Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Is Stephen Harper Hoping for a Do Over?

The most vivid memories I have of my father are first, the image of him asleep with a book in his hand. He was a voracious reader and an extremely intelligent man.

The second was his enormous knowledge of history. Not the history we were taught in school, but real history.

I used to sometimes hide my school books, because if he read them, he would constantly critique their content. "Lies .... lies ... more lies".

He had a unique heritage, though not really unique for the Maritimes. His mother was Acadian, her grandmother French-Canadian. His paternal grandparents were Irish-Catholic, who escaped the Irish genocide, dubbed the "potato famine". And most of his history lessons were passed down from them.

If I had listened to his version then, however, I would have surely failed, but have since realized just how right he was. Much of our written history was fabricated.

My father told me once that the most dangerous man in history was not Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun, but a preacher by the name of Francis Parkman, because he did with his pen, what couldn't be accomplished with a sword.

He conquered the indigenous people of Canada.

But to accept his version of history, you would have to believe that 13 Frenchmen at Kebec, and 50 more at Port Royal, governed millions of First Nations people. And then of course, the English conquered the French, and all lived unhappily ever after.

In the words of my father: "Lies, lies and more lies."

I wasn't intending to give a history lesson here, but a friend sent me a link to an article in the Vancouver Sun, and I immediately thought of Parkman and my father.

Stephen Harper may be hoping for a do over. A clean slate, to write his own history. And he is doing it with the long-form census.

Don Cayo asks:
How will the Canada of the not-very-distant future look through the eyes of a statistician?

"Rosy," predicts Ivan Fellegi, who retired two years ago after 51 years at Statistics Canada, 23 of them as chief statistician. We'll be seen to be richer than we were just a few years earlier, not to mention better educated and more universally able to communicate in Canada's two official languages. Of course, it won't be true. This will be a distorted picture painted by the 2011 census.
Because the voluntary nature of the census, will exclude many of the people the mandatory census would have been able to help.

And the Harper government will be able to establish policy based on the misconception that Canada has no poor people. No immigrants struggling with language. No women seeking equity. No aboriginal people falling further behind.

He has conquered all of our social problems with an eraser.

And yet if you speak to people you certainly don't get a "rosy" picture.

Like the woman who volunteers at a soup kitchen. They used to get eggs from the Prison Farms that the Harper government closed, and are now scrambling for donations. And as she explains, eggs are critical, because egg salad sandwiches are a favourite. High in protein but also easy to eat since many of their clients have no teeth.

Or another who has worked at Social Services for more than 20 years, and has found that most of her newest intake are people who have worked most of their lives and now find for the first time, that they have to accept what they once thought of as "charity". She said that she can identify them without even looking at the file, because they never look her in the eye. Their shame is palpable.

And the brilliance of this decision is that if he's reminded of the realities, he can rightly claim that the "statistics" show otherwise.

"Lies, lies and more lies."


  1. Emily, your writing is so wonderful and clear and authentic. This one makes me want to weep it's so true. I am so afraid that they begin writing the next chapter of history before it has even happened so that one day our grandchildren, no, our children will say incredulously, "You didn't have to pay for health care? I don't believe it!"

  2. Thank you Leslie. And it's so true. I fear where this is heading.