Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Confessions of a New Separatist

Let me just come right out and say it:

I have decided to become a Quebec separatist.

Some people may find this a bit odd, since I don't live in Quebec and don’t speak French. I can, however, envision a day when Quebec and Canada are separate nations. So, the way I see it, that makes me a separatist. Or at least an honourary separatist. Yep. If there was a University of Separatism, I'd get an honourary degree. Vive le Quebec libre.

I know. I know. It sounds irrational. After all, my ancestors whipped French butt on the Plains of Abraham for the right to control the land now occupied by the province of Quebec. And now, here I am, talking about just giving it up completely. I certainly mean no disrespect to the fine English soldiers who gave their lives so Queen Elizabeth’s face could be on our money, but a lot has changed since then. We may have won the war, but we have, over time, lost our country. And it’s time we faced facts - Quebec runs Canada.

I have come to the sad conclusion that, if Anglophones are to ever have fair representation in our government, there will have to be a serious realignment of power within our nation. Either that, or we should just shake hands with Quebec and let it go its own way. We could then get on with building a Canada without Quebec. A Canada that would certainly be much more culturally stable and cohesive than it is today. A Canada where power could be more equitably distributed among the provinces. This is something that we really need to talk about. After all, we can deal with this issue now, head-on with our eyes open, or we can wait to be blindsided by the separatists when they force their next referendum. And there will be a next one. It's only a matter of time.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first referendum, in 1980. I remember the villain, the leader of the separatist forces - Rene Levesque – with his piercing eyes and that permanent cloud of cigarette smoke that hung around him like a shroud. He was an intense character. And he meant business.

And then there was our hero - Pierre Elliot Trudeau. The defender of Canada. Or at least, the defender of a Canada run by Quebec. Charismatic, charming and intellectually deft. A man capable of astounding political dexterity. He could give the finger to Western Canada with one hand, hug Fidel Castro with the other while simultaneously destroying our Army, invoking crippling taxes and racking up a huge national debt. What a showman. And boy did we love him. The fools that we were.

I remember reading somewhere that Trudeau, when faced with the prospect of Quebec separating, had said something like: Why should Quebec separate and be master of its own destiny when it can stay in Canada and be master of the entire nation.? Personally, I doubt that he said this. I do not, however, doubt that he believed it. After all, Trudeau is the godfather of bilingualism. A concept that has assured french domination - in our government and in our bureaucracy. However, one thing is certain: truer sentiments have never been expressed. Quebec has become the master of Canada.

So we had our referendum. And, despite my love for Canada, I felt a slight sense of loss when the separatists lost. Even as a young man of 20, I somehow understood in my heart that it’s better to rip a bandage off and feel momentary pain than to pull it off slowly, little by little and spread the pain over an eternity.

In 1995, there was a second referendum and Quebecers again voted to stay in Canada, this time with a paper thin victory of less than one percent. Imagine, more than 49 percent of Quebec voters wanted to separate. And through it all, despite begging and pleading for Quebec to stay, Canadians continued to be subjected to dissent, distrust, disregard and disrespect from its favoured province. Untold $billions of our taxes have flowed to Quebec. In return they continue to elect separatists to represent them in our parliament. $Billions more have been spent to fund bilingualism across the country. Meanwhile, in Quebec, they have created a monolingual Francophone state where non-Francophones are regularly picked on and discriminated against by the Quebec government. The imbalance is astounding.

Clearly, Canada’s love affair with Quebec has become an unfortunate, one-sided master/slave relationship. Quebec makes demands and Canada struggles to deal with them, while never making any demands in return. They demand more autonomy. They demand more control. They demand a lot of things. One thing they don’t demand, though, is the responsibility to pay their own way. Even today, billions of dollars a year are transferred from the taxpayers of Ontario and Alberta into Quebec. And still Quebec wants more. Meanwhile, the people in the rest of Canada just roll their eyes and, like all good Canadians, hold their tongues. After all, they’re used to being Quebec’s sugar daddy. It’s all worth it to keep the country together. Isn’t it? After all, we couldn’t possible make it without Quebec. Could we?

