Thursday, October 31, 2013

SIWC costume would do nicely for Halloween too

Image: At the SIWC gala dinner, poet Jean Kay impersonates the Queen.

Wonderful outfit and impersonation. And thanks for being one of the organizers of this year's great conference, Jean. And by the way, if you're going to a Halloween party, be sure to wear this outfit, won't you?

When Queen Elizabeth visited in 1959 to open the St. Lawrence Seaway, she visited our town. Mom dressed my sister and me in matching summer dresses and my small brother wore his Davy Crockett shirt, shorts and hat.

We waited on a strip of grass by the Legion for the open Royal car to come across the bridge and pass by us on the freshly paved road. That day we learned the Royal wave.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How green is it to paint all the crosswalks green?

It's a new fad. In White Rock, I saw pavement painted red.

In Vancouver, the preferred colour is green, but this doesn't seem a very "green" idea to me.

Every few months it wears off and has to be repainted.

I can't help wondering what chemicals go into the storm drains as the paint washes away.

And I also wonder what this is costing the city and who supplies the paint and the labour.

After all these years of making do with white and yellow street markings, why do we suddenly need wide swathes of green for the crosswalks? We already knew where they were.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Autumn roses

Image: Lovingly cared for at the foot of a wall on East Broadway, these brave roses stand ready to greet Halloween.

This is the time of year we most appreciate living on the "wet coast," which this year has been gloriously dry.

While Edmonton, Montreal and Ottawa lose their flowers to cold weather and frost, Vancouver's bloom on.

The one in the photo is no Federico Garcia Lorca, but still it is a brave wee rose.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Surrey International Writers' Conference

Image: Bruce Hale entertains the crowd

The 21st Annual SIWC was a stellar conference, with many of the usual suspects. Among the new presenters was Simon Clews, who came all the way from Australia. He revealed how he transformed his PhD thesis research into a fascinating book. Also here for the first time was the hilarious California playwright, anthologist, and essayist Victoria Zackheim.

Zsuzsi Gartner, a 2011 Giller nominee, meditated on how "Mr. Google" is changing our brains. She told her story of going offline, then raised a question many have pondered but few have voiced: Why do so many contemporary toilets flush before use?

Perennial highlights were workshops given by regulars Anne Perry and Diana Gabaldon. Both have bestsellers now being filmed. As usual, Jack Whyte sang Glorious Mud in his best Scots accent, and Michael Slade hosted Friday night Shock Theatre.

The Sheraton Guildford catered delicious meals and Carol Monaghan was her brilliant best as MC. After four days of learning, networking and inspiration, the participants left singing. Literally. The final Keynote speaker, Bruce Hale, gave a humorous pep talk -- the kind writers need. Then he sang us a song to cheer ourselves on, and before we knew it, we were all singing along.

Conference Coordinator Kathy Chung and her team of planners and volunteers deserve kudos and accolades for planning this stellar 2013 incarnation of SIWC.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Canadian Prime Ministers in Review

In an overview of the Prime Ministers who have led our country, we can see some interesting trends.

Two remained in their post for only a few months. One of these was the Right Honourable Kim Campbell, our only woman PM so far. The other was Rt. Hon. Joe Clark, Canada's youngest leader.

Some of our leaders retained power for a long time. One, Mackenzie King, governed for over twenty years, 21 1/2 to be exact. The second-longest lasting was Sir John A. Macdonald, who stayed at the helm for nearly 19 years.

Third in line for longevity was Pierre Trudeau at 15 1/2 years, and then came Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who was in the post for just a couple of months less than Trudeau. The fifth longest governing was Jean Chretien, who lasted just over 10 years.

Two regained the Prime Ministerial post after election losses put them in Opposition, and one of these, the Rt. Hon. William Lyon Mackenzie King, had two comebacks.

Three Prime Ministers had Mackenzie in their names.

Five Prime Ministers of 22 have been called John (six if you include the French John, Jean Chretien). This is nearly a quarter of the total.

Six of our leaders were from Quebec: Sir John J. Abbott, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Louis St. Laurent, Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, and Jean Chretien. The last five of these men spoke both French and English to native speaker level, although Chretien retained a strong French accent.

Six had British knighthoods and were dubbed Sir, and three of these were called John.

One, RB Bennett, became a Viscount after he was PM.

Sir John Abbott, Sir Mackenzie Bowell and Sir Charles Tupper were all over seventy years of age when they took on the job of Prime Minister.

Ten PMs were in their forties when they took office, and the rest in their fifties and sixties.

Only Joe Clark was under forty.

No less than 17 of the 22 Prime Ministers have been lawyers; a handful of these were law professors. Three were diplomats, and one a doctor (also a diplomat). The others have been authors, editors, businessmen, teachers and journalists.

Ten Prime Ministers have led minority governments.

One Canadian Prime Minister, Lester B. Pearson, was a Nobel Laureate.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Stephen Harper

Image from

Prime Minister Stephen Harper took power in 2006 with a Conservative minority government replacing Paul Martin's minority Liberal regime.

Harper first entered Parliament in 1993 as a Reform Party member, and remained there until 1997 as the representative for Calgary West. 

In 2002, he was elected leader of the Canadian Alliance Party, and was voted into office to serve the riding of Calgary Southwest. The following year, the Alliance joined the Progressive Conservative party to form the Conservative Party of Canada.

This was not a new party; it was a reunification of the bits of the splintered one that had stood for a century until it was virtually obliterated in the election of 1993.

2004 saw another election; this time the Conservatives gained 25 seats, mostly in Ontario. Liberal support was eroding. Under Paul Martin, the Liberals continued to lead with a minority government.

