Monumental Magic — Harper’s a Magician When it Comes to Memorial to Victims of Communism

Controversy continues to dog (as it should) the proposed Memorial to the Victims of Communism, including revelations in the Ottawa Citizen that the country of Hungary (which is presently ‘dealing’ with mass Syrian refugees) is sponsoring over a $100,000 to the memorial.

Here, MATT HARRISON argues that the Memorial is also a clear-cut case of Conservative revisionism that will rewrite important aspects of the Canadian identity

Illustration: Michael George Haddad

Illustration: Michael George Haddad

This article was originally published in the September 2015 edition of OTTAWA Magazine

Misdirection is a magic trick of sorts. It’s a form of deception whereby magicians focus the attention of the audience on one thing in order to distract their attention from another. And like any good magician, the Harper government isn’t revealing any of its secrets when it comes to the proposed Memorial to the Victims of Communism. But whatever trick they’re using, it’s working.

It seems that everyone from architects to the media to city councillors is so focused on the where of the hotly contested monument (as of press time, next to the Supreme Court of Canada), few are asking about the why. Abracadabra!

Harper’s magic trick has been so successful that one wonders — insert conspiracy theory here — whether this was his (or John Baird’s) idea all along. A high-profile location will get everyone so hopping mad that no one will think to question the monument’s raison d’être.

Whether the Conservative government really does have its heart set on the proposed location for the monument or whether this is just smoke and mirrors is up for debate. Despite numerous news reports about the monument, there are plenty of unknowns. But we know this much is true: it looks like another example of the Conservatives taking the opportunity to rewrite Canadian history.

There is “a pattern of politically charged heritage policy,” said a 2012 letter written by the Canadian History Association to Mark O’Neill, president of the Canadian Museum of History. Back then, it was the Canadian Museum of Civilization, of course. The letter was in regard to the changes to the museum, as well as the War of 1812 anniversary campaign, and went on to say: “The highlighting of particular features of our past favoured by leading ministers of the current government … would be a highly inappropriate use of our national cultural institutions, which should stand apart from any particular government agenda.”

Likewise, “Canadian history has been conscripted,” stated Ian McKay, a Queen’s University professor of history who made waves with a 2011 lecture entitled “The Empire Fights Back: Militarism, Imperial Nostalgia, and the Right-Wing Reconceptualization of Canada.”

A 2013 Maclean’s article by John Geddes  points to McKay as one of many historians who charge the Conservatives with “promoting a narrow war-obsessed version of Canadian history” in order to counter what they see as a past trend toward a left-liberal interpretation of Canadian history that focused on social themes and regional history.

The government’s “neo-conservative narrative” has translated, or so critics argue, into re-enactments of battles, commemorative coins, and other patriotic brouhaha, yet only a third of Canadians supported the government’s take on the commemoration of the War of 1812, and only about 15 percent of Canadians “felt more patriotic as a result of the celebrations,” according to a 2013 Nanos poll.

To be fair, let’s look at the other side of that commemorative coin for a moment.

After all, it could be argued that events such as the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, the 100th anniversary of the First World War, and the 75th anniversary of the Second World War simply landed in the Conservatives’ lap because of timing, and these events, by their very nature, call for such things as re-enactments, coins, and a degree of flag-waving.

Charging Harper with being “war-obsessed” is more a result of happenstance than any insidious agenda.

Moreover, all these historical commemorations occurred within a short time span and all within the context of the Afghanistan mission and involvement against ISIL in Iraq. Lumped together, they undoubtedly do give the impression that the government is “war-obsessed.”

An obsession with war is hard to prove — at least concerning the rebranding of the museum and the way recent anniversaries have been commemorated.

However, when it comes to the proposed Memorial to the Victims of Communism, the deliberate name change is a clear-cut case of Conservative revisionism (perhaps the most dreaded of all “isms”), whereby a government attempts to reshape history in a specific, highly politicized way, even at the cost of sacrificing key Canadians and Canadian historical realities.

In brief, Tribute to Liberty — the charity group funding the memorial — proposed the monument without the word totalitarian in the name, as reported by the Ottawa Citizen’s Don Butler, who has been doggedly covering the ins and outs of this fiasco since day one. But the National Capital Commission was “unsettled” by the name, since it lumped Canada’s legitimate domestic communist party in with history’s totalitarian dictators. Tribute to Liberty finally agreed to include the word totalitarian in the title, but then along came Baird in 2013 and the word was expunged from the monument’s title.

If one ignores the fact that it will cost taxpayers at least $3 million, that its timing is conspicuous given the federal election, and that it will eat up precious public land, one might almost be willing to get behind the monument if the word totalitarian had been left in the title. After all, a good percentage of Canada’s population fled from dictatorships that were, indeed, totalitarian communist regimes.

But with the word totalitarian dropped, suddenly all communists, everywhere, throughout time, are responsible for the millions slaughtered by such dictators as Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.

It’s ironic that Harper would choose to make this equation, since he’s an evangelical Christian.

As it stands, the monument would thus equate crimes against humanity with the acts carried out by Jesus’ apostles, since the first Christians acted in a manner that was most definitely communistic by sharing everything and selling possessions — even distributing the proceeds among the needy.

