My year in Spain was definitely the best year of my life. Yet, towards the end, I really looked forward to coming  back to Canada. One of the things that made me uncomfortable in Europe was the negative rhetoric around the issues of immigration and multiculturalism. As a historian specialized in European history and a special interest on cross-cultural contact I understand well the history behind European attitudes towards the other but that doesn’t mean I accept or support them. My feelings about the issues were shaped by my own experiences as an immigrant to Canada and my life here. I’ve been meaning to write a more detailed post about it for quite a while but it looks like Haroon Siddiqui, a columnist from the Toronto Star, beat me to it and said most of what I’d have said so why not replicate it here?

Continue reading “Multiculturalism”


Happy Birthday Toronto!


The city of Toronto is celebrating its 175th birthday today. Despite what our friends in Montreal might think, Toronto is a great city.

Check this great article on the city’s past anniversaries for some great pictures and a bit of history. Wondering what Toronto is like? Watch Torontonians of all walks of life describe their city in 6 words. For a schedule of all the events marking this date, check the City of Toronto website.

A fair country

John Ralston Saul, scholar, philosopher, writer, and husband of former Governor-general Adrienne Clarkson, has just published a new book. Entitled A fair country: telling truths about Canada, the book boldly argues that rather than a nation of French or English inspiration, Canada is really a Métis nation, shaped by Aboriginal ideas. I haven’t read the book yet but it looks quite interesting. But this post is not about reviewing the book. This is just to say that John Ralston Saul will be talking about his book tonight, at Hart House. The talk starts at 7:30 pm and I have extra tickets if anyone is interested… Let me know before 5 pm.

Update – It was a really amazing speech! I can’t wait to read the book. One of the interesting lines include: “Ironically, although Canada loves to sell itself as the most European country in North America, it is actually the most American country in North America while the US is the most European country in North America.”

At the end I got my book signed and as I was leaving, I passed by Adrienne Clarkson and I stopped, turned back and asked if I could shake her hand. She said “Certainly!!” and I explained that her name was in my citizenship certificate and I was very proud of it. She thanked me and gave me a really long, firm, hand shake. It was pretty cool. I’ve always admired her as a GG and appreciate all the work she does in defense of immigration and citizenship.

Read John Ralston Saul being interviewed by Michael Valpy for the Globe and Mail. More news and a summary of the book here.

Canadian Politics

It seems like it was only the other day that I went to cast a ballot in the Canadian federal elections. The Conservative party won another minority government and we were ready to settle for more of the same when suddenly, in a matter of days, everything has changed. Basically, the opposition was so incensed by the government’s backhanded tactics and inability to govern in a non-partisan manner (as minority governments should if they want to last in a parliamentarian system) that they have united in a coalition and it looks like they will table a non-confidence vote next week. It was all supposed to happen today but PM Harper has moved the vote until next week to gain some time.

There’s been a flurry of activities all weekend with the government accusing the opposition of being “undemocratic,” which is nonsense. Anybody who knows anything about parlamentarian system knows it is well within the rights of opposition parties to unite in a coallition in order to offer an alternative to the party who holds the government when the majority of the members of parliament feel that they have lost confidence in the government. As a friend of mine has written recently to the PM himself, “If parliament represents the will of the people, is it really democratic to accuse a coalition/arrangement that would represent the majority of parliamentary seats as being undemocratic?”

PM Harper has nobody but himself to blame for the mess he’s in.

If you want to know more, there’s plenty to go by on the CBC and the Globe and Mail.

Update: There’s a really interesting discussion at the Agenda, a TVO show presented by Steve Paikin

Check also Prof. Peter Russell’s explanation of the whole affair. He was one of the guests at the Agenda and has been rightfully appalled at the way Harper and his government are misinforming the public about the legal basis of the opposition’s move.

I want my Canada back

Since elections is on everybody’s mind today and I’m trying not to panic watching the results roll in, I thought I’d share with you this speech given by Glen Pearson, a Liberal MP who is highly respected at Parliament Hill by all parties.

I Want My Canada Back

I’ve travelled around the world and I’ve seen how our image is failing. I want the Canada back that used to lead the world in endeavors of peace and innovation, of multiculturalism and environmental leadership.

I want the kind of Canada that would permit a person with a bit of a lisp – Lester Pearson – to go out and fight for peace around the world, win a Nobel Peace Prize, and be elected prime minister.  That’s the kind of Canada I want. Not the kind that takes a good and decent Leader of the Opposition and attacks him with negative advertising for two solid years in an attempt to convince people he’s not fit for the job of prime minister.

I want the kind of Canada that visualizes students as our ambassadors around the world, in humanitarian, business enterprise, and human rights activities – those practices which permit the world to understand what a fair and equitable place Canada is.

I want the kind of Canada where we put the word “equality” in the charter of the Status of Women. We’ve now lost that. I want the kind of country that puts that word in there and enshrines it. It took decades of struggle to get it and it’s not acceptable that we’ve taken it out.

I want the kind of Canada that says “no” to imprisoning 14-year olds for life and doesn’t condone the imprisonment of teenaged Canadians in overseas jails.

I want the kind of Canada that brings aboriginal Canadians to their full and equal status in the mainstream of Canadian life, as we did with the Kelowna Accord. This present government cut it and I want it back.

I want a Canada that accepts labor unions and understands their importance to the fabric of society, rather than continuing to attempt to defray them.

I want a Canada that will sign the Kyoto agreement and actually implement it, instead of turning our back on the international commitments we’ve made.

I want the kind of Canada we used to have, before we gave ourselves over to the politics of division and regionalism, pitting one group against another. I’ve had enough of that.

I want a national early learning and childcare program that lifts women and children out of poverty and in the process lifts our nation out of moral depravity. The present government cut it and I want it back.

I want the Canada back that I believed in when I was a student, and which we had up until a few short years ago. I’m still a student of this remarkable social and economic triumph called “Canada” and I will learn from it until my dying breath. I am now a member of parliament, one of only 300 or so in this great nation. It is my job to protect this country’s past by bringing it into an enlightened and progressive future – a Liberal future. I will expend every effort to bring it about.

For the sake of my children, my wife, and everyone in this place, my pursuit of a great Canada will be my primary thought in the coming years. I want my Canada back so that I – and we – will leave a proper legacy of peace, environmental stewardship and prosperity to the world. I want my Canada back. The world wants that Canada back. Let’s achieve that end with everything that’s great and noble in each of us.

Famous prank calls

In 1995, a Quebec radio DJ called Queen Elizabeth II pretending to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. They had a fifteen-minute conversation that was broadcast over the radio. The same DJ later called Pope John Paul II, also pretending to be Jean Chétien and got through.

This week another Quebec radio presenter called Sarah Palin pretending to be President Sarkozy and were able to chat with her for about six minutes.

US Elections in the last stride

The latest accusation against Obama is that he is a “redistributor of wealth,” something that would perhaps not raise many eyebrows here in Canada.

Rick Mercer interviewed former Prime Minister Paul Martin last night. Rick asked if his father had been a great influence on him. Paul Martin said yes, and that his father’s core belief rested on an understanding of government as a force of good in society. It all comes down to individual freedom. How do you achieve that if you were not born in a family of privilege? So the government’s responsibility is to guarantee that every person has the chance to achieve that same freedom independently of his background. So the government is there to provide the things we cannot provide for ourselves without a great deal of wealth – health, education, public security. How that goes against anybody’s freedom is beyond me.