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Where is Canada’s Obama? November 24, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in analysis, Canada, change, history, life.
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canada_flag_barack

There was a major wave of excitement when Obama was elected as President of the United States. Since I live in Canada, this meant two things:

  1. my friends were all thrilled in a genuine, earnest and polite way
  2. everybody secretly (or not so secretly) wishes Obama was running for Prime Minister of Canada instead.

Compare the exciting campaign south of the border with the recent federal election in Canada. Ho-hum. The intelligent but not-so charismatic Liberal leader Stephan Dion failed to win the confidence of voters, so we have the dubious pleasure of listening to the stolid sweater-vested Stephen Harper for the next four years. Why can’t we have a leader who is smart, energetic, young and inspiring? Why don’t we have a leader who is even one of those things?

Pierre Elliot Trudeau

Whenever there’s a survey asking who the best prime minister of Canada, Pierre Elliot Trudeau is at or near the top of the list. Trudeau, who was voted Newsmaker of the Century in 1999 and the Greatest Canadian of the Twentieth Century in 2002, was certainly one of Canada’s most colourful and memorable prime ministers; he was also arrogant, controversial, and brilliant (not to mention smart, energetic, relatively young and inspiring), among other things. Other PMs considered top picks include Lester Pearson, William Mackenzie King, Wilfrid Laurier, and John Diefenbaker. No doubt people remember these names from their high school history classes, and have already forgotten more recent prime ministers — and whether history will have much to say about Paul Martin, John Turner, Brian Mulroney, John Chretien, Kim Campbell and Joe Clark is a matter of conjecture.

the first Canadian-born Prime Minister)

Name this man. (Hint: he was the first Canadian-born prime minister)

So now the Liberals are picking a new leader. Will it be Bob Rae, a lawyer and former NDP premier of Ontario; Michael Ignatieff, an intellectual and writer; or Dominic LeBlanc, a New Brunswick MP. Ironically, a survey conducted last month showed that Canadians would prefer as leader someone who isn’t ready to run for the job… yet. Someone with big shoes to fill: Justin Trudeau. Well, he’s young and energetic, at least, although he’s just started out on his political career, so it’s too soon to tell whether he could (or would want to) follow in his father’s footsteps.

But I would still rather vote for Obama. I’m tired of the endless procession of old white men — are there no other candidates for PM? What (or who) would your ideal prime minister be?

Oh, and who was the first Canadian-born prime minister? Sir John Abbott (PM from 1891 to 1892). Yes, of course you knew that.

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Related links:
Washington Times Editorial: “Obama’s America is Canada”
Vancouver Straight: “With Barack Obama president-elect, what’s next for Canada?”
Maisonneuve: “Where’s our Trudeau?”
Angus Reid Poll: “Trudeau best, Mulroney worst for Canadians”
Prime Ministers of Canada
— take the PM Quiz
National Post: Justin Trudeau top pick for Liberal leader: poll

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A place to call home July 20, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in Canada, change, family, history, journey, learn, life.
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18 comments

A photo from the family archives: I’m in the red snowflake hat.

“Where’s your home?” It seems a simple question. I first heard it from a man who lived in a L’Arche community.

I’ve had lots of homes. I grew up in my parents’ home, built just before I was born. I lived there for 21 years (not including time away at university). They are still living there, although my two brothers and I have moved away.

Then I moved. Three apartments in Saint John, one in Woodstock, then Oshawa, Newcastle and Orono. A house in Port Britain, then an apartment in Cobourg. We are now on our third apartment in Toronto, the best place yet.

galley

Our current home in Toronto.

“Where’s your home?” It’s where my heart is, where my partner is, where my stuff, my memorabilia, my computer… where I can be myself. But that’s not a place so much as an idea. It’s wherever I happen to be living at the moment.

