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Terry Aislin Mosher, Michel Groleau, Mark Reid On Thin Ice

Canada’s History

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Winner/Gagnant

Terry Aislin Mosher, Michel Groleau, Mark Reid On Thin Ice

Canada’s History


Evan Jones

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Canada’s History

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On Thin Ice In 1972, the Montreal Gazette’s Terry Mosher (a.k.a. Aislin) was in Moscow to cover the Canada-Russia Summit Series. Here’s how hockey’s cold war unfolded, as seen through Aislin’s eyes — and pen. by Terry Mosher

Drowning our sorrows

F

orty years ago, Toe Blake’s Tavern was a busy place on any Saturday night. But on the night of September 2, 1972, the place was jammed to its fluorescent-lit rafters with patrons wanting to watch the first game of the momentous Canada-Russia hockey series. The game was being played a few short blocks away in the old Montreal Forum. We arrived early to ensure we had seats. I was with my pal Nick Auf der Maur, a notorious local journalist, boulevardier, and left-leaning gadfly. He was the only person in the room cheering for the Soviets. The

mood in the room was like that all over Canada — initial optimistic euphoria that rapidly changed to shock and anger as the Soviet team quickly gained the upper hand. I sketched the souring faces around me after each successive Russian goal, ending with a final doodle of a beaming Auf der Maur after Russian goal number seven! After the drawings ran in my newspaper, the Montreal Gazette, I was asked to illustrate a book on the series that would be written by Jack Ludwig. A three-way deal between the Gazette, McClelland and Stewart and Maclean’s magazine was arranged to pay my way to Moscow. What follows are my notes and cartoons following each successive game. Canada’s History

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What’s in a name?

T

he second game was played in Toronto. I again watched alongside a nervous crowd in Toe Blake’s. Cautious relief was expressed after Canada won the game handily 4–1. Several of our players put up sterling performances, including Montreal hometown favourites

Yvan Cournoyer and Serge Savard. In the tavern, we noted that the legendary Toronto hockey broadcaster, Foster Hewitt, had done his homework by thoroughly memorizing the names of all of the Soviet players. However, as usual, and typical of many Englishspeaking Canadians, Hewitt mangled the pronunciation of all of the French-Canadian player’s names.

Getting schooled

T

he action for Game 3 shifted to Winnipeg, where one of the hardest-fought games of the whole series ended in a 4–4 tie. I realized, watching this game, that Soviet winger Valeri Kharlamov was one of the best hockey players I had ever seen. He dazzled us with crisp discipline that we had not witnessed in our NHL stars for some time. 34

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Later, as the action shifted to Moscow, four players, including New York Ranger forward Vic Hadfield, decided to go home because they were getting little or no ice time. Hadfield had failed to score in the two games he had played in Canada and was told he would sit out the rest of the series in Moscow. Critics attacked Hadfield and the other players, saying they had chickened out.

Canada’s History

12-06-15 3:56 PM


What the Hull?!?

W

innipegers were angered by the fact that Team Canada had excluded any members of the renegade World Hockey Association league from playing in the series, including hometown star Bobby Hull of the Winnipeg Jets. Therefore, I drew a popular cartoon suggesting Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and federal Amateur Sports Minister John Munro launch Hull into the action, where he deserved to be if this was supposedly a team of Canada’s best players.

Party on,comrades

B

eing the last minute, the only way my backers could get me on a flight to Russia was by squeezing me onto a pre-organized Canada-Russia hockey tour along with my boyhood idol, Maurice Richard. For a young cartoonist, this was a dream assignment. On the airplane, everyone was given a free bottle of Canadian whisky and a carton of cigarettes. So, I remember little of the journey. Furthermore, in Moscow, the discomfort of dealing with incessant lineups, confusing hotel arrangements, language difficulties, and KGB guys in pointed shoes (really) was rounded off at the corners by my discovery of cheap red-pepper vodka in the Berezka tourist stores. The worst that happened to us — the only time Rocket Richard blew his gasket — was at the end of our stay, when bus officials would not let our group leave for the airport for two hours until someone returned a room key that had been stolen as a souvenir. Anyway, we were there for the hockey. And what great hockey it was! Canada’s History

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Mugged!

H

ere is an interesting footnote: A number of years later, I was giving a speech in Montreal about the art of political cartooning. I hadn’t noticed that former NHL president Clarence Campbell was in the audience. He approached me after the talk and congratulated me, saying that he thoroughly enjoyed my work. However, he added, some cartoonist had drawn an awful cartoon of him during the Canada-Russia hockey series of 1972, taking the Stanley Cup into a pawn shop. He wondered if I had ever seen the cartoon and who that terrible cartoonist was? “Sorry, Mr. Campbell,” I replied, “I have no idea who might have drawn that cartoon!”

Child’s play Woe, Canada!

G

ame 5 — the first game in Moscow — started out well enough for Team Canada, with the team leading 3–0 at the beginning of the third period. But then, inspired by the fast play of Aleksandr Yakushev, Russian players scored five times in the third period. Final score: Russia 5, Canada 4. Some Canadians then expressed a wish that, instead of Hadfield returning home, Yakushev had defected to Canada!

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Canada’s History

W

hat had become apparent to observant Canadians during the 1972 series was that Russian coaching techniques had advanced well beyond those being used in Canada. As Team Canada coach Harry Sinden put it, “I haven’t seen any Russian that couldn’t play in the NHL.” Well-thought-out exercises and techniques were being applied in a thorough and academic way to talented youngsters, even at a very early age. Authorities told writer Jack Ludwig that the Soviet hockey program forbids bodychecks for the first seven or eight years of play in the little leagues. Instead, emphasis was placed on skating, durability skills, and muscle development.

12-06-15 3:56 PM


Game faces

W

hen I took on this assignment, I was handed a bag full of expensive camera equipment and press photographer credentials. My newspaper was not going to let the Russians know that I was a political cartoonist! Therefore, I was positioned at ice level in the photographers’ section of the Luzhniki Ice Palace in Moscow. Often, I would look up into the crowd for possible character sketches. There were so many militsia — military types — in the arena that, at first, I thought they were ushers. All three thousand Canadian fans looked like a typical group that had come to celebrate a Grey Cup weekend, complete with horns, cowbells, placards, and thousands of Canadian flags in every conceivable size and shape. In contrast, the Russian fans were all dressed in bland blues, greys, and blacks. By the final game, however, the Russians had learned to be just as loud as the boisterous Canucks — they incessantly whistled their displeasure. Canada’s History

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Fit to be tied

W

ith Game 4 in Vancouver, Team Canada hit bottom. In fact, the final score of 5–3 in favour of the Soviets didn’t really reflect how badly the Canadians played. Brad Park, Frank Mahovlich, Vic Hadfield, and Rod Gilbert played like rank amateurs. Furthermore, the great Ken Dryden had let in twelve goals in the two games that he had played in Montreal and Vancouver! The only Canadian player who continued to carry the flag high in Vancouver was the relentless Phil Esposito. After the game, I drew Esposito as a frustrated Gulliver being tied to the ground by his incompetent Lilliputian teammates. When Esposito later saw the cartoon, he told me that if it was printed he personally would wipe the floor with my (then) very long hair. Presumably Esposito did not realize the cartoon of him was a favourable one. However, things were about to turn around for Team Canada. And I am convinced that the fans’ enthusiasm, both in the arena and the encouragement received from home, pumped up the adrenalin in the Team Canada players.

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On the Summit

I

n what seemed like a gigantic whirl of Canadian flags and uniforms, Canada would win the final three games to win the series, even if Russia scored more goals overall. Great final performances from Phil Esposito, Yvan Cournoyer, Bobby Clarke, and others would save the day, along with the great comeback performance of Ken Dryden in Game 8 when it counted most. But the most miraculous feat during the whole series had to be that of Paul Henderson, a journeyman NHL player who rose to the occasion by scoring seven goals in this series, including the winner in the final three games. Most Canadians of a certain age — say, over forty-five — remember exactly what they were doing when Paul Henderson scored his famous goal on September 28, 1972. But, despite being at ice level, I missed seeing the goal. Skeptic that I am, I was convinced that the Soviets would score a final winning goal, so I was at the other end of the rink.

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Emma Teitel Emma Teitel

Maclean’s


Opinion and stop banging pots and pans together—or you think it’s the unfortunate, unavoidable given of our time, please don’t be so surly about it. Can our cohort seem entitled?  Sure.  After all, our parents raised us to think that the sky was the limit. Will that sense of entitlement get us a job? Not likely. If we’re spoiled, we’re also screwed. This isn’t a statement of self-pity, but a sober description of the economic reality of what it is to be young today. Do I think it’s hopeless? No way— screwed is not doomed. But we live every day with a kind of dissonance and insecurity that your generation never had to deal with. It might be nice if you kept that in mind.

generation gap

boomers, you folks had it easy

12

Have a comment to share? emma.teitel@macleans.rogers.com

Super busy: Smulders, the ‘super intern,’ landed her dream job after 10 internships

JUNE 18, 2012

crime to think beyond your means. The anti-youth, “kids these days” attitude of many older people today, in reference to the ongoing student protests in Quebec and the Occupy movement, is cynical beyond belief—especially coming from a generation that in their youth could afford to be protesting about “big” things like the militaryindustrial complex, and not “little” things like tuition hikes and unemployment. When Margaret Wente was 23 years old, a chocolate bar cost 10 cents and a box of Corn Flakes cost 25. Tuition at the University of Toronto was well under $1,000. My father, who is roughly the same age as Wente, says he could make enough money at his summer job (he was a camp unit head) to pay for his tuition at U of T in the fall. And his books. Which isn’t to say we deserve what they had, but it’s odd for the Canadian baby boomer generation to be so curmudgeonly about “kids today” when prospects in their younger years were so much better than ours. To hear them kvetch it’s as though they were slaving away in factories on a few cents a day, instead of dropping out to bask in free love and patchouli oil, all the while marking time until they could drop back in and get a job working at Uncle Bernie’s sportswear company.  So if you’re a baby boomer, whether you think youth unemployment is an easily solvable problem—if we’d just get off our butts

F o r e i g n a ff a i r s

living in a world without leaders

Sean Kilpatrick/CP

erous sponsors, parents or otherwise (or a sponsor who can afford to be that generous). In fact, most people don’t. Yet our elders in the Conservative party (ahem: “There is no bad job”) and the media (isn’t it awesome when Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente writes a column railing against Gen Y kids for not finding jobs followed by a column about how she’ll never retire?) point to ambitious grads like Smulders, or the Toronto girls who pitched a tent at a busy intersection to attract potential employers—in order to illustrate their allegedly simple and logical point: times are tough and us kids need to get off our butts and just work a little harder. In a recent column, the National Post’s resident killjoy, Barbara Kay, went to town on my generation after a twentysomething waiter knocked over a glass of water in her lap and didn’t apologize (which Kay immediately interpreted as, “Because being Gen Y means never having to say you’re sorry”). She was equally shocked and appalled that according to an October 2011 National Report Card on Youth Financial Literacy (which I have now seen cited in at least three Gen-Y bemoaning editorials) 70 per cent of high school students “erroneously assumed they’d own their own home in 10 years,” and “the average respondent overestimated his future earnings by 300 per cent.” Wow. Breaking news! Teenagers have dreams. Apparently it has become a

Patrick Lor

The Toronto Star ran a story recently about a 24-year-old “super intern” named Maeghan Smulders, who graduated from Mount Royal University with EMMA TEITEL 29 job offers—all of which she rejected. Smulders figured if she was going to begin her career, she was going to do some research first. So ProjectONE12 was born, a postgraduate’s 112-day exploration into the world of unpaid internships. Smulders took stints in Toronto, Montreal and even San Jose, interning with 10 companies, all in the hopes of finding and landing her dream business job. She did. At the end of her sevenmonth journey (which she documented online) she took a job at Beyond the Rack, a Canadian online retail start-up. “Being in all the different places,” she said, reminiscing about the project, “you get a taste for culture and you get a taste for not just the work you’re doing, but the people there. I really wanted to find an environment I could really grow in.” Don’t we all. Maeghan Smulders is not spoiled. She worked incredibly hard and obviously incredibly well to rack up those 29 job offers, and an additional 18 during ProjectONE12. But a hard job well done doesn’t make you a “super intern.” Money does: a reality that both our increasingly ageist media and government don’t like to acknowledge. Because while it’s true that the economy has severely limited our postgrad opportunities and unpaid internships are replacing the entry-level job, it’s also true that it costs a lot of money to work for free. Log onto Smulders’ website and you’ll see a heading called “sponsors,” under which is listed (among a few other groups) “my Toronto family.”   Funny. We have the same sponsor. Mine was kind enough to fund my three-month internship (for which I was extremely lucky to have been paid at all) and all 22 years of my life preceding. I would not be writing this column right now were it not for my sponsors. Thank you, Jay and Karen. Sorry about the trip to Curacao. Unfortunately not everyone has such gen-

In his first speech in the House of Commons as leader of the Opposition, in 2002, Stephen Harper’s chosen topic was “perhaps the most important PAUL WELLS issue that ever faces Canada: our relationship with the United States.” Harper was pretty sure the Liberals were making a mess of that relationship. Jean Chrétien didn’t really even like Americans, so he was frittering away time on trade trips to China in a doomed attempt “to revive the failed trade diversification of the 1970s, the Trudeau government’s so-called third-option strategy, which did not work then and is not working now.” On the matter of Canada-U.S. relations, as on almost no other topic, Harper admitted nostalgia for the days of Brian Mulroney. Now there was a guy who “understood a fundamental truth,” said Harper: “The United States is our closest neighbour, our best ally,

our biggest customer and our most consist- argument he had with Paul Martin over the ent friend. Whatever else, we forget these G20. Bremmer gives Harper’s predecessor high marks for diagnosis. The G7 is, as Marthings at our own peril.” Today Harper and Barack Obama share tin saw, “an increasingly irrelevant institua sort of blandly pleasant mutual incompre- tion.” But adding enough developing counhension, and Harper went to Davos to say tries to make a G20 leaves “too little common he’s making trade diversification, “beyond ground for substantive progress” except in the United States and specifically to Asia,” a crisis. So the G20 seemed like a splendid a “national priority.” It’s one of the biggest idea for a few months at the end of 2008, foreign-policy reversals of Harper’s life. Has and now it doesn’t work either. he forgotten Mulroney’s Bremmer’s book is writ“fundamental truth?” Is ten in the U.S. for a global diplomacy, like a Obama such a dud that audience, so only in the proper Canada-U.S. rela- lot of things harper wonkiest corners of Canada tions can’t work? will it be read as a bookused to regard There’s a third possibility: paraphrase of Harpwith suspicion, is length that the world is changing er’s “sea of troubles” speech back in style in ways that make it importfrom the 2011 election camant for Canada to look past paign. With all the “disaster the U.S. That’s the diagnosis Columbia Uni- in the Pacific, chaos in the Middle East, debt versity political scientist Ian Bremmer lays problems in Europe, and all kinds of chalout in his book Every Nation for Itself: Winners lenges south of our border,” the Conservaand Losers in a G-Zero World. tive leader said at every stop, “Canada is the Bremmer offers a variation on a familiar closest thing the world has to an island of theme, a decline in the ability of the United stability and security.” Indeed, Bremmer includes Canada in a list States to set anyone’s global agenda—on the economy, on security, or on the fight against of countries that stand to benefit in a world climate change, if there still is such a thing. without global leadership, because they have The “G-Zero” is Bremmer’s name for a world “more options and greater influence.” Most in which “no single country or durable alli- of Bremmer’s so-called “pivot states” are ance of countries can meet the challenges of developing countries: Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia, Japan, much of Africa. Canada makes global leadership.” This wasn’t even a new idea when Fareed the list too, less dependent on the U.S. than Zakaria wrote The Post-American World in Mexico because our exports to countries other 2008, but the notion of a non-omnipotent than the U.S. rose from 18 per cent to 25 per America was still fresh enough that a photo cent of total exports from 2005 to 2009. But of Obama carrying Zakaria’s book on the cam- our commercial independence from the U.S. paign trail helped feed Republican claims that has been growing for years. “Canada was Obama is a fifth columnist plotting to under- working to build commercial ties with Asia for years before the recession took hold in mine his current country of residence. Bremmer claims one difference with Zakaria: the United States,” Bremmer notes. he doesn’t think Zakaria’s term “the rise of During much of that time Harper was the rest” properly describes the new world ambivalent or, when he was in Opposition, disorder. To Bremmer, there is no coherent openly hostile to the notion of building com“rest.” “For the first time in seven decades, mercial ties with China. Now Bremmer has we live in a world without global leadership,” more advice for the Prime Minister. “Canada he writes. The U.S. is hobbled by “endless should not [only] be pivoting to China,” he partisan combat and mounting federal debt.” told me in a telephone interview. “They Nasty surprises in Iraq and Afghanistan have should be pivoting to everyone.” In a world left the Americans much less interested in with so many variables driving up uncertainty, playing global cop. Japan is recovering more this is a lousy time for governments to be quickly from a tsunami than from “two dec- dealing with only a small number of foreign ades of political and economic malaise.” China’s interlocutors. Robust diplomacy, like a lot of not ready for leadership yet, which may turn other things Harper used to regard with suspicion, just came back in style. “If you’re out to have been a blessing. Meanwhile, pick your preferred global Canada right now,” Bremmer said, “you want power structure—the United Nations, the to be doubling down on your international European Union, NATO, G7, G8, G20— capacity and exposure.” they’re all experiencing crises of legitimacy On the web: For more Paul Wells, visit his blog at or efficacy. Bremmer’s book opens with an macleans.ca/inklesswells MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE

13


Opinion and stop banging pots and pans together—or you think it’s the unfortunate, unavoidable given of our time, please don’t be so surly about it. Can our cohort seem entitled?  Sure.  After all, our parents raised us to think that the sky was the limit. Will that sense of entitlement get us a job? Not likely. If we’re spoiled, we’re also screwed. This isn’t a statement of self-pity, but a sober description of the economic reality of what it is to be young today. Do I think it’s hopeless? No way— screwed is not doomed. But we live every day with a kind of dissonance and insecurity that your generation never had to deal with. It might be nice if you kept that in mind.

generation gap

boomers, you folks had it easy

12

Have a comment to share? emma.teitel@macleans.rogers.com

Super busy: Smulders, the ‘super intern,’ landed her dream job after 10 internships

JUNE 18, 2012

crime to think beyond your means. The anti-youth, “kids these days” attitude of many older people today, in reference to the ongoing student protests in Quebec and the Occupy movement, is cynical beyond belief—especially coming from a generation that in their youth could afford to be protesting about “big” things like the militaryindustrial complex, and not “little” things like tuition hikes and unemployment. When Margaret Wente was 23 years old, a chocolate bar cost 10 cents and a box of Corn Flakes cost 25. Tuition at the University of Toronto was well under $1,000. My father, who is roughly the same age as Wente, says he could make enough money at his summer job (he was a camp unit head) to pay for his tuition at U of T in the fall. And his books. Which isn’t to say we deserve what they had, but it’s odd for the Canadian baby boomer generation to be so curmudgeonly about “kids today” when prospects in their younger years were so much better than ours. To hear them kvetch it’s as though they were slaving away in factories on a few cents a day, instead of dropping out to bask in free love and patchouli oil, all the while marking time until they could drop back in and get a job working at Uncle Bernie’s sportswear company.  So if you’re a baby boomer, whether you think youth unemployment is an easily solvable problem—if we’d just get off our butts

F o r e i g n a ff a i r s

living in a world without leaders

Sean Kilpatrick/CP

erous sponsors, parents or otherwise (or a sponsor who can afford to be that generous). In fact, most people don’t. Yet our elders in the Conservative party (ahem: “There is no bad job”) and the media (isn’t it awesome when Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente writes a column railing against Gen Y kids for not finding jobs followed by a column about how she’ll never retire?) point to ambitious grads like Smulders, or the Toronto girls who pitched a tent at a busy intersection to attract potential employers—in order to illustrate their allegedly simple and logical point: times are tough and us kids need to get off our butts and just work a little harder. In a recent column, the National Post’s resident killjoy, Barbara Kay, went to town on my generation after a twentysomething waiter knocked over a glass of water in her lap and didn’t apologize (which Kay immediately interpreted as, “Because being Gen Y means never having to say you’re sorry”). She was equally shocked and appalled that according to an October 2011 National Report Card on Youth Financial Literacy (which I have now seen cited in at least three Gen-Y bemoaning editorials) 70 per cent of high school students “erroneously assumed they’d own their own home in 10 years,” and “the average respondent overestimated his future earnings by 300 per cent.” Wow. Breaking news! Teenagers have dreams. Apparently it has become a

Patrick Lor

The Toronto Star ran a story recently about a 24-year-old “super intern” named Maeghan Smulders, who graduated from Mount Royal University with EMMA TEITEL 29 job offers—all of which she rejected. Smulders figured if she was going to begin her career, she was going to do some research first. So ProjectONE12 was born, a postgraduate’s 112-day exploration into the world of unpaid internships. Smulders took stints in Toronto, Montreal and even San Jose, interning with 10 companies, all in the hopes of finding and landing her dream business job. She did. At the end of her sevenmonth journey (which she documented online) she took a job at Beyond the Rack, a Canadian online retail start-up. “Being in all the different places,” she said, reminiscing about the project, “you get a taste for culture and you get a taste for not just the work you’re doing, but the people there. I really wanted to find an environment I could really grow in.” Don’t we all. Maeghan Smulders is not spoiled. She worked incredibly hard and obviously incredibly well to rack up those 29 job offers, and an additional 18 during ProjectONE12. But a hard job well done doesn’t make you a “super intern.” Money does: a reality that both our increasingly ageist media and government don’t like to acknowledge. Because while it’s true that the economy has severely limited our postgrad opportunities and unpaid internships are replacing the entry-level job, it’s also true that it costs a lot of money to work for free. Log onto Smulders’ website and you’ll see a heading called “sponsors,” under which is listed (among a few other groups) “my Toronto family.”   Funny. We have the same sponsor. Mine was kind enough to fund my three-month internship (for which I was extremely lucky to have been paid at all) and all 22 years of my life preceding. I would not be writing this column right now were it not for my sponsors. Thank you, Jay and Karen. Sorry about the trip to Curacao. Unfortunately not everyone has such gen-

In his first speech in the House of Commons as leader of the Opposition, in 2002, Stephen Harper’s chosen topic was “perhaps the most important PAUL WELLS issue that ever faces Canada: our relationship with the United States.” Harper was pretty sure the Liberals were making a mess of that relationship. Jean Chrétien didn’t really even like Americans, so he was frittering away time on trade trips to China in a doomed attempt “to revive the failed trade diversification of the 1970s, the Trudeau government’s so-called third-option strategy, which did not work then and is not working now.” On the matter of Canada-U.S. relations, as on almost no other topic, Harper admitted nostalgia for the days of Brian Mulroney. Now there was a guy who “understood a fundamental truth,” said Harper: “The United States is our closest neighbour, our best ally,

our biggest customer and our most consist- argument he had with Paul Martin over the ent friend. Whatever else, we forget these G20. Bremmer gives Harper’s predecessor high marks for diagnosis. The G7 is, as Marthings at our own peril.” Today Harper and Barack Obama share tin saw, “an increasingly irrelevant institua sort of blandly pleasant mutual incompre- tion.” But adding enough developing counhension, and Harper went to Davos to say tries to make a G20 leaves “too little common he’s making trade diversification, “beyond ground for substantive progress” except in the United States and specifically to Asia,” a crisis. So the G20 seemed like a splendid a “national priority.” It’s one of the biggest idea for a few months at the end of 2008, foreign-policy reversals of Harper’s life. Has and now it doesn’t work either. he forgotten Mulroney’s Bremmer’s book is writ“fundamental truth?” Is ten in the U.S. for a global diplomacy, like a Obama such a dud that audience, so only in the proper Canada-U.S. rela- lot of things harper wonkiest corners of Canada tions can’t work? will it be read as a bookused to regard There’s a third possibility: paraphrase of Harpwith suspicion, is length that the world is changing er’s “sea of troubles” speech back in style in ways that make it importfrom the 2011 election camant for Canada to look past paign. With all the “disaster the U.S. That’s the diagnosis Columbia Uni- in the Pacific, chaos in the Middle East, debt versity political scientist Ian Bremmer lays problems in Europe, and all kinds of chalout in his book Every Nation for Itself: Winners lenges south of our border,” the Conservaand Losers in a G-Zero World. tive leader said at every stop, “Canada is the Bremmer offers a variation on a familiar closest thing the world has to an island of theme, a decline in the ability of the United stability and security.” Indeed, Bremmer includes Canada in a list States to set anyone’s global agenda—on the economy, on security, or on the fight against of countries that stand to benefit in a world climate change, if there still is such a thing. without global leadership, because they have The “G-Zero” is Bremmer’s name for a world “more options and greater influence.” Most in which “no single country or durable alli- of Bremmer’s so-called “pivot states” are ance of countries can meet the challenges of developing countries: Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia, Japan, much of Africa. Canada makes global leadership.” This wasn’t even a new idea when Fareed the list too, less dependent on the U.S. than Zakaria wrote The Post-American World in Mexico because our exports to countries other 2008, but the notion of a non-omnipotent than the U.S. rose from 18 per cent to 25 per America was still fresh enough that a photo cent of total exports from 2005 to 2009. But of Obama carrying Zakaria’s book on the cam- our commercial independence from the U.S. paign trail helped feed Republican claims that has been growing for years. “Canada was Obama is a fifth columnist plotting to under- working to build commercial ties with Asia for years before the recession took hold in mine his current country of residence. Bremmer claims one difference with Zakaria: the United States,” Bremmer notes. he doesn’t think Zakaria’s term “the rise of During much of that time Harper was the rest” properly describes the new world ambivalent or, when he was in Opposition, disorder. To Bremmer, there is no coherent openly hostile to the notion of building com“rest.” “For the first time in seven decades, mercial ties with China. Now Bremmer has we live in a world without global leadership,” more advice for the Prime Minister. “Canada he writes. The U.S. is hobbled by “endless should not [only] be pivoting to China,” he partisan combat and mounting federal debt.” told me in a telephone interview. “They Nasty surprises in Iraq and Afghanistan have should be pivoting to everyone.” In a world left the Americans much less interested in with so many variables driving up uncertainty, playing global cop. Japan is recovering more this is a lousy time for governments to be quickly from a tsunami than from “two dec- dealing with only a small number of foreign ades of political and economic malaise.” China’s interlocutors. Robust diplomacy, like a lot of not ready for leadership yet, which may turn other things Harper used to regard with suspicion, just came back in style. “If you’re out to have been a blessing. Meanwhile, pick your preferred global Canada right now,” Bremmer said, “you want power structure—the United Nations, the to be doubling down on your international European Union, NATO, G7, G8, G20— capacity and exposure.” they’re all experiencing crises of legitimacy On the web: For more Paul Wells, visit his blog at or efficacy. Bremmer’s book opens with an macleans.ca/inklesswells MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE

13


Opinion been dishonest about its opponents. Just kidding! No, the government kept piling on. On Tuesday they even put out a press release quoting Mulcair to the extent that carbon taxes are regressive and saying that, “by his own admission,” Mulcair was backing a regressive tax, when in fact—in the world of truth— Mulcair had been explaining why he opposed a carbon tax. In favour of a cap-and-trade system. Which would increase producers’ costs while augmenting government revenues. Perhaps by now you see what’s going on. The Conservatives’ only goal this autumn was to mire the NDP, who have been having altogether too good a year, in quicksand up to their waists. It is now clear that Harper promised cap-and-trade, which feels a lot like a tax, in 2008 and didn’t mean it. And that Mulcair now promises cap-and-trade and means it. MPs spent the week debating the cost of an NDP government, not its benefits, not the cost of Harper’s. It would be excellent if the government would be more honest. But Jean Chrétien promised to scrap the GST, Paul Martin was for loyalty to party leaders, Dion said a coalition with the NDP was not for him. Voters tend to take claims of higher integrity at a heavy discount. If you’re explaining, Ronald Reagan once said, you’re losing. Tom Mulcair loves to explain things.

Cap this: Conservatives claim Mulcair supports a carbon tax, when he wants the same kind of cap-and-trade plan Harper proposed as recently as 2008

The Conservatives could not possibly have made it more obvious that they were itching for a week’s worth of headlines about the NDP’s environmental PAUL policy. They could not be hapWELLS pier that the NDP has obliged them. Eventually the NDP will figure all of this out. On Sept. 2, Ottawa newsrooms received copies of “a memo from Conservative campaign manager Jenni Byrne to the Conservative caucus.” I put that last bit in quotation marks because Byrne, like her predecessor Doug Finley, doesn’t ever “write to the caucus” unless she wants to see what she writes appear in the newspapers. Leaking a “secret memo” is cheaper than buying ad space and guarantees better play. Byrne’s message to Canadians was that it was “important to ensure Canadian middleclass families understand the threat posed by Thomas Mulcair’s risky and dangerous economic plan.” Ooh. Which threat? “The centrepiece of 12

OCTOBER 1, 2012

“You know, that is an ethical issue that Stephen Harper is going to have to deal with,” Mulcair said, “because he knows his MPs are lying when they say that.” If Harper has “an ounce of ethics,” he’ll call off his MPs, Mulcair said. There is something to this. Quite a lot, in fact. Mulcair prefers a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. There is much debate over whether that would be better than a tax, but it is not a tax. Well, it does cost businesses that emit a lot of atmospheric carbon money, and the money, in most models, goes to the government. But it’s not a tax. Mulcair and the rest of the NDP opposed Stéphane Dion’s Liberal carbon-tax proposal in the 2008 election campaign, as indeed Dion opposed Michael Ignatieff ’s carbon-tax plan during the 2006 Liberal leadership. Why oppose a carbon tax? “We thought it hurt families in many regards and that it was regressive,” Mulcair told his interviewer. It is also true, as Mulcair was eager to point out, that Harper’s Conservatives proposed a cap-and-trade scheme that more closely resembled the NDP’s plan than the Liberals’ in 2008. And reporters hurried to add that Jim Prentice, when he was Harper’s environment minister, tabled draft papers in 2009 aimed at “establishing a price for carbon in Canada—something that has never been done before in this country.” “Lying” is, in fact, a good word for what the Conservatives have done on this file. So the government apologized and said it had

On the web: For more Paul Wells, visit his blog at macleans.ca/inklesswells

E D U C A TIO N

a new holdiay for ignorance, thank you

BERNARD WEIL/TORONTO STAR/GETSTOCK

harper’s carbon tax smokescreen

Mulcair’s economic plan is a carbon tax. Canadian families know that a tax on carbon is a tax on everything and therefore a tax on everyone,” Byrne wrote. “Mulcair’s carbon tax will kill jobs . . . increase food prices . . . increase gas prices . . . In short, it means fewer jobs, higher prices, and fewer opportunities.” Byrne’s memo was about nothing else besides the Conservative claim that Mulcair wants a carbon tax. (He doesn’t. I’ll get back to that in a minute.) Now, Mulcair is a clever fellow, so for a few days he didn’t say anything about his environmental policy at all. So three days after Byrne’s memo, Ottawa reporters received a paragraph of quotes from Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver about, well, guess what. “The NDP’s carbon tax is a direct attack on the jobs of almost one million Canadians,” Oliver was said to have said, “and we simply cannot afford it.” Still Mulcair kept his cool. So on Sept. 6 it was Finance Minister Jim Flaherty spamming the press gallery with warnings about “the dangerous economic schemes and the higher taxes proposed by Thomas Mulcair.” Still Mulcair didn’t bite. If there’s one sure way to keep the government on the defensive, it’s to make sure it’s the government that’s defending, not the Opposition. On Sept. 16 on the Global TV show The West Block, Tom Clark asked Mulcair the NDP’s priority for the fall. “The economy,” the NDP leader said. “Jobs.” And he did talk about that, right up until Clark asked him about this carbon tax business.

MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

Politics

For years now, the gay-averse community has kvetched about all the terrible things that will happen when society and government treat homosexuals like EMMA TEITEL everyone else. In the United States, socially conservative groups like the Family Research Council and the Republican party minus Condoleezza Rice, feared that the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”— the Clinton-era policy prohibiting gays from serving openly in the military—would be a “distraction” to American troops. When, remarkably, it wasn’t (studies show the repeal’s

effect was nothing but positive), the gay- regular, mentally stable, gay people exist and averse turned their attention once again to deserve the right to live free from discriminasame-sex marriage, for which they can’t even tion. (And, no, they don’t all have AIDS). In invent a negative consequence, without reviv- other words, if Bill 13 raises awareness about ing the disproven ones of Canadian yore: the gay rights, Tourloukis and company are raisconservative Canadian argument of 2003, ing unawareness. And if they’re successful, that marriage equality would destroy trad- they can add another holiday to their calenitional marriage as we know it, even if the dars: an Official Day of Ignorance. Canadian divorce rate is steadily declining. Not only will their kids get a free pass on So what’s left? In an equitable society that Christmas, Easter and Id al-Fitr, they’ll be accepts and celebrates gay pulled from class essentially people and their families, every time a gay student IF tourloukis gets isn’t someone—anyone—must bullied; every time his way, who will kids someone does a book report pay the price. If a group of Canadian thank when they miss on Harry Potter (the Tradparents comprised of reliitional Values Letter is very gious Christians and Mus- a ‘controversial’ day explicit about witchcraft at school? Gays? lims (and they say homoand wizardry); every time sexuality makes for strange a teacher is guilty of “plabedfellows) gets its way, cing environmental issues someone finally will: none above the value of [insert other than their own chilreligion here] principles”, dren. Steve Tourloukis, a and “teaching that life does dentist and member of the not begin at conception.” Greek Orthodox church, If the parents’ prayers are who lives in Hamilton, is answered, there will be more currently suing his kids’ Official Days of Ignorance public school board for failon the school calendar than ing to warn him in advance there are Jewish holidays—a about when, specifically, truly remarkable feat. the school’s teachers would The sad thing is that while be discussing subjects like Tourloukis and friends have family values, marriage and sexuality in class. ample faith in God, they have little faith in He would like said issues to be taught to his their own children. They may be young, but children from a Christian perspective only. they are old enough to get the message: when And he would like the right to remove his something is complicated, or tests your relikids from classes that don’t share that per- gious principles, don’t engage it, or even ignore it. Take a vacation. Because it’s a lot spective. Tourloukis isn’t alone. Socially conservative Canadian groups like easier to hate and fear something you’ve the Family Coalition Party and the Parental never encountered.   Rights in Education Defense Fund have ralThere’s also the possibility that this kind lied behind him, as have a number of Chris- of ignorance worship could backfire, and tian and Muslim parents who’ve copied the become a blessing in disguise for the gay same five-page “Traditional Values Letter” community. After all, if Steve Tourloukis Tourloukis used (written by Phil Lees, the gets his way, who will these children credit head of the Family Coalition Party, who also every time they get to miss another ostenleads PEACE—Public Education Advocates sibly controversial day of school? Not their for Christian Equity—Hamilton), and sent it father, or the Father. They’ll just know it has to schools across the Greater Toronto Area. something to do with gay people. Gays (much (I tried to interview Tourloukis but he said like Santa, much like Rosh Hashanah) = no he was “familiar with my work” and would school—i.e. Gays = Nintendo Wii. Could rather not comment.) They too would like there be a better, more resonant reason for to remove their kids from classes that discuss tolerance? I think not. homosexuality, marriage and even “environBut for now we can take solace in the fact mental worship.” Apparently recycling is now that Tourloukis is a dentist, which means that sitting somewhere in his office, is a Maclean’s on par with homosexuality. The parents’ activism comes on the heels magazine with my big gay smirk in it. At least of Ontario’s proposed anti-bullying “accepting there was. schools” law, Bill 13, which promotes divers- Have a comment to share? ity, gay-straight alliances, and affirms that emma.teitel@macleans.rogers.com MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE

13


Opinion been dishonest about its opponents. Just kidding! No, the government kept piling on. On Tuesday they even put out a press release quoting Mulcair to the extent that carbon taxes are regressive and saying that, “by his own admission,” Mulcair was backing a regressive tax, when in fact—in the world of truth— Mulcair had been explaining why he opposed a carbon tax. In favour of a cap-and-trade system. Which would increase producers’ costs while augmenting government revenues. Perhaps by now you see what’s going on. The Conservatives’ only goal this autumn was to mire the NDP, who have been having altogether too good a year, in quicksand up to their waists. It is now clear that Harper promised cap-and-trade, which feels a lot like a tax, in 2008 and didn’t mean it. And that Mulcair now promises cap-and-trade and means it. MPs spent the week debating the cost of an NDP government, not its benefits, not the cost of Harper’s. It would be excellent if the government would be more honest. But Jean Chrétien promised to scrap the GST, Paul Martin was for loyalty to party leaders, Dion said a coalition with the NDP was not for him. Voters tend to take claims of higher integrity at a heavy discount. If you’re explaining, Ronald Reagan once said, you’re losing. Tom Mulcair loves to explain things.

Cap this: Conservatives claim Mulcair supports a carbon tax, when he wants the same kind of cap-and-trade plan Harper proposed as recently as 2008

The Conservatives could not possibly have made it more obvious that they were itching for a week’s worth of headlines about the NDP’s environmental PAUL policy. They could not be hapWELLS pier that the NDP has obliged them. Eventually the NDP will figure all of this out. On Sept. 2, Ottawa newsrooms received copies of “a memo from Conservative campaign manager Jenni Byrne to the Conservative caucus.” I put that last bit in quotation marks because Byrne, like her predecessor Doug Finley, doesn’t ever “write to the caucus” unless she wants to see what she writes appear in the newspapers. Leaking a “secret memo” is cheaper than buying ad space and guarantees better play. Byrne’s message to Canadians was that it was “important to ensure Canadian middleclass families understand the threat posed by Thomas Mulcair’s risky and dangerous economic plan.” Ooh. Which threat? “The centrepiece of 12

OCTOBER 1, 2012

“You know, that is an ethical issue that Stephen Harper is going to have to deal with,” Mulcair said, “because he knows his MPs are lying when they say that.” If Harper has “an ounce of ethics,” he’ll call off his MPs, Mulcair said. There is something to this. Quite a lot, in fact. Mulcair prefers a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. There is much debate over whether that would be better than a tax, but it is not a tax. Well, it does cost businesses that emit a lot of atmospheric carbon money, and the money, in most models, goes to the government. But it’s not a tax. Mulcair and the rest of the NDP opposed Stéphane Dion’s Liberal carbon-tax proposal in the 2008 election campaign, as indeed Dion opposed Michael Ignatieff ’s carbon-tax plan during the 2006 Liberal leadership. Why oppose a carbon tax? “We thought it hurt families in many regards and that it was regressive,” Mulcair told his interviewer. It is also true, as Mulcair was eager to point out, that Harper’s Conservatives proposed a cap-and-trade scheme that more closely resembled the NDP’s plan than the Liberals’ in 2008. And reporters hurried to add that Jim Prentice, when he was Harper’s environment minister, tabled draft papers in 2009 aimed at “establishing a price for carbon in Canada—something that has never been done before in this country.” “Lying” is, in fact, a good word for what the Conservatives have done on this file. So the government apologized and said it had

On the web: For more Paul Wells, visit his blog at macleans.ca/inklesswells

E D U C A TIO N

a new holdiay for ignorance, thank you

BERNARD WEIL/TORONTO STAR/GETSTOCK

harper’s carbon tax smokescreen

Mulcair’s economic plan is a carbon tax. Canadian families know that a tax on carbon is a tax on everything and therefore a tax on everyone,” Byrne wrote. “Mulcair’s carbon tax will kill jobs . . . increase food prices . . . increase gas prices . . . In short, it means fewer jobs, higher prices, and fewer opportunities.” Byrne’s memo was about nothing else besides the Conservative claim that Mulcair wants a carbon tax. (He doesn’t. I’ll get back to that in a minute.) Now, Mulcair is a clever fellow, so for a few days he didn’t say anything about his environmental policy at all. So three days after Byrne’s memo, Ottawa reporters received a paragraph of quotes from Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver about, well, guess what. “The NDP’s carbon tax is a direct attack on the jobs of almost one million Canadians,” Oliver was said to have said, “and we simply cannot afford it.” Still Mulcair kept his cool. So on Sept. 6 it was Finance Minister Jim Flaherty spamming the press gallery with warnings about “the dangerous economic schemes and the higher taxes proposed by Thomas Mulcair.” Still Mulcair didn’t bite. If there’s one sure way to keep the government on the defensive, it’s to make sure it’s the government that’s defending, not the Opposition. On Sept. 16 on the Global TV show The West Block, Tom Clark asked Mulcair the NDP’s priority for the fall. “The economy,” the NDP leader said. “Jobs.” And he did talk about that, right up until Clark asked him about this carbon tax business.

MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

Politics

For years now, the gay-averse community has kvetched about all the terrible things that will happen when society and government treat homosexuals like EMMA TEITEL everyone else. In the United States, socially conservative groups like the Family Research Council and the Republican party minus Condoleezza Rice, feared that the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”— the Clinton-era policy prohibiting gays from serving openly in the military—would be a “distraction” to American troops. When, remarkably, it wasn’t (studies show the repeal’s

effect was nothing but positive), the gay- regular, mentally stable, gay people exist and averse turned their attention once again to deserve the right to live free from discriminasame-sex marriage, for which they can’t even tion. (And, no, they don’t all have AIDS). In invent a negative consequence, without reviv- other words, if Bill 13 raises awareness about ing the disproven ones of Canadian yore: the gay rights, Tourloukis and company are raisconservative Canadian argument of 2003, ing unawareness. And if they’re successful, that marriage equality would destroy trad- they can add another holiday to their calenitional marriage as we know it, even if the dars: an Official Day of Ignorance. Canadian divorce rate is steadily declining. Not only will their kids get a free pass on So what’s left? In an equitable society that Christmas, Easter and Id al-Fitr, they’ll be accepts and celebrates gay pulled from class essentially people and their families, every time a gay student IF tourloukis gets isn’t someone—anyone—must bullied; every time his way, who will kids someone does a book report pay the price. If a group of Canadian thank when they miss on Harry Potter (the Tradparents comprised of reliitional Values Letter is very gious Christians and Mus- a ‘controversial’ day explicit about witchcraft at school? Gays? lims (and they say homoand wizardry); every time sexuality makes for strange a teacher is guilty of “plabedfellows) gets its way, cing environmental issues someone finally will: none above the value of [insert other than their own chilreligion here] principles”, dren. Steve Tourloukis, a and “teaching that life does dentist and member of the not begin at conception.” Greek Orthodox church, If the parents’ prayers are who lives in Hamilton, is answered, there will be more currently suing his kids’ Official Days of Ignorance public school board for failon the school calendar than ing to warn him in advance there are Jewish holidays—a about when, specifically, truly remarkable feat. the school’s teachers would The sad thing is that while be discussing subjects like Tourloukis and friends have family values, marriage and sexuality in class. ample faith in God, they have little faith in He would like said issues to be taught to his their own children. They may be young, but children from a Christian perspective only. they are old enough to get the message: when And he would like the right to remove his something is complicated, or tests your relikids from classes that don’t share that per- gious principles, don’t engage it, or even ignore it. Take a vacation. Because it’s a lot spective. Tourloukis isn’t alone. Socially conservative Canadian groups like easier to hate and fear something you’ve the Family Coalition Party and the Parental never encountered.   Rights in Education Defense Fund have ralThere’s also the possibility that this kind lied behind him, as have a number of Chris- of ignorance worship could backfire, and tian and Muslim parents who’ve copied the become a blessing in disguise for the gay same five-page “Traditional Values Letter” community. After all, if Steve Tourloukis Tourloukis used (written by Phil Lees, the gets his way, who will these children credit head of the Family Coalition Party, who also every time they get to miss another ostenleads PEACE—Public Education Advocates sibly controversial day of school? Not their for Christian Equity—Hamilton), and sent it father, or the Father. They’ll just know it has to schools across the Greater Toronto Area. something to do with gay people. Gays (much (I tried to interview Tourloukis but he said like Santa, much like Rosh Hashanah) = no he was “familiar with my work” and would school—i.e. Gays = Nintendo Wii. Could rather not comment.) They too would like there be a better, more resonant reason for to remove their kids from classes that discuss tolerance? I think not. homosexuality, marriage and even “environBut for now we can take solace in the fact mental worship.” Apparently recycling is now that Tourloukis is a dentist, which means that sitting somewhere in his office, is a Maclean’s on par with homosexuality. The parents’ activism comes on the heels magazine with my big gay smirk in it. At least of Ontario’s proposed anti-bullying “accepting there was. schools” law, Bill 13, which promotes divers- Have a comment to share? ity, gay-straight alliances, and affirms that emma.teitel@macleans.rogers.com MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE

13


Society

Amanda Todd: The suicide of the 15-year-old from Port Coquitlam, B.C., has triggered a national debate about bullying on the Internet

c y b e r b u l ly i n g

Bullied to death The Canadian public is mourning the loss of Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old teenager from Port Coquitlam, B.C., whose social-media tormentors EMMA TEITEL dared her to take her own life, and rejoiced in cyberspace when she eventually did. Todd died last Wednesday, one month after she posted a heartbreaking eight-minute YouTube confessional about the events that drove her into a severe depression. Over 100 Facebook walls have been erected in Todd’s memory since her death, and some antibullying activists have called for Pink Shirt Day, a national anti-bullying initiative, to honour Todd’s memory. NDP MP Dany 68

Morin introduced a motion in the House of Commons that proposes increased funding for anti-bullying organizations as well as an in-depth study of bullying in Canada. This is all great news. It confirms we’re a well-meaning country: we take care of our own—albeit too late in this case. But it also confirms that Amanda Todd is now an official martyr of the anti-bullying movement, a movement bent on proving that bullying is a social construct, and that perhaps if we all love each other a little more and hug each other a little longer, it will one day disappear. I’m of the belief that bullying will always exist because so will bullying’s parents—discord and cruelty. But I’m equally uncomOCTOBER 29, 2012

fortable with the increasingly common assertion that bullying is a rite of passage; that kids will be kids, and bullies will be bullies. After all, just because something exists, doesn’t mean that we can’t limit its presence. The question is, how do we go about doing that? Unlike Mark Steyn—and anyone else with a crippling fear of political correctness— I don’t think Pink Shirt Day is a scourge, but I do think it’s largely ineffective. Why? Because nobody can see your anti-bullying T-shirt on the Internet, where Amanda Todd was arguably bullied to death. I came of age on the Internet. Like 43 per cent of kids today, I was a victim of cyberbullying—though I didn’t really think of it as

FACEBOOK

Amanda Todd didn’t do anything online that most others of her generation haven’t done. That’s what’s so disturbing.


Society such because the term hadn’t been invented respondents aged 16-24 “used a smartphone yet. I was also, undoubtedly, a cyberbully. My or the web for sexual purposes.” In an invesparents—God bless them—had no idea what tigative piece for the Telegraph in July called I was doing on MSN Messenger and ICQ (pre- Let’s Talk about (teen) sex, journalist Clover cursors to Facebook and Formspring, today’s Stroud writes that half the teenagers she intermost popular cyberbullying destinations). viewed had “some experience with cybersex.” When I was eleven, I saw middle-aged men One subject, an 18-year-old girl named Amber, masturbating on webcam. I saw a video of illustrates this point perfectly. “When we were two raccoons mauling each other to death. I younger,” she tells Stroud, “we quite often saw two boys from my homeroom class strip used chatrooms or MSN to flirt with guys. for me in an online chat Occasionally this went a bit room. And I returned the with people taking in one study, 80 per further, favour. In fact, this was a their tops off on a webcam, weekly afternoon ritual for cent of respondents for example.” What’s more my girlfriends and me. interesting, however, is what aged 16-24 used a While mom and dad were she says next. ‘I think this smartphone for upstairs watching Frasier, kind of stuff, like cybersex, sexual purposes we would be in the basement happens more as a young “exploring” the Internet. teen, between 13 and 15,” Sure, our parents checked in every once in a she says. “I’d be surprised if this was somewhile (the sound of their footsteps leaving us thing my [18-year-old] friends were doing.” more than enough time to close the page and Webcam voyeurism, then, is the ‘truth or delete the history) but it was when we went dare’ of my generation—and, I suspect, will out, to the movies or a party, that they checked be for every wired generation to come. And

ents still do not monitor their kids as closely online as they do offline. If they did, cyberbullying would not be so endemic. A recent study by Consumer Reports found that 7.5 million children with Facebook accounts were younger than 13, and that the vast majority of those accounts were unsupervised by the users’ parents. Another study found that 87 per cent of kids surf the Internet without parental rules. What happened to Amanda Todd was a tragedy that should never happen to another young person again. But the solution to cyberbullying and lewd photo-sharing isn’t outreach. It’s supervision. Where are the parents when these kids are sitting upstairs in their own bedrooms posing topless? Or posting hateful messages on the Facebook page of a girl who was bullied to death? There is nothing at all old-fashioned about parents monitoring their kids. After all, Todd’s biggest bully wasn’t really a bully at all, but a pedophile: if online hacktivist group Anonymous is correct in its findings, then the stranger who pressured Todd to expose herself online and who circulated a topless photo of her wasn’t a fellow teen from her high school, but a 32-year-old man living in Vancouver. Parents need to understand that for the first time in history, their kids are more likely to get into trouble in the presumed safety of their own homes than they are in the outside world. Have a comment to share? emma.teitel@macleans.rogers.com

b u l ly i n g

in with greater frequency and angst. “When will you be home?” they’d ask again and again, when what they probably should have been asking was, “Why do you clear the browser history every time you use the computer?” Or “What exactly are you doing down there in the basement?” The public consensus about Amanda Todd is that she made a mistake by exposing her breasts on the Internet. What isn’t being said, however, and what should be said, is that Todd’s mistake is an extremely common one; one I made several times at her age—and one for which I am extremely lucky to have never paid the price. And I’m not unique. A recent study by Plymouth University found that 80 per cent of 70

the cyberbullying that often accompanies it is this generation’s version of the schoolyard vendetta, only magnified by the breadth of the cyberworld and protected by its anonymity. A recent comprehensive study determined that one out of every five adolescents has at some point cyberbullied someone else. Yet parents are usually shocked to hear that their own kids are preying on the weakest, piling on the vulnerable. A lot has changed since I was a teenager on the Internet. Photography and photosharing is now completely ubiquitous (today’s teens need only look at their own parents’ online behaviour for proof ). Yet one thing remains the same: despite Internet parental controls, and increased awareness, most parOCTOBER 29, 2012

shunned in life, remembered in death Can B.C. teen’s tragic story help foster needed change? In the opening moments of the video, Amanda Todd flashes a brief smile. Fifteen years old, her hair long and curly, she is holding a white piece of paper in front of the camera. “Hello!” it says, in black marker. (The bottom of the exclamation mark is shaped like a heart.) Without saying a word, she flips to the next page in her pile. “I’ve decided to

COLLEEN FLANAGAN/MAPLE RIDGE NEWS

Paying tribute: Youth gather at a memorial for Todd in Maple Ridge, B.C.


—Personal Journalism Journalisme personnel

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Fanny Britt Faux self mon amour

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38 — essai lyrique Licence enqc-266-3-14 accordée le 02 janvier 2013 à N Langelier


essai lyrique

Faux-self mon amour Un jour, Facebook arrive dans ta vie. Tu l’aimes bien, il te fait souvent rire. Et lui, il aime ton visage, ta robe, ton bébé, tes recettes, les articles que tu lis, plein de choses. Mais un jour tu découvres qu’il te ment et, encore pire, qu’il t’emmerde. Alors la solitude te regagne, et tu contemples le désastre comme on regarde un tableau. Fanny Britt

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u fais les choses. Tu te lèves le matin, tu coupes les légumes, tu allumes le téléviseur, tu te souviens de ton adolescence. Tu parles au téléphone, mais tu détestes ça : le téléphone te ramène toujours à ta fragilité, à ton esprit en forme de jambes de Bambi, chancelant et frigorifié, un esprit mi-cuit et baigné de désirs. Tout de même. Tu fais les choses. Tu emmènes les enfants à la garderie, puis à l’école. Tu vas au magasin et tu t’achètes du mascara. Tu marches dans les rues de ta ville, que tu connais, tu croises le regard d’étrangers, que tu ne connais pas. De plus en plus, tu parais invisible. Pas que tu aies beaucoup chatoyé auparavant. Les femmes comme toi ne chatoient pas, en tout cas pas dans les rues de ta ville, ni dans les pages de tes journaux. Les femmes comme toi chatoient dans la nuit sous l’œil d’un homme indulgent. Les femmes comme toi chatoient en accouchant. Tout de même. Pas besoin de chatoyer pour exister, tu te dis. J’existe, tu te dis. Je vieillis mais j’existe. Tu tentes souvent de te corriger : je vieillis et j’existe. Mais le mais se faufile toujours entre tes dents. Tu vieillis et tu existes, tu renouvèles les cartes d’assurance-maladie de tes enfants, tu regardes tes émissions, tu lis des romans, avec un peu de chance tu as un passeport, que tu n’utilises presque pas sauf pour le Vermont, sauf pour New York, et ça te satisfait, la plupart du temps cette vie te satisfait ou du moins, te ressemble. Cette vie te ressemble. Repousse de cheveux. Maux de ventre. Électrolyse. Orgasmes. Deuil.

Il y a parfois des fulgurances. Tu es d’une génération qu’on dit faible, qu’on dit sacrifiée. Ta génération a inventé la pop dépressive et le suicide épidémique. Tu te nourris de solitude et de fatalisme, comme d’autres de pain et de jeux. Assez creusé. Retournez-vous sur ce que j’aime, qui sanglote à côté de moi, et fracassez-vous, je vous prie, que je meure une bonne fois. 1 N’empêche. Tu t’es fait prendre au fil des ans à aimer des choses dont tu soupçonnais à peine l’existence avant. Planter des semences de pivoines. Choisir des carreaux de céramique. Filmer des enfants en tenue de taekwondo. Crier un peu quand ton fils fend une planche de bois du bout de son pied. Trouver un soutien-gorge minimisant. Choisir le parc Jarry. Pas le parc Lafontaine, pas le parc Westmount, pas le parc Jeanne-Mance. Choisir le parc Jarry comme on prend le chaton le moins joli d’une portée, pas parce qu’on en a pitié, mais parce qu’il nous ressemble plus. Snober le vin médiocre. Demander un nécessaire à crème brulée pour son anniversaire. Le recevoir. Se demander si tout ça, c’est s’embourgeoiser. Ne pas savoir. Être un adulte, et ne même pas s’en mortifier. Tu es tout de même moderne. Tu vas sur l’internet. Tu t’achètes des bottes sur eBay. Tu reçois des informations hebdomadaires sur la progression de ta grossesse. Your uterus is up near your rib cage and if you’re unlucky you may discover the delights of leg cramps, hemorrhoids or varicose veins.

essai lyrique — 39 Licence enqc-266-3-14 accordée le 02 janvier 2013 à N Langelier


Tu regardes des bandes-annonces. Tu participes à des forums de discussion. Tu tapes le nom de celui qui t’a brisé le cœur dans les années 90, au temps du dial-up et des ordinateurs grèges. Au temps où tu ne connaissais pas un seul propriétaire de cellulaire. Tu veux voir s’il existe sur la Toile. Tu ne le trouves pas. (Il n’est pas célèbre, faut croire.) Tu tapes ton propre nom. Tu te trouves. (Tu n’es pas célèbre non plus, ta notoriété est presque confidentielle, seulement tu appartiens à un milieu tapageur, un milieu comme l’enfant qui éclabousse tous les autres à la pataugeoire, alors tu te trouves sur la Toile, et quelque chose dans tes veines se gonfle alors, peut-être ta grossièreté.) Tu cherches des maladies, au creux de la nuit, tu traques la mort qui se tapit entre tes doigts, sous tes cheveux, dans ton oreille, au fond de ton cœur bourré d’extrasystoles. Tu connais le cancer, tu connais la maladie de Crohn, tu connais la tachycardie supraventriculaire paroxystique, tu connais l’anxiété généralisée. Un temps, tu fréquentes Phobies-Zéro. Tu juges tous ces gens dans les forums qui écrivent mal, qui mangent mal, qui enfantent mal. Tu t’en veux. Tu fermes le portable. Un jour il arrive. La veille il n’existait pas et là, oui, il est là, il t’appelle, il t’invite. Tu es invitée. Au début, il t’indiffère. Il te semble temporaire, il est enveloppé d’étoffes pauvres et il est éclairé au néon. Il ne te ressemble pas, il est né des mains d’une poignée d’étudiants américains, et ça parait, te dis-tu, sa grossière américanité parait (et en disant ça tu te défends bien d’être antiaméricaine, tu le précises, tu voulais seulement dire que cette américanité-là, non seulement elle ne te ressemble pas, mais elle ne t’intéresse pas). Ha ! Au début, il ne t’intéresse pas. Bienheureux ceux que tout ça n’intéresse pas, te diras-tu plus tard. La première brèche arrive en été, alors que tu es assise sur ton divan scandinave, pas de la variété historique, plutôt de la variété Tel quel, la tête engourdie de commerce électronique et des courriels circulaires de ton association professionnelle. Ce jour-là, il te parle d’un amour devenu caduque, il te donne des nouvelles, il t’apprend que cet amour d’un autre temps (du temps de la peur du millénaire ! Du temps des lettres d’amour par la poste !) s’est marié à une autre, il t’apprend qu’ils sont au soleil quelque part entre l’orient et le mauvais gout, qu’elle porte une robe blanche, qu’ils sont heureux et sous-exposés par une caméra sans loyauté. Il ne pense pas à mal, il n’est rien d’autre qu’un messager. Il t’informe. Tu le sais. Mais il t’a blessée, il a négligé ta sensibilité, il t’emmerde et devant l’écran en une minute à peine le voilà éjecté, il n’existe plus, adios vile époque obsessive, je retourne aux allées sinueuses et aux vieux visages de mon marché public. Dis-tu. Il te laisse partir, d’ailleurs. Il ne te retient pas. Mais il te demande tout de même de t’expliquer. C’est parce que tu le vois trop ? C’est parce que tu

ne le trouves pas utile ? C’est parce que tu ne te sens pas en sécurité avec lui ? C’est parce que tu ne le comprends pas ? Il cherche des solutions avec toi. Il veut t’aider. Il te semble honorable. Il te rappelle qu’on se souviendra de toi. Qu’on pensera à toi, et qu’on sera triste. Il t’invite à revenir quand tu voudras. Alors tu reviens. Après tout, il te fait souvent rire. Il te parle de tes vieux amis, il te permet de les regarder vieillir. Il te redonne ton adolescence, tout ce temps, ce nectar de temps passé, entre deux cours foxés, à vivre d’amitiés et de blagues privées. Il aime ton visage. Il aime ta robe. Il aime ton spectacle. Il aime ton bébé. Il aime tes rénovations. Il aime tes observations. Il aime tes amis et leur spirituelle répartie. Il aime tes recettes. Il aime les articles que tu lis dans les journaux. Il te demande à quoi tu penses. Il te le demande constamment. Dans [...] la relation amoureuse, l’individu se sent exister plus intensément parce qu’il est convaincu que son amoureux pense sans cesse à lui. Au contraire, dans les nouveaux réseaux sociaux, l’individu se sent exister plus intensément parce qu’il s’imagine qu’un grand nombre de gens pensent à lui de temps en temps. Autrement dit, la quantité remplace la qualité, tandis que la préoccupation centrale reste la même : que quelqu’un pense à moi. 2 Il te promet d’être là à toute heure. Il t’instruit. Il te donne l’impression d’être de ton temps, d’être au courant, il te donne l’impression d’être visible. Il ne t’indiffère plus. Il t’attire. Il te donne envie de plus. Il te donne envie de lui appartenir, il te gonfle le cœur de ses demandes, il te répète que tu n’as rien à faire, qu’on va venir à toi, et c’est vrai, on vient à toi, tu es likée, tu es lovée d’attention, tu es aimée. Il te voit revenir à lui de plus en plus souvent. Il ne s’en formalise pas : il le savait, que tu reviendrais. Il te connait. Ensemble, vous explosez. Les personnes, les objets et le monde tout entier sont produits et n’existent que par la vertu de l’image et de l’écran qui les rend visibles, se dégageant ainsi des repères traditionnels où c’étaient la parole, l’écrit et l’acte qui travaillaient la réalité et prêtaient un sens à l’existence. Désormais l’émotion remplace le sens. 3

40 — essai lyrique Licence enqc-266-3-14 accordée le 02 janvier 2013 à N Langelier


essai lyrique — 41 Licence enqc-266-3-14 accordée le 02 janvier 2013 à N Langelier


42 — essai lyrique Licence enqc-266-3-14 accordée le 02 janvier 2013 à N Langelier


L’émotion remplace le sens, et vous vous en abreuvez. Vous vous roulez dans l’émotion, vous vous en badigeonnez, vous en caramélisez votre peau, et du même souffle vous vomissez votre lassitude face au sens, vous lui gueulez de fermer sa grande gueule réductrice, son intransigeante rigueur de merde et sa propension au doute. Vous lui crachez votre déception qu’il ne vous ait rien apporté de mieux, qu’il vous ait parlé d’un monde meilleur sans jamais vous l’offrir véritablement, ensemble vous le voyez bien que ça vibre et que ça bande et que ça galvanise, cette putain d’émotion. Ensemble, vous allez partout. On vous cruise, on vous félicite, on vous excite, on vous permet d’entrer. Ensemble vous êtes la sacrament de bande de chanceux pour qui le cordon de velours du portier s’ouvre respectueusement, en courbant la nuque, en vous portant aux nues. Vous êtes populaire. Vous êtes riche soudain, 302 fois riche, 506 fois riche, 1 343 fois riche. Vous devenez cet alliage précieux de retenue, d’esprit, d’engagement, d’entregent auquel tous aspirent. On aspire à vous. Vous distillez un équilibre parfait entre l’offre et la demande — vous montrez une photo de vous, oui, et il faut changer la photo souvent, pour ne pas ennuyer l’œil, mais une photo un peu floue, un peu loin, un peu poétique, merveilleusement distanciée, en quelque sorte, pour ne pas s’abandonner à l’autre, pour détenir les clés, pour rappeler qu’à tout moment la rupture peut survenir et abattre les rêves de communion de vos admirateurs. Vous savez y faire, pour intéresser. La plupart des échanges engagés dans les espaces virtuels répondent à la règle qu’est celle de Google : le nombre d’interlocuteurs importe bien plus que le jugement de chacun d’entre eux. Cette règle consiste en effet à faire apparaitre en premier les espaces ou les productions qui recueillent le plus grand nombre de visites. Que ces visites se soient accompagnées de plaisir, de dégout ou de colère n’a aucune importance. 4 Une fois, vous réussissez à faire lever 49 pouces pour une seule phrase, de votre cru en plus. Plus fort encore, certains de ces pouces appartiennent à des vedettes, des vraies de vraies, de celles qui ajoutent un complet ou un perso ou plus chaleureusement un complet merci à la droite de leur nom pour éloigner les indésirables. Mais vous, vous êtes devenue une désirable. Vous sabrez le champagne de votre autosatisfaction et vous buvez au goulot sans même vous couper. Vous félicitez vos collègues importants (vous montrez que vous avez des collègues importants). Vous cataloguez vos recettes spectaculaires (vous montrez que vous réussissez des recettes spectaculaires, que vous êtes vous-même, d’une manière insaisissable mais non moins palpable, une recette spectaculaire). Vous vous référez à des articles semi-pointus (vous montrez que votre sérieux ne se prend pas au sérieux, ce qui est la

seule sorte de sérieux souhaitable). Vous faites état de votre statut conjugal (vous montrez votre normalité). Vous confirmez votre appartenance sociale — plus encore, vous construisez de main de maitre, en ne vous étonnant même pas de la facilité avec laquelle vous y parvenez, votre importance sociale. Ce sont des jours glorieux, et il vous arrive de vous endormir blottis l’un dans l’autre, avec la douce conviction d’être accompagnés. – Les paroles m’écartèlent. – Où es-tu ? – Dans les paroles. – Quelle est ta vérité ? – Celle qui me déchire. 5 Vous ne perdez jamais de vitesse, vous ne faites qu’en gagner. Même le verbe s’y arrime, vous collectionnez les phrases cryptiques à la deuxième personne du singulier (Enlève ton top à Barcelone, j’arrive), les charmantes phrases mathématiques juxtaposées à des réflexions cocasses (Blender sans couvercle + guacamole + moi = OMGWTFBBQ), le lyrisme nourri à la ponctuation (Mad Men. Saison cinq. Je capote. Je meurs.) L’écriture vous élève, vous donne un rang, vous donne une place au panthéon des statuts, quel mot adéquat, vous dites-vous, quel formidable terme adéquat que ce statut, à la fois convoité et impénétrable, comme une construction aristocratique de l’activité sociale. Vous commentez les éditoriaux de votre quotidien local. Vous ne manquez pas d’afficher les photos de votre présence à telle grande manifestation, telle mémorable première, tel émouvant départ de YUL. Vous regardez le porte-parole étudiant en Luke Skywalker. Vous ne riez pas de lui, mais avec lui, avec tout le monde. Vous êtes au restaurant, vous êtes au musée, vous êtes en voyage, vous revenez de voyage. Vous vous labourez le corps et l’âme d’une foule d’informations, comme autant de pépites fulgurantes, comme autant de conversation starters, comme autant de preuves de votre absolue, bienheureuse appartenance. Mais il ne t’a pas tout dit. Dans votre délire d’amour, il ne t’a pas tout dit. Aussi lorsque les premiers coups arrivent, tu ne les attendais pas. Il commence par te présenter des gens, de nouveaux amis, qu’à priori tu trouves charmants, qu’à priori tu prends pour des alliés, d’autres jalons dorés dans ton ascension vers le soi galvanisé. Il te fait d’abord croire en l’infinité des possibles, mais bientôt, il change infinité pour limites, et possibles pour ambitions. Tes ambitions. Les limites de tes ambitions se dessinent, et c’est lui qui tient le crayon. Il te montre celles qui font rire tout le monde. Il te montre ceux qui se marient à Cape Cod. Il te montre celui qui tient le pays au creux de sa verve lyrique. essai lyrique — 43

Licence enqc-266-3-14 accordée le 02 janvier 2013 à N Langelier


Il te montre un espace, sorte de cafétéria d’école secondaire sémiologique, où l’ordre social se hiérarchise, lentement mais surement, pareil comme dans la vraie vie. Une fois, il te montre que malgré la photo sublime de ta nouvelle tarte compliquée, personne ne t’a remarquée. Une autre fois, il te rappelle qu’à ton anniversaire, tu reçois les souhaits génériques de gens qui ne t’ont pas revue depuis dix ans et qui ne prennent la peine de le faire que parce qu’ils sont sur l’autre versant, eux, sur la pente ascendante, celle où l’on construit son capital de sympathie. Une autre locution particulièrement adéquate, penses-tu, en revisitant une nouvelle fois ta formidable tarte, en te rassurant qu’elle est très belle, tu le sais, tu as vu et gouté l’originale dans la pâtisserie de New York où on l’a créée. Plus loin dans ton autre album (« New York c’est manger », il t’avait d’ailleurs félicitée pour ce titre à la fois spirituel et direct), une photo de la vraie tarte trône comme une reine de validation, même si, là non plus, personne n’a levé le pouce. Après une nuit difficile dans les dédales de l’angoisse qu’aucune indulgence masculine n’aura su tarir, il t’annonce que certains de tes amis sont si remarquables qu’ils n’ont même pas besoin de parler d’eux : on le fait pour eux. Ils se contentent de distribuer leur doux miel de temps à autre, et l’on se jette en file au pied de leur mur pour les louanger, sans même espérer une réponse. Cette tierce présence, celle de ton public, en quelque sorte, il te précise qu’elle est essentielle pour assurer ta place au sommet, et il te menace de ne plus réchauffer ton siège si tu n’es pas plus proactive. Et il ne veut pas te laisser tomber. Il t’aime encore. Si tu fais ce qu’il faut, il t’aimera toujours. Les incitations que nous avons à nous rendre visibles nous conduisent à vivre sur le registre presque exclusif du moi et tendent à nous déposséder de notre intériorité. Se constitue en effet un moi de façade, une sorte de « faux self », comme dirait Winnicott, dans lequel nous projetons non pas un idéal intérieur mais un idéal sociétal, en accord avec les exigences de la société contemporaine. 6 Il te dit : L’heure est grave, ne t’arrête pas. Il te dit : Montre cette photo de toi tapissée sur les murs d’un théâtre, et tu le fais. Il te dit : Relaie cet article hilarant que personne n’a encore relayé, mais assure-toi d’être la première, cherche les sources obscures, et ne t’en excuse pas. Et tu le fais. C’est si bon, sur le coup, la valse des pouces levés. Il te dit : Il n’y aura aucun répit, ta vie sera tissée de ces instants, tu ne vieillis pas ici, tu grandis ici, tu jouis ici, tu mourras ici. Tu découvres qu’il te ment. Qu’il dit la même chose à tout le monde. Qu’il fait croire à l’égalité des chances. Qu’il l’avait vu depuis le début, ce poil dru au bord de ton menton, cette tare d’humanité, cette ordinaire ordinarité. Ta façade s’est

craquelée, et il se lasse de te restaurer. Il commence à te préférer ses autres poulains, et tu le comprends, ils sont si satisfaisants. Certains fréquentent Cannes. Certains fréquentent Hollywood ! Certains sont si réussis que même tes amis les plus réussis se comportent en groupies devant eux. Tu comprends aussi que même si tu répugnes à l’admettre, même si tu te tiens responsable d’une telle dérive, de plus en plus, en sa compagnie, tu t’ennuies. Tu t’emmerdes. Tu te fais chier jusqu’au trognon. Tu nourris un tel ennui qu’il devient hargneux, que tu envoies ton fiel truffé d’écume sur l’écran déjà brumeux d’empreintes de doigts et tu gueules que merde on l’a vu cent fois la vidéo de la décoratrice de BaieSaint-Paul, et on s’est tué à répéter que ces carcasses de renards ne sont pas celles qu’utilise Canada Goose sur les cols de vos précieux manteaux essentiels pour aller manifester au chaud et oui, bien sûr, les propos de telle réactionnaire des HEC nous indignent tous mais bon Dieu de bon Dieu, pourquoi faut-il que les autres sachent qui s’est indigné et à quelle heure ? Alors la solitude te regagne, et tu contemples le désastre comme on regarde un tableau, c’est-à-dire avec une certaine distance, même si c’est toi sur la toile, tout éviscérée de ta dignité, toute gavée d’extimité. J’ai désigné sous le nom d’extimité le désir qui nous incite à montrer certains aspects de notre soi intime pour les faire valider par les autres, afin qu’ils prennent une valeur plus grande à nos yeux. [...] Le désir d’extimité est inséparable d’une prise de risque : la valeur de ce qui est montré n’est jamais aussi connue et c’est justement par le retour des autres qu’il est appelé à en prendre. 7 Et tu rentres chez toi. Tu ne trouves rien d’autre à faire que fermer la porte de la salle de bain, mettre le loquet, faire couler les robinets dans cette nouvelle baignoire que tu n’auras pas montrée, dont tu ne connaitras pas les effets potentiels, ou le potentiel d’effets, et tirer le clapet de la douche. Sous l’eau bouillante tes vaisseaux sanguins, comme ta honte, se dilatent. Tu ressors ta vieille Dickinson, rassurante comme un rhume. Two Worlds — like Audiences — disperse And leave the Soul — alone 8 Tu laves tes cheveux, tu te souviens qu’il faudra les teindre bientôt, tu es trop vieille pour ne pas t’en soucier, et trop jeune pour ne plus t’en soucier. En sortant, tu évites le miroir : ce soir le choc de tous ces selves en mal de définition psychanalytique serait trop grand, et le verre se briserait assurément. Tu préfères regarder le sol. Tu remarques une ampoule qui ne guérit pas, sur le petit orteil. Il faudra trouver ce vernis à ongles orangé au joli nom dont parlait cette blogueuse, et qui promettait d’être la couleur de l’été. La dernière fois à la pharmacie, il n’en restait plus. Tu te souviens avoir pensé

44 — essai lyrique Licence enqc-266-3-14 accordée le 02 janvier 2013 à N Langelier


à ce moment-là : tout le monde désire ce vernis. Je cherche ce que tout le monde cherche. Tu as eu honte de t’en être trouvée si désespérément apaisée. Tu te dis que peut-être, avec une couche de Tart Deco sur tes orteils fatigués, tes pas seront plus légers. Tu t’enroules dans une serviette. Tu brosses tes cheveux. Tu couvres ton visage de crème. Je vieillis et j’existe. Tu éteins les lumières de la maison, la veilleuse des garçons, la guirlande extérieure. Tu passes devant l’écran, la lumière bleue t’y appelle, tu t’assois, juste une fois, une dernière fois peut-être. Car si elle naissait, la phrase qui serait toute la réponse, Ni toi ni moi ne saurions la reconnaitre Alors jette-toi, jetons-nous dans ces mots copiés D’amour, de merci de pardon. Car c’est ce jour-là qui s’achève, Celui des liens de l’encre à creuser les réponses [...] Si je te disais que chaque vie Que toute vie Se résume aux réponses qu’elle a creusées Tu dirais que chaque vie toute vie Se mêle désormais à la tienne jetée dans la bouche De ces mots sans phrase : Amour merci pardon. 9 Tu as froid perchée sur ta chaise de travail. Tu le sens sur ta peau, ta peau de mère, distendue par endroits. Tu as froid jusqu’au cœur. Il ne reste rien à lire. Rien d’autre ce soir. Tu fermes l’écran. Dans ton lit, un homme indulgent est endormi. ◊

Fanny Britt est auteure et traductrice. Elle compte une dizaine de pièces à son actif, dont Couche avec moi (c’est l’hiver) et Bienveillance (Leméac). Elle a traduit plus d’une quinzaine de pièces du répertoire contemporain, en plus de plusieurs ouvrages littéraires. Elle œuvre également en littérature jeunesse, entre autres avec sa série d’albums Félicien, publiée à la Courte Échelle. Notes 1 René Char, Assez creusé, in Fureur et mystère. 2 Serge Tisseron, Les nouveaux réseaux sociaux, in Les tyrannies de la visibilité, Érès. 3 Jacqueline Barus-Michel, Une société sur écrans, in Les tyrannies de la visibilité, Érès. 4 Serge Tisseron, Les nouveaux réseaux sociaux, in Les tyrannies de la visibilité, Érès. 5 Edmond Jabès, Le livre des questions. 6 Nicole Aubert, en entrevue avec Le Figaro.fr 7 Serge Tisseron, Les nouveaux réseaux sociaux, in Les tyrannies de la visibilité, Érès. 8 Emily Dickinson, Departed!—!To the Judgment -... 9 Suzanne Jacob, Amour, que veux-tu faire!?

à propos des photos De quelle façon voulons-nous être représentés ? Comment souhaitons-nous être perçus par l’autre ? Qu’entendons-nous montrer de nousmêmes ? Et dissimuler ? Que se passe-t-il lorsque le portrait dévoile une expression authentique, mais imprévue et non souhaitée par son modèle ? Voici quelques-unes des questions qui ont guidé la photographe Marie-Lyne Quirion dans la mise sur pied de cette série. Fascinée par le portrait, elle a voulu interroger le contrôle excessif qu’on exerce sur sa propre image à l’ère des médias sociaux. De la pose toute calculée, adoptée le temps d’un clic, aux différentes façons de trafiquer le résultat avant publication, l’usage d’artifices est coutume. Ablation de telle partie, grossissement de telle autre, disparition du prétendu défaut gênant, contrôle du geste à la prise de vue, jeu séducteur devant la caméra, clin d’œil « foufou », moue sexy... La valorisation de soi ne se prive d’aucun effort. La série présentée ici remet en question cette idée du contrôle qu’on exerce sur son apparence. En chatouillant simplement les modèles au moment de la prise de la photo, on obtient d’eux une participation active, qui se traduit par une expression involontaire. Le résultat : un ludique pied-denez à notre obsession de l’image. ◊

Après son baccalauréat en mathématiques à l'Université de Montréal, Marie-Lyne Quirion a étudié la photographie aux universités Concordia et Paris 8. Elle travaille à l'Office national du film du Canada, et poursuit parallèlement ses réflexions artistiques. essai lyrique — 45 Licence enqc-266-3-14 accordée le 02 janvier 2013 à N Langelier


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Chef’s

guide to Toronto KBK

By Karon Liu, Jacob Rutka, David Sax, Danielle groen, and Denise Balkissoon

Chefs tend to be an opinionated sort, and the ones behind Toronto’s restaurants are no exception. We surveyed 99 of the city’s top tastemakers to find out who’s whipping up the most innovative food, where they’d set up shop next, which burger mashups haunt their dreams, and whether Terroni or Libretto takes the pizza crown. Some other discoveries: Toronto chefs have complicated feelings about Momofuku’s David Chang, who brings his New York restaurant chain to the city this summer. They’re generous tippers, but are terribly impatient about waiting in line. They’re surprisingly well versed in Margaret Atwood’s oeuvre. And they’re in the midst of a serious love affair with pork. For more culinary insights, as well as a cheat sheet to the city’s best food trucks, read on.


30 | May 10-May 16, 2012

thegridto.com

May 10-May 16, 2012 |

thegridto.com

31

The Influencers

99

“The blood noodles are so rich, the sausage has real floral heat, and the creamy burrata is so soothing. It’s one of those unique dishes where you can taste all the components in one bite.”—Ted Corrado, executive chef at Compass Leisure

CHEFS

CAN’T BE

WRONG

“The dish is a great example of Keriwa’s Native-Canadian style. It’s a modern interpretation, terrific to serve with local spring vegetables, and paired smartly with the light and airy bannock.”—Delux chef Corinna Mozo

KBK We asked a whackload of Toronto chefs who they think is cooking the most exciting food in town. Ten names came up again and again, so we gathered their most innovative dishes and catered the ultimate dinner party. You probably shouldn’t try these meals at home, but you can order them off menus across the city. And you really, really should.

Jacob Sharkey Pearce

By karon Liu and jacob rutka

KBK photographs by Liam mogan

Aaron Joseph Bear Robe

Niagara pork loin and apple cider–glazed belly, $24 Ursa, 924 Queen St. W., 416-536-8963

Bison tongue pemmican, $15

“We’re bridging the gap between something that’s good for you and a great dish that’s also presented beautifully,” says chef Jacob Sharkey Pearce, who opened the modernCanadian restaurant Ursa with his brother, Lucas, in January. Queen West diners don’t have to fear being put in a food coma, but the last thing Pearce wants is to come off as a health guru—despite the fact that he’ll sneak psyllium fibre into his bread crisps on occasion. Rest assured, meat gets ample attention at Ursa, even if Pearce’s popular pork trio actually began as a dish starring sunchokes. Now the pork is brined in whey and the belly is given an apple-cider glaze for a light, honey flavour. Those sunchokes haven’t been entirely forgotten, though: They get a supporting role as a creamy, earthy purée that holds the dish’s flavours together.

Having previously refined his craft at the high-end Harbord Street stalwart Splendido, Aaron Joseph Bear Robe opened Parkdale’s unique Keriwa Café last year, emphasizing local, sustainable ingredients shone through the prism of his fine-dining training and Aboriginal heritage. “I love honouring seasonal ingredients, but really I’m just interested in making delicious food,” he says. And though his menu often changes, there’s always a place for bison, a staple of the chef’s culture. To make his bison tongue pemmican, he brines the meat for four days until it has the consistency of pastrami; it’s then sliced thin and served with Saskatoon berries, wild mushrooms, and house-made red fife bannock. Dressed with greens so fresh they look like they’ve been foraged specially for your meal, this dish showcases Bear Robe’s flair for gorgeous plates.

the endorsement “The food isn’t gimmicky at all. Jacob has the whole package, with seasonal ingredients and a real respect for food.”—John Sinopoli, chef and partner at Table 17 and Ascari Enoteca.

Keriwa Café, 1690 Queen St. W., 416-533-2552

Voted Toronto’s most influential chef by a landslide

Matty Matheson

Nick Liu

Rob Gentile

Parts and Labour, 1566 Queen St. W., 416-588-7750

GwaiLo (no address or phone yet)

Buca, 604 King St. W., 416-865-1600

Since Oddfellows’ closing four years ago, Matthew “Matty” Matheson has settled in at sister restaurant Parts and Labour in Parkdale, where he’s mastered fare that combines French execution with Canadian ingredients. Consider his newest dish: a half Cornish hen that’s brined for 24 hours, then seared between two cast-iron pans and finished with braised kale, beech mushrooms, baby carrots, and Kozlik’s Triple Crunch mustard. Chicken may not be the most exciting protein on the menu, but this dish—with its crunchy, papery skin and the kick from our city’s best condiment— is a sure winner. “I don’t fuck around with molecular shit,” Matheson says. “I consider my food to be more traditional.”

After four years spent at Niagara Street Café, Nick Liu has generated huge excitement for his new restaurant, GwaiLo, even though he’s yet to secure its location. The place’s name translates to “ghost man” in Cantonese, a term typically used to describe white foreigners. “I’m Chinese, but I was born in Canada,” Liu says. “The food I cook is a combination of all the cultures I’ve come across, so I call myself a gwai lo.” That combination was on full display at a preview dinner in March, where Liu brought out platters of whole trout, fried to a golden brown and propped up like they were still swimming. It’s a trick he picked up from Nobu, but Liu’s version adds a caramel soy glaze, a sweet Thai chili sauce, and a green curry mayo. The result is a lusciously smoky pink trout with addictive dipping sauces.

After a decade working at a trio of Mark McEwan restaurants, Rob Gentile opened Buca, his ambitious, rustic Italian eatery situated in a high-ceilinged former boiler room off King Street. Two and a half years have since passed and the place is still packed, helped in no small part by the mix of endlessly inventive food with comfortable, family-style dining. Gentile even ducks out periodically to hone his skills in Italy, working as a butcher in the Tuscan town of Montecino and, more recently, at a two-star Michelin restaurant in southern Sicily. That inspiration is evident in his terrific spaghetti al nero di maiale. With noodles made from pork blood and n’duja sausage made of pig hearts, it’s not necessarily a dish for the culinarily cautious, but it's one that thrives on its delectably strong flavours.

Cornish hen, $23

the endorsement “Matty elevates North American comfort food. The hardest part is finding the balance between food that looks like something mom made and something that comes from a restaurant.”—Leeto Han, chef at Swish by Han.

Whole fried trout (no price yet)

the endorsement “The presentation is very dramatic, fish head and all. The batter is crispy and the fish looks amazing. It just shows great technique and forethought.” —Jonathan Poon, chef at Chantecler.

Spaghetti al nero di maiale, $21


30 | May 10-May 16, 2012

thegridto.com

May 10-May 16, 2012 |

thegridto.com

31

The Influencers

99

“The blood noodles are so rich, the sausage has real floral heat, and the creamy burrata is so soothing. It’s one of those unique dishes where you can taste all the components in one bite.”—Ted Corrado, executive chef at Compass Leisure

CHEFS

CAN’T BE

WRONG

“The dish is a great example of Keriwa’s Native-Canadian style. It’s a modern interpretation, terrific to serve with local spring vegetables, and paired smartly with the light and airy bannock.”—Delux chef Corinna Mozo

KBK We asked a whackload of Toronto chefs who they think is cooking the most exciting food in town. Ten names came up again and again, so we gathered their most innovative dishes and catered the ultimate dinner party. You probably shouldn’t try these meals at home, but you can order them off menus across the city. And you really, really should.

Jacob Sharkey Pearce

By karon Liu and jacob rutka

KBK photographs by Liam mogan

Aaron Joseph Bear Robe

Niagara pork loin and apple cider–glazed belly, $24 Ursa, 924 Queen St. W., 416-536-8963

Bison tongue pemmican, $15

“We’re bridging the gap between something that’s good for you and a great dish that’s also presented beautifully,” says chef Jacob Sharkey Pearce, who opened the modernCanadian restaurant Ursa with his brother, Lucas, in January. Queen West diners don’t have to fear being put in a food coma, but the last thing Pearce wants is to come off as a health guru—despite the fact that he’ll sneak psyllium fibre into his bread crisps on occasion. Rest assured, meat gets ample attention at Ursa, even if Pearce’s popular pork trio actually began as a dish starring sunchokes. Now the pork is brined in whey and the belly is given an apple-cider glaze for a light, honey flavour. Those sunchokes haven’t been entirely forgotten, though: They get a supporting role as a creamy, earthy purée that holds the dish’s flavours together.

Having previously refined his craft at the high-end Harbord Street stalwart Splendido, Aaron Joseph Bear Robe opened Parkdale’s unique Keriwa Café last year, emphasizing local, sustainable ingredients shone through the prism of his fine-dining training and Aboriginal heritage. “I love honouring seasonal ingredients, but really I’m just interested in making delicious food,” he says. And though his menu often changes, there’s always a place for bison, a staple of the chef’s culture. To make his bison tongue pemmican, he brines the meat for four days until it has the consistency of pastrami; it’s then sliced thin and served with Saskatoon berries, wild mushrooms, and house-made red fife bannock. Dressed with greens so fresh they look like they’ve been foraged specially for your meal, this dish showcases Bear Robe’s flair for gorgeous plates.

the endorsement “The food isn’t gimmicky at all. Jacob has the whole package, with seasonal ingredients and a real respect for food.”—John Sinopoli, chef and partner at Table 17 and Ascari Enoteca.

Keriwa Café, 1690 Queen St. W., 416-533-2552

Voted Toronto’s most influential chef by a landslide

Matty Matheson

Nick Liu

Rob Gentile

Parts and Labour, 1566 Queen St. W., 416-588-7750

GwaiLo (no address or phone yet)

Buca, 604 King St. W., 416-865-1600

Since Oddfellows’ closing four years ago, Matthew “Matty” Matheson has settled in at sister restaurant Parts and Labour in Parkdale, where he’s mastered fare that combines French execution with Canadian ingredients. Consider his newest dish: a half Cornish hen that’s brined for 24 hours, then seared between two cast-iron pans and finished with braised kale, beech mushrooms, baby carrots, and Kozlik’s Triple Crunch mustard. Chicken may not be the most exciting protein on the menu, but this dish—with its crunchy, papery skin and the kick from our city’s best condiment— is a sure winner. “I don’t fuck around with molecular shit,” Matheson says. “I consider my food to be more traditional.”

After four years spent at Niagara Street Café, Nick Liu has generated huge excitement for his new restaurant, GwaiLo, even though he’s yet to secure its location. The place’s name translates to “ghost man” in Cantonese, a term typically used to describe white foreigners. “I’m Chinese, but I was born in Canada,” Liu says. “The food I cook is a combination of all the cultures I’ve come across, so I call myself a gwai lo.” That combination was on full display at a preview dinner in March, where Liu brought out platters of whole trout, fried to a golden brown and propped up like they were still swimming. It’s a trick he picked up from Nobu, but Liu’s version adds a caramel soy glaze, a sweet Thai chili sauce, and a green curry mayo. The result is a lusciously smoky pink trout with addictive dipping sauces.

After a decade working at a trio of Mark McEwan restaurants, Rob Gentile opened Buca, his ambitious, rustic Italian eatery situated in a high-ceilinged former boiler room off King Street. Two and a half years have since passed and the place is still packed, helped in no small part by the mix of endlessly inventive food with comfortable, family-style dining. Gentile even ducks out periodically to hone his skills in Italy, working as a butcher in the Tuscan town of Montecino and, more recently, at a two-star Michelin restaurant in southern Sicily. That inspiration is evident in his terrific spaghetti al nero di maiale. With noodles made from pork blood and n’duja sausage made of pig hearts, it’s not necessarily a dish for the culinarily cautious, but it's one that thrives on its delectably strong flavours.

Cornish hen, $23

the endorsement “Matty elevates North American comfort food. The hardest part is finding the balance between food that looks like something mom made and something that comes from a restaurant.”—Leeto Han, chef at Swish by Han.

Whole fried trout (no price yet)

the endorsement “The presentation is very dramatic, fish head and all. The batter is crispy and the fish looks amazing. It just shows great technique and forethought.” —Jonathan Poon, chef at Chantecler.

Spaghetti al nero di maiale, $21


32 | May 10-May 16, 2012

thegridto.com

“Brandon makes my heart smile. He’s a really talented kid, and he’s brought a lot of interesting food to the menu. I just love the horse. It’s so smooth and sweet.”—Tutti Matti chef and owner Alida Solomon

7.

May 10-May 16, 2012 |

thegridto.com

“It’s just a fantastic dish. It’s creamy, cheesy, savoury, and smoky, but what really makes it amazing is the smoked ham-hock consommÉ they put around the rim of the grits.”—Splendido chef Victor Barry

Grant van Gameren

Brandon Olsen

Matt Blondin

Jonathan Poon

Jeff Claudio

Enoteca Sociale, 1288 Dundas St. W., 416-534-1200

The Black Hoof, 928 Dundas St. W., 416-551-8854

Acadia, 50 Clinton St., 416-792-6002

Chantecler, 1320 Queen St. W., 416-628-3586

Yours Truly, 229 Ossington Ave., 416-533-2243

Last August, when he parted ways with The Black Hoof, Grant van Gameren could have taken any number of the city’s high-profile cooking jobs. Instead, he accepted the executive chef position at Dundas West’s Roman darling Enoteca Sociale, the result of which has been less beef tongue and more bistecca. “Moving to Enoteca really opened doors for me,” says van Gameren. “I’m able to make some of the dishes that never flew at the Hoof.” Take this salad: Crispy, smoky baked kale is accented by shavings of tart persimmon and slivers of earthy king oyster mushrooms, then topped with a sprinkling of farro and toasted pine nuts. Van Gameren’s dish is so balanced, it’s easy to forget the curious facts that it’s both healthy and vegan.

Van Gameren left a big hole in The Black Hoof’s cubicle-sized kitchen, but Brandon Olsen has filled it effortlessly—keeping tables and stomachs full with his imaginative menu, while upholding the restaurant’s charcuterie and off-cut theme (blood custard, anyone?). “I ask myself three questions when I come up with a dish: What am I using, what am I trying to achieve, and what’s the reference point?” Olsen says. He applied that to his spicy and mildly sweet horse tartare, which has been winning over even the least adventurous diners. Olsen wanted to twist the typical steak tartare, so he uses horse for its silkiness, adding homemade hickory sticks for their texture and pickled ramps for a slightly sour punch. A caper hollandaise sauce—a wink to the egg yolk that traditionally tops tartare—is the delicious final touch.

Matt Blondin’s not big on playing it safe. Why else open an eatery serving a style of food relatively foreign to Toronto, on a stretch of the city known for its lackluster Mediterranean fare? Yet Little Italy’s Acadia, which focuses on food inspired by the Maritimes and the American South, continues to garner high praise. And while the small menu changes often, one dish that remains is the shrimp and grits. “We try to take it off the menu, but it just gets such great feedback,” Blondin says. To make it, he tops a base of creamy, corny grits with fresh prawns, brined and barely poached, and a crystal-clear consommé. The result is a simple but warming dish. Get it while you still can—Blondin’s leaving the restaurant at the end of the month.

The unassuming Parkdale bistro Chantecler is far more than French-Canadian inflections and heritage chickens. It’s also where chef Jonathan Poon can play around with new techniques, a testament to his time spent under chefs Claudio Aprile and Jamie Kennedy. For the pork neck with XO sauce—a slightly more refined version of the crispy-skin barbeque pork dish his dad used to cook—Poon combines seared strips of meat, lightly dusted with white turmeric, with a bed of braised lettuce and poached oysters. As for that XO sauce, it’s made inhouse from dried seafood a full two weeks before service so the flavours have time to deepen—further evidence of the young chef’s dedication to his craft.

Ossington isn’t hard up for new restaurants, but Yours Truly is a clear stand-out. Chalk it up to chef Jeff Claudio’s commitment to an affordable, ever-changing tasting menu, with vegetarian options and tasty bar snacks to boot. “The kitchen team has meetings every night where we talk about ingredients and techniques we want to try the next day,” says Claudio. “It’s what motivates us.” A signature dish from the late-night menu is the salt cod inari, which traces its origins to a staff meal from Claudio’s previous stint at Scarpetta. Playing on Toronto’s obsession with Asian street food and taking advantage of Little Portugal’s proximity (the cod is from the fishmonger across the street), Claudio stuffs the fish and sushi rice into fried tofu pockets, creating tangy, salty two-bite snacks balanced by a tartar-like Japanese mayonnaise. Added bonus: The tofu pockets hold everything in neatly, so there’s no need for napkins.

Baked kale and persimmon salad, $13

the endorsement “Grant’s dish shows that if you’re working with your flavours properly, you can make a winning dish without extravagant components.”—Matt Blondin, chef at Acadia.

Spicy horse tartare, $16

Shrimp and grits, $13

Pork neck with XO sauce, $21

the endorsement “Johnny’s food is creative and beautiful. He has a delicate touch, which isn’t so common in Toronto.” —Guy Rawlings, chef at Bellwoods Brewery.

Salt cod inari, $6

“It’s comfort food— it’s like a Filet-O-Fish. That’s not meant to downgrade the dish; it’s the best. The last time I was there, I had eight plates of them. They should just have a cart in front of the restaurant selling them.” —The Gabardine chef Graham Pratt

33


32 | May 10-May 16, 2012

thegridto.com

“Brandon makes my heart smile. He’s a really talented kid, and he’s brought a lot of interesting food to the menu. I just love the horse. It’s so smooth and sweet.”—Tutti Matti chef and owner Alida Solomon

7.

May 10-May 16, 2012 |

thegridto.com

“It’s just a fantastic dish. It’s creamy, cheesy, savoury, and smoky, but what really makes it amazing is the smoked ham-hock consommÉ they put around the rim of the grits.”—Splendido chef Victor Barry

Grant van Gameren

Brandon Olsen

Matt Blondin

Jonathan Poon

Jeff Claudio

Enoteca Sociale, 1288 Dundas St. W., 416-534-1200

The Black Hoof, 928 Dundas St. W., 416-551-8854

Acadia, 50 Clinton St., 416-792-6002

Chantecler, 1320 Queen St. W., 416-628-3586

Yours Truly, 229 Ossington Ave., 416-533-2243

Last August, when he parted ways with The Black Hoof, Grant van Gameren could have taken any number of the city’s high-profile cooking jobs. Instead, he accepted the executive chef position at Dundas West’s Roman darling Enoteca Sociale, the result of which has been less beef tongue and more bistecca. “Moving to Enoteca really opened doors for me,” says van Gameren. “I’m able to make some of the dishes that never flew at the Hoof.” Take this salad: Crispy, smoky baked kale is accented by shavings of tart persimmon and slivers of earthy king oyster mushrooms, then topped with a sprinkling of farro and toasted pine nuts. Van Gameren’s dish is so balanced, it’s easy to forget the curious facts that it’s both healthy and vegan.

Van Gameren left a big hole in The Black Hoof’s cubicle-sized kitchen, but Brandon Olsen has filled it effortlessly—keeping tables and stomachs full with his imaginative menu, while upholding the restaurant’s charcuterie and off-cut theme (blood custard, anyone?). “I ask myself three questions when I come up with a dish: What am I using, what am I trying to achieve, and what’s the reference point?” Olsen says. He applied that to his spicy and mildly sweet horse tartare, which has been winning over even the least adventurous diners. Olsen wanted to twist the typical steak tartare, so he uses horse for its silkiness, adding homemade hickory sticks for their texture and pickled ramps for a slightly sour punch. A caper hollandaise sauce—a wink to the egg yolk that traditionally tops tartare—is the delicious final touch.

Matt Blondin’s not big on playing it safe. Why else open an eatery serving a style of food relatively foreign to Toronto, on a stretch of the city known for its lackluster Mediterranean fare? Yet Little Italy’s Acadia, which focuses on food inspired by the Maritimes and the American South, continues to garner high praise. And while the small menu changes often, one dish that remains is the shrimp and grits. “We try to take it off the menu, but it just gets such great feedback,” Blondin says. To make it, he tops a base of creamy, corny grits with fresh prawns, brined and barely poached, and a crystal-clear consommé. The result is a simple but warming dish. Get it while you still can—Blondin’s leaving the restaurant at the end of the month.

The unassuming Parkdale bistro Chantecler is far more than French-Canadian inflections and heritage chickens. It’s also where chef Jonathan Poon can play around with new techniques, a testament to his time spent under chefs Claudio Aprile and Jamie Kennedy. For the pork neck with XO sauce—a slightly more refined version of the crispy-skin barbeque pork dish his dad used to cook—Poon combines seared strips of meat, lightly dusted with white turmeric, with a bed of braised lettuce and poached oysters. As for that XO sauce, it’s made inhouse from dried seafood a full two weeks before service so the flavours have time to deepen—further evidence of the young chef’s dedication to his craft.

Ossington isn’t hard up for new restaurants, but Yours Truly is a clear stand-out. Chalk it up to chef Jeff Claudio’s commitment to an affordable, ever-changing tasting menu, with vegetarian options and tasty bar snacks to boot. “The kitchen team has meetings every night where we talk about ingredients and techniques we want to try the next day,” says Claudio. “It’s what motivates us.” A signature dish from the late-night menu is the salt cod inari, which traces its origins to a staff meal from Claudio’s previous stint at Scarpetta. Playing on Toronto’s obsession with Asian street food and taking advantage of Little Portugal’s proximity (the cod is from the fishmonger across the street), Claudio stuffs the fish and sushi rice into fried tofu pockets, creating tangy, salty two-bite snacks balanced by a tartar-like Japanese mayonnaise. Added bonus: The tofu pockets hold everything in neatly, so there’s no need for napkins.

Baked kale and persimmon salad, $13

the endorsement “Grant’s dish shows that if you’re working with your flavours properly, you can make a winning dish without extravagant components.”—Matt Blondin, chef at Acadia.

Spicy horse tartare, $16

Shrimp and grits, $13

Pork neck with XO sauce, $21

the endorsement “Johnny’s food is creative and beautiful. He has a delicate touch, which isn’t so common in Toronto.” —Guy Rawlings, chef at Bellwoods Brewery.

Salt cod inari, $6

“It’s comfort food— it’s like a Filet-O-Fish. That’s not meant to downgrade the dish; it’s the best. The last time I was there, I had eight plates of them. They should just have a cart in front of the restaurant selling them.” —The Gabardine chef Graham Pratt

33


34 | May 10-May 16, 2012

thegridto.com

May 10-May 16, 2012 |

thegridto.com

KBK

The cult of

David

Chang KBK

The renegade chef behind New York’s revered Momofuku restaurants has arguably influenced Toronto’s food scene more than anyone else in recent years. This summer, the man himself plans to set up shop in our backyard—and Toronto chefs are conflicted.

