Cringe


I can’t shake a recent exchange on Quora. A thread pertaining to Stephen Harper landed on discussion of his foreign policy. A fellow Canadian responded to my comment about Harper’s disregard for Canada’s peacekeeping efforts with this –

“I cringe with embarrassment every time I hear somebody talk about what great “peacekeepers” we used to be.  We weren’t peacekeepers, we were archetypical fence sitters. Why did the Canadian chicken cross the road?  To get to the middle.  Old joke but accurate.”

Astonishment gave way to something best described as sadness. How dare this man scoff at our soldiers? Call bullshit on the United Nations, criticize parameters of peacekeeping missions, but don’t you dare belittle or nullify the valiant effort of Canadian peacekeeping troops. Canadian people believed in our roll, collective pride born of decency and optimism swaddled our nation.

Cringe with embarrassment over Harper thumbing his “warrior nation” nose at veterans. Cringe at the thought of countless soldiers crippled by PTSD. Cringe at the UN for setting ridiculous parameters, dragging their feet or wallowing in bureaucratic shenanigans. Cringe with embarrassment over your assertion Canada wasn’t a peacekeeping nation.

Our soldiers were told to keep peace, they believed in their mission and followed orders. Unfolding travesties will haunt these good men and women to their dying day. How dare anyone joke about Canadian peacekeepers or suggest our nation didn’t support them.  Until Stephen Harper declared Canada a “warrior nation”, ours was a nation bursting with peaceful pride.

Romeo Dallaire, a great Canadian peacekeeper.

In Canada by Chris Hadfield


Oh man, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield kicks astronaut ass. Hadfield officially catapulted himself to a place alongside Tommy Douglas, Romeo Dallaire, Neil Young and Stompin Tom Connors as one great Canadian. Ponder “In Canada” performed by Chris Hadfield and his brother Dave – you don’t have to be Canadian to realize Canada’s astronaut is cooler than any astronaut in the world.

Justin Trudeau


Far from being a list maker, stuff rattles about  my head – coming to the surface for no reason I can discern. Such was the case as I vacuumed the living room tonight and this ponder drifted to the surface. More accurately, my thoughts progressed from mild annoyance at the Republican vendetta against Obama, to a few minutes hard thinking on how “the people” could take back our political systems, and finally – Canadians I admire. Go figure; it doesn’t have to be a logical progression to get me fired up. By the time the room was clean – I had a serious ponder on the tip of my tongue.

Off the top of my head, three men came to mind. Romeo Dallaire, Tommy Douglas, and John Ware. Far from being “listed” because of political, religious or moral grounds – these men stood out among many, as people who genuinely cared. People who lived by a code of ethics, sense of national pride or duty and acted not out of self interest but a far greater purpose. People who put others before themselves, people who stood for something.

https://notestoponder.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/romeo-who/

https://notestoponder.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/tommy-douglas/

https://notestoponder.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/ponder-john-ware/

I can’t shake the feeling that our world needs a few more people willing to stand for something; people who can’t be “bought”, swayed or manipulated. We need people willing to go out on a limb – people tenacious enough to bring about change. I’d just about given up on the concept of a Canadian politician possessing these qualities – then I heard Justin Trudeau’s speech after being elected as leader of the Liberal party earlier this year. I can honestly say – I haven’t felt excitement like this in decades – maybe never. Justin Trudeau is a breath of fresh air; a man who just might be able to clear the dust out of Canadian politics. Trudeau, despite his political father’s legacy – doesn’t reside in the “old boy’s” club. He loves Canada, believes in restoring all of what makes Canada a special nation and doesn’t give a rat’s ass what stuffy Conservatives think. I suspect that someday, somewhere, some Canadian will write about what a “great Canadian” Justin Trudeau is.

An excerpt from his speech after winning the Liberal leadership. Following – a link to the entire speech.

“We are fed up with leaders who pit Canadians against Canadians. West against East, rich against poor, Quebec against the rest of the country, urban against rural.

Canadians are looking to us, my friends. They are giving us a chance, hopeful that the party of Wilfrid Laurier can rediscover its sunny ways.

Hopeful that positive politics has a fighting chance against the steady barrage of negativity that you and I both know is coming soon to TV screens across Canada. The phone messages, our volunteers tell us, have already started.

To adapt a sentiment from the great American President Franklin D. Roosevelt: never before in this country have the forces of negativity, cynicism and fear been so united in their hostility toward one candidate.

The Conservative Party will now do what it does. It will try to spread fear. It will sow cynicism. It will attempt to convince Canadians that we should be satisfied with what we have now.

For at the heart of their unambitious agenda is the idea that “better” is just not possible.

That to hope for something more from our politics and our leaders, more humanity, more transparency, more compassion, is naive and inevitably, will lead to disappointment.

