Happy Canada Day

Happy Canada Day!

YbiDyar

Things I miss about Canada:

1. ketchup chips

2. French

3. poutine (like real poutine, none of this grated mozzarella nonsense)

4. Canadian currency (why Americans make fun of Canadian currency is beyond me. It’s beautiful, colourful, the bills are easier to distinguish, coins are more convenient than $1 bills and I will fight anyone who says otherwise, and it’s plastic to it’s basically indestructible.)

5. hockey (both the sport and the fact that I can watch it on regular cable)

6. national elections that don’t last more than a few months

7. diversity (in my [anecdotal, regionally-specific] experience cultural diversity is celebrated more north of the border [though things are far from perfect])

8. Heritage Minutes (and quoting Heritage Minutes with people who get the reference and don’t just think I’m nuts – “But I’m sure he means the houses, the village!”)

9. the quintessentially Canadian music and comedy

10. Montreal bagels (New York bagels? Please.)

PEI Makes History – Twice

The Prince Edward Island provincial elections were held yesterday and they were far more exciting than anyone was expecting. I listened to the results coming in via CBC PEI and it was announced at 8:45 pm AST that they would not turn to hockey as originally scheduled as the election results were still far from conclusive. They also commented that this was the closest election in recent memory.

In the end, the Island made history twice over. First, PEI elected its first ever openly gay premier which makes it only the second province in Canada to elect an openly LGBTQ leader. People like to mock the Island for being backwards but such insults rest on increasingly shaky ground. Not only did Islanders elect a gay man as their leader, but his sexual orientation was essentially a non-issue.

Second, for only the second time a third party has gained a seat in the provincial legislature, and for the first time that seat is held by the Green Party. Peter Bevan-Baker, leader of the PEI Green Party, was elected in a landslide district vote following an obviously successful campaign.

Other take-aways:

Many races were very close. Several districts were won by less than 100 votes with one district electing their representative by a mere TWO votes. I expect there will be a recount in that district so that number may change but the sentiment that I expressed via Twitter last night remains valid.

Having said that, I’m not really sure who I’m yelling at in that Tweet because PEI had its highest voter turnout since 1986 with 86.7% of eligible voters casting ballot.

The NDP ran a remarkably close race in District 14 (which happens to be my district) only to lose to the incumbent Liberal at the last moment when the advanced poll results were announced. For a long time it was looking like PEI would have all four colours represented in the legislature but that ultimately did not come to pass.

The PC Party made gains but their leader failed to secure his district. He will likely ask for a recount since he lost by only 24 votes but even if the results are overturned, the PC Party is almost certainly feeling that that contest was too close for comfort. And if the count stands, the Progressive Conservatives need a new leader.

Despite the fact that the Liberals maintain a majority government, the election results seem to suggest that Islanders sought change.

Female politicians didn’t make many gains this time around. Of the 31 women who ran only five were elected which means that the female presence in the provincial legislature is down by one.

People are already talking about proportional representation (which is nothing new). The new premier has hinted that electoral reform may be on his new government’s agenda and pro-proportional representation graphics are already hitting social media. We’ll have to wait and see if this discussion goes anywhere.

That’s the story of the PEI provincial election in a nutshell. I’d like to end on this note – how awkward is this handshake??

The Worst Kind of Disappearing Act

Living in the United States, the fact that I am Canadian has become one of my most defining features. Many of my graduate school peers referred to me as simply “Canada” and I am often introduced as “Maureen, from Canada!” I honestly don’t mind. I’m very proud to be Canadian and am always eager (sometimes too eager) to share my heritage with others. For many Americans, however, knowing that I am from Canada is enough. They hear “Canada” and immediately  tell me how much they enjoyed visiting Vancouver (especially true when I lived in Colorado) or tell me they have family in Ontario (pretty common now that I’m living in Michigan). Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the effort to make a connection and enjoy chatting about all parts of my home country. But I rarely have the opportunity to talk about where in Canada I’m from. I say that I don’t have the opportunity because often the person I’m talking to hasn’t heard of my home province (except that one asshole who had but said “I thought that was just a joke province” – what does that even mean?!) or just doesn’t seem particularly interested, maybe because they don’t know much about it. I know this isn’t a fair representation of all Americans but it has been my genuine experience. This reaction bums me out because as proud as I am of being Canadian, I’m equally proud of being a Maritimer and an Islander. Which is why I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about an article written by John Ibbitson for The Globe and Mail titled “How the Maritimes became Canada’s incredible shrinking region.”

For Canadian geography amateurs, the Maritimes consists of three provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island (PEI). I was born and raised in PEI and am fiercely proud of that fact. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I moved away from PEI in 2007 and though I visit frequently, it is unlikely that I will settle there for reasons that were astutely highlighted in Ibbitson’s piece. In fact, he opens his article with a brief profile of a 19-year-old student who was also born and raised in PEI (coincidentally in a town where most of my paternal family is from) and describes how she would love to live on the Island but doesn’t feel there is ample enough opportunity for that to be a realistic option. I know so many people my age who feel that way. It’s a big part of why I moved away in the first place. The Maritimes is a beautiful place filled with culture and friendly people. Unfortunately, opportunity is also missing because of two inter-related phenomena described by Ibbitson: economic and demographic decline.

