Thursday 25 June 2020

Mankind's Most Noble Profession

September 21st will mark the eighth anniversary of my fall and my sustaining a spinal cord injury.  This injury has prevented my walking and has also crippled my hands.  I bring this up to emphasize the fact that I need a lot of hands-on help in everything I do.

The first 8 1/2 months after I fell was spent in a rehabilitation hospital.  In the hospital, it is often difficult to tell the difference between nurses and personal support workers (PSW's).  In the seven plus years that I have been out, the difference has been quite clear.  While nurses often play a similar role, I have stated time and time again that the PSW carries out the most noble professional work known to mankind.  More noble than nurses and much much more noble than doctors, lawyers, judges, educators , scientists , businesspeople, politicians, spiritual leaders – you name it.

I say this because I feel it.  I feel it in the morning when they bring me my breakfast, when they assist me in getting up and doing my ablutions, when they shower me, when they look after me and check to see if I have any noticeable health problems (which they often report to nurses in my retirement residence).  They put me to bed at night; they say good night and turn the lights out. Frankly, because my loving family is out of town, in many ways they become close friends.  I look forward to their visits and their help.

Seven years ago, all but one or two of the PSW's who helped me had lived in Canada for only a short period of time.  They had almost all come from the Philippines. (One exception came from El Salvador and two other exceptions that I recall were born in Canada).  PSW's do wear out quickly and tend to be replaced by people who have not been in the country very long.  So far this month, I have been tended to by four women whose home country is the Philippines, two from Haiti as well as one from each of India, Sudan, Nigeria, the Congo, Jamaica, Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Canada.  I have also been tended to by six men, one from each of Uganda, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Madagascar and Canada.

The PSW has been in the spotlight in Ontario, lately.  The way they are treated is such that you would never know that they are "noble".  They have been on the front line of the fight against COVID-19.  They have been expected to come into my retirement residence and help me and other people in the community, always themselves free of disease but always in danger of picking up disease and taking it home to their families.

 Because they are so poorly paid, in every case that I know until now, they have had to hold two jobs, that is they have worked for two different companies.  Now, they have been ordered to only hold one job, but nobody has made it clear as to how they are supposed to put food on the table.  They are paid only a little more than minimum wage, and, even although they are in great demand, the companies that hire them on contracts refused to assign them enough work so that that, in any one two-week period, they would be working into overtime and eligible for more pay.. These for-profit companies are retained by the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) at an almost 50% markup over what they actually pay the workers .These workers are not given priority for Personal Protective Equipment.. They have to wear simple masks which they usually have to obtain themselves.  I have only seen one N95 mask, and it was worn by a PSW whose husband brings them home from the auto parts plant where he works.

They go through the emotional turmoil of seeing old people when we die.  With the coronavirus here it is not unusual for frightened funeral parlor employees to insist that the PSW deal with the body after death.

The province has set up a commission to investigate the problems in long-term care facilities.  It should be a full fledged Public Inquiry.  The whole system is a mess and many of us worry as to how we will ever navigate it.  If this commission ignores the role of the PSW and how their position should be improved, the future will continue to be frightening for many of us.

 I hope that there will always be loving PSW's  there to help.

Tuesday 16 June 2020

Remembering Stuart Smith; remembering Jack Scott

                                   Remembering Stuart Smith

I first met Stuart  in 1961, during an ill fated (some might say disastrous) run I made to become the President of the Canadian University Liberal Federation.  Stuart was active in the McGill Liberal Club and I was fortunate enough to have his support.  Much as I appreciate that, I don't recall seeing him again until he was elected to the Ontario legislature in 1975 when it became my turn to support him.

The 1975 election had been going very well for the Liberals until a very disastrous debate occurred on television which had Premier Bill Davis and Liberal leader Bob Nixon shouting at each other.  NDP leader Stephen Lewis picked up the pieces and what might've been a Liberal majority became a Progressive Conservative minority with the Liberals falling to third place.  The Liberals remained a party of Southwestern Ontario.  One of the few bright spots was Stuart's unexpected victory in Hamilton West.