A

By David Sax

few years ago, when I was living in New York, I noticed a trend emerging among food lovers visiting from Toronto for the weekend.

You should care about all of this because, by the end of August, Toronto will boast not one, not two, but three Momofuku restaurants, all opening next to the new Shangri-La Hotel at University and Adelaide. It is the largest single Momofuku project to date and it’ll be the first time that Toronto feels the up-close-and-personal effects of the restaurant’s firebrand chef, 34-yearold David Chang. He’s not the first famous chef to open up shop here (his old boss, Daniel Boulud, is also coming this summer), but for a man who has visited our city no more than three or four times, Chang has arguably had a greater influence over dining in Toronto in recent years than scores of chefs who have toiled in our finest restaurants for decades. Which means his arrival, whether you like it or not, is a big deal. photograph akira yamada

I’d offer recommendations on where to eat—everything from delis and pizzerias to hip new restaurants—but they’d inevitably inform me that they already had plans: Friday night, they were heading straight to Momofuku Ssäm Bar, then lunch on Saturday at Momofuku Noodle Bar, dinner at Momofuku Ko, followed by lunch on Sunday at Momofuku Má Pêche. Of course, they made sure to mention an obligatory stop at Momofuku Milk Bar for a slice of crack pie (basically a diabetic’s nightmare, in pie form). I saw this pattern play out on Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and in iPhone photos of foodies, food writers, and chefs from Toronto hoisting a pork-belly bun, smiling like they’d just climbed Everest. It was Momofuku mania. In case you’ve been living under a rock—or food-lust just isn’t your bag—Momofuku is a restaurant group based in Manhattan’s East Village. It operates four restaurants in New York and one in Sydney, Australia. There are also five Momofuku Milk Bar bakery outlets in New York, featuring Willy Wonka–style stoner dream snacks, like cereal-milk soft-serve ice cream and “compost cookies” (containing crushed chips and pretzels). Momofuku also has two best-selling cookbooks (one savory, one sweet), as well as a quarterly culinary magazine, published by indie literary stalwarts McSweeney’s, called Lucky Peach (which is roughly how Momofuku, a Japanese word, translates into English).

T

K

he son of Korean immigrant parents, Chang grew up in the suburbs of Vir-

ginia and spent his early 20s working, without much acclaim, in some of New York’s best fine-dining kitchens. He also lived in Japan for a time, studying the way even simple foods were prepared with exacting precision, and, in 2004, he opened the

35

Momofuku Noodle Bar, serving high-end ramen soup with toppings like fatty pork belly and an egg soft-boiled over many hours, so carefully that the yolk would ooze out in slow motion. Noodle Bar languished on the edge of bankruptcy for months as Chang fired and hired scores of cooks, flew into rages, punched holes in walls and, finally, just said fuck it. He began cooking and serving whatever the hell he felt like, and freed those remaining on his team to do the same. The results were stupendous: chefs cooking what they wanted, combining Chang’s demanding standards and precise, highly refined technique with any idea that popped into their heads, like a communal fried chicken dinner, both American and Korean style, served family style with moo shoo pancakes. Reimagining comfort food was their specialty. They would take something as humble as the chicken wing and brine it, roast it, glaze it, and fry it, until they’d elevated it to an exalted place. It was as if Monet and a team of Impressionists began drawing comic books. The reinvigorated Momofuku soon gained traction with chefs, as well as the emerging food-blogging community, which spread the legend. “He kinda stumbled into setting up shop right when this machinery of hype was perfectly positioned to hype him,” says David Kamp, author of The United States of Arugula, a history of modern American dining culture. “Even though he’d poo-poo the hype machine of blogging, it really served him well to raise his profile to this wunderkind status.” Eating at Noodle Bar became a must-do for foodies visiting New York. Chang opened Ssäm Bar in 2006, with the notion of doing Asian-style burritos. Again, the idea flopped, and Chang, after many tirades and breakdowns, once again let his cooks swing for the fences, producing brilliant dishes that looked deceptively simple (and were anything but), like a bowl of charred Spanish octopus that practically puffs, and communal meals such as the Bo Ssäm—slow roasted, incredibly tender pork shoulder, bone and all, served with lettuce wraps, a dozen fat oysters, homemade kimchi, and other Korean-influenced condiments. The dish easily feeds 10, costs $200, and needs to be ordered days ahead of time, but it reinvigorated the idea of communal dining in America. “I remember sitting at the counter the first time and I didn’t even know what to order. I just had never eaten anything like this,” says Alan Richman, GQ’s food critic, who profiled Chang in 2007. “Nobody understood that food, but it was just so good….His dishes were a little bit Korean, a bit American, with some Japanese condiments on top.” Chang’s central achievement, which set him apart from his colleagues in high-end restaurants, as well as those in traditional ethnic holes-in-the-wall, was the marriage of utterly refined European kitchen technique and service (without the stuffy European attitude) with what could be considered “simple” food. “[He ushered in] the acceptance of informal dining…noisy, crowded, shared tables, no reservations…there was nothing elegant about it,” says Richman, who claims Chang is the most important chef of this century. “He changed the very nature of dining.” As the cult of Momofuku grew (some fans have even tattooed the namesake peach onto their bodies), Chang’s influence as a tastemaker spread beyond New York, shaping restaurants everywhere, including Toronto. Plywood walls and DIY decor replaced lavishly designed spaces. Dressed-down servers and crews of tattooed chefs, no less talented than their buttoned-up counterparts, began slinging refined versions of comfort classics in restaurants that blared rock and hip-hop and offered good value and, most importantly, fun. “It’s a model that is apparently successful,” says Kamp. “David Chang was essentially the template for all of that.” In Toronto, it helped usher in a boom of unpretentious mid-range restaurants with great food, no (or restricted) reservations, and cocksure young chefs who are as much at home carving up pork parts as they are at swearing on Twitter. Places like The Black Hoof, Woodlot, and Atlantic, to name but a few, were born of that Momofuku meme. Partly, the success of Chang’s format was due to ideal timing. “There was a recession,” says Jen Agg, owner of the Black Hoof. “High-end places got hit hard, and people wanted fun restaurants, good food, and [Momofuku] was more a general influence.” Still, she says, “anyone who suggests that Chang hasn’t been hugely influential on their casual dining restaurant is kidding themself.” For Mitchell Davis, vice-president of the James Beard Foundation (and a Torontonian), Chang’s rise signalled a generational shift in the world’s kitchens. “His impact has been almost more on chefs than on dining. I think part of his appeal has been his ‘fuck you’ attitude: I’m going to do what I want to do, I’m going to put good food in the place I want, work harder, make mistakes, and make it awesome.” This is probably why so many chefs worship Chang. Though he’s incredibly, relentlessly demanding (to the point of


34 | May 10-May 16, 2012

thegridto.com

May 10-May 16, 2012 |

thegridto.com

KBK

The cult of

David

Chang KBK

The renegade chef behind New York’s revered Momofuku restaurants has arguably influenced Toronto’s food scene more than anyone else in recent years. This summer, the man himself plans to set up shop in our backyard—and Toronto chefs are conflicted.

A

By David Sax

few years ago, when I was living in New York, I noticed a trend emerging among food lovers visiting from Toronto for the weekend.

You should care about all of this because, by the end of August, Toronto will boast not one, not two, but three Momofuku restaurants, all opening next to the new Shangri-La Hotel at University and Adelaide. It is the largest single Momofuku project to date and it’ll be the first time that Toronto feels the up-close-and-personal effects of the restaurant’s firebrand chef, 34-yearold David Chang. He’s not the first famous chef to open up shop here (his old boss, Daniel Boulud, is also coming this summer), but for a man who has visited our city no more than three or four times, Chang has arguably had a greater influence over dining in Toronto in recent years than scores of chefs who have toiled in our finest restaurants for decades. Which means his arrival, whether you like it or not, is a big deal. photograph akira yamada

I’d offer recommendations on where to eat—everything from delis and pizzerias to hip new restaurants—but they’d inevitably inform me that they already had plans: Friday night, they were heading straight to Momofuku Ssäm Bar, then lunch on Saturday at Momofuku Noodle Bar, dinner at Momofuku Ko, followed by lunch on Sunday at Momofuku Má Pêche. Of course, they made sure to mention an obligatory stop at Momofuku Milk Bar for a slice of crack pie (basically a diabetic’s nightmare, in pie form). I saw this pattern play out on Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and in iPhone photos of foodies, food writers, and chefs from Toronto hoisting a pork-belly bun, smiling like they’d just climbed Everest. It was Momofuku mania. In case you’ve been living under a rock—or food-lust just isn’t your bag—Momofuku is a restaurant group based in Manhattan’s East Village. It operates four restaurants in New York and one in Sydney, Australia. There are also five Momofuku Milk Bar bakery outlets in New York, featuring Willy Wonka–style stoner dream snacks, like cereal-milk soft-serve ice cream and “compost cookies” (containing crushed chips and pretzels). Momofuku also has two best-selling cookbooks (one savory, one sweet), as well as a quarterly culinary magazine, published by indie literary stalwarts McSweeney’s, called Lucky Peach (which is roughly how Momofuku, a Japanese word, translates into English).

T

K

he son of Korean immigrant parents, Chang grew up in the suburbs of Vir-

ginia and spent his early 20s working, without much acclaim, in some of New York’s best fine-dining kitchens. He also lived in Japan for a time, studying the way even simple foods were prepared with exacting precision, and, in 2004, he opened the

35

Momofuku Noodle Bar, serving high-end ramen soup with toppings like fatty pork belly and an egg soft-boiled over many hours, so carefully that the yolk would ooze out in slow motion. Noodle Bar languished on the edge of bankruptcy for months as Chang fired and hired scores of cooks, flew into rages, punched holes in walls and, finally, just said fuck it. He began cooking and serving whatever the hell he felt like, and freed those remaining on his team to do the same. The results were stupendous: chefs cooking what they wanted, combining Chang’s demanding standards and precise, highly refined technique with any idea that popped into their heads, like a communal fried chicken dinner, both American and Korean style, served family style with moo shoo pancakes. Reimagining comfort food was their specialty. They would take something as humble as the chicken wing and brine it, roast it, glaze it, and fry it, until they’d elevated it to an exalted place. It was as if Monet and a team of Impressionists began drawing comic books. The reinvigorated Momofuku soon gained traction with chefs, as well as the emerging food-blogging community, which spread the legend. “He kinda stumbled into setting up shop right when this machinery of hype was perfectly positioned to hype him,” says David Kamp, author of The United States of Arugula, a history of modern American dining culture. “Even though he’d poo-poo the hype machine of blogging, it really served him well to raise his profile to this wunderkind status.” Eating at Noodle Bar became a must-do for foodies visiting New York. Chang opened Ssäm Bar in 2006, with the notion of doing Asian-style burritos. Again, the idea flopped, and Chang, after many tirades and breakdowns, once again let his cooks swing for the fences, producing brilliant dishes that looked deceptively simple (and were anything but), like a bowl of charred Spanish octopus that practically puffs, and communal meals such as the Bo Ssäm—slow roasted, incredibly tender pork shoulder, bone and all, served with lettuce wraps, a dozen fat oysters, homemade kimchi, and other Korean-influenced condiments. The dish easily feeds 10, costs $200, and needs to be ordered days ahead of time, but it reinvigorated the idea of communal dining in America. “I remember sitting at the counter the first time and I didn’t even know what to order. I just had never eaten anything like this,” says Alan Richman, GQ’s food critic, who profiled Chang in 2007. “Nobody understood that food, but it was just so good….His dishes were a little bit Korean, a bit American, with some Japanese condiments on top.” Chang’s central achievement, which set him apart from his colleagues in high-end restaurants, as well as those in traditional ethnic holes-in-the-wall, was the marriage of utterly refined European kitchen technique and service (without the stuffy European attitude) with what could be considered “simple” food. “[He ushered in] the acceptance of informal dining…noisy, crowded, shared tables, no reservations…there was nothing elegant about it,” says Richman, who claims Chang is the most important chef of this century. “He changed the very nature of dining.” As the cult of Momofuku grew (some fans have even tattooed the namesake peach onto their bodies), Chang’s influence as a tastemaker spread beyond New York, shaping restaurants everywhere, including Toronto. Plywood walls and DIY decor replaced lavishly designed spaces. Dressed-down servers and crews of tattooed chefs, no less talented than their buttoned-up counterparts, began slinging refined versions of comfort classics in restaurants that blared rock and hip-hop and offered good value and, most importantly, fun. “It’s a model that is apparently successful,” says Kamp. “David Chang was essentially the template for all of that.” In Toronto, it helped usher in a boom of unpretentious mid-range restaurants with great food, no (or restricted) reservations, and cocksure young chefs who are as much at home carving up pork parts as they are at swearing on Twitter. Places like The Black Hoof, Woodlot, and Atlantic, to name but a few, were born of that Momofuku meme. Partly, the success of Chang’s format was due to ideal timing. “There was a recession,” says Jen Agg, owner of the Black Hoof. “High-end places got hit hard, and people wanted fun restaurants, good food, and [Momofuku] was more a general influence.” Still, she says, “anyone who suggests that Chang hasn’t been hugely influential on their casual dining restaurant is kidding themself.” For Mitchell Davis, vice-president of the James Beard Foundation (and a Torontonian), Chang’s rise signalled a generational shift in the world’s kitchens. “His impact has been almost more on chefs than on dining. I think part of his appeal has been his ‘fuck you’ attitude: I’m going to do what I want to do, I’m going to put good food in the place I want, work harder, make mistakes, and make it awesome.” This is probably why so many chefs worship Chang. Though he’s incredibly, relentlessly demanding (to the point of


36 | May 10-May 16, 2012

thegridto.com

being borderline abusive), he stands up for his cooks, gives them better salaries and benefits than most places, and opens restaurants for them to run when they’ve outgrown their current roles.

T

K

he culmination of the Momofuku experiment so far is likely Ko, a small, 12-seat counter that opened in 2008 to as much acclaim, praise, and awards as any restaurant in recent memory. Reservations are only available online a week beforehand, and disappear within seconds. The narrow, plain space is a food theatre, with diners perched by the kitchen, and served directly by chefs. Ko takes the high-low democratic core of Chang’s whole philosophy to its zenith. There are no tablecloths, and you hang your own coat on a peg below your seat, but the tasting menu—a procession of a dozen or more small dishes, ranging from a bite of crisp, bubbly fried pig skin to an elaborate palate cleanser of shaved foie gras, pine nut brittle, and Riesling gelée—is as inventive and well executed as nearly any on the continent. It sounds fussy, and it can cost upwards of $200 per person, but it’s also the type of place where the young chef cooking has no qualms about drumming along to a Rush song with his serving spoon. The Toronto Momofukus will bring all of these elements together in a threestorey glass box adjacent to the Shangri-La. Lucky Peach will be a fast-paced noodle bar at street level, “with new noodles, new broth, new everything,” says Chang, over the phone from New York. Upstairs, in the main space, will be Daisho, the largest of the three, where Chang and his Toronto chefs de cuisine, Sam Gelman and Mitchell Bates (both previously at Ko), will try out an expanded communal-meal concept. “What I gather from the Toronto dining scene is that it’s either really small, chic neighborhood spots or massive fancy restaurants and then the ethnic places, like great Chinese food,” says Chang, who envisions commu-

To Chang, getting the approval of Toronto’s culinary ‘fraternity’ is a primary goal. ‘If people are feeling threatened or upset,’ he says, ‘we’ve fucked up.’

DaviD Chang’s hall of faMe fooD trenDs

B

Fried chicken Steamed pork buns Cereal milk Fancy ramen noodles Crack pie

Family owned Sports bar in Bloor West Village • Fresh locally sourced menu prepared by our classically trained chef and proudly supporting our community. • Join brothers Rob and Chris for a memorable time in a welcoming family sports pub atmosphere.

2255 Bloor Street West

One block west of Runnymede on Bloor

416.767.0608 www.shakeys.ca

Don’t forget the rst Wednesday of every month is Oyster night!

nal entrées as the perfect bridge between all of these. Inside Daisho will be a smaller, 22-seat counter restaurant, manned by Bates, which will be similar in its approach to Ko (it may have a separate name, it may not). Chang’s particularly excited about working with wild game (something he can’t serve in the U.S.), and insists that, while, yes, there will be pork buns and fancy ramen, Toronto’s menu will be as original as possible. “Inevitably,” he says, “the failures are the places that try to do a cookie-cutter restaurant.” Chang’s biggest challenge here, aside from the usual snafus of the restaurant business, is how Momofuku Toronto, largely run by imported talent from New York, will be received by the very restaurant community he’s influenced. “He’s still a trendsetter,” says Anthony Rose, a Chang fan, who recently left The Drake Hotel in order to open his own restaurant later this year. “People will have to up their game a little.” Many chefs, like Susur Lee, have expressed enthusiasm for Chang’s arrival, but there are others with reservations about a big-name chef dropping into the market, planting his flag, and sucking up both attention and business before he flies back to New York. Adrian Ravinsky, who co-owns 416 Snack Bar, has tremendous respect for Chang, and credits him as an influence on the concept and cooking at 416. Ravinsky once took a Greyhound bus to New York after scoring a reservation at Ko, a meal he refers to as “mind blowing,” but he doesn’t feel it’s fair for Chang to open in a hotel here, when there are plenty of talented local chefs who could use the exposure that a high-profile space like that would bring. “He and Boulud, as chefs, have no vested interest in the city—it’s just a franchising cash grab,” Ravinsky writes in an email. “I think that Toronto holding a parade for the guy as he arrives for five minutes is just…sad sounding. For all of us.” It’s something that concerns Chang, who dealt with the same issue before opening in Australia. “What I learned was that we had to be very respectful to chefs in Sydney, and we have to blend in and become good neighbours,” he says. “Why the fuck would they want us here? This is their town!” To Chang, gaining approval of the local culinary “fraternity,” as he calls it, is his primary goal. “If people are feeling threatened and people are upset, it means we’ve fucked up and not done the right thing. I don’t want chefs to be pissed off.” Davis, of the James Beard Foundation, knows Chang well and brushes aside any concern around this as a symptom of Toronto’s persistent inferiority complex. “I think he’s going to lighten everybody up a little,” he says, laughing. “[Chang will] invite everybody, feed them good food and drink, and pass a few joints. It’s not about showing Toronto what to do; it’s about having a good time.” It’s hard to see how Momofuku Toronto will be a bad thing for the city. It will inevitably draw tourists and media attention to more restaurants than just those at the Shangri-La, and offer a place for young chefs (who will go on to open their own restaurants) to learn with the best. As for the argument that it’ll bankrupt other restaurants that serve pork buns or communal roast pork, that doesn’t hold much water. Terroni is no less crowded because of the success of Pizzeria Libretto or Enoteca Sociale, and Susur Lee still packs them in. Besides, the bombastic Chang of years past has mellowed, as the demands of a growing restaurant empire, and the physical toll of his kamikaze management style, have forced him to reevaluate things, especially his health. “I used to be willing to die for my restaurant,” he says. “I’m not so sure now. I had the tendency to blow everything up all the time…. Now it’s about putting really talented people in the right places and letting them shine.” These days, he says he feels more like a GM than the star hitter, spending most of his time in the test kitchen, working on new ideas to disseminate to his restaurants. The wall he broke down between fine dining and casual food remains in ruins, but ironically, Chang, a man who has done more than anyone to shift the tide away from the classical European kitchen, longs for a little of that world he left in his wake. “Now we have a generation who worked at a meatball store and a hamburger place, and these are the new sous chefs and chefs du cuisine,” he says. “I’m continuing to send cooks to the last few kitchens that are very French…. I want to make sure those standards, while they evolve, don’t get watered down. Breaking the status quo is great, but it’s important that people pursuing newness and greatness are trying to push the envelope, not trying to do something that seems cool. There’s nothing cool about cooking.”

1249 Queen St. W. Toronto 416 535 8089 www.therhino.ca

the.rhino* * destination to the world’s finest beers.


38 | May 10-May 16, 2012 WhAT’S A ShocKingLy good fLAVoUr coMBinATion?

thegridto.com

grapefruit + aged cheddar craig harding, Campagnolo

doughnut + hamburger (but only the first two bites)

APPleS + green oliveS

Banana + shaved Parmesan Jonathan Poon, Chantecler

Markus Bestig, O&B Café Grill

PorCHettA + PeAnUt BUtter

Lamb + anchovies Scott Vivian, Beast

Andrea nicholson, Killer Condiments

nick auf der Mauer, Porchetta & Co.

freSh Sole + peanut butter

david neinstein, Barque

Six degreeS of ToronTo chefS Sure, the city’S reStaurant Scene iS a tad inceStuouS, but it came aS a SurpriSe that moSt roadS lead back to the Same eight placeS. We connect the dotS betWeen many of toronto’S chefS and learn that michael bonacini iS totally our culinary kevin bacon. BY JACOB RUTKA

claudio Aprile (Colborne Lane, Origin)

Bruce Woods (Modus)

david haman (Woodlot)

Steve gonzalez (Latino5Spice)

geoff hopgood (Hopgood’s Foodliner)

K

ClAUdio APrile eMPire Colborne lane, origin

rob gentile (Buca)

grant van gameren (Enoteca Sociale)

tHe BlACk Hoof

guy rubino (formerly of Ame)

Matt Blondin (Acadia, until May 31)

colin Tooke (Grand Electric)

K

guy rawlings (Bellwoods Brewery)

Brandon olsen (The Black Hoof) Brooke Mcdougall (Bymark) Stephen Perrin (Terra)

eron novalski (Aria)

Jonathan Poon (Chantecler) daniel Burns (previously of The Fat Duck and Momofuku)

K

MArk MCewAn eMPire

Ben heaton (The Grove)

north 44, Bymark, one, fabbrica

Tom Brodi (TOCA)

K

dominic Amaral (Zucca)

Laura White (Alimento)

John Lee (Chippy’s)

SUSUr lee eMPire Susur, Lee

Jose hadad (Frida)

Jason carter (formerly of Centro)

Andrew holinkski (Bymark)

Brad Long (Veritas, Café Belong)

Basil Pesce (formerly of Biff’s)

Jamie drummond (Good Food Revolution) rob Leclair (Fabbrica)

Scott Vivian (Beast)

rachelle Vivian (Beast)

HAPPY HOUR SPECIALS Sun - Thurs 5pm - 7pm 1/2 Price Appetizers $5.00 Draft $6.00 Wine

K

JAMie kennedy eMPire

Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, gilead café

Aldo Lanzillotta (WVRST)

dustin gallagher (previously of Grace)

Tobey nameth (Edulis)

Lorenzo Loseto (George)

Two Great Menus One Location

K

Lesley Mattina (OMG Baked Goodness)

windSor ArMS

Anthony Walsh (Canoe)

Mark cutrara (Cowbell)

Marc Thuet (Petite Thuet)

J.P. challet (Ici Bistro)

Jamie Kennedy

david castellan (SOMA)

PRIX FIX SPECIAL Sun - Thurs

$30.00 3 Courses

896 Queen St. E. Toronto, ON M4M 1J3 • T: 416-625-2653 • www.lecanrdmort.ca or www.lerossignolbistro.com


May 10-May 16, 2012 |

thegridto.com

CABBAge + SeA BUCktHorn

Dill pickles + peanut butter Jacob Sharkey Pearce, Ursa

chris Brown, The Stop Community Food Centre

ranch dreSSing + celery + Sea Salt Mark Mcewan, North 44, Bymark, Fabbrica, ONE

tUrkey + dUCk + CHiCken = tUrdUCken

Miso + caramel Susur Lee, Lee

Salami + cucumber + marmalade Sam gundy, Olliffe

Victor Barry, Splendido

darren glew, The Drake Hotel

Bertrand Alepee (The Tempered Chef)

chris Kalisperas (Brassaii)

chocolate + blood SauSage

PizzA + AnytHing

donna dooher, Mildred’s Temple Kitchen

39

pork + everything Steve gonzalez, Latino5Spice

We did the mash

We asked chefs to name their fantasy sandwiches—and three of them had very particular mashups in mind. because we’re a generous bunch, we turned their dreams into a messy, meat-tastic reality. then we dug in. by karon liu

K

Centro

frank Parhizgar (Frank’s Kitchen)

MASHUP #1 “I want Hey Meatball and Porchetta & Co. to combine their talents and make a porchetta meatball sandwich.” —Bertrand Alépée, The Tempered Chef

chris Mcdonald (Cava)

K

david Lee (Nota Bene) ivy Knight (Swallow Food and 86’d Mondays) rob rossi (Bestellen)

Michael Bonacini

our tasting notes This definitely elevates the basic meatball sandwich, and there’s no conflict in taste: Hey Meatball’s heavy garlic seasoning goes just as well with the porchetta. Still, the porchetta gets pretty lost amid all the tart tomato sauce and enormous meatballs, acting more as a premium sandwich topping than a rightful co-star. It’s a gluttonous treat, but not the most memorable meal. cost of assembly $18.45

MASHUP #2 “A Porchetta & Co. and Burger’s Priest gang bang.” —nick Auf der Mauer, Porchetta & Co.

MASHUP #3 “If the Black Camel had an affair with Burger’s Priest.” —Andres Marquez, Milagro

our tasting notes The textures work well together: The massive crunch from Porchetta & Co.’s crackling contrasts with the juicy burger patty and complements the fried portobello mushroom cap, which has a slightly crisp exterior but is soft and gooey inside. The only drawback is the cheese—the Priest’s sharp American-style cheddar is too jarring with the slow-roasted Italian pork. cost of assembly $16.44

our tasting notes Black Camel’s super-sweet caramelized onions really enhance the natural flavour of the Priest patty, and its incredibly tender pulled pork just melts into the burger. Both joints use soft, plain buns and keep their toppings simple, so it’s hard to tell where one sandwich begins and the other ends. One of these restaurants needs to put this on its menu immediately. Or both should. We’re not fussy— just hungry for another. cost of assembly $16.99

K

Anton Potvin (formerly of Niagara Street Café)

Tom Thai (Foxley)

K

darren glew (Drake Hotel)

K

o & B eMPire

Bannock, Luma, Biff’s, canoe, Jump, o&B canteen, Auberge du Pommier

nick Auf de Mauer (Porchetta & Co.)

A By-The-nUMBerS BreAKdoWn of The reST of The fAnTASy SAndWicheS Matthew deMille (formerly of Enoteca Sociale) Scot Woods (formerly of Lucien)

Todd clarmo (Stock)

34 16 26

craig harding (Campagnolo)

included cheese

included tomato

included pork

8

involved Burger’s Priest

28 10

included something fried

a DiviNE FOOD & cOcKTaiL EXpERiENcE

1090 QUEEN STREET WEST, TORONTO ON // 416 537 1090 // WWW.chURchapERiTivObaR.cOm FacEbOOK.cOm/chURchapERiTivO // TWiTTER.cOm/chURchapERiTivO

included fish

1

involved unicorn

—Jacob Sharkey Pearce, Ursa

DiviNE cOcKTaiLS SELEcTiON

NEW SpRiNG mENU aDDED!

Sarah Bell (Bobbette & Belle)

“I’d want as many cheeks as you could fit into one sandwich: beef, pork, halibut. A cheekand-tongue sandwich. A tongue-in-cheek sandwich!”


40 | May 10-May 16, 2012 Alias taste Margaret Atwood walks into a restaurant and asks for the chefs’ special. Here’s what would end up on Peggy’s plate.

thegridto.com “Brains, because she’s a writer, and her reaction would tell me what kind of foodie she is.”—Rob Gentile, Buca

“Spaghetti with butter. Honest. Can’t hide behind that shit.”— Matthew DeMille, former chef at Enoteca Sociale

“A pink cake in the shape of a woman. This was in The Edible Woman, which Margaret Atwood wrote in 1969.”—Claudio Aprile, Origin and Colborne Lane

“Whatever we’re serving that day—everyone is a VIP. Now that’s a politically correct answer.” —Ryan Gallagher, Ruby Watchco

“A big, dirty steak with mushrooms, fries, and truffle béarnaise, because that’s what I’m having tonight.” —Jason Bangerter, Luma and O&B Canteen

“I would make the most amazing buttermilk fried chicken and call it ‘Chickie Nobs,’ from Oryx & Crake.”—Elizabeth Rivasplata, Frank at the AGO

One of the pioneers of Toronto’s no-reservations policy, Ossington’s Pizzeria Libretto is now three years old and still warrants a two-hour wait. General manager (and line wrangler) Maja Baltus tells us when to show up, how long she’ll hold a table, and why slipping her a fifty does absolutely no good. BY DENISE BALKISSOON

Burnt by caramel? Dishwasher gone AWOL? Chefs have been known to get very vulgar, very fast. Here are a few of their favourite words.

As long as it takes Tables wait for me!

20 minutes

But how long are chefs willing to wait for a table?

2 hours

1 hour

When’s the absolute worst time to show up? I don’t like to think of it as the worst time, but the longest wait is on Friday and Saturday nights around 8:30. Groups of two move more quickly—no longer than an hour and a half. For four people, it can be two and a half hours. We have five

How often do people get angry? It doesn’t happen too often. People get the most upset when their table isn’t ready exactly when we said it would be. How hard is it to predict wait times? Really, really hard. It’s not a science. You never know how long people will be. How long can diners actually sit at the table after they've paid the bill? We never ask people to leave. How often do people try to bribe you? It’s only happened twice. One person offered me $50; another said, “We’ll make it worth your while.” More often, people tell us that someone at the restaurant said they could have a reservation. But even Max, the owner, waits in line. Why don’t you take reservations? Our pizzas take 90 seconds to cook. Some tables are here for 20 minutes, some for two and a half hours. Last Saturday, we were able to accommodate 600 people. If we took reservations, we’d fit in about half that. But if you have patience, you’re going to get a table here.

“A Turducken, possibly wrapped in bacon, just to get one more animal in there. I get the sudden feeling she might be a vegetarian.” —Darren Glew, The Drake Hotel

NSFOK: Not suitable for open kitchens

The gatekeeper tables that can fit groups of five or more, so once they’re taken, the wait reaches three and a half hours. When is the line at its shortest? We begin dinner service at 5 p.m., so the closer you can get to that, the shorter the wait is. Any time after 10 is usually good, too. Who hates waiting in line the most? It’s difficult for large parties. People from out of town who are unfamiliar with the neighbourhood can be uncomfortable grabbing a drink somewhere else while they wait. Once you call to say that a group’s table is ready, how long will you hold it? What if they just ordered a new pint at Crooked Star? If we actually talk to them and they say, “Oh, we're just down the street,” we'll hold the table—they've waited long enough. If they don't answer and we leave a message, we hold the table for 10 minutes, call again, then release the table.

“Butterpoached lobster. This is a true lady’s dish.” —David Lee, Nota Bene

Lunch Just Got Way More Interesting

To celebrate our first anniversary, The Grid asked six of our favourite food joints to make you six of our favourite things. Each dish is $5, and a buck from every sale will go towards a community-improvement project. Dig in!

May 10 - 16

Daily, from noon until the food runs out At 416 Snack Bar, 181 Bathurst (north of Queen) Thursday, May 10 The Harbord Room Soft shell–crab tacos.

Friday, May 11 416 Snack Bar Taiwanese steamed pork, fish, and veggie buns.

Saturday, May 12 The Stockyards Selection of three house-made, 100% beef-brisket hot dogs in natural casings.

Monday, May 14 Barque Smokehouse Side-cut beef short ribs, slow smoked and finished with a sweet BBQ glaze.

thegrid.to/popuplunch Questions? Contact Rina: rina@thegridto.com

Tuesday, May 15 Black Camel Pulled-pork sandwich with BBQ sauce, chipotle mayo, and caramelized onions.

Wednesday, May 16 The Black Hoof Fried pork belly with pickled shimeji mushrooms, nori paste, and puffed rice.

Complimentary Vitaminwater or Smartwater with each purchase


42 | May 10-May 16, 2012

thegridto.com Who’s winning the pizza war? Terroni 16 chefs

Pizzeria Libretto 27 chefs

Rank these pork preparations

Buca 6 chefs

Queen Margherita Pizza 6 chefs

May 10-May 16, 2012 |

thegridto.com

Other answers Bitondo’s, Massimo’s, Pizza Gigi, Fabbrica, and Bannock (specifically, according to Canoe’s Anthony Walsh, its poutine pizza)

Ribs

Belly

Bacon

Porchetta Pulled

K Truckin’ A! K Slowly but surely, food trucks are coming to Toronto’s streets. these five are more than welcome to park outside The Grid anytime.

Rank these chocolate bars Snickers

14

number of cheater chefs who ranked them all No. 1

Kit Kat Coffee Crisp Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups Almond Joy

68 chefs ranked this chocolate bar last

A defence of Almond Joy “It’s the full spectrum of a chocolate-bar experience. You get that ooey, gooey, sweet, sugary goodness; there’s the cheap chocolate fix on the outside; and you can even trick yourself into thinking it’s healthy because of the almond.”—Darren Glew, The Drake Hotel

What’s the proper amount to tip?

depends

25%

photographs by angus Rowe MacPherson

K

K

El Gastrónomo Vagabundo (@elgastronomo)

Blue Donkey (@bluedonkeytruck)

› Serving since July 2010. › Based in St. Catharines. › Who Adam Hynam-Smith, a Melbourne, Australia–trained chef, and Tamara Jensen, a former analyst on Parliament Hill. › Where to find the truck Food Truck Eats events, and periodically parked outside U of T and Ryerson for weekday lunch. › What to get There’s plenty on offer, but this truck is best known for the tacos that feature an atlas of flavours: Southwestern, Middle Eastern, South

› Serving since September 2011. Based in Mississauga. › Who Long-time hot-dog vendor Tony Vastis and his brother-in-law, Greek-restaurant veteran Manny Tsouvallas. › Where to find the truck At the Molson Amphitheatre during concerts; in Liberty Village and at Jarvis and Queen for weekday lunches. › What to get Blue Donkey’s take on street food comes with a Greek spin, including a grilled-cheese pita with feta, poutine with

Asian, Australian. The most popular items include the stupendously spicy tempura-cod taco and a pork belly one with jalapeno aioli and pickled cabbage. › Price range $5.50 to $10. › Pro tip Follow their Twitter feed for riddles that lead to passwords that’ll land you an off-the-menu item like zucchini fritters with labna cheese. Golden tickets good for free food are also hidden randomly under serving plates at food-truck events.

15% 18%

By karon Liu

K

43

gyros meat, and zucchini chips. The first items to fly out of the truck are the fried calamari and chips, feta fries, and, for dessert, fried pita bread with honey and cinnamon sugar. Pair your lunch with their most popular sauce: garlic-and-ouzo mayo. › Price range $3 to $9. › Pro tip If enough customers clamour for it, Vastis has been known to create off-the-menu items like lamb gyros, quail, lamb chops, and pastitsio, a Greek lagasna.

20%


42 | May 10-May 16, 2012

thegridto.com Who’s winning the pizza war? Terroni 16 chefs

Pizzeria Libretto 27 chefs

Rank these pork preparations

Buca 6 chefs

Queen Margherita Pizza 6 chefs

May 10-May 16, 2012 |

thegridto.com

Other answers Bitondo’s, Massimo’s, Pizza Gigi, Fabbrica, and Bannock (specifically, according to Canoe’s Anthony Walsh, its poutine pizza)

Ribs

Belly

Bacon

Porchetta Pulled

K Truckin’ A! K Slowly but surely, food trucks are coming to Toronto’s streets. these five are more than welcome to park outside The Grid anytime.

Rank these chocolate bars Snickers

14

number of cheater chefs who ranked them all No. 1

Kit Kat Coffee Crisp Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups Almond Joy

68 chefs ranked this chocolate bar last

A defence of Almond Joy “It’s the full spectrum of a chocolate-bar experience. You get that ooey, gooey, sweet, sugary goodness; there’s the cheap chocolate fix on the outside; and you can even trick yourself into thinking it’s healthy because of the almond.”—Darren Glew, The Drake Hotel

What’s the proper amount to tip?

depends

25%

photographs by angus Rowe MacPherson

K

K

El Gastrónomo Vagabundo (@elgastronomo)

Blue Donkey (@bluedonkeytruck)

› Serving since July 2010. › Based in St. Catharines. › Who Adam Hynam-Smith, a Melbourne, Australia–trained chef, and Tamara Jensen, a former analyst on Parliament Hill. › Where to find the truck Food Truck Eats events, and periodically parked outside U of T and Ryerson for weekday lunch. › What to get There’s plenty on offer, but this truck is best known for the tacos that feature an atlas of flavours: Southwestern, Middle Eastern, South

› Serving since September 2011. Based in Mississauga. › Who Long-time hot-dog vendor Tony Vastis and his brother-in-law, Greek-restaurant veteran Manny Tsouvallas. › Where to find the truck At the Molson Amphitheatre during concerts; in Liberty Village and at Jarvis and Queen for weekday lunches. › What to get Blue Donkey’s take on street food comes with a Greek spin, including a grilled-cheese pita with feta, poutine with

Asian, Australian. The most popular items include the stupendously spicy tempura-cod taco and a pork belly one with jalapeno aioli and pickled cabbage. › Price range $5.50 to $10. › Pro tip Follow their Twitter feed for riddles that lead to passwords that’ll land you an off-the-menu item like zucchini fritters with labna cheese. Golden tickets good for free food are also hidden randomly under serving plates at food-truck events.

15% 18%

By karon Liu

K

43

gyros meat, and zucchini chips. The first items to fly out of the truck are the fried calamari and chips, feta fries, and, for dessert, fried pita bread with honey and cinnamon sugar. Pair your lunch with their most popular sauce: garlic-and-ouzo mayo. › Price range $3 to $9. › Pro tip If enough customers clamour for it, Vastis has been known to create off-the-menu items like lamb gyros, quail, lamb chops, and pastitsio, a Greek lagasna.

20%


44 | May 10-May 16, 2012

10

foods chefs like to eat raw

thegridto.com

OYSTERS

Paul Boehmer, Boehmer (along with 17 other chefs)

BEEF

Craig Harding, Campagnolo

MANGO

“A perfectly ripe mango is best eaten in the bathtub. Industry secret.” Jon Polubiec, Come and Get It

TOMATOES

Geoff Hopgood, Hopgood’s Foodliner

SEA URCHIN Claudio Aprile, Colborne Lane and Origin

May 10-May 16, 2012 |

thegridto.com

CHICKEN

“Yes, chicken.” Patrick McMurray, Starfish and The Ceili Cottage

BLUE CRAB Nuit Regular, Sukhothai and Khao San Road

QUINCE

Aldo Lanzillota, WVRST

MONKFISH LIVER

Leemo and Leeto Han, Swish by Han

FENNEL

“It’s tasty and leaves your breath smelling nice!” Brandon Olsen, The Black Hoof

K

Gourmet Bitches (@gourmetb1tches) › Serving since May 2012. › Based in Toronto. › Who Long-time friends Shontelle Pinch, who worked in the hospitality industry, and Bianka Matchette, a former medical esthetician. › Where to find the truck Currently doing private events in Vaughan, with plans to spend evenings at 99 Markt at Queen and Sudbury soon. › What to get The gluten-free smorgasboard includes the owners’ proudest creations: Balinese chicken on a corn tostada and the kale and arugula salad. There are also grilled Asian-Cuban wings, Korean yam fries topped with pulled pork, and a steak sandwich with a miso-tamarind-kiwi sauce. › Price range $10 to $12. › Pro tip Too hot for another taco? The truck will also start serving homemade juices in the summer.

45


44 | May 10-May 16, 2012

10

foods chefs like to eat raw

thegridto.com

OYSTERS

Paul Boehmer, Boehmer (along with 17 other chefs)

BEEF

Craig Harding, Campagnolo

MANGO

“A perfectly ripe mango is best eaten in the bathtub. Industry secret.” Jon Polubiec, Come and Get It

TOMATOES

Geoff Hopgood, Hopgood’s Foodliner

SEA URCHIN Claudio Aprile, Colborne Lane and Origin

May 10-May 16, 2012 |

thegridto.com

CHICKEN

“Yes, chicken.” Patrick McMurray, Starfish and The Ceili Cottage

BLUE CRAB Nuit Regular, Sukhothai and Khao San Road

QUINCE

Aldo Lanzillota, WVRST

MONKFISH LIVER

Leemo and Leeto Han, Swish by Han

FENNEL

“It’s tasty and leaves your breath smelling nice!” Brandon Olsen, The Black Hoof

K

Gourmet Bitches (@gourmetb1tches) › Serving since May 2012. › Based in Toronto. › Who Long-time friends Shontelle Pinch, who worked in the hospitality industry, and Bianka Matchette, a former medical esthetician. › Where to find the truck Currently doing private events in Vaughan, with plans to spend evenings at 99 Markt at Queen and Sudbury soon. › What to get The gluten-free smorgasboard includes the owners’ proudest creations: Balinese chicken on a corn tostada and the kale and arugula salad. There are also grilled Asian-Cuban wings, Korean yam fries topped with pulled pork, and a steak sandwich with a miso-tamarind-kiwi sauce. › Price range $10 to $12. › Pro tip Too hot for another taco? The truck will also start serving homemade juices in the summer.

45


46 | May 10-May 16, 2012

10

foods chefs like to cook the hell out of

thegridto.com

CABBAGE

Rob Rossi, Bestellen

SHANKS

PIG’S SKIN Guy Rawlings, Bellwoods Brewery

“Shanks of all ranks!” Corinna Mozo, Delux

PIG’S FEET David Lee, Nota Bene

PIG’S EARS Joseph Petrinac, Little Inn of Bayfield

K

May 10-May 16, 2012 |

thegridto.com

RAPINI

“With chili, shallots, garlic, and olive oil. Chop it up rough and let it go.” Cory Vitiello, The Harbord Room

POPCORN

“I like my popcorn burnt.” Matthew DeMille, former chef at Enoteca Sociale

STEAK

Albert Ponzo, Le Sélect Bistro

FRUIT

Alexandra Feswick, formerly of Brockton General

BEEF CHEEKS

“Obvi.” Ashley Jacot De Boinod, Glory Hole Doughnuts

K

Buster’s Sea Cove (@bustersseacove)

Caplansky’s Thunderin’ Thelma (@Caplansky)

› Serving since April 2012. › Based in Toronto. › Who Co-owners Quenten Chan and Tom Antonarakis and chef David Hoang, whose bricks-and-mortar Buster’s Sea Cove is a St. Lawrence Market fixture. › Serving since April 2012. › Based in Toronto. › Who Co-owners Quenten Chan and Tom Antonarakis and chef David Hoang, whose bricks-and-mortar Buster’s Sea Cove is a St. Lawrence Market fixture. › Where to find the truck At a semi-permanent location at the corner of Queen and Jarvis during the weekday lunch rush (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.). › What to get There are travel-friendly shrimp po’ boys, calamari sandwiches, and shrimp and fish tacos. After a successful (read: sold out by lunch) test run, the truck has added a mighty grilled lobster roll with a side of kettle chips. › Price range $7 to $15. › Pro tip It isn’t all deep-fried: You can grab a daily grilled-fish special, like tilapia, marlin, and swordfish.

› Serving since August 2011. › Based in Toronto. › Who Zane Caplansky, deli master and owner of College Street’s Caplansky’s Delicatessen. › Where to find the truck Weekdays at Queen and Dalhousie for lunch until the end of June, then it’s on to a new route. There’s a daily schedule for the Thunderin’ Thelma at caplanskys.com/thunderin-thelma—or listen for the truck’s bells that play “Hava Nagila.” › What to get The signature, succulent smoked-meat sandwiches are the go-to items, but Caplansky’s 300- to- 500 maple-bacon donuts usually sell out first in just two hours. You can also find poutine, grilled cheese, and barbecued brisket sandwiches. › Price range $3 to $7. › Pro tip Caplansky gives out special passwords on his Twitter account for freebies like fries.

47


46 | May 10-May 16, 2012

10

foods chefs like to cook the hell out of

thegridto.com

CABBAGE

Rob Rossi, Bestellen

SHANKS

PIG’S SKIN Guy Rawlings, Bellwoods Brewery

“Shanks of all ranks!” Corinna Mozo, Delux

PIG’S FEET David Lee, Nota Bene

PIG’S EARS Joseph Petrinac, Little Inn of Bayfield

K

May 10-May 16, 2012 |

thegridto.com

RAPINI

“With chili, shallots, garlic, and olive oil. Chop it up rough and let it go.” Cory Vitiello, The Harbord Room

POPCORN

“I like my popcorn burnt.” Matthew DeMille, former chef at Enoteca Sociale

STEAK

Albert Ponzo, Le Sélect Bistro

FRUIT

Alexandra Feswick, formerly of Brockton General

BEEF CHEEKS

“Obvi.” Ashley Jacot De Boinod, Glory Hole Doughnuts

K

Buster’s Sea Cove (@bustersseacove)

Caplansky’s Thunderin’ Thelma (@Caplansky)

› Serving since April 2012. › Based in Toronto. › Who Co-owners Quenten Chan and Tom Antonarakis and chef David Hoang, whose bricks-and-mortar Buster’s Sea Cove is a St. Lawrence Market fixture. › Serving since April 2012. › Based in Toronto. › Who Co-owners Quenten Chan and Tom Antonarakis and chef David Hoang, whose bricks-and-mortar Buster’s Sea Cove is a St. Lawrence Market fixture. › Where to find the truck At a semi-permanent location at the corner of Queen and Jarvis during the weekday lunch rush (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.). › What to get There are travel-friendly shrimp po’ boys, calamari sandwiches, and shrimp and fish tacos. After a successful (read: sold out by lunch) test run, the truck has added a mighty grilled lobster roll with a side of kettle chips. › Price range $7 to $15. › Pro tip It isn’t all deep-fried: You can grab a daily grilled-fish special, like tilapia, marlin, and swordfish.

› Serving since August 2011. › Based in Toronto. › Who Zane Caplansky, deli master and owner of College Street’s Caplansky’s Delicatessen. › Where to find the truck Weekdays at Queen and Dalhousie for lunch until the end of June, then it’s on to a new route. There’s a daily schedule for the Thunderin’ Thelma at caplanskys.com/thunderin-thelma—or listen for the truck’s bells that play “Hava Nagila.” › What to get The signature, succulent smoked-meat sandwiches are the go-to items, but Caplansky’s 300- to- 500 maple-bacon donuts usually sell out first in just two hours. You can also find poutine, grilled cheese, and barbecued brisket sandwiches. › Price range $3 to $7. › Pro tip Caplansky gives out special passwords on his Twitter account for freebies like fries.

47


Happily supporting the National Magazine Awards for twenty three years

A Full House SPECIAL!

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—Arts & Entertainment Arts et spectacles

Winner/Gagnant

Leah McLaren Something Borrowed

Toronto Life


By Leah McLaren | Photograph by Daniel Ehrenworth


Ling Zhang claims she found the inspiration for her novel Gold Mountain Blues in the ordeals of real immigrants. A group of four prominent Chinese-Canadian writers aren’t convinced—they’ve launched a $10-million plagiarism suit against her and her publisher. A tale of death threats, tarnished reputations and literary jealousy


T

The streets near Scarborough’s Confederation Park curve and loop in a vertiginous web. The neighbourhood was built in the 1970s—several blocks of low-lying split-levels and bungalows divided by neatly trimmed hedges and 20-foot pines. The 401 is just a few blocks away, but these houses are quiet and isolated, even prim. Ling Zhang lives here in a large mock Tudor. She answers the door on the first ring, a diminutive woman with full moon cheeks and a bashful smile. At 54, she wears her hair in a wispy, youthful updo and is dressed in a peacock-blue sundress, a simple cardigan and slippers. The house is immaculate. We pass through a large front hall with a formal dining and living room off either side. Matching white leather sofas sprawl across polished cherry floors. Everywhere I look, there are vases filled with flowers in pastel pink and white. They’re all fake, but the effect is cheerful. In the kitchen, Zhang makes me a cup of tea. Her husband, Ken He, a slight man in a short-sleeved plaid shirt, pops in to say hello— but not much else. Zhang explains his English isn’t great. “Moving to Toronto was a big sacrifice for him,” she says. The couple met in Vancouver, at the church where Zhang, a born-again Christian, was baptized as an adult. They came to Toronto so Zhang could take a job at Scarborough General Hospital as an audiologist. Her husband, who was an ophthalmologist in China, now sells real estate to the GTA’s Chinese immigrant community. Until recently, Zhang made her living treating patients for hearing loss, but in 2010 she quit to concentrate full-time on her writing. She is the author of nine Chinese language books, including the bestseller Aftershock, about the 1976 earthquake in Tangshan. A governmentsponsored film adaptation of the book brought in $100 million at the box office in China, becoming the highest-grossing Chinese movie ever. This fall, Penguin Canada released an English translation of her sprawling historical epic Gold Mountain Blues. The book is her first novel to be translated. It spans from 1872 to the present and tells the story of five generations of a Chinese family who came to work, live and eventually settle in Canada. At over 500 pages, it’s an ambitious book, both in subject matter and in heft. The novel became a bestseller and critical hit in China and won a number of awards. The TV and film rights were optioned, and foreign rights sold in 12 countries. Its Canadian publishers are hoping it will become the first East-West crossover bestseller. Last year, a panel discussion devoted to Zhang’s books was held at an international symposium on Chinese-Canadian literature at York University. Xueqing Xu, one of the organizing professors, described Gold Mountain Blues to me as “a milestone in Chinese-Canadian literature in its scope, depth and characterization.” 62 toronto life January 2012

Thus far, the novel has proven Ling Zhang’s personal gold mountain—a financial and reputational game changer in a literary career that had been restricted to China and Taiwan. But as the old Chinese proverb goes, if you go up the mountain too often, you will eventually encounter the tiger. In Zhang’s case, the metaphorical beast is a wave of allegations, which started in the Chinese blogosphere and made its way across the globe, that Gold Mountain Blues plagiarizes Denise Chong, Sky Lee, Wayson Choy and Paul Yee—four of this country’s most established Chinese-Canadian writers. In October, Lee, Choy and Yee launched a civil claim for almost $10 million in damages against Penguin Canada, Zhang and the book’s translator, Nicky Harman, which also demands that the book be pulled from the shelves and pulped. Whatever happens, it’s difficult to imagine a positive outcome for Zhang. Plagiarism is the most serious professional allegation a writer can face, an accusation that produces an instant and lingering stain on even the most sterling literary reputation. Zhang was born in 1957 and grew up in Wenzhou, a port city on the East China Sea, 500 kilometres south of Shanghai. By Chinese standards it was a small metropolis (today the population hovers at just over nine million). Back then, it was a culturally isolated city, accessible only by sea, with no trains or bus routes in or out of the surrounding mountainous countryside. Shanghai, the closest major centre, was a 24-hour boat ride away. Zhang has an early childhood memory of staring down the Oujiang River and thinking that wherever it stopped the world must end. “The fact that I couldn’t go anywhere or see anything outside my city helped me have a vivid imagination,” she says. Zhang was nine years old when Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution swept China. Her parents were both young revolutionaries, and she remembers it as a time of great optimism. Sitting at her kitchen table, Zhang shows me a black and white photo of her parents, a bright-faced young married couple in stiff Leninist collars. “Look how full of hope their eyes are,” she says. Zhang’s mother was an accountant, and her father became a lawyer for the regime, after being trained by the Russians. His job was to prosecute those apprehended by the state. Soon, of course, Mao’s utopian dream disintegrated into a nightmare. Paranoia gripped China as suspected traitors were carted off to jail without trial. Zhang’s grandfather was arrested as a counter-revolutionary and died in prison at 75. Her family was watched extra closely. When Zhang was 10, the police arrested her father, who was detained for a year and a half. Zhang’s family was poor but not starving. Rice was rationed, and Zhang remembers a constant feeling of low-level hunger. They lived in a two-room company apartment. Every day Ling and her brother, Zuowei, carried buckets of drinking water home from the city tap. There was no bathroom, only a chamber pot and a basin for washing behind a curtain in the corner. “Everyone in the house could hear and smell everything,” she says. “It was embarrassing when we had guests.” A sickly child, Zhang was not allowed to play sports or run around with her classmates after school. She describes herself as a lonely kid who preferred the company of adults to children. Most literature was banned by the regime, but secret novels sometimes circulated. Zhang recalls devouring a rudimentary Chinese translation of Guy de Maupassant’s Bel Ami. Another time she copied out a romance novel titled Lady in the Tower word for word before passing it on. “That way, I could read and re-read it as often as I wanted,”


she says. In order to avoid being relocated to the countryside and “re-educated” by the state (mandatory practice for all high school graduates at the time), Zhang quit school at age 16 and found a job working as a lathe operator in a factory. Whenever she could, she would get into bed, wrap herself in a wool blanket and surreptitiously listen to an English language lesson on the shortwave radio service broadcast Voice of America. She would learn a new sentence (“What’s the temperature today?” “Do you have my hat?”) and meditate on it during long hours of hard manual labour. Looking back, Zhang marvels that she even bothered to learn English at all. At the time, higher education was inconceivable and speaking other languages a crime punishable by death. “How was I to know that the abuse would eventually ease off and the universities would reopen?” she says. “I was driven by the pure pursuit of knowledge.” In 1979, at the age of 22, Zhang was accepted as a student into the department of English literature at Fudan University in Shanghai. “Suddenly, foreign language was the in thing,” she says. She immersed herself in the essays of Francis Bacon and British Victorian classics by Hardy, Eliot and Dickens. She was also especially fond of Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson and Charlotte Brontë. “We used to put on plays at school and say, ‘Mr. Rochester, wherever you are is my home!’ ” After graduation, Zhang took a government job in Beijing working as an English translator for the Ministry of Coal Industry. “In those days your job was assigned,” she explains. “You couldn’t say no.” Her new occupation brought with it great opportunity. As China began to look outward for the first time in decades, Zhang was on the front line, working on projects with multinationals and travelling whenever she could. In the ’80s, she was able to spend six months in Western Canada, working on a project with CP Rail, which had been contracted to update a rail link in China. She shows me a photo of her younger self, beaming in a hard hat in front of the construction site for Vancouver Expo. In Canada, Zhang was amazed by the abundance of everything. “I was like, ‘Wow, hot water, coming from a tap into the shower 24 hours a day, no way!’ Back home we could only go to the company bathhouse once a week.” Returning to China was a difficult adjustment. Zhang grew restless in her translator job and yearned for the arts and humanities, which had inspired her at school. Her mother warned her that once she married and had children in China, her life would be over, and she urged her to emigrate to the West. In 1986, at age 29, Zhang accepted a scholarship to pursue a master’s in English literature at the

University of Calgary, and she completed a thesis on Katherine Mansfield. She then decided it was time to find a new profession and enrolled in the speech pathology department at the University of Cincinnati. While she was a keen student, her academic advisor gently suggested she switch programs because of her pronounced Chinese accent. This is how Zhang became an audiologist. After graduation, she moved to Vancouver, where she worked in private practice. She soon fell in love with her future husband, and they married in the spring of 1994 in a small church wedding with no family present. She shows me a photo of herself in an off-theshoulder white bridal gown and a diaphanous veil. Afterward, 20 friends, mostly from their church group, ate dumplings and pink cake at Vancouver’s Fortune House Restaurant. The couple had agreed in advance that they would not have children. “I had a great dream, and I knew being a mother would interfere with that,” Zhang says. In 1996, after the couple moved to Toronto, Zhang began writing her first novel, Sisters From Shanghai. She worked in the evenings and on weekends. In the middle of her first draft, she found an itchy mole on her left leg that was later diagnosed as second-stage melanoma. Instead of falling into despair, Zhang bore down on her writing. Two years later, the cancer was in remission and her first novel was published. “I felt like I’d lived my whole life for other people and was just getting a late start.” Since then, Zhang has published eight more books in China. “I’ve never had writer’s block,” she says. “My problem is that my inspiration flows like an ocean and I have so little time. I have 10,000 ideas right now lined up like a queue of people clamouring to get out.” By international standards, China has a vibrant literary market. The Chinese Writers’ Association is a government-run arts body that pays many of the country’s writers to produce books. According to Gray Tan, Zhang’s Taipei-based literary agent, books are usually published within a few months of delivery. The editing process is light, and book prices, due to cheap manufacturing costs, are low. Fiction writers generally fall into two categories: older literary writers who chronicle rural life during the Cultural Revolution, and a younger generation of upstarts who are interested in contemporary urban China. Zhang, in Tan’s view, bridges the gap between them with her ability to move across time, place and culture. Zhang isn’t a member of the Chinese Writers’ Association, and non-members tend to be overlooked. The movie version of Aftershock, directed by Xiaogang Feng (China’s answer to Steven Spielberg), changed all that. The film, which begins with a spectacular and devastating CGI

“I’ve never had writer’s block,” Zhang says. “I have 10,000 ideas right now, lined up like a queue of people clamouring to get out”

January 2012 toronto life 63


earthquake sequence that cost nearly half the movie’s budget, was both a critical and a commercial success. The Chinese media warned viewers to “bring a box of tissues” when they went to the theatre. For Zhang, the success of Aftershock led to an international publishing deal and literary fame in her home country. When she isn’t writing, she’s often flying around the world to conferences and events to discuss and promote her work. She runs a well-known Chinese language salon, Wings of Knowledge, which includes such prominent Chinese language scholars as John Edward Stowe of Ryerson and Xueqing Xu of York University. (They meet monthly to drink tea and discuss ideas and cultural issues—Zhang recently gave a talk on the history of the Nobel Prize in Literature.) And she’s even branching out into screenwriting, having recently been asked to adapt an early novella into a TV script.

Gold Mountain Blues first came to the attention of the international market at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October of 2009. The fair had a focus on Chinese fiction that year, and Zhang’s new novel was attracting advance buzz. Adrienne Kerr of Penguin Canada was the second international editor to snap up Gold Mountain Blues, in a pre-emptive five-figure bid (a Dutch publishing house was the first). The move was a leap of faith since there was no translation sample available. “The reviews were excellent, and it had won awards in China, so we decided to go for it,” Kerr told me. At the fair, a rumour circulated that Zhang’s novel was strikingly similar to books by some Chinese-Canadian writers. While the original source of the rumour is impossible to trace, it gathered momentum and became public a year later on November 3, 2010, in a blog post on a popular Chinese forum. The anonymous post, written by someone identified only as “A Canadian Scholar,” alleged that “native Chinese writers in Canada over the past few decades have written books about the Chinese labourers in English. Zhang’s novel Gold Mountain Blues has copied the themes of numerous literary works; many ideas were taken, and most of the plot.” The post included a detailed list of similarities between Gold Mountain Blues, Denise Chong’s The Concubine’s Children, Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony, Sky Lee’s Disappearing Moon Café and Paul Yee’s children’s books, Tales From Gold Mountain and The Curses of Third Uncle. A heated discussion ensued, both on the Asian blogosphere and in the Chinese-Canadian scholarly community. Chong, an Ottawa-based writer and a former special economic advisor to Pierre Trudeau, wasn’t alarmed when she first heard the rumours. “My initial reaction was, it’s fabulous news if my book is inspiring other authors,” she said. She published The Concubine’s Children, a non-fiction account of her grandmother’s immigration from Canton to Vancouver, in 1994. Deftly written and historically precise, it’s widely regarded as the first work of popular narrative non-fiction to explore the early Chinese immigrant experience. It was also an enormous hit, spending almost two years on the Globe and Mail bestseller list. Both Chong’s and Zhang’s books are published in Canada by Penguin. Chong, like many second- and third-generation Chinese-Canadians, speaks a bit of Cantonese, but doesn’t read Chinese and therefore hasn’t read Zhang’s novel in its original language. Zhang has denied the allegations, insisting Gold Mountain Blues is the result of hands-on research conducted during several trips to China and Western Canada, and that, apart from Chong’s memoir, she has not read any of the books in question. In 2010, she told the Global Chinese Press, a Vancouver-based Chinese language newspaper, that she was the victim of “a carefully planned attack” 64 toronto life January 2012

that was, in her view, “rooted in other people’s jealousy and grudges.” Zhang has never publicly accused anyone of being the “Canadian Scholar.” However, Yan Li, a Chinese-born comparative literature professor and director of the University of Waterloo’s Confucius Institute, claims that shortly after the Canadian Scholar post appeared, a vicious smear campaign was initiated against her by Zhang’s readers. Li says Zhang’s fans suspect that even if she isn’t the Canadian Scholar, she must be helping the blogger compose the posts. She believes she’s being blamed because she is one of the few Chinese-Canadian literary scholars in the country and is devoted to raising the profile of Chinese-Canadian writers in China—something she says Zhang’s readers want to discourage, since it potentially introduces competition to the market. Li admits she did participate in private discussions with other scholars about the alleged similarities between Gold Mountain Blues and the other works in question. But she insists she has never posted anything about it online. The Chinese blogosphere is a surreal world of paranoia, slander and bizarre animal metaphors. In dozens of posts, Li is accused of being a “bisexual whore” and “a dirty dog” and “a headless turtle” who refuses to disclose her true identity as Zhang’s attacker. Reading these posts, Li told me, has been “mental torture.” Li grew more worried when she received an anonymous phone call at home from a man who threatened the life of her only son, who was away at university at the time. Li reported the call to police and said she was “extremely scared.” The following day, she noticed a long anonymous comment posted in response to the Canadian Scholar’s latest blog entry. “The bad habit of Chinese fighting Chinese is amplified by Yan Li,” the post stated. “She wants to demonize the image of Chinese people at bloody costs.” The poster ended with another threat: “Warn you, Yan Li: do not spread any more rumours on the web. If you insist on doing this, and continue to be the enemy of the Chinese people, what is waiting for you will only be a shameful ending. Watch out!” Then four anonymous letters were sent to University of Waterloo department heads, calling for Li’s resignation on account of her alleged actions in the plagiarism debacle. The letters were written in Chinese, but one was signed with the fake name “Chris Smith.” Yi’s insistence that she isn’t responsible for the controversial blog was given credence when a man named Robert Luo revealed himself on the popular Chinese web forum Sina as the “Canadian Scholar” who had posted the original blog. Since then he has posted dozens of articles on the issue of Zhang’s alleged plagiarism, spearheading a brazen public campaign to bring her down. (Zhang says she has stopped reading the “rubbish” Luo posts about her as it depletes her creative faculties.) Other bloggers allege that Zhang’s wrongdoing extends beyond Gold Mountain Blues to her 2011 novel Sleep, Flo, Sleep, which they claim was partially cribbed from a work by the Chinese-American author Ruthanne Lum McCunn. In early 2010, Penguin commissioned Nicky Harman, a respected British translator of Chinese literature, to produce an English version of Gold Mountain Blues. Harman was midway through her translation last December when Adrienne Kerr asked if she’d mind temporarily ceasing work to prepare a report on similarities between the Chinese language edition of Zhang’s novel and the allegedly plagiarized books. Over the next few weeks, Harman read the five books and compared them to Zhang’s original work. In her view, the allegations snowballing in the Chinese blogosphere were “utterly irrelevant, poisonous and horrible. I didn’t understand what they


THE COMPLAINANTS

photographs: chong by brigitte bouvier; choy by raymond lum; books by carlo mendoza

Four writers claim Ling Zhang plagiarized their books in Gold Mountain Blues. Here, a summary of suspicious similarities

Denise chong’s 1994 family history The Concubine’s Children and Zhang’s book both feature a heroic mistress who must show resourcefulness when she’s sent from China to Canada. The two concubines work in tea houses and support their families .

paul yee’s 2003 young adult story collection Dead Man’s Gold and Zhang’s book both describe a hardworking farmer and a relative who gambles in the city. In both Yee’s 2003 book The Bone Collector’s Son and Zhang’s book, a Chinese houseboy is rescued from white bullies by his white female employer.

sky lee’s 1990 novel Disappearing Moon Café and Zhang’s book both describe a Chinese worker who is saved (from a storm in Lee’s book, a river in Zhang’s) by a half-Chinese, half–First Nations woman. In both books, the woman nurses the man through a fever.

wayson choy’s 1995 novel The Jade Peony and Zhang’s book share a disfigured railway worker who rescues his boss from certain death. Years later, when the boss dies, his family gives the loyal worker a valuable gift.

were on about.” Harman does not deny there were incidental plot similarities, but she maintains they were too subtle to be reasonably construed as theft. She said she found doing the assessment “an unwanted distraction.” She ended our conversation by advising me to read the report she wrote for Penguin. (Penguin refused to show me—or the other Chinese-Canadian authors—a copy of the report, despite repeated requests.) With Harman’s assessment complete, Penguin believed it had all the assurances it needed to complete the English language translation. According to Yvonne Hunter, the vice-president of publicity at Penguin, “it was a very difficult situation, and we were mindful of the fact that some of the authors alleged to have been plagiarized were also our authors.” (In addition to Chong, Wayson Choy has been published by Penguin.)

As Penguin waited for the final translation to be delivered, the story of the allegations, which had already been widely covered in the Chinese media, made its way into the Canadian press. Last February, Bill Schiller, the Toronto Star’s Asia bureau chief, published a story under the headline “Literary feud in China puts book in limbo in Canada.” Schiller managed to track down the mysterious Robert Luo—or someone purporting to be him—in Shanghai. Luo described himself as “a businessman with a degree from China’s Fudan University who came to Canada as a landed immigrant in 2001.” Luo claimed to be an avid reader who maintains residences in both Shanghai and Toronto. His stated goal: to defend the intellectual property rights of Canadian writers. He also told the Star he had “the backing and guidance of a number of Chinese academics.” When the Star pressed Luo for an in-person interview, January 2012 toronto life 65


he grew alarmed and hung up. My own repeated efforts to contact him were similarly rebuffed. He agreed to an interview request through a translator by email, then failed to answer my questions despite weeks of pestering. Last March, the Literature Press of Shanghai published a report on the controversy by Ning Wang, a professor of literature and director of the academic committee of the department of foreign languages at Tsinghua University in northern China. Wang’s findings were damning for Zhang: in all the books he examined, Wang claimed to find “striking similarities” and “infringements.” In his report on Paul Yee’s books, he concluded by stating, “The infringed areas are artistic creations which are protected intellectual properties of the author and are not ‘common materials’ freely available to everyone.” Wang’s assessment was picked up in the mainstream Chinese news media and prompted more debate in the Chinese blogosphere. In the spring, Zhang’s fans created a new blog under the name “Heavenly Horse,” which they used to defend her reputation and malign her attackers—including Ning Wang. Wang refused my interview request, replying by email that he felt the situation was now “too complicated.” Another document that has been used in the attacks against Zhang is an interview published in August 2010 on the Shanghai Writers’ Association’s official website. In it, Zhang speaks of how small details from other books will often inspire her “fragmented style” of writing. In particular, she cites Emily Dickinson, but she says of the other novelists she reads, “What point they gave me on what effect, I cannot tell you, but overall they are my nutrition.” Her critics have used this interview as an admission of guilt. But picking and choosing snippets of inspiration from other works is, as any writer of fiction knows, a common part of the writing process. The question of when inspiration becomes theft is one that obsesses intellectual property lawyers. And in October, May Cheng, an attorney who specializes in copyright law at the blue chip firm Fasken Martineau DuMoulin, filed a claim against both Penguin and Nicky Harman after Penguin ignored repeated requests to commission a new assessment by a mutually agreed upon third party. Cheng was acting on behalf of Lee, Choy and Yee (Chong decided to sit out the lawsuit, but told me she is watching the case “with interest”). At press time, statements of defence hadn’t been filed. Wayson Choy, the best-known author involved in the case, told me he’s frustrated with Penguin’s handling of the allegations. “Why not show us the objective evaluation they claim proves there was no plagiarism and get it over with?” he said. “If this were a murder mystery, I’d say some bird-like creature with flippers is hiding the body.”

Choy has a reputation in publishing circles as the kindly godfather of Chinese-Canadian literature. When the allegations first surfaced, Zhang contacted him to express her concern and invited him to read her book. They exchanged friendly emails and even made a lunch date for after the publication of Gold Mountain Blues. But after reading Zhang’s novel, Choy cancelled. “I’m not an expert,” he says. “I’d like someone to compare all this with the original Chinese version to expertly verify matters. As things now stand, what can I say? Well, how about, ‘We won’t be having lunch.’ ” May Cheng finds Penguin’s handling of the affair highly objectionable. “For them to say publicly that the accusations have been ‘proven false’ is absolutely outrageous. The reality is, only a court can do that. I’d love to have an opportunity to cross-examine them on the research.” So why doesn’t Penguin simply put the matter to rest by commissioning a new report, as Cheng and her clients have asked? According to Penguin executives, they already have Harman’s report, which they view as an objective third-party assessment, so they don’t see the point. But presumably it’s also because the stakes are so high. If a new assessment doesn’t find in Zhang’s favour, the results could be disastrous. According to Cheng: “They’d have no choice but to bury the book—and that’s going to cost them big time.” Cheng believes Zhang’s alleged disregard for her clients’ intellectual property is symptomatic of a widespread acceptance of pirated products in China. A market of knock-offs has been rampant there for decades and is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Many an enterprising emerging capitalist has grown rich by selling imitation Canadian icewine, designer shoes, Duracell batteries and Tylenol. The practice also extends to books—counterfeit versions of bestsellers are available on a Chinese version of eBay. Some Chinese writers are said to create “mash-ups” of English language books and dump them on the Chinese market. But as China’s counterfeit culture grows, so does the opportunity to prosecute the perpetrators. The Internet, combined with the increasingly globalized world of international book publishing, has made literary piracy easier to detect. Prior to the publication of Gold Mountain Blues, Penguin sent advance copies of the book to Chong, Lee, Choy and Yee. Chong says she found the experience of reading the novel unsettling. “Yes, there are common immigrant experiences,” she told me, “but writers like me and Wayson and Sky and Paul are connected to our grandparents’ generation of immigrants. It’s our grandfathers who paid the head tax. It’s my grandmother who was a concubine. So when we build these characters, it’s moored in real life. These are our ancestral roots.” Zhang, it must be noted, comes from a different province of China than the

Zhang’s fans blame a Waterloo professor for launching the plagiarism accusations. They’ve smeared the professor on blogs, demanded she be fired and threatened to kill her son

66 toronto life January 2012


fictional characters in Gold Mountain Blues. She speaks Mandarin, while Chong, Lee, Choy and Yee’s ancestors spoke Cantonese. The stories in Gold Mountain Blues recall the particular immigration experiences of the allegedly plagiarized writers’ ancestors, not Zhang’s own experiences coming to Canada. Of course, this in no way precludes Zhang’s right to fictionalize this experience. A week before Cheng filed her suit, Chong sent a letter to Penguin (her second) explaining that while she’d chosen not to retain legal counsel, she still felt an independent assessment was necessary. She also requested that the rights to The Concubine’s Children revert to her. When I last spoke to Chong, Penguin had offered only to meet her and discuss her letter. Just before the claim was filed, Zhang emailed me an official statement of her own. She expressed her respect for her fellow authors. She insisted her novel was “an absolutely unique piece of literature, though based on common events in Chinese-Canadian history,” a history she points out is “a very rich source for literary inspiration” and of which “nobody can claim ownership, other than God.”

In China, where pirated products are commonplace, writers create “mash-ups” of English books and dump them on the Chinese market

So who’s right here? I wish I could tell you. After reading the English language translation of Gold Mountain Blues, I found it impossible to decide for myself whether plagiarism had occurred. While there are some uncanny echoes in plot between Zhang’s work and the other books in question, whatever may have been taken from other works has been reincorporated into a storyline that feels wholly its own in tone and style. The other writers’ books are classic tales of the Canadian immigrant experience, serenely paced in minimalist prose; Zhang’s novel is a much more densely plotted, mass-appeal venture, which at times tests the reader’s memory with its litany of names, places and events. Like Chong’s book, Gold Mountain Blues contains a plucky, pretty concubine who is sent from China to Canada, works in a tea house and supports her family, though she is not the novel’s central character. Like Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony, Zhang’s book contains a character who is disfigured while working on the railway. In both works, that character later rescues a foreman and inherits money from his family. While Zhang lists Paul Yee’s book Ghost Train as a reference source for Gold Mountain Blues, the alleged plagiarism extends to two more of his books, Dead Man’s Gold and The Bone Collector’s Son. Yee’s Dead Man’s Gold and Zhang’s book both describe a hardworking farmer whose gambler relative resents him because he refuses to give him money. (In Yee’s book the gambler kills the farmer; in Zhang’s he disappears.) In The Bone Collector’s Son, a Chinese teen finds employment as a houseboy to a white Vancouver couple. The wife of the couple intervenes when he’s persecuted by bullies. A similar character goes through the same ordeal in Gold Mountain Blues. Like Sky Lee’s Disappearing Moon Café, Zhang’s novel contains a subplot about a Chinese worker who, while in grave danger, encounters a Canadian woman who is half-Chinese,

half–First Nations. In both books, the girl wears an animal hide and the Chinese boy is at one point feverish and tended to by the girl. Zhang’s claim that she has never read Sky Lee’s novel stretches credibility. And yet, even if she has borrowed from the works in question, is there anything wrong with a writer finding inspiration in other writers’ books? T. S. Eliot believed no author worked in a vacuum and every modern verse reacted to classical references and myths. The American literary critic Harold Bloom wrote of the “anxiety of influence” handed down from one generation of poets to the next. Even Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious—the idea that we are all connected through common stories and archetypes flowing subconsciously from one generation to the next—would seem to support Zhang’s right to play the role of literary magpie, cleverly recycling whatever shiny treasures she may have stumbled upon in the Chinese-Canadian literary canon. As long as she isn’t lifting them verbatim, what’s the problem? Growing up during the Cultural Revolution, Ling Zhang learned that even the most romantic theories can be devastatingly destructive in practice. She watched her parents—and an entire civilization—become seduced, swept away and ultimately disillusioned by the power of a single big idea. “Everyone was a part of it; everyone was dragged in and brainwashed and made to believe what was happening was good,” she says of the time. She also points out that, against all odds, reason ultimately prevailed. Today China is a driving force in an increasingly unstable world economy, a culture on the cusp of world domination. With her continent-spanning career and prolific output, Zhang would seem poised to be the future of popular fiction. Either that, or she’s a plagiarist bound for literary obscurity. Standing at her antiseptic kitchen counter in Scarborough, Zhang tells me that despite the difficulties of her childhood, the past two years have been the hardest of her life. First her father died suddenly in China, and then she endured serious complications from routine laser eye surgery. Soon afterward, the tidal wave of plagiarism accusations rolled in. “It was terribly painful, but it made me stronger,” she says. Her eyes drift across the room, then alight on the old photo of her parents in their Leninist collars on the cusp of the Cultural Revolution. Four and a half decades later, the Zhangs still look full of hope. They don’t know it yet, but just like their daughter, they’re embarking on the fight of their life. b January 2012 toronto life 67


—Service: Health & Family Journalisme de service : santé et famille

Winner/Gagnant

Catherine Dubé Faut-il interdire le cellulaire à l’école?

L’actualité


ÉDUCATION

FAut-il interdire le ce Plus de la moitié des élèves du secondaire ont maintenant dans leur poche ce petit appareil qui leur permet de communiquer, échanger de l’information, s’amuser, prendre des photos… et parfois tricher ! Faut-il s’en inquiéter ? Comment l’école doit-elle s’adapter ? par Catherine Dubé • photos de Mathieu Rivard

A 

ssis près des casiers, des élèves de l’école secondaire Dalbé-Viau s’adonnent à une activité qui était formellement interdite jusqu’à l’an dernier : ils envoient des textos, leur téléphone cellulaire calé au creux des mains. La direction de l’établissement, situé dans l’arrondissement montréalais de Lachine, a accepté de libéraliser l’usage de cet appareil. « En classe, il demeure interdit. Mais nous avons ciblé trois endroits où il est permis : la cafétéria, la place publique et l’aire de jeux », précise le directeur, Jean-Pierre Amesse. La plupart des enseignants sont ravis. « Les élèves sont moins tentés de se servir de leur téléphone en cachette pendant les cours, puisqu’ils peuvent le faire à la pause », témoigne l’enseignant de sciences Éric Durocher en traversant la place publique, vaste espace aux murs bleu roi, qui grouille d’élèves se dirigeant vers la cafétéria ou leur casier. Dans de nombreuses écoles du Québec, la réflexion au sujet du cellulaire est à l’ordre du jour : doit-il être prohibé seulement en classe ou dans toute l’école ? La voie à suivre ne s’impose pas d’emblée : alors que certaines directions optent pour la tolérance, d’autres durcissent les règles par crainte des dérapages — cyberintimidation, triche aux examens, inattention en classe. À l’école Jeanne-Mance, un établissement de 680 élèves de Montréal, le règlement est strict : aucun appareil n’est toléré entre les murs de la polyvalente, sous peine d’être confisqué pendant 36 { 15 OCTObre 2012 l’actualité

au moins 10 jours, dès la première infraction. « J’en confisque environ cinq par semaine », dit le directeur adjoint, Gino Ciarlo. Une peine sévère si on la compare avec ce qui se fait généralement ailleurs : avertissement, puis confiscation pendant 24 à 48 heures ; certains directeurs exigent que ce soient les parents qui viennent récupérer l’objet à leur bureau. Impossible, désormais, de fermer les yeux sur la présence de ces bidules électroniques dans les établissements scolaires. Au Québec, dès leur entrée à l’école secondaire, le quart des jeunes possèdent un téléphone mobile ; cette proportion passe à 80 % parmi les élèves de 5e secondaire. Dans une école


ellulaire à L’école ?

typique, plus d’un élève sur deux en a un dans la poche, estime Mélanie Fortin, doctorante en psychoéducation à l’Université de Montréal, dont le travail de thèse consiste justement à documenter le phénomène. Elle a déjà questionné près de 2 000 jeunes et poursuivra sa quête auprès de 6 000 de plus cet automne. Elle recueille également les témoignages de leurs enseignants, bien souvent dépassés par ce déferlement d’appareils. Les trois quarts des élèves avouent avoir déjà discrètement envoyé ou reçu des textos pendant un cours, même si le règlement de leur école l’interdit. Ils risquent évidemment de se faire confisquer leur précieux

À l’école secondaire Dalpé-Viau, à Lachine, le cellulaire est permis dans certaines zones seulement. Et les élèves en profitent allégrement !

cellulaire, mais ils excellent dans l’art de le manier sans se faire remarquer. « Je peux texter sans regarder le clavier, le téléphone caché dans mon étui à crayons », dit Yana, 15 ans. La jeune fille, qui fréquente la Cité étudiante, à Roberval, n’a cessé ce petit jeu qu’après en avoir constaté l’effet désastreux sur ses résultats scolaires. « Quand on texte, on se concentre sur le message qu’on veut envoyer, pas sur ce que le prof dit… », reconnaît-elle. Ses notes se sont passablement amé­ liorées depuis qu’elle a décidé de laisser son téléphone à la maison, sur le conseil d’une enseignante. L’enseignante en question, Chantale Potvin, a demandé en mars dernier à Line Beauchamp, alors ministre de l’Éducation, l’adoption d’une loi inter­ di­sant les cellulaires dans toutes les écoles de la pro­vince. « Cela réglerait bien des problèmes », croit-elle, consternée par la place qu’occupe cette tech­no­logie dans la vie de ses élèves. « En classe, c’est dif­ficile de garder les jeunes concentrés. Et pendant l’heure du dîner, ils ne se parlent plus et ne font plus de sport, ils textent. L’autre jour, une élève a déboulé l’escalier parce qu’elle avait les yeux fixés sur son téléphone au lieu de regarder devant elle ! » Le ministère de l’Éducation n’a pas l’intention de se mêler des affaires internes des écoles, chacune étant responsable d’édicter ses propres règles de vie. Mais il a décidé de sévir durant les examens de fin d’année. Les cellulaires facilitent en effet la vie aux tricheurs, qui communiquent par textos avec leurs camarades ou cherchent tout bonnement les réponses sur Internet durant l’épreuve. Certains élèves altruistes prennent des photos des questionnaires, qui circulent ensuite sur le Web. Beaucoup plus efficace qu’un petit bout de papier plié dans l’étui… « Pendant un examen, j’ai saisi deux cellulaires, dont l’application bloc-notes contenait toutes les réponses, sûrement fournies par un élève qui avait passé l’examen plus tôt. Quinze autres élèves avaient exactement les mêmes réponses sur leur copie », raconte une enseignante de la commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys, dans l’ouest de l’île de Montréal. En juin dernier, le Ministère a donc exigé que les surveillants d’examen appliquent un règlement draconien : tout élève surpris avec un appareil électronique, qu’il s’agisse d’un cellulaire ou l’actualité 15 OCTObre 2012 } 37


ÉDUCATION FAUT-IL INTERDIRE LE CELLULAIRE À L’ÉCOLE ? d’un iPod Touch, serait expulsé de la salle d’examen et se verrait attribuer la note zéro. Il n’est plus nécessaire de prouver qu’il y a eu plagiat ; pincer l’élève en possession d’un appareil suffit. À la mi-juin, à l’école Dalbé-Viau, on pouvait constater que la consigne avait été entendue : la tête penchée sur leur copie, plusieurs élèves avaient déposé leur appareil sur le bureau du surveillant avant l’examen. D’autres l’avaient rangé dans leur sac à dos, placé contre le mur à l’avant de la classe. Sur les 920 élèves de l’école, seulement 3 ont été pris avec un objet proscrit dans les mains. À peu près absent des écoles il y a à peine une décennie, le cellulaire est en train de modifier en profondeur les rapports sociaux entre les jeunes. « Les interactions en face à face ont diminué, rapporte Mélanie Fortin. Dans l’autobus scolaire, un jeune préfère texter avec son ami assis deux bancs derrière que jaser avec celui qui est à côté. » Il en profite pour coordonner ses travaux d’équipe… qu’il fait ensuite en réunion virtuelle, grâce à Facebook, tout en continuant de texter. C’est en soirée que les ados se font surtout aller les pouces, la période de pointe se situant de 18 h à 23 h… et parfois au-delà ; plus du tiers d’entre eux ne résistent pas à l’envie de rester en contact avec leurs amis la nuit. « Quand je n’ai pas mon cellulaire sur moi, je ne me sens pas bien », lance Charles, un élève de 4e secondaire, d’un air tragique, son BlackBerry dans la poche. « Cet objet devient une extension de leur corps, confirme André H. Caron, directeur du Groupe de recherche sur les jeunes et les médias, de l’Université de Montréal. Les adolescents ont toujours eu besoin de s’affirmer, de socialiser, de construire leur identité. D’une certaine façon, rien n’a changé, seuls les supports technologiques sont différents. » Ces supports ont cependant transformé le rapport au temps, désormais dominé par l’instantanéité. « Un jeune qui ne répond pas à son cellulaire doit ensuite se justifier auprès de ses amis pendant des jours », poursuit le chercheur. Selon l’entreprise Nielsen, spécialisée dans les mesures d’audience des médias, l’adolescent nord-américain moyen envoie et reçoit plus de 3 300 textos chaque mois. Chez les filles de 13 à 17 ans, ce nombre atteint 4 200, soit 140 par jour. « Pour eux, un téléphone ne sert pas à téléphoner, ça sert à texter ! » lance Mélanie Fortin. Parmi les jeunes qu’elle a interrogés, 89 % de ceux qui ont un cellulaire disposent d’un forfait « textos illi­ mités »… la plupart du temps payé par leurs parents. Et souvent moins cher qu’un forfait voix, quand il 38 { 15 OCTObre 2012 l’actualité

À New York, des écoles repèrent les cellulaires des élèves grâce à un détecteur de métal. Des commerçants futés offrent aux élèves un service de gardiennage d’appareil pour un dollar par jour, dans un camion stationné devant l’établissement.

n’est pas carrément inclus dans le forfait familial. « Cela rassure les parents de penser qu’ils pourront joindre leur adolescent en tout temps. C’est une grande illusion. Les ados répondent à tout le monde sauf à eux, prétextant que leur pile était à plat », a observé André H. Caron. Fait à noter, ces parents génèrent une partie des problèmes vécus à l’école ! Certains envoient des textos à leur enfant en pleine heure de cours. D’autres enguirlandent le directeur de l’école parce qu’il a confisqué son téléphone. Bref, les adultes ont aussi leur examen de conscience à faire… y compris les enseignants. « Pour éviter que les élèves ne textent en classe, il faut les rendre actifs dans leurs apprentissages. Même nous, les adultes, nous consultons nos courriels sur nos téléphones quand une réunion s’étire trop longtemps », souligne David Chartrand, conseiller pédagogique au collège Sainte-Anne, une école secondaire privée de Lachine. Sylvain Bérubé, enseignant de français à l’école secondaire de Rochebelle, à Québec, compte parmi les rares qui abordent de front la question de l’usage responsable des cellulaires avec ses élèves. « Il faut éduquer les jeunes le plus rapidement possible à


Consigne du ministère de l’Éducation : un élève pris avec un appareil électronique aux examens de fin d’année aura la note zéro. Dans cette classe, les élèves ont préféré laisser leur cellulaire sur le bureau du surveillant.

l’utilisation de ces outils, qu’ils ont déjà entre les mains de toute façon », dit cet adepte de Twitter. Ces nouvelles technologies façonnent l’école et la société en général, comme l’ont fait d’autres inventions avant elles, croit-il. « Ça ne sert à rien de résister à un changement qui finira par s’imposer. Mieux vaut orienter la façon dont les jeunes utilisent ces technologies, plutôt que se contenter de réagir aux aspects négatifs. » Dans son établissement, les appareils électroniques ne peuvent être utilisés durant les heures de cours, sauf à des fins pédagogiques, une exception dont Sylvain Bérubé profite dès que l’occasion s’y prête. L’an dernier, après avoir fait un remueméninges avec ses élèves, il a pris en photo les mots qui couvraient le tableau, plutôt que de les recopier un à un. Des jeunes lui ont demandé s’ils pouvaient faire la même chose. « J’ai accepté et une armée de cellulaires s’est aussitôt dressée devant le tableau », dit-il en rigolant. Lorsqu’il sait que le laboratoire informatique ne sera pas libre et que ses élèves doivent faire de la recherche sur Internet, Sylvain Bérubé leur demande explicitement d’apporter leurs appareils. Télé­ phones intelligents et iPod Touch sont alors les

Nouveauté 2012 des examens de baccalauréat, en France : pour contrer la triche, le ministère de l’Éducation a utilisé des détecteurs d’ondes cellulaires dans certains centres d’examen, choisis de façon aléatoire.

bienvenus dans la classe. « Près de la moitié des élèves en ont un, ils forment donc des équipes en conséquence. » (En plus de faire de la recherche, ils peuvent entre autres choses enregistrer les explications du prof, se servir de l’application calculatrice de l’iPod Touch, utiliser des téléphones comme télévoteurs avec un tableau blanc interactif.) Une solution qui pourrait être adoptée ailleurs, pense Benoit Petit, conseiller au RECIT, un réseau de personnes-ressources consacré à l’intégration pédagogique des nouvelles technologies dans les écoles du Québec. « On entend souvent dire qu’il n’y a pas suffisamment de technologie dans les écoles, mais c’est faux. C’est simplement qu’elle se trouve dans la poche des élèves et qu’ils n’ont pas le droit de s’en servir ! Un iPod Touch est un outil plus puissant que ne l’était un ordinateur de bureau il y a sept ans, mais les élèves n’en ont pas conscience, puisqu’ils l’utilisent seulement pour leurs loisirs. » Une petite virée dans une école secondaire donne l’occasion d’apercevoir un nombre étonnant de téléphones intelligents, tels que des iPhone et des BlackBerry, même en milieu modeste ; des objets qui permettent à la fois de prendre des photos, de filmer et de diffuser sur-le-champ ce contenu sur les réseaux sociaux. Or, les élèves ne semblent pas avoir conscience du tort qu’ils peuvent causer en publiant images et commentaires. L’enquête de Mélanie Fortin révèle en effet que 30 % des élèves filment leur professeur en classe « de parfois à très souvent ». Ils sont encore plus nombreux, soit 42 %, à avoir déjà filmé un autre élève de la classe. « La plupart semblent en rire avec les copains et les effacer ensuite », note la chercheuse. Un incident malheureux survenu à Gatineau, fin 2006, rappelle cependant les dérapages possibles. Des élèves ont fait sortir de ses gonds leur enseignant, tout en le filmant à son insu. Les extraits ont ensuite été diffusés sur YouTube ; bouleversé, l’enseignant a été en arrêt de travail pendant des mois. Les choses prennent rarement une tournure aussi dramatique, comme le démontre un sondage CROP réalisé auprès d’enseignants membres de la Centrale des syndicats du Québec en février 2011. Aucun des 55 enseignants victimes d’intimidation n’a déclaré d’incident de ce genre. En revanche, 27 % d’entre eux ont vu leur réputation salie sur Facebook, un phénomène en forte hausse, et 60 % par courriel. La médisance sur les professeurs et l’intimidation dans la cour d’école ne datent pas d’hier. l’actualité 15 OCTObre 2012 } 39


ÉDUCATION FAUT-IL INTERDIRE LE CELLULAIRE À L’ÉCOLE ?

« Mais une cyberagression laisse plus de traces. Un nombre illimité de personnes en sont témoins, et même si l’auteur efface les photos ou les commentaires, des copies subsistent. Une seule photo compromettante ou dénaturée peut causer des dommages graves », dit Claire Beaumont, directrice de la Chaire de recherche sur la sécurité et la violence en milieu éducatif, de l’Université Laval, à Québec.

Les filles de 13 à 17 ans envoient et reçoivent en moyenne 140 textos par jour.

Pour contrer ce genre de situation, le dialogue semble plus efficace que la répression. « Si on impose une règle aux élèves, ils ne chercheront qu’à la contourner, affirme le conseiller pédago­ gique Benoit Petit. Alors que s’ils ont participé à son élaboration, ils auront envie de la respecter. » Il suggère aux enseignants de discuter des enjeux avec leurs élèves, de façon que chacun d’eux se demande : en quoi ces appareils peuvent-ils nuire aux autres élèves de la classe, à l’enseignant, à moi-même ? En quoi peuventils être bénéfiques ? Le groupe peut ensuite convenir de règles de vie pour profiter des avantages de cette technologie tout en réduisant ses effets négatifs. C’est ce qu’a fait la direction de l’école DalbéViau. Les règles d’utilisation du cellulaire dans l’école ont été établies par un comité formé d’ensei­ gnants, d’élèves et de la direction. Et qui a fait le tour des classes pour un rappel à l’ordre quand des jeunes se sont mis à se servir de leur téléphone n’importe où ? Pas le directeur, mais les représentants des élèves !

Les textos ? « C pa grav »

Le langage codé qu’utilisent les ados pour texter nuit-il à leur apprentissage de la langue ? Mélanie Fortin en était convaincue, comme la plupart de ses collègues de l’école Kénogami, au Saguenay. Après avoir enseigné le français en 1re secondaire pendant 10 ans, la jeune femme de 33 ans a entrepris un doctorat pour en avoir le cœur net. À son grand étonnement, les entrevues qu’elle a réalisées jusqu’à maintenant avec les jeunes scripteurs l’ont rassurée. Pour texter efficacement, les jeunes suivent deux règles : utiliser le moins de lettres possible et truffer leurs messages de binettes, ces petits symboles qui expriment une émotion. « J’ai » peut s’écrire « Jé » ou « G », « c’était » devient « stè », « great » s’écrit « gr8 », « arriver » est tronqué et donne « ariV »… « Ils emploient ce langage codé entre amis, mais ne s’en servent pas dans leurs productions écrites à l’école. Ce sont deux mondes, deux langages, deux façons d’écrire », explique Mélanie Fortin. Ce que les linguistes appellent un sociolecte, un langage propre à un groupe social. Ces jeunes écrivent d’ailleurs les mots au long quand ils textent avec leurs parents et ils leur demandent de faire la même chose ! 40 { 15 OCTObre 2012 l’actualité

« En classe, leurs productions écrites contiennent le même type de fautes qu’avant : des “s” oubliés, des participes passés malmenés, des mots mal orthographiés », souligne la chercheuse. Déjà en 1987, le ministère de l’Éducation concluait, dans le rapport de la Consultation sur la qualité du français écrit et parlé, que les élèves de 5e secondaire écrivaient « comme s’ils n’avaient jamais étudié la grammaire et la syntaxe ». C’était bien avant l’avènement des textos… Des études menées auprès d’élèves anglophones démontrent au contraire que l’usage des messages textes peut avoir un effet positif sur les compétences en lecture et en écriture, notamment sur l’aptitude à lire et à épeler de nouveaux mots de vocabulaire. Il faudra soumettre les élèves francophones à la même démarche pour vérifier la validité de ce constat. Des jeunes dont le téléphone est pourvu d’un correcteur automatique ou de la saisie prédictive de texte affirment en tout cas s’en servir. « Il faut plutôt s’inquiéter du fait que les jeunes lisent de moins en moins de livres et de revues. S’ils ne lisent que des textos, comment pourront-ils améliorer leur vocabulaire et intégrer l’orthographe ? » s’interroge Mélanie Fortin.


—Still-Life Photography Photographies de nature morte

Winner/Gagnant

Adrian Armstrong, Adam Taylor Of Steel, Flesh and Bone

Sharp


A bAckyArd butcher is only As good As his tools At the height of barbecue season, the knife a man wields is as important as the grill he lights or the spices he rubs. In the winter, when slow-braising is the order of the day, this is no less true. A good cut of meat is an integral part of the experience—why let your local butcher get all the credit? A good knife is well worth the investment. With the right knife, one with style, balance and precision, you can create the perfect filet, carve a turkey with ease or slice a roast so evenly your guests will swoon with envy. You will be the czar of the pot roast, the king of the capon. Long may you reign.

Photos Words

Bö ker G o rm 7-7/8" Chef ’s knif e with white miCarta h andle

AdrIAn Armstrong nIcholAs mIzerA

m e A t P r o v I d e d b y t h e b u t c h e r s h o P P e , t o r o n t o - W W W. b u t c h e r s h o P P e . c o m

TK

The BOOK FOr MeN 174 Fall / WiNTer 2012

Of Steel, fleSh and BOne

Designed in the land of the Vikings and forged in Germany’s steel capital, Solingen, the Böker Gorm chef’s knife is an exercise in cutting-edge design and functionality. Its striking 440C stainless-steel blade features a cutaway that makes for easier handling, and it is mounted on a beautiful, high-tech composite handle. ($150)


A bAckyArd butcher is only As good As his tools At the height of barbecue season, the knife a man wields is as important as the grill he lights or the spices he rubs. In the winter, when slow-braising is the order of the day, this is no less true. A good cut of meat is an integral part of the experience—why let your local butcher get all the credit? A good knife is well worth the investment. With the right knife, one with style, balance and precision, you can create the perfect filet, carve a turkey with ease or slice a roast so evenly your guests will swoon with envy. You will be the czar of the pot roast, the king of the capon. Long may you reign.

Photos Words

Bö ker G o rm 7-7/8" Chef ’s knif e with white miCarta h andle

AdrIAn Armstrong nIcholAs mIzerA

m e A t P r o v I d e d b y t h e b u t c h e r s h o P P e , t o r o n t o - W W W. b u t c h e r s h o P P e . c o m

TK

The BOOK FOr MeN 174 Fall / WiNTer 2012

Of Steel, fleSh and BOne

Designed in the land of the Vikings and forged in Germany’s steel capital, Solingen, the Böker Gorm chef’s knife is an exercise in cutting-edge design and functionality. Its striking 440C stainless-steel blade features a cutaway that makes for easier handling, and it is mounted on a beautiful, high-tech composite handle. ($150)


S hun Fuji 7.5" San toku kni Fe Eastern knives like this Shun Fuji Santoku are lighter and capable of more meticulous cuts than heavy Western varieties, resulting in unbruised sliced vegetables and perfectly trimmed steak. The knife’s razor-thin edge comes from nickelstainless Damascus steel, which is hard enough to support a 16-degree edge–one of the sharpest available. The process of making Damascus steel also forms the distinctive ripple effect along the blade and end cap, so you don’t have to sacrifice style for function. ($520 at Williams-Sonoma)


S hun Fuji 7.5" San toku kni Fe Eastern knives like this Shun Fuji Santoku are lighter and capable of more meticulous cuts than heavy Western varieties, resulting in unbruised sliced vegetables and perfectly trimmed steak. The knife’s razor-thin edge comes from nickelstainless Damascus steel, which is hard enough to support a 16-degree edge–one of the sharpest available. The process of making Damascus steel also forms the distinctive ripple effect along the blade and end cap, so you don’t have to sacrifice style for function. ($520 at Williams-Sonoma)


Zwil l i ng J.A. Henc k els 6" c l e Av er When smaller knives won’t cut it, having this tool in your arsenal will be important. Made in Germany, Zwilling J.A. Henckels’s cleaver has a heavy, especially resilient steel blade for hacking through joints and bones. It’s also ideal for segmenting large cuts of meat like spare ribs and roasts. ($100 at Toss & Serve)

V icto rinox 7 " G ranto n EdG E Santo ku True to Victorinox’s multipurpose roots, Japanesestyle Santoku knives can tackle more cuts than most. The granton-edge blade has air pockets that prevent sliced food, like cucumbers or onions, from sticking, resulting in lightning-fast cuts. However, its high-carbon stainless-steel construction and excellent edge make it equally useful for tougher jobs like chopping through thin-boned fish or chicken. ($175)


Zwil l i ng J.A. Henc k els 6" c l e Av er When smaller knives won’t cut it, having this tool in your arsenal will be important. Made in Germany, Zwilling J.A. Henckels’s cleaver has a heavy, especially resilient steel blade for hacking through joints and bones. It’s also ideal for segmenting large cuts of meat like spare ribs and roasts. ($100 at Toss & Serve)

V icto rinox 7 " G ranto n EdG E Santo ku True to Victorinox’s multipurpose roots, Japanesestyle Santoku knives can tackle more cuts than most. The granton-edge blade has air pockets that prevent sliced food, like cucumbers or onions, from sticking, resulting in lightning-fast cuts. However, its high-carbon stainless-steel construction and excellent edge make it equally useful for tougher jobs like chopping through thin-boned fish or chicken. ($175)


Stelto n Pu re Black chef ’S knif e There’s an art to trimming spare ribs: the more adept you are in your trimming, the more meat you end up with—and the better it tastes. Stelton’s Pure Black chef’s knife is a piece of art in its own right, too. It’s forged from a single piece of stainless chromium steel and covered in a pitch-black surface treatment for grip and easy cleaning. You never know how messy things could get. ($400 for a complete set at EQ3)


Stelto n Pu re Black chef ’S knif e There’s an art to trimming spare ribs: the more adept you are in your trimming, the more meat you end up with—and the better it tastes. Stelton’s Pure Black chef’s knife is a piece of art in its own right, too. It’s forged from a single piece of stainless chromium steel and covered in a pitch-black surface treatment for grip and easy cleaning. You never know how messy things could get. ($400 for a complete set at EQ3)


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Supporting excellence in Canadian magazine journalism.

