On Nov 30 the old British “Realm” of Barbados will turn itself into a modern democratic “Republic” — can remaining realms like Canada be too far behind?

Posted: November 26th, 2021 | No Comments »
“Abstract Composition #7” by Michael Seward, late 20th century.

NORTH AMERICAN NOTEBOOK. RANDALL WHITE, FERNWOOD PARK, TORONTO, ON, 26 NOVEMBER 2021.This coming Tuesday, November 30 Dame Sandra Mason will be sworn in as the first President of the island nation of Barbados (“the most easterly of the Caribbean Islands,” current population c 288,000).

With this act Barbados will officially change from a “Commonwealth Realm” within the Commonwealth, to a parliamentary democratic republic within the Commonwealth.

At this moment (of writing) a few days before, that is to say, Queen Elizabeth II is still the formal head of state of the constitutional monarchy of Barbados — and Her Excellency Dame Mason is Governor General. On November 30 President Dame Sandra Mason will succeed the Queen as formal head of state of the Barbados republic.

As a practical matter little in the way Barbados is currently governed will have changed. Mia Amor Mottley, leader of the Barbados Labour Party, has been Prime Minister since 2018. (Or head of government as opposed to head of state.) She will continue in that role, and bear about the same relation to President Mason as she currently bears to Governor General Mason.

Like Canada, Barbados has been “independent” from the United Kingdom for some time. (In the latter case : “On 30 November 1966, Barbados became an independent state and Commonwealth realm with Elizabeth II as Queen of Barbados.”)

Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at “Bilateral meeting on the fringes of the UN General Assembly,” 24 September 2018.

In a formal legal sense what is happening in Barbados on 30 November 2021 is a kind of broad model for the process by which Canada (or Australia or New Zealand or Jamaica or the Bahamas, and so forth) will finally become a “free and democratic” parliamentary republic — ultimately accountable, in theory as well as practice, to the sovereign Canadian people.

Note especially in this connection, however, that Dame Sandra Mason will not become President of Barbados in the same way she became Governor General of Barbados.

Ms Mason was appointed (or in strict legal terms recommended to Queen Elizabeth as) Governor General by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart (who immediately preceded current Prime Minister Mia Mottley). To become President of the new Barbados republic, on October 20, 2021, “Dame Sandra Mason, 72 … won a two-thirds vote during a joint session of the Caribbean nation’s House of Assembly and Senate.”

“Abstract Composition #6” by Michael Seward, November 2021.

This is one approach to “electing” a president or head of state (and commander-in-chief of the armed forces) in a new parliamentary democratic republic, who plays a similar role to the old Governor General under the constitutional monarchy. And such Commonwealth republics as India and Trinidad and Tobago offer variations on the same broad “indirectly elected” theme. (As do, eg, present-day Germany and Italy in the related European parliamentary tradition.)

Such other modern parliamentary democratic republics as Iceland and Ireland “directly elect” their largely ceremonial heads of state. On this option the sovereign people themselves, as it were, choose the “non-political” president who remains under the strictest guidance of the (also democratically elected) cabinet, presided over by the prime minister as head of government.

Former Governor General of Barbados Dame Sandra Mason meets with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace in 2018. STEVE PARSONS – WPA POOL/GETTY.

Speaking strictly as a Canadian citizen I would prefer the directly elected option, when Canada finally gets around to doing the eminently logical and patriotic thing, and follows Barbados into the growing ranks of parliamentary democratic republics within the Commonwealth.

(Some say a directly elected president in this context will inevitably evolve in the direction of Charles de Gaulle’s Fifth French Republic, with a president stronger than the prime minister. But the present-day French experience, “tailor made for de Gaulle,” is unique. Ireland since 1937 and Iceland since 1944 have shown that an essentially ceremonial directly elected head of state in a parliamentary democratic republic will remain essentially ceremonial.)

At the same time, I think the long modern Barbados experience talking about becoming a republic — ending this November 30 in the capital of Bridgetown — could have some special interest for Canada today. The message was recently summarized by National Geographic : “Barbados will finally cut ties to the British monarchy, after years of trying.”

“Provenance” by Michael Seward, November 2021.

Mia Mottley’s Barbados Labour Party has been calling for a Barbados republic since 1999. Referendum bills on the subject were introduced in Parliament in 2000 and 2005. Both main parties on the island (the other is the Democratic Labour Party) seemed to have agreed that Barbados would become a republic in 2016 — on the 50th anniversary of its independence from the United Kingdom, as a Commonwealth Realm in its own right.

