Is Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party still inevitable winner of Alberta vote April 16, like Doug Ford PCs in Ontario?

Posted: March 20th, 2019 | No Comments »

The two main contenders : Rachel Notley NDP and Jason Kenney UCP.

Yesterday Premier Rachel Notley finally announced that Alberta’s long-anticipated provincial election will be held some four weeks hence, on Tuesday, April 16!

Opinion polls have long been showing that former Stephen Harper federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney’s new United Conservative Party is well ahead of Premier Notley’s New Democrats. And a “new poll from Ipsos,” released yesterday morning, “suggests Alberta’s UCP have a lead over the NDP leading up to the 2019 election.”

(In the Edmonton capital area the two major parties are neck and neck. In Calgary and especially in rural Alberta the UCP still has big leads.)

Most recently a few controversies over Mr. Kenney’s UCP have at least given Ms Notley’s New Democrats a little new hope.

(See, eg : “Jeff Callaway campaign may have breached election law with services from Kenney campaign” ; “Keith Gerein: UCP leadership revelations a scandal of ethics, integrity and hypocrisy”; “What really happened inside the Alberta UCP’s ‘kamikaze’ campaign” ; “Inside Alberta’s ‘House of Cards’ scandal” ; “Star UCP candidate who resigned over white supremacist comments also questioned value of Pride parades” ; “Communication among leadership campaigns not unusual, says Jason Kenney.”)

The smart money is still saying that this is Mr. Kenney’s election to lose. And he is a more experienced, seasoned, and intellectually heavy-weight conservative political leader than Premier Ford in Ontario.

Three more also running (l to r) : Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel, Freedom Conservative Party leader Derek Fildebrandt, Alberta Liberal leader David Khan.

He has nonetheless lately been playing the usual mindless right-wing populist games to which conservatives across the country (and elsewhere) seem attracted at the moment.

And it is at least interesting to think that, in the current Canadian political confusion almost everywhere, there is at least a slightly greater chance than there was a month ago that the very hard-working Rachel Notley could finally do as well as her fellow New Democrat John Horgan managed next door in beautiful BC, back in the spring of 2017.

Whatever else, the forthcoming April 16 provincial election in Alberta is one of the two really big Canadian political events this year.

Political junkies across the country are bound to pay special attention. (And we’re no exception here! Stay tuned etc.)

Taking time out from current madness to consider one woman’s brilliant writing more than 2500 years ago

Posted: March 14th, 2019 | No Comments »

“Sappho” by Charles Mengin, 1877. Manchester Art Gallery, UK.

When relief is needed from Canada’s intermittent bouts of feeling that, to stay relevant in the global village, we must do a bad job of imitating political craziness elsewhere, the editors on this site turn to me. Or so it all too often seems, waiting for the eccentric winter of 2019 to end.

Lately I have myself felt a parallel driving impulse to turn to news of the day on a subject light years away from contemporary politics and economics — anywhere.

I have been inspired in this case by an email ad I received a few days ago from The Folio Society — a UK (English?) publisher with offices at 4 Maguire Street, London SE1 2NQ,on the south side of the Thames River near Tower Bridge.  (There is also a Canadian crib of the website, with which the Society prefers you to deal if you live in Canada.)

The ad offers  : “If Not, Winter — Fragments of Sappho … Sappho’s complete surviving oeuvre is translated faithfully for the first time, by poet and renowned scholar Anne Carson, in this exquisite new Folio Society letterpress edition … CA$189.00.”

If you really like books — not just as storehouses of information and entertainment, but as sheer physical objects — then you are bound to find the beautifully printed and bound Folio Society editions of classics in various genres attractive.

Fresco showing a woman called Sappho holding writing implements, from the Insula Occidentalis in Pompeii (55-79 AD), now on display in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli in Italy.

In my own case I already have a few copies of the Society’s arts and crafts. (I have just taken John Reed’s account of the Russian Revolution, Ten Days That Shook the World, down from my shelves, eg. It also has what I see as an excellent once-lost introduction by A.J.P. Taylor.)

