The New Solitudes

Canada was once defined by the schism between English and French. Today, our divide is increasingly ideological. Can it be bridged?
More than 4,000 individuals and 185 organizations have signed the petition.

Others are looking for different routes to redress. In the wake of the excesses of the G20, when 40,000 people were effectively stripped of their basic rights by 20,000 armed police who roamed the streets of Toronto, some without their badges, a number of groups mounted challenges to this questionable exercise of authority. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, for its part, sent a report requesting a public inquiry to Vic Toews, the federal minister of public safety, who failed to reply. It then sent the report to the Ontario government, the Ontario Provincial Police, and the Toronto Police Service; to the Security Intelligence Review Committee that oversees CSIS (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service); and to the RCMP oversight body. Some did respond: the Special Investigative Unit dealt with six complaints; however, in its November 2010 report it declined to lay criminal charges in two apparent cases of excess force, because the police officers could not be properly identified. Throughout, the main player, the government of Canada, remained silent. “We don’t know whether what happened was planned and purposeful, or simple incompetence and bad training,” says Nathalie Des Rosiers, CCLA’s general counsel. “Unless the federal government creates a public inquiry, we will never have a complete picture of what took place in Toronto last June.”

CCLA held public hearings in Toronto and Montreal, during which it emerged that among the 1,100 people who were arrested during the protests many were beaten and warehoused for twenty-four hours in a makeshift prison, without charges, without lawyers, and sometimes without access to drinking water. Lacking toilets, women and men urinated in their clothing; several men reported that they were ordered to lift their testicles for “inspection.” Last June, the organization recommended legislative changes to ensure that no future suspension of civil liberties occurs in Canada unless it is mandated under the War Measures Act. “We are at a disjuncture where the federal government congratulates the police, although their acts may have been unconstitutional,” says Des Rosiers.

Peter Russell, a distinguished constitutional scholar and emeritus professor of political science at the University of Toronto, has been working on another kind of initiative. This February, with colleagues at U of T’s David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights, he convened a workshop in Toronto in hopes of averting a constitutional crisis should the next federal election result in another hung Parliament. The problem, he says, is that Westminster parliaments such as ours do not have written rules on such fundamental issues as the formation of governments after an election, nor on the dissolution and prorogation of Parliament. “These matters are supposedly governed by unwritten constitutional conventions based on a political consensus — a consensus that has broken down in Canada. I don’t think Canadians are aware that our parliamentary system is governed by unwritten conventions, and that worries me.”

The workshop included constitutional scholars, individuals connected to Canada’s political leaders, distinguished retired members of Canada’s public service, and foreign citizens who have helped their own countries avoid constitutional crises when elections resulted in minority governments. Russell concludes that some of the agreements that have guided Westminster parliaments over the centuries now need to be written down in Canada (New Zealand, for example, has benefited from having done just that). “If they are formalized,” he says, “it will become possible to hold leaders to account, should they reject recognized conventions and plunge the country into a constitutional crisis.”

Are we inching toward two Canadas, each with its own foundational principles? And if we are, can we find common ground? Across our history, Canadians have endeavoured to resolve problems by negotiating compromises. We’ve become known for these efforts, even when they have fallen short. We have, in other words, a tradition of trying to bridge our differences: promoting unity is as Canadian as backyard hockey and Tim Hortons.

The underlying question is what constitutes a good society. Across millennia of human history, philosophers, political leaders, artists, and ordinary people have debated the social order of their respective eras. What matters is public engagement. We need a vigorous debate about where we are headed and whether we wish to go there. We need a reasoned and, above all, courteous discussion about what we want Canadian society to look like in ten or twenty years. The language of insult is intended to intimidate and silence. Without courtesy, we cannot talk to one another.

One year after my own awakening to the unprecedented transformation of Canadian society, I have few answers, except to suggest that if we are facing a future of minority governments, as many believe, we’d be wise to think creatively, as other countries have done. With the Progressive Conservative Party wiped off the map, moderate conservatives have nowhere to place their votes. The formerly powerful Liberal Party flails about, lunging to the right, then retreating back to its historic home just left of centre. And when the Liberals and the NDP battle one another, as they often do, a smile arises among the Conservative ranks.

