Thursday, December 29, 2005

Blood on Yonge or, Whose Life Matters Anyway?

It is not all that surprising that in our milquetoast fair dominion the ugly and deadly Boxing Day gunplay in Toronto would prompt such a feckless reaction as Paul Martin’s. One might have hoped, what with his overdue promises about handgun control – promises made only when, for the first time in 17 months, he lacked the power to act upon them – in responding to the tragedy, Martin would have zeroed in on wiping up and out Toronto’s endemic street scum.

Instead what does he say? "I think more than anything else they (the shootings) demonstrate what are, in fact, the consequences of exclusion.” If only those otherwise sweet lads brandishing the Remingtons and Colts felt that the rest of us really loved them, they'd turn in their guns for frisbees, right?

Martin blubbered this out, of course, without knowing diddley about the identity and backgrounds of the perpetrators, how included or excluded this subhuman trash actually were or felt they were from Canadian society. Toronto already teems with publicly and privately funded programs on youth unemployment, the alienation and unemployment experienced by recent immigrants and their families, and a myriad of broader multi-culturalism and youth initiatives. But all Martin knows is (quoting the Globe and Mail), “... how young people in the city's violence-plagued Jane-Finch neighbourhood spoke to him about their sense of hopelessness and isolation." That cinches it, causally speaking, doesn't it? As if youth alienation isn’t ubiquitous in neighbourhoods and communities throughout Canada, the vast majority of which do not host and suffer violent gangbangers.

In this, Martin - never accused of having an original thought on his mind or lips - blindly spewed out the bilge that overflowed when those worthless hooligans terrorized Paris for three weeks earlier this fall. Punks who wanted nothing more than the fun of what Olivier Roy called playing “cowboy and Indians” with the cops, were elevated there too, to figures of existential Fanon-esque angst and disadvantage.

All this is nothing more than the widespread soft-focus and soft-headed sociology whereby criminals are implicitly and – in egregious instances as with Martin’s apologia for the Boxing Day bloodshed – even explicitly excused for their offenses.

The youth we should be caring about and protecting by coming down like a sledgehammer on young hoodlums, are ones like the late Jane Creba. If we want to talk about the system failing anyone, surely it is a 15-year old who, unlike her killers, was making something of her life, a life snuffed out by superfluous social rubbish on Yonge Street.

Consequences, friends, dire consequences – that is what the beast must have to curtail its vilest behaviours. The youth gangs of Toronto need not inclusivity, empathy and the like but to feel ultimate mortal terror of harsh consequences, something their lousy parents could never instill in them as they grew into the kind of twisted little fucks who'd run around shooting guns on a busy downtown street.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Lequesne-McKay Centre

A recent correspondent to Prince George's journal of record, made a provocative and excellent suggestion which, alas, has been summarily disregarded by Mayor and Council. It was that the ill-conceived agreement that renamed the city's Multiplex after Canadian National be rescinded in recognition of (a) the fact that the most of our citizens were vehemently against the original BC Rail sale boondoggle; (b) that CN doesn't seem to be able to keep its trains on the tracks and (c) that the corporation has shown an utterly irresponsible and reprehensible disposition towards the widows of its dead employees, killed because of CN's negligence. Mayor Kingsley and CN boss McLean were seen grinning like Cheshires last April when news of our municipal prostitution the CN John was first bally-hooed.

All over Canada, cities are sucking up to corporations who, generally for a pitifully small investment, can have their names plastered all over facilities that have been predominantly paid for by us taxpayers. I was recently in Victoria and in looking about for a grocery store, thought I had come upon a "Save-On" only to realize that that company has so prominently splashed its logo on the new memorial
centre that it looks like just another of Jimmy Pattison's stale food emporia.

What is PG getting? A whopping $1.3 million over 15 years! I mean, there are undoubtedly middling call girls in Vancouver, perhaps even Prince George, who make that for puckering it up for big shots with fat wallets.

How much more pride we could take in our facility -- and our city -- if, as the unheeded Citizen correspondent suggested, the facility were renamed after Art McKay and Ken Lequesne who died when the collapse of one CN's poorly maintained railroad bridges near McBride, BC, sent their freight train tumbling into a ravine

CBC - All Quiet on the Klander Front

Has anybody noticed the unnoticeable? Seems that Mike Klander, the Executive Vice President of the Ontario Liberals may have imbibed a bit more than his limit of Christmas cheer and committed the unspeakable crime of blogging on about what he saw as similarities between Jack Layton's candidate wife, Olivia Chow and the eponymous dog breed. As a result, the guilty party has been defrocked, forced to resign his post, no doubt to the great if belated amusement and satisfaction of Sheila Copps whose failure to win re-nomination in Hamilton in 2004 had much to do with the machinations of public relations guru Klander. (Update Flash: Sheila has now stepped out of the shadows to comment on how Klander's utterances are entirely consistent with the demeanour of Martin's locker-room's banter.)

