Yesterday Parliament rose for the Christmas break and the Senate had already adjourned, so today seating in the Parliamentary Dining Room was up for grabs. Our son invited us to Canada’s most exclusive restaurant and we looked forward to the experience all through the security checks.

The half-mile walk to Parliament Hill from Charlie and Roz’s downtown apartment had reacquainted us with the bone-chilling cold of the Sparks Street Mall. Charlie explained that he was leading us up the Mall for shelter, “Because there’s a cold wind off the river on Wellington Street.”

He wasn’t kidding, but we had dressed for the walk and the wind’s lash. Charlie did mention that Tyler, an employee in their B.C. office, grew up on balmy Vancouver Island. His first experience with the cold in Ottawa yesterday “Nearly froze his forehead off.”

Our waiter showed us to a quiet table for four in the first nook nearest to the river. This would do. Charlie looked a little bemused, but didn’t say anything. The waiter suggested that we get right to the buffet as it wasn’t very busy yet.

On the way across the dining room we ran into our friend and Charlie’s employer, Terry Beech, MP for Burnaby, North Seymour, and Parliamentary Secretary for Oceans, Fisheries, and the Coast Guard. He’s also a regular on the maple syrup crew at the farm in Forfar. Following an exuberant greeting he ribbed, “I was wondering who would sit at the Prime Minister’s table.”

Charlie gave a bashful grin. “I didn’t want to say anything other diners would overhear.”

Terry was there with two other staff members, the before-mentioned Tyler who looked no worse for the wear, and Ryan, who had been on leave assisting in the B.C. by-election campaign which ended Monday. The team had every reason to celebrate a hard-won, narrow victory.

I was a bit distracted by the noise in the room. Mind you, it was filling up rapidly as we took our place in the buffet line. I guess it would hold 200 diners, with a centre area under a series of huge glass domes in the ceiling, and a number of nooks to each side for more private dining.

Apparently the spectacular ceiling design produced an unexpected consequence: the domes act like parabolic microphones, distributing conversations around the large room at random. It may be the ultimate place for eavesdroppers, but with my hearing aids all I heard was a lot of noise. Paradoxically, individual diners appeared polite, quiet, and simply pleased to enjoy their lunch at the boss’s table.

It looked like the usual sort of buffet, though with more dishes. I avoided anything green and made straight for the lobster salad. Then followed a tasty-looking purple stew of cabbage and wild rice. Some smoked cod found my plate, almost transparent in its gelatinous perfection. I sampled a couple of mysteries which smelled interesting, then allowed the chef to load my plate with turkey. I should have taken more cranberry sauce to go with the bird, but the main course in general went down very well.

As low-information buffet eaters we wolfed the food down more rapidly than we likely should have. Everything was quite pleasing to the palette. We resolved to slow down and savour the desert buffet. Away we went.

Standouts on the tray were these round, tall, two-tone mousse(s). One flavour was clearly raspberry. The other was some kind of nut, likely pistachio. After an initial glutton’s portion of bread pudding it took me a while for the sugar to burn its way through, but once my palette had adjusted to the more etherial treat, the subtle elegance of the pistachio-raspberry meld occupied my thoughts through the rest of the desert and coffee.

Back in the corridor by 1:00, we were among the last to leave. Parliamentary staff are fast eaters, apparently with a full afternoon of work to do.

As lunches go, it wasn’t cheap at $100 for three, with tip. No worries about eating on the taxpayer’s dime in this dining room. Would we return, even if we didn’t luck onto the PM’s personal table? Sure! When does Parliament rise for the summer recess?


The Canadian government paid out a 10.5 million dollar settlement to Omar Khadr for the same reason they paid out for the Syrian engineer Arar: the security apparatus in Canada screwed up and they’ll do anything to cover that up. Canada’s relationship with the four other Sisters depends upon it.  That’s why they’ll sit still with the American military calling Khadr a murderer and an absurd lawsuit from a widow’s family.

