Letters

May 2005

Canada And The “Blue States”
Jeremy Rifkin’s provocative speculations (“Continentalism Of A Different Stripe,” March) about “the incipient rise” of a North American union between Canada and the so-called blue states overlooks one troubling fact: the blue states are blue, as in sad, depressed, and powerless. While not contiguous with the Canadian border, no state in the Union would be more open to pursuing Rifkin’s dream than Massachusetts. And yet, here in Boston—a city with long historical links to Canada’s maritime provinces (during the period of active New England/Caribbean trade) and to Quebec and Ontario (fighting slavery through the Underground Railroad)—there is little talk about alternative political or economic relationships with Canada, or, for that matter, any other nation. In the final analysis, Democrats in America weren’t sure who they were voting for in John Kerry, and are now adrift. Mr. Rifkin’s thesis is interesting, but following through with it would require a level of political enthusiasm and openness absent from the present Democratic body politic in America. We’re too busy licking election wounds to take on new projects.

Katherine Williams
Boston, Massachusetts

I very much enjoyed reading Jeremy Rifkin. That an American author of so many provocative books, including his latest, The European Dream, should honour Canada with such a well-informed article is heartening. In my view, however, Rifkin overstates the affinity of America’s so-called blue states and Canada.

The “regional spaces” to which Rifkin refers (e.g., New England and Atlantic Canada, Ontario and the Great Lakes states) primarily co-operate in quotidian matters like trade, the environment, border management, and so on. While Rifkin casts this co-operation as the potential seed for semi-autonomous existence of these regional clusters, he cites little evidence that the regions themselves are interested in such an arrangement—seeing themselves as having not only shared interests but also shared values, and that this common ground would lead them to try to merge more fully. Rifkin mentions former Ontario Premier Mike Harris saying neighbour states are more important to Ontario than are areas of Canada, but, I suspect, this was simply a public dig at Ottawa and have-not provinces, and nothing more.

Even as he emphasizes regional co-operation, Rifkin, like the map that circulated on the Internet after the November election, paints all of Canada with the same brush. Since the map in question consisted of just two colours, the blue “United States of Canada” and the red “Jesusland,” Rifkin seems to be wondering whether the blue states might indeed join a blue monolith called Canada. But he almost immediately moves on to discuss clusters of cross-border regional interests. His emphasis on “semi-autonomous” regions undermines his argument about the United States of Canada. It makes sense that BC and Washington state would co-operate, but it is not a given that they would want to assert their autonomy by becoming more entwined with one another than they already are, and the idea of Washington state joining le tout Canada is even more improbable.

Perhaps most importantly, Mr. Rifkin ignores the rural and suburban versus urban split. The blue states are not all blue—they are just states with more urban dwellers and urbane thinkers. This creates problems on two sides. Rural parts of the blue states would not go gently into that good north. And on the Canadian side, I imagine that progressive Torontonians feel it’s hard enough contending politically with North Bay and Kapuskasing, without having to deal with Michigan Militia.

I suggest, more simply, that progressive Americans consider turning Strom Thurmond on his head and begin to espouse the states’ rights option to incubate and nurture the Canadian Dream in their own less-than-perfect union.

Michael Adams
Environics
Toronto, Ontario

Though Mr. Rifkin’s vision of a North American Union is a comforting one to the slightly more than half of blue-state voters who went Democrat in the last election, it ignores the possibility that the red-state agenda might have an explanation.

The federalist model of the United States government that Mr. Rifkin rightly denigrates was the product, ultimately, of Civil War rhetoric (“a house divided against itself cannot stand”), which was quickly co-opted by an oligarchy of Northern industrial giants to revamp the US as the big business, trade-based, imperial power it is today.

The individualistic, militaristic vision of prosperity does not dominate American political discourse because of poor frontier farmers, as Mr. Rifkin suggests, but because of the robber barons back east. Indeed, before the Christian right brought them under the Republican banner, southern and more agrarian economies (i.e., red states) have always preferred a state-centred, multilateral “European” model for the American federal government, but they have been systematically defeated by more industrialized economies (i.e., blue states) who wanted railroads and cheap food.

For the past 100 years, the red states have watched as their economies, cultures, and overall autonomy were systematically choked to death as jobs, population, and federal money fled to the coasts. Among our cultural elite, it is generally considered charming to imagine America as a wasteland between California and New York. Is it any wonder then that the people who call that wasteland home feel a thrill of satisfaction at throwing that elite into a tizzy? Before the blue states take their toys and play with someone else, perhaps they ought to ask themselves a familiar question: Why do they hate us?