Harper has also been a stalwart friend to Israel — a country dotted with kibbutzim, which channel the spirit of communism through socialistic ideas and practices.

Closer to home, the revisioning of communism has profound implications for Canadians’ own history and identity.

Remember Norman Bethune?

He’s the celebrated Canadian physician who pioneered a medical technique for treating tuberculosis, developed mobile blood transfusion systems, and brought modern medicine to China when he served in the communist army fighting Imperial Japan in the 1930s. He has also had stamps issued in his name, been inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame, and had his former home designated a National Historic Site of Canada. And he was a member of the Communist Party of Canada.

And what about the fact that Canada has had a legitimate Communist Party since 1921?

It’s the second oldest registered party after the Liberal Party of Canada. They were among the first to advocate for unemployment insurance, national health insurance, universally accessible education, and labour legislation — including health and safety regulations and a minimum wage for women and youth.

And let’s not forget about the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, which saw 30,000 Winnipeggers walk off their jobs in protest of businesses that made record profits during the First World War and yet paid their workers poorly, quashed any ideas of workplace representation, and forced their employees to work in dismal conditions. Many were communists, and some were killed by the RCMP. The event is remembered as an important moment in the development of workers’ rights.

Norman Bethune, the Winnipeg General Strike, and Canada’s political history are vital aspects of our identity that will be rewritten by the Conservative government if this monument goes through.

Especially worrisome is the impudence displayed by the government in handling this monument — it demonstrates a possible escalation in their attempts to project their slant on Canadian history.

What began subtly — the museum’s name change — has morphed into a brazen, bullish push to create a controversial, highly visible, and permanent structure, regardless of whether it rewrites Canadian history.

And even if the Conservatives don’t win re-election, their treatment of this monument sets a dangerous precedent for future governments’ handling of our history. Which is ironic, considering that rewriting or erasing history is the kind of thing that totalitarian communist regimes did so well.

Matt Harrison is the senior editor of Ottawa Magazine

Timeline: AIDS Committee Celebrates Bittersweet Anniversary


While Ebola and MERS grab headlines, HIV/AIDS continues to affect a staggering 34 million people worldwide. In Canada, 71,300 are infected with HIV — an increase of 11 percent from 2008. It’s a disappointing trend, given the number of prevention campaigns since it was first reported in the early 1980s.

Khaled Salam, executive director of the AIDS Committee of Ottawa (ACO). Photo: Colin Rowe

Khaled Salam, executive director of the AIDS Committee of Ottawa (ACO). Photo: Colin Rowe

Khaled Salam, left, executive director of the AIDS Committee of Ottawa (ACO), suggests the reason HIV/AIDS infection rates have plateaued is that with better drugs, people are able to live with the disease for a much longer time. He also cites fatigue: three decades is a long time to battle a single pandemic.

All this makes for a bittersweet 30th anniversary for ACO, which is commemorating its history with, among other initiatives this September, ACOXXX — Our Words, Our Stories, Our Lives, a coffee-table-style book that documents Ottawans affected by HIV/AIDS — past and present.

“There’s so much doom and gloom surrounding HIV/AIDS. Instead, we want the project to celebrate the people who’ve passed on, survived, and thrived over the course of 30 years,” says Salam. “In the beginning, we had nothing. And here we are today,” he adds, gesturing to ACO’s new, much larger home on Main Street — a space that has room for a community kitchen, laundry, offices, a recreational area, a needle exchange, therapeutic chairs, a massage table — even a patio and gardening space.

This new facility represents the future of ACO and gives it the ability to better help its clients, especially gay/bisexual men, who continue to make up more than 50 percent of those infected, as well as African, Caribbean, African-American, and Indigenous peoples, drug users, and women at risk.

Here, a look back at the struggle with HIV/AIDS — the wins and losses, both locally and internationally.

BARRY’S BUDDIES — This 1986 photo shows Barry Deeprose (first row, second from right), who helped establish ACO, and his team of “buddies” who provided support to the HIV/AIDS  community in Ottawa. Photo: Courtesy of ACO

BARRY’S BUDDIES — This 1986 photo shows Barry Deeprose (first row, second from right), who helped establish ACO, and his team of “buddies” who provided support to the HIV/AIDS community in Ottawa. Photo: Colin Rowe, courtesy of ACO

June 5, 1981
The United States reports that five young, previously healthy gay men in Los Angeles are diagnosed as having a rare lung infection, as well as suffering from a number of other infections indicating immune-system failure. Within days, doctors from across the U.S. flood the Centers for Disease Control with reports of similar cases. These cases represent the first diagnoses of what then is called Gay-Related Immune Deficiency.

The first case of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is diagnosed in Canada.

The first Canadian dies from AIDS; AIDS Vancouver, the first AIDS organization in Canada, is founded, as is a national task force to study the disease.

October 1983
A walk from Toronto to Montreal is held to raise funds for AIDS. It represents the first of many future AIDS walks.

