On foreign doctors, prime ministerial biographers, militant cyclists, and the fascinating Doukhobors

On foreign doctors, prime ministerial biographers, militant cyclists, and the fascinating Doukhobors
Illustration by Derrick Hodgson

Doctor’s Orders

As a retired doctor, recruited from Britain over forty years ago, I was very interested in Larry Krotz’s “Poaching Foreign Doctors” (June). I agree with all he wrote, but would add that Canada is also a victim of poaching, mostly by the US.

Here in Newfoundland and Labrador, we have an excellent medical school that produces first-rate doctors. These fine young people (almost all Canadians) emerge ready to start a lifetime of service but loaded with debt. I’ve heard that professional recruiters (mostly American) descend on these students before they even graduate, offering to pay their debts, moving expenses, and malpractice insurance and licensing fees. They promise a free house, free clinic, and free car—all in return for a commitment of as little as two years. Is it any wonder young doctors head south? Many end up staying.

In the prehistoric days when I was at medical school in the UK, it was free. We need to take another look at this option. Certainly, it would mean a huge investment by government, which would soon recover the money from the spending power of these young people and, of course, from the income tax they would pay.

Christine Rolton, MD
Author, Doin’ the Locum Motion
St. John’s, NL

One has to wonder how the principles of fairness and objectivity will be applied when Citizenship and Immigration Minister Diane Finley, who has been given the authority to hand-pick skilled immigrants, starts plucking out doctors from the long, backlogged queue of immigrants standing at Canada’s doors. The influx of foreign doctors not only keeps our government from generating citizen-focused training initiatives; it undermines the fundamental principles that make this country so great.

We can collectively point the finger at globalization, or ease our underlying guilt by telling ourselves we’re providing Third World–trained doctors and nurses with the good life, but the fact of the matter is we’re committing a cloaked form of robbery. Many foreign-trained doctors are needed at home. If there were a surplus, or the costs to poorer countries were non-existent, I’d be singing a different tune. But that simply isn’t the case.

Karolina Rous
Canadian Immigrant magazine
Toronto, ON

Right Honourable Men

Jeremy Keehn’s review of recent prime ministerial biographies raises anew the issue of individual agency in the face of underlying forces (“None for the Ages,” June). “To me,” Donald Creighton wrote near the end of his illustrious career as the dean of English-Canadian national and political historians, “history is the record of an encounter between character and circumstance.” His two-volume biography of John A. Macdonald is still regarded as the benchmark for such works, but Creighton was acting in good company. Other lasting political biographies by academics from that era include Maurice Careless’s study of Macdonald’s rival George Brown, in Brown of the Globe; and two interpretations of Conservative successors to Sir John A., Peter Waite’s The Man from Halifax, on Sir John Thompson, and Robert Craig Brown’s Robert Laird Borden. Biographies of twentieth-century prime ministers include three volumes on our most electorally successful leader, Mackenzie King, by Robert MacGregor Dawson and Blair Neatby, answered by a three-volume study of King’s great rival, Arthur Meighen, by Roger Graham.

Historiographic fashions have changed since then. Elite biography no longer possesses cachet in the academy. As Jean-François Lyotard, one of the intellectual gurus of postmodernism, has written, “We no longer have recourse to the grand narratives.” Instead, he recommends the “little narrative” as the “quintessential form of imaginative invention.” Such ideas have overtaken the Canadian historical profession. Worthy microstudies of class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, environmentalism, and personal identity abound, but biographical studies of elite political actors are rare today. Even in 1980, Robert Craig Brown characterized the historical biographer as “something like an eccentric cousin: a bit old-fashioned in his insistence that individuals can and do shape the historical process.” Michael Bliss provided a rebuttal in the introduction to Right Honourable Men, his 1994 collective biography of Canadian prime ministers from Macdonald to Mulroney, as he defended his “great man” approach to Canadian history. “Some people,” he noted, “have much more opportunity than others to make a difference.” And who more than prime ministers? One hopes the pendulum will swing back again, and that more academics of John English’s calibre will deign to tell the stories of our political leaders.

