Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Treasonous Loyalty: Benjamin Franklin, the Intolerable Acts, and the National Debt by Pearson Moore

He is inventor, diplomat, statesman, author. Skilled in the craft of negotiation, unequalled in the art of courtship and love. If we understand any of the founding fathers, surely we know him—his temperament, his beliefs, his motivations—better than any of the men whose vision, resolve, and oratory united colonists of disparate purpose into a single mind. Yet, in flagrant challenge to our long-held beliefs, the greatest of the architects of rebellion considered himself first of all an Englishman. Deeper, bewildering shocks await as we peer into this man’s life, accomplishments, and failures.

Following through history the cascade of events he set in motion late in the summer of 1774, we are not surprised to hear the shot heard ‘round the world on April 19, 1775, nor see with our own eyes the unanimous declaration he and his congressional colleagues signed a year later, during the hot summer days of July, 1776. Perhaps, though, we are not only surprised, but shocked, to learn that this printer from Philadelphia—this Englishman—was almost single-handedly responsible for a greater number of American deaths and a deeper obligation of debt than any single person prior to the 1980s. In fact, it is specifically because of the engrained Englishness of him that the American Revolution did not end in the spring of 1777, but instead engulfed the new United States, four European countries, and seven North American First Nations in a war that dragged on for eight and a half years, and became the inexorable trajectory that led to the French Revolution six years later, the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, and the debt crisis of the early 21st century. It is because Benjamin Franklin embodied an oxymoron—because of his treasonous loyalty—that French, not American English, to this very day is spoken in Montréal, Sherbrooke, and Québec, and the Stars and Stripes flies neither in Vancouver nor in Toronto.

The Englishman

The famous woodcut above does not represent a newly-patriotic Benjamin Franklin calling for united resistance to British overlords during the Revolutionary War, but rather a much younger Franklin’s appeal to fellow Englishmen to gather behind an earlier, but no less urgent, common cause. Franklin’s stirring call to arms was not issued in 1775, nor even in the Stamp Act days of 1765. Franklin created the woodcut in the early spring of 1754 (the version above was embellished by Samuel Kneeland of the Boston Gazette and published in May of that year) not in response to British tyranny, but in reply to French attempts to secure the continent. The tone of Franklin’s oratory and written discourse was strongly in keeping with Kneeland’s sentiment, expressed by the scroll emanating from the snake’s open mouth: Unite and Conquer. Unite against Canada, and conquer the French.

Franklin spoke of Frenchmen as representing a race distinct and inferior from the civilized humanity found only among gentlemen obedient to the British monarch. The French had strange laws and customs, the unnatural and subordinate nature of which was proven by French Canadians’ perverse ability to bring an entire continent of savages to their cause, which Franklin understood to be the removal of English colonies from what was otherwise a continent owned entirely by France. Franklin’s way of looking at the long conflict in the 1750s has carried through to modern times, though we no longer think of the French as members of a distinct “race,” and we are not as likely to refer to Native Americans as “savages.” Nevertheless, our interpretation of the events of that time is distinctly American, as indicated by the name we apply to the conflict. While historians in Europe and Canada know the battles of 1750s North America as The Seven Years’ War, American historians refer to the conflict as “The French and Indian Wars.”

Franklin’s energy and passion in rallying opposition to the French was no sideline in a life otherwise devoted to scientific investigation. His early immersion in science was not the sign of any infatuation with disembodied objectivity, but indication of a deeper sense of social propriety. Political and social intercourse in his mind were paramount to the fullest expression of humanity. He believed in the widest possible expression of arts and sciences, as long as creativity and industry were tempered by the greater call to civility and cohesive society. France, to Franklin, was an impediment both to human freedom and to proper social order.

