(Ontario) Election Hangover

Flag of the Isle of Man — wikipedia

Original Kitchener, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday June 7, 2022

This post began as an impromptu Facebook comment, my contribution to an exchange full of doom and gloom over the prospect of four more years with Doug Ford and his team in charge of the lands, the waters, our schools, our hospitals, our cities, our livelihoods. The initial post in the thread, which I encountered early Monday morning, was illustrated with a coffin. 

The results of the election last week are certainly discouraging: 57% of us didn’t even bother to vote, setting a new record in general apathy. As a result, support from a mere 18% of the electorate was sufficient for one party to form a majority government, giving them the power to run the province more or less as they see fit for another four years. That’s a recklessly dangerous way to steer any body politic into the future. 

People blame the lacklustre leadership of the two parties that split most of the rest of the vote, which combined would have added up to a slightly larger plurality than the winners who took all. There are calls for coalitions, mergers, and for electoral reforms of various kinds, most notably proportional representation.   

My problem with proportional representation is that it would further undermine place-based representation by treating political parties as constituencies. This might be an improvement over what we have now in terms of both fairness and prudence, but making a fundamental change to the electoral system is a laborious, time-consuming process. Do we really have time and energy for such an effort, which could, like all previous attempts at electoral reform, ultimately come to nothing? Personally, I’d rather work with systems that exist and resources that are immediately available.

My contribution to that “death of Ontario” discussion on Facebook began with a question: “Does anyone have an idea of what percentage of eligible voters actually belong to these political parties, and are therefore responsible for having chosen those leaders, setting those policies and developing those strategies we’re all finding so frustrating?”

I haven’t been able to find out how many Ontario citizens are formally committed to working under the red, orange and green banners. But I did learn that the champion PC of O blue machine cites 133,000 members, which is just over 1% of the electorate.

The thought occurred to me that perhaps active and responsible party membership, not voter turnout, is where the real apathy lies. And the reason may be that these associations haven’t evolved over time, especially in relation to the actual purposes they serve, or could serve, in the functioning of a liberal democratic order. 

It is not just our democracy that is under threat. The real tragedy here is how this particular party configuration was able to sail to another victory, despite their dismal record dealing with the environment: the land we live on, the waters below, the skies above. They have shown themselves to be the antithesis of conservative in the true sense of the word. Clinging to the 1950s notion of highway building as the path to prosperity in 2022 is flagrantly retrogressive, not progressive. 

It occurs to me that, given current prospects, and all that’s at stake, the quickest, smartest and most efficient strategy available to the genuinely progressive, conservationist, democratic, liberal-minded and good-hearted would be for us to get our act together, organize, and set our sights on taking over those rickety old hulks of political machinery so we can kick out the jams, and then proceed to fix up the works so these associated conveyances can get us to where we need to go. 

To be safe and sure, we might want to start hedging our bets. I’m proposing that, instead of seeking unity in opposition to another fragile unity, each of us join any of the three main political formations, with the understanding that we’re all fighting the same good fight — an army, a navy and an air force, say. We can then work on multiple fronts to find adaptive reuses for these derelict party structures so that they begin to suit 21st century challenges and opportunities. 

Let’s call it the triple boot approach, and borrow the ancient Manx motto:  Quocunque Jeceris Stabit — “whatever way you throw it, it will stand”. 

So what about the fourth option, the fledgling Green Party of Ontario and the 6% of us who voted for candidates running on its platform? Well, we could change the metaphor to a vehicle with four matched wheels, two that steer, and two to stay on track, all moving in the same direction. 

But the Green could also serve as the catalyst for change, as the heart and soul of the great awakening that the people of this province, and the land it is such a major part of, need and deserve. 

Under proportional representation, 6% would translate to about 7 seats in the legislature at Queen’s Park. But if all or most of the people who voted Green last week joined any of the mainstream political associations, including the triumphant blue machine, they would constitute an overwhelming majority. 

The proposition is not as preposterous as it might first appear. Before the Western Reform onslaught on traditional Canadian conservatism rendered them extinct, there were Red Tories, who were admirable, but sadly out of tune with the neo-lib/con ascendancy. There is no going back. But now, as we’re completing the first quarter of the 21st century, there is no good reason why there couldn’t be Green Tories, especially where the time-honoured Progressive Conservative brand remains extant. 

In the same way, and at the same time, there could be Green Liberals and Green Democrats. The approaches could be different, but instead of being constantly at odds, as in the antiquated political left versus the right of the 1800s and 1900s, the three polarities of the political order I’m imagining could operate as wholesome checks and balances to one another, and, when things are nicely in alignment, function as varied ways to accomplish the same purpose, like an army, a navy and an air force.  

Last Minute (Ontario) Election Thoughts

Tuesday May 31, 2022
Original Kitchener, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Two days from now the people of Ontario will decide who to entrust with the government of our province for the next four years.

I am not able to give impartial commentary on provincial matters. A deep revulsion over what happened here in the wake of the “Common Sense Revolution” of 1995 has been a factor in almost everything I’ve said and done since. I remain committed to doing anything I can to undo the damage that was done, to ensure that what happened isn’t forgotten, and to prevent anything like it from happening again. 

Beyond speaking out on related matters every now and then, I haven’t been able to do much. I’ve learned that to make a difference you need to either join together with others, or convince others to work with you.   

I know how I’ll vote this time around, and why. For anyone who is still undecided, here are a couple of resources for “strategic voting” in the provincial election: 



The VoteWell site, which comes out of Victoria, B.C., explains the purpose this way: “There are 3 national parties in Canada with leftist politics, and only one that is right-leaning. This often causes a ‘split vote’ among leftist voters, giving the right an over-representation of electoral seats.” 

The message here is that we need to vote carefully, and take into consideration the odds, riding by riding. Which is what I’ve always done. But I don’t like the idea of “strategic voting”, and will try to explain why.  

To begin with, I don’t consider myself left-leaning, at least not in relation to a right as represented by the forces that dominate the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, their federal and other provincial counterparts, and, of course, the wellspring: the hard core Republican consortium down in the U.S.A.. 

The reality is that there are three viable moderate-centrist parties with progressive tendencies in this election, and one hard-line radical-libertarian party with retrogressive, obstructive and destructive tendencies. The distinction is not a bifurcation within a continuous spectrum, but between two completely different ways of seeing the world and our place in it. 

If I’m wrong, and the old left-right spectrum remains relevant, I want no part of it. And that’s a lonely position to take up. My place in relation to the body politic would be analogous to that of an Old Order Mennonite or a Doukhobor. 

My sense is that this core driving force in the PCO, CPC and GOP is out of tune, not just with the majority of citizens of both Canada and the United States, but with the reality of our time. It is also a contradiction of almost any reasonable combination of principles, ideas or moral standards. This is an optimistic view, but I’m trying to hang on to it. Giving up would be saying you can fool most of the people, year after year after year, which is tantamount to giving up on democracy itself. 

The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario as currently constituted remains a force to be reckoned with only because it has been able to fool large numbers of Evangelical and Catholic Christians into voting with them, while skillfully managing to exploit, exacerbate and foment fear, resentment, suspicion and hate whenever the opportunity arises. 

Progressive and, I would argue, conservative in name only, the party that Doug Ford leads remains viable because they have retained the support of both traditional, true blue conservatives, especially in small town and rural settings, and of those who still identify with a political tradition that is nearly extinct: the anti-republican, anti-revolutionary “Loyal She Remains” strain on which this province was founded. 

The form, practice and culture of political parties as they function today are part of the problem. But I do believe in purposeful association and organization, even in the municipal sphere, where Canadians have generally tried to avoid formal partisanship. 

