Cohen: Why Canada’s response to COVID-19 is so different from that of the U.S.

Another piece on differences:

Comparing the character of nations is risky and imprecise. In the Age of Contagion, though, it offers a window into how the peoples of the world are coping.

Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore have handled the crisis relatively well. We expect that of people we see as highly disciplined, motivated and organized. Italy is reeling from the contagion. Gregarious, unruly, passionate, creative, independent – this is how we see Italians. It suggests why they were slow to respond.

In Washington, Congress struggles to forge an economic response. The president is erratic and unempathetic. He is widely disbelieved, skeptical of expertise and reluctant to accept responsibility.The media send mixed messages. Fox News, with the highest audience, once denied the pandemic, calling it “a hoax.” One host – before she was fired – claimed the coronavirus was a plot by the Democrats to re-impeach Donald Trump.

The danger is that the medical system will be overwhelmed. On the tenth anniversary of Obamacare, universal health care remains contentious in the United States – undermined by the Republicans, who have tried repeatedly to abolish it, and repeatedly challenged in the courts.

In Canada, a country of 37 million, there were some 2,100 cases and 24 deaths as of early Tuesday. The system is holding, for now. Hospitals have enough masks and respirators, for now. The prime minister appears in public every day, alone, outside his residence. He speaks sensibly, with authority, without hyperbole. This has been his finest hour.Canadians trust him. They may not have voted for him – only about one-third did – but that doesn’t matter now. Nor do we question the competence of his ministers who are the other faces of the crisis – Chrystia Freeland, Marc Garneau, Patty Hajdu, Bill Blair. All are calm, competent and professional. This is what we want.

The provincial premiers, most of whom are not Liberals, have lost their congenital instinct to attack Ottawa. Doug Ford, no admirer of Justin Trudeau, now praises his leadership.All provinces have declared states of emergency, and will not object if the national government does, too. If it must, it will – and we won’t complain.

Opposition parties are not posturing. Andrew Scheer, who called Trudeau “a fraud” last autumn, says this is no time for politics. He is right. His fellow Conservatives, vying to succeed him, have put away their popguns. Some want the leadership vote scheduled for August delayed.

Unlike in America, there is consensus in Canada. No one is saying that the aid package is inadequate, that the government is slow, that money unduly favours corporations. Jason Kenney is not talking about western alienation and the Bloc Québécois is not talking sovereignty. Canadians want only freedom from fear.Mercifully, we have no Fox News. Whatever the CBC’s flaws as national broadcaster, its reporting has been thorough and honest, under trying circumstances. Same with CTV and Radio Canada, and the country’s newspapers and websites.

Why is our response different? It may be a case of identity. Americans celebrate independence, individualism, personal liberty. Many distrust government, resent politicians, court conspiracy and dismiss science. This wasn’t always so – the New Deal and the Great Society expanded the state – but it is now.

Canadians accept big government, which is how we built the social welfare state. Two-thirds of us voted for progressives last year. We defer to authority.Yes, we’ve made real mistakes in the crisis. We didn’t secure airports fast enough or test early and widely enough. Too many are treating physical distancing as a snow day. If we ultimately do better in all this – it’s too early to know or crow – it’s not because we are morally superior. It is because we are smaller, organized, well-led, more united, more measured, more of a community.

It’s a question of character.

Source: Cohen: Why Canada’s response to COVID-19 is so different from that of the U.S.

ICYMI – Cohen: Polarized politics, climate havoc, growing authoritarianism – a pessimist’s guide to our world in 2020

Depressing:

Last Saturday, on a holiday weekend, the Parliament of Spain convened for a series of crucial votes. Its purpose was to choose a new national government, which the country has been without since elections in November.

In reality, the political paralysis here has lasted years. The most recent elections were the fourth since 2017. This old society but young democracy is becoming ungovernable. Riven with regional, ethnic and ideological divisions, the middle ground – which has sustained governments in Spain – has disappeared.

On Tuesday, the Socialists narrowly won the confidence vote and will form a left-of-centre coalition. This happened only because the Catalans (a regional independence party) abstained.

Some wondered why the legislators were meeting over the holidays. A former Spanish diplomat told me: “You have to get a deal while you can. In Spain, you never know what’s going to happen.”