“The only way Canadians are going to get some control over the current political dysfunction is by demanding that the centre-left forces unite: the Liberals, the NDP, and the Greens,” suggests Michael Behiels. This is a bold proposition, but the likelihood of such a merger remains remote as long as political leaders continue to hope for majorities.

A more promising option would be a formal coalition of the centre-left (exclusive of the Bloc Québécois) after the next federal election, should the Conservatives win another minority. Coalitions are democratic, legal, and commonplace. Among the fifty-one parliamentary democracies in the world, nearly 90 percent do not ordinarily govern with a majority, meaning that the parties must co-operate closely or work in coalitions. Last November, a Nanos Research survey indicated that the prime minister’s scare tactics regarding coalitions weren’t working; just 30 percent of respondents thought a coalition would destabilize the economy (fewer than the 36 percent who elected Harper in 2008). The survey also revealed that the Canadian electorate is increasingly volatile, suggesting that the time may be ripe for democratic redress.

We need a renewed national conversation about proportional representation. The system isn’t complicated: the percentage of seats a party wins is proportional to the vote it receives. And it is fair: the 2008 election results would have given the Liberals and the NDP approximately thirty-five seats in Western Canada, for example, compared with the twenty-one they actually received. Elizabeth May’s Green Party would have earned five or six seats in the region. A federal parliament created by proportional representation would be a clear improvement over the juvenile shouting matches in the House of Commons, since co-operation would serve as the arbiter of success. Representing voters’ choices more equitably might even lower the anger index in the country. It would also demonstrate that no region is monolithic in its choices.

We do need remedy, and these are but suggestions. What is certain is that Canada has always been a willed, fragile construct — and that we are charged to protect this loved, frail country in ways we must decide together.
Erna Paris has written seven books of literary nonfiction. Her most recent, The Sun Climbs Slow: Justice in the Age of Imperial America (2008), inspired the documentary Prosecutor.
Barry Blitt has created numerous covers for The New Yorker and illustrated several books, including a Mark Twain biography to be published in March.
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34 comment(s)

BlakeFebruary 02, 2011 11:28 EST

Thank you for writing this article. I also recently awakened to the growing divide in Canada. It's like waking up from a bad dream to find out it's not a dream at all. I listen to the rhetoric spewed by the Conservatives and keep having to slap myself in the face to check that I haven't somehow been transported to the USA ten years ago ( We now know how that concludes ). I ask, how does this happen? How does a progressive country with liberal values, in less than ten years, become a fascist state run by right wing ideology? Then I read Donald Gutstein's, Not a Conspiracy Theory: How Business Propaganda Hijacks Democracy, and it all became very clear, the think tanks, the news media and the lies they tell us, the false truths. I don't want to be the USA's little fascist brother. Please! Wake me up from this terrible dream.

DruchFebruary 02, 2011 11:29 EST

The fact that detainees were tortured by Afghan military isn't disputed. The bringing of our military to task for handing over prisoners is an issue. Canada wasn't in such a position of battle since WWII, at which time we had tens of thousands of troops in Europe. This facilitated holding of POWs, in Afghanistan with 2300 this becomes a logistic issue. The Afghanis requested POWs to be released to them, for whatever reason, why should our troops not do so? It is their country and their enemy they are the ones that should be caring for POWs and if they lie that nothing will be done to these POWs why should our troops be held accountable?

CMFebruary 03, 2011 11:31 EST

Wonderful article. Thank you. The last five years in Canada have been a waking nightmare. Watching the Harperite government's flagrant disregard for our own and international law - the rights and responsibilities that people have worked for and died for - has brought me almost to despair. It is like watching a beloved family member being slowly poisoned by a relative so that they can have early and unrestricted access to the person's possessions. The Harperites have also managed to convince their followers that this poisoning of Canada is both their duty and their right and that doing so would "save Canada from itself". I was sickened by their smearing of Richard Colvin and their heartless and illegal treatment of Omar Khadr. They misrepresented Canadian law to the public and got away with it. People that I correspond with in the United States and the U.K. keep asking me what has happened to us. We need a coalition and a proportionally representative government before Canada dies.