To have Stuart as a leader seemed to be a blessing and I, for one, was anxious that it happen.  In the 1976 election he became Opposition Leader.  Then, it seemed to be the case that we might be ready for who would have been a very great Premier.  Locally, the campaign seem to be going well.  John English and I ran the campaign in Kitchener and always felt very good about what was going to happen across the whole province.  It didn't.

Stuart went on to a number of different roles in life.  I am proud of the fact that he did not try to continue to be a politician, although that meant that I never had a chance to really work with him.  He knew when his time had come and and when it had gone.  Eventually, in 1985, we were able to sweep many urban ridings with David Peterson as our leader and form a government.  I was fortunate enough to be among those who were elected at that time.  I think we all should be grateful for Stuart in that he paved the way.

Stuart died a few days ago.  He was eighty-two.

                                  Remembering Jack Scott

Jack played a very different role in my life.  From the early 70s, he owned the cottage next to mine at Skootamatta Lake.  Over the course of several decades, what started as a rather tense relationship grew to be a warm and loving one. 

Jack and Louise bought their cottage when their four children were young.  At the time, they closed a small store they ran in Roblin Ontario and Jack took early retirement from the Ontario Provincial Police.  It may have been his occupation that made things a little tense at first but, eventually, we got to be best friends – and choral buddies (especially after a couple of rye and cokes).

Jack was the salt of the earth.  He and Louise moved to the cottage and made it their permanent residence in retirement.  This was a godsend to me as he proceeded to look after my cottage in my absence.  Even into his 70s, he thought nothing of jumping up on my roof if he thought that was needed.

It is hard to believe that this happened in Ontario in my generation, but Jack went to a one room school north of Napanee with a stove in the middle of the room to heat it.  He had one teacher for all eight grades.  In other words, she was the only teacher he ever had.  To quote Jack," I think she liked me". After grade 8 he went to work on his father's farm. Jack knew a lot about life and lived it with a very strong moral code- completely devoid of prejudices.

Jack was eighty-eight when he died a few days ago.

May Stuart and Jack both rest in peace..

Sunday 14 June 2020

You Have To Be Pushed and Embarrassed

I have had a very eclectic worklife.  I have been very fortunate.  In many respects, my most enjoyable occupation was being a criminal defence lawyer.  For many years I found myself among the most sought after criminal defence lawyers in Kitchener. So, if you needed help you were fortunate if you could get my attention.

I will never forget a situation in which I was taking instructions from a potential client.  In explaining the fact situation to me he suggested that his adversaries might've acted the way they did because he was black.  I asked him to explain that again.  He said that he thought that they were prejudiced
against him because of the colour of his skin.  "But," I exclaimed, "you're not black."

  I honestly had not noticed the colour of his skin.  I dismissed his concerns in a very summery manner, even after he explained to me that his skin was in fact black.  I tried to assure him that surely that would not be a factor. I went on to take the rest of my instructions, and left the interview very proud of myself for, once again, being colourblind.  Shortly thereafter, I received a telephone call from the detention centre indicating that he no longer wished me to represent him.  I was arrogant enough to think that it was a strange step for him to take but that it was his loss.

I remember another instance in which a black client of mine and I were preparing for a trial at the same time as the trial of O.J. Simpson was ongoing.  This time, I could've told you the colour of his skin but, once again, I did not think it was relevant.  When we were finished talking, he asked if he could ask me a personal question.  I agreed.  He asked me whether or not I thought O.J. Simpson was guilty.  I said that we had only heard about the trial through the media and we had not heard any defence yet, but I thought that the prosecution had a very strong case.  He suggested to me that if Simpson were to be convicted there would be rioting in the streets.  He had to explain to me that the whole trial, as far as he and many other people were concerned, was about race.  He had to connect dots that I had never seen.

Boy, have I learned a lot in the last few days.  I confess now, that I spent the first eighty some years of my life wrongly being proud that I was colourblind.  I am now beginning to realize that if you really want to help somebody in these circumstances you must try to get into his or her skin.  Oh, opportunities were given to me and I ignored them.  I remember once sitting around the campfire at my cottage with my friends, Jen and Chad Spalding. Myrta, who was more prepared than me to confront these issues brought up the subject of race.  Chad is black.  I recall his telling us that it is something he has to be aware of from the moment he gets up in the morning in his every interaction with people other than his family.  He expressed the frustration of wishing that didn't have to be so. I think I dismissed his concerns, in part, because I thought that he had chosen occupations and friends who had white skin.

