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Neil Cameron

Neil Cameron is a Montreal writer and historian. He served as a member of Quebec's National Assembly from 1989 to 1994.

Marching into 2019

Sing to air of 'Onward, Christian Soldiers' Onward, green millennials, fearing global heat; But the old and sceptic, aren't much in retreat. Cars must be el-ectric, driverless as well; Couples on their bi-kes slick, driving trucks as well. Onward green millennials, in Suzuki's spell.   Onward, active natives, blocking all pipelines; Trees get super-latives, trumping wells and mines. Down with rich employ-ers, up with tribal pride, Bring on hordes of law-yers, rising nationwide. Onward active natives, surfing on green tide.   Onward tory Pre-miers, hearing voters' groans; Out with Lib'ral drea-miers, on their Chinese phones. Ford fights carbon ta-xes, Legault limits pot, Western NDP ax-is, sighs and joins the lot. Onward tory Pre-miers, battles to be fought.   Onward profs in col-lege, fearing sullen mobs; Not much seeking know-ledge, just in search of jobs. Finding grounds for of-fense, now a classroom skill, Aiding all the more dense, now enact their will. Onward, profs in col-lege, some teach thinking still.   Onward, Marg'ret A-twood, and the Canlit horde; Dreaming of book prizes, at the festal board. Divers'ty's their watchword, white males now all dead; Prize money their pa-ssword, only few get read. Onward, Canlit legions, begging still for bread.   Onward, pipeline buil-ders, oil sands workers, too; Though new world bewil-ders, seen as witches' brew. Black gold just stays black lead, if not reaching ports; Greens and natives now are wed, and blocking oil in courts. Onward pipeline buil-ders, wailing at aborts.   Onward, Justin Tru-deau, no more fancy dress; Trips have not won kudos, dance did not impress. Once inviting masses in, swamped by refugees, All have had their classes in his apologies. Onward, saintly Justin, but less saintly, please.   Onward, all to-gether, Canada rolls on; While we wonder whether, facing dark or dawn. Join in Christmas so-ng fests… Read More

Christmas, Physics, and Time

Charles Dickens, left, and Werner Heisenberg, right.   I just turned turned eighty, and so recall many very different Christmases. The childhood ones were much enjoyed, but their religious meaning was, I’m afraid, almost entirely lost on me. At school in Calgary from 1944 to 1956, my fellow students and I all daily recited the Lord’s Prayer and heard our teachers read a passage from the King James Bible, and all of us, of widely mixed origins, were mostly respectful, but nearly all of us thought of these morning devotions as unquestionable but little pondered, like being required to obey traffic lights. I knew one or two more reverent students in every year, but they were always the exception. I changed my mind completely in my late teens, drawn by a close friend into duplicating his own switch from our blandly modernist United Church upbringing to Calgary’s High Anglican Cathedral. Unlike my friend, who became a member, I did not undergo a full religious transformation, remaining something of a soapbox atheist. But I was emotionally moved by the beautiful English of the Book of Common Prayer, the solemn processionals, the flute-like voices of the little boy sopranos, and the works of Bach performed by the organist and the choir. Christmas was especially wonderful, with familiar carols sung in harmony, and also lovely older ones. I began to realize that religion had dimensions I had never imagined. I was also just beginning to learn something of philosophy, from Plato and Aristotle to Bertrand Russell. The Cathedral happened to be just across the street from the local Salvation Army Citadel, which bore outside a permanent placarded message: ‘Jesus Christ: The same yesterday, today, and forever.’ I had walked past it without interest for years, but now began to see it differently. I also… Read More