January 4, 1984
Peter Evans, Ottawa’s first recorded AIDS victim, dies at Ottawa General Hospital.

July 1984
The AIDS Committee of Toronto creates the first official AIDS Awareness Week, which would become a provincial and national event in later years.

September 1984
A blood test for the AIDS virus becomes available in Canada.

At a conference in Montreal, health experts meet to discuss the creation of the Canadian AIDS Society. Canadian Red Cross confirms AIDS has been found in blood banks and announces plans to start testing for HIV — this comes after denials the previous year linking AIDS with their blood products.

July 9, 1985
Barry Deeprose proposes the establishment of an AIDS Committee of Ottawa as a subcommittee of Pink Triangle Services (PTS) to raise awareness and provide services. PTS board member Bob Read supports Deeprose.

October 2, 1985
Households around North America are shaken by the news that actor Rock Hudson has died from AIDS.

PARLIAMENT HILL PROTEST — From left: in 1988, Bill Greenway, Michael Lynch, and James Thomas — members of AIDS Action Now — demonstrated the government’s inaction in making experimental HIV/AIDS drugs available by taking four. Photo: Colin Rowe, courtesy of ACO of the 24 drugs already available elsewhere in the world

PARLIAMENT HILL PROTEST — From left: in 1988, Bill Greenway, Michael Lynch, and James Thomas — members of AIDS Action Now — demonstrated the government’s inaction in making experimental HIV/AIDS drugs available by taking four of the 24 drugs already available elsewhere in the world. Photo: Colin Rowe, courtesy of ACO

People with HIV/AIDS are protected against discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Toronto becomes the first city in Canada to develop an AIDS strategy that includes funding for community-based organizations.

May 17, 1986
ACO volunteers distribute 500 condoms and brochures across bars in Ottawa. Campaign T-shirts had to be withdrawn because War Amps of Canada complained that their “Play Safely” logo degraded their own Play Safe program for children.

July 1986
Canadian AIDS Society is formed.

AZT (azidothymidine), the first anti-HIV drug, is approved in the United States and Canada.

November 1987
ACO is officially incorporated, receiving  registered-charity status and a provincial grant of $164,000 for prevention and health services.

March 1988
The Canadian AIDS Society publishes the first safe-sex guidelines for Canada. ACO moves into 267 Dalhousie St., a space it shares with the Canadian AIDS Society. Around the same time, AIDS Housing Group of Ottawa (later Bruce House) is established to develop a donated house into a hospice.

December 1988
First World AIDS Day.

PLACARDS UP AIDS Action Now, a group formed to fight for people living with HIV/AIDS, at a 1988 protest in Ottawa that demanded access to experimental HIV/AIDS drugs. Photo: Colin Rowe, courtesy of ACO

PLACARDS UP — AIDS Action Now, a group formed to fight for people living with HIV/AIDS, at a 1988 protest in Ottawa that demanded access to experimental HIV/AIDS drugs. Photo: Colin Rowe, courtesy of ACO

June 1989
The Fifth International AIDS Conference is held in Montreal, Quebec; activists are present, demanding more action from governments for people living with

June 15 to 18, 1989
The Names Project quilt, which commemorates those who have died from AIDS, is displayed for the first time in Ottawa during Gay Pride Week. Over 4,000 people view it.

September 1989
ACO begins to advocate for anonymous HIV/AIDS testing.

The Canadian government announces a national AIDS strategy.

April 1, 1990
ACO opens the People Living With AIDS Centre at 267 Dalhousie St. It later becomes known as The Living Room.

October 6, 1990
ACO holds the first From All Walks of Life fundraiser.

June 1991
Actor Jeremy Irons is seen wearing the red ribbon, a symbol for awareness and support of those living with HIV/AIDS, at the 45th Tony Awards.

The success of highly active antiretroviral therapy is the big news at the 11th International AIDS Conference in Vancouver.

September 1998
Following the tainted-blood scandal, Canadian Blood Services is established to operate Canada’s blood supply system, ending the involvement of the Canadian Red Cross with the blood program.

Swiss HIV experts produce a landmark consensus statement saying that HIV-positive individuals on effective antiretroviral therapy who have had an undetectable viral load for at least six months and without sexually transmitted infections are sexually non-infectious.

September 2011
A landmark ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada opens the door to supervised drug-injection clinics across the country.

_DSC6035June 2012
A U.S. study deems the once-a-day pill, which combines four HIV drugs into a single daily treatment, safe and effective.

October 2012
The Supreme Court of Canada makes an important ruling on the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure: people with low-level HIV don’t legally need to disclose their infection if they use a condom.

December 2014
ACO moves from its location at 251 Bank St. to its new facilities at 19 Main St.

June 2015
ACO launches regular Sunday “gratitude dinners” for individuals who have been instrumental in shaping ACO and the HIV/AIDS movement in Ottawa.

September 2015
ACO celebrates its 30th anniversary by launching its legacy project, ACOXXX — Our Words, Our Stories, Our Lives.

OTTAWA JOURNAL: Mark Bourrie Goes Back to School (at 50!)


