True North strong and free, flaws and all

Appeared in the North Shore News – June 30, 2016

Canada – we’re No. 1! In telecom charges! In bloated credit card interest! In stockbrokerages’ fat fees! In being passed over for NHL franchises by that little New York fink Gary Bettman!

Outstanding Canadian man of letters Robertson Davies mused that one is allowed to believe something that one doesn’t believe 24 hours a day.

So today I scorn the usual nauseous self-congratulation that sticks to the national holiday. Twenty-three hours from now I may believe that Canada is indeed the greatest, but at this hour I’m willing to believe that the title of “the greatest” lies safely in the bosom of Muhammad Ali.

Or, as I mutter in jaded moments: If it’s the greatest country, think of the rest.

How about crime and punishment? Our criminal justice system strikes terror in the hearts of the law-abiding.

Put aside that the court wheels habitually grind slower than a con artist repays his victims (if ever, and so much for restitution, which ought to be the heart of all punishment). It defines official insanity, or at least confusion: The prison doors swing open to release a times-up menace into a community, accompanied by media warnings that this dangerous creep, name provided, is on the loose.

That traduces plain sense and the safety of the innocent. And, paradox here, simultaneously the noble (or naïve, the two often cohabiting) principle that the convict has paid his debt to society. New start. Clean sheet. But if blotted again – more employment for the system.

It must agonizingly trouble judges who release children into the custody of a parent – often, in this country, on preferential racial grounds, and on another angry day I’ll lecture on the state-sponsored racism that distorts the Canadian polity – only to have the child physically or sexual abused, or starved, or killed. But judges, counsellors, parole boards are spared personal legal responsibility. To err is human, to forgive is unnecessary.

And here’s my if-I-were-king moment: I’d restore capital punishment.

Horrors, barbaric! But not of the usual suspects, like low-IQ persons committing boringly unimaginative murders. No, for the seven-piece-suit psychopaths who repeatedly rip off the vulnerable with Ponzi schemes, Internet scams (how mixed a blessing are the Internet and “social media”!), and – wait for it – big-time offshore tax evaders sucking wealth from honest people and their fairly honest governments. Like the scoundrel who, as a judge ruled in a recent typical case, essentially was arguing that he ought not pay taxes in his own country, ought not pay them in the haven abroad – ought not pay taxes at all.

Very well, here’s my squishy liberal alternative to a good hanging: A free pass from the gibbet for a first offence. Second offence: Life-means-life imprisonment.

It’s scandalous that our courts are light on so-called white-collar crime. With the usual one-third sentence reduction for convicts who don’t belch too loudly and clean their teeth twice a day, these smooth thugs can be philosophical about being caught stealing millions from widows and orphans – three or four years in the crowbar motel is a small price to pay when their ill-gotten gains are squirreled away in offshore holes the police couldn’t find, even if asked.

That’s why life imprisonment would teach a profound lesson; as Voltaire drily said in his mid-18th century visit to England, the English execute an admiral from time to time “pour encourager les autres” –  to encourage the others. Ah, but of course the Supremes would rule a life sentence was charter-offending cruel and unusual punishment.

Which can only raise highly unfashionable questions about both the charter’s connection with reality, and whether the “ordinary Canadian” believes that, given prison amenities, libraries, balanced diet, health care, exercise, and protection from unwelcome gang vengeance, to say nothing of the flattering attentions of psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors, and academics studying the system, there is, in Canada in this year of blessed enlightenment 2016, any genuine punishment at all.

• • •

And if you hear noble orations today on how, notwithstanding its imperfections (all to be extinguished by our present prime minister, followed by a victory walk on the Gatineau River), Canadians live in not only a beautiful, progressive, socially enlightened country, but a prosperous one, note this:

An Ipsos Reid survey in January suggested that nearly half of those surveyed are within $200 a month of being unable to pay their bills and to defray their debt. About a quarter were already unable to meet their bills and debt payments.

O Canada! The Canada we the privileged hear little about.

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

A Canada Day ode to the worth of working-class sensibilities

Appeared in Business in Vancouver – July 2, 2013

It may seem an eccentricity to link Canada Day with my four daughters-in-law. But read on.

First, I reel backwards to a course I took last year at UBC: Canadian history since 1945. Of course, born 1934, I was the only one in the room who lived through this entire period – and with some experience as a hack newspaperman and brief government consultant in encountering events and prominent players of the day.

Which didn’t delude me that I would ace the course. I was there to learn.

First-hand experience is tricky: many lived through the fall of the Roman Empire without realizing it had fallen.

I strongly emphasize that what follows in no way impugns the excellent, thoughtful lectures of our professor, Linda Quiney (very kindly concerned when I missed classes for cataract operations, possibly the only such student excuse in her career). Her expertise was the 1919 Paris peace talks and women’s studies, and I suspect she inherited the course holus-bolus. Including the textbook.

This tome – Our Lives: Canada Since 1945, by Alvin Finkel – was a caricature of fair, balanced history. Finkel’s “Who’s Who” entry tells much: born 1949, North Winnipeg, “Activist, NDP,” teaches at Athabaska University – an online institution you quite possibly never heard of.

Weirdly, Finkel interrupts the narrative – which largely pits a bigoted Canada against the grand enlightenment of his own 1960s-’70s-shaped generation – with a memoir of his semi-deprived childhood.

