Sunday 24 January 2021


 On the evening of December 6th, 1989, as a politician, I made a speech in Windsor Ontario.  I do not recall to whom I was speaking or about what I was talking.  It doesn't matter.  I stayed overnight and drove home to Kitchener the next morning.

On the radio on the way home, I heard to my horror the news that fourteen students had been murdered at the École Polytechnique in Montréal.  I was shocked.  I was horrified.  To my present recollection, I don't think I had ever been aware of very much peacetime mass murder.  I do recall that prior to my election there had been a number of members of the Québec legislative assembly who had been shot by a lone gunman, but I just assumed that he was a single mentally unbalanced individual who, as far as I recall, did not leave a particular political message.

While continuing my drive, I heard that there was a gathering scheduled to occur at speakers corner in downtown Kitchener.  I thought that it might be appropriate for me to attend and express what I thought would be the concern of the community.  When I arrived at the event, speeches were already occurring.  Sue Coulter, who had run against me in the previous provincial election, was speaking.  Only then did I realize that she was speaking to women and the mourning and the anger had to do with women and their rightful struggle for roles in society.  I realized that there was no place for me there and I went home to ponder.

I am a white male.  I have achieved some success in some of the things that I have set out to do in life.  While I was doing so, society has probably given me an advantage over others that I did not sense, and has done so because I was a six-foot tall white male.  That should not have happened.  I do not apologize for taking advantage of the opportunities I had.  I am simply stating that, in retrospect, my life has likely been easier than that of some other people.  For instance, when I went to law school in the 60s only three of the sixty-five students in our class were women.

I do believe that, as a man, my thinking was ahead of many of my male colleagues.  For instance, it took hours, and in some instances days before most of the media and politicians grasped that the purpose behind the 1989 massacre was what is known today as femicide.  The perpetrator was particularly angry that women had boldly moved into what had been a male only profession - engineering.

Indeed, that was hard to grasp in 1989.  Subsequently, Josee Boileau, who had covered the event as a reporter at the time, later reflected on the fact that society took so long to connect the dots, saying "maybe [it was] because public space was still essentially a male space and we were struggling to adjust our vocabulary."

Indeed, feminism was a new idea when I was in university.  I wonder if the fact that women stepped up to the plate and played a fully equal role in the second world war had anything to do with it blossoming when it did.  In the 50s, Ottawa elected its first female mayor, Charlotte Whitton.  That was considered at delightful oddity at the time.  No major city had ever done that before.  Now, I can't think of a city in Canada that has not had at least one female mayor. Ms. Whitton is reported to have said, "in order for a woman to succeed in public life, she has to be twice as good as a man.............Fortunately, that is not hard."

I have observed the growth of feminism throughout my lifetime.  I did not consider myself a participant but, in almost every issue raised since feminism entered into social discourse, I have endorsed its goals.  When I was elected to the legislature in 1985, the law directed that there should be " equal pay for equal work".  The result was that women in Ontario were earning about 62% of the amount men were earning per hour.  We amended the law so that there would be " equal pay for work of equal value," even in situations where the types of jobs were quite different.  This spawned an industry of experts who, for a fee, would determine for a given industry what "equal value" meant in various situations.  It all got very complicated.  But if I recall correctly, after about five years, women were earning closer to for 68% of what men were earning.

That was thirty-five years ago.  I understand that, today, the figure is about 75%.  The lack of progress seems depressing. Is the "glass ceiling" about which Hillary Clinton talks really there?  There seems to be a fair amount of evidence to the effect that it is. 

In 2014, six provincial premiers, representing provinces with 88% of the population of Canada were women.  Today, no provincial premiers are women.  In 2006, Ellen Johnson became the president of Liberia, Africa's first female president.  Today, there are no female presidents in Africa.,  Ah ,but there are lots of female vice presidents.  And the seemingly chauvinistic premier of Ontario has a female deputy premier.  And, oh yes, the avowed feminist (but male) prime minister Canada has a female deputy prime minister.  There seems to be a pattern here.

Kamala Harris has said "I may be the first female Vice President of the United States, but I won't be the last".  Indeed, she likely won't be the last!  But where will she go from there?  During my lifetime, the United States has had no fewer than eighteen vice presidents.  Six (including Joe Biden) made it to the presidency.

I am merely speaking at this point as an observer, not as an advocate.  I realize that hell has no fury like feminism scorned.  Nevertheless, we may be settling for the fact that behind every successful man there stands a woman..... and letting it go at that

  One has to wonder whether or not things are really just turning out the way they are meant to be.

Monday 23 November 2020

A Search for Real Democracy

 Have you ever heard of Kelly Loeffler?  She is a Senator.  No, you probably have not heard of her because, first of all, she is a Senator in the United States and, secondly, she was only appointed at the beginning of this year. 