If there was one place I could call home, one place that I’m rooted in, no matter where I roam, I would have to say Saint John, where I grew up. I’ve lived in Ontario for nearly 20 years, but it’s not really my home. When people ask, I tell them I live in Toronto, but I almost always add: I’m not from here; I’m a Maritimer. Some part of my heart will always be in that rocky sea-and-forest landscape that I associate with my childhood.

Saint John 1

Saint John from the air.

One of the Maritime themes is that of people leaving — for Toronto, Calgary, other places — in order to find better jobs, better opportunities, a better life. Yet there’s a second half to that story: a lot of Maritimers come home again, or at least they yearn to return.

I left that “home” a long time ago. I’ve heard people say “you can’t go home again”. But is it true? Or is it just that everything changes, that home is never the same again?

The people I grew up with have moved away or moved on with their lives. The paths I used to walk, the stores I used to visit are gone, overgrown or redeveloped. What I think of as “home” is a place in time, so in that sense, I can’t go home. I can’t go back.

And the fact is, I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to be an awkward teenager again, or return to that stage of my life when I was just beginning to discover my interests and develop a sense of myself. I like who I’ve become, my work and friends, being able to make my own way in the world.

Yet there’s something else, some part of me that feels cut off, adrift. I felt that most keenly during my most recent visit, when my parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. I was surprised to see how many people I recognized, and how many people knew me and greeted me, not as a former acquaintance, but as family. Until then, I had only thought of home as geography, a mix of woods and houses, the cool blanket of fog drifting in off the coast, the steep road we bicycled to reach the blueberry patch under the power lines…

So where is my home? Is it really a place full of memories, the childhood I’ve left behind?

I wonder if there’s more to that place than I had counted on, as if there’s a future as well as a past. How would it feel for me, the confident grown-up me, to return to this place that still pulls at my heart? Maybe all these years I’ve been living in exile, and it’s time to go home.

Where’s your home?

empty benches

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A step back in time May 4, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in Canada, change, diversity, explore, learn, life, world.
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Scenes from a Mennonite kitchen 1This past week, I had the privilege of visiting an Old Order Mennonite couple. The group of us stayed for about 40 minutes, listening to tales of harness-making and quilting, ploughing and making preserves.

My only previous exposure had been seeing the black horse-drawn buggies near St. Jacob’s, and buying Mennonite sausage at the market. (Yum!) You may have seen the women, in lace caps and flowered dresses, and men in their dark suits and sober hats. They belong to a tight-knit community, and as much as possible try to stay out of the public eye.

The Mennonites are sometimes known as “the quiet in the land.” A few years ago, I saw the award-winning play (“Quiet in the Land“) by Anne Chislett; its portrayal of the tension between tradition and change in a small Amish community is heartfelt and compelling.

Out of the approximately 50 types of Mennonites in Canada (the Amish are a Mennonite offshoot), many have modernized to some extent. Most of the Old Order Mennonites now have telephones and electricity, and more modern groups drive cars and go to university.

Descendants of a radical wing of the Protestant Reformation, the pacifist followers of Menno Simons (1492-1559) endured two centuries of bitter persecution in Central Europe. During these two centuries, many Mennonites sought sanctuary in Prussia and southern Russia. Others, like the Swiss ancestors of the southern Ontario Mennonites, emigrated to North America. Their descendants now live all around the world, from Paraguay to the Congo, with two-thirds living outside North America.

Scenes from a Mennonite workshop 4

This global perspective means that the Mennonites are active in reaching out to people around the world through relief organizations such as the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and the volunteer-run self-help stores known as Ten Thousand Villages.

During our conversations, I observed the care given to crafting everything from leather bridles to hockey gloves, peach preserves to quilted chair covers. I looked at the weathered hands of the old couple, and their faces lined from sun and smiling, and I could see that their simple hard-working life had been full and fulfilling.

Although I am modern in my desire for freedom and self-determination, part of me longs for that kind of connection — to the land, to the community, to their craft, to their beliefs — that the Mennonites show in their lives.

