Monday, June 30, 2008

Canada Day - Looking back on 50 years of government-sponsored celebrations

Tomorrow will be Canada Day, the 141st anniversary of Confederation. It will also mark the 50th anniversary of an annual tradition of federal government-sponsored celebrations on July 1st, a tradition begun in 1958 by the Progressive Conservative government of John Diefenbaker to honour what was then known as Dominion Day (the name was changed in 1982, but some die-hards persist in using the original nomenclature). Tomorrow, top Canadian artists such as Blue Rodeo, Hawksley Workman, Paul Brandt, Kevin Parent and Diane Dufrense will perform on Parliament Hill.

In honour of the occasion, here is a brief glimpse back on celebrations over the past half-century:

1958: A small-scale, formal event was organized for Ottawa under the auspices of Secretary of State Ellen Fairclough. Military pageantry predominated, in addition to a carillion concert from the Peace Tower. Governor General Vincent Massey delivered the first-ever simulcast television message across the country.

1968: The mid-60s featured a series of multicultural variety shows from Parliament Hill, building up to the Centennial of 1967. 1968, in contrast, was a bit of a let-down. Amateur performing artists were flown in from across the country, but the CBC declined to televise the events, citing budget constraints. Ottawa residents were treated to a very bourgeois flotilla of personal watercraft on the Rideau Canal.

1978: In the panic of the pre-1980 referendum era, a massive Canada's Birthday Celebration was organized, under the theme of "Canada - it's you and me/Canada - c'est toi et moi". About a million dollars was spent on a national television spectacular featuring satellite hook-ups to stages across the country featuring performers such as Tom Jackson, the Irish Rovers, Tommy Hunter, Rene Simard and Maureen Forrester. Millions were also distributed as seed money to local communities that wanted to hold events. The same pattern was repeated the following year, with the addition of a concert to be held on June 30th in Montreal. Notably, several Quebec separatist artists insisted that their contracts contain a clause stating that no mention would be made of Canada Day during the concert. One of those artists was Diane Dufresne, who will be performing tomorrow at the noon and evening shows on Parliament Hill.

1988: After a series of fairly low-key Canada Days in Ottawa, but a sustained period of community sponsorship, federal organizers returned to the Ottawa-based TV special, kicked off by the "Canada Gold Ensemble". The program also featured singer Paul Janz, athletes Rick Hansen and Elizabeth Manley, comedian Andre-Phillipe Gagnon, and a special performance by David Foster of "Winter Games" the theme song for the Calgary Olympics.

1998: Paul Gross (yes, the actor) and Lara Fabian sang at the formal noonday show. The evening gala, hosted by Elvis Stojko and Sonia Benezra, included performances by Paul Brandt, the Philosopher Kings, Leahy, Michel Pagliaro, Lara Fabian, and Buffy Ste-Marie.

Happy Canada Day!

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Guelph - Awaiting the by-election call

With Brenda Chamberlain's resignation, we are currently without a Member of Parliament in Guelph. The by-election hasn't been called yet, but the campaign has certainly begun. All the local papers are filled with ads for the various candidates. I've received flyers for the Liberal and Green candidates and I've seen ads for fundraisers and talks for the NDP. And just now, I received a phone call asking whether I'd consider voting for the Conservative candidate. In case you're wondering, I politely said no to the volunteer, rather than saying that I'd rather chew off my own leg.

If I were Stephen Harper, I'd get cracking on calling that by-election. The university is out for the summer, and I rather suspect that his candidate will not benefit from having the student vote in town, particularly if the NDP decides to engage in another all-out campaign blitz like they did in Outremont. Of course, he's not really one to care about filling vacant seats in Parliament, as attested to by past by-elections and the increasingly empty Senate. Of course, I'm eager for a campaign to give me fodder for the blog through the summer, so perhaps my opinion is a bit biased!

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Welcome to James Moore, Secretary of State for Official Languages

Although most of today's attention in the blogging world and news will focus on the more senior members of cabinet moved about in the mini-shuffle, I'd like to draw attention to the only new member, James Moore, the British Columbia MP who today became Secretary of State for the Pacific Gateway, the Olympics and Official Languages - quite the combo!

Moore has long been touted as an up-and-comer in the party, and one whose exclusion from the first several rounds of Harper's cabinet-making was surprising. Or perhaps not, as Moore is also fairly liberal on social questions, being one of the few members of his party to whole-heartedly endorse same-sex marriage. His elevation to a junior position in cabinet could mean a number of different things - that he's out of the doghouse for his liberal views, that the party is worried about his Vancouver seat, or that he's finally being groomed for bigger and better things. In any case, I'll be keeping an ever-closer eye on him now that he's responsible for official languages!

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

$1.1B for official languages - Breathing a sigh of relief

Back in December, I participated in the Department of Canadian Heritage's stakeholder consultations, facilitated by Bernard Lord, which were held in preparation for a renewal of the government's official languages strategy. The mood in the room was pessimistic, as we had only been asked to participate a few days prior, which gave the impression that the consultations were window dressing, rather than a serious commitment to consultation. There was also widespread concern among the groups present that it would be impossible for the government to hold consultations, write a report, and then develop a strategy in time for when the previous 5-year plan elapsed in March.

Sure enough, the former plan, and existing funding arrangements elapsed in March, and the government was criticized by Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser for its inaction on the dossier. Last week (three months later!) I was at a conference on official languages and bilingualism, and there were many sighs of relief at the government's (quiet) announcement that it would be launching another five year plan - a "Roadmap for Linguistic Duality" which committed the government to spending $1.1 billion over the next five years. This does represent an increase in absolute dollars over the previous 5 year plan. There was some criticism in a number of quarters about the fact that the government does not seem to have listened to recommendations that more needs to be done to strengthen official languages teaching and exchange programs in the universities. However, many core programs have been renewed, which is somewhat of a relief! We will have to see exactly how these funds end up being apportioned.

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Access to justice partially restored - Court Challenges Revamped and Restricted

You wouldn't know it to read most of Canada's national news media, but the Conservative government partially backtracked last week on its decision to completely axe the Court Challenges Program. This program, initially established under the Liberals to provide funding to groups who wanted to take Charter cases before the courts, was slashed over a year ago. Last week, the government launched a "new" program that will restore funding for groups who are seeking to use the courts to defend linguistic rights either under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or other constitutional documents.

I'm pleased for the minority language communities for whom this program's predecessor proved to be such an invaluable tool in securing education rights and other language rights. However, I'm disappointed that the government has decided to be so piecemeal about restoring the program. Other groups that had used the Court Challenges Programs to restore other Charter rights will not have access to a similar program. This may be bad news, for example, for a group like the Little Sisters bookstore, which has been fighting for decades against the inequitable treatment of gay and lesbian publications by Canada Customs.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The courts are with the immersion parents

It would seem that the ill-advised decision by the New Brunswick government to scrap early French immersion has also been deemed insufficiently informed! Today, Justice Hugh McLellan of the NB Court of Queen's Bench ruled that insufficient time had been allowed for debate on the changes. Not surprisingly, he also ruled that this was not a Charter case, since it does not impinge upon the right of either language community to educate their children in their mother tongue.

It will be interesting to see what the next steps are in this process, as we move into the judicial review process ordered by McLellan!

Note: My apologies for a prolonged absence. I just moved, and my life has been in boxes. Regular blogging should resume shortly!

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