The real problem in the red states is that the Christian right has co-opted genuine feelings of resentment and disenfranchisement, using exactly the sort of oversimplified that-day-will-come rhetoric of which Mr. Rifkin’s article is such a sterling example. Rifkin’s vision of a European Dream recapitulates the single worst aspect of the American Dream—that it was a capitalized, singular Dream, which would shill for any American politician’s own petty agendas.

Before we start promoting this new Dream uncritically, we ought to look more closely at the problems of multilateralism. In the US, for example, the anti-federalist model perpetuated the injustice of slavery. While there is nothing quite so dramatically evil in the European Union, the trends of rising anti-Semitism and restrictive immigration policies do not exactly jive with Mr. Rifkin’s vision of a Europe that wants to “preserve their rich multicultural diversity.” I bring this up not to criticize Europe, but to make the larger point that De Tocqueville gave the US almost a hundred years before assessing the viability of its dream. North America should now return the favour.

If, as Mr. Rifkin argues, the United States is a marriage that’s coming to an end, then Canada ought to compare notes with the blue states’ ex before diving into bed.

Stephen Yeager
Toronto, Ontario

Latvian Celebration?
Your “Outlook” notices included a listing for March 16, Legionnaires Ceremony in Riga, Latvia. I had to read the notice several times to understand your reason for including it. Initially, I assumed that its purpose was to rebuke the Latvians. This assumption was based on the opening line: “During World War II, about 140,000 Latvian men joined the Nazi war effort as part of the Waffen SS national legions.” Reading on, I continued to feel this had to be the point: “To Latvian Jews, they were Nazi sympathizers; to ethnic Russians, traitors.” After these two lines, however, the tone of the notice appeared to change considerably. It went on to say that many other Latvians regarded these men as heroes who “defend[ed] the country from Russian imperialism” and that the holiday enjoyed the official sanction of the Latvian government “for a brief period” before “pressure from the United Nations and Russia” forced the government to rescind official recognition in 2000. You summed up with an image of proud and defiant Latvian nationalists gathering at the Freedom Monument in Riga to “lay flowers” and “sing patriotic songs” in spite of the meddlesome and overbearing Russians and UN.

I realize it is not difficult to find fault with any number of things the UN has done, and the same can be said for the Russians, but, in this instance, I can see their point. I assume that the UN’s position and that of the Russians might have something to do with the fact that the issue is quite complex. Ninety percent of Latvia’s pre-war Jewish population perished during World War II. Over the course of two specific days—November 30 and December 8, 1941—at least 25,000 Riga Jews were shot in the Rumbula forest by Germans and their Latvian accomplices. One can begin to understand why Latvian Jews might be touchy about an official commemoration for Latvian SS troops—even if only a small percentage of these personally took part in atrocities.

Before the German invasion, the Soviets repressed and terrorized the Latvian population and deported tens of thousands of Latvians to Siberia. After the war, consistent with their policy of Russification, the Soviets encouraged ethnic Russians to settle in Latvia in large numbers. Some estimates put the population of Riga at roughly 50 percent Latvian and 50 percent Russian. Disregarding the legitimacy of their presence in Latvia, many of these Russians are descendants of Red Army soldiers who fought the Nazis. Once again, I can understand how it would be insulting to an ethnic Russian—a member of a population that suffered unprecedented casualties in their battle against the Germans—to watch SS soldiers being honoured. And though the list of things for which the world should thank the Soviets is very short, it is fair to say that their winning the battle of Stalingrad was a good thing.

Lastly, if 140,000 Latvians served in the SS, it is presumed that another 100,000 served with the Red Army. Both sides had volunteers and forced conscripts. Yet no matter how sad and complicated the history, it is specious to suggest, as you appear to do, that Latvian SS soldiers were “heroes defending the country from Russian imperialism.” This contention appears to equate the Latvian SS with the likes of Free French and the Free Polish Armies of World War II. To be clear, the latter were patriots fighting to liberate their countries from invading imperialists whereas the Latvian SS were combatants defending an imperialistic preference: Nazi rule instead of Soviet rule. Had their side won, the result would not have been independence but, presumably, a more palatable occupation.

David Bezmozgis
Toronto, Ontario

National Security
After the shocking deaths of four rcmp officers—gunned down in rural Alberta by James Roszko, an obviously disturbed madman—Canadians might stop taking policing for granted. Investigations into this tragedy will probably reveal that the officers should have been much more cautious. Roszko’s profile was that of a law-breaking belligerent. Nonetheless, the larger point, as Andrew Mitrovica points out (“Masked Avenger,” March), is that police work, especially undercover work, requires officers and agents to infiltrate the seediest and most dangerous segments of society. At all times, they are putting their own lives at risk for our security. A society without guns would be welcome. Until such a time, let’s give our law enforcement agencies the respect and the necessary tools to carry out their most hazardous occupation.