Cecil February 03, 2011 20:23 EST

Many thanks for this article. I felt the same way about there being two Canada's.
The people who have immigrated to this country up to and following the war have pledged their support to Canada and have not stood behind Canada. The new immigrants to this country only adopt Canada for its benefits. They continue to only recognize their own country as their homeland. Also, speaking with the new immigrants, I have been told by many that racism only applies to Canadians not the immigrants. I don't like where this new Canada is heading.

Wilf DayFebruary 03, 2011 20:23 EST

"A formal coalition of the centre-left (exclusive of the Bloc Québécois)" would already exist if the majority of votes elected a majority of MPs, like a proper democracy. In both 2006 and 2008 the majority of voters voted Liberal, NDP or Green. The Bloc holds the balance of power for one reason only: the winner-take-all voting system gives them 49 MPs when their vote share of Quebec votes would give them 29 MPs, and at the same time it throws away every Liberal vote cast in Alberta, every NDP vote cast in Saskatchewan and in Quebec outside Montreal Island, and every Green vote everywhere. To add insult to injury, it elects a Conservative caucus in which 250,000 Conservative voters in the city of Toronto are unrepresented, and 250,000 Conservative voters in metropolitan Montreal are unrepresented. Are we faced with two Canadas, or more? Or are we faced with a House of Commons which displays a false image of Canada to ourselves and the world?

AnonymousFebruary 04, 2011 06:29 EST

Thank you for writing this article. It is a nasty wake up call, but a wake up call that I needed! The reality illustrated in this article has made me feel both mad and sad. This issue is deep and painful, it affects our national identity to its core! It scares me to think that I could have missed this, it also scares me to think of all the people who are not aware of the situation and don't see the changing Canadian landscape. For my part, I am goig to post on Facebook, talk to whoever will listen about this, and actually start to do something that might have an effect. Hopefully the more we talk about/write about/blog about this, the more informed and motivated we all will be to make a difference.

SonofanimmigrantFebruary 04, 2011 06:29 EST

What a repellent article - not only does the author inadequetely define her terms (for either her own benefit or the reader's) but events from history are regularly mischaracterized to support her vague sense of dread. I found her itemization of 'Canadian values' early in the article puzzling as no values were actually identified, her questionable dramatization of the crusades amusing if irritatingly incorrect, and at no point had any sense of why one dreadful thing those evil conservatives/Harper/nogoodniks had done was worse than another - why the questionable decision over the census should be considered of immense import compared to the entirety of Canada's engagement in Afghanistan, or the constitutional precidence set by proroguing parlament, or even the future economic benefit for Canadians that the establishment of Tax Free Savings Account will have (this was outside of the author's consideration, presumably because it isn't important to future Canadians whatsoever).
As a hit job against Harper/conservatives/anybody who lives West of Kingston, mission accomplished I suppose but as a piece for serious contemplation it fails miserably.

Wayne SmithFebruary 04, 2011 06:29 EST

Thank you for this outstanding article! Minority or coalition government is the norm in most developed countries. Canada is a century behind the times, and our outdated democratic institutions are creaking. Winner-take-all voting creates winner-take-all politics, but the two-party universe is behind us. We must learn to cooperate for the good of our national society, and that requires proportional representation. We must have a Parliament that reflects the way we voted if the true voice of Canada is to be heard clearly

Kevin from OttawaFebruary 04, 2011 15:45 EST

Echoing the sentiment that has already been been posted, I too would like to thank you Ms. Paris for writing this article.

You touched on a large deal of the issues that have irked me over the past 5 years. My roommate and I have a habit of discussing these things and the general conclusion we have reached each time was the puzzling inability of Canadians to see through the obvious political maneuverings of the Harper government. It's not like the Prime Minister is trying to hide these acts; his government has been absolutely blatant in establishing an intense right-wing stance that one might have mistaken in the past for being 'American'. Unfortunately this rhetoric has now trickled and seeped into the fabric of Canadian identity.

It has been extremely sad to see and experience this fundamental identity change in Canada. Being from an immigrant family and having represented Canada in a sporting event, I was unabashedly proud to be Canadian (and still am) because of the core values and principles that came with being one. Multiculturalism for me was not just a Canadian policy, but Canada personified. Canada was the one place in the world where your differences be they ethnic, sexual, or religious, were welcomed and cherished. Instead of being divided by differences that overlooked our common human bond, we were unified. That has since dramatically changed.