 Yes, that is right, she was appointed as a Republican Senator in the state of Georgia by a Republican Governor in order to fill a vacancy.  The reason I speak of her is because she is, in fact,, rather important.  The United States Congress has 100 senators, two for each state, and as a group they can block any federal legislation.

Now Ms. Loeffler is unique in one way.  She is the richest member of United States Senate.  That is saying a lot.  Back in 1986, when I was mandated to deal with American legislators, I was told that every single member of United States Senate at that time was a millionaire.  You couldn't get to be a Senator unless you were a millionaire no matter what your party.  You couldn't afford it because it was expected that you would spend your own money to get elected.

As a legislator from Canada, that struck me as strange.  It still would.  Today, it is illegal in this country for any candidate to be elected to our Parliament to spend more than $5000 of his or her own money.  As I recall, at least one candidate in recent years breached that law and went to jail.

Sen. Loeffler, however, has hundreds of millions of dollars and so that will not be a problem for her when she seek selection in the Georgian runoff vote this coming January.  In fact, she has already booked more than $40 million in television advertising in the Atlanta area and is already running advertisements making negative allegations against the Democratic candidate, the Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

Now, what has this lady done in her eleven months as a Senator?  In her words she has voted "100% Trump".  In addition, when she took office in January she was given a confidential briefing about the approaching coronavirus and she is alleged to have used that information illegally to make millions of dollars more on the stock exchange.

There is something very wrong with this picture.  

This is not democracy.  And it is certainly not democracy to see the likes of Donald Trump try to hold onto power in the face of the fact that he has lost a democratically held election.  I don't think he will succeed but he is acting exactly the same as Alexandr Lukashenko in Belarus and several other dictators even as they, in turn, are condemned by Trump's Secretary of State.

Right now, we Canadians are smugly criticizing what is going on south of the border.  We have no right to.  There are a lot of reasons why Donald Trump will be deposed.  United States, indeed, is a land of liberty with a free press and his autocracy will not be tolerated much longer.  The checks and balances which make their Constitution so cumbersome are having a good affect.

For one thing, each state runs its own election before electors are chosen to choose the President.  There is a uniform date for these elections, the first Tuesday in November in leap year, but they are separately run elections.  In fact, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, every county runs its own election.  That is a concept unheard of in this country.  Elections Canada is an independent commission set up by the Parliament of Canada and it runs the election process across the whole country independent of any political influence.  This seems to work very well.  In fact, the Member of Parliament I was referring to earlier who went to jail was a supporter of the government of the day. 

Do we have a right to be so smug?  Let us suppose that a real populist came along and was successful in winning a majority government.  So far, there have been a few attempts and they have failed rather badly On the other hand, on the provincial level, Doug Ford has exhibited elements of populism in his career and he may still.  What would happen, however, if a federal leader caught fire, so to speak, and swept into power with a majority.?  He or she could easily use that power to demand of Parliament that Elections Canada be made his or her personal fiefdom with his or her minions in charge.  Mr. Trump can only dream of such power.

In many ways, Donald Trump predicted his own election loss.  Had he been able to control the actual process itself, he wouldn't have had to make things as messy as he has now.  Canada's potential populist leader might well have much greater ability to destroy the whole process.  That is the way it was done in Belarus and in so many other dictatorships. Alexandr Lukashenko simply declared that he had won and had himself quietly re-inaugurated.

Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig has written a very interesting book, entitled They Don't Represent Us, which tackles some of these problems.  For instance, he accepts the fact that it would be politically impossible to get rid of the Electoral College.  The small states would never permit it .He does note that a number of states have entered into a compact in which they have passed legislation which would order their members of the Electoral College to vote for the candidate who has the most votes in the whole country as opposed to the most votes in that state.  For instance, California, a member of the compact, would have had to cast all of its Electoral College votes for the Republican candidate for president had he had the most votes in the country as a whole.  This would be the case even although most people in California were voting for the Democrat.  All the country needs is to have enough states in the compact to represent 270, i.e.half, of the total Electoral College votes and the candidate with the most popular vote would be automatically elected.  At present states representing more than 180 Electoral College votes have so committed.

Lessig's main complaint, and it is applicable in this country as well, is that people do not, and indeed cannot, commit enough time in a democracy to study the issues.  Rather, knowing they have a duty to vote but not having follow the issues, they succumb to last-minute pressure in the form of, to say the least, very simplistic advertising.  He has an interesting solution to this problem.  He points out that it is a legal duty for citizens to drop everything if they are ordered to sit on a jury for a trial.  Why not, he asks, could there not be a random selection of a jury across the country wherein those chosen would have to drop everything for a month and go to the state capital or Washington where they would study some vital issue concerning or even dividing the country. They could be
subjected to facts regarding an issue with allowance for arguments on both sides, not unlike a civil or criminal jury trial. A poll would be taken at the end of the month or at the end of their study period.  Surely, he argues, this would be preferable to what happens now where people are pulled to the right and to the left by algorithms in social media.