Marian Cowan
Montreal, Quebec

Nanny Abuse
Recently, I was sitting in a crowded cafe in the town of Netanya, Israel, watching an elderly Israeli gentleman being helped to the table by his Filipina caregiver. The gentle attention brought to the ritual of coffee and croissant moved me intensely. Returning home to Vancouver, and Susan McClelland’s article (“Nanny Abuse,” March), I continued to reflect on the good and the bad of any program that attracts impoverished workers from foreign countries. Reforms to Ottawa’s Live-in Nanny Program are overdue, and any form of abuse is insupportable. But before jumping to conclusions, we must remind ourselves that, to most of the world, Canada is a kind of heaven. Two years of servitude in exchange for a Canadian passport must be measured against a lifetime of poverty in conditions unimaginable to us—the richest generation in Canadian history.

I have it on good authority that for every Philippine woman with justifiable complaints, there exists a group of others who feel nurtured and valued by their employers, who have no intention of returning to the difficult situations they were born into, and who write home, urging, “Come. Come. It’s not perfect here, but some of your suffering will surely be eased.”

Elizabeth Morantz
Vancouver, BC

Thanks for the enlightening article on nanny abuse. I do not trust the same civil servants who ran the sponsorship program to manage the national daycare program. It will be inefficient and graft-prone. The child-care problem in this country can be solved only if one of the parents can afford to stay at home to raise the child, which would mean restructuring our bloated and corrupt civil service to reduce the exorbitant income tax rate for middle-class families.

Adrian Yee
Victoria, BC

You Are Not Here
I went skipping home from the bookstore yesterday with the new Walrus (March) tucked away in my bag, all other errands and commitments happily forgotten. Upon arrival, I made myself a cup of tea and settled in for a satisfying afternoon. It was not to be. I flipped through, eagerly searching out my favourite section—that random, delicious assortment of the obscure, touching on everything from hypochondria to fonts, the “You Are Here” section. But it was gone, obliterated from the pages, as if never existing at all. My afternoon ruined, off I trudged, back out into a cold weekend, a list of unfinished errands in my pocket. Sigh. Please tell me this is not a permanent state of affairs. Oh please, say it isn’t so. The humour found in such pieces is what makes your magazine such a perfect read.

Woefully,
Meredith Sonders
Toronto, Ontario

Editor’s note:
“You Are Here” returns in this issue, on page 39.

Provincial Power
Allan Gregg says he’s worried. In The Walrus cover story (“Quebec’s Final Victory,” February), Mr. Gregg’s byline appears alongside an iconic image of Pierre Trudeau and the alarming headline: “Quebec Is Gone: Martin Shatters Trudeau’s Dream.” He argues at length that last fall’s Health Accord is the first cut in a process of “national vivisection.” Martin’s Accord, he says, represents a “Frankenstein federalism, with Ottawa sleepwalking as the nation is reduced to a patchwork quilt of unequal parts.”

Amid this mélange of metaphors lies a novel concern—at least for Mr. Gregg. Having served for a decade as Brian Mulroney’s private pollster and chief strategic adviser, he is now casting himself as the protector of Trudeau’s constitutional legacy. The strategist of the Meech and Charlottetown initiatives writes that he is worried about “special status” for Quebec. The maven of the 1988 Free Trade election worries about an Ottawa too weak to “stand up to those voices on both sides of the border advocating seamless integration between our two nations.” The architect of three Conservative victories now writes sympathetically of “Trudeau-Chrétien Liberals . . . question[ing] Canada’s very survival.”

Perhaps this intellectual cross-dressing reflects a genuine change of orientation. Maybe Mr. Gregg has detected concern among some Liberals he knows. One suspects more, however. Could one of Canada’s most visible Progressive Conservatives be making mischief among Liberals? After all, on issues such as the constitution and free trade, seeking to drive wedges into the Grits was one of the favourite pastimes of Mr. Gregg’s long-time client, Prime Minister Mulroney.

Gregg’s core argument is that the Health Accord provided Quebec “federal funding with no real strings attached,” and that this arrangement was offered as well to other provinces. From his unsupported claim that the federal “strings” weren’t “real,” he maps a steep and slippery slope that “sets up the possibility of ‘sovereignty-association’ not just for Quebec, but for all ten provinces.”

