Letters

October 2007

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• 1,628 words

Follow the Money
Bruce Livesey’s “Moneybags” (July/August) is one of the worst rants I’ve read in a long time. He touches on any number of interesting issues, such as wealth disparity, the rise and decline of union power, and the types of causes supported by foundations, but instead of drilling down, he stirs them together in pursuit of his ultimate goal — some evasive point about philanthropy in the new Gilded Age. Perhaps his reliance on Rosemary Sexton, a gossip columnist, and Catherine Nugent, a socialite, for two of his key quotes speaks amply for the quality of his research into the subject of philanthropy.
Richard W. Ivey
Ivey Foundation
Toronto, Ontario

My biggest disappointment upon reading Bruce Livesey’s otherwise excellent article was that he perpetuates a number of incorrect stereotypes regarding Canadian generosity toward the global South.”

In a globalized world,” he writes, “. . . local concerns must now fight for philanthropy dollars with more visible developing-world crises such as hiv/aids, basic immunization shots, and so forth.” If local and international causes are really fighting each other for dollars, it is a fight the developing world is losing badly. In 2004 (the year from which the most recent data is available), only 4 percent of Canadian private philanthropy was directed to international issues. No Canadian government of any stripe has ever come close to reaching the target of 0.7 percent of gnp earmarked for foreign aid, and this year’s federal budget of $233 billion included $4 billion — less than 2 percent — for international co-operation.

Livesey laments that poverty in Zambia is “more compelling” than poverty at home. He is right. Zambia must grapple with an hiv/aids rate more than fifty times higher than ours on a per capita income sixty-five times smaller than Canada’s. As dire as the situation is in the North American urban centres Livesey cites, there is nothing as catastrophic as this.

Surveys constantly show that Canadians believe we are far more generous to the developing world than we actually are. It is a pity that, in an otherwise perceptive article, Bruce Livesey has tacitly endorsed that myth in a fashion that drives a wedge between those who are trying to make society better both in Canada and around the world.
David Morley
ceo, Save the Children Canada Toronto, Ontario

Charmed, I’m Sure
Surely the twentieth-century Canadian politician who best met Irvine Schiffer’s eight attributes of charisma was René Lévesque, not Pierre Trudeau, as Jeff Ryan suggests (“Charisma,” July/August). Trudeau’s playfulness was far from spontaneous, his fighting stance more petulant and arrogant than principled, his innovative lifestyle that of the affluent dilettante. Lévesque, on the other hand, was a natural. He held the tension between his playfulness and his combativeness, his physical imperfection and his sexual mystique, his position squarely in the middle of Quebec’s social spectrum and his touch of foreignness, and his personal lifestyle and his public calling, without resort to ruse. Canada is lucky that he needed more than charisma to accomplish his goals.
John Butcher
Ottawa, Ontario

Bearding the Lion
At the outset of “3D Vision” (July/ August), I thought that authors Taylor Owen and Patrick Travers were going to address the question of why we are in Afghanistan. But as in virtually every commentary on the war, they skirted the issue.

I believe that Canada is in Afghanistan because Chrétien, Martin, and Harper didn’t want to upset Mr. Bush when “we the people” wouldn’t tolerate joining the rape of Iraq. But this war is likely to be as great a disaster. When the ussr invaded Afghanistan from right next door, they lost almost 15,000 of their soldiers, another 50,000 plus were seriously wounded, and they still got run out of town.

Our leaders have undermined the work of Lester “Mike” Pearson, who shared his vision for Canada with a group of us who had the honour to work with him briefly after he left office: a small but great nation putting an end to war by standing between belligerents. Our three most recent crusader-leaders have massively wounded our military’s reputation for decades, if not forever.

John Olsen
Errington, British Columbia

As a Canadian Forces soldier with two tours in Afghanistan under my belt, I have front line experience with Canada’s 3D (defence, diplomacy, and development) policy.

In the fall of 2005 — the beginning of my second tour — Paul Martin sent a small group of us to take over the American Provincial Reconstruction Team camp inside Kandahar city. The goal was to help move the Canadian contingent from Kabul in the north to the volatile southern regions. The dangers were well-known, and many of our families were told we wouldn’t come home.