This article was originally published in the September 2015 print edition of OTTAWA Magazine


Illustration: Michael George Haddad


These days, it’s almost impossible to get a Snoopy lunch box with a working Thermos, no matter how hard you look. And with the ferocious enforcement of intellectual property rights, it’s simply too risky to buy one on eBay. Knock-offs abound.

So I go to school with food stuffed in a backpack. Or, when the bills are paid and there’s money in the bank, I eat in the cafeteria.

As I pick at my greasy fries and look around the room, I wonder, why bother being a law student on the wrong side of 50? People my age are supposed to be checking off the days to retirement. In fact, some of my high school friends are already voluntarily out of the workforce. Meanwhile, I’m paying tuition — a lot of tuition. I could seriously upgrade my car every year with the amount I spend on tuition.

The answer?

I want to be a lawyer. I have wanted that for 40 years, but things just never worked out. In my teens, I hated high school. I went to four of them in four years and managed to squeeze out a Grade 13 diploma with a C average. That was enough to get me into the University of Western Ontario — but I could not afford to stay. So I took a year off, worked in a paper mill in northern Ontario, and saved enough money to go to Ryerson. At the end of my second year, people were offering me media jobs, and I took one.

Through my 20s, I wrote for the best newspapers in the country and I was able to cobble together a BA through correspondence courses. Law school was still out of reach, but grad school wasn’t. I got a master’s and a PhD without spending any of my own money. If anything, I came out ahead because I worked as a teaching assistant and both of my theses were published as books.

But I still wanted to be a lawyer. My wife had gone back to school in her early 40s and earned a law degree. She had articled at one of the big business firms and landed a job as corporate counsel to a federal agency. It wasn’t the job that made the experience so wonderful for her. She had been a champion negotiator in law school — yes, there is such a thing, and I think having a teenager honed her skills. She was also more confident and more aware of important issues and problems.

So I got the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) practice book. The LSAT is an evil thing. It tests reading comprehension (I was good at that), verbal logic (I was okay with that), and formal logic, which uses bizarre pattern games. I was terrible at formal logic.

You may have come across these games at some point. “Ten students ride a bus. Kathy will sit next to Jim but won’t sit next to Dave. Dave will sit next to Jack but won’t sit next to Abdul … Where will Larry sit?” That part of the LSAT is the thing that prevents many people from becoming lawyers. (Journalism school grads get, on average, the lowest LSAT marks Philosophy majors score the highest.)

The first time I wrote the LSAT, I screwed up the computer sheet and put my answers on the wrong lines. So I wrote it again, and within a few weeks, I was a law student with a bill of $16,000 for first-year tuition.

As for going back to school, it was hard. Law school is like high school but with less beer and pot. When you’re older than most of the profs and can feel your brain calcifying in class, when you can physically feel it becoming harder to recall names and facts, it is very challenging.

Maybe the hardest challenge is not to come across as Chevy Chase’s character on the television show Community. Being a white, middle-aged, straight, physically able anglophone puts me in the situation where I have to not visibly wince when I hear people trashing “old white men.”

The only thing worse would be to come across as a dirty old man among a group of very attractive young people who are, for the most part, young enough to be my kids (or even grandkids, where I come from).

Yes, it is strange to sit in a classroom and shed follicles. I always hated classrooms unless I was teaching. Watching cows out a classroom window got me through two years of high school English. (My word association for King Lear is “heifer.”) But I’ve made friends, very bright young people who give me a lot of faith in the future of this country.

And the work is interesting. Case law is really just a collection of stories — often funny, sometimes very sad — that say a lot about the way we treat each other. The key case for product liability — that is, your right to sue if your car’s gas tank is poorly designed and it explodes — involves a woman finding a snail in a bottle of ginger beer in Scotland.

Law school is very much like The Hunger Games, except everyone survives and the winners get the chance to work 100-hour weeks for Bay Street law firms. The losers end up doing much more interesting work for much less money. I’ll never work on Bay Street — and it’s not because I’m a bit dense, very opinionated, asthmatic, style-challenged phobic of big cities, and utterly uninterested in the work (though these are apt descriptors). It’s because I’m too old.

What I can do is get my degree, do my articles (a form of internship that harkens back to 19th-century sweatshops, except with better coffee and longer hours), and open my own practice.

But I’ll miss the students. Yes, we could bet on which of my young colleagues would most quickly swipe the coppers off a dead man’s eyes or who will be the first to be disbarred. But there are many law students who truly believe in fixing society’s wrongs. Some will do something about those wrongs. Others will be pressured by circumstances, including chill-inducing levels of debt, to find lucrative and safe work. But at least they’ll give their colleagues moral support.

Behind almost all of them are spouses, parents, siblings, friends, even employers and older mentors, who support their decision to go into a program where high grades are almost impossible to get, humiliation at the hands of profs is not uncommon, and there’s no longer a guaranteed golden ticket at the end.

Those people should be proud. And those who really want an adventure should think of joining them.

Mark Bourrie is a writer and historian who is now studying law. He spent his summer vacation researching his next book, The Killing Game, which explores ISIS propaganda.

ELECTION CHATTER: Will the torch-and-pitchfork crowd start a fire?


