Category Archives: Oh Canada

One Canadian’s perspective of a shifting national landscape.

Best Summer Ever: Newfoundland

July – Newfoundland

We flew into St. John’s (since the 14 hour ferry is more expensive…?) and stayed with my roommate from when I lived there a few years back. I always love hanging out with Jill. She’s always a lot of fun, especially when she’s drinking champagne. (Hi Jill!)

We were only in town a day when we found Allan Hawco, star of the TV show “Republic of Doyle” on the street with his signature muscle car, waiting to shoot a sequence for next season’s show. Maria didn’t miss the photo op, though she was sad that he had his shirt on.

DSC_9268Quidi Vidi in St. John’s

At Cape Spear we saw whales feeding on capelin.


We hiked the North Head Trail up Signal Hill, an old favourite of mine. Here is a the view of Ft. Amherst.

We also spent a day visiting the #2 Mine on Bell Island.

On the way back we crossed paths with some dolphins!

We left for Fogo Island after a week, which to me was to be the ultimate highlight of our whole trip. There’s something about going to Fogo Island for me that can’t fully be explained, especially when I’ve been away for so long. It’s a 4.5 hour ride from St. John’s, and that just gets you to the ferry. We had done the trip without a car, so we took the bus to Gander and had banked on the kindness of strangers to get the extra 45 minutes out the rural Gander Bay Road to the terminal. When I was a kid, you could hitchhike anywhere in Newfoundland, and it wouldn’t be long before someone picked you up.

We’d come prepared!

I wasn’t sure how long we’d have to spend on the side of the road, and was astonished to find it only took 6 minutes before we were picked up by a great guy named Randy. He told us he was only going as far as a bridge that’s about halfway there, but that was fine, we’d just find another ride the rest of the way.

When we got to the causeway at the halfway point, he decided to just take us the rest of the way to the ferry. Just for the hell of it. Just because he was an awesome guy. He wouldn’t take any money for gas, and by 2pm we were at the ferry dock. Unreal. I was worried be stuck in Gander overnight.

At the ferry we had no problem finding a ride across the island. We weren’t even on the boat yet and we met a guy who secured a ride for us with his niece and her husband- who happened to be the first cousin of my good friend from Fogo. That’s Fogo – everyone knows someone, or has a relation to them. We made it to our destination before dinner time. It made the homecoming that much more sweet.

It was not only incredible to be back home on Fogo Island, but it was sweetened by being able to bring Maria with me and share my spiritual home with her. (Corny!) We had traveled to the most north-eastern tip of Canada, and stayed in a heritage home that was only metres away from the most north-eastern tip on the whole island.

DSC_9974The Sexton house, where we stayed.

From the kitchen window at the back of the house, we watched minke whales feeding as the sun began to set. From across the road at the front of the house, we saw humpback whales breaching and leaping into the air. Fogo island has a certain kind of magic that can’t be explained. Those who make the effort to travel out there immediately understand it.

DSC_9721View from the kitchen

DSC_9955View from the window above the kitchen sink.

DSC_9934View from my favourite spot in the attic.

Town of Tilting:
DSC_9715The new Fogo Island Inn in Joe Batt’s Arm.

Eastern_TickleA view of Eastern Tickle on the north side of the island, hiking toward the small inlet called Lion’s Den.

DSC_9804Pitcher plant (think Newfoundland’s version of the Venus Flytrap.)

DSC_9921View of Lion’s Den, where my grandfather’s family once lived before they moved into the town of Fogo. If you can read the plaque you’ll see our family mentioned there.

FogoPanoramic of the town of Fogo.

The following are from the Bleak House Museum in Fogo, where many of my family’s personal items are on loan:
We had timed our trip to see my friend Craig compete in The Fogo Island Punt Race, a somewhat new annual event that features a rowboat race across the open Atlantic ocean – 11 kms there and back. The race had been scheduled for Saturday, but was hastily postponed on Friday night for fear of rough seas the next day. Turns out the next day was in fact, a great day for rowing, and that Sunday, the day of the race, turned out to be challenging for everyone. 3 teams had to be taken off the water due to rough seas.

