Au revoir, Charest? QC elections 2012

By Andrew Bailey

It’s voting time in Québec, and the 2012 provincial elections look set to change the French Canadian political scene significantly.

Jean Charest’s centre-right Liberal party has been in power in Québécois provincial government for the past 9 years. Having been re-elected twice, Charest and his team have recently navigated more murky waters, including the corrupt public construction scandal that emerged in 2009, and the 2011 proposal to raise university tuition fees by over $1000: a proposal that triggered the massive year long student protests and strikes that the government then decided to crack down by introducing “emergency measures” legally limiting the students and sympathisers ability to protest in public spaces and also taking out injunctions effectively annulling the protesting students’ decision to picket their Cégeps and universities. Charest et al. claims that the silent majority of Québec does not support the students’ plight, that their non-acceptance of the fees hike is selfish, and that the prolonged unrest is damaging Québec’s reputation as a summer vacation destination and that, therefore, police intervention is justified. Student’s reply by holding up proof of police brutality as affronts to Québec’s right to freedom of expression. This unrest is, of course, still unfolding as we speak.

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A decline in the Liberal’s popularity seems to be taking on a more tangible form. A survey reported in La Presse on August 10th (a month before elections take place on September 4th) that were voters to cast their votes right now, The centre-left PQ (Parti Québécois) lead by Pauline Marois would just clinch a victory with 32%, with Charest’s party obtaining 29% and François Légault’s recently formed centre-right CAQ (Coalition Avenir Québec) party coming in third place with 21% of the vote. The truth and reality of these political polls is always questionable; it really isn’t over until the fat lady sings. The poll has, however, caused worry amongst Liberals that their reign on the throne of Québec may soon be over.

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The PQ is traditionally associated with Québécois sovereignty; a victory for Marois could potentially bring the question of succession back to the table, although public and political support for an independent Québec seems to have waned for the time being. The idea of a win for the PQ doesn’t please everyone, however: students fear that Pauline, who has a history of supporting the raising of tuition fees, will go ahead and do exactly as Charest had planned. Furthermore, Marois recently did damage to her popularity by supporting the strengthening of ties between Québec city council and Québecor Media in the running of Québec City’s Amphithéâtre de Québec (currently under construction and due to open in 2015), a move mixing government and business that some see as a potential replay of 2009’s construction scandal.

The support for smaller political parties has also increased, with green/left-leaning groups such as Québec Solidaire and Option Nationale garnering more attention thanks to an increase in disillusioned voters.

Whatever the outcome of the election may be, it is certain that the same questions of student fees, austerity, national identity and transparency will be asked and demand answers.

The poll (in French): http://www.lapresse.ca/le-soleil/dossiers/elections-quebecoises/201208/09/01-4563856-sondage-crop-le-parti-quebecois-bon-premier.php

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Leeds Centre for Canadian Studies at Canada Day London

by Jessica Ballantine (text) and Andrew Bailey (photos)

At the beginning of this month, various members of the Leeds Centre for Canadian Studies travelled to London to be outreach ambassadors at this year’s Canada Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square. Undergraduate Andrew Bailey, PhD students Simone Lomartire and Jessica Ballantine, and Dr Martin Thornton hosted a stall in the Universities Tent, giving out information about the centre and discussing the work of Leeds CCS with members of the public – as well as entertaining visitors of all ages with our Leeds CCS quiz, photo competition and our very popular moose mascot.

We were able to meet a vast range of people from expat Canadians, locals and tourists to potential students at the Centre, all of whom had interesting stories to tell. Sharing information about our research activities at undergraduate, graduate and academic levels with members of the public was a real privilege, and many stimulating discussions were enjoyed over the day. One particularly crafty member of the public was so impressed with the work of the Leeds CCS that he ran off with our poster presentation booklet, which we hope is now gracing his coffee table. The biggest hit of the day, however, was our Leeds CCS pens. These were a great success – one lady even took home a handful for her grandchildren!