The results would not necessarily be binding on legislators, but boy would they have a powerful influence on public opinion and, consequently, legislation.   Ordinary people like you and me would've had a chance to study an issue carefully and come to a conclusion. 

That is what our representatives should be doing.  In either of our countries, that would be a real step toward true democracy.

Sunday 1 November 2020

My Prediction –A Biden Win

 When I was an active politician, I used to try to project the sense that we Canadians think for ourselves and are not overly concerned by what is happening in the United States.  The reality is, however, that American culture really dominates this country far more than I would wish.  That has been true all my life but never more so that right now.  We are on pins and needles and have been for four years because of the often vitriolic and always mercurial approach the American president has toward all other democratic countries.  It has forced our prime minister and global affairs ministers to carefully tiptoe around every issue.  (Doug Ford might be the exception to this self-control being exercised by Canadian politicians, having gone over to the United States and publicly endorsed the reelection of Donald Trump).

No doubt, American movies and American television have exaggerated all this but we should not forget that Confederation itself was, at least in part, the result of concern that there might be yet another attempt to take us over.

Despite what I have said about my public stance, I have always found American politics to be fascinating.  This fact is largely the result of their founding fathers trying to write down a very complicated recipe to always avoid what they found to be wrong with British rule, a system of checks and balances.

I remember the day after the American election in 1948 when we found out that Harry Truman had defeated Thomas Dewey despite the Gallup poll prediction to the contrary.  My parents were happy as I recall.  I was only eleven and so all I could really do is reflect my parents' happiness.

Four years later I was fifteen.  That made all the difference in the world.  I followed the conventions of both the Republican and Democratic parties from gavel to gavel on the radio.  That meant listening from nine in the morning until as late at night as my parents would allow me.  Incidentally, the conventions were much more exciting then.  If I am not mistaken, the Democratic convention that year was the last convention of either party which required more than one ballot to choose a candidate.  It took three ballots for Adlai Stevenson to defeat Estes Kefauver.

I can only think of once that I didn't chear for the Democrats.  That was 1996.  I was rooting for the underdog, Republican Bob Dole, because I was generally unhappy with Clinton's first four years.  After twelve years with Republicans in the White House, I was hoping for something a little more revolutionary.  Clinton would have been considered a right of centre politician in Canada. Believe it or not, at that time the two parties seemed to almost be like tweedly dum and tweedly dee.  Personally, the second reason was that I had actually met Bob Dole.  In 1986, he was the Senate majority leader and I was the chairman of the Ontario Free-Trade Committee.  I don't know that our meeting accomplished much, but I found him to be a very charming human being.

None of the elections in my lifetime, however, seemed to be nearly as important as this one.  It is a sad commentary to admit that over 40% of Americans are prepared to accept a form of authoritarianism that history shows us could easily lead to fascism.

But enough of that.  We have had an endless stream of talking heads lamenting the existence of Donald Trump.  It is now Sunday evening, November 1st, forty-eight hours before the results will start coming in and I am going to make some predictions.

I predict that Joe Biden will win, by far, the most votes and further, he will easily have the most electoral college votes, the ones that really count.

To be specific, and looking at the so-called bellwether states, I expect him to win in Michigan, Wisconsin and, maybe, either Florida or North Carolina.  That depends in part on whether or not he travels down the eastern seaboard tomorrow.  It is that close.  I don't expect him to win Ohio or Texas

As for the poor people in Pennsylvania who are the most sought after voters in the country, I just feel sorry for them.  I think most of their mail in votes are marked for Biden.  There will be a great deal of brazen voter intimidation at the polls in Philadelphia, however, and the result on election night will likely seem to be close.  This may result in Trump muddying the waters and trying to claim victory.  (Pennsylvania seems to be a long way away but I am reminded that their Erie Otters used to play our local hockey teams, when hockey teams use to play hockey.)

In reality, however, I think Biden can win even if he loses all of the states I have spoken about above.

This leads me to ponder over some comments I made a few months back when Pete  Buttigieg gave up his campaign to be the candidate.  While I still think he might have been a great leader for the free world, the reality is that the world is not going to be looking to the United States for leadership in the future.  More important, unlike Joe Biden, who, let's face it, is very bland, Buttigieg would have been a very polarizing figure, the sort of opponent Trump would prefer to be able to attack.  Likely by now, the big issue in the United States would have become how one should treat homosexuals.  Fortunately, that didn't happen.

If my predictions are accurate, some people predict that the next few weeks will be frightening.  Once that period is over, I do believe the United States has the capacity to recover.  Americans are great people.  I do not believe that I have met a single American who I don't like.As a people they will recover and I hope they will be stronger because of what they have gone through.