You’ll never see a member of CSIS on trial for human rights abuses, and that certainly would have happened if the government had not paid out.

Justin Trudeau can spin this as the rule of law, but the rule of the Five Sisters takes precedence.

Wiley E. Conservative

July 20, 2017

Deja vu. All through the 2015 federal election campaign Stephen Harper’s Conservatives acted like Wiley E. Coyote, trying this gimmick and that to destroy the blasted Road Runner in the person of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. But the traps never quite worked. There were the four debates which pitted two veterans against the callow youngster.  JT won.  The Conservatives and NDP wore out the “Just Not Ready” ad. Then JT picked up the husk and with a deft judo flip, turned it into a pre sold, “I’m Ready” ad. Canadians, tired of the other ad’s overreach, agreed.

Newbie Andrew Scheer’s idea of leadership seems also to involve a lot of Acme Hardware purchases, and the 10.5 million dollar wedge is as hopeful a gadget as any Harper attempted. JT’s response today in the Globe and Mail simply involved driving the wedge back the other way. The Acme hammer of the talking points is the 71% disapproval figure from a single online survey by paid contributors. If even one new survey shows the opposite, Wiley E. Sheer will have black soot all over his face.

Andrew Scheer has squeaked into the post of Federal Conservative Leader with promises of a new world of conservatism-with-a-smile, but I have been put off repeatedly by his fondness for bumper-sticker logic and the use of reductivism in place of truth.

A single example of this deception by oversimplification is Sheer’s fondness for the phrase “confessed terrorist” in reference to Omar Khadr.  Khadr, a Canadian citizen captured at 15 in Afghanistan, signed a confession in an illegitimate military tribunal — not a legal courtroom — as the main condition for release from ten years of torture in an American internment camp in Cuba with no other prospect for release.  CSIS personnel went to the camp to interrogate the former child soldier, then turned over their intelligence to the Americans.

It bothers me that Stephen Harper and this grinning acolyte radiate false rage over the $10.5M payment to Omar Khadr because it riles up the Conservative base.  Slogans like:  Canadians need to let Mrs. Speer know how we feel about Khadr! appropriate an American family’s private sorrow and vulgarize it into a crude plywood sign on a roof in Calgary.  Time will tell if this extended anti-Trudeau tirade will generate income from Conservative donors for Scheer as well as the Long Gun Registry worked for Harper.

Scheer’s history of success in assorted votes indicates considerable political acumen.  He is likely smarter than he looks and sounds, but it grates that this “conservative” seeks to draw the level of political discourse in Canada so low.  I had had hopes that the new Conservative leader would keep politics north of the Canadian border, help put back in place a reverence for political discourse, and always take the high road without bastardizing his party’s position by conflating facts and ignoring nuance.  Instead, we see a man only too willing to ape the tactics creating electoral-success-at-all-cost in the United States today.

Michael Chong would have made a much better Conservative leader, but he may have to wait through another election cycle or two to get his chance.

Canada Day on CBC

July 1, 2017

I have just watched 3 1/2 hours of TV during which a crowd got wet.  It was pretty good.  Some Irishman named Bono gave the best speech of the day before he sang, according to retiring CBC chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge.  Bono said he offered to do a song at the event because he likes Justin Trudeau’s stand on human rights.  Multiple Grammy winner Shania Twain introduced Canada’s two new astronauts, but didn’t sing.  The ageless Buffy St. Marie kicked the afternoon off with a rap during which she wandered off the stage to address Prince Charles and the P.M. directly.  She is a compelling performer.

Prince Charles spoke pretty good French for the first half of his speech, then segued without a trace of irony into English.  Royal.  What struck me was how much he seemed to enjoy himself in the rain, meeting everyone.  Justin Trudeau let go with a barn-burner of a speech, working the soggy crowd very well.  Then he forgot to mention Alberta when rhyming off the provinces and territories.  Mansbridge ruminated about that all afternoon.

