Letters

December/January 2007

by
• 2,822 words

Harper’s Prayer
Thank you for Marci McDonald’s article about the role that some Christians may be playing in shaping the policy of Stephen Harper’s government (“Stephen Harper and the Theo-cons,” October). The United Church of Canada encourages people of faith to live their faith in the world wherever possible. However, the special influence of one particular faith group on the government raises two concerns.

First, as a liberal or “social justice” Christian I am concerned that this conservative, fundamentalist group of Christians might be seen as expressing views shared by all Christians. Research conducted by the United Church of Canada indicates that many Canadians do not make the distinction. They see Christians as generally the same — arrogant, judgmental, and not very good at listening. Yet the views expressed among so-called theo-cons are those of a unique and arguably unrepresentative group of Christians. I appreciated McDonald’s effort to make that distinction in her article.

Secondly, I am concerned that the influence of this particular group of Christians will reduce the moral agenda to one or two hot-button issues. Jesus did not teach anything about homosexuality, but he spoke clearly about poverty, homelessness, injustice, peacemaking, and a new kind of community. In our nation, with troops deployed overseas, a widening gap between rich and poor, and an environmental crisis imminent, to allow one group concerned primarily with personal morality to unduly influence the political agenda seems a distraction at best.

Values shaped by thoughtful and disciplined spiritual practice have always contributed to creating the Canada we know and cherish. In a multicultural, multifaith country, it is important to have as many voices as possible at the table, shaping our common life and national destiny. When that diversity is welcomed in an environment of mutual respect and genuine willingness to listen, a new level of understanding and strength can be achieved.
David Giuliano
Moderator The United Church of Canada
Toronto, Ontario

According to “Marci McDonald,” the always frightening Jesus Gang is about to ride the Trojan Horse of the Harper government into the promised land of theocracy. Even by the standards of intolerant and jumpy liberals, this article stands out like a Catholic priest at a Pentecostal camp meeting. Theocracy? Religious fundamentalists have trouble pulling that off even in those parts of the Islamic world where the effort is, shall we say, concerted.

McDonald describes the area around Langley, BC, as Canada’s bible belt. The term “bible belt” is at least two generations out of date for anywhere in Canada, and applying it to British Columbia is incorrect. BC shows up regularly in national surveys as being the most secular province in Canada, evidenced by the lowest per-capita church attendance rates in the country. Then there’s the pervasive presence of Charles McVety in the article. The vast majority of Canadian evangelicals would never even have heard of him if not for McDonald, much less started goose-stepping to his religio-political particularism.

On a lighter note, trotting out that old chestnut regarding the Christian origins of Canada’s designation as a “Dominion” at the time of Confederation, McDonald then jumps fantastically to the conclusion that “ever since,” Pentecostals and others have used it to justify a prophetic destiny for the country. But there were no Pentecostals in Canada for the first forty or so years after Confederation. The movement originated at the turn of the twentieth century, in the United States, only later migrating northward. And what, one might ask, about the long-time use of the term dominion to designate the constitutional status of the senior members of the British Empire/Commonwealth (Canada, Australia, etc.)? Was that part of the conspiracy too? I guess those pernicious Pentecostals must have somehow made their influence felt at the Colonial Office and at 10 Downing Street. Every age seems to need a bogeyman. Clearly, McDonald has found hers.
Brad Faught
Toronto, Ontario

“Marci McDonald” reveals the recipe for regime change from within, identifying many of the key alliances now hard at work disassembling Canada’s traditions of tolerance, creativity, and justice at home and abroad. McDonald’s Freudian slip about Alan Baker — calling him “Canada’s ambassador to Israel” — was priceless. Baker is in fact Israel’s ambassador to Canada. He does seem to go both ways though, operating de facto as “Canada’s ambassador to Israel” on minority Prime Minister Harper’s extensive pro-Israel team.
Marjorie Robertson
Ottawa, Ontario

Bombing Cambodia
I was interested in your article on the bombings in Cambodia (“Bombs Over Cambodia,” October). Between 1968 and 1969, I lived in Saigon with my husband, Richard, who was serving as the Canadian commissioner with the Delegation to the International Commission for Supervision and Control in Vietnam. Every night, we turned out the light around eleven o’clock, and immediately the windows in our bedroom would begin to rattle and the bed would vibrate. It was B-52 bombers on their way to Cambodia. We could hear the thunder of their engines as they passed overhead.