Craig and Kevin did it though, winning the race in 1 hour and 50 minutes – a time Maria had precisely predicted the day before! The next team came in 28 minutes later.

We left Fogo with Craig and returned to St. John’s for our flight back to Toronto. I always hate to leave the island. It never fails to break my heart, a sentiment shared by most people who visit there. The only thing that makes it possible is knowing that one day I’ll be back. Every return there for me is a great recharge, a resettling of molecules overly-jostled by travel and the experience of other cultures.  One day I’d love to have a summer home there.

Toronto (Part II)

We had just about a week to say our farewells to friends and family back in Toronto. We had to pack our things in preparation for our move to Mongolia, and collect all of the things we were told might be hard to get there. I took the opportunity in Toronto to invest in some photography lights, so that upon our arrival to Ulaanbaatar I will have with me a portable photo studio. Something to keep me occupied during those long cold winters.

We said our goodbyes for another few years, and left for BC to see my family one more time.


So begins the next part of our lives – a two (or more) year stint in Mongolia where we will work as teachers. Other than work, I’ll be busy padding my photography portfolio, working on a novel I’ve outlined over the summer, and might even DJ a bit on the side (brought my mixer with me just in case!) I have a feeling our lives there will provide ample material for creative pursuits.

After 5 months of being on the road, constantly moving from place to place and living out of bags and suitcases, we’re both ready to do nothing for at least the next year. Nothing seems more exciting to both of us right now than the idea of getting to our new apartment, unpacking, and starting this next chapter.

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Posted by on August 7, 2013 in Life Abroad, Oh Canada


Best Summer Ever

April – Thailand / Vancouver Island

I started April in Thailand – finishing up a CELTA (ESL teaching certification) course I was taking to broaden my teaching skills. During my stay there I made some great friends both in the CELTA program and at the Anusarn Cabaret in Chiang Mai.

Maria and I had seen the cabaret show there the year before, and I had always wanted to go back to do a photo shoot. I contacted the manager, a great guy who graciously allowed me to be a fly on the wall during the course of their nightly preparation and performance.

The level of practice and skill that goes into their performances is awesome. They do a ten show rotation for the sake of anyone who might want to go to the show more than once on their visit to Chiang Mai. If you’re ever there, you must see their show (and tip them after because it’s free!)


See the full collection here.

I departed for Canada shortly after, having not been home for over 3 years. My family lives on Vancouver Island, so I stopped in there for a few weeks to re-adjust to Canadian society. I had heard many stories about ex-pats who undergo reverse culture shock after being away for some time, so relaxing at my mother’s ocean-view condo was a nice way to adapt. Surprisingly jet lag wasn’t much of an issue (I had nothing to do anyway) and the hardest part of readjusting was getting used to how LARGE everything was. Roads, box store complexes, and people. My brother and I spent a lot of time hiking and taking road trips.


May – GTA (Greater Toronto Area)

Returned to Toronto to prepare for our wedding. Met Maria’s parents (followed by a somewhat harrowing KGB-style interrogation upon sitting down with her father,) which was sealed with alcohol and the donning of formal attire.

Two things I learned about weddings; no matter how you want to do it, there will be many people who want you to do things a different way. And no matter what you budget, it’s going to cost twice as much. The minute you say “wedding”, people are generally out to gouge you. They know you’ve got the budget, and they know you want it to be the biggest day ever. Largely due to the kindness of well-connected friends, we were able to keep things somewhat simple and affordable in the end, and none of the preparations got too out of hand. You can read more about the details at Maria’s blog here.

June – GTA / Atlantic Canada

Why have a wedding on one day when you can have it on two? Since we were busy preparing, we didn’t have a lot of time to see friends in May, and we had planned to be out of the GTA by mid-June. While the formal ceremony took place on May 31, we thought it best to have the party on the following day so that we had time to enjoy both events without having to rush around too much and miss the moment. It was still rushed, of course, but it was more enjoyable in the end.

