The Walrus Blog

Category Archive: Open Letters

Dear Fellow Torontonians

A lament for the student protests of Montreal — which could never happen here
Montreal street protestYanik CrépeauScene from an earlier (March 22, 2012) street protest in Montreal.

Dear fellow Torontonians:

I went to Montreal last weekend, one of the few times I’ve returned since graduating from McGill, and as I stood outside Mont Royal station with my bag, peering through the rain for the restaurant where my friends were waiting, I heard loud dance beats echoing against the boulangeries and bike shops. Immediately thereafter — they must have turned a corner and I didn’t notice — a crowd of boisterous Montrealers marched toward me. They came down the street, pots banging, their red felt squares prominently dividing me from them. The mood was festive and determined — placards calling for the end of the Charest era and the freezing of tuition fees left no doubt this was a protest — but whole families took part: small children, elderly couples, and mothers (some of whom identified themselves as “mères en colère“) mixed in with young people: students, I assumed. And while marchers blared their long, rainbow-coloured horns toward surrounding buildings, residents came out onto balconies to wave and cheer, including a small group of blue-robed nuns, who in turn were greeted with raucous whooping from the crowd.

And as I stood on the sidelines with my Toronto bus ticket still in my back pocket, I felt dejected, and wished we were so brave. What kind of city is ours that this scene would never play itself out here? Imagine King Street office workers heading up to Bloor and joining U of T students’ protests against raising tuition fees. Can’t do it? Me neither.

I immigrated to Canada at six years old, and as a child in grey suburban Toronto, always felt disconnected from the city’s political life. Like somehow people were engaged, and involved, somewhere I couldn’t see. But I wonder now if maybe the political community I had imagined doesn’t exist. I give Toronto the benefit of the doubt, but it is tough to stomach its political apathy. St. James Park never had more than a few hundred people for Occupy Toronto, and a few thousand joined in early day marches. The G20 protests, surrounding a homegrown event, had some 10,000 participants — less impressive in light of the damage, much of it done by mask-wearing young people, that shamed so many of us. Milder protests failed to draw the same keynote attention, and the legacy of that day is empty. Our recent half-hearted attempts at protests in solidarity with Montreal barely crawl into our newspapers, the nation’s largest. (more…)

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“Dear Friends”

A letter to Canadians from Jack Layton

Dear Friends,

Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination.

Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.

I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.

I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.  (more…)

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Dear Jack Layton

Another letter to the Leader of the Opposition

I think I speak for most, if not all, Canadians when I mutter “damn it” and sigh heavily.

The reason Canadians of all political leanings paused at your announcement yesterday is because cancer has an eerie but largely unspoken grasp on everyone. Few among us are untouched by the disease, and this latest news of yours is a reminder that life has a way of shaking even the sturdiest of foundations, especially, it seems, when we could really use the stability. A person can’t swing a CT scanner in this country without hitting someone who either has or has had, or knows some who has or has had, cancer. Very little shock lingers after an announcement like yours because disbelief is quickly ousted by a familiar sense of disappointment — not again.

Any oncologist will tell you that cancer is not a single disease; it’s a blanket term for a type of disease that takes on many different forms and implications. Today, while some observers dig around to figure out what particular kind of cancer you’re battling now, others among us know it really doesn’t matter. Any cancer survivor will tell you that cancer is cancer. Regardless of who you are, how old you are, where you are, and what the sickness interrupts: it’s cancer(more…)

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Dear Mr. Prime Minister

A letter to Stephen Harper, leader of the new Conservative majority
Stephen HarperMarco Ventura

Mr. Harper, I would like to congratulate you on winning the majority government you have wanted so badly. I commend you without a hint of irony or facetiousness. This is an achievement you have been working towards for a very long time. You have helped build a small regional party into a truly national coalition — yes, coalition — that includes seats in every region, and a majority of voters from Ontario westward. You have done what would have been thought impossible a decade ago: reduced the grand Liberal Party and its century-long claim to being Canada’s “natural governing party” to a smouldering pile of rubble. And so, on your first day as leader of a majority government, I write you with best wishes, but also a request: handle us with care.

You have your majority; you can work unimpeded by these annoying elections. Your power has proliferated, and now has four years to manifest itself however you choose. Please choose wisely. The country you still lead is a deeply divided nation today. Your party may have won support from coast to coast to coast, but it did so with only 40 percent of the vote. That other 60 percent includes a lot of people who voted ABC — Anything But Conservative — and awoke this morning feeling angry, afraid, and defeated.