Well, perhaps the crime and its consequence are just too shocking for the Canadian public to deal with or maybe the story just got washed away by CBC's obsessive memorializing about last year's Asian tsunami, but nary a breath of this sordid tale of candidate or canine defamation has made the cut in the CBC radio broadcasts I have heard. I would have thought that this was right up there with the beer and popcorn faux pas as evidence of just what kind of handlers our PM and his party surround themselves with!


The CBC has something to learn from the Libs on fast and timely media management, for already this morning, in a visit to the website wherein the Liberal Party of Ontario's executive is profiled, one looks in vain for the smiling face or name of one Mike Klander.

Klander in Happier Times

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Picking Your Own

The New York Times "Public Editor" column - an avenue for the recently much besieged world journal of record to confront the concerns of its increasingly disaffected readership - today is about the recent annual selection of the year's 100 "most notable" books. Each December, I carefully study that list and inevitably, despite reading the NYT Book review most every week, profit by encountering works hitherto unseen. Last week's much-awaited list however left me with a queasy feeling, for, it turned out that the recent literary endeavours of authors who double as Times' columnists was somewhat generously represented in the list. The fact that these well circulated "best lists" have an indubitable marketing benefit, adds to the disquiet.

I cannot really take credit for the Public Editor having chosen to single out and address this concern today, especially since I only muttered to myself and promptly forgot about it. But others apparently did more and so Mr. Calame, the purported "reader's representative" disgorged several hundred impeccable bons mots in response. This piece actually strayed from the specifics of "100-best" cronyism into an insightful, more general essay on how reviewers are chosen for book reviews. Interesting as this was, it is a matter somewhat distinct from the precipitating problem of, it turns out, annointing no fewer than six Timespeople to the century of the chosen for 2005.

Towards the end of his column, Mr. Calame did swing back to the procedure for the year-end 100-best, one that I find a bit less than satisfying:

"The selection starts with about 400 reviewed books that had jumped quickly to the paper's best seller list or been cited as an Editor's choice during the year..." Selling like hotcakes does not really seem a very satisying criterion of notability while the second seems to say nothing more than a Popeye-like we choose what we choose because we chose it.

Ubiquitously, less noble and less high-minded institutions grapple all the time with what is clearly and merely conflict of interest. In so doing, the twin-barrelled test is almost inevitably whether a choice is a conflict of interest, but also if it looks like one. If the New York Times wants to lift itself from the mire of recent reputation-tarnishings (the Judith Miller affair and the more general gullibility about Iraq's WMD) not to mention, be once again above the throng of lesser journals, it should deal with this no-brainer by automatic, no ifs, ands or buts, disqualifying its own "family members" from ineluctably subjective and potentially self-enriching in-house evaluations.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


I don't know precisely where I was when, exactly a quarter century ago today, the news of John Lennon's death outside the Dakota on Central Park reached me. So,no, it wasn't as big as the Kennedy assassination nor 9/11 in that sense of burning a indelible brand of one moment onto my memory. But it did leave me and lot of others who grew up with the Beatles - which I guess is the notorious boomer generation - feeling utterly empty, utterly and unwillingly grown-up.

At that very moment, our youth and the long lingering twilight of the 1960s was done for. One of the three or four icons of that passing era joined history. Instantly, I (and no doubt many others) put away, at least for a respectable mourning period, our grudges towards Lennon and his (we always thought) ill-chosen life-mate. We had to accept as never before that the dream of seeing those four mop-top boys on stage together again was even more impossible than post-Yoko. The demise of the Beatles had traumatized an entire generation unused to permanent separation (in the way that our own children have acclimatized to the absurd prevalent divorce rate). Lennon's death sealed that split and we all were thrown into the hopper of the never-ceasing mills of passing time, forced to watch other bands, some pretty good, supersede our heroes. These new musical giants, like U2, the Police and Supertramp were mostly younger than us - damn it! - and we now found ourselves defending the Beatles' superiority to much younger friends and offspring, much as our own parents reacted to the fab four's "greater-than-Jesus" popularity, by muttering about how we shoulda' seen Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra in their primes.

A few preposterous moments outside the Dakota 25 years today uncomfortably reminded us of what was already long gone. So here's to the memory of John - and, ultimately, to the memory of the rest of us for whom his death spelled belated childhood's end.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

TREVISO - End of a Short, Sweet Life

For the apparently all too few patrons of that brief flaring star of Prince George cafes,Treviso, any joys of this Yuletide not already dampened by the shenanigans of Mssrs. Martin, Layton, Harper and Duceppe, have been severely reduced by its recent closing. Apparently named for an Italian city about PG's size, Treviso unabashedly called itself, "...where Prince George meets the world." Alas, not often enough.

More than any other cafe in BC's Northern Capital, Treviso dripped ambience. Red couches arranged in little alcoves, separated by sheer curtains; avant-garde art adorning the loft-like space; even TV in the john; super sophisticated mags for your idling pleasure; Friday and Saturday night light jazz piano; fine coffee, an electic snacky kind of menu ranging from homemade wonton soup to baguette sandwiches, and - drum roll please - simply the best damn milkshakes this side of heaven. But now, like snow upon the desert's dusty face, gone, lighting a little hour or two, it's gone.

