Sailing into summer .. is it really 1965 all over again?

Jun 30th, 2006 | By | Category: Key Current Issues

Summer in anglophone central Canada starts very seriously on Canada Day, July 1. It is so highly valued because it lasts only two months and a few more days at best. Labour Day, which falls on Monday, September 4 this year, is the very serious end of it all.

Soon almost everyone in the region will feel the climatic pressure to surrender to the oblivion of this all-too-short warm season. Before it happens, it is time for one quick last look at just where the country is headed (and will still be on September 5) in the pages of the Toronto Globe and Mail.

The Globe and Mail – a mercifully short history lesson …

The Globe and Mail is not quite Canada’s most widely read newspaper. But it is almost certainly as close as English-speaking Canada gets to what used to be called a newspaper of record.

It has no doubt deservedly raised eyebrows in other parts of the country when it has called itself “Canada’s national newspaper.” But its beginnings now go back more than 160 years, which is impressive enough in such a still quite new country as Canada today.

The Globe part of its current name started in Toronto on March 5, 1844. It began as a political weekly, with a circulation of 300. (It was from the start, and for many years thereafter, an unabashed advocate for what subsequently became the Liberal Party of Canada.) By October 1, 1853 it had grown into a daily with a circulation of 6,000.

In its original 19th century heyday, the Globe “supported separation of church and state, representation by population, the development and exploitation of the west and, after 1859, Confederation.” It stood up for a suitably British North American version of the rising family farm democracy north of the Great Lakes, and the business interests of Toronto (especially as opposed to those of the then much older and larger city of Montreal to the east).

The Globe was never warm towards the alcoholic Conservative first prime minister of Canada, John A. Macdonald. But especially after Wilfrid Laurier launched the long career of the federal Liberals as “Canada’s natural governing party” in the early 20th century, it increasingly settled in as an establishment newspaper. In its pages you could learn what you needed to know if you really wanted to get ahead in life.

Locally, for most of the period between the two world wars, the Globe was Toronto’s liberal establishment morning paper, battling for circulation with the conservative establishment morning paper, known as the Mail and Empire. In 1936, however, the Globeabsorbed the Mail and Empire, to form the modern Globe and Mail.” Ever since, the Globe and Mail has been an establishment newspaper with no altogether clear and permanent liberal or conservative allegiances (to say nothing of the New Democrats or the Bloc Quebecois). In the most recent January 2006 federal election, it finally came out in favour of the Harper Conservatives.

The Globe and Mail online readers in 2006 – two interesting polls …

Ever since it introduced “the first cylinder press in Upper Canada” during its first year in business, the Globe has always been keen to keep up with technological advance. Today probably is the most comprehensive and “most authoritative” Canadian news website extant. (Though, if Alexa rankings are to be believed, the network, which collectively serves more than a dozen other Canadian newspapers, attracts more visitors.)

Just who reads It has traditionally been said that while the print edition of the Toronto Star has a larger circulation, Globe readers are typically more influential in public life. Assuming something similar may apply to the online edition, in the last week of June 2006 has run two online polls that provide intriguing intelligence about its readers:

(1) On June 28 78% of almost 19,000 respondents answered Yes to the question “Does it trouble you if foreign owners buy up large Canadian companies?”

(2) On June 29 asked its readers “Where would you say you fall in the political spectrum?” More than 26,000 respondents answered as follows: Far left 4%; Left 14%; Centre left 28%; Centre – 12%; Centre right 23%; Right 15%; Far right 4%. Or, summing up more broadly, Left 46%; Centre 12%; Right 42%. (I.e., by a mere 4% the old liberal biases of the 19th century Globe are still reflected somewhat in its early 21st century readers, regardless of what those who publish the paper today may say editorially.)

Random signs of the times …

So, for those who believe that the medium is not always the main message itself, just what other messages was the Globe and Mail leaving in the minds of its soon-very-seriously-summer-bound readers on June 29, 2006? Here is one random selection:

(1) 1965 ALL OVER AGAIN? Ottawa columnist John Ibbitson reports that the federal “re-education programs in the Finance Department and Privy Council Office, designed to school novice politicians in seeing the world through the eyes of the bureaucracy, appear to have succeeded splendidly … This Conservative government is prepared to use the federal spending power to influence provincial behaviour through tied grants, and perhaps even through shared-cost programs. It’s 1965 all over again.”

Mr. Ibbitson goes on. The new Harper government also wants “the provinces, once and for all, to lower interprovincial barriers to trade and labour mobility. And it wants agreement to a common securities regulator.” But “how in the name of all that’s holy does anyone think that the solution to the fiscal imbalance is for a purportedly Conservative and avowedly decentralist government to use the hammer of the federal spending power to coerce provincial governments to do things Ottawa’s way? Which prompts a final question: Is this for real, or is the Harper government just trying to scare us?”