The wedding party at The Great Hall was the best, most bittersweet night of my life. Our friends helped out with the venue, the photography, and the catering. The hardest part was wanting to talk to so many people all night, and having such little time to do it. Sadly, I only got to see a lot of the friends for that night only, and I knew I wouldn’t get to see them again for a few more years. It’s hard to see a night like that end.


Special thanks to David Shuken and Ivona Stefanski for taking the photos that night!

Next: The 5 week honeymoon – Atlantic Canada

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Posted by on August 6, 2013 in Life Abroad, Oh Canada


It’s the simple things. Like treats from home…

Lemon Creams and Coconut Caramel Logs


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Posted by on October 5, 2011 in Oh Canada


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Harper Finally Earns Canadian Trust

May 3, 2011

Harper Finally Earns Canadian Trust

So. Canada now has a Conservative Government. A Conservative majority government. For five years Canadians dodged it, never trusting Stephen Harper quite enough to give him full control of the reigns of a historically left-of-centre nation. But something has happened. Today we have a Conservative majority and while most people I know seem completely devastated by this outcome, it certainly implies that some number of Canadians think Harper has proven that he deserves the keys to the house. So let’s look at that.

What exactly has Harper done to earn the trust of Canadians after a five year run? Looking back:

The political climate of 2005 was hot. The Liberals were in trouble due to the sponsorship scandal which in short, saw government money being misused for the sake of more or less buying votes. Sheila Fraser, Canada’s Auditor General, revealed the scandal and The Gomery Inquest gave us the details.

After a non-confidence vote led by the Conservatives, we had an election in January of 2006.  As a result of cashing in on the Liberal scandal and a healthy dose of moral outrage, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won a minority government. The Liberals remained the official opposition by 21 fewer seats.

At the time, two major points of the Conservative platform were:

1. Government Accountability (and “providing real protection for whistleblowers”)

2. Senate Reform

There were other issues, (health care, gun registry, social issues) but for the sake of brevity I’m going to focus on these matters.

Regarding that trust. Let’s visit a brief timeline of Harper’s government since he took over in 2006.

May 2006: Harper shuns the Ottawa press gallery and vows to speak to media on the road who “want to ask questions and hear what the government is doing” because “the [Ottawa] press gallery has taken the view they are going to be the opposition to the government.” Yes, the Ottawa press gallery had asked the Prime Minister of Canada questions about his policies.

December 2008: To avoid a non-confidence vote, Stephen Harper convinced Governor General Michaëlle Jean to prorogue parliament, shutting the Canadian government down until late January. It should be noted that this was immediately following a second election in which Stephen Harper took his second minority government, and was now trying to ram through some policies that he knew would not be popular with the opposition. Without a majority win and a lack of support for his policies, it seemed as though he had decided to pull his hockey net out of the game and take it home.

December 2009: Exactly one year after his first successful prorogation (and quietly, the day before New Year’s Eve,) Stephen Harper phoned Michaëlle Jean to request a second prorogue, so he could “consult with Canadians about the economy” until March. Oh, and it was time for the winter Olympics, too. That’s right, he phoned in the request to suspend parliament, and Jean gave it to him for a second time. Many Canadians were not impressed.

In what had to be a total coincidence, the rest of Canada was awaiting a report on Canada’s handling of detainees in Afghanistan, and Canada’s role in their torture there, although Harper was pretty sure Canadians didn’t care. Even the American conservative magazine The Economist couldn’t help but point a finger at the auspicious timing of the prorogue.

The Afghan Detainee Issue:

By this time it was becoming clear that Stephen Harper’s 2006 platform had been little more than moral banner waving after the Liberal scandal. After denying any involvement of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan, it soon became clear that Canada might in fact have violated human rights laws there. Here is a more concise timeline of that matter.

After claiming they would champion the cause of whistleblowers by means of real protection, the Harper government was quick to silence Richard Colvin’s testimony about the handling of Afghan detainees. Since then, Colvin has faced numerous obstacles as a result of trying to tell the truth.

Questionable Company

It’s not a good sign when the integrity commissioner you appoint to field whistleblower complaints in fact buries reports. When this audit was revealed, she stepped down and was given a $500,000 severance package, which might require a subsequent audit.