In your victory speech last night, you seemed to extend an olive branch to the 60 percent, saying several times that your government would be a government for all Canadians, not just your party’s supporters. Yet, like the real and genuine concerns of Western Canadians that your party has long represented (and which the other parties, particularly the Liberals, have more or less ignored), the fears and concerns of the 60 percent are real and genuine. Mr. Harper, there is only one person who can ease them: you. (more…)

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Dear “Pierre”

A letter to an election day crank caller

Pierre, the Toronto Star is reporting that you are crank calling potential voters in Guelph, Ontario to report bogus, eleventh-hour changes to the location of their polling stations. What gives? I don’t know who you are, or who you work for. Perhaps you are driven by your own overzealous and paranoid imagination, triggered by fear that the party you support may lose today’s election. Perhaps a similar feeling has overtaken many others across the country who are doing the same ridiculous thing as I write this.

I sincerely hope that is the case — that you and your compatriots are merely a lunatic fringe bent on depraving engaged citizens of their right to select our government. I sincerely hope there is no systematic effort by those with power to undermine our democracy with such dirty tricks. Because you see, Pierre, what is at stake is not simply a few seats here and there, or a majority, minority, or coalition, or a perception of stability versus a perception of change. What’s at stake in this and every election is the health of our democracy, which indicates the health of our society — our ability to live together happily, peacefully, and fruitfully. If we’re able to confront our issues and share in discussion and debate openly, honestly, and honourably, then, at the end of the day, regardless the outcome of the vote, our democracy will remain strong and the institutions that enable and protect it will stay robust.

However, when the debate degenerates into personal attacks or ploys by a partisan government to avoid debate altogether, or when the discussion becomes a scripted performance of hate speech meant to divide and manipulate people in order for one side to win power over the other, well, then our democracy is in serious trouble. And when lowlifes like yourself — enabled or employed by this vicious partisanship — take to crank calling people to try and discourage them from voting, our democracy seems doomed. (more…)

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Dear Stephen Harper

A letter to the Prime Minister
NanosNanos ResearchDaily Nanos Leadership Index for April 26, 2011

On behalf of all Canadians, sir, I would like to thank you. You have done it! You have really done it. You’ve managed to get us interested in federal politics.

This campaign season began several weeks ago with you standing solemnly in an empty Parliament to dismiss a supposedly unwanted election — triggered, of course, by your government being held in contempt of Parliament — as something sure to disappoint Canadians. You didn’t pull this dismissal out of thin air: after all, the last election, held just a couple of years ago, had the lowest turnout in Canadian history; young people between eighteen and twenty-four stayed home in droves, with less than 40 percent bothering to vote. Your party subsequently wrote off the electorate, especially its youngest constituents, and your rivals seemed to agree — in this month’s televised debates, there was very little mention of any issues of interest to young people. It seems like you all assumed that young Canadians won’t vote because they don’t care, so why waste your breaths?

But something has happened. There has been a ground swell of engagement by Canadians of all ages. The internet is ablaze with political talk, more people watched the debates than the NHL playoffs, and on campuses across the country — during final exams — students are holding vote mobs. Vote mobs, Mr. Harper! The very Canadians you dismissed as apathetic, it turns out, aren’t after all. They are forming mobs, sir, and a mob is the next best thing to a riot. (more…)

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Dear Bev Oda

A letter to the Minister of International Cooperation

Ms. Oda, I am writing to inform you that, were I in your riding, I most certainly would not vote for you. Several years ago, as Heritage Minister, your commitment to cruising in limousines at taxpayers’ expense was not admirable; your prioritizing the interests of international entertainment corporations over the outcry of Canadian artists was not praiseworthy.

More recently, you did not do the right thing by sticking to your story about the mysterious “not” that stripped funding from a reputable NGO. Sure, the plan may have backfired and landed you in contempt of Parliament — giving the Opposition reason to call this annoying election — but as the Prime Minister has reminded us, we ordinary Canadians do not care about things like honesty, transparency, and accountability from our federal government. Those are merely words a party says to get elected.

Since taking power, Ms. Oda, your leader has clamped down on every backbencher with a mouth, shut out virtually every journalist with a question, and alienated the millions of non-Conservative voters who have a vested interest in Canada’s democratic institutions. But in times like these, we don’t need chaos (i.e., democracy), do we? The shaky economy demands a firm hand, less criminals must be locked up in more jails, the G20 leaders needed a fake lake, those G8 protesters had to be kettled, and so on. (more…)

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Dear Garry Breitkreuz

A letter to the incumbent MP for Yorkton-Melville, Saskatchewan
Compliments of Garry Breitkreuz, MP“Compliments of Garry Breitkreuz, MP”

Two summers ago I received some rather distasteful mail from you concerning the leader of the Opposition. I was surprised to receive your attention considering that I live in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador — and you are the Conservative MP for the Yorkton-Melville riding, way out in Saskatchewan. As well, I was unaware that an election had been called, and that a bitter campaign that valued name calling and mudslinging over issues and ideas was obviously underway. I thought it odd not to know all of that, because I am usually pretty on top of these things. Surely I would have heard if the government had fallen?