(2) THE ELUSIVE COMMON SECURITIES REGULATOR. The allegedly Alberta-dominated Harper federal government may want provincial “agreement to a common securities regulator,” as Mr. Ibbitson reports. But this week’s conflab of federal-provincial finance ministers at the picturesque Southern Ontario tourist trap of Niagara-on-the-Lake has made clear that it won’t be getting it any time too soon.

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty (former provincial finance minister in the Ontario government of Mike Harris, who has lately been co-authoring policy papers with Preston Manning from Alberta) “was unfazed by the lack of apparent progress … in his quest to merge Canada’s 13 securities regulators into one.” He called the Niagara-on-the-Lake wine-and-dine meeting “another step in the road’ to a common regulator.” He “tried to encourage” his current provincial finance-minister colleagues “to look forward some day to a single securities regulator … It may not happen quickly, but I would hope over time that we can move in that direction.”

At the moment, the only province that supports a single common securities regulator for Canada is the most populous province of Ontario. The other 12 provinces and territories support an “alternative scheme” that “would let the provinces keep their separate securities commissions in place.” But: “Approvals in one would be recognized in other participating jurisdictions [the so-called passport system] … We’re not going to stop the work we’ve started, and the achievements we’ve made, to have a debate on which structure is the best,’ Alberta Finance Minister Shirley McClellan said.”

Manitoba Finance Minister Greg Selinger “said his province is concerned a move to a common regulator could cost it financial sector jobs and investment. We want to make sure that Manitoba and Winnipeg retains its role as a financial services centre in the country.” Meanwhile, “Gerry Phillips, Ontario’s minister responsible for securities regulation, said he thinks Canada can do better than the passport system.” He is “going to keep working to try to find a way to move to a common national regulator.” Or, in his own words: “Most people say, Gerry, it’s inevitable.’ I say, If it’s inevitable and it’s important, can we speed it up?'”

(3) CITIZEN BLACK IS BACK. Lawrence Martin, Globe and Mail national columnist and man about town (Anytown, Canada), has an interesting report on Conrad Black – almost ex-Canadian media tycoon, currently besieged by a US court for alleged financial fast-dealing.

Now a refugee back in Toronto, the “Lord of Crossharbour … finds ordinary Canadians reaching out to him and he is comforted by it … Since being knocked from his pedestal, the people, Mr. Black maintains, see him very differently. Canadians suspect, if only intuitively, the corruption of the American prosecutorial system and I have made the transition from being perceived as a plutocrat to an underdog.'”

Mr. Martin goes on: “The scenario is one few could have forecast.” Only a short while ago, “Baron Black much preferred things British and American to his pallid home country, which he almost abandoned. Now he has developed a new respect for Canada and finds refuge in it as the underdog up against the big bad bloodhounds of America.”

Yet you have to wonder. Just how many “ordinary Canadians” does Mr. Black know? I believe, e.g., that I alone could supply him with names, addresses, and phone numbers (and/or email addresses) of at least … well, say, more than 100 … such individuals, who still think he is only getting what he has for so long so richly deserved. So don’t be fooled by his new Canadianism. It is just a foxhole religion. If you do see him on the street, or at the lake, this summer, don’t go up and say polite things to him. He will only take them the wrong way.

(4) FEDERAL TORIES MAY HAVE BROKEN POLITICAL FINANCING LAWS. Mmmm … The details of all this don’t seem all that terrible. But that’s what I thought about the Quebec sponsorship scandal too. So who knows? It could be just what the Liberal Party of Canada is looking for, in its current predictable malaise. Or it may at least raise at least a few nice thoughts around the campfire this summer, on the left bank of the Methye Portage?

(5) GIVE UP INTERNET PRIVACY RIGHTS TO HELP FIGHT THE WAR ON TERROR IN CANADA? NEVER (OR MAYBE?). Bell Sympatico “is warning its customers that Big Brother is lurking on-line, with the federal government expected to revive an Internet surveillance bill … If the legislation is reintroduced, it could allow police unfettered access to personal information without a warrant, experts warn.”

You might think, well yes, now that we have even a Conservative minority government in Ottawa, we in Canada are starting to emulate “the big bad bloodhounds of America” ourselves. Except that the “the Modernization of Investigative Techniques” bill “was originally introduced by the Liberals last November, but died on the Commons order paper when their minority government fell shortly after.” Now the Harper Conservatives are only going to re-introduce this legislation, it is said. At worst: “If anything, [the new bill] will be a hardened approach.”