It was the election of 2006 that turned the tables. Finally, Stephen Harper left the Opposition benches to form a government, although with a slim victory. Another election in 2008 increased the support of the Conservatives, and the 2011 election returned them to power with a strong majority.

During this mandate, Harper and his team have said they are focusing on the economy as a top priority. One matter that has caused them trouble is the longstanding opposition to the oil pipeline from Alberta to the coast. This comes mainly from environmentalists and aboriginal groups.

A major current challenge for this government is the Senate scandal. If the three spendthrift senators, Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau are indeed suspended without pay, the move will be unprecedented. Public pressure is mounting to uphold the suspensions, and Harper is looking bad over this, even worse if Duffy is to be believed.

Many Canadians are also upset with Harper's deep cuts to the CBC, and they feel our unique and all-important broadcaster is under attack from the Conservatives, who are making our national broadcaster, the "Mother Corp," increasingly dependent on advertising revenue for its survival.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Paul Martin

Image from Northern Ontario Business

Paul Martin Jr. was the son of Paul Martin Sr., a Liberal politician whose political life began in the cabinet of Mackenzie King, where he helped to draft the legislation that would establish Canada's social safety net. He later worked with three other Liberal PMs.

His son did become Prime Minister, though on the advice of his father, he entered politics late. Getting established in business was his first priority, and before he was thirty, he was Vice-President of Power Corp and President of the lucrative Canada Steamship Lines, later consolidated with a partner into CSL.  

Martin was elected to the Liberal Opposition when Mulroney won a second term of office, but in 1990 he failed to win the party leadership against Jean Chretien. However, he was invited by his former rival to help draft the "Red Book" of Liberal campaign promises, and appointed Finance Minister when Chretien became Prime Minister.

During the first two Chretien mandates, Martin cut public service expenditures and jobs and managed to erase a huge deficit; by 1998, the budget was balanced. After that, the Liberals expanded services and reduced income taxes, which helped them to be elected again in 2000.

After a period of Liberal scandals and infighting, Martin fell out with the PM, who was about to retire from politics. But in 2003, Martin beat Sheila Copps to the leadership and became the next Prime Minister the same year. Though he remained in place after another election the following year, his time at the helm was marred by scandals inherited from Chretien's mandate.

Although the high-profile Gomery inquiry exonerated Martin, it did not save his reputation. In 2006 when the Conservatives under Harper won enough seats to form a minority government, Martin stepped down as leader.

It seemed that the timing was off for both father and son. Paul Martin Sr. failed to win the leadership because he was overshadowed by the popular and flamboyant Trudeau. Paul Martin Jr., already 63 when he became PM, waited too long to make his leadership bid. Evidently a better finance minister than a PM, he accomplished little during his time; in fact, he acquired the nickname of Mr. Dithers.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Jean Chretien

Image from nndb

Known as the little guy from Shawinigan, Jean Chretien was educated at Laval University in Quebec City and practiced law before entering politics.

He was elected to Parliament before he was thirty years old and began his political career in the Liberal cabinet of Lester Pearson cabinet in 1963. 

After Pierre Trudeau became Prime Minister in 1968, Chretien held  many cabinet positions including Justice and Indian Affairs. He was also the first French Canadian to served as Minister of Finance.

Before the first Quebec referendum in 1980, Chretien helped rally the federalist forces (the Non side). He was also closely involved with Trudeau's plans to patriate the Constitution and put the written Charter of Rights and Freedoms in place.

After being beaten to the leadership of the Liberal Party by John Turner in 1984, Chretien did not stay long in Parliament; instead he resigned his seat and went back to practicing law. 

In 1990, after John Turner had lost two elections to the Conservatives, Chretien beat Paul Martin past the leadership post and got the Liberals elected with a big majority in 1993, even though his support of Conservative PM Mulroney's Charlottetown Accord cost him considerable support in Quebec.

Although Chretien had promised to abolish the hated GST, his government failed to do so. However, with the help of the strong Minister of Finance, Paul Martin, the Liberals cut the deficit left by the previous government and received public approval for doing so.

Meanwhile, in May 1995, Quebec held a second separatist referendum and the results were scary: less than 1% divided the oui and non sides. Chretien was blamed for not having done a better job of inspiring federalist forces in his home province. Then the sponsorship scandal came to light. According to Robert Bothwell, this attempt to secretly use ad agencies in Montreal to sell Canada to Quebec hurt the federalist cause, and of course, damaged Chretien's political reputation.

Nevertheless, in 1997, the Liberals were elected once more, though with a minority government. This lasted a couple of years, and then in 2000, while the Reform and Alliance parties were trying to "unite the right," Chretien sprang an election on them and took a majority of seats for his third consecutive mandate as PM. In Quebec, the Liberals did better than the Bloc Quebecois, a positive change for Chretien.

During this third term, Chretien supported America's war in Afghanistan in 2002 but refused to involve Canada in the war in Iraq, a move that was very popular among Canadians, particularly in Quebec.

Chretien's long stint as Prime Minister ended in 2003, when he went out not with a bang but a whimper. He was replaced at last by Paul Martin.

In 2008 Chretien was involved in an attempt to form coalition between the Liberals and NDP to push the Harper Conservatives from power, but this effort did not succeed.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Kim Campbell

 Image from National Speakers' Bureau

Kim Campbell, Canada's 19th Prime Minister, was born about as far west as you can get, in Port Alberni, BC. She attended St. Anne's Academy, a Roman Catholic boarding school in Victoria.

A lady of firsts, at age ten, Kim was interviewing guests and moderating panels for a 9-week Junior TV series. Later, at Prince of Wales Secondary School in Vancouver, she became the first female Student Council president. At UBC in 1964, she was the first female Frosh president, and later became the second vice president of the Alma Mater Society.

