The Unviersal Notebook: O, liberal sweep of Canada

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Last week, I drove 1,550 miles to and through New Brunswick, making stops in Edmundston, Fredericton, Moncton, Bouctouche, Sackville and St. John on a whirlwind tour of art and artists in the province.

I have always thought of Canada as a kinder, gentler America, a place less violent, less greedy, less polluted and about a generation behind.

I also tend to think of Canada as our neighbor to the north, but most of the time I was southeast of Houlton, everything north of Bangor being Canada in all but name. It’s almost like the same place – same forest, same Bay of Fundy, same Wabanaki and Acadian heritage. I was surprised therefore when I was detained at the border for a half hour while a Canadian official tried to decide whether I needed a work permit to give a lecture at a Canadian art museum.

The New Brunswick landscape was hundreds of miles of yellow woodlands lined with moose fences (never saw one of the promised beasts), river valleys and highways. At one point we drove from Grand Falls to Renous on Route 108, a woods road without a single sign of human habitation (or gas station) for 125 miles. Driving the road through Irving forests was like driving from Portland to Boston on a logging road, a paved logging road, but a logging road nonetheless.

While I was amazed to find the artists of New Brunswick every bit as engaged with the 21st century international art dialogue as artists in Maine (geographic isolation not being a limiting factor in a digital age), it was even more surprising to see cutting-edge contemporary art being created in a province defined by the feudalism of Irving and McCain corporate interests and the segregation known as “les deux solitudes” – the separate, but equal cultures of the Anglophones and the Francophones, not to mention the First Nation settlements.

I spoke broken high school French as much as possible in Edmundston and Moncton, hoping to get credit for at least trying, but everyone I met was bilingual, a claim I wish we could make in Maine.

Though I did no detect any overt French-English animosity, New Brunswick does maintain separate French and English school systems and hospitals, a language-based apartheid that even extends to separate artists’ organizations – Association Acadienne des Artistes Professionnel du Nouveau-Brunswick (AAAPNB) for Franco artists, and ArtsLink for Anglo artists. I found that troubling, but then I lack any standing to address it.

There is not much of an art market in New Brunswick according to the three dozen or so artists I met, but then Canada has a much more generous government support system for the arts and artists than the United States does. I also found the stipend I was paid for studio visits, a lecture, a workshop and an essay more than generous, but when I got home and deposited the check I was reminded that $100 in Canadian currency is only worth about $75 in the U.S.

I saved a few of the plastic, see-through Canadian bills, as well as a handful of loonies and toonies (one- and two-dollar coins) to show the grandchildren.

In New Brunswick I chanced to meet people who know Gov. Paul LePage’s ex-wife and the two daughters he left behind there. Apparently, he is pretty much the same guy he always was.

As it happened, I was in New Brunswick for the Canadian elections and everyone I met in the art world seemed quite pleased with the liberal victory that swept conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper out of office and Justin Trudeau into power.

When I asked my host, who had voted Liberal, why Harper had been shown the door, she said, “Stephen Harper was always a control freak and suspicious of change. His elimination of the long-form census and firing of so many researchers and scientists put him in the dark ages.”

Apparently, Harper and his conservative cronies governed by ideology alone and refused to let data, facts or the truth get in their way. They opposed and retaliated against scientists whose findings did not support their conservative agenda. Harper led a wrecking crew intent on dismantling government. The good people of Canada threw the bums out.

Trudeau and the liberals have promised to cut taxes on the middle class and increase them on the wealthy, invest in neglected infrastructure, address environmental issues raised by the Keystone pipeline, accept more Syrian refugees and legalize marijuana.

“We beat fear with hope,” Prime Minister-elect Trudeau said. “We beat cynicism with hard work. Most of all, we defeated the idea that Canadians should be satisfied with less.”

Sounds like a winning Democratic platform to me.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

  • Ted

    Good piece, Ed.

    “Trudeau and the liberals have promised to cut taxes on the middle class and increase them on the wealthy, invest in neglected infrastructure, address environmental issues raised by the Keystone pipeline, accept more Syrian refugees and legalize marijuana.”