The best act was the co-hosting job by Sandra O and Mitsu.  They timed their English/French comments so tightly that it appeared one was speaking over the other, but after a while I realized that they had to have rehearsed this difficult timing, for every syllable came out just right.  Mitsu’s radiant personality and O’s gravitas emphasized that this was a serious show about a serious, if joyous event.

The Trudeau family swept away any stuffiness in the performance with J.T. (and Sophie) popping out of their seats from time to time, most notably a drop-in on Peter Mansbridge during his broadcast.  Justin took the mike and interviewed Peter in a mildly amusing segment.  The two drew quite a crowd of friendly onlookers eager to wish Mansbridge well on his last show.  On their way out Peter offhandedly suggested they say hello to his wife and son.  The camera swung to frame a shocked Cynthia Dale and the younger Mansbridge, who looked rather like his father when shaking the P.M’s hand.

Comedian Mark Critch just did a funny standup routine in front of a crowd in Newfoundland, joking about Peter’s retirement and how he wants his job.

The interviews with people across Canada turned out to be more interesting than one might expect.  CBC Power and Politics host Rosie Barton interviewed one woman, her teenaged son and pre-teen daughter.  Rosie asked how long it had taken them to get to Parliament Hill from their home in Northern Ontario.  “A nine hour drive after a five hour train ride and a ten minute boat trip.  And then we waited four hours in line, and we arrived here just ten minutes ago.”

Rosie asked why they had come.  The woman identified her family as First Nations, “I wanted to bring my children here so that they can see what Canada is like.”  Nice lady, with great kids, to judge by their alertness and intelligence.

UPDATE 2 July, 2017

I quit watching t.v. at 12.15 a.m.  Still no fireworks.  Gordon Lightfoot was a treat, though.  He had performed on the same stage fifty years ago in 1967.  Most of the evening was shots of Rick Mercer on a roof tossing to indy rock bands performing in various locations around Canada.

Cirque de Soleil performed on a soggy Ottawa stage, though.  Courageous acrobats, those.  The poll dancer’s routine was flat-out amazing.  He could run up a 25′ stripper pole with less effort than it takes me to climb a flight of stairs.  The trampoline guys took some risks in the rain, but I saw only one slip in an otherwise flawless performance.

Today’s newspaper coverage has moved on from the Trudeau-forgot-Alberta bulletin ( a teleprompter misread) to chaos-at-the-gates stories of Canadians frustrated by overly tight and disorganized event security over the afternoon.  So the Canadian version of catastrophe at a public event involves standing in line for eight hours without food, only to find that this line doesn’t actually go anywhere.  The body count consisted of one man who fell off a three-story building while climbing it.  He’s in hospital with a head injury.

As a viewer I felt glad for those who made it onto the Hill, and sorry for those trapped in lineups, but that’s a lot better than reading grizzly details of a bomb blast.  I was especially glad that our granddaughter stayed at home with her parents and watched T.V. rather than facing that crowd.

I prefer bathos to tragedy.

I’ll miss you, Peter Mansbridge.

Yesterday while perusing one newspaper’s mandatory Father’s Day opinion article I saw a variation of the following clause:  “When a dad sees their kids.”  I gagged.

How far have we fallen, on Father’s Day, this most gender-specific of all roles of all days, when it’s too much work for that writer to use the third person, masculine, singular pronoun for the unique relationship between a father and his child?

I admit that language forms and reflects thought, but does it have to inhibit it and sew confusion?  How many of the transgendered are there out there to offend, anyway?  Before you dismiss me as a troglodyte of the old school, I should specify that, while I gulp in discomfort before every proclamation of “My pronouns are they, them, and their” on the TV show Billions, I quite like that character, and I wish the character well on future seasons.

My complaint stems from a career of marking the essays of rather bright teenagers as they struggled to distinguish between one and many.  To a certain extent I blame day care and rock videos for the underlying assumption of interchangeability:  should one’s companions meet a minimum standard of age, gender, and appearance, each will do as well as another.  This fuzzy focus from an excess of choices embodies itself in many students’ written work through the misuse of “their.”