This article was originally published in the September 2015 issue of
OTTAWA Magazine


This may be one of those election campaigns that starts in a cloud of stultifying boredom and ends with the electorate surging down the street, carrying torches, pitchforks, and a length of hangin’ rope.

We’ve already seen that happen once this year.

The best minds of the most successful political dynasty in Canada — and possibly in the Western world — decided it was a good time for an early election in Alberta. After all, the opposition Wildrose Party was in a shambles after its leadership had been bought off with cabinet jobs. All that was left was the puny Alberta NDP, and who in their right mind could ever believe Alberta voters would choose them?

There was a stretch of similar election upsets a generation ago. After the 1990 recession, jobs were scarce, the standard of living was falling, and people — though sullen — seemed resigned to endure whatever wretched government was in power.

David Peterson, a popular premier of Ontario, called an early election in 1990 and had to hand over the keys of his office to the new NDP premier, Bob Rae. George H.W. Bush seemed likely to win a second term as president of the United States in 1992, having just beaten the Iraqis, but he lost to Bill Clinton. Kim Campbell went into the 1993 federal campaign with a 15 percent lead in the polls — all the pundits were sure she would win a majority — and came out with two seats.

Every election is a clean slate, and every serious candidate has a chance of winning, though that chance might be slight. It seemed as though NDP nominations in Quebec were worthless in 2011, which explains why the entire executive of the McGill Univer-sity NDP club have been members of Parliament for the past four years. A Conservative nomination in Quebec was seen to be worthless in 1984, which is why we had a very interesting collection of truck drivers in the House of Commons.

We have just come through four years of strange government. Stephen Harper’s one-man rule has been little more than political game playing. There have been no important policy decisions, no great projects such as the Constitution or free trade with the United States. We have en-dured four years of drift while the greatest control freak ever to lead this country worked long hours to gag scientists and bureaucrats, undermine the legitimacy of democratic institutions and the courts, and find ways to extend the powers of the surveillance state.

There is almost nothing to show for four years of Harper majority government except laws like Bill C-51, which gives the government frightening powers to invade everyone’s privacy while doing very little to stop terrorism.

Harper seems to be offering the same thin gruel this time around. A little tax cut here, a little public spending there, a lot of fear everywhere, and we’re supposed to keep him at 24 Sussex. The man, like Jean Chrétien (whom he seems to be imitating), is fortunate that his opponents are somewhat ludicrous people who fight each other. That’s the one ace in his hand.

Meanwhile, the real problems add up. The appalling state of Aboriginal Canadians, on and off reserve, has become an international embarrassment. Only the courts have addressed Native land rights. Harper has shown an utter lack of curiosity about the fate of murdered and missing Aboriginal women. The government’s reaction to the report on residential schools released last spring is to leave the problem to the Pope and hope he apologizes.

Young people have been utterly ignored. High school grads have two choices: get a job and be underemployed, with an income so low that it’s impossible to get started in adult life, or go to college, pile on tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, and then be underemployed with an income so low that it’s impossible to get started in adult life.

And Harper won’t fix the Senate because that would mean opening negotiations with the provinces — and this government doesn’t negotiate.

The government won’t work with the provinces to build a sustainable health-care system for those of us who will be seniors soon. Research and development?

Nothing there either.

Even defence has drifted. We still have Sea King helicopters built in the 1960s, and the government is shopping for freighters. Veterans are rightly angry as the government has eroded their benefits and hornswoggled soldiers wounded in Afghanistan into taking lump-sum, one-off payments.

The government did nothing as manufacturing jobs in Ontario and Quebec were exported. Harper hasn’t shown the slightest interest in the real-estate bubble, which threatens to take middle-class equity with it when it pops. Resource industries have been ignored unless they’re in Alberta.

There’s one problem with papering over the country’s problems. It’s pretty easy for that torch-and-pitchfork crowd to start a serious fire. This could well be the year it happens. As in Alberta, this may be the year everything changes.

ELECTION CHATTER: What the upcoming election is really about


This article was originally published in the Summer 2015 edition of
Ottawa Magazine


Illustration: Alan King

We’ve had some pivotal elections in Canadian history — ones that really stood out for their drama and their importance.

Take the 1911 election. Wilfrid Laurier had been in power too long. He’d had a pretty good run over the previous 15 years, but it was time for him to go. Rather than try to hand off power to a new generation, Laurier and his government made a free trade deal with the Americans. The Tories, under Robert Borden, said the deal would destroy Canada’s “Britishness” and turn us into a colony run from Washington.

The Tories won. Laurier hung in as Opposition leader for another election. When it came, in 1917, it was the only national election ever proven to have been rigged. The Tories and some turncoat Liberals, who wanted the power to draft men to fight in World War I, gave the vote to women — but only those who had close relatives at the front. They also divided up soldiers’ votes among ridings where Tories needed a few extra to win.

We had another barnburner in 1945. Again, a Liberal government had been in power too long. William Lyon Mackenzie King had dominated politics through the 1920s and 1930s, had led the country through the war, and wanted a mandate that would take him into the next decade. The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, a forerunner of the New Democrats, was ahead in the polls in the early months of peace. The party promised to pay for the wartime hardships with new social programs. King simply stole the CCF platform and won another term.