Of course, we also found time to sneak out of the tent to enjoy the live music, sports and Canadian cuisine, and we each came home proudly sporting a (temporary) Canadian flag tattoo. A great time was had by all!

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Lucy Maud Montgomery and Experiences of Cancer

by Christine Chettle

ImageAt the June 2012 L.M. Montgomery and Cultural Memory Conference which I recently attended, a paper (I believe it was Adeline Koscher’s paper on ‘L.M. Montgomery’s Preservation of the New Woman in Cultural Memory’, but a difficulty with reading my own writing inhibits certainty on this point) highlighting the potential for reading L.M.Montgomery’s texts as a sourcebook for contemporary cultural texts made me recall some reflections I’d had a year earlier, when I was doing some Montgomery research at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) in 2011.

After a conversation with a couple of local cancer specialists (Drs. Bill Whelan and Michelle Cottreau), reading about Montgomery’s own experiences with cancer in her selected journals caused her words to stand out in haunting detail.

Her journal entry of on Feb 25th, 1918 recalls a breast cancer scare she had in 1910. This scare was terribly traumatic:

‘There were a couple of weeks that winter in which I tasted all the bitterness of death – and a dreadful and lingering death.  It induced a nervous breakdown to which I made reference in my journal of the time. But I did not explain the cause of it – I could not. The agony had been so awful that for years I could not bear even to think of it.’

Three of my female relations have had encounters with cancer, two of whom did not survive these encounters, so I have good reason to know that any brush with cancer is traumatic. However, we might not suffer some elements of Montgomery’s experience today.

She had little access to reliable information:

‘I got up in the cold and hunted out all the “doctor’s books” in the house and read what they had to say on the subject. I found nothing to encourage me [ . . .] I thought I would go mad with fear and dread. I could say no word to anyone – there was no one I could say anything to.  Sleepless night succeeded sleepless night – agonized day followed agonized day. I could not work – it was impossible to concentrate on anything.’

She had little access to confidential and reliable medical support:

 ‘I could not think of consulting the local doctor. He had a gossipy wife who told everything.  My horrible secret would soon be known everywhere – a thought I could not tolerate.  I could not get to town to consult a doctor there. So, soon after I discovered the kernel, I wrote to the doctor in charge of the medical column in a Montreal paper asking if the kernel were likely to prove a cancer and what I had better do.’

The results of the screening process she was able to achieve relieved her – but this process was far from infallible:

‘Eighteen days later his letter came [ . . .] It was very brief and I remember every line of it – I can never forget it. It shut the gates of death upon my tortured soul and opened the gates of life. “Dear Madam,” it read, “the little kernel in your breast is not a cancer and my advice is to leave it completely alone.” I felt as if I had returned from the grave.  Life was possible once more.’

Now, I am not a medical historian, and I am not entirely certain what conditions in relation to cancer were like across PEI, across Canada and across the world in 1910. (I hope to find out more details in the future.) Other women in other locations presumably had better access to confidential cancer care, but surely many women, like Montgomery, did not. But what Montgomery’s poignant words made me realize was the fact that the very prospect of anyone suffering Montgomery’s particular encounter today may seem unimaginable. In PEI today, people from specialists like Whelan (a cancer researcher) and Cottreau (a quality control officer) down to local doctors ensure that Islanders receive excellent care, while reliable information about cancer is now just a Google search away. The situation is similar in many countries.

But not all countries receive similar standards of care; continuing research everywhere is absolutely essential, as there is still much work to be done on cancer; and there is always a need to ensure that everyone has easy access to adequate health care. 
In PEI, in 2012, ‘an estimated 370 people will die of cancer in Prince Edwards Island, and 890 new cases will be diagnosed.’