The “Red Scare” (always in quotation marks among leftists) in this course was implicitly a fiction got up by the reactionaries. He all but spits on private enterprise or anything “conservative.”

In a May 2012 Postmedia story on Alberta’s blue-collar workers, citing the average wage of oil and gas workers of $2,220 a week, Prof. Finkel is quoted: “They kind of get you by the nuts at 18. … They own your soul. … You go and buy all these man-toys and buy yourself a little cabin as well, and the banks own you.”

Ah, nothing’s too good for the workers – earning $115,000 a year – under capitalist “exploitation.”

Why note this? Because the course – oddly, the time-frame ended in 1990, 23 years ago, before most students were born – was perhaps the only exposure to our immediate post-war story that many would encounter.

I got top marks for some papers, but what I consider a poor final grade. But I cherish an essay that cited many home truths and scorned Finkel-style leftist twaddle. It got a lousy 62. And it is the proudest I’ve ever written.

Here’s irony. This course truly helped. It aroused my slumbering patriotism. Since 1945, millions of so-called ordinary Canadian families’ fortunes, health and material comforts have soared. Canadians educated to Grade 8 lived to see their grandchildren receive degrees. Jimmy Pattison could be the poster child of many East Vancouverites – and also his top executive, former NDP premier Glen Clark – who hugely prospered in many fields, including (immigrants notably) philanthropy.

Now back to my four daughters-in-law. All have PhDs. And not from Southwest Alabama A&M, or Jacaranda U. in the Much Lesser Antilles. One Wisconsin plus Harvard Medical School. One Harvard (American-born, but long in Canada). One University of Toronto.

L., the fourth, is special. Her shy immigrant Chinese parents speak halting English. She vaulted through UBC to PhD Stanford. In one generation. In Canada. This is a nation’s real history – people history. And I stress: in detail rarer, but not unlike the prospering of many Canadians.

Canada’s warts? Next time. Today is for love and appreciation from a firmly working-class Canadian.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013

Canada increasingly a pushover for China’s economic imperialism

Appeared in Business in Vancouver – January 8, 2013

Today Canada is eagerly kissing neo-imperialist China’s backside, its face clearly revealed by the still-ubiquitous public posters of mass murderer and towering economic bungler Mao Zedong


No, the following rant wasn’t fuelled by a weekend of intense liquid partying, a warm-up for New Year’s. It comes straight from a gnarled, bitter heart.

At a moment of national despair years ago I recorded in one of my private notebooks, kept since 1960 (sure to be of posthumous historical importance): “I hate being Canadian, and I could never be anything else.”

Today I furiously revisit that sentiment. Canada has spent half a millennium under colonialism – French, British, American economic variety. Today Canada is eagerly kissing neo-imperialist China’s backside, its face clearly revealed by the still-ubiquitous public posters of mass murderer and towering economic bungler Mao Zedong.

A generation after the Soviet Union’s evil empire collapsed, China remains a Communist – and dangerous – dictatorship. It beats and jails its internal critics remorselessly. Its well-documented industrial espionage in North America, and its currency manipulation that facilitates purchase of Western bonds and companies, are outrageous.

Nobody’s outraged.

Stephen Harper approved the purchase of Nexen by the China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), this anti-democratic rogue state’s consortium of national oil companies.

Backed by detailed analysis of its legal and constitutional implications, Brian Seaman, researcher with the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Association, baldly states that the agreement “trades away our rights and laws” (“New Canada-China trade deal is bad for Canada” – Business in Vancouver issue 1210; January 1-7).

He speculates that if CNOOC became a lead partner or investor in a pipeline project, it could trump the objections of the B.C. government, First Nations, environmentalists and anyone else.

Hear this: Writing in the Financial Post, Wenran Jiang, University of Alberta political scientist and director of the Canada-China Energy & Environment Forum, which met recently in Beijing, dismisses the deal as minuscule in the global economic picture – then concedes it’s “the largest Chinese overseas takeover by far.”

Hear more: “Canada is not the only game … there are many places where the speed of projects is much more efficient and the returns much more profitable than the Canadian market.”

If this silken threat is too subtle for the crude Canadian intellect, Jiang closes with sharper proxy bullying on behalf of the Middle Kingdom: “In other words, we will be fooling ourselves if we think Canada is the only dinner party in town and that the Chinese would stick around with only an appetizer’s tasting after we have invited them to buy a full dinner ticket.”

Substitute an American corporation’s advocate talkin’. Canada’s U.S.-hating leftists and adenoidal nationalists would go crazy. Yet Canada, like other Western democracies, is kowtowing to Chinese economic imperialism without a peep.

Just a “cheap-cheap” – as our amoral businesses and consumers eagerly sacrifice Canadian manufactures and industrial workers for sweated -labour Chinese goods, impossible to avoid and even less to compete with.

More grotesque is China’s HD company – supposedly a consortium of “private” companies, but no company in Central Committee-controlled China is private in any Western sense – buying B.C. mining properties and getting a permit to import Chinese workers to staff it, over angry union objections.

Canada is partly the author of its own misfortunes.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney cites devastating figures: In the next decade Canada will have a shortage of 10,000 skilled workers, 163,000 construction workers and 130,000 oil workers.

We native-born Canadians don’t like dirtying our hands (mea culpa, why do you think I chose this work?). We prefer soft university arts courses to strongly job-oriented schools like BCIT.

© Trevor Lautens, 2013