In all cases, however, I have inherited my current collection. (Well, I’ve just counted. It’s only three books altogether.) Although I have on various past occasions contemplated buying Folio Society books myself, I have always I think been finally deterred by the equally handsome price charged for these handsome volumes.

Now, with some extra resources inherited along with the books, I am thinking again that maybe I should actually buy “If Not, Winter — Fragments of Sappho … Introduced by Anne Carson … Translated by Anne Carson … Artwork by Jenny Holzer.”

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Jody Wilson-Raybould told Elizabeth May no one broke the criminal code and “that is no small fact … lost on most” so far?

Posted: March 1st, 2019 | No Comments »

“Happier times: Jody Wilson-Raybould, then the federal Liberal candidate for Vancouver Granvlle, talks with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in 2014, prior to the party's election success in 2015. VANCOUVER SUN.”

[UPDATE ON ELIZABETH MAY’S MARCH 1 DEMANDS BELOW. UPDATED AGAIN MARCH 10]. What it still seems most sensible to just call the SNC-Lavalin Affair 2019 (as in, eg, the Dreyfus Affair long ago in France) would be altogether beyond reason for many of us, if our only sources were the remaining mainstream media empires in Canada today — caught up in various almost alarming panic modes and navel gazings.

Fortunately in this present age of high communications technology in the global village we also have so-called “social media” like Twitter.

This “we’re-all-journalists-now” alternative to the MSM in the so-called “blogosphere” certainly has its own dangers. Travellers on these routes must proceed with care and caution.

On the other hand, I’m finding Twitter a more honest and reliable and even congenial (well, sometimes) source of helpful democratic debate on SNC-Lavalin than our current Canadian MSM — now much less than they used to be in so many ways.

(I of course sympathize with the struggles of the traditional mass media today — and the challenges of those lucky enough to still have MSM jobs. And one of more than a few pieces I actually have found helpful is Neil Macdonald’s “Gerald Butts was done in, at least partially, by the ethos of identity politics … that he himself helped create around our prime minister,” on the CBC News website, February 19. But too much of what’s appeared lately in the old-school press and especially on cable networks I used to admire strikes me as just another part of the problem.)

Global Corporate headquarters of SNC-Lavalin on René-Lévesque Blvd, in Montreal. According to Wikipedia : “The firm has 50,000 employees worldwide with offices in over 50 countries and operations in over 160 countries.” It also has, according to its own website, “8,762 employees across Canada as of January 8, 2018.”

Before listing my current top 4 twitter tweets on the SNC-Lavalin Affair 2019, in the immediate wake of Jody Wilson-Raybould’s February 27 appearance before the parliamentary committee studying the matter, I should also note that I have carefully read Ms Wilson-Raybould’s prepared statement to the committee.

I watched some of her further appearances on TV. I once studied Canadian government and politics at university, long, long ago. I have worked in and around federal, provincial, and municipal governments in Canada (and the United States) for some five decades now. (And I can hardly believe this strange length of time myself, in my inevitable senior moments today!).

All this has conditioned my own personal selection of top 4 twitter tweets (or tweet clusters, as it were) on the SNC-Lavalin Affair 2019, as of the first still wintry day of March, at the edge of one great lakeshore gateway to the northern woods :

Intolerant Centrist @lisa_m_228 : “I am NOT the tolerant left. I say stuff, I curse, I'm not sorry and you liking it is the least of my concerns.”

(4) Intolerant Centrist on Elizabeth May : no laws broken. The Intolerant Centrist — aka “@lisa_m_228 … I am NOT the tolerant left. I say stuff, I curse, I’m not sorry and you liking it is the least of my concerns” — offered two tweets that made a lot of sense to me just after11:30 PM ET, February 27.

The first : “[Green Party leader] Elizabeth May asked the most important question when she asked Wilson-Raybould if she felt anyone broke the criminal code. Wilson-Raybould responded no. That is no small fact, and I think it has been lost on most.”

