Julie Couillard reminds us why Canada needs Quebec

May 26th, 2008 | By | Category: Ottawa Scene

UPDATED MAY 28. People sometimes ask why Quebec is so important for Canada’s past, present, and future. And every now and then someone like Julie Couillard – who, she has just stressed on TV, is “definitely not a bikers’ chick” – comes along to make the answer clear.

Until her dynamic intervention on the evening of Monday, May 26, 2008, the most interesting current event in Canadian politics was Barack Obama’s candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination in the United States. But now Ms. Couillard has told us (and in English as well as French, if you can access canoe.tv online) just what is behind the unhappy demise of her year-long “mandate” to serve as former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier’s girlfriend.

Almost at the same time we learn that “Prime Minister Stephen Harper has accepted the resignation of his embattled foreign affairs minister over an apparent security breach involving secret military documents, ” just as “Julie Couillard was about to go to air on a French-language television station.” And suddenly the most interesting current event in Canadian politics is actually happening in Canada again.

1. Definitely not a bikers’ chick …

The full story of Ms.Couillard’s areer in Canadian politics goes back to last August 14, 2007, when she accompanied Maxime Bernier to his swearing in as Canada’s new foreign affairs minister. Or, as reported by a source not unfriendly to Canada’s new government under Stephen Harper: “Julie Couillard is an attractive woman who first drew public interest when she wore a low-cut dress to Mr. Bernier’s swearing-in as foreign minister. Word is he got a bit of a talking-to from the PMO for that little indiscretion – the Harper Tories are conservative in dress sense as well as in policies.”

To carry on, in the words of the same source: “That’s about the only glimpse we had of her until Thursday [May 7, 2008], when it was revealed – pause for collective intake of breath – that some years ago she was entangled with various members of Quebec biker gangs.”

More exactly, in the words of another source, less friendly to Mr. Harper perhaps, but not unfriendly to Ms. Couillard herself: “speaking as a woman who, like many others, likes her boys to be bad and her men to be good, I can sort of relate to Couillard’s romantic track record … In the early ’90s, she lived with Gilles Gigure for three years. Word is, he was the muscle’ for a Hells Angels loan shark. One day, he met a messy end, in a watery ditch and full of bullet holes. The Quebec police force’s anti-gang squad pronounced it an execution, part of Hells boss Maurice (Mom) Boucher‘s purge of suspected stool pigeons.”

From here the story carries on: “After a year in widow’s weeds, Couillard took up with, and married, Stphane Sirois. He belonged to the Rockers, enforcers for the Hells Angels Nomads chapter. But Boucher soon became suspicious of Couillard and ordered Sirois to quit the gang or quit her. They divorced in 1999 and he turned police informant. In 2003, he testified that Boucher had wanted Couillard dead.”

2. State has no business in bedrooms of the nation (s) …

As one might expect, the opposition parties in the Canadian federal Parliament at Ottawa tried to make some political hay out of these initial revelations about Julie Couillard’s alleged biker-girl past. And by this point her apparent new boyfriend, foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier, had himself made enough bungles in his professional life to offer a tempting target.

So on May 7, 2008 deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff rose in the Canadian House of Commons to proclaim: “[Mr. Bernier] is the minister who confuses the name of the former president of Haiti. He undermined the sovereignty of Afghanistan with intemperate remarks about the governor of Kandahar. Now we learn that he failed to disclose potential security problems with a private relationship. Based on this record of embarrassment … how can the government have confidence in the Minister of Foreign Affairs?”

Prime Minister Harper, however, would have none of this. He wasn’t about to start prying into the private love lives of his cabinet ministers, based on allegations about the conduct of their friends a decade ago. And so forth. (Mr. Harper did not quote Pierre Trudeau’s old aphorism about how the Canadian state had no business in the bedrooms of the nation, but he might have.)

The politics editor of the National Post chimed in with some supportive analysis, friendly to Mr. Harper’s position: “Are Hell’s Angels that interested in Canadian foreign policy? … Other than in James Bond or similar thrillers, there hasn’t actually been a case of a high-ranking politician foolishly sharing the codes for the nuclear launch sequence with some smooth-talking floozy, who then passed them on to the bad guys. The possibility seems to exist mainly in the minds of opposition politicians and excitable journalists. Until a real-life example comes along, it should probably stay there.”

