By Paul Wells - Monday, December 17, 2012 - 0 Comments
David Johnston used the word “tradition” at least three times as he introduced the subject of Rideau Hall’s latest portrait this morning. The current Governor General is a voracious reader, an early advocate of the internet, and a stickler for propriety; he will not have been unaware that advance coverage of John Ralston Saul’s portrait unveiling generated not inconsiderable online umbrage over the fact that Saul, while he may have his charms, was never the Governor General of Canada, and why are my tax dollars etc., etc., etc.
Johnston said nothing to address the monetary question, but here’s the answer: portraits of former viceregal consorts that hang at Rideau Hall, such as this one of Gerda Hnatyshyn, are paid for by the subject. As for the who-does-he-think-he-is bit, the incumbent guarantor of the viceregal office’s propriety was quick to remind the little crowd that his predecessor Adrienne Clarkson had worked with Saul in continuation of “a tradition of governors general and their spouses working together for a better country.” He then mentioned the paintings and photos of previous spouses that line the august joint’s corridors. (Gabrielle Léger, who read portions of two Throne Speeches after Jules Léger suffered a stroke in office, stands with him in his official portrait.) “Today’s portrait unveiling is a continuation of this tradition.”
Populist dudgeon thus banished, Johnston moved on to what we may perhaps call the Clarkson-Saul legacy. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 11:01 AM - 6 Comments
On this central question of parliamentary accountability, we today live once again in something like pre-1848 conditions. What Canadian party leader ever cedes power because his or her caucus is changing its mind? Today we accept that any party leader who wins a majority has, not constant accountability, but a four-year free hand, during which any caucus member who doubts or disagrees will be put out of caucus and probably out of politics. We have replaced LaFontaine and Baldwin’s hard-won achievement of leadership accountability with the perverse idea that legislators are once more accountable to leaders, rather than the other way around…
When the country doesn’t take parliamentary accountability seriously, that is, we should not be surprised that our historians do not trouble themselves to write about its origins. Why should we take the events of 1848 seriously when everything about our politics suggests we have actually regressed to a lower standard of parliamentary practice?
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, October 22, 2010 at 11:55 AM - 0 Comments
With a short introduction from yours truly, our excerpt of John Ralston Saul’s new book, Lafontaine & Baldwin, is now available online. The book is a fascinating and perhaps even important read, especially if, like yours truly, you were mostly unaware of the story.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 12:00 PM - 0 Comments
Even John A. Macdonald would admit that these two guys are the ones who started it all
It is on page three that John Ralston Saul’s new book might first shock its readers. There, in the midst of describing a riot that clogged the streets of Montreal on an April afternoon in 1849, Ralston Saul describes Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine as “the first real prime minister of a democratic Canada.” John A. Macdonald does not turn up for another 178 pages.
With all due respect to John A., the story of LaFontaine and his kindred spirit Robert Baldwin—set out in the latest instalment of the Penguin Extraordinary Canadians series edited by Ralston Saul—is about how we got to 1867. It is about how two complicated and burdened men brought Canada to responsible government. “If you got [George-Étienne] Cartier and Macdonald on the phone and said, ‘Okay, how do you explain Canada?,’ they’d say, ‘Oh, it’s really, really easy, LaFontaine and Baldwin.’ Their idea was LaFontaine and Baldwin’s idea,” says Ralston Saul. “It’s a technical, constitutional, boring detail as to how many votes and how you get a majority. Of course, in politics, you have to worry about these things. But that’s not what it was about. It was actually about a different kind of relationship between peoples, between religions, between languages. A different approach toward the public good, non-violence and so on.”
Indeed, in lavish detail, Ralston Saul revives not only Canada and Canadian life at the moment of this new beginning, but these two men as they found their respective ways as individuals and allies. It is a dramatic time, but it is amid the tumult that much of what has come to define Canada—much of how we define ourselves—was established. As Ralston Saul writes, “The ongoing dramas of Canada—positive and negative—were shaped and energized as if in perpetuity by these two men and their great friendship.”
By John Geddes - Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 10:11 AM - 0 Comments
Today’s announcement of the new Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act (when will the revolt against Overly Wordy and Politically Contrived Names for Acts commence?) is bound to be interpreted, naturally enough, as a bid by the government to crack down on human traffickers who prey on the dreams and desperation of people determined to come to Canada whatever it takes.