My confusion was short-lived. Of course, there was no election in 2009. Your pamphlet was not campaign material: rather, just some friendly, run-of-the-mill hate mail delivered from halfway across the country. (more…)

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Dear Michael Ignatieff

A letter to the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada
Michael IgnatieffLiberal.caLiberal leader Michael Ignatieff

When I left home for university, I started giving up lent for lent — university, as you know, does that sort of thing to people. Back home, my parents still give up television every year, so when I talked to my mom after last night’s English-language debate, I tried to describe what had happened. I told her what some pundit said afterwards: that Stephen Harper performed the best considering the circumstances — three vs. one — because he stayed calm and “didn’t show his anger.” What that means, Mr. Ignatieff, is you lost because you didn’t win. Not to mention that you showed plenty of anger toward Mr. Harper — and toward Mr. Layton as well, especially when you snapped at him “at least we get into government!”

The frustration makes sense. You must be losing your mind at this point, to have stalled in the polls despite leading the opposition against a minority government that was brought down for contempt of Parliament. Contempt of Parliament for crying out loud! Picking off the Conservatives should be easy, shouldn’t it? For you, Mr. Harper’s shortcomings are as plain as the nose on your face. As the world-renowned intellectual who came home to take charge of what was once called Canada’s natural governing party, well, you’re supposed to be the natural choice to lead us all. It’s a no-brainer! Yet here you are, treading water at 30 percent support to Mr. Harper’s 40 percent. The Conservatives are sitting ducks, and you can’t touch them. You must be furious. You must be blind with rage.

But that’s the problem, sir, blindness and rage. (more…)

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Dear Jack Layton

A letter to the leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada
Jack LaytonNDP.caJack Layton, leader of the NDP

I am not sure if it was ever any different, but in my living political memory elections have never been about ideas, but images. They have never been about substance; they’ve been about style and distraction. They’ve been about making fun of Jean Chrétien’s face or petting a cat because people who pet cats poll as nicer. They’ve been about keeping people’s eyes off the issues of the day and on things like who is in and who is out of the televised debate — never mind that the debate will wind up being a scripted absurdist dramedy of rehearsed monologues spoken over top of one another. Elections have become a contest to see who can make the most outlandish number of promises. And thanks to the increasing frequency of our being subjected to such foolish campaigns, Canadians are rightfully growing a little discouraged by it all.

You see, Jack — may I call you Jack? — your main competitors in this race are populists. By default they appeal to different populations more than others, and they are desperate to expand their appeal so their party can get nicer offices after May 2. As Police Chief Grady said in the movie Super Troopers (which I am sure you appreciate for its sheer volume of moustached heroes): “desperation is a stinky cologne.” You are up against two pungent gentlemen, Misters Harper and Ignatieff, who would each throw the other’s supporters under their own campaign buses if it would mean a bump in the polls.

Just the other day, Mr. Harper promised Newfoundland and Labrador a loan guarantee for the development of the Lower Churchill Falls power project if he were elected (notwithstanding the fact that this is likely to happen, whatever shape the government might take). Meanwhile, Mr. Ignatieff promised hundreds of millions for childcare, because everyone can agree that babies are cute but not very good at taking care of themselves. Tomorrow will bring more of the same sort of attempts to buy a few votes with a few billion in promises. (more…)

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Dear John Baird

A letter to the Conservative House leader
John Baird© House of CommonsHouse leader John Baird

After the Liberal motion to hold the Government of Canada — pardon me, the Harper Government™ — in contempt of Parliament passed on March 25, setting the stage for the upcoming May 2 election, you lashed out at the opposition parties for “forcing an unwanted and unnecessary election on Canadians.” All federal parties, at different times in recent years, have been telling us voters how much we don’t want elections. Your party tells us this to defend itself against the threat of an election. The opposition parties say it to defend their reluctant support of the Harper Government™, and thereby avoid contests which they might lose.

Your fearless leader, Mr. Harper, repeated this mantra when he wrung his hands and sheepishly told Canadians that we would have to go through the rigmarole of voting once again thanks to the recklessness of the opposition, whose threats to unseat a government that governs with contempt, paranoia, tricks, and fear-mongering could have consequences on par with the destructive power of earthquakes, tsunamis, meltdowns, wars, or total economic collapse. As though your watchful eyes and death grip on power are the only things keeping the earth or the World Bank from opening up and swallowing us whole.

The absurdity of this petty fear-mongering is pretty bald-faced, especially when the same coalition concept that Mr. Harper claims will bring the end of days is one that he tried to orchestrate to get himself into power in 2004. This is all worth addressing, and debunking, sure, but the bigger problem at the moment is this perception that you and your colleagues have of elections being the biggest nuisance imaginable. Mr. Baird, I am writing to tell you that you have it backwards. It isn’t elections that are the problem; it is you and your kind, and your insistence that democracy is a tremendous pain in the neck to be avoided at all costs. (more…)

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