Congratulations to all of the 2013 National Magazine Award nominees and winners.


—Business Affaires Sponsored by/CommanditÊ par Accenture

Winner/Gagnant

Greg McArthur, Graeme Smith Building With The Brigadier

Report on Business


What made SNC-Lavalin think the Gadhafis would be great partners? b y G R E G M c A R T H U r an d graeme smith

BU I L D I N G

52  OCTOBER 2012 / REPORT ON BUSINESS

the fervour of revolution, and perhaps the prospect of looting flatscreen televisions; they went berserk. They ransacked cupboards, yanked drawers from desks, scattered papers, and marked their conquest with smears of printer ink. Many of the memos and letters trampled under the rebels’ boots bore the signature of Riadh Ben Aïssa, a jet-setting SNC executive who turned this despotic desert nation into his crowning achievement. For SNC, Libya was the castle that Ben Aïssa built—and now the barbarians were past the gate. That was September, 2011. Now Ben Aïssa sits in a jail cell in Switzerland, detained, without charge, on suspicion of paying bribes in North Africa, among other crimes. The 54-year-old, who was once considered a legend within SNC for his ability to fix any problem, now finds himself the leading character in a boardroom parable about the danger

with the

of doing business with corrupt regimes. At SNC, Ben Aïssa has been disappeared. The company no longer refers to him by name; rather he is one of the “certain individuals who are not or no longer employed by the Company.” Forensic auditors enlisted by SNC’s board say Ben Aïssa doled out $56 million to shadowy foreign agents in an effort to land business; SNC says it cannot trace the money (all currency in U.S. dollars unless otherwise noted). This puts the company in the sights of a federal law that prohibits Canadian businesses from paying bribes abroad. While Swiss prosecutors explore whether Ben Aïssa used their country’s secretive banking system, RCMP officers in Ottawa are rooting

through his e-mails and other SNC records to determine precisely how he secured so many lucrative construction deals in some of the world’s most corrupt corners. The former executive is also one of the prime targets of two class-action lawsuits filed by disgruntled shareholders. And that does not complete the list of Ben Aïssa’s woes: Cohn & Wolfe, the public relations company he enlisted to defend his reputation after his abrupt dismissal from SNC, is suing for unpaid fees. How did it come to this? SNC has declined to allow any of its staff to give interviews; for months, all answers to questions have been restricted to e-mail exchanges with a single public-relations executive. But SNC executives and

spokespeople have told journalists they are still learning things about Ben Aïssa’s business, and the company has promulgated the idea that Ben Aïssa was a rogue operator who ran his own private fiefdom. Perhaps. But dozens of interviews with former SNC-Lavalin executives, engineers and other insiders, as well as thousands of pages of documents obtained by The Globe and Mail, suggest a different narrative—that Ben Aïssa, who was known at senior levels in the company for using “all means necessary” to land business, was all too good at doing what the company wanted. Some wealthy foreign students arrive in the West

with a sense of entitlement and then drift through their studies. Not Riadh Ben Aïssa. The commerce undergrad was focused on one thing: “learning, getting ready for the major leagues,” his former roommate Patrick Kelly says. “He wished that he would be, one day,

BRIGADIER photograph XXX

w

hen gunmen breached the gates surrounding Guest Palace 12 in Tripoli, they discovered a kind of yard unrecognizable to most Libyans: a lawn so green and lush and manicured that it might have been a little golf course. With NATO planes screaming overhead on the hunt for Moammar Gadhafi and his sons, the intruders ran down a paved road, past rose gardens and ornamental fences, into a two-storey building with a grand foyer. They did not bother to pass any bags through the X-ray scanner that stood mutely in the lobby. Skidding over the polished stone floor, they also ignored a metal detector. Everywhere they looked, there was not a soul left among the staff of the Tripoli offices of SNC-Lavalin, the Canadian engineering giant. Perhaps the intruders knew the company was building an institution that Gadhafi had intended for their ilk—a prison. In any case, the gunmen were seized with

SNC-Lavalin executive Riadh Ben Aïssa (left) and Saadi Gadhafi (below) suited each other’s needs: Ben Aïssa landed a promising client, and Gadhafi got the engineering expertise he needed to live up to his father’s expectations

a big name.” Ben Aïssa enrolled first at the Université SainteAnne in Nova Scotia before transferring to the University of Ottawa in the early 1980s. Kelly sensed his roommate at U of O was destined for great things when the Tunisian student, then in his 20s, returned from a weekend trip to New York. Entranced by the power and prestige of the World Trade Center, Ben Aïssa was practically bursting with dreams of working high up in the glinting towers, the pinnacle of the business world. The son of a doctor, Ben Aïssa was one of three siblings who enrolled at Canadian universities in the 1980s. (His sister went to McGill for architecture, his brother to the University of Ottawa medical school.) Ben Aïssa was fluent in French, and proficiency in English was not a requirement in either of the universities he attended. Yet by the time most students were sleepily stumbling into their first lecture of the morning, Ben Aïssa had already finished a private English lesson. He knew nothing about hockey, but he cheered wildly for the New York Islanders when they won the Stanley Cup in 1982—because, he explained to his roommate, he preferred winners. After leaving the University of Ottawa with two undergraduate degrees and an MBA, Ben Aïssa launched his own consulting firm, specializing in studies of emerging markets. It soon became clear that this


What made SNC-Lavalin think the Gadhafis would be great partners? b y G R E G M c A R T H U r an d graeme smith

BU I L D I N G

52  OCTOBER 2012 / REPORT ON BUSINESS

the fervour of revolution, and perhaps the prospect of looting flatscreen televisions; they went berserk. They ransacked cupboards, yanked drawers from desks, scattered papers, and marked their conquest with smears of printer ink. Many of the memos and letters trampled under the rebels’ boots bore the signature of Riadh Ben Aïssa, a jet-setting SNC executive who turned this despotic desert nation into his crowning achievement. For SNC, Libya was the castle that Ben Aïssa built—and now the barbarians were past the gate. That was September, 2011. Now Ben Aïssa sits in a jail cell in Switzerland, detained, without charge, on suspicion of paying bribes in North Africa, among other crimes. The 54-year-old, who was once considered a legend within SNC for his ability to fix any problem, now finds himself the leading character in a boardroom parable about the danger

with the

of doing business with corrupt regimes. At SNC, Ben Aïssa has been disappeared. The company no longer refers to him by name; rather he is one of the “certain individuals who are not or no longer employed by the Company.” Forensic auditors enlisted by SNC’s board say Ben Aïssa doled out $56 million to shadowy foreign agents in an effort to land business; SNC says it cannot trace the money (all currency in U.S. dollars unless otherwise noted). This puts the company in the sights of a federal law that prohibits Canadian businesses from paying bribes abroad. While Swiss prosecutors explore whether Ben Aïssa used their country’s secretive banking system, RCMP officers in Ottawa are rooting

through his e-mails and other SNC records to determine precisely how he secured so many lucrative construction deals in some of the world’s most corrupt corners. The former executive is also one of the prime targets of two class-action lawsuits filed by disgruntled shareholders. And that does not complete the list of Ben Aïssa’s woes: Cohn & Wolfe, the public relations company he enlisted to defend his reputation after his abrupt dismissal from SNC, is suing for unpaid fees. How did it come to this? SNC has declined to allow any of its staff to give interviews; for months, all answers to questions have been restricted to e-mail exchanges with a single public-relations executive. But SNC executives and

spokespeople have told journalists they are still learning things about Ben Aïssa’s business, and the company has promulgated the idea that Ben Aïssa was a rogue operator who ran his own private fiefdom. Perhaps. But dozens of interviews with former SNC-Lavalin executives, engineers and other insiders, as well as thousands of pages of documents obtained by The Globe and Mail, suggest a different narrative—that Ben Aïssa, who was known at senior levels in the company for using “all means necessary” to land business, was all too good at doing what the company wanted. Some wealthy foreign students arrive in the West

with a sense of entitlement and then drift through their studies. Not Riadh Ben Aïssa. The commerce undergrad was focused on one thing: “learning, getting ready for the major leagues,” his former roommate Patrick Kelly says. “He wished that he would be, one day,

BRIGADIER photograph XXX

w

hen gunmen breached the gates surrounding Guest Palace 12 in Tripoli, they discovered a kind of yard unrecognizable to most Libyans: a lawn so green and lush and manicured that it might have been a little golf course. With NATO planes screaming overhead on the hunt for Moammar Gadhafi and his sons, the intruders ran down a paved road, past rose gardens and ornamental fences, into a two-storey building with a grand foyer. They did not bother to pass any bags through the X-ray scanner that stood mutely in the lobby. Skidding over the polished stone floor, they also ignored a metal detector. Everywhere they looked, there was not a soul left among the staff of the Tripoli offices of SNC-Lavalin, the Canadian engineering giant. Perhaps the intruders knew the company was building an institution that Gadhafi had intended for their ilk—a prison. In any case, the gunmen were seized with

SNC-Lavalin executive Riadh Ben Aïssa (left) and Saadi Gadhafi (below) suited each other’s needs: Ben Aïssa landed a promising client, and Gadhafi got the engineering expertise he needed to live up to his father’s expectations

a big name.” Ben Aïssa enrolled first at the Université SainteAnne in Nova Scotia before transferring to the University of Ottawa in the early 1980s. Kelly sensed his roommate at U of O was destined for great things when the Tunisian student, then in his 20s, returned from a weekend trip to New York. Entranced by the power and prestige of the World Trade Center, Ben Aïssa was practically bursting with dreams of working high up in the glinting towers, the pinnacle of the business world. The son of a doctor, Ben Aïssa was one of three siblings who enrolled at Canadian universities in the 1980s. (His sister went to McGill for architecture, his brother to the University of Ottawa medical school.) Ben Aïssa was fluent in French, and proficiency in English was not a requirement in either of the universities he attended. Yet by the time most students were sleepily stumbling into their first lecture of the morning, Ben Aïssa had already finished a private English lesson. He knew nothing about hockey, but he cheered wildly for the New York Islanders when they won the Stanley Cup in 1982—because, he explained to his roommate, he preferred winners. After leaving the University of Ottawa with two undergraduate degrees and an MBA, Ben Aïssa launched his own consulting firm, specializing in studies of emerging markets. It soon became clear that this


chosen specialty—and Ben Aïssa’s background— were a neat fit with the strategic needs of Lavalin Inc. Quebec’s largest engineering firm was bent on growing in francophone Africa and the Middle East. Ben Aïssa joined Lavalin in 1985, and soon made his mark. One former executive says it was a $600-million contract for a passenger rail system in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, that first earned the young graduate accolades within the company. And it boded well for Ben Aïssa’s career that the overseer on the project was Jacques Lamarre, one of the four founding shareholders at Lavalin. Lamarre, who retired from SNC-Lavalin in 2009, is a titan of the Quebec business community. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada, he sits on the boards of the Royal Bank of Canada and Suncor Energy, and is a strategic adviser to law firm Heenan Blaikie. From the mid1980s, the trajectories of Lamarre’s and Ben Aïssa’s respective careers were highly correlated: When Lamarre served as an executive vicepresident with territorial responsibility for the Middle East, Ben Aïssa was one of his charges; during Lamarre’s tenure as CEO, which began in 1996, Ben Aïssa was elevated to Lamarre’s “Office of the President.” In a book published to commemorate SNC’s centennial, the men earn the sobriquet

of “firemen”—company parlance for the sort of executives who could be relied on to extract SNC from trouble. The book cites a specific example of a young Ben Aïssa jetting off to his native Tunisia to talk down a disgruntled client who was threatening to sue for $3 million. “Within a couple days, [Ben Aïssa] had managed to convince them that it was in their best interests to drop the lawsuit and give Lavalin an extension to finish the work.” (Lamarre, citing the ongoing investigations into Ben Aïssa’s more recent actions, declined via a spokesperson to be interviewed or to answer e-mailed questions.) Although SNC-Lavalin is one of Canada’s few true international champions, its many successes have obscured the fact that it has

Work on the first big project—a prison—of the Gadhafi-SNC joint venture was arrested by the 2011 revolution

54  OCTOBER 2012 / REPORT ON BUSINESS

suffered from the modern corporate malaise of housing rival internal cultures following a merger. SNC’s chief executive in 1991, Guy Saint-Pierre, deliberately used the word “merger” in all of his public statements, but his language could not mask what everyone knew: Lavalin, privately owned by four engineers—brothers Jacques and Bernard Lamarre, Marcel Dufour and Armand Couture—had leapt into some foolish deals. The first blow was the 1986 purchase of a Montreal petrochemical plant that was hemorrhaging money. But the knockout punch came when Lavalin experimented with playing airplane broker for a Soviet airline, which backed out of the deal in 1990, resulting in Lavalin losing a $45-million deposit. Potential purchasers of Lavalin had reason to be wary. The firm had operations in some of the world’s most unstable regions,

including a crumbling Soviet Union and coup-prone African countries. As a private firm, its books were like a black box. But Quebec Inc.—that fusion of state and corporate interests that gives the province its distinct business culture—does not like to see its celebrated indigenous companies disappear. The union of Lavalin and SNC is widely believed to have involved government pressure. SNC, the smaller company, acquired Lavalin’s still-profitable engineering assets, and, in the process, created a juggernaut. Head counts at the time were put at 2,500 for SNC and 4,000


in charge of operations for the Middle East, based in his native country, Tunisia. Shortly after the appointment, he married a Saudi woman. (It was his second marriage; his first was to Marianne Vézina, whom he met in his first year of university. They divorced after six years.) Scriban was alarmed to learn that Ben Aïssa had negotiated an unusual deal with his old bosses at Lavalin: He, with at least one of his new wife’s relatives, would together earn a 2% commission on any SNC contracts in Saudi Arabia, regardless of whether they performed any work. “This arrangement seemed unethical and conflicted,” Scriban says, adding that the margins on such deals were so small that a 2% cut could seriously hurt the bottom line. It wasn’t just this strange deal (which ultimately ended after Ben Aïssa’s second divorce) that gnawed at Scriban. As the senior vice-president in charge of every foreign representative,

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Former SNC executive Rod Scriban says he was told to “lay off” after he questioned the “unethical” side deal on Saudi Arabian work that Ben Aïssa struck for his family

Scriban was supposed to have access to every country file. The Libya file didn’t seem to exist. During Scriban’s tenure overseeing SNC-Lavalin International, Ben Aïssa had made inroads with the Gadhafi regime—the company had secured a lucrative contract on the Great Man-Made River project, an ambitious plan to pump water from deep desert aquifers to many of Libya’s cities. Scriban couldn’t locate a single piece of paper about this job or any of the Libyan projects in the pipeline. It was the only country file that he could not access. He was never given a definitive answer about why the Libyan work was so secret, he says. But he remembers thinking, “This file is so risky that people feel like hiding it.” Scriban took his concerns

Almost a decade ago, when Colonel Moammar Gadhafi refashioned himself as an ally of the West and began distancing Libya from terrorism, he also unleashed upon the world a new wave of destructive chaos: his children. In Geneva in 2008, his fifth-born son, Hannibal, was arrested for beating his servants. The secondyoungest son, Saif el-Arab, plotted to spray acid in the face of a Munich nightclub bouncer after he and his girlfriend were thrown out of the venue in 2006 after she performed a strip act. But there is one son, third-born Saadi, whose ostentatious antics stand out above the rest. In his mid-20s, Saadi spent three seasons on the roster of various Italian pro soccer clubs, despite having no previous professional experience. The contracts were so inexplicable that most observers of the sport have attributed them to

photograph johann wall

for Lavalin, according to a retired vice-president. If the union was a shotgun marriage with Quebec Inc. in the role of the determined father, then Lavalin was the penniless, adventure-seeking groom, and SNC was the cautious, reserved bride. The smaller company was risk-averse, publicly traded and far more transparent than Lavalin. And, compared to Lavalin, SNC was less dependent on projects in troubled countries. High on the list of priorities for the new unified company was getting a handle on Lavalin International’s myriad opaque deals with rulers and kings around the world. By the middle of the decade, this job had fallen to Rod Scriban, a senior vicepresident who came from the SNC side and was placed in charge of SNC-Lavalin International in 1994. A civil engineer who helped design the towering LG-3 dam in the James Bay hydro project, Scriban was accustomed to scanning the horizon for problems. And he started to think that Riadh Ben Aïssa was a problem. Ben Aïssa had been placed

about the Saudi deal to SNC-Lavalin’s legal department and asked it to investigate. When the lawyers got back to him, he was told that a message from “on high” had come down: “Stop badmouthing Ben Aïssa and lay off his case.” (SNC has confirmed that Ben Aïssa’s brother-in-law was a shareholder in the Saudi subsidiary.) A few weeks later, Scriban says, he was sidelined. He couldn’t say whether his challenging Ben Aïssa’s special status resulted in his transfer—there were others vying for his job—but he says it may have played a role.


the elder Gadhafi’s close relationship with former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. By the end of his soccer career, Saadi had logged a total of 25 minutes on the field. He appeared in only two games. But the comedic value of the soccer stint is limited. At a game in Tripoli in 1996, fans booed a referee’s call that favoured Saadi’s team. A riot ensued. According to The New York Times, between 20 and 50 people were killed,

A riot broke out after a call that favoured saadi’s team. Between 20 and 50 people were killed, some by his bodyguards

some of them shot by Saadi’s bodyguards. After soccer, Saadi moved on to Hollywood, where he launched a production company, Natural Selection. Its only films—Isolation and The Experiment—went straight to video. Armed with a reported $100-million bankroll, Saadi attracted a few recognizable names— Mickey Rourke, Adrien Brody, Forest Whitaker—to film projects that quickly vanished into obscurity. Saadi was torn between his playboy pursuits and his sense of destiny. When the sun came up after a long night of courting strippers in Paris, shooting impalas in Tanzania, or crashing his yacht in Sardinia, he still desperately wanted to be viewed as a leader. As Saadi reached his 30s, his father was making over the image of Libya, and himself, from an outlaw that sponsored terrorism to a viable international partner. After decades of isolation, the country did not have

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the modern infrastructure expected from an oil-rich nation. That pent-up demand was unleashed with the lifting of Western economic sanctions in a series of steps from 2004 to 2006. Libya went on a shopping spree. Through the magic of diplomacy, the Gadhafis were transformed from pariahs into valuable customers for some of the world’s biggest firms. Prime Minister Paul Martin headed a trade delegation to Libya in 2004; another followed under the Harper Conservative government in 2008. SNC was only one of the Canadian companies plunging into Libya. PetroCanada bought a $75-million stake in an oil concern in the country in 2001, and then barrelled ahead in 2002 with a $3.2-billion deal for Veba Oil, an energy firm with significant Libyan assets. In 2008 Petro-Canada announced plans to double its Libyan output via a joint venture with the state oil company. The partners

photograph (soccer) Bob Edme/ap photo

After a stint as a pro soccer player—and a Hollywood foray—Saadi Gadhafi refashioned himself as “Brigadier Engineer Saadi”

went 50/50 on a $7-billion (U.S.) development program. The Canadian firm won participation in the project over European giants such as Italy’s Eni SpA and France’s Total SA, which were also expanding operations in Libya. SNC already had a foothold in the country, thanks to Ben Aïssa’s landing the $230-million water project in 1995, and during the gold-rush atmosphere of easing sanctions the company exerted itself to win favour. Some efforts reeked of obsequiousness. Ben Aïssa persuaded SNC to sponsor a 2005 exhibition of Saif Gadhafi’s paintings in Montreal, a show panned by critics at its various stops as “lurid,” “kitschy” and “a triumph of banality.” SNC also sponsored Al-Ittihad, a soccer club in Tripoli, in a deal that saw Saadi on the field with “SNC-Lavalin” emblazoned across his chest. Gary Peters, who was a bodyguard to Saadi in Canada, has claimed that SNC also picked up a portion of the massive tab when Saadi, then in his film producer period, showed up at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2008 and 2009. One account described Saadi holding court from the couches of the Panorama Lounge, a rooftop bar in Toronto’s posh Yorkville, while enjoying champagne, Beluga caviar and a private concert by 50 Cent. SNC executive Stéphane Roy was among the guests on that evening, Peters says. Some of SNC’s efforts to woo the Gadhafis were more low-key. Saadi


reportedly took Englishlanguage classes—under the protection of guards paid for by SNC—for a few months at the company’s offices in Toronto, meanwhile living in a $1.55-million (Canadian) penthouse he purchased in May, 2008. Property records show that the person who looked after the condominium fees and related issues was a Genevabased lawyer, Roland Kaufmann. According to Peters, Kaufmann served as a financial adviser to Gadhafi. But the details of the condo purchase are difficult to verify because Kaufmann referred questions to a criminal defence lawyer, who declined to comment. Peters claims that SNC was also giving cash payments to Saadi during this period. But the allegation raises a question: How exactly did SNC win Saadi’s trust? As the darling son of a dictator who used Libya’s overstuffed treasury as a private bank account, Saadi was never strapped for cash. Lavish parties, moosehunting trips and soccerteam sponsorship were nice gestures, but Saadi could not have been easily impressed by mere spending. What was harder for him to get than such favours was his father’s respect. Moammar Gadhafi pushed his children to build their own prestige within the country, via businesses and militias. After humouring Saadi’s attempts to make his way in pro sport and Hollywood, Libya’s supreme ruler gave his son a written order in 2008, commanding Saadi to set up a new branch of the Libyan military. The order briefly outlines a vision for a Military Engineering Corps, under Saadi’s personal

leadership and funded from the national defence budget. Like many missives from Moammar Gadhafi, the order is vague. It lists “military duties” first among the responsibilities of the new unit, but then discusses ways the Corps could serve the country—mostly tasks usually associated with civilian engineers. Still, the dictator was making himself clear: Saadi must get serious. Saadi had barely more qualifications to run a military engineering operation than he did to play pro soccer. But luckily, in this arena, he could hire the expertise he needed. In November, 2008, while Saadi was still in his film period, Ben Aïssa sent him a formal proposal suggesting that the brand-new Military Engineering Corps should set up a joint venture with SNC-Lavalin. The proposal emphasized SNC’s history as a defence contractor, with 37 of the 41 pages in the document including the word “military.” Text accompanying an organizational chart said that SNC personnel could supervise “security specialists” for implementation of military projects “tailored to meet specific military security, execution and deployment requirements of the office of the commander chief [sic] of engineers of Libya.” Saadi, the newly minted commander who demanded that his entourage refer to him by his official title, “Brigadier Engineer Saadi,” personally approved a crest that would be worn on the uniforms of the men who answered to him. A draftsman’s compass

60  OCTOBER 2012 / REPORT ON BUSINESS

represented his joint venture with SNC-Lavalin. Other items symbolized the unit’s specialties: roads, tunnels, waterworks, educational facilities, military fortifications. At the centre of the crest was an orange starburst, representing an exploding land mine. If a Canadian company like SNC—a onetime land-mine manufacturer—wants to help a foreign army, any products sold may fall under export control regulations. The company says its operations did not run afoul of those rules: “To the best of our knowledge, SNC-Lavalin has never been involved in any Libyan programs related to military technology, munitions or combat,” SNC spokeswoman Leslie Quinton wrote in an e-mail. The board of directors for the joint venture included a former official with the Libyan football federation and Abdulrahman Karfakh, a notorious bribe collector for one of Saadi’s older brothers. It’s not clear how many of Saadi’s ambitions for his military unit turned into reality in the years before the revolution. An inventory list for three of his engineering brigades calls for each to be equipped with toolboxes and trailers for planting mines. Another document, marked “Top Secret,” prepared by a lieutenant-colonel, suggests

that engineers in a remote southern town would also be equipped with mine-planting devices. As well, Saadi’s men were shopping for stateof-the-art equipment for mine removal, including the MK III Husky mine detection vehicle used by Canadian forces. Saadi appears to have been putting together an elite special-forces team and looking for advanced weaponry. A 54-page training manual suggests that Saadi wanted his men to be prepared to handle offensive and defensive chemicalweapons operations, among other skills. Photographs show a grinning Saadi meeting a sales team for the French-made Rafale fighter jet. The jet also appears on operational plans that showed how Libya could build a commando force numbering 3,000 men, capable of operating independently of the rest of the Libyan military on air, water and land. Saadi’s plans called for attack helicopters and short-range missile systems mounted on trucks. His elite forces would carry shoulder-mounted missiles for destroying tanks, as well as laser guidance devices for directing air strikes. Saadi was moving forward with buying some of this equipment—his subordinates had glossy brochures for

Ben Aïssa’s work was celebrated in an official SNC history where this photo appeared. The company has now disowned him


WHILE SNClavalin’s business in libya was growing, benefits were flowing to Riadh ben Aïssa’s relatives as well modern missiles and had end-user certificates for attack boats. Such hardware is easily obtained by any oil-rich autocrat, however; the more difficult part is human resources. Saadi reached outside of Libya for the expertise to build his organization. His files included the resumés of former French special forces officers, apparently offering their services as consultants. It’s not just the sober expressions on the profile photos of these chiselled men that makes them appear deadly serious; it’s also the clandestine adventures described in their curricula vitae. One resumé mentions a history of assistance to Afghan guerrillas during the war against Soviet occupation in the 1980s; leadership of a “sabotage cell”; and work as a security adviser for the French president. A less intimidating team of experts from SNC also offered their services. A 2009 technical services agreement between SNC and the Corps of Engineers shows that SNC planned to offer advice about the structure, staffing and

mission of the Corps. The proposed SNC consulting team included Vice-Admiral (ret.) Ron Buck, former second-in-command of the Canadian armed forces, and Gary Wiseman, former chief engineer for the Canadian military’s industrial task force. (SNC and Buck both declined to comment on whether the proposed team members received any payment.) This was a relatively small consulting deal for SNC, worth only $1 million over six months, but the paper trail shows that Saadi felt he needed the advice. He asked for more consultations the following year. SNC, a company active in more than 100 countries in addition to its substantial Canadian footprint, was growing its Libyan business. Revenue was on track to reach $418.2 million (Canadian), or 7% of the company total, by 2010. Things were looking up for the Libyan file, for the go-where-others-dare-not tendency it represented in the company, and for Riadh Ben Aïssa. By 2008, CEO Jacques Lamarre had placed Ben Aïssa in charge of all international construction—a division that had made an aggressive push into countries where other firms were reluctant to operate, including Algeria and Venezuela. Ben Aïssa became responsible for 10,000 employees and churned out contracts worth hundreds of millions in Libya alone: The company was drilling wells, manufacturing concrete pipes, drawing up proposals for new parkland, developing oil and gas facilities, and constructing a new airport terminal. A company spokeswoman says the only project that involved formal co-operation between Saadi’s engineering

62  OCTOBER 2012 / REPORT ON BUSINESS

corps and SNC was the $275-million Guryan “rehabilitation centre,” a sprawling prison in the desert near Tripoli (a project undertaken even though Libya had a history of detaining dissidents without trial, as well as torturing and killing them). A letter from December, 2009, shows that Saadi was personally involved with handling at least some contracts besides Guryan. The letter is a warm note to Ben Aïssa regarding the airport project, celebrating “the commitment and lasting contribution of SNCLavalin...to the development and prosperity of Libya.” While SNC’s business in Libya was growing, benefits flowed to Ben Aïssa’s relatives as well. Some of the company’s Libyan operations were organized from SNC’s office in Tunis, which sat on property belonging to the Ben Aïssa family. SNC hired a firm headed by Ben Aïssa’s sister, McGill-trained Ramla Benaïssa, for architectural work on the prison. (She has declined to answer questions about how and why she was awarded the contract.) The company also purchased technical equipment from Orbit Media, an import business run by Ben Aïssa’s mother from a storefront just around the corner from SNC’s front gate in Tunis. For all of Ben Aïssa’s good fortune in Libya, he could not relax and enjoy it. A former employee who served under Ben Aïssa says that he was a steamroller of a boss, who screamed at his underlings when things went wrong on the airport project. “I was flabbergasted,” the former employee said. “He was yelling on the phone for two hours. The contract said we must build the airport in two years. But it wasn’t possible, and we didn’t have enough money.” He added:

“You know, I just read the biography of Steve Jobs, and he reminded me of Riadh. You’re his buddy or his worst enemy.” Back in Canada, everything regarding Ben Aïssa was seemingly copacetic. He was invited onto the advisory board of his alma mater, the University of Ottawa’s business school. In June of 2009, he co-chaired a charity soirée with National Bank chief executive Louis Vachon. The event, which benefited the Canadian Centre for Architecture, was featured in the society pages of the Montreal Gazette, where Ben Aïssa was photographed with his third wife, Sara Al-Molki. A former executive said that, within SNC’s offices, it was generally understood that doing business in North Africa required some compromises. “His downfall was not corruption,” the former executive said. “To me, his problems started when things got political.” Indeed: The Arab Spring was a political earthquake across a region where strongmen had enjoyed generations in power and then abruptly found themselves challenged by Internetsavvy revolutionaries. As the streets filled with angry protesters, SNC employees joined the expat workers scrambling for the docks and airports. Saadi went in the opposite direction, flying into the epicentre of the uprising in February, 2011. A United Nations investigation would later find that Moammar Gadhafi sent two trusted officials to “take control on the ground” in the rebellious eastern city of Benghazi. The UN report did not name either official, but a wellinformed source says that one of them was Saadi.


Saadi had little experience with handling crises, much less a full-blown uprising, and the situation in Benghazi quickly went sideways. The BBC quoted a witness who said Saadi personally gave an order to shoot unarmed demonstrators. Saadi later denied this. But whatever the impetus, Libyan soldiers unleashed heavy weapons on the crowds. The United Nations Security Council reacted on Feb. 26, 2011, with a resolution that imposed a travel ban on Saadi and other members of Libya’s ruling family. In particular, Saadi was sanctioned for “command of military units involved in repression of demonstrations.” His bank accounts were frozen with another resolution the following month. Saadi would later escape to Niger, where he remains under what his lawyer describes as “virtual house arrest” because of the travel ban. Even if the world had abruptly turned against him, Ben Aïssa did not abandon his favourite son of the dictator. An SNC insider says that during the first months of the revolution, Ben Aïssa continually assured fellow executives that the uprising would be crushed. That lingering sense of loyalty may help to explain a bizarre footnote to Ben Aïssa’s story:

the tale of Cyndy Vanier and the alleged plot to smuggle Saadi to a safe house in Mexico. On June 30, 2011, Ben Aïssa’s long-serving controller, Stéphane Roy, signed a deal with Vanier, a mediator whose prior experience was principally with Canadian native groups. The commission called for “fact finding and mediation.” Vanier flew to the war zone on a private jet and put together a report. Vanier depicted NATO’s intervention as harmful to the Libyan government’s efforts to make peace—an unusual perspective at a time when regime soldiers were blasting rebels with artillery and truck-mounted rockets. SNC paid Vanier $100,000 for the five-page report. Mexican authorities arrested her in November, 2011, and accused her of working on a bigger project, a complex plan to start a new life for Saadi in a beachfront house. She denies wrongdoing, and remains jailed. Ben Aïssa and Roy avoided trouble when Vanier was arrested, although Roy was in Mexico at the time. They remained with SNC until February, 2012, when the company ousted them amid a growing chorus of questions about SNC’s relationship with the Gadhafi

family. Later that month, the company announced it was launching an internal investigation. The probe alleged that CEO Pierre Duhaime had improperly approved $56 million in payments to unknown “agents” hired by Ben Aïssa. Duhaime resigned in March and SNC referred the file to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which raided the company headquarters in April. That raid was reportedly conducted on the basis of information from Swiss authorities, who arrested Ben Aïssa shortly afterward on suspicion of corruption, fraud and money laundering. The legal fallout may continue for years. Libya’s new revolutionary regime wants Saadi extradited to face trial in Tripoli, and has constructed courtrooms in an effort to persuade the international community that it is competent to hold fair proceedings. Saadi has hired a lawyer who specializes in war-crime charges. If the RCMP goes ahead with a prosecution under Canada’s Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act, it would be the force’s first attempt to apply the law to a blue-chip company. So far, Canada has secured only two convictions under the act; the second is the one that

bears on the SNC case. In 2011, Niko Resources, a midcap oil and gas firm based in Calgary, admitted that it had bribed a Bangladeshi energy minister by paying for his flights to Alberta and New York. An SNC spokeswoman has defended the company’s role in Saadi’s many trips to Canada as “hospitality.” But the Niko case suggests that the courts may take a different view. These proceedings, along with those concerning Cyndy Vanier and the class-action lawsuits, should answer many questions about the rise and fall of Ben Aïssa. But one upshot of SNC-Lavalin’s colossal failure in Libya already seems clear. Not only is the world getting smaller, it’s also slowly becoming more democratic and transparent. If you do business with a despot, even an officially reformed one, you may— sooner or later—find yourself scattering your plans across a slippery marble floor and running for your life. Research assistance by Hannah Mintz, Fatima Elkabti and Raghda Abouelnaga of the Investigative Reporting Program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism


—Profiles Portraits

Winner/Gagnant

Noémi Mercier L’étoffe d’un premier ministre?

L’actualité


pauline marois

l’étoffe d’un premier ministre ?

En privé, en réunion ou en tournée, notre journaliste a passé des dizaines d’heures en compagnie de la chef du PQ. Découvrez ses démons, ses forces, ses doutes. par Noémi Mercier • photos de Marie-Reine Mattera

l’actualité 1er septembre 2012 } 29


pauline marois : l’étoffe d’un premier ministre ?

C

hacun à leur manière, les sept chefs que le Parti québécois s’est donnés depuis 1968 ont tâché de résoudre le double casse-tête consistant à diriger des troupes dissipées, animées d’un rêve d’indépendance, tout en persuadant les Québécois de leur confier les rênes de l’État. « Avec Jacques Parizeau, on était comme une armée derrière un général, raconte l’ancienne ministre péquiste Louise Beaudoin. René Lévesque était un charismatique émotif, un passionné. Avec Lucien Bouchard, on avait beaucoup de théâtre, c’était inspirant. Pauline Marois ? Ce serait... la raison dans la passion contenue. C’est une femme raisonnable, Pauline. » Cette femme raisonnable saura-t-elle conquérir un électorat divisé ? Elle a piloté les plus gros ministères, bravé nombre d’ouragans et su demeurer à la barre d’un parti réputé pour malmener ses chefs. Aucun politicien actuel ne connaît autant qu’elle la mécanique gouvernementale. Même Jean Charest le reconnaissait en mars 2006. Pourtant, elle reste moins populaire que son parti ! Pour élucider ce mystère, L’actualité a dépêché Noémi Mercier sur les traces de la chef du PQ bien avant le déclenchement des élections. Notre journaliste l’a rencontrée 14 fois en privé et l’a suivie comme une ombre pendant 48 heures sur la Côte-Nord et au Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean. Elle a posé des centaines de questions, obtenu autant de réponses. Il y a eu des trajets en voiture, des conférences de presse, des voyages en avion, de nombreux échanges impromptus, des discours. Et beaucoup d’intimité. Car il y a un moment dans la journée où Pauline Marois est disponible et auquel nul journaliste n’avait encore eu accès. Un rituel qu’elle observe religieusemen­t, tôt le matin, avant que le tourbillon des réunions et des rivalités l’emporte : sa demi-heure chez le coiffeur. Entre le 19 avril et le 6 mai 2012, notre journaliste a interviewé la leader péquiste 11 fois au son du sèchecheveu, à travers un nuage de laque, une proximité qu’il est rarement donné à un journaliste de partager avec une personnalité politique. Durant ces intermèdes où Marois n’était pas encore entrée dans son personnage public, la femme qui aspire à gouverner le Québec s’est révélée. La voici. Avec ses forces et ses doutes. La rédaction

30 { 1er septembre 2012 l’actualité

Côté sage, côté givré L’élégance sera superflue ce soir. Les bonnes manières aussi. Dépouillée de sa flamboyante veste de cuir turquoise, Pauline Marois a enfilé son vieux chandail réconfort sur sa camisole de dentelle. Les manches retroussées, elle casse les pattes de crabe des neiges de ses mains manucurées et suce goulûment la chair à même la carapace. « Je suis une excessive en tout ! » s’exclame-t-elle, plongeant dans les fromages longtemps après les autres convives, son verre de vin jamais loin des lèvres. En tournée sur la Côte-Nord et au Saguenay¬Lac-SaintJean en cette fin d’avril, la chef du Parti québécois décompresse chez le député Marjolain Dufour, qui a cuisiné pour elle un festin de fruits de mer. Elle dévore avec un empressement gourmand, ricaneuse et vive au bout de la table, comme chez de vieux amis. Pas de réunion chronométrée ce soir. Pas de joute oratoire avec le premier ministre. Pas de mêlée de presse dans le couloir. Pas d’armure. Dans ce bungalow aux allures de chalet suisse, isolé dans un boisé à 12 km de Baie-Comeau, nous sommes cernés d’épinettes et de silence. « Si les Québécois veulent de Jean Charest, eh bien, qu’ils le choisissent. Et ils vivront avec », dit-elle avec une pointe de dépit, se révélant soudain mordante et grave. « On ne gagne jamais à diviser le Québec. Quand t’es chef d’État, tu te bats pas contre ta jeunesse, crisse. » Après des semaines de protestations houleuses contre la hausse des droits de scolarité décrétée par le gouvernement Charest, le conflit étudiant est en train de basculer dans la crise sociale. Malgré cela, Pauline Marois ne parvient pas à tirer parti du ras-le-bol de la population. Le carré rouge qu’elle arbore à l’Assemblée nationale, symbole de la cause étudiante diabolisé par ses adver­saires, menace de devenir son boulet. (Elle le délaissera à partir du 20 juin, évoquant l’importance d’aborder d’autres enjeux à l’approche du scrutin… mais s’attirant du même souffle quelques accusations d’opportunisme.) À l’autre extrémité de la table, la combative Marie Barrette, son attachée de presse depuis trois ans, bouillonne d’angoisse et de révolte. « Jean Charest a acculé les étudiants au mur et il est en train de faire la même chose avec nous ! On a une job à faire, madame. Il va falloir convaincre, tous les jours. C’est pas vrai qu’on va perdre sur cette question-là, après tout ce qu’on a enduré. On a ramé dans la gravelle, la face en sang ! » rage-t-elle. « Marie, on a choisi notre camp, martèle la chef. Celui de la justice, de l’équité, d’une société qui croit qu’investir dans l’éducation, c’est la meilleure chose qu’on puisse faire dans la vie, d’accord ? Il nous plantera là-dessus s’il le faut. Mais on a choisi notre camp. » ***


pauline marois : l’étoffe d’un premier ministre ?

Pendant deux semaines, à Québec, à Montréal, au Saguenay¬Lac-Saint-Jean, sur la Côte-Nord, j’ai vu Pauline Marois revêtir et enlever tour à tour sa peau de politicienne. J’ai vu la bonne vivante, spontanée et terriblement humaine en coulisse, se muer en cette personne publique qui a été si souvent dénigrée : la Marois des discours et des points de presse, coincée dans sa cuirasse, lointaine et robotique dans ses tailleurs carrés, qui dit « cela » et « que l’on ». « J’habite mon personnage quand je me présente comme chef de l’opposition, explique-t-elle. Je me prépare à être chef d’État. Et j’ai un message à passer. Je dois projeter l’image d’une femme responsable, sérieuse, qui a réfléchi, qui sait où elle s’en va. » Entrée en politique « pour changer le monde », Pauline Marois demeure, sous ses airs de mère supérieure, une travailleuse sociale dans l’âme et une sociale-démocrate jusqu’à la moelle, convaincue que « l’État a un rôle à jouer dans la protection du bien commun » et que les solutions collectives sont souvent les meilleures. Millionnaire, mère d’une fille et de trois garçons âgés de 27 à 33 ans et deux fois grand-mère, elle a notamment mis sur pied les garderies à cinq dollars (maintenant sept dollars), une des plus importantes politiques sociales depuis l’assurance maladie. Pour reprendre les mots de Nicole Stafford, sa directrice de cabinet qui a presque toujours été à ses côtés, « elle a été le meilleur numéro deux de tous les chefs péquistes, qui lui ont systématiquement confié les dossiers les plus pénibles ». Or, cette studieuse qui a dirigé une dizaine de minis­tères différents en 31 ans de carrière a du mal à se forger une image convaincante de numéro un. Ce fut son épine dans le pied lors de la course au leadership du PQ en 2005 (perdue au profit du novice André Boisclair), puis lorsqu’elle est devenue chef, 18 mois plus tard. Et de nouveau, ces derniers mois, quand son propre parti l’a poussée au bord du précipice. Ce pourrait l’être encore lorsqu’elle briguera le poste de premier ministre, fonction qu’elle serait la première femme à occuper dans l’histoire du Québec et la dixième dans celle du Canada. Quand on veut résumer le problème de Pauline, on dit simplement qu’elle ne « passe pas ». Pourquoi ? Le mystère déroute même ses amis les plus intimes. « Il y a quelque chose en elle qui n’arrive pas à émerger », reconnaît sa grande copine Catherine Pagé-Asselin, travailleuse sociale qui l’a connue au collège vers l’âge de 12 ans. « Moi-même, quand je la vois à la télé, je la sens moins naturelle. Et cet air crispé la fait paraître snob. Mais elle n’a rien de ça ! C’est une chose qui la peine et dont on a beaucoup discuté. »

Le casse-tête des cheveux On ne badine pas avec la tête de Mme Marois. En chemise verte et cravate rose, Ronald Plante sèche, vaporise, gonfle, ramène vers l’avant les courtes mèches irrégulières pour créer un effet « vent dans le dos » savamment négligé, inspiré d’un voyage à New York. Lui seul est autorisé à couper les cheveux de la chef péquiste, depuis bientôt 20 ans, dans un monumental salon de L’Île-Bizard situé tout près de chez elle — un méli-mélo de boiseries acajou, de moulures ornées, avec fontaine et chérubins nichés dans un mur, qui semble avoir été conçu pour évoquer l’opulence. Ce matin, Marie Barrette, l’attachée de presse, filme l’artiste à l’œuvre avec la caméra de son iPad : munie de cette vidéo, elle pourra enfin montrer aux autres coiffeurs comment reproduire le complexe brushing. Car la politicienne de 63 ans tient à sa mise en plis quotidienne, peu importe la ville où elle se trouve. À ses frais, prend-elle soin de préciser. « Mon adjointe a un “cardex” de coiffeurs partout au Québec. Je dois en avoir une trentaine ! » Pas question de revivre l’humiliation du 6 juin 2011. Ce lundi-là s’amorçait la descente aux enfers. Trois vedettes

« On ne gagne jamais à diviser  le Québec. Quand t’es chef d’État, tu te bats pas contre   ta jeunesse, crisse. » du parti, Lisette Lapointe, Pierre Curzi et Louise Beaudoin, venaient de démissionner, ce qui a provoqué une crise de leadership dont le PQ ne sortirait que huit mois plus tard, avec six députés en moins. La colère à peine contenue, la chef a accusé le coup devant les journalistes à ses bureaux de la Place Ville-Marie, à Montréal. « Après le point de presse, Louise Harel m’a fait savoir que je devais faire attention, que j’avais l’air tellement fatiguée. J’étais pas fatiguée pantoute, j’avais les cheveux à plat. J’étais allée voir une petite coiffeuse dans le coin. J’avais beau lui dire de les gonfler, elle ne comprenait rien.» Marois ne s’en cache pas : c’est une coquette invétérée, une amoureuse des couleurs bonbons, des parfums et des petits pots, toujours parée de quelque cape spectaculaire ou d’un tweed somptueux. Une excentrique sur les bords, qui s’est mariée en mauve et qui cultive ce que son ancienne collègue Louise Harel appelle « le principe de Pauline » : « Quand vous perdez, explique la chef de l’opposition à l’hôtel de ville de Montréal, la seule chose à faire est de vous apprêter avec le plus de recherche possible et de revenir triomphante. Pour donner le change. »

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pauline marois : l’étoffe d’un premier ministre ?

Mais cette enveloppe est une cible autant qu’un bouclier. Un véritable enjeu politique, qui refait surface chaque fois qu’il est question de son leadership. Le sujet d’innombrables caricatures, une tare qui, aux yeux de certains, suffit à la discréditer. Toutes les semaines, des gens écrivent ou téléphonent à son bureau pour critiquer ses tenues. « Quand ils me disent qu’ils m’ont trouvée bonne, ils ne se souviennent pas de quoi je parlais, mais ils se rappellent que ma robe m’allait bien ! » Et que dire de ses bijoux voyants, de ses soyeuses écharpes, qu’on a fait rimer avec bourgeoise, prétentieuse, loin du peuple, Castafiore. Beaucoup de politiciennes voient ainsi leur apparence scrutée, comme si le sort de la planète en dépendait. Les foulards sont pour Pauline Marois ce que les cheveux longs ont été pour Ségolène Royal, les blazers multi­colores pour Angela Merkel, les tailleurs-pantalons, les rides et la queue-de-cheval pour Hillary Clinton : l’objet d’une attention médiatique démesurée qui banalise leur travail, selon certains analystes. Car pendant qu’on s’intéresse à leur physique, on ne parle ni des enjeux de fond qu’elles défendent ni de leurs compétences. « Si une femme arrive fripée le matin, on dira qu’elle se néglige. Dans le cas d’un homme, on pensera qu’il a travaillé très fort la veille, souligne Manon Tremblay, professeure à l’École d’études politiques de l’Université d’Ottawa. Une députée fédérale m’a déjà raconté qu’elle tenait un agenda vestimentaire, parce que si elle avait le malheur de porter deux fois la même robe dans la même ville, les médias allaient le relever. » Rarement débat-on avec autant de passion des choix de cravates de Jean Charest ou des complets de Stephen Harper, qui a pourtant son styliste attitré... Pour se composer une prestance de chef de gouver­ nement, Pauline Marois doit résoudre le dilemme que l’ancienne ministre des Finances libérale Monique JérômeForget m’a résumé ainsi : « Si on n’est pas impeccable, on est critiquée, et si on est trop impeccable, on a l’air d’une madame. » En prévision de la campagne, Marois a chargé le créateur Michel Desjardins de lui assembler une garde-robe qui rivalisera d’autorité avec les costumes de ses opposants. « On va y aller pour un look plus banquier », m’a-t-il expliqué lorsque je lui ai rendu visite dans son atelier-boutique de la rue Crescent, à Montréal, où se sont déjà habillées l’ex-gouverneure générale Michaëlle Jean et l’ancienne première dame Aline Chrétien. « Les gens doivent pouvoir se concentrer sur ce qu’elle dit. Dans un débat, ses visà-vis seront des hommes. Il faut que l’attention soit dirigée en haut des épaules et que le reste disparaisse. »

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Une première de classe contre un chat de ruelle Pauline Marois me fait la lecture dans le VUS conduit par son garde du corps, en route vers l’Assemblée nationale. Des phrases de sagesse tirées de 365 jours zen, un petit livre avec un bouddha en couverture qu’elle garde à portée de main sur la banquette arrière, pour les moments de tension. « La sagesse est d’avoir des rêves suffisamment grands pour ne pas les perdre de vue lorsqu’on les poursuit. Un vieux proverbe chinois : Un moment de patience peut préserver de grands malheurs, un moment d’impatience détruire toute une vie. C’est bon, hein ? » s’émerveille-t-elle en riant doucement. « Celle-là, je l’aime tellement : Chaque minute où vous êtes en colère, vous perdez 60 secondes de bonheur. » Pendant un instant, la femme publique en redingote noire et rang de perles semble se dissoudre, perdue dans cette poésie de biscuits chinois comme si les rigueurs de cette matinée infernale n’avaient plus aucune emprise sur elle. La leader du PQ a toutes les raisons d’être anxieuse en ce 26 avril : un redoutable affrontement avec Jean Charest l’attend cet après-midi au Salon rouge de l’Assemblée nationale, à l’occasion de l’étude des crédits budgétaires du Conseil exécutif (le ministère du premier ministre). Une sorte de duel préélectoral, comme la pesée où les boxeurs se toisent et s’intimident avant un match. L’occa­ sion est belle de marquer des points contre un adversaire amoché. Mais Pauline Marois déteste ce genre de manœuvre. Et elle ne se sent pas prête. Assis face à face dans la salle écarlate, à quelques mètres l’un de l’autre, ils débattront pendant quatre heures du bilan du gouvernement. Une première de classe contre un chat de ruelle. Accrochée à ses papiers, elle lit son exposé en se concentrant sur son élocution. Il se moque de ses « textes préparés à l’avance par son personnel ». Elle trébuche sur un passage bourré de chiffres. Il la bouscule, tour à tour doucereux, railleur, sinistre ou nonchalant, traquant comme un fauve la plus petite hésitation, le moindre signe de fatigue ou d’insécurité. Elle s’agite, lève la voix, pointe le doigt, tente le sarcasme. Il reste de glace, avec ce sourire narquois qui mettrait hors de lui le moine bouddhiste le plus serein. De temps en temps, elle lâche son texte et met ses tripes sur la table, comme lorsque le premier ministre lui reproche de faire une fixation sur les enjeux identitaires (Marois s’est engagée à étendre la portée de la loi 101 ainsi qu’à adopter une charte de la laïcité et une loi sur la citoyenneté québécoise), alors que lui dit privilégier l’emploi et l’économie. « Le gouvernement libéral fait preuve d’un véritable laxisme à l’égard de la défense de la langue française au Québec. Et, oui, on va en faire une priorité, mais on est capables aussi de faire une priorité de l’économie, de la


pauline marois : l’étoffe d’un premier ministre ?

justice sociale, de l’équité, puis d’éviter que des jeunes soient dans la rue et qu’on vive une crise sociale. On est capables de faire les trois en même temps, monsieur le président ! » tonne-t-elle en gesticulant avant de poser bruyamment ses feuilles sur son pupitre. C’est un terrain glissant. Jean Charest semble perpétuellement sur le point de la faire sortir de ses gonds. Que ce soit dans le Salon rouge ou dans le bleu, où se tient la période de questions, le désarroi de Pauline Marois est palpable, estime une source libérale qui a requis l’anonymat. « Il y a des périodes de questions où je me dis : une chance qu’ils sont en avant de nous autres, parce qu’on pourrait en manger une à matin. Ils auraient pu mettre la rondelle dans le filet : ils n’ont même pas tiré ! Être chef de l’opposition, c’est comme être avocat en contreinterrogatoire. Pis ça, elle ne l’a pas. À ce chapitre, elle me rappelle Jacques Parizeau. »

Pauline Marois est la seule personne dans l’histoire   du Québec à avoir piloté aussi bien les ministères de la   Santé et de l’Éducation que celui des Finances — les trois piliers du gouvernement. Pauline Marois en convient, elle a mis du temps à apprivoiser ces combats oratoires. « J’avais une certaine crainte de ne pas avoir la réplique, alors que je l’avais tout le temps. J’en connais pas mal plus que lui », m’a-t-elle confié dans son bureau du 15e étage de la Place Ville-Marie, lieu imposant le respect s’il en est, avec sa vue dominante sur le centre. Reste que chacune de ses interventions à la Chambre est un exercice périlleux. Blâmée tantôt pour son manque de crocs, tantôt pour son excès de griffes, elle a tâtonné pour trouver le parfait dosage de combativité, sans trop se dénaturer. « J’ai démontré que je suis capable de le mettre dans le coin. Pis de donner un petit coup en bas de la ceinture s’il le faut. C’est moins ma tasse de thé, mais je l’ai fait quand même. J’ai fait vraiment des colères, ce qui n’a pas aidé à mon image, parce que j’avais l’air trop agressive. Alors maintenant, je me contiens. J’essaie de garder un ton plus calme, plus en contrôle, qui correspond plus à ce que je suis. » Beaucoup se souviendront de la véhémence qu’elle a mise dans ses coups de gueule répétés au Salon bleu pour exiger la tenue d’une commission d’enquête publique sur la corruption dans l’industrie de

la construction, enquête que le premier ministre a fini par annoncer en octobre 2011, après s’y être refusé pendant deux ans. Monique Jérôme-Forget a encore en mémoire la chef hargneuse qui lui a fait face à la Chambre de 2007 à 2009. « Elle a perdu des plumes quand elle a trop personnalisé ses attaques, dit-elle. Il y avait une telle haine entre elle et Jean Charest, et à un moment donné, elle a exagéré. » Lorsque Nicole Boily voit son ancienne patronne engager les hostilités au Parlement, elle avoue avoir du mal à la reconnaître. Cette ex-haute fonctionnaire a été la toute première directrice de cabinet de Pauline Marois quand celle-ci est entrée à l’Assemblée nationale, en 1981, comme ministre de la Condition féminine. Et elle l’a toujours trouvée plus efficace en coulisse que sous les projecteurs. « C’est une battante, mais ce n’est pas une guerrière, ditelle. Elle a une très grande force de persuasion en petit groupe, quand elle peut développer un argumentaire sérieux, solide, par une profonde connaissance des dossiers. Plus que dans des grands discours. Ce n’est pas un grand tribun. En ce sens, on pourrait dire qu’elle est plus technocrate que politique. » Son idée d’une matinée charmante au boulot ? S’enfermer pendant trois heures dans son bureau du parlement en compagnie de proches du parti pour préparer le prochain gouvernement avec une rigueur cartésienne. À l’abri des caméras, la carapace au rancart. J’ai rarement vu son visage s’illuminer autant que lorsqu’elle m’a parlé d’une de ces réunions, le matin du 4 mai. « Ah, aujourd’hui, je travaille ! s’est-elle exclamée dans un vibrant éclat de rire. J’aime ça faire de la planification, imaginer comment on va aborder tel dossier, solutionner tel problème. Si on est élus le 11, qu’est-ce qu’on fait le 12, le 13, le 14 ? À qui on doit parler, quel document doit être adopté, est-ce qu’on remanie les fonctions au Conseil des ministres, est-ce qu’on se donne des outils différents ? Carrément l’organisation du gouvernement. » Coups de pied au cul et souliers pointus « Vous ne serez pas capable. » Le grand costaud à l’air bourru qui lâche cette boutade en pleine réunion ne sait pas à qui il a affaire. À l’hôtel de ville de Port-Cartier, autour d’une table de conférence, une douzaine d’élus et de gens d’affaires expriment leur ras-le-bol. Ras-le-bol d’être laissés à euxmêmes pour essuyer les contrecoups du boum minier. Ras-le-bol des infrastructures municipales qui ne fournissent plus devant l’explosion de la population. Assez de la pénurie de logements, de la main-d’œuvre introuvable, des travailleurs de passage parqués dans des campements. Marre d’être à la merci des cours du minerai. Marre du Klondike. « Tout le monde parle du Plan Nord, dit la

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pauline marois : l’étoffe d’un premier ministre ?

mairesse, Laurence Méthot. Je suis à la veille d’en faire une indigestion ! » Si elle est élue première ministre, Pauline Marois s’assu­ rera que « la richesse créée sert d’abord et avant tout les Québécois », explique-t-elle. Elle veut hausser les redevances minières, s’arranger pour que le minerai soit transformé sur le territoire même, donner aux municipalités les moyens d’accueillir tous leurs nouveaux arrivants, exiger des contreparties des entreprises lorsque l’État paie des routes ou d’autres installations, nommer un « minier en chef », une sorte de vérificateur pour les mines. Faire un « développement ordonné du Nord », en somme, par opposition à ce qu’elle surnomme le « plan marketing » de Jean Charest. C’est à ce moment que l’homme à la mine renfrognée, le président de la Chambre de commerce de Port-Cartier, Jean-Marie Potvin, a lancé son cri du cœur : « Vous ne serez pas capable de tout faire. L’appareil gouvernemental est trop dur à faire bouger. Nous, on est tous d’accord, mais le problème est sur la colline Parlementaire. » Piquée, la chef politique a répliqué sans attendre : « Vous avez raison, c’est compliqué. Moi, j’ai dirigé les plus gros ministères du gouvernement. J’étais aux Finances au moment des attaques du 11 septembre 2001. On a ajouté trois milliards de dollars d’investissements dans les infrastructures. J’ai dit aux ministres concernés que leurs projets devaient être prêts à décoller en quelques mois, sinon je reprenais l’argent et je le mettais ailleurs. Ça s’appelle de la volonté politique. » Après les attentats du World Trade Center, Pauline Marois avait été plus prompte que son homologue fédéral, Paul Martin, à présenter un budget d’urgence pour parer au ralentissement économique redouté. « Vous savez, donner des coups de pied au cul avec une botte ronde, c’est bon, mais avec un soulier pointu, c’est plus tough ! » poursuitelle avec ce grand rire franc dont elle ponctue la moitié de ses phrases. Elle est en pleine possession de ses moyens dans le genre de rencontres auxquelles j’ai assisté lors d’une tournée de deux jours sur la Côte-Nord et au Saguenay– Lac-Saint-Jean. Qu’elle soit devant des travailleurs communautaires de Sept-Îles ou des syndiqués de l’usine de Rio Tinto Alcan à Alma, elle est là tout entière, les deux pieds plantés dans la réalité, avec une fermeté empreinte de douceur, une présence qui en impose en même temps qu’elle rassure. Une vraie travailleuse sociale. Elle parle peu, écoute beaucoup, compatit, pose des questions éton-

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namment pointues, cède à quelques accès d’indignation contre Jean Charest : « Il a fait le tour de la planète pour vendre son Plan Nord, mais il n’a pas associé les décideurs locaux. Ç’a pas de bon sens ! » Et à tout bout de champ, la discussion la renvoie à un épisode de sa carrière de ministre, à une entreprise ou un chantier ou un conflit ou une mesure dans lesquels elle a joué un rôle. « Parmi les choses dont on a parlé, me dira-t-elle, il y en a que j’ai moi-même négocié. » C’est devenu cliché de le souligner : aucun parlementaire québécois n’a jamais eu un CV aussi garni. En fait, Pauline Marois est la seule personne dans l’histoire du Québec à avoir piloté aussi bien les ministères de la Santé et de l’Éducation que celui des Finances — les trois piliers du gouvernement. Ces compétences ne sont pas que jolies sur papier, selon Monique Jérôme-Forget : « Ça demande un gros apprentissage de gouverner. L’État est une énorme machine, alors quand il s’agit de la faire remuer, il y a beaucoup de résistance. Pauline sait comment le gouvernement fonctionne, comment travailler avec les fonctionnaires et quand ignorer ce qu’ils vous disent. Elle est capable de

« Je dis souvent que je suis entrée en politique pour   deux choses : pour le pays et pour l’égalité des chances.   Et ça reste très fondamental pour moi. » prévoir les écueils  : elle les a connus. C’est un grand avantage. » Jean Charest lui-même a célébré le caractère exceptionnel de son bagage. « Un jour, sait-on jamais, peut-être qu’un homme fera la même chose. Permettez-moi d’en douter », avait-il déclaré en lui rendant hommage lorsqu’elle a quitté la vie politique, en 2006, avant d’y revenir comme chef du PQ un an et demi plus tard. Avec ses « souliers pointus » et sa touche de travailleuse sociale, Pauline Marois a déjà déplacé des montagnes, racontent d’anciens collaborateurs. En 1997, elle a extirpé le système scolaire du carcan de la religion — une réforme minée qui avait rebuté tous ceux qui s’étaient succédé à l’Éducation depuis 30 ans. Les commissions scolaires catholiques et protestantes devaient devenir linguistiques, c’est-à-dire francophones ou anglophones. Le hic, c’est que le régime religieux était protégé par… la Constitution canadienne. « Fallait le faire ! On faisait amender une Cons­ titution que le Québec n’avait pas reconnue, avec une motion unanime de l’Assemblée nationale. C’était tout un exploit »,


pauline marois : l’étoffe d’un premier ministre ?

dit la directrice de l’Association francophone pour le savoir, Esther Gaudreault, qui était à l’époque chef de cabinet d’un autre ministre québécois concerné, Jacques Brassard. « Il fallait du doigté, de la patience, de la détermination. » Parallèlement, Pauline Marois se fendait en quatre pour créer les centres de la petite enfance — un projet titanesque, au moment où le premier ministre Lucien Bouchard s’était mis en tête d’éliminer le déficit budgétaire (qui s’élevait alors à quatre milliards de dollars). Et ce, tout en mettant en place sa controversée réforme de l’éducation, la plus ambitieuse depuis la Révolution tranquille, et en jetant les bases du nouveau congé parental, dont les libéraux achèveraient la réalisation. La syndicaliste Lorraine Pagé, ancienne présidente de la Centrale de l’enseignement du Québec (l’actuelle CSQ), a traité avec Pauline Marois dans plusieurs dossiers au cours des années 1990. « Quand elle prend le bâton du pèlerin et qu’elle y croit, c’est vraiment une femme qui ose et qui ne baisse pas les bras facilement, estime-t-elle. On peut parfois être déçu des résultats, mais ce n’est pas quelqu’un qui arrive au pouvoir et qui se contente de gérer les choses. C’est une réformiste. » Sa vigueur est d’ailleurs légendaire : elle possède une santé de fer (même si elle a déjà fumé trois paquets de cigarettes par jour) et une faculté quasi surnaturelle de s’endormir n’importe où pour récupérer. J’en ai eu la preuve dans le petit avion de sept places qui nous a ballottés entre Montréal, la Côte-Nord, le Lac-Saint-Jean et Québec : pendant que je luttais contre les haut-le-cœur, elle s’assoupissait paisiblement, enroulée dans sa cape, ses dossiers sur les genoux. Le nœud, pour Pauline Marois, est qu’on ne recherche pas forcément les mêmes qualités chez une chef que chez une super-ministre, aussi efficace soit-elle pour remplir les missions hasardeuses. « Ce qu’on attend d’un chef de parti, ce n’est pas nécessairement la connaissance des dossiers, mais qu’il mobilise, qu’il parle de principes. Et ça, ça lui colle moins à la peau, observe Anne-Marie Gingras, politologue à l’Université Laval. Il faut qu’elle trouve un compromis, qu’elle soit elle-même dans la défense de ses dossiers, et qu’elle essaie de transformer cette défense en quelque chose de plus global, de plus élevé. » Les millions qui dérangent Rien ne la préparait à aspirer au poste de premier ministre, ni même à celui de député. Elle n’était pas destinée à voir sa photo affichée parmi celles des anciennes devenues célèbres, sur un mur du collège Jésus-Marie de Sillery, à Québec. C’est dans cette école huppée, fréquentée par des filles d’avocats et de médecins, que Pauline Marois a fait son cours classique, dans les années 1960. Sa diction un peu précieuse, ce « port de tête extraordinaire qui lui joue

des tours », pour citer Monique Jérôme-Forget, c’est là qu’elle les a adoptés. C’est aussi là qu’elle a appris à se battre pour s’implanter dans une terre inhospitalière, qui lui a infligé son lot de petites humiliations. « Ç’a été un très grand choc pour moi d’arriver dans un milieu riche et bourgeois, raconte-t-elle. Les religieuses, sans te le dire complètement, te faisaient sentir que tu n’étais pas à ta place. » Ça se voyait du premier coup d’œil qu’elle n’appartenait pas à leur monde. Son père, Grégoire, un mécanicien, jurait dans le décor lorsqu’il passait la prendre dans sa voiture retapée, en bottes d’ouvrier, les mains tachées d’huile. Sa mère, Marie-Paule, une institutrice qui avait dû abandonner le métier à son mariage, faisait des ménages dans des maisons cossues de Sillery, sans doute voisines de celles de ses camarades de classe. « Mes parents nous disaient toujours : “Votre héritage, c’est votre éducation. Si on s’endette, ça va être pour ça” », se rappelle cette aînée de fratrie, dont les trois frères et la sœur ont tous obtenu un diplôme universitaire. « Pauline a ouvert les chemins dans sa famille, se souvient Lucie Fréchette, camarade de classe de l’époque. On n’avait pas de modèle. Personne avant nous autres n’était allé au collège et à l’université. » Il y avait aussi les chaussures qui trahissaient sa différence. Le seul accessoire par lequel les écolières, tenues de porter l’uniforme, pouvaient exhiber leur fantaisie… et leur statut social. « Moi, avec mes petits souliers cheapettes, je détonnais pas mal », relate Marois en se fendant d’un rire attendri. Dès qu’elle a pu amasser assez de sous grâce à son emploi de monitrice dans des camps de vacances, vers 16 ou 17 ans, elle s’est offert le cadeau suprême, un symbole rutilant de sa dignité conquise : des talons hauts payés 25 dollars chez Simard et Voyer — une fortune pour l’époque. « Ils étaient orange ! Je les ai gardés longtemps, ils étaient ben usés quand je les ai jetés. C’était une façon de dire : ils pourront pas m’écœurer, moi aussi j’en ai des beaux souliers. » Pauline Marois accumule désormais les chaussures comme d’autres les bouteilles de vin, et elle en rapporte une paire chaque fois qu’elle revient de voyage. Il est 8 h et nous sommes dans la chambre de la chef, une chambre tout ce qu’il y a de plus ordinaire, à l’étage « classe affaires » de l’hôtel Gouverneur de Sept-Îles — éta­ blissement défraîchi rempli des travailleurs de passage de l’industrie minière. Ébouriffée, Marois revient du piteux gymnase où elle a trouvé de quoi faire son exercice quotidien, elle qui aime commencer sa journée par 35 minutes de marche rapide sur un tapis roulant. Pour exécuter la mise en plis de madame, c’est Micheline Émond qui a été recrutée, une ancienne coiffeuse devenue secrétaire de la députée du coin, Lorraine Richard. Installées au petit bureau surmonté d’un miroir, entre le lit et la télé, les

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pauline marois : l’étoffe d’un premier ministre ?

deux femmes placotent comme des voisines en évoquant le village de la banlieue sud de Québec où Marois a grandi. Ses parents palliaient le manque de moyens par la débrouillardise et l’imagination, doublées d’une bonne dose d’affection. Sa mère faisait la couture pour la famille ; jeune femme, Pauline fera aussi la sienne. Son père (décédé en 1999) a bâti lui-même leur maison de brique rouge de Saint-Étienne-de-Lauzon — un work in progress où les Marois ont vécu pendant plusieurs années sans baignoire, entre des planchers de contreplaqué et des murs non finis dissimulés derrière des cartons. C’est lui qui réparait les électroménagers du voisinage : le garage de la demeure débordait de laveuses, de sécheuses et de tondeuses que Grégoire gardait pour les pièces. « Il a été un recycleur avant le temps. Il ramassait des affaires dans les vidanges, des vieux clous, des vis, des chaises, des valises... ç’a pas de bon sens, rigole Pauline Marois. Ma mère a fait sortir, je pense, six bennes de cochonneries de la cave quand il est tombé malade. » À l’époque où Pauline étudiait à l’Université Laval, il lui avait rafistolé un bazou, « une auto payée 135 piastres dont il avait refait le plancher avec des vieilles cannes d’huile qu’il avait défaites et soudées ensemble ». C’était un authentique patenteux, un homme curieux et engagé qui souffrait de n’avoir terminé qu’une 4e année. Ce fut aussi ça, le choc de Jésus-Marie : le spectacle des inégalités qui façonnent les destinées. « Je me disais : comment ça se fait qu’eux autres vont pouvoir faire des choses exceptionnelles dans la vie, seulement parce qu’ils ont des moyens. Ça m’a beaucoup stimulée, dans le sens de me dire : qu’est-ce que je peux faire dans la vie pour lutter contre les inégalités ? Parce que c’est seulement où tu es né qui peut faire la différence, pas ce que t’as entre les deux oreilles, pas tes talents... Moi, ça me choquait beaucoup », raconte-t-elle entre deux bouchées de rôties pendant que Micheline l’asperge de fixatif. « Papa était un ouvrier, mais il était très intéressé par toutes sortes de choses dans la vie. Il lisait sans arrêt, il s’occupait toujours de cinquante-six affaires pour la municipalité. Et c’était comme si j’avais pris la mesure de ça : que si papa avait étudié, il aurait probablement fait des choses formidables, pis il aurait pu contribuer encore plus. » Cette révélation sera fondatrice du reste de son parcours. Les mauvaises langues murmurent que, en parvenue typique, la fille du mécanicien n’a jamais appris à composer avec sa richesse. Son mari, Claude Blanchet, a fait fortune dans l’immobilier avant de prendre la barre de grandes organisations, comme le Fonds de solidarité des travailleurs du Québec et la Société générale de financement. Marois dit que l’argent est pour elle synonyme de liberté, un passeport qui lui évite de se sentir enchaînée à ses fonctions, une assurance contre la compromission.

36 { 1er septembre 2012 l’actualité

« Personne ne peut m’acheter. Ça me permet de m’investir complètement dans ce que je fais. Sachant qu’après j’ai une situation confortable, ça m’enlève un poids », expliquet-elle. Certains Québécois, eux, n’ont pas tout à fait digéré le paradoxe de la travailleuse sociale millionnaire qui rêve de changer le monde en s’endormant dans son palace. La Closerie, cette immensité aux allures de château sei­ gneurial que le couple s’est fait construire en 1994 à L’ÎleBizard, sur un domaine d’un demi-kilomètre de long au bord de la rivière, n’a rien du luxe discret, disons. Maintenant que la propriété est vendue (le prix était fixé à sept millions de dollars), le couple déménagera bientôt dans un condo qu’il compte acheter dans le Vieux-Montréal — en plus de celui qu’il possède en Floride, de son appartement à Québec et de sa grande villa à Saint-Irénée, dans Charlevoix. Selon les proches du clan, il règne pourtant une atmo­ sphère conviviale dans la demeure surnommée par dérision « Moulinsart », par référence au château des aven­tures de Tintin. C’est une « maison ouverte », comme dit Claude Blanchet, toujours pleine de monde, où les tablées de 10 ou 12 jeunes n’étaient pas rares à une époque. Les trois fils y ont vécu avec leur blonde pendant des années ; des cousins, des camarades mal pris y ont été hébergés des mois durant. La mère de Claude, amputée d’une jambe, y a passé les dernières saisons de sa vie. « Pauline a pris soin d’elle, lui a changé les couches, l’a lavée », dit sa copine Catherine Pagé-Asselin. « Pauline et Claude, ce sont des gens extrêmement généreux. Ils ont utilisé leurs moyens pour aider un paquet de monde sans jamais s’en vanter. Elle a toujours été fidèle à ses racines, Pauline. Elle ressemble à sa famille », soutient son amie d’enfance Lucie Fréchette. Le couple est d’ailleurs fier de souligner que ses quatre enfants ont fréquenté l’école publique. (Catherine dirige aujourd’hui la Fédération de cheerleading du Québec, Félix enseigne l’éducation physique au primaire, François-Christophe est agent de recherche dans une entreprise de biotechnologie et Jean-Sébastien travaille dans la société de placement immobilier que dirige son père.) Avec ou sans millions, le mantra de Pauline Marois est demeuré le même depuis le collège : faire en sorte que le plein potentiel de chacun puisse éclore, peu importe son milieu d’origine. C’était l’un des moteurs de la création des CPE et de l’implantation de la maternelle à temps plein pour les petits de cinq ans : compenser les iniquités de la vie, donner aux enfants vulnérables une meilleure chance de réussir en leur offrant le cadre stimulant auquel tous n’ont pas accès à la maison. « Je dis souvent que je suis entrée en politique pour deux choses : pour le pays et pour l’égalité des chances. Et ça reste très fondamental pour moi. Tout le monde devrait avoir la possibilité d’aller au bout de ses talents. »


pauline marois : l’étoffe d’un premier ministre ?

Le rêve de l’indépendance — quoique certains mettent en doute son engagement à la réaliser depuis qu’elle a renoncé à l’obligation de tenir un référendum sitôt élue et a promis plutôt de « gouverner en souverainiste » — a pris racine chez elle à l’aube de la vingtaine, en Outaouais, où elle a vécu au début des années 1970, alors qu’éclatait la crise d’Octobre. C’est là-bas qu’elle a occupé ses premiers emplois en travail social, comme organisatrice communautaire auprès des démunis et des assistés sociaux de Hull. C’est aussi là que les « gros sabots » du pouvoir fédéral et « l’acculturation » des francophones lui ont sauté au visage. « C’est pour la souveraineté que je me suis engagée au PQ, dans les années 1970. Et c’est encore pour ça que je me lève le matin, affirme-t-elle. Une femme qui donne naissance au pays, ça serait intéressant ! » L’affaire Duceppe « Vous m’avez impressionnée cette année. Vous vous êtes tenue debout », lui a dit une femme d’un certain âge lors d’une activité de financement, à Sept-Îles. Lumineuse, Marois se faufilait d’un sympathisant à l’autre, leur touchant doucement un bras ou une épaule, comme si ce ballet de poignées de mains était la chose la plus importante, la plus agréable et la plus facile du monde. « Tenez bon ! » lui a glissé un jeune employé d’un hôtel de Lévis où elle venait de présenter deux nouveaux candidats. La persévérance de la « dame de béton » a touché des cordes sensibles dans la dernière année. À force d’encaisser les gifles jour après jour pendant des mois, Pauline Marois en est venue à incarner, aux yeux d’une partie du public, la plus coriace résistante qu’ait jamais connue ce parti chamailleur, une insoumise chez les mangeurs de chefs. Au plus fort de l’orage, à l’automne 2011, pas une journée ne s’écoulait sans que quelqu’un réclame sa tête — y compris au sein de son propre caucus — et sans qu’on implore Gilles Duceppe, l’ancien chef du Bloc québécois fraîchement battu aux élections fédérales, de prendre sa place. Des ex-premiers ministres péquistes la blâmaient sur la place publique, des présidents d’associations militantes démissionnaient en cascade, on prédisait même l’anéantissement du parti. « La madame ne passe pas », répétait-on comme un disque rayé dans la famille péquiste. Le soulèvement a commencé quand Marois s’est obstinée à défendre un projet de loi (parrainé par la députée péquiste Agnès Maltais) devant aider la ville de Québec à concrétiser son rêve de se doter d’un nouvel amphithéâtre, censé lui ramener une équipe de la Ligue nationale de hockey. Le projet de loi 204 — fustigé de toutes parts comme une manœuvre électoraliste sans-gêne — immunise contre les poursuites judiciaires l’entente confiant la gestion du futur édifice au conglomérat Québecor Média.

Pauline Marois n’a jamais vu venir la levée de boucliers contre cette initiative. Trois parlementaires (Pierre Curzi, Lisette Lapointe et Louise Beaudoin) n’ont pas digéré de se la faire enfoncer dans la gorge, et leurs démissions, le 6 juin 2011, ont déclenché une réaction en chaîne qui a failli couler le parti et sa chef. Quand elle parle des députés qui ont claqué la porte (il y en a eu six, dont une, Louise Beaudoin, est finalement rentrée au bercail ; un septième a été expulsé), elle les appelle « mes ouailles » d’un ton sévère et ses yeux se plissent en deux fentes qui trahissent son résidu de ressentiment. « Elle est très sensible à la trahison, Pauline, confie son amie de longue date Catherine Pagé-Asselin. Les gens sur qui elle compte qui tout à coup changent d’idée ou de camp, ça lui fait mal. » Marois revient toutefois sur ces événements avec une étonnante absence de pathos. J’ai beau chercher la meurtrissure dans son visage, je n’y vois qu’une sorte de sagesse

« Pauline sait comment le   gouvernement fonctionne, comment travailler avec les fonctionnaires, dit Monique Jérôme-Forget. Elle est   capable de prévoir les écueils. C’est un grand avantage. » endurcie, un regard analytique qui laisse peu de place à l’apitoiement. « Il faut toujours avoir une perspective. Non, ç’a pas été facile. Ça m’a choquée, blessée. Mais je pensais toujours à ce qu’il fallait faire pour garder mon monde ensemble, les rassurer. Je leur disais sou­ vent : “Pensez-vous qu’on va avoir de meilleures politiques que le gouvernement qui est là ? Oui. Bon, ben, tenonsnous, gardons le cap, pis on va finir par passer au travers. Quand on va être au pouvoir, il va y avoir des moments pas mal plus tough que ça, hein ?” » m’explique-t-elle un matin de mai au son du séchoir, dans le minuscule salon de son coiffeur et « vieux complice » Serge Bergeron, à Québec. « Je me suis demandé si partir était la solution. Je l’ai évalué. Gilles Duceppe m’a dit qu’il viendrait s’il était seul en lice. Mais il n’aurait pas été seul, parce qu’il y en a dans le caucus qui veulent être chef. Pis c’est légitime. Moi, j’ai aucun problème avec ça, d’ailleurs. Je l’ai dit souvent à Bernard Drainville. Je suis pas éternelle, le cimetière est rempli de gens irremplaçables. Mais si je m’en vais maintenant, qu’est-ce qu’on fait ? On

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pauline marois : l’étoffe d’un premier ministre ?

recommence une course au leadership ? On va-tu refaire un autre congrès pour redessiner un nouveau pro­ gramme ? Non. Moi, je vais jusqu’au bout. J’étais prête à me rendre jusqu’à un autre vote de confiance. Cependant, c’est arrivé à deux ou trois reprises que je dise à mon mari : “Je pense que je passerai pas au travers, je vais peut-être finir par retourner dans mes fleurs. Mais je peux pas lâcher à ce moment-ci, compte tenu des conséquences que ça aurait.” » Claude Blanchet était aux premières loges pour observer le sang-froid de son épouse lors de leur marche rapide de trois kilomètres, qu’ils font tous les matins quand Pauline dort à la maison. « Je ne l’ai jamais vue en panique, m’a dit l’homme de 66 ans. Avec toute l’expérience qu’elle a acquise, elle est capable d’avoir du recul vis-à-vis des choses. Elle prend le temps de réfléchir aux différentes possibilités pour passer à travers une situation. C’est sa façon d’être. » Et le projet de loi de la discorde ? La chef péquiste persiste à croire que, sur le fond, c’était « une bonne idée », semblable à « une quinzaine de lois déjà adoptées » (notamment pour protéger le contrat des wagons du métro de Montréal, accordé au consortium Bombardier-Alstom), qui a simple­ ment servi de prétexte aux mutins pour quitter le bateau. Il s’en est fallu de peu, cependant, pour que le parti sombre avec elle, selon certains observateurs. « À quelques heures près », dit Michel Hébert, chef de bureau à l’Assem­ blée nationale pour Le Journal de Montréal et Le Journal de Québec. C’est uniquement lorsque, en janvier 2012, Gilles Duceppe a renoncé officiellement à la remplacer (mis hors d’état de nuire par une manchette dévastatrice révélant de possibles irrégularités dans sa gestion des fonds publics à Ottawa) que l’orage s’est calmé, rappellet-il. « Les attaques ont cessé, parce qu’il n’y avait plus d’autre option. Des gens proches d’elle m’ont dit qu’ils allaient donner leur démission “demain ou après-demain”. Le jour d’après, l’affaire Duceppe est sortie dans les médias et ceux qui devaient partir n’ont plus bougé, sinon pour applaudir à nouveau Pauline Marois. » Seule sa ténacité l’a sauvée, croit Michel Hébert. « Le Parti québécois, c’est comme un taureau mécanique. Le gagnant est celui qui réussit à rester dessus le plus longtemps. »

« Can you repeat the question ? » C’est loin d’être la première fois qu’elle survit à ses adversaires. Ses intimes l’ont toujours connue ainsi, résiliente et increvable. Au collège Jésus-Marie, la villageoise aux « petits souliers cheapettes » a réussi à s’imposer parmi ses camarades : non seulement elle a appris à parler et à s’habiller comme elles, mais elle est devenue leur leader, s’impliquant dans les tout premiers conseils des élèves et se faisant élire présidente de classe. « Quand on se sent un peu inférieurs au départ, on veut être déterminés et

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passer à l’avant. Quand on vient d’un milieu comme le nôtre, on a plus à prouver. On n’est pas venus au monde avec une cuillère en argent dans la bouche. On s’est développés nous-mêmes », explique son mari, Claude Blanchet, l’amour d’adolescence qu’elle a épousé à 20 ans. Ce fils d’un garagiste du village voisin, qui a ouvert son premier gaz bar avant d’avoir soufflé ses 18 bougies, s’était promis d’être millionnaire avant 30 ans. Il l’était à 32. Le « taureau mécanique » s’est cabré dès le départ. En 1981, René Lévesque en personne avait téléphoné à Pauline pour la convaincre de se porter candidate dans la région de Québec (elle dirigeait alors le cabinet de la ministre de la Condition féminine, Lise Payette)… mais elle a quand même dû se prêter à une virulente course à l’investiture, qu’elle a gagnée seulement au second tour. Elle est restée en selle. En 1985, elle a brigué le leadership du parti contre des rivaux bien plus aguerris qu’elle — Pierre Marc Johnson, Bernard Landry et Jean Garon, entre autres. Une folie ! Contre toute attente, elle a terminé deuxième. Martine Tremblay se rappelle la stupéfaction des collègues devant le cran de cette novice aux dehors angéliques. « Personne ne l’avait vue venir », raconte l’ancienne chef de cabinet de René Lévesque et de Pierre Marc Johnson, qui conseille Marois à l’occasion. « Quand on disait “Pauline la fine”, c’est qu’on la voyait comme quelqu’un de très gentil. Son côté accessible et chaleureux, les gens s’en moquaient un peu à une certaine époque. Ils avaient l’impression que ça faisait d’elle une personne qui ne passerait pas au travers. Elle n’était pas du genre à défoncer les portes, c’était déjà la force tranquille qui fait son chemin discrètement, sans écraser personne, sans rien bousculer. En politique, on n’est pas habitué à cette façon d’avancer. » Le caricaturiste Serge Chapleau avait bien saisi les forces en présence : en pleine campagne, il avait dessiné Pauline Marois recroquevillée sur un misérable tricycle, rattrapant presque un Pierre Marc Johnson athlétique sur son vélo de compétition. « Jamais personne n’a pensé qu’elle irait chercher autant d’appuis. Ça a beaucoup étonné Lévesque, poursuit Martine Tremblay. La Pauline que tout le monde aimait est alors devenue quelqu’un d’autre aux yeux de tous. Quelqu’un avec qui il fallait compter. » Vingt ans plus tard, la chefferie lui a de nouveau échappé, une défaite poignard aux mains d’André Boisclair qu’elle a avalée avec philosophie. « Elle avait réuni 200 personnes dans une pizzéria de Québec. On pleurait, pis c’est elle qui nous consolait avec son beau sourire, raconte son coiffeur, Serge Bergeron. Je te le dis sincèrement, je l’ai jamais vue déprimée. Jamais. » À son arrivée à la tête du PQ, en 2007, Pauline Marois s’est cramponnée quand elle a fait rire d’elle à cause de sa maîtrise lamentable de la langue anglaise. Dans certains


pauline marois : l’étoffe d’un premier ministre ?

points de presse, elle arrivait à peine à aligner cinq mots d’anglais, même qu’elle en inventait de toutes pièces ! Jamais auparavant le PQ n’a eu un leader qui possède aussi mal sa langue seconde, ce que certains observateurs trouvent inconcevable pour quelqu’un qui aspire à faire entrer le Québec dans le concert des nations — et qui pourrait donc être appelé à mener des négociations fort délicates avec un Canada à majorité anglophone. Alors Marois a pris le taureau par les cornes. Elle s’est inscrite à un cours intensif dans une école de langues de Boston pendant ses vacances estivales, en 2008. Elle s’est mise à converser dans la langue de Mordecai Richler avec ses enfants, a suivi des leçons particulières avec une dame de Québec, et elle continue d’écouter la radio anglaise le matin pour se « faire l’oreille ». Quand je l’ai entendue répondre en anglais lors d’une conférence de presse, début mai, à l’Assemblée nationale, j’ai tout de suite pensé à cette parodie signée Rock et Belles Oreilles où on voyait Guy A. Lepage déguisé en Pauline s’embourber dans ses vœux du Nouvel An in

de faire rapport à René Lévesque de ce qui agaçait les gens dans son gouvernement) pour filer directement à l’hôpital, où elle a donné naissance à François-Christophe… non sans prendre le temps de signer les derniers documents qu’on avait livrés à sa chambre dans une mallette à combinaison secrète, par crainte des fuites vers les médias. Deux semaines plus tard, elle était promue du ministère de la Condition féminine à celui, beaucoup plus costaud, de la Main-d’œuvre et de la Sécurité du revenu. Et quand elle s’est lancée dans la course à la direction du PQ en juillet 1985, son petit dernier, Jean-Sébastien, était âgé d’une semaine. « Je l’ai déjà vue sortir d’une réunion du Conseil des ministres pour aller s’assurer que toutes les petites amies de sa fille avaient été invitées à son anniversaire », raconte Louise Harel. Il faut dire que Marois a pu compter pendant presque toute sa carrière sur une nounou — Magali Théodore, une Haïtienne d’origine qui vivait encore jusqu’à récemment sous le toit des Marois, à L’Île-Bizard, où elle avait ses propres appartements — et sur un amoureux anticonformiste.

L’argent est pour elle synonyme de liberté, un   passeport qui lui évite de se sentir enchaînée à ses fonctions, une assurance contre la compromission. « Personne ne peut m’acheter», dit-elle. English — un classique du genre. Cette fois-ci, devant les journalistes anglophones, la bonne élève s’est tirée d’affaire honorablement. « Son anglais s’est sensiblement amélioré, constate le chroniqueur politique Michel Hébert. Il demeure laborieux, mais ce n’est plus risible. » Reste que, à l’instar de François Legault, de la CAQ, un autre chef de parti qui massacre l’anglais à ses heures, elle a encore beaucoup de pain sur la planche avant de se dire bilingue. Ses bagarres politiques, c’est souvent avec une bedaine énorme ou un bébé aux couches qu’elle les a menées. Dans le prospectus de sa première campagne, sous le slogan « Faut rester forts au Québec », on la voit, à 32 ans, serrer la main de René Lévesque dans sa robe de grossesse, enceinte jusqu’au cou : elle a accouché de son deuxième enfant, Félix, 11 jours après l’élection, alors que son aînée n’avait pas deux ans. Autant dire une révolutionnaire. L’Assemblée nationale n’avait connu que quatre femmes ministres avant elle ; voilà qu’entrait au Cabinet une jeune maman qui devait gérer les gardiennes. Les congés de maternité ? Connaît pas. À l’automne 1983, elle a clos les travaux d’un « comité sur les irritants » (chargé

À une époque où le partage des tâches ne faisait pas partie du vocabulaire, Claude Blanchet a supervisé les devoirs, lu les histoires avant le dodo, ramassé les bulletins à l’école, rencontré les profs. « C’est sans doute moi, des deux parents, qui ai été le plus proche de nos enfants », dit-il. Encore aujourd’hui, Claude s’efface à son profit, selon un vieil ami. « Il ne va pas aussi loin qu’il le voudrait en affaires pour ne pas lui nuire », soutient-il. Des soupçons de conflits d’intérêts ont plané sur le couple quand l’époux tenait les rênes de la Société générale de financement, l’ancien bras investisseur de l’État, de 1997 à 2003, au moment où l’épouse occupait les plus hauts échelons du pouvoir. Consulter, puis trancher ! Irréductible, soit. Mais paradoxalement, pas encore débarrassée de ce doute qui l’a tourmentée chaque fois qu’elle a assumé de nouvelles fonctions (et qu’elle constate chez pres­que toutes les femmes qu’elle essaie de repêcher comme candidates). « J’ai toujours eu certains problèmes de con­ fiance en moi, que j’ai résolus tranquillement, admet-elle. Il y a des jours où il y en a encore un peu. C’est pas mauvais, remarquez. On est moins arrogant. On n’est pas au-

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pauline marois : l’étoffe d’un premier ministre ?

dessus de la mêlée en pensant qu’on sait toute pis qu’on est bon en toute. » C’est d’ailleurs cette insécurité, confie-t-elle, qui l’avait poussée dans la vingtaine à se doter d’une maîtrise en administration des affaires de l’École des HEC. Sa première expérience de patronne, à 24 ans, comme directrice générale d’un des premiers CLSC du Québec, à Hull, l’a convaincue des vertus de l’humilité. (Elle avait insisté pour aplanir l’échelle salariale au maximum, ditelle, réduisant son propre salaire et augmentant celui de la téléphoniste en conséquence.) « Ne pas se sentir menacé par plus fort que soi, j’ai appris ça tôt. Au contraire, ceux qui sont plus forts que toi peuvent t’aider à aller plus loin. Je le pratique beaucoup au cabinet, j’ai des gens très forts autour de moi. » Ils étaient sept autour de la chef à afficher leur calme le plus olympien lors d’une réunion aux allures de course contre la montre, le 26 avril. Pauline Marois disposait de deux petites heures pour se préparer avant son affrontement avec Jean Charest dans le cadre de l’étude des crédits budgétaires. Dans la petite salle de réunion du parlement, il y avait des boîtes de poulet St-Hubert qu’on avait fait livrer

« Le Parti québécois, c’est comme un taureau   mécanique. Le gagnant est celui qui réussit à rester   dessus le plus longtemps », dit le chroniqueur politique Michel Hébert. pour dîner. Des pages et des pages de matière à réviser. Et une boss aux traits moins souriants qu’à l’habitude. Sa salade de poulet engouffrée, elle lit à voix haute les allocutions composées par sa garde rapprochée, qui attaquent le gouvernement tous azimuts : crise étudiante, ressources naturelles, pertes d’emplois, défense de la langue française, dette publique, etc. Son rédacteur de discours, Stéphane Gobeil, un ancien conseiller de Gilles Duceppe, est visiblement fier de ses formules-chocs. La chef lui fait adoucir un verbe ici, retirer une hyperbole là, suggère des ajouts, qu’elle lui laisse le soin de rédiger : « Il devrait pas y avoir une phrase où on dit que, oui, un gouvernement du Parti québécois va faire un plan de développement du Nord, mais qu’il va être au service des citoyens ? demande-t-elle. Tourne-le comme tu voudras. » La tension est à vous nouer l’estomac. Jetant des coups d’œil anxieux vers la pendule dans le coin de la pièce, la

40 { 1er septembre 2012 l’actualité

patronne gronde gentiment son conseiller aux affaires économiques, Jean-François Gibeault, qui s’entête à la bombarder d’explications chiffrées : « Es-tu capable de me l’écrire simplement ? Quand il y a trop de chiffres, tu sais, on perd le monde. Même moi, j’ai de la misère à te suivre ! » Les dernières minutes s’égrènent. On rebrasse encore un passage, on griffonne à la hâte une nouvelle conclusion. Et à tout moment, Marois s’enquiert : « C’est correct ? Est-ce que ma réponse est bonne ? » Que ce soit dans ses rapports avec son équipe ou pour définir de grandes orientations, Pauline Marois n’a rien d’une chef de meute ou d’une mandarine isolée dans sa tour d’ivoire. Sa plateforme électorale, par exemple, est le résultat de nombreuses discussions avec les députés, « le fruit d’un large consensus où on est arrivés à se convaincre les uns les autres », affirme-t-elle. « C’est très valorisant de travailler pour elle, soutient sa directrice de cabinet, Nicole Stafford. Elle a cet esprit d’équipe qui fait qu’elle s’abreuve de diverses idées avant de se faire sa propre opinion. Elle prend le temps de regarder tous les points de vue, de lire tous les documents, de rencontrer tout le monde. Mais une fois qu’elle a pris sa décision, c’est là qu’elle devient la dame de béton. Elle ne bronche plus, parce qu’elle s’est convaincue profondément. Mais elle ne s’engage pas rapidement. » Autoritaire, elle ? Pas pour deux sous, assurent ses proches collaborateurs. Elle serait même par moments trop conciliante, « trop maman », souffle l’un d’eux. Ne pas consulter son caucus avant de déposer le projet de loi sur l’amphithéâtre de Québec — l’élément déclencheur de la dernière crise de leadership —, c’était une erreur, a-t-elle reconnu publiquement, et ça ne lui ressemblait pas. Au contraire, c’est le fait de devoir imposer sa loi qu’elle a trouvé le plus difficile à assumer dans son rôle de chef : « Être obligée de trancher dans les conflits entre les gens, je réussis à le faire, mais j’avoue que j’aime pas toujours ça. Je déteste la chicane. Imaginez dans mon parti ! » Un petit carré rouge Parmi le concert de points de vue qu’elle s’emploie à harmoniser, certains cherchent la voix de la chef. Ils se demandent si Pauline Marois possède une boussole assez sûre pour naviguer dans les brouillards de la politique. Ou si elle se laisse trop facilement guider par le jugement des autres. Quand elle a changé de rédacteur de discours, l’automne dernier, les journalistes de la colline Parlementaire s’en sont aperçus tout de suite, fait remarquer Michel Pepin, analyste politique à la radio de Radio-Canada. « Jean Charest aussi a changé de scribe à la même période, dit-il. Mais dans son cas, ça n’a pas paru. » Comme si Marois n’arrivait pas à imprimer sa personnalité propre, sa convic-


pauline marois : l’étoffe d’un premier ministre ?

tion profonde aux mots que ses conseillers lui prêtent. Comme si ces mots restaient, en quelque sorte, une partition qu’elle interprète. Le député Jean-Martin Aussant, qui a déserté le PQ l’an dernier, est l’un de ceux qui trouvent que le navire péquiste a le gouvernail faible. « Une chef qui a des convictions solides, qui a le courage de ses positions, n’aurait peut-être pas besoin de s’appuyer autant sur ses conseillers pour savoir ce qu’elle devrait dire ou ne pas dire », estime le fondateur d’Option nationale, formation politique qu’il veut plus résolument indépendantiste que le Parti québécois. « Le parti gère trop par sondages. Il est devenu une machine à regagner le pouvoir plutôt qu’une machine de convictions. Si Mme Marois voit qu’elle a plus de chances de reprendre le pouvoir sans parler de souveraineté, elle le fera sans hésiter. Ce que je déplore, c’est cette volonté de tout le temps s’ajuster à ce qu’on entend un peu partout pour être élue à tout prix. » Son image de femme qui tergiverse a été son talon d’Achille depuis le début du « printemps érable », cette saison de contestations d’une ampleur rarement vue au Québec. Les libéraux se sont acharnés à la peindre comme une girouette qui n’a pas de position claire sur les droits de scolarité, comme une opportuniste qui porte le carré rouge sans y croire. Même des alliés potentiels, chez Québec solidaire, ont du mal à la suivre. Surtout depuis que Marois a remisé, fin juin, le fameux morceau de feutre qu’elle avait arboré tout le printemps, affirmant qu’elle soutient toujours la cause, mais qu’il faut aussi parler d’autre chose à l’approche des élections. « Il faut s’assumer dans la vie, proteste Françoise David, co-porte-parole de Québec solidaire. Ça fait un message drôlement ambigu : j’appuie les étudiants, mais je ne porte plus le carré rouge. Madame Marois, où est-ce que vous allez au juste ? Elle veut conquérir des milieux qui ne sont peut-être pas si carré rouge que ça. Pendant ce temps-là, ceux qui sont carré rouge se disent : mais qu’estce que c’est que cette façon de changer d’idée ? Et ça les amène à venir nous voir. » Ça fait des mois que Pauline Marois insiste sur ce point sans réussir à faire passer son message : si elle avait été première ministre, elle aurait ouvert le dialogue bien avant que la protestation étudiante tourne à la révolte. Si elle est élue, elle prévoit suspendre la hausse des droits de scolarité et convoquer toutes les parties concernées à un sommet sur l’enseignement supérieur. « Nous, on en a eu des conflits. On a toujours fini par les régler, pis on n’a pas attendu que ça se déglingue, tsé. Pis on s’est assis avec le monde, pis on leur a parlé », m’a-t-elle expliqué, galva­ nisée, pendant une mise en plis matinale chez Serge, le 26 avril. La veille, les négociations entre les associations étudiantes et le gouvernement — les premières de la crise — s’étaient brutalement rompues, et des milliers de per-

sonnes avaient déversé leur colère dans les rues de Mont­ réal lors d’une soirée particulièrement turbulente. « On va asseoir tout le monde à la table et on regardera différents scénarios. Faut que t’acceptes d’écouter, de te laisser un peu convaincre, influencer. Des fois, les solutions sont plus intéressantes quand elles viennent de la base. La concertation, ça donne des solutions plus durables, auxquelles les gens adhèrent. Pis t’évites des conflits. » Ce n’est pas une position tranchée au couteau qu’elle défend, donc, mais une approche. La certitude qu’en se parlant on trouvera un terrain d’entente dans une dispute pourtant marquée jusqu’ici par l’intransigeance et la polarisation. Ça peut sembler nébuleux comme engagement, utopique même. Ça promet d’être échevelé, peut-être chaotique. Et c’est moins vendeur qu’une solution toute tracée qui se formule en dollars et en pourcentages. Sa méthode a fait ses preuves dans des circonstances tout aussi explosives. Elle n’avait pour ainsi dire aucune marge de manœuvre financière, en tant que présidente du Conseil du Trésor, quand elle s’est entendue avec les employés du secteur public sur de nouvelles conventions collectives, à quelques semaines du référendum de 1995. Ces négociations toujours épineuses s’étaient déroulées sans grève, dans un climat serein qui avait étonné les observateurs. Lorraine Pagé, qui présidait alors le syndicat des enseignants, la CEQ, garde le souvenir d’une interlocutrice disponible, qui ne rechignait pas à rencontrer les leaders syndicaux et qui se creusait la tête pour trouver des compromis. Pas de bluff derrière des lunettes fumées à la table de poker. « Elle donnait l’heure juste, précise-t-elle. Elle nous disait : “Ça, c’est possible. Ça, je suis pas vraiment capable de l’envisager : y a-tu moyen de regarder ça autrement ?” » À défaut d’obtenir les augmentations de salaires espérées, les syndiqués avaient décroché, par exemple, plusieurs améliorations dans l’organisation du travail. Ce que Lorraine Pagé retient surtout, c’est l’impression d’avoir été face à une associée plutôt qu’une concurrente — une attitude salutaire dans un contexte d’extrême austérité. « Ç’a été des années très difficiles sur le plan budgétaire. Et, ma foi, il y avait tout ce qu’il fallait pour des affrontements majeurs, enchaîne-t-elle. Quand on est devant un vis-à-vis qui est à l’écoute, qui ne se braque pas, qui nous respecte, c’est sûr que ça permet des rapprochements qui sont impossibles avec quelqu’un qui se ferme, qui fonctionne par ultimatum. Il y a des ministres qui nous écoutent pour la forme. Ils sont incapables de concevoir qu’il puisse y avoir autant de bonnes idées de l’autre côté ; ils se croient presque investis d’un droit divin. Ce n’était pas le cas de Pauline Marois. Ça ne veut pas dire qu’elle ne pouvait pas tenir tête. Mais elle n’était jamais méprisante. Si on ne réussissait pas à la convaincre, on

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pauline marois : l’étoffe d’un premier ministre ?

repartait tout de même avec le sentiment qu’on était considérés comme un partenaire à part entière. » L’ancien leader étudiant Étienne Gagnon, aujourd’hui économiste dans une grande organisation de Washington, a eu affaire à Pauline Marois à plusieurs reprises lorsqu’elle pilotait le ministère de l’Éducation. À l’ère des grands sommets du milieu des années 1990 — les deux sur le « déficit zéro », les États généraux sur l’éducation —, il a tenu la barre de la Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec. Une chose l’a spécialement marqué : la manière qu’elle avait de rallier les gens en expliquant son raisonnement, sans mettre son poing sur la table ni se draper dans sa posture d’autorité. « Il y avait toujours un moment dans nos rencontres où elle présentait ses contraintes, son objectif et ce qu’elle aurait aimé faire s’il n’y avait pas eu de contraintes. Puis, elle disait c’était quoi, selon elle, une solution raisonnable, étant donné la position de chacun des camps. Ça favorisait l’empathie ! Ça nous permettait de comprendre comment ils arrivaient à certaines positions. Sans être nécessairement d’accord, ça nous amenait à respecter la décision. » C’était une époque, soutient-il, où les politiciens étaient plus sensibles au point de vue des jeunes, et les voies de communication, plus ouvertes. « On était pris au sérieux. J’avais, quoi… 19, 20 ans à l’époque. Mais les fédérations avaient vraiment un bon accès à son cabinet. » Ainsi, en 1996, quand les étudiants ont déclenché une grève sur la foi de rumeurs d’un dégel des droits de scolarité (rien n’était encore coulé dans le béton), le dialogue avec le gouvernement était déjà établi, se rappelle-t-il. Au bout d’un mois, Pauline Marois avait annoncé le maintien du gel… en même temps que des mesures contestées, comme la « taxe à l’échec » pour les cégépiens et l’augmentation des droits pour les étudiants étrangers. Chacun à leur manière, les sept chefs que le Parti québécois s’est donnés depuis 1968 ont tâché de résoudre le double casse-tête consistant à diriger des troupes dissipées, animées d’un rêve d’indépendance qui semble souvent hors de portée, tout en persuadant les Québécois de leur confier les rênes de l’État. La députée et ancienne ministre péquiste Louise Beaudoin les a presque tous connus. « Avec M. Parizeau, on était comme une armée derrière le général, pis tout le monde l’acceptait, parce qu’on savait qu’un référendum s’en venait, souligne-t-elle. M. Lévesque, c’était un charismatique émotif, un passionné. Avec Lucien Bouchard, on avait beaucoup de théâtre, c’était inspi­ rant ! Et Mme Marois ? Ce serait… la raison dans la passion contenue. C’est une femme raisonnable, Pauline. » Une leader un peu plus réfléchie, un peu moins passionnante. Une commandante qui hésite avant de charger, moins prompte à mettre au pas son bataillon. Une patronne attentive à l’opinion d’autrui, capable de se remettre en question, qu’on n’a jamais vue piquer une crise ou monter sur une

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chaise pour se faire applaudir. « C’est une femme qui doute, mais dans le sens positif du terme, c’est-à-dire qu’elle n’a pas le sentiment d’avoir systématiquement la vérité, résume Nicole Boily, son ancienne chef de cabinet. Elle ne fonce pas tête baissée sans avoir analysé les choses. Mais ça peut être perçu comme quelqu’un qui est incapable de se décider. C’est une forme de leadership qu’on retrouve peu dans le monde politique, dans le monde des hommes. » Le pouvoir peut-il se conjuguer « au féminin » dans un milieu où les règles du jeu et la majorité des acteurs sont encore « masculins » ? C’est la question que soulève l’essayiste Pascale Navarro dans son livre Les femmes en politique changent-elles le monde ?, paru en 2010. Des politiciennes comme Monique Jérôme-Forget et Monique Bégin, ancienne ministre fédérale de la Santé, y racontent que leur insistance à consulter les autres et leur disposition à admettre leurs torts — des traits qui seraient plus courants chez les femmes — ont été perçues dans leur entourage comme des signes de faiblesse. « Le doute : peut-on enfin accepter qu’un ou une chef expose ses interrogations sans que soit remise en question son autorité ? écrit Navarro. Si oui, plus de femmes se verront dans des postes de direction. Un leadership plus ouvert, capable de s’adapter aux différentes situations sans vouloir maintenir à tout prix une position immuable, voilà qui paraît plus réaliste. » Dans une ère où les hiérarchies traditionnelles s’écroulent, où s’effritent les vieux rapports de dominance, suggère encore l’auteure, un autre pouvoir est-il possible ? Cachez la femme La femme publique montera sur scène dans quelques minutes pour prononcer un discours fondateur, dans un hôtel d’Alma, à l’occasion de l’investiture du député de Lac-Saint-Jean, Alexandre Cloutier. Ce sera la première fois qu’elle teste les grands thèmes de sa campagne électorale : s’affirmer, s’enrichir, s’entraider. Les circonstances exigent de la stature. Dans la petite pièce où s’est réuni son entourage, elle troque sa veste printanière à carreaux bleus contre un tailleur gris foncé, remplace ses bijoux de lapis-lazuli par de simples anneaux d’argent. Quand elle fera son entrée dans la salle, flanquée de quatre députés et d’un candidat en complets interchangeables, la chef aura l’air presque aussi sobre qu’eux… juchée sur ses féminissimes escarpins en cuir verni noir à talons vertigineux. Durant ces intermèdes, elle devient la Pauline chaleureuse et pas compliquée que ses proches m’ont décrite. Une femme capable d’étonnants élans de légèreté et de gentillesse dans des moments de stress : il faut la voir, entourée de ses collègues cravatés, mettre la touche finale au scénario de la soirée tout en se vaporisant de parfum (elle en traîne deux flacons dans son sac à main), jaser crèmes et manucure avec la maquilleuse venue faire sa


pauline marois : l’étoffe d’un premier ministre ?

mise en beauté, me montrer les boîtes à pêche qui lui servent de coffres à bijoux ou le reprisage qui a ressuscité son vieux pantalon. Même en période de crise, elle trouve refuge dans des plaisirs ordinaires — s’occuper de son jardin, monter des albums de photos, lire des polars, se mettre aux fourneaux, recevoir. « Quand on était à table, elle avait cette manie de nous demander : “Est-ce que c’est le bonheur ? On est en famille, on a un bon repas, on n’est pas bien, là ?” » raconte son fils Félix, qui dit qu’elle protégeait jalousement les soupers du dimanche. « Elle aimait savoir que la vie était belle et qu’on était choyés. » Alors que sa carrière se trouvait au bord du gouffre, en décembre dernier, l’hôtesse a elle-même cuisiné saumons et salades pour une vingtaine d’invités dans sa maison de Charlevoix. « Pauline la fine », qu’ils disaient. Pauline l’enjouée qui chante (et fausse) à corps perdu dans les fêtes de Noël, Pauline la bienheureuse malgré tout. « Elle sait garder son équilibre, souligne son amie Catherine Pagé-Asselin. Sa vie familiale la ressource terriblement.

ambages : « Pauline devra toujours en faire davantage. On lui fait des choses qu’on ne ferait pas si Pauline s’appelait Paul. Hey, qu’on arrête de crier au scandale quand on dit ça ! C’est tellement flagrant », estime celui qui a offert de céder sa circonscription de Charlevoix à la chef lorsqu’elle est sortie de sa retraite, en 2007. La question n’est plus de savoir si les Québécois, dans l’isoloir, sont prêts à tracer un « X » à côté du nom d’une femme. Les réticences sont bien plus insidieuses. La loi du « deux poids, deux mesures » fait que des traits qu’on admire chez un politicien se transforment en défauts quand on les observe chez une politicienne, constatent des spécialistes. On dira d’un homme qu’il a de l’autorité, d’une femme qu’elle est autoritaire, avec la connotation péjorative que cela comporte. La colère d’un homme lui donne de l’envergure, celle d’une femme la diminue. Manon Tremblay, de l’École d’études politiques de l’Université d’Ottawa, soupçonne aussi qu’on se permet plus volontiers d’attaquer le leadership d’une femme. « Le cas de

Quand elle a changé de rédacteur de discours, l’automne dernie­r, les journalistes de la colline Parlementaire s’en sont aperçus tout de suite, fait remarquer Michel Pepin, analyste politique à la radio de Radio-Canada. « Jean Charest aussi a changé de scribe à la même période, dit-il. Mais dans son cas, ça n’a pas paru. » Toute son existence et le sens de sa valeur personnelle ne sont pas investis dans la politique. Les démons, pour Pauline, y en a pas un gros char. » Un chêne ? Non, un roseau Lorsqu’elle prend le micro au son des « Pauline ! » et des « olé ! olé ! olé ! » chantés par la foule d’Alma, l’œil rivé sur les télésouffleurs, une part d’elle-même reste au vestiaire. Quelque chose en elle s’assombrit, tout son corps se raidit, comme si une chape d’angoisse se refermait sur son être. Je l’ai pourtant vue exposer sensiblement les mêmes idées mais dans ses propres mots, la veille, lors d’un cocktail de financement à Sept-Îles : elle a pris la parole sans notes, sans filet, et elle y a mis un cœur et un magnétisme qu’elle semble incapable de transposer, ce soir, sous les feux de la rampe. Elle est presque méconnaissable. C’est un défi pour n’importe quel politicien de gagner la faveur de la population en restant authentique. Mais la marge de manœuvre est particulièrement étroite pour les femmes. L’ancien député péquiste Rosaire Bertrand est l’un des rares, dans les milieux politiques, qui osent l’affirmer sans

Mme Marois me semble illustrer le fait qu’une femme en politique peut subir des foudres encore plus violentes de son environnement qu’un homme, avance-t-elle. Est-ce que les gars acceptent si facilement que ça d’être dirigés par une femme ? Je n’en suis pas convaincue. » En fait, les femmes leaders sont aux prises avec un dilemme insoluble, selon des recherches menées tant dans le milieu de la politique que dans celui de l’entreprise. Pour être crédibles, elles doivent manifester les qualités « viriles » qu’on attend d’un chef, mais ce faisant, elles risquent d’enfreindre les codes traditionnels de la féminité. Ainsi, les candidates se retrouvent assises entre deux chaises : elles doivent se montrer assez combatives pour être convaincantes comme leaders… mais pas trop, car elles pourraient paraître trop rudes, trop agressives pour des femmes, et rebuter l’électorat. En revanche, si elles se présentent sous un jour plus doux, chaleureux, empathique — féminin, au sens conventionnel du terme —, elles perdent de la crédibilité en tant que leaders. « Damned if you do, damned if you don’t », comme disent les anglophones. « Dans la littérature des sciences sociales, on appelle ça la double contrainte, explique Anne-Marie Gingras,

l’actualité 1er septembre 2012 } 43


pauline marois : l’étoffe d’un premier ministre ?