As PEI has more that 141000 residents, this is a death rate of less than 0.02 % from cancer. In a global context, however, cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide according to the World Health Organization, which estimates that ‘Cancer [ … ] account[s] for 7.6 million deaths (around 13% of all deaths) in 2008 and that about 70% of all cancer deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries.’ The WHO notes that ‘Deaths from cancer worldwide are projected to continue rising, with an estimated 13.1 million deaths in 2030’ but that ‘more than 30% of cancers could be cured if detected early and treated adequately. Cancer can be reduced and controlled by implementing evidence-based strategies for cancer prevention, early detection of cancer and management of patients with cancer.’ (WHO, 2012)

Had Montgomery suffered her cancer scare in 2010, rather than 1910, she would have received excellent healthcare, including mammography screening, but other people across the world still suffer from a lack of reliable information, sufficient support, and adequate detection and screening processes. Montgomery’s experience should inspire us to make certain that everyone can access the cancer care they need. 

The quotations are from The Selected Journals of L.M.Montgomery, Vol.2, 1910-1921, ed. by Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 239-241.

You can find out more about Lucy Maud Montgomery and the UPEI archives at the L.M.Montgomery Institute, and more about Montgomery at the Lucy Maud Montgomery Research Centre and at the L.M.Montgomery Research Group.

You can find out more about Dr. Whelan’s research into new methods to treat and monitor prostate cancer here.

You can find out more about global cancer statistics here (and related pages).

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Gruesome: Montreal’s “Canadian Psycho”

by Andrew Bailey

Yesterday evening, Interpol managed to apprehend a 29-year-old Montréalais Italo-Canadian named Luka Rocco Magnotta in a cyber café in Berlin; Luka is the prime suspect in the murder of 33-year-old Jun Lin, a Chinese exchange student who had been dating Magnotta; Lin’s body had been butchered into parts and then duly sent out in the post to the headquarters of both federal Conservatives and Liberals. Police succeeded in tracking his location via mobile phone activity, but failed to notice a video that Magnotta, originally from a suburb of Toronto, had posted on-line of himself decapitating Lin’s body, described by some senior officers of the SPVM as “The most horrifying thing they had seen on video”:

(http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jun/02/canada-body-parts-victim-chinese).

Magnotta had been described as “hard-tempered, self-absorbed, manipulative, angry, aggressive”. Much has been made of the fact that he was a homosexual pornography actor, with some more conservative sources implying that this “sordid occupation” explains everything. The crime and the evidence points towards Magnotta being mentally unstable, though the political connotations of Lin’s hand and foot being sent to the Conservatives and Liberals remain obscure.

This tragic and bizarre turn of events has surely pushed Canada (and more specifically Italian Canadians) into the spotlight, sadly for all the wrong reasons.

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Canadian Web Comics and Dramatizing Survival: Subverting Alberta Tar Sands, Anne of the Island, Windigos, and more.

by Christine Chettle

However you style it, ‘comic books’, ‘bandes dessinées’ (BDs), ‘graphic novels’ or ‘sequential art’ (I’m going to call it ‘comic art’), this intriguing conjunction of the visual and the text has a strong hold on Canadian culture. From Joe Shuster, who co-created Superman (and thus inspired a set of comic book awards in his name), to Montréal’s bandes dessinées shops, and to Toronto’s and Vancouver’s Comic Arts Festivals, Canada’s got it all. (Canada’s government also has a somewhat fraught relationship with comic art culture, but that’s another blogpost.) However, comic art is no longer simply in books; it’s in hyperspace. Web comics — that is, comics published online, without corporate sponsorship – offer all sorts of possibilities to a graphic artist. As Sean Fenty, Trena Houp and Laurie Taylor discuss here, this format allows artists the freedom to explore topics (political, sexual, economic) that the mainstream comic culture might limit, and also without the limitations of corporate cost structures.
So, where does Canada fit into all this? Well, Canadian web comic artists are seizing this dynamic potential to challenge depictions of Canada that range in scale from the international to the small-town and that interrogate politics, history and literature. I’m highlighting selections — all shown in central slideshow below — from three web comic artists today, and I’ve chosen them because in each way, they re-interpret that classic Canadian trope of survival.