The Americans also bombed the Mekong delta south of Saigon. The resulting craters were a quarter of a mile across and soon filled with water that stagnated, creating a serious environmental hazard for the Vietnamese. “Destroying a country in order to save it” was a desperate strategy born of a false ideology.
Janice Tait
Toronto, Ontario

The aerial photographs and maps showing the extent of bombing in Cambodia are multihued and compelling, but Kiernan and Owen’s argument is not. Carpet bombing is ineffective. But to assert the corollary, that dragons were spawned by the carnage, is another thing entirely. Vast areas of rural Cambodia are sparsely inhabited, if not unpopulated. The Ho Chi Minh trail runs through largely empty forests and highlands, and one can still see the craters of bombs that fell nearby. It does not necessarily follow that the increased tonnage revealed by Kiernan and Owen killed significantly more Cambodians or that it “drove [them] into the arms of the Khmer Rouge.”

Even if it did, how would it possibly make Kissinger and Nixon culpable for murderous policies that were first dreamed up during the Paris university years of the Pol Pot “clique” ? The bombing drove many people to take refuge in Phnom Penh, where the Khmer Rouge, their fellow peasants, ironically mistook them for city dwellers and removed them. We know the rest. Kiernan and Owen are aware that it would be a simple matter to ask surviving members of the Khmer Rouge whether their troop strength grew to 200,000 as a result of the bombing, as the writers claim. Some of the principal actors, such as Khieu Samphan, can be reached by telephone today and will be providing evidence at the upcoming United Nations tribunal. That Kiernan and Owen apparently did not ask them is a telling omission, one worthy of the ongoing attempt to blame Kissinger and Nixon rather than the true inspiration behind Pol Pot: Mao.
J.K . Halligan
Toronto, Ontario

Esperanto Power
I read the excellent article about Esperanto by Alison Gillmor (“Tongues of the World, Unite!,” September) and want to congratulate her. It is reassuring that there are journalists like Gillmor who write articles based on facts and not on prejudices.
Marcelo Casartelli
Cordoba, Argentina

Alison Gillmor’s well-researched article on Esperanto is unusual in that I can find absolutely no factual errors in it. I even learned something I didn’t know (about Johannes Goropius Becanus). Many thanks for an outstanding job! Amike salutas via.
Brian Kaneen
Former president
Canadian Esperanto Association
Vancouver, BC

I learned Esperanto as a teenager and have used it all over the world. I’ve always been disappointed by the distorted image the media usually presents of it. Roget’s Thesaurus does not contain the words I need to express my feelings about Gillmor’s article, so let me tell you in Esperanto: Mia entuziasmo himalajas. There’s no direct translation, but it means something like, “My enthusiasm reaches Himalayan heights.”
Claude Piron
Gland, Switzerland


Gay in the Middle East

In separate Field Notes, both R.M. Vaughan (“Welcome to Cairo, Where Is Your Wife?,” October) and Chris Koentges ( “The Human Library,” October) unintentionally misrepresent gay culture in Islamic societies by approaching the subject from a singularly Western perspective.

In many large Western cities, gay culture is clearly apparent — the “fags are out,” as Vaughan might say. Both Vaughan and Koentges portray Islamic societies where, in clear contrast to this openness, demonstrations of gayness aren’t encouraged: a group of Egyptian men laugh when Vaughan orders a particularly frilly dessert, and Sahin Balci, who’s a Turkish immigrant in Holland, tells Koentges how his parents accepted him when he came out but “cautioned him not to talk about it.”

While I believe neither author meant to do so, these pieces suggest the following dichotomy: societies where people categorize themselves as “out” are good (or more evolved), while those where people do not make such announcements are bad (or less developed). Islam, though, may be much more evolved than the still Christian-dominated West in its rejection of such ready categorizations of identity. As my neighbour here in Istanbul once put it, “You fall in love with a person — man or woman, doesn’t matter — and that’s your private life and you don’t talk about it with everyone.” Koentges may have found the response of Balci’s parents unusual in Almelo, but scores of comments like my neighbour’s have convinced me this is the norm in Turkey’s large cities.

Vaughan writes, “Many gay men do not naturalize guy behaviour; we synthesize it.” Then again, this may be an effect of the emphasis on being “out.” Perhaps there are scores of guys in Western cities synthesizing gay behaviour (or acting straight, for that matter) because they’ve been forced to choose a rigidly categorized identity. The current “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach prevalent in Islamic societies clearly has its problems, but for more than a thousand years Islam was much more accepting of same-sex relationships. Perhaps Koentges could find the “dramatic tension” he was hoping to hear from Balci if he focused instead on the West’s “you’re either out or you’re straight” approach.
Hardy Griffin
Istanbul, Turkey

candu Spirit
The mandate of The Walrus Foundation, as published in The Walrus magazine, is to “advance education through the promotion of writing . . . on matters of importance to Canadians.” To advance education implies that the writing should be factual and balanced. The article by Paul Webster (“Will candu Do?,” September) fails both tests.

