Bury my heart on bended knee

Don’t you find it passing strange that every company, government, think tank and farm boy is trying to convince U.S. President Donald Trump just how important we are to them and how no changes should be made to free trade? Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been suitably deferential, dispatching cabinet ministers, and even inveigling former PM Brian Mulroney to come out of retirement to pour maple syrup into the ears of anyone in Washington who will listen. In addition, onetime civil servants such as Derek Burney as well as provincial premiers like Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall have either volunteered or been dragooned to the cause. The...

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The two solitudes encore une fois

I freely admit to having a brain cramp about the debate surrounding Andrew Potter, the former director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. Potter wrote a feisty column in Maclean’s about the “social malaise” of Québec, calling it a “pathologically alienated and low-trust society.” The outrage was immediate and he quickly resigned his post. Was he pushed or did he jump? We do not know. Part of me says, “Well, what if his observations were accurate?” At least, in his experience. No less an individual than Québec Premier Jacques Parizeau blamed losing the 1995 referendum on “money and the ethnic vote,” another...

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Beauty and the beast

Adversity is a tough foe, but it can be your friend, according to Amanda Lang’s new book, The Beauty of Discomfort. Lang’s thesis is that successful people don’t just tolerate discomfort, they seek it out. Again and again. Among the individuals featured in the book is Linda Hasenfratz, who took over from her father Frank as CEO of Linamar Corp. but not before spending nine years working her way up from the factory floor. Throughout her apprenticeship Hazenfratz suffered charges of nepotism, bouts of hostility, and sexism. Her advice is simple: Ignore negativity, don’t make the same mistake twice, and don’t expect people to...

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Bye bye miss American pie

In the past ten days, I’ve read two lengthy articles – both in U.S. publications – about immigration to Canada. The first, in The New Yorker, described a place called Vive in Buffalo, N.Y., where since 1984 volunteers have helped 100,000 refugees, most of whom continued on to Canada. The second was a New York Times story about a family of Syrian refugees living in Toronto that opened on page one and ran three full pages inside. Both articles were fascinating, well-researched and timely. Why am I not reading equally thoughtful pieces in any Canadian publications? Could it be because management has got rid...

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Let there be lightning

Maybe it’s the writer in me, but I’m fascinated by words and their usage, even grammar. Take the tale about the missing comma in a contract that could mean millions of dollars. An Oxford comma, no less, a comma that goes before the word “and” in a series such as “a bear, a girl, and a bowl of porridge.” You usually see the Oxford comma only in books, not in newspapers or magazines. To be sure (there’s a phrase you only find in magazines), along with still, both used to create the sense of a transition between one paragraph and the next. Ask an editor...

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Monsters in our midst

Plenty of attention has been paid to soaring house prices in Toronto but teardowns that turn into monster homes are somehow below the radar. In my neighbourhood there’s been at least one teardown in each of the last half dozen years. Let me tell you the bad news up front: developers and individuals almost always get want they want, despite neighbours’ objections. The first step for approval is the Committee of Adjustment. Plans are shared with neighbours who can appear before the three-person board but might as well stay home. I’ve been to two such hearings. At one of them, the chair actually...

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Books as portable magic

Last night was the 2016 Speaker’s Book Award, held at the Ontario Legislature, and hosted by Speaker Dave Levac. Begun in 2012, the award honour works by Ontario authors. I was there as the “with” in Darcy McKeough’s memoirs, The Duke of Kent, one of the finalists. Ghosting is a wonderful pastime. First, you have to like the individual with whom you’re collaborating. Second, you have to get inside his head so the book sounds like him. Like acting, being a ghost is not about you, it’s about the character, in this case, McKeough. The award winner was The Red Kelly Story,...

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A world without borders

The eyes of Canada are suddenly on two places that none of us had ever heard of before: Emerson, Manitoba, and Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec. Both have become border crossings for refugees on foot from Somali, Turkey and elsewhere. Because of various laws and treaties nothing can be done to halt the flow. Refugees are detained, will eventually be vetted, and may or may not be allowed to stay. There was much national tongue-clucking in Canada last year about how some countries in Europe bridled at the flow of Syrian migrants. Even though more than a million were involved – compared with our paltry few...

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