Meanwhile, the Globe and Mail itself has been experimenting with the kind of intelligence that “Internet surveillance” can elicit. It has assigned Omar El Akkad and Greg McCarthur the task of probing “more than 6,000 Internet postings” made by certain mostly very young wives of several among the 17 alleged home-grown “Islamist” terrorists, dramatically arrested in the Greater Toronto Area at the start of this month.

These are some of the same young ladies whose somewhat mysterious-looking traditional conservative Middle East Muslim clothing proved such a magnet for the media photographers and camera men, when their husbands appeared in a Brampton, Ontario court. What the El Akkad-McCarthur surveillance shows is “their passion for holy war, disgust at virtually every aspect of non-Muslim society and a hatred of Canada.”

It also suggests that there are some simple enough explanations for how such “home-grown terrorist” sentiment can develop in such a still kinder and gentler place as Canada today. The 18-year-old Nada Farooq, e.g., is one of the most fiercely radical Islamist militants among the Internet posters. But we are also told that her “name is properly pronounced Needa,’ and when she came to Canada as a child, some of the kids at her school teased her by calling her Needa Shower.’ She’d often come home in tears.”

And just what, you may reasonably wonder on some sleepless hot night this summer, can anyone really do about things like that? Of course kids at school shouldn’t tease each other. And maybe if the Ministry of Education developed prescribed courses against multicultural teasing, etc … But really, kids at school are always going to … etc, etc … We almost all of us get teased about something. Who hasn’t at some point come home from school in tears? Even the big, strong hockey player, who gets teased for being so dumb? Anyway, it’s time to start packing the car, for the long journey up north – back to the land of the original aboriginal peoples of Canada, who have been here (their religious and spiritual leaders claim) since time began …

If you don’t make it to Muskoka yourself this year …

According to the excellent California ecological writer Philip Fradkin, Lake Tahoe, a few hours’ drive more or less due east, was the traditional resort of the San Francisco “cognoscenti.” The intervening great central valley of California “was a flat, hot landscape to speed across quickly on the way from The City to The Lake.”

The lake district of Muskoka, perhaps a somewhat shorter few hours’ drive due north, has traditionally played a similar role for the cognoscenti of Toronto. It is where the awesome ancient rock on the vast northern wilderness of the Canadian Shield begins.

Toronto itself has few geographical attractions, unlike Vancouver or even Montreal (to say nothing of Quebec City or Halifax, and other smaller Canadian urban places too). The shameful truth is that downtown Toronto was, for strictly strategic locational reasons, built on a swamp, and can become annoyingly humid and muggy on some hot summer days.

But Muskoka, to the city’s very near north, is serious geography, for those who like that kind of thing. And from one point of view the best part of it is on the Georgian Bay shoreline – where Georgian Bay is just a part of the great inland sea of Lake Huron, dotted in Muskoka with many small islands. If you want alluring sand beaches, go to Grand Bend or even the Bruce Peninsula on Lake Huron, further west in Southwestern Ontario. What you get in Muskoka is a clean and crisp blend of rock and fresh water and the northern forest. (And if you don’t believe trees can grow on rock, in sometimes very intriguing ways, think again.)

The Toronto cognoscenti who have long spent as much of the central Canadian Great Lakes summer as they could in Muskoka, you might say, have also traditionally read the Globe and Mail. Nowadays, however, you have to have more money than even many among the Toronto cognoscenti can afford to get into Muskoka in any serious way. And the great more or less civilized mass of the ordinary Canadian people of the city have, in any case, always looked further afield for their more affordable versions of the blissful summer retreat.

Besides, in the summer of 2006 it has at last become quite clear to almost all readers of the Globe and Mail that anglophone central Canada is no longer going to be what it once at least thought it was, in the truly vast chunk of still largely rugged wilderness geography, due north of the USA.

Ontario is still Canada’s most populous province, with almost 39% of the total Canadian population, coast to coast to coast. But now it is unmistakably clear that oil-rich Alberta is starting to corner more and more of the loose change in the country. And, even with the inevitable ups and downs of all resource economies, it is increasingly hard to see how Alberta can avoid getting more and more of the available Canadian loose change, in any immediately foreseeable future of continuing North American addiction to the petro economy.

Still, this can also be a soothing seasonal thought in its own right. Now someone else will also have to take on some of the responsibility for worrying about the Canadian future, deep into the northern nights. Now Stephen Harper and his allegedly Alberta-dominated federal government, just to cite the most obvious and immediate political point, has to worry about keeping French-speaking Quebec happy too. And strangely enough, a great burden has at least been somewhat eased from the backs of the Toronto cognoscenti who still read the Globe and Mail. This year they will be able to relax and enjoy the summer even more than they have in the past, wherever they might be.

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