Webster treats federal government support for candu technology as a wasteful subsidy rather than an investment that is producing significant bene- fits for Canadians. candu reactors generate over 50 percent of Ontario’s electricity as well as electricity in New Brunswick and Quebec. Canada’s investment in nuclear research and development has yielded a return that dwarfs that investment. The present value of nuclear electricity generated in Canada to date is more than $108 billion, compared with total government investment in candu research and development of about $6 billion. The largest proportion of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.’s (aecl) revenues comes from commercial activities related to candu reactors in Canada and abroad. aecl has also developed safetyrelated technology, resulting in sales to non-candu nuclear power plants in the United States and France.

Webster also claims that the increase in total costs for Ontario Power Generation’s Darlington plant was mainly due to flaws in candu technology. According to J.A .L. Robertson, a consultant with over fifty years of experience in nuclear energy, most of the increase in costs, about 85 percent, had nothing to do with candu technology but rather sprang from the dithering of successive Ontario governments, which delayed or stopped work on Darlington five times, resulting in increased interest and inflation costs.

Webster criticizes the performance of candu reactors in Ontario, citing the fact that eight reactors were shut down and laid up in the latter part of the 1990s. One reason for these shutdowns is that, perhaps because of their good performance in the 1970s and 1980s, Ontario Hydro unwisely cut back on expenditures for maintenance. The performance of the twelve second-generation candu reactors in Ontario, which have never been laid up, has been very good, with average annual capacity factors ranging between 75 and 85 percent in recent years.

Webster also denigrates aecl activities in the export of candu technology. aecl and its partners have successfully built six candu-6 reactors in China, South Korea, and Romania in the last decade, completing them within budget and on or ahead of schedule. These reactors have had excellent operating histories since start-up, with capacity factors greater than 80 percent. Contrary to Webster’s claim, aecl and candu technology have not been shut out of China: last year, Canada signed an agreement with China to co-operate on nuclear technology.

The fact that Dominion Energy in Virginia backed out of its agreement to build two Advanced candu Reactors (acrs) last year does not imply any deficiencies in this more recent candu technology. The utility made that decision because the longer time needed to license such a different technology would prevent it from meeting growing power demands. It is also likely that considerable political pressure was exerted to buy American. It should be noted that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff saw no reason why the acr could not be licensed eventually in the United States.

The adoption of a foreign reactor technology for new reactors in Ontario to meet growing demand would not be in the best interests of either Ontario or Canada. Webster indulges in the alltoo- familiar trait of some Canadians to deride outstanding Canadian achievements and to assume that anything foreign must be better.
J.T. Rogers,
Ottawa, Ontario

Allan Gregg responds to November’s letters about his article “The True West, Strong and Free” (September):
At first blush I was flattered that Tom Flanagan would deign to paw through 5,000 words and respond to my recent cover story — love him or hate him, he is one of Alberta’s most authoritative voices. After reading his letter, however, my giddiness turned to puzzlement, and I wondered whether he had even read the piece.

Nowhere do I worry about “how to tap Alberta’s wealth for the advantage of other provinces,” and as far as I know, no politician — outside of a few of Flanagan’s colleagues in his own province — has even raised the possibility of “trying to redistribute the results of Alberta’s success” for a quarter century. If I have a worry, it is that short of introducing confiscatory policies that have been more or less disgraced, the rest of Canada will have virtually no say over the uses of Alberta’s wealth. The closing sentence of the article could not be clearer: “The issue therefore is not whether the West wants in, but whether the West will let Canada in.”

Beyond completely misinterpreting my article, Flanagan makes the argument that free-market policies, not natural resources, make a region wealthy; if the latter did, he says, Nigeria (among others) would be rich. Granted, corrupt, fragile democracies are not exactly magnets for foreign investment and risk capital, but the last time I checked none of Canada’s poorer provinces was being led by someone like President Obasanjo. (Knowing a little bit about the lens through which Flanagan views the world, however, I realize he might take exception to this assertion as well.) The fact remains: Alberta collects about one and a half times as much revenue from royalty income as it does from personal, corporate, and property tax combined; no other province has public accounts even remotely so skewed.

That Flanagan reprised the same thoughts, virtually verbatim, in a September 28 opinion piece in the Globe and Mail suggests that he is flogging his tenpoint self-help list for backward-thinking governments wherever he can find an audience. It would seem that I was mistaken to be flattered by his response.

As for your other readers’ quibbles with facts, we all know what they say about “damn lies and statistics”: they are very easy to misinterpret. For example, when Mr. Hicks tries to contradict my assertion that Alberta has the best-educated population in the nation, he reports the percentage of the population over fifteen years of age with post-secondary educations. He might want to recalculate his figures and remove the proportion who are between fifteen and twenty years old and therefore have no prospect of falling into this category. He and other readers also tend to rely on Census and Statistics Canada data, which can be anywhere from two to five years out of date — a length of time that just happens to coincide with Alberta’s meteoric ascent. All the data cited in the article was from the most current sources available and was thoroughly fact-checked by independent researchers. I stand by it without hesitation.