Philip Roth

For these are the girls whose older brothers are the engaging, good-natured, confident, clean, swift, and powerful halfbacks for the college football teams called Northwestern and Texas Christian and UCLA. Their fathers are men with white hair and deep voices who never use double negatives, and their mothers the ladies with the kindly smiles and the wonderful manners who say things like, “I do believe, Mary, that we sold thirty-five cakes at the Bake Sale.” “Don't be too late, dear,” they sing out sweetly to their little tulips as they go bouncing off in their bouffant taffeta dresses to the Junior Prom with boys whose names are right out of the grade-school reader, not Aaron and Arnold and Marvin, but Johnny and Billy and Jimmy and Tod. Not Portnoy or Pincus, but Smith and Jones and Brown! These people are the Americans, Doctor-like Henry Aldrich and Homer, like the Great Gildersleeve and his nephew LeRoy, like Corliss and Veronica, like “Oogie Pringle” who gets to sing beneath Jane Powell's window trin A Date with Judy – these are the people for whom Nat “King” Cole sings every Christmastime, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose . . . An open fire, in my house? No, no, theirs are the noses whereof he speaks. Not his flat black one or my long bumpy one, but those tiny bridgeless wonders whose nostrils point northward automatically at birth. And stay that way for life! These are the children from the coloring books come to life, the children they mean on the signs we pass in Union, New Jersey, that say CHILDREN AT PLAY and DRIVE CAREFULLY, WE LOVE OUR CHILDREN — these are the girls and boys who live “next door”, the kids who are always asking for the “the jalopy” and getting into “jams” and then out of them again in time for the final commercial — the kids whose neighbors aren't the Silversteins and the Landaus, but Fibber McGee and Molly, and Ozzie and Harriet, and Ethel and Albert, and Lorenzo Jones and his wife Bell, and Jack Armstrong! Jack Armstrong, the All-American Goy!– and Jack as in John, not Jack as in Jake, like my father . . . . Look, we ate our meals with that radio blaring away right through to the dessert, the glow of the yellow station band is the last light I see each night before sleep — so don't tell me we're just as good as anybody else, don't tell me we're Americans just like they are. No, no, these blond-haired Christians are the legitimate residents and owners of this place, and they can pump any song they want into the streets and no one is going to stop them either. O America! America!

Portnoy's Complaint, (New York: Random House , 1969), p. 144-145

A Conservative spending spree?

When Parliament officially broke for the summer on June 21, I had a hunch that the government’s game plan would include a summer where various ministers made themselves as visible as possible in order to shore up some flagging political support in certain regions of the country.

And indeed, in just the first two weeks of summer, the Conservative government has had its press release writers working overtime. There have been 78 press releases — that’s right 78 in just 13 days — in which it announced, re-announced, or took credit for more than $5-billion in spending.

Now, it’s true, that the lion’s share of that spending comes in just three announcements, all made by the Prime Minister: $3.1–billion today for a navy frigate upgrade; $1.5–billion today for an ethanol program; and $207–million for a highway improvement program.

But, as I try to show in this story, the spending announcements come in all shapes and sizes and have a distinct regional slant.

Here’s some:


Another Liberal calls it a day

Vancouver-Quadra MP Stephen Owen has decided to leave politics. Owen’s decision follows announcements to retire by former Liberal cabinet ministers Bill Graham and Jim Peterson.  Here’s the announcement from his party’s leader:

OTTAWA – Stéphane Dion, Leader of the Official Opposition, paid tribute to the Honourable Stephen Owen, who will resign his position as MP for Vancouver-Quadra on July 27, 2007, to accept an appointment as Vice President, External and Community Relations at the University of British Columbia.

“I am so proud to have served alongside Stephen Owen for the past seven years,” said Mr. Dion. “It has been a tremendous journey – and through it all Mr. Owen has served his province and his country with great intelligence and integrity.”

Mr. Owen was first elected to Parliament in November 2000, and has served the people of Vancouver-Quadra for seven years. He held several cabinet positions under the leadership of Prime Ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, including Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, Secretary of State for Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Receiver General for Canada, Minister of Western Economic Diversification and Minister of Sport.

Mr. Owen went on to serve as the Official Opposition Critic for Democratic Reform under the leadership of Liberal Opposition Leader Stéphane Dion and Interim Leader Bill Graham.

Mr. Dion noted that while he and Mr. Owen have shared similar career paths, aside from being academics and cabinet colleagues, the passion they share the most is a deep commitment to the sustainability of our country and of our planet.

“Stephen Owen has been an exceptional Member of Parliament. He is admired by the entire Liberal Caucus for being one of the most hardworking, ethical and effective representatives of the Canadian people.

“I am very proud to have worked with Mr. Owen, and very honoured to offer my congratulations on his political legacy,” said Mr. Dion. “In the future, I will always count on him as a trusted advisor.”

Following the money: Party financial returns

The once mighty Liberal machine looked mighty ordinary from a financial standpoint in 2006. Elections Canada just released the 2006 annual financial returns for the major parties and, according to those returns, just 24,967 Canadians donated any money to Liberal party last year. By comparison, more than 25,000 Canadians kicked in some cash to NDP coffers.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives led all challengers with nearly 109,000 individual Canadians cutting a cheque to that party.

The Bloc Quebecois found just over 6,000 people who wrote cheques while the Green Party found 9,600 who wrote cheques.

As far as overall contributions go — and remember, contribution laws changed in mid-year — the Conservatives easily led the pack with $18.6–million raised in 2006. The Liberals did less than half that — just over $9–million. Many Liberal donors, though, would have been touched to help with one leadership race or another. The NDP raised $3.97–million; the Greens raised $832,630 and the Bloc raised $529,513.