A key consideration for me is the question of what constitutes a constituency. We don’t vote as a province or as a country, but riding by riding. And while the process through which electoral districts are defined in Canada is far superior to the way it’s done in the United States, where partisanship corrupts the process, the effort to sort the body politic into roughly equal sections leads to some strange configurations that can be a hindrance to the democratic process.

My riding, Kitchener, has a certain integrity, but it is awkward to have parts of the city sectioned off and portioned out, some to Waterloo and others to the two sprawling suburban-rural ridings nearby so that the principle of rep by equal pop is maintained.

To vote strategically is conspiring to have it your way. You’re wheeling and dealing in order to outmanoeuvre what you consider your competition. It suggests that elections are contests between opposing interests and wills. What you do in the privacy of the ballot box is either a quiet profession of your personal convictions or making a calculated move in some kind of game with winners and losers. 

I’m not interested in having my say, or in silently professing my political faith, or even in determining an outcome I prefer. An election is democracy at work: a collective process, through which we, as citizens, deliberate, and make decisions about how to best move forward into the near future, together, as a city, a township, a province or a nation. And the “we” in our system is everyone within a particular constituency, however shaped and defined. 

It’s the deliberation process that matters most. What’s missing is a procedure for reaching a final decision. So the best I can do is to try to guess what my fellow citizens are thinking, and try to align with enough of them to constitute at least a plurality, and ideally a majority, on election day. 

Right now, especially with the diminution of local and regional media, there are few channels for meaningful deliberation. Public forums, all-candidates meetings, questionnaires and so forth certainly can help, and have been steadily improving. But they have a narrow reach. 

Essentially, elections are decided through rival advertising campaigns devised and distributed from metropolitan centres, and sent to our homes as standardized packages. They leave little or nothing to discuss. There is no reliable way of getting a sense of which way your fellow constituents are leaning, other than the kind of poll numbers provided by services like votethemallout.ca and votewell.ca. 

Despite those limitations, I’ve been satisfied with the results in my constituency. Over the last decade or so, I’ve voted red, orange and green, but always for the winning candidate. The last time a plurality voted for a party that I couldn’t possibly support was in 2008. Even then, I rather liked the winning candidate as an individual human being, and was able to have meaningful and productive discussions with him.  

But a plurality shouldn’t be enough. Declaring a candidate with less than a third of the eligible votes the winner is leaving things hanging. Our election process doesn’t give us a chance to come together to form a majority and make the decision firm. 

In a healthy democracy, of course, the final step would be for the body politic as a whole to declare support for the decision that was made through the democratic process. Once you’re elected, your job is to represent everyone in your riding. But that’s not possible when one party is an outlier, and the choice is between two completely different ways of seeing the world and our place in it. 

A house divided this way cannot stand. A body politic at odds with itself is diseased, and cannot live a full life. 

A progressive tendency means moving forward, adjusting to the needs of the times, and making improvements along the way. It doesn’t require unity or solidarity. But there does need to be harmony and balance. Treating a renegade party with retrogressive, obstructive and destructive tendencies as an acceptable option would be like trying to walk with one leg stepping forward while the other insists on going sideways, backwards, jumping up or kneeling down.  

Proportional representation would make things even worse. This would, in effect, turn political parties — partisan configurations of varying sorts — into constituencies. Instead of coming together, it would make division permanent, and reduce all political activity to brokering deals. 

There must be better a way. Meanwhile, we have to make do with the system as it exists, and the resources currently available.

According to VoteWell, it is not necessary to vote strategically in Waterloo or Kitchener, where people seem to be satisfied with their current representatives in the legislature, and neither of them are with the renegade party. For the other three constituencies in Waterloo Country — Cambridge, Kitchener-Conestoga, Kitchener South-Hespeler — it looks like the strategic vote, the responsible vote, the informed vote is orange this time around, with those leaning green holding the balance of power.  

I would work under the green banner if it became a movement dedicated to facilitating responsible collective decision making, finding solutions, and getting the work done, rather than a party in the root sense: a division, a parting, a separation. Questions of how we, human beings, relate to the planet, to creation, to our earthly home are not a priority, but a commonality: They are fundamental to all other considerations, and therefore a concern that should be bringing us together, not setting us apart from one another.  

Victoria Day Reflections 2022

Original Kitchener, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Tuesday May 24, 2022

British North American postage stamp, 1860

I’ve just finished re-posting, with minor revisions, Victoria Day columns originally published in 2020 and 2021: On Further Reflection: Victoria Day 2020; and On Further Reflection: Victoria Day 2021.

With the former, there’s a note to say that, two years later, “I still love Victoria Day /  Fête de la Reine as celebrated in Canada, especially here in Upper Canada, for all its quaint peculiarities. I also have a deep and abiding fondness for Cavaliere Raffaele Zaccaquini’s landmark sculpture of Victoria and the Lion, which has been controversial of late, having become the object to the same kind of vandalism that led to the removal of the statue of John A MacDonald and other Prime Ministerial personages in Baden.”

I have no fondness for the ill-fated Prime Ministers’ Path project, but do sympathize with both the organizers and the artists who were commissioned to do the work. But I love Victoria Park, which has been the heart of Berlin and later Kitchener, Ontario for 126 years, and all it’s essential elements: the lake, the iron bridge, the band shell, the pavilion, the boat house, the trees; the monumental souvenir of the city’s majestic old city hall; the plinth where the Kaiser’s bust once stood, and, maybe best of all, the grand Empress cast in bronze, with the imperial lion reclining at her feet.    

So for me, the defilement is disturbing, painful and discouraging. I am alarmed over the impending loss: This public art work, a gift to the people of our city from a once powerful association of patriotic women that is holding its 122nd annual general meeting in Winnipeg this week, is fragile. They may end up destroying it.

But I have no desire to take up a routine binary, pro vs. con stance on the various issues that come into play here. The prevailing winds are clearly against the Queen who was born 203 years ago, and who has now been dead and buried for much longer than she lived, breathed and ruled over that Empire on which the sun never set. 

These are centuries old battles, and my sympathies are drawn toward the losing side, to what is generally neglected and forgotten, mocked and scorned. What we need, though, is peace and love; truth and reconciliation, not a settling of old scores or a return to lost causes. I firmly believe that truth, justice and what I hold to be the Canadian way are best served by complicating the picture, starting with broadening what is taken into consideration and enriching the story with nuance, colour and detail.    

We can make of these vestigial symbols what we choose. To me, Victoria wielding her sceptre and looking down from her pedestal, signifies, first and foremost, that all that Canadians have accomplished as a self-governing nation state among nations has been done peaceably, without the violent overthrow of an existing order, without a total break from the past. This is the essence of what distinguishes us from the separatist republic to the south, and perhaps the only cogent justification for maintaining a separate existence and staying together as a confederation of cultures, nations and settlements.

I also choose to think of the statue as a symbol of associations that were not always peaceable, and far from equitable, but real nonetheless. It is a reminder that what is now Canada originated as part of an entity that was global, and encompassed many cultures, faiths, languages and skin tones from the outset, and that this has shaped what we have become and are becoming.  

There are parks — dedicated civic outdoor gathering places — named after Victoria in towns and cities from sea to sea. In the early decades of Canada under home rule, municipal parks were still something new, and it is remarkable how many growing settler communities chose to name their central park after their Queen. 

photo courtesy Harold Russell, a child of Victoria Park

​​Early Evening in Victoria Park on Victoria Day Monday, May 23, 2022

What strikes you about Victoria Park is the diversity of the people you find there, much more so than at any other Kitchener gathering place, including the Market. Victoria Park is always busy – people walking dogs, playing soccer, or hanging out on the steps of the clocktower monument, pushing a baby carriage or minding a child on a bike. This Victoria Day Monday (one day before the actual May-2-4), on a mild evening, a group of young men were passing around a now perfectly legal toke, and just chilling, while a diverse stream of people passed by the fountain commemorating the journeys and arrivals of immigrants and refugees in the city. 

