We’re off to the bear-flag republic to study the natives, after 3 months of puzzling and mercurial new president

Posted: April 20th, 2017 | No Comments »

On Throckmorton Avenue in Mill Valley, CA, where not many residents like Donald Trump.

This coming Saturday morning the entire staff here (except for Dominic Berry, who has a big date with his current squeeze at a local sporting event) will be boarding an airplane at YYZ, bound for our regular seminar with technical support staff currently residing in the land of the Golden State Warriors.

(They are now, for the somewhat longer term they say, headquartered in Mill Valley — “about 14 miles [23 km] north of San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge” — with additional offices in Jerry Brown’s beautiful downtown Oakland.)

We’ll be back in our old streetcar-suburb editorial offices here in Toronto, north of the Great Lakes, at some point during the first week of May. And someone among us will report on our latest California adventures then.

Meanwhile, we leave parting thoughts for the time being on four (and a half) subjects, that may or may not be somewhat related :

(1) FRENCH ELECTION APRIL 23, MAY 7. The first round of the presidential election in France will take place this coming Sunday, April 23, just as we are settling into Mill Valley.

French actress Isabelle Huppert accepts award for best actress in a motion picture drama for her role in the movie Elle at the Golden Globes in Beverly Hills, CA, on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017. (Paul Drinkwater/NBC via AP.)

If the helpful Wikipedia site “Opinion polling for the French presidential election, 2017” is any guide (and of course it may not be!), the extreme right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen might actually finish first among the 11 official first-round candidates.

But don’t get too worried just yet. The centre-left candidate Emmanuel Macron (vaguely Justin Trudeauesque in Canadian eyes) is at least likely to finish second (and may even be first). And he will go on to defeat Le Pen handily in the second round of voting between the top two first-round candidates on May 7. (While many may still wonder : what exact array of forces in the Assemblée nationale will Macron’s new movement try to govern with after he wins?)

Even the polling that may well be wrong, or at least misleading, also allows for some possibility that the scandal-plagued centre-right candidate François Fillon may finally do better than Macron (or Le Pen?).  And even the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon — “who can make fools of his rivals in debate” — has been polling strongly. (In one survey from April 13–15 he actually beats Le Pen for second place on April 23, only two points behind Macron in first!) Marine Le Pen herself claims she will defy the polling altogether and finally win everything!

Dominic Berry just wishes this was him! In fact it’s Hollywood actor Dominic Sherwood with friends Katherine McNamara and Emeraude Toubia, waiting for the April 23 first round of the French election.

The eloquent Jeremy Harding had an engrossing April 10 piece on the London Review of Books Blog called ‘The Outsiders‘.  It drew attention to certain similarities between Le Pen on the far right and Mélenchon on the far left. They share “the ideological confusion that Europe is experiencing, with the new hard right and an older left refraining from objections to the Trump ascendancy, and to Brexit, on the grounds that the real enemy is liberal market ideology and the European behemoth that drives it.”

Whatever else, “It’s going to be a very interesting election” — as the puzzling and mercurial President Trump himself has prophesied, in an interview with the UK Financial Times.

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Blue Jays 2017 : last year was close but once again denied .. how much longer will the window stay open?

Posted: April 10th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Baseball is back in the great white north, signaling spring revival, while also commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Blue Jays’ inaugural game (April 7, 1977) at snowy Exhibition Stadium on the north shore of Lake Ontario.

While it was an entertaining 2016 down at the ballpark known previously as the Skydome, last year once again ended in disappointment, this time dealt from a team based on the south shore of Lake Erie.

An omen of things to come — Aug 20, 2016, Cleveland, OH : Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Darwin Barney is tagged out at home by Cleveland Indians catcher Chris Gimenez in the sixth inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports.

The Blue Jays, who had finished with an 89-73 mark during the regular season, beat the Orioles in the wildcard game and Rangers in the division playoffs, but were stymied by the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS.  Once again they were denied their first trip back to the World Series since they last won in 1993.

This has also not been an especially pleasant offseason for long standing fans. In a perfect world, the Toronto Blue Jays would still be showcasing Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, Major League Baseball’s most prolific power hitting duo for the past seven years.  But during an offseason where the Jays absorbed more than their fair share of curveballs, Encarnacion flew the coop to the Cleveland Indians, as a free agent in a rather sloppy divorce from his old team. And Bautista was left to flounder in the unwanted baggage section before being “reclaimed” by the team in late January.

