U.S. water ruling bodes ill for Manitoba

(August 18, 2017)

I have grown up with the story of the Garrison Diversion Project.

Since the 1970s, everyone this side of the border who understands ecosystems — and anyone with a shred of common sense — knows this project is a disaster for the waterways in Manitoba that are fed by the Red River.

Junior high-school biology students still have no trouble understanding the science — I was one, when construction first began, and nothing has changed since. We have even more evidence of the problems of invasive species, along with the northward migration of new species of flora and fauna, thanks to a warming climate. (Check out the pictures of flying Asian carp in the Mississippi River, for example.)

Without environmental approvals or acceptance by the International Joint Commission that resulted from the Boundary Waters Act of 1909, it has been built in fits and starts over the past 50 years anyway. The Garrison Diversion Project/Northwest Area Water Supply is as much of a monument to self-serving American pork-barrel politics as the disappearance of the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan is a monument to Soviet economic planning from the same time period. Avoidable ecological catastrophes, both.

Budget after budget, representatives from North Dakota managed to get money for this (unapproved) project to supply water to Minot and other communities by tacking some funding onto whatever federal legislation they could, as the price of their support for tightly contested bills.

Which brings us to today, as all that was needed for the metaphorical switch to be flicked and the diversion opened is the kind of legal decision finally delivered in Washington, D.C., by an American judge last Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled the Northwest Area Water Supply project complies with federal environmental law, dismissing the objections of Manitoba and the State of Missouri.

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Close-to-home roots make small business sustainable

(August 4, 2017)

Small business is small for a reason.

It could be a new business, starting to grow. It could have been a larger business, one that failed to thrive and was forced to shrink its operations.

Most likely, however, it is small because it is intended to be that way. The goal of small business is sustainability, which means expansion can be the enemy of survival. Health and growth are not two sides of the same fish.

Of course, many of the headlines these days are grabbed by Skip The Dishes, the small business that grew. Yet anyone with a memory for headlines also will remember Loewen Group, a funeral home conglomerate that started small in Steinbach — and how quickly the dream imploded after a few years.

We need to see past the headlines to understand the importance of small businesses for a sustainable future.

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In All of Us Command

— Evening shadows at the National War Memorial, Ottawa

It is Canada’s 150th birthday today. Later on, after celebrating with family and friends, I will be with a large group of people at the Forks, the historic junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers where trade and settlements go back thousands of years.

We will sing O Canada, and – as I have done every time since 2003 – I will change the words from “true patriot love/in all thy sons command” and sing instead “in all of us command.”

In 2003, I began teaching history to students in the Canadian military, through the Royal Military College. The first time I looked at my class list, then out into the room, I knew I could never sing those outdated and entirely inaccurate words again.

The number of women in the Canadian Armed Forces – in all branches, including combat arms – continues to rise. It is a reflection of the ideas about equality that underpin what we do as Canadians, even if we need constant reminders about past (and present) injustices.

It’s not just about what we do, either, but about who we are as a nation and who we are, as citizens.

The proposed change to the national anthem to bring the rest of the country in line for today with what I have been singing for fourteen years have been thwarted by unelected, largely Conservative, mostly (if not entirely) white and male senators.

On a day when we mark our birthday as a nation, their actions remind us how the self-serving and self-interested defence of unmerited privilege threatens the sustainable future not only of our country, but of the whole planet.

It would be easy to associate their actions with patriarchy and misogyny – the barriers that women world wide, including in Canada, must continue to overcome. I consider their attitude more insidious and dangerous than that, however – it is what lies behind racism, religious intolerance and hatred of those who are different, for whatever reason.

More specifically, it is the same attitude that protects personal and corporate privilege, the power to continue to do as one pleases, regardless of the social, cultural or ecological consequences. It is what we have to overcome, and quickly, in order to make the changes to how we live together on this planet, if we want our children and grandchildren to be able to have any kind of a sustainable future.

It may seem a leap to associate those few, unchanged words with such an outcome, but (as national anthems tend to be) they are symbolic of who we are and who we should be as citizens of Canada — and of Earth.

Those women in uniform who looked back at me in that first class had made the personal choice, for their own reasons, to serve Canada at the risk of their own lives, if necessary. They had chosen to protect the people and the institutions of the country, even those mostly white and male Conservative senators. It seems a small thing to offer the nation’s respect for their service by changing a few words.

I’m an historian, so the various attempts at historicizing the national anthem and claiming purity with past traditions as justification for leaving things unchanged are just as lame to me as they sound. It is not about protecting tradition, but preserving privilege.

Things change – and so they should. As First Nations people remind us, the historical record of settlement and colonization reflects many injustices toward aboriginal peoples in Canada.

Our record of injustice toward the other children of Earth who are not human is even worse. We are called “to live with respect in Creation” just as much as we are called to live with respect toward each other.

If we had an anthem for being citizens of Earth, those should be lyrics it includes.

For now, for all of us, and for a sustainable future, those few words can make a difference in how we think about each other and our collective responsibility toward those who will follow us in this place.

O Canada, our home and native land.
True patriot love, in all of us command.

If you are a Canadian, please choose for yourself to sing those words, every time you have a chance to sing the national anthem.

It’s not about who we were, but who we are – and about whom we hope to become.

Miigwech.