Recently a debate was rehashed concerning the carrying of the kirpan, the Sikh ceremonial dagger, in public institutions. I, upon reading the news article in the Globe and Mail, was disappointed that such an issue was brought up (especially at the behest of the Bloc). What was absolutely heartbreaking to read were the comments that overwhelmingly supported this sentiment. I was crushed. It was a new low that I thought Canadians could never reach. Certain commenters rudely called for these those who did not 'assimilate' or 'follow our rules' to 'go home'. What I tried to explain to those commenters (in vain) was that this was our Home. This is where we want to be.

What has been lost in Canada is the trust and respect we once had for one another. The global village I grew up with is now becoming increasingly fractured and with each passing day I fear that I might lose this home. The Harper government is ruining Canada and Canadians need to wake up and see this. All is not lost and we must act to preserve our Canadian principles and values. I have watched countless videos of the past Vancouver Olympics and when Canada scored the winning goal, I saw in the throng of celebrations a mosaic of peoples embracing one another. It takes one hockey game, but for a moment we did not see the infinite differences in the people we cheered with — what we saw were Canadians. I just hope people can see that again.

R.K. FinchFebruary 05, 2011 10:56 EST

Excellent article. Every Canadian should read this.

C LeenhoutsFebruary 07, 2011 09:31 EST

Thanks for finally outing the logic behind Harper's often destructive strategy. How did such an extremist become the leadre of such a great, progressive country? This is almost as mystifying as 'how did GW Bush get elected to a second term in an intelligent society?'.

BDicksonFebruary 07, 2011 16:13 EST

Interesting but somewhat at odds with other studies indicating that Harper sure is shoving to the right but Canadians aren't being moved.

My counsel is not to fall for attempts to have us believe we're a fractious, divided bunch. Save for a small and obdurate lot, we're actually pretty close in the way we think and the values we espouse. That fact should energize and unite us in getting our country back to reflecting who and what we truly are.

While I appreciate the author's concern and dismay, I think the hand-wringing is ill founded and counter productive. Shake it off, look around at what's actual (not at what we're being told to see) and realize that we're mostly a benevolent bunch all hoping to do right by each other and the world. God help us we should be taking our behavioural cues from our political actors.

By ignoring the "nabobs of negativity" we can focus on our strengths anew and leave those who would promote infighting, distrust and despair far behind like some dreadful and ill-chosen detour

Don BentFebruary 08, 2011 08:42 EST

Your cogent statement reflects the escalating dysfunctionality of Canadian governance. When power is centralized, and those in power strongly influenced by multi-national business interests, citizens are not only excluded but essentially helpless.
One predictable response is for citizenry to simply withdraw from the political process by ignoring the antics of the government currently in power. The angished crys from pundits and authors such as this one are largely ignored, as citizens have ceased to read, watch, or think about governance.
If we think about the current government as a symptom of the problem, rather than the problem, we may be able to identify what needs to change. We as citizens have personal responsibilites to ensure continuance of democracy.
So long as we accept dysfunctional governance destructive of Canadian values, we will get what we deserve.

JK O’DonnellFebruary 10, 2011 16:07 EST

I believe it was Aristotle who once observed that “Character is a habit—the daily choice of right and wrong.”

This article reminds us that the philosopher’s wisdom applies not only to individuals, but to communities and nations as well.

LeCanardHasBeenFebruary 16, 2011 09:24 EST

Defining a coalition of the centre-left *exclusive of the Bloc Québécois* seems to perpetuate the good old schism claimed to no longer be relevant. What am I missing?

I somehow doubt that Québécois will ever vote Libs again. And the Bloc is as far left if nor more than the NDP. Probably just as green as the Greens too. I betcha that Harper&Co. love the way your coalition is defined. Basic divide and rule 101 stuff?