Well, maybe we could. In fact, if we have a shred of pride and self respect we should stop being docile doormats to the dissidents and disgruntled separatists in Quebec and start planning for a possible future without them. They are likely going to separate anyway eventually, so why shouldn’t we be in control for once. Just for once.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like today if Quebec had voted to separate in 1980. Most if not all of the legalities and formalities would be ironed out by now. The contracts and treaties would be signed. We would be two sovereign states, most likely with an open border policy. And with Quebec gone from Canada, there would have been no advertising scandal, no billions in grants to Bombardier, no further referendums, no snide, mouthy separatists sitting in our House of Commons, and no endless demands for more of our money. Haven’t we already heard enough of their demands to last us a thousand lifetimes?

Of course the best part is that, if Quebec had separated in 1980, we would not have had to live through that endless parade of arrogant crooks and pompous twits from Quebec who have been running our nation. For decades now, Quebecers have held most of the powerful senior political and bureaucratic positions in numbers way out of proportion to their percentage of Canada’s population. In fact, a Quebecer has been Prime Minister for 35 of the last 37 years. If that isn't tyranny by coercion, I don't know what is. I wasn't kidding when I said that Quebec runs Canada. And we mustn’t forget the most recent architects of our misery, Chrétien and Mulroney, who, as Quebecers, would not have risen to political power in our nation. Imagine, a Canada without a history blighted by those scoundrels.

Whatever the case, one thing is for certain: there will be more corruption, more shenanigans, more demands for concessions and many more Quebec scoundrels running around Ottawa controlling our destiny unless something changes. And despite my rhetoric, I still harbour a faint hope that Quebec could somehow learn to coexist with us in Canada as an equal partner, with a proportional share of power and influence. Because, if it cannot, something is definitely going to give and there will be a parting of the ways between Canada’s two founding cultures. And if that happens, the separatists will win. That’s why I’ve become one of them, for now at least. After all, nobody wants to back a loser.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Me Me Me & Catholicism

The world’s Catholics have a new Pope – Benedict XVI. And like his predecessor - Pope John Paul II - he’s a conservative who is expected to uphold the traditional teachings and values of the Catholic Church. Naturally, many people are screaming bloody murder. “The Church is sexist, homophobic and mired in the middle ages” they say. It’s almost as if these people believe that the Church should bend to their sensibilities rather than vice versa. Like they, in their small short lives have somehow gathered the wisdom to tell a 2000 year old institution what values it must espouse.

Now I have to admit, I’m not a Catholic. I’m a lapsed Protestant. Sometimes I question the motives, if not the very existence, of God. I am no religious Reggie. But, I can’t help but admire a Pope and a Church that stays firm to its convictions despite being contrary to the winds of popular belief . So many other weaker churches have not been so resolute and have changed their values and doctrine in the face of public opposition. Values that were held dear and seen to be true for centuries have been thrown out the window to appease the wants of the modern day.

Think about it. For thousands of years Churches have followed what they believed to be the will of God. Only to recently find out, with the help of today’s enlightened generation, that they have been wrong all along. How humbling. I hope that God understands. I hope the billions of Christians who followed these Churches throughout the ages aren’t in Hell. After all, if the new religious order is right, yesterday's Christians must have been wrong. How sad for them. Oh well, at least today’s crop of new-age, modern Christians will see the Pearly Gates. After all, they know what God really wants. Don’t they?

I can’t help but wonder, if God is eternal and all knowing, and his followers had a certain understanding of his expectations throughout the ages, why now does God want something different? I suppose there are two possible explanations: either man has misinterpreted God’s word all these years and only now is coming to terms with what he really wants; or God wants what he has always wanted and the modern churches are wrong. Clearly the Catholic Church believes the latter.

