Hope and hard work

I drove away from my house a little after 9:30 this morning to do my usual Saturday morning provisioning at the farmers market. So when I turned on the radio, Chris Hall of CBC's The House was already in mid-interview with someone from the federal government. I guessed—correctly—that the interviewee was Dominic LeBlanc, the government house leader. And he was...answering questions! Not all of them, but most of them, giving straight responses with no obfuscation. At least once he said "That's a good question" and proceeded to honour the good question with a good answer. At one point when he didn't answer (and didn't pretend to), Hall asked again, saying, "Just between you and me," and LeBlanc laughed and said "You and me and about two million of your listeners, right?" It was very much a political interview, with Hall asking direct and sometimes pointed questions, but there was an openness to the whole thing that was striking.

I thought maybe I should pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.

That's a sad commentary really. This kind of exchange between a national affairs correspondent and a government minister should not have seemed exceptional. Yet after almost a decade of hostility, stonewalling, and often complete bullshit (former foreign minister John Baird being one of the few Conservative ministers who seemed relatively at ease and forthcoming in interviews), it was absolutely refreshing to hear the obvious change of tone.

LeBlanc didn't know the answer to a question about specifics of the troop training deployment in Iraq and Syria because he was waiting for a decision from the Minister of Defence. He brought up several other cabinet colleagues who were clearly very hands-on with their portfolios. He spoke of having a discussion with the leader of the Conservative caucus in the Senate and with the leader of the Senate Liberals (technically no longer a caucus) about the role of the Senate as currently configured and how a Conservative majority in the upper house would handle legislation from a Liberal government.

I spent the years of Conservative minorities warning about what would happen if the Conservatives won a majority, and the last four years helping cite the abuses that the Harper government was perpetrating. It was a surprisingly uphill battle. For a long time, many people seemed to have thought that things weren't so bad, that they were really okay, and that the new normal was fine or even inevitable. Since the election, I have seen so many with a palpable sense of relief at the change in the government and in the country. It's that stark. I read someone saying that the defeat of Stephen Harper and the end of his tenure as Prime Minister was like getting away from an abusive partner. You don't know just how bad it was until it stops.

Certainly the new government is far from perfect. Except among the media, whose job it is to be skeptical, and some of the chattering classes, who do what they do, the Trudeau honeymoon seems not to have finished. But the government faces huge issues, those they promised to deal with as well as things they did not anticipate. The Prime Minister will inevitably disappoint some. Rookie ministers will make mistakes. And that is especially true because we are not just back to the status quo ante. In many ways, Canada is back. But in many more ways, this is a government of new ideas. Some of those will run aground on the shoals of reality and changed circumstances, but I think that with this new generation of politicians we might see some changes that we really do like and have been needing for a long time.

I am cautiously, realistically excited. Is that possible?

I have even applied to work with the transition team, despite being able to see the light of retirement at the end of the work tunnel. Somehow I think my lack of direct government or political experience and my fair-to-middlin' command of French will not put me high on any minister's list of potential employees, but who knows. I even said I would be willing to relocate to Ottawa. And I hate winter! But I have always wanted to go ice skating on the Rideau Canal. And right now, Ottawa is where it's happening.

Whether I am in Ottawa or, much more likely, here in Vancouver, I really am realistic. But I am also really excited. This is Barack Obama time for Canada, except I think this government might be even more forward-looking and has the advantage of a majority in the House rather than a hostile Congress. I'm actually anticipating the Speech from the Throne and for the House to be in session again. Let's get to work! We have a lot to undo and a lot to do.


Open letter to PMJT

Dear Prime Minister,

By now we all know about the attacks by Daesh on civilians in Beirut and Paris. We also know, and have known, that Daesh continues to wreak havoc in Iraq and Syria and to execute people every day. Slaughter is nothing new to them. We should not only now be paying attention to it.

Recently, I have seen many calls for Canada to change the foreign policy stance that was set out in the Liberal platform and that you have shown every indication of following. I have seen calls for you to change your mind about bombing and to toughen Canada’s response to terrorism. I have even seen calls to "put boots on the ground," that facile phrase usually uttered by those who will never have to create an effective strategy for those boots and whose own boots will remain safely (so far) in Canada.

No one seems to know what will truly be effective against Daesh. After bombing, including by Canadian forces, and fighting on the ground for years, Daesh is still a viable fighting force holding territory and pushing beyond it. The current flurry of cries are all of the "do something" variety. There is no question that a response is required. But a poor response would be a mistake.

I trust you and your government to hold to the principles you articulated so eloquently—and strongly—in your ministerial mandate letters. I trust you to keep your head while others seem to have fallen into macho outrage.

I understand the outrage. I understand the grief. I understand the desire to "do something."

But if that something does nothing more than make us feel good, and especially if it ends up doing more harm than good, then we must resist the temptation to react and, I daresay, play into the intentions of Daesh, and instead hold to our determination to act in ways that will actually help.

One change I do urge is for Canada to cancel sales of military hardware, even light-armoured vehicles, to Saudi Arabia. Not only is that equipment used in Saudi Arabia's ongoing violation of the civil rights of its own people; it is also well known that Saudi Arabia funds Sunni extremists, all the while smiling and pretending to be our friend. We must not be in the position of helping those who repress their own people and aid those who wish to destroy others near and far.

I urge you to continue to look for effective ways of dealing with the violence of terrorism and the destruction wrought by war. I trust that you will. We must use what power we have to find ways to undercut Daesh and not just strike back at it.

However we respond, we must not lose the Canada we love just as we are starting to regain it. I think you feel the same way. Thank you.




The woman who knew too much

(If life disturbs you, don't read this. There's my warning.)

I had considered myself fortunate. Unlike too many other people I know, I had never been sexually assaulted. At least that's what I thought until just a few days ago. For some reason, I recalled an incident that happened many years ago. I had never forgotten it. I was just thinking about it again. And it struck me, as it never had before, that the incident was sexual assault.

Not a club I actually wanted to join.

What happened was not asked for, nor was it wanted. It violated boundaries. It violated trust.

I didn't stop it. I could have. At least I think so. But I was in a vulnerable situation, and it happened quickly. I was caught off guard, unprepared. And then it was over.

I didn't think of it as assault at the time. And I wasn't hurt, not physically. It wasn't my doing or my fault, and I never blamed myself. I just thought of it as a vaguely disturbing thing that happened. That I had allowed to happen. That might be a big part of why I never considered it assault.

Now it's in me in a whole new way.

I'm not trying to recast something innocent as something sinister. It wasn't innocent. It was not malicious, but it was definitely a transgression. I just hadn't really known what to call it. I've learned a lot since then. Now I know.

(Just so you know: We're not talking about Sweetie here. Anyone who is acquainted with us would know that, but I want to make sure it's clear to everyone.)

I'm still very fortunate, just not quite as fortunate as I thought I was. I'm okay. I don't think the incident altered the course of my life. I don't think of myself as a survivor. As I said, I wasn't physically harmed. There was nothing to survive, not like someone who escapes from a burning building or makes it home safely from a war—or lives with the memory of any traumatic experience. I don't consider that incident to have involved violence. A violation, to be sure, but not violence. That would devalue the real violence that too many experience.

Your mileage may vary. And it's not for me to say what's true for anyone else.

Now I'm trying to figure out what to do with this realization. Because I can't un-realize it. I'm not traumatized. I'm not suffering. But it's a thought that's staying with me now. I can't forget it. But can I let it go?