The second: “Elizabeth May also pointed out the system actually insulates the PM from crossing legal lines. The Clerk is there to hold them to the law, along with the A.G. Wilson-Raybould testified the Clerk never intervened or warned the PM that any legal lines were crossed.”

(And to see the rest of one particular concerned citizen’s Top 4 tweet clusters on our latest Canadian craziness click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below!)

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Will Jagmeet Singh win in Burnaby South etc (and would he agree to buy Montana for $1 trillion US) ??

Posted: February 25th, 2019 | No Comments »

Someone has “started a petition calling for the US to sell the state of Montana to Canada for $1 trillion, and the idea is attracting a lot of attention” — along with the Burnaby South federal byelection on Canada’s Pacific coast.

The background has been economically explained by Tiffany Crawford at the Vancouver Sun : “Burnaby South residents will vote Monday [today] in one of three federal byelections.”

The riding “was vacated by former New Democrat MP Kennedy Stewart, who is now Vancouver’s mayor.” Today’s February 25 byelection “is an important race for NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who is vying for a seat in Parliament.”

Ms Crawford goes on : “Liberal Richard T. Lee, Conservative Jay Shin, independent candidates Terry Grimwood and Valentine Wu, and People’s Party of Canada candidate Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson are also running in Burnaby South.”

According to a Vancouver Sun editorial : “Singh — who has lived his entire adult life in Ontario — has parachuted into Burnaby South, which he believes is a safe NDP seat.” As Tiffany Crawford notes, however : “It could be a close election to watch. The New Democrats beat the Liberals by just over 500 votes in the riding in the 2015 election.”

UPDATE 11:45 PM ET. Without getting into exact numbers, it now does seem clear enough that Jagmeet Singh has won in Burnaby South on Canada’s Pacific coast. The leader of the federal New Democrats finally has a seat in parliament, from which to bully the nation (s). All good for Canadian democracy.

Meanwhile, as widely predicted, Scot Davidson has kept the former Conservative seat of York-Simcoe north of Toronto in the Conservative camp.

And  Rachel Bendayan has brought the former NDP seat of Outremont in Montreal into the Liberal camp. (Which also suggests that standing up for Quebec jobs at SNC-Lavalin is not viewed as an alarming scandal in Quebec.)

Congratulations to the winners, and everyone else who ran. This is a crazy country, but (for its size, in several senses) great enough nonetheless.

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Pacific Scandal is great grandma of SNC-Lavalin : but all “systematic organization of hatreds” is obsolete today

Posted: February 15th, 2019 | No Comments »

Moon over the Canadian Yukon ... just after sunset.

[UPDATED FEBRUARY 18. SEE BELOW]. On Valentine’s Day 2019 it is hard to know just what to make of the first prime minister of the 1867 confederation of British North American Provinces now known as Canada.

(Well … my thoughts here are actually being posted just after Valentine’s Day, but that’s just because I’m a little slower than I used to be.)

John A. Macdonald’s 19th century career nonetheless retains some enduring twisted relevance. And it could help us with the real issue at the bottom of the February 13, 2019 CBC News report : “Commons justice committee to probe SNC-Lavalin affair — but Liberals limit witness list.”

I cite some recent sentences citing still others on what in “the spring of 1873 … burst upon the general public as ‘the Pacific Scandal’ — the ‘first major political scandal in Canada after Confederation,’ which ‘involved the taking of election funds by Prime Minister John A. Macdonald in exchange for the contract to build the Canadian Pacific Railway.’”

Newspaper headlines of the day on the Pacific Scandal, 1873.

As I see it as well, the Pacific Scandal “marked the start of a long and dishonourable but enduring Canadian political tradition of defeating federal governments by mobilizing scandals against them — as revived in the ‘Adscam’ squabble [aka sponsorship scandal] that helped the Harper Conservatives win their first minority government in 2006.”

