Letters

December 2007

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• 2,163 words

One Citizen, One Vote
Daniel Aldana Cohen (“Blown into Proportion,” October) deserves a medal for his article on electoral reform in Ontario. After a year of confusion and misinformation, often amplified by the media and our provincial politicians, Cohen told us what we needed to know: that despite the odds in what are often said to be cynical times, the Citizens’ Assembly was an extraordinary public process that yielded a subtle and well-reasoned recommendation. Irrespective of the outcome of the referendum, all Ontarians were well served by the assembly, its proposal, and by writers like Cohen.
Peter MacLeod
Centre for the Study of Democracy
Queen’s University
Kingston, Ontario

Of course Daniel Aldana Cohen found the Citizens’ Assembly civil and intelligent — its members were not competing for power. But while it may be true that consensus democracies are “kinder and gentler” than majoritarian democracies, to my knowledge there is no evidence of a causal relationship between the type of electoral system and the kindness of a society. New Zealand uses the mmp electoral system, but so does Venezuela, where the incidence of crime and corruption is considerably higher.

The more egregious misconception peddled by Cohen, however, is that of the wasted vote. This concept suffers from the worst kind of post-hoc analysis. One’s vote is not considered wasted until Peter Mansbridge announces the results. In other competitive pursuits, people who call the game a waste of time after the results are in are known as sore losers.
David M. Brock
Ottawa, Ontario

Mining Rights
There are some glaring gaps in Roger Martin’s understanding of the mining industry (“Eat or Be Eaten,” October), which Martin claims is not growing in Canada but is in the developing world, where the cost of doing business is lower and environmental laws more lax. “If I had to lose a sector,” he says, “I would put mining nearer the top of my list than the bottom.”

Mining is most certainly growing in Canada. We are the number one destination for investment in mineral exploration, and while our reserves need replenishment, the value of production is at a high level and the potential is extraordinary. In fact, our net balance of trade in mined commodities contributes substantially to the country’s total trade balance; in 2005, the 2.4 percent of the Canadian workforce employed in the mining industry produced 4 percent of the gdp.

Meanwhile, growth of the industry in the developing world has little to do with cheap land and labour and much to do with risk/reward considerations. Capital is attracted to countries that are relatively unexplored or have known exploitable resources when they demonstrate they are open for business by improving governance, regulation, security, and economic performance. While it is true that many developing countries do not yet have the kind of environmental and social protections that are built into Canadian law, mining investors from developed countries design their exploration and extraction activities with due respect for the highest international standards. They couldn’t get financing if they didn’t.

Martin totally ignores the economic benefit of the upstream, or supply side, of the industry. As many as 2,200 specialized firms in 400 localities across Canada help keep the domestic industry efficient, and many of these are exporters that supply the mining industries of some 100 other countries. Mining supply is an urban industry: Toronto, through specialized finance, brokerage, accounting, legal consulting, manufacturing, and other businesses, benefits tremendously from mining. We should do all we can to maintain “Toronto’s position as a premier mining-finance centre,” as Martin put it.

I agree with Martin that, in a globalizing world where we want to be able to dig up other people’s backyards, we cannot and should not protect Canadian mining companies from foreign takeovers. Currently, of the eighty-three mining companies in the world with a market capitalization over $1 billion (US), thirty-three are Canadian. We have the resources. All we need are the policies that will encourage the formation of more Norandas, Falconbridges, and Incos.
Jon Baird
Goodwood, Ontario

Another Fish Tale
Thank you to R. M. Vaughan (“Dominick’s Fish,” October) for an enlightening essay on fish-keeping culture, until now a mystery to me.

When my sister, Caitlin, died suddenly in November of last year, she left behind three large aquariums full of fish and two bewildered cats. Despite well-intentioned assurances that fish like to be flushed down the toilet and that all adult cats deposited at the spca immediately find perfect homes, my husband and I pushed on. The cats were a no-brainer — Graham and I adopted them. And luckily, a good friend’s father is a fish guy. Henry was the lucky winner of all of it: fish, aquariums, marine plants, thermometers, bubblifiers, debubblifiers, pH testers, food, poop removers, nets, water change buckets, pumps, backup pumps, everything — all representing hours of loving dedication.

Vaughan is quite right: nothing is disposable. As the surviving sibling, I will one day be leaving my things, which now of course include many of Caitlin’s things, to be even more stuff for someone else to contend with. But no fish.
Francesca Allan
Lasqueti Island, British Columbia


Twenty Questions

Speaking on behalf of the Roma community, I am pleased that Andrew Mitrovica has drawn attention to the Immigration and Refugee Board’s Roma lead case (“No Refuge,” October) — a most vile, underhanded attempt by the irb to limit the number of Hungarian Roma admitted to Canada.

In the Federal Court of Appeal’s 2006 ruling against the decision, it chastised the irb for trying to make a policy decision about which group of refugees deserves Canada’s protection. The mandate of the irb is to assess each case on its own merit, not to make any one case into a precedent. We pursued the appeal to right a wrong done to the Roma but, even more, to ensure that no other group of refugees would be similarly ill treated. Only in the last respect have we succeeded.

In the seven years it took to overturn the case, Canada turned away thousands of Hungarian Roma. The court made a politically astute decision when it stipulated that its ruling concerned only the two families involved in the lead case. Those many others affected by it do not benefit from the recent decision of the appeal court. Our requests to reopen some of these cases have not even been answered by the irb.