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Mar-a-Lago dreamin’ : is the Trump administration finding its feet at last?

Posted: April 8th, 2017 | No Comments »

Donald Trump and Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, April 2017.

APRIL 8, 2017. GANATSEKWYAGON, ONTARIO, CANADA. Is it true that : “Missile attack on Syria a ‘win-win’ for Trump … Strike will allow US president to deflect attention from domestic crises and regain moral high ground”?

And does the departure of Steve Banon from the US National Security Council similarly mean that adults are taking over the White House at last?

Does “Nunes steps down from Russia probe, cites ‘entirely false’ ethics accusations” just underline the point?

And finally what is Xi Jinping, president of what still calls itself the People’s Republic of China, taking away from his “about 24 hours together” with the president of the USA “at Mr. Trump’s beachside Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida”?

I of course do not know the answers to any of these questions. Beyond just pretending to be wise and saying “time will tell.”

Post Cereals’ heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and her daughter, the future actress Dina Merrill, in 1929 portrait by Giulio de Blaas.

What this latest Washington, DC action has done is wake me up to smell the coffee of the new “Southern White House” (aka “Winter White House”) at Mar-a-Lago  — Marjorie Merriweather Post’s 1920s fantasy in Palm Beach Florida, that Donald Trump turned into a money-making “members-only club with guest rooms, a spa, and other hotel-style amenities” back in the 1990s.

From the start my managing editor has been enthusiastic about “something short” on the Mar-a-Lago story. But when I first looked into the issue I told her : “Forget it — there’s already an excellent Wikipedia article on the subject. The best I can do is tell the world to read it.”

Saying she had more faith in me than that, the managing editor has urged me to carry on anyway — though again “briefly” of course (well … no more than 800 words, say : and not too much longer than that at any rate, even in the very end).

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In Quebec “drinking sometimes is not an option” : Is there any good in Andrew Potter’s snowstorm malaise?

Posted: March 28th, 2017 | No Comments »

[UPDATED APRIL 3 — DORIS DAY’S BIRTHDAY]. Someone has sent this issue to me for comment. I’m not quite sure why. I have never lived in Quebec myself. (I am, for better or worse, a born and raised Torontonian.)

I do have a son who spent four years at McGill University in Montreal. And my late and increasingly lamented mother-in-law was born and raised in (as best I can figure) Lévis and then Drummondville, in la belle province. She came to Ontario in her early 20s speaking almost no English. (And the big difference she noticed right away was that in Ontario politics was not as crucial as it was — and no doubt still is — in Quebec.)

My early years were also marked by two legendary trips to Quebec (in my own mind at any rate, of course). The first took place in the early 1960s when I was still in my (later) teens. One summer I hitch-hiked through Quebec with two friends, on the way to camping out by Percé Rock “in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence on the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula.” I still remember giant letters “FLQ” (for Front de libération du Québec), painted on the majestic rock walls that mark some stretches of the St. Lawrence River. And I could go on almost forever about this trip.

St. Joseph’s Oratory, Montreal.

My second legendary trip was in the early 1970s, in my later 20s. It involved a larger group of men and women traveling via automobiles in winter. We stopped at someone’s remarkable aunt’s house in NDG (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce) in Montreal, and later visited Brother André’s remarkable St. Joseph’s Oratory. Then we had breakfast in Trois-Rivières, and finally landed in Quebec City for Carnaval de Québec. We stayed one night in rented rooms in a house in the suburbs, and then one night in an 18th century building downtown. In between we staggered around in the snow with hollow plastic canes full of alcoholic beverages, and met interesting people in the dark.

Carnaval de Québec comprend des défilés de nuit — ce qui peut sembler particulièrement bizarre si vous avez bu (ou vous êtes ivre!).

Again I could go on. I grew up at a time when Quebec in Question was much in the Canadian political air — even outside Quebec (and perhaps especially in Southern Ontario). But already I have too much background here.

The issue I am supposed to be commenting on is succinctly sketched in Benjamin Shingler’s CBC News website piece, “Andrew Potter resigns McGill post after Maclean’s essay on Quebec … calling Quebec ‘pathologically alienated’ and ‘low-trust’ provoked political fury.”