« Ne pas se sentir menacé par plus fort que soi, j’ai appris ça tôt. Au contraire, ceux qui sont plus forts que toi peuvent t’aider à aller plus loin. » professeure de sciences politiques à l’Université Laval. Pas trop vieille, pas trop jeune. Pas trop jolie, pas trop laide. Pas trop féminine, pas trop masculine. Juste assez d’émotion, mais pas trop. Quand Hillary Clinton a fait campagne pour l’investiture démocrate aux présidentielles américaines, elle voulait insister sur sa compétence. Elle prenait bien soin de ne pas trop sourire, elle faisait très sérieux. Mais à un moment donné, on a dit qu’elle était froide. Il faut toujours marcher sur une corde mince. » Ce phénomène est à l’œuvre partout sur la planète, selon la politologue britannique Rainbow Murray, qui a examiné les campagnes de plusieurs candidates de haut niveau dans un récent ouvrage, Cracking the Highest Glass Ceiling : A Global Comparison of Women’s Campaigns for Executive Office. Celles qui ont misé sur leur force de caractère pour se faire élire se sont vu qualifier de bitch, comme Hillary Clinton, de lesbienne, comme l’ex-première ministre néo-zélandaise Helen Clark, de glaciale, comme la chancelière allemande Angela Merkel. Celles qui ont davantage mis en valeur leur féminité, comme la candidate française Ségolène Royal et l’ex-présidente chilienne Michelle Bachelet, ont vu leur capacité de gouverner constamment mise en doute. Au Canada, trois provinces et un territoire sont actuellement dirigées par une première ministre, une situation sans précédent qui pourrait ébranler quelques mythes (quoique les femmes ne comptent encore que pour 25 % des parlementaires au fédéral et pour moins de 30 % au Québec). Pauline Marois connaît bien ces tiraillements. Ces dernières années, la leader péquiste a fait des contorsions pour tenter de se mouler aux attentes schizophrènes des Québécois sans se travestir. Elle s’est cherché une image qui ne soit ni trop exubérante ni trop stricte, une attitude juste assez batailleuse mais pas trop, une stature de chef de gouvernement qui ne lui donne pas l’air dur ou hautain. Marois n’est pas toujours sortie indemne de ces jeux d’équilibriste. En 2005, on l’a traitée de pitbull quand elle a fait connaître son ambition de prendre la tête du PQ alors que Bernard Landry s’y accrochait encore. C’était sa manière plutôt malavisée de corriger l’hésitation qui lui avait valu des critiques quatre ans auparavant, lors du départ de Lucien Bouchard. « À ce moment-là, les gens

44 { 1er septembre 2012 l’actualité

avaient trouvé que j’avais pris trop de temps à me décider. Donc, en 2005, j’ai été trop vite. Aller contre un chef qui est en place, c’était pas une bonne idée. Et quand Bernard a annoncé qu’il s’en allait, dès le lendemain j’ai dit que j’allais être sur les rangs. Ç’a choqué beaucoup de monde. Mais en même temps, je voulais compenser ce qu’on m’avait reproché ! » m’explique-t-elle avec une résignation un brin triste. Certains appellent ça un désir maladif de plaire. D’autres y voient une détermination à toute épreuve, une volonté de se plier à toutes les exigences pour atteindre ses objectifs. « Elle et moi, glisse Louise Harel, on a vu beaucoup de chênes s’abattre : M. Lévesque, M. Parizeau, M. Bouchard, M. Landry. J’ai dit à Pauline : “Toi, heureusement que t’es un roseau.” » Et si elle perd ? « Qu’allez-vous faire si vous perdez ? » C’est mon dernier rendez-vous chez le coiffeur avec Pauline Marois. Nous sommes le 6 mai, et les rumeurs d’élections imminentes s’amplifient, avec en toile de fond une crise étudiante qui s’emballe — entre l’impasse des négociations, les manifestations quotidiennes, une émeute d’une violence inouïe à Victoriaville, bientôt une loi spéciale musclée pour imposer le retour en classe, bientôt le chahut des casseroles protestataires. « On va pas perdre ! s’esclaffe-t-elle joyeusement. — Vous en êtes sûre ou vous préférez ne pas y penser ? — Je n’y pense pas. Je ne veux penser qu’à la victoire. En fait, la défaite est pas mal plus simple. Dans le sens où j’ai tellement de possibilités dans la vie de faire d’autres choses. C’est la victoire qui est compliquée. — Pourtant, on a dit de vous que vous étiez atteinte de l’ivresse du pouvoir… — Ah non ! dit-elle en pouffant de rire. J’en connais trop les aspérités. Le pouvoir, c’est le moyen le plus puissant dans une société pour changer les choses. Il faut avoir un idéal, sinon c’est pas utile de faire de la politique. Parce que c’est trop frustrant, trop difficile. Donc, non, ça ne me rend pas du tout ivre. Si je ne suis pas élue, ce sera facile. C’est l’ivresse de la liberté. Tandis que la victoire, ce sera l’exigence du travail, les contraintes et les embûches. » Cet après-midi, la chef péquiste empruntera la 20 et rentrera à la maison, à L’Île-Bizard, pour une demi-journée de congé bénie avec son mari, avant de repartir. « Je m’en vais chez nous ! dit-elle dans un éclat d’allégresse. Je vais appeler mon chum. Je vais lui demander ce qu’on mange pour souper. »


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Jonathan Montpetit Notes From the End of the War

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On the battlefield, success is f leeting and memory is short. Jonathan Montpetit reports on the last days of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan.

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field one Sunday morning on a knackered-looking plane out of Dubai. I was the only journalist on board. Aside from me, there were Russian flight attendants and a few bearded private-security types. It was the fall of 2009—what you might call the beginning of the end of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. There had been no all-out fight against the Taliban since Operation Medusa in 2006. Instead of combat, the troops got anodyne ambushes from an enemy who had trouble holding a Kalashnikov straight—but who could make and plant roadside bombs with deadly genius. Kandahar Airfield, or KAF, refers to the enormous international military complex that has A C ANADIAN SOLDIER ON FOOT PATROL DURING AN E ARLY - MORNING OPER ATION IN H A JI B AR AN , A FGHANIS TAN . been built around what would otherwise be a forgotten airport. It is one of the main staging areas He was worried his boys were going Jonathan Montpetit covered the Affor NATO troops in southern Afghani- soft. But the Americans were also ghan war for the Canadian Press. His previous stan, but it’s better thought of as a happy to let the Canadians do most of article for Maisonneuve was “The Neverending Story” (Issue 22). small city, with paved roads, churches, the fighting in Kandahar, and the Tim a hospital and a bus service. There are Hortons was allowed to stay. The general rule for war correThere was no spin outside the wire. rumours of gang activity and, after dark, prostitution on the boardwalk. spondents was to spend as little time As long as you humped your own bag When I arrived, the boardwalk hosted at KAF as possible. It was a news vor- and never slowed the troops down, a Pizza Hut, a Tim Hortons and a fast- tex. Sure, you could get booze, or even they would tolerate your presence, and food joint that sold burgers and fries score hash from a fixer. But, despite might even tell you something interesttwenty-four-seven. The French even being more than 10,000 kilometres ing. Like what model Mustang they’d ran a place where you could get a de- away, KAF was still too close to Ot- buy with their deployment bonus. Or tawa. While preparing a story about the colour of their baby daughter’s cent espresso. Among many troops outside the Remembrance Day, I once asked a eyes. You could sit with them as they wire—that expansive place where you colonel if the date carried any added watched Rambo on a laptop, a naked got shot at and mortared every other significance in a war zone. The colo- light bulb swinging overhead. A captain fucking day—KAF was a dirty word. It nel began, “When you’re fighting the might take you aside and explain why was this asymmetry of comfort that, in Taliban...” Then she stopped herself, he insisted on leading every patrol. He 2010, led US general Stanley McChrys- turned to the media relations officer couldn’t live with himself, he’d say, if tal, a notorious hard-ass, to strip the leering over my shoulder, and asked, he let one of his boys step on an IED— an improvised explosive device. The boardwalk of most of its restaurants. “Are we allowed to say ‘fighting’?”

.

9


CANADIAN HIGH COMMAND spoke often about “breaking the back of the insurgency,” though really it was just trying to consolidate its hold on the area’s most prized piece of land: Kandahar City. In the initial years of its deployment in Kandahar, the Canadian military was spread too thin; 1,500 soldiers covered an area the size of New Brunswick. With American reinforcements arriving as the war in Iraq wound down, Canada was able to focus its attention on a smaller, more manageable area. Toward the end of the 2009 fighting season, word began to spread that there had been some progress in Dand, the district southwest of Kandahar City. I took a Chinook to one of the district’s success stories, a village called Belanday. On the chopper with me was a contingent from Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, which was relieving Quebec City’s Royal 22e Regiment, better known as the Van Doos. While the military braintrust talked about “winning hearts and minds,” it fell to the frontline troops to actually get this done. That meant leaving the safety—and relative comfort—of forward operating bases for more exposed positions inside villages. It meant more foot patrols, more face time with Afghans. This was classic counter-insurgency theory, a body of military knowledge resurrected from end-of-empire wars. But as hot as the senior brass ran on COIN, the grunts were just as cold. “If one of those motherfuckers even looks at me the wrong way, I’ll light him up,” said one Pat as he waited for the helicopter. When we landed in the village, the incoming soldiers were met by their commanding officer, who gave them a short briefing. He effectively said:

The Van Doos have a good thing going here, so let’s not fuck it up. I found the outgoing CO sitting on a cot in a cramped dormitory. He said that he’d love to talk, but he was leaving on the next chopper. He pointed me instead to a twenty-four-year-old lieutenant, Jérémie Verville, who still had a couple of days left in his rotation. Verville told me the story of what happened in Belanday. IN JULY 2009, the Van Doos arrived to

a ghost town. There was an Afghan National Police unit hunkered down in a school compound, but otherwise the village was empty. The ANP had been stranded by its superiors and cut off from the supply chain. Without food, money or ammo, the police had taken to stealing from the locals, who fled. The school soon became a regular target of mortar attacks. The captain’s orders were to carry out the kind of COIN operations that his superiors were reading so much about. His troops promptly moved in with the police and brought them in line. They offered the few villagers they could find some cash to fix up the school, dig ditches and join in other make-work projects. The military believed the fight could become winnable if it just knocked out the day-tripper insurgents. According to its intelligence, Taliban commanders—the hardliners—were paying farmers to plant IEDs, hide weapons and take the odd potshot at a foot patrol. Many villagers were ideologically ambivalent but financially persuadable. I asked Verville: So who, exactly, is the Taliban? “Someone who will risk his life for about four bucks,” he answered. With the ANP behaving and money starting to flow, villagers returned to Belanday and warmed to the Canadians. But the Taliban continued to mortar the base at night. Toward the end of August, a stray shell struck a nine-year-

| “Business or pleasure? ”

10

VANE SSA DAVIS

troops are young. The captain would point to one, whom they called Guns: sandy hair, a raffish smile, pimples.


old girl, and her injuries were critical. The captain called for a nine-liner—a medical evacuation—and the girl was airlifted to KAF, where she died. Upon seeing her grieving father, the troops decided to do something. It wasn’t long before the Van Doos caught the three men who had attacked the base. They recovered the mortar tube to present to the father. This, Verville said, was a turning point. Tensions slackened after that. The Van Doos adopted a stray dog and befriended local children, even teaching them some proper Québécois slang. The kids would shout, “Tabarnak!”— or some Pashto approximation of it— as they scampered past the sentries at the school. As Verville was telling me all this, an explosion sounded, and a burst of gunfire was directed our way. Verville rushed into the command post. As I waited for him, I struck up a conversation with a voluble military-intelligence officer, who told me that a Canadian engineer patrolling the outskirts of the village had just stepped on an IED. He bled out and died, and within an hour the news began to filter through the base. When Verville finally emerged from the CP, he looked tired, suddenly much older than his years. “There’s still work to do,” he said, and then went to a meeting with the village elders, who had been summoned to the base. A special-forces officer blocked my way as I tried to follow them into the room. For the incoming soldiers, it was a rough start to the rotation. They would lose several more men before getting their chance to return home. But they stuck to the plan in Belanday. By the time I returned to Afghanistan a year later, it was among the calmest parts in the Canadian area of operation. In Dand, or at least in this village, the Afghans bought what the Canadians were selling. Or the Canadians bought what the Afghans were selling: a truce in exchange for money and security. It was as pragmatic a deal as it was fragile. BEFORE LEAVING KAF for the long journey back to Montreal, I went to the bathroom, where all great thinking is done, even in war zones. I stared at the latrine door before me and read the graffiti carefully: “Things you’ve learned on this tour: 1. French soldiers are useless; 2. Signals majors are also

useless; 3. RMC”—Royal Military College—“grads still think they learned to lead in university and that degrees make good leaders; 4. Never get involved in a land war in Asia.” When I came back in 2010, the bathroom stalls were covered in black paint and the graffiti was gone. An end-game vibe had taken hold. American and Afghan soldiers were doing more of the fighting in Kandahar, the Canadians progressively less. There was a final push to get Canadian celebrities to KAF for morale-boosting visits. One of the slick fellows from Dragons’ Den showed up and spoke about the entrepreneurial spirit. And then it was all over. On July 5, 2011, Canada was transformed from a nation at war to a nation, more or less, at peace. It was easy to miss the occasion—a prince and princess were visiting Canada at the time. The military spent the next several months packing. A logistics team sifted through the leftover equipment. The crap was sold at auction; the cheap stuff was shipped by truck through Pakistan; the good stuff was taken back to Canada on a fleet of cargo planes, ready for the next war. Nothing was left behind. Even modest memorials that soldiers built to honour their dead comrades were dismantled and put in storage, or, in one case, buried in the desert sand. One by one, the Hercs and Globemasters left KAF, taking with them a presence that had once seemed so vital but had become, somewhere along the way, an afterthought. I, too, stopped thinking about the war after my last trip to Kandahar. About a year later, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. When these things happen, they let you take time off work; you’re dispatched to a therapist. You’re supposed to watch funny movies and read paperbacks. But I often found myself thrown awake at night by dreams of the war. I’d sit alone with my dust-caked notebooks, recalling the noises of the helicopters and jets, the whistling rockets, the totalizing stillness that would suddenly envelop the Kandahar night. I wanted to hear these sounds again. I needed to resurrect every detail of the war: The smell of burning garbage. The shouts for a medic when an IED goes off. The sweet Afghan tea. It can all fade so fast. Now is the time to read the writing on the wall, before the order comes down to paint it black. ! 11


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ELLE Québec


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LA MÂLE BOUFFE

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NOTRE CHUM NE MANQUE PAS UN ÉPISODE DE NO RESERVATIONS AVEC ANTHONY BOURDAIN, IL COLLECTIONNE LES LIVRES DE RECETTES DE MARTIN PICARD ET DE LOUIS-FRANÇOIS MARCOTTE, ET SE FAIT UNE FIERTÉ DE GRILLER SUR LE BARBECUE LES PIÈCES DE VIANDE QU’IL A LUI-MÊME CHASSÉES. DÉCRYPTAGE D’UNE CUISINE BOOSTÉE À LA TESTOSTÉRONE. texte SOPHIE MARCOTTE

D

evant moi, de fines tranches de tête de cochon en porchetta reposent sur... un crâne d’agneau. Suivent des rétines de cochonnet de lait, servies avec une compotée de cerises confites et de la gelée de riesling. Puis, une bouillabaisse où flotte une tête entière de poisson, dont les yeux figés me fixent, et des pâtes fraîches aux lèvres de bœuf braisées, nappées de sauce au foie gras. Cet enchaînement pour le moins inusité est arrosé de cocktails inventifs, assez «mâles», à base de gin et de vodka, où les petits fruits des drinks de filles n’ont pas droit de séjour.

ellequebec.com

| 249 | ELLEQUÉBEC novembre 2012

Suis-je dans un épisode de l’émission américaine No Reservations, où le chef Anthony Bourdain parcourt la planète à la découverte de curiosités culinaires? Niet. Je participe à un festin sur le thème des «têtes» organisé par Tripes & Caviar, un club de «tripeux» de bouffe qui tient des soupers volants mensuels dans des restaurants de Québec et de Montréal. Leur but n’est pas de dégoûter leurs convives, mais de les surprendre et de les séduire en cuisinant des animaux en entier, sans rien jeter. «L’important, c’est quand même de respecter le client, précise Patrice Plante, cofondateur de Tripes & Caviar. On ne servira pas des poulpes vivants comme au Japon. Tout est apprêté pour que ce soit bon.» Cela dit, on pousse ici le gourmet dans des zones qu’il est peu habitué à visiter. \


CUISINE

DANS LE GRAS DU SUJET

Ces dernières années, un certain courant culinaire prend des airs de sport extrême et rallie des partisans – surtout des gars! – qui ne dédaignent pas de se sustenter de cervelles, de testicules, de cœurs, d’intestins ou encore de plats à haute teneur en lipides (Du foie gras frit? Pourquoi pas?). Pas de place pour La bouffe de gars est très conviviale. Elle se les mauviettes, les végétariens ni les cardiaques! On n’a qu’à penser à des mange en général avec les mains et est souvent émissions comme Diners, Drive-ins servie dans des plats à partager. C’est une and Dives, sorte de road trip où chaque halte est l’occasion d’engoufcuisine d’excès, aussi. On aime l’abondance! frer des spécialités américaines hyperPATRICE PLANTE, COFONDATEUR DE TRIPES & CAVIAR caloriques. Ou, pire, aux vidéos mis en ligne par les gars «très gars» d’Epic Meal Time, qui vénèrent le dieu Bacon et font sauter le compteur de calories avec des plats tels que le Angry French «La bouffe de gars est très conviCanadian, un sandwich composé de viale, renchérit Patrice Plante, du pain doré, de bacon, de sirop d’érable, club Tripes & Caviar. Elle se mange de hotdogs et de poutine (!). en général avec les mains et est souSans oublier les nombreux chefs vent servie dans des plats à partager. qui proposent une cuisine «virile», C’est une cuisine d’excès, aussi. On comme Frédéric Morin, David McMilaime l’abondance!» lan, Martin Picard, Chuck Hugues Le chef Louis-François Marcotte, et Louis-François Marcotte. Ils con­ auteur de quelques livres de cui­sine coctent avec bonheur des plats de «virile» (dont Saisis 1 et 2, sur le bargars, soit des côtes levées, des becue), croit que les hommes ont burgers de luxe, de la poutine au foie une façon bien à eux de cuisiner. gras ou au homard... (On le sait, les «Contrairement aux filles, qui suivent fem­mes, elles, ne vivent que de salade souvent des recettes, les gars y vont et de Perrier.) plus à l’instinct. Ils préparent donc La virilité peut-elle vraiment se trades plats qui demandent moins de duire dans l’assiette? Frédéric Morin, précision. Le secret de la réussite chef et propriétaire avec David McMillan du Joe Beef, tient d’un steak, par exemple, c’est la cuisson et non l’assai­ à nuancer: «Certains chefs sont des êtres robustes qui sonnement. On peut également varier la proportion des roulent en quatre-roues et prennent des brosses au Jack ingrédients d’une sauce barbecue sans que ça nuise au Daniel’s mais, dans leur travail, ils ont des mains de fleurésultat final. Ce qui n’est pas le cas de la pâtisserie, où il riste. Leurs recettes se trouvent aux antipodes de la mascufaut tout peser et calculer, ce qui attire moins les gars.» linité qu’ils affichent. Quant à Martin Picard, à Chuck LA CUISINE A-T-ELLE UN SEXE? Hughes, à David et à moi, nous incarnons une certaine En 2008, l’Institut national de la statistique et des études forme de gastronomie masculine, c’est vrai. Nous ne économiques, en France, a publié un rapport sur les habipréparons pas de microplats dressés en hauteur, servis tudes alimentaires des hommes et des femmes vivant dans de la vaisselle carrée et présentés avec de longues seuls. Parmi ses conclusions: les femmes achètent plus de explications. Nos recettes ne sont pas intellectuelles et fruits et de légumes, et les hommes, plus de viande et d’aldestinées à impressionner les connaisseurs; c’est une cool. Soit. Mais ça ne signifie pas que les femmes s’alimencuisine de cœur, qui vise à faire plaisir, tout simplement. tent ainsi uniquement par goût. «Les femmes font simpleEt elle est généreuse. Je déteste aller au resto et ne pas me ment plus attention à leur santé... et à leur ligne, dit sentir rassasié.» Frédéric Morin. Si, pour faire plaisir à son homme, une femme apprête des côtes levées, elle sera aussi heureuse que lui de les manger.» \

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CUISINE

Selon le sociologue de l’alimentation Jean-Pierre Lemasson, la tendance à l’excès dans la cuisine masculine serait une réaction à la pléthore de conseils santé. «Les nutritionnistes, qui sont très majoritairement des femmes, ont causé une angoisse collective avec leur discours moralisateur et leurs pseudoconseils santé, souvent non fondés scientifiquement. À les écouter, on risquerait sa vie tous les jours en s’alimentant! Je pense que les gars en ont ras le bol. Plusieurs prennent le contrepied de ce discours, et certains le font à la manière excessive des gars d’Epic Meal Time. À la limite, cette réaction renvoie à l’ado qui se révolte contre sa maman.» Quand même, ne généralisons pas: la bouffe virile n’exclut pas nécessairement la préoccupation pour la santé. «C’est facile d’attirer l’attention en mettant du bacon, du sirop d’érable et du foie gras sur tout. Ce sera forcément délicieux, et les gens se diront: “Ouh, il est fucké, commente David McMillan, du Joe Beef. Mais cuisiner comme un homme, selon moi, c’est cuisiner avec intelligence et conscience. C’est servir des classiques: une douzaine d’huîtres à partager, une salade de betteraves, moutarde, raifort et huile d’olive, une belle pièce de viande pour deux, puis un fromage... On accompagne les entrées d’un sancerre ou d’un chablis, et on fait suivre d’un bordeaux ou d’un bourgogne. Et les femmes qui mangent ainsi, je trouve ça diablement sexy...» Ces classiques, on les trouve d’ailleurs chez Joe Beef, dont le menu ne se résume pas aux recettes de barbecue que Frédéric Morin a présentées à l’émission À la di Stasio. Hormis les côtes levées et le sandwich au foie gras, on peut aussi y manger sainement.

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C’est facile d’attirer l’attention en

Le summum de la virilité en 2012? Apprêter mettant du bacon, du sirop d’érable soi-même la bête qu’on a chassée. Les cours d’initiation à la chasse atteignent d’ailleurs des et du foie gras sur tout. Ce sera records d’assistance. Même le raffiné Jean-Luc forcément délicieux, et les gens se diront: Boulay, chef du Saint-Amour, à Québec, consacre une partie de son ouvrage L’univers “Ouh, il est fucké.” Mais cuisiner comme gourmand de Jean-Luc Boulay à des conseils un homme, selon moi, c’est cuisiner avec d’abattage, de débitage et d’entreposage des animaux. Et Louis-François Marcotte donne de intelligence et conscience. nombreuses recettes de gibier dans son livre Sauvage – Savourer la nature. «Pour moi, ce DAVID McMILLAN, COPROPRIÉTAIRE DU JOE BEEF n’est pas logique de tuer un chevreuil et de ne pas le manger ensuite», souligne cet amateur de chasse, qui n’hésiterait pas à emmener ses enfants avec lui dans les bois pour qu’ils comprennent le lien entre l’animal qu’on vient de tuer et le plat qu’on leur servira le soir.

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HANS LAURENDEAU / SHOOTSTUDIO.CA

UNE PARTIE DE CHASSE

«Les gens n’ont plus du tout conscience de l’origine de leur nourriture, renchérit Patrice Plante. Comme s’ils voulaient oublier que ce sont des animaux qui ont été tués. Avec Tripes & Caviar, nous prônons le retour au respect de notre écosystème, que l’industrialisation et la société de consommation ont jeté à terre.» Ses complices et lui s’inspirent de la tendance nose to tail («du museau à la queue»), qui consiste à apprêter une bête en entier, parties moins nobles comprises, afin de lui rendre les égards qu’elle mérite et d’éviter le gaspillage: «Elle a sacrifié sa vie pour nous nourrir; la moindre des choses, c’est qu’on l’utilise au maximum.» Cette tendance a beau être très 21e siècle, elle ne date pas d’hier. Avant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, les Québécois mangeaient tout des animaux – grâce aux bons soins des femmes, soit dit en passant. «On fait preuve d’un alzheimer collectif, affirme Jean-Pierre Lemasson. Au début du 20e siècle, en Amérique, les gens n’avaient pas les moyens de gaspiller. Les abats, par exemple, n’avaient pas de connotation négative. La tête de veau était un must! À la campagne, les gens faisaient leur boudin.» Frédéric Morin croit pour sa part que cet engouement pour les abats serait une manière de renouer avec un âge primitif. «Peut-être que l’homme cher­ che à retrouver le moment où il vivait de la terre, tuait lui-même le poulet, le cochon, et où il connaissait le vocabulaire de son boucher.» \


CUISINE

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Oui, la cuisine au barbecue est une porte d’entrée pour les gars, mais leur

champ de compétence et d’intérêt dépasse maintenant beaucoup la cuisine

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de Super Bowl, les ribs et les steaks.

FRÉDÉRIC MORIN, COPROPRIÉTAIRE DU JOE BEEF

DÉGOÛTANT? ÇA DÉPEND! Si vous vous rendez à Copenhague, au Danemark, et

La mainmise des hommes sur le barbecue viendrait elle aussi de réminiscences d’un temps révolu, primitif même. Celui où, guidés par leur instinct de survie, ils maîtrisaient le feu pour nourrir leur famille. «C’est un rôle masculin traditionnel, confirme Jean-Pierre Lemasson. Et un symbole très puissant. Dans la mythologie grecque, celui qui était maître du feu était souvent une sorte de demi-dieu. Lorsque l’homme fait la cuisson sur le barbecue, c’est aussi le moment où il agit véritablement, où il est le héros, le centre d’attraction. Un prestige social est associé à cet acte: c’est, symboliquement, le moment de la reconnaissance du chef de clan.» «Aux yeux des filles, quand un homme allume le barbecue, c’est chaque fois comme s’il allait faire exploser une voiture», dit à la blague Louis-François Marcotte, se moquant gentiment de la crainte des femmes pour le propane. «Si on n’a plus l’occasion de manifester notre courage de temps à autre, où va le monde?» ajoute Jean-Pierre Lemasson en rigolant. Plus sérieusement, Louis-François Marcotte souligne que les gars ont grandement développé leurs aptitudes de grillardin au cours des dernières années. «Oui, il y a encore des gars qui ne font que mettre deux steaks sur la grille, steaks que leur blonde a achetés et laissé mariner, et pour lesquels elle a préparé des accompagnements. Mais je rencontre de plus en plus d’hommes qui me parlent de mes recettes, qui font eux-mêmes leur saumure sèche, qui tripent à cuisiner. Je trouve ça génial.» Frédéric Morin remarque le même phénomène: «Depuis que les gens m’ont vu à l’émission À la di Stasio, ce n’est pas la belle madame qui fait ses courses au Marché Atwater qui me parle de mes recettes. Ce sont des briquetiers, des chauffeurs de taxi, des livreurs, des douaniers. Les gars s’intéressent beaucoup à la bouffe. Oui, la cuisine au barbecue est une porte d’entrée, mais leur champ de compétence et d’intérêt dépasse maintenant beaucoup la cuisine de Super Bowl, les ribs et les steaks.» Et ce n’est pas les filles qui vont s’en plaindre! C ELLEQUÉBEC novembre 2012

que vous vous attablez au Noma — nommé meilleur restaurant du monde en 2010, 2011 et 2012 par le magazine britannique Restaurant —, vous pourrez entre autres y commander des crevettes vivantes et des fourmis. Rebutant? «On projette sur les aliments notre système de valeurs, on en investit certains d’un sens culturel, comme les musulmans le font avec le porc, dit le sociologue Jean-Pierre Lemasson. Aucune société ne consomme tout ce qui est comestible dans son environnement.» Bref, on se limite, et pour des raisons pas toujours valables. Prenez l’écureuil: Martin Picard a déclenché un tollé l’hiver dernier en publiant une recette de sushi d’écureuil dans son livre Cabane à sucre Au pied de cochon. Il a affirmé à l’émission Les francs-tireurs que c’était une très bonne viande, ce qui a sûrement provoqué de hauts cris dans nombre de salons québécois. «Pourtant, si vous ouvrez un ouvrage québécois de recettes de nos grand-mères, vous aurez de bonnes chances de tomber sur une recette d’écureuil, note M. Lemasson. Aujourd’hui, c’est inconcevable d’apprêter une telle viande, notamment parce que Walt Disney a fait de l’écureuil un animal adorable, et qu’il fait partie du quotidien des urbains.»

Dans son livre Cabane à sucre Au pied de cochon, l’irrévérencieux chef Martin Picard donne notamment une recette de sushi à l’écureuil.

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LES MAÎTRES DU GRIL


—Society Société

Winner/Gagnant

Dave Cameron Fade to Light

The Walrus


The Walrus � n o v e m b e r 2 0 1 2

Society

Fade to Light One of the most terrifying aspects of Alzheimer’s disease is that those afflicted can seldom tell us what it is like by Dave Cameron Photographs by Amy Friend

owell jenkins leans back in a rocking chair in his condominium, sixteen floors above the crossroads din of Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto. He is wearing a pink sweater against the threat of April rain, and tapping a pencil on the knee of his new jeans. A mug of black tea sits on the k ­ itchen counter next to a tall glass of daffodils. But the golden years calm is illusory: Lowell is unsettled as he studies his decorated refrigerator. Below valentines from his grandchildren (“I Heart U Grandpa Longhair”) hangs a colour-coded image of the brain. “Something was bugging me,” he says. “I wanted to match some information with what was going on.” Each lobe is described so briefly — the hippocampus is the ­area where Alzheimer’s disease starts — that for Lowell the image is less instructive than it is a blunt reminder, a signpost he passes ­repeatedly whenever he is in a roaming mood. Now seventy-eight, he is approaching five years since his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. “I’m an example of the more pronounced . . . ” he says. “Hmm.” 42

With both hands, he holds the pencil horizontal at his chin, his thumb and forefinger pinching the eraser: “See how it gets in there? ” For the retired social work professor, broken ideas are anathema. He has never needed so much time to locate the right words; nor is he accustomed to having the search turn up nothing. “You think you’ve got things under control, or at least managed, and then you find you don’t even . . . you can’t . . . ” After several beats, he asks what we were talking about. I point to the brain on the fridge: “I was just curious about that.” “Me, too,” he says. “I’m trying to understand what’s happening to me.” t is a month later, and Lowell’s wife, Julie Foley, has left work early to drive him to an appointment with his geriatric psychiatrist. She also has a background in social work; a former CEO of Osteoporosis Canada, she has for the past year and a half led a team hired by the Ontario Associa-


Dave Cameron � Fa d e t o L i g h t

tion of ­Community Care Access Centres (OACCAC) to assess integration of the ­in-home services the agency arranges for ­provincially insured patients. She checks her laptop one last time at the ­dining table that serves as her home office, then steers Lowell to the front hall. He steps with vigilance. M ­ obility is a creeping c­ asualty of Alzheimer’s, and even before a couple of recent minor falls heightened his caution he moved like a ­mechanical toy stiff at the hinges. Julie eases his braid of silver hair away from his denim shirt collar. As she sets a red scarf loosely around his shoulders, Lowell, a few inches taller, looks at her through his eyeglasses, which rest low on his nose. “I know there are things that need to be done,” he says, “and Julie does them, so . . . ” She smooths the scarf against his chest. “So we’re okay,” she says. In the stop-and-go midtown traffic, Julie rests her right hand on the automatic gearshift — an old habit, perhaps — but from 43

time to time she moves it to Lowell’s thigh. The sunroof is open to a clear sky, and the light angling through is cut by the shadows of trees, hydro poles, and strip mall signage. Lowell’s eyes are narrowed against the flickering, and he doesn’t notice when one of Julie’s artificial fingernails falls off in his lap. “It’s amazing I can still drive like this,” he says. He looks at Julie before adding, “That sentence didn’t go where I wanted it to.” “Start another one,” Julie says. She gets up to cruising speed before retrieving the royal blue nail and pressing it back into place. he geriatric psychiatrist first talks to Lowell alone. When Julie is brought into the office to round out the ­appraisal, Lowell stands and meets her eyes, and he doesn’t sit until she does. The doctor’s review with Julie quickly becomes a checklist — paranoia? anxiety? hallucinations? — and Lowell gets tense. “I didn’t know I had these things.” “He’s just asking,” Julie says.


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“I don’t think anything is worse.” While most people associate Alzheimer’s with memory loss, its effects on reasoning and behaviour are no less defining, and arguably more problematic. The doctor scans his notes from their last visit and asks if their nights are still “disturbed.” Once or twice a week, Julie explains, Lowell has been getting up in the middle of the night to pull all of the bedding onto the floor. He will build a pile, move it back and forth between bed and floor, and then cruise the condo, amassing blankets, towels, sofa throws, any covering he might suitably add to the lot. His compulsiveness is most pronounced in the morning; he’ll pace between rooms, asking basic questions repeatedly, and it can take a few hours for Julie to ground him in the day. Since his nocturnal behaviour has been comparatively short lived and benign, she tries to leave him be. Earlier that week, however, he worried that the condo might catch fire, and set about giving his mountain of linens a cautionary soak in the tub. Julie intervened. Defusing her husband’s puzzlement was preferable to dealing with a flood. The doctor returns to short answer format. Does Lowell need help toileting? Occasionally. Incontinence? Rare. Exercise? “We get him walking every day,” Julie says. “He’s a trooper.” “Troop, troop, troop,” Lowell says. The doctor suggests that there is no need to change Lowell’s drug regimen: no tranquilizers are necessary, and “he’s on the maximum we can do for memory.” Hearing the overall positive assessment, Lowell says, “It’s a miracle!”

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“You’re getting lots of help,” the doctor says. “I’ve got a good psychiatrist.” Lowell uncrosses his legs and shifts forward in the chair. He has raised his failing game for this visit, and is worn by the exertion. When Julie stands, Lowell rises to his feet with purpose but then seems unsure what will happen next. She goes to him, and they leave the room with arms entwined. ementia is a problem around which the curtains are often gently drawn, so when I first met Lowell and Julie, over a year ago, I explained that I wanted to get a peek at what they were “struggling with.” “Living with,” Julie corrected me. “Some days it’s a struggle, other days not.” That hopeful pragmatism squares nicely with the Alzheimer Society of Canada’s philosophy. In fact, early on in Lowell’s illness, Julie was asked to apply for the organization’s vacant CEO role, but she decided it would be “too much Alzheimer’s.” ­Increasingly, we will all feel the deluge. The prevalence in ­Canada of all forms of dementia — Alzheimer’s is the most common, ­accounting for nearly two-thirds of all cases — is projected to double from half a million this year to 1.1 million by 2038. Meanwhile, Alzheimer’s has rocketed up the list of diseases we fear most; according to recent polls, it is second only to cancer, and it sits first for those fifty-five and up. Although Lowell is twelve years older than the oldest baby boomer (and seventeen years older than Julie), he knows he personifies the coming wave. A critical difference is that while many people with moderate, or middle-stage, Alzheimer’s have ­anosognosia, or impaired insight, Lowell remains alert to his plight. Still, he had trouble understanding my designs — Were we going to write a letter together? To whom? — and Julie had to warm him to the idea of being profiled. On one of my i­ nitial visits, Lowell, with a twinkle in his eye, seemed to be ­rehearsing first lines for a full-blown biography: “­Lowell ­Jenkins grew up in Faucett, Missouri. His childhood was not all blue skies . . .  Lowell Jenkins is a natural-born helper . . .  ­Lowell Jenkins woke up one night and couldn’t figure out where he was . . . ” In the summer of 2007, Julie and Lowell moved to another condo in the same building. Not only was the new unit a disorienting mirror image of the old, with the kitchen and bedrooms to the left rather than the right, but a full renovation was under way. Carpets were torn up, the kitchen cupboards had been knocked out, and wires hung down. Lowell sat up in bed and surveyed the rubble: “Where am I? What have we done? ” Around the same time, he was showing uncharacteristic agitation while riding the subway, and when they started planning a trip to Russia he became strangely reticent, though he had visited there many times before on cross-cultural exchanges tied to his teaching. Julie knows now that she rationalized the more subtle changes. “Things happen as you get older,” she said. “You do get older.” But Lowell’s disquiet about the new condo was of a different scale. Such was her struggle to ­pacify him that in the days following they booked the appropriate tests. “He asked b ­ efore we knew,” Julie said: “‘Do you think I have it?’ ”


Dave Cameron � Fa d e t o L i g h t

hey will knock on our doors,” Dr. Serge G ­ authier says about the baby boomers. “All of them, I’m sure.” He is director of the Alzheimer’s Disease ­Research Unit at the McGill Centre for Studies in Aging, in V ­ erdun, Q ­ uebec. The question, he says, is what to tell the i­ ndividual keen to know his or her risk: “Does everyone who is forgetful need a PET scan? No — but who does? ” Age is the risk factor that encompasses the other big ones: family history and genetics, gender (twice as many women as men get Alzheimer’s), cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Evidence is gathering to support what ought to be an intuitive leap b ­ etween brain health and heart health. Alzheimer’s can cause cerebral bleeding and vice versa, and aerobic activity three times a week has been shown to slow the rate of shrinkage in the hippocampus. “If you’re preventive about heart attacks in your fifties and strokes in your sixties, you may reduce the risk of dementia in your seventies,” Gauthier says. “That’s a lot of bang for your buck.” Further motivation is that there is no magic bullet in the offing; not a single new Alzheimer’s drug has been approved in the past nine years. Dr. Judes Poirier, the centre’s former director, says if anything positive has come from the “miserable failure” of recent drug trials, it is the new attention being paid to the idea of “simply and humbly” keeping dementia at bay. Delaying onset by two years would drop the rate of incidence by 33 ­percent within a generation, and a delay of five years would cut it in half. “If we delay it by ten years, something else will kill you,” Poirier says. “This is the beauty of Alzheimer’s.” owell has an absurdist bent that complicates a reading of the illness. One of his typical jokes: “What’s the ­difference between a duck? ” And he has a knack for sharp neologisms, at one point referring to Toronto’s mayor as a “bombastard.” While one of his paid caregivers, Olga De Vera, tidies up in the kitchen, he shows me the view he and Julie have down Yonge Street to the financial district and the CN Tower. “There are the mountains,” he says. Lowell taught at Colorado State University in Fort Collins; does he now see a horizon of the Rockies out their floor-to-ceiling window, or is he just m ­ aking an off-the-cuff metaphor? He considers the frosty D ­ ecember clouds gathering above Lake Ontario. “I guess not,” he says, which doesn’t resolve the question. He turns his attention back to me. “I’ve got some s­ entences for our letter,” he says, entering the living room and scanning about. Olga is Filipina, and from her quiet watchfulness I ­assumed she was a grandmother to many, but it turns out she has no children of her own. With Lowell’s suede-bound journal in hand, she follows behind him, setting the book on the ottoman between the upholstered chairs. She encourages him to have a seat and then says she’ll be going. “I don’t need any instructions other than ‘good luck,’ ” L ­ owell says. “Carol will be here at ten tomorrow,” Olga replies. “Tomorrow is Carol.” “Friday.” “I thought today was Friday.” 45

“Tomorrow,” she says. “Tomorrow you go to the program.” “I thought tomorrow was Carol.” “She is,” Olga says. “Friday.” “Tomorrow is Carol,” he whispers, as though the phrase is a cryptogram. “Good luck, Mr. Lowell,” Olga says from the door. owell and julie got to know each other in 1996, at a convention of social work associations in Hong Kong. They managed a long-distance relationship until ­Lowell retired in 2000, when he moved north from Fort Collins and became the kind of stay-at-home spouse who kept the laundry hamper empty and the refrigerator full. “All my friends w ­ anted to rent him,” says Julie. By the summer of 2010, she felt uncomfortable leaving him alone all day while she was at the office. Olga, a personal support worker whom they pay privately, was found through a friend of a friend; she takes Lowell out for fresh air and keeps the condo in shape. Once he could no longer dress, shower, or prepare a meal for himself, he qualified for another PSW through the OA ­ CCAC. Carol Gilchrist initially came in two mornings per week, but she and Lowell got along so well — she sometimes gets him singing and dancing, despite his daybreak malaise — that Julie paid for a third day. By last November, the ­OACCAC picked up the cost of the extra day, and this summer added a fourth (Saturdays, when a different PSW comes). As a rule, help is provided ­according to need; but in practice, ­overall


The Walrus � n o v e m b e r 2 0 1 2

resources are proving insufficient. Olga, who now comes five sky reflected in his glasses. Over his shoulder, on the shelf of an days a week, is spelled off by Jessica MacKintosh, who is also antique cabinet, sits a caricature of Lowell sculpted by one of privately paid. his graduate students. The waxen doll has a generous salt and pepper ponytail and wears sandals, a breezy cotton shirt, and Julie says the supplementary care consumes much of her take-home pay and has eaten into her savings. Then there is the a knowing grin; it bears an uncanny likeness to the Lowell of a investment of time required to manage four caregivers, and a decade or two ago — the man who, Carl tells me, was regulardivestment of the couple’s privacy. I ask Lowell if he considers ly sought out for his informal counsel, a kind of patio mystic. the revolving door of staff “a necessary invasion.” He frowns at “He had no agenda except to be present,” says Carl. the phrase. “They are all strong people,” he says. With so much of Lowell’s focus and vigour going or gone, Even as he has been forced into an intimacy with strangers, it is an arresting irony that an inert doll has come to embody his best friends have at times seemed strange to him. Two his more animated self. Carl acknowledges that the regular summers ago, he and Julie were hosting his oldest pal, Carl phone calls that have buoyed their friendship since Lowell imSpina, and his wife (Carl served on the committee that hired migrated have, over the past year, become onerous. “I know Lowell to Colorado State from the University of Kansas in he’s there, but the conversation will just stop. It’s hard to stay 1974). One morning, Julie suggested a trip to the nearby farm- on with him.” ers’ market. She struggled to reason with Lowell, whose anxLowell and I have drifted into just such a no man’s land; neither iety was running amok. “You say you love me, but it’s just for of us has spoken in a few minutes, and I can’t recall what constithe others to see,” he told her. When Carl — with whom Lowell tuted the last exchange. I’m trying to avoid prompting him. As ran a psychotherapy practice for several years — tried to inter- I begin to wonder if, or when, our wordlessness became actual vene, Lowell snapped, “You’re not my friend! You’re not the disconnection, Lowell catches me off guard. “What are you Carl I believe in!” Julie and Carl’s wife went out for a walk, and thinking about? ” he asks. “That was going to be my question.” Lowell retreated to the bedroom. When Carl looked in on him, Lowell was staring at the ceiling with the covers pulled up to his Rather than opening his notebook, Lowell places a hand over neck. “I get like that sometimes,” he said to his friend. “I don’t it, palm down and slightly raised. “You have a thought here, and know what I’m doing.” then it moves, and then it’s altogether gone. . . ” His hand hovers These rare, brief episodes only emphasize the less sensational, through a long pause, as though the next remark is being summoned arduously from a Ouija board. “Is it gone? It’s all lying but more complete, metamorphosis under way. Lowell has right there in my heart and in my head.” become quiet in Olga’s absence. He is staring past me, the cold

46


Dave Cameron � Fa d e t o L i g h t

owell, Jessica, and I sit in the living room with a cooking show muted on the flat screen. A collage of antique fob watches decorates the opposite wall. It’s June now, and Lowell seems a little too sunk into his chair, a little more shrunken than when I last saw him, at the psychiatrist’s. He once said the illness and his personality are “intractably interconnected.” I ask him now if he might elaborate; he can’t, though he seems to brood over the chewy words attributed to him. With the no-nonsense method that defines her trade — you can’t be passive when cleaning a man’s face, or helping him button his pants — Jessica chimes in, “He’s told me how it feels. He will say that it hurts him to be deteriorating.” Since we have begun to talk about him rather than with him, I’m a little embarrassed, but Lowell remains unruffled. Jessica asks him, “What makes you frustrated about this? ” “Huh? ” he says, sitting up a little. “What are the types of things that frustrate you? ” Lowell points to an ear. “I still can’t . . . ” “What bothers you? ” “Getting asked the same question over and over again.” Jessica laughs loudly and heads for the kitchen. Within her earshot, Lowell says, “I think I’m scared. But I don’t go around talking about being scared.” “Are you worried about Julie? ” I ask. Lowell stares into the middle distance. I can’t tell if he is struggling to put the matter together, or if I’ve raised a notion that is too baldly heart rending. He starts picking at his scalp. Alerted by the pause, Jessica looks in from the kitchen. “Stop scratching,” she says. Lowell blinks but continues to pick. “Lowell! Stop scratching.” “Worried,” he finally says. “Yes.”

where they are,” she says, projecting the professional persona she ­admits has served her well during ­Lowell’s illness. As a backup plan, she put Lowell on the list for a second place, knowing there was a good chance he would be offered a room there sometime this fall. The problem is, if the offer comes and they turn it down, Lowell’s name will be removed from all lists for several months; she would then have to reapply to join the back of the line at Meighen Manor. As a result, she has been debating whether to take his name off the list for the second home. She doesn’t know if the call will come when she wants it to, ­because she can’t know when she will want to get the call. Her grip on the inevitable — Lowell taking a bed, at best, several blocks away from home — does not simplify the question: when should she end what they have together? “You have to be thinking of your life after,” Julie says. “You — ” The café’s juicer makes a highpitched gnashing that could drown out a wood chipper. She coolly waits, then resets her thought. “If I put it off for too long, I’ll be a mess,” she says. “I have to pay attention to my grief.”

herever lowell’s reverie about Julie takes him, he is back in a flash. He studies me, his trusty p ­ encil tucked behind one ear, angled cannon-like over his ­glasses. “An idea I’ve used in lectures is the idea . . . when the attention to human need manifests itself in the structure . . . wait now . . . ” Jessica sets a plate of crackers and cheese on the ottoman, and beside it a tissue box in the form of an Easter Island moai (the ­tissues emerge from its nose). Lowell sits up and leans t­ oward the food. “Having a structure where everyone takes care of everyone else,” he says. For the purposes of glimpsing Lowell in his prime, a former ulie and I meet two weeks later at a Yorkville coffee bar. colleague of his sent Julie a video, circa mid-’80s, of him and Her contract with the ­OACCAC is about to finish, and she ­Lowell (with two graduate students sitting in) discussing “the will not immediately be looking for work. She is a com- nature of helping.” Lowell wears a tweed blazer over a pink golf pact woman with a blond bob that frames fierce blue eyes, and I shirt, his hair thick and wavy. He attacks the topic with vim. can’t imagine she suffers time wasting in the boardroom. If she “Helping takes courage, it takes openness, it takes risk taking. felt her future with Lowell was bearing down uncontrollably, Helping is not a thing or an entity; helping is a process.” His she would say so. “I can live with a certain amount of ambigu- eyes dart about the small gathering inclusively, he peppers his ity,” she says. “You can only plan for so much.” answers with references, and he circles back simply from digresI ask if Lowell’s dementia has outpaced her ability to come to sion. He’s in his element, his intelligence on autopilot. terms with it: “Five years ago, I wouldn’t have believed all the When he has finished his snack, he pushes into the chair’s change that was in store, but you make adjustments as you go plush arms and works himself upright. While half-standing, along.” She keeps one eye on the queue of busybodies over my he gestures to his willowy legs: “It was never like this before.” “What’s wrong? ” Jessica asks. shoulder, absorbed in their smart phones. “The illness is not “It’s like a loss of power.” linear,” she says. “It’s back and forth. There are lots of times “Maybe we should go for another walk.” when life is compromised only a little.” “Well,” he says. “No.” Her equanimity sometimes seems impossibly resolute. “We never spent any energy pretending,” she told me in an earlier Shaking her head at him, she collects the empty plate. He conversation. In the winter, when they added his name to the straightens his legs and watches her go. “Camaraderie,” he says. three-year waiting list at their preferred long-term care home “Now, there’s a word.” (the Isabel and Arthur Meighen Manor, where a third of the beds are dedicated to dementia patients), she listed for me the triggers here is still snow on the ground, and Lowell is out in that would determine when she could no longer cope: when Lowa Siberian silver fox fur hat of such size and charisma it ell has “real trouble” sleeping, when he can’t use the toilet withseems to wear him. He passes through the community out help, and when he can’t be left alone at all. S ­ everal months health centre’s sliding doors and heads for the open, mostly full later, her list has not changed; nor has her hope that the three elevator with casual chutzpah. “Here comes the hat!” ­someone ­factors will coincide with a sputtering of Lowell’s self-­awareness. inside says. “Where’s it from? ” “Moscow!” Lowell says. “I went there myself to get it.” “The meaning of being at home is only lost if they don’t know 47


The Walrus � n o v e m b e r 2 0 1 2

He is greeting everyone individually, and the hat’s earflaps After the warm-up chat, the group takes a break before are down, so he doesn’t realize two more people are trying to some gentle calisthenics. Lowell and I stand off to the side as squeeze on: one of the staff from the specialized seniors’ pro- the facilitator arranges chairs in a circle and sets up a portable gram he attends here, and a white-haired woman who smiles CD player. “Is our basket filling up? ” Lowell asks me in a discautiously. “This woman needs to pee,” says the worker, who creet voice. While some participants have gone to the washthen enters a security code into the elevator’s keypad. On the rooms down the hall, one woman immediately selects a chair. second floor, the woman in need gets out and steps aside, but She sits upright with one hand cupping the other and her head once the cab is empty and the door is closing toward her, she cocked dreamily, like a stoic on a bench waiting for a cancelled seizes the elevator frame with both hands. Her smile holds bus. “You could do a story on each one,” Lowell says. “With each steady even as she grips more tightly, and two additional staff one, you could hardly figure out what’s going on.” members rush to help get her out of harm’s way. She is then Ten minutes later, he is tapping both feet madly to the Kinks’ calmly led off to the bathroom. “You Really Got Me.” You got me so I can’t sleep at night. The man Among the eight other attendees in the program, the need for to his right is conducting grandly with both hands; now and assistance varies widely, their impairments ranging from physic- then, he looks at Lowell’s feet as though they are an instrument al to cognitive. In an adjacent common room, everyone takes beyond his rule. The session is rounded out with some mouth a seat, or is seated, around a long table on which daily news- stretching and vocalization. Lowell gets progressively loudpapers are spread. Coffee and snacks are served, and a bubbly er with every repetition of the vowel sequence. During the last facilitator arrives to lead the reintroductions. Most participants round of aeiou, he holds the U until he’s out of breath. When are regulars like Lowell, who counts these thrice-weekly excur- the snickering falls away, the man next to Lowell sings, “And sions as a highlight of his calendar. There is a man with stern- sometimes whyyyyy.” ly combed oily hair who is new to the group, and he is asked to say something about himself. “I was a teacher.” hunt ahead to that gloomy April day with Lowell in the “What did you teach? ” rocking chair. The pencil he was tapping has dropped into “I was a teacher.” his lap, and he watches me take a note about it. He has not The facilitator welcomes him, and says that in honour of the said anything for so long he needs to clear his throat. “How do I Chinese New Year she thought they might discuss the Chinese talk? ” he asks. I never had the impression that he distrusted his zodiac, match everyone’s birth year to an animal. When she gets fragmentary speech; perhaps he regrets being defined by it: “I to Lowell, he tells her he was born in 1934. “I’m a Leo,” he adds. worry I made a promise I can’t keep.” I do my best to reassure him “Not sure how that fits.” that he has helped me understand what it’s like when your mind She consults her chart. “You’re the dog,” she says. betrays you, and our attention returns to the cross-section of the Lowell’s eyes widen, and he starts barking. Giggles domino brain. The web of parts is austere, a primitive paint-by-numbers around the table. “Loyalty, compatibility, and kindness,” the that would keep a child distracted briefly. I wait, as Lowell waits, for facilitator reads. the understated summary line that will absolve his failure to realize a The woman who had been escorted to the bathroom is ushered paragraph. Eventually, he says, “It’s the things it takes away.”v to a place directly across from Lowell, and he greets her by name. Read Dave Cameron’s 2010 Walrus memoir retracing She studies him for several seconds. “I know you,” she says. his father’s death, at bit.ly/directions_to_burial. Lowell nods. “I’m just checking in,” he says.

48


—Spot Illustration Illustration éclair

Winner/Gagnant

Gérard Dubois Papa souffre, moi aussi

L’actualité


—Poetry Poésie

Winner/Gagnant

Karen Connelly The Speed of Rust, or, He Marries

Geist


The Speed of Rust, or, He Marries karen connelly

I

t rains. My heart disintegrates for other reasons while the bald eagle gazes at me from the lifeguard’s chair. His head is not white but scuffed, dirty. He may look like a bird of prey but in fact he is a fifty-two-year-old man who has just crawled out of bed with a hangover and a wife he never loved well.

You and I walk the wide sand flats, slick grey acres of seaweed, cracked shells, crabs scuttling sideways like our desire. We are so close to the barges that we see a modern galley slave moving feverishly about on the long deck. He is silent in labour, I am silent in sympathy, listening to you tell how you think maybe you can’t marry her.

Whatever was clear and powerful about his life has been given over to the swamp-sky of March, rain in April, through June, and tomorrow is the first of July though it’s hard to consider celebrating Canada Day with anything but a scream. Which the bald eagle does: the serrated thrust of his voice shreds the grey light as he opens his wings and lifts, lifts, heaves himself into the heavy air. There he goes, flapping over our stunned heads toward the jungle that stalks Vancouver like a panther, the same jungle I fought in cold blood this morning, so much fierce bamboo.

I suddenly remember my hedge clippers lying on the grass in the back garden. Tools rust if you leave them out in this rain. They teach us, every year, not to do it again. Why it’s all wrong takes so long to explain that the tide begins to slide in around our cold feet. You could save yourself by drowning but do not: we walk back to the stony shore littered with condoms and weddings, one of which will take place in exactly forty days. You ask, a tear in your eye, How much longer will it rain?

Karen Connelly is the author of nine books, including The Lizard Cage, winner of the Orange-Broadband prize; Burmese Lessons: A Love Story; and the forthcoming poetry collection Come, Cold River. Her journalism, essays and poetry have been published in the Globe and Mail, New Humanist, National Geographic Traveller and many other periodicals.

16 Geist 84 Spring 2012


I reply, You’re lucky enough to have choices. Old lover, surprise yourself and make one. Useless advice, like all advice must be at this moment. You wring your heart on the beach while on the far shore landmines explode, men labour on prison ships, children drown in wet sand similar in weight to this wet sand but lethal, marbled with blood, impossible to walk away from. You say you cannot walk away. I say I know, I know, and think again of my clippers in the grass, the speed of rust. I say, You are a good man and she is a good woman. Kissing you goodbye, I wonder if that is how bad marriages are made: the hungry shovel of the heart wants to break the clean surface of goodness, get to the rich filth underneath. I like how mistakes wait in our hands like the orchids we crave for their beauty though we don’t know how to grow them. I like that we want to learn. I love how we fail.

Notes & Dispatches 17


—Editorial Package: Web Dossiers thématiques : numériques

Winner/Gagnant

David Topping, Vanessa Wyse, Lianne George, Stuart Berman Are you going to eat that?

The Grid


—Magazine Website Design Meilleur concept d’un site Web

Winner/Gagnant

Stephane Monnet, Christopher Frey hazlittmag.com Hazlitt


—Creative Photography Photographie créative

Winner/Gagnant

Angus Rowe MacPherson Truckin’ A!

The Grid


MAY 10-MAY 16, 2012 | thegridto.com

HUNGRY? Six of our favourite chefs want to make you a $5 lunch this week P.40


42 | May 10-May 16, 2012

thegridto.com Who’s winning the pizza war? Terroni 16 chefs

Pizzeria Libretto 27 chefs

Rank these pork preparations

Buca 6 chefs

Queen Margherita Pizza 6 chefs

May 10-May 16, 2012 |

thegridto.com

Other answers Bitondo’s, Massimo’s, Pizza Gigi, Fabbrica, and Bannock (specifically, according to Canoe’s Anthony Walsh, its poutine pizza)

Ribs

Belly

Bacon

Porchetta Pulled

K Truckin’ A! K Slowly but surely, food trucks are coming to Toronto’s streets. these five are more than welcome to park outside The Grid anytime.

Rank these chocolate bars Snickers

14

number of cheater chefs who ranked them all No. 1

Kit Kat Coffee Crisp Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups Almond Joy

68 chefs ranked this chocolate bar last

A defence of Almond Joy “It’s the full spectrum of a chocolate-bar experience. You get that ooey, gooey, sweet, sugary goodness; there’s the cheap chocolate fix on the outside; and you can even trick yourself into thinking it’s healthy because of the almond.”—Darren Glew, The Drake Hotel

What’s the proper amount to tip?

depends

25%

photographs by angus Rowe MacPherson

K

K

El Gastrónomo Vagabundo (@elgastronomo)

Blue Donkey (@bluedonkeytruck)

› Serving since July 2010. › Based in St. Catharines. › Who Adam Hynam-Smith, a Melbourne, Australia–trained chef, and Tamara Jensen, a former analyst on Parliament Hill. › Where to find the truck Food Truck Eats events, and periodically parked outside U of T and Ryerson for weekday lunch. › What to get There’s plenty on offer, but this truck is best known for the tacos that feature an atlas of flavours: Southwestern, Middle Eastern, South

› Serving since September 2011. Based in Mississauga. › Who Long-time hot-dog vendor Tony Vastis and his brother-in-law, Greek-restaurant veteran Manny Tsouvallas. › Where to find the truck At the Molson Amphitheatre during concerts; in Liberty Village and at Jarvis and Queen for weekday lunches. › What to get Blue Donkey’s take on street food comes with a Greek spin, including a grilled-cheese pita with feta, poutine with

Asian, Australian. The most popular items include the stupendously spicy tempura-cod taco and a pork belly one with jalapeno aioli and pickled cabbage. › Price range $5.50 to $10. › Pro tip Follow their Twitter feed for riddles that lead to passwords that’ll land you an off-the-menu item like zucchini fritters with labna cheese. Golden tickets good for free food are also hidden randomly under serving plates at food-truck events.

15% 18%

By karon Liu

K

43

gyros meat, and zucchini chips. The first items to fly out of the truck are the fried calamari and chips, feta fries, and, for dessert, fried pita bread with honey and cinnamon sugar. Pair your lunch with their most popular sauce: garlic-and-ouzo mayo. › Price range $3 to $9. › Pro tip If enough customers clamour for it, Vastis has been known to create off-the-menu items like lamb gyros, quail, lamb chops, and pastitsio, a Greek lagasna.

20%


42 | May 10-May 16, 2012

thegridto.com Who’s winning the pizza war? Terroni 16 chefs

Pizzeria Libretto 27 chefs

Rank these pork preparations

Buca 6 chefs

Queen Margherita Pizza 6 chefs

May 10-May 16, 2012 |

thegridto.com

Other answers Bitondo’s, Massimo’s, Pizza Gigi, Fabbrica, and Bannock (specifically, according to Canoe’s Anthony Walsh, its poutine pizza)

Ribs

Belly

Bacon

Porchetta Pulled

K Truckin’ A! K Slowly but surely, food trucks are coming to Toronto’s streets. these five are more than welcome to park outside The Grid anytime.

Rank these chocolate bars Snickers

14

number of cheater chefs who ranked them all No. 1

Kit Kat Coffee Crisp Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups Almond Joy

68 chefs ranked this chocolate bar last

A defence of Almond Joy “It’s the full spectrum of a chocolate-bar experience. You get that ooey, gooey, sweet, sugary goodness; there’s the cheap chocolate fix on the outside; and you can even trick yourself into thinking it’s healthy because of the almond.”—Darren Glew, The Drake Hotel

What’s the proper amount to tip?

depends

25%

photographs by angus Rowe MacPherson

K

K

El Gastrónomo Vagabundo (@elgastronomo)

Blue Donkey (@bluedonkeytruck)

› Serving since July 2010. › Based in St. Catharines. › Who Adam Hynam-Smith, a Melbourne, Australia–trained chef, and Tamara Jensen, a former analyst on Parliament Hill. › Where to find the truck Food Truck Eats events, and periodically parked outside U of T and Ryerson for weekday lunch. › What to get There’s plenty on offer, but this truck is best known for the tacos that feature an atlas of flavours: Southwestern, Middle Eastern, South

› Serving since September 2011. Based in Mississauga. › Who Long-time hot-dog vendor Tony Vastis and his brother-in-law, Greek-restaurant veteran Manny Tsouvallas. › Where to find the truck At the Molson Amphitheatre during concerts; in Liberty Village and at Jarvis and Queen for weekday lunches. › What to get Blue Donkey’s take on street food comes with a Greek spin, including a grilled-cheese pita with feta, poutine with

Asian, Australian. The most popular items include the stupendously spicy tempura-cod taco and a pork belly one with jalapeno aioli and pickled cabbage. › Price range $5.50 to $10. › Pro tip Follow their Twitter feed for riddles that lead to passwords that’ll land you an off-the-menu item like zucchini fritters with labna cheese. Golden tickets good for free food are also hidden randomly under serving plates at food-truck events.

15% 18%

By karon Liu

K

43

gyros meat, and zucchini chips. The first items to fly out of the truck are the fried calamari and chips, feta fries, and, for dessert, fried pita bread with honey and cinnamon sugar. Pair your lunch with their most popular sauce: garlic-and-ouzo mayo. › Price range $3 to $9. › Pro tip If enough customers clamour for it, Vastis has been known to create off-the-menu items like lamb gyros, quail, lamb chops, and pastitsio, a Greek lagasna.

20%


44 | May 10-May 16, 2012

10

foods chefs like to eat raw

thegridto.com

OYSTERS

Paul Boehmer, Boehmer (along with 17 other chefs)

BEEF

Craig Harding, Campagnolo

MANGO

“A perfectly ripe mango is best eaten in the bathtub. Industry secret.” Jon Polubiec, Come and Get It

TOMATOES

Geoff Hopgood, Hopgood’s Foodliner

SEA URCHIN Claudio Aprile, Colborne Lane and Origin

May 10-May 16, 2012 |

thegridto.com

CHICKEN

“Yes, chicken.” Patrick McMurray, Starfish and The Ceili Cottage

BLUE CRAB Nuit Regular, Sukhothai and Khao San Road

QUINCE

Aldo Lanzillota, WVRST

MONKFISH LIVER

Leemo and Leeto Han, Swish by Han

FENNEL

“It’s tasty and leaves your breath smelling nice!” Brandon Olsen, The Black Hoof

K

Gourmet Bitches (@gourmetb1tches) › Serving since May 2012. › Based in Toronto. › Who Long-time friends Shontelle Pinch, who worked in the hospitality industry, and Bianka Matchette, a former medical esthetician. › Where to find the truck Currently doing private events in Vaughan, with plans to spend evenings at 99 Markt at Queen and Sudbury soon. › What to get The gluten-free smorgasboard includes the owners’ proudest creations: Balinese chicken on a corn tostada and the kale and arugula salad. There are also grilled Asian-Cuban wings, Korean yam fries topped with pulled pork, and a steak sandwich with a miso-tamarind-kiwi sauce. › Price range $10 to $12. › Pro tip Too hot for another taco? The truck will also start serving homemade juices in the summer.

45


44 | May 10-May 16, 2012

10

foods chefs like to eat raw

thegridto.com

OYSTERS

Paul Boehmer, Boehmer (along with 17 other chefs)

BEEF

Craig Harding, Campagnolo

MANGO

“A perfectly ripe mango is best eaten in the bathtub. Industry secret.” Jon Polubiec, Come and Get It

TOMATOES

Geoff Hopgood, Hopgood’s Foodliner

SEA URCHIN Claudio Aprile, Colborne Lane and Origin

May 10-May 16, 2012 |

thegridto.com

CHICKEN

“Yes, chicken.” Patrick McMurray, Starfish and The Ceili Cottage

BLUE CRAB Nuit Regular, Sukhothai and Khao San Road

QUINCE

Aldo Lanzillota, WVRST

MONKFISH LIVER

Leemo and Leeto Han, Swish by Han

FENNEL

“It’s tasty and leaves your breath smelling nice!” Brandon Olsen, The Black Hoof

K

Gourmet Bitches (@gourmetb1tches) › Serving since May 2012. › Based in Toronto. › Who Long-time friends Shontelle Pinch, who worked in the hospitality industry, and Bianka Matchette, a former medical esthetician. › Where to find the truck Currently doing private events in Vaughan, with plans to spend evenings at 99 Markt at Queen and Sudbury soon. › What to get The gluten-free smorgasboard includes the owners’ proudest creations: Balinese chicken on a corn tostada and the kale and arugula salad. There are also grilled Asian-Cuban wings, Korean yam fries topped with pulled pork, and a steak sandwich with a miso-tamarind-kiwi sauce. › Price range $10 to $12. › Pro tip Too hot for another taco? The truck will also start serving homemade juices in the summer.

45


46 | May 10-May 16, 2012

10

foods chefs like to cook the hell out of

thegridto.com

CABBAGE

Rob Rossi, Bestellen

SHANKS

PIG’S SKIN Guy Rawlings, Bellwoods Brewery

“Shanks of all ranks!” Corinna Mozo, Delux

PIG’S FEET David Lee, Nota Bene

PIG’S EARS Joseph Petrinac, Little Inn of Bayfield

K

May 10-May 16, 2012 |

thegridto.com

RAPINI

“With chili, shallots, garlic, and olive oil. Chop it up rough and let it go.” Cory Vitiello, The Harbord Room

POPCORN

“I like my popcorn burnt.” Matthew DeMille, former chef at Enoteca Sociale

STEAK

Albert Ponzo, Le Sélect Bistro

FRUIT

Alexandra Feswick, formerly of Brockton General

BEEF CHEEKS

“Obvi.” Ashley Jacot De Boinod, Glory Hole Doughnuts

K

Buster’s Sea Cove (@bustersseacove)

Caplansky’s Thunderin’ Thelma (@Caplansky)

› Serving since April 2012. › Based in Toronto. › Who Co-owners Quenten Chan and Tom Antonarakis and chef David Hoang, whose bricks-and-mortar Buster’s Sea Cove is a St. Lawrence Market fixture. › Serving since April 2012. › Based in Toronto. › Who Co-owners Quenten Chan and Tom Antonarakis and chef David Hoang, whose bricks-and-mortar Buster’s Sea Cove is a St. Lawrence Market fixture. › Where to find the truck At a semi-permanent location at the corner of Queen and Jarvis during the weekday lunch rush (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.). › What to get There are travel-friendly shrimp po’ boys, calamari sandwiches, and shrimp and fish tacos. After a successful (read: sold out by lunch) test run, the truck has added a mighty grilled lobster roll with a side of kettle chips. › Price range $7 to $15. › Pro tip It isn’t all deep-fried: You can grab a daily grilled-fish special, like tilapia, marlin, and swordfish.

› Serving since August 2011. › Based in Toronto. › Who Zane Caplansky, deli master and owner of College Street’s Caplansky’s Delicatessen. › Where to find the truck Weekdays at Queen and Dalhousie for lunch until the end of June, then it’s on to a new route. There’s a daily schedule for the Thunderin’ Thelma at caplanskys.com/thunderin-thelma—or listen for the truck’s bells that play “Hava Nagila.” › What to get The signature, succulent smoked-meat sandwiches are the go-to items, but Caplansky’s 300- to- 500 maple-bacon donuts usually sell out first in just two hours. You can also find poutine, grilled cheese, and barbecued brisket sandwiches. › Price range $3 to $7. › Pro tip Caplansky gives out special passwords on his Twitter account for freebies like fries.

47


46 | May 10-May 16, 2012

10

foods chefs like to cook the hell out of

thegridto.com

CABBAGE

Rob Rossi, Bestellen

SHANKS

PIG’S SKIN Guy Rawlings, Bellwoods Brewery

“Shanks of all ranks!” Corinna Mozo, Delux

PIG’S FEET David Lee, Nota Bene

PIG’S EARS Joseph Petrinac, Little Inn of Bayfield

K

May 10-May 16, 2012 |

thegridto.com

RAPINI

“With chili, shallots, garlic, and olive oil. Chop it up rough and let it go.” Cory Vitiello, The Harbord Room

POPCORN

“I like my popcorn burnt.” Matthew DeMille, former chef at Enoteca Sociale

STEAK

Albert Ponzo, Le Sélect Bistro

FRUIT

Alexandra Feswick, formerly of Brockton General

BEEF CHEEKS

“Obvi.” Ashley Jacot De Boinod, Glory Hole Doughnuts

K

Buster’s Sea Cove (@bustersseacove)

Caplansky’s Thunderin’ Thelma (@Caplansky)

› Serving since April 2012. › Based in Toronto. › Who Co-owners Quenten Chan and Tom Antonarakis and chef David Hoang, whose bricks-and-mortar Buster’s Sea Cove is a St. Lawrence Market fixture. › Serving since April 2012. › Based in Toronto. › Who Co-owners Quenten Chan and Tom Antonarakis and chef David Hoang, whose bricks-and-mortar Buster’s Sea Cove is a St. Lawrence Market fixture. › Where to find the truck At a semi-permanent location at the corner of Queen and Jarvis during the weekday lunch rush (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.). › What to get There are travel-friendly shrimp po’ boys, calamari sandwiches, and shrimp and fish tacos. After a successful (read: sold out by lunch) test run, the truck has added a mighty grilled lobster roll with a side of kettle chips. › Price range $7 to $15. › Pro tip It isn’t all deep-fried: You can grab a daily grilled-fish special, like tilapia, marlin, and swordfish.

› Serving since August 2011. › Based in Toronto. › Who Zane Caplansky, deli master and owner of College Street’s Caplansky’s Delicatessen. › Where to find the truck Weekdays at Queen and Dalhousie for lunch until the end of June, then it’s on to a new route. There’s a daily schedule for the Thunderin’ Thelma at caplanskys.com/thunderin-thelma—or listen for the truck’s bells that play “Hava Nagila.” › What to get The signature, succulent smoked-meat sandwiches are the go-to items, but Caplansky’s 300- to- 500 maple-bacon donuts usually sell out first in just two hours. You can also find poutine, grilled cheese, and barbecued brisket sandwiches. › Price range $3 to $7. › Pro tip Caplansky gives out special passwords on his Twitter account for freebies like fries.

47


TC MEDIA

IS THE TOP

MAJOR CANADIAN

PUBLISHER

WITH A MONTHLY

READERSHIP OF

12 MILLION FOR ITS 17 MEASURED TITLES*.

TC media magazines reach 1 in 2 Canadian Women 18+ *PMB Spring 2013 study

WWW.TC.TC


—Science, Technology & the Environment Science, technologie et environnement

Winner/Gagnant

Jeff Warren Whale Rising

Reader’s Digest


Big Idea

WHALE RISING There’s a growing movement to award whales basic rights as “persons.” But are humans ready to see them as equals? BY JEFF WARREN

26

readersdigest.ca 07/12


PHOTO: ERCI CHENG/ GETTY

Sperm whales belong to small, matrilineal groups that assemble into clans.

27


Not three metres from where I’m standing on

The captain of our 40-foot cutter is Dalhousie University biologist Hal Whitehead, one of the pre-eminent experts on sperm whales. It’s midafternoon on a sunny day in Mexico’s Gulf of California, a 1,000-kilometrelong body of water famous for its biodiversity. The gulf’s strong tides create a cool upwelling of nutrients that support countless species of mar­ ine life, such as snappers, sardines and sharks, as well as that fierce mass of tentacles known as the Humboldt squid. Sperm whales hunt these squid year-round—they dive kilometres under the surface, pinpoint the squid with their sonar and snap them into their large and toothy grins. For the past five days, Whitehead and four crew members—including two Ph.D. students named Armando Manolo Álvarez Torres and Catalina Gomez—have been shadowing the sperm whales around the clock. They track their underwater echolocation pings on the hydrophone by night, and observe and photograph the animals by day. In many ways Whitehead’s approach is that of an old-fashioned behavioural scientist. While younger whale researchers 28

tend to collect data using implants and satellite tracking, Whitehead still prefers following whales in person. By watching who spends time with whom doing what, he can extract insights about their social structure. Until now, the whale behaviour on display during our trip has been pretty basic: They disappeared into the deep and—invisible to us— hunted. A bushy waterspout, often spotted from the crow’s nest, announced their return to the surface. Family units of half a dozen or so bobbed at the surface of the water, reoxygenating their blood and preparing for the next dive. But on rare occasions the whales did something else: They socialized, squirming all over one another like a business of monster-size aquatic ferrets. “Whoa,” says Gomez, as the water in front of her churns with activity. One of the whales rolls onto her side—we can see the tender pink of her jaw, surprisingly slight and narrow against her large proboscis. Another whale rolls over her, twisting as she moves, while a third pokes her nose vertically out of the water, as if sniffing the air, before undulating readersdigest.ca 07/12

FLIP NICKLIN/ GETTY

the starboard side of the sailboat, six very large female sperm whales are doing something few humans have ever witnessed.


Sperm-whale researcher Hal Whitehead listens for whales on a hydrophone.

29


sharply, bunching her back as she slides down and into the other bodies. The high-powered field camera whirls as Gomez shoots photo after photo while another crew member furiously fills out the behavioural log in the day’s workbook. Whitehead calls such socializing the “bonding glue” for sperm-whale society. But we’re also being shown a window into his most astonishing proposition: Sperm whales have distinct cultures. Each clan, he argues, is unique in almost every way: feeding, migration patterns, child-care preferences, rates of reproduction. Sperm whales also speak different dialects. In addition to their echolocation clicks, they produce unique sequences of clicks called “codas,” which change from clan to clan— think of the variations, say, between Sicilian and Venetian—and are likely a declaration of group identity. “These aren’t genetic differences,” says Whitehead. “They’re learned.” What distinguishes whales—along with chimps, elephants and perhaps some birds—is the fact that the things they learn persist through time. They seem to be passed down from generation to generation until they form part of the distinct identity of the clan. Whitehead’s evidence adds a whole new dimension to the way we think about protecting whales. It tells us that if humans break up a group of 30

sperm whales or killer whales or dolphins, we are destroying not just individual lives or a population of animals; we are also destroying a unique dialect, a hunting strategy, a social tradition—an ancient, living culture. “You have to understand,” Whitehead says, “until a few hundred thousand years ago most of the culture was in the ocean. Certainly the readersdigest.ca 07/12


most sophisticated cultures on Earth were whales and dolphins, until the strange bipedal hominid evolved.” When Whitehead and his colleague Luke Rendall published their findings in a 2001 special issue of the influential journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, a few scientific commentators were critical, calling the claims of culture “weak” and “overP H O T O : J O N AT H A N B I R D / G E T T Y

blown.” Others found the evidence convincing, piecing it together with new research into cetacean cognition that continued through the decade. It all came to a head this past February in Vancouver, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science—the world’s largest gathering of scientists—when a small group of 31


scientists and ethicists presented what they hoped would be a paradigm-changing proposal to a packed room: “The Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans.” “We affirm,” reads the declaration, “that all cetaceans as persons have the right to life, liberty and well-being.” They have the right, the declara t i o n co n t i n u e s , n o t to b e slaughtered, not to be held in captivity, not to be owned or exploited or removed from their environment. The declaration sparked national and international coverage, most of it positive, some critical and some 32

quizzical. “The important thing,” says one of the authors, Atlantabased Emory University neurobiologist Lori Marino, “is that people are taking it seriously.” The declaration is, of course, nonbinding, so the real test will be whether the group can get the project endorsed legally. They hope to bring the declaration before the UN. As part of another effort, Marino and some of the signatories are also working with an organization called the Nonhuman Rights Project, which is preparing to litigate its first cases and break through the legal wall that currently separates humans from nonhumans. “We want to argue for whale common-law status—to actually use a dolphin or whale as a plainreadersdigest.ca 07/12

TIME LIFE PICTURES/ GETTY

Nineteenth-century hand-coloured engraving depicting the risks of harpooning Greenland whales.


tiff,” says Marino. “We think we can find a jurisdiction where a judge would be open to hearing this. The science is on our side.” The key claim is that whales and dolphins are entitled to that privileged human status known as personhood. “Humans are considered persons because they have a certain set of characteristics,” says Marino. “They are self-aware, intelligent, complex, autonomous, cultured and

monsters with wings at their ears and horns along their belly. This began to change in the 18th century with the rise of whaling. European and American sailors came back with vivid tales of hardship and struggle. At the centre of their stories was the mighty sperm whale—scourge of the South Seas—who overturned the whaling boats and dragged harpooners to their deaths. From source material like this, Herman Melville spun his

RECOGNITION OF WHALE PERSONHOOD WOULD MAKE IT MORE DIFFICULT TO SLAUGHTER THEM. so on. If we accept that definition— and versions of this are used around the world in constitutions and other legislation—then the latest science is telling us that cetaceans also qualify. They are, therefore, nonhuman persons.” Whales, it seems, are having their civil-rights moment. But is the science behind the declaration’s claims sound? And if so, what are the legal and ethical implications of extending personhood to cetaceans? What would a Cetacean Nation even look like?

A few hundred years ago, whales

were feared—the stuff of myth and legend. Artist engravings from the 16th century depict great fanged

great American literature epic. The first observations of whales came from whaler naturalists, who tagged along on hunting expeditions and kept extensive notes. In 1939, Thomas Beale remarked on the strong sociality of female sperm whales. He was one of the few naturalists who characterized sperm whales as actually being quite gentle (“timid and inoffensive,” in his words). But such accounts were rare. For the most part, the whale was seen as a moving field of blubber, which could be melted for candle wax, soap and, most precious of all, oil. The whale kick started civilization’s first oil addiction, a nonrenewable resource that fired the industrial revolution and was exploited almost to extinction. 33


Through the late 19th century, whaling technologies improved greatly and hundreds of thousands of whales were “harvested” a year, leading to a crash in their global numbers. The population of blue whales in the South Seas, for example, went from 350,000 at the turn of the 20th century to just over 2,000 today. Sperm whales, prized for their precious spermaceti oil—the bright, sweet-smelling candles produced from the oil were luxury items— somehow fared considerably better. Their total population is thought to have dropped from For over a million close encounters of the finned kind, to a third of consult our guide to the that. Whales best whale-watching trips in North America. were dereadersdigest.ca/ scribed in july terms of “units”—a mechanization of life that was reflected in the dominant scientific view of animals at the time, known as behaviourism, which considered all animals to be stimulusresponse machines devoid of inner life. By the middle of the 20th century, all of this started to change. Biologists began to show up at meetings of the newly established International Whaling Commission (IWC), warning that whales were on the brink of extinction. In the public 34

imagination, whales shifted from Moby Dick to Jacques Cousteau’s gentle giants. The hyperintrepid dolphin Flipper entertained millions of television viewers during the late ’60s, while the haunting Songs of the Humpback Whale, released in 1970, became a smash hit for Capitol Records. The most influential, and polarizing, figure in this new reassessment was a brilliant medical doctor and neurophysiologist named John Lilly. One of the first scientists to promote dolphin problem-solving abilities, Lilly was also a natural showman who, among other stunts, taught dolphins to mimic high-pitched versions of English-language phrases. The media loved it. Lilly’s books were bestsellers and inspired a generation of future marine biologists. Buoyed by his research data and well-received scientific papers, he began making bold claims. “Individual dolphins and whales,” Lilly wrote, “are to be given the legal rights of human individuals.” Research into cetacean communication, he argued, was a matter of importance to all of human civilization. “We must learn their needs, their ethics, their philosophy,” he wrote. “The extraterrestrials are here—in the sea.” Lilly’s vivid depiction of dolphins and whales as intelligent, peace-loving ETs was exactly what the youth wanted to hear. The Save the Whales readersdigest.ca 07/12


T O S H I F U M I K I TA M U R A / A F P/ G E T T Y

movement was born. Canadian naturalist Farley Mowat’s 1972 A Whale for the Killing helped to rouse public outrage, and Greenpeace—also Canadian—began sending out inflatable Zodiacs between whalers and their prey. In 1986, after years of heated debate, a moratorium on commercial whaling was passed, respected by all member countries in the IWC except Norway, Iceland and Japan, who take advantage of loopholes in the IWC treaty in order to hunt thousands of whales a year. Today, although some whale populations have begun to recover, the danger is far from over. Seven of the 13 species of great whales remain endangered, and several populations—

Greenpeace activists staging an antiwhaling protest in front of Tokyo parliament in 2009.

the Western Northern Pacific grey whale, the Western North Atlantic whale, and the Antarctic blue whale—have only a few hundred remaining. In addition, over 300,000 cetaceans are killed a year in ship collisions and fisheries “bycatch.” What’s more, the IWC treaty does not apply directly to other small whales and dolphins; over 20,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed annually off the coast of Japan alone, including in the shallow coves of Taiji, made infamous in the recent Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove. 35


According to Marino, a recognition of whale personhood and rights could pressure the IWC to close the remaining loopholes and make it far more difficult for any country to slaughter cetaceans. It might also end dolphin and whale captivity, a challenge for SeaWorld and other aquariums, but a boon for the rapidly expanding global whale-watching industry, which rakes in more than two billion tourist dollars a year and employs more than 13,000 people. But whale personhood also represents the latest revolution in human sensitivity. For 50 years the idea of whale consciousness has waited for a crossover moment—to go from a fringe belief passionately held by the few to an idea accepted by many. A number of cetacean researchers— declaration in hand—believe that moment has finally come.

Back on the boat, the sperm whales

surge towards each other. Before our trip, Whitehead showed me underwater footage of sperm whales socializing, and it was spellbinding. The sensuality of their movements as they slowly rolled and pivoted, scraping their long serrated spines along one another’s pale bellies. The way they sent pulses of sounds into one another’s sides. The scene seemed suffused with a mutual attentiveness and care that I found moving. Despite not being able to locate 36

the seat of consciousness in the animal brain—something true for humans as well—most scientists no longer ask whether animals have inner experiences. Some degree of sentience is considered self-evident. For neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, one of the world’s leading experts on the neural origins of mind and emotion, “the denial of consciousness in animals is as improbable as the prescientific anthropocentric view that the sun revolves around the Earth.” But what do we mean by “consciousness”? At its most basic, consciousness can simply mean being aware of your surroundings. By this definition, of course, nearly every animal would have some form of awareness. Many different species perform a whole range of social actions, including co-operative behaviours and maternal care. Bees show complex activities—but does that mean they’re conscious? Quite possibly. The question now is no longer whether animals have minds, but what kind of minds. Scientists now understand the mind as a much larger phenomenon, with many different species’ expressions. Humans and animals are not separated by some yawning chasm— the fact that we share basic brain structures suggests we might also share similar cognitive structures— like thousands of different operating systems coded to run the same apps. readersdigest.ca 07/12


Cetaceans have been a big part of this story, in part because of Whitehead’s findings, but also because of the experiments of dedicated researchers such as the University of Hawaii’s Lou Herman, who has proved that dolphins are capable of complex problem solving, demonstrating prodigious feats of learning, memory and creativity. One well-known anecdote involves a clever aquarium dolphin who was rewarded by his trainers for retrieving one piece of

the brain its ridged appearance (the brains of less intelligent animals are much smoother). What’s more, the history of the whale brain has been very different from those of primates and other mammals. Thirty-five million years ago it began arranging its parts into an utterly unique functional layout and structure. This achievement, says Marino, represents “an alternative evolutionary route to complex intelligence.” The most intriguing part of the

RESEARCHERS BELIEVE THAT WHALES REPRESENT AN ALTERNATIVE ROUTE TO COMPLEX INTELLIGENCE. garbage after another. It turns out that, in order to maximize his fishy rewards, the dolphin had stashed an entire newspaper at the bottom of the tank and was very deliberately tearing off one small piece at a time. But the most game-changing research may be the reappraisal of the whale brain currently under way. Marino has spent 20 years studying the whale brain’s structure and evolution, and found that it’s not only large (it’s second only to a human’s in its brain-to-body ratio) but also contains many braided cell structures and areas of dense connectivity. The term for this is “convoluted”—the cortex folds in on itself to increase its surface area inside the skull, thus giving

whale brain for Marino is the limbic system, which, in mammals, handles the processing of emotions. In some respects, she found this part of the whale brain is actually more convoluted than our own. In fact it’s so large it erupts into the cortex in the form of an extra paralimbic lobe. The location of the lobe suggests it is involved in a unique mash-up between emotional and cognitive thinking, perhaps some mix of social communication and self-awareness that we do not currently understand. “Whales are arguably the most socially connected, communicative and coordinated mammals on the planet, including humans,” says Marino. “Killer whales, for instance, do not 37


kill or even seriously harm one another in the wild, despite the fact that there is competition for prey and mates and there are disagreements. Their social rules prohibit real violence, and they seem to have worked out a way to peacefully manage the partitioning of resources among different groups. That is something we humans haven’t done yet.” Whitehead points down: Two of the whales have suddenly become curious about us. Torres, intent on recording the codas, unspooled a long hydrophone into the water. The whales begin echolocating furiously on the blue cable, which trails behind the boat. I can feel the echolocation 38

pings roll through the hull below me as I pull in the line, concerned the whales might bite the cord, as happened on Whitehead’s last trip. One of the whales follows the hydrophone in. I feel as if I’m fishing for giants. Finally, she pivots onto her side and fixes me with a large watery eye before rolling back to her family. Whitehead, Marino and a few other whale scientists believe that echolocation—which Whitehead calls the “world’s most powerful imaging device”—might play a central role in whales’ social sophistication. It is possible that the faculty is used like an ultrasound to see inside bodies. “The sonar system may see, in great detail, the internal organs of all the other members of the group,” says Whitehead. “So there’s no hiding what one readersdigest.ca 07/12

G E R A D S O U R Y/ O X F O R D S C I E N T I F I C / G E T T Y

According to reports, watching whales will soon become more profitable than killing them.


has eaten, whether one’s sexually receptive, whether one’s pregnant, whether one’s sick. Presumably, this changes social life a lot.” It doesn’t stop there. An enormous amount of information is contained in the body: accelerated beating of the heart, tightness in the diaphragm, tension in the muscles—all of these registers of information may well be processed by the whale’s huge associative cortexes at lightning-fast speed. And not in isolation—most astounding of all is the possibility that all of this may be shared. There

at by another form of intelligence. It’s both thrilling and a little disconcerting, as though I’m being asked to partake in an exchange I haven’t really prepared for. Some of the critics of the declaration certainly feel this way. National Post columnist and policy analyst Tasha Kheiriddin was quick to point out that in order for an animal to have rights, it must be part of a social contract, something impossible between animals and humans. “An animal owns no property. It cannot be taxed. It bears no responsibility, legal

WE’VE ALWAYS LOOKED TO THE STARS FOR SIGNS OF INTELLIGENT LIFE. NOW WE’RE WAKING UP TO THE IDEA THAT SUCH LIFE EXISTS RIGHT HERE. is evidence to suggest that dolphins and sperm whales can “eavesdrop” on another’s returning echoes, an ability akin to seeing through another’s eyes. Thus a group of widely dispersed whales may in some sense be part of a single sensory loop, sensitive to every twitch and shudder in the wide phenomenal world.

One of the larger females has begun

to “spy hop”—rising up vertically out of the water like a thick periscope, exposing her eyes to the surface. I have the sense that I’m being stared

or otherwise for its actions: You cannot sue a dolphin if it bites you or wrecks your boat.” Marino says there are other ways to look at it. “We don’t expect human infants to have responsibilities,” she says, “yet we still consider them people.” Ultimately, Marino argues, the declaration becomes pretty hard to dismiss if you stick with basic rights. “We are not saying that dolphins should vote or go to school—obviously this is preposterous. What we are saying is that the rights of a species should be based on their critical 39


needs. In the case of whales, they should have the right not to be killed and tortured and confined, the right to live free in their natural environment. This is very basic stuff.” Marino’s vision for a Cetacean Nation is, at first blush, that of a conservationist. But as I watch the whales I realize there’s also something new in the works here, something that has to do with our own minds, not just whale minds. We’ve always looked to the stars for signs of intelligent life.