We walked the streets of Panjawai carrying out 3D. We didn’t build wells or schools, but we did help Afghans build infrastructure themselves. We earned the trust of the people as well as the respect of tribesmen, who understand talk of peace at the end of a rifle.

When diplomat Glyn Berry was killed by a suicide bomber on his way to a reconstruction site in early 2006 (I was injured in the same attack), it was definitely a turning point. It showed us that we were vulnerable, a target to be engaged. Canadian policy shifted slightly in that defence became our first priority. But the 3D approach allows for this; it is, in a sense, part of the plan. And troops continue to have the support of the people.

However, the future of Afghanistan really lies with three institutions: the Afghan government, the country’s police and judicial systems, and its army. The army is fiercely proud and already effective — with greater numbers, it will do well. Law and order will take longer to professionalize due to corruption and the lack of popular support. The government will succeed when President Karzai weakens the warlords’ hold on the country’s parliament.

Where does that leave 3D? Exactly where it should be: in the hands of the Afghans. Canada’s exit strategy was in place the day we entered the country. It hinges on a sound government with a security force acceptable to the Afghan people. When that is in place, we will have won — not a counter-insurgency war or a colonial invasion, but a Canadian victory.

Success will undoubtedly cost us; it cost me both my legs. But before questioning why we are there, ask the soldiers, the diplomats, and those involved in reconstruction if we should quit. We will all say no, because our work there isn’t done.
Paul Franklin
Edmonton, Alberta

Two Veg Short
I read with interest and pleasure Marcello Di Cintio’s piece on Nevin Hal?c? and Sufi cookery (“Sufi Gourmet,” July/ August). But one detail jars a little: tomatoes, he writes, were not popular in Anatolia in Rumi’s time. Indeed they weren’t, but not because they disagreed with Sufis or Seljuk sultans. Tomatoes are native to South America and were unknown in the Old World until an Iberian conquistador returned with them sometime after 1521. The first mention of a tomato in European literature is about twenty years after that. The same is true of capsicum peppers, incidentally. Rumi (who died in 1273) and Ates-baz Veli spent their lives in blissful ignorance of the existence of the tomato and the pepper.
Martin Rose
Ottawa, Ontario

Mine Altering
“Already the [Alberta tar sands region] looks like a vast dystopia, out of sight of most of us — but for how long can the secret hold? ” asks Edward Burtynsky in his important essay “Extraction” (July/August). Not long in the age of the Internet, according to William Gibson, whom Burtynsky quotes. It is in that spirit that I encourage you to visit savedigbyneck.org. Residents and friends of the Digby Neck — a peninsula on the Bay of Fundy in southwestern Nova Scotia — are trying to stop Nova Stone Exporters, an American company, from blasting, crushing, and shipping out 40,000 tonnes of basalt each week in order to build more highways in New Jersey. There is little coverage of this in Canada, but maybe through the Internet the corporate and political leaders responsible will be found out.
Ross Hermiston
Kingston, Ontario

There is no doubt that Edward Burtynsky has a profound concern for the environment. His essay “Extraction” is a case in point. Burtynsky’s strength, however, is not his writing, but his photography. In this regard, he is a recycler with truly alchemical skill. He takes images of environmental degradation and detritus and turns them into artifacts of exquisite beauty. If I owned a mining company with a slag heap leaching into a nearby stream, I’d be more than happy for Burtynsky to use his magic to convey the hidden beauty of it. As a master photographer and printmaker, he has earned his place in the pantheon. Alas, as an environmental activist, he is a failure.
Gerald Vincent
Toronto, Ontario

Flacks and Hacks
Ken Alexander’s rant about contemporary culture in the July/August Sightings (“Generation www”) was dead-on, with one exception. Not all journalism schools teach both truth and falsity, and some understand very well that budding writers must read, travel, and spend downtime with Zarathustra. The school at the University of King’s College is one of them. We do not teach public relations in any form. Our students begin their undergraduate studies with not only Nietzsche, but also selections from Homer, Plato, Virgil, Descartes, Rousseau, Kant, Locke, Hegel, Marx, Robespierre, and Darwin. And we not only encourage our students to travel, we sometimes fund their trips, finding small stipends to help young Canadians explore the wider world. Feel better now?
Kelly Toughill
Assistant Professor,
University of King’s College
Halifax, Nova Scotia

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