Social health could only be achieved in a milieu which rewarded those who lived life according to natural laws. English customs were superior to all others in this regard, since rewards were not only possible, but could be expected to accrue to those who led virtuous lives. No such rewards were possible under French custom and law, in Franklin’s mind. In the colonies, and in England, there were gentlemen and commoners. In France, on the other hand, there were peasants and nobles. Franklin had started life a commoner, and in fact, one of the last of seventeen children born to a soap maker, he was not expected to have any impact on society. But Franklin early on recognized the immutable underpinnings of English culture, and applied himself in earnest to the task of rising from the anonymous ranks of common men to become a respected and even revered English gentleman. He knew instinctively that such a rise in social standing would never have been possible had he been born into the highly stratified and stagnant French socio-political system, and he came to despise French custom as destructive of the human spirit. Once a peasant, always a peasant, always under the crushing thumb of hereditary nobility. In the freedom-loving British Empire, on the other hand, social position was a matter of individual initiative.

The French and their corrupt, degrading society engulfed the North American continent. Franklin found this reality stifling, threatening, and entirely unacceptable. To the north of the Great Lakes and west of the Appalachian Mountains, Québec and her Indian allies controlled every river, hill, and valley. Further west and to the south, Louisiana controlled the continent as far inland as it had been explored.

Franklin rose quickly in the political world. Starting as a Philadelphia councilman in 1748, by 1751, largely as a result of his anti-French writings, he was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly. He was one of the most ardent supporters of colonial action against the French, and became the most vocal architect and champion of the goals of the Albany Congress in 1754, to which he led Pennsylvania’s delegation. When the Albany Plan of 1754 failed to gain colonial approval, he refused to accept the will of the people, and considered other options. Early in 1756, he rallied Pennsylvania residents and personally raised and supported a militia (“The Associated Regiment of Philadelphia”) to fight the French.

It was in this context that Franklin left for the Motherland in the mid-1760s. He had already been to England a few times to petition for various legal remedies to colonial concerns, but this time he stayed for several years. He became so oblivious to problems back in the colonies that upon passage of the hated Stamp Act, he nominated a friend to serve as administrator of the program in Pennsylvania. His acquiescence to arbitrary British taxation made him a sudden enemy among the common people of his colony. He had to work for several years to convince his fellow colonists that he was not indifferent to the plight of the politically disenfranchised citizens of Pennyslvania. During this period, Franklin’s disposition toward the colonies is not entirely clear. One truth that is easily discerned, though, is Dr. Franklin’s attitude toward England: He loved his new home, and more than anything else, he enjoyed living the life of an English gentleman.

The Intolerable Acts

Depending on the historian one consults, the Stamp Act is considered either the second of the Intolerable Acts (the Sugar Act being the first) or a hated precursor to the truly intolerable legislation passed in direct response to the Boston Tea Party of 1773. The Boston Port Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, the Administration of Justice Act, and the Quartering Act were Parliament’s response to the uncivilized rabble-rousers who took their orders from Samuel Adams and twenty-eight-year-old Benjamin Rush. Franklin was by this time writing and speaking out against the oppression of the colonies by Parliament, but he was quite clear in his contention that the value of the tea had to be reimbursed. He continued to see himself as a gentlemanly representative of clear thinking and reasoned discourse who might be employed in diplomatic capacities to bridge misunderstandings between Parliament, the Royal Court, and the colonies. He had been serving in such a capacity for the better part of twenty years, having spent nearly half of that time living in England. He must have felt there was no reason he could not continue to serve as valued intermediary, even as Adams and his fellow conspirators began stockpiling arms for what they believed was an inevitable confrontation.
The four acts of Parliament directed squarely at Boston—the epicenter of the American rebellion—are collectively referred to as the Coercive Acts. They are known by this title to historians in both the US and the UK, and there is no question in any accepted history regarding their nature as instruments of political and legal coercion.

The broader appellation of “Intolerable” is applied to these acts, but many historians include in this designation the final parliamentary act of June, 1774: The Quebec Act. When Franklin learned of the act, he did not argue that the British Parliament had simply misunderstood conditions on the North American continent. He did not, as he did in the case of the Boston Tea Party, insist that anyone in Québec who had suffered injustice at colonial hands be reimbursed. Any inclination he might have had toward diplomacy, reconciliation with Britain, or resignation to parliamentary fiat evaporated as soon as he received word of the abominable law.