However, the real party, I discovered, was deeper inside the park. On the other side of Jubilee Drive, past the underused pavilion, starting with the playground, hundreds – perhaps thousands – of people had come out to celebrate the Monday off, almost all of them people of colour. There were picnics on the grass, picnics at picnic tables, children running and climbing, old people strolling, teenagers hanging out, young people flirting, boys with bicycles hanging out, men in groups – people in all kinds of clothing,  girls in white Sunday dresses, men in flowing robes, women with elaborate headdresses, and kids in jeans and sneakers.

I had not seen anything like this since leaving my home country, in Eastern Europe, on a May 1 or an August 23, the good-weather national holidays, when people came outside to be together, just like here, in Victoria Park: not so much in nature as punctuated by nature – on the grass, the groups spaced out by trees and bushes. 

There was not much music – a car radio in the full parking lot, not too loud – and the occasional pop of a firecracker that nobody paid attention to. The main sound was of people talking to each other. For a moment I thought I was the only white person there – but there were others, like me, passing through this immense family party. I felt I had witnessed something special, all these people so comfortably at home in the park, in the heart of the city.

In historical photos and descriptions of Victoria’s Park the crowds look very different. Although the languages and the accents have always varied, this visible diversity is a relatively recent development. And yet, as the statue of Victoria and the Lion can remind us if we so choose, the scene on Monday as my friend describes it is a reflection of connections that have been there for centuries. 

I am ready to concede, though, that there are many ways to tell a story without departing completely from the whole truth, which is unfathomable in its complexity. If you choose to see Victoria and the Lion as a symbol of oppression, conquest and domination, that’s your prerogative. It puts you in line with what has been the prevailing view, on this continent and around the world, since the alarm was sounded that the red coats were coming, and those shots were fired at Lexington. 

If this were true, how simple our strivings and struggles would become. If a coterie of pampered royal brutes are ultimately responsible for all the hate, and all the suffering that have plagued humankind over the centuries, something as simple as a guillotine could deliver us from evil (or, in the case of graven images that idolize tyranny, a smelting furnace or bit of room in a scrap yard somewhere). 

But at most, this would only be the tiniest sliver of the whole truth. Finding others to blame may seem like a convenient solution, especially if the guilty party has been dead for more a century. This leaves us, the living, completely off the hook. But this will not move the human race an inch, not even a millimetre, towards deliverance, redemption or reconciliation.

Time for a Reset

Original Kitchener, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday May 24, 2022

Another Victoria Day weekend has come and gone here in the original Canada West. I’m writing this on the Empress Victoria’s actual birth anniversary — her 203rd — which is Tuesday May 24.

Two years ago I started writing a bi-weekly column of “musings” for CultKW, a project of THEMUSEUM in downtown Kitchener. They called it I am Groot, with the tagline “still musing after all these years”. After an introductory column, I began the series with reflections on Victoria Day 2020.

I’d also started writing occasional posts for a personal website, and carried on with hosting and editing a weekly “community radio magazine” that airs on 98.5 CKWR, Canada’s first community radio station. 

Last fall, in the wake of the 2021 federal election, I launched a Substack newsletter. The inaugural post was an open letter to the freshly elected or re-elected representatives to Canada’s Parliament from our neck of the woods. The intention was to begin sharing thoughts with a more political focus giving equal weight to the three spheres of our democracy: federal, provincial and municipal. I called it “The Evening Muse, a newsletter of reflections from here, now and then”. 

The radio magazine continues to run, although no longer as a project of the Commons Studio at The Working Centre. The wordsmithing, however, started petering out, for a variety of reasons. But my thoughts continue to race along. They need some kind of outlet. It’s time for a re-set, and there is no better time for new beginnings than spring planting time, after the last day of frost.

I don’t think there’s room for any new channels or directions. As it stands, there are three mainstream platforms I use regularly, including contributions to eight different pages and groups on Facebook alone, along with six websites of one kind or another. There is a need for consolidation, but not prioritization. I want to carry with various threads that were introduced along the way.

So the plan is to go back to the beginning, and repost, with a few revisions here and there, all the writing that I think remains relevant in some way, along with a few comments explaining why. 

Meanwhile, I’d like to return to a more regular output, starting with the original twice per month. I’ll start utilizing the Substack platform, because it seems the most versatile, but keep marinusdegroot.ca as a mirror site and a repository for “On Further Reflection” re-posts.  

The Victoria Day, 2020 post seems a good place to start. I’m posting it here, with minor revisions, and a note to say that << I still love Victoria Day /  Fête de la Reine as celebrated in Canada, especially here in Upper Canada, for all its “quaint peculiarities.” I also have a deep and abiding fondness for Cavaliere Raffaele Zaccaquini’s landmark sculpture of Victoria and the Lion, which has been controversial of late, having become the object to the same kind of desecration that led to the removal of the statue of John A MacDonald in Baden.>>

I’ve also reposted a revised version of my Victoria Day, 2021 post, and will follow with a new column reflecting on the Victoria Day that has just passed.

The intention here, almost from the outset, has been to pull together the various threads that were started through these various projects and weave them into a pamphlet of some kind. The original idea was to offer some light-hearted 21st-century neo-loyalist reflection on Common Sense, the 18th-century pamphlet that did so much to divide North America into two federated nation states, each under their own version of settler home rule. But who knows where we’ll actually end up. We’ll go where the winds in our sails take us.

On Further Reflection: Victoria Day 2021

This is a slightly revised version of a post from one year ago, when Pentecost Sunday fell on Victoria Day weekend. This year, the seventh Sunday after Easter falls on June 5th, three days after the provincial election now currently underway. I mention here, in passing, that these “neo-loyalist’ musings originate with my revulsion against what happened here in the province in the wake of the “Common Sense Revolution” now 27 years ago. Also relevant here are: Reflections on the Common Sense Revolution at the 25 Year Mark (June 8, 2020) and Reflections on the Common Sense Revolution at the 25 Year + One Week Mark (June 14, 2020)

Victoria Day 1854, Toronto, Canada West
Original Kitchener, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

May 24, 2021

If I have my arithmetic and my wikipedia facts lined up correctly, today is the 176th iteration of the celebration of Queen Victoria’s birthday here in our neck of the woods.

Victoria Day is my favourite secular holiday, for a lot of reasons, starting with how deliciously peculiar it is that, after all those years, we’re still doing this. No one else does; not in England, nor in the rest of the nations of the troubled kingdom where Victoria’s successor reigns, nor elsewhere among the 15 “Commonwealth Realm” polities that remain.

It’s not even universally celebrated in Canada: Victoria Day is a general holiday in Alberta, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and Yukon; and a statutory holiday in British Columbia, Ontario and Saskatchewan. 

It makes sense that the peoples and nations of pre-Victorian Canada — i.e. the Atlantic provinces and  Québec — don’t partake. I wouldn’t mind if federal authorities began treating this as another celebration of Canada’s diversity. That would pave the way to reclaiming the holiday as something special to the province I live in: la Fête nationale d’Ontario, but without the overtones of Bostonais-style separatism. 

Traditions and their associations can evolve. I wouldn’t mind if the fireworks came to an end, for instance. Given that most of the meaning has been lost, and that May 2-4 gunpowder play is now almost entirely private, all that noise that went on until the wee hours last night struck me as in-your-ear version of in-your-face tagging of public vistas with spray paint.    

Regardless of how things have changed over time, an unbroken tradition of 176 years is valuable in and of itself. It would be a shame, and probably very bad luck, to break it completely. It’s always possible, of course, to start a new tradition, but we’d have to wait until 2297 to match this legacy.  