Incidentally, it is amusing to imagine how Creighton might have regarded Brian Mulroney, the man whose free trade initiative effectively dismantled the Canada created by Macdonald’s National Policy. Not a pretty sight.

Larry A. Glassford
Faculty of Education, University of Windsor
Windsor, ON

Cycle of Abuse

I am, in essence, one of the “sleek, fast-moving, fuel-injected four-wheeled animals” Bill Reynolds continually shreds in “Geared Up” (June). Mind you, I don’t have “grey, matted hair and jagged yellow teeth,” nor am I a smirking young drunk behind the wheel of a stolen Dodge Shadow, hunting for two-wheeled victims. As a more typical variant, I suppose I’m not as useful to Reynolds’ project.

My work requires me to drive around Toronto every day, and every day I have to exercise extreme diligence to avoid hitting cyclists who flout the rules of the road. For example, my route takes me to Huron Street, a south running one-way, on which I must weave my way through a steady stream of cyclists heading north. Then there’s the counterpart to Reynolds’ “right hook”—let’s call it the left hook—
wherein the cyclist makes a sharp left turn in front of me across a crosswalk, assuming all the rights of a pedestrian. And I pay for a licence and insurance in order to share the road with these maniacs. To add insult to injury, Reynolds virtually boasts about cyclists who “don’t pay taxes or obey the rules of the road.” I thought it was just ignorance; obviously, it is a point of pride.

Reynolds may find it hard to believe, but I would be sickened if I struck and injured a cyclist, no matter who was at fault. Injuring a cyclist concerned with the “wind in [his] face… and a certain recklessness” would, in fact, grieve me as much as hitting an oblivious child. But I do resent cyclists like Reynolds for potentially putting me in that situation.

Alan McKinlay
Toronto, ON

Bill Reynolds captures a range of urban cycling experiences, including the dreaded dust-up with a car. Such incidents are at the heart of the Toronto Cycling Committee’s interest in creating a coherent bike network within the city—a project that faces many challenges. While cycling is one of the earliest forms of assisted locomotion, it has declined over the years, mostly as a result of intensive lobbying and positioning by the auto industry. Our cities are now built around the car. Our lifestyle revolves around it.

But as problems like congestion and pollution become more severe, cycling is experiencing something of a renaissance, and the city’s approach to bike-related issues is changing to suit. Instead of being tied up in endless reports and meetings, the entire quota of bike lanes for 2008–10 will be ridden through council in a more streamlined process, hopefully topping out at 300 kilometres. We are also installing infrastructure that will make cycling more adaptive to contemporary urban life, such as permanent bike stations at major ttc terminals across the city. These initiatives, combined with comprehensive education strategies, suggest that the city is beginning to see that the bicycle isn’t just for recreation; as a form of transportation, it demands all the amenities the car enjoys.

Councillor Adrian Heaps
Toronto Cycling Committee
Scarborough, ON

It seems magazine editors are only interested in two types of cycling stories: accounts of intrepid cross-country cyclists who invariably sleep in tents, and accounts of the frustrations and near-death experiences of street riders like Bill Reynolds. These might be entertaining, but they reinforce stereotypes that contribute to the marginalization of this safe, efficient, comfortable, healthy, and environmentally benign form of transportation.

Yes, the odd person does get hurt or killed while riding a bike, but the risk is greatly overestimated. In Canada, there are approximately 2.4 cycling deaths for every 100 million kilometres pedalled. And while it’s true that on a per-kilometre basis there are more deaths involving bicycles than motor vehicles, the comparison doesn’t take into account how many more kilometres drivers typically rack up. Nor does it factor health effects into the equation. The gain of life years through improved fitness among regular cyclists far outweighs the loss of life years in fatalities. The same cannot be said of drivers. Furthermore, it seems likely that the more bikes there are on the streets, the more aware drivers will have to be, and the safer it’ll be for all road users. I encourage Walrus readers to dismiss Reynolds’ article, get on their bikes, and ride.

