now…

Okay, so it’s a song about American history, but it is so well-crafted and -researched that it deserves its place as one of the great Canadian tunes.  And Levon was pretty awesome, too.  Even if he wasn’t Canadian.

Broken Social Scene is the exemplar when it comes to the wonder that is our music industry up here in the North.  With its ever-changing line-up of contributors, the band is all about contribution and collaboration.  They reject the moniker ‘super-group’, but they’re pretty damn super, if you ask me.  Their impact on Canadian music- indie and otherwise- has been profound.

Strangely, I like Feist when she is with the band.  On her own, not so much.  Togetherness is better.

Speaking of indie bands- and liking the chick vocalists better with a band than on their own (same thing holds true with Neko, IMO)…

And, since I can’t stay away from these guys (and because I saw them a couple of weeks ago- touring with original member Pete Cash for the first time in years), a little number from my hometown guys to send me off out into the Canada Day/evening and its festivities.

Ah, so young.  Although Andy is surprisingly unchanged.  And his dancing has altered not at all.

Let me just say again, in case you might have missed it before.  I love my home and native land.  Our patriotism tends to be somewhat more self-effacing than that of some of our neighbours, but I am proud and privileged to call myself Canadian.  Our national birthday provides the perfect annual opportunity to sing that from the rooftop patios, balconies, lakeside beaches or city streets.

Happy Birthday Canada.  May you have many more.

Ain’t Gonna Play

This past weekend started off with tonnes o’ summer fun and ended with some heavy reflection.  There was a whole lot going on in the City and on the world stage that took me down some well-travelled paths of both hope and despair.

The 2013 Pride celebrations wrapped up successfully, with all indicators pointing to a good time having been had by all- including the Premier of the Province of Ontario, who participated in most of the events (‘our’ mayor having absented himself once again)- and the excitement is already building for next year’s World Pride Celebration.  A great finish to a week that saw some pretty cool stuff happening- basic human rights-wise– in the US.

Canada Day Spectaculars were held across the country- including in Calgary- where their mayor (a man definitely worth the title) asked his residents to take a day off from the flood clean up and enjoy themselves after all their trials and hard work over the past couple of weeks.  Amazing to see the way that neighbours are helping each other out and moving forward in the face some pretty hefty devastation.

Cmdr. Chris Hadfield sang on Parliament Hill- solidifying his presence as a science celebrity and positive influence for curiosity, education and the arts (not so separate from the sciences it turns out) and bringing smiles to the faces of everyone watching- whether on the Hill or from home (and Metric rocked hard.  As usual).


Egypt is in the middle of crisis (Canada closed its embassy there today), the situation in Syria hasn’t stabilized any, the RCMP stopped a terror plot to blow up the British Columbia legislature…

From genuinely thinking that hey, this world is a pretty great place, back to feeling overwhelmed by power- and hatred-driven craziness.   There was that anomie again, and I was feeling as if attempting to affect change is very much a ‘one step forward, two steps back kind of undertaking.’  Not an ideal way to start the work week.

Add to that the fact that Nelson Mandela has been on my mind- and in the collective thoughts of most of us- I started thinking back to that peculiar period back in the 80’s, when apartheid was still an institutional evil and shameful blemish on the face of the world.

Cruising the YouTube I found this:

(Is that Bono or a leprechaun at 4:28?  And who dances like Peter Wolf?  Ah, memories).

Way back in 1985 I was pretty much oblivious to larger world affairs, including the mounting opposition to the racial segregation that was the institutionalized reality for generations in South Africa.  I was deeply into my books and the music that provided an interesting soundtrack to that period of my life.

I knew that some countries- and the UN- were imposing economic sanctions against the government and growing louder in the condemnation of the system of state-sanctioned racism.

I proudly learned a little piece of Canadian history that noted that Prime Minister Diefenbaker, in 1961, was responsible for breaking the deadlock of Commonwealth leaders regarding whether or not South Africa would remain part of the Commonwealth.  His suggestion that the application not be denied outright, but that racial equality as an important principle of the Commonwealth be emphasized, resulted in South Africa withdrawing its application- a key Canadian contribution to international politics on an important human rights issue.

One would think that the opinions of the West had grown even more opposed to the system of apartheid– the Afrikaans term for ‘a state of being apart’ (there it is again- that irrational fear of the ‘other’)- as the decades of oppression stretched on and the situation grew increasingly violent.  Peaceful protest- by students and labour unions- ended with gunfire and death at the hands of the military powers of the government.