But I suspect that the prime motivation behind the Conservative government’s rush to draft the bill, after a rusty boatload of Tamil refugees arrived in Vancouver last summer, was not to find practical ways to crack down on the snakeheads. Prime Minister Stephen Harper signaled the real aim more accurately this week when he said, “A failure to act and act strongly will inevitably lead to a massive collapse in public support for our immigration system.”
By Pamela Cuthbert - Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 11:10 AM - 0 Comments
After years of toil in a grove in Provence, the former viceregal couple unveil a very fine oil
Pssst, this just in: Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul are farmers. Yes, famous for their support of small-scale, artisan food producers, the couple have joined their ranks by bringing their own product to market. Sublime Olive Oil, a grassy, cold-pressed, single-estate oil that sparkles in the light, is produced on their property in Provence. And the regal pair has not farmed out the work, as the Prince of Wales Duchy brand of organic foods does, but instead taken a hands-on, slow process over a decade, to rehabilitate two neglected olive groves with the aid of friends, neighbours and family. “We wanted to produce an olive oil that is as natural as possible,” says Saul. “I’m a great believer that food is about agriculture.”
While the former governor general works the groves too, especially at harvest time, Sublime is primarily Saul’s project. The award-winning essayist and long-time environmentalist practises in the field what he preaches at the podium. “We don’t irrigate. I’m totally against it,” he says. They don’t spray, except for minimal use of a copper mixture, traditionally considered organic.
They add only one other thing: certified organic fertilizer. Saul reports that the fertilizer will be replaced this year with horse manure, which is more natural. “And local!” he adds with a laugh.
Mostly, the 325 trees have been brought back into production by pruning. “If you just prune you can deal with disease. It works, and I think the trees are happier,” he says. The olives are picked by hand—and quickly, so as to retain the full flavour of the fruit. The harvest is a communal activity, a ritual where pickers are given one litre of oil in exchange for their labours. “It takes you back to the idea that gathering fruit is a cultural event,” comments Saul. The pressing is done traditionally with a stone press.
By Mitchel Raphael - Monday, October 26, 2009 at 8:27 PM - 0 Comments
The Dominion Institute and The Historica Foundation of Canada merged to create Canada’s largest…
The Dominion Institute and The Historica Foundation of Canada merged to create Canada’s largest history and citizenship organization: The Historica-Dominion Institute. A reception was held in the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse in Toronto. Below is board member Rick Mercer.
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, May 31, 2009 at 3:33 PM - 19 Comments
Adrienne Clarkson is unimpressed.
“I’ve eaten raw food here since 1971. It’s nothing new to me, okay?” Clarkson told The Canadian Press this weekend. Both women were attending an arctic gathering hosted by Clarkson’s husband John Ralston Saul. ”I have a lovely seal skin coat. . . I’ve eaten raw food since 1971 – and there you are.”
By Mitchel Raphael - Tuesday, March 24, 2009 at 2:44 AM - 1 Comment
Rudyard Griffiths, co-founder of the Dominion Institute, held the Toronto launch of his book,…
Rudyard Griffiths, co-founder of the Dominion Institute, held the Toronto launch of his book, Who We Are: A Citizen’s Manifesto at Toronto’s Ultra Supper Club. According to the publisher, the book is “a passionate call for Canadians to take stock and reengage with our country and its values before we falter as a nation.”
Marc Chalifoux, Executive Director of the Dominion Institute.
Joseph Lavoie of Navigator Limited. He’s also a former winner on Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister.
By Paul Wells - Tuesday, November 4, 2008 at 12:14 PM - 26 Comments
“Moreover, when our Hurons go down to the Three Rivers or to Kebek to convey their Beaver skins there, although the whole length of the road is full of rapids and precipices, on which they are frequently wrecked, they nevertheless fear the dangers of water much less than those of fire. For every year the Iroquois now prepare new ambushes for them, and if they take them alive, they wreak on them all the cruelty of their tortures. And this evil is almost without remedy; for, besides the fact that when they are going to trade their furs, they are not equipped for war, the Iroquois now use firearms which they buy from the Flemings, who dwell on their Shores. A single discharge of fifty or sixty arquebuses would be sufficient to cause terror to a thousand Hurons who might be going down in company and make them the prey of a hostile Army lying in wait for them as they pass.”
— Jesuit Relations XXII (1640), 307. Quoted by Harold Innis in The Fur Trade In Canada. Reading this account of the early years of European settlement in Canada makes it harder to dismiss the central thesis of this book. As Innis wrote in 1930, “We have not yet realized that the Indian and his culture were fundamental to the growth of Canadian institutions.”