The usual arguments that Canadians should break ties with the monarchy and finally do away with these quaint, subservient practices have become an annual Victoria Day ritual of sorts. With the widely prevalent idea of colonialism being the root of all evil, this line of thinking has gained a fresh relevance. 

I don’t buy it. But I don’t believe in debate. There are myriad sides to every important question. The best way forward is to move beyond routine positions, pro versus con, towards a respect for the complexities  involved.  

In this case, coming up with a counter-argument to these latter-day republicans would not only be a waste of time, it could prove to be a reckless return to battles millions have fought and died for over the last 200+ years. 

Canada, especially Ontario, Canada, is the product of such a battle. We’re what remains of the realm of Victoria’s grandfather after the thirteen disgruntled colonies rose up to overthrow their government and establish settler home rule.

Through a convoluted personal journey, I’ve become what I like to describe as a conservatory progressive. The “tory” in conservatory is deliberate: It declares that, by temperament and conviction, I’ve become a neo-loyalist — or, better, a latter day loyalist.  

Ironically, I got this way by trying to imagine what the complete opposite would be of what passes for conservatism nowadays. I’ve been deeply concerned about how things have been unfolding here since the “Common Sense Revolution” began raging out of Queen’s Park 26 years ago.1 

When it began flaring up again with the rise of our current Premier, I was appalled. But I’ve restored my equilibrium. My sense is that Mr. Ford is cut from different cloth than Premier Harris, but his party and his leadership team remain totally immersed in the mindset and spirit of ‘95. 

Victoria Day to me is a symbol of 262 years of peaceful transition. We’ve had a few flare ups of the Yankee / Rebel spirit every now and then. This is understandable, given that we live next door to the separatist settler republic, and given that the U.S. storyline has been dominant for going on 250 years now. 

When you tell the story this way, we come out losers, cowards, sheep. Fortunately, the spirit of rebellion has never prevailed. Loyal we’ve remained, more or less. 

Symbols are what we choose to make of them. To me, the monarchy is a symbol of continuity, of evolutionary change. We’ve gotten to where we are today by adapting and building on what exists, step by step.  I think the idea of a head of state who, even though she is the commander-in-chief of the spiritual, military and civil estates of the four countries of the UK plus 15 more overseas, has absolutely no power over any of us, is simply brilliant. 

The idea of leaving succession to genetic chance, rather than personal ambition, partisan squabbling and majority rule, also has enduring merit. .    

As a latter day loyalist, I can sing “God Save the Queen” with heart and conviction. 

The Royal coats of arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as used by Queen Elizabeth II …  in Scotland (right) and elsewhere (left). – wikipedia

I should clarify, though, that a true progressive only looks forward. There is no golden age to return to, nor are there any past glories worth bragging about. It’s the future that counts.   

In this time of plague, of conflict and schism, of looming economic collapse, when efforts to redress historical wrongs appear destined to failure, and when the “Man and His World” attitudes of the 20th-century linger on to the point where such arrogance has become an existential threat to the planet itself, you have to work hard to keep a modicum of hope alive. That’s why I like to keep an eye out for omens that might be imagined as promising. 

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday. Just as Victoria Day is my favourite secular holiday, Pentecost is my favourite spiritual holy day. I love the numbers: Seven times seven plus one equals fifty (Pentecost the the 7th Sunday, and therefore 50 days, after Easter Sunday). I love the idea of the light of the spirit visible over the heads of an assembly of believers. I love the idea of speaking in tongues that are marvelously varied yet universally intelligible. 

In the Christian story, Pentecost Sunday is as meaningful as Christmas, Easter or Thanksgiving. The fact that the modern nation state and the world of commerce have never even tried to make anything of this holy day seems almost miraculous. So Pentecost Sunday falling on Victoria Day weekend can be taken as a fortunate coincidence. 

By the same token, should the powers that be decide to abolish Victoria Day as we’ve known it once and for all, I’d make believe that this, too, is a good omen. It would be an indication that we no longer need to make this “us and them” distinction. 

It is possible that our destiny has been obscured all this time by the twin imperial storylines that have been dominant for so long. But any day now, the fog may lift. (I should mention that I like to imagine Victoria’s maritime empire and the continental superpower we’re attached to as two sides of the same coin, like Rome and its one-time colony, Constantinople, in days of old).

It may soon become apparent that Sir Wilfrid Laurier was right, but off by a century, when he prophesied that “the 20th century belongs to Canada” — or, in his exact words, “The 19th century was the century of the United States. I think we can claim that it is Canada that shall fill the 20th century.”

Sir Wilfrid Laurier with Zoé, Lady Laurier, in 1907 – wikipedia

The promise of the Canadas, including the  Ontario nation, may not be to right the wrongs of 1776, 1789 and all the horrors that have followed. The purpose is not to set things in order, whether from the reactionary or the revolutionary perspective, nor is it to reconcile such opposites. 

Victoria Day 2021 is a good time to imagine our manifest destiny is to show the world how to rise above conflicts that have plagued the human race since the last quarter of the 18th century, and move forward with a storyline better suited to the circumstances, challenges and possibilities of the 21st century. 

On Further Reflection: Victoria Day 2020

A statue in front of a building

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photo courtesy of Cambridge photographer Vanessa Pejovic.

Tuesday May 24, 2022
Originally posted on May 20, 2020, this was my second “I am Groot” column for CultKW, a project of THEMUSEUM. I still love Victoria Day /  Fête de la Reine as celebrated in Canada, especially here in Upper Canada, for all its “quaint peculiarities.” I also have a deep and abiding fondness for Cavaliere Raffaele Zaccaquini’s landmark sculpture of Victoria and the Lion, which has become controversial of late, and subject to the same kind of desecration that led to the removal of the statue of John A MacDonald in Baden.


May 20, 2020
I am writing to you from what has been my perch, my coop for more than nine weeks now: from my apartment on the third floor of an industrial heritage building in the original part of downtown Kitchener.  

That’s the part of the city that goes back to when Kitchener was still Berlin, Canada; when Queen Victoria was on her throne, and when the sun never set on her domains. 

I hope your Victoria Day weekend was a joyous one.  

Victoria’s actual birthday – her 201st – is this Sunday, so this celebration opportunity is still open. 

Monday was damp and gloomy, so I have a mind to go up the street to her statue in her park and pay my respects later in the week, in a solitary, silent and properly masked for the pandemic kind of way.  

I love Victoria Day for all its quaint peculiarities. In her time, she was a global presence (check out this Wikipedia list of statues of her imperial majesty in locations worldwide). Today, Canada is the only place where Victoria and her long, long reign are still celebrated with a statutory holiday.  

Even though it has become an almost meaningless vestige of a time gone by, Victoria Day in Canada is part of what makes us distinct.  

It is worth noting, especially since it is THEMUSEUM that is hosting these musings, that this holiday Monday that just went by was also International Museum Day.  

The theme this year was “Museum for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion”.   

That Victorian Empire of old is not something we associate with equality; that’s a specialty of revolutionary France. In terms of diversity and broad inclusion, however, there has never been a political configuration that comes close to matching the cultural breadth and variety of that vast global empire we were once part of.  

The museum connection brings to mind the Record column I wrote for Victoria Day last year, which included a mention of a small exhibit dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria at the Fashion History Museum in Hespeler, Cambridge. 

The “Victoria 200” exhibit included one of Victoria’s personal garments — a linen chemise — on loan from the Jordan Historical Museum of the Twenty in the Town of Lincoln, out in Niagara. 

This year, of course, the Fashion History Museum and every other museum, gallery, theatre, concert hall, community art centre and library are shut tight. 