3. I don’t care about her cleavage … but …

More recently again, it was next reported that after her divorce from Stphane Sirois in 1999 Julie Couillard “was living with Robert Pepin up to 2005.” And “Pepin, a businessman, had convictions for possession of stolen goods.”

Then just this morning, Monday, May 26, 2008, the Quebec newspaper Le Devoir “reported … that Couillard, a registered real estate agent, also owns her own security firm and played an active role in a bid by a company owned by” Robert Pepin “to get a security contract from the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.” Moreover, “Pepin, who split up with Couillard in 2005 and later committed suicide, is reported to have owed a large amount of money to a Hells Angels loan shark and had received threats in connection with the debt.” And: “In February 2005, as her relationship with Pepin was breaking up, Couillard set up her own security company, Itek Global Solutions.”

All this prompted Liberal deputy leader Michael Ignatieff to proclaim in Parliament: “This is about the possibility … of a link between organized crime and airport security in Montreal and the possibility of improper bidding for contracts relating to security … I don’t care about her skirts, I don’t care about her cleavage, I don’t care about her past, I don’t care about any of it, it is none of my business quite rightly. But this (security) stuff is not only my business, it is the business of all Canadians.”

Moreover: “Serge Menard, a former Quebec justice and public security minister who is now a Bloc Quebecois MP, echoed Ignatieff’s concern about Couillard’s involvement in a bid for a security contract at Montreal’s airport … Menard said the Hells Angels have been known to place people in strategic positions and infiltrate organizations to further their illegal activities … Even if she hasn’t committed any infraction, she is a person who could represent a security risk.'”

4. Julie speaks …

As recently as a joint press conference with visiting Ukranian President Victor Yushchenko, earlier on Monday, May 26, 2008, Prime Minister Harper was still treating all allegations about his foreign minister’s involvement with Julie Couillard as beneath contempt: “I have no intention of commenting on a minister’s former girlfriend,’ Harper told reporters. It is not a subject I take seriously.'”

Meanwhile Ms. Couillard herself, protesting that her own good name had been “unfairly dragged through mud,” had “granted an interview with TVA in Montreal, which is scheduled to be aired on the French-language network tonight” [also Monday, May 26, 2008]. It was at this point that I altogether caught up with everything myself. Through the good offices of the Globe and Mail newspaper website in Toronto, and the Quebec-based canoe.tv online, I went to watch Ms. Couillard’s interview at 9 PM ET – in a convenient English-language version.

She was certainly engaging, in her own way. She was resolved to show, right up front, she said (in that charming somewhat hesitant but elegantly idiomatic English that attractive women in Quebec often display), that she was “definitely not a bikers’ chick.” She had told Stphane Sirois, e.g., that she would not marry him if he remained associated with bikers. And he had obliged.

She had first met Maxime Bernier, she explained, after being asked herself if she was interested in becoming a candidate for the Conservative Party of Canada in Quebec. Then they had started going out, and she had agreed to become Maxime’s girlfriend for “a year mandate” (or something of that sort). The controversial low-cut dress showing her impressive cleavage, that she had worn to M. Bernier’s swearing-in as foreign minister, on August 14, 2007, had in fact been chosen by M. Bernier himself. After her mandate as M. Bernier’s girlfriend proved to last much less than a year (especially after May 7, 2008), she realized that he had chosen the dress because he knew it would attract media attention to his career. At the same time, she had felt herself that it might not have been appropriate, and now wishes she had acted on her own good instincts. (For her TV interview she was dressed more demurely, though various attractive physical features could still be noticed by close observers.)

5. And the walls come tumbling down …

In her Monday night TV interview Julie Couillard had also mentioned a “government document” that Maxime Bernier had apparently left at her place at some point (by accident it would seem?). It appears that once she realized what this document was, she had it returned through her lawyer. (And biker chicks don’t have lawyers, right?)