There is nothing new about uncertainty in politics, but it is a byword for today. Anxiety is the zeitgeist.

The rise of authoritarianism, advance of global warming and growing nationalism and religious intolerance define our time. Despite rising incomes and improving medicine, science and technology, it’s hard to be hopeful.

So here’s a pessimist’s guide to our world in 2020 – and beyond.

• In Germany, the engine of Europe, the economy narrowly avoided recession last year and Chancellor Angela Merkel is preparing to leave next year. Her “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats is faltering, and will collapse this year.

• In France, President Emmanuel Macron is personally unpopular and his reformist policies are widely opposed, bringing demonstrations and strikes, comme d’habitude, and a rising right.

• In Great Britain, there is more certainty. With a large majority and the Labour Party in disarray, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has wide latitude. Britain will leave the EU and Scotland will clamour to leave the United Kingdom. Scottish nationalists are pushing Westminster for another referendum on independence.

• In Israel, the paralysis continues. The country holds its third election in a year, this one with Benjamin Netanyahu under criminal indictment. Israel’s economy is strong and the prospect of peace is distant. Worse, Israelis don’t seem to care anymore.

• In Russia, Turkey, Hungary, India and beyond, strongmen continue to rule. There is little likelihood of change.

• In China, the aspirations of Hong Kong are a challenge to central authority, one that Beijing will mishandle. It cannot tolerate dissent. The protests will end violently in 2020.

• In the United States, an impeached (but exonerated) president will run for re-election. Democrats struggle to oppose him. Because several of them are well-financed, their race will go into the spring.

The pessimist argument is that Trump will win in November. More likely, Democrats will choose Joe Biden, who will choose Kamala Harris as his running mate (and his successor after only one term.) The Democrats will reclaim the Midwest and carry the day.

If they don’t, America under a re-elected, untethered Trump will enter a new dark age, akin to the Red Scare in the 1920s and McCarthyism in the 1950s.

In Canada, the Liberals will govern with ease this year. Conservatives will have no traction until early summer, but new leadership will scramble the political calculus. If they choose Rona Ambrose or Jean Charest, they will push for an early election, in 2021 or so. Trudeau will not run again.

There is no reason for optimism in discussing climate change, which goes unanswered around the world and in the United States, in particular. The fires burn hotter and longer in California, the seas rise off Florida, the tundra melts in Alaska.

The fires burning today in Australia are the future of our feverish world. This will become the norm. They show not only the fierceness of nature but a failure of leadership; the ineptitude of the country’s prime minister staggers.

Of all the challenges we face today – war with Iran, growing authoritarianism, a belligerent North Korea, swelling anti-semitism – climate change is the greatest threat, the hardest to solve and most resistant to hope.

Source: Cohen: Polarized politics, climate havoc, growing authoritarianism – a pessimist’s guide to our world in 2020

Andrew Cohen: Many bigoted leaders have championed minorities once in office

Perspective and looking at the record:

A year ago, the United States Senate was divided over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, tainted by allegations of sexual misconduct when Kavanaugh was in high school and college. The Republicans limited – and rushed – the FBI investigation into Kavanaugh. It never even interviewed some of his critical old classmates. But the Republicans called the whole affair a smear campaign and confirmed him.

Now there are more allegations. Leading Democrats say he should be removed from the court. If they regain control of both houses of Congress in next year’s election, they could try.

Before that, they should consider the dangers of holding a public figure accountable today for the thoughts or actions of a youthful yesterday. Senate Democrats in Indiana, Missouri, Florida and North Dakota who opposed Kavanaugh lost their seats last year. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who supported Kavanaugh, won.

The suspicion: Democrats in red states (which Donald Trump won in 2016) were punished for their votes on Kavanaugh, suggesting there’s a penalty for this kind of politics. Rather than celebrating their courage, skeptics suggest that voters either didn’t think that Kavanaugh was guilty – or that if he was, it was long ago and didn’t emerge in his career as a jurist.

This is the question raised by Justin Trudeau and blackface, which has generated much sanctimonious comment in the United States. Trudeau has his defenders, though. Conservative writer and columnist Andrew Sullivan, for example, says pillorying someone for their former self is absurd.