And yet, for all the exotic otherness of the whale mind, it’s equally true that there are elements that we can know and understand. As any pet owner will attest, we can often tell when an animal is angry or loving or even calculating, because we share those qualities. I can relate to the sperm whales’ need for physical intimacy, to their loyalty to one another, to their curiosity. And these are just the visible behaviours. The science suggests other shared qualities: a cap-

WHAT IS A PERSON? A BEING, CERTAINLY. BUT PERSONHOOD IS ALSO A QUALITY THAT EMERGES FROM HOW WE RELATE TO ONE ANOTHER. Now we’re waking up to the idea that such life exists right here. But the facts as we currently understand them—for 35 million years whales have had the largest brains and the most complex cultures on the planet—can’t really tell us what kind of mind we are dealing with. Where, for example, so many of our resources are directed towards manipulating objects and ideas, whales’ emotional and cognitive resources seem to be directed socially, at one another. They have no hands to manipulate the world. But they have brains to feel it, in a way we do not and cannot fully understand. 40

acity for culture, communication and creative problem solving. What you begin to realize about animal minds is that, when we compare ours to theirs, there’s always something distinct and something shared; this ratio simply shifts in relation to the species in question. So the common core we share with a bacterium is far narrower than that we share with a whale, which in turn is perhaps narrower than that we share with our close cousin the chimp. In a sense the human-to-animal mind question may simply be an exaggerated version of the human-tohuman mind question: We can never readersdigest.ca 07/12


ISTOCKPHOTO

entirely know another person’s experience—all the more so if that person was raised in a different culture—but there are vast areas of overlap that can, with science and empathy and imagination, be expanded. What is a person? A being, certainly. But personhood is also a quality that emerges from how we relate to one another. When we deem another entity a “person” we recognize that there’s another point of view present, one with its own internal coherence and integrity. Whatever happens on the legal front in the years to come, the question of animal personhood is foremost a personal one. It will be answered differently by each of us. The true promise of the Cetacean Nation will only be realized to the extent that we, as a species, can recognize we’re surrounded by a rainbow of exotic cultures and narratives. We’re invited to be participating members in the community of nature, connected as though by invisible lines of echolocation to all these other “persons” on our planetary home. As for the sperm whales, it’s enough, for now, just to watch them. Gradually, they stop playing and begin to drift away from the boat. Then, as if cued by some invisible signal, they roll their broad backs and salute the air with their chiselled flukes. Six clear watermarks float in their wake. n

GO FISH Further recommended reading on all things whale Sea World Read the entire Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: cetaceanrights.org Whales on the Brain Info on every species of whale, dolphin and porpoise known to man: cetacea.org. Law and Order Follow the court cases on behalf of the Cetacean Nation: nonhumanrightsproject.org. Hit Parade Hear the best in whale songs— courtesy of those chatty humpbacks: nationalgeographic.com/ radiox. WHALE TALES Ahab’s Trade: The Saga of South Seas Whaling, by Granville Allen Mawer Cetacean Societies: Field Studies of Dolphins and Whales, by Janet Mann The Whale War, by David Day 41


—Humour Humour

Winner/Gagnant

Jessica Johnson The Hairs About Our Secrets

Eighteen Bridges


journalist Shannon Rupp in an article published in The Tyee entitled: “Why Call it Canada Reads? Should be: Authors Beg.” Yet nobody who understood anything about a writer’s reality in Canada could blame them for it. Meanwhile, the CBC enjoyed levels of “audience engagement” the likes of which no one had ever seen. Here we should pause for a moment of genuine appreciation at what the CBC has accomplished via this competition. Suddenly, radio listeners—the most combative of old-media footsoldiers—willingly and decisively followed their beloved CBC online. It seems to me the Mothercorp stands head and shoulders above other traditional outlets in terms of how successfully it has integrated with and adapted to the rapid advances in digital culture (example: two days ago I downloaded their music app, today I wonder how I ever lived without it). In early 2011, Canada Reads was taking place as much on the web as it was on the radio— more, really—their website abuzz with commenters, a streaming video broadcast of the debate available on CBC.ca complete with a live-stream audience commentary matching the discussion beat for beat. Not to mention a frantic hoard of writers doing the CBC’s PR work for it in ensuring that every last person in their social network became aware of the competition. And now it’s 2012 and CBC Radio is coming off its most successful Canada Reads to date. It also happens to have been its most controversial, a result of one of the judges taking the ruthless, reality TV pedigree of the program perhaps a bit too much to heart. Dispensing with the Canadian kid gloves, she forwent a discussion of the nonfiction books themselves in favour of personal attacks on the authors. One writer, having penned a memoir about her revolutionary activities under the Pinochet regime, was called a “bloody terrorist.” The other, another memoirist recalling her teenage arrest and imprisonment in Iran, was accused of simply making her story up. It made for something of a scandal, to be sure. Many listeners were outraged. The Twitterverse was abuzz. Facebook discussion threads were long and heated. “Audience engagement” was no doubt at a premium. What’s tricky for those ink-stained anachronisms among us to grasp as we attempt to negotiate the passage from newsprint and radio waves to the happy land of 18

EIGHTEEN BRIDGES SPRING 2012 WWW.EIGHTEENBRIDGES.COM

zeros and ones, is how social media obliges each of us—from fourteen-year-old Facebookers to top executives at Google—to pretend we’re all just friends at one big online party. The bigger the corporation, the more useful it is to stamp the social media smileyface on practices like, for example, Facebook’s harvesting of its users’ personal data or Jeff Bezos’ recent attempts to ‘eliminate the middleman’ (that being bookstores and publishing houses) for the supposed benefit of up and coming new authors and pennypinching readers. Sure, most of us at the party have business cards tucked away in our purses, but no one wants to be caught dead overtly plying their trade. That’s so old media. So we link, we ‘like’, we RT—we hold contests on our sites, inviting ever one to play along. And everybody does play along. Those who don’t are swiftly left behind. – Lynn Coady

THE HAIRS ABOUT OUR SECRETS

T

he first time I went for a bikini wax, I had no idea what I was getting into. Friends with standing appointments and a landmark episode of Sex and the City had prepared me for pain, but—now in my thirties and having survived the various types of pain a feminine life can bring, short of childbirth—I thought I’d be able to handle it. What happened next is mostly a blur. I was led, by a gentle woman about my age, into a salon where Toronto’s affluent husbands ritually send their wives for Queen-For-a-Day retreats. If you’re going to entrust your private parts to a hot-waxbearing stranger, so I thought, you want to know you’re in good hands. (And whatever differentiated a discount wax joint from a top-drawer one, I didn’t want to know.) It still amazes me to think that, in spite of having worked as a fashion editor for a national newspaper, I didn’t

know exactly what I was in for. The semiotics of bikini waxing are tossed around in women’s magazines, but rarely defined. In a time when everyone seems to have at least a functional understanding of how Viagra works, regardless of age or gender, ignorance and euphemism abound when it comes to intimate depilation. Gee Beauty, a go-to salon for Toronto socialites, offers a link on its website that leads to a page (“Down Below”) with abstract filigree whorls and curlicues representing options called “Upper Management”, “Houdini”, and “GIG” (the airport code for Rio de Janiero). This spa of record proposed a Traditional bikini wax ($37), a French wax ($57), and a full Brazilian ($88). I went with the French partly because I have long trusted that country’s approach to fashion and food and assumed this might represent some universal quality of goodness (French toast, French braid). In other words, I had chosen the pubic equivalent of a pair of Louboutins or a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. Reader! I am a wiser, worldlier woman now. In a treatment room, I lay covered from thigh to armpit by a towel. The first cue that we had left behind any pretense to bodily inhibition was the lack of a “privacy thong.” In most spas, this item will be offered where nudity arises, even as a token. Apparently I had checked my modesty, and who knows what else, at the door. The aesthetician lifted the towel, assessed my pubic area with a professional’s dispassionate interest, and went to work. With quick, practiced movements, she took fabric strips, pressed them down onto the wax she had applied to my thighs and front, and tore them off. Recalling the home leg waxing efforts of my teens, it wasn’t bad at first. But she had to crook open my legs to continue, and I felt suddenly bad without quite knowing for whom, or what I had done. When you grow up in a country like Canada, chances are the only people who see your pudenda are your lover and your gynecologist. If you are a nice girl, your own mother may not even have seen your “private parts” since you were in preschool. Certainly, you haven’t flashed your BFF in some college bar. I wasn’t sure


what was more disturbing, the eye-watering rips of the waxing strips or the sure way the aesthetician knew to lay flat her palm against my genitalia to minimize the pull. I had no precedent for an experience so equally intimate and clinical by nature. When she began to wax my actual vulva, I realized that life as I knew it, which generally consists of a pleasant triangle between a job, an apartment, and Whole Foods, was revealing another universe. I thought of the network of designer shops outside and its professionally blow-dried shoppers who drink Prosecco in the afternoon. As if I had been granted X-ray vision, I could now see what most of them must do, too. Below the enviable perfection of the surface, there was something so undignified about this ritual that it seemed to discredit its own worth. I wondered what drove them to it. At a certain point the aesthetician asked, “Do you want me to do the back?” I didn’t know what might remain to be done, but I recognized another euphemism when I heard one. “Just do whatever you normally do,” I said. “Give me what most people get.” It was clear at that point that this might be my life’s one bikini wax—it made sense to go the whole hog. Counter to the era of blog-influenced and confessional journalism we live in, I don’t want to describe what happened next. But the emotions of it mirrored the testimonials of those who have been abducted by aliens—violated, disoriented, a sense of time loss. Afterwards, in the lounge area, the soft burble of a water fountain and the atmospheric lighting seemed unduly harsh. My arms and legs shook as if I had delivered a speech. As a waiting attendant handed me a cup of soothing tea, I spotted an actress friend. Alex was reclining in a spa robe, waiting for a massage. “What did you get?” she asked. I told her that I had just been for my first bikini wax. She winced. “I had that once,” she said. “I thought, if someone’s going to do that to my asshole, they should be paying me.”

The obvious question is, Why? How can a painful, cumbersome and expensive practice be so much better than a hairy vagina? Waxing has repercussions that may last for weeks—repercussions that, more than any other argument against it, call into question

its sexiness. As the bikini wax grows in, ingrown hairs require frequent, decisive first aid. I was astonished to discover after my first wax that the mechanics of urination, something I can’t remember having thought about, had changed; it was impossible to go to the bathroom without making a mess. Some of the wax can linger from the procedure, causing the buttocks to adhere to each other. If you fart (and I was surprised to discover how much I fart; perhaps they’d previously gone unnoticed) it sounded like a couple of wooden boards clapping together. In attempting to become as sexy as possible, I had become appalling to myself. The history of hair removal is not a straight line. Many of us think of the nineteen-seventies as a kind of Golden Age in pubic hair, as typified by the au naturel illustrations in The Joy of Sex. It would be logical to assume that it’s all gone downhill from there, at least in square footage—first from a bit of shaving in the nineteen-eighties to the full Brazilian wax, as it became known after it was imported to New York City by seven Brazilian sisters, and which has since become the porn industry’s new normal. But at different times in history and across cultures, attitudes about hairiness have waxed, so to speak, and waned. In an eighteenth-century text, the critic John Dryden wrote disparagingly of “that effeminate Custom now used in Italy, and especially by Harlots, of smoothing their Bellies, and taking off the Hairs which grow about their Secrets.” The ‘natural’ look of the nineteen-seventies—as with men’s beards, which are also seeing a resurgence in these heritage-oriented times—may have been a trend (a reaction, perhaps, to the relatively groomed and plasticized ideals of the generation before). Let’s not forget the spirit with which post-WWII women, endowed with shorter skirts and the availabilit y of mass-market nylons, practically to a woman, began to shave their legs. The current cultural climate of waxing is something of a war. A few years ago, the state of New Jersey proposed banning Brazilian waxing to discourage infections brought on by unlicensed practitioners. Last fall, The Atlantic published a long essay, “The New Full-Frontal: Has Pubic Hair in America Gone Extinct?” Noting the normal-

ization of waxing among college-aged women, it speculated that waxing may reflect the influence of pornographic images on a generation raised with laptops and WiFi. In Canada, Perla Porto is a legend in bikini waxing, recognized as much for her painless technique as for her bedside manner. She was referred to me by a number of people. “We are trying to change” the image of waxing, said Porto, a petite, stylish young woman who still remembers her first Canadian client as having asked her to please “not touch my vagina too much.” It struck Porto as contradiction in terms: wanting an end without the means. “In Brazil, it’s so normal for us to go for waxing,” said Porto. She thinks part of the reason is a difference in attitude about touch. “I’m going back in a few weeks to visit. My mother and my sisters will be waiting for me hairy.” Six years since that first reticent patron, Porto now has twenty-seven hundred clients and sees an average of twenty women a day. Her oldest client is seventy-two and her youngest client is twelve. She pointed out that waxing has a different profile in her home country, land of tiny bikinis and water sports, and is associated with hygiene. She studied three years to become an aesthetician; courses included history, anatomy and how to identify sexually transmitted diseases. By her definition, an aesthetician’s role falls somewhere between that of a hairdresser and a public health nurse. Por to’s work suggests that the sexualization of waxing is relatively subjective; in her country, the practice is more akin to what leg shaving is here—basic everyday grooming. “We are hairy girls,” she told me. “In Brazil, we don’t look at if a woman is fat or has a good body, but we always look at if the woman is hairy.” I put to her the “what’s happening to our daughters?” concern raised in The Atlantic and forever lurking, I think, in the background. To a certain kind of feminist, the removal of pubic hair is misogynist and, in the case of a full Brazilian, flatly unacceptable. At worst, it signals the infantilizing of the womanly body—at the very least, the pornification of the bourgeois bedroom. “You are not a little girl, and you won’t feel like a little girl,” Porto replied, flatly. WWW.EIGHTEENBRIDGES.COM

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One of the most perplexing things about waxing is the ubiquity of the “landing strip,” a feature of my own wax, and visibly on parade, in various states of regrowth, at the gym. Why do so many of us think that a vertical, domino-shaped patch of hair resembling nothing that came from nature is superior to none? Is it an abstract reminder that one could grow hair? That we are still “women,” whatever in a hairy context that might mean? Or is it a fear to bare all, in a literal sense—not letting your hair down too much? What, in essence, does pubic hair mean? “I think it ’s a photographed aesthetic,” Leanne Shapton, a visual artist in New York City, told me. “It’s not a real aesthetic.” Shapton runs her own publishing company, J&L, and the assessment makes sense—repeated viewing overwrites the specifics of an image with its context. Just as Wile E. Coyote’s latest ACME kit symbolizes schadenfreude, so the French bikini wax stands for sexy, in our culture, without having to be anything. In the midst of my own first wax, there was a brass light fixture on the ceiling in which I could see my reflection—a woman going through a transformation. The ripping apart, all the things that followed—the ingrown hairs, the feeling of being a plucked chicken—seemed like a small price to pay for validation as an indisputable sexual being. At the time, I was in a relationship that had floundered, and I thought that if I became a sexier woman—maybe a woman unlike the woman I was—it might help. I don’t know why it translated into that form of expression; waxing was in the air. In the discovery that some of my friends had done it and always done it, I wondered if I had missed out on some essential aspect of female grooming. A form of pubic pressure takes hold. It was a surprise to discover that the wax improved nothing so much as my idea of myself, and that’s what made me go back for a couple of years after. When I asked friends why they did, or didn’t, wax, what emerged was not so much a pubic mosaic of 2012 (waxed, shaven, or as the women’s website xojane. com recently dubbed it, “’70s Bush”), but how hard it is for everyone to discuss how hers got to where it is. The 20

EIGHTEEN BRIDGES SPRING 2012 WWW.EIGHTEENBRIDGES.COM

people I thought would be most forthcoming—women who have waxed for years—spoke of convenience, cleanliness. Meanwhile, the people who do it aren’t necessarily the people you’d think. I discovered that my friend with the fourinch Manolo heels never shaves, but my friend the hockey player routinely denudes. Regardless of her pubic situation, I think everyone feels a bit judged: judged for having an opinion, judged for having acted (or not acted) on it. Who knew? In this country, what turns us on might genuinely be one of the last taboos. Matt Pollack recently made a documentary about his relationship to pornography called Run Run, It’s Him. It’s a chronicle of his years spent (secretly) watching porn for hours a day and the corollary sense of shame not only about the time that passed but what it said about him. I asked him to comment, not about the morality of bikini waxing so much as for a critical opinion, having seen so many naked women, about what the attraction is. Pollack thinks there’s some merit to The Atlantic hypothesis about the co-dependence of porn and waxing (simply to make it easier to see genitalia), and its normalizing effect on people’s pubic expectations. But the more poignant appeal of waxing comes from the real world. He called it the “psychological intent”: unlike film’s pliant and enthusiastic partners, real-world women are “like sexual gatekeepers,” he said. “I have to jump through hoops and make witty conversation to get to that point. But the fact that she took the time and went to the effort and spent the money—that’s the turn-on.” In other words, a woman’s bikini wax is an message to her lover that he’s worth the pain. Like many men I spoke to, Pollack said he is just grateful for what he can get. “I’ve only really seen, like, ten vaginas,” he told me. “When someone decides to let you see that at all, it’s like, so shocking, or a miracle.”

One of the foundational myths of classic feminist theory is that from a patriarchal viewpoint, the female body is threateningly out of control: puzzlingly in tune with the phases of the moon; an emitter of blood; a site for casual pleasure but also (just as truthfully, almost sneakily)

of babies. Waxing illuminates just how much this vessel is an enigma to women ourselves. Like the choice to eat with a knife and fork, or buy a gym membership to sculpt the body with exercise, waxing takes something that could be left freeform in hand, applying form and control. Another symbol of mankind’s triumph over nature, even if the triumph is fleeting at best. As with lawn care, it’s a fight against weeds and ingrown hairs, trims and re-growth; “success” being an idealized condition rather than an absolute place. My own relationship with waxing is less troubled than it was—demystified, waxing seems less about symbolism than about whimsy. It strikes me that in order to be truly liberated it needs to not matter either way: to care about the presence or absence of pubic hair is to suggest that there is a right way to groom. Increasingly, a Brazilian wax strikes me as a pubic cliché, a trend to leave to the Kardashians and the Ugg-wearing, text-messaging demographic. In the last season of Entourage, a bellwether show about celebrity cool, a real-life porn star, Sasha Grey, playing the main character’s girlfriend, walked nude (and, by certain standards, insufficiently ‘kempt’) across the screen. “That’s what a grown woman looks like,” she tweeted to a wave of ‘anti-bush’ protestors. “I’m happy to contribute to making it OK again :). All ‘fashions’ have their cycles!” In the context, it seemed avant-garde. Grey positions herself as a thinking woman’s porn star—reading philosophy between takes, commenting on US politics. In a sea of Brazilians, having oldfashioned pubic hair might be a way to distinguish oneself; classy, even. In that light, I went back to the same question I’d been asking since the beginning. Why do we think it looks attractive to have no pubic hair? I asked Perla Porto. “Oh, I don’t think it looks good,” she said. “It’s not beautiful. I think it feels good.” In a swirl of opinions about waxing’s significance (visual and otherwise), sensuality was the one thing nobody had mentioned. Desire, and the desire to improve desire—that’s something men and women alike have always been willing to suffer for. – Jessica Johnson


—Beauty Beauté

Winner/Gagnant

Arkan Zakharov, Tiyana Grulovic, Kate LaRue, Bryan Gee Lady obscura

Globe Style Advisor


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lady obscura Yes, this season’s top beauty looks skew prim and proper, but that doesn’t mean you have to downplay the drama Text by Megan Kirkwood | Photography by Arkan Zakharov | Hair and makeup by Susana Hong

S w ep t away Want to approximate the airy updos seen at the Diane von Furstenberg show? Start by applying a volumizing mousse to damp hair before roughly blow-drying to add volume. Back-comb all over, then create a loose twist at the center-back of your head and secure with bobby pins. TRY: Garnier Fructis Style XXL Body Thickening Mousse, $5.50 at drugstores and mass-market retailers.

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lady obscura Yes, this season’s top beauty looks skew prim and proper, but that doesn’t mean you have to downplay the drama Text by Megan Kirkwood | Photography by Arkan Zakharov | Hair and makeup by Susana Hong

S w ep t away Want to approximate the airy updos seen at the Diane von Furstenberg show? Start by applying a volumizing mousse to damp hair before roughly blow-drying to add volume. Back-comb all over, then create a loose twist at the center-back of your head and secure with bobby pins. TRY: Garnier Fructis Style XXL Body Thickening Mousse, $5.50 at drugstores and mass-market retailers.

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Just wing it To achieve spring’s exaggerated cat eye, makeup artist Susana Hong (who created the looks on these pages) suggests tracing your lash line with a stiff eyeliner brush dipped in a cream-based formula. Aiming for the outer edge of your eyebrow, create a small flick at the end. TRY: Smashbox Be Discovered Jet Set Eye Liner & Brush in Dark Slate, $22 through www.sephora. com, www.shoppersdrugmart.ca and www.murale.ca. Pomp & Ceremony silk tulle bib, $220 through www.pompandceremony.ca. Faux-pearl earrings (worn throughout), $45 at Holt Renfrew (www.holtrenfrew.com).

Fr i n g e B en efi t s Legendary makeup artist Pat McGrath applied eight sets of false lashes to the models backstage at Louis Vuitton, but you can still command attention with just one. First, trim the lash strip to fit your lash line, then line your eyes, top and bottom, with black eyeliner. Next, carefully apply lash glue to the strip, allowing it to dry for a few minutes before placing it at the root of your lashes with tweezers. To amplify the look, layer on single lashes to the outer corners. TRY: Quo Full Lashes, $8 through www.shoppersdrugmart.ca and www.murale.ca.

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Just wing it To achieve spring’s exaggerated cat eye, makeup artist Susana Hong (who created the looks on these pages) suggests tracing your lash line with a stiff eyeliner brush dipped in a cream-based formula. Aiming for the outer edge of your eyebrow, create a small flick at the end. TRY: Smashbox Be Discovered Jet Set Eye Liner & Brush in Dark Slate, $22 through www.sephora. com, www.shoppersdrugmart.ca and www.murale.ca. Pomp & Ceremony silk tulle bib, $220 through www.pompandceremony.ca. Faux-pearl earrings (worn throughout), $45 at Holt Renfrew (www.holtrenfrew.com).

Fr i n g e B en efi t s Legendary makeup artist Pat McGrath applied eight sets of false lashes to the models backstage at Louis Vuitton, but you can still command attention with just one. First, trim the lash strip to fit your lash line, then line your eyes, top and bottom, with black eyeliner. Next, carefully apply lash glue to the strip, allowing it to dry for a few minutes before placing it at the root of your lashes with tweezers. To amplify the look, layer on single lashes to the outer corners. TRY: Quo Full Lashes, $8 through www.shoppersdrugmart.ca and www.murale.ca.

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H au t e L i p s Makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury created this sensual orchidinspired lip for Prabal Gurung’s spring show. To get the look, Hong suggests applying a fuchsia lipstick first, then, with your finger, dabbing on a darker plum shade to just the inner portion of your lips. TRY: CoverGirl Lip Perfection Lipstick in Enchantress and Divine, $11 each at drugstores and mass-market retailers. PHOTO SHOOT CREDIT Hair and makeup by Susana Hong for TRESemmÊ/ Page One Management (www.p1m.ca)

S w ee t ch eek s Get a flattering flush by buffing on a peachy-pink blush, the shade of choice at Ralph Lauren and Preen this season. Using a fluffy blush brush, apply the powder directly to the apples of your cheeks, then swirl the brush in a circular motion upward and outward toward your hairline to diffuse the colour. TRY: Clarins Blush Prodige in Miami Pink, $32 through www.clarins.ca. Lucian Matis top, $595 through www.lucianmatis.com.

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H au t e L i p s Makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury created this sensual orchidinspired lip for Prabal Gurung’s spring show. To get the look, Hong suggests applying a fuchsia lipstick first, then, with your finger, dabbing on a darker plum shade to just the inner portion of your lips. TRY: CoverGirl Lip Perfection Lipstick in Enchantress and Divine, $11 each at drugstores and mass-market retailers. PHOTO SHOOT CREDIT Hair and makeup by Susana Hong for TRESemmÊ/ Page One Management (www.p1m.ca)

S w ee t ch eek s Get a flattering flush by buffing on a peachy-pink blush, the shade of choice at Ralph Lauren and Preen this season. Using a fluffy blush brush, apply the powder directly to the apples of your cheeks, then swirl the brush in a circular motion upward and outward toward your hairline to diffuse the colour. TRY: Clarins Blush Prodige in Miami Pink, $32 through www.clarins.ca. Lucian Matis top, $595 through www.lucianmatis.com.

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COLINFAULKNER.COm

COLIN FAULKNER

416.469.1557


—Travel Voyages

Winner/Gagnant

Chris Turner On Tipping in Cuba

The Walrus


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Travel

On Tipping in Cuba In which the writer discovers the uncomfortable socio-macroeconomics of the cheap beach vacation by Chris Turner

ore than a million Canadians will ­travel to Cuba this year. The only places beyond our borders that a­ ttract more of us are the United States and Mexico. There is no other tourist destination on earth where Canadians are so dominant, and possibly none where the tourist economy is more vital to the nation’s immediate economic health. With little in the way of formal policy and with no real intent on the part of the beach-bound hordes, we’ve established a relationship with Cuba that is unique in both our ­histories. We’ve colonized Cuba on vacation by accident. This is a story about what happens when the unarticulated, half-hidden nature of that colonial relationship is suddenly ­exposed. It’s an economics lesson in the form of a parable, a traveller’s tale about the strange connection between master and servant in this de facto tourist colony. So let’s begin, in fairy-tale fashion, in a tower atop a castle: the rooftop terrace of Hotel Casa Granda in Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second-largest city. The Casa Granda is an old colonial half ruin overlooking a wide square and an elegant cathedral. It’s an atmospheric, Graham Greene kind of place, five storeys tall and colonnaded and shedding white paint. I found myself there at sunset one January evening, sipping a mojito and pondering the real value of ten convertible Cuban pesos. Because Cuba is among the few nations on earth with two ­official currencies, a never-never-land economy caught in its own distended bubble halfway between the collapsed Soviet bloc and the contemporary global capitalist order, visitors can find themselves wondering more than usual about exchange rates. There is the regular, nonconvertible peso, officially the Cuban peso or CUP, used to buy staple goods at state-run shops. And there is the convertible peso, the CUC — the hard c­ urrency, which is used for luxury goods and provides the default banknotes for the tourist economy. In government accounting, CUCs and CUPs are valued one to one, but informally the CUC is worth about the same as the Canadian dollar, while the CUP has a street value of a nickel at most. CUPs are worthless outside Cuba, except as souvenirs. Earlier in the day, I’d had ten CUCs snatched from my hand, 40

and I was up on the roof of the Casa Granda trying to figure out what exactly had happened and how I really felt about it. It’s rare, once you’re well into the mortgage-and-kids phase of adulthood, to encounter a whole new category of emotion, but I was pretty sure I’d done just that out there on a dusty Santiago back street, and now I was probing the feeling to discern its dimensions. What happened, in brief, is that my wife and I had hired a young man named Antonio to give us a tour.* We’d spent the morning chugging around in an ancient Moskvich sedan, with another young man driving as Antonio pointed out the sights and delivered a running commentary about what he called “the reality of Cuba.” We’d visited an Afro-Cuban cultural museum, toured the old Spanish fort, bought contraband rum. We’d gone back to Antonio’s tiny concrete box of a home, met his wife and mother, sipped beers, talked some politics, and taken pictures. In the late afternoon, he and another friend had led us to a ­lovely little restaurant at the base of Santiago’s landmark Padre Pico steps. We’d eaten grilled lobster, drunk more beers, and traded jokes and vows of eternal friendship. At the end of the meal, I’d given the waiter CUC $80 and received CUC $10 in change, and as I stood there with the ten-peso note in my hand Antonio grabbed and pocketed it. I shot him a confused look, and he responded with a half shrug that seemed calibrated somewhere between What’s it matter? and You know the score. I hadn’t intended to give him the money, but he ­decided he deserved it. Hours later, on the rooftop patio of the Casa Granda, drinking a mojito that cost nearly half the amount I was obsessing about, I wondered what that shrug really meant. his had all occurred in that informal, sketchily ­delineated commercial zone that springs up in pretty much any ­robust tourist economy, a grey market that is particularly broad and heavily trafficked in countries where visitors and locals are separated by wide gulfs of wealth, power, or Opp osite A local farmer sells produce, in Santiago de Cuba (top left); filling out a state store ration card (top right); a peanut vendor in Parque Céspedes, Santiago’s main square (bottom left); buying beer with nonconvertible pesos (bottom right). * To protect individuals’ identities, some names have been changed.


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political freedom. In Cuba, Antonio and I stood on opposite sides of a divide created by a substantial admixture of all three. We were under no illusions, my wife and I. We understood that Antonio was, in local parlance, a jinetero — a tout or fixer, though in Cuba the word often suggests a darker meaning: hustler or scam artist. We’d participated in a drawn-out haggling courtship with him across a couple of days, a dance familiar to us from other trips to countries with bustling grey markets. There had been repeated encounters on a busy street in front of a tiny, decrepit photo studio that may or may not have been his usual place of work. He’d presented us with a gift of a photo and some cheap cigars, and we’d discussed the possibility of a city tour as if it were a friendly outing and not a paid transaction. We’d checked with the tour desk of the Meliá hotel, the only ­full-service resort in town, and knew that an organized tour in an air-conditioned bus would run us more than $100. We preferred the idea of giving our hard-currency CUCs and maybe a gift or two to an enterprising jinetero instead of to a governmentcontrolled joint venture. It was the right choice, and we had no regrets. It had been a fun day, revelatory in ways an official tour never could have been, and we’d been generous with Antonio and his family, paying out his fee in bits and pieces, in overpayments and unasked-for change. I’d overpaid for drinks at the Afro-Cuban cultural centre, handed him too much money by a factor of at least five to pick up a six-pack of beer to share back at his house. We’d stopped back at our hotel at the end of the tour and filled a bag for him and his family with markers, notebooks, two toothbrushes, some new towels, and a used pair of Adidas shorts. We’d paid him and the driver CUC $20 each for their work as guides — the equivalent of a month’s wages in a typical government job — and had bought him and his other friend lobster dinners (another month’s wages, although the place never would’ve served C ­ uban diners on their own, even if they’d had the CUCs). So, yes: we all knew roughly what the score was. But to Antonio’s mind, I’d come up with a figure at least CUC $10 too low, and he’d taken it upon himself to round it up. At first, standing in the street outside the restaurant as he and his friend departed in a flurry of hugs and warm handshakes, I’d felt something v­ erging on a sense of violation. Had I been robbed? Had I been — that most dreaded of veteran traveller fears — played somehow? Was I a sucker? With the clarity of a second mojito and the brilliant sunset over Santiago Bay, I knew that wasn’t it. This wasn’t a robbery or a con. This is why it felt so weird: it wasn’t about what had happened to me; it was about who I was in Cuba. This had been a refusal to hew to the script of colonial power. It was a servant’s insubordination before his colonial master. It was, I came to think, a profoundly Cuban way to read the situation. Of course I could spare the ten pesos, and Antonio had earned it and then some. I’d seen just enough to imagine how hard it would be for him to get his hands on another CUC $10 note, and he understood all too well how effortless it was for me to obtain a big stack of them. He wasn’t fully invested in the tourist economy’s cold logic of wealth and status, and he certainly didn’t feel he owed me any deference. He’d simply taken what was rightfully his, an inverted colonial tax on the day’s transaction. Quite literally, it was what the market would 42

bear on that ­particular day in Santiago. By the time I’d reached the mashed lime and mint leaves at the bottom of my second mojito, I saw the whole thing much more clearly: me and Antonio, Cuba and Canada, the whole trip. The real exchange rate on ten convertible pesos preoccupied me for the rest of our visit and cast new light on the month’s preparation leading up to it. Ten pesos was a bargain, really, for all that had been revealed. few days before we departed for Cuba, we stopped by the Wal-mart in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where we were visiting my parents for Christmas. We had pictures to get printed and some final purchases to make in preparation for the trip: sunscreen, medication, a high-capacity memory stick. One of the unspoken assumptions in Canada’s colonial relationship with Cuba is that tourists import stockpiles of consumer goods to hand out to locals. In Cuba, unlike the rest of the beach holiday Caribbean, it’s not just that people can’t afford as much as we can, but that much of what we take for granted is completely unavailable in Cuba’s truncated marketplace. I’d been reading on the Internet about what people suggested to bring: dental floss, shampoo, good towels, baseballs, vitamins and medicines, toothbrushes and school supplies, hardware and reading glasses. We wandered Wal-mart’s over-lit aisles, past overflowing shelves, filling a cart with pens and notepads and econo-sized bottles of acetaminophen. We had our five-year-old daughter in reluctant tow, and she settled into a shelf piled with towels as if it were a bunk bed while we had an absurd debate about which of them to buy. The towel aisle had at least four distinct ­gradations of price and quality. I’d written “high-quality t­ owels” on my list and put a big asterisk next to it, but I couldn’t r­ emember whether I was reminding myself that towels were so useful we should buy as many as possible or that Cubans needed particularly high-quality towels. In the end, we bought two bath ­towels ($5 each), four washcloths ($2 each), and two hand ­towels ($4 each). By the time we reached the checkout, I could no longer remember whether they were higher in the quantity or the quality range. The total bill was $186.82, the equivalent of nine months’ average wages in Cuba. We paid with the swipe of a card and a tired shrug. This, of course, is the way of the Canadian economy nowadays. We’re delirious with choice, so completely buried in our own abundance that it inspires reality TV series. Many of us rarely bother with cash; some digital chirrup races at the speed of light from Walmart’s till to a server farm representing the bank’s vault, and by the time we hit the automatic exit we can’t remember whether we paid $176 or $186 for the dead weight filling our cart. You could lose CUC $10 just by forgetting to put back that pack of fancy pencil crayons your kid tossed in while you were distracted. or all the arbitrary afterthoughts that govern its periphery, Canada’s relationship with Cuba, economic and otherwise, is a significant one. Canada and Mexico were the only Western nations that didn’t cease diplomatic relations with Cuba during the tense missile crisis years of the early


Chris Turner � O n T i p p i n g i n C u b a

’60s, and Fidel Castro was close enough to Pierre Trudeau that Sanchez, writing for the Huffington Post last August, summed he served as an honorary pallbearer at the former prime minis- up Cuba’s conundrum more eloquently: “We are in transition, ter’s funeral in Montreal. In the annals of Canadian diplomacy, something seems to be on the verge of being irreparably broken there is no other international relationship in which Canada has on this island, but we don’t realize it, sunk in the day-to-day and stood as far apart from the US. its problems... we are leaving behind something that seemed to As a reward for our enduring friendship, Canada is probably us, at times, eternal.” the second most important economic ally Cuba has after VeneIn the face of this deepening uncertainty, there remains one zuela, which supplies more than 60 percent of the island’s oil. bright and intensifying light on Cuba’s troubled horizon, one (China exports more stuff to Cuba, but the Chinese don’t show safe port amid the Special Period storm: tourism. In 1990, at up daily by the multiple charter-flight-loads to hand out gifts the dawn of this strange age, Cuba attracted 340,000 tourists; and pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the Cuban econ- in 2011, it welcomed some 2.5 million. Since the announceomy.) Cuba is our largest trading partner in the whole of Central ment of the Save or Die program, Raúl Castro’s government America and the Caribbean. We export a range of commodities has introduced ninety-nine-year leases for foreign investors, to to Cuba —  ­sulphur, wheat, copper wire — and we are the second- encourage resort and golf course development; and it has looslargest buyer of Cuban exports, particularly sugar, nickel, fish, ened the restrictions on family-run, home-based restaurants citrus fruits, and tobacco. That’s over $1 billion in total trade. (paladares) and guest houses (casas particulares), to provide more The Canadian mining company Sherritt International has a huge self-­employment opportunities in the tourist sector. Meanwhile, presence in Cuba, digging up nickel; and Toronto-based Pizza one in four of the island’s 80,000 government tourist workNova, the only foreign pizza joint in the country, has operated ers has a post-secondary degree. “Right now,” writes Sanchez, six outlets scattered across the island. Back home, meanwhile, “the main incentive for those who work in snack bars, restausouvenir shops in many Canadian cities feature humidors well rants and hotels lies in the possibility of a visiting foreigner stocked with Cuban tobacco products for sale to American tour- leaving them some material gratification.” More than a milists. The Cuban cigar has become, in a sense, as Canadian as lion of those foreigners, 44 percent of the total, are Canadians. The next-­largest share, approximately 175,000, belongs to the maple syrup. The economic view from the other end of this relation- British. Tipping, once regarded as counter-revolutionary and ship is nowhere near as rosy. Since the collapse of the Soviet beneath the dignity of Cuban patriots, has become their most Union in the late ’80s, Cuba has struggled through a punishing direct and vital connection to economic stability. “Special Period” during which its economy has existed in its own isolated socialist limbo: tethered to a failed Communist order, o be a Canadian tourist in Cuba is to be something still barred from regular trade with the world’s largest economy more than a visitor, more even than a run-of-the-mill just 145 kilometres across the sea, desperate for imports and mark. It’s not just that you’re visibly foreign and rich; the hard currency to pay for them. As Soviet goods vanished you’re a sort of modern vassal, the only readily accessible emisfrom Cuban pantries in the first years of the Special Period, the sary of a metropole that has never been seen but is generally average Cuban’s calorie intake plummeted by 30 percent, and understood to be bounteous and benevolent. the local diet has never fully recovered. Cuba remains reliant Such were the macro-socioeconomic forces at work as we on imported goods (increasingly, under a special exemption, strolled down a broad downtown avenida on our first full day from the US) for somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of its in Santiago. The traffic on the road was steady and loud, heavy food. Cubans also switched almost overnight to organic and in with ancient GM trucks, diesel-belching Chinese buses, and ansome cases pre-industrial forms of local food production; the tique Fords and Cadillacs with multiply rebuilt engines growling island has experienced a boom in the production of yokes and under their hoods. We stopped to admire the stunning facade plows for use with oxen, for example, among many other aus- of the Hotel Rex, a glorious art deco and neon relic from Cuba’s terity measures adopted to weather the Special Period’s rough, swinging ’50s. The Cuban Revolution was born in Santiago, and uncertain seas. this was the hotel where the first Fidelistas stayed the night beAusterity’s limits, though, are now lapping perilously high fore their failed 1953 raid on the nearby Moncada Barracks. against the makeshift vessel’s sides. Since June 2009, Cuba has (Following the attack, Fidel, forced from Cuba for leading the operated under emergency energy quotas in a program known attack, would meet Che Guevara during his Mexican exile, as “Save or Die,” while the government has been laying off work- returning a few years later and capturing Santiago in late 1958 — the ers, encouraging small business development, and ­sending so first major victory of the revolutionary war.) many doctors abroad (as trade in kind for vital commodities Later that morning, a young man waved to us from a consuch as oil) that there are now nearly twice as many Cubans crete stoop half a storey above street level. He’d noticed my caring for the sick overseas as there are working on the island. wife’s camera and invited us in to see his little photo studio. In The government has begun to discuss phasing out subsidies for his solid but thickly accented English, he introduced himself many staple goods, suggesting that the days are numbered for as Antonio. the ­ration stores that provide Cubans with much of their daily The studio was a study in contemporary Cuban improvisabread (and rice and beans and milk). tion. It was located in the cramped front room of the old house, One recent study described Cuba’s current approach as its walls crumbling and peeling in that signature Special Period ­“survival economics.” The Havana-based dissident blogger Yoani way. The only light came from a single bare fluorescent tube 43


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Above A Cuban couple and their daughter, in the kitchen they share with their extended family (top left); having experienced the revolution, a woman in central Santiago now lives in extreme poverty (top right); one family benefits from industriousness and multi-generational support (bottom left); a family watches passersby on the streets of Santiago (bottom right).

mounted horizontally on one wall, its unearthly glare illuminating a threadbare white curtain. The sole piece of photographic equipment was a point-and-shoot digital camera that looked at least five years old and produced pictures several megapixels smaller than the ones taken by a basic smart phone. In Santiago, though, access to any digital camera evidently provided a sufficient foundation for a photography business. Antonio and a couple of colleagues were taking pictures of a baby girl and her proud parents. Her first birthday party was this coming Saturday, and we were promptly invited to attend. We posed for pictures with the birthday girl and her family, and then they left and Antonio launched into a protracted monologue about the local photo business, Santiago (“the most Caribbean city in Cuba”), and his own Afro-Cuban heritage. He dug out his passport and showed us the visa from a trip he’d taken to Amsterdam a few years earlier. He had a couple of pictures of himself in a toque and a heavy coat in the Dutch winter. He knew a musician, he said, who had toured Canada. His ache for escape was palpable. We left Antonio with a vague promise to return, perhaps for a tour of “the real Cuba,” perhaps for the birthday party. We were under no obligation, and we knew enough to be wary, but we meant it all the same. It was a glorious day, warm under a gentle sun, and we strolled 44

lazily down a nearby market street, stopping to gawk at the strange array of goods in the government shops. Cheap Chinese shoes and plastic toys were displayed on shelves or under glass in halfempty cases. There was a store full of knock-off electronics and tiny washing machines. All of it was bathed in late-­afternoon shadow, the lights kept Save or Die low. ­Locals clutching creased ration books lined up out the door at an egg dispensary. We came upon a nook where a young woman was selling ice cream bars. A small sign read “$3.00.” I asked for one and handed her three CUC $1 coins, realizing even as I dropped them in her hand that the sign was surely referring to nonconvertible CUPs. She whisked the coins away into a cubbyhole below the counter, trying hard to seem merely efficient. She handed me an ice cream on a stick and fixed me with a blank stare. I held her gaze for a yawning moment, not sure what I was waiting for. We were colonizer and colonized, deep in the fuzzy grey market of the tourist economy, wondering who would blink first. ­“Gracias,” I said finally, and we walked on down the street. A few blocks farther along, I came to understand just how much I’d overpaid. The ice cream had been chalky and flavourless and we were still peckish, so we stopped at a corner where an old woman was selling roasted peanuts wrapped in paper cones. I gestured for one and handed her a twenty-five-­centavo coin, a twelfth of what I’d paid for the ice cream. She was aghast.


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Above Empty shelves at a local store, a testament to the scarcity of goods in the Save or Die era (top left); a government-run market, operating on nonconvertible pesos (top right); with meagre stock, a manager watches over her underworked employees (bottom left); eggs are distributed as state aid, which provides Cubans half a month’s worth of food (bottom right).

An old man standing next to her made an exaggerated goggleeyed gesture of shock and then scooped up as many of the cones as his two hands could hold, nearly everything on her tray. Eventually, we settled on two cones for the quarter, for which she thanked us extravagantly. I’d handed the girl at the ice cream stall a windfall. She sold lousy ice cream to locals from a stall on the state store shopping street in a largely tourist-free city. (Unlike Havana, which draws hordes of visitors on its own and many more on day trips from nearby Varadero’s crowded resort strip, Santiago is too remote for the package tour masses, three hours by road from the much smaller cluster of beach developments near Holguin.) She had no expectation of returning home that night with CUCs in her ­pocket — a week’s wage in a single, accidental hard-currency tip. But we were, after all, Canadians on the sunny end of thousanddollar flights, and what did a couple of misspent CUCs matter here or there? The price of almost everything was arbitrary in Cuba. Normal rules didn’t apply. That was part of the fun. e spent a week in Santiago, and only twice did we ­encounter anything like a posted exchange rate, both times at live music venues near the main square. The first was at the government-run Artex music store, which sells an exhaustive range of Cuban music CDs (after rum 45

and cigars, probably Cuba’s most popular souvenir and its most widely adored cultural export). A small courtyard out the back features live music all afternoon and evening, and a sign at the top of the stairs leading down to the patio lists the admission prices in both convertible and nonconvertible pesos: “CUC $1.00/ CUP $20.00.” Up the street at Casa de la Trova, the most storied music hall in Santiago if not all of Cuba, locals were paying CUP $25 for an admission ticket marked “CUC $1.00.” Once, walking past a ration store, I saw rice listed on the chalkboard above the long, weathered wooden counter at $0.25 per pound (CUP, of course). At Patio de Artex’s twenty-to-one ­exchange rate, I’d paid CUP $60 — enough to buy 240 pounds of rice — for one barely edible ice cream bar. We could have bought 160 pounds of rice for what we spent to watch an hour of music one fine afternoon on the patio. Let’s talk about that Patio de Artex show. It points to the most obvious reason, beyond the availability and convenience of cheap flights or the historical friendship or the incomparable quality of a real hand-rolled Cohiba, that more than a million Canadians visit Cuba every year (compared, for example, with the 754,000 who travel to the Dominican Republic, where prices are lower, the cigars and rum are equally plentiful, and the logistics are uncomplicated by Communist bureaucracy and the grim ­exigencies of the Special Period). It’s related to why it’s no


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­ ccident that Cuba alone has managed to pass half a century in a open, hostile defiance of the world’s most powerful nation just to the north. Every country has its character and customs and quirks, but there’s a depth of soul to Cuba that puts it in a class by itself. Cuban music has set the tone and the rhythm for much of Latin American music for generations, and it’s the most ­visceral manifestation of the island’s indomitable spirit. So, yes, let’s talk about the Patio de Artex show. At the ­precipitous cliff ’s edge of the Special Period, even after many ­grinding months of Save or Die austerity, you can still find a table at Patio de Artex on any old Friday afternoon and watch eight guys in donated T-shirts and Chinese jeans transform a courtyard into one of the best places on earth from which to launch a weekend. Mojitos sweating through plastic cups on the table, the trumpet player muting his horn with his hand to add a vampish growl to the son they’re tearing up, a propulsion in the rhythm that hauls even a hopeless, doubly leftfooted n ­ on-dancer like me to his feet — this is what you get for your 160-pounds-of-rice admission at Patio de Artex. You get escape, transcendence. The show would have been a bargain at CUC $10 a head. This is why Canadians come back again and again. And why, perhaps, they bring even more T-shirts and towels and acetaminophen the next time: because these people deserve more for their labour. They deserve better. Yes, this is true of any picturesque beach destination in the impoverished tropics, but in Cuba it’s somehow more undeniable. Maybe it’s the grinding workaday cruelty of the Special Period, the utter absurdity of America’s ongoing embargo. Maybe we delude ourselves, in Mexico or Jamaica, with the notion that the society’s nominal freedom means no absolute barrier exists between our decadent days by the pool and the women slaving away at the messes in our hotel rooms. Anyway, there’s something about Cuba that brings the arbitrary nature of wealth and power and material comfort ­into especially high relief. And so we bring stuff. Gifts. Offerings. Talismans of apology and absolution. ive music is not hard to find in Santiago de Cuba. The city prides itself on being the place where African rhythms first mated with Spanish harmonies and instrumentation to produce the itinerant nineteenth-century musical tradition called trova, the wellspring of Cuba’s world-conquering musical culture. One evening at Casa de la Trova, we caught a fantastic sevenpiece group called Ecos del Tivoli who performed in matching suits. At other shows, we heard “Chan Chan,” the Buena Vista Social Club’s signature tune, played about a dozen different ways. We went to the paladar closest to our hotel early one night, and they opened up just for us, and before they even took our orders a kindly older man in a fedora showed up with a guitar to serenade us (his yearning take on “House of the Rising Sun” was a highlight). We bought one of his son band’s CDs (CUC $10, counting a tip for the serenade) and then saw him in the crowd a couple of nights later at Casa de la Trova, where he cajoled a prostitute into showing me a couple of moves on the dance floor. One afternoon, as we wandered the back streets around the original Bacardi rum distillery, an old woman approached us on 46

the corner. She explained that she worked in economics and computers but her lifelong passion was opera, and then she asked if we’d like to hear a song. As locals strolled past with little more than a glance — just another afternoon in Santiago — she treated us to a passionate mambo in a voice that revealed years of classical training. On Calle Heredia, a side street near Santiago’s main square, there is a small tourist market. Sidewalk vendors hawk handicrafts, and behind them small shops and kiosks trade in antiques, art, and souvenirs. I repeatedly visited one in particular, a place the size of a walk-in closet stuffed to the rafters with books, postcards, and old Cuban LPs. As soon as I expressed an interest in the records, the shop’s proprietor, a genial senior citizen in a newsboy cap, grinned at me around his cigar stub and s­ tarted yanking out records and throwing them on his phonograph. He tangoed around his shop, pouring out coffees for both of us. I bought priceless son records for a CUC or two apiece, and a small stack of ’70s back issues of Bohemia — once one of Latin America’s most important magazines — for the same unit price. For reasons I never fully understood, the old gent threw in a freebie, a fold-out postcard packet dated 1958, featuring photos of the La Seo Cathedral in Saragossa, Spain. What would you consider a fair price for admission to one of the best musical theme parks on earth? Twenty bucks? Fifty? What do they charge to get into the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville? If they’d asked me, as we boarded our flight home, for CUC $10 for the old lady’s street corner bolero, I’d have paid it gladly. What I felt most acutely, weeks later, is that I’d failed ­repeatedly to leave an adequate tip. et’s talk about where to eat in Santiago (and how to under-tip there). The state-run restaurants — the CUC joints for tourists, as well as the CUP places for locals — are a complete waste of time. The food in the family-run restaurants, the paladares, is in another league entirely. ­Paladares were black market operations, just a couple of tables in someone’s family kitchen, until the mid-’90s, when some of them were ­licensed and subjected to byzantine regulations and steep fees. The unlicensed ones, though, remain the best, and we found one around the corner from another trova hall, the Casa de las Tradiciones, simply by asking the guy at the door if he knew of a place nearby to eat. He led us briskly up a side street, where seemingly every twentysomething male in the neighbourhood was gathered around a boisterous roadside domino game. As we approached, a young man stepped away from the crowd and introduced himself as Luis. He led us a couple of blocks farther along to a tiny bungalow and invited us to take a seat in the living room, where a woman who appeared to be his grandmother was watching telenovelas. Luis disappeared into a back room for what felt like half an hour. When he finally returned, he ushered us past the kitchen, through a narrow bedroom with kids’ bunk beds against one wall, and down a concrete staircase to a small p ­ atio. A single table had been set immaculately before a panoramic view of Santiago Bay. Trova played on a portable stereo while our host, with a veteran tour guide’s ease, rattled off historical details about Santiago’s port and its slave trading history.


Chris Turner � O n T i p p i n g i n C u b a

We noticed a small shrine on the corner of the patio, a wooden box standing on its end, the open side facing outward, with dolls, a bowl of coins, and an egg on a tray arranged inside. There was a cigar and a small wooden cross on top, and a chalk circle drawn on the concrete in front of it, around markings of arrows and skulls. Luis explained that he practised a syncretic faith called Palo Monte, a common Afro-Cuban religion similar to Santeria. We mentioned that it was the only shrine we’d seen. Everyone has them, he replied, but he didn’t bother hiding his. He gave us a business card with the name and address of the paladar, the only one of those we saw as well. Amid Cuba’s current evolution, Luis was more concerned with positioning his modest business for the next phase than with keeping it from the authorities in the last days of this one. “In Cuba,” he told us, “today is today. A hoy es hoy. Mañana is another time.” He served us a variation on the mojito, using basil leaves ­instead of mint. He called it an alto del mar — “above the sea,” also the name of his paladar — and it was the best drink I had in Cuba. Dinner was whole fried fish garnished with the only red pepper we saw in Santiago, and a delicate creole sauce that was ­several steps above the licensed paladares’ offerings in its refinement. When I asked for the bill, he brought me a scrap of paper with “$14.00” written on it. I gave him CUC $20, under-tipping for one of the most memorable meals I’ve eaten anywhere. Luis’s place was just a couple of blocks from the Museum of the Clandestine Struggle, which we visited a few days later. It was a shrine of another sort, its glass cases containing ­carefully preserved bloodstained suits and Molotov cocktails from the guerilla street war fought block by block in Santiago for years ahead of Fidel’s return from exile, testimony to the long-­standing Santiagueran tradition of defiance. Outside, we stopped to watch three teenagers playing an impromptu stickball game in the street. They had a broom handle for a bat, and they were hammering some kind of makeshift ball off the surrounding buildings with such authority it took a while to realize it wasn’t even round. It was an empty pill bottle. I had a sudden, sick flashback to our visit to the Walmart in Antigonish and the “baseballs” entry on my shopping list. I’d searched the sporting goods section for baseballs, but in D ­ ecember in Nova Scotia there weren’t any. I’d had a sleeve of tennis balls in my hand at one point but had put them back. With a staggering lack of perspective, guided by some deranged sense of propriety, I’d thought to myself that Cubans were world-class ballplayers who surely honed their batting skills using a properly weighted baseball. Now, though, it was the grandest of my under-tips: the one not given. he Brisas Sierra Mar is a slightly dishevelled threestar resort sixty-five kilometres down the coast from Santiago, a drive that takes nearly three hours along the craziest lunar-landscaped road I’ve ever encountered. The hotel is a standard-issue all-inclusive: a pool with a swim-up bar, a few restaurants and lounges, an open-air amphitheatre for nightly cultural shows, a dive shop, a beach that was really something before Hurricane Dennis reduced it to a thin strip of sand in 2005. The clientele was at least three-quarters Can47

adian when we arrived, a significant number of them repeat visitors who came yearly or even more often, and they lent the place a friendly summer camp vibe. The package tour operators near the front desk all kept binders full of details on excursions, and every one of them described a Cuba beyond the gates where dangerous con artists lurked on every corner; the binders all warned against any unaccompanied travel whatsoever outside the resort. We had come to Brisas Sierra Mar to dive. The divemaster was a soft-spoken, sharp-witted family man named Edgar. We were the only divers who’d never visited the resort before, and everyone else on our excursion asked after his family. His daughters had been sick, he said, with a pointed shrug that suggested illness could go further south in Cuba than you really wanted to talk about. Cuba’s coral reefs are currently rife with lionfish, stunning creatures with brilliant black and orange stripes and a broad mane of poisonous antennae protruding from their fins. Native to the South Pacific, they are an invasive species in the Caribbean that feasts on defenceless hatchlings up and down the reefs. Edgar brought a speargun on most dives to take out as many as he could, and so one of the great spectator sports was watching the divemaster hunt lionfish. One day, he filleted a few of them back at the dive shop, expertly slicing away the venom-tipped fins using a pair of spears as an Asian cook wields chopsticks. The chef at the beachfront restaurant breaded and deep-fried the fillets for us and served them with fries: lionfish and chips, easily the most memorable meal at the Brisas during our stay. The morning we left, I headed down to the dive shop with a plastic shopping bag stuffed with gifts for Edgar: a big bath t­owel, a binder and a children’s notebook with a tiger on the cover that our daughter had picked out, plus bottles of ibuprofen, Dramamine, and a children’s anti-nausea medication called ­Nauzene. Edgar had called in sick that morning, but the caretaker at the shop said I could leave the bag in his office. I went in, set it down under Edgar’s desk, and then hesitated: what if someone else took it? There was no record of it, of course, no way to guarantee Edgar and his sick daughters would get it. I was invested, I realized, in the arbitrary personal connection. I wanted Edgar to know I was looking out for him. This is often the way of gift giving in Cuba — it’s not enough to be the ­colonial master of the exotic treasures, dispensing them with a sovereign’s whim. Even in the act of charity, we want tribute. We want to take a little gratitude home with us. I left the bag in Edgar’s office, knowing that whoever wound up with its contents, their value would be immediately understood and cherished. The stuff would be used and reused, used up, exhausted of its value, and then repurposed. An empty econo-sized ibuprofen bottle would, after all, make a serviceable baseball.  wasn’t ready for the condition of Antonio’s home. There are more flattering ways to say it, but at the end of the tour in Santiago when he invited us back, it was so much worse than I ­expected. I was imagining something like the places that lined the streets on our meanderings around the city: tidy concrete bungalows, cramped but homey spaces like Luis’s place.


The Walrus � a p r i l 2 0 1 2

Antonio led us down an alleyway in a densely populated neighbourhood near the photo studio. There were jumbles of concrete piled atop one another in behind the homes you could see from the street, places filigreed with rusted rebar and roofed in salvaged tin. Antonio lived with his young wife in one of them, which was stacked on top of the slightly larger concrete slab where his mother and sister lived. The entry was up a rickety flight of repurposed wooden stairs. There were two rooms: a front living area with a sink in one corner piled with dirty dishes, and a larger back room with a mattress on the floor. There was a Chinese boom box in the front room with one of those outsize, blinking blue-green displays, and a poster of a Dutch league soccer team tacked to the wall above it. It was a makeshift place, a slum dwelling. Antonio had had his friend drive us all over town in an ancient Soviet-made automobile mostly held together by force of will. We’d passed grand colonial mansions — “the houses of the people in Miami,” Antonio explained — that now housed educational facilities and cultural centres. He’d taken us to an Afro-Cuban cultural centre and museum that we’d never have found otherwise. On the way to the Spanish fort outside town, we’d pulled off the road and waited while he ran to the stoop of a bungalow to procure two bottles of rum with legendary Matusalem labels. No one has made rum under the name of Matusalem in Santiago since Fidel nationalized the distillery, but it was premium stuff for the discount price of CUC $10 per bottle. He’d known just the right restaurant, an unsanctioned paladar that turned out delectable grilled lobster. Throughout,

48

Antonio was personable, forthcoming, full of information and generous with it. He was bilingual, literate, and quick witted. His needs were obvious, unmistakable. I forgot all that. That he was achingly poor, and I impossibly rich. That his madly uncertain future was riding on how many CUCs he had when the Special Period’s precarious economic dance stopped and rendered them as worthless as Ostmarks. In the instant he took the ten-peso note from my hand, I was simply a colonial officer standing before him, momentarily indignant. There had been gifts, and there would be more, and how dare he presume to decide when and where and how they were to be bestowed? That’s the real value of ten convertible pesos: under the right circumstances, it will show you exactly who you are in Cuba. You might not like what you see, but it’s still well worth the price. he day before we left Cuba, we took a taxi to Gibara. Before the Spanish colonists built the country’s first railroad and placed its terminus in Santiago, the smaller city had been a major port for the sugar trade. Nowadays, it is a sleepy warren of dilapidated colonial mansions fronting on a gorgeous, breezy stretch of Caribbean Sea. While it’s less than an hour’s drive from the international airport in Holguin — closer, actually, than the strip of all-inclusive resorts farther down the coast — it sees only the occasional handful of day trippers on excursions. The locals are friendly, the accommodations at private guest houses in those ancient mansions charming if not quite grand, the seafood abundant and delicious. It’s a breezy, laid-back, disintegrating dream of a place. Gibara is, in other words, the


Chris Turner � O n T i p p i n g i n C u b a

quintessential off-the-beaten-track hideaway, the sort of place Lonely Planet built a guidebook empire discovering. We adored Gibara. For CUC $10 each per night, we had a comfortable room in a high-ceilinged colonial townhouse with a broad, quiet, hammock-strung courtyard in back. Within a couple of hours of our arrival, we’d already begun speculating on how cheap and easy it would be to hop a winter charter to Holguin and spend a month there living on next to nothing. At sunset, we wandered down to the harbour to watch a ferry arrive. It disgorged a steady stream of locals in work clothes on foot, and I’d just begun to wonder if they were employees at the resorts up the coast when my wife, who was taking pictures, slipped off the edge of the curb and twisted her ankle. A crowd soon gathered around us, the faces charged with real concern. Everyone said we should go to the hospital, and someone offered to find us a ride. My wife insisted she was fine; she just needed to rest a minute. “You’re hurt,” someone said. “Look at your ankle. Why not go? ” “We’re Canadian,” my wife answered. “It’s for everyone. Just go.” Cuba has one of the best health care systems in the developing world. Its medical schools train doctors from across Latin America and beyond, and it sends its skilled health professionals all over the globe. Cubans are, as we learned in an instant, offhandedly but beamingly proud of their hospitals. I can’t think of anywhere else I’ve been where the default response to an ankle twist was to go immediately to the hospital.

49

So we went. It was full dark by the time we arrived. The halls were sporadically under-lit by naked bulbs and fluorescent tubes, the walls and furniture crumbling. We were directed to a waiting area, and my wife was seen ten minutes later by a pair of attentive young doctors, who wrapped her ankle and advised her on care. No one asked us for money or anything else. We were back at our guest house half an hour after we’d left. This is how Cubans are with what little they have, the things that might be of use to us. Take it, as much as you need. Don’t hesitate, don’t be shy. Just go. After my wife was settled in bed, I returned to the hospital. I had a bag with me, our final gift to the Cuban people. My Spanish was so weak and disjointed, the people in the entry hall thought I was a bit unhinged at first, but once I showed them what I had in the bag they found a doctor upstairs to sit with me and register the donation. One large bottle of acetaminophen. The six remaining pills in a blister pack of a dozen decongestants. One bottle of gas relief drops for infants. Two-thirds of a twenty-pack of ballpoint pens. Everything we had left. The least we could give a hospital that offers aid to anyone who shows up on its doorstep but can’t reliably purchase its own medication. The next time we go to Cuba, we’ll bring much more, and I’ll remind myself to tip better. I’ve decided on a CUC $10 minimum. It’s only fair. v A country yearning for change: Jennifer Osborne’s 2008 Walrus photo essay, at walrusmagazine.com/cuba-in-waiting.


—Single Service Article Package Journalisme de service : œuvres intégrées Sponsored by/Commandité par Impresa Communications Ltd.

Winner/Gagnant

Staff & Contributors The Grid Guide to Getting Hitched

The Grid


22 | April 19-April 25, 2012

The

GRID GUIDE

thegridto.com

April 19-April 25, 2012 |

thegridto.com

23

to

Getting hitched

Bridesmaids’ dresses she won’t hate you for P.31

How to plan the perfect wedding by forgetting everything you ever learned about the big day

Ever attend a wedding and feel like you’ve been to the exact same shindig maybe a dozen times before? That’s because today’s “I dos” are governed by a set of conventions so deeply ingrained that most brides and grooms don’t even bother to question them. Think of them as the “shoulds”—as in, we should hold our wedding at an exorbitantly expensive golf club, we should hire a string quartet, and we should expect all bridal party members to give up their lives in the service of our nuptials. The result is a sort of unintentional matrimonial Groundhog Day, governed by the notions that 1) all brides and grooms want the same wedding, and 2) all brides and grooms are operating on unlimited budgets. Blame Hollywood, blame the billion-dollar wedding industry, blame your future mother-in-law who almost had a stroke when you mentioned the possibility of a pink dress, then take a look at the smiling couple to the right.... They’re smiling because they managed to achieve the impossible—scratch that, the improbable: a beautiful, original, stress-free wedding on a budget that won’t require them to sell off non-essential organs to get back in the black. They did it all by avoiding the dreaded s-word. Because the only important “should” for would-be brides and grooms is that you really should love the person on the other end of those vows. That and you really should read our guide to the ultimate off-the-grid wedding: cost-efficient, cool and 100 per cent conventional wisdom–free.

This is where you really want to register P.28

Killer cake alternatives P.29

Totally original wedding looks P.26

Dummy-proof iPod playlists P.25

By Courtney Shea, chris bilton, carley fortune, danielle groen, Liam Eagle, alisha karim-lalji, karon liu, katie underwood, eric vellend, jessica wei

:

Fashion photography by Matt Barnes photograph

photograph

Styling by jessica albano hair and makeup by taylor Savage/tresemmé Prop styling by donna irvine

I can’t believe it’s not Champagne! P.25

PH III iPod dock, Science + Sons ($195), scienceandsons.com; bridesmaid’s belt, La Krause ($295); necklace, Courage My Love ($12); headpiece, Pomp & Ceremony. For full credits, see page 26.


22 | April 19-April 25, 2012

The

GRID GUIDE

thegridto.com

April 19-April 25, 2012 |

thegridto.com

23

to

Getting hitched

Bridesmaids’ dresses she won’t hate you for P.31

How to plan the perfect wedding by forgetting everything you ever learned about the big day

Ever attend a wedding and feel like you’ve been to the exact same shindig maybe a dozen times before? That’s because today’s “I dos” are governed by a set of conventions so deeply ingrained that most brides and grooms don’t even bother to question them. Think of them as the “shoulds”—as in, we should hold our wedding at an exorbitantly expensive golf club, we should hire a string quartet, and we should expect all bridal party members to give up their lives in the service of our nuptials. The result is a sort of unintentional matrimonial Groundhog Day, governed by the notions that 1) all brides and grooms want the same wedding, and 2) all brides and grooms are operating on unlimited budgets. Blame Hollywood, blame the billion-dollar wedding industry, blame your future mother-in-law who almost had a stroke when you mentioned the possibility of a pink dress, then take a look at the smiling couple to the right.... They’re smiling because they managed to achieve the impossible—scratch that, the improbable: a beautiful, original, stress-free wedding on a budget that won’t require them to sell off non-essential organs to get back in the black. They did it all by avoiding the dreaded s-word. Because the only important “should” for would-be brides and grooms is that you really should love the person on the other end of those vows. That and you really should read our guide to the ultimate off-the-grid wedding: cost-efficient, cool and 100 per cent conventional wisdom–free.

This is where you really want to register P.28

Killer cake alternatives P.29

Totally original wedding looks P.26

Dummy-proof iPod playlists P.25

By Courtney Shea, chris bilton, carley fortune, danielle groen, Liam Eagle, alisha karim-lalji, karon liu, katie underwood, eric vellend, jessica wei

:

Fashion photography by Matt Barnes photograph

photograph

Styling by jessica albano hair and makeup by taylor Savage/tresemmé Prop styling by donna irvine

I can’t believe it’s not Champagne! P.25

PH III iPod dock, Science + Sons ($195), scienceandsons.com; bridesmaid’s belt, La Krause ($295); necklace, Courage My Love ($12); headpiece, Pomp & Ceremony. For full credits, see page 26.


26 | April 19-April 25, 2012

thegridto.com

April 19-April 25, 2012 |

thegridto.com

27

I like the cut of this dress a lot and the hairpiece was really fun. I love Ryan’s suit, too, though I’m not at all sure about the slicked-back hair. Conventional wisdom #6

Conventional wisdom #5

You should look like that tiny plastic couple on top of the cake

You should get married at a fancy-pants location

Reality check This isn’t just a wedding, it’s your wedding. So why not stamp it with your unique sense of style? To prove that basic black and white is just a jumping-off point, we asked The Grid’s soon-to-be-married photo editor, Shelbie (and her very patient fiancé, Ryan), to test drive four unique wedding-day wardrobes. Photographed at The Old Spaghetti Factory on The Esplanade.

Reality check For whatever reason, certain places are designated “wedding locations,” and we don’t tend to think very far outside the venue box. Of course, the truth is that “I dos” (and an amazing party) can happen against all sorts of inspired backdrops. So before agreeing to the golf club, check out our list of alternatives.

Instead of THE ROM, try

The Edward Day Gallery

Traditional with a Twist

On Shelbie dress, Cabaret ($595), 416-504-7126; gloves, Courage My Love ($12), 416-979-1992;

veil and bow, La Krause ($225), lakrause.com; shoes, Ivanka Trump at Town Shoes Eaton Centre ($195), 416-979-9914; bolero, Dana Stein at Fashion Crimes ($450), 416-592-9001; bag, 69 Vintage ($65), 416-516-0669. On Ryan suit, Ruins (jacket, $365; pants, $185), 647-351-0960; suspenders, Courage My Love ($10); bow tie, Pomp & Ceremony ($60), pompandceremony.ca; shoes, Kenneth Cole at The Bay ($205), thebay.com.

This is a great persona to try on. I work in finance, so this is definitely not my day-to-day. I feel like Slash.

952 Queen St. W., 416-921-6540 The vaulted ceilings and tasteful art exhibitions in this spacious gallery offer artsy swank without the snoot factor. A full kitchen is on site for catering prep, and the open-air courtyard—for celebratory cigars or starlit dance parties—can also be rented, for a fee. Capacity 150 for seated dinner, 300 for standing reception. Cost $4,500 for Friday/ Saturday evenings, $500 for daytime on Saturdays (minimum three hours).

Instead of an exotic destination, try

Allan Gardens 19 Horticultural Ave. 416-392-7288 The bamboo- and palmfilled greenhouse is a lush local paradise for newlyweds who haven’t quite amassed the air miles to stage a ceremony in the tropics. Foliage-heavy photo ops abound, though limited space means you’ll have to trim the guest list to BFFs only, and relocate for food and drink festivities. Capacity 40. Cost $174.59/hour for ceremony, $465.50 for photo permit.

Instead of a country club, try

Instead of a stuffy restaurant, try

I love the idea of incorporating colour. Myself, I am more understated than this, but I can see it on someone who has a retro-glam sense of style.

Teenage Dream

On Shelbie dress, Fashion Crimes ($579), 416-592-9001; crinoline, stylist’s own;

fascinator, KC Hats by David Dunkley, 416-538-0998; shoes, Nine West ($130), 416-977-8126; leopard jacket, 69 Vintage ($140), 416-516-0669; pearl necklace and bangle, stylist’s own; studs, Betsey Johnson ($40), 416-922-8164. On Ryan suit, Oliver Spencer (jacket, $535; pants, $225), 647-348-7673; shirt, Ben Sherman ($118), 416-603-7437; bow tie, Pomp & Ceremony ($60), 647-272-8267; pocket square, Pomp & Ceremony ($24); socks, Happy Socks at Model Citizen ($13), 416-703-7625; shoes, Fred Perry ($195), 416-538-3733; belt, Topman at The Bay ($22), 416-789-8011; vintage sunglasses, stylist’s own.

I keep wanting to do up the shirt. For my own wedding, there is pretty much zero chance I won’t be wearing shoes.

Modern Flower Child

On Shelbie dress, 69 Vintage ($150), 416-516-0669; neck piece, Courage My Love ($70), 416-979-1992; kimono, For Love & Lemons at Bicyclette Boutique ($188), 416-532-8048; head piece, La Krause ($175), lakrause.com; “slave” bracelet, Dolorous ($65), dolorousjewelry.com; white stone bracelet, Kauren Elan Collections at Bicyclette Boutique ($85); white bracelet, Biko ($46), ilovebiko.com; vintage cuff, Kali ($60), 416-340-1778; semi-precious stone rings, Courage My Love ($50–$120); sandals, Zigi at Town Shoes Eaton Centre ($80), 416-979-9914. On Ryan shirt, Metsa ($180), metsadesign.com; trousers, Thieves at Model Citizen ($290), 416-703-7625; neck pieces, Courage My Love ($55).

photographs (venues) Kayla rocca, Sean Decory

The Bovine Sex Club

Elegantly Wasted

On Shelbie dress, Jessica Mary Clayton at Fawn Boutique ($375), 647-344-4703; neckpiece, Pomp & Ceremony ($280), pompandceremony.ca; shoes, Sam Elderman at Heel Boy ($250), 416-367-4335. On Ryan vintage shirt, Kali ($58), 416-340-1778; 1920s vintage vest, 69 Vintage ($50), 416-516-0669; trousers, Diesel ($240), 416-968-3335; boots, Doc Martens store ($160), 416-585-9595; top hat, Cabaret (rental), 416-504-7126.

542 Queen St. W., 416-504-4239 The grunge-meets-glam interior provides a perfect backdrop for a casual, black-T-optional evening of hors d’oeuvres and earsplitting stage toasts set against the dulcet sounds of “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Marital mosh pit optional. Capacity Normally licensed for 180, but 100 for wedding purposes. Cost $3,000 for Friday/ Saturday evenings. No food or beverages provided; hotfood station can be set up.

A skating party at Assembly Hall 1 Colonel Samuel Smith Park Dr., 416-338-7257 Stage a winter wonderwedding and lace up before or after exchanging vows— or, if your officiant can skate, put the whole thing on ice, assuming you don’t mind a few spectators. Open to the public, the picturesque Samuel Smith trail is a fiveminute walk from the City of Toronto–owned Assembly Hall, a blank-canvas event venue that’s perfect for après-skate festivities. Capacity 135. Cost Skating is free. Assembly Hall rental space is an average of $2,500, including set up/ cleanup time and necessary insurance.


26 | April 19-April 25, 2012

thegridto.com

April 19-April 25, 2012 |

thegridto.com

27

I like the cut of this dress a lot and the hairpiece was really fun. I love Ryan’s suit, too, though I’m not at all sure about the slicked-back hair. Conventional wisdom #6

Conventional wisdom #5

You should look like that tiny plastic couple on top of the cake

You should get married at a fancy-pants location

Reality check This isn’t just a wedding, it’s your wedding. So why not stamp it with your unique sense of style? To prove that basic black and white is just a jumping-off point, we asked The Grid’s soon-to-be-married photo editor, Shelbie (and her very patient fiancé, Ryan), to test drive four unique wedding-day wardrobes. Photographed at The Old Spaghetti Factory on The Esplanade.

Reality check For whatever reason, certain places are designated “wedding locations,” and we don’t tend to think very far outside the venue box. Of course, the truth is that “I dos” (and an amazing party) can happen against all sorts of inspired backdrops. So before agreeing to the golf club, check out our list of alternatives.

Instead of THE ROM, try

The Edward Day Gallery

Traditional with a Twist

On Shelbie dress, Cabaret ($595), 416-504-7126; gloves, Courage My Love ($12), 416-979-1992;

veil and bow, La Krause ($225), lakrause.com; shoes, Ivanka Trump at Town Shoes Eaton Centre ($195), 416-979-9914; bolero, Dana Stein at Fashion Crimes ($450), 416-592-9001; bag, 69 Vintage ($65), 416-516-0669. On Ryan suit, Ruins (jacket, $365; pants, $185), 647-351-0960; suspenders, Courage My Love ($10); bow tie, Pomp & Ceremony ($60), pompandceremony.ca; shoes, Kenneth Cole at The Bay ($205), thebay.com.

This is a great persona to try on. I work in finance, so this is definitely not my day-to-day. I feel like Slash.

952 Queen St. W., 416-921-6540 The vaulted ceilings and tasteful art exhibitions in this spacious gallery offer artsy swank without the snoot factor. A full kitchen is on site for catering prep, and the open-air courtyard—for celebratory cigars or starlit dance parties—can also be rented, for a fee. Capacity 150 for seated dinner, 300 for standing reception. Cost $4,500 for Friday/ Saturday evenings, $500 for daytime on Saturdays (minimum three hours).

Instead of an exotic destination, try

Allan Gardens 19 Horticultural Ave. 416-392-7288 The bamboo- and palmfilled greenhouse is a lush local paradise for newlyweds who haven’t quite amassed the air miles to stage a ceremony in the tropics. Foliage-heavy photo ops abound, though limited space means you’ll have to trim the guest list to BFFs only, and relocate for food and drink festivities. Capacity 40. Cost $174.59/hour for ceremony, $465.50 for photo permit.

Instead of a country club, try

Instead of a stuffy restaurant, try

I love the idea of incorporating colour. Myself, I am more understated than this, but I can see it on someone who has a retro-glam sense of style.

Teenage Dream

On Shelbie dress, Fashion Crimes ($579), 416-592-9001; crinoline, stylist’s own;

fascinator, KC Hats by David Dunkley, 416-538-0998; shoes, Nine West ($130), 416-977-8126; leopard jacket, 69 Vintage ($140), 416-516-0669; pearl necklace and bangle, stylist’s own; studs, Betsey Johnson ($40), 416-922-8164. On Ryan suit, Oliver Spencer (jacket, $535; pants, $225), 647-348-7673; shirt, Ben Sherman ($118), 416-603-7437; bow tie, Pomp & Ceremony ($60), 647-272-8267; pocket square, Pomp & Ceremony ($24); socks, Happy Socks at Model Citizen ($13), 416-703-7625; shoes, Fred Perry ($195), 416-538-3733; belt, Topman at The Bay ($22), 416-789-8011; vintage sunglasses, stylist’s own.

I keep wanting to do up the shirt. For my own wedding, there is pretty much zero chance I won’t be wearing shoes.

Modern Flower Child

On Shelbie dress, 69 Vintage ($150), 416-516-0669; neck piece, Courage My Love ($70), 416-979-1992; kimono, For Love & Lemons at Bicyclette Boutique ($188), 416-532-8048; head piece, La Krause ($175), lakrause.com; “slave” bracelet, Dolorous ($65), dolorousjewelry.com; white stone bracelet, Kauren Elan Collections at Bicyclette Boutique ($85); white bracelet, Biko ($46), ilovebiko.com; vintage cuff, Kali ($60), 416-340-1778; semi-precious stone rings, Courage My Love ($50–$120); sandals, Zigi at Town Shoes Eaton Centre ($80), 416-979-9914. On Ryan shirt, Metsa ($180), metsadesign.com; trousers, Thieves at Model Citizen ($290), 416-703-7625; neck pieces, Courage My Love ($55).

photographs (venues) Kayla rocca, Sean Decory

The Bovine Sex Club

Elegantly Wasted

On Shelbie dress, Jessica Mary Clayton at Fawn Boutique ($375), 647-344-4703; neckpiece, Pomp & Ceremony ($280), pompandceremony.ca; shoes, Sam Elderman at Heel Boy ($250), 416-367-4335. On Ryan vintage shirt, Kali ($58), 416-340-1778; 1920s vintage vest, 69 Vintage ($50), 416-516-0669; trousers, Diesel ($240), 416-968-3335; boots, Doc Martens store ($160), 416-585-9595; top hat, Cabaret (rental), 416-504-7126.

542 Queen St. W., 416-504-4239 The grunge-meets-glam interior provides a perfect backdrop for a casual, black-T-optional evening of hors d’oeuvres and earsplitting stage toasts set against the dulcet sounds of “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Marital mosh pit optional. Capacity Normally licensed for 180, but 100 for wedding purposes. Cost $3,000 for Friday/ Saturday evenings. No food or beverages provided; hotfood station can be set up.

A skating party at Assembly Hall 1 Colonel Samuel Smith Park Dr., 416-338-7257 Stage a winter wonderwedding and lace up before or after exchanging vows— or, if your officiant can skate, put the whole thing on ice, assuming you don’t mind a few spectators. Open to the public, the picturesque Samuel Smith trail is a fiveminute walk from the City of Toronto–owned Assembly Hall, a blank-canvas event venue that’s perfect for après-skate festivities. Capacity 135. Cost Skating is free. Assembly Hall rental space is an average of $2,500, including set up/ cleanup time and necessary insurance.


28 | April 19-April 25, 2012

thegridto.com

Conventional wisdom #7

You have to register for China, a gravy boat, and a bunch of other stuff you don’t want and will never use reality check The registry concept was originally premised on the idea that newlyweds were moving into their first home together, but in today’s world of independence and lax morals, most of us find flatware before we find a mate. Don’t need another set of steak knives? Find your ideal registry option by following the chart below.

Do it!

We use our oven as storage space

HoW ofTeN Do You eAT iN?

After all the wedding madness, you’ll just want to…

Resume life as we know it

Do you own a barbecue?

Almost every night

Yes, but we never use it Ribs are a religion

Which adjective best describes you as a couple?

Lie on a beach

Do you want to?

Definitely Not really

eHoNeYmooN ReGiSTRY Take your dream vacation on your friends’ dimes. You pick the location, they can sponsor anything from air fair to one night in a tiki hut. ehoneymoonregistry.com

Adventurous

Creative

Do you mean in the bedroom

Do you mean in the bedroom

Of course not

Naturally

Inebriated

No, pervert.

What else would I mean?

Come AS You ARe Make sure the honeymoon period springs eternal with couples’ sex workshops and boudoire accessories. comeasyouare.com

No


April 19-April 25, 2012 |

thegridto.com

29

Conventional wisdom #8

SloANe TeA ComPANY Tea is the new coffee—customize a years’ (or more) supply of fancy bags and Alice in Wonderland-worthy accessories. sloanetea.com

A nice steeped tea

After a long day, you like to unwind over

BYoB Antique snifters, shakers, bar carts and bitters—everything you need to stock your at-home bar (except the booze). byobto.com

A nice stiff drink

olliffe BuTCHeR Amourous carnivores can keep the barbecue fires burning all year round. Register for everything from AAA burgers to Peking Duck. olliffe.ca

love THe DeSiGN Time to take down the Led Zeppelin posters and get some grown up artwork to adorn the marital nest. lovethedesign.com

No one eats the cake

reality check Nobody eats the cake because a lot of wedding cakes are more stylish than scrumptious. If you insist on having a cut-the-cake moment, skip to the next section. If you want your guests to be discussing your unique and delicious wedding dessert for years to come, consider one of these alternative sweet treats, 100 per cent guaranteed to be delicious. (Just to be sure, we fed them to a four-year-old.) DouGhnuts Glory Hole Doughnuts Tim Hortons has nothin’ on these amazing confections that dazzle your eye before they melt in your mouth. Flavours like maple bacon, apple pie, and coconut cream make the classic cruller look downright pedestrian. Cost $3.50–$4 each. Kiddie review “It smells good. I like the doughnut, but don’t like the coconut part. Too much whip cream.

MACArons Nadège Match your dessert to your colour scheme with a Belle Epoque-inspired macaron tower, made to order in a rainbow of colours and flavours. Salted caramel, pistachio, blackberry, and chocolate are top sellers. Cost Small tower (60 macarons), $125; large tower (350 macarons), $750. Kiddie review “This [cottoncandy flavoured] one is my favourite of all. I think we should have cotton candy every day now.”

GelAto The Boreal Gelato Company How about authentic Italian gelato served from a cone tree? Flavour options include vanilla bean, pumpkin pie, blueberry, and mango. (Fear not: The arrangement comes with dry ice to ensure cones stay cool.) Cost From $2/per cone. Kiddie review “I like mango the best, but they all taste good together, too. This is delicious!”

Pie Wanda’s Pie in the Sky Fresh baked pies look pretty, taste delicious, and come in both traditional (classic apple and wild blueberry) and chocoholic (pecan with chocolate crust) varieties. Cost $37-$38 for an 11” pie (eight–10 servings). Kiddie review “This one is even more yummier than the ice cream! I love the chocolate and the crust, but not the nuts.”


30 | April 19-April 25, 2012

THEGRIDTO.COM

April 19-April 25, 2012 |

THEGRIDTO.COM

Conventional wisdom #9

Conventional wisdom #5

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM #10

Speeches must be boring and/or long and/or full of inside jokes

The bride/bridesmaid relationship should be fraught with drama culminating in a blow-up over an expensive dress

Reality check The best-man job basically boils down to two things: Hand a guy a ring; make a speech. The first is simple, but the second has sunk plenty of good men, so rather than bore your audience to tears (or leave them cringing in awkward silence), follow this ridiculously simple build-yourbest-man-speech template. We’d call it foolproof, but then we haven’t met the dudes in your wedding party. By Liam Eagle

Reality check Bridezillas, listen up: If you want your maids decked out in wallet-busting Vera Wang then you should be the one paying for it. If you’re planning on asking the girls to pay for their own wedding-day wear, keep it affordable. Low cost can still equal high style. To prove it, we challenged three Grid staffers to find an adorable —dare we say, rewearable—bridesmaid’s dress for under $100…in the Eaton Centre. H&M, $60

Part of the point of this is painting a picture about what the marriage means for the groom, what it’s going to change about his life.

You’re obliged to explain who you are. Not everybody here knows you.

No swearing. Remember? Grandma’s here.

At some point you have to describe the bride as “beautiful.”

It’s not a best- man speech if you don’t make fun of the groom. But keep it to a gentle teasing. This is not the time to go for the jugular.

When you get to your main point, make it with honesty and sincerity. Men don’t get a lot of opportunities to tell each other this stuff. Plus, if you can wring a few tears out of the crowd, you’re getting into “classic speech” territory.

Jacob, $89

Also, explain why she’s great from the perspective of the groom’s friends.

Go out with a bang. This is my bit. It might not work for you if you haven’t spent years cultivating a reputation for being really into wizards.

Also, let’s be real for a second: This line gets you laid tonight. We probably just got you un-laid. My bad.

PHOTOGRAPHS KAYLA ROCCA

Rule #1: Start with a joke. It helps set the tone that “this is the fun one.”

I like the meta-joke about speechmaking. Try this: “Don’t say anything racist.[Pause.]Oh,sorry,that’snotpart of the speech. That’s just a note I’ve written to myself here.”

Forever 21, $27.80

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Conventional wisdom #11

A pre-nup means you’re planning for divorce Reality check Just because you put on your seat belt doesn’t mean you expect the car to crash. We spoke with marital lawyer Judy Piafsky about why signing on the dotted line can be downright romantic.

What do you say to the notion that a pre-nup is the antithesis of romance? I don’t see it like that at all. The reality is that getting married is about romance, but it’s also about making decisions together and some of them are about money. Any tips on how to cushion the blow when broaching this subject with your spouse? The biggest thing is that if you’re planning to get a pre-nup, it needs to come up way, way in advance so that nobody is blindsided. Blow-ups tend to happen when someone comes in two weeks before the wedding and is basically saying, “I won’t marry you unless you sign this.” What are the current laws for people who don’t sign a pre-nup? In Ontario, marriage is considered a partnership, so whatever growth you accumulate during the marriage is supposed to be shared. There are some exceptions, but generally that is the rule. But if there was a pre-nup, the person who accumulates more money keeps it? If that’s what spelled out in their agreement. Who should be signing a pre-nup? Anyone who wants to customize their marital contract. Let’s say you had a business that you started before you met your husband, and you expect it to increase

greatly in value after you get married. Maybe you don’t feel like you should have to share that money in the event of a split. Or often, it’s when you are dealing with second marriages where one person wants to protect certain assets for their kids. Do you think there are a lot of couples who tie the knot without sharing basic financial info? More than you’d think. One of the good things about signing a marital agreement is that it forces couples to give full financial disclosure—income, assets, debt. Are fidelity clauses a real thing or just something we see on TV? I have never come across one. The Family Law Act states that chastity clauses in a marriage contract are unenforceable. Are there other rules about what can and cannot be stipulated in a pre-nup? You cannot include the right to custody of or access to your children. Any provision that tries to limit a spouse’s right to live in a matrimonial home is also unenforceable. In general, if anything is just patently unfair, it’s probably not going to hold up in court. A pre-nup is really an opportunity for two people to sit down together and craft whatever agreement they want. To say, ‘This is what I want my future to look like.’ It almost sounds romantic. It almost does.


April 19-April 25, 2012 |

THEGRIDTO.COM

Conventional wisdom #5

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM #10

The bride/bridesmaid relationship should be fraught with drama culminating in a blow-up over an expensive dress Reality check Bridezillas, listen up: If you want your maids decked out in wallet-busting Vera Wang then you should be the one paying for it. If you’re planning on asking the girls to pay for their own wedding-day wear, keep it affordable. Low cost can still equal high style. To prove it, we challenged three Grid staffers to find an adorable —dare we say, rewearable—bridesmaid’s dress for under $100…in the Eaton Centre. H&M, $60

Jacob, $89

Forever 21, $27.80

31

Conventional wisdom #11

A pre-nup means you’re planning for divorce Reality check Just because you put on your seat belt doesn’t mean you expect the car to crash. We spoke with marital lawyer Judy Piafsky about why signing on the dotted line can be downright romantic.

What do you say to the notion that a pre-nup is the antithesis of romance? I don’t see it like that at all. The reality is that getting married is about romance, but it’s also about making decisions together and some of them are about money. Any tips on how to cushion the blow when broaching this subject with your spouse? The biggest thing is that if you’re planning to get a pre-nup, it needs to come up way, way in advance so that nobody is blindsided. Blow-ups tend to happen when someone comes in two weeks before the wedding and is basically saying, “I won’t marry you unless you sign this.” What are the current laws for people who don’t sign a pre-nup? In Ontario, marriage is considered a partnership, so whatever growth you accumulate during the marriage is supposed to be shared. There are some exceptions, but generally that is the rule. But if there was a pre-nup, the person who accumulates more money keeps it? If that’s what spelled out in their agreement. Who should be signing a pre-nup? Anyone who wants to customize their marital contract. Let’s say you had a business that you started before you met your husband, and you expect it to increase

greatly in value after you get married. Maybe you don’t feel like you should have to share that money in the event of a split. Or often, it’s when you are dealing with second marriages where one person wants to protect certain assets for their kids. Do you think there are a lot of couples who tie the knot without sharing basic financial info? More than you’d think. One of the good things about signing a marital agreement is that it forces couples to give full financial disclosure—income, assets, debt. Are fidelity clauses a real thing or just something we see on TV? I have never come across one. The Family Law Act states that chastity clauses in a marriage contract are unenforceable. Are there other rules about what can and cannot be stipulated in a pre-nup? You cannot include the right to custody of or access to your children. Any provision that tries to limit a spouse’s right to live in a matrimonial home is also unenforceable. In general, if anything is just patently unfair, it’s probably not going to hold up in court. A pre-nup is really an opportunity for two people to sit down together and craft whatever agreement they want. To say, ‘This is what I want my future to look like.’ It almost sounds romantic. It almost does.


CONGRATULATIONS

TO ALL THE FINALISTS IN THE 36TH ANNUAL

NATIONAL MAGAZINE AWARDS from Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada

FÉLICITATIONS

À TOUS LES FINALISTES DE LA 35e ÉDITION ANNUELLE

DES PRIX DU MAGAZINE

de la part des Périodiques Reader’s Digest Canada


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Winner/Gagnant

Sierra Skye Gemma The Wrong Way

The New Quarterly


The Wrong Way s i e r ra S kye G e mm a

A

fter the service, the five of us—devan, garrett, morgan, steele, and I—crammed into my rental car and drove to a nearby Mexican restaurant. Devan’s sister, Morgan, wrapped in a black pencil skirt that matched her thin, cropped hair, stayed outside to finish her cigarette. When she came in, Steele—the youngest cousin and, strangely, the most boisterous of the bunch—was wearing one of the restaurant’s mariachi hats, which otherwise served as decoration. He was being silly and we couldn’t stop laughing. Neither could the waiter when he came over. Delighted by our energy, he asked, “Is it someone’s birthday?” No. No, it was not. Morgan ordered a Coke. Devan said that Morgan was embalming herself from the inside out with Coke, booze, and cigarettes. “It’s true!” Morgan squealed and we all laughed some more. We were ridiculous. We were, somehow, high on life. After lunch, we got into the car again. The energy had died back down. “What next?” I asked from behind the wheel. “Let’s take a drive,” Steele suggested and we took off into the back hills of Northern California. Garrett, quiet and serious despite his tattoos and piercings, with a slow and steady type of thought and speech, observed how green the hills were. Steele, as the sole resident of those hills, shrugged. I thought it looked dry, but I was from Vancouver, one of the greenest cities in the world. Morgan and Devan, however, agreed, having also come from Southern California. “Where am I driving?” I asked Steele. “Well, we can drive up into the hills by where my friend lives. Anyone want weed?” Why yes, we did. 10  T he

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“I’ll navigate then,” Steele said. We drove for about an hour, way up into the hills. Steele told us about how one night he and his friend had walked a few miles to a grow-op in the woods, trespassed onto the property, and stolen about a pound of big, beautiful bud. After much contemplation of my own tumultuous teenage years, I had already come to the conclusion that you can’t make teenagers do anything. They will do what they will do, and all you can do is try to gently guide them and hope they don’t get themselves killed. I think it was this philosophy that kept my relationships with my eight nephews and nieces so strong throughout their adolescence. They knew they could tell Auntie Sierra anything and I would never tell their parents, unless I seriously thought their lives were in danger. I preferred to guide them on my own, sans parental influence and the inevitable communication shutdown that came with it. “Steele, as great as this pot is, I highly recommend that you don’t trespass and steal it again. Seems really dangerous. I don’t want you to die over dank, okay?” “No worries,” Steele said, “I don’t know how we could ever smoke all that we already have anyway.” He directed me up a one-lane dirt road, carved into ruts by rainfall and repeated passage. I was worried about my rental car, but I didn’t say anything. “Pull over here,” he said. I pulled over and Steele hopped out. He walked off the road into the scraggly trees. A couple of minutes later, he was back with another shaggy blonde boy who also looked about fifteen. They could’ve been brothers. Steele’s real brother, Tristan, had chosen to stay behind with the “adults,” while all the “kids” had left with me. Tristan was too much of a people pleaser. I worried about him. I worried about how what had happened would change him, both of the boys, all of us, really.