Why, in heaven's name, should that matter!

I now have a caregiver who has only been in this country a short time by the name of Gerald.  Gerald is a citizen of Uganda and has very black skin.  I asked him whether or not racism exists in Uganda.  He told me that it does not, but that everybody knows from early childhood that if you were to ever  visit or move to a country with people whose skin is white, you should expect them to treat you as if you were inferior.

Wow!!  Is that ever a heavy indictment!

  Greg Popovich is a very successful white skined coach of the San Antonio Spurs basketball team.  Most of his players are black and he thought that he was very sensitive to them on this issue.  Only in the last few days he says, have they been crying out to him about the reality of it.  He says "it's much deeper than I thought.... You have got to work harder.  You have got to be more aware.  You have got to be pushed and embarassed."

Yes, I guess we do.

Saturday 6 June 2020

Donald Trump

Various commentators have reminded us, from time to time, that Canada's relationship with the United States is a very unbalanced one.  I suppose we are like a mouse trying to avoid distruction by a dancing elephant.  Much as we may not want to, we have to pay attention to what goes on south of the border.

During my political life, I had the opportunity to serve as the Chair of a select committee of the Ontario Legislature to look out for Ontario's interests in the discussion of the original Free-Trade Agreement with United States.  I put a lot of effort into dealing with the Americans themselves.  I tried to approach them as an equal.  I talked to various legislators in the American Congress and cabinet ministers in the Reagan administration about what I hoped would be a give-and-take between us.  They spoke as if, somehow, they thought they were being taken advantage of and they wanted to "level the playing field".  I would counter by saying that we wanted to "level the ice rink", but I always felt that they didn't really want to listen to us.

In the end, after speaking rather loudly to the media, we were able to look after many of Ontario's interests and our federal government signed the original Free Trade Agreement.  I never lost the sense, however, that the Americans all really wanted to bully us.

Tip O'Neill said that all politics is local and I like to think that that is really true.  The reality is, however, that, not only is the elephant dancing among us, but their politics is much flashier than ours, much more entertaining, if you will.  We are drawn to it.  Unfortunately, the entertainment industry often projects a corrupt political system.  I suppose that that is more exciting.  In any event, I'm afraid that I believe that many Canadians assume corruption exists here in situations where, at least in the media, it seems to exist in the United States.  Nothing can get my back up more than for somebody to say "I never vote because politicians are just a bunch of crooks" I have met many politicians in my life and well under 1% have shown any signs of willingness to consider bending to corruption should the opportunity ever present itself.

It is in this context that my friend Brian Murdoch has asked me to talk about Donald Trump.  Now, a lot has been said about Donald Trump.  He was a television entertainer and a very successful one, amongst other things, before he was elected.  Through Twitter he has managed to keep the whole world transfixed by his entertaining style.  I believe that when he was elected he was essentially prepared to use his skill as a con man to steal as much as he could for himself his family and his friends.  He had no sense of history and, so, he had no awareness at first of  the might and power the office bestowed on him.

Unfortunately, that has gradually changed.  He has destroyed much of what made America great during the twentieth century, but he does not know that.  He likes to think, and he hopes, that he can con the rest of his countrymen into letting him stay in office for another four years.  He has always been able to avoid justice and he hopes that that will continue.  Does he fear that someday he may be charged and convicted of offences?  I don't know.  Justice is seldom really meted out to autocrats and dictators, and he would like to be in that situation, but the United States was not built to be an autocracy.  If there is any country in the world with the spirit for justice it is United States.