And they will promote that divisive and destructive idea with passionate intensity. They will do so for a simple reason…
They are afraid. But… And I want to make this perfectly clear… My fellow Canadians, it is not my leadership that Mr. Harper and his party fear.

It’s yours.

There is nothing that these Conservatives fear more than an engaged and informed Canadian citizen.

My friends, if I have learned one thing in this life, it’s that our country is blessed with countless numbers of activist citizens, from all walks of life, and of all political views. They have come out by the thousands over the course of this campaign.

They’ve gathered by the hundreds in places like Ponoka Alberta and Oliver BC, Prince Albert Saskatchewan and Île-des-Chênes Manitoba. Canadians who thought they were sending community leaders to be their voice in Ottawa, but instead got only Mr. Harper’s voice back in their communities.

We’ve seen their hopeful faces in crowds of Canadians gathered in Windsor and Whitby, Mississauga and Markham. Middle class Canadians who are putting much into the economy and getting too little in return.

We’ve seen hard-working Atlantic Canadians from Edmunston to Halifax, from Summerside to St John’s, who have decided that this is a government that does not share their values.

To my friends in Labrador, I look forward to seeing you very soon.

We’ve met young Aboriginal leaders from all across this country, from Tk’emlups to Whapmagoostui, who are simply tired of being forced to the margins of this country. With the courage to walk 1600 kilometres through a Canadian winter to make the point that they will be Idle no More.

Francophones who live in Shediac, Sudbury, St Boniface and all across this country who want their children to live and thrive in French, your determination inspires me, it must inspire the entire country.

Quebecers, from Gatineau to Gaspé, who want to re-engage with this country. With their country. Who have no time for the divisive issues of their parents’ past, but want to work with Canadians who share their values to build a better country for all our kids.

I want to take a moment to speak directly to my fellow Quebecers. Your engagement and your support in recent months has been deeply moving. I have learned so much from our conversations and our meetings I take nothing for granted. I understand that trust can only be earned. And my plan is to earn yours.

I feel confident about the future. I want to share with you why

Quebecers have always been builders. From Champlain and Laurier to today, they have actively participated in shaping our country, together with so many other Canadians. Our work is not complete. We face enormous challenges

Helping the middle-class make ends meet. Reconciling economic growth and environmental stewardship. Playing a positive and meaningful role in the world.

To rise above these challenges we must demonstrate our audacity and ambition, my friends.

Audacity and ambition, always.

Lets be honest. We will not convince everyone. There will always be skeptics. People who say that our country is too big and too full of differences to be effectively managed, or for everyone to be represented. They are wrong my friends.

I am not claiming that it will always be easy. That there will not be any obstacles along the way. That we will not have to make some compromises.

Canada is a grand, yet unfinished project. And it is up to us, together with all Canadians, to build the country that we want.

The time has come for us to write a new chapter in the history of our country.

Let’s leave to others the old quarrels and old debates that lead nowhere. Let’s leave to others the ultra-partisan rhetoric and the old ways of doing politics. Let’s leave the personal attacks to them.

Quebecers, let us be, together, once again, builders of Canada.

So that our country can match the height of the dreams and ambitions that are shared across this country. So that we can leave our children a better world than the one that we inherited from our parents.

My friends, the Liberal Party will regain the confidence of Canadians when it proves that it is here to serve them. This is the task at hand. This is what will guide me as Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.

To the new generation of Canadians and to all the young people who are not engaged by politics, I have a very simple message for you.

Your country needs you

It needs your energy and your passion

It needs your idealism and your ideas

The movement we are have been building over the past 6 months, it is yours. It belongs to you.

It is the movement with which we will change politics.

It is the movement that will allow us to reform our political institutions, to make reconciling the environment and our economy a real priority, and to play a positive and constructive role in the world.

My fellow Liberals, Canadians are looking to us. This campaign has been their campaign, more than just ours.

They want something better. They refuse to believe that better is not possible. They see the country their parents and grandparents worked so hard to build, and want to hand an even better country to their children.

Canadians share deep values that cannot be shaken, no matter how hard the Conservative Party may try. Optimism. Openness. Compassion. Service to community.

Generosity of spirit.

We want to believe that change can happen. We want leadership that will shape our best instincts into an even better country.

But Canadians will not suffer fools gladly. Canadians turned away from us because we turned away from them. Because Liberals became more focused on fighting with each other, than fighting for Canadians.

Well, I don’t care if you thought my father was a great or arrogant. It doesn’t matter to me if you were a Chretien-Liberal, a Turner-Liberal, a Martin-Liberal or any other kind of Liberal. The era of hyphenated Liberals ends right here, tonight”

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/04/14/justin-trudeau-speech-full-liberal-win_n_3082219.html

Romeo Who?


I’ve written posts about Canadians I admire; Tommy Douglas, Neil Young, even Stompin Tom Connors. It’s much easier to write about those we admire than someone we consider a hero. Admiration is subjective, open to opinion, unfettered by titles or designation. Once admiration is surpassed by “hero” there is some explaining to do; with hero comes responsibility.