The Catholic Church is against artificial contraception. Many people think this is nuts. They see sex as a recreational pastime more about pleasure than procreation. Can’t blame them really. I like it too. But the Church isn’t supposed to be in the business of gratification. It’s supposed to be in the business of sharing Gods will.

Critics lambaste the Catholic Church for its stand on condoms and the pill. They say that denying condoms to people in the third world, particularly Africa, condemns them to a slow death from AIDS. They question the Church’s stand on the pill, saying that many babies born in these areas starve to death, so they shouldn't be born at all. What they are saying is that people should be able to have their sexual fun with no limits and no repercussions. That people don’t have the ability to put anything above sex. That people are nothing more than rutting animals controlled by instinct, not rational thought. Well, the Catholic Church disagrees. It apparently believes in the nobility of the human spirit - that survival is really about using the mind that God gave you and making moral, intelligent choices, not about latex and pharmaceuticals. How utterly prehistoric eh?

If you don’t want to get AIDS, you should find a mate, be monogamous and stay with him or her throughout your life. What a silly notion. And if you don’t want kids you should practice natural family planning (commonly known as the Billings ovulation method) or abstain from intercourse. More silly notions.

What God in his right mind would expect his followers to put the survival of themselves or their potential offspring ahead of instant sexual gratification? After all, that would take a civilized, disciplined, intelligent mind. (Remember now, I’m as guilty as anyone of weakness of the flesh. I am not passing judgement. If I was, I’d have to judge myself as being deficient. I’m only saying that, if there is a God, maybe he expects more from us. If I was God, I would. But I’m not, so I guess that makes me a rutting animal (an exceptionally loyal, monogamous, married animal, may I add.)

These days, it all seems to be about me, me, me. Don’t ask me to make sacrifices. Don’t ask me to deny myself the things my body cries out for. Don’t ask me to believe in any God who would not put my needs first. Because if you do, I’m not going to believe in your God. After all, why should I bother with the your Church’s stand on condoms, birth control or abortion when I can find a Church that won’t require any sacrifices at all. I want my fun.

Anyway, here we are in Canada. We are Gods ourselves in many ways. We fly across the globe. We control reproduction. We are well fed, well informed, warm, comfortable, and (don’t deny it) the Centre of the Universe. No God is going to tell us what to do. And if he does, well, we’ll just invoke the Charter and put him in his place. We decide for ourselves what’s right or wrong. And any so-called God who dares to disagree, well, he can just go to hell.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

My Perfect World

Ah, to live in a perfect world. Wouldn’t it be great? It will never happen, of course. After all, you could never get everyone to agree on what a perfect world should look like. One person’s perfection is another person’s nightmare. Perfection is in the mind of the beholder. Perfection is like tomorrow, it never comes. (Please, someone, stop me before I cliche again.) Still, it's an interesting concept. And, I'm sure this will shock you, but, as it happens, I have a few ideas about what a perfect world would look like. Here, let me tell you about it.

In my perfect world, there would be no wars. Any disputes between nations would be settled personally by the countrys' leaders on world wide TV. Personally, I favour jello wrestling. Best two out of three falls. Or, maybe they could compete for the love of a 400 pound, facially tattooed, transsexual, dominatrix bachelorette who would then sleep with the loser's spouse - for a month.

In my perfect world, there would be no borders. People would be free to come and go as they please. At least that’s what I’d tell them. Eventually all the people of South Africa, Mexico or maybe Columbia will end up here in Canada (and, don't doubt it, they WILL come here – for the free health care, of course.) Then, all us Canadians would, in the middle of the night, sneak into their countries and close their borders, leaving them alone in Canada. It’ll be a good experience for them to try and build a successful society while freezing their nuts off. It’ll build character. As for us Canadians, we already did it. We’ve got oodles of character. It’s time we got to relax in the warm sunshine for awhile.

In my perfect world, racists would be apprehended and dyed or bleached the color of the people they hate. Enough said.