Then there was the 1988 Free Trade election. After years of supporting free trade with the Americans, the Liberals were now against it. After years of opposing free trade with the Americans, the Tories were for it. Both sides fought hard, joined by business, union, environmental, and social organizations that had very diverse views about the deal. Canadians listened.

So elections aren’t boring. Or at least they don’t have to be. This one should rank among the best.

At least two very different, competing visions of Canada are on offer. One is a Canada that is authoritarian, suspicious, and angry. The other is a Canada that may already be part of history — one that values diversity, believes in civil rights, and at least pays lip service to democracy.

But will the discussion actually take place?

In 2011, many Con-servative candidates refused to show up at all-candidates meetings. Instead, leaders of all the major parties travel the country speaking to selected crowds of campaign volunteers. Campaign ads, even when they’re not vicious attacks, tell us very little about the policies of candidates.

Susan Delacourt, in her 2013 book Shopping for Votes, described the new retail politics as a system of electing candidates that is far from democratic. At least in the minds of the strategists (the tribe of pollsters and marketers who run campaigns and dominate news-network panels) computerized fundraising, vote tracking, and social media are far more important than making face time between candidates and citizens.

And that’s what this election may well be about. The ballot question might seem to be whether the economist-in-chief, teenage Jesus, or angry Tom is the lesser of the evils on offer. But in reality, it’s about whether Canadians want to take back their democracy. Do they care enough to shake up the political class and take back power? Or are they just there to be dupes and suckers in a crooked race to elect a king?


ashleymadisoncopyLest you have hidden yourself beneath a celibate rock, you have heard some whisperings of the scandals surrounding Ashley Madison: how Ottawa has been branded as the city with the most users (although, if you check out Global News’ story from today, apparently Calgarians are more frisky), the stories of T.V. celebrities like the Duggars and Snooki, or even the pure power behind the group of hackers, the Impact Team,  for their ability to take over a website, steal credit card numbers, and instill fear in the millions of website subscribers.

It seemed an appropriate time to pull our piece on Ashley Madison from the archives where we cover the numbers, not only the city, but how the neighbourhoods within it stack up.

Originally published in the April 2014 issue of Ottawa Magazine.


Parsing the latest Ashley Madison stats for clues on the status of the capital’s extramarital liaisons

Sure, there’s that buttoned-down reputation trotted out by every other city in the country whenever the capital is mentioned. But Ottawa is actually tops in the country when it comes to carefree two-timing.

Ottawa Magazine checked in with Ashley Madison — you know, the website for married people looking to cheat (catchy slogan, Life Is Short. Have an Affair) — to see whether the capital remained as unfaithful as ever. The short answer: you bet. Public moralizing and complicated secret lives — what could be more Ottawa than that?

Hereto, a “state of the union” address revealing the latest stats on how many of us are double-dealing (or looking to) and which neighbourhoods have wandering eyes.

As of January 2014, Ottawa retained its crown as the top city for cheaters, ranking first in terms of membership per capita (though behind the bigger cities of Toronto and Calgary in terms of total membership). Some 175,321 aspiring local philanderers were signed up, with an average age of 39 for men and 37 for women. That’s interesting, but the stats scrutiny gets a little more titillating (and addictive) when it’s broken down into neighbourhoods. That’s when you can start eyeing up your neighbours and letting your dirty mind wander.

Top 10 cheating neighbourhoods in Ottawa — drum roll, please — and in the category of No Surprise, the winning “neighbourhood” is Parliament Hill, whose postal code accounts for nearly 11 percent of Ashley Madison’s local clientele. Take note, Frank magazine. Another Hill — Sandy Hill, just down the road — holds down second spot for urban cheaters. Kanata runs a close third, followed by Hunt Club, Glebe, Queensway, Riverview, Overbrook, Centretown, and Dalhousie. A 2012 Ashley Madison poll saw Rockcliffe Park in top spot, with Kanata, Nepean, Sandy Hill, and Westboro rounding out the top-five list of philanderer wannabes.


FACEOFF: The Great Bikini Debate — Two parents, two daughters each, differing opinions on the two-piece


This article was originally published in the Summer 2015 print edition of
Ottawa Magazine


The great bikini debate: Mike Reynolds vs Andrea Tomkins. Photo: Miv Fournier

The wearing of bikinis is one of those perennial hot topics, especially when it comes to children. Do bikinis sexualize little girls? Or is that notion taboo in itself? And what about exposure to sun? Two parents, both with two daughters, weigh in on the great bikini debate.

Mike Reynolds on saying no to the two-piece

Let it be known that I am a dad who does not have a shotgun, and no, I’m not looking forward to the day when I can take my daughters to a purity ball. My partner and I are working hard — even at their young ages of three and five — to make sure they know they are the keepers and rulers of their own bodies.

We have rules in our house, as parents are known to have, but we’re doing what we can to teach them that they have the ultimate say in what they do. Their opinions matter and their voices count, and as they grow older, we’re trying to prepare them to have more and more autonomy over their own bodies.