In 1969, Campbell graduated from UBC with an Honours degree in Political Science, and a year later, she was taking Soviet Studies and learning Russian at the London School of Economics. It was here that she began to consider herself a "philosophical conservative."

In 1980 Kim Campbell began her legal studies, emerging from UBC three years later with an LLB. Before entering politics, she was a lecturer at UBC and VCC and a CBC radio correspondent. In the mid-eighties, she became Executive Director of the Premier's office for Bill Bennett.

Her own political career began at the Municipal level, as a Vancouver School Board trustee. She then ran for the BC Social Credit party, and lost. When she ran for the party leadership, she was defeated by Bill Vander Zalm, who became Premier.

In 1986, Campbell was elected and became the Social Credit MLA for Vancouver-Point-Grey and joined the majority Socreds in the BC legislature. In 1988, she moved to federal politics, representing the riding of Vancouver Centre following the "free trade election," which returned Mulroney to power with a second majority.

In 1989-90 Campbell was Minister of State for Indian Affairs and Northern Development; in 1990, she became Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the first woman to hold that post. In 1993, she became the first female Minister of National Defence and Veterans' Affairs.

When Mulroney retired in early 1993, the Conservative mandate was nearly over and there was little time to prepare for an election. Though Mulroney backed Jean Charest in the leadership bid, Campbell won and in June she became the Prime Minister, another first.

But this was a first that did not last: in the September election Campbell lost her seat and the Conservative presence in Parliament was reduced to two seats. Only Elsie Wayne from Nova Scotia and Jean Charest from Quebec were left from the old party, For Kim Campbell, her stint as Prime Minister had been literally a summer job.

Jean Chretien, the incoming Prime Minister, allowed Ms. Campbell some time to organize her departure from parliament, and later assigned her to a post in Los Angeles as Canadian Consul-General. This was another first: Campbell was the first ex-PM to be given a diplomatic post.

Since her departure from that position, Campbell has taught at Harvard and chaired the Club of Madrid, as well as the Council of Women World Leaders and the International Women's Forum.

Kim Campbell has been given many honorary degrees and other awards. For a lifetime of outstanding achievement, merit and service, she was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2010.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Brian Mulroney

Image from Depauw

Brian Mulroney first came to power with a massive majority in 1984, when after sixteen years of Liberal rule, Canadians saw fit to vote the Liberals out (Trudeau having retired as leader.)

From a promising start with the strongest majority in our history, his government plummeted in the public esteem. When then end came in 1993, his personal popularity was the lowest ever seen.

Canadians had taken revenge on the Conservative Party and virtually wiped it off the map.When the dust settled, the Conservatives held a mere 2 seats, and the separatist Bloq Quebecois, with 54, had become the official Opposition.

Kim Campbell, the placeholder Prime Minister after Mulroney had wisely left office, took the brunt of public anger; after less than four months as PM, the press dubbed her "the lady with the summer job."

What made the public react so strongly at that election? Unpopular policies and scandal seem to have been the issues.

The Mulroney years brought forward two attempts to bring Quebec into the Constitution -- the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord. Well and good. Though both these failed, it is unlikely they contributed to the dramatic fall of the Conservatives from power.

Free trade was a different story. In 1988, in spite of public opposition, Mulroney pressed on with the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement, following this with the NAFTA in 1992.

In 1991, he involved Canada in the Gulf War, again, with much public opposition, and in 1991, he introduced the hated GST, the Goods and Services Tax.

After his departure from politics, Mulroney was dogged by fallout from the Airbus Scandal, which dated back to 1988. In 2003, media reports said that Karl Schreiber, who was later extradited to Germany for fraud, bribery and tax evasion, had given the PM a bundle of cash in an envelope.

Mulroney first denied his connection with Schreiber, and said he received no money from him. Yet later, he admitted having done so. Astonishingly, in 1995, Mulroney brought a libel suit against the Canadian government and received an apology and a $2 million settlement for being "falsely accused" in the Airbus affair. Turns out he'd actually lied in court. He admitted that later too.

In 2007, Prime Minister Harper called a public inquiry into this and the special adviser was none other than David Johnston, who was later appointed Governor-general (Canadian Coalition for Democracy and Fiscal accountability).

The Mulroney mandate ended in 1993. Two decades later, the smell of scandal lives on, touching people still in power.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

John Turner

Image from Manitoba Historical Society

John Turner took over as Prime Minister in 1984, after Trudeau took his famous "walk in the snow" and decided to retire. However, he was in the role for less than three months.

At the next election, the Conservatives took a majority and Brian Mulroney formed the government.

Born in England, John Turner came to Canada as a child and earned his undergraduate degree at UBC. He was a Rhodes Scholar who studied at Oxford and the University of Paris.

As a Liberal Member of Parliament, he represented ridings in St. Laurent, Quebec, then Ottawa-Carleton, and Vancouver-Quadra.

He entered Parliament in 1962 and served in Pearson's cabinet before losing his leadership bid to the glamorous, intelligent young Pierre Trudeau in 1968. He then served in the Trudeau cabinet as Minister of Justice and Minster of Finance.

In 1975 he resigned from his post and went back to practicing law, returning to lead the party only when Trudeau retired.

Though his party was defeated in the next election, he stayed on as Leader of the Opposition for another six years, then retired and returned once more to his law firm.

Joe Clark

Image from Collections Canada

Joe Clark was a respected Conservative politician who gave long service to his nation, though he governed it for only a few months in 1979. He was elected to the House of Commons a total of eight times, and became Conservative Party leader again in 1998 after a hiatus from active political service. He retired in 2004 after the Conservatives joined with the Canadian Alliance Party.