Kate Beaton and Surviving Fort McMurray: (slides 1-6 in slideshow below) Beaton, from Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, is a classic web comic success story. She started by posting sketches on a livejournal site and due to an ever-burgeoning readership, her insightfully parodic sketches can now be found all over the place, from the New Yorker to facebook posts, to office doors, and in her own book. I’m starting with Beaton because, one way or another, I found the other two artists through posts on Beaton’s ‘Hark! A Vagrant’ site; the blog posts that accompany her updates often contain links to other comic artists. Some of her readership may come for her satirical sketches on historical and literary characters, but they’ll also take in posts about Beaton’s community: ‘Themes of Cape Breton, home, culture and rural decline will happen in my comics again and again’, as she recently commented on her tumblr. The environmental impact of the Alberta oil sands (of which Fort McMurray is the centre point) is known globally, but Beaton highlights the social impact of Fort McMurray. In one comic, Beaton draws a memory of working the Christmas night shift at Fort McMurray. It certainly demonstrates a Christmas spirit of shared gifts, but the cold weather, the repeated clocks, and the sparse frustration in Beaton’s expression make it clear that this spirit is born from a shared need to survive the bleakness and loneliness of the oil sands. (For the whole comic, see here.) More recently, Beaton posted a comic about the impact of Fort McMurray as a loss to her home community. Musing on the death of a fellow townsman, a young man who died at Fort McMurray, Beaton shows Fort McMurray as exploiting community, not just oil. (For the whole comic, see here.) This work contains more prose and less panels than Beaton’s work often does: her sketches interrupt her mourning narrative, offering a visual disconnection that dramatizes a social disconnection and underlines her town’s personal difficulties in surviving economic migration. Beaton posted the ‘Tribute’ comic on the Tumblr section of her website and it has been reblogged many times, along with comments like ‘I wish all towns would care about each other like this’, ‘my hometown with me everywhere’, and ‘As a small town northern Canadian transplanted to SoCal, this really resonated with me’ that link Cape Breton, through shared mourning, to a global online community.

Faith Erin Hicks and Surviving School: (slides 7-11 in slideshow below) Hicks is a comic artist who has made her name both through the web comic medium and through the graphic novel medium. Her latest work, Friends With Boys, was published serially online before being published in print form (just the preview is now available online; you can buy the book here). It follows the adventures of Maggie, who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, as she makes the transition from home school to high school. A lot of the narrative takes place in a graveyard, inspired by the many in Halifax (as indicated by a photo on Hicks’s blog), and it’s here that an element of magic realism appears. As Maggie walks back and forth from home through the graveyard, a ghost of an early nineteenth-century woman, the widow of a tragically dead captain, follows her. The graveyard is also where Maggie deals with her shyness and her grief over her mother’s recent separation from her family.

At the beginning of the story, Maggie thinks that the ghost only haunts her, but by the end, she realizes that everyone can see the ghost – after she, her brothers and her new friends have broken into various places to steal and then restore an artefact that they hope will lay the ghost to rest. The ghost survives their efforts and Maggie survives high school, due to bonding adventures with her brothers and her peers; the setting of the graveyard underlines the navigation of community through a shared past. This shared past extends outward from Hicks’s story to evoke a wider literary past, through the adventures of Anne Shirley at university, as detailed in chapter four of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of the Island. Like Maggie, Anne feels lonely, although she is fortunate in having an old friend, Priscilla with her. At registration, Anne notices another girl ‘”who looked as lonely and friendless as I felt”. In an effort to soothe homesickness, Anne and Priscilla go for a walk in one of Halifax’s many graveyards (St. John’s Cemetery), where they encounter the lonely girl from registration. Their friendship with this girl – Philippa – is cemented through their shared imaginings of Halifax’s past (and in spite of Philippa’s voiced admiration of Gilbert Blythe, which Anne does not enjoy):