In Trudeau’s case, wearing blackface was cavalier, crude and ignorant. But he isn’t a racist. And even if he were in his deepest thoughts two decades ago, would it matter?

Judging public figures by their private behaviour is complicated. Can we really hold people to account for what they said or did before they were fully formed? And can we judge them by their views (or acts) in the face of their public record? In Trudeau’s case, wearing blackface was cavalier, crude and ignorant. But he isn’t a racist. And even if he were in his deepest thoughts two decades ago, would it matter?

In its composition and its policies, Trudeau’s government is diverse and progressive. His cabinet comes from both sexes, many faiths and colours. His immigration and refugee policies are relatively generous. For those who dislike Trudeau, his fondness for shoe polish will only reinforce their antipathy. But there is nothing racist about his government. Nothing. And that’s why the reaction of the élites may be harsher than that of the people.

All prominent people have misjudgments in their past. A young Pierre Trudeau flirted intellectually with fascism and the anti-Semitism that shaped the conversation in Quebec in the 1940s. Did it matter? Trudeau as an adult was defined by his commitment to personal freedom. Patriating the British North America Act and entrenching the Charter of Rights was the single greatest act of statesmanship in our history.

Lyndon Johnson was a racist. He blithely used “n—–” in private conversations, even as president. It was earthy and offensive to blacks in his circle. The same Johnson drove the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. No president since Abraham Lincoln was as important on race.

Harry Truman also used “n—–” privately but it didn’t stop him from integrating the military. Richard Nixon was an anti-Semite who saved the State of Israel when he sent it planeloads of arms during the Yom Kippur War.

For each, did racism, anti-Semitism or bigotry, matter? Not if you believe that their public deeds negated their private thoughts.

Kavanaugh is more complicated. He should remain accountable for what many conclude was sexual assault. One reason is that as a high court judge, he is one of America’s nine moral arbiters, appointed for life; many judges beyond suspicion could fill the job. Another is that he apologized for nothing and was intemperate in his hearing, unbecoming of a judge.

But had Kavanaugh simply disliked (not accosted) women, as those presidents disliked blacks or Jews, why should we care what’s in the human heart – and in the past – if that is where it stays?

Source: Cohen: Many bigoted leaders have championed minorities once in office

Cohen: Why we ought to worry about democracy’s retreat globally | Ottawa Citizen

Good commentary by Andrew Cohen, including Rosalie Abella’s fears for the independence of Israel’s judiciary:

Justice Rosalie Abella of the Supreme Court of Canada lives on public platforms. She lectures often, at home and abroad, and collects laurels celebrating her shimmering career (including 38 honorary degrees) like loose change.

As a decorated jurist of 42 years, she contemplates law and society as a quotidian challenge. So there she was two weeks ago, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, on the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel, addressing the country’s democracy.

It was an extraordinary speech – a cri de coeur, really – brimming with erudition and urgency. It was also brave. Abella laments the assault on the independence of Israel’s judiciary, whose stature she has long admired.

“As a Jew, it has made me particularly sad to see the judiciary’s noble mission and legacy under rhetorical siege here,” she said. “To me when an independent judiciary is under siege, democracy is under siege, and when democracy is under siege, a country’s soul is being held hostage.”

She is alarmed by the effort to “delegitimize the judiciary … in the name of patriotism.” She finds this “perverse.” After all, she asks, doesn’t patriotism mean reflecting national values, which, in Israel, means being Jewish and democratic?

For defending those values, she sees a judiciary “demonized by some for being independent from political expedience and immune to political will.” Judges are not there to comply with the will of politicians, she warns; those who think patriotism means doing only what politicians want “are the biggest threat to Israel’s values, because they misconceive democracy as majoritarian rule.”

Abella doesn’t name the right-wing politicians targeting the judiciary. What makes her warning timely – like a siren in the night – is that she is addressing the erosion of democracy, in fundamental and disturbing ways, across the world. As Foreign Affairs magazine asks in its current issue: “Can Democracy Survive?”

It’s not hyperbole. Democracy is under its greatest strain since the 1930s. Assaults on the press, free and fair elections, minority rights and civil liberties are common. Look around: the rise of authoritarianism is everywhere.