The Quebec Act granted citizens of the newly-conquered territory (won on the Plains of Abraham in September, 1759, and codified into law by the Treaty of Paris, 1763) extraordinary rights not even extended to the English-speaking colonists. The people of Québec were allowed to speak, write, and conduct all business, whether personal, public, or official, in the French language. French Canadians were allowed to retain their Roman Catholic faith and serve in His Majesty’s government. Worst of all, the Act reinstated the French system of laws. With a single act of Parliament, French language, culture, religion, and law were made legal and permanent fixtures within the confines of British North America.

“Intolerable” was probably the only word Franklin could use in polite company to describe his feelings about this bill. French culture meant doing business with and inciting to crime the native savages who stood ready to scalp children, rape women, and kill men. French law meant any legal act that could be considered an affront to civilized Englishmen. Franklin must have wondered if the members of Parliament had all lost their minds. Perhaps if he had grown up in another colony—a colony much closer to England—he might have understood.

The primary architect of the legislation was not a member of Parliament, but the Governor General of Canada, Sir Guy Carleton (made First Baron Dorchester in 1786, despite losing the colonies in the 1775-1783 rebellion). Governor Carleton added his voice to that of the former Governor of Canada, James Murray, in calling for the institution of rights peculiar to French Canada. Carleton was not English, but Irish, having been born in Strabane in 1724. This fact is critical, because it explains Carleton’s passionate drive for Canadian rights. Only thirty years before Carleton’s birth, Britain enacted the Ascendancy Laws, essentially making Roman Catholicism a crime in Ireland and rendering adherents to the Roman faith something less than second-class citizens. Carleton saw first-hand, every day, the demoralizing and violent repercussions emanating from Parliament’s inhumane treatment of his friends, relatives, and fellow Irish countrymen. Though he made no public statements to the effect, he must have been entirely resolved to preventing this type of administrative abuse. As Governor General of Canada, he enjoyed perfect placement for shaping of legislation favorable to the Roman Catholics living under his control. With conditions in and around Boston deteriorating by the week, it must have seemed entirely prudent to Parliament to take any steps necessary to prevent a continent-wide insurrection.

They could not have known that in so doing, they had alienated from their cause their most ardent supporter: Philadelphia’s most famous Englishman, Benjamin Franklin. More English than Thou, Franklin could never accept Parliament’s proclamation that French-speaking thieves, criminals, and drunkards were to be granted social standing equal to his own. His unswerving loyalty to England—or rather, to his understanding of England—caused him to join the cause to throw off the yoke of the motherland. In the summer of 1774, after reading the law Guy Carleton had fashioned and pushed through Parliament, Benjamin Franklin became the most determined foe of all things British. His loyalty led to his treason.

The National Debt

The shots fired at Lexington and Concord (for those of you enamored of my fellow Minnesotan, Michelle Bachman, Lexington and Concord were towns in Massachusetts, not New Hampshire!) must have seemed a blessing to Franklin. As soon as the Continental Congress received the reports, Franklin went into action. He knew Great Britain had virtually inexhaustible resources. The French were non-committal to the patriots’ cause, probably because they realized the situation was essentially hopeless. There was yet one way to even the field of battle: Take every port in North America away from the British. If the British had no port, they could land neither soldiers nor matériel; they would lose the war in a short matter of months.

The goal was not unreasonable. In fact, Franklin realized it was a practical, achievable objective. All the Patriots had to do, he realized, was to control Québec. If they could rally Canadians to the patriot cause, England would have no friendly ports in North America, and the United Colonies would be able to dictate any terms they wished.

It must have seemed a stroke of genius. The Continental Congress commissioned the publication and distribution of thousands of French-language pamphlets throughout the Province of Québec. It was a propaganda drive unparalleled in history, with dozens of French-speaking spies sent north to spread news of the Patriot cause and the tremendous benefits to be enjoyed by those who supported the revolution.

The early results were stunning. Montréal fell without a fight. When General Montgomery entered the city, he was welcomed as a conquering hero, even though his men had fired not a single musket. The pamphlets and spies had done their work very well indeed. There is quite a rich field for storytelling here, as one might imagine. My second novel, Intolerable Loyalty, follows the intrigues of one such spy, sent by Samuel Adams to turn Canada. I hope to publish Intolerable Loyalty later this year.

