Sunday, June 27, 2004

Canada Politics, Palliative Care, Toronto Pride

Blogging can be a vent for frustration, or it can be a sanctuary to visit to re-establish your Self.

When flying to Canada from Britain, I recommend Canadian Affair, who run a service by charter planes from Mytravel (what used to be Airtours). Compared with Air Canada (see March posting), you get a cheerful planeful of attractive trolley dollies, the much nicer Airbus planes, and seat-back television, all else being equal.

There is a federal election here on Monday, and while the rest of the world doesn't rate Canada as anything more than the Great White North (of the USA), the newspapers and TV have been relentless in their coverage of politics in the run-up. Of course, Canadians are zealous about protecting the democratic processes of their system of separate federal, provincial and municipal layers of government. By comparison, the British democratic process still seems like a mish-mash concoction.

Paul Martin is Prime Minister of Canada and he is a Liberal. He was Finance Minister for 10 years and then inherited the PM's job from Jean Chretien, the French-speaking chain-smoking, ex-Trudeau-cabinet veteran who speaks out of one side of his face. PM (how convenient his initials are!) is from a political dynasty apparently, with a dad who almost himself made it to the top in Canada. He is wealthy, a successful businessman, and has been graced with a charmed life nearly as fortunate as Pierre Trudeau's. The difference is that Paul Martin was handsome, but has already lost much of his looks, and is becoming deferentially sage with age, whereas Pierre Trudeau was still at his peak of playboy manhood in his late 50's.

He is being challenged by a most untrustworthy looking Steven Harper of the Conservatives, which have been formed from what was left from the Progressive Conservatives after Brian Mulroney, and an alliance from Alberta that is very Texas-redneck-like. Steven Harper is the classic Corporation Man, from head to toe. Ugh! Not a look I go for...

Finally, on the Left, which again has little similarity to the British definition, is the New Democratic Party, headed by Jack Layton. Easily the man with the most electable personality, but from the party that is historically associated with car factory workers and hard-working union members, he will probably have to content himself with being the coalition vote in what is expected to be a minority government.

One wonderful thing about travelling, as opposed to merely going on holiday, is being reminded how wherever you go, people mostly think their world is the centre of the universe. Even in Canada they do this, although right next to the USA. They achieve this perception by viewing themselves as the conscience of North American society. Which is probably why Michael Moore, he who has recently released Fahrenheit 9/11, looks to Canada as a role model for the U.S.A. Of course, in Britain, people also think they are at the centre of the universe, and regardless of how broad a coverage of global news the BBC presents, the tone and the perspective values is inescapably, parochially, self-centred. So really, it's not surprising that for most of history, the Sun revolved around the Earth.


My Dad is alive, but very much a palliative-care Cancer patient. His entire quality of life, what little there is, depends on morphine. I keep thinking back to my school-day readings of "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee, where an old lady is sick and bedridden, and the two innocent kids are forced by their dad, Atticus, to go visit her at the same time every day to read aloud. After she dies they learn from their dad why they had to do this task. She wanted to die without the morphine that she had been getting, and it was the time of day when she would normally have had her fix.

I've learnt to distance myself from the sickness and the fading of Life, enough to be useful and helpful. This I always knew intellectually, since it is obvious that Doctors, Nurses and Care Workers face this sort of thing and have to see it as Work. It does amaze me though, how much distance there is between Empathy and Pragmatism. In Empathy, you can project yourself into the patient's mind, and be entirely burdened and depressed by how dreadful it all is. In Pragmatism, you can laugh, live, lust your own detached way, while you help the patient without imagining too much about how it would be if you were they.....

They are the two extremes, Empathy and Pragmatism, and like a clock pendulum, I need to unwind and settle somewhere into the middle of them.

Empathy: How must it be to be trapped in that limbo of the scarcely living? You know that outside, people are doing everything, as you once did, but now you can't even go to the toilet without assistance,and know you never will again?

Pragmatism: How to help him: to get through the day; to take the medicines to not feel too much of the pain; to be there when he wants to do anything, which can be as simple as trying to sit up in bed or shift the bed clothes, or as normal as playing a game of Scrabble.

It's all a very big subject, and this is still just a tiny blog from my tiny mind.


Toronto has its gay Pride this weekend. Typically, they have long since dropped the gay label and officially just call it Pride (in any diversity that you may represent). It is mostly gay, of course. Unlike London which has a Pride March, Toronto has a Pride Parade. The Pride parade in Toronto was a dazzling demonstration of Gay extravagance back in the days before the Aids crisis, and I am told it has in recent years returned to those glorious heights. Having a Parade versus a March just about says it all about the difference in Political culture between Canada and Britain, and not just
as you would think, the difference in Gay culture.

This is the same difference in political culture which caused the Toronto Gay Community to virtually collapse in the mid-Eighties under the weight of the Aids crisis, while in Britain, there was a genius campaign to stop its spread, and a brilliant support network to help those who were dying.

In times of crisis, Britain historically is well-inclined to make a pragmatic assault against the cause of the crisis.

In times of stability, Canada knows how to Live.

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