This document, it finally transpired, was the tipping point that finally changed Prime Minister Harper’s mind about the harmless peccadilloes, or whatever they were, of his foreign minister. Shortly after I had finished listening to the interview, I read the Canadian Press report:

“The Conservative government was shaken to its core by the sudden resignation of Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier over a security breach involving secret documents carelessly left at his ex-girlfriend’s home … Prime Minister Stephen Harper told an extraordinary evening news conference Monday that Bernier’s controversial relationship with a woman linked to the Hells Angels was not a factor in the decision … He said it was prompted by an error involving classified documents and sources say they included briefing material for his trip to the NATO summit where Canada announced it would remain in Afghanistan.

“I don’t think it matters who a minister is dating,’ a grim Harper said in the Commons foyer. What matters here is that rules respecting government classified documents were broken … It obviously was not done on purpose. It was a mistake. But it doesn’t matter. It was clearly done and that has to be treated appropriately. There are precedents and this obviously is a warning to all ministers’ … Bernier becomes the first minister in the Harper government forced out of cabinet by scandal. The foreign affairs portfolio will be assumed temporarily by David Emerson – the ex-Liberal and current Conservative industry minister … The resignation came a scant two hours before Julie Couillard was broadcast on a French-language television network.”

6. L’envoi …

At the moment I don’t myself have any kind of definitive thoughts on what all this means.

Except it does remind me of the good old days of Canadian politics – in which Quebec has so often played a prominent role, one way or another. And, along with the news that a Tom Thomson painting of the great northern wilderness has just sold for almost $2 million, it makes me more convinced than ever that the diverse free and democratic Canada of 2008 certainly does have a brilliant future, whatever may or may not soon happen in the great republic to the south.


(1) Surprise, surprise … opposition dogs will not lie, yet … The federal Conservatives seem to be assuming (or just hoping?) that now Maxime Bernier has resigned, the Bernier (or Julie Couillard) affair is over. But as the CBC has explained: “Opposition demands more answers in Bernier affair … Federal opposition leaders are calling for an inquiry, a police investigation or some sort of formal probe into the security breach that led Maxime Bernier to resign as foreign affairs minister … The prime minister must have [a] public inquiry,’ Liberal Leader Stphane Dion demanded in the [Canadian] House of Commons.”

Meanwhile: “In the fallout of Bernier’s resignation, International Trade Minister David Emerson and Heritage Minister Jose Verner have been appointed to pick up Bernier’s cabinet responsibilities while the prime minister searches for a new foreign affairs minister … More ministerial changes will come soon, the CBC’s chief political correspondent Keith Boag said … It makes it almost certain that we’ll have a bigger cabinet shuffle this summer as the prime minister has to figure out what dominoes to move around now that Mr. Bernier’s not there.'” Mr. Boag’s kind of speculations are pursued further in a Globe and Mail article: “Bernier resignation sparks talk of cabinet shuffle.”

(2) Bridging the five-week gap … One thing helping to fuel opposition energy on the affair is an apparent gap of five weeks between the time M. Bernier left his NATO meeting briefing book on Ms. Couillard’s coffee table and the time it was returned. See, e.g., a Globe and Mail article: “Five-week gap fuels outrage in Bernier affair … Questions about how secret government documents went missing for five weeks without alarms being raised dogged Stephen Harper’s government the day after Maxime Bernier was forced out as foreign affairs minister over the security breach.” And a somewhat parallel piece in Le Devoir: “Affaire Bernier: un trou de cinq semaines … L’opposition veut savoir si des secrets d’tat ont pu tre divulgus.”

(3) Trip to Europe not helping? Prime Minister Harper himself may be off in Europe, trying to forget it all. But fate is apparently not co-operating. See the Canada.com story “Europe watches Bernier’s fall,” and, from the Vancouver Sun: “Bernier scandal dogs Harper in Europe … Foreign visit overshadowed by domestic troubles.”

(4) Is it true Julie’s bed was bugged? One aspect of Ms. Couillard’s own TV confessions has drawn some stronger than usual criticism from the media: See, e.g.: “Security experts dubious of Couillard’s bed ‘bug’ story,” and “Was the bedroom of minister’s ex really bugged?

