— The New York Times discovers after 75 years that in hard times, people “just want to hide in a very dark place”, particularly a movie theater.
— Researchers have discovered the shocking news that children learn better if they’re allowed to have recess, and “other research suggests that all children, not just those with attention problems, can benefit from spending time in nature during the school day.”
— However, all bets are off if you live in the North where recess is apparently dangerous. According to another study, this one in the Journal of School Health based on 2002 figures, more “than 4,000 children between the ages of five and 19 were injured in a year in Ottawa-area schools”. Then again, this is no longer the country of the intrepid Sam Steele and Laura Secord (she could have put an eye out or twisted an ankel running through the woods) but the safety tuque and the campaign to wear helmets while sledding.
— Apparently the “most popular” emailed article at The New York Times this weekend was Friday’s op-ed column, “The Great Solvent North” by Theresa Tedesco, chief business correspondent of the Canadian newspaper, The National Post, in which she writes, “Canada, whose banking system had long been notorious for its stodgy practices and government coddling, is now being celebrated for those very qualities.” Of course, there’s banking and then there are pension funds, and interestingly this week brought news that “Canada’s largest pension fund — Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec — lost a quarter of its $155-billion pension fund asset” in 2008. According to The Toronto Star, the Caisse’s “recent ambitions have led it to aggressively sink billions into novel financial instruments, such as nonbank asset-backed commercial paper – short-term corporate debts that turned toxic.”
— Not surprisingly, not many Canadian politicians or oil and gas executives seem to subscribe to National Geographic. Which is the only way to explain why the hullabaloo over the current issue’s photo essay on Alberta’s tar sands, “Scraping Bottom”, was raised only when the issue hit the newstands last week, not when it hit mailboxes earlier. What is surprising is how the lines have been drawn over the article, though it helps to remember that line about politics and bedfellows: new Liberal opposition leader Michael Ignatieff* not coincidentally looking for votes on a swing through Alberta and quirky CBC commentator Rex Murphy calling foul, and the Alberta government and The Edmonton Journal‘s editorial page calling fair. And silence from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, last seen at an Ottawa press conference with President Obama throwing the Bush regime under the bus,
We will be watching what the United States does [regarding the environment] very — with a lot of — with a lot of interest for the obvious reasons that, as we all know, Canada has had great difficulty developing an effective regulatory regime alone in the context of a integrated continental economy. It’s very hard to have a tough regulatory system here when we are competed with — competing with an unregulated economy south of the border.
Also interesting to note that it’s an article with photographs, including two large foldouts, that makes such a splash. And not any of the equally dramatic but more or less pictureless articles on the oil sands over the years, such as Elizabeth Kolbert‘s “Unconventional Crude” for The New Yorker in 2007 and The Guardian‘s “Mud, sweat and tears” the same year. A thousand words, indeed.
— Better late than never department: I have a post in my draft folder about this, but each time I pull it up I start to gnash my teeth. Here’s what the non-Canadian The Economist has to say on the subject, with less teeth-gnashing and garment-rending on my part (I’ve added some links to the original article),
The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was brief and not all that bloody, but it was historic. On September 13th 1759, France’s loss of its colonial territories in North America was set in motion when British redcoats scaled cliffs protecting Quebec City and defeated troops and militia loyal to Louis XV. A modern-day battle over the battle, which concluded on February 17th, lasted somewhat longer and ended very differently. It flared up over plans to mark the battle’s 250th anniversary with a re-enactment, and ended with Quebec separatists crying victory and Canada’s federal government beating a hasty retreat.
The re-enactment was to have been the centrepiece of a summer-long commemoration of 1759’s events. But to some Quebeckers commemoration sounded like celebration. “Dancing on the graves of our ancestors,” was how the Réseau de Résistance du Québécois (RRQ), a group of sovereigntist hardliners, described it. They demanded the re-enactment’s cancellation. For several weeks debate raged. The re-enactment was an exercise to pay tribute to the fallen and educate the living about one of Canada’s most important episodes, said its supporters. These included 2,000 or so mostly American “re-enacters”, the federal government and Quebec City’s mayor, who was loth to lose millions of dollars in tourist spending.
Opponents, and most of the French-language press, cursed the proposed re-enactment as a “repugnant federalist propaganda operation”. When it reached a point where its organisers were receiving threats—including having “our bayonets shoved up our butts”, according to their leader—the National Battlefields Commission, which administers the Plains of Abraham, cancelled the mock battle and other activities planned for the summer. Or, as the Gazette, Quebec’s only English daily, wrote, it “cravenly surrendered the field”.
If there was an edifying component to the brouhaha, it lay in displaying the different light in which the Conquest, as it is known, is seen by those on opposite sides of the Quebec independence debate. For many sovereigntists it was the beginning of domination by the wretched English, and of the struggle for cultural survival. Federalists, however, both Francophone and Anglophone, argue that after the Conquest the French of New France got rights they could only dream of under the exploitative, authoritarian ancien régime.
Whatever the case, the re-enactment was probably doomed from the moment in mid-January when the RRQ pledged “to go on the warpath” against it. Support for Quebec’s sovereignty spikes whenever it is felt that English Canada is taking it for granted or not respecting it. Wise federal politicians are thus wary of anything that may rile Quebec sensitivities. Nevertheless, a few cabinet ministers took opposing positions on the re-enactment.
Quebec’s premier, Jean Charest, was shrewd enough not to get involved. He simply announced that he would not attend. This is a decision Generals Wolfe and Montcalm, the commanders of the British and French forces in 1759, should probably also have made; both died of wounds suffered on the Plains of Abraham
A few thoughts. First, outside of Quebec in the rest of the country this article didn’t make much of a splash at all. Second, how disappointing to live in a country, a world, where some can confuse commemoration with celebration, and where hundreds of years later there are still such sensitivities over historical facts. I can’t help but think of the bicentary commemoration of the Battle of Trafalgar four years ago, when the famous sea battle was re-enacted, as the BBC noted, “between a blue and a red team, rather than Britain versus France, in order not to offend the French”. And yet there’s the feeling that confusion has been raised over the meaning of words, the prospect of insult to ancestors has been raised and bandied about merely to make separatist, sovereigntist hay. And the rest of the country, especially the part scratching its collective head every so often over Quebec, doesn’t know enough of its own history to care. As Hugh MacLennan wrote in Rivers of Canada in 1974 (almost 30 years after his Two Solitudes), “Ours is not the only nation which has out-travelled its own soul and now is forced to search frantically for a new identity. No wonder, for so many, the past Canadian experience has become not so much a forgotten thing as an unknown thing.”
Anyone moved to learn more might be interested to know that the other weekend The Ottawa Citizen excerpted part of D. Peter Macleod’s new book, Northern Armageddon: The Battle of the Plains of Abraham. You can read the excerpt here.
UPDATED to add: I knew I forgot something. Here’s a birthday present from the National Film Board of Canada: “The Fate of America: Two well-known Quebec artists, a filmmaker and a playwright, look at various aspects of the story of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. Whose version should prevail? Is history best served by documentary or fiction?”