Having liberalized after the fall of Communism, Russia is an authoritarian state under Vladimir Putin, who fixes elections, jails opponents and kills journalists. In China, which showed signs of liberalization leading up to Tiananmen Square in 1989, the leadership may serve for life.

Poland, Turkey and Hungary have lurched into authoritarianism. That Stephen Harper could tweet congratulations to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on his election was so brazen it was thought a joke; alas, it was not.

The man who once refused to shake Putin’s hand – “You need to get out of Ukraine,” Harper told him – now embraces Orban, who is silencing critics and attacking institutions in Hungary.

Freedom House tracks the state of democracy around the world. In 2017, it found that democracy declined in 71 countries and advanced in just 35. “Democracy in crisis,” it declares.

In old democracies such as France, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, right-wing populists are gaining traction, appealing to anti-immigrant sentiments and shunning civil liberties or the rule of law. Surveys show that while support for democracy remains strong among those over 65, those under 35 care less about it. This is particularly disturbing.

Rwanda, Venezuela, Mexico, Kenya and Honduras are among the countries where democracy has eroded. The same in Nepal, Eritrea, South Sudan, Libya, Egypt and Yemen. In Myanmar, led by a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, ethnic cleansing is horrifying.

In the United States, the president declares the media “the enemy of the people,” and attacks the judiciary and law-enforcement agencies. He refers to “my justice department” and its failure to “protect” him.

In Canada, the threat to democracy comes through bots and fake news filling social media, which will play out dangerously in the next federal election.

For Abella, in Jerusalem, the attack on the judiciary in Israel reflects something larger: an attack on our humanity: “Without democracy there are no rights, without rights there is no tolerance, without tolerance there is no justice, and without justice, there is no hope.”

via Cohen: Why we ought to worry about democracy’s retreat globally | Ottawa Citizen

Rabbis ditch High Holy Days call with Trump – POLITICO

As Andrew Cohen recently argued, Trump’s Jewish advisers should stand up to him. Rabbis message should provoke reflection. As for the evangelical leaders still supporting Trump (the only council yet to have lost members or disbanded?), some signs of weakening support (Evangelicals Losing Faith in Trump After Racist Ranting):

A prominent coalition of American rabbis has decided not to hold its annual conference call with the president to mark Jewish holidays, citing Donald Trump’s remarks on the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, as supporting “those who advocate anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia.”

“We have concluded that President Trump’s statements during and after the tragic events in Charlottesville are so lacking in moral leadership and empathy for the victims of racial and religious hatred that we cannot organize such a call this year,” the groups — the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Rabbinical Assembly, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism — said in a statement.

The coalition represents the leaders of much of the U.S. Jewish community, with the exception of Orthodox Jews, who have been much more supportive of Trump. His daughter Ivanka and her family are Orthodox Jews. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The call, which is organized by the Reform rabbis group CCAR, is a standard event for presidents each year. Rabbi Steve Fox, CCAR’s executive director, said former President Barack Obama participated in each year of his administration.

“These are religious issues, not political issues. It is important that the president steps forward as a moral leader on these issues,” Fox said in an interview. “As the leader of the U.S. and the leader of the free world, we believe it is his obligation to condemn these white supremacists.”

Fox said Trump’s response to the Charlottesville unrest — among other comments, the president said there were “very fine people” amid a crowd of white supremacists and neo-Nazis protesting in defense of a Confederate statue — put the celebration of the Jewish High Holy Days at risk.

“We pray that President Trump will recognize and remedy the grave error he has made in abetting the voices of hatred,” the group said. “We pray that those who traffic in anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia will see that there is no place for such pernicious philosophies in a civilized society.”

Trump has faced a barrage of criticism since the Charlottesville white supremacist rally that left one person dead. Trump has defended his response that “many sides” are to blame for the violence that ensued. At a campaign rally in Phoenix on Tuesday, the president accused the media of misrepresenting his response and read parts of his initial remarks, though he omitted the controversial language that seemingly placed blame on counter-protesters.

Most members on Trump’s evangelical council, meanwhile, have not distanced themselves from the president. A.R. Bernard, who once a member of the Evangelical Advisory Board, said on Friday that he resigned due to a “deepening conflict in values” between himself and the Trump administration.