But this summer, they will not be wearing bikinis. There are obvious reasons for this, the strongest of which is teaching them the importance of covering up from a welcome but sometimes dangerous sun. But there are other, less obvious reasons too.

Bikinis are sexualized attire — the less fabric, the more so — which is absolutely great for women young and old who have chosen to express themselves by wearing them. But not for our kids.

As they get older, they will be afforded more and more green lights, including attire for the beach, the backyard, or wherever one chooses to wear a bikini — or a big orange towel.

But they’re children, and at this point, we encourage them to have a healthy relationship with their bodies and their sexuality through the use of correct anatomical terms, discussions on acceptance, and expressions of love. If done right, there’s a good chance they’ll eventually feel comfortable wearing a bikini no matter what their body type. At least that’s the hope.

Mike Reynolds is a dad and an Ottawa writer who contributes to the,, and



The great bikini debate: Mike Reynolds vs Andrea Tomkins. Photo: Miv Fournier

Andrea Tomkins on letting her daughters decide

I was pregnant with my first and shopping for baby clothes when

I saw infant bikinis for the first time. Imagine three triangles connected with strings. I didn’t even know such a thing existed.

As a first-generation Canadian of Eastern European parents, I naturally assumed that babies swam around naked. In fact, in my childhood, babies swam naked at beaches and lakes until the age of eight or nine. Maybe this is why I’m not that hung up on nudity or near nudity. We’re all naked underneath our clothes, aren’t we? So what’s the big deal about showing some skin at the beach?

Slathering on the sunscreen is a must (and admittedly I’m a bit of a nag about it), but a bikini is A-OK in my books. I let my daughters wear bikinis because they are long-legged beauties who deserve to feel great about themselves, and if a bikini (or a one-piece or a bathing cap with puffy flowers on it) makes them feel great, I will support their decision to wear one.

I do reserve the right to veto anything that looks too trashy (subjective, I know, but there it is), but as long as they can swim and dive and move around comfortably and freely without having to tug at the bits of fabric that are holding everything in, I’m cool with a two-piece.

Here’s the thing: they don’t have that much time until they will probably start to worry about their softer bits and want to cover them up with suits that have magical slenderizing panels that promise to hide, rather than reveal. I want them to enjoy their youth and their beauty and this time as much as they can while there is still plenty of it left.

Andrea Tomkins is a mother of two teenage girls, a long-time parenting blogger, and the editor of Ottawa’s Kitchissippi Times.

WEB EXTRA: A revealing look at the myths and realities of sun tanning


This is a longer version of an article published as part of Exposed!, a collection of articles about everything under the sun, which was printed in the Summer 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine.


Photo: Andrea Tomkins

We were one of the lucky ones who got a break during the Winter That Never Ended with an escape to the Dominican Republic.

It gave me a lot of time to reflect and people watch, because as we all know, there’s no hiding stuff on the beach.

Our beach chairs (under the cover of an umbrella of course) yielded front row seats to an endless parade of tattoos, piercings, scars, and all of the muscular and/or jiggly bits — plus a pantone swatch of skin tones and degrees of burns: creamy-skinned red heads and grizzled brown leathery types and every shade of pink, red, and brown between.

I had assumed hardcore tanning had fallen out of favour, but given the proliferation of sun worshippers in Punta Cana it was clear it still had its fans.

During our holiday, my personal sun-related philosophies could be boiled down to two things: play in the sun/rest in the shade, and wear sunscreen over all exposed skin at all times. I knew this from experience. We did this trip five years ago, when our children were young enough to be told what to do. In the morning we’d strip them down and slather their entire naked little bodies with SPF 60 from head to toe to ensure total and even coverage. After that we’d put on their bathing suits, sun hats and sun shirts.

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WEB EXTRA: Yoga instructor Sarah Atkinson on the appeal of nude yoga

This Q&A explores nude yoga, as written about in an article published as part of Exposed!, a collection of articles about everything under the sun, which was printed in the Summer 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine.
Ottawa Magazine editor Dayanti Karunaratne chats with Bare-Roots teacher Sarah Anne Atkinson of Bliss Yoga & Thai Massage, who has practised asana (physical postures) for seven years, about the appeal — and challenges — of nude yoga.
Sarah Atkinson is an instructor with Bare-Roots Yoga

Sarah Atkinson is an instructor with Bare-Roots Yoga. Atkinson and Stef Caissie are co-organizers at Bare-Roots Yoga.