Scenes from a Mennonite workshop 2Scenes from a Mennonite workshop 1

Scenes from a Mennonite kitchen 2

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Related Links:
NY Times Book Review: A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
Introducing the Mennonites
Special section: Modern Mennonites
Mennonite Central Committee
Third Way Cafe
Ontario’s Mennonite Heritage

Claiming the Arctic April 24, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in arctic, Canada, diversity, environment, explore, global warming, nature, world.
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4 comments

Northwest Passage - Globe & Mail

Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea;
Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea.
                                    “Northwest Passage”, by Stan Rogers

The dotted blue line of the new 200-mile limitCanada has one of the longest coastlines in the world. Although it borders on three oceans, until recently, it hasn’t paid much attention to the mostly frozen Arctic Ocean at its back door. That is now beginning to change.

Under the United Nations Law of the Sea convention, signed by Canada in 2003, coastal countries can extend their sovereignty beyond the usual 200-nautical mile limit recognized in international law if the seabed is an extension of the continental shelf.  Since Canada ratified the convention in 2003, it has until 2013 to submit scientific evidence to extend that limit.

That potentially gives Canada claim to an area the size of the Prairie provinces that could contain natural gas, oil and other resources. Canadian scientists are struggling against unpredictable ice conditions to map the ocean floor.

However, the resource-rich Lomonosov Ridge, which runs between Greenland and Russia, will be a bone of contention. Russia is claiming this undersea mountain range is part of Russian territory. In 2006, Canada and Denmark cooperated in a mapping project to try to show that the structure of the undersea Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of the North American continent.

The Arctic Ocean is now being mapped

Canadian attention is also focused strongly on the ownership of the Northwest Passage. This past summer, satellite images showed that the passage between Canada’s arctic islands was ice-free for the first time in recorded history. And there are predictions that the it may be open for much of the summer in as little as 15 years.

If these predictions come true, the Northwest Passage could become a busy shipping route. The Northwest Passage is 7,000 kilometres shorter than the current shipping route through the Panama Canal. That’s about two weeks saved in travelling time.

Under the UN Law of the Sea, all ships are guaranteed passage through international straits. Should the winding Northwest passage between the northern islands be considered an international strait, or part of Canadian waters? Perhaps the best solution is to open the passage and govern it, as Nunavut resident Paul Kaludjak suggests: “The best way to have our sovereignty accepted by the international community is not to restrict entry to territory, but to facilitate use of it in accord with Canadian regulations.”

Canadian rangers patrol the ArcticThe Arctic lands are the traditional home of the Inuit nations, and their livelihoods depend on the rich resources in the harsh northern habitat. The Canadian Rangers, who patrol and police the North, are predominantly Inuit. Whatever decisions are made about the Arctic will affect the environment and the livelihood of these northern peoples.

The goal of the UN Law of the Sea is to share the ocean resources fairly between coastal countries. We don’t need a cold war over the Arctic; there’s room for everyone to “play nice” as long as environmental studies and regulations are put in place first.

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Related LInks:
…Or Something (blog): “Geology, geopolitics, and the Law of the Sea
Nunatsiaq News: “Measuring Mountains Under the Sea”
Seed: “Deep Space: The last great land rush on the planet will be at the bottom of the ocean”
Geology.com: “Northwest Passage — Map of Arctic Sea Ice”
CBC: “Canada’s Arctic claim work challenged by ice, logistics”
National Post: “Canada’s Arctic mapping key to resource claims”
CBC In Depth: “Canada’s Arctic sovereignty: Drawing a line in the water”
“Sovereignty and Inuit in the Canadian Arctic”

Wired: “Today, Countries Battle for a Piece of the Arctic. Tomorrow? The Moon”
CBC In Depth: “The Northwest Passage: The Arctic Grail”

CBC multimedia: “Breaking the Ice: Canada and the Northwest Passage”