Source: Rabbis ditch High Holy Days call with Trump – POLITICO

Renaming Langevin Block isn’t rewriting history – it’s unearthing it: Tabatha Southey

I tend to be more in the third camp that maintaining historic names and monuments may be better than erasing them as we can’t (nor should we) erase history (with appropriate interpretative plaques). But I understand the views of the Indigenous MPs and related factors that led the government to make the name change:

The building, constructed in 1889, was named after Hector-Louis Langevin. Mr. Langevin, a member of Sir John A. Macdonald’s cabinet and one of the Fathers of Confederation, was also one of the fathers of the Canadian residential school system, which he saw as the best way of ensuring that Indigenous children didn’t “remain savages.”

Of the resulting residential school system, I can only say this: If you haven’t yet, read the report, especially if you’re in a panic about us misremembering our past. Residential schools are part of Canada’s history, and in removing Mr. Langevin’s name from a building – one from which we are partly governed, no less – at a time when Canada must attempt reconciliation, we’re not burying our past. We’re unearthing it.

There has been an incredible level of hand-wringing about the name change, as there is about many name changes these days, and there seem to be three schools of lack-of-thought around monuments, statues, tributes, and the renaming and removing thereof.

The first is that change is simply impossible, or at least immoral. “Don’t trust that lying song, it’s still Constantinople,” this argument goes. “Or are you denying that Constantine the Great ever existed?”

The second argument is that we mustn’t apply modern standards to old heroes, and that everyone objecting to the perpetual celebration of people who tormented or enslaved their ancestors or their living relatives, like their auntie over there knitting them a scarf, is being far too sensitive.

Generally, this “don’t be such a snowflake” argument somehow manages to come around to not wanting to hurt the ghostly feelings of whatever dead hero’s statue or honorifically-named school is under discussion. Often, there’s a codicil that the once-celebrated figure meant well, or at least only meant as badly as everyone else did at the time, so don’t be such a meanie, snowflake.

The third line of defence takes one look at Defence Number Two, standing there boasting, “Look how bizarre I am, I am a complete freak of logic,” and simply says, “Hold my rhetorical beer.”

“Yes,” says Defence Number Three, “the old dead person in question was in fact horrible, you’re right. He was not at all the sort of person who deserves a great big statue or a major street named after him, and clearly the only the way to ensure future generations remember how horrible he was is to keep a lot of statues of him around and name an assortment of streets, schools, bridges and other miscellaneous public property after him. Not that I like the guy or admire his politics or anything, but lest we forget and all …”

Close observers may note that Defence Number Three and its devotees generally draw a line at which specific historical figures we must keep around under the guise of not repeating them.

…Some have pointed out that, given the issues still to be resolved, if we are to achieve reconciliation with Indigenous people, renaming a building is merely a distraction. But it is a gesture asked for by Indigenous MPs. In February 2016, Liberal backbenchers Don Rusnak and Robert-Falcon Ouellette and NDP MP Romeo Saganash, as well as Independent Hunter Tootoo, called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take Mr. Langevin’s name off the building. Do it, it was argued, in deference to survivors of the residential schools who shouldn’t be subjected to constant reminders of a man who “devastated their lives.”

It’s hardly a gesture that could be said to drain resources from other initiatives. Be wary of anyone who claims that the potable water budget was all spent on new PMO stationery, and perhaps not negotiating from a building basically called “In Your Face!” will help in some small way.

Some delicate flowers are seriously claiming that renaming a building in Ottawa is a grave insult that will cause irreparable damage to their culture. These highly selective stalwart defenders of culture and community ought to consider the fact that the man for whom that building was named insisted in a speech to Parliament that while Indigenous children left with their families could learn how to “read and write”, they must be separated from them if they are to “acquire the habits and tastes … of civilized people” – and pipe right down.

Anxiety about preserving our culture might be better spent on renaming something. Nothing threatens our culture more than refusing change; toppling statues is one of our traditions, and history is renaming. If you’ve spent any of the past week whining about the renaming of Langevin Block, you better have done so as a proud citizen of Turtle Island.

Source: Renaming Langevin Block isn’t rewriting history – it’s unearthing it – The Globe and Mail

The other related debate was regarding the appropriateness of the former US Embassy as an Indigenous “space.” The symbolism of the location, across the street from Parliament, contrasts with the symbolism of the architecture.

