Entries from June 2007 ↓

Ohhhh Canada

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ross-carlin.jpg One day a disc jockey at a fifth-rate rock station in a small market Ontario city tried to find a recording of O Canada to play on the air. But the only copy in the music library was a brass band rendition which would make the local Salvation Army brigade cringe. So the DJ set out on a personal quest to find a cool version of the national anthem. There wasn’t one.

So started Ross Carlin’s personal odyssey there in the radio station in the old house on Broadway Avenue in Orangeville. Why don’t we have a contemporary recording of this thing, he asked everyone? Why can’t Canadians do to O Canada what Jimi Hendrix did to the Star Spangled Banner? How come nobody’s ever asked Canadian rock icons to pile into a studio and make a gang recording, a la We are the World?

It’s a lengthy story, this one. But it led to me. I was a nearby MP at the time, just a year away from having the voters promote me to the high office of private citizen. Carlin included me on a long list of politicians he sent a pleading letter to. Apparently I was the only guy to respond. And Carlin infected me.

calixa.jpg As a consequence, I spent a good chunk of the winter of 1991 helping this scruffy rocker find money to record a modern version of the song, with the dream of pressing enough CDs to send one to every school in Canada. At the time, in the lead-up to the 125th anniversary of Confederation, the government had established and financed a whole secretariat to fete the event. They were doling out buckets of cash to people with good ideas for the country. And I thought, what could be more patriotic than an inspirational, high-octane version of the old Calixa Lavallee tune?

So, I prepared a big presentation for the members of the 125 committee, and lobbied the minister in charge, Joe Clark. One frosty day I presented it all to the august body in a private meeting room in a Quebec hotel. By then the idea had evolved a bit: Get the country’s stars to do a bilingual O Canada version arranged by David Foster and recorded in a session that could be turned into a rock video; and have a new symphonic version commissioned which would be recorded by the TSO and used as the soundtrack for the penultimate short film on the beauties of this land.

That is when I had the shock of my political life.

The government, the minister and the Canada 125 committee turned me down flat. The reason: O Canada was considered to be a political song. Joe Clark confided in me that there were grave concerns it would be viewed in Quebec as an Ottawa-funded attempt to shove patriotism down their throats. The trouble, apparently, was with the word “Canada.”

I was staggered and betrayed. I could not believe my own government was trying to sanitize my country, pandering to a relative handful of Quebec separatists who deserved to have their asses handed to them. So, quietly, I resolved that we would not fail.

Over the next few months I visited a lot of corporate boardrooms. Ultimately, I was able to hand Ross Carlin $1 million, thanks to the ballsy CEOs of companies like Canada Post, Ford Canada, Maclean Hunter, CN and Coca-Cola. We went into Manta Sound in Toronto, and let artists like Luba, Randy Bachman, Gino Vanelli, along with the top country singers and the cast of Cats, rip into the anthem. We shot tape, and made a rock video. We pressed tens of thousands of CDs and sent them to all the schools. We commissioned an unbelievable symphonic version, written by leading Canadian composer Eric Robertson. We made it into a beautiful film and sent it to all the TV stations for their use. Carlin turned into an instant little star and became, at least for a few months, Captain Canada.

Then CTV came and made an hour-long television documentary, With Glowing Hearts, and aired it on the network. And then the government relented. Sort of.

joe-clark.jpg Since it was the 125th anniversary, the Queen came to Canada. There was a big show on Parliament Hill, and Joe Clark suggested our rockers come to Ottawa and perform it at the end of the gala. So I approached CBC, which was organizing the thing, and fought with those guys for three months. Finally they, too, relented. And on Canada Day, 1992, with the Queen a few feet away, with Randy Bachman bashing away on my Fender Strat on stage before a crowd of more than two hundred thousand people, with Dorothy and I in the wings, it happened.

And if you stay up really, really, really late some night and see a funky version of O Canada on the tube when the TV station is turning the lights out, well, now you know the story.

It was the anthem that would not go silent.

To view an MPtv video on the preparations for this year’s 140th anniversary bash on Parliament Hill, click here.

With a whimper

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That appears to be how the Day of Action ended for news organizations out looking for video of snarled highways and cops busting the heads of Mohawk warriors. All the bravado of self-styled FN leader Shawn Brant (above) seemed to burn out as quickly as the bonfires his followers set in the middle of an eastern Ontario highway. This might have been attributable to the fact OPP forces were obviously primed and ready for a Day of Reaction.