(And note this February 12, 2019 headline : “Vancouver MP Jody Wilson-Raybould’s resignation revives ‘vivid memories’ of sponsorship scandal.”)

As I ponder the depths of Valentine’s Day 2019, voices from my TV set and computer are growing adamant about what some mainstream media professionals are already calling the SNC-Lavalin Scandal.

Tks to BohoGirlResists.

I offer this selection of headlines culled from my local Globe and Mail and Toronto Star websites earlier this morning (February 14) : “Wilson-Raybould’s resignation is an off-brand, disastrous narrative for the Liberals” (Lori Turnbull, Globe) ; “Trudeau risks isolating himself over his attacks on Wilson-Raybould” (Chantal Hébert, Star) ; “Wilson-Raybould’s departure is a calamity for Trudeau’s Liberals” (John Ibbitson, Globe) ;“Is the SNC-Lavalin scandal’s biggest victim Trudeau’s relationship with Indigenous people?” (Tanya Talaga, Star).

These strike me as the kind of headlines that brought the embryonic Canadian people of 1873 the Pacific Scandal — and that just might bring yet another descendant, the SNC-Lavalin Scandal of 2019, with similar giddy consequences.

(The Pacific Scandal soon enough brought down John A. Macdonald’s first Conservative government of the 1867 confederation, and replaced it with a less organized group of Liberals led by the penny-pinching stone mason Alexander Mackenzie.)

Back in the northern woods of early 2019, if something very much like this is what is actually going on today, as the leading issue in the Canadian federal politics breaking news, my own unshakeable reaction is just Wake Me When It’s Over.

And I say this as a Canadian citizen who has voted in every federal election since the advent of Pierre Elliott Trudeau in 1968.

I am relieved as well that in Canada today I can also hear other voices from my TV set and computer who seem to agree with me, one way or another, more or less. Not everything from the past is worth preserving.

The Age of the Pacific Scandal in Canada ought to have ended long ago. It is just distracting us from the real problems of — in the tidy words of Joe Clark’s preface to Jean Chrétien’s 2018 book of Canadian political stories — “our remarkably diverse country and complicated world.”

Of course, the people of Canada in all their remarkable diversity may finally decide, this coming October 21, that someone and something other than the Justin Trudeau Liberals will be governing Canada 2019–2023.

(And remember : in our present system 40% of the cross-country popular vote can win a governing majority of seats in the House at Ottawa.)

That is at least how our democracy works at the moment. But if at least 40% of the people of Canada do chose Andrew Scheer as prime minister over Justin Trudeau (indirectly), let us at least pretend that this is the result of some wise and measured debate on the key issues before us — from the Trans Mountain pipeline to housing costs for young families to Indigenous reconciliation to jobs, jobs, jobs, and on and on and on.

The Age of the Pacific Scandal, that is to say, was captured in the American historian, journalist, and presidential grandson Henry Adams’s patrician observation of 1907 : “Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.”

More than a century later we aren’t driving the same kind of automobile that Henry Adams bought in 1902. We shouldn’t be practising his kind of politics as the systematic organization of hatreds either. But that’s what scandals do so well — while pretending to appeal to higher standards that grow increasingly vague and slippery the closer you get to their dead centres.

Finally, for the names and addresses of those whose online and related media voices on this issue I have appreciated and enjoyed the most so far — and a few further thoughts on the later long career of the John A. Macdonald who was chased out of office by the Pacific Scandal in 1873 —  click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below!)

UPDATE —  MONDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2019, 5:30 PM : Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s principal secretary Gerald Butts has now resigned, in an effort to defuse the growing controversy over “allegations that senior members of the PMO pressured former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to help Quebec-based multinational engineering firm SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution on bribery and fraud charges in relation to contracts in Libya.”