G.WHITEFebruary 17, 2011 08:36 EST

To DRUCH: No Canadians except Stephen Harper and his puppet ministers have ever suggested that our troops be held accountable for the transfer of prisoners into torture. Our troops follow their orders. But when the PMO was accused of directing the transfers, Harper and his boys and girls simply replied that they stand behind the troops, that they are fully supportive of our brave people in the field. You'll notice that he didn't respond to the question put to him. He never does. He has made it his personal art form to defend others for something he, himself, is responsible for. And in the process, he manages to shift the blame to the very same people he is 'defending'.
And away from himself.
Currently, it's the Bev Oda affair. When asked in the House why he doesn't fire Oda for falsifying government documents and lying to a Parliamentary committee, Harper/Baird/Day responded by saying that "Oda made the correct decision to stop the flow of funds to KAIRO". Okay, but no one is asking whether the decision was the right one or not. What they/we want to know is why she isn't being fired for forgery and lying to Parliament. This is Harper's way, responding to questions that have not been asked of him. He thinks he's being clever. Only about 30 per cent or so of Canadians actually buy into it, but that has been enough to keep him in power.

To SONOFIMMIGRANT: The elimination of the mandatory long form census, as boring a topic as you could ever imagine, nevertheless became a cause of significant concern to many Canadians. And this is because it represents one more nail in the coffin of the people's right of access to information. Without data, we can't make the right decisions, and we won't have the ability to hold government decisions to account. Harper has already sabotaged the Access to Information office by re-posting senior staff and replacing them with untrained clerks (thus slowing the process to a crawl and creating years of backlog requests). We can't hold him to account for this because, legally, he's done nothing wrong. He has decimated the Rights and Democracy office, denying much needed funds to any country with a beef with Israel, thus denigrating the whole philosophy of the office. He has muzzled his ministers; all words spoken or written (and, presumably, sung) must be pre-approved by the PMO. He has ousted talented and respected Ambassadors abroad because they dared to speak truth to power. There's more, and I'm sure there will be more to come. This man does not respect facts; he has his own agenda. It's certainly not mine, or the other 70% of the country who did not vote for the conservative party. Yet he is still there.
BDICKSON: Yes, most Canadians aren't being moved to the right, and yes, we SHOULD be getting energized and finding our way back to where we were. And maybe we will. Then again, we aren't. What's taking us so long? It's been five years after all. I think many of us are just sitting back waiting for our own Obama to come along. He or she will fix everything all up and presto chango, everything will go back to normal. Or will it? The information-less construct that Harper has been building piece by secretive little piece may actually look attractive to some of our future politicians: "Why, just look at all the neat things we can do when nobody can question their validity, or even legality". Without information, we have nothing. We are powerless.

This may very well be the beginning of the end for us. The longer Harper remains in the leader's chair, the more damage will be done (perhaps permanently) to the country we were once all so very proud of. Since our current opposition leaders (lol) seem incapable of doing it, the only way we are going to get rid of Harper is to bring about the proportional representation vote. I urge everyone on this page to talk to everyone they can and to make this so. Talk to Wayne Smith (above). BDICkSON; it's time to get energized.

g.macpheeFebruary 19, 2011 08:43 EST

Campaigning for your party while inside the House of commons should not be allowed ..the H ouse is our politicians use it to campaign for votes diminishes its value and positive productivety...keep it clean...a dirty house breeds germs and dust...clean out the corruption with a massive vaccum cleaner or our government will become a mess like so many others in this global kingdom of rulers lords and leaders.

McKerneyFebruary 23, 2011 09:24 EST

Good!! If some of you guys go on pinching that anti-Bloc Quebecois hard enough, we can sure fall back on a previous, and so glorious, Canadian Identity.

Paul KishimotoFebruary 23, 2011 09:24 EST

This is very well written and closely in tune with my own feelings.

As a temporary expatriate studying in Boston, I struggle to explain Canadian government to my European classmates, who must deal with a confusing multitude of parties at home but at least have working democratic fundamentals. The author makes some of the same mistakes I did, for example supposing the "Conservatives win another minority," when in fact a majority coalition that forms a government will have "won," even if the Conservatives are the single party holding the most seats.

At the same time, I cringe at the incremental steps my American classmates consider progress (e.g. the passage and failure—yet—to repeal the weak 2010 health care reforms). I have yet to see opponents of Canadian federalism address the enormous difficulties "states' rights" create in the U.S., or claim that those costs are warranted.

Finally, tired as it is, I must assign some blame to our papers of record and chief news outlets (The Walrus aside), who carry journalistic objectivity to the point of absurd equivocation. For example, I remember reading about the Ipsos Reid poll on Omar Khadr's right return. The poll result was reported as-is, without acknowledgement that the government had no power to deny his Charter right, the level of public opinion notwithstanding. (This isn't only a Canadian problem; you can read from Scott Horton in Harper's about the New York Times' refusal to use the word "torture" when the torturers are American.)