Sunday 25 October 2020

Listening to the Ethnic Japanese Internees - While We Still Can

Time seems to go by very quickly when you are old.  I am very surprised to note that it is more than three years since I wrote a blog about my friend, Joyce Hirasawa, and the anger that she was still expressing because in 1942, when she was fifteen years old, she and her family were uprooted from their home on the coast of British Columbia and moved first to Hastings Park in Vancouver and then to New Denver in the interior, with all the family's worldly goods having been confiscated.  She is angry and she makes it clear, with good reason, that she still feels that Canada has not done enough to redress the wrongs that were done at that time.  The United States, the country we originally seem to have been trying to mimic, has done a much better job.

When I first wrote that piece I wrote it largely out of guilt because of my own lack of knowledge before talking to her.  I have since learned that the story is not uncommon in this retirement home, occupied as it is with nonagenarians.  There are other people with Japanese ancestry who can tell similar stories and I sense that they want to get them out before it is too late for the rest of us to hear them first-hand.  I have chosen to talk to two of them.

The first is Jean Tokiwa, an only child who was uprooted at the age of ten and moved with her parents to Hastings Park, a staging facility in Vancouver.  The corner store that her parents had been running, which was a social centre of her life, had been ripped away from the family.  They were sent to Hastings Park with merely the clothes on their back as everything that they owned was claimed by white citizens.  She was allowed to bring her cat, the saving grace for a ten-year-old girl.

In the summer of 1942 they were sent toTashme, one of the larger internment camps near the town of Hope, BC.  She was one of more than 2600 internees in Tashme.  The adults constructed small tarpaper shacks with lumber from the surrounding forests.  The identical shacks were about 14 x 24' and, as interior doors were not permitted, curtains provided privacy.  Kerosene lamps were the only source of indoor light, there was no indoor plumbing, and the privy was shared with three other families.

Perhaps because of her age, five years younger than Joyce, Jean no longer concerns herrself with what her family went through.  Communal "teachers" taught her and they taught her so well that they set an example for her to become a teacher herself.  She eventually ended up as a grade 2 teacher in Hamilton.  She married a lawyer and they raised three boys who are all now professionals – one an accountant, another a veterinarian, and the third genealogist.

At eighty-nine, Jean seems on the surface to be a very happy contented lady.  She certainly tries to let us believe that.  Unfortunately, however, she clearly has been scarred. For more than a year I had the honour to be sitting with her for dinner in the dining room at our retirement residence.  I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that while we had pleasant conversations, the four years she spent in Tashme was raised at 99% of the meals.  She would tell us about the happy times in Vancouver and then say about the internment "I wonder why they did that to us?"  After a few meals, apologizing on behalf of white people seemed to become redundant.

I am no psychologist but it is clear that the trauma facing this young girl permanently etched itself on her for the rest of her life even right up until today.  In those days, there were no facilities for treating post traumatic stress.

The second person I chose to it interview is my new neighbour, Stony Nakano.  Now, remember, when the internment occurred, Jean was a happy-go-lucky ten and Joyce, with good reason, became an angry fifteen-year-old.  Stony turned twenty-one on March 29th, 1942.  He had been spending his early adult life working on his father's farm.  The family was very close and the need for his work was overwhelming.  Yet, as a strapping young man, he yearned to move out and see the outside world.

In retrospect, he sees the internment as an opportunity he welcomed in order to escape from home.  All young people have such yearnings and he was no exception.  He was sent to a camp along with 500 other young men to build a highway between Revelstoke and Sicamous, 44.5 miles of what was to become part of the TransCanada Highway.  Documents indicate that there was low morale, harsh work conditions and bouts of dysentery, and work stoppages to protest the pay of twenty cents a day.

Stony is now a very happy man.  He is ninety-nine years old, has all his wits about him including an immaculate memory, and can walk without assistance.  After spending some time in Lethbridge he married and settled down in Hamilton, eventually working at the White Motor Company.  In 2012, he returned and visited many of the places where he had lived out west, including the gravesites of his parents.  In 2018, at the age of ninety-seven, he returned to his campsite at Griffin Lake where a plaque was being unveiled to commemorate the road crews.  He was a guest speaker.  Now he has all kinds of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who celebrate his presence on earth.

Needless to say, despite quoting documents to him, I could not get Stony to say anything negative about the internment.

So where can we go with the story?  I think a lot has to do with the age of the young people when they were faced with the problem and where they were in the course of their lives.  Don't get me wrong.. I feel badly for Joyce and Jean but this particular essay does not leave me on the high horse, where I expected to be, with more evidence to back up a demand for more justice.

I guess that is just the way life is.