By selley - Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 2:23 PM - 16 Comments
Must-read: James Travers on small-town Grits.
From the galas to the barricades…
Must-read: James Travers on small-town Grits.
From the galas to the barricades
Establishing the rules of cultural warfare in Quebec and the Rest of Canada.
Stephen Harper’s crime proposals—cracking down on conditional sentencing, increasing sentences for young offenders and publicly naming them, etc.—are nothing but pandering, Randall Denley fumes in the Ottawa Citizen, an appeal to the 40 per cent of blood-and-guts Canadians who might appreciate them and give him a majority, and to hell with the rest of us. “Most criminals are getting either jail time or probation, not a conditional sentence,” he notes. “In 2005/06, only 11,154 people received conditional sentences, Statistics Canada says, while 82,647 got jail time and 108,477 received probation.” Hmm, you don’t say. Sounds like we need to crack down on probation!
If Harper thinks naming and shaming young offenders and enhancing judicial discretion over sentencing will “curb youth crime,” Peter Worthington writes in the Toronto Sun, “he’s probably as out to lunch as Mayor [David] Miller is in expecting a ban on handguns to curb gun violence in Toronto.” The solution, he still maintains, is for politicians and police to be allowed to focus their attentions on the schools, neighbourhoods and ethnic communities in which the violence is most prevalent, so as to identify the true nature of the “disease” behind all the violence. He’s not wrong, but we still maintain this is already happening to a far greater degree than his political correctness hang-up will allow him to admit.
By Kate Fillion - Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM - 0 Comments
John Ralston Saul talks to Kate Fillion about racism, our ‘metis’ culture, and our elites’ inability to understand problems
Q: Your new book, A Fair Country, opens with the startling claim that Canada is a Metis civilization, not a European one. What does that mean?
A: You have to put aside the racial idea of the Metis. I’m referring to our way of imagining ourselves, our way of acting and thinking. We believe the roots for what we do come from Europe and, increasingly, the United States. Actually we’re much less European than the U.S., which is structured completely out of the Enlightenment and European 19th-century ideas. And we are really the product of the first 250 years of our 400 years as a civilization, the product of experiences between newcomers and Aboriginals, when Aboriginals were either the dominant or equal players, depending on where you were in the country. We are a blend of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, but the driving ideas underneath are the Aboriginal ones.
Q: How is not understanding this, or not agreeing with it, problematic?
A: If you persist in believing that your essential influences are A when they’re in fact B, then you’re not able to deal with yourself as a country, as a people. You’re always grasping for explanations that are based on the wrong source, and that makes it very difficult to reach your potential, because you’re slowing yourself up the whole time.
By selley - Monday, September 22, 2008 at 3:20 PM - 14 Comments
Must-reads: …Christie Blatchford on Gerry Ritz; Doug Saunders on the Eurabia hypothesis;
Must-reads: Christie Blatchford on Gerry Ritz; Doug Saunders on the Eurabia hypothesis; David Olive on uniting the left; John Ivison in northern Ontario; Rosie DiManno and Peter Worthington on Afghanistan; Scott Taylor on Canada and the Caucasus; Konrad Yakabuski on Justin Trudeau; L. Ian MacDonald on what Jean Charest’s up to.
On the issues
Behold: all the things we’re not talking about!
The Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington is not impressed by the “tomb of silence” in which the Harperites have sealed all matters military: notably, committing to withdraw from Afghanistan in July 2011 and replacing the outspoken Rick Hillier with Walter Natynczyk, who seems more shy about vocally “standing up for soldiers and reviving our combat character”—both of which, in Worthington’s view, seem to make the Prime Minister “nervous.” The army needs at least “an additional brigade,” he argues, and ideally to double in size, but recent events lead him to fear that “lethargy is again taking over before the military rebuilding job is done.”
“The yearning for peace in Afghanistan hasn’t dwindled,” the Toronto Star‘s Rosie DiManno assures us, but “there is growing disenchantment with NATO, which clearly can’t contend with a resurgent Taliban.” American troops redeployed from Iraq might be able to do the job, she argues, but “the whole point of NATO taking over responsibility of Afghanistan—besides justifying its existence post Cold War—was to put a multinational face, earnest and humanitarian, on the mission.” Due to many factors including the component nations’ inability or unwillingness to commit enough troops to combat duty, DiManno seems more or less ready to call that mission a failure.