Thomas J. DeMarco, MD
Whistler, BC

Bill Reynolds’ story contains a quote from a 2005 study that suggests cycling produces “virtually no pollution of any kind and [requires] no non-renewable energy resources at all.”

As earth friendly as they are, bicycles are still manufactured goods. They contain plastic made from petroleum and metals that are mined from the earth and refined using huge amounts of energy. Their parts are assembled in factories that use energy, often from non-renewable sources. They are shipped to their points of sale in diesel trucks. Many come from overseas, with even higher transportation costs. And at the end of their life cycle, frames and tires don’t necessarily find their way into the recycling stream.

Don’t get me wrong: bicycles are an essential part of sustainable transportation, and they should have a higher profile. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into believing that activities that don’t directly involve fossil fuels won’t leave a footprint on the earth.

Jil McIntosh
Oshawa, ON

Doukhobor and Peace

I had a chance to meet Aleksandr Yakovlev—the protagonist of Christopher Shulgan’s “Taking the Cure” (June)—after his inspirational visit with the Kootenay Doukhobors, and before he returned to Russia to help set perestroika in motion. He’d learned that I was a Doukhobor author, and had asked to borrow a number of my works on the subject in both Russian and English. After studying these volumes for some three months, he invited me to his home for lunch. We talked about my ancestors, and I shared my insights with him.

Later, in 1983, he sent me a copy of his manuscript “Dukhobory— Plakun-trava, plyvushchaia naprotiv vody.” He clearly grasped the essence of this group that flows against the current—namely, against militarism and the church. (The Doukhobors were not, as Shulgan repeatedly suggests, a “sect,” but rather a social movement.) The article was later published in a Russian journal and, later still, reprinted in a book titled Realizm—Zemlia perestroika. Sobranie vystuplenii i stat’ei.

But for all the good Yakovlev ultimately did in Russia with his spirit of openness, he was also—in partnership with Gorbachev—responsible for opening Russia’s doors to a Trojan Horse from which emerged Jeffrey Sachs’ “shock therapy” approach to privatization. Russians threw out the baby—free education, health care, and rich cultural training—with the bathwater. A reasonable level of equality gave way to the kind of socio-economic extremes typically found in capitalist countries, and the nation’s elders and academics experienced the rapid dislocation of change. A more balanced, transitional approach would have prevented a great deal of suffering.

Koozma J. Tarasoff
Ottawa, ON

Fish or Foul?

Larry Frolick’s “Spoiling for a Fight” (June), well written though it may be, is yet another sliver of evidence that humans are indeed “primates out of control,” to quote from the documentary Sharkwater. After all, a fight—that is, a combat—can only occur between agents who are signatories, as it were, to the violent encounter about to take place. If one party is unaware, shouldn’t the engagement be called an “ambush”? How about “assassination attempt”?

“We use light tackle and a circle hook that doesn’t hurt the fish,” says Fernando Aguilar, the macho but amiable hero of this epic, the assumption being that only the aristocrats of evolution—Homo sapiens and a few other blueblood ticket holders—are capable of experiencing pain. Strangely enough, though, the fact that this fishing expedition was catch and release just makes it worse. If Señor Machismo and company had been on the hunt for some protein, it wouldn’t have seemed nearly so pornographic.

John Barta
Fonthill, ON

“The time has come,” The Walrus said, “to talk of many things.” Send us a letter, an email (letters@thewalrus.ca), or a tweet, or post on this website. Comments may be published in any medium and edited for length, clarity, and accuracy. Mail correspondence to: 411 Richmond St. E., Suite B15, Toronto, Ontario, Canada  M5A 3S5

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