When the Conservatives won the election in 1979, he was only 39, the youngest Prime Minister ever, and a record still held by him. Leading a minority government, he was defeated on a non-confidence motion just eight months into this mandate. His proposed budget of service cuts and tax raises was not acceptable to Parliament.

After the Trudeau Liberals returned to power to patriate the constitution in 1980, the Conservatives took power again in 1984. Joe Clark served on the cabinet of Brian Mulroney as Secretary of State for External Affairs and Minister of Constitutional Affairs. As well he took on the duties of Acting Minister of National Defence and Acting Minister of Justice.

Mr. Clark's public service has extended well beyond partisan politics and beyond Canada's borders. He is a member of the board of the Lester B. Pearson World College of the Pacific, a member of the Inter-American Dialogue and a Member of the Advisory Board of the Institute for International Development at McGill University.

Joe Clark, once jocularly called "Joe Who?" by a press more interested in reporting on the charismatic Pierre Trudeau, has worked steadily and often quietly behind the scenes and is now a recognized leader.

He has been a Special Representative to the UN, and has worked with a number of NGOs. He has also earned numerous honorary degrees as well as national and international awards. Mr Clark has the honour of being a Companion of the Order of Canada. This is the highest of three levels of this Order, and recognizes "a lifetime of outstanding achievement and merit of the highest degree, especially in service to Canada or humanity at large."

He was also the first to receive the Vimy Award, given for "outstanding contribution to the security of Canada and the preservation of its democratic values."

A native Albertan, Clark was one of the few Prime Ministers with roots in the West.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Pierre Elliott Trudeau

Image from

The father of the current Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, Pierre Elliott Trudeau was among Canada's most famous Prime Ministers. When he was born in 1919, World War I was over. However, the returned soldiers expressed their dissatisfaction with conditions in the social unrest that culminated in the Winnipeg General Strike.

Physically, Montrealer Trudeau embodied the bilingual and bicultural nation he was born into. Born to a French Canadian father and a Scottish-French mother, he grew up in Outremont, speaking both official languages as a native. Educated in a Jesuit preparatory school, he completed his law degree at Universite de Montreal and began to work for the Privy Council. He specialized in labour law and took an interest in civil liberty cases. 

In 1961, at the beginning of the modernizing decade called the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, he became a professor of constitutional law at his alma mater. In 1964 he was recruited to run for the Liberal Party. As Pearson's Minister of Justice, he liberalized the laws concerning divorce, abortion and homosexuality, famously saying "The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation."

When Pearson retired, Trudeau easily won Liberal leadership. Sweeping to victory on a wave of "Trudeaumania," he took the helm in 1968. The charm, wit and intelligence made Trudeau more than a match for the press and his fellow parliamentarians. His playful side, as when he pierouetted behind the queen, was also appreciated by Canadians. An eligible bachelor in his forties, he married a woman many years younger, had three sons and became even more popular.

In 1970, Trudeau faced the October Crisis. Violent FLQ terrorists had been setting off bombs in Montreal. In their violent bid for Quebec independence, they kidnapped a British diplomat and a Quebec Minister and publicly threatened to kill both men if their demands were not met.

After being swooned over by women and given babies to kiss during the election campaign, the new Prime Minister now faced a serious political challenge. His response was serious and decisive; deeming the FLQ threat an attempt at insurrection against the democratically elected government, he invoked the War Measures Act. As an emergency measure, the police, assisted by the army, were allowed to detain suspects for questioning without charging them.

This show of strength was controversial. However, negotiations also took place with the terrorists and the life of diplomat James Cross was saved.  The kidnappers were apprehended, but only after Pierre Laporte, the Quebec Minister of Labour, was found dead in the trunk of a car. The Quiet Revolution was over; it had culminated in a show of violence that shocked the nation.

In the coming years, the wave of separatist sentiment in Quebec would find expression through peaceful political activity. Led by Rene Levesque, the Parti Quebecois demanded a vote to determine whether Quebec would separate: "sovereignty association." Defeated 60% to 40% in the referendum of 1980, this later became known as the First Referendum; the separatism issue hadn't gone away.

Many would agree that Trudeau's most dramatic accomplishment was to patriate the Constitution; however, his strong federalist stance did not prevail in Quebec. After much wrangling about Quebec's special status, separatist Premier Rene Levesque refused to sign on behalf of his province. To this day, Quebec is not a signatory to the Canadian Constitution.

And in spite of the Trudeau ideal of the Just Society, times were troubled for aboriginal Canadians. Eventually, though, the Berger Commission's lengthy consultations with the people on the land caused the government to decide against allowing an oil pipeline to be built through their territory. And before a large Hydro Quebec project was implemented in Quebec, the James Bay Cree and the Inuit of the region were consulted. In the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, money and rights were given in exchange for the ceded territory.

Trudeau made other changes that deeply affected the nation. It was during his term that Canada became officially bilingual. This allowed French speakers equal access to government service through the right to access them in their native tongue.

Multiculturalism was also a Trudeau policy. With an internationalist perspective, he liberalized immigration policy, created more foreign embassies, and opened diplomatic relations with Communist China at a time when the US was unwilling to doing so. He also visited Cuba, another nation on the American banned list, and made friends with Fidel Castro.

On the world stage, Trudeau ensured that Canada carried out its own independent foreign policy. He made sure Canada went its own way, though he told the President that Canada's position beside the US was "like sleeping with an elephant; no matter how friendly and even-tempered is the is affected by every twitch and grunt."