UPDATE APRIL 3, 2017 : Today is apparently Doris Day’s 95th birthday. (Congrats Doris, whose singing was much admired by the late great Canadian-born jazz critic Gene Lees.) Intriguingly she may also have (well, theoretically at any rate) some special connections with la belle province in Canada. Some two years ago La Presse in Montreal reported : “Les rumeurs veulent que l’actrice américaine Doris Day soit venue au Québec plusieurs fois à la recherche de sa petite-fille. Nous l’avons trouvée: Brigitte Boisjoli … La chanteuse québécoise a autant de pétulance que sa mamie virtuelle. Que sera sera!

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Canada has its own populisms .. and rebellions — in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan!

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Preston Manning with BC premier Christy Clark : who would you rather meet in a dark alley?

Last week the irrepressible Preston Manning had an article in the Globe and Mail on how “Canada’s elites could use a crash course in populism.”

He cited  Tom Flanagan’s Waiting for the Wave and W. L. Morton’s The Progressive Party in Canada as useful reading for any elites actually wanting to take the course he recommends.

Not surprisingly, he did not cite such related volumes as S.M. Lipset’s Agrarian Socialism : The Cooperative Commonwealth Federation in Saskatchewan (1950, 1971) or C.B. Macpherson’s Democracy in Alberta : Social Credit and the Party System (1953, 1962, 2013).

(Mr. Manning is a right-wing rather than a left-wing populist — and both the Lipset and Macpherson books are broadly left-wing.)

Preston Manning’s populist father, on tour in Western Canada, summer 1951.

There are nonetheless two passages in Preston Manning’s piece that strike me as probably worth repeating. The first is : “it is probably safe to say that Canada’s political and media establishment have never really understood populism in this country and are therefore ill-equipped to understand or respond to its current manifestations.”

(Well … One finer point I have trouble with here is that, to me, Canada — happily enough — has a number of political and media establishments : one of which may actually include Preston Manning, and another of which speaks French, etc, etc. Mr. Manning occupies more solid ground when he focuses on … “Ottawa” say.)

My second worth-repeating passage in “Canada’s elites could use a crash course in populism” is just the article’s concluding paragraph (which does finally land on more solid ground) :

Canada has had its own past experience with populism — some of it bad, much of it good, but all of it instructive. Given the uprising of populist sentiment in our times, today’s politicos and pundits would be wise to revisit and learn from that extensive and instructive experience. Failure to do so, especially at the national level, could mean that Ottawa will be the next capital city to be the last to know what is going on.”

I would (I should make clear, in the interests of science) never vote for or otherwise politically endorse Preston Manning. But I do think there is wisdom in these two quoted passages from his recent Globe and Mail article.

Early CCF ad. Tommy Douglas’s CCF government in Saskatchewan, first elected in 1944, pioneered public health care in Canada — supported federally with the Medical Care Act of 1966.

At the same time, to me there is still something crucial that is missing in Mr. Manning’s crash course as well. And, to seriously instruct today’s politicos and pundits who haunt the bars and restaurants of the Sparks Street Mall, the Byward Market, Elgin Street, and on and on it should be included.

When Preston Manning talks about populism in the adjacent United States, for instance, he alludes to two figures from the 19th century — Andrew Jackson and William Jennings Bryan. But in his Canadian examples he sticks to the 20th century, which he knows directly himself.

Canadian populism in the 20th century, however, has its own 19th century ancestors. And all our 21st century  political and media establishments could probably profit from pondering them somewhat more deeply than usual, during the 150th anniversary year of the 1867 confederation.

Painting of the Assembly of the Six Counties by Charles Alexander Smith. The Assembly of the Six Counties / Assemblée des six-comtés was a gathering of “Patriotes” held in Saint-Charles, Lower Canada on October 23 and October 24, 1837, despite a June 15 Proclamation of the government forbidding public assemblies. It was the most famous of various public assemblies that became a prelude to the Lower Canada Rebellion of 1837–38.

To make a potentially quite long story very short, I’m just talking about the Lower Canada Rebellion of 1837–1838, the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, the First Riel or Red River Rebellion of 1869–1870, and the Second Riel or Northwest Rebellion of 1885.

Many further things could be said about the 19th century rebellions in Canada — which at least strike me as crucial precursors of all 20th century (and beyond) Canadian populisms.  But that might just confuse things unnecessarily for the moment.

In any case, click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below for four further quick notes, on : (1) The Rebellion Tradition in Canada Matters (too) ; (2) Louis Riel and Justin Trudeau ; (3) 18th century ancestor — “The Conspiracy of Pontiac” ; and (4) Another late 20th century descendant : the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Constitution Act, 1982.