When did you get involved with Bare-Roots?
Shortly after its debut in May of 2014 I joined a class led by Teresa Splinter.  The class was a refreshing change from what else was being offered in Ottawa.
And why?
My partner encouraged me to check it out as we have done other activities nude. I liked the message that was being cultivated in a sacred space allowing our true selves to exist around total strangers.  I also enjoy the community that is forming out of the yoga group.
How has Bare-Roots affected your yoga practice?
I have gained so much self confidence as a teacher and as a student. It is part of a growing practice to let thoughts in the mind go. It is even more challenging to do this while nude. The inner critic plays over and over about body image and imperfections. I am so grateful to this practice for allowing me to let go of my negative self-image issues.
Would you call yourself a naturist? Have you attended any naturist activities outside of Bare-Roots?
A naturist is a person who is comfortable with nudity and prefers to do most activities nude and spend time at home or out with others. I am a very proud naturist, a member of ON/NO (Ottawa Naturist/Naturiste d’Outaouais). I enjoy not only practising yoga in the nude but also tanning in the sun and most times at home with my partner.
What, if anything, surprised you about the experience of nude yoga?
I think that it surprises me how many people are new to yoga coming to Bare-Roots.

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POLITICS CHATTER: Duffy & Me, and the “gotcha” online world we live in


I suppose my fondest memory of Mike Duffy was of sitting on the backyard deck of his Prince Edward Island home in the summer of 2009, drinking lemonade, watching a bald eagle and exchanging gossip.

My son was with us, and Duffy was kind to the 10-year-old. The senator took some time out of a busy schedule of visiting summer festivals on the island to have me over to his place. I was in a rented farmhouse near Brackley Beach, a half hour drive away, and was bored out of my skull. PEI is a great place for golfers. I do not golf. Duffy’s number was in the phone book.

I’ve known Duffy since the early 1990s. Among the TV “stars” on the Hill in those days, he was a rarity, a man who seemed to be genuinely interested in people. Duffy’s desk was next to mine in the press gallery newsroom, and he was, to say the least, an interesting neighbour.

He would roll in at about four in the afternoon, usually carrying at least one Klondike Bar. The man was full of stories. Some were political. Many were gossip. He was funny and fascinating. The man has the ability to almost instantly make you feel like a friend. That’s a gift and a skill few people, even politicians, can claim. Jim Watson, our mayor, has it. None of the federal party leaders do, except, on her best days, Elizabeth May.

One afternoon, Duffy, Halifax Herald reporter Steve Maher, and I were talking near a window at the back of the Parliament building and watched in amazement as a man jumped off the Alexandra Bridge. We were surprised to see him surface a moment later and splash around. In a few minutes, a guy in an aluminum fishing boat pulled the jumper from the river. Things just seemed to happen when Duffy was around.

I was not surprised when Duffy was appointed to the Senate. People on the Hill had expected it for decades. By then, I was teaching full time at Concordia University in Montreal. We stayed in touch.

Duffy was grateful that I had written to the CRTC years before to ask the broadcast regulator to drop an arcane rule that limited Duffy’s TV show to just 15 minutes. I had also gone to bat online for Duffy shortly before he was appointed to the Senate.

I’m very interested in the way people are “framed” on the Internet. Even then, it was very clear that many reputations are now made in cyberspace, not in real life. People criticized Duffy’s journalism, which was fair game. But the constant bullying of the man for being fat had become a normal, if depressing, part of his life.

They intensified after he was appointed to the Senate. Duffy, according to the anonymous online warriors, was a drunk, a slob, a whore who sold his integrity for a Senate seat, a pig who had greedily taken down Frank Magazine by suing it for libel. (The fact that Frank had been engaged in years of fat-shaming seemed to be irrelevant to the Duffy-haters).

As an author, professor (and a law student), I’m intrigued by propaganda, how reality is shaped by words, and how, with enough manipulation and publication, lies can seem like facts. I’m writing my third book on the subject now. If you have a public profile and any enemies, there’s a good chance that a Google search will puke up every embarrassing thing about you that’s ever been discovered or invented. If you’re a politician, you cannot escape the mudslinging. Same for freelance writers, sessional professors, lawyers, business people, and everyone else who relies on their reputations to land them work.

So I helped Duffy get the worst stuff off the Internet. I was following the issues that were being raised and reading the rules of Wikipedia, YouTube, free blogging websites and other Internet sites where Duffy was being trashed. I stopped doing that for Duffy two years before the first investigations for expense frauds.

In the end, I’ve had some media criticism for doing that work, especially because Duffy sent me a cheque in gratitude after a couple of years and I made the mistake of cashing it. I thought it was Duffy’s money, not public funds laundered through what prosecutors claim was a slush fund. (The money has since gone to charity). Now Duffy is the poster boy for entitlement in Ottawa, even though he really was a fringe player on his best day.

Lost in the Duffy roasting is the fact that the Internet has made public space toxic for many people who otherwise might be attracted to public service. No one wants their lives published on the World Wide Web. Few of us can be sure that there’s nothing embarrassing that could end up in the “controversies” section of a Wikipedia page. And even fewer of us can afford the one serious recourse available: a libel suit.

I’m not sure whether the Internet has brought out mean people who were already spewing bile and hatred without an audience, or if it has made us meaner people. Recent medical studies do show that the brains of frequent Internet users, especially gamers, are physically changing, and not in ways we’d like.

So, in the end, I have no regrets about my friendship with Duffy, and I’ll trust in the courts to decide whether he was an honest man. What I do regret is the lack of conversation about the “gotcha” online world we live in, and the cruelty that underlies so much material on the Internet.