Sunday, October 29, 2006

Bon Cop, Bad Cop

Posting on the top-grossing-ever Canadian-made film isn't in fact as far away from my usual content here as it may appear - after all, this is a film about English-French relations and language issues in Canada. So, of course, I enjoyed it immensely!

I am late in the game to be posting about this movie, but I can explain my delay with the following two reasons:
1) It only just played in Sackville on Thursday night, as part of the Film Society's series - where, I might add, it was greeted with mass approval, and applause after the movie (which doesn't usually happen).
2) I wanted to see it in both official languages before I posted my take on the movie.

You may be asking yourself what the heck do I mean by seeing Bon Cop, Bad Cop in both official languages? Isn't the whole point of the movie that the dialogue is in both English and in French? Well, yes, except that the prints that play in theatres only give subtitles for one language. I saw this film for the first time back in August in Dieppe (part of the tri-city area of Moncton, for those not from the region). Catering to the local francophone population, and unbeknownst to me until we walked into the theatre, the Dieppe screen had the French version - which meant that if I wanted to know how Colm Feore's English dialogue was translated for a French audience, I was set. But if I wanted to understand comedian Louis-José Houde's (the medical examiner Jeff) rapid-fire French, I was left to my own devices. And like Colm Feore's character, Detective Martin Ward, I was only able to catch about half of what he said. The Sackville screening had the English print - so I now know what both English-speaking and French-speaking audiences saw.

The plot device around which the movie turns - an ongoing investigation into a serial killer who is working his way through the hockey establishment - is merely a convenient excuse for the real point of interest of the movie, which is to examine the human relationships - both the central one between Patrick Huard and Colm Feore's Toronto and Montreal cops, and their various familial relationships as well. Their characters are very well fleshed out, and this film surprisingly contains some of the most powerful acting that I've seen in a long time, in a short exchange between Huard and Lucie Laurier, who plays his ex-wife Suzie (when you've seen the movie, you'll know which scene I mean).

The film is also an interesting case study of perceptions - both how Quebeckers perceive Ontarians, and how they think they are perceived by Ontarians. I wish that I could claim credit for having come up with that, but I think it was Kelly Nestruck who tipped me off to that dynamic before I went to see the film. The language jokes and sly political references are great, and even better if you speak both languages. Some of them are untranslatable, and if you're only reading the subtitles, you will miss the odd line or two. I'm hopeful that when this movie goes to DVD, the subtitlers provide multiple options - I'd say that it needs a no-subtitles, English-only, French-only, and English-and-French version.

If you haven't seen this movie, you're missing out. My understanding is that it's been wildly popular in Quebec, but hasn't done nearly so well in the rest of the country. This is a real shame, as it's a great film. It also speaks to a larger trend of English-speaking Canadians missing out on top-notch Quebec films, which often fail to get major distribution in the rest of the country. Last year's C.R.A.Z.Y. is a great example of a film that should have had much wider distribution across the country, but didn't get it. Bon Cop, Bad Cop is perhaps more user-friendly with its bilingual format, and I'm hoping that it will get a second wind, and a major DVD campaign.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

La nation québécoise? The Triumph of Charles Taylor

It can be a fascinating experience to have your courses deal closely with current political debates. I am currently teaching a fourth year Canadian studies seminar entitled "Nationalisms and Identities in Canada." In the first term of the course, I have assigned a number of major Canadian works on nationalism from the last four decades, including work by George Grant, Pierre Trudeau and Ramsay Cook. I had deliberately scheduled a bit of fun in the course by assigning Michael Ignatieff's The Rights Revolution for the week before the Liberal party convention. This week has proven to be a bit of a surprise, however. We're reading selections from philosopher Charles Taylor's Reconciling the Solitudes: Essays on Canadian Federalism and Nationalism this week. For those not familiar with Taylor's work, he has long been a major advocate of some form of official recognition of Quebec as a nation in the Canadian constitution.

It is thus fascinating for me to see this concept being hotly debated over the weekend, endorsed by the Quebec wing of the Liberal party and leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff, and advocated by many prominent Quebec columnists, as noted by Paul Wells. Back in the 1960s, Taylor was promoting this approach to Quebec, as one of the leading intellectuals in the federal NDP. It was over this approach to Quebec nationalism that historian Ramsay Cook left the NDP to support the alternative approach being promoted by Pierre Trudeau.