@SONOFANIMMIGRANT: I hope you at least support the statement on the last page, "The language of insult is intended to intimidate and silence. Without courtesy, we cannot talk to one another." Is the article really "repellent" and a "[miserable failure]", or do you simply disagree?

SonofanimmigrantFebruary 28, 2011 08:44 EST

To G.WHITE - Firstly, there is no such thing as the "people's right of access to information." Legislation has been enacted that allows for individuals/organizations to make inquiries of government records. That legislation can be redacted as well. I suggest you reread your obviously well-thumbed copy of the Charter. And furthermore, I don't understand the context of the points you raise with me. Ok, here's some things you don't like, but how and why are they related, since you raise them together for a reason (presumably), or which one is more important, or will have greater consequence than the others - that is my exact criticism of Ms. Paris and her storytime approach: "here's a bunch of scary stuff I don't like! beee afraiiidddd...(for vague reasons which I won't adequetely disclose)." You know what else is scary? A GHOST.

To Paul Kishimoto: I think I'll let Ms. Paris respond to your question: "Preston Manning’s Alberta Reform Party, after its founding in 1987, won significant support in the West by espousing principles that diverged significantly from those of the traditional centrist parties (factually incorrect)...the party was reborn as the Canadian Alliance...Harper took over the helm of the Canadian Alliance, joining forces with Peter MacKay...creating a solid base of support for the merged party...The new Conservatives were not conservative in a manner familiar to Canadians, but that hardly mattered."

So almost 20 years of political activity across Canada is dismissed out of hand because "they" weren't familiar to "Canadians." If that is Ms. Paris' attitude (and yours, as well as all the posters here) there is absolutely no way "we" can "talk to each other" because you and everyone like you is unwilling to engage in discussion. We're obviously not familiar to "Canadians." Guess I'd better go back to wherever I came from, huh?

You don't even have any interest in understanding why a large proportion of the country voted conservative, or what motivates people 'on the other side.' So yes, the article is repellent, your passive aggressive posturing is a miserable failure as an 'intellectual position,' and Ms. Paris should stick to writing fiction (even if this article does qualify as speculative fiction).

And because I can't let this slide, you had better brush up on your civics if you can't explain how Canadian democracy works because it lacks "working democratic fundamentals." Try going somewhere in the world outside of N. America, precious (try Libya or Syria, please). Canada is very functional, believe me. Of course, I'm not really "Canadian", so what would I know.

mannyMarch 07, 2011 09:54 EST

I disagree with this. An immigrant group coming together can usurp this process. End the british and french colonial mentalities and let real canadians rise up and make a difference!

KATIEMarch 11, 2011 13:00 EST

Most American Republicans are not the Night Watchman type you speak of, which spanks more of tyranny than anything else. Canada IS the "other" America remember...only without the beacons of freedom that America's power boasts. Individuals in Canada pay into a mutual back-patting association whereas American philosophy questions and remains healthfully suspicious of any hidden agendas. Yes, it's true that charity is a private rather than public affair stateside. But don't be fooled. Wealth is a highly public matter for Americans where their patriotic bravado breeds the assumption of purposeful economic dominance over resources the globe over. The sheer scale of popular support of this mantra ensures its realization - securing wealth for a vast and expansive society at which global envy shines. America is as strong an argument you can get for being confident as a nation, something Canada has long flagged at. I wholeheartedly agree with your analysis that the fragmentation of Canadian political culture is making liars out of all of us. But don't blame the institution. Democracy is only as strong as its citizenry. Independent thinking such as that cultivated south of the 49th parallel could be the only thing to save the collective consciousness of Canada. It's not, after all, donuts and hockey and comedy that made our unique brand of socio-economics feasible and noteworthy in the historical record and around the world. Past times aside, the psychological unity of a people is largely a trust issue that police, judges, and armed force will not be able to fix. Guidance has to be the focus of Canadians here over and above "leadership". True strength is flexible not unyielding as bridges are built to bend in the wind or else they break. I've studied under Russel at U of T and his book Constitutional Odyssey is very dry considering the colourful and passionate lineage of Canadian heritage that had to take place to birth our nation's Confederacy. He wouldn't be my choice of citation on matters of National Unity. And let's be clear that intoning Canadian unity is in direct reference to the Anglo-Francophone dialogue in Canadian Parliament. The issues of democratic reform are so much more universal than French versus English Canadian conflict. These ideas are pivotal to self-definition and cross the threshold over the abyss of Middle Eastern governance. Middle Eastern democracy which is defined by Western values of individualism is yet ironically imposed by foreigners. Can self-hood be imposed? How can Western democracy truly be secure when it would be possible to have ideologies sprung upon ourselves from unknown and hostile world powers? How can we reconcile effectively enough as a society these two incompatable veins of thought to pave the way for a cohesive new trust and understanding forming the basis of a renaissance?