Also of some note, the Liberal Party finished 2006 with a balance of $4.5–million. The Conservatives finished the year $5.4–million in the black.

In a press release, the Liberals said they finished the year with more than 200,000 party members. Conservative Party spokesman Ryan Sparrow said the Liberal’s membership numbers would have been helped by the leadership races. He declined to provide the number of Conservative party members at the end of 2006 but said it would be well above their number of financial contributors (109,000).



It's allowance time

Canada’s federal political parties will soon get their quarterly allowance from the Canadian taxpayer. Elections Canada announced today that cheques have been drawn up for the second quarter. Each federal political party that garners at least two per cent of all votes cast in a general election or at least five per cent of the votes cast in the electoral districts in which they ran candidates qualifies for a taxpayer subsidy of 43.75 cents per vote per quarter.

Based on the results from the most recent election here’s the payout for the second quarter:

  • Conservative Party of Canada: $2.57–million
  • Liberal Party of Canada: $2.14–million
  • New Democratic Party of Canada: $1.24–million
  • Bloc Quebecois: $742,041
  • Green Party of Canada: $317,258


Accountability "not a concession", Harper says

I’m in Chicago covering the Conrad Black trial but, as it’s Independence Day here in the U.S., the jury is not sitting and I have time to go through the masses of documents I’ve acquired over the last several  weeks through various Access to Information requests.

Today, going through some of the briefing books handed out to Stephen Harper’s cabinet when they were sworn in — some of these briefing books have only recently been released under Access to Information though the requests for them were made the day they were sworn in — I found a letter the Prime Minister wrote to all his ministers about accountability. You can read the three-page memo for yourself, but here, it seems to me, is the key message:

Canadians have entrusted our government with ensuring that the institutions and individuals by whom they are governed are fully accountable for the policies they adopt and the actions they take. This means that we must uphold the highest standards of probity and ethical conduct. But it also entails a transformation
in the culture of government to reflect the evolving expectations of Canadians. If Canadians are to have confidence in their political institutions and representatives, and be truly engaged in the nation's political life, government must recognize that accountability is not a concession it makes or a set of technical
rules to be complied with, but rather the very essence of its role as an instrument by which Canadians govern themselves.

Harper would have authored this letter shortly after winning the election in late January, 2006. Back then, he had this idea about his cabinet:

A further goal of our government, one that will also strengthen transparency and accountability to Parliament, is to streamline and simplify the executive, beginning with the Ministry. We will have a smaller Cabinet, In which all members are equal. All members of the Ministry will be members of Cabinet and have
full ministerial status. Parliamentary Secretaries will focus on their parliamentary responsibilities and will not be members of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada.

Of course, he would change his mind about that within the year, elevating the likes of Jason Kenney and Helena Guergis to the Ministry as Secretaries of State but not making them full Cabinet members.

And, finally, here is Harper’s instructions to his Cabinet about how they should interact with Parliament:

Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the use of all powers vested in them. This demands constant attention to their parlfamentary duties, including being present in Parliament to answer honestly and accurately about their areas of responslbillty, and taking corrective action, as appropriate and within their authority, to address any problems that may arise within their portfolios. Should Ministers make any inadvertent error in answering to Parliament, they must take steps to correct it at the earliest opportunity.

I suspect Harper’s political opponents might have some thoughts about effective different ministers have been in meeting the expectations of their boss when it comes to answering “honestly and accurately about their areas of responsibility.”


The Hill's Sound and Light Show

Parliamentary correspondents, like yours truly, who work for broadcasters love Parliament Hill because there are so many terrific settings for our ‘on-camera’ bits at the end of our reports. But we are forced off the Hill in the summertime by the National Capital Commission’s ‘Sound and Light Show’, an annual event that is super-popular with visiters though it is the bane of TV reporters.

For this show, the Centre Block of Parliament is, essentially, the screen for this show. Images are projected on the entire thing, right up the whole height of the Peace Tower, while stirring music and voice-overs are played. It’s very dramatic — even if it makes Parliament Hill too noisy for my ‘on-cameras’.

So, if you’re planning to visit Ottawa in July and August, here’s the details:

The National Capital Commission (NCC) is pleased to announce that the Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill entitled Canada: the Spirit of a Country gets underway Thursday, July 5, 2007, for the summer season.

The Sound and Light Show is a 30-minute production, which uses spectacular lighting effects, giant images and a rich tapestry of words, music and sounds to tell the story of Canada, a nation of communicators.

This bilingual show is presented free of charge seven evenings a week (weather permitting) until September 9, 2007. Hours are as follows: from July 5 to August 6, 2007, at  9:30 pm and 10:30 pm, and from August 7 to September 9, 2007, at 9 pm and 10 pm. Bleacher seating is available and can accommodate approximately 500 spectators. 

Canada: the Spirit of a Country, created by AVH Live Communications, a Toronto based production company, features a stunning musical score (composed by Glenn Morley, multiple Gemini and Genie award winner) as well as special lighting effects and stunning image projections on the Peace Tower and the Centre Block.

The NCC has captivated audiences for 20 years with its sound and light performances. Particularly popular with out-of-town visitors who, in 2005 represented 70% of attendees, these free performances offer the perfect evening activity. During the 2006 season, more than 250,000 visitors attended the Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill.

The show, by the way, is the same as it’s been for the last two summers and, to be honest, I’m surprised that “Canada’s New Government” hasn’t gotten around to ordering it changed for Canada: The Spirit of Country has a lot of Trudeau and Laurier in it and, if I recall, not a lot of Mulroney or Borden or even Macdonald  — although I think there’s a bit of Diefenbaker, in there.