Before leaping on Iggy's nationalist bandwagon, I think that people would do well to consider Taylor's own approach to this topic. As he noted, this demand for recognition of the Quebec "nation" in a bicultural Canada is often premised on the assumption of the existence of a counterpoint "English Canadian nation." Taylor noted in 1992 that this imposition of a collectivist nationality on English-speaking Canadians was based on faulty premises. I think it still is, and perhaps has become even more the case with the progressive entrenchment of a Charter-based (and thus individual rights discourse-based) identity in English-speaking Canada.

I believe that Bob Rae and Stéphane Dion are wise to preach caution about the merits of re-opening constitutional talks for the main purpose of writing in an official recognition of the "Quebec nation". For one thing, it begs the question of the ramifications of having the constitution speak of one nation, and remain silent on the remainder of Canada's population. For another, I'm not sure it's prudent to have our constitution be so prescriptivist on issues of identity. And for a third initial thought (recognizing that this is a blog post, and not an academic paper), I think Canadians should be cautious about constitutionally entrenching what are, to be certain, fairly recent conceptions of what constitutes a Quebec nation. There may well currently be a sociological nation of Quebec. But less than 50 years ago, the primary identity for francophone Quebeckers was as part of la nation canadienne-française, which spoke to a much larger geographical reality, and encompassed many more people in the rest of the country.

Our identity politics (and indeed our identities) continue to change and evolve over time, and this is not necessarilly a bad thing. Even if one accepts Taylor's premise that Canadian society is characterized by "deep diversity," and that our individual identities are rooted in (or derived from) broader collective cultures, I do not think that it need necessarily follow that our constitution should codify the current forms that this diversity assumes.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

I deny all responsibility for any Norwalk outbreak in Quebec City

It's been over a week since the now-confirmed Norwalk virus hit Mount Allison, and the number of new cases appears to have declined steeply - although, contrary to this CBC report, there have been new cases since Wednesday. Well, there have either been new cases, or a bunch of my students are being less than honest. I, however, still seem to be in reasonably good health, and just got back from a quick trip up to Quebec City to participate in a seminar at Laval University. I repeat - I'm healthy, so I'm not patient zero for any Quebec City outbreak. (Although I'll bet good money that someone at Mount A. has a girlfriend/boyfriend at St.FX!)

To weigh in with my two cents, I think that the administration here has done a reasonably good job handling the crisis, especially since many of the people handling it, including our VP Academic, are new in their jobs. Given that Mount A. only has one part-time nurse practitioner, things could have been much worse. I'm still a little antsy about touching door knobs, and I have a bottle of hand sanitizer in my office. But the worst of the crisis does seem to have passed.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Water quality

Still no official word on the full causes of the Norwalk-type virus affecting Mount Allison students, although there have apparently been a few new cases. However, the rapid spread does appear to have been halted. For the time being, I'm still healthy, as are most of my colleagues - no doubt to the relief of all our friends and family from across the country who called and emailed us in response to the national news coverage this story has received.

It is not comforting, however, the day after this outbreak, to have our taps running brown water again. Consistently clean running water is not a hallmark of Sackville, New Brunswick. At least once per month, dirty water flows from the taps on the town's main water lines. It's disgusting and primitive, and definitely does not inspire confidence. It's no wonder that people initially suspected that the town water was at fault for the outbreak of sickness. At some point in the future, I'm sure that it will be. I'm having one of those days where I'm sure that I'm living in a Walkerton in the making.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Sickness in Sackville

I am, perhaps foolishly, still working in my office on the Mount Allison University campus, waiting for a meeting with a student. Why is this perhaps foolish? Because Mount Allison has been hit with a mysterious flu outbreak. A colleague of mine often refers to our students as "little germ factories", which currently seems apt. Approximately 100 students have been hit with a nasty strain of gastroenteritis, which is being described by the university administration as a Norwalk-type virus. So far it appears that the symptoms are mostly limited to students in residence, but the outbreak only really started yesterday, and full information is still not available.