Monday 12 October 2020

Patient experience during COVID-19

 Last week, I had the honour of being chosen to report to the Tenth Annual Geriatric Training Program about my experiences as a resident of a retirement home during the first wave of the coronavirus.  The sponsors of the program, Hamilton Health Sciences, McMaster University Health Sciences, and the Department of Geriatric Medicine, handpicked experts in various fields of geriatric healthcare.  I was the lone non-expert in the two day program.  I still think that I had a fair amount to tell them, as I was speaking from the inside so to speak.

As a group, I think there are two major's experiences which were uniform to most residents of retirement homes.  The first is fear; the second is what I would call "enhanced loneliness".

I live in what you might call a medium-sized retirement residence, supporting the lives of slightly more than 100 people.  Our building shares a city block with the Hamilton federal building at Bay and Market streets in downtown Hamilton.  For those who don't know it, I am eighty-three years old and have spent practically all of the last eight years in a motorized wheelchair.  One of the reasons I chose this residence has to do with being able to enjoy the pleasures of living in downtown Hamilton.

I am one of the younger people here and I think I still have most of my wits about me but there were times when I found things confusing.  The average age here is over ninety and many people have chosen to concentrate their lives on routine, memories, and family.  They don't pay a lot of attention to news of an approaching coronavirus.  Thus,starting March 15th, when we were locked down, and all the staff were wearing facemasks, many of the residents chose to ignore all the rules, play cards together, and ignore any sense of social distancing.

Fear did set in, however, starting, in my case, with an awareness of a lack of personal protective equipment.  You will remember that in Ontario we were very short of ventilators.  I received a telephone call from my doctor asking me what I would be prepared to have happen if I had to go to the hospital and there was only one ventilator available for myself and a needy patient half my age.  Would I be prepared to give up my ventilator even if it meant near certain death?

What a classic question.!  You might be asked this question in a make-believe scenario, but this was real life.  I am afraid I waffled.  She may have expected more grace from me but I indicated that, at eighty-two, I wasn't prepared to die yet.  Six months later, I am now eighty-three and I still think that I have a lot of my life ahead of me.  Mind you, when I think about it I am glad that I would have had my say should I have been unable to express myself should the incident have occurred.  A few weeks ago, I read in the New York Times, that in Belgium, at relatively wealthy country, the hospitals filled up during the first wave and seniors who needed hospital care were being rejected.  Caregivers were told to administer morphine and let death occur.

Two thirds of all coronavirus deaths in Belgium during the first wave occurred in nursing homes.  I am not suggesting that that sort of protocol existed in Ontario, but during the first wave, 1858 out of 2827 deaths which occurred in Ontario were people living in long-term care or retirement homes.  That is almost exactly 2/3, I wonder why.  Of course, the reason here is the long-standing lack of decent standards which successive governments have applied to long-term care facilities in particular, but also to retirement homes.

When I think about this, my fear turns to anger.  I paid taxes all my life without complaint and I did so in full expectation that the state would be there for me when I needed it.  We have understood the demographics created by the baby-boom for more than seventy years and yet the whole of western society seems to have made very little preparation to care for the elderly.

When the lockdown occurred, on March 15th, and for three months thereafter, we were not allowed to leave the premises even to touch the sidewalk.  One resident who did so by going up to the mailbox, was confined to his room for fourteen days.  The recreation and activities manager was given a leave of absence.  All activities ceased.  No exercise programs; no happy hour; no beauty parlour; no movies; no assistance with nail care; no pastor to lead Bible study; no little dog for us to pat on Saturday mornings.  The baby chicks who had joined us as eggs so that we could watch them poke their heads through suddenly disappeared

When a neighbouring retirement home just a few blocks away started to have patients die and a great number of staff and patients test positive for COVID-19 a decision was made not to let anybody who had been near their building into our building.  Two of my favourite PSW caregivers had no alternative but to choose to work elsewhere.  Eventually, the province passed the regulation making that mandatory.  I have not seen them since.

I am a great advocate for PSW's and I am very grateful for the help they give me.  In retrospect, however, I am very grateful for the fact that extra care was taken by my retirement residence to make sure that I was safe.

My caregivers are provided by the local LHIN and they are extremely good.  I find it strange, however, that there is no requirement by the LHIN for them to ever be tested for COVID-19.  I inquired and was told that this is in accordance with provincial directives.  Some of my PSW's get tested on their own while others point out that they move between clients on buses and, with the long wait for results, testing would be purposeless.

I have had two occasions to be tested.  The first occurred in May when I happened to indicate to PSW employed by the residence that I had a stomachache.  The second occurred in July when I was making preparations to visit my sister and brother-in-law, both of whom are octogenarians.  In each situation I waited five days or the results.

I mentioned earlier that the second great concern here is what I would call enhanced loneliness.  I am convinced that loneliness is a very serious matter in situations like this.  The evidence being taken by the Ontario Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission seems to endorse this conclusion.

