lundi 27 juillet 2009

Here we go again

On November 1st all Québecers will be going to the polls to elect their municipal councils for the next 4 years. Montreal and Longueuil are already the focus of some attention. In Montreal Louise Harel, a former P.Q. municipal affairs minister who rammed through municipal mergers strongly opposed by the grassroots, is running for mayor within the Vision Montréal party. In Longueuil Caroline St-Hilaire former Bloc Québécois representative for Marie-Victorin county in Ottawa and wife of Maka Kotto an African born former B.Q. MP for the same area in Ottawa and currently a parti Québécois MPP for the neighbouring county, is also running for mayor for the Action Longueuil party.
Harel can barely speak english and is seeking support among the anglophone population. She needs federalists to win. Julius Grey, an eminent civil rights lawyer and known federalist has accepted to act as her special advisor. Grey is also the town of Hamstead's legal advisor. The City Council, heavily Jewish as is Hampstead's population, has voted a motion to terminate his mandate. Mayor Steinberg has vetoed the motion. There the matter stands.
In Longueuil, a heavily sovereignist city, St-Hilaire has more leeway but she still seeks anglo support. Two candidates from the Greenfield Park mainly anglo precinct have joined her and were promptly branded as traitors.
After the outrage over the attempted exclusion of anglo groups from "la Fête Nationale" in June, does not this reek of the same racism the francos are accused of?
What is sauce for the gander is also sauce for the goose.

dimanche 26 juillet 2009

Vallium anyone?

Last night the Saint Anne's ceremonies at the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré basilica, near Québec city, were stopped, the basilica evacuated and the bomb squad called in. A strange parcel had been left unattended inside the church. As it turned out someone had forgotten a rosary in a pew (probably an American pilgrim, most Québecers nowadays don't even know what is a rosary).
Not so long ago a Montreal Metro station was shut...for a lunch bag left behind on a bench. Two weeks ago a man tied his backpack to his bicycle tied to a parking meter. When he came back the bomb squad had been called and had blown his bag open.
The Université du Québec à Montréal and two or three high schools were closed and evacuated during last spring exam sessions because of bomb alert...bogus everytime. We are in a state of near panic, including our ever more controling governements at all levels.
Seems to me that the so called "terrorists" are winning the war on nerves. Perhaps we all need to breathe through the nose, go take a walk in the country and relax a bit.

jeudi 16 juillet 2009

Time out

Like many others, I'll be away for the next 10 days. The whole family is leaving for a get togheter up north. Behave yourselves while we are gone.

mercredi 15 juillet 2009


Can you believe it? The food commentator for the Montreal Gazette has discovered Jell'O! This morning in the Arts and Life section of the paper she has an article titled "breaking the Jell'O mould". She adds: "Not for kids These refreshing jellied desserts made with fruits and wines are turning up on every adult restaurant menus. Did we mention they're fat free?". No kidding?
I had a quick flasback to 1962. A young psychologist from an Eastern bloc country had come to our institution for one month in an educator exchange with that country. I met him at Dorval. He had been allowed to take 10$ out of his country and asked, in much broken english what he could do with it? I motioned him to put it back in his pocket. He went back home with it.
We took turns enternaining him. Being able to understand his "english" I was designated his mentor and "unterpretor". So I took him out the next evening. We went to the Queen Elizabeth's, then a plush Montreal hotel, Panorama Lounge. Long since closed it was a wonderfull place on the 21st floor and had a magnifiscent view over downtown Montreal and our splendid Mont Royal, a 763 feet high elevation around which Montreal has grown.
The place also had, fortunately, a very affordable buffet. On the dessert table were several champagne flutes filled with fruits, multicolored jelly in between the layers of fruit, topped with whipped cream, the real thing. You guessed it: it was Jell'O. Our man ate 7 or 8 flutes and would have eaten more...but he could barely move by then...after all the other things he had eaten.
Finally he pointed at the Jell'O and asked: "Rich man dessert?" When I said no, he did not believe me. Afterward when he was invited to dinner at one or at the other of our colleagues I would phone ahead and tell them to have Jell'O if they really wanted to please the guy. Most recoiled in horror...but complied.
When he left, we gave him a case of 144 packets of Jell'O. Since the thing was ubknown in his country it was impounded upon his arrival. We had to go through diplomatic channels so he could get his present back and enjoy it with his little family. Two years later one of our guys went to complete the exchange. He took 144 packets of Jell'O with him. This time around he had to pay excise tax. He found that Jell'O was now available in specialty shops opened to tourists and party members. They were a luxuty item and sold, for the priviledged, for 5$ a packet.
Who said the Kamarades were not preoccupied with the well being of the small guys?