(5) Don Martin speaks … Don Martin of the Calgary Herald is sometimes thought to have better access to Mr. Harper’s government than many other seasoned Ottawa journalists. And it seems interesting that he doesn’t think the Bernier/Julie affair is just going to go away all that quickly. See his “Maxime Bernier’s grave mistake” and “Bernier’s follies expose flaws in Tory government’s facade.”

Mr. Martin has an interesting suggestion as well about the demand for more answers in the Bernier affair – “for an inquiry, a police investigation or some sort of formal probe into the security breach.” As he surmises or reports: “The breach will now be reviewed internally by foreign affairs, a whitewash waiting to happen as the department reviews the actions of its former minister for a government dearly hoping security has not been compromised.” Like others, Mr. Martin urges too that “Bernier’s resignation also means a cabinet shuffle is now a certainty, sooner not later, given interim minister David Emerson, also the international trade minister, is unlikely to seek re-election and is already carrying a heavy load in cabinet.”

(6) Norman Spector speaks … Mr. Spector grew up in Montreal and worked in the Ontario and British Columbia public services, and then as Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s chief of staff in Ottawa. He nowadays lives and works in BC and has periodic intriguing things to say in the Toronto Globe and Mail. On the Berrnier/Julie affair he observes: “It’s tempting to question Prime Minister Harper’s judgment in appointing Mr. Bernier as industry minister in the first place, and for later promoting him to foreign affairs. However, I’m reminded of former BC premier Bill Bennett’s reaction when I complained about one of his ministers. You and my other advisers – he explained, with a slight smile – I can hire and fire at will. In choosing a cabinet, he said, I’m restricted to those whom the voters have sent me … For a Conservative Prime Minister seeking to add Quebec voices to his cabinet, that is no small challenge.”

(7) “Couillard a helpless victim? Cry me a river.” Sarah Hampson has an interesting and instructive article under this title in the Globe and Mail. It begins with the arresting and probably true sentence: “She was out to whack him.” It then, however, goes on to say: “Julie Couillard was playing the victim in her desexualized, Hillary-worthy beige pantsuit for the television interview she gave in Quebec on Monday night.” And this is not quite right. As a careful viewing of at least the French language interview will show, Ms. Couillard’s attractive enough legs are sometimes openly visible to close observers – because she is wearing a beige ladies’ suit with a skirt, not a “Hillary_worthy beige pantsuit.” The rest of Ms. Hampson’s piece is no doubt accurate, as such things go, and well worth reading.

(8) Picture is worth 1000 words etc … As depicted above, Bruce MacKinnon has a nice cartoon about the whole Bernier/Julie affair on the Halifax Chronicle-Herald website, in a grand old Canadian tradition.

MAY 22 — GOODBYE TO ALL THAT .. Is CHANGE in capital letters coming to rest of world too?

Now that the Oregon and Kentucky primaries have come and gone in the USA today, the race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination is “for all intents and purposes, over, unless you believe that the proper criterion for choosing the nominee is which candidate can win the most large states that end in vowels.” (So says the Toronto Globe and Mail‘s current man in Washington, John Ibbitson.) Barring the altogether unforseen, soon enough Barack Obama and John McCain will be competing over just whose vision of CHANGE will start sweeping America in 2009.

Which is bound to make you wonder: will CHANGE be sweeping the rest of the world too? On such subjects as: getting rid of the old colonial British monarchy in Canada at last; electing Senators in Saskatchewan (and Manitoba?); xenophobia in Italy and South Africa; Qubcois brothers in France – and Ontario next door; the McCain consultant who will not work against Obama (and oh, btw: “Barack Obama would crush Republican John McCain in the US presidential race by an almost four-to-one margin … if it were up to Canadians“); more psychodrama in Stephen Harper’s Ottawa; Obama’s “calls for Japan to drop limits on beef imports”; the fate of Ian Brodie in the Canadian PMO; and the latest exploits of the almost 83-year-old Hollywood artist Tony Curtis, where the crowds upon the pavement are fields of harvest wheat.

1. Yes we can … start to end the British monarchy in Canada as early as 2010 … or at least we could if our politicians in Ottawa ever got up the nerve …

TORONTO. VICTORIA DAY, MAY 19, 2008. Both Bob Hepburn in the Toronto Star and Jeffrey Simpson in the Globe and Mail have just urged that at least the name of the late May Victoria Day holiday in Canada should be changed forthwith.