Butts has “said he categorically denies allegations that he or anyone else in the PMO put this sort of pressure on Wilson-Raybould. He said the accusation is ‘simply not true.’” At the same time, “the fact is that this accusation exists. It cannot and should not take one moment away from the vital work the prime minister and his office is doing for all Canadians … My reputation is my responsibility and that is for me to defend. It is in the best interests of the office and its important work for me to step away.”

On the other hand : “Conservative Leader AndrewScheer says Butts’s resignation shows there is ‘much more’ to the SNC-Lavalin affair than JustinTrudeau has admitted.” And Scheer has repeated his “call on PM to waive solicitor-client privilege” so  Jody Wilson-Raybould can speak. Scheer also “says push will continue for justice committee probe.”

Whether the Conservatives (and/or New Democrats) can persuade enough voters that “SNC-Lavalin” deserves to become the kind of old-school Canadian political scandal that can bring down the Trudeau government in this year’s October 21 election remains unclear. I personally continue to believe that this version of politics as “the systematic organization of hatreds” has become obsolete. As an aspiring objective observer of Canadian politics, I agree as well that only time will tell. But for the moment I continue to colour myself skeptical.

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Is AOC just trying to revive the progressive democratic legacies of FDR, JFK, and LBJ?

Posted: February 3rd, 2019 | No Comments »

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in conversation. Photo Credit: Jose A. Alvarado Jr.

The almost sudden rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is one of the more intriguing things about American politics right now.

She has become an almost sparkling new standard bearer for variously labelled radical, progressive, or just left Democrats (and even some “Wall Street liberals”!), energized by the 2018 midterm elections and the ongoing foibles of the Trump Republicans — and their reckless “populist conservative” leader.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez is also known by her three initials AOC. (And if this reminds you of FDR and JFK, or even LBJ, that could be the intention.) In just a few words, she is the unquestionably charismatic new House of Representatives member for the eastern Bronx and north-central Queens in New York City (aka congressional district NY–14).

A few weeks ago a group of FOX News commentators were nervously discussing the prospect that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez might even become the Democrats’ presidential nominee for 2020. They forgot that at 29 AOC is “the youngest woman ever to serve in the United States Congress” — and fails to meet the minimum age of 35 for presidents under the US Constitution.

If Ms Ocasio-Cortez cannot run for president in 2020, however, her policy ideas can still wield considerable weight and heft.

This past January 15, 2019, eg, the radical Michigan film maker Michael Moore urged “that the Democrats follow the lead of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She stands where the MAJORITY of Americans stand: Tax the rich, Medicare for All, a New Green Deal, stop ICE, end mass jailing, higher min wage, free college. NOW.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) carves Thanksgiving turkey as his especially progressive activist wife Eleanor looks on.

AOC’s policy ideas have also come in for much criticism. The first concept in the seven-point program summarized by Michael Moore has attracted the most attention.

According to the Daily Beast, eg : “Howard Schultz blames Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for his decision to run as Independent and it has to do with her plan to tax the rich.”

Taxing the rich was similarly attacked by Mr. Schultz’s fellow billionaires at Davos in Switzerland. And again attention came to focus on Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s more specific proposal for “a 70% marginal tax rate for incomes above $10 million.”

Michael Dell (Dell computers etc) urged that a 70% tax rate on the highest annual incomes was absurd.  Yet his “name a country where that’s worked, ever” was met by MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson’s crisp reply : “The United States … from about the 1930s through about the 1960s.” (From FDR, that is, through JFK to LBJ.)

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Nanaimo byelection in BC could be sign of Canadian times (even if NDP finally wins)

Posted: January 28th, 2019 | No Comments »

Beautiful downtown Nanaimo from the waterfront.

The most interesting Canadian political event this week is almost certainly the BC provincial byelection in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, Wednesday, January 30, 2019.

John Horgan’s current BC NDP government in Victoria remains in office with the help of three Green party Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). And the NDP/Greens together are just very slightly ahead of the opposition BC Liberals.

Last June former NDP MLA for Nanaimo Leonard Krog announced he would resign his seat if he won the Nanaimo mayoral race in October, prompting a byelection to fill the vacancy. At this point headlines advised : “NDP seat ‘pretty safe’ in looming Nanaimo byelection: analyst.”