I am fortunate in that I have a lot of friends from Kitchener Waterloo and family from Toronto and Eastern Ontario who visit me a lot.  That's all stopped in March.  I think that most of the people here who have family and friends in Hamilton suffered more than I did.  Further, I was very lucky.  On March 15th, which I consider to be shut down day, my niece, Elspeth McCulloch, set up a series of nightly Zoom meetings to occur each evening at 7.30 pm for family and our friends.  The result is that I got to see many members of my family more often than usual.

How did the others who were not so fortunate deal with loneliness?  I have asked them and I have asked PSW's who work with them..  I don't think many of them dealt with it very well.  I heard stories of severe depression and I was told that a large number of them actually died during the lockdown.  As this information was antidotal I spoke with the chief administrator here about it.  She confirmed to me that depression had become a very serious matter and that, for a number of reasons, there was a spike in the number of deaths, The plan, at the moment, is to slowly reopen the dining room and try to entice some people, so depressed and fearful that they won't leave the rooms, to come to the dining room in order to eat.(The dining room has been closed since the end of March and we have had our meals brought to us in our rooms.) Deaths of this nature cannot be directly attributed to COVID-19,

All my life I have noted that if I celebrate New Year's Eve in a wild party fashion I have a relatively quiet year and vice a versa. I started this year in a coma.  My health is been very good since January 12th.  The lockdown that I have been describing ended on June 18th The summer was very enjoyable, especially the trip I took to the home of my sister and brother-in-law, Carolyn and Gordon McCulloch, at the end of July.  Lockdown is now beginning again and the best thing I have to look forward to is the hope that I will get to make that trip again next summer.

In the meantime, winter looks to be bleak.  My neighbour across the hall, Stony, was unable to celebrate his ninety-ninth birthday on March 29th.  We are looking forward to doing something special in 2021 by celebrating his 100th.

I do believe that, since I spent so much time in my room, using the computer, talking on the telephone and reading, my life may have become a bit contracted.  Much of the world outside this building now strikes me as being irrelevant and not worth seeking out.  I suspect that other people here at the same sense.  The whole world is facing a new reality.

Tuesday 1 September 2020

My Summer Reading Book Report

 This summer, on occasion, I have been opening my wheelchair out flat and lying down in the sunshine in the backyard here at the retirement residence  When I'm not doing that I am reading three books at the same time.  I suppose I am trying to make sense out of the crazy world in which we live by means of the books I have chosen.

The first of the books is a rather heavy volume written by John Bolton, the former National Security Advisor to US Pres. Donald Trump entitled "The Room Where It Happened, a White House Memoir."  As you might expect, Bolton is not a particularly favourable political personality to me.  He fiercely believes that might is right and the United States should be flexing its muscles as much as possible in the world.  His strong positions in this regard have influenced the last three Republican presidents, Reagan, Bush and Bush.  He wanted to be Secretary of State and clearly considered this job a consolation prize.  He lasted for 453 days.

Regardless of all that, I found his chronicle to be fascinating.  He always feels he knows what the right thing is to do, perhaps because of his long experience.  I am certain that he must've worn a body pack every day because he describes meeting after meeting in great detail including direct quotes from various people.   Bolton is a trained lawyer and writes like one.  I like that

The Oval Office that Bolton describes is one of constant confusion.  Everybody is trying to get the President's attention and the President, who does not read anything, is constantly making off-the-cuff responses which people are trying to interpret as government policy.  Bolton does not pretend that he was ever a close confident of the President and his exposure of administrative incompetence is overwhelming.  He is also very critical of most of the inner circle although, curiously, he seems to have some respect for Mike Pompeo.

A good example government incompetence is the response to the failed attempts to overthrow the Maduro regime in Argentina.. You will be aware that Venezuela is an economic basket case because of mismanagement and in early 2019 Juan Guido, the new young President of the National Assembly, announced that Maduro's reelection the previous year had been illegitimate and therefore the office of the Presidency of the country was vacant.  He said that he would become the interim President until free elections could be held. His position was quickly supported by Canada and most other countries in the Western Hemisphere.  The response of the United States was very confusing and Bolton explains why.

Bolton wanted to give American support, short of military support but in the way of very severe trade sanctions.  Because of business interests that various companies had in Venezuela the Treasury Department was not cooperative.  Pres. Trump would never give the issue enough attention for a position to be taken.  Despite the rioting in the streets, he was impressed by the fact that the military seemed to still support the President.  When Guido's wife came to Washington to make a personal plea for help, he seemed to be suspicious because she was not wearing a wedding ring and he kept asking afterwards what his staff thought of that "issue".  Finally, in a telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin about other matters, Putin convinced him that Guido had no real support and apparently likened the Venezuelan leader to Hillary Clinton declaring herself President of the United States.  Putin lied and said that neither Russia nor Cuba and any role in propping up the Maduro regime.  That settled things.