Allan Fotheringham has also told a meeting of local republicans that the colonial British monarchy which the holiday traditionally celebrates survives only because Canada’s dithering old ruling class (Mr. Harper’s current version not excepted) lacks the guts to get rid of it – as the democratic majority of the sovereign Canadian people nowadays say they want.

Janice Kennedy in the Ottawa Citizen agrees with all of the above. But she still thinks that “sadly … all this will continue for the far-distant foreseeable future. Monarchists … will continue to triumph … because … If there’s one thing recent decades have embedded in our national political scene, it’s a disinclination ever again to open Pandora’s constitutional box.”

Even if what Ms. Kennedy says about Pandora’s constitutional box is true, however, there is still a path through the northern forest to ending any continuing practical vestiges of the monarchy in Canada. And the country could embark on this path as early the fall of 2010, when the term of the excellent Governor General Michaelle Jean comes to an end.

Using a version of Stephen Harper’s current stuck-in-neutral bill to elect Canadian senators without any constitutional amendments, the next Governor General of Canada could actually be elected by the Canadian people – from among candidates nominated by the federal prime minister, perhaps in some form of consultation with the federal Parliament and provincial legislative assemblies.

The prime minister would then recommend to our continuing “offshore Queen” in England that whoever won the election be appointed Governor General. (And thus, as in Mr. Harper’s plans for electing senators: “The change is seen as a way of altering” things “without opening the Constitution, because the Prime Minister would still technically appoint” the Governor General, as at present – “although he would be choosing” a candidate “elected by Canadians.”)

In theory the newly elected Governor General would still represent the British monarchy, as prescribed in the Constitution Act 1867 (formerly known as the British North America Act 1867). As Ms. Kennedy points out, this theory of things can only be changed by a constitutional amendment. And, after the so-called debacle of the failed Charlottetown Accord in 1992, it may well be many years yet before Canadian politicians are ready to look into any very thorny questions of formal Canadian constitutional change again.

Yet Canada – in all of its Aboriginal, French, English, and Multicultural incarnations has never had much taste for theories generally. And a great deal about the country has changed practically since the start of the present confederation in 1867, without any formal constitutional amendments at all.

Already an opinion poll this past February shows that some 55% of Canadians support “Canada’s ending its formal ties to the British monarchy” (and only 34% oppose). As a practical matter, in this context a Governor General actually elected by the Canadian people would be most likely to see himself or herself as accountable first and foremost to the Canadian people – and not to the British monarch far away across the seas.

Down the road the constitution would still eventually have to be amended, to turn this kind of democratically elected Governor General into an independent Canadian ceremonial head of state, officially and in theory as well as practice, and so forth. (And at that point a majority of Canadians, following the lead of such other former self-governing British dominions as India and Ireland, might also want to change the Governor General’s official name to President?)

Meanwhile, what our much more recent Constitution Act 1982 calls the “free and democratic society” in Canada today would have taken some major practical steps towards ending the country’s last remaining old colonial ties with the British monarchy, as a majority of Canadians already say they want in the year 2008. We would also have a much more credibly selected Governor General to intervene, as presently constitutionally required, in the results of any future unclear federal elections and/or related parliamentary turmoil – in what sometimes does look to be an almost perpetual new age of minority government in Ottawa.

(And those who think that an independent ceremonial head of state directly elected by the free and democratic people in this way would be bound to de-stabilize our traditional parliamentary democracy need only look at the experience of Ireland – which has successfully operated such an office for some seven decades now: “At the time the office was established [in 1937] critics warned that the post might lead to the emergence of a dictatorship. However, these fears were not borne out as successive Presidents played a limited, largely apolitical role in national affairs.” )

2. In any case Saskatchewan (and Manitoba too?) will now join Alberta in holding Senate elections …

Of course the real-world chances that politicians in Ottawa will pass legislation to enable Governor General elections in time for the 2010 deadline for the appointment of a new Governor General are almost certainly next to zero at the moment.

(There have been urgings for at least some kind of reform to the present selection method, which does quite unhealthily place all the power to appoint Governor Generals in the hands of the federal prime minister alone. Some further movement in this direction just might actually start to happen – closer to the fall 2010 expiration of the excellent Mme Jean’s current term.)