Trudeau resigned from politics in 1984, but he continued to write and speak in support of federalism. On the occasion of his funeral in 2000, thousands of Canadians wore roses in their lapels in his memory, paid their respects as his body lay in state in Ottawa, and lined the railway tracks in silence to see the train that carried his remains to their last resting place in Montreal.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Lester Bowles Pearson aka Mike

Image from

Lester Bowles Pearson was an academic. He entered the University of Toronto at age 16. Though he was too young to volunteer as a soldier, his education was interrupted by service in World War I. First a volunteer in a hospital unit in England, Greece and Egypt, he later managed to get transferred to the Royal Flying Corps.

Invalided home, Pearson studied while he served as a flying instructor. He had been nicknamed "Mike" by his flying instructor, and the name stuck.

After the war, Pearson won a fellowship to Oxford. There, he excelled in history as well as in ice hockey and lacrosse. His education completed, he began teaching at the U of T in 1928. Later he went to work for the Ministry of External Affairs, and during the thirties, he participated in several international conferences as well as the League of Nations.

Canada's first Nobel Laureate for Peace, Pearson became known for devising an effective way to solve the Suez Crisis of 1956 when Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser nationalized the Canal.

Since 1869, it had been operated by the Anglo-French Suez Canal Company and England and France, wanted the status quo to continue. Within days, the two nations prepared to invade the Canal Zone.

The situation heated up as Israel joined in the plotting and Britain and France and began to drop bombs. At this critical juncture, Pearson turned to the International Peacekeeping Forces. He proposed sending an emergency force, working under the aegis of the UN, to police the Canal Zone while the invading nations withdrew.

In 1948, Pearson became the undersecretary of state for External Affairs under the Liberal government of Louis St. Laurent. When the party was defeated in 1957, he became Leader of the Opposition and prepared the Liberals for victory at the next election, which followed Diefenbaker's  mandate and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

When Pearson became Prime Minister, his foreign policy was based on internationalism. At home, he implemented legislation that had been a long time in the planning, Medicare and Old Age Pensions. He also declared a "war on poverty," and put in place financial support for higher education.

Canada was getting close to a hundred years old and still using the British Red Ensign, with the Union Jack in the corner. Pearson involved the country in the flag designing contest and a vociferous debate that resulted in the adoption of the Maple Leaf Flag.

Pearson is remembered with respect and affection by Canadians, and many cultural, academic and educational institutions bear his name. Pearson Airport in Toronto is named after "Mike," and on the Alberta-Montana border, he is honoured for his involvment in creating an International Peace Park where Canadian and American parks meet. (Waterton Lakes-Glacier).The peace park has since become a UNESCO Heritage site.

Pearson College in Victoria, an international school which he conceived of before his death, is a memorial to him as well. This institution of learning offers full scholarships for an International Baccalaureate Program to students from around the world who "are dedicated to making change happen in diverse and powerful ways," those who "share a determination to make a difference and work in their communities as a positive force for peace." (website)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

John Diefenbaker, "Dief the Chief"

Image from

John George Diefenbaker was a successful lawyer in Saskatchewan when the political bug bit him. He was first elected in 1940, but did not win the leadership of the renamed Progressive Conservative Party until 1956.

He served as Prime Minister from 1957 to 1963. In 1961, he made a contribution to Medicare by setting up a Royal Commission on Health Care. However, by the time the commission reported in 1964, Diefenbaker was no longer Prime Minister. The task of making Medicare happen fell to Lester Pearson, the next PM.

Diefenbaker also created Canada's first Bill of Rights, but it was not entrenched in the constitution. In the rights arena, he was the PM who finally gave the unconditional right to vote to aboriginal people in federal elections.

Diefenbaker's government got into trouble over the Avro Arrow, a Canadian-designed fighter aircraft which was scrapped by the Conservatives in mid-development. As if that were not enough, the government insisted that the prototypes as well as the plans be destroyed.

The reasons given to the public were that the plane was too expensive to produce and not enough could be sold to justify the cost. Many were unhappy with this decision, and various conspiracy theories have been propounded about possible nefarious reasons for what was seen as an attack on Canadian design, ingenuity and industry.

A more popular, although also controversial decision made by Diefenbaker was that there would be no nuclear weapons in Canada.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Louis St. Laurent

Image from

Louis St. Laurent was a well-respected Canadian lawyer who represented his country at various international conferences.

His first political post was that of Liberal Justice Minister; he served the government of Mackenzie King in this role from 1941.

During his term of office as Prime Minister, from 1948 to 1957, he oversaw the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway, a Canada-US effort, as well as the Trans-Canada Highway. He was also involved in the creation of the Canso Causeway, which joins Cape Breton Island to mainland Nova Scotia.

In addition, St. Laurent was behind the negotiations that brought Newfoundland into Canada as the 10th province (1949) and the man who determined that Canada would send troops to South Korea after North Korea invaded.

Prime Minister St. Laurent, nicknamed "Uncle Louis" by Canadians, was also the one who settled on 24 Sussex Drive as the official Prime Ministerial residence.

When the time came for St. Laurent to appoint a governor-general, he chose Vincent Massey, the first Canadian to hold the position.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

R.B. Bennett and the Bennett Buggy

Photo Viscount Richard Bedford Bennett was a Canadian politician between 1901 and 1938, and a Mason. The "Bennett Buggy," an automobile pulled by a team of horses, was ironically named after the PM during the Great Depression, when farmers could not afford gas for their cars.
A wealthy bachelor, Bennett had little understanding of the problems facing the working people who trekked On to Ottawa He didn't help them.

Image right: Bennett Buggy  from canadaonline.

During the Hungry Thirties, his attempt to ride on the coattails of U.S. President Roosevelt with a Canadian version of the New Deal was seen as too little, too late. His Conservatives lost the election to Mackenzie King's Liberals in 1935.