In my perfect world, convicted paedophiles would be castrated and shipped to a game reserve in Labrador where they would be hunted by sportsmen from around the world. The sportsmen would pay a huge fee, most of which would go to the victim(s) or victims’ families. Taxidermy and mounting of heads would cost extra, of course.

In my perfect world, we would have a special litter control agency. Agents would dress like everyday people and mull around outdoors in public places. When they see anyone littering, they would have the right to give them a major wedgie in public and take their purse or wallet, which would not be returned. Confiscated money would be used to pay for extra litter bins. Anyone who resists would be apprehended and forced to pick up litter with their teeth for a day while crawling on all fours and oinking like the pigs they are.

In my perfect world every woman would be required to have massive cosmetic surgery till she looked exactly like Nicole Kidman. And all men would be required to take a drug that would lower their IQ to 75 while making them bald, obese and impotent. Except me. (Hey, I’m creating a perfect world for you here. Don’t I deserve some compensation?)

In my perfect world there would be no celebrities. They would be known only as actors and musicians. They would do their work and we would have the chance to listen to or watch it. Otherwise, they would be ignored. Anyone making public the image or words of any actor or musician, except to promote a show, movie, CD or tour, would be shipped to Labrador to keep the paedophiles company. No pictures or interviews. No windows into their personal lives. No mention of them whatsoever. A welcomed goodbye to our ridiculously shallow, superficial, celebrity driven culture. Imagine a world without Brad or J-Lo or Paris or Brittney leering out from a million magazine and tabloid covers everyday. Even if this one thing was all I did, it would be reason enough for you to love my perfect world.

Your welcome.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Our Strength is Diversity?

OUR STRENGTH IS DIVERSITY! You must have heard that saying before. It’s our mantra. Our religion. It is the way we define ourselves and our city. After all, Toronto is, or so I hear, the most culturally diverse city on the planet. People from virtually all cultures in the world live here in reasonable peace and harmony.

We should be proud. Virtually everyone who has come here has been able to put aside their cultural differences and hatreds. Or, at least they keep it well hidden. So far, so good.

But is cultural diversity really a strength? Or is it simply a social reality that we’ve learned to live with? In any event, we’re living with it quite gracefully. But I guess that’s to be expected. After all, we are Canadians. We tolerate everything. We are against nothing (except, of course, Texans and Israel). And we never pass judgment on anyone or anything (except Christians and, of course, Americans).

Anyway, I’m confused. If our cultural diversity is strength, does that make our similarities a weakness? Of course not. Any rational person knows that similarities are what draws people together, not differences. Look at sports. In order to form a cohesive, well functioning team, players have to pursue the same objectives and support each other. Imagine forming a hockey team of people from many different cultures where the players only passed the puck to members of their own cultural group and avoided contact with other team members. I bet that team wouldn’t win a single game. Well, maybe against the Leafs.

And yet, despite the fact that oftimes diversity is not a strength, we are told that we must believe that it is. And we are not permitted to question it. Those who do are often demeaned as intolerant or even racist. They usually shut up real quick. As a result, we have created a fragmented society, comprised of diverse isolated parts - a society where people are encouraged to promote and focus on their cultural differences, rather than celebrate and emphasize their similarities as Canadians and as human beings.

Some would argue that this blind adherence to the quasi-religion of 'diversity' has actually created a divide between our communities. In fact, it’s quite ironic that we have adopted the word "community" to describe these exclusive, mono-cultural groups. After all, the word ‘community’ conjures up as many images of exclusion as it does inclusion. Think about it. Communities have always been formed as much to keep people out as keep people in. (Think 'gated communities') The same is true in many ways of Toronto’s cultural communities. If you’re not one of them - if you’re not like them - you can’t be a member of their “community”.

In northeastern Toronto there is a huge Chinese community. If you walk though their malls you’ll see no signs in English and hear no one speak our language. This is not diversity. This is self imposed, government approved segregation. This is a cultural enclave where diversity is neither encouraged nor welcome. And yet, oddly, communities like this are held up as a glowing example of the success of diversity. Weird huh?