Writing as an arts advocate, I have to say something about how grave the current situation has become for organizations like the Fashion History Museum, and for people working in culture-related endeavours of all kinds. 

Things look worse with every passing day. We can no longer just hope for the best and wait for things to return to some semblance of normal. 

This is where another aspect of what Victoria Day signifies comes into the picture: May 2-4 in these parts is the culmination of a long arc of spring observances, from Groundhog Day to the vernal equinox through Earth Day, Arbour Week, Easter, May Day, Mothers Day, to now, when we can finally plant without fear of frost and begin the turn towards summer. 

More than any other time of the year, this is the season to honour and to treasure our earthly home. 

When we consider the future of museums, galleries, archives, libraries, and conservatories, and think about how music, theatre, dance, literary, visual arts, and media, new and old, will evolve, what we’re really thinking about is the future of work.  

And any way you look at it, in 2020 the future of work means finding ways to do things for one another in more sustainable ways — all 8 billion of us alive today around this globe where the sun is always rising and always setting.  

We’ve reached the point where the ecological balance sheet is of far greater consequence than anything that can be measured in terms of dollars and cents.  

My Victoria Day 2020 wish is that we take advantage of this break from the normal and use the time to work on updating our conception of what prosperity means.  

My sense is, if culture-related work, culture-related exchange, the immeasurable value of arts-related production, and the ever-increasing riches of our shared cultural inheritance are not at the very centre of an evolved conception of true prosperity, the future starts to look hopeless and impoverished.

Peace Train part 3 of 3

World map of Waldseemüller (Germany, 1507), which first used the name America — wikipedia

Now I’m going to let go, and take off on a flight of hopeful, faithful fancy.  

The task at hand is still to imagine ways that peace may still have a chance, even as the death and devastation continues day by day in the cities, towns and oblasts of Ukraine. 

I’ve suggested imagining both Putin’s armies and “the West” standing down, and agreeing, say, to a non-aligned Ukraine while the Russian Federation begins a process of normalising relations with the rest of Europe. 

To offset yet another existential standoff between hyperpower clusters, I’ve proposed imagining longitudinal networks to match the great northern latitudinal alliance: a pole to pole expanse encompassing the nations with the largest landmasses along with those that have the greatest concentrations of human beings: Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran, China, India, with Canada and Australia as bookends.

Our hemisphere is already longitudinally connected: We’re all settler societies, with a balance of Latin and Anglo coexisting with varying concentrations of Indigenous and African elements, as well as a growing Asian presence. We have been dominated, from pole to freezing pole, for 200 + years by the great republic to the South of Canada, and to the North of the rest of the Americas.

Latitudinally, a South Atlantic to Pacific Treaty Organization, from South America across the Atlantic to Africa to South Asia and over the Pacific back to America again, would help establish an even better balance. 

South Europe would do well to seek a rapprochement with the rest of the original Mediterranean World, including Turkey, Iran, the Middle East and North Africa. The separation of Latin Europe, including France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Romania, from the rest of the Mediterranean World is as unnatural, and unfortunate, as the separation between Christendom East and West, including what is now Turkey and once Byzantium.   

To offset all those extensive new unifications, disunion could also be part of the picture. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Anglo Empires East and West break up into smaller, less dominant entities. The United Kingdom is already well on the way to dismemberment. 

This is a process that actually began with the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The independence of Ireland, Canada and the other “Dominions” followed from that, as did Ireland and all the other former colonies, not just of England but all of Europe’s Atlantic powers. Barbados and Jamaica preparing to break ties with the British crown are just the latest examples of the whole world following the U.S. separatist storyline.    

But separations can facilitate new unions and reunions. A free Scotland and a free Wales joining hands with an undivided Ireland, and from there working to strengthen a trans-Atlantic Celtic alliance stretching from “Newfoundland to Brittany, from Scotland to the Basque Country” looks, to me, not just like a beautiful dream, but manifest destiny. If it comes about, it will all be thanks to the rebels that started dividing the British Empire when it was only just starting to rule the waves.  

File:Combined flag of the Celtic nations.jpg
Combined flag of Celtic nations, including Galicia — wikipedia

Harmony, rather than unity or solidarity, is preferable in situations where nations and peoples don’t fit exactly and exclusively within the boundaries of a single sovereign nation state. That means almost everywhere. In previous musings, I’ve even imagined a plural Canada, centred around cities, towns, watersheds, and multiple nations, both Indigenous and of settler origins.  

None of these arrangements need be permanent. The time for Thousand Year Realms is long past. A thoroughfare can become a byway; a fork in the road can merge again on the other side of a mountain or lake. Peace in Ukraine can start with a 60-80 year truce, during which we can dedicate all the time, energy and resources previously devoted to defending ourselves to healing the planet, and developing ways to achieve a responsible, sustainable and fair kind of prosperity. Once that’s settled, the people of Earth can decide what to do with nations, lands, tribes, associations, provinces, watersheds, cities and towns. 

All we have to do to set such trends into motion is give peace a chance, starting right now.

That means thinking of ways to give the war criminals who started the killing in Ukraine a way out. If they act now, there is still a possibility of a pardon, and, if they change their course, even of forgiveness. 

I’m trying to keep alive a glimmer of hope that Fats Domino and Blueberry Hill can be part of the solution. I not only hope and pray, but truly believe music can serve as the engine of the Peace Train. 

The Rolling Stones just announced a European tour to celebrate their Diamond Anniversary, as always, just a decade behind succession of the jubilees celebrating the reign of our gracious Queen. The Stones have been to Russia before, 23 years ago now. It shouldn’t be difficult to add a few concerts in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia. An extended concert tour could be a kind of peace offering that just might stop the masters of war in their tracks. If not, such a prospect could encourage the Russian people to demand their leaders stand down and give peace a chance.  

As with this entire generation of music artists, we won’t have Mick, Keith, Ron and their remarkable organization with us forever. This could really be the last time. But it’s hard to imagine a happier ending, not just for their remarkable career, but for the hopes and dreams of my generation.  

How about a one-time only Glastonbury East, somewhere in the steppes of Eurasia, complete with Paul McCartney, Kendrick Lamar, Billie Eilish and Diana Ross? It’s at least possible.  

Or a 21st century Woodstock. I was going to say in Vladivostok, but that may be going a bit too far out. But then I started to imagine an actual Peace Train, filled with global musical talent, with Yusuf/Cat Stevens as the honorary Engineer and Buffy Sainte-Marie the Conductor, making its way from London to Paris, along the Orient Express to Bucharest, up to Moscow via Kjiv, and from there to the Pacific along the Trans Siberian Railway. Why not?  

Music may not be enough. I’m also keeping my hopes up by imagining a proposal to redo both the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia and the 2021 Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2023-24. For complicated reasons, some blameworthy, some just bad luck, these events resulted in disappointment for all concerned. Let’s make the possibility of doing them over a component of a deal to end the war in Ukraine.  

Ukraine’s offence was longing to join the West. That highway sign modified to read that all roads lead to The Hague comes to mind. What if, instead of leading to the heart of the original North Atlantic West in The Hague, Brussels, Luxembourg, Strasbourg and Paris, the traffic went in the other direction? 

Just imagine the Crimean peninsula designated as a kind of Vatican for the new order of World Peace, with branches of the International Court of Justice, the new NATO, its North-South equivalent, the EU, the United Nations, and maybe even the new Union of Mediterranean States. 

To complete the picture, something similar can be planned for Taiwan: another Peace Land, symbolizing a world that has outgrown the Eurocentricity that has dominated modernity so far, a humanity that is on the road to solving the injustices that can accompany nationalist solidarity. 