One hard fact that distinguishes the current November 30, 2021 when it will actually happen from all Barbados’s previous republican talking is that for the first time in the island nation’s history as an independent parliamentary democracy since 1966, both the head of government (prime minister) and head (s) of state (new president and former governor general and of course the Queen herself) are females!

In 2018 Rihanna was appointed ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary by Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley.

We already have a female governor general in Canada. Does Barbados’s experience suggest we have to wait for our own free and democratic republic until we also have a female prime minister?

Hardly, of course.

But it may suggest that the republican moment in the true north strong and free will finally be accompanied by a few other big Canadian changes, coast to coast to coast.

Meanwhile, I think it’s appropriate to end this note with an allusion to modern jazz great Charlie Parker’s great tune, “Barbados” — first recorded on September 18, 1948.

It is something that even Rihanna, most famous daughter of the island nation today, might find compelling, as all we aspiring free and democratic Canadians congratulate the people of Barbados, on breathing life into their long-term republican future at last.

Anti-political mood softens as world “part overcomes, part assimilates the pandemic”

Posted: November 18th, 2021 | No Comments »
“Abstract Composition #5” (Looking Up) by prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward, November 2021.


I am just down from the new north on a visit, communing with the head office staff, reintegrating into the mind of the herd, and enjoying unusually brilliant autumn colours here on the northwest shore of the smallest Great Lake, west of Frenchman’s Bay.

I was asked what do I make now of my confession not quite a month ago, “An anti-political mood descends across the land (or at least the part of it I live in)”? I was given my old office to work in for the time being. And I looked east out the window at dark gold and deep red leaves on and off maple trees.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (right) and Alberta Prmier Jason Kenney bump elbows during a joint federal-provincial announcement of $10-a-day daycare at Boyle Street Plaza in Edmonton, on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. Photo by Ian Kucerak.

It was enough to remind me that on Monday I saw Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Premier Jason Kenney together in Edmonton, announcing Alberta’s accession to the federal government’s crusade for “$10 a day child care for Canadian families.” All provinces but Ontario and New Brunswick have now signed on. The finish line is in sight.

It is true that, as reported by the mainstream media, eg, “Alberta premier snipes at Trudeau as province signs on to $10-day child-care deal” (Canadian Press) and “Justin Trudeau and Jason Kenney trade shots at testy child-care announcement” (Toronto Star).

But I guess I tuned into the Edmonton event on TV after Premier Kenney’s most pointed remarks. I saw at least some diplomacy on both sides. It all seemed almost civilized. The francophone media asked Premier Kenney a question in French, and he answered in French. (Something the current Premier of Ontario would and could never do!)

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O Valiant Hearts, lest we forget …

Posted: November 11th, 2021 | No Comments »
“People taking to the street in Vancouver on November 11th, 1918 after word of Armistice announcement.”

We just want to very simply commemorate Remembrance Day in Canada, November 11, 2021, with three performances of the haunting memorial hymn from World War I, “O Valiant Hearts” (on YouTube).

First is “A Tribute and Remembrance Video for the Canadians fighting in Afghanistan,” posted in 2009 — and with “O Valiant Hearts” as the accompanying memorial music.

Second is a vocal rendition of “O Valiant Hearts” by the Ottawa Children’s Choir at the National War Memorial. The date here, we think, is November 11, 2016.

Third is an undated instrumental performance of “O Valiant Hearts” by the Canadian Artillery Band “sous la direction de l’Officier commandant, le Capitaine Christopher Embree.”

Canadian Rangers, guardians of Canada’s far north, celebrate service of Indigenous Veterans at CFB Borden in Ontario, November 2018.

In 2021 it seems especially appropriate to acknowledge the contributions of Indigenous veterans to the armed forces of the Canadian confederation created in 1867, by noting Veterans Affairs Canada’s online posting “Indigenous Veterans … The First Nations, Inuit and Métis of Canada have a long and proud tradition of military service to our country.” (And in this context it is also worth noting that “Canada” itself is an Indigenous word. See HERE and HERE.)

We simply conclude with the words to the first verse of “O Valiant Hearts” :
O valiant hearts who to your glory came
Through dust of conflict and through battle flame;
Tranquil you lie, your knightly virtue proved,
Your memory hallowed in the land you loved

No kind of formal Liberal-NDP accord in Ottawa after 2021 election for now?

Posted: November 9th, 2021 | No Comments »
“Abstract Composition #4” by Michael Seward, October 2021.

FROM THE COUNTERWEIGHTS EDITORS, GANATSEKWYAGON, ON. NOVEMBER 9, 2021. Liberal-NDP co-operation in Canadian federal politics — albeit mostly informal — has a history that goes back to the beginnings of the modern New Democratic Party in the 1960s.