Weakened economies in each of the Maritime provinces are exacerbated by the fact that young workers are moving away and taking their tax dollars with them. Ibbitson lays out a compelling argument for how the Maritimes’ relationship with the rest of Canada has negatively impacted economic growth in the region but I won’t dwell on them here. Instead, I want to focus on his proposed solutions.

In addition to reducing dependency on Ottawa, encouraging private sector growth, and promoting opportunities in the rural economy, Ibbitson contends that a key solution to the Maritimes’ twin problem of economic and demographic decline is immigrants. Professor Peter McKenna is quoted in the article as saying “Our region… lacks the energy, entrepreneurial spirit and the desire for a fresh start that new Canadians bring. We simply do not have enough new Canadians coming to the Maritimes.” Ibbitson reiterates this point by arguing that Maritime provinces should “aggressively recruit immigrants” to replenish diminishing populations.

New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are not doing particularly well in this regard, attracting only one-third of the immigrants they should be. On the one hand this may be something of a chicken-and-egg problem as newcomers “tend to gravitate toward communities that already have newcomers.” But Ibbitson rightly points out that racism and a general aversion to change may also be keeping immigrants away from the Maritimes.

This resistance to change is no joke. I remember the kerfuffle when Charlottetown, PEI wanted to construct a traffic circle at a busy intersection. A lot of the opposition to this idea stemmed from legitimate concerns regarding the cost of the construction but there also seemed to be a general attitude that things just shouldn’t be changed. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” except with a lack of awareness that the dangerous intersection was, in fact, “broke.”

Still, there is reason to be optimistic, particularly for my home province. Unlike its neighbours, PEI has actively recruited newcomers and immigrants make up 10% of Islanders, a statistically appropriate number given the provincial population. Although the number of immigrants to PEI has increased since I moved away, I do remember noticing the increasing multiculturalism of Charlottetown when I lived there. I remember feeling proud of the relative diversity of my high school. It was still overwhelmingly white but the faces in my yearbook were significantly more diverse than many of my friends’ who went to suburban high schools elsewhere in Canada. I’m grateful to have been exposed to many different cultures despite living in a small place and I hope newcomers continue to feel welcomed by my province both in policy and in practice.

I am not so blinded by love for my province that I think it is a perfect case study (I wonder about how welcome and integrated newcomers truly feel), but it is worth noting that unlike New Brunswick and Nova Scotia employment growth in PEI has reflected the national average. This is no small feat for a region that is in danger of disappearing. As employment growth stagnates and reverses elsewhere in the Maritimes, Acadia University President Ray Ivany suggests in the article that “The demographic and economic spiral has reached the point that, if we don’t grab hold of the situation now, there is a reasonable question to be posed of whether we can turn it around.”

History is full of towns and cities that boomed then busted, thrived then gradually became ghost towns. On the rare occasion that I travel from Ann Arbor to Detroit, I am overwhelmed by a feeling of emptiness and sadness. It’s hard to reconcile the powerful and beautiful architecture of the downtown core with the desolation and blight of its immediate surroundings.  The Maritimes may not be Detroit but the pain of watching a place you love on a downward trajectory is shared. Fortunately for New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and PEI it’s not too late to turn things around. I hope the ideas put forth by the Ibbitson article are earnestly considered, debated, and acted upon, so that this shrinking trend doesn’t become a disappearing act.

There’s No Place Like Home

After taking last week off to spend time with one of my best friends it’s time to get back online and figure out what I missed.

I’ll be starting with an article by John Ibbitson for The Globe and Mail called “How the Maritimes became Canada’s incredible shrinking region.” It’s been shared widely on my social media and for good reason. It’s a brief but interesting and important analysis of the economic situation in the Maritimes; a subject very near and dear to my heart and the hearts of my fellow Islanders. I’ll post something more in-depth later when I’ve had time to really delve into it but the overall sentiment described by the young woman Ibbitson interviewed resonated with me immediately. She described a strong desire to stay on Prince Edward Island but felt that she had no future there. I know so many people of my generation who feel that way. In fact, it’s exactly how I feel.

I love my little province immensely and though I’ve lived in several different places since leaving in 2007, it will always be home and I want so badly to see it prosper. Which is why I’m looking forward to doing some serious reading and thinking about it. In the meantime, check out where I’m from (and yes, it’s ok to be jealous).

The Book of Negroes: An Excellent Mini-Series and A Reckoning for Canadians

This evening I watched the final two episodes of The Book of Negroes mini-series BET. In another blog post I mentioned that I have read the book and I provided a brief plot summary so I’ll refrain from repeating myself here. Instead, I’ll focus on the significance of the story itself. The mini-series was very well done, the acting was wonderful especially by Aunjuane Ellis and the screenplay was quite faithful to its source material.