My best source for information, apart from the CBC, is Argosy editor William Wolfe-Wylie's blog. He's also one of the main sources for the CBC's information. The university is supposed to be putting updates on its website soon.

So far, it appears that the residences' food services have been cleared. The town water supply is currently being tested. But officials don't yet know what we're dealing with here. I, for one, am heading home right after my meeting.

For those students who are sick - get well soon!

2:19 PM: My apologies to anyone who tried to follow my original links - I have now fixed them. Also, the latest reporting seems to be that it is a viral problem. The town's water test results aren't expected to be in until Monday.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Random ruminations about Rae

I just finished watching tonight's Mercer Report, which featured Rick Mercer on a fishing trip with Liberal leadership candidate Bob Rae. I figure that this is as good an excuse as any to attempt to reflect a bit on Rae's candidacy for the leadership of the federal Liberal party.

Let me start off by saying that Rae's performance (aside from his skinny-dipping finale) on the Mercer Report was a dud. He had ample opportunity to present himself as witty and charming, and get off a few fun one-liners. At a minimum, he could have presented some good answers to Mercer's questions about his political past. He should have known those questions were coming, and prepared appropriately. In my opinion, he didn't. What follows are some initial reflections on the Mercer-Rae exchange, and what I think are the bigger questions about Rae's candidacy.

1. On his Ontario legacy: Rick Mercer asked Bob Rae about his political baggage from being premier of Ontario, and I think Rae tried to duck the question. Pressed further, he muttered something about the province having been in a recession. He also tried to pretend that the issue didn't matter to the voters - and I'll give Mercer credit for pointing out that it does.

Here's my thinking on this dilemma. As someone who was in high school and university when he was in office, even I think Rae's years as NDP premier of the province is a problem spot for him - and I wasn't even in the workforce. Pulling an ostrich on this issue isn't the way to manage this question. Talking about the recession problem is a good start, but Rae needs to go further and try to demonstrate why the policies his government followed to cope with that crisis were ultimately good ones for the province - if he can. He should be trying to take advantage of the fact that a decade has passed since his term in office to convince voters that they need to re-evaluate the alternatives that his government faced, and put the best spin on the decisions he made as possible. He should also run against the Mike Harris legacy - show how much worse things were under the Conservative governments that succeeded him, when they had the benefit of a stronger economy. If Rae can't defend his Ontario record forcefully, he shouldn't be gunning for the big job.

2. On a non-ideological government: When asked by Mercer why he wanted to be Prime Minister, Rae seemed cagey, and tried to speak about a desire to move away from "ideological government". This was pretty vague, and when pressed, he spoke more forcefully about the need to move away from a conservative ideology in politics on issues like "same sex" something-or-other.

An aside here. Rae has some answering to do on the same-sex issue himself. His administration, having introduced legislation on same-sex spousal benefits, failed to push this through the legislature when it had a majority, and refused to impose party discipline. Will this be how Rae leads the Liberal party on issues of principle?

Back to the main point. Running on the politics of pragmatism doesn't really phase me. But I think Rae should have been clearer in that forum on what issues he is running for - which he does on his website. Mercer offered him a free opportunity to promote himself, and Rae failed to seize it. And before I'm hit with a deluge of pro-Rae bloggers pointing out various points of Rae's agenda and in which forums Rae has clarified his policy positions, I'll concede that he may well have done so. He just didn't in this particular case, and came off as wishy-washy.

Can Rae win a federal election?

Much ink has been spilled and many pixels have been darkened on the question of whether Ontarians will "forgive" Rae and vote for him. His detractors believe that his years as NDP premier are like an albatross that will follow him around forever. I'm not completely convinced of that. Ultimately, elections come down to making choices between imperfect options. Rae would not only be campaigning against his past, he would be campaigning against Stephen Harper and Jack Layton. The more important question to be asking is whether voters would be willing to risk a "wiser and more seasoned new" Bob Rae over Harper's established record - and I suspect that when faced with that choice, Rae might seem more appealing. He will not be running against a hypothetical Harper government (as Paul Martin was this winter), but against one that has had some time to implement policies (and make mistakes). That should help him.