But it looks like rumoured prospects of some 2021 formal agreement, broadly on the model of the 1985 Liberal-NDP Accord in Ontario provincial politics, have at least for the moment been disavowed by people in both parties.

According to Peter Zimonjic at CBC News yesterday : “Multiple sources in the NDP and the Liberal Party say talk of a formal working agreement has been overblown … ‘It is not accurate to say there is a formal agreement or talks to have a formal agreement,’ said one Liberal with knowledge of the matter. A New Democrat source called the notion of a formal deal ‘wishful thinking.’ Both sources spoke on the condition they not be named.”

“Frabjous Day!” by Michael Seward, November 2021.

According to Caroline O’Neill at CTV News : “The Liberal house leader dismissed the idea of a potential Liberal-NDP coalition heading into the new parliamentary session … Mark Holland was asked if there are any formal or informal talks between the Liberals and the NDP … ‘There’s talks, as I want to emphasize, with every party’ … Holland said voters want to see collaboration [but] ‘I don’t see just one party that we can work with’.”

According to Marie Woolf at the Canadian Press : “NDP MP Charlie Angus says no deal has been made with the Liberals to prop up Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority government for two to three years … Angus confirmed that ‘an initial conversation’ had taken place between NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Trudeau, but it was no more than ‘an initial meeting’.”

Ms Woolf went on : “Before the Liberal caucus meeting Monday [November 8], Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly was asked about whether her party was open to working with the NDP, either formally or informally … ‘We’re always open to work with all parties. That’s what Canadians expect from us … the prime minister had the chance to meet with all other leaders and in that sense we want to make sure that we’re able to get our agenda supported by other parties.’”

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Biggest news about new Liberal cabinet in Ottawa is when Justin Trudeau was asked if he’ll lead his party in the next election he just smiled and said “YES”

Posted: October 27th, 2021 | No Comments »
“Geological Structure” by Michael Seward, October 2021.

NORTH AMERICAN NOTEBOOK — RANDALL WHITE, FERNWOOD PARK, TORONTO. OCTOBER 27, 2021. Regional representation was at least once said to be a key feature of political cabinet making in Canada’s particular version of parliamentary democracy, coast to coast to coast.

From this angle the Justin Trudeau Liberal cabinet sworn into office on October 26, 2021 somewhat over-represents Ontario and especially Quebec and Atlantic Canada. And its under-represented Western Canada profile is strongly tilted towards BC.

More exactly, Statistics Canada reports that as of the third quarter of 2021 : Ontario has 38.8% of the Canada-wide population ; Western Canada has 32.0% ; Quebec has 22.5% ; and Atlantic Canada has 6.4%.

In the new Trudeau cabinet Ontario has on my calculations 16 of the 39 positions or 41.0% (vs. 38.8% pop). Quebec has 11 or 28.2% (22.5% pop). Western Canada has 6 or 15.4% (32.0% pop, and 4 of the 6 Western members are from BC). And Atlantic Canada has another 6 or 15.4% (6.4% pop).

The Office of the Prime Minister of Canada on Wellington Street in Ottawa, just across from the Parliament Buildings.

The prime minister, whose unique power has always been that he or she actually appoints “his or her” cabinet, could reasonably protest that he can only appoint Liberals to his Liberal cabinet from provinces where they are elected. Saskatchewan, eg, elected no Liberals on September 20, 2021. So it cannot have any members in a Liberal cabinet.

Comments on the new 2021 cabinet for the new (and second in a row) Liberal minority government have often enough alluded to the prospect that just who is cabinet minister of what does not matter all that much, because PM Justin Trudeau and his Office of the Prime Minister at 80 Wellington Street in downtown Ottawa finally call all the shots that matter.

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An anti-political mood descends across the land (or at least the part of it I live in)

Posted: October 20th, 2021 | No Comments »
“Critical Mass” by Michael Seward, October 2021.

SPECIAL FROM L. FRANK BUNTING, PANCAKE BAY, ONTARIO. WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2021. The deep northern autumn is setting in. Forecasts here call for a low of 0° C this coming Friday night (and early Saturday morning).

I’m in one of my recurrent anti-political moods. I agree with the UK emeritus professor Malcolm Gaskill, who writes in a recent London Review of Books : “As Hugo Rifkind has observed, ‘”Hey, look out your window, most things are fine!” is a message that almost nobody ever sends or sees.’” And I like this message — remote from the monotonous political debate reported in even the branches of the mainstream media I like.