Here’s what happened in Ottawa last fall. The First Ministers assented to a broad public desire: fix medicare. They embraced this desire by agreeing to set transparent objectives in an area of exclusive provincial jurisdiction and allocating the dollars needed to reach them. The premiers even agreed as to how their achievement will be ensured through a package of accountability measures (a.k.a. “strings”). The First Ministers then faced a divergence as to how each province might go about setting objectives. It is only at this stage that some flexibility was inserted into the accord.

The 2004 Health Accord could have been negotiated by any of the last six Liberal prime ministers. By way of example, the 1976 Immigration Act permitted variable immigration agreements with provinces in support of national objectives. This enabled Trudeau’s government to negotiate 1978’s Quebec specific Cullen-Couture Agreement. As for the Chrétien government, its 1996 Speech from the Throne explicitly committed to creating no new shared cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction without majority provincial consent and an opt-out for those not wishing to participate. Prime Minister Martin’s flexibility in the Health Accord therefore lies squarely within the mainstream of Liberal governance. What distinguishes the deal is less its use of asymmetrical administrative arrangements, and more its commitment to revitalize the public system of medicare in the manner that millions of Canadians, starting with Roy Romanow, have been demanding for almost a decade.

By crudely caricaturing Trudeau’s and Chrétien’s federalism, and creating an equally sketchy cartoon of Paul Martin’s, Gregg seems mainly to be seeking to pit Liberals against each other. Liberals should treat this intervention much as, say, New Democrats might in hearing a lecture on environmental purity from Stephen Harper.

John Duffy
Strategy Corp. Inc.
Toronto, Ontario

Allan Gregg responds:
John Duffy accuses me of “seeking to drive wedges into the Grits” as my motive in writing “Quebec’s Final Victory.” Duffy attacks my past partisan activity (over a decade old, and with the Progressive Conservative Party), but the fact remains that the recent Health Accord signed by Paul Martin is extremely contentious within Liberal ranks. Anyone eavesdropping in the halls of the recent Liberal Party convention, or who listened to Michael Ignatieff’s keynote address to those delegates, would know this.

Mr. Duffy also claims that the Accord “lies squarely within the mainstream of Liberal governance” and that it “could have been negotiated by any of the last six Liberal prime ministers.” The fact is none of the last six Liberal prime ministers did negotiate anything even proximate to a federal-provincial agreement that explicitly excluded Quebec and afforded the same opportunity to all other provinces.

It is true that Brian Mulroney attempted to enshrine the principle of asymmetrical federalism in the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords. However, both attempts were vocally opposed by two of the very Liberal prime ministers Duffy cites, and Charlottetown was roundly defeated by voters across the country.

Paul Martin’s support of asymmetrical federalism is surprising. Not a word was uttered of its virtues throughout his long leadership campaign or during the last federal election. Anyone who has followed this thread in our constitutional history will know that this was not Mr. Martin’s plan, but Jean Charest’s—one the Quebec premier had been formulating since 2001, and to which he actively recruited his fellow provincial First Ministers.

Provinces have the latitude to opt-out of national programs, but, in the past, have received federal funding only if comparable programs were introduced. Mr. Duffy allows that provinces might now go about “setting [their own] objectives” for health care and that this constitutes “flexibility.” In fact, this “flexibility” marks a radical departure from tradition. The 2004 Health Accord not only exempts Quebec on matters of health care, but opens the door for future asymmetry in programs of all stripes in every region of the country. Federal demands for accountability were rejected by the provinces who declared they would answer to “their” voters and not the federal government (which, lest we forget, represent all voters, including “theirs”).

The most compelling evidence that federal-provincial relations have tilted heavily in favour of the provinces has been screamed in headlines since the Accord was signed. Ottawa’s plans for a national child-care policy appear to have been scuppered because the provinces now refuse to acquiesce to a “one size fits all” national program. Premier Danny Williams has re-cut Newfoundland’s offshore oil deal. Formerly federalist Premier Lorne Calvert of Saskatchewan has demanded that his royalty arrangement should be similarly adjusted. British Columbia quickly threw their hand up and signalled “me too.” Prince Edward Island even entered the fray, suggesting the novel idea that agriculture, after all, is a natural resource, and it too should be excluded from transfer payment calculations. And for the first time in modern memory, we have an Ontario government grimacing over the burden of making equalization payments to Canada’s have-not provinces.

This may be the kind of Canada some aspire to, but, after plumbing public opinion for thirty years, I doubt it. And if it is the kind of country we are being offered, it should only occur after a full and vigorous debate, and not by stealth. If that debate “drive[s] wedges into Grits,” then I say that should be the least of our concerns.