Steele’s friend peered into the car and waved. We waved back and smiled, trying to look like we cared about something more than the weed, but we didn’t. The friend handed Steele a brown paper lunch bag and Steele got back in the car. “Buuuuud!” he said, and the cousins mimicked him. I thought briefly about all the laws I was breaking. I got a little sick, a nervous stomach, and ignored it, pushed my fears aside. What was important was that I help these kids feel the way I was feeling, which was truly, genuinely just fine. c In 1969, in her book, On Death and Dying, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross first introduced her theory, commonly known as The Five Stages of Grief. The five stages—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—have become so deeply embedded in our modern understanding of grief that we have forgotten that the Kübler-Ross model was originally envisioned to explain the experience of terminally ill patients. Now the stages are used to describe not only how we react to the death of a loved one, but almost any experience of loss. Twenty-two years after publishing On Death and Dying, Kübler-Ross concluded, “Any natural, normal human being, when faced with any kind of loss, will go from shock all the way through acceptance.” This is how loss is done, folks. c I didn’t even want a cat. I’m not a “pet person.” I like pets about as often as I like people. Not that often. Sure, a pet can grow on you, just like a person can, but it takes time to develop that relationship. I don’t Fall 2012

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see a small ball of fuzz and love it on sight. So, when William decided we should get cats, I was reluctant. Unfortunately, the man who became my first husband could talk me into almost anything. We went to the Humane Society. He picked out a black cat with white socks. I thought it was overly excitable. A little multi-coloured tabby walked over to me and nudged against my hand. I petted her and she started to purr. She sat down next to me. “I like this one,” I told William. He scowled at the cat. “A tabby? Tabbies are boring. They’re ugly. Look at this one. Isn’t he cute? I’m going to call him Hobbes.” It was my turn to scowl. “Hobbes is an orange cat—an orange tabby, by the way—not black.” “Then I’ll name him Calvin. Isn’t that right, Calvin? Yes, it is. Would you like to come home with me and the grouchy lady? Okay,” William said to the cat. “That cat is spastic. I’m not getting that cat. I’m getting this one. It’s my apartment.” “Fine, we’ll each get one. I’ll take care of Calvin and you can take care of that boring cat.” “Whatever,” I said. The ultimate word in any relationship spat. We went home with two cats. I named my cat Suzie. I liked Suzie, but I didn’t love her. I respected her as another individual living in my home and I believe she respected me. She didn’t go to the bathroom anywhere other than in her litter box. She didn’t scratch my furniture while I was out. She didn’t mew too loudly or too much. But I knew that if she got kitty leukemia, she’d be on her own. I liked her, but I wasn’t about to go into debt to save her. It wasn’t that kind of relationship. Then, one day, Suzie disappeared. At first, I thought she was just sleeping or hiding 12  T he

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in the apartment, but as I called her name over and over, shook the bag of cat food, and opened a can of tuna—all to no avail—I realized that she was definitely not in the apartment. I ran to the balcony and looked down at the two-storey drop. Could a cat land on its feet after that drop? I didn’t see her broken and bent body among the bushes. To be sure, I ran outside and scoured the slope below my balcony. No body. Then I just lost it. I screamed her name hysterically. I begged and bargained and threatened her to show herself. I looked around buildings. I searched strangers’ patios. William tried to calm me, but I became enraged. “Don’t tell me to calm down!” I yelled. After about a half hour of looking for Suzie while battling a barrage of emotions, I saw her underneath a car. I called to her, but it was as though I was a stranger. She wouldn’t come. I tried to grab her and she fought and hissed. She scratched me until I let go, and then she ran. William and I gave chase and finally cornered her. I got a hold of her leg and wouldn’t let go until I finally had her secured. When we got her into the house, I started crying and couldn’t stop. Between sobs I said, “I didn’t think I cared. I didn’t think I cared so much.” c In her article, “New Ways to Think about Grief,” Ruth Davis Konigsberg makes the argument that KüblerRoss broke the “stoic silence that had surrounded death” since the First World War. Konigsberg believes that the twentieth-century evolution from a religious model of grief to the new (North) “American Way of Grief ” was the direct result of Kübler-Ross’s seminal work. In less than half a century, grief had developed from an emotion to a “process” that an individual had to “work” through. Rituals of the past had been traded


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in for new rituals, such as grief counselling, journaling, “talking it out” with friends and family. Konigsberg points out the insidious nature of the new rules of grief: “So while conventions for mourning, such as wearing black armbands or using black-bordered stationery, have all but disappeared, they have been replaced by conventions for grief, which are arguably more restrictive in that they dictate not what a person wears or does in public but his or her emotional state” (emphasis mine). This is how you feel loss. c I hadn’t called my sister in three months. She’d left several messages that I hadn’t returned. Since her “accident,” it was hard to talk to her. She was getting better, but it was still a struggle. The accident wasn’t really an accident. She’d overdosed yet again, but this time had been the worst. Her boyfriend had found her unresponsive, with green froth foaming from her lips. The ambulance came. Her blood oxygen level registered 45%. “That’s the lowest our machine goes,” the EMT had said. The ICU nurses had warned us that brain damage was probable, but we paid no heed. April would come out of it because she was a survivor. Then she mistook the remote control for the phone. Then she couldn’t dress herself. It was downhill from there. After weeks in the hospital, my mother finally took April into her own custody. Our mother hadn’t been able to locate a suitable institution. When I first called, April had been almost totally unresponsive. “Hello? Who is it?” I said when my mother gave April the phone. I said it in the funny accent like the French castle guard in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. That’s how we’d always said hello. There was no

reply. Then I asked, “April, can you hear me?” “Yes.” And that was pretty much how the rest had gone. Only one-word replies to direct questions. Nothing more. But slowly, after months, April started to change. She could hold short conversations. I remember the first time we laughed together. I said, “Hey! You laughed!” “Yes, but I’m not as funny as I used to be,” she said. “Well, you are still funny.” “But not like before.” That was now months ago. What she’d said had been true. She just wasn’t as funny anymore and it was hard to talk to her. I knew I’d pushed my delay to return her call as long as I possibly could and I finally called back. No one picked up. I left a message. The next day I prepared a package for her. The most recent journal I had edited. A letter announcing an award I had won at school. A print-out of my most recent grades. I wanted her to be proud of me, if that was possible. The next week, my mother called. Casey, my second husband, looked at the caller ID. “It’s your mom.” My mother never called me. Unless there was a tragedy to share. “Oh God, someone is probably dead,” I told Casey. “I hope it’s my dad and not my sister.” But the call was about my sister. She’d had another overdose on the day I had left my message. She’d been in the ICU the last week, and our mother had been at her side ever since, unable to call me back. Or whatever. “I don’t even know where she got the drugs,” my mother cried. I had to contact my older brother Dane, since my mom didn’t talk to him either. Not even for tragedies. Fall 2012

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He was in Japan. I emailed him to call me as soon as possible. I said it was an emergency. “Do you know what time it is here?” he asked, irritated, when he called. “It’s three a.m. What’s the big emergency?” “It’s April. She’s in the ICU. She tried to commit suicide again. Pretty serious this time. She left a note.” Dane sighed. “You know, she had so much potential when she was younger, but she just failed at everything. I mean, she even failed at killing herself.” April started healing. Mother called and said she was doing better. She’d had a little Jell-O. So, it was quite a shock when she died suddenly a few days later. It was quite a shock for everyone but me. c Kübler-Ross didn’t believe that the stages always came in the same order for all people. Some people skipped stages or got stuck and never progressed. Others bounced back and forth between two stages or rollercoastered through three or four stages again and again, as if they were on a never-ending track. Despite these variations, she believed that all individuals experienced at least two of the stages in their grieving process. c When my son Liam was about five years old, I thought it would be a great experience for him to have an aquarium. So, we went to the store, and on the suggestion of the employee there, came home with a small fish tank, all the fancy little decorative displays, rocks, a beta fish, and an aquatic frog. My son named the two “Fishy” and “Froggy,” respectively. From day one, Fishy seemed to have quite the personality, for a fish. Froggy, while absolutely adorable with his little webbed feet, wasn’t thriving as Fishy 14  T he

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was. He swam little and didn’t seem to like any of the three brands of frog food that we bought. With each day, he was swimming around less and less and hanging out at the bottom of the tank more and more. That’s okay, I thought, if Froggy dies, he will float to the surface and I’ll know right away that he has passed on. A few days later my in-laws, with whom we lived at the time, mentioned that Froggy hadn’t been moving much the past few days, at all. As I walked over to the tank, I assured myself that Froggy was still alive because dead fish, and presumably all aquatic beings, float to the surface when they die. Right? I bent down and squinted into the tank. I was met with glazedover gray eyes. I took a deep breath and stood up. “That’s okay,” I said to my son’s grandmother Shannon. “I’ll have to...I’ll have to.... I don’t know what to do!” As the idea of removing Froggy’s remains from the tank and the thought that the beta fish was swimming around in dead frog water sank in, I started to panic. I was nearly hyperventilating as I tried to work out what to do. I turned to Shannon, a nurse of fifteen years, “Shannon, I’m not used to this. I thought I could handle this, but I can’t. You’re used to death Shannon, can you take care of it? I just don’t think I can do it,” I whined. “I don’t know what to do. What will I say to Liam?! Maybe he won’t notice. Maybe we can just flush the frog and he’ll never even notice. Oh God, I can’t do this right now. I need some time to think. I’m going to go take a shower and then I’ll think about it.” As I walked to the bathroom, I heard Shannon laughing at me and then calling Liam in to tell him that Froggy was no more. While I stood under the cleansing waters of the hot shower, I thought of John Updike’s 1969 poem “Dog’s Death.” The poem is about a family pet, whose


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life is cut short just as she is “beginning to learn / To use the newspapers spread on the kitchen floor / And to win, wetting there, the words, ‘Good dog! Good dog!’” Never having had a natural affinity with the fauna of the Pacific West Coast, I surprised myself with tears every time I read the final stanza: Back home, we found that in the night her frame, Drawing near to dissolution, had endured the shame Of diarrhea and had dragged across the floor To a newspaper carelessly left there. Good dog. In the shower, I was thinking about writing my own poem that showcased, by the death of Froggy, my many failures as a mother. As I was structuring the poem in my mind, I heard a little knock at the bathroom door. “Come in,” I said, and I heard my son enter. “Mommy?” he said, “I have something to show you.” My breath caught in my throat and I knew that my son was about to confront me with the terrible truth that I had never known how to care for any sort of aquatic animal. What had I been thinking? With fear, I pulled back the shower curtain, ready to face the worst. “See?” my son said, with his hand outstretched. “Mmm,” I said, “a cookie.” Later, Shannon told me that they had a short memorial service for Froggy at the toilet, just before they flushed him to Froggy Heaven. Liam hadn’t reacted visibly or otherwise to the service. And my son never again mentioned Froggy, or his death, to me. c The Kübler-Ross grief process has been compared to the Schopenhauer learning process. Arthur Schopenhauer

said, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” Applying the KüblerRoss stages to this model means associating denial with ridicule, anger and bargaining with opposition, and depression and acceptance with accepting the truth as self-evident. Reimagining Kübler-Ross’s model in this way is supposed to simplify it, but it still funnels reactions into specified stages. c Dane said that when he told our oldest brother, Shawn, about April’s death, Shawn became extremely angry and had yelled, “How could this have happened?” I laughed. I couldn’t help it. Dane didn’t say anything on the other end of the line. “Um, well, a lifetime of drug and alcohol abuse?” “I just can’t believe it,” Dane said. He couldn’t see my frown. “I don’t understand. She’s done this so many times. How can you be surprised?” “Yeah, but she always survived. She always pulled through. I thought this would be like every other time.” “Well, you had to know,” I said, “that someday she’d get it right. You had to know.” “No. I never thought,” he trailed off. “Are you going to the funeral?” I asked. He said he couldn’t, but I thought that he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. When my mother called to tell me when and where the service would take place, she started crying. She told me how she’d left for one week— just one week!—to attend a Jehovah’s Witness convention in Southern California. She thought April would be okay. April had really improved, she said. She didn’t know April was doing drugs again. When she’d left, she told April that she only needed her to do one thing while she was Fall 2012

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gone—just one thing! She’d asked April to water the plants. When she’d come back, all the plants were dead. She was so angry, she said. She’d asked April, “Why couldn’t you just do this one thing for me?” Two days later, she found April on the floor. She said April had already turned blue. “If only I hadn’t been so hard on her. You know? About the plants?” “That’s ridiculous,” I said. But then I thought, What if I had just called sooner? I immediately shook my head. No, that was silly. That was crazy talk. It wouldn’t have changed anything. Not one thing. My sister had always had a death wish. c Grief counsellors have expanded the Kübler-Ross model to include seven stages: Shock or Disbelief Denial Bargaining Guilt Anger Depression Acceptance or Hope I’m unclear as to how stage one (shock or disbelief ) is radically different from stage two (denial). Don’t disbelief and denial go hand in hand? What do I know? I’m no expert. Some experts have also pointed out that the “grief-cycle” may not be limited to merely emotional “side effects.” Associated physical and social symptoms may take the form of insomnia, loss of appetite, self-imposed social isolation, and difficulty functioning at home, school, or work. c 16  T he

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The day after my sister died, I walked into the student lounge of the History department. All my friends from the department were there. As one, their faces turned towards me. Surprise. Shock. Eyes widened to exactly the same degree. Mouths ever so slightly agape. “Why are you here?” Isabel asked. “I have class.” They continued to stare. “I have class,” I repeated. What was I doing wrong? My sister wasn’t going to be less dead if I skipped my classes. Plus, I had assignments due. A midterm coming up. They all rushed me at once. Encased me in their arms. “We’re so sorry,” they wailed. Why? I wondered. They didn’t know my sister. They didn’t know how long she had suffered. c In 2007, the Journal of the American Medical Association published “An Empirical Examination of the Stage Theory of Grief ” which reported the results of the three-year Yale Bereavement Study (YBS). Using Selby Jacobs’ hybrid theory of grief that synthesized Kübler-Ross’s stages with those identified by several other researchers, the study followed 233 participants whose family members died of natural causes. The authors hoped to determine whether the specific pattern of stages of bereavement was “normal or not.” They excluded participants whose loved one died from unnatural causes (like accidents and suicides) and subjects were excluded if they appeared to meet the criteria of complicated grief disorder, “so that the results would represent normal bereavement reactions.” As noted by other grief experts, the study was based on the assumption of stages of grief. The article opens with: “The notion that a natural psychologi-


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cal response to loss involves an orderly progression through distinct stages of bereavement has been widely accepted by clinicians and the general public.” At no point in the article do the authors question these assumptions. Rather, they seek to find patterns of “normal” grief that they already believe to exist. Jacobs’ hypothesized stage theory of grief includes disbelief (or numbness), separation distress (identified as yearning, anger, or anxiety), depression-mourning, and recovery. However, the YBS specifically questioned participants regarding disbelief, yearning, anger, depression, and acceptance. Finding what the researchers hoped to find, the YBS reports that “the 5 grief indicators achieved their respective maximum values in the sequence…predicted by the stage theory of grief.” However, just one page later, they note that “in terms of absolute frequency, and counter to the stage theory, disbelief was not the initial, dominant grief indicator. Acceptance was the most often endorsed item. Evidently, a high degree of acceptance, even in the initial month post loss, is the norm in the case of natural deaths.” How am I supposed to feel again? c It was my first creative nonfiction class in my first week of courses at the University of British Columbia. After years of doing what I thought was practical, I had applied to the Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing. I got in. I was elated. I was going to be a nonfiction author. In that first class, about twenty minutes were set aside to discuss the Perils of Nonfiction. All the horror stories about everyone who had ever written a memoir and been burned. An heiress to a fortune disinherited. A reputation ruined. A relationship destroyed. Then our instructor said, “As for myself, I decided to wait

for my father to die before publishing my memoirs.” I nodded. That’s what I’m going to do too, I thought. The following morning, my phone rang. The caller ID said it was my brother Dane. We hadn’t spoken in two years. I thought, This can’t be good. I didn’t pick up. I waited until he left a message so I could see what he wanted before I replied. His message only asked me to call him back. When I called him back, he said, “I don’t know how you are going to take this, but Dad is dead. He died this morning.” I had the urge to laugh, to start laughing and never stop. To laugh with my whole body. But I swallowed it down. I didn’t want to offend the brother who felt no qualms about offending me. “Oh?” was all I could manage. Then he told me the whole story about my dad and his worsening illness and his refusal to go to a hospital and how they found him sprawled on dirty sheets in his double-wide trailer. “I understand that you may not feel…much, about this,” Dane said. “No, I guess, if anything, I feel ever so slightly relieved.” Then Dane got choked up. My steel-hearted lawyer brother who’d had—at best—a complicated and painful relationship with our father, started to cry. He tried to explain himself, “Now that he’s dead, there is no chance it will ever be better, you know?” “It was never going to be better, Dane.” When I hung up, I told Casey, “My dad died today. What were the chances? Yesterday, I was thinking about how I was gonna wait ‘til he died to write that story, and he died the next fucking day!” Then I laughed. c Fall 2012

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The funny thing about being a “grief expert” is that your expertise is not in any way related to the depth or frequency of your own experience of loss. In fact, you can be an expert in grief without having grieved at all. As long as you’ve watched enough people do it, you’re good. If this is indeed what makes an expert, then Russell Friedman and John W. James are two of the top professionals in their field. These “professional grief recovery specialists” have co-authored three books on loss and have worked with over 100,000 grieving people during the past three decades. “The Myth of the Stages of Dying, Death, and Grief ” argues that more harm than good has come of Kübler-Ross’s theory. Damage is caused to grievers when they “try to fit their emotions into non-existent stages.” I wonder, instead, about the witnesses—the friends, lovers, bystanders, co-workers—who try to fit the responses of people who have experienced a loss into these non-existent stages. The witnesses who want them to conform, to see them feel the way they think they should feel. I think these two are on to something. Friedman and James were the first to point out that since the premise of the YBS study was flawed, so too were the results. They also argued that “since Kübler-Ross’s feelings were processed through the filter of her lifelong unresolved grief and retained anger,” so too were her responses to those she interviewed, as well as the conclusions she drew from her research. Friedman and James highlight the fact that in “My Own Grief,” the final chapter of Kübler-Ross’s last book, “she tells the gruesome story about an episode involving her father and a cherished childhood pet that caused her to make an oath never to cry again. That event, along with a host of other personal grief incidents, resulted in her bottling up a lifetime of anger that she admitted she didn’t deal with until very late in life.” Is it any wonder then that Kübler-Ross asserted that anger was 18  T he

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the one and only stage that everyone dealing with loss experienced? But anger isn’t absolute. In fact, no single grief response is. Friedman and James argue that the prevalence of the stage theory, which is so deeply rooted in North American culture, makes many patients identify with particular stages that they aren’t feeling, just because that is what they think they should feel. To quote Friedman and James, for example, a typical conversation with a patient might go like this: Patient: “I’m still in denial.” Friedman: “Do you deny that your loved one has died?” Patient: “No.” James: “Then you are not in denial.” Similarly, grievers, and sometimes even their doctors, look for and often find a diagnosis of clinical depression, when really, they are just sad. And being sad, Friedman and James argue, is a pretty “normal” reaction to losing someone in your life. You know what else they think is “normal?” Whatever the griever is feeling at any point in time. Every individual feels and processes loss in their own unique way. This is how you feel grief, folks: however you feel it. c When I was no older than twenty, I came home one day from work. My boyfriend, Chris, approached me nervously. “Hey, your mom called.” “Oh yeah?” “Yeah, your grandma died.” “Oh no! …Wait, which one?” “Um, your dad’s mom?” He said it like a question. “Oh, thank God. I really like my mom’s mom. Whatever, my dad’s mom was a bitch.” His eyes widened in shock.


“Am I supposed to be sad that this woman died when she was only nice to me one time in her entire life? No wonder my dad’s so fucked. That was the woman who raised him. She once cornered me in a room when I was about twelve and said, ‘Why are you dressed like that?’ Of course, my mom bought all my clothes, so I was just wearing some pretty regular shorts and a shirt. She said, ‘You want the boys to look at you? You want them to look at your body?’ It scared me. Then she said, ‘You’re gonna get raped. That’s what happens to girls who dress like you. They get raped. Dressing like that is like asking for it.’ I was twelve years old.” I shed no tears for her. Some years later, my dad’s dad died. He had been living in Stockton, California and once, on a road trip to Las Vegas, I thought about pulling off the road and stopping in to say hi. But I was afraid it would get around that I had been travelling to Las Vegas and I was nervous about my mom finding out about it— our relationship was tenuous at best—and having her judge me for going to the epicentre of sin was something I wanted to avoid. So I kept on driving. When he died, I had a flicker of regret that I’d never once contacted him after I had left home at fifteen. About a year after that, my mom’s dad died. She left a message on my machine. She was crying. I knew she loved him very much and I knew he’d been a good man and a loving father, but I didn’t return her call. She had hurt and manipulated me too many times. I needed to protect myself. It was sad that he died, but he’d had Alzheimer’s for the past few years and, anyway, he was very old—in his nineties—so it had been bound to happen soon. When I heard the message, I sat down and I wrote in my day planner, “Lloyd Matthews Parsons died today.” When that year was up, and it was time to take out the old calendar pages and insert the new, I saved that page. I still have it.

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Not long after my mom’s father died, I was at work in my little windowless office between the Intensive Care Unit and the Cardiac Recovery Unit of Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Oregon. There was a patient dying in the ICU. The family wanted to do everything they could to prolong their (grand)mother’s life. The woman just wanted to die in peace. She kept pulling out her tubes. The nurses and the doctors talked to the family and helped them to realize that it was time and they let her go. She died surrounded by those who loved her. I sat in my office and cried. A nurse walked in and I tried to cover it quickly. “You okay?” she asked. I had a history of sharing with this particular nurse, so I told her why I was crying. “It’s weird,” I said. “My own grandfather died not long ago. I cared about him. He was a sweet man. But I didn’t cry. I haven’t cried at the deaths of any of my grandparents. Now, someone I don’t even know is dying and I can’t help it: it just seems so sad.” “You build up those walls of yours. It’s hard to let ‘em down, but easier when there is no risk. What do you have to lose by mourning for someone you don’t know?” I sat stunned. c Friedman and James haven’t been the only ones to counter the Kübler-Ross model of grief. George Bonanno, a professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University, shares the belief that grief does not come in stages. In fact, he finds that most people are resilient in the face of loss. His book, The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us about Life After a Loss, is the result of thousands of interviews over the course of two decades. He concludes that resilience is the primary reaction Fall 2012

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to grief and trauma. In other words, individuals who have suffered a loss don’t necessarily even grieve. If they do not grieve, then Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief lose all meaning in the face of death. c As the excitement over Steele’s score settled a bit, I started driving down out of the hills. It wasn’t long before one of the nephews asked who had a pipe. “I almost brought one,” Morgan said. “I didn’t even think about it,” Devan said. You, Garrett? No? Anyone? No. They began to despair. “Whatever,” I said, “we’ll just make an apple pipe.” Huh? Morgan and Steele had never heard of such a thing. Devan and Garrett had, but had never used one. “It’s easy. You just poke a few holes in an apple and you’ve got yourself a pipe.” They were impressed. We drove by a little mom-and-pop market in the middle of nowhere. Devan, Garrett, and Morgan ran in. They found an apple and bought some Cokes and snacks that were more chemical than food—ideal for Morgan’s self-embalming—but would serve the purpose when they had the munchies. “We got an apple!” Morgan said with delight as she got back in the car. As we started to pull out of the parking lot and back onto the road, they asked me how to make it. “Well, we need a pen.” No one had a pen. Really? We checked the rental car’s glove box. Nothing. “Ahhhhg,” I groaned. As soon as I found a place, I turned around and we headed back to the market. “Someone go inside and ask to borrow a pen,” I said. 20  T he

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Resistance. They couldn’t do that. The cashier would know. “No one is going to know anything other than we are going to ask for a pen.” Morgan went inside. The owner was in the back. She saw a used pen on the counter, grabbed it, and ran back to the car. “Go! Go!” she said. “I stole a pen!” Her excitement was ridiculous, but we got a good laugh out of it anyway and I made a show of gunning the engine as I pulled back onto the road. For a moment, we were gangsters. Steele directed us to a place we could go. “Beautiful sunsets there,” he said. I pulled in to an overlook just above the small town where Steele lived. The valley spread out before us and beyond that, more mountains. The sun was going to drip down behind those hills soon. Devan grabbed the pen and started trying to jam it through the core. It was harder than he thought. “Here,” he said, “let the expert do it.” I took the apple from him. I didn’t say that I hadn’t actually made a pipe before or that I’d only seen it done once and that was years ago. But I handled the apple like I knew what was what. I managed to get the pen through the middle, although it got stuck. I bit down on one end of the dirty pen and pulled. I looked like a pro. Then I took one small, deep bite from the skin in the middle of the apple. I spit out the cold, tart fruit with its waxy skin. “This will be the bowl,” I pointed to the bitten space. “Now I have to get a hole through the bowl down to that shaft without breaking the apple, and it can’t be too big or the pot will fall through. This is a delicate business, this.” Somehow I did it. But smoking it wasn’t easy. The apple’s fruit was moist. It took some time to heat up the interior of the apple and get the smoke flowing.


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They weren’t quitters though. As they struggled with the apple pipe, we chatted. We talked about how great it was to see everyone, even if it was for April’s funeral. Steele found the whole situation ironic. His mother had always been the one who tried to keep our rag-tag team of dysfunctional family members together. It never really worked. Her death was the one thing to finally manage it, well almost (Dane was still in Japan). But who knew when we’d see each other like this again? Family reunions were out of the picture, unless, maybe, someone else died. I watched the setting sun and I thought about the last time I saw my sister. The summer before her “accident,” I’d gone to visit her and Tristan and Steele at their home in Maui. Tristan was graduating from high school and April had paid for plane tickets for my son and me to visit. She had been sober for two years. When I stepped off the airplane and sucked in that first breath of hot, humid air, I had this sinking feeling that I’d made a mistake. I pulled Liam—then six years old—close to me. Then I heard April’s characteristic excited shriek and saw her running toward me. She hugged me fiercely and I smelled the alcohol on her breath. My sister had never been sober for more than two years. I got into the car with her. I let her chauffeur my son, her sons, and me when I knew she was intoxicated. By the time we got to the house, I was sick. I vowed never to put my son’s life in danger like that again. The next morning, I said sternly, “I’m driving for the rest of the trip.” She didn’t argue, and we didn’t discuss why. The next day, we drove to Wailea. As a special treat for Tristan’s graduation, my sister had paid for a couple of nights at the Grand Wailea, the nicest hotel on Maui, east of Lahaina. We didn’t ask how she got the

money. We knew better than that. The Grand Wailea was right on a white sand beach and had waterslides and manmade rivers and pools. It was gorgeous, but I was on edge. Our mother had arrived that morning and it was difficult to make the forced, polite conversation that our pained and broken relationship called for. April kept running off to “take care of errands.” I watched over Liam, but Tristan and Steele were the perfect cousins and they, along with a few of their friends, took my little water bug on slide after joyous slide. I stood by the edge of the pool where one of the slides ended. Liam would climb the stairs to the top, wave excitedly to me, and then look for my face every time he came sliding into the wading pool. I smiled at his easy childlike bliss. Then, something caught my eye. One of the teen girls who was friends with Tristan was talking to a security guard. They came walking towards me. I thought, Oh no, oh no, not again. I had been in exactly this situation before: at a hotel with my sister, a security guard comes looking for her because she’s stolen another guest’s six-pack of beer. She gets kicked out of the hotel. The security guard walked up to me and asked for April. My head was swimming. I could not believe it was happening again. “Why?” I choked out. “Well, this young lady had her purse stolen, and she says she’s here with April, so we just wanted to make sure April knew that we are doing our best to track down the thief.” I was shocked, but relieved beyond measuring. This time April was not the thief. I ran into April as I was headed into the bathroom near the pools. “Oh! There you are!” Her eyes were red and glassy and I knew she had been drinking. Fall 2012

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“Hey, I need to talk to you.” She nodded. She knew she was caught. She knew what was coming: lecture, guilt, more self-hatred that she would drink down with another bottle. We went into the bathroom. I stood her face-to-face with me and put my hands on her shoulders. I looked into her eyes. They started to swell with tears. “I want you to know,” I started, “that I know that you’re drinking.” She nodded. “And I also want you to know that I don’t care and that I’m never going to stop loving you.” She was almost confused. She’d never heard those words before. She didn’t know how to respond, what to say, so she said nothing. Instead, she fell into my arms and sobbed and I held her for a long time, past the point where my arms started to ache and the muscles between my shoulders began to burn. I was brought back to the hills of Northern California when one of the nephews pressed the pipe to my arm. “We got it working. It’s your turn.” “Oh no, I’m going to pass. I have to drive, remember? I have to be the responsible one.” We laughed at that. How ridiculous it was to think of myself as responsible after I had contributed to the delinquency of a minor. “Yeah,” Devan said. “Aren’t you supposed to be the adult here?”

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“Whatever, you’re all legally adults, except for Steele. I am only responsible for Steele.” “But why did you do this?” Devan continued. “No one else at that funeral would have taken us out to lunch and then on a back hills adventure to find pot.” Then I told them about the time I wanted to die. About how, living with my sister at the age of fifteen, I’d experienced my first true love and my first true heartbreak. How it feels to think your heart is going to crush and crumple until it implodes and leaves a big gaping cavity in your chest. Devan nodded his head. He was the only one who knew. I told them about how I couldn’t imagine continuing that feeling, living with that feeling, and how I wanted it to end. How when my sister had come home and found me, in a ball on my bed, sobbing and soaked through with sweat and tears, she’d told me that it would be okay and how I just needed to get through today and tomorrow would be better. I told them how she had poured a dash of vodka and a shot of Kahlua and topped it with milk. She’d handed me the glass and a tiny pill. “What’s this?” I’d asked. “Flexeril,” she’d said, “a muscle relaxant. Down the hatch.” I had taken that pill and drunk every last drop and I’d fallen asleep and she had been right. The next day had been better. “Sometimes,” I said to the four kids before me, “the wrong thing is the right thing to do.”


CCAB, DIVISION OF BPA WORLDWIDE PROUDLY SUPPORTS THE 36TH ANNUAL NATIONAL MAGAZINE AWARDS

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL NOMINEES AND RECIPIENTS!

CCAB, with offices in Montreal and Toronto, audits more than 560 properties throughout Canada. To learn more about CCAB’s services, please contact Tim Peel, Vice President at mpeel@bpaww.com. www.bpaww.com


—Magazine Website of the Year Site Web de l’année

Winner/Gagnant

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—Essays Essais

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Craig Davidson Precious Cargo

Avenue


Precious Ca The lessons of a year on the road as a school bus driver have less to do with road safety and more to do with the journey by Craig Davidson photography by Erin Brooke Burns

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Joan Didion once wrote,

rgo

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” The students on Bus 3077 told stories in order to live beyond their bounds, and their stories followed a pattern specific to each teller. They were like fingerprints that way. The student who told the most ambitious stories was Josh. Sixteen and slender — he will likely be slender his whole life: not because he watches his weight but because, for him, eating can be a chore — Josh had a lilting British accent acquired when his family lived overseas. His face hinted at a possible future handsomeness: it was there in the prominent cheekbones and aquiline nose. But his eyebrows were too wild and his hair still possessed that baffling teenage tendency to stick up in unruly cowlicks; no matter how many times Josh’s father or caregiver ran a comb through it, Josh usually rolled out of his house with at least one sprig jutting at a quizzical angle, like the mast of a sunken ship slanting above the waterline. Josh’s electric wheelchair was dinged and scuffed, weighed down with a rechargeable battery the size of a cinderblock. He was forever bumping his wheelchair into walls and miring its tires in snow. It wasn’t that he had an appetite for destruction: Josh had a classification of cerebral palsy called spastic quadriplegia, the result of a lack of oxygen at birth. Symptoms include hypertonia (involuntary spasms), muscular rigidity and abnormal muscle tone. This meant Josh had a hard time controlling the wheelchair because, as he put it: “A million trains hurtle out of my brain with messages for

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my body, but they keep crashing into each other, so the messages never get there.” As we drove the sleepy thoroughfares and cul-de-sacs that made up First Student Canada’s school bus route 345 in south Calgary, Josh regaled his fellow riders with stories. His specialty was space opera: waylaid starship explorers trying to find their way home, or a ragtag crew of humans, aliens and cybernetic helpmates staring down a dire intergalactic threat. Josh’s stories were similar in two ways. One, they always ended with the explorers safely home or the threat vanquished. Two, they featured a young male character with telekinesis — the ability to move objects with his mind, without any reliance on his body. This character wasn’t the dashing commander or the surly starship mechanic who, as Josh might have said, “keeps this clanking bucket of bolts afloat!” — but he was always involved in the mission’s success in some minor, yet essential way. Josh and the other kids conjured new lives into existence every day — any life they wished. They had already discovered something it takes some storytellers a lifetime to figure out: tell the stories that lie nearest to your heart. That way, they’re not really fabrications at all. They’re truths as they know it: truths shaped by their own outlook and reflected through the prism of their own experiences. And they were, in every instance, hopeful truths.

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to upwardly aspirant drug abusers was dashed when she clarified: “They buy detox pills to clean out their urinary tract.” During the interview, my every answer elicited an emphatic nod. I began to wonder just how deeply I could manifest signs of runaway psychosis and still pass muster. Interviewer: Consider this hypothetical: while you’re driving, the students begin to cause a disturbance. How would you respond? Me: I guess I’d fire a few of them out the windows like paper airplanes. Interviewer: You’re a doer, Mr. Davidson, not

Don was a lovely person, and the very best kind of teacher — knowledgeable, supportive and genuinely kind. Most everyone I met during training, both instructors and driver-trainees, were similarly kind … which was a bit of a shock. I’d come into training with a jaundiced view of my new fraternity — that school bus drivers were battleaxes named Myrtle or Fran who chain-smoked, wore clearance-centre Jordaches and had 40-year-old sons who drove fourthhand Camaros. Or they were Bennys and Zebs — guys whose bodies appeared to be composed of braided coat-hangers beneath loose-fitted

}

“We’re not transporting potatoes, people. The tech­nical term for what we carry is precious cargo.”

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y own story started with a flyer stuffed in my mailbox:

SCHOOL BUS DRIVERS WANTED! NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY! There was a number to call, so I called it. This says no more about me than facts should indicate: namely, here was a man who had reached a point where he made life-altering decisions based on random papers shoved into his mailbox. Within minutes of showing up at the bus company’s human resources office, I was in the bathroom urinating into a plastic cup. My interviewer exhibited profound satisfaction with my drug test sample. “It’s super-clean,” she said, jocularly. “Are you a saint or something? Some of our applicants find clean stuff on the Internet.” The prospect of selling my exceptional urine

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necessarily a thinker. I, for one, admire that. Training consisted of 20 hours in class and another 20 in a bus. Our in-class trainer was a retiree with a whitewall haircut cropped so close to his skull that you could see blue, wormlike veins braiding up behind his ears. “We’re not transporting potatoes, people,” he’d say. “The technical term for what we carry is precious cargo.” My training vessel was a 72-seat hognose pusher — “hognose” because the hood fell away directly in front of the windshield; “pusher” because the engine was in the rear. It rode on massive leaf springs that threatened to turn every training run into a white-knuckled amusement park experience. My trainer, Don, was a preternaturally upbeat fellow who wore smoked clip-on lenses that flipped down over his prescription glasses. Don offered effusive praise whenever I accomplished the most rudimentary driving maneouvre. “That’s it, Craig, keep the nose angled toward the yellow line … Good, good, now mind your backswing — these big boys swing a good four feet, so watch out you don’t slam into that Nissan parked at the curb … Right, right, get the wheel centred … bango! Now that’s a textbook left-hand turn.”

lumberjack shirts, whose teeth looked like freeway pileups of tiny grey sedans, and who spouted obvious sexual double-entendres and who’d spent the past summer picking apples for three bucks a bushel. It startled me to discover that, while there were a few Myrtles and Zebs, most drivers were single mothers, Ph.D candidates or bored retirees — people who, much like myself, were simply looking to do something vaguely valuable for a few hours a day.

T

he last week of August, I was assigned my route in a cramped office abutting the dispatcher’s bullpen.

“South end of the city?” the route coordinator asked. “Most of those are spoken for … there is one.” The coordinator printed it up. “Special-needs route.” Written on the printout were words I understood in a hypothetical sense, unattached to any personal experience. Cerebral palsy. Autism Spectrum Disorder. Fragile X syndrome. I scanned the students’ programs of study. Some read PLP 4 — I’d discover that this stood for Present Level of Performance, a subsection of


{ } Holding the printout of the special-needs route came with the knowledge that each name was attached to a boy or girl with conditions I knew almost nothing about. It unnerved me. In trying to unpack the source of those nerves, all I could settle on was a sense of otherness.

each student’s IEP (Individual Education Program). Two students were designated ALP, for Adapted Learning Program. Beside one student’s name was a hastily scrawled note: “No sense of direction; cannot be left alone, will get lost.” Later that day, I looked up the definition of “disabled”: a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. But that offered no real clarity. A cousin of mine had fallen down a flight of stairs, leaving her with serious neurological damage; portions of her face were now paralyzed and she suffered severe memory loss — surely she was disabled, right? But hers was a different kind of disability than cerebral palsy, a condition that can be present at birth. When I was young, there was a boy down the block with a sunny disposition and a wide-set softness to his features. My mother told me he was “slow.” I figured she meant he couldn’t run fast, but, then, neither could I. At school, a room had been set aside for the “special kids.” Some of the boys wore hockey helmets. One girl wore padded gloves. Another boy, much older than the rest of us, kicked a big red ball down the hallway. In time, one comes to understand that certain people need wheelchairs or seeing-eye dogs. Others reach adulthood still fascinated by things that only compel our own interest as a child. There are people whose bodies don’t look or operate the way our own do, and whose brains

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don’t process stimuli the same way. During driver training, we’d received only an hour of hands-on instruction relating to special needs. We’d clustered round a bussette — a.k.a. Handi-bus, a.k.a. Short Bus (even at the bus company I’d heard them called that) — while our instructor wrangled a wheelchair onto a rusted ramp. “Everybody is built to different tolerances,” Don told us. “You need to accept these kids’ tolerances, and understand your own.” Holding the printout of the special-needs route came with the knowledge that each name was attached to a boy or girl with conditions I knew almost nothing about. It unnerved me. In trying to unpack the source of those nerves, all I could settle on was a sense of otherness — brutally ignorant, yes, but I truly felt the lives of these kids followed a trajectory that held little in common with my own. I found myself wondering how I could possibly relate to them. Plus there was that instinctive fear these kids might behave … oddly. There were those hidebound rules governing social decorum — no invasion of personal space, no overt familiarity — that individuals with special needs often felt no urgency to follow. Within moments of meeting you, they might hug you, pinch you, touch themselves inappropriately, punch themselves, refer to you as “mother,” claim you have a “horsey-face,”

moan or mutter or laugh at nothing, flap their arms like a bird, repeat the same question over and over, sing nonsense lyrics at a lung-rupturing pitch, lick their hands compulsively like a cat or offer impromptu karate demonstrations, winging wild kicks inches from your nose — all of which I would experience during the coming year. “It’s been tough nailing down a driver for that one.” The coordinator reached for the printout. “Let’s see if we can’t find you something else, eh?” “If it’s all the same, I’ll take it.” “Done deal,” she said. I walked out of the office with a printout for Route 345, serving Centennial Senior High and Mountain Park Junior High, in southeast and southwest Calgary, respectively. I headed over to the bus yard to pick up my bussette, No. 3077. It had 57,000 miles on the odometer, and no rips in the seats. “A sweetheart of a cheese wagon,” said the mechanic, handing over the keys.

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liver told stories, too, although they were less “stories” as one typically configures them — that is, with plots and consistent characterizations — than they were spur-of-the-moment fabrications.

In fact, “lies” paints a more accurate picture. Oliver’s fibs were M.C. Escher masterpieces in which crazed helixes of untruths spiralled to half-sketched vanishing points; monstrosities of misinformation that beggared all laws of physics, biology or common sense and threatened to topple under the weight of their own audacious creation. One marvelled at the blithe genius it took to conjure such falsehoods, yet Oliver told them with such dick-swinging panache that to deny his right to tell them would have been cruel. Oliver was 13 the year I drove him; he’s 16 now, but looks much the same. Short for his age, with protuberant ears and vaguely elongated features, up close, the edges of his eyes and corners of his mouth are prematurely seamed. Back then, he wore his hair combed forward in iridescent layers; often it was covered in a hoodie, giving


him the look of a determined druid or a Benedictine monk disillusioned with the Orthodoxy. Oliver often kicked off the day with a white lie, such as, “I drank a mug of java to get my morning started.” He hadn’t, of course. His parents would never allow it. But, if this fib flew, he’d be off to the races. “I’m joining a gym. I’ve already got a pretty well-developed upper body.” Oliver’s upper body, like the rest of him, looked like it ought to be startling crows in a farmer’s field. “I’m a vampire, man — I sucked a kid bonedry last night. His blood tasted like cherries.” “I’m buying a Ferrarri for a hundred bucks.

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otic schoolyard to the bus queue. Sometimes Oliver would peel away from his group and drift toward a pocket of students. He’d sidle up next to another kid and either clasp a chummy hand round his shoulder or patiently wait to be acknowledged. Sometimes the other boy appeared to say something off-handedly polite before dismissing Oliver. Once a boy stepped on Oliver’s toes — Oliver played it off by laughing and hooking a thumb at the kid as if to say this guy’s a real card! Another time, a boy said something that made Oliver deflate like a botched soufflé. He slunk onto the bus, pressed his forehead to the window and didn’t speak the whole way home.

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“Fragile X looks like a pinch in the chromatin package,” says Dr. Christopher E. Pearson, senior scientist of Genetics and Genome Biology at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children and associate professor in the department of molecular genetics at the University of Toronto. “Everyone’s DNA is packaged with protein, which forms chromosomes. Each cell has 46 chromosomes, making up your genome. In a genome affected with Fragile X, there’s a pinch at the edge of the X chromosome bundle — if you could grab the genome, shake it, you figure that little bit would fall right off. That’s why it’s called Fragile X — the anomaly itself looks so delicate.” There is a poster on Pearson’s office wall of a genome affected with Fragile X. It’s a constant reminder of the enemy Pearson and his team are trying to conquer. The black-and-white photo was shot with an electron microscope, giving it a grainy look. Visually, it resembles uni, or sea urchin — or perhaps the two lobes of the human brain, elongated. “There is a trough running between the body of the X chromosome, and the genome’s exterior looks incredibly soft, puffy, pebbled like orange rind,” says Pearson. The mutation hangs off the end of the genome on a pinched strand of protein, like a life raft moored to an ocean liner. It reminds me of the process of caudal autonomy, where a lizard severs its tail when attacked by a predator — as if the genome is attempting to quarantine the rogue mutation. “If you look at our cells as a computer, our genome is the hard drive,” Pearson says. “If you copy the hard drive — which is what humans do through procreation — you need to replicate the DNA. To produce the FMR1 protein, you need to transcribe the DNA to produce an RNA. With Fragile X, there is a repeat in the DNA sequence. Consider the gene as a sentence that reads, ‘The cat ate the fat fat rat.’ In repeat-associated diseases, the mutation would make the sentence read, ‘The cat ate the fat fat fat fat fat fat fat rat.’ The regular DNA sequence is CGG: C, for cytosine nucleotide, G, for guanosine nucleotide, and G again. In Fragile X, the repeat is caused by methylation, the repeat expands and the cytosine becomes methylated. That turns the gene transcription off and it becomes C-methylated-G-G. Methylation turns the gene off, making it unable to properly transcribe the sequence. These repeated DNAs lead to loss of function.” continued on page 154

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On those rare occasions that anyone questioned Oliver’s assertions he’d give an elaborate sigh, as if it was a Herculean labour scattering pearls amongst such disbelieving swine. Guess I’ll need a paper route to afford it.” On those rare occasions anyone questioned Oliver’s assertions, he’d give an elaborate sigh, as if it was a Herculean labour scattering pearls amongst such disbelieving swine. Oliver was born with Fragile X Syndrome (FXS), an anomaly in the X chromosome — specifically, a failure to express the FMR1 protein. It leads to delayed development, be it physical, intellectual, emotional or a combination of the three, but most notably mental impairment. Oliver’s own experience certainly seemed to draw a little from columns A, B and C. Kids with FXS are anxiety-prone and hypersensitive to tactile stimuli; they’ll often withdraw from even the lightest touch. They find certain sounds or sights or the texture of some clothes irritating; Oliver constantly pulled his shirts away from his chest, tweezing and tenting the fabric ritualistically. “When I was two years old, my brain weighed 50 pounds,” Oliver once said solemnly, like a doctor delivering a morsel of sage advice. At the end of each day, the special needs teacher led her students through the cha-

like Magritte’s painting, Ceci n’est pas une pipe — this is not Fragile X, just a story about what Fragile X might be.

Oliver’s most vivid creation was his best friend, Joey. Whenever Oliver felt overmastered, he would fill us in on Joey’s exploits. “My best friend, Joey, he’ll beat your butt quicker than you can float a boat. Nobody better mess with me or when Joey finds out, he’ll go, ‘Let me introduce you to my two friends…’” Oliver would flex and kiss his right bicep. “‘Thunder …” — he would flex and kiss his left bicep — “... and Gus.’” Joey didn’t exist, of course, but everyone on the bus went along with it. Other kids had their own versions of Joey: the beautiful girlfriend from a distant town; the older brother who gave out illicit sips of beer. The prevailing sentiment seemed to be: Don’t burst my bubble, and I won’t burst yours.

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o try to understand Fragile X, how it starts, what it looks like at the level of DNA, rather than symptoms, takes a lot of metaphors and similes and, even then, what we understand is at a distance, just an image of the real thing. Even the explanation can be seen as a metaphor,


Precious Cargo continured from page 116

Joan Didion once wrote,

Precious Ca rgo The lessons of a year on the road as a school bus driver have less to do with road safety and more to do with the journey by Craig Davidson photography by Erin Brooke Burns

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“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” The students on Bus 3077 told stories in order to live beyond their bounds, and their stories followed a pattern specific to each teller. They were like fingerprints that way. The student who told the most ambitious stories was Josh. Sixteen and slender — he will likely be slender his whole life: not because he watches his weight but because, for him, eating can be a chore — Josh had a lilting British accent acquired when his family lived overseas. His face hinted at a possible future handsomeness: it was there in the prominent cheekbones and aquiline nose. But his eyebrows were too wild and his hair still possessed that baffling teenage tendency to stick up in unruly cowlicks; no matter how many times Josh’s father or caregiver ran a comb through it, Josh usually rolled out of his house with at least one sprig jutting at a quizzical angle, like the mast of a sunken ship slanting above the waterline. Josh’s electric wheelchair was dinged and scuffed, weighed down with a rechargeable battery the size of a cinderblock. He was forever bumping his wheelchair into walls and miring its tires in snow. It wasn’t that he had an appetite for destruction: Josh had a classification of cerebral palsy called spastic quadriplegia, the result of a lack of oxygen at birth. Symptoms include hypertonia (involuntary spasms), muscular rigidity and abnormal muscle tone. This meant Josh had a hard time controlling the wheelchair because, as he put it: “A million trains hurtle out of my brain with messages for

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I ask how small the chromosome with the mutation is. “Immeasurably small. To even see the genome itself you have to bombard the sample with an electron beam. If you compare a person without Fragile X to someone who has it, the person without it will have 30cgg repeats, as opposed to 2,000 cgg repeats.” I tell Pearson that I picture the mutation of Fragile X as a V: you start with two DNA helixes, side-by-side. One carries a small mutation; the other remains stable. A body forms itself around each helix, and the lives of each resulting human being will pursue very different tangents — thus, each arm of the V. A huge life divergence based on a tiny cellular divergence. Pearson sees the mutation more as a tree. “You start with the roots,” he says. “If one tendril of one root is damaged, that small imperfection can travel up the trunk into the branches, the twigs, the leaves and fruit to damage the entire tree.” Our conversation follows this line of analogy. We talk about computers and lizards and “Vs” and trees. We talk about pebbles dropped in pools of still water, creating endless ripples, and about layers of nacre forming round a piece of grit to form a pearl. We talk this way to anchor ourselves to some concrete understanding, because what we’re really talking about is unknowable — the mysteries of the human body and mind.

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I got the impression that whatever Josh was meant to ask me, it had been a topic of some discussion in their household. A little sheepishly, Josh said: “Would you like to go to a movie sometime?” I wasn’t sure that I did, if only because I wasn’t certain it was right. A 16 year-old hanging out with a 33-year-old bus driver seemed … well, a bit weird. But how was I to say no? I didn’t want to say no. It became a semi-regular thing. Josh and I would go to the movies or the bookstore or lunch at Boston Pizza. I’d pick Josh up at his house. Boxes of medical supplies were stacked inside the front door. A motorized chair ran on rails up and down the stairwell to ferry Josh to bed and back. Kevin lent me his minivan, which had a ramp and tie-downs for Josh’s wheelchair. There were obvious differences to hanging out with Josh. If the waitress set his water glass too far away, I’d push it close enough for Josh’s lips to reach the straw. At the movies, I’d pour popcorn from our bag into the child’s-size box that sat on Josh’s lap and, afterward, brush off the popcorn

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arbon is the chemical building block of all known life. There are a static number of carbon atoms on our planet, no more today than when it all started. Things are born, they exist, expire, break down to component elements. Those same carbon atoms go on to be part of new life. All of us are cobbled together out of carbon cells that were once other things entirely. We could have a trilobite’s tail in our elbow or a molecule from Attila the Hun’s mustache in our eye.

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If you back up the whole of human history, put the evolutionary arithmetic in reverse, it renders down to just this: hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon. Four nucleotides, too: adenine, cytosine, guanine, thymine. The rule of four. Every plant and animal, insect, human. Any creature to have taken on life, grown, crawled, run, learned, known, felt, loved. As those elements networked into more complex helixes, human life diversified. Different skin colours. Hair. Eyes. Some people could be born lacking the ability to walk, or smaller than average or with conditions effecting their abilities to learn or interact. Other people could be born to perfect standard and turn into humongous failures, despite their good fortune. There is an old Ashanti proverb: “We are the children of eggs.” But all eggs grow differently. Sometimes the deviation is so small, an imperfection in the DNA helix so tiny, an electron microscope reveals only a shadow of it. Something so fragile it looks as though you could simply shake it off the chromosomal chain.

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There is an old Ashanti proverb: “We are the children of eggs.” But all eggs grow differently. Sometimes the deviation is so small, an imperfection in the DNA helix so tiny, an electron microscope reveals only a shadow of it.

It can be difficult to accept percentages. No matter how small those percentages may be — measurable only in angstroms, if at all — ultimately, they do affect someone.

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osh’s house was my last stop of the day. One afternoon, as I was unstrapping Josh’s wheelchair from its tie-downs, his father, Kevin, came out to the bus.

“Well,” he said to his son. “Did you ask Craig?”

that had fallen onto his wheelchair frame. On the bus, the other kids helped Josh out, too. They’d reseat his baseball cap when it got knocked askew going over a bump. Sometimes Gavin turned down the collars of his shirts. Josh would’ve preferred to do more for himself, but some of the complications from his condition cause degenerative issues; when he was little he was able to walk with help. Adding to everything, Josh had been in a serious accident that killed his mother and caused even more damage


to his pain-wracked body. There had already been many surgeries on his spine and legs. He’d had Botox injected into his hips. Pick any square foot of Josh’s body and calculate how often its pain receptors have been activated, the nervous system overtaxed. It would exceed all physical trauma most of us have experienced in our lives. Many teenagers are anomalies, but Josh is a paradox: an old-young teenager. But the ways in which Josh was older influenced the ways he was simultaneously younger. His world was small, controlled. His homecare aide helped him get dressed in the morning and his bus driver took him to school, where another aide shadowed him throughout the day. A small army of doctors, physiotherapists and caregivers abetted his father to form a 24-hour cycle of care. “Once I got cross at my father and wanted to run away,” Josh told me. “The front door was unlocked, but I could never make it down the front steps, so I couldn’t even run away. Usually, when I get angry, I get frustrated and start to cry.” Many kids who rode the special-needs bus occupied a similarly small and ordered world. Some spent so much time at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, they knew the doctors by name and compared notes on the best cafeteria chow. Their days were a carousel of operations, specialists, “wish foundations,” physiotherapy and counselling. They took Prozac, Effexor, Zoloft, Adderall or a cocktail of mood-alterers. They had young bodies with old scars. Josh desperately wanted friends his own age. Buddies to hang out with at the mall, a girlfriend who played volleyball. What he got was his father, his eight-year-old sister, Erin, and his bus driver. At first you wondered why that was — Josh was a great kid, funny and smart — but, in time, it dawned. Josh simply wasn’t like other kids his age. And not just physically. What were kids Josh’s age doing? Well, they were learning to drive. They were filching a bottle of peach schnapps from their folks’ liquor cabinet and getting piss-drunk at a bush party. They were playing sports. They were bonding. Most of them were free — simply physically free — in a way Josh was not. Josh couldn’t play sports. Josh couldn’t drive. Since it was a drunk driver who had killed his mom, alcohol held no appeal to him. He loved books and movies but his favourites tended to be obscure: one of his favourite shows was Red Dwarf, a sci-fi show that was popular in Britian in the 1980s and ‘90s. Ultimately, his scope of activities was pretty narrow. Most bush parties aren’t wheelchair-accessible, and Josh’s dad would have to drop him off and pick him

up. Teenage rebellion and parental supervision aren’t exactly bosom bedfellows. Anyway, it wasn’t in Josh’s nature to rebel. Rebellion is something kids do to gain that necessary separation from their parents and the system of care that gets built around them as kids — but Josh and the other kids on the bus would need that system a lot longer than others. Some would need it their whole lives. Their parents knew it, and I think the kids knew it, too. Sure, both sides probably wished it could be different sometimes: the freedom that comes on both sides from breaking that bond of dependence. But you can’t go on wishing all day. Some things are just the way they are. But that didn’t stop me from wondering how things could have gone, because the cut was so

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life could have mapped out differently. He may have numbered amongst the faceless teenage hordes that filed out the school doors every day, oblivious to the riders on Bus 3077. His interests could have been more in keeping with his peers: instead of obscure British sitcoms like Red Dwarf, it could have been glory-of-war video games and Kawasaki motorcycles. Josh could have been the silky-smooth wide receiver with the crazy-glue fingertips; his girlfriend’s pleated cheerleader’s skirt could have been dancing round her legs as she waved to him from the practice field. His fast-twitching muscles could have exploded as he ran to meet her, sprinting past a bus where, on a different lifeline, he would be sitting in a chair strapped to the steel lattices that ran along the floor.

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Rebellion is something kids do to gain that necessary separation from their parents and the system of care that gets built around them as kids — but Josh and the other kids on the bus would need that system a lot longer than others.

thin, you know? Measurable in fractions of a millimetre, in heartbeats and in microns. And sometimes the cut is unmeasurable, really, because you get into notions of fate and possibility, ephemera that have no weight or substance and can only be guessed at. Josh’s mother had toxemia while pregnant, resulting in an accumulation of carbon dioxide in her bloodstream; her doctor recommended a Caesarean section. During the procedure, her blood vessels constricted and the carbon dioxide concentration skyrocketed. Josh’s lungs reflexively expanded while still suspended in the amniotic sac, hungering for air that wasn’t there. A human being’s cerebral hemispheres begin to corrode approximately one minute after our oxygen is cut, a condition known as hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), which leads to basically, black holes chewing into the fabric of our brains. If Josh had had been given a few extra seconds, he may only have been born premature. He could have grown naturally and his

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here were signs in the bus hung by the company.

If You Are Being Bullied, Tell Your Driver. Very little bullying happened on my watch — there was none of the ingrained physicality common amongst teenagers, the purple nurples and wet willies, the purposeful invasion of space and those feigned “made-you-flinch” punches. This didn’t mean the kids were exempt from it. The kids on my bus occupied the lowest rung of the schoolyard food chain and some of their contemporaries hadn’t yet developed the conscience that dictated you do not hunt the easy meat. One spring afternoon, I was driving Bus 3077 through the high school parking lot after school. Pubescent beefcakes in football jerseys were packed into Jeeps, circling and circling the lot with death metal pouring out of their car speakers. Other guys affected carefree poses against the hoods of parked cars.


The boy who did it was handsome in the commonplace way: windblown hair, no acne, cheekbones that appeared to be chipped out of schist propping up smoked, aviator-style sunglasses. As the bus passed, he made that classic “disabled” gesture: one arm cocked chicken-wing style between his nipples, wrist dangling limply, he thumped his hand spastically against his chest. How had that chest-thump somehow become a universal gesture? Was there an International Convention of Assholes in Switzerland where it had been ratified? His voice drifted through the open bus windows. “Deeeerrrr, there goes the retard bus …” Retard. No word in our vernacular is quite so nettlesome. Unlike “nigger” or “faggot,” both rightfully out of bounds, somehow “retard” has become acceptable in certain connotations. The Black Eyed Peas sing their party anthem, “Let’s Get Retarded” — later amended to “Let’s Get it Started” — where “retarded” is shorthand for unbridled behaviour. I heard two young girls trying out the newest iPhone app, saying: “This is just retarded” — by which they meant it was fantastic, amazing. But they weren’t reclaiming the word because, of course, neither one of them was mentally disabled. I jammed the transmission into park and got out. I’d seen that same gesture, heard that same word tossed around within earshot of the bus before and let it go. But this time it needled me — maybe because the guy was so brusquely dismissive, barely even committing himself to the insult. It was as if he could hardly be bothered to thump his chest for the cheap laugh it would earn him. “What did you do that for?” I asked him. “Do what?” “That move. Hitting your chest. It’s funny?” The kid shrugged with a sideways smile, as if to say: Man, why sweat it? I stood there in my too-big reflective safety vest. We were out in the open air, a lovely spring day, but everything felt claustrophobic. Adrenaline twined up my spine like a fast-rising fairytale beanstalk. “Ever seen your father get punched in the face?” I said. “How about this: you show up with your father tomorrow. The two of you make that move as I drive past. I will get out. I will punch your dad in his face.” I’d sputtered out the final few words: “hi-hihis f-fuh-fuh-face.” My adrenal glands had gone haywire. I’m sure the father would be mortified to hear what his son had done. But what if he showed up and actually made that gesture alongside his son — would I fight him? Absolutely. “What was that about?” Josh asked once I’d settled myself back behind the wheel. 158

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“Nothing.” Oliver glanced at the boy in the sunglasses out the bus’s back window. “Well,” he said, “he’s one tall drink of piss.” The kids didn’t need my help or ever ask for it. You have to let that garbage go. If you go around threatening to fight everyone who makes fun of disabled kids, the sad fact is you’ll end up with your jaw wired shut before long.

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avin was the only child on the bus who did not tell stories. It wasn’t that he couldn’t talk — he simply chose not to. Gavin was big for a 13 year-old, but he moved with precise, considered movements. He had a mop of dirty-blond hair and hard-looking hands. Carpenter’s hands.

He had a singular trait you might call “scent retention”: in the morning, he climbed aboard smelling of fabric softener and soap and, heading home in the afternoon, still smelled that way, whereas most kids his age smelled of sweat and dirt and the residue of whatever bacterial microsites they’d investigated. Years ago, when a boy rarely spoke and showed precious little interest in the world around him, people would say he was “odd” or he “lived in his own world.” Nowadays, those behaviours have been collected and codified and given a name: autism. I thought Gavin was autistic for two reasons: one, the bus company printout claimed he was. Two, a great percentage of children who rode the special needs fleet had symptoms distinct to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Physicians, parents and politicians often speak of an autism “epidemic.” The rate of ASDs, which come in a range of forms and widely varying degrees of severity — hence spectrum — has been accelerating rapidly since the early 1990s; some form of ASD is now estimated to affect one in every 110 American children … and nobody knows why. There may not be a current consensus, but what agreement there is among the mainstream medical view says autism is a neurological condition possibly resulting from one or more genetic abnormalities in combination with an environmental trigger. But, in lieu of a biological marker being found, and the number of potential genes and triggers that could be involved is so huge, I doubt a definitive cause will be determined anytime soon. Even the notion that autism cases are on the rise is disputed to a degree, with some believing the escalating diagnoses is simply due to greater awareness of what autism looks like (the

same can be said for Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cancers and a host of other conditions). Gavin, however, did act like a boy with autism. He never spoke. He never met my eyes, except those rare instances when our gazes touched briefly in the riot mirror — and I wondered if that wasn’t simply a matter of two random variables colliding from time to time. He had his rituals. Every day he’d get off the bus and circle the trash can in front of the school doors twice, even when the snow was so high, it formed a hillock around the can. He shaped his body into poses such as “The Scarecrow” — holding his arms out, crucifixion style — or “The Double Crab,” where he flexed his biceps like Jack LaLanne. One afternoon, I dropped Gavin off and spoke with his father, Randy. He was shocked to hear I thought his son had autism. “Gavin has Fragile X,” Randy told me. Like Oliver? But they were such different manifestations. When Randy saw the bus printout, he snorted. “Happens all the time,” he said. “People just don’t know. They slot these kids into the widest possible definition.” One of Gavin’s three siblings had traits fitting them on the autistic spectrum. This had been especially difficult for Gavin’s mother, Beverly — in the earliest days, it was an article of faith among psychiatrists that autism was brought on by bad mothers, whose chilly behaviour toward their children led the youngsters to withdraw into a safe, but private world. In time, autism was recognized to have a biological basis, but this has not completely allayed the strange, rootless guilt many parents feel. Randy and Beverly were active in advocacy groups for Fragile X and autism; they also belonged to several parental support groups for children with those conditions. Randy told me a story he’d heard at one of his group meetings. “This guy’s family was in a motorhome, driving through Nevada at night. Everybody was asleep except the guy and his son, who has Fragile X and only spoke one or two words at a time. The guy was driving, the boy sitting next to him. He says he’ll never know what it was — his boy’s anxiety levels must have been low, or ... something twigged. He started talking, stringing words together. Words his father didn’t realize he even knew. “I guess the landscape spoke to him. It was beautiful, the guy said. But a one-off, too. After that night, things went back to how they were before.” You could picture it. A father and son driving through the desert with the swelter dying out


of the day, the plains unfurling flat and fathomless beneath a sky the tight-sheened purple of eggplant skin. As the headlamps burn phosphorescent holes into the darkness this boy who never speaks ... speaks. What was so different that night? As a father, what could you do? Only take it for what it is. “It could happen,” Randy said. “With Gavin or anybody. Any given day, any moment … right? It could happen.”

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fter a while, the children on my regular route were so familiar to me, and we had so much fun together, that I started to think: Why the heck are they even riding a different bus than the other students? Then Josh’s wheelchair would get stuck in a snowdrift, or I’d pick up a stray math test left on the bus by one of my high school riders and see equations I’d solved in the third grade and think: Oh, yeah. This is why. Still, I was sure Josh or Gavin or Oliver could ride a big bus and, most days, they’d blend right in.

But sometimes I’d work a substitute shift with children with serious, acute disabilities. I drove a nonverbal boy who snapped his body against his safety harness with such force, I could hear the compression of the leatherette upholstery: this horrible, high-pitched squeal. The boy wasn’t spasming, it wasn’t a tic — it was just the purposedriven motion of his body. I’d been warned it was useless to try to stop him. The boy was still at that age where you could call him beautiful. Long, blonde hair and soft, vaguely feminine features. Buckling him in, I’d seen the angry darkened bruisework slanting down his collarbones. Another boy wore giant noise-baffling ear protectors like you’d see at gun ranges. He was 16 and cried almost constantly. Whenever I asked him what was the matter, he stared at me, cleansed of all evident comprehension. “He cries all the time,” his bus-mate told me. “He just … cries.” When he wasn’t crying, this boy repeated phrases in an excited, urbane voice: “I’m having a lovely time” and “I’m very happy to be here” and “Come oooon down!” — a perfect mimicry of announcer Rod Roddy on The Price is Right. Once, when I braked too hard for a yellow light, he said, “I’m getting N-E-R-V-O-U-S. Don’t be silly, Arthur, you’re going to be just fine.” In time, I understood every word he spoke was cribbed off TV shows. Glancing in the riot mirror, I’d be struck by 1 60

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just how handsome he was. I pictured him on a park bench, where a girl sat beside him. After attempting to strike up a conversation — “I’m having a lovely time!” — she came to realize this handsome boy’s personality was inaccessible not only to her, but to everyone. Kids like this simply cannot be mainstreamed; it would be cruel to even attempt it. What you notice is the formation of two distinct streams within the school walls. Sometimes those streams entwine, as they are encouraged to, but, ultimately, they do run apart.

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n the last day of school, I got to the bus yard early, poured a cup of coffee from the big steel dispenser and milled with my fellow drivers. A lot of them were retirees or single parents, which ensured plenty of photo-swapping: wallet-size kids and grandkids.

We donned our reflective safety vests and filtered out to our buses. I popped the hood and checked the dipstick, then seated myself behind the wheel, slid the key into the ignition and let the glow plugs warm. The engine caught with an earthy rumble, settling into that familiar diesel rhythm: tikka-tikka-tikka … I walked between the bench seats with my head declined so it didn’t hit the roof; I failed to do so my first week and a loose rivet tore a gouge out of my scalp. After raising and lowering the wheelchair ramp, I passed back up the aisle, slapping the seatbacks to make sure they were bolted tight. I headed out with the broom to check the exterior lights and give the tires and exhaust pipe a solid test-whack. School bus drivers perform the same safety check all over the world. Their buses are yellow in North America — the colour is actually called National School Bus Glossy Yellow — green in El Salvador, white in Ireland, blue in the Netherlands. This morning, and on any school day, this rainbow on wheels will transport millions. Our buses exited the yard as a yellow flotilla, dispersing into the urban grid. A small number of smaller buses broke off from the fleet. Channel 1 on your CB radios, number one in your hearts. My last day transpired the same as those that went before. I pulled up. The ramp lowered. The door opened. The kids boarded as they had boarded all year: in Converse hi-tops and snow boots and a Pronto M94 Power Wheelchair. In hockey jerseys, unbelted trousers and skinny jeans. They came with backpacks, comic books, chewing gum, drawings of princesses and

cyborgs, iPods, skateboards, loose-leaf binders, video games, teeth-bitten pencils, cough drops, lunch sacks and hackey sacks. And they came with their adult-spectrum meds: Valium, Prozac, Tegretol, Seroquel. All came with their scars. All came with their hopeful truths. In the mornings they often boarded tired or listless; in the afternoon they could be cranky or withdrawn. They rode because their parents told them to, and they obeyed. I wondered what they would remember of that school year. Perhaps that night in January when a flash squall touched down, snow curling over the Rockies on a bone-searching wind that screamed through seams in the airframe. Snowflakes glittered in the headlights like a million airborne razor blades as I merged with the rural highway onto Macleod Trail. The moisture of our bodies fogged the windshield; I rolled down the window and wind howled with such force the tears forced out of my eyes were vaporized before they touched my ears. The tires lost traction on a strip of black ice and hit the rumble strips before returning to the tarmac. Fists gripped to the wheel, my knuckles became whitened humps — which was when Josh began to belt out the theme song to Red Dwarf: “It’s cold outside, there’s no kind of atmosphere / I’m all alone, more or less / Let me fly, far away from here / Fun, fun, fun, in the sun, sun, sun...” On that last night, after I dropped off the last student, I checked the bus for sleeping kids and clipped the “Empty” sign in the back window. I drove to the summer storage yard and parked my bus nose-to-tail with dozens of its kind. For the last time I radioed it in: “Bus 3077, checked and clear.” Next year, the unit would be assigned to another driver, who would drive new kids. Metal carries no memory — we invest objects with significance, transferring some measure of our personalities into them, which may be why some places end up haunted and others sanctified. I exited the yard with the knowledge that no perfect ending exists. The lives of everyone on the bus would progress according to their own imperfect plans. But we are all imperfect, if not by birth then, eventually, by age or circumstance or experience and, if anything, those imperfections make those who love us already love us even more deeply. So if today is a school day and you’re out on the roads, it’s likely you’ll spot a “cheese wagon.” If you could, make a little room — it can be one hell of a time piloting these big rigs. And, hey, we’re not transporting potatoes here, people! We pass through your blessed existence bearing precious cargo.


—How-To Conseils pratiques

Winner/Gagnant

Denise Balkissoon, David Fleming, Carley Fortune, Katie Underwood, Lianne George The Grid Guide to Buying a Condo

The Grid


26 | Sept. 20-Sept. 26, 2012

thegridto.com

1.

Sept. 20-Sept. 26, 2012 |

thegridto.com

The

Why should I buy, anyway?

Grid Guide

to buying a condo Are you sick of shovelling snow? Had it with ravenous raccoons? Through with lazy landlords? Then chances are you’re part of the crowd considering buying into one of the city’s rapidly multiplying condo buildings. That, or you’ve ditched the picketfence dream after taking a peek at your last bank statement. Last month, the average detached house in the 416 cost $746,300.1 The average condo went for $349,489. 2 Those kinds of figures make the whole condo-versus-house debate seem moot, especially for first-time buyers. But it’s still a confusing time to be in the market for a condo: After a solid decade of soaring ever upwards, prices seem to be levelling off, maybe even dropping. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Then there’s the process of figuring out how condo ownership works: What the heck is a reserve fund, anyway? A status certifi-what? We took our 10 most pressing questions about buying a condo in Toronto right now to five industry experts. Their answers are essential reading. 3

By Denise Balkissoon, David Fleming, Carley Fortune, and Katie Underwood Although, we found some condo-sized homes for a lot cheaper. 2 And we tracked down some pretty rad condos for sale, too. 3 Heads up: It’s a really bad idea to sneak a parrot into your building. 1

Photographs by Vicky Lam

Our expert panel

Kim Gibbons Broker, Mortgage Intelligence

Sharon Golberg Managing Director, Dash Property Management

Andrew la Fleur Sales rep, Remax, and Blogger, truecondos.com

Denise Lash Partner, Condominium Group, Heenan Blaikie LLP

27

Ben Rabidoux Analyst, M. Hanson Advisors, and Blogger, theeconomicanalyst.com

Really, the buyingversus-renting question comes down to philosophy. There’s financial philosophy, which pits those who think that renting is a waste of money against those who say that with discipline (and know-how), you’ll get a much better return sinking your down payment into other investments. The market is definitely unpredictable right now, and nobody wants to commit hundreds of thousands of dollars now only to feel like a sucker if prices drop by 20 per cent in the next year. Then there’s lifestyle philosophy, as explained by our most cautious expert, analyst Ben Rabidoux, who believes that Toronto’s condo prices are in for a sharp correction, if not a crash. Even he says that buying property is about balancing economics with the desire for a home. “From a lifestyle perspective, some people are willing to take an equity risk for a little more stability,” says Rabidoux (immediately cautioning that a five-per-cent down payment is “the opposite of stability”). Maybe you want to ensure your kids a spot in a certain school, or maybe you’re tired of a revolving door of roommates. Maybe you just want this slice of the sky to be yours, right now. just make sure you can afford it.


26 | Sept. 20-Sept. 26, 2012

thegridto.com

1.

Sept. 20-Sept. 26, 2012 |

thegridto.com

The

Why should I buy, anyway?

Grid Guide

to buying a condo Are you sick of shovelling snow? Had it with ravenous raccoons? Through with lazy landlords? Then chances are you’re part of the crowd considering buying into one of the city’s rapidly multiplying condo buildings. That, or you’ve ditched the picketfence dream after taking a peek at your last bank statement. Last month, the average detached house in the 416 cost $746,300.1 The average condo went for $349,489. 2 Those kinds of figures make the whole condo-versus-house debate seem moot, especially for first-time buyers. But it’s still a confusing time to be in the market for a condo: After a solid decade of soaring ever upwards, prices seem to be levelling off, maybe even dropping. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Then there’s the process of figuring out how condo ownership works: What the heck is a reserve fund, anyway? A status certifi-what? We took our 10 most pressing questions about buying a condo in Toronto right now to five industry experts. Their answers are essential reading. 3

By Denise Balkissoon, David Fleming, Carley Fortune, and Katie Underwood Although, we found some condo-sized homes for a lot cheaper. 2 And we tracked down some pretty rad condos for sale, too. 3 Heads up: It’s a really bad idea to sneak a parrot into your building. 1

Photographs by Vicky Lam

Our expert panel

Kim Gibbons Broker, Mortgage Intelligence

Sharon Golberg Managing Director, Dash Property Management

Andrew la Fleur Sales rep, Remax, and Blogger, truecondos.com

Denise Lash Partner, Condominium Group, Heenan Blaikie LLP

27

Ben Rabidoux Analyst, M. Hanson Advisors, and Blogger, theeconomicanalyst.com

Really, the buyingversus-renting question comes down to philosophy. There’s financial philosophy, which pits those who think that renting is a waste of money against those who say that with discipline (and know-how), you’ll get a much better return sinking your down payment into other investments. The market is definitely unpredictable right now, and nobody wants to commit hundreds of thousands of dollars now only to feel like a sucker if prices drop by 20 per cent in the next year. Then there’s lifestyle philosophy, as explained by our most cautious expert, analyst Ben Rabidoux, who believes that Toronto’s condo prices are in for a sharp correction, if not a crash. Even he says that buying property is about balancing economics with the desire for a home. “From a lifestyle perspective, some people are willing to take an equity risk for a little more stability,” says Rabidoux (immediately cautioning that a five-per-cent down payment is “the opposite of stability”). Maybe you want to ensure your kids a spot in a certain school, or maybe you’re tired of a revolving door of roommates. Maybe you just want this slice of the sky to be yours, right now. just make sure you can afford it.


28 | Sept. 20-Sept. 26, 2012 Mind-numbing condo-buying terms, explained.

thegridto.com

Amortization period This is the number of years you have to pay off your mortgage. The longer the period, the lower your payments. However, Canadian buyers are not able to sign up for amortization periods longer than 25 years if they put less than 20 per cent down.

Pre-construction building Buying a pre-construction unit means that since the building hasn’t been completed (it might only be a hole in the ground and a twinkle in a developer’s eye), you’ll be basing your decision on a model suite and a floor plan.

2

But is this a good time to buy a condo? That really depends on your value than they’ve earned in equity. current financial situation. To start A sharp dive or a crash could with, a first-time buyer shouldn’t cause a terrifying loss in value. In be aiming to make huge bank. You Florida right now, lots of people should be buying a place to live are stuck holding property worth in, one that you’re truly psyched way, way less than the amount about, in a neighbourhood you they owe on their mortgages. “In genuinely like. Those two crucial that situation, property becomes attributes are what the next owner a prison,” says Rabidoux. Say your will also want. company heads for a different That said, some people city, requiring a fast move: should not be buying You could be forced to The right ’hood now, full stop. sell at a loss and end Andrew la Fleur says that Finance Minister Jim up paying the bank east-side buildings like One Flaherty is waggling to get out of your Cole and River City offer his stern eyebrows mortgage. This is “excellent value,” while Sharon Golberg points to Yorkville at Toronto condo why, if your down as a neighbourhood where buyers who are payment is tiny, you buildings tend to retain making five-per-cent should not buy now. blue-chip status. down payments and For those with a signing up for 25-year decent stash (Rabidoux amortizations. If that’s you, advises at least 10 per cent), then hold on a bit. In a market the story is a little different. “It’s no where prices are dropping (or just longer a seller’s market, and there flatlining), buyers with low equity are some great opportunities,” says are losing money. Condo prices mortgage broker Kim Gibbons. have dropped four per cent in the With so many units for sale right past year, so someone who bought now, there’s room to negotiate. a $300,000 condo last year with Gibbons thinks prices will continue a five per cent downpayment and to drop, creating a full-on buyer’s 25-year mortgage has lost more in market, while Andrew la Fleur, a realtor who specializes in the downtown condo market, considers the next six months a sweet spot, Here’s why: before prices swing up again in the That person put $15,000 spring. Either way, plan on staying down. A year’s worth of put long enough to ride out a few minimum monthly payments market dips and rises, and to make (about $1,500 at four per cent the eventual moving costs worth interest), has only earned $7,600 in equity. Meanwhile, it (property virgins get to skip the their unit’s value has been land transfer tax just one magical, reduced by $12,000. special time).

Buyer beware There are endless condo-buyer horror stories, like finding out you can’t barbecue on your balcony (shudder). Don’t worry, The Grid real-estate columnist and realtor David Fleming has your back. Here are four traps he says to watch out for while you’re on the hunt for a new place. Trap No. 1

Trap No. 2

Trap No. 3

There are several areas in the building that you probably want to avoid. The first is right next to the elevator. People talk when they get on, and they talk when they get off, and all that noise can flood right into your living room. If you’re interested in a unit near the elevator, check if you hear the beep when a button is pushed. You may also want to stay away from units on the party-room floor—the noise can be even worse than the elevator—or from condos with a balcony under the shared rooftop terrace, from which drunken residents will toss cigarette butts and the occasional beer can. Being next to the garbage chute guarantees at least a twice-daily session of banging and clanging.

Some newer buildings have Zipcar or AutoShare parking on the premises, which can be a huge asset if you don’t want a car, or the $36,000 hit for a parking space. Older buildings often have something called “exclusive-use” spaces— you don’t actually own the spot, but are the only person permitted to park there. The problem with this is that you can’t sell the space if you’re not using it, and often there are restrictions on renting it out. You’ll also want to make sure there’s ample visitor parking for grandma and grandpa, otherwise you’ll be the one running down to feed the meter. Some buildings have zero visitor spots, which could affect your decision to buy there.

This is the most overlooked feature of a condo, as you really have to envision yourself in the space to get a sense of whether or not there’s enough storage. Some of the newer, modern-looking condos have kitchens with barely enough room for plates—unless you want to stack them under the sink next to your garbage can. In many loft conversions, the hot-water tank and furnace are in the unit itself, meaning that giant hall closet won’t hold your boots and coats. You don’t want to be in a position where you’re forced to buy a storage unit for $4,000 to $5,000 after you’ve moved in.

Unit location

Parking

Parking

Subway/streetcar nearby

Trap No. 4

Storage

Unique unit

Outdoor space

Spend some time out on the terrace or balcony, even if you’re condo shopping in winter. Consider which direction the unit faces, and how much or how little sun you might get. A west-facing balcony may be too hot to use in the summer. Listen to the street noise below: Could you read a book out there and relax? See if there’s a water line for your plants and a gas line for a barbecue. (Don’t forget to make sure you’re allowed to have a barbecue.) Is there a drain on the terrace to avoid pooling water when it rains? How close are you to your neighbours? Are there any restrictions on usage of the space? You don’t want to spend all that money building planter boxes only to find out that fixed structures are not allowed.

In-demand neighbourhood

Outdoor space

sick pads

Condo-research outfit Urbanation says that in the downtown core, the average price is about $658 per square foot for a unit in a preconstruction or newly opened building—or $394,800 for an average-sized 600-square-foot one-bedroom. For a unit in an older building, it’s about $581 per square foot, or $348,600 for the same amount of space. A 915-square-foot average Toronto two-bedroom is $602,070 new, or $531,615 resale. Keep in mind, extremely expensive luxury units skew these averages, and that parking will add at least $10,000.

4.

Queen and Carlaw $269,900, maintenance fees $192/month Why it’s a good bet If you’re looking for a small, entrylevel condo, go for something in a standout building. The gorgeous Printing Factory Lofts offer both style and good value—this 440-square-foot apartment would be pricier on the other side of the Don. This is an end unit, which cuts down on hallway and neighbour noise. Other perks: exposed brick, a fair-sized kitchen, and a terrace facing a quieter side street. 201 Carlaw Ave., Unit 223.

How much are maintenance fees, and what do they cover? Maintenance fees average 70 cents per square foot city-wide, so you’re looking at $420 a month for that 600-square-foot unit. They cover the cost of heat and water (electricity is usually extra), property-management and security fees, and daily upkeep of common areas. Fancier amenities mean higher maintenance fees, so think about whether you’ll really use that screening room. “Not many people use pools or yoga classes,” says Sharon Golberg, who has managed hundreds of units in GTA buildings. “That’s a very niche market.” He says a party room and a gym are worth having, but everything else is usually a waste. Golberg doesn’t think higher fees are a reason to avoid older buildings, pointing out that adding $10,000 to your loan to buy in a newer building with lower maintenance fees will end up costing extra dough in interest.

Bloor and Lansdowne $299,900, maintenance fees $263/month Why it’s a good bet This stylish one-bedroom loft (housed in a former mattress factory) is sure to retain its cool factor, thanks to exposed ductwork and wood ceilings. It’s a small suite and the sleeping area just fits a bed and small side tables, but the 15-foot ceilings and light from oversized south-facing windows keep it airy. Lansdowne Station is around the corner, and the shops on Roncesvalles are a 20-minute walk away. 284 St. Helens Ave., Unit 205.

If rad amenities are your thing, check out these buildings: Palace Pier Bus service, valet parking, squash courts, swimming pool, dry cleaning pick-up, outdoor tennis court, putting green. 2045 Lake Shore Blvd. W.

Harbourview Estates Billiards room, running The Summit track, mini theatre, Indoor and golf simulator, outdoor pools, karaoke room. squash courts, 35 Mariner Ter. yoga studio. 701–725 King St. W. King’s Landing Driving range, tennis courts, indoor pool. 460–480 Queens Quay W.

photographS (exteriors) PORTIA COLBERT and leanne skinner

3. What can I expect to pay?


30 | Sept. 20-Sept. 26, 2012

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Condo Act This is a piece of provincial legislation that lays out how condos should be purchased, run, lived in, and so on. But since the act isn’t enforced, condo owners must take it upon themselves to learn the law and make sure their board complies with it.

5.

How much power does a condo board have?

6.

Interior-design déjà vu

A lot. The most important of its tasks is to hire property management. If it finds a company (or person) that’s efficient and cost- Why should I care about the building’s effective, the building will be well-kept and reserve fund? your fees will stay reasonable. If they fail on If a reserve fund isn’t big enough to cover a specific job, like updating either count, it will likely cost you. And yes, the elevators, a condo board can the board is allowed to decree that bikes pass a special assessment, meaning aren’t allowed in units, that only miniature that each owner is suddenly on the hook for a percentage of the cost. dogs are welcome, and any other building“A lot of first-time developers end specific bylaw it likes, as long as it doesn’t up having buildings with special assessments,” says Denise Lash, contravene the Condo Act or the Human a real-estate lawyer who mostly Rights Code. So thoroughly read the condo represents condo corporations agreement—the legal document you have to and developers. This also happens when there’s an emergency repair, agree to abide by when you buy your place. or if a condo board is faced with and don’t believe any agent who says not to a surprise expense, like a lawsuit. worry, you can sneak in your Dalmatian. “Buildings that have glass falling off

Who shut the dogs out?

Whether you’ve got an angelfish or an Alsatian, make sure you can have pets in the building before buying. Some Toronto condo boards keep animals— and their owners—on a very short leash.

7 Broadway Ave. Talk about specific: This Yonge and Eg–area condo’s board of directors stipulates that its residents can have either one bird or two tropical fish in their living quarters. Oh, and no dogs allowed.

77 Carlton St. This condo’s stringent canine guidelines have become something of an inside joke in the Toronto realestate community: The building’s board keeps an updated catalogue of the residents’ dogs, complete with names and pictures, and tracks the pups as they move on and off of the premises.

30 Holly St. After Michael and Margarita Bazilinsky offered to pet-sit their friend’s parrot in late 2010, neighbours quickly complained about the bird’s squawking. The condo board found them in violation of the building’s strict no-pets rule, even accusing the couple of smuggling the bird out of the midtown building in a blanket-covered box on inspection day. After a highly publicized year-and-ahalf-long court battle, the Bazilinskys settled with a payment of $1,500 to cover the board’s legal costs. The couple has since moved out of the building.

the terraces are a major concern for lenders. It’s a huge legal liability,” says broker Kim Gibbons. Both the Festival Tower, attached to the Bell Lightbox, and the Murano Towers, at Bay and College (buildings that have had incidents of falling glass), are facing $20-million lawsuits filed by unhappy owners. Condo boards are required to do a reserve-fund study every three years to assess what repairs and maintenance will be needed over the next 30 years. When Lash gets a client’s status certificate, she compares the engineering report with the condo board’s plan to keep its reserve fund healthy. She decides whether the board is on top of the building’s long-term needs, and if the fund can bankroll the planned maintenance. “Make sure the building has a reservefund study, preferably done by an engineer,” she says. Andrew la Fleur suggests reading the minutes from the most recent condo board meeting. “You can find out what the real issues are, what the board is talking about,” he says.

It’s no accident that Toronto’s slick new condos look alike.

It’s not just the exteriors of Toronto’s high-rise and boutique residences that look exactly the same—a peek inside the city’s green-glass monoliths reveals an eerie homogeneity at play. Industrial lighting, polished concrete, marble surfaces, and sleek, tiny furniture abound. But it’s not simply the result of a city-wide fetish for stainless steel and exotic woods. This pan-Toronto interior aesthetic has arisen out of practicality: As condos shrink—the average size of units ready for occupancy in 2012 is 822 square feet; in 2014, that will drop to 695 square feet—there is a premium on space-conscious design. And for many local design firms, that translates into a penchant for muted palettes and uncluttered layouts. “The success of any designer is to trick the public into believing what they’re purchasing is bigger than it actually is,” says Lisa Rochon, The Globe and Mail’s architecture critic. Here, a primer on the three Toronto firms spearheading the streamlined, minimalist-chic movement found throughout the city’s sky-high dwellings.

Queen and Bathurst $379,000, maintenance fees $145/month Why it’s a good bet This bright 910-square-foot condo townhouse is three storeys with two bedrooms, one bathroom, and a private roof terrace that offers a view of the CN Tower and gas barbecue hookup. The unit is situated in a tidy complex of townhouses, joined by cute pathways, and it’s close to Kensington Market and Queen West. 80 Carr St., Unit 20.

▲ Cecconi Simone Partners Elaine Cecconi and Anna Simone. Notable buildings | INDX (70 Temperance St.) | Chaz Yorkville (101 Yorkville Ave.) | Camden Lofts (29 Camden St.). Output The firm has about 20 projects under construction, including the majorly hyped skyscraper One Bloor (1 Bloor E.), and between 10 and 15 other Toronto projects on the drawing board. Buzz phrases | Contemporary and clean | Cross-pollination of design | Impactful. Signatures | Small-scale furnishings | Vertical built-in storage | Corian bathrooms. Major statement The lobby of the forthcoming X2 Condominiums (101 Charles St. E) will feature a $20,000 hammock-like leather sofa by Molteni & C. The building’s units can be upgraded to include a futuristic table that can be moved up (to eat at) or down (to work on) at the push of a button.

▲ II BY IV DESIGN Partners Dan Menchions and Keith Rushbrook. Notable buildings | Bohemian Embassy (1171 Queen St. W.) | Toy Factory Lofts (43 Hanna Ave.) | Trump International Hotel and Tower (325 Bay St.). Output Condo magnate Brad Lamb works with II BY IV so often that he considers the firm the “house designers” for Lamb Development Corporation. The team of 30 designers has 75 active projects at present. Buzz phrases | Cost-effective creativity | Design magically, think practically | Profoundly functional. Signatures | Muted colour palettes | Lighting fixtures that double as sculpture | Posh finishes. Major statement Trump Tower residents are welcomed home by a 3,000-pound cherry-blossom Swarovski crystal sculpture in the lobby.

▲ Munge Leung Partners Alessandro Munge and Sai Leung. Notable buildings | The Republic of Yonge & Eglinton (70 Roehampton Ave. and 25 Broadway Ave.) | One Bedford at Bloor (1 Bedford Rd.) | Residences at the Ritz-Carlton (183 Wellington St. W.). Output The firm has roughly 24 condo projects in progress. Buzz phrases | Unique and appropriate narratives | Stylistic idioms | Uninhibited palette. Signatures | Small-space functionality | Intricate accent walls made of stone and wood | Vibrantly coloured multicultural influences. Major statement Each of the Ritz-Carlton’s units (price tag: $1.6–$9 million plus) comes outfitted with a custom-designed U-shaped walk-in closet in wenge veneer with storage compartments made of white leather.

sick pads

Yonge and Eglinton $424,900, maintenance fees $387/month Why it’s a good bet Yonge and Eglinton will always be an in-demand area. There are more condo towers underway, but this lowrise on leafy Redpath Avenue is tucked away from the noisy main drags. You’d be lucky to find two bedrooms, two bathrooms (the unit’s about 850 square feet), a pretty electric fireplace in the living area, balcony, and decent kitchen storage in this ’hood for any cheaper. 188 Redpath Ave., Unit 608.

Reserve Fund Every board is required to keep a pool of money used to make repairs to the building’s structure and common areas. A portion of your maintenance fees go towards the reserve fund.

photographS (exteriors) PORTIA COLBERT and leanne skinner

Condo board Condo boards are made up of building residents who represent the interests of everyone living there. The board meets regularly to make all the major decisions regarding the maintenance and finances of the building.


32 | Sept. 20-Sept. 26, 2012

thegridto.com

Status Certificate A report that outlines the state of the condo. It includes information such as what work is being done to the building, the amount of money in the reserve fund, any claims against the condo, and financial statements. Offers on condo units are often conditional upon a lawyer reviewing the building’s status certificate.

7.

How do I make sure my condo is built properly? Even if your building is new, your developer has a reputation, so look into it. Lash recommends using Tarion, a private corporation that administers warranties on new residential properties in Ontario, and checks up on builders to make sure they aren’t doing anything illegal. Its website, tarion.com, will confirm that your builder is licensed in the province, show you how many buildings they’ve put up in the past decade, and how often Tarion has had to mediate warranty disputes. Market-research outfit J.D. Power also puts out an annual customer-satisfaction survey about Canadian builders, which is free on its website, canada.jdpower.com.

Equity In real estate, this is the difference between the market value of a property and how much the owner owes on the mortgage. So, if you were to sell your home for $400,000, but still had $100,000 on the mortgage, your equity would be $300,000.

10.

sick pads

Roncesvalles $444,900, maintenance fees $566/month Why it’s a good bet Condos are rare in familypacked Roncesvalles, and are a more affordable way into the area. It’s a high-demand neighbourhood, which is key to keeping values up. This 900-squarefoot unit has two balconies and spans three levels, with a good-sized office on the lower level, an updated kitchen (with island!) on the second floor, and a bedroom on the top level. 437 Roncesvalles Ave., Unit 206.

Dundas and Carlaw $539,900, maintenance fees $617/month Why it’s a good bet What this one-bedroom corner unit in the former Wrigley chewing-gum factory lacks in outdoor space (there is none), it makes up for with sweet finishes and space—1,300 square feet of it. The floors are polished concrete and the kitchen has been redone with stainless-steel counters, appliances, and an island. The ceilings are 13 ½-feet high and the bedroom is open-concept, but on a separate level. 245 Carlaw Ave., Unit 300.

8

What are some signs that I should walk away from a unit or a building? “One red flag is a history of above-average maintenance-fee increases,” says Andrew la Fleur. “Maintenance fees should rise at roughly the rate of inflation, so a 10 per cent rise every year for the past five years is a warning sign.” Ask the building’s property manager, or get your agent to look into a unit’s history on MLS. Sharon Golberg advises looking out for fast turnover in board members or property-management companies—ask other residents or security staff, or tell your agent to make finding out one of the conditions of your offer. Word of mouth is an unbeatable source of intel, but as la Fleur notes, people aren’t going to bad-mouth their building in public since eventually they’ll want to sell. He does try a casual “So, what do you think of this building?” if he runs into residents during a showing, and says the offhand question can sometimes elicit honesty. The forums at urbantoronto.ca are also worth lurking in: The rumours are wild and the hyperbole intense, but that doesn’t mean it’s all lies.

9. What are the pros of buying pre-construction?

The main benefit is personalization: You pick the cupboards, countertops, floors, and other finishes, so it’s totally your style. “It’s a beauty contest out there,” says Sharon Golberg. “But bear in mind, it has a cost.” Buying preconstruction is appealing to those with smaller down payments, since the construction period provides some more time to save. When you buy pre-construction, you put down an initial deposit—your down payment isn’t made until the second closing, when the building is totally complete. Brand new buildings also tend to have low maintenance fees, at least for several years.

But I don’t want to live in a condo

What are the cons of buying preconstruction?

The biggest drawback of buying new is that buildings very, very rarely open on time. Which means that not only will you have to keep renting (or living with your parents), but your deposit money will be tied up, not earning any interest, during months (or even years) of delays. There’s also the chance that a builder will make changes in your unit—most agreements say they can, at the very least, tamper with the layout. Denise Lash reminds all of her clients who buy into new buildings that they have two closings, which can be expensive. After the first, or interim, closing, you’re on the hook to the developer for monthly occupancy fees that don’t go towards paying off your mortgage. There’s usually a couple months’ lag between that and the city’s inspection and registration of the building, which is the final closing. Be prepared to pony up for lawyer’s fees both times.

Occupancy fees include maintenance fees, property taxes, and interest on the unpaid balance of the purchase price of the condo.

We asked our resident real-estate expert, David Fleming, what realtors mean when they describe houses as “condo alternatives.” Then we went hunting for some.

Mortimer and Woodbine 633 Mortimer Ave. $374,000 With its good-sized backyard (the lot is 103 feet deep), this two-bedroom 700-square-foot bungalow requires more upkeep than a condo but offers wackloads more charm. There’s a front porch and a back deck with gas barbecue hookup. The kitchen is in good nick with granite counters and stainless appliances. The small living area opens onto the kitchen (there’s no dining room), and there’s only one bathroom—but that just means you'll spend less time cleaning.

Danforth and Woodbine 116 King Edward Ave. $399,900 This semi-detached 600-squarefoot place has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a sunny galley kitchen that looks onto a deck and a leafy backyard covered in flagstone. The home is super slim and the property is less than 14 feet wide, but out back there’s a separate studio building with hydro—a pretty sweet bonus.

St. Clair and Dufferin 131 Boon Ave. $369,900 Sure, the front yard of this wee bungalow has been bricked over, but that leaves room for your car, without the $30,000 parking-spot price tag. There are two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one a master ensuite), and a basement income unit, bringing the entire place to a total of 750 square feet. "Yard" is a loose term for what’s happening out back, as it too is bricked over (who likes to mow the lawn, anyway?), but there is a hot tub.

Dundas and Gladstone 177 Gladstone Ave. $499,900 A nice row house close to all the west-end action, this 1,250-squarefoot two-bedroom also comes with a one-car laneway garage, hardwood on the main floor, and central airconditioning. Green thumbs may want to tackle the paved-over yard.

Carlton and Parliament 5 Woodstock Pl. $549,000 This two-bedroom historic home (it’s about 1,000 square feet) is tucked away on a little lane in Cabbagetown. It has plenty of character (window planter boxes, wood shingles, fireplace) and pretty gardens in both the front and back. The kitchen is move-in ready, but buyers with modern tastes will want to replace the white cabinets and appliances.

photographS (exteriors) PORTIA COLBERT and leanne skinner

David’s definition: “The term ‘condo alternative’ mainly refers to the price and size. Houses are typically much larger than condos, but some are quaint, cute, and cozy, like a little 800-square-foot cottage in Cabbagetown. Most people think of houses as 2,000 square feet or more, but there are some cool little places for people who don’t require a ton of space, but also don’t want the upkeep of a large house.”


—Homes & Gardens Maisons et jardins

Winner/Gagnant

Shai Gil, Karen Simpson The Healthy House

Azure


by Alison Garwood-Jones PHotography by Shai gil

+ The healthy house Four years ago, when Toronto’s Superkül transformed a derelict blacksmith’s shop on a narrow city laneway into a sustainable single-family home, the firm’s preservationist aesthetic went viral with design critics and tree huggers alike. With their latest residential project, in rural Ontario, principals Andre D’Elia and Meg Graham faced a whole other set of limitations: their client lives with acute sensitivities to dust, pollen, electromagnetic radiation and a long list of construction materials, rendering any chance of building in a conventional manner virtually impossible. The result is +House, a two-bedroom dwelling nestled between a hill and a pond that has set a new precedent in Canadian environmental design.

62 may 2012

may 2012 63


by Alison Garwood-Jones PHotography by Shai gil

+ The healthy house Four years ago, when Toronto’s Superkül transformed a derelict blacksmith’s shop on a narrow city laneway into a sustainable single-family home, the firm’s preservationist aesthetic went viral with design critics and tree huggers alike. With their latest residential project, in rural Ontario, principals Andre D’Elia and Meg Graham faced a whole other set of limitations: their client lives with acute sensitivities to dust, pollen, electromagnetic radiation and a long list of construction materials, rendering any chance of building in a conventional manner virtually impossible. The result is +House, a two-bedroom dwelling nestled between a hill and a pond that has set a new precedent in Canadian environmental design.

62 may 2012

may 2012 63


1

3

5

4

6

“We spent a lot of time ­couriering building samples to the client so she could pick them up, smell them, and then wait to see if she had a reaction”

2

Call it signature Superkül: this cedar- and teak-clad house in Dufferin County, two hours northwest of Toronto, is compact, low lying and well lit, with full-height windows that open up the residence’s entire 82‑metre length. As with many of the firm’s other projects, a green roof perforated with skylights pulls in additional light and air. But before principal Andre D’Elia fired up CAD, he and project architect Geoffrey Moote spent hours determining what constitutes a healthy house. With the client’s input – “She knows what she can and can’t tolerate” – they quickly eliminated drywall compound (dust), paint (gas emissions), and the idea of a basement (mould). They also made a note to install ductwork with hospital-grade filters. To their surprise, they learned that building materials with higher recycled content aren’t necessarily suitable for everyone. “That’s when the juncture between sustainability and health didn’t always jibe,” says D’Elia. Attaining a LEED rating wasn’t a major concern initially, not when the 64 may 2012

team was faced with other issues, including sourcing allergen-free materials, implementing healthy installation methods, and finding con­tract­ors willing to work on untried ideas. Not until they began to determine what sort of footprint they could make in the hill, without adversely affecting the trees or the pond, did they consult LEED’s checklist of sustainability points. “The project was always more idiosyncratic than just hitting the LEED basics,” notes Graham. “We spent a lot of time couriering the client boxes of building samples so she could pick them up, smell them, and then wait to see if she had a reaction. The results were very specific to the individual.” Take the countertops: some types of granite and natural rock emit low levels of radiation, and others contain epoxies that didn’t agree with the client, so they turned instead to IceStone, made from recycled glass. For the walls, they used American Clay, a VOC-free plaster that never dries completely and helps regulate the interior humidity and temperature. Choosing the right millwork proved more challenging. They tested over 40 substrates azuremagazine.com

with the client before settling on a white oak veneer, with AFM Safecoat as the sealant. After the cabinetry was built and sealed, it was put in storage for several months, to allow it time to off-gas. Once they installed the cabinets, they brought in ozone machines to blast away any lingering off-gas. The risk of leaving behind health-threatening toxins after construction raised another issue of what to do about contaminants being inadvertently introduced. Throughout construction, everyone on the project had to abide by the client’s strict site rules, for instance ensuring that they cleaned their spray guns properly before applying the allergen-free sealant; any residue from other products would have sabotaged the site. Walking on eggshells caused a real issue with some of the subtrades. “We went through three electricians before we found one who was willing to wire the place differently,” says D’Elia. “They all said, ‘Look, I don’t want to be responsible for this.’ ” In their ongoing effort to keep surfaces dust-free, the designers incorporated passive ventilation, using sliding doors to pull in the southwest

+

1 Millwork

The white oak finishes are sealed with non-toxic AFM Safecoat. 2 Countertops

IceStone, made of recycled glass, is radiation-free and uses no epoxy, unlike stone or granite.

3 Walls

5 Shade

American Clay, a VOC-free plaster that never dries fully, moderates the interior humidity and temperature.

The curtains, by Effort Industries, are 80 per cent hemp and 20 per cent silk with a cotton UV liner.

4 storage

To eliminate any lingering off-gas, the furnishings were kept in storage for months before being moved into the home.

To avoid dust, open shelving was kept to a minimum.

6 furniture

may 2012 65


1

3

5

4

6

“We spent a lot of time ­couriering building samples to the client so she could pick them up, smell them, and then wait to see if she had a reaction”

2

Call it signature Superkül: this cedar- and teak-clad house in Dufferin County, two hours northwest of Toronto, is compact, low lying and well lit, with full-height windows that open up the residence’s entire 82‑metre length. As with many of the firm’s other projects, a green roof perforated with skylights pulls in additional light and air. But before principal Andre D’Elia fired up CAD, he and project architect Geoffrey Moote spent hours determining what constitutes a healthy house. With the client’s input – “She knows what she can and can’t tolerate” – they quickly eliminated drywall compound (dust), paint (gas emissions), and the idea of a basement (mould). They also made a note to install ductwork with hospital-grade filters. To their surprise, they learned that building materials with higher recycled content aren’t necessarily suitable for everyone. “That’s when the juncture between sustainability and health didn’t always jibe,” says D’Elia. Attaining a LEED rating wasn’t a major concern initially, not when the 64 may 2012

team was faced with other issues, including sourcing allergen-free materials, implementing healthy installation methods, and finding con­tract­ors willing to work on untried ideas. Not until they began to determine what sort of footprint they could make in the hill, without adversely affecting the trees or the pond, did they consult LEED’s checklist of sustainability points. “The project was always more idiosyncratic than just hitting the LEED basics,” notes Graham. “We spent a lot of time couriering the client boxes of building samples so she could pick them up, smell them, and then wait to see if she had a reaction. The results were very specific to the individual.” Take the countertops: some types of granite and natural rock emit low levels of radiation, and others contain epoxies that didn’t agree with the client, so they turned instead to IceStone, made from recycled glass. For the walls, they used American Clay, a VOC-free plaster that never dries completely and helps regulate the interior humidity and temperature. Choosing the right millwork proved more challenging. They tested over 40 substrates azuremagazine.com

with the client before settling on a white oak veneer, with AFM Safecoat as the sealant. After the cabinetry was built and sealed, it was put in storage for several months, to allow it time to off-gas. Once they installed the cabinets, they brought in ozone machines to blast away any lingering off-gas. The risk of leaving behind health-threatening toxins after construction raised another issue of what to do about contaminants being inadvertently introduced. Throughout construction, everyone on the project had to abide by the client’s strict site rules, for instance ensuring that they cleaned their spray guns properly before applying the allergen-free sealant; any residue from other products would have sabotaged the site. Walking on eggshells caused a real issue with some of the subtrades. “We went through three electricians before we found one who was willing to wire the place differently,” says D’Elia. “They all said, ‘Look, I don’t want to be responsible for this.’ ” In their ongoing effort to keep surfaces dust-free, the designers incorporated passive ventilation, using sliding doors to pull in the southwest

+

1 Millwork

The white oak finishes are sealed with non-toxic AFM Safecoat. 2 Countertops

IceStone, made of recycled glass, is radiation-free and uses no epoxy, unlike stone or granite.

3 Walls

5 Shade

American Clay, a VOC-free plaster that never dries fully, moderates the interior humidity and temperature.

The curtains, by Effort Industries, are 80 per cent hemp and 20 per cent silk with a cotton UV liner.

4 storage

To eliminate any lingering off-gas, the furnishings were kept in storage for months before being moved into the home.

To avoid dust, open shelving was kept to a minimum.

6 furniture

may 2012 65


8

7

9

+

7 framework

Rather than the usual steel, the rear retaining wall is strengthened with fibreglass rebar, to reduce fatigueinducing electromagnetic fields.

8 roof

Sedum mats by Xero Flor are studded with low-lying, droughtresistant plants that help regulate the interior temperature.

9 structure

Made of Durisol blocks composed of recycled lumber. The blocks contain zero VOCs, produce no off-gas, and resist mould and fungi.