Indeed, my frequent exhortation to the brightest writers was to exercise great care in distinguishing between one and many.  The use of a singular subject is a good way to initiate a sentence which informs as well as it can.  Let’s use the Father’s Day example again:  “My dad used to encourage me to use his basic woodworking tools to build things from boards I found in the scrap pile.”  Of course it’s acceptable to use a plural subject:  “Parents often support their children by sharing their personal toys with them as they grow up.”

Plural subjects such as “parents” don’t need a gender-specific pronoun.  Nonetheless, it is hard to feel confidence in a writer too lazy not to begin a sentence with a singular subject and then lose his way to “their” after the first verb.

It’s as though a writer’s understanding of basic grammar runs up against unbreakable rules of political correctness and his brain shorts out to “Whatever!” mode and his fingers type in “they.”

Is it any wonder that journalists today seem overwhelmed by specific details of complex stories?  They have lost their editors’ permission to use the necessary language to examine them.

Look at the rise of Eric Grenier, a blogger-turned-columnist at CBC.  Grenier has established a reputation as an analyst of polling data.  It was this blogger who had the temerity to write that Baby Boomers were the principal supporters of Justin Trudeau’s 2015 electoral majority, not Millenials, that marijuana legalization attracted these Millenials to the party but they voted on jobs and the environment, and that the much-touted Aboriginal vote actually went to the NDP, despite loud protestations of betrayal from First Nations leaders in British Columbia who claimed to have voted Liberal in the federal election.  He formed these conclusions from careful, poll-by-poll analyses of turnout and vote counts.

Grenier’s particular gift is his ability to distinguish between the one and the many, and it quietly puts the lie to some of the half-truths which slide conveniently into Canadian political writing.  On one occasion I corrected journalist Stephen Maher on one of these slips.  He quickly apologized that he had been in a hurry,  he should have checked his data, but hadn’t, and promptly rewrote the article to eliminate the slip.

As Canadians in a world increasingly afflicted with diseases of thought, we need to pay careful attention to the accuracy of what we write and read.

UPDATE:  20 June, 2017

As satisfying as the first half of the rant above might have been to compose, a reader suggested a more appropriate perspective on

It’s called ‘singular they’.  Intended for cases where the sex of any particular member of a group is irrelevant to the meaning of the message– it’s vaguely stupid when talking about members of a group whose sex can be assumed, like fathers.

I just read that Canada’s Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould,  plans to make the punishment for selling marijuana to children a 14 year maximum sentence, the same as for child molesters.

On July 20, 2013 I posted the following article to my blog.  I also sent it along to whatever contacts I could find in Ottawa.  Coincidence?  Probably.  But I think they’re right in their thinking:  drug dealers have no more place in the schools than child molesters, and both offences should receive equal social opprobrium.

July 20, 2013           The Walnut Diary

As a retired secondary school teacher and vice principal, while I detest marijuana for the damaging effect it has on the learning of young people, I support legalizing it with one important caveat: take strong steps to keep the stuff away from kids under the age of 18.

In particular I would suggest that the type of electronic surveillance which has proven effective at rounding up child pornography rings should be directed toward the use of cell phones in secondary schools.

The grade 12 drug dealer sitting in the back of an English class will be a lot less likely to take orders by text from grade nine kids if Signals Intelligence has made a copy of his morning text traffic available to the local police before his lunch-hour delivery time.

Kids, especially boys with ADHD, are badly damaged by early cannabis use. I have seen too many bright kids ruined by the drug to have any use for it in or around the school yard.

If we treat marijuana dealers who sell to kids as the child molesters they are (and not just as students misbehaving), let the rest of society pay their taxes and buy their grass at the LCBO.


I fell into a discussion online in which a guy challenged me to put up proof that grass is bad for kids with ADHD. So I’ll add a few links here as I find them.


These were the first three Google listed.