Tragedy in the Commons: Former Members of Parliament Speak Out About Canada’s Failing Democracy

Tragedy in the Commons
Tragedy in the Commons

The summer edition of The Catalyst, publication of Citizens for Public Justice, has published a number of books reviews, including mine of a book by Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan, who lead an organization called Samara. Other books reviewed in this issue include those by ecologist Wendell Berry, Naomi Klein and John Ralston Saul and I encourage you to go The Catalyst  website and to read them. Please find below my review below. Continue reading Tragedy in the Commons: Former Members of Parliament Speak Out About Canada’s Failing Democracy

Derry-Londonderry: from conflict to peace and inclusion

Defiant Protestants in Derry
Defiant Protestants in Derry
Murals in Catholic Bogside neighbourhood
Murals in Catholic Bogside neighbourhood

The history of conflict in Northern Ireland is such that there has been a long and bitter disagreement over the name of one of its historic cities. The locals, a majority of them Catholics and nationalists, call it Derry, while Protestants and British loyalists call it Londonderry, the name introduced when the Crown planted London merchants along with English and Scottish Protestant settlers in the city and region in the 1600s to gain control. There has even been a court case over the name which began in the 1980s and did not end until 2007. The British high court ruled that city’s official name remains Londonderry. Continue reading Derry-Londonderry: from conflict to peace and inclusion

Pontiff’s ‘grand message’: Pope Francis calls for spiritual and environmental revolution

Pope Francis, Creative commons photo
Pope Francis, Creative Commons photo

In his recent encyclical, Pope Francis may succeed in ways that the earnest scientists of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have not. The world’s foremost climate experts have issued a series of ever more urgent reports about looming ecological catastrophe if we don’t mitigate human-induced climate change. Those reports are factual and credible, yet astute political observers tell us that most people act — and vote — on the basis of deeply held values rather than facts.

The pope, in his 180-page document, says that he believes what the IPCC experts say about the causes and likely consequences of climate change. That should make it increasingly difficult for anyone, including politicians in the U.S. Republican or Canadian Conservative parties, to continue questioning the science. What’s more, Pope Francis issues an urgent moral and religious appeal that could induce millions of people to demand action from their political leaders.

Parts of the encyclical read like poetry and prayer. “Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us,” the pope writes. “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.”

Insisting that there is both hope and time to bring about needed changes, Pope Francis calls for swift action to curb the burning of the fossil fuels. “Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start,” he writes.

The pope also calls individuals to conversion in how they live and consume, but he also wants them to prod their leaders into action. “It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been,” he writes, referring no doubt to the endless cycle of fruitless international climate negotiations.

Compare his candour to that of many politicians, including Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq. She relied on a department spokesperson to respond to media queries via an email message, which repeated government talking points without once mentioning the encyclical.

Indeed, much of what the pope is saying runs counter to what a number of Canadian governments are doing. For example, Canada’s premiers, who are meeting in St. John’s this month, are considering an agreement to fast-track new oil sands pipelines and water down their oft-stated commitment to fighting climate change.

Writing in The Globe and Mail, Elizabeth Renzetti quotes author George Marshall as saying, “The view held by every expert I spoke to is that we still have not found a way to effectively engage our emotional brain in climate change.” Renzetti ponders whether Pope Francis is “providing the grand message needed: the call to a spiritual and environmental revolution.” Let’s hope so.

This piece appeared as a United Church Observer blog on July 16, 2015.

Happy warriors: Order of Canada recipients call for the elimination of nukes

Murray Thomson wants nuclear weapons abolished, Koozma Tarasoff photo, peace a
Murray Thomson wants nuclear weapons abolished, Koozma Tarasoff photo

If Murray Thomson wasn’t a pacifist, you might call him a happy warrior. The 92-year-old Order of Canada (OC) recipient is on the phone constantly from his retirement residence in Ottawa. He is trying to convince all of his fellow OC recipients to support a UN call to entirely eliminate nuclear weapons. Continue reading Happy warriors: Order of Canada recipients call for the elimination of nukes

Canadians on the Camino, Day 31: Pilgrims’ progress, a reflection

Martha and a young German friend  at journey's end
Martha and a young German friend at journey’s end

(October 4)

After all of the planning, training and execution, we have after a month of walking completed a 650-kilometre trek on the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. The Camino falls within the ancient pilgrimage tradition of the Catholic Church and millions have preceded us on the way. The Camino was hugely popular in the Middle Ages, fell into relative disuse and has now been rehabilitated. Continue reading Canadians on the Camino, Day 31: Pilgrims’ progress, a reflection

Canadians on the Camino, Day 30: Destination Santiago 

Cathedral in Santiago swathed in  scaffolding
Cathedral in Santiago swathed in scaffolding

(October 3)

We start out early and in the dark from the albergue in O Pedrouzo this morning for our final destination in Santiago. It is fitting somehow that a guy on the other side of our thin wall gave a night long command snoring performance — so getting up at 5:00 a.m. was not that difficult.  Continue reading Canadians on the Camino, Day 30: Destination Santiago 

Canadians on the Camino, Day 29: Technology on The Way 

Connected on the trail
Connected on the trail

(October 2)

John Brierley’s guidebook is ubiquitous here and seems to poke out of every backpack and sit on every lunch and dinner table, at least among English speakers. It is small enough that it fits into the front pocket of my hiking pants and I refer to it multiple times a day. It is packed with information, and simple maps, about each day’s walk and the trails and landmarks you will encounter as you walk along.