“We went through three electricians before we found one who was willing to wire the place differently” breezes coming off the pond, then letting them escape through clerestory windows on the north wall and three skylights. During pollen season, the owners can batten down the hatches and turn on the air conditioning. As for the green roof, rather than providing a specific health solution it visually extended the hill over top of the house, like a blanket, and moderated the interior temperature. It is also a surefire way to attract birds. Other health measures taken aren’t as visible. D’Elia and Moote came up with a new electrical wiring solution that almost completely eliminates the fatigue-inducing electromagnetic fields. Instead of using plastic-coated wires, they used wires in steel-coil shields and installed them, not by wrapping them in horizontal runs around each room, but by making vertical runs that came up from the floor or down from the ceiling to that one spot where power was needed. In the end, no one knew how all of the products would react in combination. “Remember, this was a prototype,” says D’Elia, and as far as they know 66 may 2012

it’s the first new build to incorporate these elements. “It was a nail-biting experience the first time the client walked in,” recalls Graham. “We were like, ‘Oh God, what’s going to happen?’ ” Now that the owners are happily living in the home – cooking, reading, doing yoga and watching for wildlife – the architects shouldn’t feel shy about running a victory lap or two. But who remains accountable if the project doesn’t succeed over the long term? While no one signed contracts, it was understood that the designers and contractors would do their best to create the most allergen-free space possible. “It’s always about achieving a synthesis of healthy design, sustainability, and what is classically considered ‘high design,’ ” says Graham. “The intention was never to let one suffer for any of the others.” You’d be hard-pressed to find another contemporary home that meets that mix of criteria. And with allergies and environmental sensitivities on the rise, it likely won’t be the last. azuremagazine.com


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—Service: Personal Finance & Business Journalisme de service : finances et économie Sponsored by/Commandité par Manulife Financial

Winner/Gagnant

Annick Poitras La guerre des retraites est commencée

L’actualité


La guerre des retraites est commencée 24 { février 2012 l’actualité

GRAHAM HUGHES / LA PRESSE CANADIENNE

grand dossier


spécial retraite Pour remplir les promesses de retraite faites à leurs fonctionnaires, Villes et gouvernements augmentent leurs dettes… que remboursent l’ensemble des Québécois. Les opposants s’organisent. Un dossier d’Annick Poitras

L 

es prochaines années s’annoncent arides pour les 50 000 habitants de Rimouski. Ils risquent en effet de voir leurs impôts municipaux augmenter. La Ville devra consacrer un million de dollars par an jusqu’en 2026 à renflouer sa caisse de retraite. « Et si les rendements ne se replacent pas, ça pourrait être davantage, dit le maire, Éric Forest. Cet argent-là, je dois le prendre dans les poches des contribuables, qui, en majorité, n’ont aucune protection financière pour leur retraite. Ce n’est plus équitable pour eux. » Saguenay, Sherbrooke, Gatineau… Plus d’une centaine de municipalités du Québec peinent à financer le coût croissant de leurs régimes de retraite. Mont­ réal, par exemple, devra verser 609 millions dans ses caisses de retraite en 2012, presque autant que ce qu’elle consacre à son Service de police ! Même le gouvernement du Québec est dans le rouge. Les promesses de rentes qu’il fait chaque année à ses employés ont plus que doublé depuis 2000. Il leur doit 75 milliards pour leur retraite. C’est plus que les 61 milliards qu’il dépense cette année pour l’ensemble de ses pro­ grammes, en incluant la santé et l’éducation ! Québec n’a évidemment pas cet argent sous la main. Alors il emprunte. Près de 17 %

La bataille pour garder intactes les promesses des régimes de retraite se livre aussi dans le secteur privé. À preuve cette grève des employés d’Air Canada en 2011.

de la dette totale du Québec provient de ses engagements liés aux régimes de retraite. En fin de compte, ce que le gou­ vernement doit à ses employés pour leur retraite est payé par tous, simples contribuables. Est-ce équitable, compte tenu du fait que 58 % des Québécois doivent se débrouiller seuls pour assurer leurs « vieux jours » ? Bill Tufts a passé sa vie à gérer des régimes de retraite pour des entreprises. Cet Ontarien de 52 ans en connaît un chapitre sur le sujet, et son jugement est lapidaire : le système actuel du secteur public n’est rien de moins qu’une fraude pyramidale. Dans Pension Ponzi (Wiley, 2011), un essai en anglais qu’il cosigne avec un journaliste, il explique que « les rendements attendus n’étant pas au rendezvous, de plus en plus d’argent public est utilisé pour payer les régimes de retraite. Nos services publics sont menacés. » Dans son blogue, Bill Tufts observe la « crise des pensions publiques », qui s’accentue en Occident depuis l’effondre­ ment des marchés boursiers, en 2008. Selon lui, les mêmes aléas financiers et démographiques pendent au bout du nez du Canada s’il n’est pas vigilant. « Le point de bascule est atteint. Il est urgent de faire quelque chose. »

Durant la Révolution tranquille, dans les années 1960, les syndicats ont négocié pour les travailleurs du secteur public des régimes de retraite à prestations déterminées dans leur rémunération globale. Ces régimes garantissent une rente fixe jus­ qu’au décès, peu importe les soubresauts des marchés financiers. La plupart des retraités des administrations municipales, provinciales et fédérale peuvent recevoir jusqu’à 70 % de leur salaire, ou plus, jusqu’à la mort… voire au-delà : une rente partielle est souvent versée à leur conjoint survivant. Ces avantages ont été consentis par les gouvernements, car ils permettent d’attirer et de retenir les meilleurs travailleurs. De tels régimes ont aussi longtemps été offerts par les entreprises, mais seulement 18 % des travailleurs du secteur privé en bénéficient encore. Dans le secteur des services, où il se crée le plus d’emplois, les employeurs, surtout des PME, n’ont pas les reins assez solides pour en offrir. Car un régime à prestations déterminées est coûteux : en plus d’assumer au minimum 50 % du coût (l’autre partie est payée par l’employé), l’employeur est responsable de faire fructifier la caisse et, surtout, de la renflouer en cas de déficit. À l’heure des crises économiques mon­ l’actualité février 2012 } 25


diales, cet engagement à long terme — une promesse de rente peut s’échelonner sur 80 ans ! — est devenu très risqué. La Banque Royale du Canada, qui a pourtant un fonds de pension en bonne santé, a annoncé cet automne que ses nouveaux employés devraient se contenter d’un régime à cotisations déterminées (l’employeur verse un pourcentage fixe du salaire dans le REER de l’employé, qui assume tous les risques d’investissement). Si une grande banque juge désormais trop hasardeux de garantir à ses employés la sécurité financière à la retraite, qui a encore les moyens de le faire ? Les administrations publiques ! Elles qui pourront toujours compter sur le revenu des taxes et les impôts pour renflouer, au besoin, la caisse. Et qui ne peuvent faire faillite. Du moins, c’est ce qu’on a longtemps cru. À Prichard, en Alabama, par exemple, les employés municipaux à la retraite ne reçoivent plus de pension depuis 2009. La caisse est vide. Les coffres de la mairie ne sont guère en meilleur état, et la Ville tente de faire faillite pour une seconde fois depuis 1999. Vallejo, en Californie, a aussi fait faillite. Les régimes de retraite plombaient ses finances. Une centaine de Villes améri­ caines, sinon des États, pourraient bientôt se retrouver dans une situation semblable. Au Québec, une municipalité qui aurait de graves difficultés financières serait mise sous tutelle et non en faillite, assurent des spécialistes. L’État provincial 26 { février 2012 l’actualité

Réduire les régimes de retraite offerts aux fonctionnaires ?

32 %

Demander un plus grand effort de financement aux fonctionnaires ?

29 %

« La fameuse “liberté 55” coûte cher au Québec ! dit le maire de Rimouski, Éric Forest. Nos gens partent autour de 58 ans, alors qu’on avait prévu 61 ans. »

Les régimes du fédéral sont parmi les plus généreux de la fonction publique, dit Michel St-Germain, de l’Institut canadien des actuaires : ils sont pleinement indexés et permettent des retraites à un jeune âge.

la prendrait sous son aile et l’ensemble des contribuables paierait les factures. Mais l’étau se resserre tout de même : depuis la crise financière de 2008, le coût des régimes de retraite explose. À Montréal, il a triplé. Et à Québec, il avait doublé dans le budget 2011. Pendant longtemps, tous comptaient sur les rendements de 10 % de la Bourse pour financer les promesses de retraite, explique Michel St-Germain, de l’Institut canadien des actuaires. Mais depuis 11 ans, les rendements sont à peu près nuls ! Et 2011 pourrait être pire que 2008 : les taux d’intérêt n’ont jamais été aussi bas depuis 50 ans. En une décennie, ils ont chuté de 7 % à 4 %. Or, une baisse de 1 % des taux augmente le coût des régimes de retraite de 15 % à 20 %, poursuit Michel St-Germain. Un autre élément que peu de gens ont vu venir : l’augmen­tation de l’espérance de vie, qui atteint 81 ans au Canada, contre 72 ans en 1970. Les rentes doivent être

versées plus longtemps, ce qui gruge les fonds de pension. « Et la fameuse “liberté 55”, ça coûte cher au Québec ! » dit le maire de Rimouski, Éric Forest, aussi président de l’Union des municipalités du Québec. « Nos gens partent en moyenne autour de 58  ans, alors qu’on avait prévu 61 ans. » Encore quelques années supplémentaires de rentes à verser… L’automne dernier, Montréal a appelé ses syndicats à la table des négociations dans le but de réduire de 50 millions par an la facture des régimes de retraite — 8 % de leur coût en 2012. Un objectif ambitieux. Comme un tel régime est un contrat entre employeur et employés, on ne peut modifier ce qui a déjà été promis, seulement ce qui le sera dans l’avenir. Montréal assure 70 % du coût des régimes, les employés 30 % — le ratio est plutôt de 60-40 dans les municipalités. « À Rimouski, on vient de négocier le ratio à 50-50 avec nos syndicats, dit le maire, Éric Forest. Mais toutes les Villes n’obtien-

ÉRIC FOREST : SOPHIE JEAN POUR L’ACTUALITÉ ; couple : Joannie lafrenière pour l’actualité.

grand dossier

CE QU’EN PENSENT LES QUÉBÉCOIS Le coût des régimes de retraite des employés de l’État ajoute 29 milliards de dollars à la dette du Québec. Le gouvernement devrait-il...


Sondage CROP-L’actualité mené par l’intermédiaire d’un panel Web auprès de 1 000 adultes du 21 au 23 novembre 2011.

Ne rien faire, car les marchés financiers vont se redresser ?

12 %

Réduire d’autres services pour renflouer la caisse ?

10 %

dront pas ces concessions. » Contrairement aux entreprises privées, « les Villes ne peuvent menacer de fermer la shop ! ajoute-t-il. On ne peut qu’essayer de persuader les employés de faire des concessions. » Au dépôt du budget, début décembre, Montréal n’avait obtenu que des miettes : une économie de 1,4 million au régime de ses cadres, qui cotiseront davantage dès cette année. La Ville est loin de son objectif, mais elle espère avoir négocié des mesures avec tous ses employés d’ici l’été. Principales solutions au menu : hausses de

Demander un plus grand effort de financement à l’ensemble des Québécois ?

Je ne sais pas

14 %

spécial retraite

cotisations des employés et réductions des retraites anti­ cipées, « un facteur important de l’explosion des coûts », explique Jean-Yves Hinse, directeur principal du Service de capital humain à la Ville. Les syndicats des cols bleus, des cols blancs et des professionnels semblent prêts à collaborer, mais pas à n’importe quel prix. Selon eux, les régimes de retraite ne sont pas la seule cause de la hausse des dépenses et des impôts municipaux, comme la Ville le laisse entendre. Jean-Yves Hinse prévoit mettre « beaucoup d’énergie » à

négocier avec les policiers et les pompiers. Ces groupes génèrent près de 50 % des coûts liés aux régimes de retraite, alors qu’ils composent près du tiers de la main-d’œuvre. La Ville de Montréal a laissé entendre que Québec pourrait voter une loi spéciale lui permettant de modifier les régimes si les syndicats ne plient pas. Ce précédent pourrait alors faire boule de neige aux quatre coins du Québec… En vue de résoudre la crise des régimes de retraite, les Villes discutent depuis l’automne avec le gouvernement, qui leur

4 %

ils partent en lion « La retraite ? Je n’y pense jamais ! » Assise dans la coquette salle à manger de son condo du Quartier DIX30, à Brossard, Stéphanie Cloutier-Breault, 27 ans, éclate de rire. « Je n’ai pas de plan précis et aucune idée si j’économise assez. Je croise les doigts. » Cette jeune gestionnaire en vidéo sur demande possède bien un petit REER, mais elle n’y cotise plus depuis son embauche chez Vidéotron, en 2010. Elle compte maintenant sur un fonds de pension à prestations déterminées, rare dans le privé. Elle a aussi quelques placements sur le marché des actions et dépose de l’argent dans un compte d’épargne libre d’impôt (CELI). En tout, elle arrive à mettre de côté 25 % de son salaire net chaque mois. Sans compter sa cotisation au fonds de pension. « Tout ça va

fructifier jusqu’à ce que j’aie 65 ans », espère-t-elle. Son conjoint, David Guimond, 26 ans, a les reins moins solides. Il vient de terminer des études supérieures en économie et doit consacrer toute son épargne au remboursement de ses prêts étudiants. Sans oublier les paiements de sa nouvelle voiture, étalés sur cinq ans. Il n’a aucun REER. Employé de l’Agence du revenu du Québec depuis quelques mois, il compte, comme son amou­reuse, sur un fonds de pension à prestations déterminées. À l’achat de son condo, il y a trois ans, le couple a opté pour un emprunt hypothécaire rem­ boursable sur 20 ans. « On peut vivre un peu. On n’a pas le couteau sur la gorge », dit Stéphanie Cloutier-Breault. Gabrielle Duchaine

l’actualité février 2012 } 27


grand dossier

Le ratio de partage des cotisations à la caisse de retraite Part des employés (%) Part de l’employeur (%) Ville de Montréal 30 70 Gouvernement fédéral* 35 65 Gouvernement du Québec 50 50 Gouvernement de l’Ontario** 40 ou 50 50 ou 60

donne déjà un coup de pouce. Depuis 2007, elles ne sont plus tenues de combler le déficit de solvabilité, soit la somme nécessaire pour rembourser tous les membres actifs ou à la retraite (comme c’est le cas pour les entreprises privées, pour protéger les employés en cas de ferme­ ture). Elles ne doivent combler que le déficit de capitalisation. Une gymnastique comptable réduit aussi leur fardeau financier depuis 2009. Mais ces mesures ne suffisent pas. Selon Michael Applebaum, bras droit du maire de Montréal, le gouvernement est « très à l’écoute » des problèmes des Villes. Car en ce qui concerne les régimes de retraite, « il est dans le même bateau » ! L’économiste Youri Chassin croit d’ailleurs que c’est là que se déroule « le drame silencieux » des finances publiques. Il est un des rares trentenaires à mettre le nez dans les Comptes publics du Québec. Cet épais document bourré de chiffres fait état de ce qui repose dans les coffres de l’État. À l’Institut économique de Montréal, organisme de recherche indépendant considéré comme de droite, Youri Chassin

28 { février 2012 l’actualité

À Montréal, le maire Tremblay devra verser dans la caisse de retraite en 2012 presque autant que ce qu’il consacre à son Service de police. À la Banque Royale, les nouveaux employés devront se contenter d’un régime à cotisations déterminées.

s’intéresse notamment au financement des régimes de retraite offerts aux fonctionnaires. Plus de 800 000 travailleurs et retraités bénéficient de l’un ou l’autre des 10 régimes de retraite financés à moitié par le Trésor public. Combien ces régimes coûtentils à l’État ? La part des employés est facile à évaluer. Leurs cotisations (9 % de leur salaire en moyenne) sont placées dans des fonds admi­ nistrés par la Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec et fruc­ tifient bien : une réserve d’environ 50 milliards paie la part des prestations à la charge des employés. Ça se corse en ce qui concerne la moitié des coûts à la charge de l’État. Plutôt que d’être versées dans une caisse extérieure, « les cotisations sont gérées à l’interne », explique Bernard Turgeon, sous-ministre associé au financement, gestion de la dette et opérations financières au ministère des Finances. « Le gouvernement reconnaît chaque année les prestations de retraite

qu’il devra verser dans l’avenir, qui sont du salaire différé. Gérer sa cotisation d’employeur à l’interne lui permet de conserver ses liquidités, ce qui réduit ses besoins de financement. Mais cette somme est clairement inscrite à son passif. » Autrement dit, les obligations futures de l’État en matière de régimes de retraite sont ajoutées à la dette du Québec. L’État cumule aujourd’hui 75 milliards de dollars de promesses de rentes. Mais Québec est en train de constituer une cagnotte pour payer cette facture astronomique. En 1993, il a créé le Fonds d’amortissement des régimes de retraite (FARR), géré par la Caisse de dépôt et pla­ cement. En 2011, celui-ci contenait 42 milliards, de quoi faire face à 56 % des obligations de l’État. En 1999, Québec a promis aux syndicats qu’en 2020 le FARR serait assez garni pour couvrir 70 % de ses obligations. « L’objec­tif sera atteint », assure Bernard Turgeon. Luc Vallerand, directeur général de l’Association québécoise

GÉRALD TREMBLAY : DENIS BEAUMONT / LA PRESSE CANADIENNE ; BANQUE ROYALE : MARIO BEAUREGARD / PC ; Geneviève tremblay : joannie lafrenière pour l’actualité.

* Les cotisations des employés augmentent depuis 2006 et devraient atteindre 40 % en 2013. ** Selon le régime.


spécial retraite des retraités des secteurs public et parapublic, en doute. « Les rendements ne sont pas au rendez-vous. » En 2010-2011, le gouvernement a déposé deux milliards dans le FARR. D’où vient l’argent ? C’est la question qui turlupine l’économiste Youri Chassin. « Comment accumule-t-on des sommes dans le FARR ? En empruntant ! On joue ensuite cet argent en Bourse, et le risque est assumé par les contribuables. En 2008, le FARR a perdu le quart de sa valeur. Des milliards envolés ! » dit-il.

Comment Québec alimente-t-il le FARR ? « En empruntant ! On joue ensuite cet argent en Bourse, et le risque est assumé par les contribuables », explique l’économiste Youri Chassin.

Le FARR, c’est en effet un peu l’équivalent d’un emprunt REER pour un particulier : on emprunte une somme à faible taux et on l’investit, en espérant obtenir de bons rendements. À long terme, on peut faire de l’argent. La stratégie du gouvernement se défend, selon le sous-ministre associé Bernard Turgeon : Québec emprunte à un taux de 4 % ou 4,5 %, investit cet argent dans un portefeuille prudent, qui, à long terme, devrait rapporter 6,5 %. C’est le plan. Reste à voir s’il fonctionne.

L’année 2008 a été très mauvaise, soit. « Mais depuis la création du FARR, en 1993, son taux de rendement a été plus élevé que les coûts d’emprunt 13 années sur 17 », dit Bernard Turgeon. Luc Vallerand, lui, n’est pas rassuré. « Le gouvernement n’a pas une attitude de fiduciaire, dit-il. La prudence devrait être de mise : il ne faut pas jouer au yoyo avec le rendement et le risque. » Depuis 1993, le gouvernement a emprunté et déposé 27 milliards dans le FARR, auxquels se sont ajoutés 15 milliards en

la quadragénaire inquiète Avant la quarantaine, ce n’était pas pour avoir une retraite dorée que Geneviève Tremblay versait méthodiquement des milliers de dollars dans un REER chaque année. « J’essayais seulement d’économiser de l’impôt », raconte la femme de 41 ans, qui a effectué sa première cotisation à l’âge de 25 ans. « Comme j’ai tendance à dépenser, je voulais aussi éviter les tentations en n’ayant pas trop d’argent à ma disposition », ajoutet-elle en riant. Puis, le temps l’a rattrapée. « En voyant mes parents prendre leur retraite, je me suis dit : la prochaine, c’est moi », raconte cette coordonnatrice du soutien Web au sein d’une multinationale. Un cas typique. Selon Patrick Audet, directeur du soutien interne au Mouvement Desjardins, c’est généralement entre 40 et 45 ans que l’idée de l’après-

carrière se concrétise dans la tête des Québécois. Le choc est parfois brutal. Comme beaucoup de gens de son âge, Geneviève Tremblay est soudainement inquiète pour ses vieux jours. Malgré un REER confortable, un fonds de pension à prestations déterminées et une maison à Verchères, achetée 160 000 dollars en 2006 grâce au Régime d’accession à la propriété, elle a peur de manquer d’argent. Même si elle n’a pas d’enfant à charge. « Je n’arrive pas à me convaincre que j’en aurai assez », dit-elle. Depuis deux ans, elle verse le maxi­mum permis dans son REER. « J’ai peur d’avoir à l’utiliser plus tôt que prévu. J’ai l’impression que les conditions économiques vont changer et que je devrai travailler jusqu’à 90 ans. » Gabrielle Duchaine

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revenus de placement. Mais pendant que grossit lentement cette cagnotte, le gouvernement puise chaque année plus de quatre milliards à même ses liquidités pour payer sa part de prestations à verser aux retraités. C’est plus que ce qu’il a investi dans le réseau routier en 2011-2012. Et il manque toujours 29 milliards à l’État pour remplir ses pro­ messes de rentes à ses employés, dont environ 100 000 babyboomers qui diront « bye-bye boss » d’ici 2016. « Quand vous promettez quelque chose, vous devez mettre de l’argent de côté pour tenir vos promesses. Ce n’est pas ce que le gouvernement fait : il met ses pro­ messes sur la dette. Les régimes de retraite d’une minorité endettent donc tous les Québécois, même les générations futures », s’inquiète Youri Chassin. Ce « pelletage par en avant », Martine Hébert, vice-présidente pour le Québec à la Fédération canadienne de l’entreprise indépendante (FCEI), le dénonce aussi. Elle en a surtout contre la dette de 146 milliards liée aux régimes de retraite du fédéral, plus généreux que ceux du Québec. « On n’a plus les moyens de payer à certains la limousine avec chauffeur, alors que la majorité des Canadiens roulent à bicyclette », dit cette femme qui parle vite et déplace de l’air. Actuellement, bien peu de travailleurs épargnent suffisamment au moyen des REER. Une proportion alarmante de gens risquent de vieillir avec comme seul revenu les maigres rentes ver­sées par le régime de pension public. De nombreuses organisations 30 { février 2012 l’actualité

Québec et ses régimes de retraite Rentes promises : 75 milliards Sommes manquantes : 29 milliards (17 % de la dette du Québec en 2011) Intérêts nets de la dette liée aux régimes en 2011 : 2,6 milliards Cotisations de l’État en 2011 : 1,9 milliard Prestations versées aux retraités en 2011 : 4,5 milliards Ottawa et ses régimes de retraite Rentes promises : 213 milliards Sommes manquantes : 146 milliards (18 % de la dette du Canada en 2011) Intérêts nets de la dette liée aux régimes en 2011 : 9,7 milliards Cotisations de l’État en 2011 : 3,8 milliards Prestations versées aux retraités en 2011 : 8,5 milliards

syndicales ont donc proposé qu’on augmente, voire qu’on double, les cotisations des employeurs et des travailleurs au Régime de rentes du Québec. Ou encore qu’on force l’épargne d’une manière ou d’une autre. « C’est facile pour les syndicats de pelleter le problème dans la cour des autres, dit Martine Hébert. Mais les employeurs québécois, déjà imposés au double de la moyenne canadienne, ne veulent pas être les seuls à faire des efforts. » La FCEI demande à Ottawa d’opter pour des régimes à cotisations déterminées pour les nouveaux employés. « C’est notre avenir qui est en jeu », dit-elle, en rappelant que les 146 milliards de dollars d’engagements du fédéral envers ses retraités gonflent la dette du Canada. Ce passif serait plutôt supérieur à 200 milliards, selon l’Institut C.D. Howe, un organisme de recherche indépendant de Toronto. « N’importe quel régime de pension du secteur privé ainsi sous-capitalisé serait tenu de faire un plan de redressement,

dit Martine Hébert. C’est aberrant que le gouvernement soit exempt d’une telle obligation ! » Jérôme Turcq, vice-président exécutif régional de l’Alliance de la Fonction publique du Canada, qui représente 28 000 fonctionnaires fédéraux au Québec, se dit « inquiet de la désinformation » faite par la FCEI. « Ils essaient de faire peur aux gens en leur laissant croire qu’ils ont une dette de 200  milliards à cause des régimes de retraite du fédéral. » Selon lui, ce déficit « n’existe pas » : c’est la somme que l’État devrait posséder s’il fermait demain et qu’il devait acheter une rente viagère à tous ses employés et retraités. « C’est comme si votre banque vous demandait de payer votre maison, votre auto et toutes vos dettes d’un coup… Mais le gouvernement va toujours être capable de s’adapter afin de payer les rentes de retraite pour lesquelles il s’est engagé. Il a une source de revenus éternelle : les impôts. » Jérôme Turcq précise que la principale caisse des employés

VALLEJO : ROBERT GALBRAITH / REUTERS ; Diane Dupond : joannie lafrenière pour l’actualité.

grand dossier

Le déficit de 200 milliards « n’existe pas », selon Jérôme Turcq, vice-président exécutif régional de l’Alliance de la Fonction publique du Canada : c’est la somme que le gouvernement devrait posséder s’il fermait demain et qu’il devait acheter une rente viagère à tous ses employés et retraités. Ça n’arrivera pas, dit-il. « Il a une source de revenus éternelle : les impôts. »


spécial retraite de la fonction publique fédérale, garnie d’environ 50 milliards de dollars, rapporte assez pour payer les rentes des participants au cours des prochaines années. « Pour l’instant, il n’y a pas de problème ! » Pour combien de temps encore ? Claude Castonguay, actuaire retraité à qui le Québec doit son Régime de rentes et son assurance maladie, est songeur. Cet homme de 82 ans, qui a vu bien des débats couler sous les ponts, trouve que le Québec s’en va « comme un somnambule » vers de dures échéances. « Il est possible que des petites Villes, qui ont des bases d’impo-

Vallejo, en Californie, a fait faillite. Les régimes de retraite plombaient ses finances. Une centaine de Villes, sinon des États, pourraient suivre.

sition faibles et des régimes de retraite généreux, se retrouvent un jour dans une situation impossible, dit Claude Castonguay. Et dans le secteur public, on bâtit des passifs qui finiront par nous rattraper… Ce n’est pas prudent et c’est tout à fait inéquitable envers les contribuables. » Il faudra cependant beaucoup de courage politique pour changer la donne, dit-il. D’autant plus que le sujet est « sensible », ajoute Michel St-Germain. « Les politiciens sont personnellement touchés : ils ont leur propre régime de retraite… » Une pression énorme, « tant économique qu’idéologique »,

est mise sur les régimes de retraite du secteur public, atteste Jacques Létourneau, premier vice-président de la CSN, un syndicat qui représente plus de 100 000 employés de la fonction publique du Québec. « Le timing économique est propice pour que des gens disent : regardez les fonctionnaires, ces gras dur... » Selon les représentants des syndicats, la discussion devrait plutôt porter sur comment permettre à tous d’avoir une retraite décente. « Un débat de société nous attend. Appauvrir tout le monde en modifiant ces régimes n’est pas la bonne solution », dit Jacques Létourneau.

la retraite devra attendre À 53 ans, Diane Dupond a mis ses projets de retraite en veilleuse. Elle a vu fondre le tiers de son déjà maigre REER pendant la crise financière de 2008 : 22  000  dollars envolés. Puis, début 2011, deuxième coup dur. Elle a perdu son poste de téléphonistevendeuse dans une entreprise montréalaise. Après six mois de recherche d’emploi, elle vient de trouver un poste de coordonna­ trice au bureau montréalais du Nouveau Parti démocratique. « À moins d’un miracle, je devrai travailler au moins jusqu’à 65 ans », dit-elle, résignée. Elle planifiait d’arrêter à 60 ans. Mais selon ses calculs, le fonds de pension à prestations déterminées auquel elle a cotisé durant 20 ans ne lui donnera que 13 000 dollars par année à partir de 2018. « À moins d’avoir un job à 70 000 dollars par an pour mettre 20 000 dollars en REER, je ne

pourrai conserver le même rythme de vie. » Les baby-boomers sont nombreux à partager sa crainte, révèle un récent sondage Ipsos Reid - BMO Groupe financier. Les trois quarts craignent de ne pas avoir suffisamment épargné pour leur retraite. Pour augmenter ses revenus, Diane Dupond compte sur l’argent de la Sécurité de la vieillesse du Canada, qui lui sera versé à partir de 65 ans, et du Régime de rentes du Québec. Et il y a toujours son condo de Pointe-aux-Trembles, acheté en 1999 et dont il lui reste la moi­ tié de l’emprunt hypothécaire à payer. Ses enfants, adultes tous les deux, ont quitté le nid depuis plusieurs années. « Au pire, je vendrai, dit-elle. Mais il faut que je vive quelque part, et un loyer ne me coûtera pas beaucoup moins cher. » Gabrielle Duchaine

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spécial retraite

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32 { février 2012 l’actualité

combien vaut la retraite d’un fonctionnaire ?

Pour vous offrir à 60 ans une retraite semblable à celle de ces employés du secteur public, quelle doit être la taille de votre REER personnel ?

Infirmière Salaire : 59 000 $ Nombre d’années de service : 20 Rente : 23 600 $ (17 149 $ à 65 ans)

= REER personnel de 360 300 $ Cadre à la fonction publique du Québec Salaire : 91 000 $ Nombre d’années de service : 15 Rente : 27 300 $ (22 462 $ à 65 ans)

= REER personnel de 455 200 $ Commis administratif au fédéral Salaire : 40 000 $ Nombre d’années de service : 35 Rente : 28 000 $ (18 200 $ à 65 ans)

= REER personnel de 472 900 $ Col bleu à la Ville de Montréal Salaire : 47 500 $ Nombre d’années de service : 30 Rente : 33 250 $ (25 920 $ à 65 ans)

= REER personnel de 482 100 $

Pompier à la Ville de Montréal Salaire : 68 000 $ Nombre d’années de service : 25 Rente : 42 500 $ à 50 ans (33 150 $ à 65 ans)

= REER personnel de 777 400 $ (à 50 ans) Cadre à la Ville de Montréal Salaire : 88 000 $ Nombre d’années de service : 30 Rente : 52 800 $ (47 730 $ à 65 ans)

= REER personnel de 838 100 $ Cadre au fédéral Salaire : 100 000 $ Nombre d’années de service : 30 Rente : 60 000 $ (50 323 $ à 65 ans)

= REER personnel de 1 224 600 $

Sources : Ville de Montréal, Commission administrative des régimes de retraite et d’assurances (CARRA), Secrétariat du Conseil du Trésor du Canada et Mercer.

Notes : • Les exemples sont donnés à titre indicatif. Un employé dans une situation similaire aura une rente différente selon son âge, sa date d’adhésion ou pour d’autres raisons. • Le salaire moyen porte sur les trois ou les cinq années consécutives les mieux rémunérées, selon les conventions. À moins d’avis contraire, la rente est celle versée à partir de 60 ans. À 65 ans, elle est réduite pour tenir compte de la coordination avec le Régime de rentes du Québec (RRQ). • Les équivalents REER ont été calculés par l’entreprise Mercer selon l’espérance de vie des hommes à 60 ans (84,1 ans). Hypothèses utilisées pour le calcul : taux d’intérêt : 3,71 % (taux estimé de la prime d’achat d’une rente auprès d’un assureur au 31 octobre 2011) ; taux d’indexation pour la Ville de Montréal : 0 % ; pour les régimes du gouvernement du Québec : 1 % ; pour les régimes fédéraux : 2,5 % ; les participants ont un conjoint du même âge (60 ans).

ISTOCKPHOTO, SAUF COL BLEU : GRAHAM HUGHES / PC.

Mais quel avenir pour les régimes à prestations déterminées ? Tout indique que les taux d’intérêt seront plus bas au cours des 10 prochaines années qu’ils ne l’ont été durant les 10 der­ nières, dit Michel St-Germain. « Le coût de ces régimes va donc augmenter et rester élevé. » Toutefois, les régimes du secteur public s’adapteront, croit-il. « Les fonctionnaires paieront probablement plus, les orga­ nismes publics aussi. Peut-être que les régimes deviendront moins généreux. » Le gouvernement du Québec se montre prudent. Il fera désormais des évaluations actuarielles chaque année plutôt que tous les trois ans, pour ajuster les taux de cotisation des employés au besoin. Un « comité de réflexion » sur l’avenir des régimes de retraite sera mis sur pied « pour assurer leur santé financière et respecter l’équité envers les contribuables et les générations qui suivront », explique l’attachée de presse du cabinet du Secrétariat du Conseil du Trésor. Bill Tufts, ce « chien de garde » des pensions publiques, est convaincu que des changements seront faits avant que le Canada se heurte au mur inimaginable : l’insolvabilité des régimes de retraite, voire des Villes, des provinces, du pays. Personne ne veut devenir la Grèce. « Plusieurs Villes et États américains sont en train de modifier les conditions de leurs régimes de retraite. Ils les rendent financièrement soutenables et plus équitables envers les contribuables qui les financent. Ce mouvement s’en vient par ici. »


—Sports & Recreation Sports et loisirs

Winner/Gagnant

Conor Mihell Into the Light

Explore


Into the Light Last summer, Daniel Trask fell in love with the Temagami wilderness in Northern Ontario. And late last fall, he vanished into it, leaving behind little more than a mystery

By Conor Mihell

Enjoying paradise: Daniel Trask on the shore of Temagami’s Obabika Lake last September.

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Kindred spirits: Trask and fellow urban escapee Dmitri Poukhlov at Poukhlov’s home in the Temagami woods.

At

first, Jeff Geiler didn’t t h i n k muc h a b out finding a gold Chevy Impala in the parking lot at Camp Wanapitei, the Northern Ontario youth summer camp on Lake Temagami where he works as a year-round caretaker. It was early November—a little late in the year for visitors—but Geiler immediately recognized the car as belonging to Daniel Trask. Over the previous seven months, Trask, a 28-year-old from Waterloo, Ontario, had become a regular presence in the area, often setting up his tent nearby and dropping in at Geiler’s log cabin to shoot the breeze and poach some time on the Internet. Geiler walked to one of Trask’s usual campsites, expecting to find his friend. There was no sign of him. “I just assumed that he was out and about,” says Geiler. When Trask still had not appeared after several days, Geiler decided to mention the parked vehicle to the Ontario Provincial Police. It was November 13. Several days earlier, Don and Maureen, Trask’s parents, had called to report their son as missing. Sometime before sunrise on the morning of November 3, they told police, Trask had left the family home unannounced, packing his baggy, lime-green snowpants, a blue Columbia Sportswear jacket and, as far as they could tell, not much else. An investigation in Waterloo turned up no leads on the young man’s whereabouts. Don and Maureen were relieved to hear that their son’s sedan had turned up at Camp Wanapitei, and assumed that he had ventured back to his favourite place one last time before winter. A grocery clerk in the

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town of Temagami confirmed that Trask had purchased some fresh produce and said he’d be out in the bush for a month. That didn’t worry Don and Maureen; they knew their son was resourceful and competent in the backcountry, had local connections and was aware of the many unlocked trapper cabins and fishing camps peppering the region. Their sense of reassurance evaporated when Don ventured north the day after Geiler reported the car. Already, the grounds of the boarded-up summer camp were swarming with police officers and their German shepherd dogs in full-blown search mode. “I saw the police and I thought, ‘I don’t like this, this doesn’t feel good,’” Don says. It was the beginning of a weeks-long ground and aerial effort by search-and-rescue professionals that revealed not a trace of the vanished young man. Trask remained missing through the winter, and in the spring of this year, Don and Maureen launched their own desperate search mission. It was only then that they understood the sheer scale of the 15,000 square kilometres of unforgiving wilderness that their son had wandered into nearly empty-handed and utterly alone.

Almost a year earlier, on the first day of summer in 2011, Dmitri Poukhlov awoke to the sound of footsteps on his deck in the Temagami wilderness. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes, glanced out the window and saw the silhouette of a stocky, broadshouldered man skulking into the forest. At his door, Poukhlov found a watermelon and a freshly filleted fish. It wasn’t until evening that Poukhlov found the strange gift-giver camped on a beach adjacent to Camp Wanapitei, tak-

ing advantage of the excellent bass fishing at the mouth of the Red Squirrel River. Poukhlov and Daniel Trask became fast friends as they shared stories over a bottomless pot of tea through the shortest night of the year. In many ways, they had parallel histories. After immigrating to Toronto from Belarus to work as a computer programmer, Poukhlov had escaped the city a decade ago and carved out a simple, reclusive life in a 180-square-foot geodesic dome that’s painted to blend into the deep forest. “Dan said he wanted to get away from all the noise of the city and to be alone, to have the freedom to do whatever he wanted to do, whenever he wanted to do it,” says Poukhlov. “I know that feeling.” Trask had begun his first major trip into Temagami on May 27, 2011, offering little explanation to his parents and friends for his sudden change of lifestyle. At 5'9" and 150 pounds, Trask was built like a sparkplug, and had been a girl-magnet and partier since his teenage years. He pinballed between bartending and construction jobs, rebelled against authority and ignored his parents’ suggestion that he develop his natural artistic talents through post-secondary education. The only written clue he left for his newfound fascination with the wilderness was a loose-leaf sheet of paper with the words, “So I go to Temagami not knowing where I’m going.” In fact, however, his choice of Temagami was far from random. As a boy and teenager, Trask had spent a couple of weeks each year at a cottage the family rented on the region’s namesake lake, and it was there, say Don and Maureen, that their son developed his love of the outdoors and was first exposed to First Nations culture, attending powwows at the Ojibwa reserve on Bear Island. Trask revisited the area in the summers of 2009

“dan said he wanted to get away from all the noise of the city and to be alone, to have the freedom to do whatever he wanted to do, whenever he wanted to do it,” says dmitri poukhlov. “I know that feeling.”


o p e n i n g s p r e a d : d o n w r i g h t. T h i s s p r e a d : u p p e r l e f t: x x x x x ; r i g h t ( 3 ) c o n o r m i h e l l ; m a p : g a r y d av i d s o n

and 2010, when his parents again rented a cottage on Lake Temagami. But when he returned to the region on his own a year later, he obviously planned to steer clear of the cottage-country experience. He piled three backpacks’ worth of camping kit into his car, strapped his father’s red Old Town canoe to the roof, and drove the six hours to northeastern Ontario. His food supplies were spartan, including carrots, potatoes and onions, some peanuts and noodles; he trusted his fishing rod and a dog-eared book on wild edibles to keep himself nourished. Trask had been a first-rate Scout as a youngster, was a skilled angler and knew his way around a canoe. Still, he was inexperienced enough that he packed a jerry can of gas, apparently to help in starting campfires. This would be his first stab at canoe tripping, the quintessential activity on Lake Temagami, which serves as a multi-lobed gateway to thousands of kilometres of paddling routes. “His intention was to brave the elements and have the sort of experience that broke him or made him different,” says Poukhlov. “He wanted to bring some justification to his life—something different from working as a roofer or hanging out in bars.” Trask didn’t return to Waterloo until July 29. He spent 10 weeks crisscrossing the backcountry, finding profound solace amid the nastawgan, the aboriginal name for the ancient network of water routes that radiate through stands of old-growth pine across the rooftop of Ontario. He maintained contact with his parents throughout, sending text messages when he had cell service or e-mailing updates from summer establishments such as Camp Wanapitei. Along the way, he befriended Ojibwa elders and local characters like Geiler and Poukhlov, and made a pilgrimage to Maple Mountain, a remote, 650-metre peak that is known as Chee-bay-jing—“the place where the spirits go”—by local First Nations, for whom it is an ancient burial site. He survived the notoriously rough portages of the Lady Evelyn River, and ultimately chucked his cell phone into a waterfall in a ritual of disconnection from society. He was thrilled, he confessed to Poukhlov, to be no longer a part of a “civilization that makes you a worker bee.” Don and Maureen say their son was a changed man when he returned from Temagami that summer: more reserved and inward, more sceptical about modern society and life. “The north changed him, and not in a bad way. He was gentler, he was kinder,” says Don. Trask told his father

Left behind (clockwise from left): Trask’s parents Don and Maureen; Camp Wanapitei caretaker Jeff Geiler; Ojibwa elder Alex Mathias holds the arrow Trask gave him.

classic book, Trask embodied the fantasy of leaving behind the nine-to-five grind to live off the land in wild nature. Yet his story was also different in important ways. I interpreted Trask’s summer in Temagami as an apprenticeship of sorts: He had taken the time to forge friendships, gain a better understanding of Temagami’s cultural history and learn the skills of wilderness survival. In many ways, he’d done the groundwork to make the region his adoptive home. Canoe trippers on Ottertooth.com sent in a flurry of messages about their summer encounters with Trask, describing him as “amazing,” “great” and “a Daniel Boonetype guy.” One, named Marina, remembered his resourcefulness—he carried a selection of the latest camping and survival gear, but also stone arrowheads fitted onto dowellike shafts, both of which he patiently made by hand. “I don’t believe for a minute this seasoned, smart, adventurous guy went out there with nothing,” concluded Marina. “He is fully stocked, making arrowheads,

that his city life was a “waste of time,” and that he couldn’t wait to get back to where he felt he belonged. After restocking his bank account with a month’s work as a roofer, he returned north in September for another three weeks of canoeing. “Everything about Daniel,” Maureen says, “was intense.”

I was fascinated by the case of Daniel Trask from the moment Maureen posted an alert about his disappearance on a regional outdoors web forum last November. An idealistic young man who vanishes in the wilderness—echoes of Into the Wild. Like Christopher McCandless in John Krakauer’s

MAPLE MOUNTAIN LADY EVELYN LADY EVELYN LAKE SMOOTHWATER PROVINCIAL PARK DIAMOND LAKE WAKIMIKA LAKE

Q U EB EC

SUDBURY NORTH BAY

SNOWPANTS AND JACKET FOUND HERE

O NTA R I O

TORONTO

CAMP WANAPITEI CHEE-SKON LAKE LAKE OBABIKA

5KM

TEMAGAMI

TEMAGAMI

LAKE TEMAGAMI

11

BEAR ISLAND Fa l l 2 0 1 2 explore 6 7


Mysterious message: Six photos from the disposable camera found in Trask’s car after his disappearance. Bottom: Trask’s snowpants on the shore of Diamond Lake.

6 8 explore Fa l l 2 0 1 2

a b o v e (6) : c o u r t e s y M a u r e e n t r a s k ; b e l o w : c o n o r m i h e l l

May, while Don, his oldest son Adam and a group of friends were in the middle of an exhausting three-week stint of cruising backroads, climbing rocky peaks and bushwhacking through swamps and forests from their search headquarters at Camp Wanapitei, I received a surprising e-mail. “I was wondering if you were still on for Maple Mountain long weekend canoe/search and if you could lead it,” wrote Maureen. That was all I needed to start gearing up for a seven-day trip. Maureen wasn’t naïve enough to see the Maple Mountain expedition as anything more than a body-recovery mission, but after six months on an emotional rollercoaster she needed closure and confirmation that her own impressions of her son were correct—that Trask hadn’t ditched his car and hitchhiked to Mexico, been kidnapped or worse. Maple Mountain seemed like an improbable destination for someone trekking overland with minimal food and gear—the peak is about 40 kilometres as the crow flies from Trask’s abandoned car—but Maureen knew her son had made a special effort to reach the summit in the summer, and believed such an ambitious journey fit with his character. She also had some clues to go on. Poukhlov had gone to Belarus for the winter on October 25, but when he returned to Temagami in late March, he along the infrequently paddled east side, a noticed he was missing tinge of faded green atop the sloping shore about a week’s worth cayches my eye. it looks inconspicuous, like of firewood and a few knives. Perhaps Trask a discarded shopping bag. but kim is adamant had gathered his wits that we stop for a closer look at his friend’s place, hunting, etc., and looking up at the sky daily with the thought, ‘Wonder what the helicopters are looking for?’” Maureen created a web gallery of photographs her son had taken that summer: a shirtless self-portrait in the canoe, several staged shots of carefully organized campsites, an image of a stylized chalk rendering of the Masonic Eye of Providence, similar to the insignia that appears on the backside of a U.S. $1 bill. But as the weeks went on, Trask’s whereabouts remained an enigma. His e-mail and bank accounts were monitored; no activity was detected. Missing person reports were filed in registries across Canada. “The beauty, tranquility and spirituality within Temagami and its people captured the hearts of many, including our son’s,” Maureen’s wrote in one of her almost daily online updates. “We need to remind ourselves this is Daniel’s journey. He is learning as well as teaching us a lesson in life, be strong.” My own correspondence with Maureen began in January this year, when I gathered the nerve to contact her about writing a profile of her son. She politely declined, explaining that the family wasn’t ready for a story. I followed up several times as the months passed, offering to help with the search, but she remained reluctant. In

then launched a survivalist epic. Simon Donato, a Calgary-based adventure athlete who has revolutionized search and rescue over the past decade, agreed that Maureen could be on the right track. Donato cuts against the grain of, as he puts it, “typical search and rescue where everyone holds hands and walks through the forest.” He’s convinced that cases involving adept backcountry travellers like Trask require a different approach than the usual grid-search methodology that focuses on a missing person’s last known position. Donato applied his unique, go-far-fastand-light technique to help resolve two cold cases involving downed aircraft in the American Southwest. His best-known success came in March 2012, when he was part of a maverick team of long-distance runners who discovered the body of ultrarunning legend Micah True, the protagonist of Christopher McDougall’s bestseller Born to Run, in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest. During the True search, Donato spent a day walking police-established grid lines. “We thought, ‘What the hell are we doing out here? There’s no way he’d be running this stuff,’” says Donato, a PhD geologist and director of Adventure Science, a consulting group that studies the physiological effects of extreme outdoor activities. When the rest of the searchers called it quits for the day, Donato and a few other long-distance runners dashed out to a remote and scenic area they thought would be more inspiring to a world-class adventure athlete like True. They promptly found his body. For the Trask case, Donato suggested a similar approach. “I’d search what hasn’t been searched. Going back and redoing Continued on page 78


into the light

Continued from page 68 something is a waste of time.” Still, he underlined the fact that the chances of finding the young man were slim. “With somebody missing in Temagami, there’s so much water, extremely dense bush and a healthy wildlife population,” he said. “Remember, you’re looking for something about six foot tall by two feet wide that’s hiding in that huge area.”

The Temagami wilderness has had a magnetic appeal for wayward souls and adventure-seekers since it was first promoted by fledgling tourist camps over a century ago. In 1906, an enigmatic Brit named Archie Belaney immigrated to Toronto and quickly found his way north to Temagami, which was then a bustling railway town. Belaney turned his back on a charmed childhood in southern England and took up with the Ojibwa on Bear Island, learning to hunt, trap and paddle canoes. He married a local girl and was adopted into the band under the name Koh-kom-see, “Little Owl.” It wasn’t long before his promiscuous ways and weakness for alcohol forced him to flee Temagami, but later, writing under the name Grey Owl, he would describe the region in glorious detail and become one of Canada’s best-known writers and conservationists. Grey Owl’s stories played an integral role in inspiring Toronto native Hap Wilson to escape overbearing parents and venture north in the first years of the 1970s. Early on, Wilson barely survived a long, cold winter shacked up with a friend in a derelict logging camp on Diamond Lake. Desiring a sanctuary of his own, Wilson then built a squatter’s shack on a more remote lake at age 22. He scored a government job maintaining backcountry canoe routes, which eventually led him to publish Temagami Canoe Routes, a guidebook that remains a trip-planning staple today. Later he became the caretaker of the 1930s-era cabin on the Lady Evelyn River that he owns today. Wilson recalls that Temagami appealed to him because it was raw and untamed— utterly unlike Algonquin Provincial Park, where he had paddled with his family as a boy. “I was pretty strong and pretty determined, a lot like Daniel,” says Wilson, now 61. “I too was searching for something and I did some pretty crazy things that you can say were Daniel Trask-esque. When

7 8 explore Fa l l 2 0 1 2

I look back on it, I realize that you either die or get stronger for it.” But Wilson also alludes to a dangerous paradox in Trask: For someone so captivated by the restorative powers of nature, he appears to have approached it like an adversary. As canoe season wrapped up last year, Trask revealed to several friends his desire to experience the Temagami winter. He was interested in “doing the Survivorman thing,” says Geiler—a reference to former MuchMusic producer, rock-and-roll musician and outdoors neophyte Les Stroud, who had his own life redefined by a Temagami canoe trip at the age of 25. Poukhlov heard the same story. “I know he wanted to go into the bush carrying nothing with him and come out a year later,” Poukhlov says. “He wanted to just survive and live.” These days, those grasping for knowledge of age-old Temagami traditions have an ally in Alex Mathias, a 64-year-old Bear Island Ojibwa who has been living off-reserve on his family’s traditional land on Obabika Lake since 1993. Mathias is a gatekeeper of sorts, welcoming canoeists all summer and organizing an annual “Changing of the Seasons” gathering each September to celebrate the fall equinox and the anniversary of the 1989 Red Squirrel Road blockade, a mass demonstration of civil disobedience that resulted in 344 arrests and front-page coverage of Temagami’s imperiled forests. Trask attended the 2011 event, and gave Mathias a hand-made arrow as a gift. “I felt that there were things he wanted to ask me and I wish I would’ve sat down with him and invited him to ask more questions,” Mathias says. “Maybe I could’ve helped him figure things out.” Trask told Mathias not to be surprised to see him later in the year. Mathias cringed. “Anyone can camp up here in the summer,” he says. “But in the fall and winter it’s a totally different country.”

Don and Maureen Trask have trusted me to assemble my own canoe party for the Maple Mountain search on the May long weekend. My wife, Kim, is an easy recruit, and I find a second boat in Adam Wicks-Arshack, John Zinser and Dan Cassell, three Americans who are volunteering on a summerlong canoeing and canoe-building project on Bear Island for First Nations youth. WicksArshack, 23, and Zinser, 24, have been coming to Lake Temagami from New York City since they were boys attending Americanowned Camp Wabun every summer. Today

they operate Voyages of Rediscovery, an outdoor education non-profit based on Washington’s Columbia River, but continue to visit Temagami to work and explore. In 2008, they portaged into a pond off Lake Temagami, set up a base camp and built their first birchbark canoe; a year later, they constructed the hulking 24-footer they will paddle on our journey. Cassell, 29, a Chicago native and naturalist, is visiting Temagami for the first time. By our second day we’ve reached Cheeskon Lake and search Spirit Rock, a spire of flaking, bone-coloured stone rising 15 metres above a jagged jumble of ankle-twisting talus. It feels like sacrilege to walk at this site that’s been revered as a spiritual nexus by generations of Ojibwa. But after leaving a healthy offering of tobacco, we justify our trespass with Maureen’s request to comb “power places” like this one. We tiptoe on loose rocks and search for signs of Trask in caves and crevasses that still radiate chill winter air, but find no evidence of the missing man’s passing. We visit Mathias’ homestead on Obabika Lake, then continue to the Wakimika River, which luckily is devoid of blowdown and beaver dams so even the big birchbark canoe can negotiate its narrow oxbows. On Wakimika Lake, we discover Ojibwa petroglyphs of moose and spirit forms etched into the carapace of a smooth granite island; at the north end of the lake, we pass the long sand beach where the Red Squirrel Road protesters camped in 1989, and where Trask and Poukhlov stayed last September en route to Mathias’s equinox gathering. Travelling light, Kim and I have no problem with the two portages separating Wakimika and Diamond lakes. Lugging the leviathan birchbark canoe is a different story. The others ask me to help carry the 250pound beast over the second portage, a 500-metre tap dance through refrigeratorsized rocks. Like latter-day voyageurs, we grunt, curse and manhandle the fragile vessel over seriously rugged terrain. Zinser gladly accepts nearly half of the canoe’s weight, and incredibly cranks out a set of pushups when we stop to rest at the halfway point. Wicks-Arshack raves about how this is probably the first birchbark canoe to pass here in a century, but I’m more acutely aware that one slip could result in a broken leg and shattered boat. Thanks to luck and Zinser, a beast of burden who clearly defines himself by the level of hardship he can endure on the trail, we make it to Dia-


mond Lake unscathed. The birchbark canoe flies across Diamond’s big water, and Kim and I struggle to keep up in our 17-foot tandem. The lake is a short portage from Lake Temagami and is part of a popular canoe route, so I assume it has been examined in previous searches. Our paddles flash and we charge absent-mindedly in pursuit of our friends toward Lady Evelyn Lake and the gateway to Maple Mountain. At last, hoping to maximize our exposure to a tailwind, I steer for the east shore of Diamond Lake’s north inlet. Later, we’ll estimate that nine out of 10 canoe parties would hug the west shore, where a slab of granite acts as a canvas for native pictographs—the blood-red, centuries-old images of people, canoes and birds are among the most vibrant in Temagami. Now, along the infrequently paddled east side, a tinge of faded green atop the sloping shore catches my eye. It looks inconspicuous, like a discarded shopping bag. But Kim is adamant that we stop for a closer look. We come about, fight the wind and sideslip ashore. Above the water and almost directly across the channel from the pictographs, I unroll an inside-out pair of lime-green snowpants. Men’s large. Trask’s. There isn’t time to ponder the discovery. Kim and I hop back in the canoe and paddle like hell, hoping to catch up with our trip partners before they complete the carry-over to Lady Evelyn Lake. Fuelled by adrenalin, we make it just in time, and the five of us turn back to set up camp just up the shore from where I found the snowpants. Then we fan into the bush not knowing what to expect. Soon afterward, Wicks-Arshack waves us over to look at the blue Columbia Sportswear jacket he’s found on mossy ground just inland from the lake. Gathering around the find, we agree to leave the site as uncontaminated as possible for search-and-rescue professionals—a noble guise for what really amounts to a profound fear of what we might discover next. Then we realize that our own teammate, Dan Cassell, has wandered off alone. Without noticing the dark irony, Wicks-Arshack calls for Cassell to come join us. “Daaannn!” he shouts. “Daaannnielll!” His words shatter the forest, and the gravity of the moment suddenly sinks in. Cassell will return in a moment, but Daniel Trask— a young kindred spirit who shared our love

of the Temagami wilderness—isn’t coming back. Zinser blinks away tears. I crumple to the ground and Kim holds me tight.

During the long winter months following her son’s disappearance, Maureen Trask joined a support group for the families and friends of missing persons. Early on, she met a woman whose sister had disappeared more than 40 years ago. Suddenly, the thought of wondering what happened to her son for the rest of her life was crushing. “I just broke down,” says Maureen. “I can’t imagine one year, never mind that many.” So when I called Don and Maureen from Camp Wanapitei the day after we made our find on Diamond Lake, they were dumbfounded. “I thought, ‘Is this for real or is this a dream?’” says Maureen. “Of course it was emotional for us, but we were totally relieved.” A few days later, the couple welcomed me to their split-level home in Waterloo. Insect repellent, GPS units and assorted camping gear cluttered the dining room, and maps covered the kitchen table. Don and Maureen had returned from nearly a month of searching out of Camp Wanapitei less than a week previously, and their friendly smiles and chattiness belied the harsh reality of lives on hold. Don, a retired firefighter, quickly explained that he’d be prepared to spend the entire summer camping out, if that’s what it would take to find his son’s body. We spend hours pondering what could’ve gone wrong. I describe the dozen or so cut or partially cut standing trees we found in the vicinity of Trask’s clothing. It seems likely the deadwood would have been used to build a shelter or fires. Yet subsequent ground searches by police officers and a cadaver dog within an 800-metre radius of the site revealed no evidence of lean-tos or campfires. However, they did turn up a sleeping bag, toiletries and a pair of underwear and socks. In June, divers and police in side-scanner-equipped boats searched the waters of Diamond Lake and found no sign of Trask’s body. It goes unsaid that Trask was grossly under-equipped and, despite his summer of adventures in Temagami, ill-prepared for a lengthy stay in the wilderness in the fall. Our best guess is that he fell victim to cool, damp November weather or broke through thin December lake ice. Hypothermia looms large in the shoulder seasons, when it is all too easy to end up

incapacitated by a deadly combination of wet and cold. Don mentions “paradoxical undressing,” a phenomenon in which severely hypothermic people sometimes peel off their layers, possibly due to a burning sensation caused by constricted blood vessels at the skin or a cold-related malfunction of the brain’s thermostat. According to a Swedish study, this irrational behaviour “is followed almost immediately by unconsciousness and death.” Maureen continues to post Ottertooth updates and remains resolved to piece together what happened to her son. She and Don are certain that Trask left behind a trail of cryptic messages, such as a crude signpost searchers found atop a peak near Camp Wanapitei that points northwest to Maple Mountain, and that these messages may ultimately explain his strange journey. Perhaps the clothing at Diamond Lake is one more piece in the puzzle. “I think he is trying to tell us something,” says Maureen. “We just haven’t figured out the message.” Before I leave, Don shows me a sequence of photographs taken by Trask with a disposable camera found in his car and developed after his disappearance last November. To me, the prints spread out on the table represent the classic snapshots of a Temagami canoe trip. Don insists there’s something more. “It was the little things we didn’t notice right away,” he says. Four images are particularly compelling: a selfportrait of Trask making a fist and flexing his bicep; a shot of his bare legs resting on packs in the canoe, his hand flashing a peace sign in front of the lens; a picture of Trask’s shadow framing a smiling face of rocks; and the image of a directional arrow made of stones on the ground. “We think he’s saying, ‘I am strong, I go in peace, and I’m happy and I know where I’m going…” says Don. Through tears, he gazes penetratingly into my eyes, and points to two more prints, the first depicting a portage trail, the second a sun-splashed lake. His voice falters. “‘Into the woods, into the light.’” The Trask family requests the public’s assistance in solving the mystery of Daniel Trask. For more information or to report a discovery, e-mail find.dan@rogers.com or call the Ontario Provincial Police at 888-310-1122. Conor Mihell wrote about kayaking to Lake Superior’s most remote island in our Spring 2012 issue.

Fa l l 2 0 1 2 explore 7 9


—Portrait Photography Portraits

Winner/Gagnant

Mark Peckmezian Never Left Art School

Montecristo


DOUGLAS COUPLAND

NEVER LEFT ART SCHOOL DOUGLAS COUPLAND: AUTHOR, ARTIST, AND PUBLIC FIGURE STORY:

Craig David Long

PHOTOGRAPHY: Mark Peckmezian

Veer to the gas station and go to the stop sign (it’s unmistakable). Follow the yellow line for a half-mile. Along this road you’ll drive straight through a weird roundabout thingy. I’m at the end but there’s no number there. The driveway is hard to see from road. Look for bamboo. The front door is by the coloured pots. There’s no door handle. If you find yourself walking down the driveway too far, it means you’ve missed it. This is a sa mpling of the route markers to Douglas Coupland’s home. Or do they guide you to a portal that throws you into his hyperreal world? It all bears an eerie similarity to the fate of poor Ethan Jarlewski, the central character in Coupland’s 2006 novel JPod, who, in an unfortunate twist of events, is stranded in the bleak hinterlands of avian flu–infl icted industrial China. In exchange for a lift back to Shanghai, Ethan is coaxed to sell his laptop and all its contents—every digital manifestation of his personal life—to who else, the novel’s antagonist, Coupland himself. The author, artist and public figure’s motive? Fodder for his next book of fiction, which turns out to be JPod. Coupland’s self-referential deus ex machina literary device is a delight that gives the entire novel up to that point—its storyline, layout, typographic design—a clever new context. And while, admittedly, it may be a litt le self-indulgent to think the mastermind has you pegged for his next sinister plotline, Coupland’s work, including the curation of his own persona, is an exercise in contrasts, where the lines between reality and fiction, digital and traditional, public and private, are often blurred. Coupland’s directions reveal as much about the path as the man and his astute observations of the physical and social environment around him, a trademark of his artistic practice and writing style. It’s through Coupland’s lens that the mundane, ordinary aspects of life—the normalized

behaviours, the objects we interact with on a daily basis but accept at face value—are refracted back to us to reveal their social or cultural meaning, sometimes even their absurdity. His characters are the bit players and beta personalities of the world, who remind us of everyday people we ourselves know and loathe or love in our own lives. In JPod and Generation X, it makes you LOL. In Hey Nostradamus!, it makes you :’( . Th irteen novels, two short story collections, eight non-fiction works, seven dramas or screenplays, three post-secondary degrees, three honorary doctorates, numerous permanent public artworks in cities across Canada, countless solo and group exhibitions at galleries, museums, and art fairs worldwide. Coupland has even designed a clothing collection in collaboration with Roots Canada. The details are all there on his website and on Wikipedia, and with over 417,800 Twitter followers, what more, really, is there to add about a creative mind as prolific and welldocumented as Coupland’s? His own line in “A radical pessimist’s guide to the next 10 years”, a list of 45 survival tips he wrote for The Globe and Mail’s October 8, 2010 edition, is apt: “16) ‘You’ will be turning into a cloud of data that circles the planet like a thin gauze. While its already hard enough to tell how others perceive us physically, your global, phantom, information-self will prove equally vexing to you: your shopping trends, blog residues, CCTV appearances—it all works in tandem to create a virtual being that you may neither like nor recognize.” “Here’s the thing, we’re doing a profi le right?” Coupland remarks. “Th at’s like scrimshaw. It’s an art form that’s borderline extinct. In fact, it’s almost kind of retro that we’re doing this. Maybe the profi le is going to come back. Or maybe you have to reinvent it fi rst.” Weighty advice from someone who does so effortlessly; Coupland has penned biographies and created artworks that have interpreted the lives of some of Canada’s greatest: Marshall McLuhan, Terry Fox, the Group

48 MONTECRISTO | WINTER 2012

This article appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of MONTECRISTO ©MONTECRISTO Magazine Ltd.

www.montecristomagazine.com


DOUGLAS COUPLAND

NEVER LEFT ART SCHOOL DOUGLAS COUPLAND: AUTHOR, ARTIST, AND PUBLIC FIGURE STORY:

Craig David Long

PHOTOGRAPHY: Mark Peckmezian

Veer to the gas station and go to the stop sign (it’s unmistakable). Follow the yellow line for a half-mile. Along this road you’ll drive straight through a weird roundabout thingy. I’m at the end but there’s no number there. The driveway is hard to see from road. Look for bamboo. The front door is by the coloured pots. There’s no door handle. If you find yourself walking down the driveway too far, it means you’ve missed it. This is a sa mpling of the route markers to Douglas Coupland’s home. Or do they guide you to a portal that throws you into his hyperreal world? It all bears an eerie similarity to the fate of poor Ethan Jarlewski, the central character in Coupland’s 2006 novel JPod, who, in an unfortunate twist of events, is stranded in the bleak hinterlands of avian flu–infl icted industrial China. In exchange for a lift back to Shanghai, Ethan is coaxed to sell his laptop and all its contents—every digital manifestation of his personal life—to who else, the novel’s antagonist, Coupland himself. The author, artist and public figure’s motive? Fodder for his next book of fiction, which turns out to be JPod. Coupland’s self-referential deus ex machina literary device is a delight that gives the entire novel up to that point—its storyline, layout, typographic design—a clever new context. And while, admittedly, it may be a litt le self-indulgent to think the mastermind has you pegged for his next sinister plotline, Coupland’s work, including the curation of his own persona, is an exercise in contrasts, where the lines between reality and fiction, digital and traditional, public and private, are often blurred. Coupland’s directions reveal as much about the path as the man and his astute observations of the physical and social environment around him, a trademark of his artistic practice and writing style. It’s through Coupland’s lens that the mundane, ordinary aspects of life—the normalized

behaviours, the objects we interact with on a daily basis but accept at face value—are refracted back to us to reveal their social or cultural meaning, sometimes even their absurdity. His characters are the bit players and beta personalities of the world, who remind us of everyday people we ourselves know and loathe or love in our own lives. In JPod and Generation X, it makes you LOL. In Hey Nostradamus!, it makes you :’( . Th irteen novels, two short story collections, eight non-fiction works, seven dramas or screenplays, three post-secondary degrees, three honorary doctorates, numerous permanent public artworks in cities across Canada, countless solo and group exhibitions at galleries, museums, and art fairs worldwide. Coupland has even designed a clothing collection in collaboration with Roots Canada. The details are all there on his website and on Wikipedia, and with over 417,800 Twitter followers, what more, really, is there to add about a creative mind as prolific and welldocumented as Coupland’s? His own line in “A radical pessimist’s guide to the next 10 years”, a list of 45 survival tips he wrote for The Globe and Mail’s October 8, 2010 edition, is apt: “16) ‘You’ will be turning into a cloud of data that circles the planet like a thin gauze. While its already hard enough to tell how others perceive us physically, your global, phantom, information-self will prove equally vexing to you: your shopping trends, blog residues, CCTV appearances—it all works in tandem to create a virtual being that you may neither like nor recognize.” “Here’s the thing, we’re doing a profi le right?” Coupland remarks. “Th at’s like scrimshaw. It’s an art form that’s borderline extinct. In fact, it’s almost kind of retro that we’re doing this. Maybe the profi le is going to come back. Or maybe you have to reinvent it fi rst.” Weighty advice from someone who does so effortlessly; Coupland has penned biographies and created artworks that have interpreted the lives of some of Canada’s greatest: Marshall McLuhan, Terry Fox, the Group

48 MONTECRISTO | WINTER 2012

This article appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of MONTECRISTO ©MONTECRISTO Magazine Ltd.

www.montecristomagazine.com


DOUGLAS COUPLAND

“I like writing about these universes that are still under the radar, or that are not culturally visible yet. There is a lot to be said for pursuing seemingly useless things.”

of Seven, Emily Carr, soldiers in the Battle of 1812, the country’s fallen firefighters. “All dead people,” Coupland says, flatly. “I realize I sort of have this sub-career of documenting dead Canadians, which is not something I set out to do. And at the moment, I’m weirdly respected, and I don’t know where that came from. I think it’s because my hair has gone prematurely white.” Of course, Coupland has his adversaries too, who criticize his literary ability, his persona, his relevance. But that comes with the territory: Coupland’s fi rst novel (published at age 29 in 1991), Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, is proclaimed to have defi ned the times it was written in, and he has achieved similar acclaim when writing about Vancouver (City of Glass), Canada (Souvenir of Canada), corporate culture in the tech industry (Microserfs; JPod), and the human experience in general (all the rest). As such, public expectations are high. But at home, Coupland is remarkably calm, quiet, reflective, and in some ways shy, even—almost an antithesis to what you might expect. And to see his mind at work, the wheels turning as he processes stimuli, is remarkable. “See, now you are seeing me in my thinking out loud mode, which no one ever sees,” he quips, mid-thought. Coupland churns out a series of seemingly superficial observations, like the fact that tekka maki rolls are sold at the Lonsdale Chevron gas station, and that ready-to-plant cedar hedges are sold at local supermarkets all over town. Then he underscores that these things are actually Vancouver-only phenomena. “People must come to this city and think, ‘What the fuck is with you and hedges?’ There are all these really self-evident things out there once you realize it, once you start to look at them harder, once you start to aestheticize them,” he says, comparing this thinking to that of his idols of the pop art era. “Back in 1962, people were driving around to huge motels and restaurants—signage everywhere. It wasn’t until Andy Warhol said, ‘okay, it’s pop,’ that you saw it that way. And then you could never see the world the way it used to be. I ask myself, what else can we look at that’s actually an aesthetic, but we haven’t yet discussed it as such? I like writing about these universes that are still under the radar, or that are not culturally visible yet. There is a lot to be said for pursuing seemingly useless things. We’re social creatures, so to be interested in, and watch carefully, what people are doing, is a very high expression of what we are about as a species.” Glance around his house, or at any of his “stacked” artworks, and you quickly understand that iteration is a major theme. Today, the University of British Columbia Library has accumulated over 200 boxes of Coupland’s

personal effects: notepads, early draft s and manuscripts, prototypes and moquettes of artworks, fanmail and professional correspondence, samples from the Roots Collection, ephemera, and works in progress—anything and everything that documents his process from concept to creation. As lead archivist Sarah Romkey says, “We sometimes have to rethink what we consider an archive, when we’re working with Doug’s material. We learn a lot about our own practice as archivists—what you keep and how you organize it. Sometimes it’s hard to understand why a piece of ephemera, like a Gap receipt, a boarding pass, or Styrofoam cups, is significant. But then you look all the way down the road, and you gain a new understanding or perspective on his work. Gett ing lost in the contents is an occupational hazard, for sure.” There is also the interdisciplinary aspect of Coupland’s work, the seamless intertwining of digital and traditional modes of creation, that presents other challenges, and opportunities. “Coupland’s digital archive will probably be the most complicated ever,” Romkey laments and enthuses at once. She points to a series of collages that demonstrate his fusion of art, design, and technology. Coupland created them while on a book tour in the mid-nineties, affi xing receipts, tickets, and product packaging to airplane safety guides or planks of wood with glue and elastic bands, whatever he came across during his travels. He would then send them by courier to his partner back home, who would work with a computer technician to scan and upload them to Coupland’s website, in what is believed to have been one of the fi rst blog-like formats to appear on the Internet. Lately, Coupland’s artistic practice has largely been informed by his pursuits in the digital sphere. In his 2010 exhibition and series G72K10, Coupland revisited famous Group of Seven artworks by vectoring their likeness in Adobe Photoshop and repainting them on everything from canvases to canoes. The past informs the present, and the present informs the past. Similarly, his breaching, pixelated orca statue, publically displayed along Vancouver’s harbourfront, is an interpretation and manifestation of the physical world as seen through the lens of the digital age. Slogans for the 21st Century is one of Coupland’s latest series. The textbased artworks were recently presented in a solo exhibition at Toronto’s Daniel Faria Gallery, where Coupland is represented. The words “being middle class was fun” and “it’s okay to want to stop being an individual” can be understood as protests, affi rmations, epithets, and more, depending

50 MONTECRISTO | WINTER 2012

This article appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of MONTECRISTO ©MONTECRISTO Magazine Ltd.

www.montecristomagazine.com


DOUGLAS COUPLAND

“I like writing about these universes that are still under the radar, or that are not culturally visible yet. There is a lot to be said for pursuing seemingly useless things.”

of Seven, Emily Carr, soldiers in the Battle of 1812, the country’s fallen firefighters. “All dead people,” Coupland says, flatly. “I realize I sort of have this sub-career of documenting dead Canadians, which is not something I set out to do. And at the moment, I’m weirdly respected, and I don’t know where that came from. I think it’s because my hair has gone prematurely white.” Of course, Coupland has his adversaries too, who criticize his literary ability, his persona, his relevance. But that comes with the territory: Coupland’s fi rst novel (published at age 29 in 1991), Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, is proclaimed to have defi ned the times it was written in, and he has achieved similar acclaim when writing about Vancouver (City of Glass), Canada (Souvenir of Canada), corporate culture in the tech industry (Microserfs; JPod), and the human experience in general (all the rest). As such, public expectations are high. But at home, Coupland is remarkably calm, quiet, reflective, and in some ways shy, even—almost an antithesis to what you might expect. And to see his mind at work, the wheels turning as he processes stimuli, is remarkable. “See, now you are seeing me in my thinking out loud mode, which no one ever sees,” he quips, mid-thought. Coupland churns out a series of seemingly superficial observations, like the fact that tekka maki rolls are sold at the Lonsdale Chevron gas station, and that ready-to-plant cedar hedges are sold at local supermarkets all over town. Then he underscores that these things are actually Vancouver-only phenomena. “People must come to this city and think, ‘What the fuck is with you and hedges?’ There are all these really self-evident things out there once you realize it, once you start to look at them harder, once you start to aestheticize them,” he says, comparing this thinking to that of his idols of the pop art era. “Back in 1962, people were driving around to huge motels and restaurants—signage everywhere. It wasn’t until Andy Warhol said, ‘okay, it’s pop,’ that you saw it that way. And then you could never see the world the way it used to be. I ask myself, what else can we look at that’s actually an aesthetic, but we haven’t yet discussed it as such? I like writing about these universes that are still under the radar, or that are not culturally visible yet. There is a lot to be said for pursuing seemingly useless things. We’re social creatures, so to be interested in, and watch carefully, what people are doing, is a very high expression of what we are about as a species.” Glance around his house, or at any of his “stacked” artworks, and you quickly understand that iteration is a major theme. Today, the University of British Columbia Library has accumulated over 200 boxes of Coupland’s

personal effects: notepads, early draft s and manuscripts, prototypes and moquettes of artworks, fanmail and professional correspondence, samples from the Roots Collection, ephemera, and works in progress—anything and everything that documents his process from concept to creation. As lead archivist Sarah Romkey says, “We sometimes have to rethink what we consider an archive, when we’re working with Doug’s material. We learn a lot about our own practice as archivists—what you keep and how you organize it. Sometimes it’s hard to understand why a piece of ephemera, like a Gap receipt, a boarding pass, or Styrofoam cups, is significant. But then you look all the way down the road, and you gain a new understanding or perspective on his work. Gett ing lost in the contents is an occupational hazard, for sure.” There is also the interdisciplinary aspect of Coupland’s work, the seamless intertwining of digital and traditional modes of creation, that presents other challenges, and opportunities. “Coupland’s digital archive will probably be the most complicated ever,” Romkey laments and enthuses at once. She points to a series of collages that demonstrate his fusion of art, design, and technology. Coupland created them while on a book tour in the mid-nineties, affi xing receipts, tickets, and product packaging to airplane safety guides or planks of wood with glue and elastic bands, whatever he came across during his travels. He would then send them by courier to his partner back home, who would work with a computer technician to scan and upload them to Coupland’s website, in what is believed to have been one of the fi rst blog-like formats to appear on the Internet. Lately, Coupland’s artistic practice has largely been informed by his pursuits in the digital sphere. In his 2010 exhibition and series G72K10, Coupland revisited famous Group of Seven artworks by vectoring their likeness in Adobe Photoshop and repainting them on everything from canvases to canoes. The past informs the present, and the present informs the past. Similarly, his breaching, pixelated orca statue, publically displayed along Vancouver’s harbourfront, is an interpretation and manifestation of the physical world as seen through the lens of the digital age. Slogans for the 21st Century is one of Coupland’s latest series. The textbased artworks were recently presented in a solo exhibition at Toronto’s Daniel Faria Gallery, where Coupland is represented. The words “being middle class was fun” and “it’s okay to want to stop being an individual” can be understood as protests, affi rmations, epithets, and more, depending

50 MONTECRISTO | WINTER 2012

This article appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of MONTECRISTO ©MONTECRISTO Magazine Ltd.

www.montecristomagazine.com


—Investigative Reporting Journalisme d’enquête

Winner/Gagnant

Greg McArthur, Graeme Smith Building with the Brigadier

Report on Business


What made SNC-Lavalin think the Gadhafis would be great partners? b y G R E G M c A R T H U r an d graeme smith

BU I L D I N G

52  OCTOBER 2012 / REPORT ON BUSINESS

the fervour of revolution, and perhaps the prospect of looting flatscreen televisions; they went berserk. They ransacked cupboards, yanked drawers from desks, scattered papers, and marked their conquest with smears of printer ink. Many of the memos and letters trampled under the rebels’ boots bore the signature of Riadh Ben Aïssa, a jet-setting SNC executive who turned this despotic desert nation into his crowning achievement. For SNC, Libya was the castle that Ben Aïssa built—and now the barbarians were past the gate. That was September, 2011. Now Ben Aïssa sits in a jail cell in Switzerland, detained, without charge, on suspicion of paying bribes in North Africa, among other crimes. The 54-year-old, who was once considered a legend within SNC for his ability to fix any problem, now finds himself the leading character in a boardroom parable about the danger

with the

of doing business with corrupt regimes. At SNC, Ben Aïssa has been disappeared. The company no longer refers to him by name; rather he is one of the “certain individuals who are not or no longer employed by the Company.” Forensic auditors enlisted by SNC’s board say Ben Aïssa doled out $56 million to shadowy foreign agents in an effort to land business; SNC says it cannot trace the money (all currency in U.S. dollars unless otherwise noted). This puts the company in the sights of a federal law that prohibits Canadian businesses from paying bribes abroad. While Swiss prosecutors explore whether Ben Aïssa used their country’s secretive banking system, RCMP officers in Ottawa are rooting

through his e-mails and other SNC records to determine precisely how he secured so many lucrative construction deals in some of the world’s most corrupt corners. The former executive is also one of the prime targets of two class-action lawsuits filed by disgruntled shareholders. And that does not complete the list of Ben Aïssa’s woes: Cohn & Wolfe, the public relations company he enlisted to defend his reputation after his abrupt dismissal from SNC, is suing for unpaid fees. How did it come to this? SNC has declined to allow any of its staff to give interviews; for months, all answers to questions have been restricted to e-mail exchanges with a single public-relations executive. But SNC executives and

spokespeople have told journalists they are still learning things about Ben Aïssa’s business, and the company has promulgated the idea that Ben Aïssa was a rogue operator who ran his own private fiefdom. Perhaps. But dozens of interviews with former SNC-Lavalin executives, engineers and other insiders, as well as thousands of pages of documents obtained by The Globe and Mail, suggest a different narrative—that Ben Aïssa, who was known at senior levels in the company for using “all means necessary” to land business, was all too good at doing what the company wanted. Some wealthy foreign students arrive in the West

with a sense of entitlement and then drift through their studies. Not Riadh Ben Aïssa. The commerce undergrad was focused on one thing: “learning, getting ready for the major leagues,” his former roommate Patrick Kelly says. “He wished that he would be, one day,

BRIGADIER photograph XXX

w

hen gunmen breached the gates surrounding Guest Palace 12 in Tripoli, they discovered a kind of yard unrecognizable to most Libyans: a lawn so green and lush and manicured that it might have been a little golf course. With NATO planes screaming overhead on the hunt for Moammar Gadhafi and his sons, the intruders ran down a paved road, past rose gardens and ornamental fences, into a two-storey building with a grand foyer. They did not bother to pass any bags through the X-ray scanner that stood mutely in the lobby. Skidding over the polished stone floor, they also ignored a metal detector. Everywhere they looked, there was not a soul left among the staff of the Tripoli offices of SNC-Lavalin, the Canadian engineering giant. Perhaps the intruders knew the company was building an institution that Gadhafi had intended for their ilk—a prison. In any case, the gunmen were seized with

SNC-Lavalin executive Riadh Ben Aïssa (left) and Saadi Gadhafi (below) suited each other’s needs: Ben Aïssa landed a promising client, and Gadhafi got the engineering expertise he needed to live up to his father’s expectations

a big name.” Ben Aïssa enrolled first at the Université SainteAnne in Nova Scotia before transferring to the University of Ottawa in the early 1980s. Kelly sensed his roommate at U of O was destined for great things when the Tunisian student, then in his 20s, returned from a weekend trip to New York. Entranced by the power and prestige of the World Trade Center, Ben Aïssa was practically bursting with dreams of working high up in the glinting towers, the pinnacle of the business world. The son of a doctor, Ben Aïssa was one of three siblings who enrolled at Canadian universities in the 1980s. (His sister went to McGill for architecture, his brother to the University of Ottawa medical school.) Ben Aïssa was fluent in French, and proficiency in English was not a requirement in either of the universities he attended. Yet by the time most students were sleepily stumbling into their first lecture of the morning, Ben Aïssa had already finished a private English lesson. He knew nothing about hockey, but he cheered wildly for the New York Islanders when they won the Stanley Cup in 1982—because, he explained to his roommate, he preferred winners. After leaving the University of Ottawa with two undergraduate degrees and an MBA, Ben Aïssa launched his own consulting firm, specializing in studies of emerging markets. It soon became clear that this


What made SNC-Lavalin think the Gadhafis would be great partners? b y G R E G M c A R T H U r an d graeme smith

BU I L D I N G

52  OCTOBER 2012 / REPORT ON BUSINESS

the fervour of revolution, and perhaps the prospect of looting flatscreen televisions; they went berserk. They ransacked cupboards, yanked drawers from desks, scattered papers, and marked their conquest with smears of printer ink. Many of the memos and letters trampled under the rebels’ boots bore the signature of Riadh Ben Aïssa, a jet-setting SNC executive who turned this despotic desert nation into his crowning achievement. For SNC, Libya was the castle that Ben Aïssa built—and now the barbarians were past the gate. That was September, 2011. Now Ben Aïssa sits in a jail cell in Switzerland, detained, without charge, on suspicion of paying bribes in North Africa, among other crimes. The 54-year-old, who was once considered a legend within SNC for his ability to fix any problem, now finds himself the leading character in a boardroom parable about the danger

with the

of doing business with corrupt regimes. At SNC, Ben Aïssa has been disappeared. The company no longer refers to him by name; rather he is one of the “certain individuals who are not or no longer employed by the Company.” Forensic auditors enlisted by SNC’s board say Ben Aïssa doled out $56 million to shadowy foreign agents in an effort to land business; SNC says it cannot trace the money (all currency in U.S. dollars unless otherwise noted). This puts the company in the sights of a federal law that prohibits Canadian businesses from paying bribes abroad. While Swiss prosecutors explore whether Ben Aïssa used their country’s secretive banking system, RCMP officers in Ottawa are rooting

through his e-mails and other SNC records to determine precisely how he secured so many lucrative construction deals in some of the world’s most corrupt corners. The former executive is also one of the prime targets of two class-action lawsuits filed by disgruntled shareholders. And that does not complete the list of Ben Aïssa’s woes: Cohn & Wolfe, the public relations company he enlisted to defend his reputation after his abrupt dismissal from SNC, is suing for unpaid fees. How did it come to this? SNC has declined to allow any of its staff to give interviews; for months, all answers to questions have been restricted to e-mail exchanges with a single public-relations executive. But SNC executives and

spokespeople have told journalists they are still learning things about Ben Aïssa’s business, and the company has promulgated the idea that Ben Aïssa was a rogue operator who ran his own private fiefdom. Perhaps. But dozens of interviews with former SNC-Lavalin executives, engineers and other insiders, as well as thousands of pages of documents obtained by The Globe and Mail, suggest a different narrative—that Ben Aïssa, who was known at senior levels in the company for using “all means necessary” to land business, was all too good at doing what the company wanted. Some wealthy foreign students arrive in the West

with a sense of entitlement and then drift through their studies. Not Riadh Ben Aïssa. The commerce undergrad was focused on one thing: “learning, getting ready for the major leagues,” his former roommate Patrick Kelly says. “He wished that he would be, one day,

BRIGADIER photograph XXX

w

hen gunmen breached the gates surrounding Guest Palace 12 in Tripoli, they discovered a kind of yard unrecognizable to most Libyans: a lawn so green and lush and manicured that it might have been a little golf course. With NATO planes screaming overhead on the hunt for Moammar Gadhafi and his sons, the intruders ran down a paved road, past rose gardens and ornamental fences, into a two-storey building with a grand foyer. They did not bother to pass any bags through the X-ray scanner that stood mutely in the lobby. Skidding over the polished stone floor, they also ignored a metal detector. Everywhere they looked, there was not a soul left among the staff of the Tripoli offices of SNC-Lavalin, the Canadian engineering giant. Perhaps the intruders knew the company was building an institution that Gadhafi had intended for their ilk—a prison. In any case, the gunmen were seized with

SNC-Lavalin executive Riadh Ben Aïssa (left) and Saadi Gadhafi (below) suited each other’s needs: Ben Aïssa landed a promising client, and Gadhafi got the engineering expertise he needed to live up to his father’s expectations

a big name.” Ben Aïssa enrolled first at the Université SainteAnne in Nova Scotia before transferring to the University of Ottawa in the early 1980s. Kelly sensed his roommate at U of O was destined for great things when the Tunisian student, then in his 20s, returned from a weekend trip to New York. Entranced by the power and prestige of the World Trade Center, Ben Aïssa was practically bursting with dreams of working high up in the glinting towers, the pinnacle of the business world. The son of a doctor, Ben Aïssa was one of three siblings who enrolled at Canadian universities in the 1980s. (His sister went to McGill for architecture, his brother to the University of Ottawa medical school.) Ben Aïssa was fluent in French, and proficiency in English was not a requirement in either of the universities he attended. Yet by the time most students were sleepily stumbling into their first lecture of the morning, Ben Aïssa had already finished a private English lesson. He knew nothing about hockey, but he cheered wildly for the New York Islanders when they won the Stanley Cup in 1982—because, he explained to his roommate, he preferred winners. After leaving the University of Ottawa with two undergraduate degrees and an MBA, Ben Aïssa launched his own consulting firm, specializing in studies of emerging markets. It soon became clear that this


chosen specialty—and Ben Aïssa’s background— were a neat fit with the strategic needs of Lavalin Inc. Quebec’s largest engineering firm was bent on growing in francophone Africa and the Middle East. Ben Aïssa joined Lavalin in 1985, and soon made his mark. One former executive says it was a $600-million contract for a passenger rail system in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, that first earned the young graduate accolades within the company. And it boded well for Ben Aïssa’s career that the overseer on the project was Jacques Lamarre, one of the four founding shareholders at Lavalin. Lamarre, who retired from SNC-Lavalin in 2009, is a titan of the Quebec business community. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada, he sits on the boards of the Royal Bank of Canada and Suncor Energy, and is a strategic adviser to law firm Heenan Blaikie. From the mid1980s, the trajectories of Lamarre’s and Ben Aïssa’s respective careers were highly correlated: When Lamarre served as an executive vicepresident with territorial responsibility for the Middle East, Ben Aïssa was one of his charges; during Lamarre’s tenure as CEO, which began in 1996, Ben Aïssa was elevated to Lamarre’s “Office of the President.” In a book published to commemorate SNC’s centennial, the men earn the sobriquet

of “firemen”—company parlance for the sort of executives who could be relied on to extract SNC from trouble. The book cites a specific example of a young Ben Aïssa jetting off to his native Tunisia to talk down a disgruntled client who was threatening to sue for $3 million. “Within a couple days, [Ben Aïssa] had managed to convince them that it was in their best interests to drop the lawsuit and give Lavalin an extension to finish the work.” (Lamarre, citing the ongoing investigations into Ben Aïssa’s more recent actions, declined via a spokesperson to be interviewed or to answer e-mailed questions.) Although SNC-Lavalin is one of Canada’s few true international champions, its many successes have obscured the fact that it has

Work on the first big project—a prison—of the Gadhafi-SNC joint venture was arrested by the 2011 revolution

54  OCTOBER 2012 / REPORT ON BUSINESS

suffered from the modern corporate malaise of housing rival internal cultures following a merger. SNC’s chief executive in 1991, Guy Saint-Pierre, deliberately used the word “merger” in all of his public statements, but his language could not mask what everyone knew: Lavalin, privately owned by four engineers—brothers Jacques and Bernard Lamarre, Marcel Dufour and Armand Couture—had leapt into some foolish deals. The first blow was the 1986 purchase of a Montreal petrochemical plant that was hemorrhaging money. But the knockout punch came when Lavalin experimented with playing airplane broker for a Soviet airline, which backed out of the deal in 1990, resulting in Lavalin losing a $45-million deposit. Potential purchasers of Lavalin had reason to be wary. The firm had operations in some of the world’s most unstable regions,

including a crumbling Soviet Union and coup-prone African countries. As a private firm, its books were like a black box. But Quebec Inc.—that fusion of state and corporate interests that gives the province its distinct business culture—does not like to see its celebrated indigenous companies disappear. The union of Lavalin and SNC is widely believed to have involved government pressure. SNC, the smaller company, acquired Lavalin’s still-profitable engineering assets, and, in the process, created a juggernaut. Head counts at the time were put at 2,500 for SNC and 4,000


in charge of operations for the Middle East, based in his native country, Tunisia. Shortly after the appointment, he married a Saudi woman. (It was his second marriage; his first was to Marianne Vézina, whom he met in his first year of university. They divorced after six years.) Scriban was alarmed to learn that Ben Aïssa had negotiated an unusual deal with his old bosses at Lavalin: He, with at least one of his new wife’s relatives, would together earn a 2% commission on any SNC contracts in Saudi Arabia, regardless of whether they performed any work. “This arrangement seemed unethical and conflicted,” Scriban says, adding that the margins on such deals were so small that a 2% cut could seriously hurt the bottom line. It wasn’t just this strange deal (which ultimately ended after Ben Aïssa’s second divorce) that gnawed at Scriban. As the senior vice-president in charge of every foreign representative,

56  OCTOBER 2012 / REPORT ON BUSINESS

Former SNC executive Rod Scriban says he was told to “lay off” after he questioned the “unethical” side deal on Saudi Arabian work that Ben Aïssa struck for his family

Scriban was supposed to have access to every country file. The Libya file didn’t seem to exist. During Scriban’s tenure overseeing SNC-Lavalin International, Ben Aïssa had made inroads with the Gadhafi regime—the company had secured a lucrative contract on the Great Man-Made River project, an ambitious plan to pump water from deep desert aquifers to many of Libya’s cities. Scriban couldn’t locate a single piece of paper about this job or any of the Libyan projects in the pipeline. It was the only country file that he could not access. He was never given a definitive answer about why the Libyan work was so secret, he says. But he remembers thinking, “This file is so risky that people feel like hiding it.” Scriban took his concerns

Almost a decade ago, when Colonel Moammar Gadhafi refashioned himself as an ally of the West and began distancing Libya from terrorism, he also unleashed upon the world a new wave of destructive chaos: his children. In Geneva in 2008, his fifth-born son, Hannibal, was arrested for beating his servants. The secondyoungest son, Saif el-Arab, plotted to spray acid in the face of a Munich nightclub bouncer after he and his girlfriend were thrown out of the venue in 2006 after she performed a strip act. But there is one son, third-born Saadi, whose ostentatious antics stand out above the rest. In his mid-20s, Saadi spent three seasons on the roster of various Italian pro soccer clubs, despite having no previous professional experience. The contracts were so inexplicable that most observers of the sport have attributed them to

photograph johann wall

for Lavalin, according to a retired vice-president. If the union was a shotgun marriage with Quebec Inc. in the role of the determined father, then Lavalin was the penniless, adventure-seeking groom, and SNC was the cautious, reserved bride. The smaller company was risk-averse, publicly traded and far more transparent than Lavalin. And, compared to Lavalin, SNC was less dependent on projects in troubled countries. High on the list of priorities for the new unified company was getting a handle on Lavalin International’s myriad opaque deals with rulers and kings around the world. By the middle of the decade, this job had fallen to Rod Scriban, a senior vicepresident who came from the SNC side and was placed in charge of SNC-Lavalin International in 1994. A civil engineer who helped design the towering LG-3 dam in the James Bay hydro project, Scriban was accustomed to scanning the horizon for problems. And he started to think that Riadh Ben Aïssa was a problem. Ben Aïssa had been placed

about the Saudi deal to SNC-Lavalin’s legal department and asked it to investigate. When the lawyers got back to him, he was told that a message from “on high” had come down: “Stop badmouthing Ben Aïssa and lay off his case.” (SNC has confirmed that Ben Aïssa’s brother-in-law was a shareholder in the Saudi subsidiary.) A few weeks later, Scriban says, he was sidelined. He couldn’t say whether his challenging Ben Aïssa’s special status resulted in his transfer—there were others vying for his job—but he says it may have played a role.


the elder Gadhafi’s close relationship with former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. By the end of his soccer career, Saadi had logged a total of 25 minutes on the field. He appeared in only two games. But the comedic value of the soccer stint is limited. At a game in Tripoli in 1996, fans booed a referee’s call that favoured Saadi’s team. A riot ensued. According to The New York Times, between 20 and 50 people were killed,

A riot broke out after a call that favoured saadi’s team. Between 20 and 50 people were killed, some by his bodyguards

some of them shot by Saadi’s bodyguards. After soccer, Saadi moved on to Hollywood, where he launched a production company, Natural Selection. Its only films—Isolation and The Experiment—went straight to video. Armed with a reported $100-million bankroll, Saadi attracted a few recognizable names— Mickey Rourke, Adrien Brody, Forest Whitaker—to film projects that quickly vanished into obscurity. Saadi was torn between his playboy pursuits and his sense of destiny. When the sun came up after a long night of courting strippers in Paris, shooting impalas in Tanzania, or crashing his yacht in Sardinia, he still desperately wanted to be viewed as a leader. As Saadi reached his 30s, his father was making over the image of Libya, and himself, from an outlaw that sponsored terrorism to a viable international partner. After decades of isolation, the country did not have

58  OCTOBER 2012 / REPORT ON BUSINESS

the modern infrastructure expected from an oil-rich nation. That pent-up demand was unleashed with the lifting of Western economic sanctions in a series of steps from 2004 to 2006. Libya went on a shopping spree. Through the magic of diplomacy, the Gadhafis were transformed from pariahs into valuable customers for some of the world’s biggest firms. Prime Minister Paul Martin headed a trade delegation to Libya in 2004; another followed under the Harper Conservative government in 2008. SNC was only one of the Canadian companies plunging into Libya. PetroCanada bought a $75-million stake in an oil concern in the country in 2001, and then barrelled ahead in 2002 with a $3.2-billion deal for Veba Oil, an energy firm with significant Libyan assets. In 2008 Petro-Canada announced plans to double its Libyan output via a joint venture with the state oil company. The partners

photograph (soccer) Bob Edme/ap photo

After a stint as a pro soccer player—and a Hollywood foray—Saadi Gadhafi refashioned himself as “Brigadier Engineer Saadi”

went 50/50 on a $7-billion (U.S.) development program. The Canadian firm won participation in the project over European giants such as Italy’s Eni SpA and France’s Total SA, which were also expanding operations in Libya. SNC already had a foothold in the country, thanks to Ben Aïssa’s landing the $230-million water project in 1995, and during the gold-rush atmosphere of easing sanctions the company exerted itself to win favour. Some efforts reeked of obsequiousness. Ben Aïssa persuaded SNC to sponsor a 2005 exhibition of Saif Gadhafi’s paintings in Montreal, a show panned by critics at its various stops as “lurid,” “kitschy” and “a triumph of banality.” SNC also sponsored Al-Ittihad, a soccer club in Tripoli, in a deal that saw Saadi on the field with “SNC-Lavalin” emblazoned across his chest. Gary Peters, who was a bodyguard to Saadi in Canada, has claimed that SNC also picked up a portion of the massive tab when Saadi, then in his film producer period, showed up at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2008 and 2009. One account described Saadi holding court from the couches of the Panorama Lounge, a rooftop bar in Toronto’s posh Yorkville, while enjoying champagne, Beluga caviar and a private concert by 50 Cent. SNC executive Stéphane Roy was among the guests on that evening, Peters says. Some of SNC’s efforts to woo the Gadhafis were more low-key. Saadi


reportedly took Englishlanguage classes—under the protection of guards paid for by SNC—for a few months at the company’s offices in Toronto, meanwhile living in a $1.55-million (Canadian) penthouse he purchased in May, 2008. Property records show that the person who looked after the condominium fees and related issues was a Genevabased lawyer, Roland Kaufmann. According to Peters, Kaufmann served as a financial adviser to Gadhafi. But the details of the condo purchase are difficult to verify because Kaufmann referred questions to a criminal defence lawyer, who declined to comment. Peters claims that SNC was also giving cash payments to Saadi during this period. But the allegation raises a question: How exactly did SNC win Saadi’s trust? As the darling son of a dictator who used Libya’s overstuffed treasury as a private bank account, Saadi was never strapped for cash. Lavish parties, moosehunting trips and soccerteam sponsorship were nice gestures, but Saadi could not have been easily impressed by mere spending. What was harder for him to get than such favours was his father’s respect. Moammar Gadhafi pushed his children to build their own prestige within the country, via businesses and militias. After humouring Saadi’s attempts to make his way in pro sport and Hollywood, Libya’s supreme ruler gave his son a written order in 2008, commanding Saadi to set up a new branch of the Libyan military. The order briefly outlines a vision for a Military Engineering Corps, under Saadi’s personal

leadership and funded from the national defence budget. Like many missives from Moammar Gadhafi, the order is vague. It lists “military duties” first among the responsibilities of the new unit, but then discusses ways the Corps could serve the country—mostly tasks usually associated with civilian engineers. Still, the dictator was making himself clear: Saadi must get serious. Saadi had barely more qualifications to run a military engineering operation than he did to play pro soccer. But luckily, in this arena, he could hire the expertise he needed. In November, 2008, while Saadi was still in his film period, Ben Aïssa sent him a formal proposal suggesting that the brand-new Military Engineering Corps should set up a joint venture with SNC-Lavalin. The proposal emphasized SNC’s history as a defence contractor, with 37 of the 41 pages in the document including the word “military.” Text accompanying an organizational chart said that SNC personnel could supervise “security specialists” for implementation of military projects “tailored to meet specific military security, execution and deployment requirements of the office of the commander chief [sic] of engineers of Libya.” Saadi, the newly minted commander who demanded that his entourage refer to him by his official title, “Brigadier Engineer Saadi,” personally approved a crest that would be worn on the uniforms of the men who answered to him. A draftsman’s compass

60  OCTOBER 2012 / REPORT ON BUSINESS

represented his joint venture with SNC-Lavalin. Other items symbolized the unit’s specialties: roads, tunnels, waterworks, educational facilities, military fortifications. At the centre of the crest was an orange starburst, representing an exploding land mine. If a Canadian company like SNC—a onetime land-mine manufacturer—wants to help a foreign army, any products sold may fall under export control regulations. The company says its operations did not run afoul of those rules: “To the best of our knowledge, SNC-Lavalin has never been involved in any Libyan programs related to military technology, munitions or combat,” SNC spokeswoman Leslie Quinton wrote in an e-mail. The board of directors for the joint venture included a former official with the Libyan football federation and Abdulrahman Karfakh, a notorious bribe collector for one of Saadi’s older brothers. It’s not clear how many of Saadi’s ambitions for his military unit turned into reality in the years before the revolution. An inventory list for three of his engineering brigades calls for each to be equipped with toolboxes and trailers for planting mines. Another document, marked “Top Secret,” prepared by a lieutenant-colonel, suggests

that engineers in a remote southern town would also be equipped with mine-planting devices. As well, Saadi’s men were shopping for stateof-the-art equipment for mine removal, including the MK III Husky mine detection vehicle used by Canadian forces. Saadi appears to have been putting together an elite special-forces team and looking for advanced weaponry. A 54-page training manual suggests that Saadi wanted his men to be prepared to handle offensive and defensive chemicalweapons operations, among other skills. Photographs show a grinning Saadi meeting a sales team for the French-made Rafale fighter jet. The jet also appears on operational plans that showed how Libya could build a commando force numbering 3,000 men, capable of operating independently of the rest of the Libyan military on air, water and land. Saadi’s plans called for attack helicopters and short-range missile systems mounted on trucks. His elite forces would carry shoulder-mounted missiles for destroying tanks, as well as laser guidance devices for directing air strikes. Saadi was moving forward with buying some of this equipment—his subordinates had glossy brochures for

Ben Aïssa’s work was celebrated in an official SNC history where this photo appeared. The company has now disowned him


WHILE SNClavalin’s business in libya was growing, benefits were flowing to Riadh ben Aïssa’s relatives as well modern missiles and had end-user certificates for attack boats. Such hardware is easily obtained by any oil-rich autocrat, however; the more difficult part is human resources. Saadi reached outside of Libya for the expertise to build his organization. His files included the resumés of former French special forces officers, apparently offering their services as consultants. It’s not just the sober expressions on the profile photos of these chiselled men that makes them appear deadly serious; it’s also the clandestine adventures described in their curricula vitae. One resumé mentions a history of assistance to Afghan guerrillas during the war against Soviet occupation in the 1980s; leadership of a “sabotage cell”; and work as a security adviser for the French president. A less intimidating team of experts from SNC also offered their services. A 2009 technical services agreement between SNC and the Corps of Engineers shows that SNC planned to offer advice about the structure, staffing and

mission of the Corps. The proposed SNC consulting team included Vice-Admiral (ret.) Ron Buck, former second-in-command of the Canadian armed forces, and Gary Wiseman, former chief engineer for the Canadian military’s industrial task force. (SNC and Buck both declined to comment on whether the proposed team members received any payment.) This was a relatively small consulting deal for SNC, worth only $1 million over six months, but the paper trail shows that Saadi felt he needed the advice. He asked for more consultations the following year. SNC, a company active in more than 100 countries in addition to its substantial Canadian footprint, was growing its Libyan business. Revenue was on track to reach $418.2 million (Canadian), or 7% of the company total, by 2010. Things were looking up for the Libyan file, for the go-where-others-dare-not tendency it represented in the company, and for Riadh Ben Aïssa. By 2008, CEO Jacques Lamarre had placed Ben Aïssa in charge of all international construction—a division that had made an aggressive push into countries where other firms were reluctant to operate, including Algeria and Venezuela. Ben Aïssa became responsible for 10,000 employees and churned out contracts worth hundreds of millions in Libya alone: The company was drilling wells, manufacturing concrete pipes, drawing up proposals for new parkland, developing oil and gas facilities, and constructing a new airport terminal. A company spokeswoman says the only project that involved formal co-operation between Saadi’s engineering

62  OCTOBER 2012 / REPORT ON BUSINESS

corps and SNC was the $275-million Guryan “rehabilitation centre,” a sprawling prison in the desert near Tripoli (a project undertaken even though Libya had a history of detaining dissidents without trial, as well as torturing and killing them). A letter from December, 2009, shows that Saadi was personally involved with handling at least some contracts besides Guryan. The letter is a warm note to Ben Aïssa regarding the airport project, celebrating “the commitment and lasting contribution of SNCLavalin...to the development and prosperity of Libya.” While SNC’s business in Libya was growing, benefits flowed to Ben Aïssa’s relatives as well. Some of the company’s Libyan operations were organized from SNC’s office in Tunis, which sat on property belonging to the Ben Aïssa family. SNC hired a firm headed by Ben Aïssa’s sister, McGill-trained Ramla Benaïssa, for architectural work on the prison. (She has declined to answer questions about how and why she was awarded the contract.) The company also purchased technical equipment from Orbit Media, an import business run by Ben Aïssa’s mother from a storefront just around the corner from SNC’s front gate in Tunis. For all of Ben Aïssa’s good fortune in Libya, he could not relax and enjoy it. A former employee who served under Ben Aïssa says that he was a steamroller of a boss, who screamed at his underlings when things went wrong on the airport project. “I was flabbergasted,” the former employee said. “He was yelling on the phone for two hours. The contract said we must build the airport in two years. But it wasn’t possible, and we didn’t have enough money.” He added:

“You know, I just read the biography of Steve Jobs, and he reminded me of Riadh. You’re his buddy or his worst enemy.” Back in Canada, everything regarding Ben Aïssa was seemingly copacetic. He was invited onto the advisory board of his alma mater, the University of Ottawa’s business school. In June of 2009, he co-chaired a charity soirée with National Bank chief executive Louis Vachon. The event, which benefited the Canadian Centre for Architecture, was featured in the society pages of the Montreal Gazette, where Ben Aïssa was photographed with his third wife, Sara Al-Molki. A former executive said that, within SNC’s offices, it was generally understood that doing business in North Africa required some compromises. “His downfall was not corruption,” the former executive said. “To me, his problems started when things got political.” Indeed: The Arab Spring was a political earthquake across a region where strongmen had enjoyed generations in power and then abruptly found themselves challenged by Internetsavvy revolutionaries. As the streets filled with angry protesters, SNC employees joined the expat workers scrambling for the docks and airports. Saadi went in the opposite direction, flying into the epicentre of the uprising in February, 2011. A United Nations investigation would later find that Moammar Gadhafi sent two trusted officials to “take control on the ground” in the rebellious eastern city of Benghazi. The UN report did not name either official, but a wellinformed source says that one of them was Saadi.