lundi 13 juillet 2009


Yesterday the wife and I had lunch with my very first fiancée and her husband. Back then, she was in grade 8 or 9 and I was 7 or 8 years of age. We were vacationing in Maxville, Glengarry county, Ontario where she lived at her uncle and mine. We were cousins several times removed. My childish heart was maddly thumping in her presence. That day we had gone to George's Ice Cream Parlour owned by her best girl friend's father. I had found the most beautifull engagement ring in a Cracker Jack box and I decided that it would be perfect for her and asked her to marry me. Of course nothing came out of it and Thérèse was not a bit jealous when we lunched with Madeleine and Marcel.
In 1939 Maxville was a nice sleepy village where life was regulated my the morning trains from Montreal and Ottawa and the afternoon trains from the same cities. The whole village was at the station each time then proceeded to the post office to get their mail. While the mail was sorted people would sit outside the post office and we kids would listen to old folks telling about the olden times. Two stood out, Mr MacPherson, the former blacksmith whose business had gone the way of the dodo bird and Mr Dupuis a former Montreal horse drawn tramway conductor. How Dupuis got to Maxville we never learned but he was a fantatastic story teller as was MacPherson.
Now above the post office there was the Masonic Lodge. We kids were fascinated by that place...and the legend that should a non mason go into the premises that person would die in the next 24 hours. One fine and awfully hot August day a window was opened above a low shed behind the post office. We managed to hoist ourselves up unto that roof and through the window. What a disappointment. The room was bare save for chairs with small metal plaques reading: in memory of our dear departed brother so and so and a picture of the king. We climbed back out...awaiting our death...and, at least, I am still waiting. Of course I have no idea what has become of the others.
About 4 years ago I rented a minivan and took the whole family, daughter-in-law and grandson included, and drove to Maxville. It was still the sleepy village I had known. Long dead Uncle Fred's house had burned down and the lot stood vacant. the train station had been torn down and replaced by a wooden shelter a bit down the tracks, Maxville had become a whistle stop. The post office had moved to a smaller building and lawyers offices replaced it...and the Masonic Lodge. The school. opposite uncle Fred's place was still there and the playground and the curling rink...but no one was around. I was a bit dejected driving back to Montreal.
Nowadays Maxville seems to wake up once a year at the beginning of August for the Highland Games disputed there over the last 10 years, if I'm not mistaken.
But the village still lives in my memory as it was in Fred's and Dupuis's and MacPherson's time along wit the 4 trains , the post office and that tantalizing Masonic lodge. If you ever drive that way, be very attentive, you may drive right through the village without even noticing it.

mardi 7 juillet 2009

Independance (the sequel)

Commenting on my last post Rob-Bear wondered why I had not mentioned the Quebec Act of 1794. At first it did not ring a bell. Then I figured he must have been referring to the 1791 Act creating the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, now mostly Ontario and Québec. Upper Canada was to be majority Anglphone and Lower Canada was to be majority Francophone. Both provinces were to be governed by an elected parliament and a nominated legislative council under a governor named by London, he in turn appointed the members of the legislative council (kind of an unelected senate) and vetted the election of the Lower Chamber members. To be eligible to office or to vote, you had to be a male over 21 and owner of propety or commerce generating a revenue of 40 schillings or more ( in: Histoire du Canada par les textes, by Guy Frégault, Michel Brunet and Marcel Trudel, éditions Fides, Montréal, 1952).
However, because of the eligibilty conditions, very soon both governements were dominated by the elite and the wealthy. It caused much irritation at the popular level and much corruption since the sole revenue allowed these administrations were the perception of excise taxes. Since the merchants were dominant and considered those taxes as very bothering every means were legitimate to avoid them. The governements were always short of money and could not provide the general services they were called to give the population.
After some forty years of this regime, in both provinces the pot boiled over. In Upper Canada the Family Compact, closely related people controling the Governor, the Legislative Council and the Judiciary, generated much opposition but were deaf to it. A short armed uprising, in 1837, under the leadership of William Mackenzie, a York (now Toronto) journalist ensued. The army quelled it and Mackenzie fled to Buffalo. In Lower Canada, the Clique du Château de Ramezay was the exact replica of the Family Compact and caused the same type of frustration. It was compounded by the refusal of the Clique to recognize the Francophones needs and place in the society. Lead politically by Louis-Joseph Papineau a strong movement of opposition took form. parrallel to it a miltary wing, lead by the Nelson brothers, both doctors, and an Irish merchant, J.B. O'Callaghan took form involving many Francophone farmers and workers. While papineau disapproved, the militia attacked the army, in 1837, battles were fought in St-Eustache and on montreal's South Shore. Lives were lost and General Colborne, nicknamed Le Vieux Brulôt (The Old Torch), burned down farms and villages in reprisal. It petered out in 1838. Papineau fled to Britain then France, the Nelsons, with 300 armed men, fled to North Hero, Vt.
London sent in Lord Durham to inquire. His report is famous and led to the dimantlement of Upper and Lower Canada and the Union act of 1841 destined to mate the Francophones and assimilate them to the Anglophone population...problem was that in the new entity the Francophones were a majority. It did not work and in 1867 the Confederation was born re-creating Upper and Lower Canadas as the provinces of Ontario and Québec, joined by New Brunswick and Noca Scotia.
1791 was a total failure, some would say 1867 also...but that is another story.