The hens-teeth scarce customers who frequented Treviso while broken-hearted, cannot be surprised at this passing. There were probably a dozen alcoves that could have seated 4 or 5 friends each and yet I never saw more than a handful of folks partaking in the whole echoing chamber. What would have been an otherwise comfy atmosphere was quite dimished by this client deficit and the sense of foreboding it created.

Like the old mostly overly simplistic adage goes, Treviso's problem was "location, location, location." The far from anything else mini-mall Treviso was in has other vacancies as well as several tenants whose customers would come and find them no matter where they were situated - All Mobile Veterinary Clinic, Ospika Pets and Papyrus printing and copying. But none of these generate the flow of walk-by traffic that Treviso desperately needed.

I never even knew the owner-operator's name but I want to thank him for his pluck, his panache and milkshakes that made a bigger person out of me.

Bologna in Kelowna

The thin altitude gathering of Canadian political and Aboriginal elites in Kelowna, B.C. last week left me uncharacteristically speechless for several days. I have recovered. I have found voice.

Together in the sumptuous Grand Okanagan, “nestled on the crystal waters” of the eponymous lake, were the usual high-rolling suspects - hotel Indians, mealy-mouthed politicians and assorted wannabees, has-beens and never-wases who have buzzed around “the Indian Problem” like shitflies these many years.

From all the bally-hoo one could naively take this to be an historic moment, a new and guiding light in a world hitherto under the "long and terrible shadow". Canada’s arguably premier cross-country Native organization, the Assembly of First Nations must be getting tender hands from all its recent clapping having first loudly “applauded” Martin’s residential school initiative and now, putting their hands together vigourously for the "historic meeting" in Kelowna.

Yet there was something very retro in the air, redolent of the old White Paper advanced by the Liberals per heap big Indian agent of the day, Johnny Chretien, back in 1969.The basic premise then as now is throw what looks like a lot of money at First Nations
and they’ll steadily transmogrify into little simulacra of the Anglo mainstream. Despite the loud noises about “healing”, this is a classic instance of choosing symptomatic relief over confronting systemic causes.

As always there were lots of aspiring beneficiaries noisily lining up for the pecuniary slop about to be poured into the acculturative trough. Indeed, media coverage of the odd dissenting Aboriginal voice turned up only little piggies who just didn’t shoulder themselves into the first row fast enough and were thus squealing predictably.

But where were the champions to decry the blatant make-shift band-aid measures that equate Aboriginal grievance with the under-servicing of any poor people and communities? Where are the heroes of Kahnasetake, Ipperwash, Gustafson Lake and Lubicon and the myriad thoughtful advocates whose penetrating diagnoses rang throughout the multi-year Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples? Where, in a single word, was the issue of land – and its theft with all the social debilitations that flow there from?

The highly manicured output from Kelowna, titled “Strengthening Relationships and Closing the Gap” asserted in opening paragraphs that immediate action was needed in “four important areas” – health, education, housing and relationships. The first three are political gimmes –sectors that uncontroversially lead the wish-list of Canadian public expenditure whether from Kitsilano or Kashechewan. Thus did the final communiqué announce a dole-out of a bit more money for First Nations in those areas although not a heckuva lot (see “Kelowna Math 101” below). Notwithstanding, agreement on health was not reached which, to my suspicious mind, looked like a pre-orchestrated agreement-not-to-agree on at least one item, lest the attending Native big-shots looked too much like Martin yes-men, lest the whole farce be seen for the concocted non-event it was.

And of relationships, that buzz word that got first billing in the title? Well, if you were expecting some mechanism that offered profound inter-cultural dialogue and healing … get serious! The First Nations' top-dogs came away with an invite to an annual pow-wow (like there haven’t been enough of these before, eh?), this time called the “First Nations Multilateral Forum”. This means that once a year the same high fallutin’ drones from the small but powerful Native ruling class will get to do it up brown, roast goose and all the trimmings, just like Kelowna all over again. That should really heal the relationship as called for in the Royal Commission.

What is really needed on the front lines is not warm-and-fuzzies betwixt the likes of Martin, Campbell, Fontaine etc., but direct and sustained dialogue between you, me and the folks living out of sight on countless reserves and in the Aboriginal urban cores where fear among and of the Native community abounds. There are serious models and approaches potentially useful for dialogue-based cross-cultural healing. But don’t hold your breath for such initiatives to arise from gourmet shindigs like the one at the Grand Okanagan.

* * * * * *
Kelowna Math 101

The commitment by a Government that had one weekend left until its mandate was inevitably squashed by a forthcoming no-confidence motion, was for 5 years, $5.1 billion. Easy math here, that’s about $1.02 B’s per annum. There are 1.3 million beneficiaries (2001 census of Canadians of Aboriginal ancestry), so there’s a whopping $3,923.08 increment of, no doubt, carefully spent and heavily administered poverty alleviation for every Aboriginal man, woman and child, every blessed year. And just by way of context, the budget for Canada’s Internal Colonial Administration (sometimes known as Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) was $5.8 billion for fiscal year 2004-5 and had actually been slated to decrease by $233 million this fiscal year.