Unfortunately, the report on the integrity commissioner was barred from release until after the 2011 election. Also unfortunate was that an audit into inappropriate G8 spending (in which Conservatives spent millions in public funds in their ridings- see Tony Clement below) and the Afghan Detainee report were also suspended until after the election. These big issues might have had too much sway in people making an informed decision about who should lead their democracy.

Christiane Ouimet, the integrity commissioner of questionable integrity is not the only questionable person from Harper’s party. Let’s have a quick look at some of the company he keeps:

Bev Oda: MP Durham
Minister for International Cooperation
Says she did not intentionally mislead anyone when she denied changing the wording of a letter that denied funding to a charity who supported abortion. She was found prima facie in contempt by the Speaker for having lied, but parliament was dissolved before she could actually be found in contempt. None of it matters though when people reelect you anyway, as she was. Go Oshawa.

Parm Gill: MP Brampton – Springdale
“You need immigration help? Talk to Parm Gill.” As recently as last week, Gill has been accused of exploiting his connections with Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to fast-track the immigration process for constituents, making him an obvious favourite with voters. Ethics or fraud? No, votes! Gill won his riding.

Jason Kenny: MP: Calgary Southeast
Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism
Gill’s good friend also vehemently denies any underhanded deals despite calls for an investigation. There’s also this small matter… but who cares, because he won also.

Tony Clement: MP Parry Sound-Muskoka
Minister of Industry
Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario
If you remember the summer of 2010 when hundreds of people were getting arrested or beaten by G8 police on the streets of Toronto, you might remember the G8 itself. For that G8 event, millions were spent in rural areas of near-north Ontario, in Tony Clement’s riding.  Some of the money was spent on G8 facilities, but most was spent on sites that international leaders would never even visit. Nevertheless, it made Clement’s constituents happy, as they demonstrated with his most recent re-election.

The irony is not lost in the case of the upcoming G8 report, that something smells oddly familiar of the ad scandal on which they brought down the Liberal government. Funny that the same outrage seems to be missing amid Conservative voters.

Honourable Mention:
Helena Guergis: former MP Simcoe—Grey
Geurgis only gets an honourable mention for two reasons. One, she was most recently running as an independent in her riding (she lost to the Conservative representative) because Harper kicked her out of the party. Two, because she didn’t actually do anything, but was made to look dirty despite everything else that goes on in the Conservative party. I still don’t quite get this one. No one except Stephen Harper does.

Contempt of Parliament

Stephen Harper’s party is the first in the history of any commonwealth to be found guilty of contempt of parliament after he repeatedly tried to hide the true cost of a prison-expansion project in a time when the crime rate has been consistently falling. I’ve heard Conservatives say “well it’s only because the opposition voted for the charge.” Let’s be clear. While the opposition voted for the charge, it’s because there was substantial evidence that proved that there was just cause for a contempt charge. That’s why they were found in contempt. It was not a conspiracy.

Senate Reform

No Senate reform after all,  and so he just decided to just fill it with his buds.

It’s the Economy, Stupid

Of course it is. It’s always the economy. Everyone needs some scratch, especially those who don’t feel they have enough.

For the last two years we’ve been listening to Harper talk about his expert handling of the economy, and how he has to stay in power to save Canada from the rest of the world as it crashes around us. We’re consistently reminded of how the economy is doing wonderfully and how the employment rate is rising. Canada is pretty much an economic promise land for everyone, as long as the other parties don’t get control of the reigns.

Perhaps Canada’s amazing position is why Jim Flaherty consistently denied that there were any economic problems facing Canada in 2008. Right. Then, as the economic crisis worsened throughout 2009, Flaherty conceded that maybe there was a slight recession.

We’ve heard that employment has been on the rise in Canada. That might be the case if you want to go work at McDonald’s or Tim Horton’s because yes, involuntary part-time work is on the rise. So let’s not get too clickety-heeled about the economy yet, and try to stay pragmatic. It is, after all, one of the reasons I am working in Asia instead of Canada. How has the economy been for you and the people you know?