Nanaimo in its regional setting.

Krog did win the mayoral election in October, and the byelection became inevitable. But in November 2018 Mainstreet Research released a poll “that shows a neck-and-neck race between the BC Liberals and the NDP.”

According to this November poll, “if the [by]election were held today likely NDP candidate Sheila Malcolmson would get 39.8 per cent of the vote, while Liberal candidate Tony Harris would get 38.2 per cent of the vote.”

The byelection was finally called early this month for January 30, 2019. The main candidates are in fact Sheila Malcolmson for the NDP, Tony Harris, for the Liberals, and Michele Ney for the Greens.

The NMA Big Band kicks things off at Diana Krall Plaza as the Nanaimo International Jazz Festival gets underway, September 15, 2017. (JOSEF JACOBSON/Nanaimo News Bulletin).

As the excellent BC website The Tyee has explained : “Also running in the byelection are Justin Greenwood for the BC Conservative Party, Robin Mark Richardson for the Vancouver Island Party and Libertarian Bill Walker.”

Andrew MacLeod at The Tyee has also explained what would happen if Tony Harris actually did take Nanaimo for the opposition Liberals this Wednesday  : “If the Liberals win, they will hold 43 seats, matching the number that the NDP (40) and Green Party (three) together hold. Since the Speaker supports the government in tie votes, the New Democrats would have the ability to govern, but with little margin for error …”

(And as noted by John Copsey at Global News, such a recurrent standoff in the legislature could soon enough “result in an early provincial election.” )

To add to the excitement, Mainstreet Research has just come out with a Nanaimo byelection poll that suggests “among decided and leaning voters, the Liberals have 44.7 per cent support while the NDP have 32.2 per cent. The Greens have 13.7 per cent while the BC Conservatives have seven per cent.”

Nanaimo provincial byelection signs, January 2019.

Byelections can be notoriously difficult to predict. Mainstreet CEO Quito Maggi notes : “The caution here is that voter turnout patterns in by-elections are always quite different … It might be a little bit closer than these numbers point to.”

But if Tony Harris does win for the BC Liberals the potentially wild and crazy Canadian political year of 2019 (with Alberta provincial and Canadian federal elections also looming ahead) could be off to an even more intriguing start than usual. The best advice of course remains stay tuned! The deciding moment in The Case of the Nanaimo Byelection is now only two days away.

UPDATE JAN 31, 2 AM ET/JAN 30 11 PM PT : Despite the latest poll above, with most of the vote now counted Sheila Malcolmson has about 49% for the NDP and Tony Harris only 41% for the Liberals. As one Nanaimo resident has explained : “A lot of people didn’t want a change in government” in Victoria, when push came to shove.  And that crystallizing feeling in the end may have been the last-minute movement (or “pattern”) that the most recent Mainstreet poll couldn’t capture. Congrats to Ms Malcolmson (and Mr Horgan) in any case. The NDP/Green show continues on Canada’s Pacific Coast!

Does murder in Alice Munro country early last spring say things about the troubled big political picture today?

Posted: January 22nd, 2019 | No Comments »

David Salter, 71, neighbour to the murdered Doug and Marian Fischer on C Line Road in Huron County, Ontario, and his dog, Donald Trump. Photo : Mike Hensen/The London Free Press.

I’m told that I haven’t personally contributed a crime story to this site for more than a decade (“Depression economics and crime : Marine murders in California, Toronto youth violence,” Nov 15th, 2008).

And the site itself hasn’t dabbled in the subject for not much less than a decade (“Murder on the Bruce Peninsula revisited .. again .. and again .. and again …,” Jun 4th, 2009).

There has been a much more recent editorial decision to reclassify a political piece as a crime story (“Has Donald Trump pushed us into a new age of political mendacity, like Orwell’s time between the two world wars?” Jun 20th, 2018).