Meanwhile on Parliament Hill, MPtv joined the sizeable protest march through the streets of the capital on Friday afternoon, where our crack news crews managed to snag fresh interviews with AFN Chief Phil Fontaine, Opposition Leader Stephane Dion and MPs Sue Barnes and Anita Neville. The crowd lightened up considerably as the speeches started, and then melted away in the June sunshine.

Was anything accomplished by all of this? I guess if you’re reading this, the answer is obvious.

mptvsmall23.jpg To view the video, click here.

Day of regret

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As you know, VIA Rail threw in the towel Thursday, suspended passenger service on the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor, the most traveled and profitable in Canada, and messed up the lives of five thousand people. The OPP followed suit early Friday, activating a plan that had apparently been hatched a few days ago.

Officers shut down the country’s busiest highway at Belleville in the west and Napanee in the east. Travelers were forced to take a detour the length of many European countries just to regain the expressway. As I write this, word is streaming in of other disruptions, from the Nova Scotia-NB border, to downtown Vancouver.

There are school buses pushed onto rail lines. Bonfires in some roadways. The OPP are worried abut a confrontation later today in the town of Caledonia, south of Hamilton. Oh yeah, and there is a giant demonstration on Parliament Hill, which I have decided not to attend. Couldn’t drive there, anyway.

All of this is just the tip of the angry end of the Day of Action, called to protest the treatment of First Nations people by the federal government, and all us interlopers called Canadians. The aboriginal leaders behind it are trying to raise awareness of a host of issues, headed by land claims settlements, poverty among their people, the often-mentioned ‘Third World’ conditions on reserves, lack of clean drinking water and profound disparity in economic opportunity.

Please take a few minutes after you read this to watch the MPtv video of Chief Phil Fontain’s press briefing yesterday. He articulates his position well. For the record, Chief Fontaine is not an advocate of highway closures, rail blockades and the kind of behaviour which would get most non-native peoples’ asses in the slammer. I think he gets it. Piss the rest of us off, and there may well be less political will, not more.

But many of his colleagues obviously feel the Chief’s quiet anger is not enough. Leaders like Shawn Brant, leading a particularly strident groups of Mohawks in the Deseronto area, have being doing all they can to foment fear and strife. Mr. Brant, as you have seen, loves the camera and the microphone. He has alluded to the fact his guys have guns and are likely to use them. He’s warned today is just a taste of what’s to come. He is a thug, a hoodlum, a wannabe terrorist and is apparently wanted already by the cops. Not the kind of guy Chief Fontaine covets at a media availability with him. For that reason, I am sure he fears this could end up being the Day of Regret.

For the record, this country spends in the neighbourhood of $14 billion on our First Nations people, which number less than 1.1 million, 70% of whom live off reserves. The current budget contains a record amount for this file – since it is the spendiest budget in Canadian history. Several billion in the financial plan are for lump sum payments for those who suffered in residential schools, or are related to those victims.

Any way you cut it, this is a vast amount of money.

So the questions Chief Fontaine asks are legit. How can so many people be without fresh water or a meaningful job? Why is the suicide rate so off the scale among aboriginals? Why the despair and economic malaise? Where the hell is this money going?

I do not pretend to understand these issues as others do. Speaking with three of the four aboriginal MPs in Parliament over the last few weeks helped me a great deal, I have huge admiration for these guys, and the way they are fighting for their people within the system, with respect, authority and great result. I also respect Phil Fontaine, and view him as a voice of moderate reason, tinged with the kind of firebrand emotion required to get comfortable middle-class white people afraid enough to listen.

But more money hardly seems the answer. When you calculate the contribution made to First Nations people, and the fact few of them pay little in the way of taxes, money is obviously not equating progress. Maybe the Kelowna Accord was a step in the right direction, although it also involved more cash. Perhaps too few aboriginal citizens of Canada are involved in their own community politics. Maybe it’s too easy for a bunch of goofs and bullies like Shawn Brant to gain influence. Maybe the sensation-seeking MSM is reaching the zenith of irresponsibility by giving airtime to people like that. Or maybe VIA Rail and the OPP and the politicians on Parliament Hill are completely overreacting, doing some media grandstanding of their own.

Like I said, I’m no expert. Just one Canadian, and an MP, trying to understand where the real injustice lies. Like most of us, I’m so sympathetic to the cause. The way many of our citizens live is an international disgrace. But I’m also fed up with whoever it is who’s created a black hole for the money we spend on FN people. It’s not working. Leaders need to fix that. Or stop being leaders.

Enough today for all of us to regret.

To view the video, click here.

mptvsmall22.jpg To view the video, click here.