To start things off, there could be something like a World’s Fair, running simultaneously in both of these “Peace Lands,” operating under the auspices of one or more of these grand alliances rather than a particular nation. 

The theme could be areas where self-determining nations run by their respective “masters” in their own house become problematic: minorities, Indigenous peoples, non-conformists, economic hostility and exclusivity, regional disparities, colonial and imperial vestiges, and, above all, “Man and His World” style arrogance in relation to how we treat our Earthly home. In other words, an intra-national and supra-national approach instead of the usual international one.     

In sum, in exchange for standing down in Ukraine, Russia would get a guarantee for security within her borders for the next three to four generations, host a sequence of historic celebrations, and become the home for a new kind of world capital. That’s a good deal. Every child, woman and man on the planet would be a beneficiary: win-win-win multiplied to 7,753,000,000. And if the leaders who have turned Russia into a rogue power don’t accept the offer, peace makers can go over their heads and make the offer to the Russian people. 

The promises needn’t flow only in one direction. I’m imagining a much more dynamic, more creative, more courageous and more independent role for the Canadas in the new world order. 

Canadian towns and cities could use help in the area of arts, culture and heritage. Looking for ways my city, my region and my watershed could benefit, I’m imagining the Russian Opera working with their German counterparts to finally fulfil Raffi Armenian’s dream and utilize that world-class concert hall that bears his name for something magnificently ambitious. 

We could learn from secular missionaries sent from Europe, especially Eastern and Central Europe, to teach us how to appreciate, enjoy and take proper care of our heritage, tangible and intangible, cultural and natural.   

Young Canadians need opportunities beyond McJobs, side hustles, Uber-style sharecropping, contractual peonage, out of control landlords, diminishing expectations, inflation on all fronts except their wages, and the vagaries of an economy no one, young or old, rich or poor, has any control over. 

And those hordes of older Canadians — my generation, conceived and raised in the new hope that came with the peace of 1945 — need something meaningful and practically useful to do with what’s left of our allotted time here on Earth.  

So I’m hopefully, faithfully wishing and praying that, despite all evidence to the contrary, in 2022, the peace business is where it’s at. 

Dove, 1949 lithograph by Pablo Picasso on 1981 USSR postage stamp — wikipedia

Peace Train part 2 of 3

Peace Train 2 of 3

So what happened to that vision that had Cat Stevens smiling 50+ years ago?  

“Something good has begun,” he sensed: “Oh Peace Train sounding louder. Glide on the Peace Train.”

A few years later, an end did come to the long drawn out war that was the main concern at the time, in Indochina. It took another 20 years for the overarching conflict known as the Cold War to end. But now, more than 30 years later, it looks like we’re back at it again. 

What if the train that sounded so near at hand back then actually arrived, and we just didn’t see it or believe it? Or maybe we simply decided, for whatever reason, not to get on board.

The NATO flag points North, East, South and West

It is “the West” that is said to be lining up in solidarity with the Ukrainian people, united as never before. But with the steady progress towards harmony, if not unity, in what was once Europe, North and South; West, Central and East, hasn’t the term “the West” become an anachronism? 

The point I’m trying to make is that Russia, fearsome as her might may appear to be given her iron-fisted tyrants and her nuclear capabilities, is not substantial enough and not distinct enough to constitute an “East” that can serve as a counterpoint to a “West” extended as it is today. 

There is no longer any significant ideological difference. The oligarchs that arose with the privatization of the state-owned assets of the former Soviet Union are exceptionally crude, but this can be seen as a normal step in modernization processes. Let’s face it, the entire Free World is dominated by oligarchs or, in more mature economies, their corporate equivalent.    

In essence, “North Atlantic” as in the Treaty Organization set up in 1949 signifies Britain, at that point not so great anymore, and her trans-Atlantic extensions, especially the United States of America, having emerged from the war, not as a superpower, but the superpower. 

The familiar story line is the American Empire eclipsing the British Empire, but it might be useful to think of these as a duality, like the original Western Roman Empire and its Eastern colonial extension based in Constantinople. This duality, the Anglo Empire East and West, has dominated the whole wide world since patriots started singing about Britannia ruling the waves and, soon afterwards, their trans-Atlantic counterparts professing a kind of faith in Anglo America’s manifest destiny to dominate this continent from sea to sea to sea. 

The original rivalry was with other Atlantic powers: North, meaning the Netherlands; Middle,  i.e. France, and South — Spain and Portugal. After Waterloo, things were relatively stable for almost a century. For the first half of the 20th century, it was the now allied Atlantic powers locked in deadly combat with a resurgent Central Europe. When that got resolved it became a confrontation with an extended West versus the East, behind the Iron Curtain. Now it’s all of what was once Christendom plus Europe’s colonial extensions against the Russian Federation.  

That’s the geopolitical configuration. There’s also the cultural dimension. Let’s go back to that YouTube video of Vladmir Putin singing “Blueberry Hill” twelve years ago.

Blueberry Hill is a U.S American song, with English words, made famous by New Orleans recording artist Fats Domino. The year is 1956: Rock music has only just started to dominate the “Hit Parade,” itself a carry over from the Golden Age of Radio. Elvis isn’t in the army yet. Youth culture is only just beginning to emerge. 

1956 is also the year Nikita Khruschov made his “Secret Speech” before the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, criticizing Stalin and his “cult of personality”. The “Khrushchev Thaw” foreshadowed Gobachov’s “Glasnost”, thirty years later. But it also set the stage for the Sino-Soviet split, which in turn opened the door to Nixon and Kissinger normalizing U.S. relations with China. 

It was Fats Domino’s rocking and rolling treatment of Blueberry Hill that charmed the world in 1956, but this was a new interpretation of a song that was written as early as 1940, when the “Hit Parade” had only just begun (the term was first used in 1936). This is a point in time when the U.S.A. was still a non-aligned power, in accord with the “Washington Doctrine”, summarized in Jefferson’s phrase “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations—entangling alliances with none”.

If we’re looking for the remotest possibility that peace might yet be given a chance, those timelines could help. It is worth remembering that up to 1940 or so, the United States still had a deep suspicion of standing armies as a danger to liberty, as did almost all cultures and societies shaped by English influences. In 1949, a full 153 years after Washington’s Farewell Address, NATO became the very first permanent military alliance the United States entered into with other countries overseas: a fateful turn, out of keeping with a deep-rooted political principle. 

This was a complete about face for the home of the brave and the land of the free. The United States had always stood alone, in splendid isolation, and, for a combination of reasons, remained the least militarized of modern nations. Now it is entering an entangling alliance with almost all developed nations, and steadily increasing a military might that exceeds anything empire that had come before: Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Han, Umayyad, Mongol, Ottoman, Spanish, French, Russian or British.      

The U.S. is not replacing British power and influence at this point, it is absorbing it, and being absorbed into it, in a way that reveals how they were always two sides of the same coin. 

Putin performing, with obvious pleasure, the 1956 version of Blueberry Hill as a kind of kindergarten song, with all the right words memorized, in English is an illustration of the triumph of Anglo World Empire culture. 

If “the West” now extends to Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Georgia, even Turkey, we might as well go all the way and consider anywhere people know the words to “Blueberry Hill,” or where a Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin concert would sell out in minutes, to be part of “the West.” 

In the same way, wherever people get excited about what we in the colonies still call soccer — English style “association” rule football — can be considered, if not part of, certainly under the influence of, and in sync with Western ways. 

Modernization itself, even when pursued in distinct ways, as in China or India, is an effort to adopt processes and patterns that originally emerged in what I’ve been calling the Anglo World, starting with England. Those supply chains, pipelines, banking arrangements, shopping malls, railways, highways, sports leagues, branded franchises and production capacities, including China taking exquisitely organized industrial production to a whole new level, are all part of the same phenomenon. 