My take is that a creative architecture should be able to “repurpose” the space in a manner than includes Indigenous identity, much as the Global Centre of Pluralism’s renovation of the former war museum on Sussex Ave did with its Islamic screen motifs and choice of materials, colours and finishes.

Andrew Cohen’s critique is one of the better ones even if I don’t agree:

Beyond the venue, the building itself is unsuitable. It was designed by an American architect and finished in limestone, mimicking Beaux Arts. John Ralston Saul, the provocative writer and philosopher, calls it “an imitation of an imitation,” inconsistent in tone with the parliamentary precinct.

If it is questionable artistically, symbolically it’s awful. Do we want to offer Indigenous organizations an outpost of the American Empire, which deceived, displaced and murdered native Americans? Do we want Indigenous Canada to bury its heart on Wellington Street?

Let us recognize, as well, that this centre is not conceived in yesterday’s Ottawa, which was deaf to the aboriginal story. It comes amid a spirited effort to reverse a history of sorrow. Last week, for example, the National Gallery of Canada opened its new galleries of Canadian and Indigenous art. Next week, the Museum of Canadian History will open its new Canadian History Hall. Its president, Mark O’Neill, says that “Indigenous history is incorporated into every part of the most comprehensive exhibition of the Canadian story ever presented.” The National Arts Centre has announced its first artistic director of Indigenous theatre. The other day the Governor-General gave awards to 29 Canadians showing “outstanding Indigenous leadership.”

No, all this does not put things right. But institutional Canada, in its earnest way, is starting to embrace the Indigenous reality. Indeed, the elevation of the relationship between the government and first peoples may become the proudest legacy of the Trudeau government. But this repurposed Indigenous space is a bad idea. On the 150th anniversary of Confederation, why not think more boldly? Mr. Saul suggests razing the old embassy. He proposes a larger, elegant building, flowing from a rigorous international design competition. It would echo the motif of Parliament, draw on its materials and produce something modern and arresting.

It might hold two museums of political and aboriginal history, and offices for parliamentarians. Or serve as a repository of our founding documents, like the Quebec Act and the BNA Act. This would be the right building in the right place at the right time for Canada. It would make, in itself, a dazzling moral statement about this country and the people we are.

Turning an embassy into ‘Indigenous space’ is a classic government misjudgment

Cohen: Canada’s ambition deficit

Andrew Cohen captures it (building on his earlier book, The Unfinished Canadian):

This costs money, and we are cheap. Our new ethic is low taxes, in which a cloying federal government returns money to Canadians, as it did last week in child benefits, rather than make hard decisions for the public good. Or, governments ask Canadians to approve tax increases in referendums, as in British Columbia, evading responsibility for governing.

Today’s deficit is no longer about money. It’s about ambition.

Cohen: Canada’s ambition deficit | Ottawa Citizen.

Cohen: Time to move beyond the myth of Vimy

Andrew Cohen on Vimy, with help from Jack Granatstein:

“For the first time, Canadians soldiers fought as one unit, under the command of Canadian officers and employing tactics developed by Canadians,” according to an article in the National Post in 2013. “And we won, trouncing the Germans where our allies had failed and congratulating ourselves ever since.”

As J.L. Granatstein argues, that view “is almost completely wrong. Almost. All that it gets right is that Canadians have congratulated themselves ever since.”

Granatstein, the highly decorated military historian who chaired the advisory board of the Vimy Foundation until 2014, is not belittling the foundation or Canada’s role in the Allied offensive that spring. Nor am I.

But, as he points out in his provocative new book, The Greatest Victory: Canada’s One Hundred Days, 1918, we have come to believe a more comforting mythology. His persuasive point is that our decisive impact came in the last three months of the war, that those were our greatest battles.

At Vimy, Granatstein writes, the Canadian Corps was not commanded by a Canadian but by British Lieutenant General Sir Julian Byng. The planners were not Canadians, as widely thought, but Britons. Seven of nine of the Heavy Artillery Groups that put Canadians on Vimy Ridge were from the Royal Artillery. And the supplies, weapons and ammunition were largely from Britain, he says.

While thousands of the soldiers at Vimy were born in Canada, most were recent British immigrants to Canada. (Indeed, we had no citizenship then.)