One of the reasons that Canada’s economy appears to be staying strong overall is due to rising global oil prices. We have a lot of oil. Oil is valuable. Harper is unbeatable throughout Alberta because he believes in the tar sands. He understands it, he supports it, he has been accused of receiving a considerable amount of funding from it. He is dismantling environmental initiatives in Canada, has scrapped commitment to the Kyoto Accord, and begrudgingly made an appearance at the Copenhagen Accord when Canadians protested the announcement he would not attend. In the end, he made no commitment.

In Canada, he keeps oil regulation slack, and provides major tax cuts to the oil industry under the argument of not damaging the economy or employment. He says Canada’s oil is “ethical oil” despite grave environmental concerns. As global environmental alarm about the Alberta tar sands grows, Harper doesn’t seem to hear it. Or he reasons that “he wants the global community to abide by the same rules.” Which, of course is an easy way to not do anything about it. When you are one of the world’s largest polluters, and one of the world’s strongest economies, you could be the leader of an initiative to make things better instead of sitting on your hands and suggesting other people do something first. That’s what leaders do.

Harper doesn’t seem to like the scientific evidence. He doesn’t like data. He doesn’t like the arts.  What does Harper like?

Control. Stephen Harper loves control. That’s why he was so happy when he won a majority. Commentators noted his smile, and that they had never really seen it. He talked of “hope,” but hope is more than trickling economic growth. He said he will work with other parties. Of course he said it. He was just so happy to finally have control that he can’t wait to share it.

Apparently, Canadians trust him with that control.

Looking Forward

We have some problems in Canada.

The first one is voter turnout. Perhaps a democracy has become too comfortable when people can afford to be disengaged in the political process of their country. When you can shrug, or decide you don’t like any of the candidates, or think they’re just all crooks anyway, or any other reason that might stop you from voting… and then you can still afford to live under the democratic umbrella that many countries do not share, you have to agree that you’ve got it made. To paraphrase Rick Mercer – thinking of countries like Libya or Egypt, you have to admit it’s kind of nice that we’ve never had to die for our democracy. We’ve never had to see anyone we love die for it – unless you know someone in the armed forces, and have seen them go out to various parts of the world to fight for someone else’s democracy. A democracy that we have the luxury of leaving on cruise-control.

Proportional representation is another issue. But I’m not going to get into that now, I’m just going to paste a link because it’s something we all need to think about as we go forward.

The willingness to elect politicians mired in scandal is another. See above. Seriously, what’s up with that? Do Conservative supporters really care nothing about ethics or accountability?

So we know who’s not voting. Who IS voting? A huge portion of the voting population falls into the baby-boomer demographic.  They’ve been around longer, they have more experience, a longer collective memory. Perhaps that’s what we call wisdom. Or perhaps it’s what we can’t recognize as bias. As times change, parties change. Countries and societies change. But if you have a romantic attachment to a party for what it represented to you or your father thirty years ago, if you’re one of the party faithful, would you stop to consider your views outdated?

I’m not claiming that all of the baby-boomers voted for Harper. I know a lot of them usually vote Liberal. But the Liberal vote was way down, and the NDP vote was up, largely thanks to Quebec, and a possible surge of young people who were first-time voters, or switched from Liberal. But more importantly, the Conservative vote was up. So it would seem there was some part of the otherwise Liberal vote who got scared of the idea of voting for the far-left NDP and instead went to the Conservatives. Yes, I am looking at you.

Someone had to have trusted Stephen Harper. A lot of people did. Not necessarily an actual majority of Canadians did, but a lot did. And I would love to know what you are basing that trust on. Because if it was you, baby-boomers, I know you have memory. You must remember all the things that the Harper government has been pulling in the last six years. So what was it? Bias? Your pension? The perceived less of three evils? Default loyalty to the Conservative Party? Come on. I don’t know how anyone could make that argument when looking at the (only partial) list above. And don’t talk to me about what a party might have done to you or for you thirty years ago. None of the parties are the same as they were thirty years ago. You yourself are not even the same as you were thirty years ago.