Monday, October 14, 2013

William Lyon Mackenzie King

Image from Upper Canada History

William Lyon Mackenzie King, grandson of reformer William Lyon Mackenzie, was undoubtedly one of Canada's most successful politicians.

He led the Liberal Party from 1919 to 1948, and his party governed the country during three mandates: 1921-26, 1926-30, and 1935-48.

A graduate of the U of T, the University of Chicago, and Harvard, Mackenzie King entered politics in 1900 as Laurier's Minister of Labour.

With an interest in industrial relations, King mediated in a number of strikes, and created the Industrial Disputes Investigation Act, which his party passed in 1907.

Mackenzie King lost his seat in the election of 1911 and was unable to regain it in 1917 (the Conscription election); however, he maintained ties with the party. During the war, he worked for the Rockefeller Foundation and wrote a book.

In 1919, he was chosen to succeed Laurier as party leader, and in 1921, the Liberals got a small majority, and joined with the Progressives, a new party, to govern. The withdrawal of the necessary but precarious support of the Progressive Party led to a constitutional crisis when Governor General Lord Byng refused to dissolve Parliament on King's request.

Although this King-Byng affair made it clear that governors-general were no longer free to intervene in Canadian affairs, the Conservatives took power again. However, Meighen's government was soon defeated. Brazening out a scandal, the Liberals were elected and governed between 1926 and 1930.

During this era, they established Old Age Pensions and reduced the debt. King also  continued to pursue the path of increasing autonomy for Canada, and at the 1926 Imperial Conference he helped craft and establish the nation's Dominion status.

Following the stock market crash of 1929, the 1930 election returned the Conservatives to power under RB Bennett, but the Liberals were back in 1935. Before the war, King arranged some trade agreements with the US and the UK to help cope with the terrible economic problems at home.

When war came, King said Parliament would decide on Canada's involvement. Having witnessed the conscription crisis of WWI, he also promised French Canadians they wouldn't be conscripted for overseas service. In 1940 the Liberals called an election and won, and King put the nation into full war production. The same year, he introduced conscription for the defense of Canada.

By 1942, the conscription debate was back. A plebiscite showed a majority of English Canadians willing to let the government off its 1940 promise, with Quebeckers opposed. The pressure increased as volunteer numbers declined and losses mounted.

The conversation about conscription dragged on in Parliament until 1944. In response to continuing pressure from Britain for Canada to introduce full conscription, King told Churchill he couldn't do it; the issue would tear Canada apart.

In the end, the war was nearly over when King finally sent some of the home defense forces overseas. However, although he lost his minister of defense in the process, he managed this backtracking without alienating French Canada.

Mackenzie King was the only wartime leader among the Allies to be re-elected in 1945 when the war was over. He represented Canada at the UN Conference in 1946.

On a personal level, he was decidedly eccentric. A single man, he was devoted to his dog Pat.
According to LAC, the two walked together in the morning and companionably enjoyed their evenings together, both drinking cocoa and eating oatmeal cookies.

He also joined the contemporary fad of spiritualism, and used a crystal ball to communicate with his dead mother, whom he apparently considered a source of political as well as personal counsel.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Arthur Meighen, orator and PM

Picture from

Known from an early age as an orator, Meighen was the grandson of an Ulsterman who had immigrated to Upper Canada. He left the family farm to attend the University of Toronto where he participated in a mock parliament and earned an honours degree in Mathematics. He trained as a teacher, but this career did not suit him.

He obtained a law degree, and while practicing in Portage la Prairie, got involved with the Young Men's Conservative Club. He ran an election campaign for a fellow Tory there, and later it became his constituency.

In 1908, Meighen won his seat by a small margin, and found himself in the Opposition benches under the leadership of Robert Borden. A man who understood the workings of government, Meighen worked hard behind the scenes and gained a reputation as Borden's troubleshooter.

He held half a dozen cabinet posts beginning in 1913. When Borden retired in 1920, Meighen succeeded him, but he lost the election the next year. The bad taste left by the rough handling of the conscription crisis and the Winnipeg General Strike dogged the party into the 1921 election.

Having led the Opposition, Meighen managed to win the election of 1926. However, the Liberals under Mackenzie King held onto power by allying themselves with a new party, the Progressives.

Liberal leader Mackenzie King went so far as to ask the Governor General, Lord Byng, to dissolve Parliament, and Byng refused. This led to a furore, the King-Byng affair. This minor constitutional crisis was the last time a governor general intervened directly in Canadian politics. At all events, within days, the Conservatives failed to win a vote, a new election was called, and Meighen lost. 

Meighen was responsible for creating the Canadian National Railway (CNR, later CN) in 1919 and ending the Winnipeg General Strike the same year, albeit to the displeasure of the working man.

Between 1932 and 1942, Arthur Meighen was a Senator, but he retired from politics when after being re-elected Conservative Party leader, he failed to win the by-election that would have got him back into the House of Commons.

A story I heard in a small town in Alberta may be apocryphal, but is interesting nonetheless. In that farming community, the Norwegian immigrants had settled on the north side of the railroad and the Czechs on the south. When the federal government tried to name the growing town after Meighen, the townspeople objected. The Czechs wanted to call the place Prague, while the Norwegians plumped for Viking. The latter turned out in force to vote, and the rest is history.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sir Robert Borden

Image from By George Journal

Born in Nova Scotia, Robert Borden was a teacher and a lawyer who became involved in provincial politics. For many years he served as Member for Halifax in the Nova Scotia Legislature.

He became leader of the Conservative Party while Laurier was Prime Minister. The Liberals lost the 1911 election, and Borden took over.