The chances that Stephen Harper’s parallel Senate elections bill (formerly C-43, reintroduced last fall as C-20) will be passed by the present Parliament in Ottawa (Canadian House of Commons or Senate) would seem almost certainly next to zero as well. But the new Saskatchewan provincial government’s recent announcement that it will be holding Senate elections on its own initiative, on the Alberta model, has at least given “Prime Minister Stephen Harper a major boost in his decades-long campaign for an elected second chamber of Parliament.”

There is also some practical pressure on this front, as retiring Senators leave increasing numbers of Senate seats vacant – and Mr. Harper puts off appointing new Senators, in deference to his stalled plans for guidance from the Canadian people in some form of Senate elections.

Some related further details have recently come to light as well. See Bill Curry and Brian Laghi, “Saskatchewan plans to elect senators,” in the Globe and Mail, and Nigel Hannaford, “Could this be the start of real change for the Senate?” in the Calgary Herald.

Meanwhile, moving in a somewhat different direction, Barbara Yaffe in the Vancouver Sun has just proposed the appointment of a federal Citizens’ Assembly to study and make recommendations on the subject – following the model of the [failed] provincial Citizens’ Assemblies on electoral reform [i.e. “proportional representation”] in such places as BC and Ontario.

More recently again, Manitoba has now announced plans to study the current federal proposals, as explained by Brian Laghi and Bill Curry, “Manitoba moves on Senate changes … A plan for provincewide hearings adds momentum to push for elected chamber” in the Globe and Mail. Some of this is also worth quoting for a few still further details: “Stephen Harper’s plan for an elected Canadian Senate will receive a boost from a third province this spring when Manitoba launches provincewide hearings asking residents how such votes should be held … The NDP government of Gary Doer is moving toward elections as an improvement to the status quo … We support abolition of the Senate,’ said Jonathan Hildebrand, a spokesman for the Premier. However, the next-best option is to elect senators if abolishing the upper house isn’t in the cards. So, in Manitoba, we’re simply moving forward on a process to elect senators.’

“Both Alberta and Saskatchewan support an elected Senate, with Alberta having already held elections. Saskatchewan said it plans to set up an election process as well … That leaves British Columbia, which has called for the Senate to be abolished, as the only western holdout. But B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell told The Globe and Mail yesterday [May 21] in an e-mail from China that he could support the Prime Minister’s model – provided B.C. doesn’t have to pay for it.”

3. Xenophobia in the global village … recent rumblings in Italy and South Africa ..

Among so many other things, “globalization” may or may not be prompting some Canadians to support “Canada’s ending its formal ties to the British monarchy,” and others to dream of electing members of the country’s present unreformed Senate – half-modeled on the British House of Lords, as it was 140 years ago.

In other parts of the world of 2008 it seems to be promoting new waves of xenophobia.

Thus: “Italy puts out unwelcome mat for Roma [i.e. Gypsies] … As a wave of xenophobia sweeps the country … Last week the European Roma Rights Centre, a human-rights group funded by George Soros, the New York hedge fund manager and philanthropist, sent a letter to [recently elected or re-elected prime minister] Mr. Berlusconi demanding urgent intervention by Italian authorities to adequately protect Roma in the country from further acts of racist aggression and to diffuse the climate of anti-Romani hostility.'”

Meanwhile, further south: “South Africa’s Mbeki orders army deployed … South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki gave approval on Wednesday [May 21] for the army to help end attacks on foreigners that have killed at least 25 people … The attacks on African immigrants, accused by many poor South Africans of taking scarce jobs and fuelling crime, have forced thousands of people from their homes, unnerved investors and hit the rand currency … President Thabo Mbeki has approved a request from the South African Police Service for the involvement of the South African National Defence Force in stopping on-going attacks on foreign nationals,’ a statement from the presidency said.”