Most important – and hardest for us to accept – is that Vimy changed little. Yes, we took the ridge with courage, daring and innovation, a magnificent victory. But the Germans retreated a few miles east into new trenches, suffering a “tactical” more than a strategic defeat.

“Vimy regrettably did not win the war or even substantially change its course,” concludes Granatstein.

Yet that is not what Canadians know about Vimy. More likely, they hear that it “began our evolution from dominion to independent nation.” Or, more breathlessly, it marked “the birth of a nation.”

It helped that the battle opened under gun metal skies on Easter Sunday, fostering a poetic sense of resurrection. That some 10,300 were killed or wounded, that they fought through snow and sleet, that it was our greatest victory in the war up to then – all contributed to a national mythology.

But the birth of a nation? Lord, we had been here for 300 years, and organized as a country since 1867. To say that we fell from the heavens in 1917 denies centuries of achievement and sacrifice. That we began to emerge in the world afterward because we went to the Versailles Conference is an empty boast; in reality, we had little international influence until the Second World War.

All this may be useful to those who crave a comforting narrative. A century ago, as an adolescent people, we needed one.

Today we should remember Vimy. But we should also ask what we were doing there, and in the slaughterhouse of the Great War itself, and what the war did to us. That’s what a mature, self-confident people does.

Vimy is a myth. It’s time to move beyond it.

Cohen: Time to move beyond the myth of Vimy | Ottawa Citizen.

Cohen: The shrinking space for books | Ottawa Citizen

Andrew Cohen on the challenges of being a writer today given the decline of bookstores:

Today entering most bookstores is a test of character for the writer. You might find your book amid the baubles; you might not. You might be asked to speak and sign; you might be ignored.

There are a few sanctuaries offering literary asylum: Munro’s in Victoria, Books on Beechwood in Ottawa, Ben McNally Books in Toronto. Books on Beechwood was saved by guardian angels and a passionate staff.

McNally has a rare, crazy commitment to books. He is wonderfully innovative as a seller and marketer – a gift to writers.

The disappearing bookstore reflects the ebbing stature of books in society. The public space for books is shrinking.

The author tour is passé. Twenty years ago a first-time author with a good book could expect to visit five cities or so, speaking, giving interviews. Few do that today.

Newspapers used to review books seriously. The Globe and Mail published a weekly, well-read tabloid on books. The Toronto Star and The National Post carried reviews. Regional papers did, too.

There are fewer reviews in newspapers today and fewer specialty publications on books. Those that survive, like The Literary Review of Canada – the nation’s literary salon – commission reviews often long and learned for which they pay little.

There remain excellent book shows on CBC Radio, like The Next Chapter with the spirited Shelagh Rogers, and unusual hosts on private radio, like Mark Sutcliffe on CFRA, who appreciate books. None has the impact of Peter Gzowski’s CBC’s Morningside, where an author’s appearance on national radio could make telephones ring in bookstores.

Cohen: The shrinking space for books | Ottawa Citizen.

Cohen: A cheap and small-minded museum plan

Andrew Cohen on the parochial nature of Ottawa. All too true:

John Baird, the minister responsible for Ottawa, who speaks of its “treasured” institutions, sees the capital much as he does our historic diplomatic residences abroad, which the government is selling. Too expensive. Too extravagant.

Recently, Baird went to Washington with Mark Kristmanson, the new head of the National Capital Commission. Kristmanson is smart, innovative and full of terrific ideas, one of which is to illuminate Ottawa in a symphony of light.

If Baird looked around Washington, he would have seen how to remake a great capital where museums matter.In the last 15 years, Washington has renovated the American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. It has built the National Museum of the American Indian and is building the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. It is re-imagining The Castle of the Smithsonian Institution.

But don’t stop there. Look at Baltimore, restoring its Museum of Art on its 100th anniversary. Or bankrupt Detroit, where they have saved the Detroit Institute of Arts. Or, Tacoma, Washington, where the art museum has been expanded.

Look at London, Paris, Tokyo, Rome and Berlin, where the German government, in particular, has sunk millions into a multi-year campaign to restore the treasures of Museum Island.

Ottawa? That would be presumptuous.

Cohen: A cheap and small-minded museum plan | Ottawa Citizen.