And it happens a lot. Our city is often described as a culturally diverse, urban centre. In reality, it’s really a loosely structured series of physical and virtual mono-cultural communities where many people socialize and do business only with people of their own cultural background. (Now let me be clear, this is not about skin color, religion or ethnicity. I know people of many backgrounds and religions who I respect more and who make better Canadians than a lot of white Christian people. Better than me, in fact. This is really about a state sanctioned concept called 'cultural diversity' that encourages people to avoid integrating into the broader Canadian culture.)

And don’t get me wrong. I am not anti diversity in all things. In fact, I do believe that diversity can be a strength. But only when it’s a carefully planned initiative where diversity in knowledge, skills or experience can be put to specific use to further some goal or other. Like in business for example. A company may need specialists in many diverse areas like communication, marketing, shipping and research.

It’s far less apparent, however, how diversity in culture, language and values in the general makeup of our society is a strength. In fact, other than hearing the usual mindless slogans about diversity being strength, no one has ever explained to me in detail why, exactly, it is a strength for us all. Granted, diversity has certainly benefited those whose presence has made Canada diverse. After all, they get to avoid the pesky inconvenience of integrating. It is less clear, however, what benefit has been given to the Canadians who were here before diversity became our mantra. Are their lives really better? Is their city and their nation really stronger? Explain to me how? Educate me.

At election time, politicians visit all the insular cultural tribes and communities in Toronto, promising to address the issues that are important to them. And every community clambers to get a piece of the tax-funded pie to pay for their own cultural priorities. Diversity has made them competitors - one cultural group pitted against another for a chance to take home the grand prize: more of my tax dollars.

Can someone tell me why government spends so much time dividing us and so little time bringing us together. And why do these various cultural communities think that they have the right to get special treatment from the government? Seems to me that we all basically have the same needs - safe streets, a good health system, an effective education system and clean water. Shouldn’t we be joining together to demand these and other essential, universally needed, services - not splitting up into factions begging government to address our own selfish cultural interests? Shouldn't our priorities be to protect and nurture Canadian culture? The culture of acceptance, tolerance and inclusivity? (OK, 'inclusivity' isn't a word. humour me, OK? I've had a long day)

People leave their birth culture to come to Canada. Often, the culture they leave has given them nothing but pestilence, poverty, war or oppression. They want a better life. So they come here to enjoy the fabulous freedoms and prosperity that Canadian culture provides. But when they get here, they ignore Canadian culture and wallow in the very culture they were running away from. It's like someone who escapes from their burning home and then sets fire to their room in the shelter, just to see if it will burn the same way their house did.

I'll tell you what - lets play a game. You make a list of societies or nations where people of vastly different cultures and values have lived together in harmony for extended periods of time. And I’ll make up a list of societies where such a situation has led to hatred, segregation, murder and even genocide. My list will be endless. Yours will be almost blank.

We are constantly told cultural diversity is a strength. It's like they know we might question it unless they keep repeating it. What they don't tell us is that it is also a gamble.

Only recently have people of diverse cultures started living together as equals in any great number. (And even now, it's mostly occuring in western democracies. Bully for us.) Before that, for the entire history of mankind, we have lived almost exclusively in mono-cultural communities. People who immigrated into a culture were obliged to integrate into it. Many people never traveled further than a few miles from their community, except to go to war (where they killed people who were not of their culture.) Ever since we crawled from the primordial bog, or were molded from the dust (whichever you believe) this has been a reality. The social inclination to cleave to our own and distrust those who not like us seems to be embedded in us. How deeply embedded, is debatable. Hopefully, not too deep. Otherwise, we may someday find out that cultural diversity isn't the strength its perveyors made it out to be.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Crow, Cow Pies and Taxes

I am sitting here seething with anger. I just yelled at my kids. I think I’ll go and club a few seals and then find a 120 pound female cop and laugh at her mascara. Then, after I regain consciousness, I'll go somewhere private and just scream. I am fit to be tied. I am so tense that every cell in my body feels like it’s going to explode. Please, somebody shoot me. Put me out of my misery. God, I hate doing my income tax.