Unfazed, I’ll ponder on – Romeo Dallaire is a Canadian hero. Romeo who?

General Romeo Dallaire headed the United Nations peacekeeping efforts in Rwanda from 1993 – 94. His meagre peacekeeping force of 3000 soldiers where forbidden under terms of the UN peacekeeping mandate to take up arms, or be anything other than a presence. Desperate for help, Dallaire begged the UN to send 2000 more soldiers. Instead the UN cut his force to 500 soldiers following the murder of 10 Belgian peacekeepers assigned to protect the president.In the days that followed Dallaire’s forces witnessed the extermination of 800,000 Rwandan men, women, and children in the most horrific genocide in modern history.

Dallaire wrote of the horror he witnessed in a 2004 book called Shake Hands With the Devil. I’ve tried to read it two or three times; I have to put it down – I find myself weeping uncontrollably, his story too much to take. Despite odds stacked against him, Dallaire managed to save thousands of Rwandans; he will go to his grave despairing over those he couldn’t help.

“I had one person come in to my headquarters during the genocide asking statistics on how many people were killed last week and how many yesterday and how many do you expect to be killed today and how many weeks of this killing you think is going to go on. And my staff officers brought him to me and I said, “Why these statistics?”

He said, “Oh, you know my country is assessing whether it will come in and the government believes that the people, the public opinion, could handle for every soldier killed or injured an equivalent of 85,000 dead Rwandans.”

Think about that response for a moment – collateral damage deemed acceptable at 85,000 Rwandans for every UN soldier.

Romeo Dallaire was a soldier; a man of conscience who followed orders despite the toll it would take on himself and his men.

“The impact of the trauma of Rwanda had physically affected my brain and had put me in a state where there was no capability left of any desire for life, any desire to even consider life. I was even debating whether I should exist as I held on my shoulders, and still today, the belief that as commander of the mission in Rwanda I had failed the Rwandans. I had failed in my duty as the UN mission commander to assist the Rwandans to be able to move to a peaceful application of democracy in a rather short period of time.

Dallaire suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and attempted suicide in 2004. That same year he testified at an international human rights tribunal against Rwandan Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, who was convicted of genocide. Has worked as an advisor to the Canadian government on War Affected Children, and prohibiting small arms distribution. In 2005 he was appointed to the Senate. 2006 saw Concordia University name him a Senior Fellow at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies. An advocate for soldiers mental health issues, Dallaire is open and outspoken about PTSS. Dallaire researches and lectures on conflict resolution and child soldiers.

“Are all humans human or some more human than others?” – Romeo Dallaire

Romeo Dallaire is a Canadian hero. A man few have even heard of who personifies decency and strength. Nick Noltes portrayal of Dallaire in the movie Hotel Rwanda barely scratches the surface of Dallaire’s bungled Rwandan nightmare. Dallaire and his 500 UN soldiers couldn’t have prevented the genocide -we’ll never know another outcome if the UN had responded to his pleas, or the world had bothered to notice.Romeo Dallaire is a hero because he never gave up, overcame his demons, and strives to make a difference in this mixed up world.

Pondering Stephen Harper


Now that Barack Obama is safely in the White House, I’ve turned my thoughts back home. The problem is – I’m not recognizing what I see. Even more disturbing, is the fact that Canadians by nature are a cheerful bunch, willing to accept, overlook, and forgive. We pride ourselves on a set of ideals that this Canadian sees evaporating before my eyes.

The Harper government is now denying chemotherapy to refugees. I can’t think of many things more un-Canadian. For one refugee lucky enough to have settled in Saskatchewan, the provincial government stepped up to cover the costs.

Under Harper, Canada’s military spending is at its highest since the second world war. His government pushed for an extension of military involvement in Afghanistan. He insisted that Canada be involved in the NATO response to Libya, with Canadian jets flying 10% of the sorties. He has been critical of the UN, and outspoken in the defence of Israel.

Harper’s reformist ideology seemingly lacks a place for women, in the form of pay equity or equal rights. The abortion debate has reared its ugly head again, and funding has been cut by almost half for women’s programs. From the arts to environment, principles that Canadians hold dear have been replaced by an unrecognisable right wing agenda.

The Canada I see is not the Canada I know. My Canada is the voice of reason. A nation of peace keepers; the home of Romeo Dallaire and all the unsung heroes from Croatia to Rwanda. My Canada accepts religion, sexual orientation, and race. My Canada doesn’t choose  Justin Beiber over a meeting of provincial premiers, even if Beiber is Canadian. My Canada likes to visit America but remembers what it is that makes us Canadian.

I’m not sure why Stephen Harper wants to re-make Canada, I’m certain however, that we like it just the way it was.

Justin Bieber and Stephen Harper Friday