Borden's decision to introduce conscription early in the war was controversial. The wartime election was fought on this divisive issue, and its aftermath left a rift between French and English Canada. Indeed, the conscription issue re-surfaced during WWII, once more with potentially dire consequences.

Anglophone Canadians with strong English ties supported conscription, but French Canadian Quebeckers, though they volunteered in great numbers for the armed forces and would willingly defend their homeland, did not wish to be conscripted to fight the "European" war.

Borden's response to the divided public sentiment was to join with pro-conscription forces from other parties.  The Unionist platform appealed to voters on the basis of loyalty to "king and country." Needless to say, this slogan found favour neither with Laurier Liberals nor French Canadians. However, Borden won the 1917 election and remained in power through the rest of the war.

Along with the Conscription Act, Borden's government passed the Wartime Elections Act. This legislation allowed the first women to vote in federal elections. The chosen few were the mothers, wives and widows of soldiers, all of whom were overwhelmingly likely to support conscription. At the same time, according to the Canadian War Museum, the vote was taken away from some recent immigrants who were deemed likely to vote Liberal.

At the beginning of World War I, Britain, the "Mother country," still had control of Canada's foreign policy. When England declared war, Canada (and other dominions) automatically followed. After the end of the war, Borden led the Canadian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and joined Canada to the League of Nations.

Meanwhile, his government had to face the Winnipeg General Strike, which continued from mid May to late June, shutting down the city. Returning soldiers found themselves unemployed and facing huge inflation, while businesses had profited during the war. Leaders met to create One Big Union to help them gain worker's rights.

Arthur Meighen, then the Minister of the Interior and of Justice, sided with the business people against the strikers. He changed the Criminal Code so that organizers could be charged with sedition, and altered the Immigration Act to enable the government to deport British-born organizers. The brutal suppression of the Winnipeg General Strike left Canadian workers bitter, and similar though smaller strikes followed in other cities.

Borden's government also passed the first Income Tax Act, a "temporary" measure to finance wartime costs. They also established the National Research Council and passed the the Nickle Resolution, which declared that Canadians would no longer accept orders, decorations or medals from foreign governments. This was a symbolic step toward Canadian independence from Britain.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Sir Wilfrid Laurier - "Canada will fill the twentieth century."

Image from Canadian War Museum

Sir Wilfrid Laurier, our first French Canadian Prime Minister, led the Liberal Party and the country between 1896 and 1911.

At the time of Confederation in 1867, Laurier was practicing law in Montreal. He had become interested in politics while studying at McGill Law School.

Laurier was a liberal who was willing to stand up for his tolerant views at a time when it was not easy to do so. In 1866 he began as Editor of Le Defricheur, a liberal publication, and in 1871 he was elected to the Quebec legislature, where he served for three years.

In 1874, he moved to federal politics. He was elected to the House of Commons, and served for a time as Minister of Inland Revenue under Liberal Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie.

When Sir John A. Macdonald and the Conservatives returned to power in 1878, Laurier retained his seat as a Liberal MP. In 1887, after the completion of the CPR and the resolution of the second Northwest Rebellion under Louis Riel, he was chosen to lead the party.

Wilfrid Laurier was a visionary politician whose ideal of independent Canadian nationhood was one of inclusiveness. In 1910, shortly before he was completed his final term in office, he met with native chiefs in Kamloops to hear their concerns about their loss of land and resources in the recently created province of British Columbia (BC joined Confederation in 1871).

According to Secwepemc Cultural Education Society, after hearing the joint statement of several chiefs as read by Father JMR Le Jeune, Laurier promised to help the Indians; however, he was defeated the following year.

He remained in Parliament as Leader of the Opposition all through the First World War. An issue that arose during this time was conscription; on behalf of French Canada, the Laurier Liberals fought against it, but were defeated in 1917 on this issue. The pro-British Anglophones won the day by joining forces to form the Unionist government.

During his fifteen years as PM, Laurier withstood attempted British encroachments on Canadian sovereignty. One such act was creating an independent maritime force for for his country, even as his opponents ridiculed what they referred to as his "tin pot navy."

Using his skill at compromise, Laurier found a permanent solution to the Manitoba Schools question. His government also oversaw the joining of Alberta and Saskatchewan as provinces in the Canadian Federation (1905), the immigration of many new settlers, especially to the west, and further railway building.

When he died in 1919, he was still Opposition leader. He had served the House of Commons for a total of 45 years. Canadians lined the streets in their thousands for his funeral procession to pay their respects to this great Canadian politician.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sir Charles Tupper

Image from Alberta Diary

Briefly the Conservative Prime Minister, Sir Charles Tupper was a medical doctor who trained in Edinburgh and became the first president of the Canadian Medical Association.

He took the reins from Mackenzie Bowell after being passed over twice as party leader, first in favour of Thompson and then of Bowell.

Tupper's mandate lasted only a few months until 1896, when Sir Wilfrid Laurier led the Liberals to victory.

In that election, the Conservatives were swept out amid a series of scandals, as well as the bungle over the Manitoba schools question. Canadian voters wanted a change.

Tupper did enjoy a long political career, however. A native Nova Scotian, he was first elected to the Nova Scotia legislature and later served the federal government as a diplomat as well as in various cabinet posts.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Sir Mackenzie Bowell

Image from Canada info

Sir Mackenzie Bowell was born in England, but emigrated to Canada at the age of nine. He began work as a printer at the Belleville Intelligencer and ended up owning the newspaper.

Before Confederation in 1867, he was an Ensign with the Belleville Rifle Company, and afterwards, he joined the 49th Hastings Battalion, where he achieved the rank of Major. He also held a teaching certificate.

Bowell was an "Orangeman," a member of the Orange Order of British North America; indeed, he held the rank of Grandmaster in this organization.