” You just accept Philippa Gordon, as the Lord made her, with all her faults, and I believe you’ll come to like her [ . . . ] Here’s a grave I didn’t see before — this one in the iron railing — oh, girls, look, see — the stone says it’s the grave of a middy who was killed in the fight between the Shannon and the Chesapeake. Just fancy!” [ . . .] The old graveyard, with its over-arching trees and long aisles of shadows, faded from [Anne’s] sight. Instead, she saw the Kingsport Harbor of nearly a century agone. Out of the mist came slowly a great frigate, brilliant with “the meteor flag of England.” Behind her was another, with a still, heroic form, wrapped in his own starry flag, lying on the quarter deck — the gallant Lawrence. Time’s finger had turned back his pages, and that was the Shannon sailing triumphant up the bay with the Chesapeake as her prize. “Come back, Anne Shirley — come back,” laughed Philippa, pulling her arm. “You’re a hundred years away from us. Come back.”

Later, Anne comments of Philippa and the graveyard: ‘I’m glad we met her, and I’m glad we went to Old St. John’s. I believe I’ve put forth a tiny soul-root into Kingsport soil this afternoon.’ While Anne’s imagination transports her into the past, Hicks’s illustrations literalize the powerful presence of the past in a modern community, depicting the ghost following Maggie and her friends and family. The serialized format of the web comic underlined this power as the developing character of the ghost evoked many comments on the daily update blog as readers debated the ghost’s identity. I’m not suggesting that Hicks deliberately evokes Anne in Maggie’s story but I feel a comparison between the two graveyard narratives emphasizes the importance of a shared sense of historical past in the putting-forth of ‘soul-roots’. However, Hicks’s comic complicates this experience of ‘soul-roots’ by using the ghost character; a ghost often suggests the occurrence of unresolved crimes, provoking unease and fear. The presence of the ghost in the comic questions the nature of a historic past that becomes eternally present: is this benign, in creating a shared experience, or troublesome, in causing division over issues of wrong-doing?

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Kate Craig and Surviving Destruction: (slides 12-16 in slideshow) Craig is an environment artist in the games industry, who is also developing a different line in colour illustration through comics (see her site for more details). ‘Heart of Ice’ is her first online comic and it offers a hard-hitting narrative about ‘monsters and arctic scientists’. After his plane crashes between Iqualuit and Montreal, an arctic scientist must survive hunger and cold in the hope of rescue. His battle for survival is made poignant by his stand-off with a death-figure. This emaciated figure has a dark-stained mouth and digits which are frost-bitten claws, and the figure drags off his companions one by one. Craig’s use of darkening colour demonstrates an ever-increasing sense of despair as the protagonist begins by building a shelter and then fights frostbite and hunger. Her use of colour also emphasizes a difference between the protagonist’s perception of himself in a white parka and his rescuers’ perception of him in a curiously dark-stained parka, which helps the reader to notice that his fingers curve in the same way as the death-figure’s do. Rather than stating the outcome of this heightening tension overtly, Craig allows her readers to reach their own conclusions. However, in a blogpost about the comic, Craig cites an article about Windigo folklore as inspiration: this article details stories of possession by this ‘terrifying mythological creature with a ravenous appetite for human flesh’. It recounts the tale of Swift Runner, a Cree trapper who survived the winter of 1878-79 by killing and eating his entire family, and blamed these crimes on his possession by a Windigo.
Craig’s comic updates this tale to a modern era with references to planes and climate change, and also subverts the location of destructive madness in native culture; instead of a Cree trapper, this is a Westernized academic who experiences psychosis. However, both an allusion to Starbucks and one of his companions who has an ‘open dislike of their Inuit hosts’ suggest that a ravenous appetite for survival might mean the destruction of the environment and of other cultures, rather than merely human flesh.

Craig, like Beaton and Hicks, uses the web comic medium to disseminate conceptions of Canada that interrogate Canadian culture by musing both upon destructive elements in it and upon processes that Canadians use to survive destruction. These artists particularly make use of the potential this medium offers to draw upon an online community: Beaton develops an alternative online space through her blogposts that encompasses a global membership; Hicks propels and sustains an experience of continual debate; and Craig extends the potential of identification. In their hands, the Canadian web comic becomes an essential tool of cultural survival.