Many questions remain. Why do we refuse Hungarian Roma from this ostensibly democratic country, while in my experience nearly all Roma from other eastern European countries are granted asylum? Has the Canadian government made a deal with Hungary? And why has no one been reprimanded at the irb?
Paul St. Clair
Roma Community and
Advocacy Centre
Toronto, Ontario

As a former member and sometime critic of the Immigration and Refugee Board, I looked forward to Andrew Mitrovica’s story on irb member Lloyd Fournier. Unfortunately, the article turned out to be strong on puffery and short on investigation.

As a result, we are left with many unanswered questions. Why, for example, is the irb still the largest patronage pot in the country? Fournier, a failed Liberal candidate, admits that party ties played a deciding role in his appointment and asks, “Why would any government not want to surround itself with people that are at least sympathetic to their point of view?” Like most patronage appointees, he’s got it all wrong.

Fournier describes himself as a “star member” of the irb who cleared hundreds of cases a year. Hearings can take up to a day (sometimes many days), and negative decisions require carefully thought out and documented reasons. They have to stand up to a Federal Court appeal. How did Fournier manage such a prodigious output? What proportion of his decisions were positive? (Positive decisions, of course, are rarely appealed and require less work.) How did this compare with the average?

Fournier’s contempt for refugee protection officers and for the irb’s legal staff is especially curious. The latter offer advice to members on legal precedents, case law, and drafting considerations. The former assist with the hearing process; when necessary, they question claimants to obtain clarification or liaise with counsel to disclose documents related to the case. In my experience, the rpos and legal staff were essential to a fair and efficient hearing. Why on earth did Fournier bar them from involvement in his cases? And what impact might this have had on the quality of his decisions?

Of the larger issue of Roma would-be refugees, I would point out that nowhere in the article does Mitrovica examine the difference between discrimination (which many Roma experience, but which is not grounds anywhere for refugee status) and persecution (which is grounds for refugee status, but which few Roma suffer). Most EU countries are facing problems with large numbers of Roma spuriously seeking asylum — one reason, incidentally, that the flow into Canada has dried up.

Finally, the article informs us of Fournier’s banishment, but in all likelihood he is still on full pay — well over $100,000 a year — while he labours in “a small, sawdust-filled workshop in his home.” Some banishment. Some investigative journalism.
William Bauer
Hensall, Ontario

Salutin’ Salutin
I thoroughly enjoyed Rick Salutin’s “The Mystery of Teaching” (October). He captures the spirit of teaching as an essentially human practice — a message we academics don’t necessarily imbibe as we proceed through our training, which encourages us to think of ourselves as experts on our subjects rather than as participants in an intergenerational social practice of learning. Salutin’s piece is a lovely corrective to that for teachers at all levels.
Melissa S. Williams
Centre for Ethics
University of Toronto
Toronto, Ontario

Average Joe
David Robbeson (“56*,” October) did a fine job of debunking Joe DiMaggio’s fifty-six-game hit streak. Most baseball fans are less likely to question DiMaggio’s feat than the law of gravity.

However, I worry that he undermined his analysis by implying that DiMaggio only became a legend well after he was done playing, based on the fact that “it took three years after he became eligible” to gain election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. No doubt that’s meant to sound damning to today’s sports fans, who are used to seeing first-ballot Hall of Famers. But DiMaggio did well to get in that quickly. In the late 1940s and early ’50s, there was no five-year waiting period after retirement for induction, and Cooperstown faced such a crush of worthies that no one got in on the first try. Mel Ott, the first National Leaguer to hit 500 home runs, also needed three years. One of the five players elected “ahead” of DiMaggio, Al Simmons, needed eight, and he had a career batting average of .334, better than the Clipper’s .325.

For serious sports nuts, that kind of context is needed when we “train our lens backward” in order to maintain a balance between taking a fresh look at the game’s past and respecting how earlier generations saw it. It seems Robbeson hit a home run on the first count but whiffed on the latter. Of course, that’s a lot better than never getting the bat off your shoulder.
Neate Sager
Out of Left Field blog
Ottawa, Ontario

No Love for Charlie
I wonder whether Charles Foran (“The Adaptation of Mordecai Richler,” October) knows of Richler’s 1961 film, No Love for Johnnie, with Peter Finch as an ambitious and effective British MP who allows love and lust to virtually destroy his career. I was completely captivated by the film, only realizing as the credits rolled at the end that Richler co-wrote the script. If Foran was aware of this but chose not to include it in his admittedly short list of the author’s works, I would like to know why.
Trevor Phillips
Surrey, British Columbia

Shafting Saskatchewan
The Walrus is certainly thought provoking, if at times odd, and I enjoy the letters to the editor, but I have to comment on the following, from Jeremy Keehn’s “Tunnelling Through Time” (October):

“1985 – A truck falls through a road in downtown Moose Jaw, revealing tunnels connecting several hotels that may have served as brothels and saloons during Prohibition, when Saskatchewan was a booze hub for the American Midwest.”

I’m told there were parts of southern Saskatchewan where people desperate to make some money became involved with American bootleggers, but most in the northerly part of the West had little to do with them.

There are stories, however, about some districts where families concocted their own booze and hid it from the Mounties. Some have tragic endings; others are worthy of an Illingworth Kerr or a Farley Mowat for laughs.

And believe it or not, some of our folks were actually teetotallers.
Christine Pike
Waseca, Saskatchewan

Tusk, Tusk
Joe DiMaggio struck out five times during his 1941 hitting streak, not seven, as stated in “56*” (October). The Walrus regrets the error.

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