samedi 4 juillet 2009


This week, commenting on my post about Canada Day, Rosaria asked wether Canada had an Independance Day. I answered that we did not have one. That question has been bugging me ever since. Why does canada have no Independance Day?
After much thinking and mulling over recollection of various sources, I guess I have worked out a suitable explanation. F
For most former colonies, Canada began as a French colony and morphed, in 1763, into a British colony, independance came through a violent process called war. The American Independance War is a prime example. The end of that war marked the beginning of independance, thus Independance Day.
In Canada, independance came bit by bit over some 400 odd years. The first native born French governor of New France was the initial step. The 1791 Act of the British parliament that recognized the right of Catholics, in Canada, to hold public office without renouncing their faith was another one. Then gradually we evolved toward representative government that process culminating in the 1867 British North America Act creating the Confederation of Canada. But that newborn coutry still relied on the British parliament for it's foreign policy and it's laws could be annuled by the Lords.
Another stepping stone was the 1931 Statute of Westminster that recognized Canada's jurisdiction over it's foreign policy and created the Dominion of Canada, a sovereign country within the British Commnwealth of Nations, but the constitution remained under British authority. In 1982, Under Prime Minister Trudeau, Canada got it's very own Constitution adopted by our parliament and 9 out of 10 provinces, Québec holding out it's signature. Nevertheless, Queen Elizabeth II signed it in Ottawa on Canada Day 1982. Why Québec held back from signing ? Well that will be another post.
Now, 86 % of Quebecers and 66% of other Canadians seem to be in favor of severing ties with the British monarchy when Queen Elizabeth abdicates or die. That would eradicate of the last colonial vestige or reminder.
As I believe to have demonstrated Canadian independance was not a brutal event that can be tied to one date or treaty. It has been a slow process and it is still ongoing in some ways. As I previously wrote, despite real obstacles, Canada is a work in progress and well worth keeping workint at.

mercredi 1 juillet 2009

Canada Day

142 years ago the B.N.A. Act gave the Canadians what they, or at least their leaders of the time, wished for i.e. representative government and a federation of their four existing, now, provinces: Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Prince Edward Island would join later, as would, in 1949, Newfoundland and Labrador. The new federal goverment was given authority over the remaining territories right up to thr Rockies. British Columbia promised to join...if linked to the ROC by a railway. Thus the Canadian Pacific Railway was born, in the process, Manitoba came to be, followed by Sakatchewan and Alberta carved out of the territories given the Hudson Bay Company by George III of England in 1670 although it did not at that time formally belong to Britain and was claimed by France.
What remained eventually became the Yukon, The Nortwest Territory and Nunavut, not full provinces but largely self administered territories. New First nations territories and administrations are slowly coming into their own under various forms: Nunavut is one of them, the Nunavik regional authority in Québec's former Ungava is another one as is the Nisga'a Treaty in B.C.
Thus Canada Day is a celebration of a work in progress and of diversity of cultures, folklores and traditions. Such is the quilt work that we call our country. That is the country I love and I would not, warts and all, have it any other way.