I empathize as well with a tweet from Fiona Webster (“Physician, writer, artist, treehugger”), on Jon Stewart’s recent appearance on CNN. As Ms Webster explains : “Jon Stewart on our media: ‘The overwhelming majority of stories seek to expose the conflict lines.’ Journalists always weave narratives of people warring w/ each other over X or Y. It’s beyond exasperating! I want Truth—not divisive rhetoric.”

Good morning, Timmins! 10/16/2021 … Maija Hoggett/TimminsToday.

(Well, the highest “Truth” may be too out of reach, but something like it, closer to the ground? More political realism, less joy of conflict?)

Then, with the global pandemic in mind, there’s the recent Angus Reid opinion poll that asks : “When do you anticipate things will be ‘back to normal’ in Canada?” The answers are — Never: 37% ; Later Than The End Of 2022: 30% ; Six Months To A Year: 28% ; Three To Six Months: 4% ; A Month Or Two: 1% ; Few Weeks: 1%. (“October 3, 2021 / n=5011.”)

Like others on this site, I am similarly distressed at how unfairly PM Justin Trudeau has been treated by the media and others (including opposition parties and some Indigenous leaders), in such recent reports as : “Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc chief describes Trudeau visit as ‘bittersweet’” ; “Tk’emlups leaders’ open letter set steps for PM to prove commitment to reconciliation” ; and Aaron Wherry’s CBC News column, “The reconciliation project is vulnerable to cynicism — and Trudeau’s Tofino trip didn’t help.”

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Are USA & China bringing the wider global village back into the limelight?

Posted: October 12th, 2021 | No Comments »
“World News #1” by prize-winning artist Michael Seward, Toronto, Canada, October 2021.

COUNTERWEIGHTS EDITORS, EAST TORONTO OFFICE. TUESDAY 12 OCTOBER 2021. Maybe it’s just interim domestic political exhaustion in the wake of the September 20 Canadian federal election. But we are coming to share a sense that the politics (and economics and even “culture”) of the world at large are, for a time at least, growing more urgent.

The most immediate issue is reflected in such recent headlines as : “In US-China clash, Taiwan takes center stage” ; “˜’This Drop Came So Quickly’ : Shrinking Schools Add to Hong Kong Exodus … The Chinese territory is experiencing its biggest population drop in decades as residents flee political repression and a new ‘patriotic’ curriculum” ; and “As CIA Warns China ‘˜Most Important’ Threat to US, Is Biden Pursuing a ‘˜New Cold War’?”

Canada, China, and the Two Michaels

Albert Einstein at 5 years old, Munich, Germany,1884.

Recent polling by Nanos Research suggests Canadians in the autumn of 2021 are less receptive to China’s contemporary attractions than they used to be.

Back in February 2019, eg, in response to the question “Should Canada proceed to negotiate a new free trade agreement with China or not?,” 47% of the Nanos sample said “Should Not Negotiate.” But a respectable 43% Canada-wide still said “Should Negotiate.”

As of early October 2021, however, a massive enough 69% are now saying “Should Not Negotiate.” Only 19% say “Should Negotiate.”

Some of this flows from the 1,000-day + Chinese detention of the Two Michaels (Spavor and Kovrig), in veiled retaliation for the Canadian house arrest of Huawei telecom chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou. (Ms Wanzhou was waiting for Canadian courts to decide on a US extradition request, regarding charges of financial fraud levied by the US Department of Justice.)

The two Michaels were at last released on September 24, 2021. And they promptly returned to Canada, in the immediate wake of a deferred prosecution agreement between Meng Wanzhou and the US Department of Justice (focussed on financial penalties over the fraud charges).

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Update on PM Trudeau’s latest apology …

Posted: October 6th, 2021 | No Comments »

UPDATE TO OCTOBER 3 ARTICLE: RANDALL WHITE, GANATSEKWYAGON, ON. OCTOBER 6, 2021.I would be remiss if I did not note that PM Justin Trudeau himself has now declared he ought not to have travelled to Tofino on September 30.

See, eg, “Trudeau says he regrets travelling to Tofino, B.C., on 1st National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — ‘Travelling on the 30th was a mistake and I regret it,’ he says in first public appearance since trip.”

I am duty bound to confess as well that I do not regret anything I have said in my personal take on the issue in my October 3 contribution to this site (below), “Why is so much Canadian mainstream media (and its hangers-on) so eager to gang up on PM Justin Trudeau?

I certainly agree that the Indigenous peoples of Canada have been treated appallingly by the first century of the present Canadian confederation launched in 1867.