What about his left flank? Can Rae pull back the disaffected left wing of the Liberal party? Again, I think there is serious growth potential for him here. Left-wingers in this country seem to be more driven right now by anti-Harperism and opposition to Conservative policies than by a love of Jack Layton and the NDP. Ontarians, in particular, like to vote for a party that is likely to form government and serve their interests. If Rae can position himself as the left-of-centre Liberal leader - and viable PM - this might serve him very well in Ontario in terms of winning back some of the voters who opted for the NDP in 2006.

And what about the rest of the country? Is Rae viable outside of his home province? I suspect that he's got a decent shot in the Western Canadian provinces that have social-democratic leanings and have historically elected pragmatic NDP governments - Manitoba, Saskatchewan and BC. I'd wager that his NDP past won't necessarily be held against him in large swaths of these provinces. I'm not an expert on current voter mood in those regions, but I suspect this would be the case.

Rae's bilingualism will help him campaign in Quebec, although he's going to need to be more specific about his vision of Canadian federalism. Rae has spoken about drug care plans and post-secondary education investment, and I'm not sure that big new nationally-run programs are going to sell well in Quebec. I'd like to see him flesh out his "creative federalism" in more substantive detail. What role does he see the federal government playing in the development and administration of these programs? Does he see this as a funding role, or would Ottawa be setting priorities as well?

Rae is pushing the equalization role of the federal government in a big way, and that will go over well in Atlantic Canada. I think that this might be key to reconciling the differing needs and wants of Atlantic Canada and Quebec vis-a-vis the role of the federal government. If a Rae-led Liberal party develops a platform of having the federal government play the role of redistributor of tax revenue among the provinces, but doesn't impose itself into provincial jurisdiction, it can meet a greater array of interests. Ottawa's civil servants and politicians won't get the glory, but neither will they alienate voters who believe that the provincial governments should play the roles assigned to them under the constitution.

Rae would also do well to play up his post-Ontario government experiences, in particular his work with government commissions and the types of recommendations he has developed. Canadians need to see how his politics have evolved over the past decade, and understand why it is that a former NDP premier is now seeking to head the federal Liberals.

In short, I think Rae has a significant challenge to face in overcoming the general sense of dissatisfaction associated with his years as Ontario premier, but I also this is not an insurmountable task, particularly if he shows a greater willingness to confront his naysayers directly and with appropriate evidence.

I think that's enough for one evening. I'll try to put up a similar post about Stéphane Dion in the coming weeks, as he is the other serious candidate in the race who might be able to convince me to vote Liberal again.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Dan Savage on Mark Foley and Marriage

Most people know of Dan Savage in his capacity as the author of Savage Love, his syndicated sex advice column. In recent years, however, Dan Savage has become a rather prolific book author, and has also ventured into some more serious territory on politics and gay rights.

Writing for the Slog, the blog of Seattle's alternative paper (of which he is the editor), The Stranger, Savage offers an interesting perspective on the Mark Foley scandal and its possible implications for gays in the United States.

Since I'm linking to Dan Savage's writings, his piece on some of the less-desirable and possibly confining implications of gay marriage, a sort of prequel to his book The Commitment is also very perceptive and well worth a read. (I referenced this article last week in a conversation with friends about Canadian queer politics last week - I'm hotlinking it here partly for my own reference.)

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Because it's Thanksgiving...

... and I don't feel like any serious political commentary, I give you this link instead:

United Poultry Concerns, Inc.'s page about Turkeys. This is a poultry activist group that I encountered at a conference a year ago. The head of the organization delivered this speech at the Ninth Annual Conference on Holidays, Ritual, Festival, Celebration, and Public Display at Bowling Green State University, where I was also presenting my research. [I was on a different panel with my Canada Day research.] This brochure was available for the delegates, as well as a copy of a book by the organization's head.

I offer these links largely without comment - they pretty much speak for themselves. I don't think the organization is completely out to lunch when it comes to some of the issues about how livestock is raised in North America. But let's just say that I don't find all of their material completely convincing either, and we're making turkey for tonight's dinner.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Sunday shopping in Nova Scotia

A couple of months ago, I blogged about Sunday shopping in Nova Scotia. It turns out that the courts agreed with my positions. Nova Scotia's ban on Sunday shopping, challenged by the Atlantic SuperStore and Sobey's grocery store chains, was ruled invalid today by the Nova Scotia courts, and Premier MacDonald has agreed to clear the path for full Sunday shopping in the province.