The spies were not able to sustain their early success. By the time General Montgomery and Colonel Benedict Arnold (his treason was five years in the future) converged on Québec City, resistance was stiff, from both British Regulars and from ordinary French Canadian citizens. Within weeks of the Battle of Québec (December 31, 1775), French Canadians had formed citizen militias to battle the Americans.
The failure was not military in nature. The Patriots could have sent ten times as many soldiers, they could have sent every weapon owned by anyone in the thirteen colonies—they still would have lost. Why?

The problem rested with the architect of the strategy. Benjamin Franklin had demonstrated nothing but contempt for the French, and especially for French Canadians, for more than a quarter of a century. His writings on Canada and the Ohio Territories were widely read, and his views on French language, culture, and law were well understood. When the Patriots invaded, they brought Franklin’s view of French inferiority with them.

Benjamin Franklin made one final, desperate attempt in May, 1776. While his colleagues in the Continental Congress were debating the question of independence, Franklin was in Montréal, sitting across the table from Roman Catholic bishops and leaders of Canadian industry and the French Canadian resistance. His words were eloquent, his manner was charming, but he was perceived as insincere. If Franklin had been able to convince the Canadians of his sincerity, rather than proposing legislation in Congress to ban the French language and then saying weeks later in Montréal how much he adored spoken French, the Patriots might have enjoyed some leverage. As it was, the British had granted rights and privileges not even bestowed upon the English-speaking colonists. “We have no quarrel with His Majesty’s government,” the bishops and business leaders told Franklin. By the end of May, 1776, Canadian militias and British Regulars had chased every Patriot soldier and diplomat out of the province.

The war went on for nearly ten years. It was not cheap. People like Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and several of the founding fathers spent the better part of the war traveling around Europe, begging for money to continue the revolution. Massive debt was taken on. Even by the end of the “Second War of Independence” in 1815, the debt from the Revolutionary War had not been paid off. European benefactors eventually received payment in full, but new debt replaced the old. By the end of the Civil War in 1865, the country faced a debt so large as to defy payment. If the nation had been a corporation, it would have faced dissolution or bankruptcy. The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, passed three years after the end of the Civil War, addressed the problem of debt: “The validity of the public debt of the United States... shall not be questioned.” Certainly the Civil War would have put the country into debt, regardless of the length of the Revolutionary War. But if the War of Independence had lasted two years, not eight and a half, the debt would have been miniscule rather than overpowering. The debt, of course, has never been paid down. The legacy of debt we have struggled with for over two hundred years has its origin in the ineffectual diplomacy of Benjamin Franklin.
Thanks to Franklin, French Canadians were never converted to the American cause. Years later, in 1812, Thomas Jefferson committed the same error of judgment that had doomed Franklin’s Canada initiative. The subjugation of Canada, Jefferson wrote in 1812, was “a mere matter of marching.” The United States, ten times larger and possessing military might a hundred times greater than that of Canada, could simply walk in and take the British province. But in 1812, as in 1776, Canada repulsed the invaders. Canadians do not see the world as Americans do, and certainly not as Benjamin Franklin saw the world. The Quiet Revolution of the 1960s would never have occurred if French Canada had succumbed to diplomats more sincere than Franklin, because Montréal and Québec would not be part of Canada, they would be English-speaking states in the United States of America.

New Light On Old History

To a student of history, nothing about historical research is boring. Every primary text comes to life in our hands, because we have studied the rich, nuanced, unbelievably complex circumstances of its creation. We are always discovering valid, intriguing ways of shedding new light, new interpretations on worn and accepted ideas.

I hope you found this re-examination of Benjamin Franklin both troubling and challenging. If you found yourself shocked, confused, or angry over these words, I succeeded in my objective, which was to coerce you into thinking new thoughts about some old ideas. In the end, I do not believe Benjamin Franklin was a failure, or the locus of sufferings felt into the 21st century. As with anyone of his time, he enjoyed both successes and failures, and he certainly caused some degree of suffering, personally, socially, and militarily, but such is the legacy of even the most successful and admired of political leaders. Franklin was a leader among leaders, a rare man whose talent in dozens of fields outshines some of the best to have achieved in any one of the areas he mastered. But I see my task as an historian, and especially as a novelist, to look at history with a fresh eye, and to relay that history to you, my readers, with the greatest passion I can bring to my words. Thank you for accompanying me on this journey into the life and times—and passion—of the greatest of the founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin.