But much more recently again I’ve been intrigued by a crime story in the old (not politically inspired) sense. And the counterweights editors have agreed to indulge my interest.

Why am I (or are we, the editors would say) suddenly returning to old-school crime, after so long away?

The case that intrigues me now involves the hometown of Southwestern Ontario’s Nobel Prize-winning short story writer, Alice Munro. It raises (almost political) issues that she has long explored but may be unusually relevant today — north of the North American Great Lakes and in other places elsewhere.

Bluevale, Ontario today.

Possibly more to some exact point, when the regional mass media first began to explore the scene of the crimes in question here, on C Line Road near Bluevale, Ontario, they interviewed a rural neighbour,  David Salter, 71, who “said a retired couple lived on the property in a new home they shared with their adult daughter.”

On March 29, 2018 Mr. Salter had been puzzled by some very early morning barking from “his dog, a two-year-old Australian shepherd mix he named Donald Trump.”

(And for a few further gruesome details on “1. Kevin Carter from Wingham murders ex-girlfriend’s parents then rapes her on crazy morning at 42371 C Line Road, near Bluevale,  March 29, 2018,” and “2. Kevin Carter’s day in court and the ways in which the tragic story of Gail and Kevin and Marian and Doug does sound like something by Alice Munro,” click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below!)

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Starting 2019 with jazz at the Bluebird — one of the “top 21 new bars in Toronto”

Posted: January 4th, 2019 | No Comments »

It may well be that 2019 proves a difficult year on any number of fronts. But I was lucky enough to spend its first Thursday evening at one of the “top 21 new bars in Toronto” (blue bird or The Bluebird, 2072 Dundas St W, at Howard Park).

I was listening to an excellent jazz trio called The Three Chris(s)es (Chris Banks, bass ; Chris Gale, tenor sax ; Chris Wallace, drums).

This Thursday, January 3, 2019 at the blue bird was only the third outing for The Three Chris(s)es. (Each is a master of his instrument and has a now long career on Toronto and beyond musical scenes, in many other settings.) But already it seems clear that they work well together.

Chris Banks lays down a solid foundation for the trio’s musical adventures, but also has an almost melodic approach to his upright string bass. This fits nicely with Chris Gale’s “lyrical sensibility and soulful approach” to his 1940s Selmer tenor sax. And this fits with the work of Chris Wallace, who has been aptly called “a drummer of supreme musicality.”

What’s missing with just bass, drums, and horn is someone playing the chords, that form the middle of a tune’s harmonic structure for which the bass gives the bottom. (On piano or guitar say.) In the Los Angeles of the early 1950s Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker nonetheless showed that just bass and drums and horns can work — with the right players and arrangements.

Many years later up in We the North, on January 3, 2019 at the Bluebird, The Three Chris(s)es showed something similar, on such Great American Songbook tunes as “Darn That Dream” (Jimmy Van Heusen/Eddie DeLange), and on modern jazz classics like “My Little Suede Shoes” (Charlie Parker) and “Good Bait” (Tadd Dameron/Count Basie).

The American classical composer Virgil Thomson (1896–1989) once called jazz a “persecuted chamber music.” This has positive as well as various negative connotations (to my mind at any rate). And something about the small and intimate blue bird bar (and its excellent staff) brought out these positive connotations for me.

The jazz played by The Three Chris(s)es is very hip “chamber music.” But if you really like to listen to the music you hear it brings similar high-minded rewards.

At a time when so many low-minded impulses are competing for our attention, listening to  Chris Banks, Chris Gale, and Chris Wallace contemplate some of the good things America has given to the wider world was at least a great beginning to 2019.

Who really knows what will follow over the next 12 months in the same wider world? But if you do find the year is starting to get you down, remember that one of the “top 21 new bars in Toronto” — the blue bird, 2072 Dundas St W, at Howard Park (not far from the Dundas West subway stop) — has first-class live music every Thursday night, from 8 to 11 PM.