Sir Mackenzie Bowell was Prime Minister of Canada between 1893 and 1896. He was nearly 71 years old when he took office, and he came to grief over the Manitoba Schools Question, which developed into crisis of considerable proportions.

The province of Manitoba had abolished public funding for Catholic schools in 1890. Subsequently the Supreme Court of Canada overturned this decision, pitting French Catholics against English Protestants, and the government of Manitoba against the federal government.

Bowell was leading the country from the Senate, so could not participate in debates in the Commons, and his cabinet was also divided along Catholic-Protestant lines. A staunch Protestant himself, Bowell supported legislation that would force Manitoba to reinstate funding for Catholic schools; however, his delays and indecisiveness was considered unacceptable by his own ministers, several of whom resigned in order to force him to step down.

Bowell was replaced by Sir Charles Tupper.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sir John Thompson

Image of Sir John David Sparrow Thompson from

Like his predecessor Sir John Abbott, Sir John Sparrow David Thompson presided over a short Liberal-Conservative mandate, from December 1892 to December 1894.

Born in Halifax and trained as a lawyer, he was also a former Premier of Nova Scotia and an experienced federal Minister of Justice when he took the Prime Ministerial post.

During his time in office, Thompson worked established Canada's first Criminal Code. He also dealt with the United States over the Bering Sea sealing dispute and settled disputes over schooling in the North West Territories.

He also officially recognized Labour Day as a national holiday designated the first Monday in September. The City of Winnipeg initiated the celebrations with a parade 2 miles (3 km) long.

Thompson was a believer in women's rights, and strongly favoured giving them the vote, a view he expressed in 1893, over twenty years before women's suffrage finally became a reality.

Unfortunately, Thompson died of a heart attack while still in office. He was at Windsor Castle in London, at the time, and Queen Victoria arranged a requiem mass for him. Canada's first Catholic Prime Minister, he converted after his marriage.

His body was returned to Canada on a ship, painted black to mark the nation's mourning for him.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sir John Abbott, third PM

Sir John Abbott image from The Canadian Encyclopedia

The third man to serve as Canadian Prime Minister, Sir John Joseph Caldwell Abbott, was born in Lower Canada (now Quebec) and died in Montreal.

After being called to the bar in 1847, he embarked on a teaching career at McGill, his alma mater, first as a law professor and then as dean of the law school there.

He was involved in politics, both as proponent and opponent of The Annexation Manifesto. This was published in the Montreal Gazette in 1849; its signatories favoured joining the Canadas with the United States. 

Abbott sat in the legislative assembly and in the House of Commons for many years, both before and after Confederation (1867). Experienced as Solicitor general, mayor of Montreal, and government leader of the Senate, he took over from Sir John A. Macdonald as Prime Minister in 1891.

Abbott remained in the post only until the following year, when a new government was formed under Sir John SD Thompson.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Alexander Mackenzie, Canada's second PM

Image from Collections Canada

From 1873 to 1878, the Liberal Party governed Canada for the first time, under the leadership of Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie.

During his years in office, he oversaw the inception of the Royal Military College in Kingston, the Office of the Attorney General and the Supreme Court of Canada. His government also instituted voting by secret ballot in 1874.

Like Macdonald who led the country before him, Mackenzie was born in Scotland. He arrived in Canada at the age of twenty, in 1842.

Before entering Parliament, Mackenzie edited a newspaper in Lambton, Ontario, a town that he later represented as an MLA. He served at one time as the Minister of Public Works and remained the Leader of the Opposition for two years after his party was defeated in 1878.

In 1992, he died in Toronto and was buried near Sarnia, Ontario.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Canada's first PM, Sir John A. Macdonald

Image of Sir John A. Macdonald from Canada History.

A classic picture of the Fathers of Confederation, presided over by Scottish- born Sir John A. Macdonald, hangs above the fireplace in the Confederation Lounge in the Macdonald Hotel in Edmonton. This castle-like structure, set on the very edge of MacDougal Hill, overlooks the river valley and dates back to the era of the great Railway hotels.

Wall space being limited by wainscoting, high windows, and design, this huge painting, redolent of the past, hangs well above eye level. Though in a sense it dominates the room, one must make an effort to look up and see it.

The original painting was commissioned in 1883, and hung in the Parliament Buildings in 1884. The artist, Robert Harris represented the secretary and the 33 "fathers" of the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences that had led up to the creation of Canada in 1867.

In 1916, this painting was destroyed when the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings caught fire. Harris was asked to reproduce his work, but felt he was too old to do so.

In 1964, the Fathers of Confederation painting was replicated by Canadian artist Rex Woods as part of the Centennial celebrations. In 1969 the completed work was unveiled and placed in the Railway Committee Room. Later it was put on permanent display in the Centre Block.

Sir John Eh, as some Canadians fondly call him, also smiles faintly at us -- at least those of us who still use cash -- from the $10 bill. His face may be familiar, but his story and character are less well-known. The By George Journal casts some light on his political life, views and vision.

Under the National Policy of his Conservative government, the CPR, the Canadian Pacific Railway, was completed and new provinces joined the Canadian union.

In sharp contrast to his political achievements, Macdonald's life personal life was filled with tragedy; he lost his wife to a slow illness and a young son as well, and his daughter was born with a swelling of the brain caused by hydrocephalus. Macdonald himself was reputed to be a heavy drinker.

In 1911, the National Post ran a story about the proposed demolition of his birthplace in the Merchant City district in Glasgow, Scotland. The last building to stand in the way as the city prepared to re-develop the area for shopping, the building where Sir John was probably, but not certainly born, was most recently a pub, the Fox and Hounds.