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A footnote on what Citizen X thought Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said about Russia on TV

Posted: March 13th, 2017 | No Comments »

Many thanks to high financier and jazz guitarist Leyland Gordon for this photo of late-season shinny, in what most people nowadays would call downtown Toronto, March 2017. Though born and raised in Alberta Chrystia Freeland now represents the downtown Toronto riding of University–Rosedale in the Canadian House of Commons.

“Such usually thoughtful writers as Paula Simons of the Edmonton Journal, Colby Cosh of the National Post and Paul Wells of the Toronto Star” are apparently on her side.

So our Canadian Foreign Minister does not need help from the likes of me, in responding to the arguments skillfully advanced by David Climenhaga in “CHRYSTIA FREELAND SHOULD NOT BE PUNISHED FOR HER GRANDFATHER’S SINS, BUT FOR MISLEADING CANADIANS ABOUT THEM.”

We each have our own perceptions of these things, however, and I feel compelled to quickly jot down mine — in the endless struggle for individual freedom of thought across the global village.

The crux of Mr. Climenhaga’s case against the Hon. Ms. Freeland (“and her staff”) is in his third-last paragraph : “it is the fact she and her staff tried to pass off her grandfather’s history, which we now know to be true, as Russian disinformation that should concern us all, regardless of our views about Russia’s policies …”

Chrystia Freeland has coffee with Ukrainian journalist and politician Yegor Sobolev in 2014. A Canadian of Ukrainian descent, she does support an independent Ukraine. Just as most Canadians support an independent Canada, right next door to the United States! Another reason she is not admired by the Putin government in Russia.

I just want to record that I saw Chrystia Freeland on TV, discussing the habits of the present Russian government in such matters. And I took it as a confirmation of what Russian officials were saying about her maternal grandfather (that during the Second World War he was “chief editor of a pro-Nazi publication in occupied Poland, territory that was later part of Ukraine”) — of which she was all too aware.

Ms Freeland did make critical remarks about this Russian use of her family history. But from what she said on TV, it did not seem to me that she was accusing the Russians of lying about her grandfather. (If the smear was just plain wrong she would have denied it altogether.)

As I understood her, our hard-working foreign minister (who has also done a good job guiding Stephen Harper’s long-simmering Canada-EU free trade agreement through what may actually be its almost final phases) was criticizing the Russians for dragging up ad hominem arguments about an opponent’s ancestors — in their efforts to denigrate our kind of democratic government.

Swimwear-clad snowboarders party on the shores of Russia’s Lake Baikal in southern Siberia, in winter. PHOTO: BATO BUDAEV/I'M SIBERIAN.

(See, eg, this  Ottawa Citizen report : “‘American officials have publicly said, and even Angela Merkel has publicly said, that there were efforts on the Russian side to destabilize Western democracies, and I think it shouldn’t come as a surprise if these same efforts were used against Canada,’ Freeland told reporters after they raised questions about … her grandfather.”)

To me this kind of Russian government behaviour really is something that “should concern us all, regardless of our views about Russia’s policies.”

What does Chrystia Freeland’s maternal grandfather have to do with any foreign policy issue between Canada and Russia today — or with the capacity of his granddaughter to effectively advance 21st century Canadian interests in dealings with Russia?

(Especially when it is also apparently true, as one comment writer on David Climenhaga ‘s excellent ALBERTAPOLITICS.CA website has reported, that Ms. Freeland’s “mother once ran for the Bolsheviks, er, I mean the NDP, in Edmonton-Strathcona”????)

An automobile and a model at the First Motors of Russia retro cars exhibition dedicated to the 110th anniversary of His Imperial Majesty Nicholas II’s Personal Garage, March 2017. “Nicholas II had the largest car fleet among the European monarchs.”

And what kind of political debate is it that so quickly stoops to such dark and irrelevant depths, and tries to make you responsible or accountable for your grandparents’ political thoughts?

Not one I want anything to do with. I’m with the very knowledgeable art-historian-tour-guide from a recent visit to St. Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland (also Vladimir Putin’s home town).

Asked if President Putin was popular in Russia because he was a strong leader, she just said “Yes.” Asked if she supported him herself, she just said “No” and smiled.

As if to say there is still happily some individual freedom of political thought even in Russia today. (Which also appears increasingly addicted to European, North American, and Japanese automobiles.)

But that’s no thanks to President Putin. And Mr. Putin’s government’s main substantive objection to our current Canadian Foreign Minister does seem to be that she stands up for the values of what Canada’s Constitution Act, 1982 calls the “free and democratic society.”