Smart phones in hand

On at least one score, however, Brierley is whistling into the wind. He advises his readers to leave their cameras and mobile phones at home. “Break the dependency and taste the freedom,” he writes. In my experience, few people have taken that advice. They have their smart phones in hand at every turn — in the lobbies and even in their bunks at albergues, on the tables in restaurants, bars and rest stops.  I see people using earphones to listen to music as they walk and occasionally I see someone, as I did today, reading from her screen while walking down quite a steep trail.

Today when we checked into our albergue, I asked the friendly woman if they have Wi-Fi (they pronounce it as wee-fee here). “Si, si ,”she said. Then I inquired if everyone asks that. “Todos,” she replied. Everyone.

Almost every establishment you visit, whether an albergue, hostel, hotel, bar or restaurant, advertises that it has Wi-Fi. They do but often it doesn’t work, or it may work in the reception area but not in your room. In one hostel the landlady’s teen-aged daughter instructed us to stand in the stairwell outside of the locked office door, which Martha did – and it worked.

iPad, SIMM card, data plan

Martha brought her Mini iPad to Spain and relies on Wi-Fi for email and web surfing. She has quite often been frustrated by the spotty Wi-Fi service but usually she gets by. She also uses the device to take pictures and it does a nice job.

I purchased a smartphone a few months ago in Canada and had a SIMM card installed in Spain. So far I have placed 40 Euros on it. That allows me to make phone calls within the country and has been invaluable in booking accommodation. I can also receive calls from anywhere. The phone plan also provides me with one Gigabite of data for each of two months so that I can send and receive messages, and surf the web from pretty well anywhere. That has allowed me, for example, to make Facebook posts from almost every stop along the way.

I have also used the phone’s camera for taking pictures and they have been of a surprisingly good quality. I have a simple photo editing program on the device that allows me to crop photos and to enhance them somewhat.

Martha and I are in a hybrid stage with technology, as are many people of our age. For example, I still carry a small moleskin notebook (a gift from my sister) and I use it to keep track of our accommodation bookings, our finances, and to jot down other notes. Younger people mostly use their smart phones to keep such records or to record their diaries.

KOBO and Scrabble on line

We brought our miniature Scrabble game with us to Spain, although we left it in Madrid so that we would not have to carry it while walking. We have found that we can use the mini iPad to play on line as long as Martha has access to Wi-Fi, although by the time evening arrives we are usually too tired for word games.

Also, I brought my KOBO reader to Spain but similarly left it in Madrid so that I would not have to carry it while hiking. Now I find that I can log into my KOBO account from my smartphone. It is certainly possible to read eBooks on the phone, but the screen is too small for that to be a pleasant experience. In any event, we are too tired on most evenings to read, no matter what the format.

Does all of this technology make us wiser or more observant pilgrims than in the past? I doubt it. I know, too, that somewhere clever people are writing theses and books about how information technology is changing how our brains are wired. Whatever their conclusions will be, I know that my phone has been a useful tool on the Camino.

Nothing to do but walk

Now back to pilgrim land. Today we walked 23 kilometres beginning in our albergue which is carved out of a farm pasture near a village called Ribadiso. This evening we are in the town of O Pedrouzo, population 5,000. Our albergue is located behind a gas station beside the main highway to Santiago de Compostela.

The walk today was mainly through shaded paths under eucalyptus and other trees and for the most part away from the busy roads. The songbirds are chirpy and from time to time we came upon a profusion of flowers carefully tended in front of homes or just along roadsides.

Today, as in all days for the past month, we have had nothing to do but walk. The terrain has not been difficult in most of Galicia. The trail is pleasant and the sloping valleys in the countryside are green and lovely. Time has seemed to stand still if only for a few days. We have only 20 kilometres remaining on our walk to Santiago and will be in the city tomorrow.

Canadians on the Camino, Day 28: The drain in Spain

Unemployed young man with roadside stand
Unemployed young man with roadside stand

(October 1)

We stayed last night in a private room in an ultra-modern albergue in Palas de Rei and not long after we start walking this morning we fall into step with a Spaniard who speaks English well. He is from Madrid where he has just left his job as a lawyer with a bank and is walking for eight days to ponder his future. He has a wife and two young daughters. When Martha asks him his name, he says, “Santiago, and I am going to Santiago to find myself.” Continue reading Canadians on the Camino, Day 28: The drain in Spain