    Sounds like what Bernie Sanders wants, which is why I registered Dem to vote for him in the state caucus. (The day after that I’ll be in the town office re-registering as no party affiliation – the Dems are as calcified and corporate as the Reps).

    Do I believe that Trudeau and Sanders can actually do what they promised? If past is prologue, probably not (though, I think Trudeau has a better chance, given the fear-based mean streak that is currently running through the USA). However, I think they will fight the good fight against regressive conservatives who want to take us all into the good ol’ days of the Taliban.

    • James Post

      what was the Taliban period in this country? You refer to the good ol’ days, when was the Taliban in power in the USA?

  • James Post

    How many times did you have to charge the fuel cell of your car on the trip through New Brunswick?

  • Kafir911

    Dear Comrade Ed,
    You’ll find a silver lining in any liberal agenda here or elsewhere. Have you ever compared No. Korea with So. Korea to see which economic system is better for the people?
    I would like to send you a copy of Michael Savage’s new book, “Government Zero”, but as an open-minded and tolerant progressive, I don’t think you’d even bother to read it.

    • EABeem

      Of course South Korea is a much better place than North Korea. I am talking about Canada, not a totalitarian dictatorship. Liberalism does not mean communism.

      • Kafir911

        Socialism is the gateway down the slippery slope to communism.

      • James Post

        Since we are doing comparisons, let me ask you this question: whom do you consider a more favorable historical figure, Ronald Reagan or Fidel Castro?

        I ask the question not implying in any way that you are a communist, but many liberals seem to have nicer things to say about Mr. Castro than Mr, Reagan.
        You can easily find these Castro support statements if you use google (anticipating a challenge from you).

        It is a shame you won’t answer my question about whether you used fossil fuels to power your trip to Canada. We need a standard about how much of a carbon footprint we are allowed.

        • EABeem

          Reagan was okay in my book. He raised taxes repeatedly, expanded government, tripled the federal deficit and granted amnesty to 3,000 illegal immigrants. Castro was a dictator.

          • James Post

            I assume you meant 3 million, not 3,000. Of course, Reagan did none of those things on his own. And, it would appear that you don’t think raising taxes lowers deficits (you might have meant debt) since Reagan signed numerous tax increases (as you know, Congress raises or cuts taxes) and the debt tripled anyway. I used debt instead of deficit again because, that is what basically tripled during the Reagan administration.

            Shame you won’t come clean on your carbon footprint, but as the columnist, you can pick and choose what you want to answer.

  • Kafir911

    Justin Trudeau had this to say about the Jihadi bombers in Boston: “No question this happened because there is someone who feels completely excluded and we’re to understand his feelings and not point fingers at specific groups.” We got what we deserved when the low information parasites in this country elected the Muslim and Marxist empty suit TWICE. Now, it’s Canada’s turn.

    • Kevin McCarthy

      Uh,no. That’s not what he said. Taking select words out of context, and cutting and pasting them into a specious narrative isn’t particularly persuasive. What he actually said was “But there is no question that this happened because there is someone who feels completely excluded, completely at war with innocents, at war with a society. And our approach has to be, okay, where do those tensions come from?”

      • Kafir911

        See and hear for yourself. No mention of Islamic jihad. Although the interview was soon after the bombing, he’s still a clueless apologist for Islam. Regardless, I’m sure the Canadians hardly feel safer with this pantie-waist in charge much like Americans don’t fell really safe with NerO as our Muslim-in-Chief.

        • Kevin McCarthy

          That’s right there is no mention of jihad. Nor is there any mention of right-wing extremism. Because they didn’t know what had happened. This interview was “a couple of hours” after the bombing. Even the interviewer is careful to say no one is sure what happened at that point. The bombing and this interview happened on April 15. The FBI didn’t release the pictures of the suspects until 3 days later. Regardless, the facts shouldn’t stand in the way of a half-assed rant.

          • Kafir911

            I did mention the interview was just after the bombing. If you can’t even tell the difference between a rant and an opinion, you must be Beem’s soul mate (or butt boy).

          • Kevin McCarthy

            The depth of the intellect revealed in that statement is exceeded only by its immaturity.