Sometimes Trump's fickle character may well have been helpful to the world.  He did change his mind about escalating tensions with Iran, you may recall.  Needless to say, this was to Bolton's chagrin.

I believe John Bolton has publicly indicated he is voting for Joe Biden.

The second book I am reading is the immensely popular tell all by Trump's niece, Mary Trump.  It is called Too Much and Never Enough.  If Bolton wrote like the lawyer he is, Trump writes like the psychologist she is.  Mary Trump writes about her paternal grandfather, Fred, who built up a huge empire of low income apartment buildings in Brooklyn.  Invariably, he funded the buildings with government money obtained through his connections in the mid-twentieth century corrupt New York City Democratic Party.  Then, he ended up owning the buildings and cheating his tenants as much as he could.  I guess he was reminiscent of Scrooge.

His heir apparent was supposed to be Mary's father, Freddie, but, clearly, Freddie was not ruthless enough for the old man.  Much of the book is a tragic biography of the author's father.  Unlike Freddie, the younger Donald exhibited the sociopathic tendencies that Fred admired coupled with the brashness that was never present in the old man's character.  Donald was twenty-two when the old man gave him pretty well everything, titular jobs that were paid extremely well for no work and as much money as Donald ever wanted.  Donald took the enterprise across into Manhattan, something the old man always wanted but didn't seem to have the guts to do himself.

The book is subtitled "How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man". There is nothing in it that is overly surprising.  As a former criminal lawyer, I am very familiar with sociopaths and have seen many examples of their inability to empathize with other human beings.  Indeed, that is the Pres. Donald Trump that John Bolton describes, as well.

Mary Trump intends to vote for Joe Biden.

So where does this all take us as we cross our fingers and watch the next two months of the American election campaign?  In my case, I have turned to "Humankind, a Hopeful History", by Rutger Bregman. Bregman wrote the book in Dutch but my Dutch is not very good and so I am reading an English translation. (My Duch is nonexistent.)  This is Bregman's second book.  I read the first one last year and it convinced me, in no uncertain terms, that mankind needs to have a basic income in every national budget.

The thesis in this book is that while we are taught that human beings are supposed to be, by nature, selfish and governed primarily by self-interest, in actual fact we are hardwired for kindness, geared toward cooperation rather than competition, and more inclined to trust rather than distrust one another.   He contrasts the philosophies of Hobbes and Rousseau. Hobbes wrote to the effect that before there was organized civil society life was nasty brutish and short, as human beings were driven by fear, fear of the other or fear of death.Thus, we needed to put ourselves in the hands of a sovereign.  Rousseau believed that man was naturally good and it was the institutions which made man wicked.

Hobbes has lots of people on his side, starting with most organized religion, and there is a natural assumption that he is right. Bregman sets out to prove, and does so quite convincingly, that Rousseau is right.  He looks at the book the Lord of the Flies, a novel which describes boys being marooned on an island and dissolving into murderous anarchy.  He researches the author and notes that he came from a dysfunctional family background which would premis this conclusion.  Then he tells us about actual situations of the same nature, where the boys became cooperative and looked after themselves.

Bregman contrasts Neanderthal man with Homo sapiens and points out that the Neanderthal man disappeared largely because of fighting within the species, whereas we were cooperative and friendly to each other.  He shows us archaeological evidence.

He does tell us that power corrupts.  Power, of course, is given to individuals by the structures we create.  Leaders of revolutions usually have good motives but,"no sooner is one despot brought down than a new leader stands up and develops an insatiable lust for power."

It is a very interesting book but, of course, we can't tear it down all our structures and institutions without opening all of the negative opportunities that anarchy would bring.  What is to good to know, however, is that in the writer's view human beings are pretty good folk.

I think I will go out in the backyard and get some more sun.  .

Saturday 25 July 2020

Our Migrant Farm Workers

Edgar Sulla Puma cannot speak.  He can merely utter noises with various states of emotion which his caregivers must try to interpret.  Nine years ago, when he could speak, he spoke no English..  His caregivers only speak English.

 Edgar weighs 122 pounds. He cannot eat.. He gets food pumped intravenously into his stomach .There is a plug above his throat which gets removed regularly so that his lungs can get extra oxygen.  He has braces on both his legs but cannot put weight on them.  Rather, he spends his whole day being pushed around in a wheelchair.  He has an accordion type brace on his right arm in order to keep it an appropriate distance from the rest of his body.  He wears a bandage on his left hand which can be removed from time to time.  When it is removed he tries to grasp the hand of whoever is caring for him.