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Parlez-vous Français? Not in Cornwall: Language Upset in Ontario

By Andrew Bailey

Language controversy in Canada is often associated with Québec, with the French stereotypically turning their noses up at anything English. This malaise is, however, a two-way street: Cornwall is a town of 46,000 in the East of Ontatrio, 120km Southwest of Montréal and 400km Northwest of Toronto. Since January, its Community Hospital has conformed to legislation that favours the hiring of bilingual workers (English and French) over those who only speak English. Considering that 27% of Cornwall’s residents are Francophone, and in theory deserve the same access to healthcare as Anglophones enjoy, one would expect this move to be welcomed.

However, this has not been the case. The mayor of South Stormont (the municipality within which the hospital lies), Bryan McGillis, has withheld his annual donation of $30,000 to the hospital, joining public outrage instigated by Doctor Danny Tombler. Dr. Tombler published a letter in The Standard Freeholder (a local newspaper) criticising the move, stating that Anglophone jobs were being lost at the expense of pandering towards a minority.

MP for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry (Cornwall’s electoral district), Jim McDonell has distanced himself from the issue, stating that he would “keep tabs” on the situation, admitting that said situation was proving to be difficult to handle.

This unravelling situation raises the larger question at play: to what lengths should minorities be catered for? Considering that Eastern Ontario has a sizeable Francophone population, I would judge the move a justifiable one: Québec makes numerous provisions for its Anglophone residents. However the situation turns out, the polémique highlights the social and political problems that arise in a region where languages and cultures cross over.

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The NeverEnding Story: Montréal’s Stade Olympique

By Andrew Bailey

The 70s were an exciting time in Montréal: Expo ’67 set the tone for an exciting decade of disco, escaping the dark ages of La Grande Noirceur, a greater openness to the western world, and economic prosperity. The icing on the cake was of course the hosting of the Summer Olympic Games of 1976, an event placing Montréal firmly on the world stage, indeed becoming the first Canadian city to host the games, beating Moscow and Los Angeles to the title.
One factor favouring Montréal was Canada’s lack of status as a world power, with the IOC wishing to avoid a USSR/USA stand off, later exemplified in the 1980/1984 games. Further “controversy” occurred when separatist René Lévesque sent a letter to Queen Elizabeth II asking her to refuse her invitation to attend the opening of the games, an invitation that had been sent by the then-in-power sovereignist leaders of Robert Bourassa and Pierre Trudeau; she chose to ignore the request.

The main action took place at the Stade Olympique, a purpose built site in the East of Montréal designed by French architect Roger Taillibert that features a circular arena covered by an elaborate retractable roof, a roof supported by the world’s tallest inclined tower. The tower houses an observatory at the summit (Montréal’s sixth-tallest structure), and the stadium is accessible by two purpose built Métro stations on the green line, those being Viau and Pie-IX. This impressive structure has, however, turned out to be something of a white elephant. Construction problems and that oh-so-French pastime of going on strike meant that the roof wasn’t completely installed and operable until 1987, some 11 years after the games had taken place. Furthermore, the roof cannot be retracted in winds of more than 25mph (how embarrassing) The stadium had been home to The Montréal Expos (baseball) and The Alouettes (american football), however both have now left, leaving the stadium with no real purpose, only playing host to the odd rock concert, an audience with the pope (as was the case in 1984), and a biannual monster truck show.

Montréalers are now faced with the choice of demolishing the stadium, or refurbishing it: both options are equally undesirable, being costly in both time and money. Demolition would cost $700 million, an eye-watering figure considering that the city only just paid off the staggering $1.47 billion bill (taking into account all the necessary repairs and alterations) needed to build the stadium in the first place. At the other end of the scale, a redevelopment plan has recently been proposed to construct a new roof, an Olympic museum, a general regeneration of the entire complex, and to provide a centre for Montréal’s diverse communities to come together and get active. Whatever plan is decided upon, the stadium will remain a feature of the Montréal skyline for the foreseeable future, for better of worse.

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