We’ve won. The West has triumphed. That may already have been true in 1949, or in 1956 when Khruschev began questioning Stalin’s ways, or in 1972 when Nixon went to China. If the Peace Train hadn’t quite reached the station, it was near at hand, as early as 1949, or maybe even 1919. If we’d realized this, and acted accordingly, confidently rather than in fear of one enemy or another, we might have given peace a chance 50, 60, 70 or more than a century ago, and saved the world a whole heap of trouble. 

Now, in the Spring of 2022, we have another opportunity to finally give peace a chance. 

I keep thinking of that Rolling Stones concert in Havana on March 25, 2016, five days after Barack Obama became the first U.S. president in almost a century to visit neighbouring Cuba. Surely this was a moment when it was clear the Cold War was truly over, and we could have safely boarded the Peace Train. 

Well, that’s my hopeful, faithful, wishful thinking, anyway. To cling to the possibility that peace still has a chance, I’m choosing to treat the record of that event, in audio, video and from memory, in the historical record, as a shining example of what peace actually looks like, sounds like, feels like: a 21st-century ode to joy 

So why do we persist in waging war? Ambition, greed, and downright wickedness, some of my Facebook friends suggested in a recent exchange.

The fact is, peace may be the only chance we have left. 

Events since the end of the last “World War” indicate that it is near impossible to win a sustained, large-scale war, even for the richest, most militarily powerful nation in all of history. Witness Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan … . 

War is obsolete, if for no other reason than the fact that the planet that all lands and all nations, large and small, are a part of is currently too fragile to withstand another widespread military conflagration. 

Russia would do well to read the writing on the wall, and stand down, immediately. Meanwhile, “the West” also needs to stand down and give this last renegade European power some room to give peace a chance. 

The same goes for Israel (an outlying West European power, like Australia or New Zealand) in relation to Palestine, and Arabia in Yemen. Or the West and the Sunni Islamic world vis a vis Iran. Stand down now. If not forever and ever, then at least declare a 60-year truce. An 80-year ceasefire would be even better, because it would take us into the 22nd century. 

If for no other reason than to avoid the global economic collapse that will surely follow if the business of war suddenly becomes obsolete, all the powers that be from pole to freezing pole should rededicate all the resources currently allocated to military preparedness towards finding ways to align modern prosperity with respecting, appreciating and protecting our Earthly home. 

That, too, is an ambition. Let’s be ambitious for peace, and greedy for a genuine, life-affirming, sustainable prosperity.

Peace Train part 1 of 3

Now I’ve been happy lately

Thinking about the good things to come

And I believe it could be

Something good has begun

— Cat Stevens, 1971

“Musings” of the sort that I’ve been sharing in my CultKW posts, in a ponderous but also a light, playful manner, are not well suited to dealing with the horrific turn of events in Ukraine. But ignoring the war, and carrying on as though nothing has happened doesn’t feel right either. So I’m going to give it a try. 

Let’s start with Vladimir Putin singing “Blueberry Hill”. I came across a clip of Russia’s strong man singing Fats Domino’s global hit in front of a glitzy crowd thick with movie stars in a Guardian article. The occasion was a fundraiser for a children’s charity back in 2010, just before the turn towards the horrors currently unfolding in the Ukraine. The headline reads: “Putin’s Hollywood pals – the stars who snuggled up to the Russian dictator”.  

I posted the link, agreeing that this is certainly an embarrassing moment for the glitterati involved. But I also noted that I found it strangely moving to hear that shaky voice performing a rock standard in the style of a nursery rhyme coming from the man who has become the new face of evil on this planet.  

A dear friend, a Ukrainian-Canadian who was a regular at the Commons Studio, responded to my post with a plea: “My homeland … please pray for my home. We need a miracle.”

“We do need a miracle,” I answered. “At this point all I can see is mutually assured destruction. If the result is anything that can be interpreted as a victory for any one or combination of the parties involved — the Russian Federation; the Ukrainian state; the Ukrainian people; the Russian people; “the West”; the Free World, the rest of the world; NATO, the non-aligned, or any alignment of nations  —  if anyone wins, everyone will lose.” 

I’m afraid my friend may have interpreted this as taking a neutral stance, and mitigating, if not justifying, the invasion of her homeland. That’s not the intention. Being surprised by Putin revealing his vulnerable side doesn’t lessen his crimes. On the contrary, it makes them worse. A monster comparable to a Hitler, a Stalin, or a Pol Pot would simply be acting according to character. A regular human being has no such excuse. 

But the Blueberry Hill episode does make room for a tiny glimmer of hope that Putin and his kind may yet be reached. His mind, his culture and his nation are not as far from the ways of “the West” as we imagined Russians to be when they were still under Soviet rule.   

There’s a lot of praying in social media. I’m not in the habit of petitioning the deity in the conventional way, hands clasped, head bowed, knees bent. But when it starts to look like only a miracle can deliver us from the kind of evil we see in Russia’s attack on Ukraine, prayer, or something like it, is an appropriate response. It may, in fact, be the only recourse we have left other than fighting to the bitter end.

Hopeful, faithful praying is an active response: You’re not just waiting for a miracle, you’re longing and pleading for deliverance, trusting that it is at least possible, “God willing,” as they say. 

Hopeful, trusting imagining of what the best possible outcome — in other words, wishful thinking — can also a kind of activism. Miracles don’t descend from out of the blue to conjure a new reality into being among us creatures here below. Redemption usually involves taking the various elements that led to a situation like the one people in Ukraine are facing, and realigning them, in this case so that they can go on with their lives in peace, each in their own small corner, according to their own lights. And the best way to do that is with faith, hope and, above all, good will.   

I’m too old to fight. I have no money to give. Nothing I can say will make a difference as the powers that be decide the fate of the Ukrainian people. Hopeful, trusting imagining how deliverance might come about is all I can do. 

“My homeland … please pray for my home,” my friend implores. And that’s what I’m doing here: Praying for Ukraine, and for all of us, in the only way I know how. 

I’m not a pacifist. I know full well that if it wasn’t for allied soldiers, most notably from Canada, my birth certificate would have had a swastika on it —  if I’d been born at all. 

My generation was conceived and raised in the new hope that came with the cessation of hostilities in 1945. We’re the children of the peace that came with military victory over Hitler and Mussolini. I like to imagine that as a result, we are naturally inclined towards giving peace a chance.

That’s why I found it encouraging to hear, via DW [Deutsche Welle] Music, that on Friday morning, March 4th, “around 150 public radio channels across Europe – including Ukraine – came together in a simultaneous broadcast of John Lennon’s anti-war song ‘Give Peace a Chance’.  Over 25 countries participated in the initiative started by the German station radio EINS. The gesture was developed as a demonstration of how the power of radio can amplify growing support for peace.”

For the people of Ukraine, peace was never given a chance. Nothing can justify what Putin is doing. He is certainly the aggressor in this war. Ukraine is an internationally recognized sovereign nation, and a member of the United Nations. That makes the Russian dictator a war criminal. 

That’s why he can’t be expected to see the light, change the course of his actions and give peace a chance. Ukraine has been left with no alternatives; it’s either surrender or fight for their very existence as a nation. So it’s really our move. It is cowardly to express sympathy and solidarity with Ukraine, but leave all the fighting, dying and suffering to them. It is also careless to leave all the negotiating to them. This is a fight between Russia and all of us in what we call the Free World.

Current NATO member states — wikipedia

The fact is, the Russians have been firm about opposing the extension of the North Atlantic alliance to their borders with Georgia and the Ukraine since we, meaning us here in “the West,” announced this intention in 2008. To give peace a chance, we could have started taking their concerns seriously and considering other options 14 years ago. 