Why would somebody this bad be a serious contender for reelection?  Andrew Coyne recently described Trump as "perhaps the least suitable candidate for high office in the entire United States - a petulant, insecure manchild, so wholly lacking in intelligence, competence, integrity or emotional stability as to be disqualified in most states from driving a bus, let alone leading what was once the most powerful country on earth."  As a former bus driver, I take issue with the analogy.  But that  maybe the point that Coyne is missing.  Despite the fact that he clearly is not capable, there may be a lot of bus drivers and others in the United States who find it refreshing to have somebody up there at the top that just does things off the top of his head without reference to any advice he may or may not be given.  "How refreshing", they must think.

Canadians place a lot more trust in our governments but we are not immune to being conned, ourselves.  "Vote for Doug Ford and your beer will only be a dollar a bottle!"

Trump will never take the blame for anything.  He is known to say to his audiences "you knew I was a snake when you took me in".  He is basically saying that he is not his own fault, rather, his existence, is really the fault of the voters.

Dale Beran, writing about misogynist men who adhere to the alt-right wrote as follows:
"Since these men, like Trump, wear their insecurities on their sleeve, they fling insults in wild rabid bursts at everyone else.
"Trump, the loser, the outsider, the hot mess, the pathetic joke, embodies this duality.  Trump represents both the alpha and the beta.  He is a successful person who.... is also the exact opposite- a grotesque loser, sensitive and prideful about his outsider status, ready at the drop of a hat to go on the attack, self obsessed, selfish, abrogating, unquestioning of his own mansplaining and spreading, so insecure he must brag about assaulting women....
"Trump supporters voted for the con man, the labyrinth with no centre, because the labyrinth with no centre is how they feel, how they feel the world works around them.  A labyrinth with no centre is a perfect description of their mother's basement with a terminal to an endless array of escapist fantasy worlds.
"Trump's bizarre, inconstant, incompetent, embarrassing, ridiculous behaviour.... are to his supporters his strengths....
"Trump is loserdom embraced.  Trump is a loser who has won."

It couldn't be said better.  Therefore, the worker in the West Virginia coal mine, if he is still there and has not died from cancer, will vote for Trump again.  Now, while the country is in great turmoil, it might be ready to vote for a revolutionary like Bernie Sanders but, alas, the Democratic Party a few months back decided to be cautious.  They will be nominating Joe Biden, who seems to be saying "vote for me and I promise not to be around for very long".

Then, what will happen?

Wednesday 3 June 2020

I have to say it. Christ died for my sins and I am forgiven.

I don't know why this is the case, but for the last two months I have delayed writing anything in my blog because I seem to be obsessed with the need to explain my belief that Christ did indeed die for my sins.  This obsession carried through all of Lent and the Easter season.  Pentecost is now come and gone, and so I should perhaps get on with it as well.

The only education I have in metaphysics is 10% of a first-year course in philosophy at the undergraduate level.  So, I feel very inadequate.  I have put very little intellectual energy into this at least until I met Myrta, when I was in my late 50s.  In our family, we did not talk openly about these things and, indeed, I did not talk openly with Myrta about them.  I don't know why I felt compelled to start now.

In any event, I write this blog knowing that there is no point in attempting to handle it intellectually.  I should report to you that I bought and read very carefully a beautiful book by the theologian John Dominic Crossan.  My wife used to read Crossan a lot but I never even asked her about what she was reading.  My Minister warned me that he is pretty dry and uninspiring to read.  She is correct.

The book I bought is called Resurrecting Easter.  I thought, surely, that would give me some inspiration.  It was a very dry travelogue about a number of trips that the author made along with his wife to look at various depictions of the resurrection in the Middle East, Turkey, Italy and France.  The argument he makes and seems to prove from these pictures is that the early depictions of the resurrection showed Christ taking all of humanity with him.  Eastern Christianity never forgot that concept.  Somewhere between the eighth and thirteenth centuries the West forgot it and proceeded to depict Jesus going up alone.

Of course, the debate is very important.  As I say, I don't have the wherewithal to be involved in it.  I do feel, as I get closer to my eighty-third birthday, that I will be okay.  If you will, I will come out just fine on the other side.  We don't know for sure, but I have faith.  I am prepared to let go of what sometimes seems like now to be an isolated existence for the sake of deeper union.

There, I said it and now we can get on with some further blogs in the near future about more frivolous stuff.