On Lady Evelyn River, Temagami, Ontario. Photo by Greg Stott, World Wildlife Federation–Canada.

(Just as she stands up for an independent Canada, right next door to the United States!)

Those at least strike me as very good reasons for we the people of Canada to continue supporting Chrystia Freeland in her hard work — regardless of what her maternal grandfather may or may not have done, in another time and place.

Meanwhile, for some lively related discussion, see “#auspol live Greg Barns speaks with Randall White on the state of Canadian Politics & Justin Trudeau” — on “PolitiScope,” Denise Shrivell’s innovative and impressive new political website from down under in the Land of Oz.

(Which is also striking contemporary blows for individual freedom of thought and realistic in-depth democratic public policy debate, among various English-speaking peoples in the diverse and multicultural global village today.)

Are Liberals really “defying Trudeau” .. esp looking back to John A. Macdonald etc, etc, etc, 1873–1896?

Posted: March 10th, 2017 | No Comments »

PM Justin Trudeau with some backbenchers in background, Canadian House of Commons, January 25, 2016. (Chris Wattie/Reuters).

[UPDATED MARCH 11]. Perhaps with half their minds on reported divisions among US Republicans over the new “Trumpcare” health bill in Washington, DC, our Canadian mainstream media have lately been giving we folks back home such headlines as :

* “Liberals defy Trudeau, approve genetic testing bill he calls unconstitutional” (CTV NEWS) ;

* “Liberal backbenchers defy cabinet wishes and vote to enact genetic discrimination law … Insurance industry opposed to bill making it illegal to demand the results of genetic tests” (CBC NEWS) ;

* “Liberal backbenchers vote against Trudeau, pass law banning genetic discrimination” (VANCOUVER SUN) ;

* “DISCRIMINATION GÉNÉTIQUE … Les députés libéraux servent une rebuffade à Trudeau” (LE DEVOIR).

Just a few further points : to start with, it was a so-called “free vote” in the Canadian House of Commons. MPs were not expected to vote as party whips instructed. So none of the Liberals who voted against the Trudeau cabinet’s declared position on the issue were breaking any rules.

Liberal MP Rob Oliphant shepherded the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act, also known as Bill S-201, through Canadian House of Commons. (SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS).

Second, as reported by the Canadian Press, the “bill passed by a vote of 222-60.”

There are 338 seats in the current House, five of which are vacant at the moment, 180 current Liberal MPs, and 30 members of the cabinet. Pondering all these numbers, it seems reasonable to guess that some democratic majority of Liberal MPs present supported the bill. (UPDATE MARCH 11 : And see Aaron Wherry on “What happens when Liberal backbenchers rise up” for further details here.)

Meanwhile, out of respect for the “Insurance industry opposed to bill making it illegal to demand the results of genetic tests,” let’s suppose the Trudeau cabinet also opposed the bill and officially advised its Liberal backbenchers to do the same.

Of course, the executive branch did not actually say it was bowing to the insurance industry lobby. It claimed it opposed the bill because addressing such matters in Ottawa intruded on provincial powers, under the Constitution Act, 1867.

(And Canada’s first aboriginal/indigenous justice minister, the Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould, wrote to provincial premiers, urging them to urge their federal MPs to oppose the bill on constitutional grounds.)

So … the insurance industry can take some heart from the Trudeau cabinet’s opposition — and feel that any contributions of whatever sort to the Liberal Party of Canada it may have ever made were not altogether in vain.

Print of the Battle of Batoche during Louis Riel’s ill-fated Northwest Rebellion of 1885, based on sketches by Sergeant Grundy and others, published by Grip Printing & Publishing Co. in Toronto.

At the same time, democracy has been served by the ultimate passing of a bill that is almost certainly in the interests of the great majority of the people of Canada.

If advised that this is just how democracy works in Justin Trudeau’s Canada, some might say “And what is wrong with that?” And we’d find it hard to disagree ourselves.

We felt strengthened in this position when, just after we read about these contemporary Ottawa adventures, we finally received the next installment of Randall White’s work-in-progress, tentatively entitled Children of the Global Village — Canada in the 21st Century : Tales about the history that matters.

If you go to our “Long Journey to a Canadian Republic” page, on the bar above (or just CLICK HERE), you will find a short introduction to the project, along with the “Prologue : too much geography.”