4. Les Quebecois sont un peu plus que des amis, ce sont des freres

Le Devoir in Canada and/or Quebec has just pointed to a crucial distinction between France’s attitudes to Quebec and/or Canada, during Quebec premier (aka premier ministre) Jean Charest’s recent trip to Canada’s other historic European mother country, to help celebrate the 400th birthday of Quebec City: “Vendredi dernier [mai 15], alors que le premier ministre arrivait Bordeaux, le maire Alain Jupp s’est empress de corriger presque mot pour mot le prsident en affirmant que, si le Canada est un pays ami avec lequel nous avons intrt avoir des liens extrmement troits, les Qubcois sont un peu plus que des amis, ce sont des frres.”

Meanwhile, a recent report in the Toronto Globe and Mail could be read as suggesting some vaguely similar distinction between attitudes towards Quebec in its ancient “sister province” of Ontario, and all other Canadian provinces. See: “Historic sit-down for Ontario, Quebec … Joint cabinet meeting will be a first for country’s largest provinces, as they step closer to united front.”

You might almost think as well that, as Canada and its provinces twist and turn on all the recent choppy seas of CHANGE, there is a kind of symbolic return to the very ancient pre-confederation days, when Ontario and Quebec together formed the single United Province of Canada, 18411867 – a great and strange adventure that hardly anyone remembers anymore, except perhaps for a handful of academics and intellectual journalists in Montreal?

Or, when you press the buttons of Canadian regionalism in Atlantic Canada and especially Western Canada (and/or the Prairie Provinces and British Columbia, etc, etc), harder and harder, what you finally do is push at least the politicians of Ontario and Quebec closer to each other in Central Canada – even if the French and English masses are still more or less Two Solitudes, even in the new age of multiculturalism along the St. Lawrence Seaway, etc, etc?

5. More on Ontario … forgotten but not gone …

Whatever else, Mr. Harper’s government in Ottawa – along with all the various latest social and economic dynamics of globalization, around the world, etc, etc – does seem to be at least helping bring a new array of sometimes even interesting pressures on the government and politics of Canada’s most populous province.

Very keen students of this particular arcane Canadian subject might want to consult: “McGuinty pitching Ontario to Fiat“; “Factories in Ontario’s future“; “Sudbury booms on soaring metal prices“; “Dead end for free trade“; “Frugal Traveler | Toronto … O Canada, Where Have Your Bargains Gone?“; “Marchs boursiers – Toronto atteint un sommet“; “McGuinty reads riot act to grumbling MPPs“; “Ontario slams Ottawa over Caledonia“; “PCs, NDP want job guarantees as Ont. offers GM more money following layoffs“; and “Province hungers for a fighter.”

6. McCain consultant does not want to work against Obama

Who knows just where Barack Obama may or may not really wind up leading the United States of America – and other parts of the global village too – or just how good or bad he will prove to be. But a recent rather intriguing report in the Washington Post suggests some of the political depths that his imminent presidential candidacy just may be uncovering:

McKinnon To Step Aside From McCain Effort … Mark McKinnon, the lead media consultant for Sen. John McCain’s (Ariz.) presidential bid, is stepping down from that role – making good on a pledge he made last year not to work against Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) in the fall campaign … I just don’t want to work against an Obama candidacy,’ McKinnon told Cox Washington bureau chief Ken Herman; electing Obama, he added, would send a great message to the country and the world.’ McKinnon said at the time he would vote for McCain.”

7. Ongoing psychodrama in Stephen Harper’s Ottawa …

Meanwhile, back in Stephen Harper’s minority-government town, where the Ottawa River meets the Rideau Canal, there are many further signs of strange new change and ancient inertia afoot:

PM’s top aide stepping down“; “Toews as judge would be galling“; “No, Prime Minister … Gloria Galloway explains why Stephen Harper is waging war on the cream of Ottawa’s bureaucratic crop“; “The broken chain of answerability … Proliferating officers of Parliament and layers upon layers of rules threaten our democracy”; “Tories: Affair not a threat … Ex-girlfriend’s link to criminals more recent than was thought, paper says”; “Police psychologist likens RCMP to Putin’s Russia“; and “Tories losing ground with voters.”