PJROBERTSONMarch 11, 2011 13:00 EST

To SONOFANIMMIGRANT: What's eating you? Why so bitter and aggressive? For that matter, why do you think Mr. Harper and his followers are so bitter and aggressive?

katieMarch 11, 2011 16:13 EST

PJ - The very discussion IS bitter and aggressive....don't you get it? It's the subject matter NOT the subjects trying to interpret it. Being in public life is a commitment to hash it out regardless of how bitter and aggressive the issues may be....but Harper is constantly dismissive and this gets to be a such a crutch to the Parliament that it is in effect disabled by his lack of directness and lack of attacking the issues head-on. The conservatives are way too conservative in their discourse. If they were more like you and spoke up...."like what's eating YOU?" perhaps then they'd get further along in resolving many of the questions which keep ending up on their desks over and over again.....hence, engendering a sense of self-defeat or bitterness as you say. If you would like opposition members to "get over it", then shouldn't the leadership of those in government be setting a better example and resolving the issues brought forth to them instead of just brushing it all aside and under the rug?

PJRMarch 13, 2011 19:23 EST

KATIE - Have no fear, I "get it" very well. In my view, the source of so much bitterness and aggression is Harper &Co. They are busy creating a toxic climate in Canada. My question is, Why? A friend explains that western Canada is driven by a deep-seated anger against central and eastern the point that Harper has vowed to destroy the Liberal Party of Canada. Why? This is the party that has contributed so much to making Canada "very functional" ,in SONOFIMMIGRANT's interesting phrase, and in fact widely admired around the world. My friend adds that the West's anger is irrational. If my friend is correct, Why would we want our country to be governed by people who are driven by irrational anger? Why, thinking of SONOFIMMIGRANT' apt question, would we wish Canada to emulate conditions in Syria and Libya?

redwingMarch 19, 2011 19:33 EST

Thanks to Erna Paris for writing this article...

The bullies have followed me across the Atlantic! I left England hoping to find in Canada a peaceful, cultured country and I did back in the 1970's. In the last decade this paradise that I was honored to call my country has turned into just another little banana republic run by a despot inhabited by citizens to frightened and or lazy to react to the changes. The Harper government is the future, we are I am afraid ruled by the bullies, who I had thought I had left behind in the school yards of my youth in England, what a shame, what a pity that the bullies will win after all while our common decency and caring about each other and our country fades away with each passing day....


Erna ParisMarch 24, 2011 17:35 EST

Now that a new issue of Walrus is on the stands and an election is in the offing, I would like to express my appreciation to everyone who has thanked me for writing "The New Solitudes." The article seems to have struck a chord across the country. I hope it will continue to be read on-line over the electoral campaign.

Whatever the results, we must live together as loyal Canadians and find common ground as best we can.

Erna Paris

PJRMarch 27, 2011 18:06 EST

Erna Paris: "The New Solitudes" is essential reading, a keeper. Thank you and The Walrus.

WimKApril 02, 2011 08:13 EST

Very good and timely article - thank you!

Living abroad I have only followed Canadain politics via the Globe+Mail which is becoming increasinly tedious and 'Harperite'......for lack of another word.

Will take out 3 subscriptions to your magazines today - for me and two friends.

Keep up the good writing - and lets get rid of this pest Harper.

