Trevor Herriot, Towards a Prairie Atonement

Writer, naturalist and activist Trevor Herriot says settlers have much to learn from First Peoples about living in harmony with the land and with one another.
Trevor Herriot speaks in Ottawa. Photo by Dennis Gruending.

In April,  I was invited by the Canadian Council of Churches to interview the well-known writer, naturalist and activist Trevor Herriot. Members of the CCC’s Commission on Justice and Peace were meeting in Ottawa and asked Trevor to address them during an all-day meeting. They believe, correctly, that Trevor has much to say about living sustainably and with justice in our environment. Continue reading Trevor Herriot, Towards a Prairie Atonement

Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights, a 600 km walk supports UN declaration

A group of people from various faith groups has walked 600 kilometres in a Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights
Walking the talk. Photo courtesy Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) released its final report on Indian residential schools in June 2015. The TRC commissioners bluntly described those schools as instruments of “cultural genocide.” They were equally frank in describing the complicity of Canadian churches, which operated most of the schools on behalf of the federal government. Continue reading Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights, a 600 km walk supports UN declaration

“Hypocrite” vs “celebrity environmentalists”, words fly in climate change debate

Bill McKiben, environmental activist says Justin Trudeau is a "stunning hypocrite" on the issue of climate change
Climate change activist Bill McKibben. Photo by Steve Liptay. Courtesy of 350.org

Well-known U.S. environmental activist Bill McKibben has caused a stir by describing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “stunning hypocrite” on climate change. “Trudeau says all the right things, over and over, “McKibben wrote in The Guardian. “But those words are meaningless if you keep digging up more carbon and selling it to people to burn, and that’s exactly what Trudeau is doing.” Continue reading “Hypocrite” vs “celebrity environmentalists”, words fly in climate change debate

Canada’s Vimy Ridge narrative, more trope than truth

Some Canadian politicians, journalists and historians claim that Canada was born in the 1917 battle at Vimy Ridge. Not so.
Canadian war graves at National Vimy Memorial.  Photo by Dennis Gruending

In recent weeks, there has been a wave of media coverage surrounding the centenary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The splendid Vimy monument in France provides a perfect backdrop for television anchors. There was also a crowd of thousands on the site, including the descendants of soldiers who fought there against the Germans, grizzled veterans of the Second World War and other conflicts, and hundreds of Canadian school children many of whose teachers had given them assignments related to the Vimy battle. One of the adolescents interviewed on television said that the Canadian soldiers had fought to preserve her freedom at Vimy in 1917. Continue reading Canada’s Vimy Ridge narrative, more trope than truth

Conservative leadership race, dog whistles and wannabe demagogues

The Conservative leadership race features dog whistle politics and wannabe demagogues
Conservative leader candidate, MP Kellie Leitch. Photo by Art Babych

The Conservative leadership race involves an unwieldy group of 14 candidates — only four of whom might be seen as fit for the office. They are former cabinet ministers, including the impressive Michael Chong, Lisa Raitt and Erin O’Toole, as well as Andrew Scheer, a former speaker of the House of Commons. Unfortunately, among them, only Chong is fully fluent in French. But each would encourage a bigger tent Conservative Party than was possible under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who came to politics through the hard-bitten Reform Party.

Still, it’s quite possible that none among these candidates will ever win. This competition is occurring at a time when right-wing populist parties in Europe and the U.S. are being led by people with little or no experience in public life. Rather than acknowledging their lack of knowledge, they simply flaunt it.

Here in Canada, there are at least two Conservative leadership contenders attempting to emulate politicians, such as U.S. President Donald Trump, who never held public office prior to becoming the commander in chief. One candidate is Kevin O’Leary, who actually lives in Boston and spends most of his time in the U.S., even while participating in a Canadian leadership race. Of course, he makes no apologies for just visiting. O’Leary is a fund manager and television personality, who happens to be short on knowledge of policy. He claims, for example, that he’d do away with unions even though the right to free association is enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A second candidate attempting to channel Trump’s victory to her advantage is Kellie Leitch, an MP and former cabinet minister in a Harper government. Leitch, who had decidedly limited visibility, has — in the words of one political scientist — decided to “light [herself] on fire to get attention.” For instance, she invited profile by promising to pre-screen immigrants for their potential “anti-Canadian values.” Other candidates, in response, have accused her of playing “dog-whistle politics” and of being a “wannabe demagogue.”

Also running against the liberal “elites,” Leitch sent out a fundraising email immediately following the recent U.S. election. “Tonight, our American cousins threw out the elites and elected Donald Trump as their next president,” Leitch said. “It’s an exciting message and one that we need delivered in Canada, as well.” But Leitch is hardly an outsider. She is an orthopedic surgeon who has involved herself in Conservative backrooms and election campaigns for years. As for the common touch, back in January, Leitch responded to a question that she didn’t appreciate by snapping, “Please understand that I do have 22 letters at the end of my name, I’m not an idiot.”

A succession of Conservative leaders, including Robert Stanfield and Joe Clark, once attempted to create a more moderate and inclusive party. Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney parlayed that effort into a decade in power. But under Harper, a right-wing cabal moved to the centre of power although governing did impose some discipline. Today, in opposition and disarray, the Conservatives just may turn to a self-described outsider — a “wannabe demagogue” — to lead them.

This piece ran with the United Church Observer on March 9,2017

Asylum seekers at Canada’s border, the push and the pull

As the U.S. closes its border to asylum seekers, they are braving the cold to cross into Canada
Canadian Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen

Television news has recently provided images of asylum seekers walking across frigid Canadian border crossings in Manitoba and Quebec. Incredibly, many of the people trudging through the snow are from African countries, such as Somalia and Sudan. Their journey most likely began with a flight from Africa to Brazil, followed by a dangerous ground passage through several South and Central American countries, as well as Mexico and — finally — the U.S. And they had to have been desperate for safety to risk their lives on such a perilous voyage. Continue reading Asylum seekers at Canada’s border, the push and the pull

Slayings in Quebec mosque, words are weapons too

Ottawa demo against Islamophobia on Feb. 4. Photo by Dennis Gruending
Ottawa demo against Islamophobia on Feb. 4. Photo by Dennis Gruending

We are heartsick about the killing of six men and the injury of several others in a Quebec City mosque on Jan 29. Those who were shot and killed as they prayed were Mamadou Tanou Barry, Ibrahima Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane and Azzedine Soufiane Aboubaker Thabti. A  27-year-old Laval University student, Andre Bissonnette, has been charged with six counts of murder and others of attempted murder. Continue reading Slayings in Quebec mosque, words are weapons too

Freeland, Trudeau are true believers, but free trade mantra blows up

Chrystia Freeland says free trade raises all boats, but does it really?
Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Affairs Minister. Creative Commons photo.

Canada’s new minister of foreign affairs, Chrystia Freeland, was recruited into politics by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and is influential in his inner circle. They share a belief common amongst international bankers, industrialists and many politicians that free trade and globalization are automatically good for us and that it would be dangerous to tamper with them. Continue reading Freeland, Trudeau are true believers, but free trade mantra blows up