This is followed by links to the currently completed six chapters in Part I, four  chapters in Part II, and the first chapter in Part III on the old Dominion of Canada. You will now find as well a link to Part III, Chapter 2 : “Arduous Destiny : Canada’s alternative to the Great Barbecue, 1873-1896.”

Once again we caught up with Dr. White and his irresistible business manager at the Tim Horton’s across from Kew Gardens in Toronto. And he explained :

“This chapter, which has been far too long coming, has a lot to do with the high tide of John A. Macdonald’s prime ministerial career, the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Battle of Batoche, and the tragic hanging of Louis Riel on a cold November morning in Regina, 1885.”

He went on : “Our politicians today could still learn something from this era, I think. At least individual MPs not in cabinets had more freedom then, in most cases. And the system still worked well enough. In any case, I promise the next Chapter 3 — on ‘Sunny Ways : Imperial Preference, New Boom, and Last Best West, 1896–1911′ —  will not take so long.” (That at least is what the author hopes.)

UPDATE MARCH 11: According to an article on Canada’s new Genetic Non-Discrimination Act in the online Science magazine : “To delay and potentially kill the legislation, Trudeau’s government is considering not sending the bill to the governor-general (a tactic that doesn’t appear to have been used since the 1920s), and instead asking Canada’s Supreme Court to rule on the bill’s constitutionality. That process could take up to 2 years.”  We sympathize with retired Liberal Senator James Cowan, “the bill’s original sponsor,” who “says he can’t fathom the rationale behind the government’s stance. ‘Is it really up to the government of Canada to defend provincial jurisdiction, or the insurance industry?’” We still wonder : how serious is the cabinet about its declared position? Why hold a free vote in the first place if you are in fact deadly serious?  (And note too, according to the Science magazine article : “More than 100 Liberal members voted for the bill” — out of a total of 180, 30 of whom are in the cabinet!)

How about the Pontiac or Louis Riel Block? : global-village Canadiana (and North Americana) in the winter of 2017

Posted: February 22nd, 2017 | No Comments »

Northern Lights, Tom Thomson, 1915.

TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA ETC, Mid-to-late February 2017.

RE : Steinmeier in Germany, Rosenbaum on Trump, Carlos Fraenkel on a mosque in Quebec City, and a footnote on changing the name of the Langevin Block in Ottawa to the Pontiac (or Louis Riel) Block.

I first started pondering this quartet of obscure but deep political thoughts on the day that the snows came down. It was a winter wonderland in the old streetcar suburbs.

We went for coffee on the local main street, under rejuvenation through contextual condo development — the unsettling new urban mainstream in affordable housing. And somehow the flow began, in between other things with more immediate priority :

(1) We had just heard that the Social Democrat Frank-Walter Steinmeier had been elected President of Germany. I think  this should be more interesting to Canadians than it is in the winter of 2017. I could not convince my coffee-drinking partner, but that’s just the point …

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, president (ceremonial head of state) of Germany. Critic of Donald Trump and Brexit in the UK. And according to Chancellor Angela Merkel : “an excellent president who will enjoy wide support.”

The President of Germany is nothing like the President of the United States. As the Associated Press explains, the office “has little executive power, but is considered an important moral authority and symbol of the country as its host for visiting dignitaries.” It is in fact very much like the present office of Governor General in Canada.

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany — or as we say in Canada, following the UK and France, prime minister (or premier ministre) — remains the practical chief executive of the German federation : or “head of government” as opposed to “head of state.” And her next electoral test is not until September 24, 2017.

Meanwhile, Ms Merkel relates to the new President Frank-Walter Steinmeier more or less as Justin Trudeau relates to Governor General David  Johnston.

And what should be interesting to we Canadians in this 150th anniversary year of our 1867 confederation is that the office of President of Germany is one model for what the office of Governor General of Canada could evolve into, after the sad passing of Good Queen Bess II — offshore in the United Kingdom.

Model Valerie Poynter celebrates Canada Day 2012, with help from photographer Spencer Edwards.

The crux of the issue is how do you select what some branches of Canadian officialdom still call the Queen’s representative when there is no hereditary monarch to make the choice? (Strictly in theory of course : even in Canada today the real choice is made not by the monarch but by the democratically “elected” Canadian prime minister — which is probably even worse!.)

As the Associated Press explains again, in 2017 the new German President “Steinmeier was elected in Berlin by the assembly made up of the 630 members of parliament’s lower house and an equal number of representatives from Germany’s 16 states.”