As I have also struggled to make clear in my work-in-progress on the long evolution of Canadian democracy, however, the modern history of Canada starts in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. And Indigenous peoples have been crucial actors in the creation of the Canada we have finally come to know in the 21st century. “Canada” itself is an Indigenous word.

Just touching on the more recent past very lightly, Pontiac, “War Chief of the Ottawa,” defended the Canada we know today in the 1760s, as did his successor Tecumseh in the War of 1812.

Progressive Conservative PM John Diefenbaker appointed the first First Nations Senator, James Gladstone, in 1958, and at long last gave the vote in federal elections to “on-reserve status Indians” in 1960. Since April 17, 1982 the rights of the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada have been acknowledged in today’s Canadian Constitution (unlike next door in the USA).

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Why is so much Canadian mainstream media (and its hangers-on) so eager to gang up on PM Justin Trudeau?

Posted: October 3rd, 2021 | No Comments »
“Looking for Clues #3 Sept. 30, 2021” by Michael Seward.

NORTH AMERICAN NOTEBOOK — RANDALL WHITE, FERNWOOD PARK, TORONTO. OCTOBER 3, 2021. We are almost certainly too foolishly proud of the extent to which we in Canada have (so far) avoided the absolute worst of the current crazed politics that are increasingly immobilizing the American giant next door.

As opposed to Donald Trump, for example, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Erin O’Toole, has just run an election campaign on an at least faux-progressive platform. And no Big Lie has emerged about the results of the 2021 Canadian federal election. (Again, so far.)

As in the USA and similar democracies elsewhere (UK, France, India, Australia, and so forth) many smaller lies are nonetheless haunting the contemporary Canadian political air. There are still more, as it were, half-truths. The anglophone Canadian mainstream media — tilted quite strongly right in our time — have a tedious taste for scandal or some suitable facsimile. Half-truths are fair ball. Clever lies that work are to be admired, etc.

Canadian conservatives also like nothing better than capturing Canadian progressives with their ideological pants down, so to speak. Old photos of Justin Trudeau in blackface were a goldmine (whatever else). And the latest assault of this sort on the long-suffering prime minister appears in such headlines as : “‘Complete letdown’: Cindy Blackstock on Trudeau’s Tofino trip” ; and “Residential school survivor criticizes Trudeau for travelling on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation … ‘His words don’t match his actions,’ Evelyn Korkmaz says.”

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First National Day for Truth and Reconciliation a time for Commemoration not Celebration … but eventually

Posted: September 30th, 2021 | No Comments »
“Looking for Clues #1, Sept. 22, 2021” by Michael Seward.

SPECIAL FROM THE DEMOCRATIC DESKTOP OF CITIZEN X, BUCKHORN, ON. K0L 0C1. 30 SEP 21, 2021. I quote from a Government of Canada, Canadian Heritage web page : “September 30, 2021 marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation … The day honours the lost children and Survivors of residential schools, their families and communities.”

The Heritage page goes on : “Public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools is a vital component of the reconciliation process … The creation of this federal statutory holiday was … made by Parliament.”

The page also notes that “Both the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day take place on September 30 … Orange Shirt Day is an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day that honours the children who survived residential schools and remembers those who did not … On September 30, we encourage all Canadians to wear orange to raise awareness of the very tragic legacy of residential schools.”

Like many other Non-Indigenous Canadians I want to be supportive of the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. There is no doubt in my mind that First Nations or more generally Indigenous peoples were treated contemptibly and appallingly during the first century of the Canadian confederation of 1867. And the practice of separating Indigenous children from their families, and sending them to residential schools run largely by church organizations, has come to symbolize the worst of this profoundly misguided early Canadian government policy

Indigenous leaders and environmentalists march in protest against Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline in southern British Columbia, in Burnaby, BC, March 10, 2018. (Nick Didlick/Reuters).

According to the online Canadian Encyclopedia “the term” residential schools in Canada today “refers to schools established after 1880 ….by Christian churches and the Canadian government … to both educate and convert Indigenous youth and to assimilate them into Canadian society.” But “the schools disrupted lives and communities, causing long-term problems among Indigenous peoples … At its height around 1930, the residential school system totalled 80 institutions … The last residential school closed in 1996 … Since then, former students have demanded recognition and restitution, resulting in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2007 and a formal public apology by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008. In total, an estimated 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children attended residential schools.”

Earlier this year we also had several media reports about evidence of mass graves of Indigenous children who died at residential schools. And this has no doubt shaped and sharpened the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation today, on September 30, 2021.

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