Ontario up/down, Canada NDP & Tories down, UK Tories up, young Harper & Trudeau, RIP Christopher Hitchens!

Dec 16th, 2011 | By | Category: In Brief

Young Stephen Harper ... from his days (maybe), “in a walk-up on Whyte Avenue” in Edmonton?

With the year-end holiday season now almost in high gear, I’m about to leave for the far north (well … a little further anyway, into the snowbelt, maybe). Others in the office here will apparently be leaving soon too. But I’m told that Bunting and Citizen X will be holding the fort right through to New Years’ Eve. And assorted year-in-review material is already on file.

Meanwhile, I am closing my personal hinge-of-fate year 2011 with quick glances in four (make that five) different directions at once. Vaguely related, perhaps, but also a sign of how nowadays it seems impossible not to have several confusing things on your mind all together, at the same time:

ONTARIO ECONOMY: This week started with some mildly optimistic reports on this front — see “Ontario’s economy continues on growth track: RBC Economics” and “Ontario economic outlook positive; RBC forecasts 2.3 per cent growth in 2012.” Then yesterday saw a turn in the opposite direction: see “Moody’s turns wary eye from euro basket cases to Ontario” and “Ontario’s credit outlook goes negative.” What’s the deepest truth about Canada’s most populous province right now? My advice would just be, in the spirit of the Ira Gershwin lyric to the great old Kurt Weill tune about Jenny and the Christmas tree, “Anyone with vision comes to this decision — Don’t … make … up … your … mind.”

Christopher Hitchens (right) in Cuba, 1968.

CANADIAN FEDERAL POLITICS: The big headlines on a Harris-Decima survey conducted for The Canadian Press and released this past Wednesday are, eg: “Bloc Quebecois resurgent: poll” and “NDP ‘in free fall’ in Quebec, poll finds.” More exactly, “the New Democratic Party’s support in the province has plunged to 26 per cent — tied with the Bloc Québécois and down 16 points” since the election this past May 2. But note as well that for “Canada as a whole, the governing Conservative Party stands at 34 percent support, down from the 39.6 percent it won in the election.” Who knows? Those who think the May 2, 2011 election created some vast new watershed in Canadian federal politics may have to think again in 2012 … or 2015 at any rate?

Young Stephen Harper (left) “visiting the Calgary Zoo with his brother shortly after moving west.”

UK TORIES UP IN POLLS AFTER EURO ISOLATION: The Harper Conservative Party sometimes seems to be trying to introduce a new neo-colonial era in Canada, at least half returning to the days when we all kept half of one eye on developments in the anglophone mother country, across the waves that Britannia once ruled for so long. In some similar spirit I’ve been intrigued by two very recent items on the New Statesman rolling blog: “What lies behind the Tories’ poll bounce? … The Tories surge past Labour in the polls after Cameron’s rejection of a new EU treaty” and “Cameron’s Europe bounce continues … New poll shows that Cameron’s EU stance has significantly improved his leadership ratings.” So … apparently there really still are a lot of UK euro-sceptics across the pond.

Christopher Hitches (left) and Martin Amis in Cape Cod, 1975.

SOME STRANGE FRESH INTELLIGENCE ON YOUNG STEPHEN HARPER? The death of the former Edmonton-based Imperial Oil executive Frank Glenfield earlier this month has prompted an intriguing reprise of a  2008 interview he gave to the Edmonton Journal‘s David Staples. (See “A young Stephen Harper worshipped Trudeau, had an Eastern attitude” ; and for the interview itself “Staples: Liberals and Lennon: a young man’s long road to Parliament Hill” and/or “Young Harper rebelled against family and headed West.”)

Older Steven Harper, who had stopped worshiping Pierre Trudeau.

Mr. Glenfield was the first man who (more or less on instructions from higher up) hired the Stephen Harper who dropped out of the University of Toronto in the late 1970s and moved to Alberta. (Mr. Harper’s father worked for Imperial Oil in Toronto.) The full Staples interview is worth reading, even more than once. Its first sentence only hints at its revelations: “EDMONTON — Young Stephen Harper lived in a walk-up on Whyte Avenue, worshiped Pierre Elliot Trudeau, preferred John Lennon to Paul McCartney, came across as 20-going-on-40, and was troubled by the notion that he had failed his father.”  Now … some will say … if only PM Harper could somehow recover his youthful predecessor who worshiped Pierre Trudeau. Then he might actually become a genuinely historic Prime Minister of Canada!

Christopher Hitchens (in white shirt) in Iraq, 1991.

Finally, I have just heard the sad news of Christopher Hitchens’ death yesterday — no less sad because it was expected soon enough. The headline material from an article in the Los Angeles Times does a very good job, I think, of summarizing his appeal: “Christopher Hitchens’ first loyalty was to the truth … Agree with him or not, it was impossible not to be stirred by” his “willingness to stake out unpopular positions and to say things that others weren’t willing to say. Even near the end of his life, Hitchens ha[d] a cold-blooded willingness to face reality head-on.” Also excellent for the occasion is an item from the Guardian website in Mr. Hitchens’s home and native land, across the same waves that Britannia once used to … etc: “Christopher Hitchens: the best of his writing online … From the Atlantic to Vanity Fair and – of course – the Guardian, the journalism of Christopher Hitchens.”

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