From my own point of view, eg, the tenor sax of Chris Gale will be returning January 17, 2019 (this time with Brendan Davis on bass and Ted Quinlan on guitar). And on January 31 Irene Harrett on bass and Chris Platt on guitar will accompany the tenor sax of Ms Chelsea McBride, who “performs everything from straight ahead jazz classics to original compositions influenced equally by jazz and pop music.”

So … if my own sanity seems threatened by any of the current White House occupants, the Alberta provincial and Canadian federal elections, or god knows what else in many different parts of the world (the Australian federal election eg, or Chinese detention of Canadian visitors and vice-versa), I now know of one place I can go to seek relief. And I can recommend the brand to others. As was wisely said long ago, by various learned and other authorities : “Jazz is the music of democracy” (which we need more than ever just now).

Our top 10 counterweights articles for that strange year 2018 (and happy new year to an even stranger 2019 ??)

Posted: December 31st, 2018 | No Comments »

At the end of this annual exercise for this (even unusually?) strange year we suddenly realize that our deepest recent preoccupations have been quite local — north of the North American Great Lakes, on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario.

We may have been seeking refuge (albeit in vain) from the larger wild and crazy events in such related larger democracies as France, the United Kingdom, and the United States (to say nothing of Mexico, or Australia, or Narendra Modi’s India, or Doug Ford’s Ontario, John Horgan’s BC, Rachel Notley’s Alberta, or François Legault’s Quebec!).

For broader Canadian commentary we recommend the excellent Angus Reid Top 10 Stories of 2018. (“Story 1 – Ford Nation takes Ontario, Story 2 – The TransMountain pipeline saga, Story 3 – The New NAFTA, Story 4 – Poverty a problem, Canadians want more from government, Story 5 – The Opioid Crisis, Story 6 – Future of Saudi relations, Story 7 – Immigration and Asylum Seekers, Story 8 – Indigenous Issues divide country, Story 9 – Carbon Pricing Tension, Story 10 – The #MeToo Movement.”)

Here is our own unusually local “top 10 counterweights articles for that strange year 2018” :

1. Sunday Bloody Sunday with the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, Jan 29th, 2018.

2. Jill Lepore’s three lectures in Toronto .. in the shadow of the new Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford, Mar 21st, 2018.

3. Putting David Livingston in jail is what’s harmful to the future of parliamentary democracy in Ontario, Apr 11th, 2018.

4. Toronto van killings : strong city that ignores painful truths joins real global village at last, May 2nd, 2018.

5. Ontario election 2018, VI : Donald Trump clone inevitable after all north of North American Great Lakes, Jun 8th, 2018.

6. Happy Canada Day 2018 : Electing the Governor General could make a lot of sense in the 21st century,  Jul 1st, 2018.

7. Toronto Danforth Shooter : strong city that still ignores painful truths still joining real global village at last, Jul 27th, 2018.

8. O Cannabis .. and the looming midterm elections in the USA today, Oct 17th, 2018.

9. Happy 100 First World War Armistice .. a view from the northern woods, Nov 11th, 2018.

10. Can Justin Trudeau be defeated Oct 21, 2019 (& what do Lester Pearson and early Pierre Trudeau say) ??,  Dec 27th, 2018.

We end with not only our most recent article, but one that raises the clearly largest Canada-wide  political issue of 2019 — the Canadian federal election on October 21, 2019!

On this site we will be focusing as well on two other elections — the Canadian provincial election in Alberta, that under current law must “be held between March 1 and May 30,” and the Australian federal election which “must be held by 18 May 2019 for half of the State Senators and on or before 2 November 2019 for the House of Representatives and Territory Senators.”

May the best candidates in all three contests win. (A lame wish no doubt, but at least high-minded!) May the coming 12 months bring everyone everywhere on planet earth at least some good news, along with all the bad news and fake news and god-knows-what-else that seems to loom ahead. And, whatever else, look for the silver lining and Happy New Year 2019.