Pearson Moore
September 13, 2011

Pearson is the author of Cartier’s Ring, an action-adventure historical novel telling the story of first contact from a Native American point of view.

Cartier's Ring, ebook edition: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004VMTS7E/
Cartier's Ring, paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Cartiers-Ring-Canada-Pearson-Moore/dp/1463575777/

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Abdicating the Arctic

Tomorrow, the Arctic Council, comprised of Russia, Canada, the United States, Norway, Denmark, and three other countries bordering the arctic, will sign a treaty assigning search and rescue responsibilities in the high arctic. While the Council has said the practical S&R boundaries should not be interpreted as legal borders for other purposes, Canada should move quickly to avoid the impression that it is abdicating responsibility for the arctic.

As Paul Koring noted in his article in this morning’s Globe and Mail, the Council “explicitly accepted that the search-and-rescue boundaries won’t be used as precedents in the tangle of unresolved boundary disputes and overlapping claims in the resource-rich top of the world.” The problem for Canada lies in the final six words of that statement: resource-rich top of the world. Inevitably, disputes regarding resource ownership, recovery rights, and clean-up responsibilities will arise. Some tangible set of conditions will have to be used to set precedent for ownership, rights, and responsibilities, and it is in this regard that the present treaty is fraught with dangers for Canada.

Canada has been assigned an approximate 80-degree section of the 360-degree arctic region. Over forty percent of the arctic is given to Russia, with smaller pieces of the pie-shaped area going to the United States, Norway, and Denmark.

Since the search and rescue boundaries are practical in nature, they should be understood as fluid. If Canada, due to superior search and rescue capabilities, is able to assist with the rescue of sailors from a ship sinking in U. S.-controlled waters, the United States will be unlikely to turn down the offer of assistance. Such superior abilities could be used in future negotiations to argue for an enhanced Canadian presence in the arctic, and perhaps even an expansion of Canadian boundaries in future disputes over resources.

The problem is that Canada is ill-prepared for S&R work in the arctic compared to other nations. Norway, which already has a strong arctic presence in its oil drilling operations, has developed formidable resources for efficient work in the arctic. Russia has long possessed significant cold-water capabilities. Canada, according to Mr. Koring’s article, “has no dedicated search-and-rescue assets based north of the Arctic Circle...The nearest dedicated search-and-rescue aircraft are four 40-year-old Twin Otter utility aircraft based in Yellowknife.” It is not difficult to envision scenarios in which Norway and the United States will be best equipped for S&R operations in territories for which Canada is now responsible. With capabilities entirely inadequate to upholding of Canadian responsibilities, countries wishing to exploit arctic resources should have little difficulty in prevailing over weaker Canadian interests, presence, and abilities in the arctic.

I hope that Canada is not willing to so easily cede resource ownership and development rights. If the Harper government wishes to continue ignoring the high arctic, we should anticipate a high potential for consequences far more serious than simple loss of revenue to oil, minerals, and other resources. The larger concern is the health of the arctic itself, and it is here that we can find significant precedent that ought to raise our level of concern.

In April, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded. For three months the open well spewed over eight million litres (53,000 barrels) of oil per day into the gulf. Some five million barrels (800 million litres) of oil were released into the ocean before the well was finally capped. The major problem in the capping effort was the inadequacy of the blowout preventer mechanisms installed in the cap, including severe design flaws that prevented the blowout preventer from working as specified. Only a few short months after the well was capped, the United States government approved the resumption of drilling in the gulf. Unbelievably, no blowout preventer design changes were required. Oil companies that wish to drill are allowed to use the same inadequate technology that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

We should anticipate that the United States, with its long-established contempt for environmental health, will have no more concern for the consequences of arctic drilling than it has consistently demonstrated in warmer waters. While this may pose only short-term consequences in tropical regions, a laissez-faire attitude toward pollution in the arctic is likely to prove deadly, and costly not just to Canada, but to the entire world.