I don’t know what it was, or what led us here. I do know that Stephen Harper is motivated by two things; power and power. He’s a historical Prime Minister in many ways; a man of firsts. First PM to ever prorogue Canadian parliament [EDIT: I was wrong. Chretien was also known for pulling this move,] first government of any commonwealth country to be found in contempt of parliament, and of course maybe the first to lead us into an ICC-led human rights investigation. Don’t you see your country changing?

He always says it’s about the economy, but I keep coming back to an old saying that early Canadians have passed down to us. Ironically, they come from the Alberta and prairie regions too. Long before Harper built a nest there, and long before we tore up the ground there for tar sands faster than we could build the machines to do it.

Only when the last tree has died
and the last river been poisoned
and the last fish been caught
will we realise we cannot eat money.

-Cree Indian Proverb

I hope to see you sometime after October 19, 2015, Canada.


Posted by on May 3, 2011 in Oh Canada


And meanwhile back home…

All right aside from the Korea experience, my attention has been diverted back to Canada this week due to the ongoing political situation there.

This week doesn’t really contain any surprises as parliament resumes after Stephen Harper’s most recent prorogation, and by no surprises I mean the dawning realization that the prorogation was in fact just a weak-handed attempt to avoid accountability.

We know that Harper was empowered only by a Liberal scandal, since Canadians had consistently denied him of federal leadership until that point. We know that during that campaign, Harper championed the issue of “government accountability”, an issue that he has ironically dogged throughout his minority leadership, most notably through his latest prorogation. He has consistently shown contempt for the concept of transparent government on which he based his entire campaign. (more)

A politician who does an about-face on campaign promises is nothing new. It’s nothing less than we could have expected from Stephen Harper. But what bothers me most is what lies under the issue of the Afghan detainees that Harper has been so fervently trying to dodge.

Harper consistently uses the line “The Canadian Forces have conducted themselves with the highest performance of all countries,” as recently as this past Thursday. Every time the issue of the Afghan detainees comes to his door, he answers with the suggestion that anyone is blaming the Canadian military for being some kind of torture-mongers. The fact is that this is not at all the case.

What many Canadian want to really know is if Afghan detainees were handed over for torture, was this a matter of policy? The military serve the bidding of those in charge; that’s what they are trained to do. They’re not in Afghanistan because they wanted to go there. They went because at the time the Canadian government deployed them. The military acts as an arm of the Canadian government, and the issue of prisoner transfer is a matter of policy, not tactical whim. By suggesting anyone is blaming the Canadian Forces for being complicit in the torture of these detainees is a completely underhanded. Harper implies that if you want to know the truth about Afghan detainees, well then you must think that the Canadian military are wrong in what they have done. And by questioning the Canadian military, you undermine their mission and fail to support them in their work and morality. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

This type of politics tastes like the Bush-Cheney era, when you were “with us or you are with the terrorists”. If Canadians are inquisitive about what’s going on in Afghanistan, they somehow undermine morale in the Canadian military. What an utterly ridiculous claim.

If Afghan detainees were handed over for torture, it was a matter of policy set by the Harper government and dates perhaps as far back as the Liberal leadership. To suggest that the Canadian Forces are doing anything else is to deflect blame from Harper’s own policy onto the military. By defending the military, Harper is actually blaming the military for the charges at hand.

By holding the Canadian military up as some sort of patriotic shield against the larger issue at hand is the lowest form of politics. Harper has consistently side-stepped, obstructed, and denied the detainee torture issue from the outset, and now uses our military to hide behind Canada’s desire to get to the bottom of the issue by suggesting that Canadians are blaming them for possible war crimes.

As the issue progresses I hope we find out what was written in the heavily-redacted document first submitted by Richard Colvin. Whatever it is that Stephen Harper doesn’t want us to see should reveal a lot about his style of politics, further expose his true feelings about government transparency, reveal what his policies were on the issue of torture, and possibly even uncover evidence of war crimes at the highest level of government.

To suggest Stephen Harper is crusading to protect the integrity of the Canadian Armed Forces is ridiculous. He’s fighting to save his own party’s reputation, fighting a possible charge of contempt of Parliament, and he’s using our military to do it.

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Posted by on March 6, 2010 in Oh Canada