Allan Gregg
The Strategic Counsel
Toronto, Ontario

Allan Gregg elucidates simply and clearly the increasing decentralization of political power in Canada from Ottawa to the provinces. This alarming reality isn’t just some form of more effective power-sharing under the guise of “asymmetrical federalism.” It is the gradual dissolving of a single 138-year-old federation into thirteen separate “fiefdoms,” each with a singular interest in maintaining and expanding their own economic well-being and political power. It frustrates me to no end that Prime Minister Paul Martin doesn’t see this—or at least understand it—and decide to pull up his socks and really start playing hardball with the provincial premiers. Last fall’s health-care conference is a case in point. I’m sure that if Trudeau were still living, he would not be impressed with that conference’s outcome. If Joe Clark is the “head waiter,” what is Paul Martin—“head busboy”?

The kind of decentralization of power that Gregg describes should be a major concern to all Canadians who see the greater good of living in one wonderfully diverse country—officially bilingual, richly multicultural, geographically surrounded by three of the world’s oceans and one superpower. Federalist Canadians should stand up and speak out—loudly—as certainly none of our current federal “leaders” will be getting off their chairs.

David Sotvedt
Vancouver, BC

Allan Gregg’s analysis of the consequences of the 2004 health-care conference on federal-provincial politics seems to have been right on the money, as can be seen in the agreement arrived at recently between the federal government and Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

This agreement, officially signed on Valentine’s Day, basically allows these provinces to collect 100 percent of the royalties generated by offshore oil and gas production while still maintaining the full amount of the equalization payments they currently receive. The reaction to this agreement was twofold: some provinces announced that they would seek to obtain their own side deals, while another announced that the very idea of equalization was compromised by the agreement. As reported by Brian Laghi and Murray Campbell in the Globe and Mail, New Brunswick, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Quebec all want to obtain similar side deals regarding their energy sector, while Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty made it clear that he feels the side deal is unfair and unilaterally changes the rules with regards to equalization payments. The announcement of this agreement even prompted a spokesman for New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord to say, “By having this one-off deal, the feds have opened the door for all other provinces to come and negotiate side deals.”

There is now blood in the water, and the provinces can smell it from miles away.

Decentralization is not fundamentally evil, and provinces having a larger say in the negotiation of international obligations that impact provincial jurisdiction is not intrinsically unreasonable; but both these propositions are inherently un-Liberal.

Congratulations Mr. Martin, you’ve painted yourself into a corner.

Nicholas Cerminaro
Halifax, Nova Scotia

Marijuana Mist
I am a twenty-year-old college student. I’ve been smoking marijuana for almost five years now (“Corporate Cannabis,” February). For some people, marijuana use increases anxiety, but it actually helped treat my anxiety. I’ve had trouble falling asleep since my early teenage years, and marijuana is an excellent sleep aid. Marijuana has potential for healing the mind, body, and soul, so I am not surprised that pharmaceutical companies are trying to find ways to market marijuana for medicinal purposes. It still confuses me though, that common citizens are not allowed to grow their own marijuana for personal use, whether it be medicinal or not. These people are not only forced to buy their marijuana on the street (in most cases), where they are putting themselves at risk, they are also being forced to financially support criminals.

Home-grown marijuana makes people happy, and it does not support gangs and their immoral actions. Of course, “home grown” would also prevent any companies from selling and marketing marijuana. Our laws for marijuana are outdated, irrational, and should be changed.

Michelle (last name withheld)
Ancaster, Ontario

Africa’s Burden
I’d like to applaud The Walrus for printing an article on the development issues in Africa (“Is Africa’s Pain Black America’s Burden?” February). I was particularly intrigued by the cover line (“Can Black America Save Africa?”) because it suggests an interesting approach to what has been called the impasse of development—the fear that further involvement in Africa not only worsens the effects of colonization, but also extends the legacy of paternalism and control over Africans. The suggestion that African-Americans become involved in development efforts in Africa seems to overcome this impasse. However, as Lawrence Hill points out, most African-Americans (and Canadians) have turned a blind eye to the humanitarian crises in Africa.

While Hill gave several reasons for the lack of interest among African-Americans for the problems in Africa, I feel that he failed to link a fundamental issue that affects both African-Americans and native Africans—that is, poverty. Poverty lies at the core of the aids pandemic, and exacerbates ethnic tensions. Poverty undoubtedly also affects the lives of African-Americans and African- Canadians. While it is inexcusable to ignore humanitarian crises in Africa, it is vital to recognize that there are structural barriers to development in Africa, and that these barriers have prevented (and continue to prevent) the development of black communities in affluent nations such as Canada and the US.

Terris Lutter
Kingston, Ontario

Tusk Tusk
The courthouse in Winnipeg is on York Street. Incorrect information appeared in “Masked Avenger,” by Andrew Mitrovica, in the March issue.

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