Few species of flora and fauna are found in frigid arctic waters. Oil-consuming bacteria thrive in warm tropical water, but they find the cold water close to the pole a bit too hostile. If oil spills in the arctic, it is likely to remain there for a long, long time, causing severe, long-term damage in a fragile environment. Since the arctic region has effects on weather, plant and animal life, and many other natural phenomena far out of proportion to its size, the effects of arctic fouling are likely to have severe repercussions throughout the world, and especially for countries bordering the arctic.

It is time for Canada to beef up its arctic presence. We cannot allow irresponsible countries, like Russia and the United States, to pollute the arctic at Canadian expense, to the detriment of the entire world.

May 11, 2011

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Orange Crush, Blue Balls, Red Retreat

Margaret Wente is insightful as ever this morning. While I don’t know that I agree with her overall assessment, I find it difficult to quibble with most of her points. If you enjoy good political analysis, give this morning’s column a spin: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/opinion/heres-why-stephen-harper-really-won/article2010333/

While she does not dismiss outright the notion that Harper’s pre-campaign attack ads played a prominent role in Ignatieff’s demise, she points to several other factors that proved useful to the Tories’ success. As biting and well-informed as her analysis is, I believe it falls short, and I will tell you why.

She correctly cites several examples of the Grits’ unwillingness to engage in the hard work of base-building, especially among minority constituencies. No one among the Liberals, she said, had the stamina to go out and drink 15,000 cups of tea. The muted and impotent Liberal appeals to minority ridings and groups was seen as insincere. Liberals gave up on ridings and ideas that had been their strong suit many years ago. I think she is spot on here, especially since her words are mirrored by a party insider, Robert Silver, who also presented a sterling analysis of Liberal deficiencies in the last election: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/second-reading/silver-powers/the-liberal-party-what-went-wrong-and-where-to-next/article2008011/

Ms. Wente invokes the obvious, that the Cowtown Wrangler was able to assemble a two-pronged political alliance centred in his stronghold of southern Alberta, but with a now entrenched eastern hub centred in central and southern Ontario. So strong is this continent-spanning coalition of political diversity finding room under the very generous Tory umbrella, Harper’s Posse was able to cede Québec and still manage a comfortable win.

The question for the political analyst, though, is WHY, and it is in this regard that both Ms. Wente and Mr. Silver fall short. I think Douglas Bell comes closest to nailing the analysis. He cites a simple, powerful, 60-second clip from The West Wing as the underlying reason for the destruction of the party of Laurier, Pearson, and Trudeau: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/second-reading/douglas-bell/sage-advice-for-the-liberal-party-of-canada/article2009051/

Here’s the Youtube citation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCSMyFWTjRc

I agree with the assessment of Bruno Gianelli (portrayed by actor Ron Silver, no relation to Robert Silver), and I believe it comes closest to explaining the reason for the diverse failures catalogued in both the Wente and Silver analyses. Democrats in the United States long ago caved into the notion that the L word was so damaging to political aspirations that it could never be invoked. Traditional liberal concerns—care for the poor, the elderly, the disadvantaged, the sick—had to be abandoned because Americans would not stomach the financial obligations imposed by these social responsibilities. The problem is that Trudeau’s Just Society does not work without an emphasis on providing for the dignity of all people as essential precursor to the establishment of rights for all Canadians. I believe it is the LPC’s abandonment of traditional liberal principles, more than anything else, that has left the party in ruins, and will inevitably lead to the complete disintegration of the party.

The young Mr. Trudeau of Papineau, who will almost certainly become the party’s leading voice, and probably also its formal leader, has his work cut out for him. If he wishes to breathe life back into this fearful, quivering mass, he’s going to have to demonstrate backbone. Trudeaumania did not begin with the playboy and his convertible. It began with the man of political integrity and doctrinal authenticity, who had no fear of standing up to the political titans of his day. The LPC will gain back its voice only when it decides that Liberal is not a dirty word, and that the Just Society is not only something achievable, but that it is, in fact, the stuff upon which Canada is properly founded.

May 5, 2011

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Vote. Vote because it matters. Because when you do, Canada changes for the better. This time, every vote counts, every vote is a mandate for a stronger Canada, for a brighter future. Because Canada is more than it could ever be under Harper. Vote because voting is change. Vote.