It is not hard to understand how the idea of “the West” or the “Free World” extending from Hawaii eastward, back across the Atlantic to encompass all of Europe, all of what once was “Christendom”, except the Russian Federation is considered a threat from a Moscow perspective

To give peace a chance, we could, for instance, urge Ukraine to join Finland, Sweden, Austria and Ireland as a non-aligned nation, and guarantee that we will respect this neutrality. And we could express an openness that the Russian Federation itself join the circle of European security, thereby turning NATO into a North Atlantic to Pacific Treaty Organization.  

A United North from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from there full circle to the Atlantic again is not impossible to imagine. Russia is the only missing link. 

A truly United Europe wouldn’t guarantee a lasting peace. For one thing, such a development would likely be an affront to China, and could lead to a stand off with a power much more formidable than the hapless Russian state. So I’m wishfully suggesting that at the same time, we — in this case, Canada — propose a North to South Treaty Organization that connects Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, India and area. 

Just imagining something along such lines could be a significant step towards giving peace a sliver of a chance, not just in Ukraine, but throughout the whole world for a generation or two or three. 

John Lennon, Yoko Ono and company singing “all we are saying is give peace a chance” in that Montreal hotel 53 years ago remains relevant as a plea to humanity, and, I’m suggesting, as a hopeful, faithful prayer. Faithful, at least, to the promise of the angel chorus in Bethlehem: “peace on earth,  good will to mankind.” 

The same goes for George Harrison singing “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” in 1973; or Donovan performing Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Universal Soldier”, and Edwin Starr declaring “War, What’’s it good for? Absolutely nothing.” These examples are all subjects of recent posts from Deutsche Welle Music.

Some current statements and gestures from the world of Western entertainment are expressions of solidarity, not just with the plight of the people of Ukraine, but in their fight for national self-determination. Justifiably so; they need and deserve our support, not just our sympathy. But this also signifies abandoning the idea of giving peace a chance, other than the peace that comes with victory for our side, and vanquishing the enemy. 

It is highly doubtful that a crushing defeat of the military forces fighting on behalf of the 150,000,000 people in a nation state that encompasses 11% of the earth’s landmass will prove to be a step towards lasting peace. This would put Russia into the position we left Germany in just over a century ago. A likely result will be an Asian Axis like I described earlier, but without Canada, Australia or any other part of the West, thus setting the stage for an Armageddon scale conflict.     

So is there any chance whatsoever for peace at this point  — a just peace, immediately achieved, that involves neither victory nor surrender?  

I’m proposing we try to imagine a way out, and suggesting that perhaps this amazing rendition of “Blueberry Hill” by a ruthless war monger more than a decade ago may be a place to begin. 

To be continued … .

Open Letter to Seven Grand River Country MPs

I wrote this a couple of weeks after the federal election on September 20, and sent it by email to the parliamentary addresses of the recipients listed. Intended as an open letter, it also went out to few print media establishments as a letter to ther editor. There hasn’t any response. I’m posting it here to make good on the “open” aspect before it’s too late.

The idea of writing to these newly elected or re-elected Members of Parliament came from a friend in an adjacent riding, who told me she had reluctantly voted for the Liberal incumbent but intended to follow up with a note about proportional representation

I have misgivings about a realignment that would entrench partisanship even deeper, transforming the political party as we know it into a kind of placeless constituency. But I agree that adjustments to how our democracy functions are long overdue, and my letter makes some suggestions on how this could be accomplished.

My main point is to express the hope that this election will prove to be a turning point in the way we utilize the structures, the ways and the means currently at our disposal, starting with taking an omni-partisan approach towards the challenges we’re facing.

Paragraph 6 gets to the heart of the matter: This is a good time to begin ” … working together, across party lines, to address the fundamental issues of our time, starting with reconciling Canada as a land and Canada as a people living on that land. I’m urging you all to make the relationship between human beings and our Earthly home your primary concern for the next 4-5 years.”


To: Valerie Bradford (Kitchener South—Hespeler), Bardish Chagger (Waterloo); Michael Chong (Wellington—Halton Hills); Lloyd Longfield (Guelph); Tim Louis (Kitchener-Conestoga); Bryan May (Cambridge), and Mike Morrice (Kitchener); House of Commons, Ottawa K1A 0A6.

October 4, 2021

This is an open letter to the seven people who were chosen to represent the communities of the central Grand River watershed in the House of Commons on September 20: Five Red, one Blue, and, from the electoral district where I cast my ballot, one exceptional Green. 

Congratulations and best wishes to each of you. As the 44th Parliament begins to assemble, I’m writing in the hope that this will be a new beginning for Canada as a democracy. 

At first glance, it looks as though the election changed very little, nationally and here in our neck of the woods, where we ended up with the Green replacing a Red, a slightly better gender balance, but a less diverse representation. 

In the 2015 election campaign, Justin Trudeau promised this would be the last election conducted in the archaic first-past-the-post manner. Canadians ended up giving his party a majority, which came as a surprise to most of us. The 2019 and 2021 elections indicate that 2015 was an aberration. Unless there are significant shifts in the way our political parties operate, 2015 may prove to be the last majority government in Ottawa for the foreseeable future. 

If the election helps us realize where things stand, and finally begin coming to terms with the situation, it will not have been an exercise in futility. It means, for one thing, that you would be wise to resolve to stay where you are for the full 4-5 year term this time, and concentrate on getting critical things done. No shilly-shallying. No more jockeying for position. No obstruction.  

That means working together, across party lines, to address the fundamental issues of our time, starting with reconciling Canada as a land and Canada as a people living on that land. I’m urging you all to make the relationship between human beings and our Earthly home your primary concern for the next 4-5 years. 

I’m saying this in the hope that a planetary focus can also serve as a catalyst for a convergence of causes rooted in the way human beings relate to one another, especially the historical injustices that remain deeply woven into the very fabric of North American culture and society. 

Getting things done also means making adjustments to how our democracy works. I encourage you to begin taking steps to free our cities from being mere “creatures of the provinces”. At the 154 year mark, it is high time for an urban decolonization. That means going from a hierarchical to a lateral relationship between the various dimensions, not levels, of democracy in Canada.  

Liberal members of the House of Commons owe this to the cities, as urban Canada is where most of their support comes from. For Conservatives, the only hope for becoming a viable alternative again is to demonstrate to the 80% of us who live in cities that the deal that was brokered in 2003 did not mean permanently purging the progressive from Canada’s conservative legacy. 

Equally urgent is doing something to break the pattern of tyranny of less than a majority. For 100 years now, Canada’s political culture has not followed the standard two-party configuration our system is designed for. The possibility of forming a government, even a majority government, with as little as 30-40% of the vote, which means as little as 20-30% of Canadians who are eligible to vote, is simply unacceptable. Besides making adjustments to the reality of multiple parties and divergent regional and national political cultures, we need a full consideration of what Canadian democracy means, what a consituency means, and what confederation means. 

One thing is certain: electoral reform should not be decided from within the political system, with the various partisan interests and blinders getting in the way, and certainly not through a “yes or no” referendum. It is a matter of justice, of fairness and of practicality. Improvements should be formulated the same way electoral districts are set, by a kind of judicial body. 

Independent election boundaries commissions in each province are tasked with balancing representation from geographic and cultural constituencies with the principle of representation by population.This was a brilliant addition to Canadian democracy that should be better known, and celebrated. Our boundary commissions are what have saved us from the gerrymandering that plagues democracy in the U.S., where electoral arrangements are a partisan political concern. 

The way forward is for you, in Parliament, in consultation with your constituents, to set the criteria, encourage deliberation, invite proposals, and let a commissioned body decide what adjustments are called for at this time, and then duly present them to the legislature to pass into law and to implement. 


Marinus de Groot