This makes me feel somewhat more optimistic today, in light of my previous post about the god-fearin' laws that the federal conservatives are trying to pass. But only somewhat.

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An example of why the Court Challenges Program matters

A couple of days ago, responding to the Progressive Bloggers feminism meme, I noted that insufficient attention was being paid to the cancellation of the Court Challenges Program.

I hadn't realized, writing that post, how soon the Conservatives would launch legislation that would certainly face such a challenge. Apparently, should their vote to re-open the same-sex marriage debate fail, they're going to create a Defence of Religions Act to allow justices of the peace, for example, to continue to discriminate against same-sex couples on the basis of their religious freedoms.

I just find it curious that this proposed legislation would come so soon after the Court Challenges Program was axed, and I doubt that it's completely coincidental.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

"Blood. It's in you to give... unless you're gay."

I'd like to draw your attention to this post by Rick Barnes at Queer Thoughts, and a related commentary at Canuck Attitude. Both posts refer to the policy of Canadian Blood Services of refusing to accept blood donations from any man who has had sex with another man since 1977, on the basis that any gay sex is a high risk activity for HIV. This prohibition exists despite the fact that all donated blood is screened for HIV.

My husband used to write articles about this when he was a student journalist, and raised a number of the same points that Rick Barnes has in his very well-crafted post. It's incredibly frustrating to have to watch endless commercials imploring me to give blood, filled with images of dying children, when I am automatically discounted from eligibility on the basis of my sexual orientation, rather than taking into account my sexual habits, the number of sexual partners I have had, or the degree to which I practice safe sex.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

My take on the "feminism meme"

I was tagged by Idealistic Pragmatist in the "5 Things that Feminism has done for me" meme, which has been making its way through the Progressive Bloggers community.

The original impetus for this meme was the proposed elimination of federal funding of Status of Women Canada, which have since been scaled back to a $5 million reduction in funding, as part of the last round of Conservative budget cuts.

Since then, a host of bloggers have covered most of the ground that I might have included in my post, so I'll keep it short. In terms of societal benefits for me, the feminist movement challenged long-established conceptions of gender and sex roles, which was a crucial step in laying the groundwork for the gay and lesbian rights movement. The number of ways in which that latter movement has helped me by challenging homophobia and creating a society in which I could live openly as a gay man are difficult to count.

To go a bit further than that, I think it's important to note that the Status of Women Canada cuts, while definitely worthy of attention, have perhaps overshadowed the impact of another $5 Million cut (in a period of a huge budget surplus). The Conservative budget cuts also led to the elimination of the Court Challenges Program. Since the introduction of the Charter, this program has provided essential funding to groups, many of them with minimal financial resources, to enable them to contest federal and provincial laws which violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For groups like the Little Sisters Bookstore, which challenged Canada Customs restrictions on gay and lesbian material coming across the border, this funding was essential to challenging a repressive state apparatus.

In terms of my research, there have been numerous cases of francophone minority communities and Acadian groups that drew on funding available under the Court Challenges Program to secure full use of their francophone minority education rights guaranteed under section 23 of the Charter. Gay and lesbian groups have used this program to fight for equality rights. This targetted funding, I would argue, was an expression of Canada's commitment to a robust democracy, permitting groups that lacked financial resources the means to secure recognition of rights that were theoretically protected. Cancelling this program will make it easier for governments to maintain regulations and laws which violate the Charter, unless these groups have deep pockets to cover the legal fees associated with a court challenge. Disadvantaged groups of all sorts - women, gays and lesbians, aboriginals, linguistic minorities, visible minority communities, etc. - will have a harder time defending their Charter rights as a result of this cutback.

John Baird questioned the rationale for the Court Challenges program, arguing that the government should not "subsidize lawyers to challenge the government's own laws in court." I would argue that if the government is confident in the substance of its laws, it should make it possible for all groups and individuals to test the validity of its laws, rather than restricting this privilege to the wealthy. Cuts to the Court Challenges Program will have ramifications for the feminist movement as well, which is worth bearing in mind.

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