Vote. Vote not because it is your right, but because it is your duty. Because a country can reflect goodness and honesty only when good and honest people participate in its governance. Now is not the time to assert rights, but to embrace responsibility, for it is through the common good that each receives her just reward. Vote not for your sake, but for your country’s sake. Vote.

Votez. Votez parce que le Québec est le coeur et l'âme du Canada. Parce que le coeur et l'âme doivent être libre. Le meilleur du passé et de ce que nous sommes est ce que les femmes et les hommes libres donnent en héritage à leurs enfants. Votez parce que le Canada chérit son héritage de liberté. Votez.

Vote. Vote because you feel the energy around you. Because change and excitement and wonder are in the air. This time, it is real. The New Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, and the Green Party have always stood for what is best in each of us, and what is best in Canada. This time your vote counts. Because orange and red and green are the most beautiful colours of the Canadian mosaic. Vote because in so doing, you express Canada’s will. Vote.

Vote. Vote because you matter. Because your voice needs to be heard. Your voice will be heard, and Ottawa will be better for it. Because your future is only as strong and just as Canada’s future. Vote because Canada matters. Vote.

May Day 2011

Friday, April 29, 2011

Civic Duty

The Globe and Mail has collected from leading academics and public figures some good ideas for reinvigorating democracy. “How to Redesign a Tired Democracy” is a thought provoking article, and I recommend everyone read the full collection of ideas.

Most of the experts concentrated on poor citizen participation in voting as the centre of their concern, and rightly so, I believe. Some of the ideas have merit, and ought to be given a try. Provincial-level requirements that high school students pass a course in Canadian history, Rudyard Griffiths’ contribution to the discussion, ought to be a minimum expectation. Proportional representation would probably provide a modest additional incentive to vote.

Many of the other suggestions I found untenable or poorly thought out. Direct, Internet-based democracy, for example, would give voice to those already motivated to imposing their influence and whims on others: conservatives and zealots. Political primaries, held up by Brian Lee Crowley as the best way to increase citizen participation, can be seen as a dangerous failure south of the border. Participation in political primaries in the United States is invariably highest among the extreme ideologues in each party, since these are the individuals most interested in maintaining ideological purity in platforms and candidates. During the months leading up to a primary election, middle-of-the-road Republicans retool their stump speeches and position papers to reflect ultra-conservative thought. But the day after the primary they become middle-of-the-road again so as to attract mainline voters.

Sometimes this chameleon act is not enough; in the 2010 election, moderate Republicans were shouted down and voted out, replaced by Tea Party conservatives. Likewise, in Democratic primaries, a candidate is obliged to speak forcefully in support of liberal issues, and the day after the primary becomes a centrist candidate. The result of the U.S. primary system can be seen in a tense, combative, essentially paralysed House of Representatives, where the Tea Party minority among Republican representatives’ ranks has become a feared enforcer of a chilling conservative line. Moderate Republicans know the Tea Party will put forward rabid conservatives as candidates for their seats should they attempt any compromise with Democrats. With dozens of examples of deposed moderate Republicans after the 2010 primary elections, centrist Republicans know the Tea Party poses no idle threat to their security.

Emulation of the U.S. model will not lead to increased citizen participation. Rather, it will tend to decrease the health of elections, government, and the citizenry itself, affirming and empowering the most extreme and diseased elements of society.

The most attractive idea for improving citizen involvement, I believe, was the final idea offered by Jim Stanford of the Canadian Auto Workers Union. Mr. Stanford recommended anyone deciding to vote be rewarded with a “nice crisp $10 bill.” While I find merit in the idea of financial recognition of those who vote, I wish to propose a different idea, with origin in the significance of citizenship.

Citizenship is not only a privilege and an honour, it is a right, and a responsibility. We are perhaps more inclined these days to emphasise the responsibilities of the state toward us as citizens, and in this light consider that the most important aspect of civilised society is the benefit conferred by citizenship. I wish to offer the perhaps old-fashioned notion of citizenship as duty. No reward should accrue to those who perform the normal duties of a citizen for her country. But those who shun their duty should not enjoy the full range of privilege inherent in the healthy and committed acceptance and active exercise of civic responsibility.