Having said all that, the thing I like most about both the novel and the mini-series is that it highlights a relatively obscure slice of history and provides a much-needed reality check to my fellow Canadians. I have found that as a country we can be somewhat smug on the topic of slavery. Though it is true that Canada does not share the same history with slavery as its southern neighbour, we routinely fail to recognize that our hands are by no means clean. Slavery was in fact practiced in new France and some early, prominent Canadians, including the founder of my alma mater, owned slaves. Yet this history is typically glossed over in Canadian classrooms. I recall learning about Canada as a promised land for slaves who arrived there via the underground railroad but never learning about the less savoury aspects of my country’s relationship with slavery.

To a certain extent, The Book of Negroes corrects that wrong. When the main character Aminata leaves the United States to settle as a free woman in Nova Scotia she finds that the “promised land” is not all that she and her fellow Black Loyalists expected. Though they may have been free from de jure binds of slavery, they remained second-class citizens in Canada by de facto forms of disenfranchisement, discrimination, and racism. Indentured servitude was common, few owned property, and hunger was rampant. The Book of Negroes depicts the white Birchtown population as being generally hostile to the newcomers and suggests that there was little opportunity for economic prosperity or justice in the British colony.

Though it is a fictionalized account of this history, The Book of Negroes nevertheless offers an important reminder for Canadians like myself that while we may not have the same history as the United States but we are not innocent. Deep, systemic racism existed then and exists now. The Book of Negroes acknowledges this fact beautifully and hopefully this well-crafted mini-series will awaken that consciousness within Canadians.

GO CANADA GO!

Only 5 hours until the puck drops for the gold medal game the 2015 World Juniors hockey tournament. There are few things more exciting, thrilling, and stressful than watching Team Canada play for hockey gold*. The great thing about the World Juniors is that, unlike the Winter Olympics, they happen every year. Unfortunately, for the past several years Team Canada has failed to win gold (and a few years even advance to the finals) which has been a sore disappoint for me and my countrymen.

But not this year. This year we are playing for gold against the big, bad Russians**. I am simultaneously exhilarated and terrified. We’re playing on home turf so we HAVE to win. I’m schlepping to what is sure to be a deserted bar in bad weather because I don’t get the NHL Network with my cable package (why can’t Americans care more about hockey?!) so we HAVE to win. We have Connor The-New-Sidney-Crosby McDavid so we HAVE to win. We have Curtis PEW-PEW-PEW Lazar so we HAVE to win. We have Tie Domi’s offspring to we HAVE to win.

Honestly, we have to win because to lose (especially to the Russians!) would break my heart.

So let’s go boys. Get ‘er done. Get pucks to the net, get bodies to the net. [Other Canadian hockey cliches.]

GO CANADA GO!

*Except for maybe watching the Montreal Canadiens play in the Stanley Cup finals but that hasn’t happened since 1993 when I was 4 years old. Maybe this year?!?

** Actually, I think Team Canada is, generally speaking, bigger in stature than the Russians but whatever, the bad still stands.

[Update: WE WON! WE WON! WE WON!]

Good Job Everybody: Cuba Edition

Yesterday, President Obama announced that the United States will begin the process of normalizing relations with Cuba. This is a significant foreign policy shift away from more than 50 years of isolation.

Here is a run-down of what will change, as published by The Globe and Mail:

– “the U.S. will soon reopen an embassy in the capital, Havana

– the U.S. will ease travel bans to Cuba, including for family visits, official U.S. government business and educational activities, but will not lift its ban on tourist travel

– licensed American travellers to Cuba will now be able to return to the U.S. with $400 in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol products worth less than $100 combined

– the amount of money Americans can send to Cubans will increase from $500 to $2,000 every three months

– the U.S. will unfreeze the U.S. bank accounts of Cubans who no longer live in Cuba

– U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will launch a review of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terror”

I am not an expert on American-Cuban relations but my pro-diplomacy bias has me thinking that normalized relations are a good thing. There has been a distinct Cold War vibe to Cuban-American relations that feels awfully outdated and I disagree with pundits (ahem, Charles Krauthhammer) who suggest that talking to adversary states is tantamount to capitulation in the face of tyranny. It’s not clear if the embargo will be lifted (the President cannot do so without Congress) and the positive or negative effects of this thawing of relations remain to be seen. However, I think an experiment with rapprochement is worthwhile and long overdue.

How did this all happen? As it turns out, the United States and Cuba have been engaging in secret talks for the past 18 months – in Canada! In June 2013, delegations from both countries traveled to Canada for discussions and met seven more times in Toronto and Ottawa, according to The Globe and Mail reporting. Canada played the role of host rather than mediator but the importance of relatively neutral ground during tough negotiations shouldn’t be underestimated so I think we can give ourselves a little pat on the back here. Apparently Pope Francis and The Vatican also helped spur the reconciliation. It’s not clear to me how much of a role The Vatican played in the actual mediation, but the Pope did personally appeal to both Obama and Castro so he gets a pat on the back as well.

We can only wait and see if the consequences of this policy shift are positive but it sure seems like a small victory for progress. So good job everybody – here’s to the next 50 years of Cuban-American relations which, if nothing else, should be interesting.