In Canada this would imply an independent Canadian Governor General (or President even) “indirectly elected” by the current 338 members of the Canadian House of Commons, and an equal number of representatives from the 10 provinces and three territories.

This is the more conservative option for choosing ceremonial heads of state in independent parliamentary democracies. A variation on the theme also appears in the modern constitution of Canada’s fellow Commonwealth of Nations member, the Republic of India.

Personally, I lean  towards the more progressive and democratic option of direct election by the sovereign people — as now long (and successfully) practised in Ireland and Iceland. But I think involving Canadian provinces in some nominating process makes sense as well.

Northern Lights, A.Y. Jackson.

In any case this is no doubt already a more elaborate discussion of the issue than many Canadian citizens seem ready for at the moment … .

Some among us may nonetheless have to start pondering such things sooner than we think. In the early 21st century all of us who live in the country and take an interest in its future are stumbling towards our collective liberation, at last.

[For Rosenbaum on Trump, Carlos Fraenkel on a mosque in Quebec City, and changing the name of the Langevin Block in Ottawa to the Pontiac Block  click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below.]

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Boris Johnson’s US citizenship renunciation .. and notes on the French presidential election April 23 / May 7

Posted: February 10th, 2017 | No Comments »

UK Foreign Secretary and former Mayor of London Boris Johnson (left) and US President Donald Trump : two peas from a New York pod, even if US tax laws have finally prompted Boris to renounce the American citizenship he earned by being born to British parents living at the time in New York City.

I woke up yesterday morning to a brief but provocative text statement, at the bottom of the screen on Toronto’s cp24 cable TV channel. It read something like  : “UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, born in New York City, renounces US citizenship.”

Like perhaps millions of others around the world, I wondered. Is even the current UK Conservative MP (and former Mayor of London) Boris Johnson renouncing his US citizenship, because he disagrees so fundamentally with President Trump’s recent immigration-policy actions against citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East?

A little knowledge, however, really is a dangerous thing. On deeper examination I am now quite convinced that (unfortunately) Mr. Johnson’s renunciation has nothing to do with Mr. Trump — even if they do have somewhat comparable “blond” haircuts.

“BoJo” with Cheeky Girls, back when he was Mayor of London.

See, eg : “Boris Johnson officially gives up US citizenship” ; “UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson Renounced US Citizenship in 2016 … British politician’s name on latest quarterly list from Treasury Department” ; and “Boris Johnson Renounces US Citizenship … The British foreign secretary had previously complained about a US tax bill.”

Not surprisingly, The Guardian in the UK has the most exact summary : “Boris Johnson among record number to renounce American citizenship in 2016 … Foreign secretary had previously protested against ‘absolutely outrageous’ US tax obligations after sale of his north London home … Johnson was born in New York when his [British] parents worked there, but has not lived there since he was five years old. His decision does not appear to be an attempt to distance himself from the politics of Donald Trump, but may instead be a move to ensure he is out of reach of America’s Internal Revenue Service.”

Marine Le Pen on the campaign trail : globalisation and 'Islamic fundamentalism' are undermining French culture. Can she “pull off a Trump in 2017”? Current polls say no.

Meanwhile, there is bigger news from Canada’s first European mother country. And I have lately been trying to catch up with the increasingly intriguing French presidential election, some 10 and 12 weeks hence on Sunday, April 23 (first round) and Sunday, May 7 (second round).

Here are the current five major candidates — from “far left” to “far right” : Jean-Luc Mélenchon, FI (France insoumise) ; Benoît Hamon, PS (Parti socialiste) ; Emmanuel Macron, EM (En Marche) ; François Fillon, LR (Les Républicains) ; Marine Le Pen, FN (Front national).

Until recently it seemed the race would ultimately reduce to François Fillon of the right-wing Les Républicains, versus Marine Le Pen of the very right-wing Front national on May 7.  But then M. Fillon was hurt by a scandal about appointing family members to lucrative government jobs.

Centrist (or centre-leftist?) Emmanuel Macron of new En Marche party/movement : suddenly he seems to have become the unexpected candidate of change, for the moment at least?

The latest polls are showing that the more centrist or centre leftist (and even former Parti socialiste cabinet minister) Emmanuel Macron, who has started a new “En Marche” party (“On The Move in English”), will finish up against Marine Le Pen of the right-wing extremist Front national on May 7 — and finally defeat her handily.

Put another way, the race has unexpectedly shifted somewhat leftward. It is still early enough days, however, and one big question about  Emmanuel Macron is what kind of governing coalition he could put together in the legislature. So stay tuned.