An agreeable means of reducing privilege to those who neglect their civic duty, it seems to me, could consist of an increased tax burden. Those who refuse the state the burden of consent would be legally obliged to realise an increase in the burden of financial support. A coupon could be issued to every citizen upon completion of exercising the duty to vote, a proof of civic commitment entitling that citizen to receive a reduction of income tax equivalent to 250 dollars. Such a simple change to the tax law would cost nothing, and would bring in a modest amount of tax revenue from the few hundreds of thousands who could not be bothered to fulfill their civic obligation.

The health of Canadian elections and government will improve when Canadians soberly accept and affirm the full truth and responsibility of citizenship.

April 29, 2011

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Of all the major parties in this election, the NDP has consistently demonstrated the most passionate emphasis on a vibrant and authentic Canadian future. In the New Democratic Party’s unwavering support of First Nations’ justice, Canadian arts and culture, Canadian heritage, and the rights of women, minorities, and the disabled, the NDP has shown the uncompromising commitment to Canadian values that should be expected of any political party. Most of all, Jack Layton’s charisma and his genuine appeal to québecois voters have laid the foundation for the reintegration of Québec into a fully united, culturally healed Canada. With greatest enthusiasm and without the least reservation I endorse the NDP and I urge Canadians in all ridings to vote for your New Democrat candidate on May 2.

Canadian values are unique to the world. In 2004, Canadians voted on the historical figure they felt best represented Canadian ideals. Over a hundred worthy candidates were reduced to a field of ten finalists, each of whom was assigned an advocate who was given one hour on national television to make her case. The winner was the man who had spent his life fighting for values we’ve come to embrace as central to Canadian identity: Tommy Douglas. The party he founded, the NDP, has been the unwavering proponent of those same values for the last fifty years.

The NDP seems to be the only major party that understands Canada as a coalition of three national groups: Aboriginal, francophone, and anglophone. This blog is called Trinity in recognition of that truth. The Conservative Party has been shameful in its neglect of Aboriginal justice issues, ignoring every entreaty from First Nations’ leaders. Probably we should not be surprised. The Conservative Party has always stood for the right of those enjoying power and privilege to discriminate against the weak and disenfranchised. The NDP recognises and upholds the dignity of all Canadians, and respects the Canadian tradition of multi-culturalism. The NDP emphasis on recognising the essential contribution of every facet of Canadian culture to the grand mosaic that is Canada is a refreshing and reinvigorating departure from the sterile, punitive, inhumane, and uncivilised policies of the Conservative Party.

The NDP has been most vigorous in its support for Canadian arts and culture. The NDP seems to understand that the preservation of Canadian identity is essential to the country. Canada is not the northern satellite of the United States, but some political entities, the Conservative Party chief among them, have consistently shown a complete indifference to the maintenance of Canadian character and have welcomed the overbearing intrusion of unhealthy foreign me-first pop culture. The recent inquiry by the Alliance of Canadian Cinema Television and Radio Artists was addressed in detail by the NDP; the Conservative Party didn’t even bother to respond. I find it personally hurtful and unthinkable that a political party would choose to ignore Canadian culture and identity. The NDP’s long history of embracing culture and the arts has set a positive and cheerful example for all of us, and I believe sets the proper tone for any party wishing to lead the country.

By far the most promising and welcomed development in this election has been Jack Layton’s personal appeal to the people of Québec. While Stephen Harper whines and rails, Jack Layton listens, thinks, and offers unifying and harmonising ideas. The people of Québec are coming to recognise the honesty and authenticity of Jack Layton’s appeal. The fact that so many in Québec have become energised by Layton’s charisma and his genuine concern for the needs of Québec has led to a great deal of excitement in many quarters. Political observers across the country are wondering if the NDP, under the sure leadership of Jack Layton, might be able to heal the age-old political and cultural wounds between francophone and anglophone Canada.

On every front, the NDP offers Canada a more secure, more optimistic, and more vibrant future. I urge all Canadians to vote NDP on May 2.

28 April 2011