Many strong voices against the government were killed or imprisoned in attempts to silence the opposition and maintain the status quo- even amid increasing international pressures.

The Roman Catholic Church- and its leader Pope John Paul II- stood in solidarity with the chorus against apartheid.  Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu supported the economic boycott of his homeland- despite the hardships it would cause the poorest of the poor.  On the other side, the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa remained committed to the system of apartheid- impeding political reform from within the country.

International sports associations like FIFA banned South Africa from participation in sporting events.  Academic and cultural institutions were encouraged to terminate links with the country as long as racial discrimination continued.

in 1985, (Little) Stevie Van Zandt became involved with the anti-apartheid movement, initially upon hearing that the system was influenced by the American model of Indian reservations.  Since the issues of North America’s First Peoples was a primary focus of Stevie’s interest, the parallels between them and black South Africans struck a particular chord.  While traveling to research his next album, he became particularly upset by the ‘resort’ area, Sun City, a gambling mecca in a bantustan (Bophuthatswana)- a created ‘homeland’- in an impoverished rural area.

He gathered ‘rockers and rappers’ who joined together to speak against the injustice of apartheid and the American government’s official position on South Africa.

As Joey (miss that guy) notes at 2:22- “Constructive engagement (was) Ronald Reagan’s plan.”  Unlike the UN and most of the rest of the Western World, the US government promoted this mandate as an alternative to economic sanctions against South Africa.  (Although Maggie Thatcher echoed the policy during her tenure as British PM).

This political stance meant that only about half of US radio stations played “Sun City”.  But in countries without such resistance to positive and necessary change, the song became a major success- raising awareness and seeking freedom for the entire population of South Africa.

As that awareness continued to grow, the Reagan administration maintained its stance against the ANC and resistance t0 the imposition of trade embargoes and economic sanctions.  But the voices against what Bishop Tutu called “an abomination, an unmitigated disaster” (in a 1984 speech on Capitol Hill) began to increase, even in the conservative US of the 1980’s.

The Republican party turned against its President on this issue, and Congress overrode Reagan’s veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, ending constructive engagement and instituting the imposition of economic sanctions that caused South Africa’s economy to drop to among the lowest in the world.

Between 1990 and 1996 apartheid was systematically abolished.  In April 1994 20,000,000 South Africans cast their votes in the first free elections, and in May of that year Nelson Mandela was sworn in as South Africa’s President.

At times when we seem to be increasingly divided by our differences, it is extremely valuable to remember that we have worked together to affect positive change and to realize the revocation of significant ideological evils- changes that work for our common good and prosperity.

Regardless of particular story variations or political maneuvering for the sake of greed we CAN work together toward what we know is right.  Even when it seems as though our political leaders are all about economic bottom lines and support of the status quo as a means of maintaining power.

Songs like “Sun City” tap into the popular culture to raise awareness and inform those uninterested in bored jaded by the political posturing that detracts from the real issues of rights and freedoms, as the pundits and talking heads spout policies based in ideologies (and stories) that should be left to history.

Once that awareness grows we can collectively tell our elected leaders just exactly where we ain’t gonna play.  History shows us that if enough of us shout it out they do have to listen.

I realized this morning that I didn’t define my terms very well.  Bad Historian.  ‘Constructive engagement’ sounds nice on the face of it- after all, ‘constructive criticism’ is meant to improve the thing being criticised, right?   And being ‘engaged’- in all senses of the word- is also something positive. 

Reagan advocated using incentives rather than sanctions to encourage South Africa to move away from its institutionalized policy of human rights violations.  The reason?  Political expediency.  In the Cold War of the 1980’s, the Reagan Administration feared the growth of communism in Africa, and viewed the white minority government of South Africa as an ally in its prevention. Ignoring a nation’s human rights record in order to further a particular agenda?  Doesn’t sound at all like the Harper government’s relationship with China and their increasing involvement in oil and gas development and their investment in the oilsands at all.

The parallels can be extended to include the West’s intervention- or lack thereof (depending on self-interest) in the various actions taking place in the Middle East, and right here at home to our Idle No More movement.

As Little Stevie wrote, in 1985, “This quiet diplomacy ain’t nothing but a joke.”  It’s time to get back on the right side of history and follow our own example.  Working together we can begin to solve our collective problems so we can stop being “always on the wrong side.”