Edgar recently "celebrated" his thirty-fifth birthday.  He lives in the room next door to me at my retirement residence.  Needless to say he is, by far, our youngest resident. His mere being here helps keep me from feeling sorry for myself.

On February 6th, 2012 there was a horrible traffic accident just west of Wellesley, on the edge of Waterloo Region.  For reasons unknown, a transport truck went through a stop sign and smashed into a bus carrying twelve young migrant workers back to their residence after a full day's work on a southwestern Ontario farm.  The drivers of both vehicles and eleven of the twelve workers were killed instantly.  Curiously, nobody knew anything about the workers.  It took a few days to even find out their home country. All that was known was that they spoke Spanish. (I can't help but contrast that lack of interest with the immense and continued outpouring of real interest in the well-being of the Humboldt Broncos).

The twelfth passenger in the bus, the one who survived, was airlifted for medical care to Hamilton.  That passenger was Edgar.  His home country, and that of all his former colleagues, is Peru.

Canadians don't really care about the nearly 60,000 migrant farmworkers who come and tend the crops that feed us and the workers know it.  My friend, JoAnn Reitzel, sees them from time to time in the Waterdown area of Hamilton, when they come in from nearby farms.  She tries to make eye contact with them.  Invariably, they shyly look the other way.  They must think of themselves as inferior people, a necessary step toward accepting racist treatment.

Recently, we were compelled to pay attention to them when several of them turned out to have tested positive for the coronavirus.  Premier Doug Ford, who clearly couldn't care less about their well-being, exhorted them to come forward and get tested."  We'll even send buses to take you to get tested" he shouted in English at Queen's Park several hundred kilometres away.  He couldn't figure out why they would not come and get tested, even as they were frightened that somehow they would lose their jobs and be automatically sent home.  So then he said that they could just go ahead and work alongside each other even if they tested positive.

This is when the Windsor Essex County Health Unit had to step in and order those who tested positive away from work.

 Well, then who is going to pick our asparagus?  Surely, we wouldn't expect the farm corporation to pay them or look after their lodgings while they are sick, even if they got sick on the job!

That was last week's story.  Those who tested positive have been placed in various motels and hotels hotels in the Essex County area.  This week, the Windsor Star published an expose showing pictures of the very meagre amount of food these grown men were given to live on in the course of a day.  To quote the story with the pictures . "In  a small doggy bag take out box are a couple bites of grilled chicken, a modest scoop of plain rice and a few spoonfuls of dried broccoli and carrots.  Next to it on the floor, a small bottle of juice.  Left outside the motel room door, that's the meal awaiting one of the grown men among the migrant farmworkers placed in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19."

The next day,the Star published reactions from the heads of farm corporations who pointed out that it is not their job to feed the men, but rather that of the Red Cross.

What is wrong with this picture?  Why, in this plentiful country do we need to call in the Red Cross in order to feed people?  Why do the farm corporations feel no responsibility for the situation?

The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program was started in 1966.  Workers from third world countries, almost always in this hemisphere, leave their families in the spring and work in Canada until the late fall.  Then they come again the next year.  For many of them this is their whole working life.  The money that they earn goes home to feed their families but many of them spend more than half of their lives in this country.

When I was a member of the Immigration and Refugee Board one such man appeared in front of me.  He was from Jamaica and had been coming to this country annually for about twenty years.  His claim to be a refugee was harmed by the fact that he was continually returning to his home country.  That is not a good thing to do if you want to convince me that you will be persecuted there.  We only have one life, however, and here was a good man, paying Canadian taxes and employment insurance.  I think I bent the law are little bit to let him in.  That being said, his case was not appealed.  I am not aware of anyone else who tried this route stay in the country

Many working couples who can afford it apply and have caregivers come for their children under a program called the Live-In Caregiver Program.  These people can come and stay for as many years as they are needed.. Unlike agricultural workers, they can often switch employers and they can eventually apply for permanent residence in Canada.

What is the difference?  I suspect that the difference is that particular Canadian citizens who often know how to tug at the levers of power, grow to know and love particular caregivers.  Therefore, they go to bat for them and probably speak to their Members of Parliament on their behalf.

Agricultural workers, on the other hand, don't get to know us personally. They pay Canadian taxes and employment insurance.  I think this is wrong.  I think that it breeds racism.  Further, these are good hard-working people, family people who could become good Canadian citizens.  This demographic  is more advantageous insofar as paying taxes is concerned than the aged nanny who has no family here  I would like to see the law changed to accommodate these farmworkers and to revert to the principal that everyone working in this country should have the right to do so legally and to eventually become a citizen..

As for Edgar, there are questions about him about which I don't know the answers.  The big one is who is paying for his residence here in Caroline Place coupled with round-the-clock personal care?  I suspect that there has been an insurance settlement.  It is the least that we could give him in the circumstances.