Meanwhile, for further immediate details see :

* “Macron to beat Le Pen in French election run-off vote, says Opinionway poll” ;

Jean-Luc Mélenchon arrives at Elysée Palace for dinner with Raul Castro last year. This Morocco-born man of the French far left has no chance of becoming France’s next president, but still strikes a compelling pose. Photo : AFP/ Alain Jocard.

* “Spotlight: French presidential election 2017: Macron or Le Pen?” ;

* “Emmanuel Macron’s Unexpected Shot at the French Presidency … The former economy minister’s surge in popularity makes him the front-runner—for now” ;

* “Who’s who in the French presidential election? … With months to go until the final vote, the battle for the Élysée Palace has already proven extraordinary” ;

*  “Can Marine Le Pen win the French presidential election? … The far-right leader says globalisation and ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ are undermining French culture” ;

* “Look left for the next French election surprise.”

Very finally (and believe it or not), back here in our home and native land / terre de nos aïeux : “Trudeau’s Approval Rating Tops Trump In US And Canada: Poll.”

Electoral reform in Canada 2017 : a relic of the 4½ months in 2015 when New Democrats looked like winners?

Posted: January 31st, 2017 | 3 Comments »

CW EDITORS NOTE : Nous adressons nos plus sincères condoléances à tous ceux qui ont été touchés par l’épouvantable tuerie mortelle d’une mosquée de Québec, dimanche dernier. Nous appuyons les propos du premier ministre Trudeau sur ce méprisable acte de terreur contre le Canada et tous les Canadiens. Et nous accueillons chaleureusement ses rassurances auprès du million de fidèles musulmans de notre pays: «Trente-six millions de cœurs rompent avec les vôtres» / “Thirty-six million hearts are breaking with yours.”

Economist magazine projections of what did happen in 2015 Canadian federal election (first past the post), and what would have happened under proportional representation. A bare majority in Canadian House of Commons at this time is 170 seats.

[UPDATED FEBRUARY 1]. From the start of things in the last federal election campaign, I’ve had trouble understanding the mainstream media’s obsession with the electoral reform plank in the 2015 Liberal platform.

Between the lines, at the very least, it has always seemed clear enough that what finally became Justin Trudeau’s majority government was only half-serious at best on this issue.

The crucial Liberal message was : “We will convene an all-party Parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reforms, such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting.”

As the report of this parliamentary committee in the real world has subsequently confirmed — and surely not to the surprise of many honest observers —  there is no practical version of electoral reform on which all the federal parties (or even just the three largest) can agree.

To start with, forget about “mandatory voting, and online voting.” They are just distractions (just rejected out of hand by the committee). And right at the start they were further signs that the Trudeau Liberals were mostly just blowing smoke on electoral reform.

NDP MP's Nathan Cullen and Alexandre Boulerice hold press conference on electoral reform in Ottawa, spring 2016. Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP.

From here, for decades New Democrats have liked “proportional representation,” which would broadly mean that each party gets a share of seats in parliament equal to its share of the cross-Canada popular vote. (Note that both the present Trudeau Liberal and previous Harper Conservative “majority” governments won just under 40% of the popular vote in the elections that brought them to office!)

The NDP’s long-favoured proportional-representation electoral reform, however, could mean that Conservatives would be almost permanently shut out of forming governments in Ottawa.

And/or the Canadian people at large would be condemned, on some accounts at any rate, to perpetual Liberal-New Democrat (or vice-versa) coalition governments. (Perhaps only occasionally relieved by Conservative minority governments, in semi-secret alliance with some revived Bloc Québécois ????)

CW EDITORS UPDATE, FEBRUARY 1, 2017 : It is just one day since Citizen X wrote in his conclusion to this piece (click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below) : “like others I would not be surprised if at some point between now and May 4, 2017 the Trudeau Liberals back away officially from their 2015 platform commitment on electoral reform.” And as of 12:55 PM ET Aaron Wherry on the CBC News site has reported :“Trudeau government abandons promise of electoral reform …”

X tells us this has happened a little earlier than he was imagining, but “as predicted I am not surprised.” He underlines as well his very last sentence (again click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below) : “Proportional representation may be a good thing, from several points of view far above the partisan political wars. But right now only the federal New Democrats really believe in it. And if they ever managed to win a majority of seats in parliament with not quite 40% of the cross-country popular vote, they might start changing their minds too.”

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