The fourth article here is by the noted Atlantic Canada political scientist Donald Savoie, who has a long track record of pointing provocatively to worrisome trends in the Ottawa ruling culture:

“What is to be done? The time has come to engage Canadians in a debate on the role of Parliament, officers of Parliament, the prime minister, cabinet and the public service, and for Canadians and public servants to tell Parliament, Heal thyself.’ Political parties need to take the lead and launch a meaningful debate on the state of our national political-administrative institutions. The issue is vitally important, and parties should engage their members in the debate. It provides an opportunity for political parties to be more than election-day organizations, to offer meaningful opportunities for involvement and to become effective vehicles for promoting thoughtful debates and change.” (And who can finally resist saying hear, hear’ or even here, here,’ to such always compelling political thoughts?)

8. Obama calls for Japan to drop limits on beef imports … and the Toronto Star says Ian Brodie will leave his job in Ottawa on Canada Day, July 1!

All the world is of course watching the current US presidential contest in some degree – for different reasons in different places. According to a recent article from Japan:

“Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama urged Japan and South Korea on Friday [May 16] to scrap all their controls on US beef imports and fully open their beef markets … You can’t get beef into Japan and Korea, even though, obviously, we have the highest safety standards of anybody,’ he told a town hall meeting in Watertown, South Dakota. They don’t want to have that competition from US producers … So we’ve got to have a president who’s a tougher negotiator and, when we have tougher negotiations, that means that other countries are going to have to allow us to sell into their markets.’

“The Japanese and South Korean restrictions on US beef were put in place to limit the risk of mad cow disease, which has struck cattle at least three times in the United States and much more in Japan … South Korea relaxed its import rules on US beef last month, but Japan and the United States are still at loggerheads over US insistence that Tokyo abolish all restrictions on U.S. beef imports, including one that limits imported meat to that from cattle aged 20 months or younger.”

Canadians of course know all about these kinds of US trade concerns. They even seem to be why “Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s trusted lieutenant, Ian Brodie, is leaving his post, just days before publication of a report into a diplomatic incident that undermined U.S. Senator Barack Obama’s presidential bid … Brodie will be replaced in July by Guy Giorno, who served as chief of staff to former Ontario premier Mike Harris, effective July 1 … Brodie was said to have wanted to return to teaching at the University of Western Ontario. But the decision comes just ahead of the release of an investigative report into NAFTA-gate,’ the leak of sensitive diplomatic information that made headlines on both sides of the border, embarrassed Harper and his government and possibly undercut Canada’s dealings with the future president.”

CODA: Tony Curtis alive and more or less well … in old imperial metropolis

Last but by no means etc … I bumped into an engaging interview with onetime Hollywood pretty face Tony Curtis on the Turner Classic Movie channel a few nights back. I’ve seen similar things over the past few years – and been impressed by what an interesting guy he has evolved into in his old age. He is nowadays a painter and flautist as well as a compelling raconteur, with some real tales to tell. (E.g., when work on Spartacus stretched out much longer than anyone had planned, Mr. Curtis – aka Bernie Schwartz – leaned over to an equally bored Jean Simmons, waiting with him on set, and asked: “Who do you have to fuck to get out of this movie?”)

I guessed that the TCM interview was perhaps already a few years old, and wondered what Mr. Curtis (now in his early 80s) might be up to at this more or less exact moment. As usual, the www coughed up some answers. Although still recovering from a bad stroke late in 2006, as of April 2008 he was promoting his paintings in what some older Canadians still see as the old imperial metropolis of London, across the seas (also the principal residence of the British monarch, of course – who is only less than a year younger than Mr. Curtis, though, it would seem, in considerably better health).

For further somewhat intriguing details check out two reports from the Daily Mail: “Bald and in a wheelchair: Tony Curtis cuts a frail figure as he rolls into Harrods,” by Laura Roberts; and “Tony Curtis on Marilyn Monroe: It was like kissing Hitler!” by Petronella Wyatt.

Ms. Wyatt reports that in her interview with the man “Curtis – who had an affair with Marilyn Monroe, has been married five times, including to Hitchcock actress Janet Leigh, and, by his estimation, has slept with 1,000 women – attempts an unusual opening gambit … Gripping my hand in his gnarled paw, he says: It’s such a relief to be sitting here with you – without feeling sexually aroused.'” (Among other things, he is nowadays deeply committed to his current wife Jill, who is young enough to be his granddaughter.)

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