Friday, July 30, 2010

Canadian Gifts to the World

By Campbell Clark,from The Globe and Mail, July 29,2010
Canadian Carman Lapointe is walking into the world’s toughest auditing job: cleaning up the sprawling United Nations after massive fraud scandals and allegations that her new boss, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, obstructed her predecessor’s watchdog efforts.

Ms. Lapointe has clashed with tough bosses like past World Bank chief Paul Wolfowitz and former Canada Post president André Ouellet when she was their auditing chief.
Some country, this Canada, eh? Just think for a moment about the calibre of individuals this country produces...and sends onto the world stage.
Pierre Trudeau, for starters...and we all remember his pirouette after sliding down the bannister behind the Queen, his 'mangez de la merde, his 'Just watch me!,' his finger to the protesters in the west, AND his national energy policy, his repatriation act, his notwithstanding clause, and his Charter of Rights and Freedoms. At least one former cabinet minister has commented, "Attending one of Trudeaus' cabinet meetings was akin to attending a lecture in graduate school, so prepared, and so complete was his grasp of the file at hand." And he was a disciplined "free spirit" which seems, at first glance to be an oxymoron. Yet, how else can one truly be a free spirit, unless one is also extremely disciplined, skilled, trained and still in training. An undisciplined "free spirit," like Icarus, will fly too close to the sun's fire and crash.
Margaret Atwood launched her writing career after a stint studying in the U.S. and after a youth spent at least in part, "in the bush." Another disciplined yet creative icon of our literature and our culture, Atwood has inspired readers, writers, thinkers, movie producers and directors, and, as the now-dated (E.F. Hutton)commercial used to say, "when she speaks, everyone listens." Insight, linked with knowledge, discipine and with courage can and often does generate a verdant imagination.
Northrop Frye, the literary critic and scholar whose reputation is global as is his Centre for the Study of Comparative Literature, currently under the accountant's axe at the University of Toronto, is another Canadian gift to the world of arts and letters. His The Educated Imagination has tutored many neophyte scholars about the sources, and language of literature, as compared with the language of social discourse. His critique of William Blake stands as a beacon for literature students for at least the next century.
Maurice Richard, the tornado on skates, whose skill and ballet around the net "rocketed" him to the peak of the scoring list in the NHL of the 1950's. Another disciplined, and intense and supremely dedicated man, he demonstrated a kind of heroism that captivated his generation of hockey fans, turning many into lifelong afficionadoes of Les Habitants, while at the same time, generating passions for his intense resistance to unfair judgements. The list of hockey greats is nothing short of legendary, coming from the ponds, lakes, rivers and arenas of the small towns across the land.
Christopher Plummer, an actor on the world's stage, currently playing at Stratford, has done nothing to besmirch his country's reputation as a generator of creative, courageous and durable actors, in both classic theatre and the modern film. And the list of world class actors, including Lorne Green's Ben Cartwright, and John Candy's comedic antics, and Don Harron's "puny" histries and jografies of Canada, along with his "Parry Sound farmer" Charlie Farquarson delighted audiences for decades. And Glenn Gould, and Maureen Forrester and Leona Boyd are just a few of the world class musicians from Canada's concert stages.
And that just begins to introduce the long cast of characters the Canadian comedy writers have conceived and delivered.
And let's not forget the Nobel Prize winning chemist, Polanyi, Banting and Best of insulin fame, and the many architects, and composers and designers that were hatched, many of them in small towns and villages with little or no fanfare, both in their early lives, and even later when they were successful.
And now, Carmine Lapointe, following in the footsteps of Louise Arbour, Canada's gift to the U.N. initiatives on human rights, takes her place attempting what many would consider the impossible task of restoring the reputation of the U.S., from the internal auditor's office. But that is the kind of challenge that sometimes only a Canadian would accept. We are not, and the world will come to know this eventually, or not at its peril, shrinking violets. Just remember Ted Lindsy's fight to form the Players Union in the NHL and the cost to him personally, when many of the other stars refused to "go against the establishment" in support of his efforts on their behalf.
It is truly dangerous for us, and for the rest of the world to reduce Canada's character to the "I'm sorry," too polite and too modest for our own good traits of our Canadian stereotype. It is not for nothing that the hard-hitting, sometimes pugilistic game of hockey is our national passtime. Don't ever put us in a corner, unless you really want to see us at our best/worst! You may be surprised at the result, and you may need some help to get off the ice! We are a hard-boiled, no nonsense, justice seeking and compassion revering, creative, courageous, even at times demanding and obstreporous and even intransigent people of many historic and cultural DNA's that have come together to create one of the more impossible of national arrangements on the planet, with two indigenous and national languages, with a harsh and varied climate and, in places, just as harsh and unforgiving land for growing food, and  a sparse population spread out in a line spanning thousands of miles and still needing to communicate (witness CNR, CPR, CBC, Canada Post, Trans-Canada Highway, Air Canada etc.). Yet, we have remained connected and continue with a viewpoint that ranks as one of the more "global" and "interconnected" given our moderate size, our modest population size and our proximity to the "giant" to the south.
As Irving Layton put it so unglamourously, "Living between the cold Arctic and the 'cold' calculating southern giant of a neighbour, little wonder we have produced so much passionate poetry."
In fact, it is our passion, often unnoticed by others, because it lies in semi-slumber, that is our most profound, most enduring and most worthy trait.
As former Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson's autobiography's title says, Heart Matters.
And just perhaps, Earle Birney would come back to visit and comment, in his no nonsense way, that we are beginning to "grow up before it's too late," as he lamented we had not yet done, in 1942, in Canada: Case History.

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