Carl RosenbergApril 18, 2011 23:47 EST

I commend Erna Paris, an historian with a distinguished body of work to her credit, for writing this essay, and The Walrus for publishing it. We need this essay (and similar works like Lawrence Martin's book Harperland) more than ever.

Carl Rosenberg
Vancouver, BC

maria mendes, torontoApril 19, 2011 09:49 EST

For the last five years I have been watching Harper (mini-me Bush) and his fellow bullies insidiously erode our democracy. I have tried to talk to other Canadians about it, but have been treated like a paranoid extremist. It is a relief to finally read this article and see the responses to it. Lately, the Canadian people and even the rest of the world, have started to realize and acknowledge Harpers harm to our democratic system. Even when I agree to some of his policies, I disagree with his method of achieving them. The end does not justify the means.
I fine it quite ironic that as our soldiers try to bring democracy to the middle east, Canada's democracy is being eroded at home.
Canadians need to put a stop to our apathy and return to the passion required to rid ourselves of Harper and anyone like him, and return this country to what we truly stand for in this world.

Roberta SagaApril 22, 2011 16:32 EST

An excellent article and very disconcerting at the same time. Thank you Erna and the Walrus. I will ensure I pass it on for others to gain from your insight.
Roberta Saga
Sparwood, BC

MogsMay 03, 2011 19:01 EST

Unfortunately, what people are seeing in Harper, they are not recognizing as to what it really is. Harper and others are dancing to a tune that many do not know do not understand and just plain do not believe exists. Harper is a ‘globalist’ a ‘New World Order’ type of human being. He is a fraud he sells out the Canada that is ours from beneath our feet to corporations. The things Harper wants implemented in a way that goes unnoticed to many. One billion dollars for the G summits where did the money really go? We will never know, but seniors will tell you it was crooked. High tech toys for cops so they can behave as they do in Syria or Libya or Yemen shut down freedom with bullets and eavesdropping. That is his job as a globalist Prime Minister. No protests no opposition, just Harperland shoved down your throats whether we like it or not. More wars and accoutrements to fight them with join the Army see the world. Wars are the ultimate anti-green platform they do more damage to the environment than any other human endeavor, but we forbidden to talk of these things in Harperland.

The proof for this found in an article written by himself and Professor Tom Flanagan of the University of Calgary, his views then are 180° opposite of those he espouses today in his actions. Read it for yourself and then ask who bought Harper and for how much is he selling us out?

MogsMay 04, 2011 08:23 EST

Sorry fellow citizens I forgot to tell you where to find the article Harper wrote. This was how my post was supposed to look:

Unfortunately, what people are seeing in Harper, they are not recognizing as to what it really is. Harper and others are dancing to a tune that many do not know do not understand and just plain do not believe exists. Harper is a ‘globalist’ a ‘New World Order’ type of human being. He is a fraud he sells out the Canada that is ours from beneath our feet to global concerns and corporations. The things Harper wants implemented goes unnoticed to many. One billion dollars for the G summits where did the money really go? We will never know, but seniors will tell you it was crooked. High tech toys for cops so they can behave as they do in Syria or Libya or Yemen shut down freedom with bullets and eavesdropping. I ask you that.

That is his job as a globalist Prime Minister. No protests no opposition, just Harperland shoved down your throats whether we like it or not. More wars and accouterments to fight them with join the Army see the world. Wars are the ultimate anti-green platform they do more damage to the environment than any other human endeavor, but we have been forbidden to talk of these things in Harperland.

The proof for his globalist shift can be found in an article written by himself and Professor Tom Flanagan of the University of Calgary, his views then are 180° opposite of those he espouses today in his actions. Read it for yourself and then ask who bought Harper and for how much is he selling us out? The article is called:

“Next City, Winter 1996/97.Our benign dictatorship Canada's system of one-party-plus rule has stunted democracy. Two prominent conservatives present the case for more representative government by Stephen Harper and Tom Flanagan”

It is found here:

So what happened to the Stephen Harper that co wrote this article? He was bought out by the globalists now his job is uniting us under a far right corporate agenda where corporations hold the rights to the planet and human beings are their slaves. I’m old I do not have to inherit Harperland I really feel for the younger generation that becomes corporate cannon fodder, good luck you will need it. Harper is going to escalate buying US arms that smash families across the globe and suck many young Canadians into its international trade in death, destruction and torture.

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