The First Armistice Day and the Schizophrenic Americans

Henry Cabot Lodge The 20th century was largely shaped by a rush of major events from March of 1917 to November of 1918. First, democratic revolution broke out in Tsarist Russia; then Imperial Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare, leading Woodrow Wilson to bring the U.S. into the World War that had been raging since 1914; the British tightened their naval blockade and introduced tanks on the Western Front. Wilson proclaimed his 'Fourteen Points' peace proposal at the start of 1918; that March, Germany, having defeated Russia, imposed a savage peace, reinforcing the disintegration of the former Tsarist Russia; Germany launched a series of offensives on the Western Front, with some initial success but heavy casualties and ultimate failure; the Allies, at last militarily unified under French General Ferdinand Foch, launched a massive counter-offensive from August, in which Canadian and American troops had a major role; Lenin returned to Russia and launched his far more radical Bolshevik revolution; Germany collapsed on the Western Front and sued for peace by November. This is only a partial list of world-shaking events of those months. The fall of the Russian Tsarist Empire was joined by the fall of the dynastic empires of Habsburg Austria, Hohenzollern Germany, and the Ottoman Empire of the Turks. Furthermore, while most of these developments were brought about by the war, the strange way the war ended, the later peace treaties of Versailles, and the unstable world that emerged, all owed a great deal to American politics: not just to the peculiar personal nature of Woodrow Wilson, but to the disposition of Congress, and its expression of American popular opinion. This November, the world has been marking the 100th anniversary of the 1918 Armistice. Less often noted, the non-Presidential Congressional election just concluded marks a similar anniversary. Woodrow Wilson, in the middle… Read More

The Notwithstanding Clause from Bourassa to Legault

Francois Legault, full of confidence with the surprising scale of his CAQ electoral victory, is currently threatening to make use of the Notwithstanding Clause to insulate his proposed immigration restrictions from court challenges. He may go through with it even in the face of substantial public opposition, particularly in Montreal. But if he does, I hope that the public debate will distinguish between arguments about the substance of his proposals from arguments about the 'legitimacy' of the Clause itself. It was introduced in the constitutional negotiations of 1982 as a quite defensible compromise feature of the Charter, both to avoid the kind of juridical absolutism that has caused so much grief in the United States, and to preserve the democratic powers of the provinces from oppressive federal centralization. Even if one intensely dislikes some specific application of the Clause, that does not demonstrate that Canada would be better off if it could somehow be rescinded, unlikely in any case. Individual citizens or groups of citizens in functioning democracies may quite often find themselves disliking particular laws introduced by elected governments. including ones that they voted for. But that dislike is not alone justification for unlimited opposition, to the point of disobeying such laws. Both in the past and at present, this ordinary requirement can be obscured by deafening cries about 'rights', a word with unlimited possibilities for producing insoluble conflicts between clashing interests. It makes more sense to concentrate public support or opposition on the substance of the policies that appear to require the use of the Clause. That was certainly a large part of the story, thirty years ago this December, when the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a position already taken by the Quebec Superior Court, on a case brought by five Montreal merchants (Brown's Shoes and four others)… Read More

Waiting for the Next Black Swan

[caption id="attachment_8109" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Gaming dice[/caption] I witnessed two events in my childhood which have affected how I have understood the world lifelong. The first happened when I was six, living in a house in Calgary, on a small dead end street, lined with poplar trees, close to the hill sloping down to the Bow River. It was May 9, 1945, VE-Day, marking the end of the Second World War in Europe. As part of the celebration, a daredevil and decorated Calgary pilot twice flew his famous 'F-for-Freddie' Mosquito bomber right down our street, so low that the twin propellers chopped leaves off the treetops. It had been part of an equally amazing low flying display all around the city. I and every kid on the street were out under the poplars, thrilled to the marrow. But we were all devastated, only a day later, when we learned that the plane had crashed, killing the pilot and crew, due to one last deadly stunt tried just before landing. I learned more about this double event year by year (there is a fully detailed account at,freddie.html). By the time I was twelve and an avid reader, I knew that the Mosquito was one of the most brilliantly-designed, fast, and versatile aircraft of the war. I had also met a former Mosquito pilot, who told me that, while pilots loved the plane, landings were often nerve-wracking, as it landed 'very hot' at well over 100 mph. By my teens, I also reflected that the pilot might have been exhausted, perhaps – who could blame him? – nursing a hangover, or perhaps just caught by a deadly cross wind. But anyway, on what was to be one last daring flyover before landing, his plane clipped a pole on the ground,and immediately crashed,… Read More
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