For the past few years my wife and I have been paying a local accountant to do our taxes for us. This year, however, we expect to make less than in previous years. So, I figured that I would save us the $100 and do our taxes myself. Big mistake.

First I had to decide how I would do them – on paper or by using some type of software. Well, the whole idea was for us to save money. And software packages aren't free. So, I figured I’d give the paper return a shot.

Off to the post office I go. I pick up two form booklets and the guide, and march home. On the way, I pass the local storefront tax business. I look in at all the people waiting to pay to have their taxes done. I smile smugly to myself. 'Suckers', I whisper under my breath. I think of the nice dinner out that my wife and I will have with the money we save. I'm thinking maybe duck or pheasant. I should be thinking crow.

So, I get home and go straight to work. Throughout my career I have done many complex calculations, analysized data, reviewed and summarized legislation and solved many perplexing problems. Surely, a simple tax return should be a piece of cake. Turns out it is more like a piece of pie - a cow pie.

Now, lets just look at the concept of taxes for a minute. They aren’t something that we do voluntarily to access a government benefit. This isn’t like applying for a drivers license or passport. Canadians are not forced to do those things. So it is not totally unreasonable for the applicants to pay some nominal expense.

Taxes, however, are a totally different story. They are a legislated requirement for anyone who makes any money here in Canada. Any Canadian with income has to file an income tax return or suffer dire consequences. So, almost all adult Canadians are affected. And yet the forms and processes are so infuriatingly complex and utterly incomprehensible that many Canadians have to spend their own hard earned dollars to hire a professional to do their taxes for them.

Am I the only person who thinks that this is more than just a little twisted? First, the government forces its citizens to do something under penalty of fine or imprisonment if they refuse. Then, it makes the process so difficult that they have to spend their own money just to comply. In other words, the government forces people to pay just to stay out of jail. Seems to me that if the government is forcing us to do something it should at least pick up the tab.

One solution to this problem would be for the government to provide a tax deduction, dollar for dollar, to repay Canadians who have to spend their own money hiring someone to do their personal tax return. Another solution would be for government to provide a free user friendly net tool for Canadians to use to calculate and file their taxes online.

An entire nation-wide private tax industry has sprung-up like mushrooms on the cow pies excreted from Ottawa's bloated tax system. Tax specialists sit at their desks in storefront offices and shopping malls and they wait. They know we can’t live without them. They know that sooner or later we will have to dig deep, swallow our pride and fork out. We are figuratively held captive. And only by paying these indispensable tax emissaries can we save ourselves from being literally held captive - by our country’s tax courts and jails. And they will continue to take our money until our government gives us a tax system that we can navigate through ourselves. Personally, I don't think that's too much to ask.

Anyway, here I am, tying on my bib. The crow is being served. I’m finished with dealing with the cow pie tax return. After two hours of slogging through these outrageously nonsensical tax forms I have given up. I might be able to get it done eventually, but only at the cost of a lot of time and my sanity. And we all know how much psycho therapists cost. It's just not worth it.

My tax situation isn’t that complex. We contribute a bit to an RRSP. We have to pay back an RRSP home ownership loan. We make a few dollars in interest. There’s a few deductions transferable from one to the other. These are financial realities shared by millions of Canadians. So why can’t the government make it possible for us to do our taxes ourselves? My grandfather was a simple labourer. He didn’t have to hire someone to do his taxes. I’m a university trained professional and I do. This is progress? Not for me it isn’t. More like bureaucracy gone mad.

Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I have to call the accountant and set up an appointment for him to do our taxes. Another tax season. Another hundred dollars.