Saadi had little experience with handling crises, much less a full-blown uprising, and the situation in Benghazi quickly went sideways. The BBC quoted a witness who said Saadi personally gave an order to shoot unarmed demonstrators. Saadi later denied this. But whatever the impetus, Libyan soldiers unleashed heavy weapons on the crowds. The United Nations Security Council reacted on Feb. 26, 2011, with a resolution that imposed a travel ban on Saadi and other members of Libya’s ruling family. In particular, Saadi was sanctioned for “command of military units involved in repression of demonstrations.” His bank accounts were frozen with another resolution the following month. Saadi would later escape to Niger, where he remains under what his lawyer describes as “virtual house arrest” because of the travel ban. Even if the world had abruptly turned against him, Ben Aïssa did not abandon his favourite son of the dictator. An SNC insider says that during the first months of the revolution, Ben Aïssa continually assured fellow executives that the uprising would be crushed. That lingering sense of loyalty may help to explain a bizarre footnote to Ben Aïssa’s story:

the tale of Cyndy Vanier and the alleged plot to smuggle Saadi to a safe house in Mexico. On June 30, 2011, Ben Aïssa’s long-serving controller, Stéphane Roy, signed a deal with Vanier, a mediator whose prior experience was principally with Canadian native groups. The commission called for “fact finding and mediation.” Vanier flew to the war zone on a private jet and put together a report. Vanier depicted NATO’s intervention as harmful to the Libyan government’s efforts to make peace—an unusual perspective at a time when regime soldiers were blasting rebels with artillery and truck-mounted rockets. SNC paid Vanier $100,000 for the five-page report. Mexican authorities arrested her in November, 2011, and accused her of working on a bigger project, a complex plan to start a new life for Saadi in a beachfront house. She denies wrongdoing, and remains jailed. Ben Aïssa and Roy avoided trouble when Vanier was arrested, although Roy was in Mexico at the time. They remained with SNC until February, 2012, when the company ousted them amid a growing chorus of questions about SNC’s relationship with the Gadhafi

family. Later that month, the company announced it was launching an internal investigation. The probe alleged that CEO Pierre Duhaime had improperly approved $56 million in payments to unknown “agents” hired by Ben Aïssa. Duhaime resigned in March and SNC referred the file to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which raided the company headquarters in April. That raid was reportedly conducted on the basis of information from Swiss authorities, who arrested Ben Aïssa shortly afterward on suspicion of corruption, fraud and money laundering. The legal fallout may continue for years. Libya’s new revolutionary regime wants Saadi extradited to face trial in Tripoli, and has constructed courtrooms in an effort to persuade the international community that it is competent to hold fair proceedings. Saadi has hired a lawyer who specializes in war-crime charges. If the RCMP goes ahead with a prosecution under Canada’s Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act, it would be the force’s first attempt to apply the law to a blue-chip company. So far, Canada has secured only two convictions under the act; the second is the one that

bears on the SNC case. In 2011, Niko Resources, a midcap oil and gas firm based in Calgary, admitted that it had bribed a Bangladeshi energy minister by paying for his flights to Alberta and New York. An SNC spokeswoman has defended the company’s role in Saadi’s many trips to Canada as “hospitality.” But the Niko case suggests that the courts may take a different view. These proceedings, along with those concerning Cyndy Vanier and the class-action lawsuits, should answer many questions about the rise and fall of Ben Aïssa. But one upshot of SNC-Lavalin’s colossal failure in Libya already seems clear. Not only is the world getting smaller, it’s also slowly becoming more democratic and transparent. If you do business with a despot, even an officially reformed one, you may— sooner or later—find yourself scattering your plans across a slippery marble floor and running for your life. Research assistance by Hannah Mintz, Fatima Elkabti and Raghda Abouelnaga of the Investigative Reporting Program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism


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Alison Motluk Is Egg Donation Dangerous?

Maisonneuve


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cover story

place in Canada each year, according to the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society, a group representing fertility specialists. Exactly how many go awry is harder to say. Fertility doctors tend to claim that egg donation is very safe, and that the risk of serious complications is extremely low. It’s true that some women never have problems. “Claire,” who donated in Toronto about eight years ago, had no ill effects. On donation day, following the retrieval of the eggs, she threw a big party at her apartment, and then flew out west to spend time with her boyfriend. “Emily,” in Montreal, has donated at least eight times. Although she has occasionally experienced cramping, she usually feels well enough to take the metro home. Once, she popped a couple of Tylenol and then went shopping. Others, though, find that the medication they take makes them weepy or nauseous, that the egg retrieval is excruciating or that they bleed a lot more than expected. Even more seriously, a few, like Anna, suffer from a condition known as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, or OHSS—an unfortunate side effect of stimulating the ovaries to produce extra eggs. The CFAS told me that, between 2001 and 2010, only two donors in Canada, out of a total of 4,177 donations, suffered from “severe” OHSS, which usually involves hospitalization. Fourteen others had “moderate” OHSS. These numbers are collected in a database called the Canadian Assisted Reproductive Technologies Registry, which is maintained privately by the medical directors of in vitro fertilization clinics—a subgroup within the CFAS. Although some CARTR data, such as live birth rates, are published online, the numbers on OHSS are not routinely made public. There are many reasons why CARTR data on donoradverse events may not be complete. For one thing, it’s not common practice for fertility doctors to formally follow up with donors after a procedure, unless the women are specifically at risk of OHSS. Several physicians told me that they simply invite donors to get in touch if there’s a problem. Some women do so, but others may have already left town, or they’re told by brokers not to contact doctors directly. Health concerns can also turn up weeks, months or even years after the donation. By that point, it’s not clear if they’re related, so some donors don’t mention these issues to their fertility doctors. Without deliberate follow-up, doctors may not be aware of what goes wrong after the fact. Some doctors appear to play down the problems they do know about. Immediately after Anna’s first donation, for instance, she started vomiting and felt dizzy. She was taken to hospital by ambulance for observation. When the doctor discharged her, three days later, he wrote in her notes: “It turns out that she ate a bunch of chocolates that she had in her bag immediately after the retrieval.” (She denies this.) He did not mention OHSS in those notes, or in the hospital notes from the time she was readmitted for an additional four days. Her fluid intake and output, the drugs he prescribed and the fact that he had to drain 2.5 litres of fluid from her body all point to the presence of OHSS. But the words he used in the discharge diagnosis were “abdominal discomfort.” That case was in 2009. The physician is one of the IVF medical directors who co-owns CARTR. Did he ever tell

Y O U C A N ’ T M A K E A N O M E L E T T E d e p t.

Egg Is

Donation Dangerous?

About five hundred egg donations take place in Canada every year, and experts say the process is very safe. But, Alison Motluk reports, some donors face serious health problems—and doctors may be underestimating the risks.

Photographs by Finn O’Hara.

26

bout five hundred egg donations take

he first time I spoke to “Anna”—not her real name—she was in the process of donating her eggs. A couple wanted to have a baby, but the mother-tobe’s eggs were not viable, so they needed Anna’s. This was Anna’s fourth time donating, and she was familiar with the routine: take hormones to stimulate the development of eggs, get some ultrasounds and then have the eggs removed. She was upbeat. When I asked what she considered the best part of the experience, she listed several: The gratitude of the families. The marvel of creating life with modern technology. Feeling powerful as a woman. “We women should help each other out,” she said. At that moment, however, there were a lot of little things annoying her. She was miffed at the nurses, who hadn’t been as attentive as usual—they even forgot to special-order her medications. (Anna lives in British Columbia, but the clinic was in Toronto; cross-province prescriptions can be tricky.) She was also negotiating about money with the agency that arranged the donation. Anna never takes a fee, but she wanted to be compensated for lost wages, and to bring a companion along in case something went wrong. She paused our telephone conversation for her nightly hormone injection. “It’s a lot of hassle,” she said, “for doing something out of the goodness of my heart.” Two weeks later, Anna and her mother were on an overnight flight to Toronto. When she went to the clinic for her early-morning ultrasound, she got some alarming news: there were many more eggs in her ovaries than the doctors had expected. The Toronto clinic had been getting updates from a doctor in BC, who was monitoring her egg development, but there had been a miscommunication. If they’d known how many eggs there were, the clinic staff told her, they would have reduced her medication. The Toronto doctor told Anna to take her final shot, and, a day and a half later, the crop of eggs was harvested from her body. “I remember feeling fine, completely fine,” recalled Anna, thinking back to the evening after the retrieval. She and her mother even went down to the hotel lobby for dinner. But then, Anna said, “I went into the bathroom and puked my guts out.” Things got worse after she went to bed. She started to feel short of breath. She was bloated and “puffy.” And the pain, which stretched from her rib cage to her pelvis, was unbearable. When it came time to fly home, she was so sick that she needed a wheelchair to board the plane. Over the next two days, Anna’s abdomen swelled until she looked pregnant. She gained 20 pounds. She stopped urinating. She checked herself into the local hospital, where she ended up staying for four days, while the staff worked to manage her pain, prevent blood clots and safeguard her kidneys. “I thought I was going to die,” she said.

27


A

cover story

place in Canada each year, according to the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society, a group representing fertility specialists. Exactly how many go awry is harder to say. Fertility doctors tend to claim that egg donation is very safe, and that the risk of serious complications is extremely low. It’s true that some women never have problems. “Claire,” who donated in Toronto about eight years ago, had no ill effects. On donation day, following the retrieval of the eggs, she threw a big party at her apartment, and then flew out west to spend time with her boyfriend. “Emily,” in Montreal, has donated at least eight times. Although she has occasionally experienced cramping, she usually feels well enough to take the metro home. Once, she popped a couple of Tylenol and then went shopping. Others, though, find that the medication they take makes them weepy or nauseous, that the egg retrieval is excruciating or that they bleed a lot more than expected. Even more seriously, a few, like Anna, suffer from a condition known as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, or OHSS—an unfortunate side effect of stimulating the ovaries to produce extra eggs. The CFAS told me that, between 2001 and 2010, only two donors in Canada, out of a total of 4,177 donations, suffered from “severe” OHSS, which usually involves hospitalization. Fourteen others had “moderate” OHSS. These numbers are collected in a database called the Canadian Assisted Reproductive Technologies Registry, which is maintained privately by the medical directors of in vitro fertilization clinics—a subgroup within the CFAS. Although some CARTR data, such as live birth rates, are published online, the numbers on OHSS are not routinely made public. There are many reasons why CARTR data on donoradverse events may not be complete. For one thing, it’s not common practice for fertility doctors to formally follow up with donors after a procedure, unless the women are specifically at risk of OHSS. Several physicians told me that they simply invite donors to get in touch if there’s a problem. Some women do so, but others may have already left town, or they’re told by brokers not to contact doctors directly. Health concerns can also turn up weeks, months or even years after the donation. By that point, it’s not clear if they’re related, so some donors don’t mention these issues to their fertility doctors. Without deliberate follow-up, doctors may not be aware of what goes wrong after the fact. Some doctors appear to play down the problems they do know about. Immediately after Anna’s first donation, for instance, she started vomiting and felt dizzy. She was taken to hospital by ambulance for observation. When the doctor discharged her, three days later, he wrote in her notes: “It turns out that she ate a bunch of chocolates that she had in her bag immediately after the retrieval.” (She denies this.) He did not mention OHSS in those notes, or in the hospital notes from the time she was readmitted for an additional four days. Her fluid intake and output, the drugs he prescribed and the fact that he had to drain 2.5 litres of fluid from her body all point to the presence of OHSS. But the words he used in the discharge diagnosis were “abdominal discomfort.” That case was in 2009. The physician is one of the IVF medical directors who co-owns CARTR. Did he ever tell

Y O U C A N ’ T M A K E A N O M E L E T T E d e p t.

Egg Is

Donation Dangerous?

About five hundred egg donations take place in Canada every year, and experts say the process is very safe. But, Alison Motluk reports, some donors face serious health problems—and doctors may be underestimating the risks.

Photographs by Finn O’Hara.

26

bout five hundred egg donations take

he first time I spoke to “Anna”—not her real name—she was in the process of donating her eggs. A couple wanted to have a baby, but the mother-tobe’s eggs were not viable, so they needed Anna’s. This was Anna’s fourth time donating, and she was familiar with the routine: take hormones to stimulate the development of eggs, get some ultrasounds and then have the eggs removed. She was upbeat. When I asked what she considered the best part of the experience, she listed several: The gratitude of the families. The marvel of creating life with modern technology. Feeling powerful as a woman. “We women should help each other out,” she said. At that moment, however, there were a lot of little things annoying her. She was miffed at the nurses, who hadn’t been as attentive as usual—they even forgot to special-order her medications. (Anna lives in British Columbia, but the clinic was in Toronto; cross-province prescriptions can be tricky.) She was also negotiating about money with the agency that arranged the donation. Anna never takes a fee, but she wanted to be compensated for lost wages, and to bring a companion along in case something went wrong. She paused our telephone conversation for her nightly hormone injection. “It’s a lot of hassle,” she said, “for doing something out of the goodness of my heart.” Two weeks later, Anna and her mother were on an overnight flight to Toronto. When she went to the clinic for her early-morning ultrasound, she got some alarming news: there were many more eggs in her ovaries than the doctors had expected. The Toronto clinic had been getting updates from a doctor in BC, who was monitoring her egg development, but there had been a miscommunication. If they’d known how many eggs there were, the clinic staff told her, they would have reduced her medication. The Toronto doctor told Anna to take her final shot, and, a day and a half later, the crop of eggs was harvested from her body. “I remember feeling fine, completely fine,” recalled Anna, thinking back to the evening after the retrieval. She and her mother even went down to the hotel lobby for dinner. But then, Anna said, “I went into the bathroom and puked my guts out.” Things got worse after she went to bed. She started to feel short of breath. She was bloated and “puffy.” And the pain, which stretched from her rib cage to her pelvis, was unbearable. When it came time to fly home, she was so sick that she needed a wheelchair to board the plane. Over the next two days, Anna’s abdomen swelled until she looked pregnant. She gained 20 pounds. She stopped urinating. She checked herself into the local hospital, where she ended up staying for four days, while the staff worked to manage her pain, prevent blood clots and safeguard her kidneys. “I thought I was going to die,” she said.

27


the registry about it? I was curious, so I asked the CFAS if it would tell me when, by year and month, the two severe and fourteen moderate cases of OHSS had taken place. The answer was no. I asked if it would tell me where these cases had occurred. It would not, citing privacy concerns for individual clinics. CARTR collects information about hospital admissions, bleeding, infection and other immediate problems, in addition to OHSS. But reporting is voluntary, and probably incomplete, admits Mathias Gysler, medical director at Isis Regional Fertility Centre in Mississauga. As for longer-term problems, CARTR collects no information at all, despite the fact that questions linger about whether infertility, premature menopause and cancer are more likely to occur after stimulating the ovaries. To be fair, that information would not be easy for fertility doctors to assemble, since they are specialists. Women turn to different doctors, years later, if they become ill. But the reality is that nobody in Canada is systematically tracking the health of egg donors. Given these gaps in knowledge, I began to wonder: What do doctors tell egg donors about the risks? And what actually happens when a woman donates her eggs?

one couldn’t bear to revisit her unpleasant experience. Many of the women underscored the importance of egg donation. Some of them had gotten sick, but even as they told me about the pain, hospital visits and fear of death, they emphasized that they believed they were doing the right thing. “There were a million ways I could talk myself out of it,” one woman told me, “but they were all overruled by my kids just being so great, and thinking that I couldn’t not give that to someone else. How can we turn our backs on people who want to be parents so badly?” Indeed, some of the women who suffered adverse events—even severe ones—lamented that they could no longer help others have children. Anna, for instance, wishes that the doctors had taken better care of her; she would donate again, but worries that doing so would put her health at risk.

E

gg donation involves taking eggs out of a woman’s body and giving them to someone else. Medically, it is identical to the first step of in vitro fertilization. During this step, a woman takes hormones to make extra eggs develop in her ovaries. Doctors monitor the growing eggs through ultrasounds and blood tests. They look for follicles—the fluid-filled sacs that contain the eggs—and count them. Then, when doctors find the right number of follicles of the right size, they tell the donor to take what’s called a “trigger shot.” This hormone causes the eggs to undergo their final ripening, and, about thirty-six hours later, just before the eggs would be released on their own, the doctor retrieves them with a long, ultrasound-guided needle, inserted via the vagina. The needle, which is connected to a pump, pokes through the vaginal wall and punctures the ovary to get to the follicles. The pump gently suctions out the contents, which usually include an egg. In classic IVF, the egg is then put, with sperm, in a glass dish. Once fertilized, it is placed back in the original woman’s body. The only difference with egg donation is that the fertilized egg goes into another woman’s body. The very first IVF baby was born in 1978, and it took doctors only a few years to realize that another woman’s eggs would do just as well. Suddenly, pregnancy was a possibility for women whose eggs had been destroyed by chemotherapy or illness, older women whose eggs were no longer viable and women whose eggs were unusable for reasons no one understood; it also made parenthood a possibility for gay men. Egg donation was revolutionary. After the eggs are retrieved, the woman’s body is supposed to go back to normal within a week or two. Often, that’s exactly what happens. But sometimes it’s not. OHSS—the condition that Anna had twice—is one of the more serious possibilities. There are some factors that make a woman more likely to get OHSS: being young, having polycystic ovaries, having more than twenty eggs develop at once and having high estrogen levels on the day of the trigger shot, to name a few. But it’s not easy to predict why it happens to some women and not others. No one knows precisely how OHSS unfolds, but a chemical signal known as vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF, seems to play a key role. Importantly, VEGF makes blood vessels more permeable, allowing fluid to seep out. The seeped fluid then pools in a woman’s abdomen, causing her to look as though she’s many months pregnant. It can also collect around her lungs, making it hard for her

A

nna, Claire and Emily are just three of the eighteen women I have interviewed over the past few years about egg donation in Canada. Some of the women donated to sisters, or to friends, and some to their own same-sex partners. Twelve of the women, like Anna, donated to strangers. Some donated only once; others, at least eight times. Collectively, their donations number fifty-two over a twelve-year span. (Most requested anonymity to protect their privacy.) Some donated in their own cities, while others did not. Ten donations involved travelling from another province; six involved air travel from out of the country. Some women were paid. (Under the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, it is illegal to purchase human eggs, but the law is poorly enforced, and many recipients and donors ignore it.) One woman went into debt. Among the women I interviewed, there were eight cases of OHSS that resulted in medical intervention—either hospitalization or abdominal draining at the clinic. (Two women had it once, three had it twice. That’s a high proportion, given the CARTR numbers. Of course, these women represent just a tiny fraction of all egg donors in Canada. Small numbers like these are especially prone to bias. It could be that women who suffered injury are more likely to talk to a journalist, and so are over-represented. It could be a coincidence that I spoke to a disproportionate number of people who suffered ill effects. But it’s also possible that problems are more common than fertility doctors report. Tellingly, two serious medical events took place after I had interviewed the women in question about earlier donations; I only found out about these donor-adverse events when I called to follow up. In other words, these women did not speak with me because they had become ill—they just happened to become ill while they were speaking with me. It’s true that one of the women I interviewed wanted her story known so that she could spare others the same fate. But other women declined to be part of the project;

28

donors tend to be younger, and have many more eggs stimulated and retrieved, than women undergoing IVF, which may make donors more likely to get OHSS. The incidence of OHSS among donors has not been widely studied, and, where it has, the findings vary. A Spanish study, looking through a single clinic’s records, found that, out of 4,052 egg donations, only twenty-two resulted in OHSS—just half a percent. A survey of 155 egg donors by the US-based Donor Sibling Registry, an online meeting place for donors and donor offspring, found that over 11 percent of respondents had to be hospitalized or treated due to OHSS. A MOST FERTILITY DOCTORS INSIST THAT EGG UK study, looking to establish risk estimates for women donating eggs for reDONORS ARE PATIENTS, AND ARE TREATED WITH search purposes, intensively followed 339 ALL ATTENDANT RESPECT AND CARE. sadLY, THE women whose retrievals produced twenty or more eggs. The study found that, if EVIDENCE DOES NOT ALWAYS BEAR THIS OUT. fewer than twenty eggs were retrieved, the risks were very small: 0.1 percent. “Moderate” OHSS involves bloating, pain, nausea, vom- But women who had twenty or more eggs retrieved had iting and fluid buildup. “Sonja” thinks she may have had about a 14.5 percent chance of being hospitalized. moderate OHSS her first time donating. “I was curled up Several of the women I interviewed described their expeon my bed,” she told me. “I was in so much pain. I had nev- riences with OHSS. “Leia,” for instance, had two bouts of er felt anything like that. I was just sick to my stomach and the syndrome serious enough to require draining. “Heathin a lot of pain.” She walked hunched over for the next few er” had to be drained after two of her donations. Most days. Still, within a week, with no medical attention at all, striking, though, was the case of “Melanie,” from Ottawa, she started to feel better. whose problems mirrored Anna’s in several respects. But, in some women, the symptoms snowball. Nausea is The same Toronto physician who oversaw Anna’s most severe, abdominal pain unbearable. They stop urinating. recent donation had been Melanie’s doctor a few years beThe fluid keeps accumulating. Their ovaries become huge. fore. Like Anna, Melanie lived far from the doctor treating In Anna’s first case, she had to have the fluid drained, and her—in this case, a five-hour drive—and had a local physishe took drugs to counteract the VEGF and to prevent a cian perform the ultrasound monitoring while the Toronblood clot. The second time, doctors treated her with an to doctor instructed her on drug dosage. Such women are albumin drip to restore her blood volume. sometimes referred to as “satellite patients,” and their care Many fertility doctors use words like “extremely rare” is complicated by the fact that part of the work is subconand “very unlikely” to describe the incidence of OHSS. tracted to a second clinic for a small fee. Some of the women I interviewed confirmed that that’s what they’d heard when they first inquired about egg donaAlison Motluk is a freelance journalist who frequently reports on tion. Literature that donors receive underscores this idea. fertility issues. She has contributed to the Economist, Nature, New Scientist, the Walrus and CBC Radio, and has won two National Magazine “Fortunately, this condition is extremely rare and almost Awards for investigative reporting. This article was written with the supnever occurs in the severe form unless a woman becomes port of a Canadian Institutes of Health Research journalism grant. pregnant. Therefore, in the situation of oocyte [egg] donation, the donor virtually has no chance of developing this condition,” according to an info packet from one Canadian Again like Anna, when Melanie arrived at the Toronclinic. “With the medications used today, the chance of an to clinic, the doctor discovered that she had a lot more egg donor developing OHSS is very unlikely,” claims the eggs than anticipated. In Melanie’s case, there were thirwebsite of another. ty-six. She had been told to expect somewhere between One statistic commonly cited by clinics is that OHSS five and eight. occurs in 1 to 2 percent of cases. But that number actually Melanie was donating her eggs to a gay couple she had refers only to the risk for severe OHSS, according to the met on the internet, but she had also agreed to act as their SGOC-CFAS guidelines. Moderate OHSS can happen in up surrogate and carry the embryos to term. Like Anna, to 6 percent of cases, the guidelines say. If there are about she was doing it without pay. But getting pregnant would five hundred donations every year in Canada, as CARTR greatly increase the risk of OHSS, so the doctor decided reports, then somewhere between five and thirty egg do- to delay the embryo transfer. In Melanie’s chart, someone nors might suffer from this condition annually. wrote, “at risk of OHSS.” Yet the doctor simply sent her But even those numbers are only very rough estimates. home after retrieving the eggs, without alerting an Ottawa They don’t come from studies on egg donors—they’re ex- physician that she may need help or giving her the name of trapolations from studies on IVF patients. Egg donors are a local professional she could contact. different from IVF patients in important ways. For one Before she left Toronto, Melanie started to feel sick. thing, unlike IVF patients, they don’t get pregnant right af- When she arrived home, she called the Toronto clinic and ter the eggs are removed. That should make them less like- was told to go see a gynecologist. She did—and it was no ly to suffer OHSS, since pregnancy hormones are a major small feat getting a same-day appointment—but the gynecontributing factor in the condition. On the other hand, cologist didn’t know what to do. She told Melanie to go to

to breathe. The seepage causes her blood to get thicker, increasing the chance of a clot or stroke. As well, reduced blood flow can damage her kidneys. In extremely rare cases, women can die from OHSS. Up to a third of women who undergo ovarian stimulation will suffer “mild” OHSS, according to guidelines on managing the syndrome that were published jointly by the Society of Gynecologists and Obstetricians of Canada and the CFAS in November 2011. The mild form causes bloating and abdominal pain, but tends to go away on its own.

29


the registry about it? I was curious, so I asked the CFAS if it would tell me when, by year and month, the two severe and fourteen moderate cases of OHSS had taken place. The answer was no. I asked if it would tell me where these cases had occurred. It would not, citing privacy concerns for individual clinics. CARTR collects information about hospital admissions, bleeding, infection and other immediate problems, in addition to OHSS. But reporting is voluntary, and probably incomplete, admits Mathias Gysler, medical director at Isis Regional Fertility Centre in Mississauga. As for longer-term problems, CARTR collects no information at all, despite the fact that questions linger about whether infertility, premature menopause and cancer are more likely to occur after stimulating the ovaries. To be fair, that information would not be easy for fertility doctors to assemble, since they are specialists. Women turn to different doctors, years later, if they become ill. But the reality is that nobody in Canada is systematically tracking the health of egg donors. Given these gaps in knowledge, I began to wonder: What do doctors tell egg donors about the risks? And what actually happens when a woman donates her eggs?

one couldn’t bear to revisit her unpleasant experience. Many of the women underscored the importance of egg donation. Some of them had gotten sick, but even as they told me about the pain, hospital visits and fear of death, they emphasized that they believed they were doing the right thing. “There were a million ways I could talk myself out of it,” one woman told me, “but they were all overruled by my kids just being so great, and thinking that I couldn’t not give that to someone else. How can we turn our backs on people who want to be parents so badly?” Indeed, some of the women who suffered adverse events—even severe ones—lamented that they could no longer help others have children. Anna, for instance, wishes that the doctors had taken better care of her; she would donate again, but worries that doing so would put her health at risk.

E

gg donation involves taking eggs out of a woman’s body and giving them to someone else. Medically, it is identical to the first step of in vitro fertilization. During this step, a woman takes hormones to make extra eggs develop in her ovaries. Doctors monitor the growing eggs through ultrasounds and blood tests. They look for follicles—the fluid-filled sacs that contain the eggs—and count them. Then, when doctors find the right number of follicles of the right size, they tell the donor to take what’s called a “trigger shot.” This hormone causes the eggs to undergo their final ripening, and, about thirty-six hours later, just before the eggs would be released on their own, the doctor retrieves them with a long, ultrasound-guided needle, inserted via the vagina. The needle, which is connected to a pump, pokes through the vaginal wall and punctures the ovary to get to the follicles. The pump gently suctions out the contents, which usually include an egg. In classic IVF, the egg is then put, with sperm, in a glass dish. Once fertilized, it is placed back in the original woman’s body. The only difference with egg donation is that the fertilized egg goes into another woman’s body. The very first IVF baby was born in 1978, and it took doctors only a few years to realize that another woman’s eggs would do just as well. Suddenly, pregnancy was a possibility for women whose eggs had been destroyed by chemotherapy or illness, older women whose eggs were no longer viable and women whose eggs were unusable for reasons no one understood; it also made parenthood a possibility for gay men. Egg donation was revolutionary. After the eggs are retrieved, the woman’s body is supposed to go back to normal within a week or two. Often, that’s exactly what happens. But sometimes it’s not. OHSS—the condition that Anna had twice—is one of the more serious possibilities. There are some factors that make a woman more likely to get OHSS: being young, having polycystic ovaries, having more than twenty eggs develop at once and having high estrogen levels on the day of the trigger shot, to name a few. But it’s not easy to predict why it happens to some women and not others. No one knows precisely how OHSS unfolds, but a chemical signal known as vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF, seems to play a key role. Importantly, VEGF makes blood vessels more permeable, allowing fluid to seep out. The seeped fluid then pools in a woman’s abdomen, causing her to look as though she’s many months pregnant. It can also collect around her lungs, making it hard for her

A

nna, Claire and Emily are just three of the eighteen women I have interviewed over the past few years about egg donation in Canada. Some of the women donated to sisters, or to friends, and some to their own same-sex partners. Twelve of the women, like Anna, donated to strangers. Some donated only once; others, at least eight times. Collectively, their donations number fifty-two over a twelve-year span. (Most requested anonymity to protect their privacy.) Some donated in their own cities, while others did not. Ten donations involved travelling from another province; six involved air travel from out of the country. Some women were paid. (Under the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, it is illegal to purchase human eggs, but the law is poorly enforced, and many recipients and donors ignore it.) One woman went into debt. Among the women I interviewed, there were eight cases of OHSS that resulted in medical intervention—either hospitalization or abdominal draining at the clinic. (Two women had it once, three had it twice. That’s a high proportion, given the CARTR numbers. Of course, these women represent just a tiny fraction of all egg donors in Canada. Small numbers like these are especially prone to bias. It could be that women who suffered injury are more likely to talk to a journalist, and so are over-represented. It could be a coincidence that I spoke to a disproportionate number of people who suffered ill effects. But it’s also possible that problems are more common than fertility doctors report. Tellingly, two serious medical events took place after I had interviewed the women in question about earlier donations; I only found out about these donor-adverse events when I called to follow up. In other words, these women did not speak with me because they had become ill—they just happened to become ill while they were speaking with me. It’s true that one of the women I interviewed wanted her story known so that she could spare others the same fate. But other women declined to be part of the project;

28

donors tend to be younger, and have many more eggs stimulated and retrieved, than women undergoing IVF, which may make donors more likely to get OHSS. The incidence of OHSS among donors has not been widely studied, and, where it has, the findings vary. A Spanish study, looking through a single clinic’s records, found that, out of 4,052 egg donations, only twenty-two resulted in OHSS—just half a percent. A survey of 155 egg donors by the US-based Donor Sibling Registry, an online meeting place for donors and donor offspring, found that over 11 percent of respondents had to be hospitalized or treated due to OHSS. A MOST FERTILITY DOCTORS INSIST THAT EGG UK study, looking to establish risk estimates for women donating eggs for reDONORS ARE PATIENTS, AND ARE TREATED WITH search purposes, intensively followed 339 ALL ATTENDANT RESPECT AND CARE. sadLY, THE women whose retrievals produced twenty or more eggs. The study found that, if EVIDENCE DOES NOT ALWAYS BEAR THIS OUT. fewer than twenty eggs were retrieved, the risks were very small: 0.1 percent. “Moderate” OHSS involves bloating, pain, nausea, vom- But women who had twenty or more eggs retrieved had iting and fluid buildup. “Sonja” thinks she may have had about a 14.5 percent chance of being hospitalized. moderate OHSS her first time donating. “I was curled up Several of the women I interviewed described their expeon my bed,” she told me. “I was in so much pain. I had nev- riences with OHSS. “Leia,” for instance, had two bouts of er felt anything like that. I was just sick to my stomach and the syndrome serious enough to require draining. “Heathin a lot of pain.” She walked hunched over for the next few er” had to be drained after two of her donations. Most days. Still, within a week, with no medical attention at all, striking, though, was the case of “Melanie,” from Ottawa, she started to feel better. whose problems mirrored Anna’s in several respects. But, in some women, the symptoms snowball. Nausea is The same Toronto physician who oversaw Anna’s most severe, abdominal pain unbearable. They stop urinating. recent donation had been Melanie’s doctor a few years beThe fluid keeps accumulating. Their ovaries become huge. fore. Like Anna, Melanie lived far from the doctor treating In Anna’s first case, she had to have the fluid drained, and her—in this case, a five-hour drive—and had a local physishe took drugs to counteract the VEGF and to prevent a cian perform the ultrasound monitoring while the Toronblood clot. The second time, doctors treated her with an to doctor instructed her on drug dosage. Such women are albumin drip to restore her blood volume. sometimes referred to as “satellite patients,” and their care Many fertility doctors use words like “extremely rare” is complicated by the fact that part of the work is subconand “very unlikely” to describe the incidence of OHSS. tracted to a second clinic for a small fee. Some of the women I interviewed confirmed that that’s what they’d heard when they first inquired about egg donaAlison Motluk is a freelance journalist who frequently reports on tion. Literature that donors receive underscores this idea. fertility issues. She has contributed to the Economist, Nature, New Scientist, the Walrus and CBC Radio, and has won two National Magazine “Fortunately, this condition is extremely rare and almost Awards for investigative reporting. This article was written with the supnever occurs in the severe form unless a woman becomes port of a Canadian Institutes of Health Research journalism grant. pregnant. Therefore, in the situation of oocyte [egg] donation, the donor virtually has no chance of developing this condition,” according to an info packet from one Canadian Again like Anna, when Melanie arrived at the Toronclinic. “With the medications used today, the chance of an to clinic, the doctor discovered that she had a lot more egg donor developing OHSS is very unlikely,” claims the eggs than anticipated. In Melanie’s case, there were thirwebsite of another. ty-six. She had been told to expect somewhere between One statistic commonly cited by clinics is that OHSS five and eight. occurs in 1 to 2 percent of cases. But that number actually Melanie was donating her eggs to a gay couple she had refers only to the risk for severe OHSS, according to the met on the internet, but she had also agreed to act as their SGOC-CFAS guidelines. Moderate OHSS can happen in up surrogate and carry the embryos to term. Like Anna, to 6 percent of cases, the guidelines say. If there are about she was doing it without pay. But getting pregnant would five hundred donations every year in Canada, as CARTR greatly increase the risk of OHSS, so the doctor decided reports, then somewhere between five and thirty egg do- to delay the embryo transfer. In Melanie’s chart, someone nors might suffer from this condition annually. wrote, “at risk of OHSS.” Yet the doctor simply sent her But even those numbers are only very rough estimates. home after retrieving the eggs, without alerting an Ottawa They don’t come from studies on egg donors—they’re ex- physician that she may need help or giving her the name of trapolations from studies on IVF patients. Egg donors are a local professional she could contact. different from IVF patients in important ways. For one Before she left Toronto, Melanie started to feel sick. thing, unlike IVF patients, they don’t get pregnant right af- When she arrived home, she called the Toronto clinic and ter the eggs are removed. That should make them less like- was told to go see a gynecologist. She did—and it was no ly to suffer OHSS, since pregnancy hormones are a major small feat getting a same-day appointment—but the gynecontributing factor in the condition. On the other hand, cologist didn’t know what to do. She told Melanie to go to

to breathe. The seepage causes her blood to get thicker, increasing the chance of a clot or stroke. As well, reduced blood flow can damage her kidneys. In extremely rare cases, women can die from OHSS. Up to a third of women who undergo ovarian stimulation will suffer “mild” OHSS, according to guidelines on managing the syndrome that were published jointly by the Society of Gynecologists and Obstetricians of Canada and the CFAS in November 2011. The mild form causes bloating and abdominal pain, but tends to go away on its own.

29


the emergency room, where Melanie ended up waiting for seven hours, watching her stomach swell out. “I looked like I was fourteen months pregnant,” she said. “I was huge. I mean, huge.” But the doctors did some blood work and told her she was fine. In tears, Melanie went to a different hospital and waited another few hours in its ER. Eventually she was admitted and treated for severe OHSS. “The back of my calf and my leg were touching each other, I was so swollen,” she remembered. “I actually had to have someone shower me because I could not do it—I couldn’t lift my arms. I couldn’t bend over. I couldn’t wipe my own butt. I couldn’t do anything.” Melanie had trouble not only moving, but, according to hospital records, eating and breathing, too. She was given IV rehydration, four types of painkillers, and blood thinners and compression stockings to prevent a clot. She was in hospital for nine days.

three of the fourteen files even contained a record of the surgical procedure the donors underwent to have their eggs removed. Every doctor knows that it is his or her legal obligation to provide full medical records to patients upon request. Yet when pressed with follow-up letters, Anna and Melanie’s doctor simply ignored them.

O

HSS is not the only potential health risk of donation. Physicians usually warn donors about the possibility of problems like infection and vaginal bleeding, which are also considered rare. Three of the donors I interviewed described serious bleeding immediately following retrieval. “Meg” was hospitalized for a day after her fifth donation. For Leia, the problem came after her sixth. “I had this unexplainable bleeding,” she told me. “It just went on and on.” Her physician considered hospitalization, but instead treated her as an outpatient. “The doctor took the most fantastic care of me,” she said. But the bleeding persisted for sixteen days, at which point she saw a fertility doctor closer to where she lived, who prescribed more hormones. After Sonja’s sixth donation, she never had a normal menstrual cycle again. “Everything just went haywire,” she said. “I eventually got to a point where I was having a period every two weeks.” Despite the fact that her Toronto-area doctor had performed the last five of her six donations, Sonja never got to speak with him about the problem. At first, most of her communication with the clinic had to be channeled through the American agency that brokered the donation. After a few weeks of this, she was able to directly email the clinic nurse, who reassured her that the changes in her cycle couldn’t have anything to do with the donations. The doctor she saw in her hometown, in the US, felt the same way. “But he is a fertility doctor,” she laughed. “So, you know, you have to question some of the things he might say in regards to egg donation.” Although she’ll never know for sure, Sonja believes that the bleeding was linked to the donation. “That happened immediately after the last donation,” she said. “So I don’t think that was a coincidence at all.” She put up with the bleeding for over a year and finally had an endometrial ablation—a procedure that burns away the lining of the uterus. She already had children of her own, but being made infertile disturbed her. “I can’t have any more children even if I wanted to,” she wrote at the time on her blog, I Am an Anonymous Egg Donor. “I don’t, but still. Not having control of that bothers me.” She was thirty years old. The experience has made Sonja consider donors who haven’t had kids yet. “If you really want to help a family out, that’s a wonderful thing. But have your own family first,” she said. “It would be so sad if you helped another family to have children and then to find out later that you can’t have your own.” She thinks doctors should strongly discourage would-be donors who have not already had their own families. The clinic’s staff never followed up with her, and Sonja has not told them about the ablation. “I don’t know what that would have done, really,” she told me. She had a strong bond with the doctor and the staff, whom she called “awesome.” She thinks they probably would have felt pretty bad. “They’re human,” she said.

A

lthough predicting the onset of OHSS isn’t easy, doctors do have options to make it less likely. It’s well-known, for instance, that large numbers of eggs can cause OHSS. In the days leading up to a retrieval, if there are a worrying number of eggs, doctors can reduce how much follicle-stimulating hormone a woman is taking, a practice known as “coasting.” They can also prescribe a drug called Dostinex, which counteracts vascular endothelial growth factor. Or they can simply not give the trigger shot. Without that final shot, the eggs will not ripen and OHSS will not occur. Unfortunately, all of these options come at a very high emotional—and sometimes financial—cost to the recipient. When fertility doctors make decisions about how many eggs to stimulate and what to do if there are too many, they have to weigh the needs of both donor and recipient—and the interests of the patients are sometimes at odds. More eggs give the recipient a better shot at pregnancy. But too many eggs increase the donor’s chance of suffering from OHSS. Because it will influence how they manage donors’ care, it’s important for fertility doctors to recognize how many eggs is “too many.” But many are reluctant to take a position. I asked Carl Laskin, a former president of the CFAS, to poll Canada’s IVF medical directors on where they thought the line should be drawn, but they declined to answer because the limit varies from donor to donor. Although Laskin’s own view was that over twenty is too many, he made it clear that he wasn’t speaking for everyone. Indeed, at a recent annual meeting of the CFAS, one guest speaker said that thirty-six eggs is just fine. At present, it is not even possible to know how many eggs Canadian fertility doctors actually retrieve. The numbers are not publicly available, and the doctors I’ve asked have declined to release their clinic statistics to me. Physicians usually tell donors that they hope to retrieve around twelve eggs. But of the fifty-two donations that I heard about in my interviews, only four yielded a dozen or fewer eggs, according to what the donors remembered being told. Some women thought they’d heard numbers in the thirties, forties or sixties. When six of the donors I interviewed later requested medical records from their doctors, information about the number of eggs retrieved was sometimes missing. Only

30

31


the emergency room, where Melanie ended up waiting for seven hours, watching her stomach swell out. “I looked like I was fourteen months pregnant,” she said. “I was huge. I mean, huge.” But the doctors did some blood work and told her she was fine. In tears, Melanie went to a different hospital and waited another few hours in its ER. Eventually she was admitted and treated for severe OHSS. “The back of my calf and my leg were touching each other, I was so swollen,” she remembered. “I actually had to have someone shower me because I could not do it—I couldn’t lift my arms. I couldn’t bend over. I couldn’t wipe my own butt. I couldn’t do anything.” Melanie had trouble not only moving, but, according to hospital records, eating and breathing, too. She was given IV rehydration, four types of painkillers, and blood thinners and compression stockings to prevent a clot. She was in hospital for nine days.

three of the fourteen files even contained a record of the surgical procedure the donors underwent to have their eggs removed. Every doctor knows that it is his or her legal obligation to provide full medical records to patients upon request. Yet when pressed with follow-up letters, Anna and Melanie’s doctor simply ignored them.

O

HSS is not the only potential health risk of donation. Physicians usually warn donors about the possibility of problems like infection and vaginal bleeding, which are also considered rare. Three of the donors I interviewed described serious bleeding immediately following retrieval. “Meg” was hospitalized for a day after her fifth donation. For Leia, the problem came after her sixth. “I had this unexplainable bleeding,” she told me. “It just went on and on.” Her physician considered hospitalization, but instead treated her as an outpatient. “The doctor took the most fantastic care of me,” she said. But the bleeding persisted for sixteen days, at which point she saw a fertility doctor closer to where she lived, who prescribed more hormones. After Sonja’s sixth donation, she never had a normal menstrual cycle again. “Everything just went haywire,” she said. “I eventually got to a point where I was having a period every two weeks.” Despite the fact that her Toronto-area doctor had performed the last five of her six donations, Sonja never got to speak with him about the problem. At first, most of her communication with the clinic had to be channeled through the American agency that brokered the donation. After a few weeks of this, she was able to directly email the clinic nurse, who reassured her that the changes in her cycle couldn’t have anything to do with the donations. The doctor she saw in her hometown, in the US, felt the same way. “But he is a fertility doctor,” she laughed. “So, you know, you have to question some of the things he might say in regards to egg donation.” Although she’ll never know for sure, Sonja believes that the bleeding was linked to the donation. “That happened immediately after the last donation,” she said. “So I don’t think that was a coincidence at all.” She put up with the bleeding for over a year and finally had an endometrial ablation—a procedure that burns away the lining of the uterus. She already had children of her own, but being made infertile disturbed her. “I can’t have any more children even if I wanted to,” she wrote at the time on her blog, I Am an Anonymous Egg Donor. “I don’t, but still. Not having control of that bothers me.” She was thirty years old. The experience has made Sonja consider donors who haven’t had kids yet. “If you really want to help a family out, that’s a wonderful thing. But have your own family first,” she said. “It would be so sad if you helped another family to have children and then to find out later that you can’t have your own.” She thinks doctors should strongly discourage would-be donors who have not already had their own families. The clinic’s staff never followed up with her, and Sonja has not told them about the ablation. “I don’t know what that would have done, really,” she told me. She had a strong bond with the doctor and the staff, whom she called “awesome.” She thinks they probably would have felt pretty bad. “They’re human,” she said.

A

lthough predicting the onset of OHSS isn’t easy, doctors do have options to make it less likely. It’s well-known, for instance, that large numbers of eggs can cause OHSS. In the days leading up to a retrieval, if there are a worrying number of eggs, doctors can reduce how much follicle-stimulating hormone a woman is taking, a practice known as “coasting.” They can also prescribe a drug called Dostinex, which counteracts vascular endothelial growth factor. Or they can simply not give the trigger shot. Without that final shot, the eggs will not ripen and OHSS will not occur. Unfortunately, all of these options come at a very high emotional—and sometimes financial—cost to the recipient. When fertility doctors make decisions about how many eggs to stimulate and what to do if there are too many, they have to weigh the needs of both donor and recipient—and the interests of the patients are sometimes at odds. More eggs give the recipient a better shot at pregnancy. But too many eggs increase the donor’s chance of suffering from OHSS. Because it will influence how they manage donors’ care, it’s important for fertility doctors to recognize how many eggs is “too many.” But many are reluctant to take a position. I asked Carl Laskin, a former president of the CFAS, to poll Canada’s IVF medical directors on where they thought the line should be drawn, but they declined to answer because the limit varies from donor to donor. Although Laskin’s own view was that over twenty is too many, he made it clear that he wasn’t speaking for everyone. Indeed, at a recent annual meeting of the CFAS, one guest speaker said that thirty-six eggs is just fine. At present, it is not even possible to know how many eggs Canadian fertility doctors actually retrieve. The numbers are not publicly available, and the doctors I’ve asked have declined to release their clinic statistics to me. Physicians usually tell donors that they hope to retrieve around twelve eggs. But of the fifty-two donations that I heard about in my interviews, only four yielded a dozen or fewer eggs, according to what the donors remembered being told. Some women thought they’d heard numbers in the thirties, forties or sixties. When six of the donors I interviewed later requested medical records from their doctors, information about the number of eggs retrieved was sometimes missing. Only

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A year after Melanie’s tangle with OHSS, the second of two attempted surrogate pregnancies failed to take; eighteen months after that, her menstrual cycles became unmanageably heavy. “I couldn’t go out. I couldn’t wear skirts. I was ruining chairs, bedding,” she said. “It controlled my life.” After suffering through it for two years, she finally, at age thirty-six, had a hysterectomy. Anna had the opposite problem from Sonja and Melanie: no periods at all. When I caught up with her, about five months after her final donation, she told me she hadn’t resumed menstruating yet. “I’ve kind of realized how serious it is to be tampering with your reproductive system,” she said. She had recently gotten married and was hoping to have children. “What if it comes to the point where I have to use an egg donor?” she asked. She was just twenty-three. Not long after, Anna was prescribed the drug metformin, often used to treat polycystic ovarian syndrome—a hormone imbalance that can cause irregular menstruation. Following her last donation, she developed symptoms of the disorder—acne, excess hair growth, weight gain— and was diagnosed with “mild” polycystic ovarian syndrome. The metformin seems to be helping, but it costs $40 per month, and her doctor says she will have to take it for the rest of her life. A few years earlier, “Heather,” who’d had three ovarian stimulations, and two bouts of OHSS, had also been put on metformin. She was in her late twenties. It worked for a while, she told me recently, but now she gets only a few cycles per year. These women’s menstrual changes may or may not be related to ovarian stimulation—it’s impossible to know. To illuminate whether donation increases the chance of erratic cycles and heavy bleeding, doctors need to undertake systematic, long-term follow-ups with donors. Many donors specifically inquire about whether donation will affect their own future fertility. Doctors often respond by pointing out that a woman starts puberty with around four hundred thousand eggs and, in her lifetime, will ovulate about four hundred of them at most. As well, the eggs recruited in donation would have been shed that month anyway. Overall, the message from some doctors tends to be reassuring: if no infection develops—and infection is rare— a donor’s fertility should be unaffected. But the experiences of Sonja, Melanie, Anna and Heather raise interesting questions. Of the eighteen women I interviewed, five reported permanent changes in their menstrual cycles following donation. That’s similar to the results of the Donor Sibling Registry survey, which found that 26 percent of donors later had menstrual changes or new infertility. Might ovarian stimulation alter a woman’s menstrual cycle, independent of normal aging? If so, how often do those alterations lead to treatments, like endometrial ablations and hysterectomies, that will render her infertile? Could menstrual alterations, like those that Anna and Heather experienced, make it more likely that they’ll have trouble conceiving when they want to have their own children? These questions remain unanswered. No one has systematically looked into whether fertility is affected by donation. It would not be easy to do so—donors are typically young, so they would have to be followed for decades, and the scope of the study would have to be large. Anyway, no one has an urgent financial incentive to learn more.

any women also wonder whether donation

will increase their risk of cancer. Most fertility doctors say that there is no firm evidence that fertility treatments cause cancer, though some acknowledge that new data suggests a possible link. Some clinics don’t mention cancer in the informed-consent forms that women sign before donating. Before donating eggs to her same-sex partner, “Mallory” asked her Vancouver fertility doctor about cancer. He’d smiled and said, “It’s worth the risk.” Four years later, at age thirty-six, she was diagnosed with Stage Three breast cancer, and endured months of chemo and radiation therapy. The cancer is now in remission. She never mentioned it to her fertility doctor and will never know if the disease was related to her ovarian stimulation. The vast majority of women who get breast cancer have never taken fertility drugs or had their eggs retrieved. But there are reasons for concern, according to Louise Brinton, chief of the Hormonal and Reproductive Epidemiology Branch at the US National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Maryland, who studies the link between reproductive hormones and cancer. For one thing, ovulation itself is linked to both breast and ovarian cancers. It’s thought that the repetitive damage caused by the egg leaving the ovary each month—and the continual resultant cell repair—predisposes the ovary to tumour formation. (Women who spend a greater proportion of their reproductive lives pregnant have fewer ovulations and a lower incidence of certain cancers.) Women who undergo IVF not only have a lot of extra ovulations, but have multiple punctures to the ovary, too, which raises “additional concerns,” Brinton told me. As well, stimulation drugs typically raise a woman’s estrogen levels to more than ten times that of a normal menstrual cycle. Estrogen is known to promote the development of breast and other cancers. Though no one is tracking donors specifically, Brinton and other researchers have been studying large numbers of women who have undergone IVF. (Infertility is independently linked to cancer, so these studies are challenging.) Despite all the theoretical reasons for concern, most studies have been reassuring. Many, including some of Brinton’s, did not find that women who underwent ovarian stimulation were more likely to develop cancers of the thyroid, colon, cervix, ovary or breast. But Brinton warns that many women who have undergone ovarian stimulation have not yet reached the age when cancer typically appears. Indeed, a few long-term studies are now beginning to find links. A large 2011 Dutch study found that, fifteen years on, women who had undergone IVF were twice as likely to have borderline ovarian malignancies than similarly infertile women who had not sought treatment, although the overall risk remains low. In early 2012, an Australian study found that women who had undergone IVF in their twenties—but not women who had done so in their forties—were more likely than expected to develop breast cancer. (This might be of import to donors, who tend to be young.) According to Brinton, several studies implicate fertility drugs in uterine cancers, which is not surprising, given that these cancers are known to be responsive to hormones. The risks of egg donation, Brinton said, “have not been fully vetted.”

M

ost fertility doctors will insist that egg

she said. There are ways to be clearer. “Think about one of those big classes at university, with five hundred students,” she said. “Five people in there will get OHSS, and you might be one of them.” Above all, doctors owe donors full duty of care. “A woman going through as an egg donor is not a reagent off the shelf,” Carl Laskin said. “She is your patient.” But fertility doctors have an unusual and serious conflict of interest. They have two patients—the recipient and the donor—and the interests of one often collide with the interests of the other. “Can a physician act in the best interest of both?” asked Vanessa Gruben, a law professor at the University of Ottawa. In a forthcoming paper, she argues that they may not be able to—and that such conflicts of interest need to be resolved. In other areas of medicine that use donors, such as bone-marrow transplantation, physicians have taken steps to protect donors by separating their medical care from the care of the recipient. Applied to fertility medicine, this could mean giving the egg donor her own doctor, responsible only to her and keeping only her health in mind. A separate doctor could care for the recipient. Given that the recipient is the paying patient, however, this would be a challenging ideal to uphold in practice. Egg donors deserve at least the same treatment as other patients—and, arguably, better. After all, they are young and healthy, and they undertake medical treatment for another person’s benefit. They deserve to know the truth about the health risks they face, and, wherever possible, to have those risks reduced. 

donors are patients, and are treated with all attendant respect and care. Sadly, the evidence does not always bear this out. Sonja’s doctor, who had stimulated her ovaries five times in two years, did not make time to discuss the alarming change in her menstrual cycles, which showed up immediately after the final retrieval. Melanie’s doctor sent her home, knowing she was at risk of OHSS, without formally terminating his care of her or transferring her to another professional. He did the same thing to Anna a few years later. Some fertility doctors deny full medical records to donors. These are troubling examples of doctors failing to meet a standard of care set out by their own governing body, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. Some doctors barely disguise the fact that they see donors as less than full patients. In the process of donating, one woman learned that, at age twenty-three, she might have fertility issues of her own. The recipients, who were family friends, broke the news; the doctor apparently considered it more relevant to them than to her. When she wrote to complain, the doctor told her not to contact him again, but to send any complaints to his “quality control manager.” What do doctors owe donors? To start with, they owe candour and clarity about the risks. According to Françoise Baylis, the Canada Research Chair in Bioethics and Philosophy, doctors have an ethical responsibility that goes beyond reciting statistics from the medical literature. When doctors say that the risk of OHSS is low—just 1 percent—what many donors hear is It won’t happen to me,

The Cundill Prize in History at McGill is the world’s largest international historical literature prize with a value of $75,000 U.S. Congratulations to the 2012 finalists:

Steven Pinker The Better Angels of our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes (Allen Lane) Stephen Platt Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, The West, And The Epic Story of The Taiping Civil War (Alfred A. Knopf) Andrew Preston Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy (Alfred A. Knopf Canada) The Cundill Prize was established by McGill alumnus F. Peter Cundill. See www.mcgill.ca/cundillprize

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A year after Melanie’s tangle with OHSS, the second of two attempted surrogate pregnancies failed to take; eighteen months after that, her menstrual cycles became unmanageably heavy. “I couldn’t go out. I couldn’t wear skirts. I was ruining chairs, bedding,” she said. “It controlled my life.” After suffering through it for two years, she finally, at age thirty-six, had a hysterectomy. Anna had the opposite problem from Sonja and Melanie: no periods at all. When I caught up with her, about five months after her final donation, she told me she hadn’t resumed menstruating yet. “I’ve kind of realized how serious it is to be tampering with your reproductive system,” she said. She had recently gotten married and was hoping to have children. “What if it comes to the point where I have to use an egg donor?” she asked. She was just twenty-three. Not long after, Anna was prescribed the drug metformin, often used to treat polycystic ovarian syndrome—a hormone imbalance that can cause irregular menstruation. Following her last donation, she developed symptoms of the disorder—acne, excess hair growth, weight gain— and was diagnosed with “mild” polycystic ovarian syndrome. The metformin seems to be helping, but it costs $40 per month, and her doctor says she will have to take it for the rest of her life. A few years earlier, “Heather,” who’d had three ovarian stimulations, and two bouts of OHSS, had also been put on metformin. She was in her late twenties. It worked for a while, she told me recently, but now she gets only a few cycles per year. These women’s menstrual changes may or may not be related to ovarian stimulation—it’s impossible to know. To illuminate whether donation increases the chance of erratic cycles and heavy bleeding, doctors need to undertake systematic, long-term follow-ups with donors. Many donors specifically inquire about whether donation will affect their own future fertility. Doctors often respond by pointing out that a woman starts puberty with around four hundred thousand eggs and, in her lifetime, will ovulate about four hundred of them at most. As well, the eggs recruited in donation would have been shed that month anyway. Overall, the message from some doctors tends to be reassuring: if no infection develops—and infection is rare— a donor’s fertility should be unaffected. But the experiences of Sonja, Melanie, Anna and Heather raise interesting questions. Of the eighteen women I interviewed, five reported permanent changes in their menstrual cycles following donation. That’s similar to the results of the Donor Sibling Registry survey, which found that 26 percent of donors later had menstrual changes or new infertility. Might ovarian stimulation alter a woman’s menstrual cycle, independent of normal aging? If so, how often do those alterations lead to treatments, like endometrial ablations and hysterectomies, that will render her infertile? Could menstrual alterations, like those that Anna and Heather experienced, make it more likely that they’ll have trouble conceiving when they want to have their own children? These questions remain unanswered. No one has systematically looked into whether fertility is affected by donation. It would not be easy to do so—donors are typically young, so they would have to be followed for decades, and the scope of the study would have to be large. Anyway, no one has an urgent financial incentive to learn more.

any women also wonder whether donation

will increase their risk of cancer. Most fertility doctors say that there is no firm evidence that fertility treatments cause cancer, though some acknowledge that new data suggests a possible link. Some clinics don’t mention cancer in the informed-consent forms that women sign before donating. Before donating eggs to her same-sex partner, “Mallory” asked her Vancouver fertility doctor about cancer. He’d smiled and said, “It’s worth the risk.” Four years later, at age thirty-six, she was diagnosed with Stage Three breast cancer, and endured months of chemo and radiation therapy. The cancer is now in remission. She never mentioned it to her fertility doctor and will never know if the disease was related to her ovarian stimulation. The vast majority of women who get breast cancer have never taken fertility drugs or had their eggs retrieved. But there are reasons for concern, according to Louise Brinton, chief of the Hormonal and Reproductive Epidemiology Branch at the US National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Maryland, who studies the link between reproductive hormones and cancer. For one thing, ovulation itself is linked to both breast and ovarian cancers. It’s thought that the repetitive damage caused by the egg leaving the ovary each month—and the continual resultant cell repair—predisposes the ovary to tumour formation. (Women who spend a greater proportion of their reproductive lives pregnant have fewer ovulations and a lower incidence of certain cancers.) Women who undergo IVF not only have a lot of extra ovulations, but have multiple punctures to the ovary, too, which raises “additional concerns,” Brinton told me. As well, stimulation drugs typically raise a woman’s estrogen levels to more than ten times that of a normal menstrual cycle. Estrogen is known to promote the development of breast and other cancers. Though no one is tracking donors specifically, Brinton and other researchers have been studying large numbers of women who have undergone IVF. (Infertility is independently linked to cancer, so these studies are challenging.) Despite all the theoretical reasons for concern, most studies have been reassuring. Many, including some of Brinton’s, did not find that women who underwent ovarian stimulation were more likely to develop cancers of the thyroid, colon, cervix, ovary or breast. But Brinton warns that many women who have undergone ovarian stimulation have not yet reached the age when cancer typically appears. Indeed, a few long-term studies are now beginning to find links. A large 2011 Dutch study found that, fifteen years on, women who had undergone IVF were twice as likely to have borderline ovarian malignancies than similarly infertile women who had not sought treatment, although the overall risk remains low. In early 2012, an Australian study found that women who had undergone IVF in their twenties—but not women who had done so in their forties—were more likely than expected to develop breast cancer. (This might be of import to donors, who tend to be young.) According to Brinton, several studies implicate fertility drugs in uterine cancers, which is not surprising, given that these cancers are known to be responsive to hormones. The risks of egg donation, Brinton said, “have not been fully vetted.”

M

ost fertility doctors will insist that egg

she said. There are ways to be clearer. “Think about one of those big classes at university, with five hundred students,” she said. “Five people in there will get OHSS, and you might be one of them.” Above all, doctors owe donors full duty of care. “A woman going through as an egg donor is not a reagent off the shelf,” Carl Laskin said. “She is your patient.” But fertility doctors have an unusual and serious conflict of interest. They have two patients—the recipient and the donor—and the interests of one often collide with the interests of the other. “Can a physician act in the best interest of both?” asked Vanessa Gruben, a law professor at the University of Ottawa. In a forthcoming paper, she argues that they may not be able to—and that such conflicts of interest need to be resolved. In other areas of medicine that use donors, such as bone-marrow transplantation, physicians have taken steps to protect donors by separating their medical care from the care of the recipient. Applied to fertility medicine, this could mean giving the egg donor her own doctor, responsible only to her and keeping only her health in mind. A separate doctor could care for the recipient. Given that the recipient is the paying patient, however, this would be a challenging ideal to uphold in practice. Egg donors deserve at least the same treatment as other patients—and, arguably, better. After all, they are young and healthy, and they undertake medical treatment for another person’s benefit. They deserve to know the truth about the health risks they face, and, wherever possible, to have those risks reduced. 

donors are patients, and are treated with all attendant respect and care. Sadly, the evidence does not always bear this out. Sonja’s doctor, who had stimulated her ovaries five times in two years, did not make time to discuss the alarming change in her menstrual cycles, which showed up immediately after the final retrieval. Melanie’s doctor sent her home, knowing she was at risk of OHSS, without formally terminating his care of her or transferring her to another professional. He did the same thing to Anna a few years later. Some fertility doctors deny full medical records to donors. These are troubling examples of doctors failing to meet a standard of care set out by their own governing body, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. Some doctors barely disguise the fact that they see donors as less than full patients. In the process of donating, one woman learned that, at age twenty-three, she might have fertility issues of her own. The recipients, who were family friends, broke the news; the doctor apparently considered it more relevant to them than to her. When she wrote to complain, the doctor told her not to contact him again, but to send any complaints to his “quality control manager.” What do doctors owe donors? To start with, they owe candour and clarity about the risks. According to Françoise Baylis, the Canada Research Chair in Bioethics and Philosophy, doctors have an ethical responsibility that goes beyond reciting statistics from the medical literature. When doctors say that the risk of OHSS is low—just 1 percent—what many donors hear is It won’t happen to me,

The Cundill Prize in History at McGill is the world’s largest international historical literature prize with a value of $75,000 U.S. Congratulations to the 2012 finalists:

Steven Pinker The Better Angels of our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes (Allen Lane) Stephen Platt Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, The West, And The Epic Story of The Taiping Civil War (Alfred A. Knopf) Andrew Preston Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy (Alfred A. Knopf Canada) The Cundill Prize was established by McGill alumnus F. Peter Cundill. See www.mcgill.ca/cundillprize

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—Tablet Magazine of the Year Edition numérique de l’année

Winner/Gagnant

Suzanne Dimma, Mandy Milks, Shanna Pollard, Brandie Weikle, Trevor Koebel The Colour Issue, March 2012

Canadian House & Home


—Best Single Issue Meilleur numéro de l’année

Winner/Gagnant

Brett Popplewell, Lee H. Wilson, Benson Lee, Sharis Shahmiryan, Corina Milic Issue No. 9

The Feathertale Review


—One of a Kind Articles hors catégorie

Winner/Gagnant

Tom Jokinen What Would Tommy Douglas Think?

The Walrus


The Walrus � O C T O B E R 2 0 1 2

Politics

What Would Tommy Douglas Think?

New Democrats today promise to make your life better without subscribing to anything as recognizable— or old-fashioned—as a system of beliefs. Inside the ranks of the party unfaithful by Tom Jokinen Photography by Christopher Wahl

he most striking change on the political left is that they’ve dropped the folk music. I’ve been to protests and picket lines where, between bullhorn catechisms, some well-meaning “­brother” or “sister” inevitably brings out the guitar to sing, “Hey-hey, ho-ho, something-or-other has got to go,” while a bearded and batiked crowd claps along out of sync, and that’s when I go home on the bus. But nothing speaks more to what leader Thomas Mulcair calls the ­“modernization” of the New Democratic Party than the fact that, at the March 2012 convention in Toronto, I saw not one, not a single acoustic guitar or cowbell among the 4,600 members who had come to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to vote for Jack ­Layton’s successor. A maze of ramps and escalators sitting in the sundial shadow of the CN Tower, the convention centre is Toronto’s ­mecca for 40

excitable capitalists. On that weekend, the brightly lit halls on the main floor hosted a trade show for new refrigeration and heat exchange technologies, where the door prize was a ­Nissan NV cargo van. Meanwhile, the social democrats were sent three long escalator rides underground, deep enough to ­encounter their own microclimate: cold, dark, damp. There was no door prize, although for $20 you could buy a Tommy D ­ ouglas bobble-­ head doll. It all made some sense. Given the c­ urrent p ­ olitical reality, if you generate wealth in the private sector you get the prime space. If you’re the party of higher ­corporate taxes and government spending, you get sent to the basement like a surly teenager. The underground hall had been set up as if for a heavy metal show. Over the stage hung a ring-shaped video screen, lit up in NDP orange, like a giant spaceship waiting to beam the winner into Stornoway as soon as the last ballot was announced.


Tom Jokinen � W h at W o u l d T o m m y D o u g l a s T h i n k ?

­ ampaign workers hollered and stomped above Olivia Chow rushes to a cbc interview, at the ndp convention in March. C in a row of bleachers along the south wall, running the risk of peaking too early, as they had nearly thirty- matic floor crossing, no decisive delegate blocs shifting from one six hours of speeches and candidate showcases yet to go. The candidate to another when things got hot. There were no delebleacher crowds were young, giddy, and highly caffeinated: gates. This was one member, one vote, with the majority playing ­Mulcair workers in black “#TM4PM” ­T-shirts chanted, for rea- at home, watching on TV, and logging on to the party website. sons known only to them, a Spanish soccer fight song. The Peggy As far as anyone knew, the race had already been ­decided beNash team wore purple and waved round campaign signs, pos- fore the first speech. sibly designed by some socially progressive health and safety The indie pop sounds of Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire committee (no corners with which to take out someone’s eye). filled the room. Cross-generational, hip but not too hip, this had One man wore a purple wig he claimed to have borrowed from become the music of a new political movement. Vaguely famhis wife. Niki Ashton’s supporters waved sky blue scarves. It made iliar, safe, and middle spectrum, they embodied the values of for good television, which was seemingly the main ­reason for the “modernized” NDP. Not quite Liberal, but Liberal-ish. In this event. Some 55,500 of the more than 131,000 eligible voters other words: screw “Kumbaya” and the ideology it rode in on. had already cast their ballots online or by mail before the con- Here was a party that less than twenty years ago had nine seats vention centre even opened its doors. There would be no dra- in the House, and now found itself as the Official Opposition 41


The Walrus � O C T O B E R 2 0 1 2

with a clear shot at government, following the recent Liberal meltdown. Even ten years ago, if you had spoken of an NDP ­Opposition (or a majority of then splintered Conservatives, for that matter), you would have been called a lunatic. New Democrats had weathered the loss of their leader, launched a long campaign they never wanted, taken nine (then eight, then seven) strong parliamentarians out of the House for months — and still an Environics poll released the week of the convention showed the party tied with the Tories in “voter intention,” for the first time. It looked as if the May 2011 orange wave was more than a blip, more than just a onetime ballot frenzy for popular Jack. On the eve of the leadership race, the party sent out its most familiar faces to make sure the media wouldn’t miss the point: “This is potentially the NDP’s moment in history,” Stephen Lewis, former Ontario NDP above Mark Critch of This Hour Has 22 Minutes, with cbc anchor Peter Mansbridge. leader and emeritus philosopher king of the Canadian left, told the Globe and Mail. “One of those fate- been able to, up until now, talk about? ” ful moments,” added Robin Sears, former national NDP direcIt was a masterful backhand to Topp’s volley: win first, ask tor. This was the theme of the convention: a moment in history, questions later. There was nothing to be gained by being specifcrucially set in the present tense. The decades of being a party ic. It was enough to define the New Democratic Party as, simply, of influence but never a party of power were past tense, over, not the Tories. James Laxer, a professor of political science at like so much folk music and hey-hey, ho-ho. York University in Toronto, and himself a candidate for federGood timing, too. The moment in history, as Lewis framed it, al NDP leader in 1971, put it this way: line up all the candidates, bring Tommy Douglas back from the dead to review them, and called for a strong social democratic alternative. The rhetoric of the right, free trade and free markets as panacea, had come he wouldn’t be able to tell you which party they belonged to, the open to blunt examination. The Occupy Movement had popu- New Democrats, the Liberals, or what? But this was beside the larized the idea of the 99 percent, and engaged voters talked point. L ­ axer backed Mulcair. If there was so little daylight beabout income inequality, the absurdity of superabundance in the tween the candidates, he said, then pick the person who can build hands of a few. It was now a question of picking the right man on the success in Quebec and win in the rest of Canada (“And or woman to lead a new party in Canada. And here’s where it I’m a socialist!” he told me, more than once). Speaking of mogot sticky. Even after months of campaigning, there was little to ments in history, this was an odd one. The socialist was backing separate the candidates on policy. Brian Topp — who positioned the centre-left former Liberal cabinet minister from Quebec. himself as an “unapologetic social democrat” — talked of tackNot exactly a screeching leftist myself, I have committed ling inequality and making polluters pay. Thomas M ­ ulcair — who left-ish acts in the past, at protests and at the ballot box. I have spoke of “reaching out” beyond the traditional party base of socially progressive roots, by which I mean that three of my ideologues, trade unionists, and activists — talked of tackling ­grandparents were communists. One grandfather fought with inequality and making polluters pay. the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, where he Those who had come to the leadership race looking for deep, blew up fascist trains and ate toothpaste to survive. He spoke wonky policy debate (the red meat for any social democrat) left often about workers’ rights, and inequality before it was a middle-­ disappointed. Most of Topp’s effort went into carving a rhetor- class buzzword, although when he ate in restaurants he never ical space between himself and his rival. Mulcair, he said, was tipped. If they want more money, he said, they should organbent on driving the party to the political centre, where rumour ize. My father, meanwhile, found his social milieu with eastern had it that free-trade fiscal conservatives lived under bridges, ­Ontario Freemasons who combed their hair with Vitalis and voted like trolls. Mulcair said this was nonsense. Rather than move Conservative, even after they were dead. All of which is to say to the centre, he would act to bring the centre, whatever that that a red upbringing is not without inconsistency and paradox, was, to the party. There are those on the left who would prefer and to this I owe the fact that I’m no ideologue, nor have I ever been involved in mainstream politics except to vote. ideological purity, “and I love them dearly,” he said. But then he asked, Do you want to be a party of influence, nudging at But lately I had been caught up in the energy and wit of the Liberals and Conservatives to realize your programs? “Do you Occupy Movement, despite the media’s impatience with its ­actually want to be able to make into reality what you’ve only lack of a halfway-sensible bumper sticker slogan. I bristle at the 42


Tom Jokinen � W h at W o u l d T o m m y D o u g l a s T h i n k ?

­ onservative agenda to roll back collective bargaining rights, and C ing to the centre for over fifty years, since before it was the NDP, the cold game played by locomotive maker Caterpillar, which re- and the gadflies have been pestering it ever since. portedly told London, Ontario, workers to take a 50 percent pay The founding document of the Co-operative Commonwealth cut, and then moved the whole operation to Indiana, where wage Federation (the NDP’s predecessor), the Regina Manifesto of 1933, expectations were lower. Labour battles that had been fought was a socialist decree that called for public ownership of industry and won forty years ago were back in play. And if you want to and public planning of the economy. By 1956, David Lewis had drafted the Winnipeg Declaration, which toned down the rhettalk about political galvanization, I was more than grumpy that ­Dalton McGuinty forced me to do my laundry after 7 p.m. on oric, instead emphasizing human dignity and opportunity, and weeknights to take advantage of preferential hydro rates. What using the levers of existing fiscal and monetary policy to achieve was missing, though, from my own political thinking, was any those goals. No more talk of eradicating capitalism. kind of moral compass. I believed in this and that and this and Then, in the late ’60s, a radical wing of the party called the that, a buffet of causes and personal peeves, but I had no big pic- Waffle, led by Laxer and Mel Watkins, tried to revive the ­debate ture, no motivation for getting involved beyond posting cranky about public investment in industry. “Remember,” Laxer said, tweets about oil spills. And Shell Canada isn’t reading me on “this was a period of growing fear among Canadians about forTwitter; it’s still mining. Meanwhile, I just grumble and read the eign ownership.” Even the Tories talked of nationalism, Cancomics. It used to be that to identify as left you bought in to a co- adian sovereignty, and the threat from the United States. Here herent world view, on taxation and social programs, trade and was a very Canadian twist on ’60s radicalism. In the States, civil the Middle East, trade unions and Crown ownership of indus- rights riots broke out, populist leaders were murdered, and war try, organic spelt muffins and bathing in rainwater. But with in- raged on in Vietnam. In Canada, they debated ownership of natural resources, and whether there should be a national oil company. In any case, the Waffle saw room for pushing the NDP not from without but from within. Laxer ran for the leadership in 1971, at age twenty-nine, against David Lewis. He lost, and the Waffle disbanded a few years later. For Laxer, that was the last time the creased economic and cultural complexity has come lower value NDP could even hope to have a significant debate about ­economic in identifying with groupthink. We have been given permission, policy, because sixteen years later free trade changed the rules by a fractured culture, to worry about our own problems first. of the game, as capitalism spawned a global economy with a And anyway, spelt muffins taste like sawdust. So I’m technical- specific, firm set of rules. Trade deals meant there would never ly left, but performing solo. In other words, I am the very target again be space to talk about regulating industry, in particular of the current New Democratic Party’s election strategy, what petroleum, with one price for exports and another for domestic Brian Topp calls, with trepidation, the centre. And that’s no fun. consumption. NAFTA made that kind of talk unpalatable — and illegal. “So the NDP pressed the cause of social fairness within The centre is no fun. Leftist anarchists and right-wing nuts may be insufferable, but at least they have a good time, take risks. In that context,” Laxer said. “Stronger anti-scab legislation, more the centre, there is no risk taking, no conscience. It was in this attention to the ­environment. But the party had nothing to say spirit that I went to the convention, with a flat, non-specific han- about the economy.” Its hands were now tied by global rules. kering to wiggle free from the bag of ambivalence and figure out At the beginning of the 2000s, old school leftists tried to build my own moment in history. a new party, called the New Politics Initiative, based on grassroots activism, but it petered out after Jack Layton took over the ne floor up from the convention hall, I passed the NDP. “Localism is a good thing,” said Laxer, “but NPI’s emphabooth where they sold the Tommy Douglas bobble- sis on social movements over electoral politics was a dead end. head dolls. A fan of the genre, I admired the handi- It matters who gets elected.” Raise wages, tax the rich, mainwork: smiling little fists raised in oratorical punctuation, with a tain medicare. None of it will happen unless you’re in governsweep of plastic hair and the brow line eyeglasses, he was a pro- ment. “And I speak as a socialist,” he said again. motional tool for the Douglas-­Coldwell Foundation. The founUnder Jack, the NDP set popularity ahead of any harsh e­ conomic dation began in 1971 as a “gadfly,” to provoke discussion on the policy that might make captains of industry drop their monocles left, and to keep the political movement from “getting in a rut.” into their scotch tumblers. Instead, the party emphasized perI pushed Tommy’s little head. It didn’t so much bobble as shake sonal finance, hydro bills, and credit card debt — kitchen table with palsy. I wondered what the NDP from 1971 would make of to- economics. Jack never directly challenged the Conservative idea day’s NDP, with its move last summer to take the word “socialism” of an economy based on extracting oil and gas. You didn’t have out of the party’s constitution, and Jack’s campaign promise to to identify as left or right or centre to care about your ­hydro or provide deeper tax cuts for small business than what the Tories MasterCard bills; therefore, you didn’t have to identify as left were offering. Had the party changed ideologically? “­ Absolutely or right or centre to vote New Democrat. In the leadership race and dramatically,” James Laxer told me later. But it’s a mistake of 2011–12, this became a theme, and the old political labels no to see this as something new, he said. The party has been shift- longer mattered. It was enough to see the NDP as an alternative

Under Jack, the NDP set popularity ahead of any economic policy that might make ­captains of industry drop their monocles into their scotch tumblers.

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policies that make polluters pay for their mess, but in Avi’s view it’s time for serious talk about a moratorium on development, and about capturing higher royalties from oil companies to pay for the transition to new energies. Forget m ­ arket-based solutions like cap and trade or piddling, feel-good consumer strategies like refitting your house with twirly light bulbs. The temperature is literally going up, but talk of moratoriums won’t win votes. By focusing first on electoral success and looking less at climate change as a real, solvable social issue, the NDP, according to Avi — in an odd echo of his father’s words before the convention — is “weirdly disconnected from its moment in history.” Other activists, even the ones who did bother to attend the convention, feel this disconnect, too. Tria Donaldson is a twentysomething community organizer and Pacific Coast campaigner

above Lunch at the ndp leadership convention; Opp osite Top Thomas Mulcair reacts to the ballot results; Opp osite Bot tom A weary participant. to the grey, fraying net of Tory austerity. The moment in history had nothing to do with ideology. So what happened to the ideologues? They were wished i­ nto the cornfield by party organizers who didn’t need their help anymore. This is why people like my friend Avi Lewis end up working outside the party, at the grassroots, organizing activists and lobbying for social change without playing at mainstream politics. The NDP is no longer key to the left in Canada, he told me, a heretical position for the son of Stephen Lewis and grandson of David Lewis. While the party rattles on about personal debt and tax cuts for small business, the urgent crises of inequality and climate change go more or less unattended. M ­ ulcair talks about “sustainable development” of the oil sands, and c­ ap-and-trade 44


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for the Wilderness Committee in BC. Like Avi, she spends her energy in communities, fighting, for example, a proposed coal mine in the Comox Valley, where residents are worried about threats to the water quality, and their livelihood in the Fanny Bay oyster fishery. Still, she allowed herself a genuine flirtation with mainstream politics and had come to the Toronto convention to support Peggy Nash; she wore the purple T-shirt, waved the round Peggy sign, and stomped and hooted in the ­bleachers. As in ­Comox, Donaldson told me, every Canadian community has one issue that matters, and unlike Laxer she believed it was possible to build a political movement from all of those individual issues. She thought Nash understood this, and that’s why she backed her; there was, she believed, still room for front line ­activists in the national party. Still, most of her activist friends, like Avi, had little time for the NDP. “Those on the left,” she said, “are down on the left. They want to win right away. They get 45

burned out and bitch when they see nothing coming.” ­Instead, they live from one crisis to another or, as she put it, with a shot of irony, chasing after “crisi-tunities.” Donaldson is an alumnus of Next Up, a program for young ­activists about social and environmental justice, at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. According to Seth Klein, who runs the BC program, Gen Y activists may have a fierce sense of right and wrong, particularly about climate change and inequality, but they are far less ideological than their counterparts of p ­ revious generations. “They have less of a world view, no t­ heoretical framework,” he said, “which was the strength of the old left.” Rather, they work in a parallel universe, apart from those who actually wield economic and political power. Donaldson called this the activist bubble. Mulcair had asked voters if they wanted to make into reality what they could only talk about until now. The activist’s answer is, we’re already working on it; go away.


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The trouble with living in a bubble, said Donaldson, is that you end up ceding the mainstream political movement to less progressive voices, meaning that it operates without the gadfly. So instead of ignoring the NDP, or being ignored by it, she got involved. It remained to be seen whether any of the candidates, including Nash, would tell her what she needed to hear.

Paul Dewar opened with the now-famous hip hop duet of MP Charlie Angus, from Timmins–James Bay, Ontario, and Sudbury, Ontario, rap artist OB, who boomed the ready-for-T-shirt refrain “NDP, what up!” Then Dewar told the crowd to forget about left wings and right wings, that “none of that matters to the Caterpillar workers . . . to the kids in Attawapiskat . . . or to the eighty-four-year-old woman in Brandon who can’t afford to rehe cANDIDAtes had a tight twenty minutes each tire.” What mattered was Stephen Harper, and Dewar promised during the Friday afternoon showcase, no do-overs, to take him on and take him down, in that tidy order. By now, I was getting the picture. The way to address any concern in the to win voters on the floor and at home. I sat deep in the back to stage left, in full view of the giant teleprompter, which party ranks about a shift to the centre is to announce, one by let me follow the speeches in real time like it was Sing-a-long-a one, that there is no concern in the party ranks about a shift to the centre. We are all united in our goal to unseat the ConservSound of Music. New rules that had taken away the preferred 25 percent voting bloc from trade unions meant there were few atives, so let’s get on with it. I remembered Cullen at one of the union colours in the hall, save the Public Service Alliance of initial debates announcing that he was in “violent agreement” Canada members waving flags, and a row full of steelworkers with his colleagues in the race. Mulcair’s showcase turned into an object lesson in the perils in yellow hockey jerseys. Despite co-host Andrew Cash’s promise of eighteen video of live programming, or why it’s important to rehearse. Openscreens and 120 moving lights, the event started with a curious ing with an over-lit video featuring a thumbs-up from former whimper. Nathan Cullen took the stage and spent his twenty BC premier Mike Harcourt (who once said of good government, minutes talking without notes or prompter, without multimedia “You go left, you get left out. It’s not complicated”), the candiand music. It was a cross between old school ccF cracker-barrel date appeared at the back of the hall with a team of drummers, minimalism and a Beckett play, just Cullen and a hand mike. the Montreal troupe Kumpa’nia, dressed in red street juggler “I’ve raised ideas . . . some of these have been controversial,” he outfits. They moved up the aisle slowly, pressing against the TV said, referring in code to the theme and millstone of his cam- cameras. Before he hit the stage, Mulcair must have known he was cooked, and that he was nearly out of time. Working withpaign: one-time co-operation with the Liberals and the Greens to nominate single candidates in strong Tory ridings. We will out a prompter, he read from his notes like an auctioneer on Benhave an open and democratic conversation, he said, and if there’s zedrine: we have run an upbeat campaign, we can’t drop debt disagreement, “that’s cool.” That’s cool? This struck me as a into the backpacks of our children, we must reach beyond the brave reframing of a divisive debate. Donaldson told me that traditional base. “My only adversary,” he managed to squeak she had nearly picked Cullen as her first ballot choice, based on in before the music swelled, “sits across from me in the House his green credentials and his opposition to the Enbridge pipe- of Commons.” Nash got into the same pickle. With too much production in line, but she couldn’t get past this idea of co-operation. At the Winnipeg debate in February, Paul Dewar pointed out that the the front end, a snappy video, and a long lineup of introductory NDP’s job was to build its own grassroots, not the Liberals’. But speakers introducing other introductory speakers, she, too, hit Cullen had set the tone for the showcases to follow: we know the stage with the clock nearly spent. The teleprompter rolled the enemy, and it is not us. out of control, and, forced to improvise, she ran breathlessly

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through a stream-of-consciousness checklist of GLBT rights and threats, people like Donaldson, in her blue cowboy boots and child care promises, and then on to the leitmotif of the night, Gore-Tex, out to stop economic growth and good, well-paying a call to boot Stephen Harper out of office in 2015. (non-union) coal mining jobs. They represent, the Tories would There was no obvious stylistic inheritor to Jack Layton here, say, a system of beliefs at odds with economic growth. That’s ­except perhaps Martin Singh, who came off as relaxed and the rhetoric of the right, and it has been hugely popular. Mulcair ­articulate, and who led with one of his ten-year-old twin boys play- could have corrected that gloss of the left — by affirming a relaing St. Anne’s Reel on the fiddle. But he had little to say outside of tionship with those who, far from calling for radical revolution, his call for a national pharmacare program. A drinking game had had simply stood up for fairness and a more even distribution been established on Twitter: whenever Singh says “pharmacare,” of riches, and had fought for the rights of women, gays, lesbians, drink. People watching at home were getting hammered. and other marginalized groups. Instead, he sidestepped them, Topp opened with a crowd-hushing testimonial from actress moving quickly to canvass people like me who didn’t know what Shirley Douglas, Tommy’s daughter, who rose from her wheel- they believed. And there are a lot of us. chair to announce with Shakespearean vigour that, with Topp After the first ballot voting, campaign teams hosted “get to as leader, “we will win.” A man in front of me nodded, as if to love us by drinking with us” parties, at the nearby Sheraton and say he wasn’t about to argue with Shirley Douglas. Topp himself InterContinental hotels. At the Sheraton, crowds for Topp, Dewar, called for a Canada that was economically and socially equal, and Nash spilled thickly into the hallway on the fourth floor. It “no gimmicks, no shortcuts,” his coded smack at C ­ ullen’s coded was hot and loud and young, with volunteers, MPs, and jouridea of co-operation, from which Cullen had already back- nalists barking into each other’s ears in both official languages. tracked anyway. I squeezed past Quebec MP Anne Minh-Thu Quach in a foam It was all mildly entertaining, in a Canadian Idol way, which Red Bull trucker’s cap, past a tired huddle of Peggy Nash floor is at its most delicious when someone tanks onstage. I thought captains who had adopted code names such as Igor and Cornabout Avi’s argument that the real conversation happens out- cob One for walkie-talkie purposes. It was like a college frat side of mainstream politics, which prefers the control of theatre party before the police show up. By contrast, at the InterContinover the chaos of messy debate. This was theatre, or rather at- ental, the Mulcair team had taken over the two rooms adjacent tempted theatre, for a TV audience. The bells, whistles, drums, to the lobby lounge. An older crowd sat down to white wine, and James Bay–style white hip hop were calculated to appeal not $9 beers, and candlelight. A jazz trio played neutral elevator just to NDP members, but to curious and disgruntled ­Tories and ­classics while the wait staff, in white shirts and black vests, served Liberals who had tuned in for a peek at a proposed new prime mini-samosas. I sat down with three others, Bob and Cathy Viscount, from minister and his or her federal cabinet. This was an audition for government. The candidates sang a chipper hit ­parade of child Lion’s Head, Ontario, on the Bruce Peninsula, and a man they care, our children’s backpacks, retirement benefits, economic had just met. Bob drove a tour bus for a living, and Cathy was and social equality — neither controversial nor divisive, but re- a retired schoolteacher. They were Mulcair supporters. The strained, as safe as Arcade Fire. Without an organized Waffle other man was still undecided about his second ballot choice. or a New P ­ olitics I­ nitiative to press for specifics on the oil sands, “Brian Topp is a brilliant man,” said Bob, “but he’s never held Afghanistan, corporate taxes, or energy policy, candidates had public o ­ ffice, never put his ass in the grooves.” Mulcair, he said, the freedom to be vague. I saw Laxer’s point, too, a twist on Pas- ­appealed to the small-l liberal, “and I’m an example of a big-L cal’s wager: they’re all neo-liberals anyway, so suck it up, pick Liberal gone to the NDP — not because of ideology, but because the best of the lot, and then press them on the issues. it makes sense.” The other man grabbed a samosa from a passI caught up with Donaldson by the Peggy Nash bleachers. ing tray. “Look, I’ll go out on a limb,” said Bob, telling us that Tired and hoarse from hollering, she figured her candidate still there were plenty of Liberals who wanted in but didn’t want to be part of an old NDP too tied to labour unions, not that he was had a shot. But the size and noise of the Mulcair troops made for tough competition. “Then in his video we see Harcourt,” she against labour unions. It was just that people already worked for said, “and it’s like, oh right, that’s the guy who threw hundreds bureaucracies and didn’t need yet another one. of British Columbians in jail over Clayoquot Sound.” People like The other man said, “Is there more wine, you think? ” and to back a winner, she said, leaning back into one of the folding disappeared. Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman says we are living in an chairs on the convention floor: “It’s hard to know what motivates people. There’s the story of my life.” age of “liquid modernity.” What we feel under our feet is not Maybe, I thought, people don’t know what motivates them. solid ground but deep water. It shifts so readily, there are no That’s my problem in the political arena: mad about lack of means by which to organize a life, a career, a belief system, or ­collective bargaining rights, mad about doing laundry at night. loyalties. It’s just one crisi-tunity after another. The moment in Beyond that, much is up for grabs. If I don’t know what I want, history changes by the day, and the difference between the munI can’t blame a process that seeks my vote through a deliberate dane and the enduring is impossible to sort out, just one r­ esult lack of clarity. Mulcair talked about moving the NDP beyond of the global economy. Capital is mobile and may bring growth the traditional base, beyond the old left of the trade unions, the one day but disappear the next, as it did at Caterpillar’s Lon­environmentalists, the soldiers of the free trade battles. To hear a don plant. Liquid modernity is one big, cloud-covered, borderConservative tell it, that traditional base is a gathering of tax-and- less open market without stability or roots. You could blame spend, job-killing, anti-corporate radicals and n ­ ational s­ ecurity ­Facebook, too, for turning democratic debate into a series of 47


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clickable likes, but then what’s more passé than shaking your fist at Facebook? The idea got old before I even mentioned it. See how it works? But how do you build a political movement from all of this? You don’t. You catch people on the fly, uncommitted voters who are in enough flux to find temporary refuge with the NDP, given a Liberal party in shambles and a Conservative party too in love with tax cuts and austerity. This NDP is the perfect haven for the liquidly modern: no need to identify as left, no need to identify as pro-union or anti-corporate, with all of the limitations and heavy footwear that go with them. It’s the party of the liquid centre. Call it the Cadbury Creme Egg effect. A little free enterprise is good, a little government intervention is good. Remix, mash-up, cut and paste. This NDP masterfully reflects its moment in history, one of chaos and lack of consensus. The problem is that this NDP is also handing me the temptation to give up on common goals — and that’s dangerous.

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N sAturDAy, before the fourth and last ballot, I went looking for Donaldson. Nash had been dropped. Near the coffee and snack stand, a group of young Mulcair volunteers sat cross legged in a ring on the carpet, building a replica of 24 Sussex Drive out of campaign posters. They made cardboard crowns, too, and put them on each other’s heads. The candidate himself came out for a media op: he smiled and tented his fingers, and in their rush to get it all on video the camera crews nearly crushed the cardboard castle. I had to think, if this were Jack he would have kicked off his shoes and sat down with the kids to see how they solved the architectural problems. It would have been both charming and awkward. Mulcair, it struck me, was a little less of both. Donaldson and I sat in an alcove away from the action. “I had some fries and tequila,” she said. “That helps.” One of her fellow volunteers, a young man, came by, and they hugged. He looked over at the Mulcair kids building their castle and whispered, “They all have crowns. It’s disgusting.” “I hate the drums so much,” said Donaldson. “We should have got those plastic horns. What are they called? Vuvuzelas. We needed purple vuvuzelas. Why didn’t we think of that? ” She took a big breath. Regardless of who is in charge, she said, there is a need for a progressive voice, no matter the name and the brand. The left is famous for finding the opportunity for fracture, but imagine what happens when all of those people out-shouting one another in the bleachers work on the same team. She didn’t have much hope on the climate front. “The public,” she said, “has a lot further to go to make greenhouse gas a top item. For now, it’s about jobs.” Before the convention, I had met Andrew Cash, MP for Davenport, at the Common, a coffee shop in his Toronto riding. Around us were hipsters on laptops, part of what he called the new urban labour force: writers, web designers, artists, part-time and contract workers, people with two jobs. “What we see,” he said, “is less of a left–right axis and more common ground than we’ve ever seen in the past,” people with middle-class incomes who can’t afford a house or rent, and are neck deep in debt, cellphone bills, too-high taxes on their home heating — a sector outside the traditional definition of labour. “It used to be we fought to protect pensions,” he said, “but now we also look at workers who have none to begin with.” These were communities with which the NDP had never properly connected. I could identify with a loose group of loners with problems, but, haunted by the idea of personal responsibility, I had to wonder: what


Tom Jokinen � W h at W o u l d T o m m y D o u g l a s T h i n k ?

about the world view Seth Klein talked about, the strength of the old left that put global issues, the environment and poverty, up alongside their own home heating bills and retirement plans? “If you go door to door in Davenport,” Cash said, “this is a ­sobering fact. You will hear climate change, but it’s way down by Helen Guri the list. They say, ‘I’m on the Dufferin bus for an hour,’ or ‘I don’t have a job, and I’m swamped in student debt.’ We have lost thousands of jobs in Toronto since 2009. I don’t want to talk about Cry in the shower. Save yourself climate change unless we talk about jobs. We look after people. a rainstorm: listen to the basketballs We don’t throw them under the bus, biofuel or otherwise.” falling tropically on the neighbour’s court. I remembered an online interview with Australian writer Drop-kick a potted cactus Clive Hamilton, who said that when it came to public opinion for its dram of ooze. on ­climate change, there was a perceptual difference between Lick your wounds at the watering hole “being fucked and completely fucked.” As long as we were only fucked, there was more opportunity to focus on other issues, two blocks upstream. Drool into your beer, such as jobs, pensions, heating bills, and laundry. This is what then drift outdoors, take a leak on the levee. I mean by the problem of being offered the opportunity to give Confuse “tribulation” with “tributary.” up on common goals: a kind of American bootstrapism has crept into Canadian politics. As long as climate change and ­economic Invite Psycho to supper. Shower. inequality don’t directly touch your life (yet), all problems are If cooking up a storm, individual, and so are the solutions. Thinking of the needs of cry into the flour. the collective is for Swedes and hippies. Centre politics promises to make your life better; ­everyone Try to milk the cat. Lick else is on his or her own. Mulcair is the pragmatist’s smart choice, your wounds. Empty sacks of rock given the liquid moment in history, but he fails if in his ­fascination salt over anyone’s tin roof. with the creamy centre he turns away from the n ­ ecessary hounding of what used to be called the left. Tommy Douglas was right. Percentage-wise, people are mostly drips. There’s call for a gadfly to keep the ­political movement out of a It takes umpteen to plump a rain pillow — very American rut: this includes Donaldson, and Avi Lewis, and glutton rigged under the eaves whoever else makes noise, at pipeline protests, O ­ ccupy camps, and while getting naked in the streets of M ­ ontreal, about into usher last night’s equality and the inevitable arrival of complete ­economic and downpour to your shower. environmental fuckedness. Especially if the mainstream is shiftShhh… ing. In 2010, more than 80 percent of those polled by ­Environics agreed that too much focus on the economy and consumerism was the root cause of the climate problem. And in April 2012, in a poll commissioned by the Broadbent Institute, 64 percent said they would be willing to pay slightly higher taxes to ­address iPad restaurant menu that lets diners drag icons to an onscreen ­social inequality. platter and then zap their orders to the kitchen. “I’m going to stick with the NDP,” Donaldson said. The test “I like it,” I said. “I guess it’s good for the restaurant. They of politics is how it answers when you call it, and she had some can downsize the staff.” ideas. “I’m thinking a lot about taxes,” she said, “how to make “Well, yeah,” said Josh, seeing where I was going with this. them sexy.” But first she was going back to the hotel for a nap. “Someone still has to bring the food.” By now, I needed food, and I had two options: spongy muffins Fair enough, I thought. Besides, if they want better job ­security at the coffee stand, or Hank Daddy’s Barbecue. Hank Daddy’s they can organize. offered a culinary train wreck called the Pulled Pork Parfait, We agreed it was weird that the socialist convention was held alternating layers of pulled pork and mashed potatoes in a par- next door to a capitalist one, although I promised them this NDP fait cup, topped with baked beans. It was impossible to read too was into small business. Even Jack talked about dropping the much into the Pulled Pork Parfait; here was an edible centre- small business tax rate to 9 percent, two points lower than the left symbol. No need to settle for one taste when you can have Tory status quo. They nodded politely and shook my hand twice it all jammed into one dish. each, and as they went back to their competition I figured they By the coffee stand, I ran into two young men in suits who were headed in the wrong direction: they should be here, on the looked out of place. The lanyards around their necks were b ­ randed convention floor, jonesing for their two-point tax cut. These boys with the logo of Deloitte, the corporate audit and professional were New Democrats. They just didn’t know it yet. t services firm. Josh and Levan had stumbled in from another trade Read more from Tom Jokinen, on his unlikely role with the show down the hall, where they were competing in a Dragons’ Canadian Opera Company, at bit.ly/opera_adventures. Den–style smackdown for venture capital. Their product was an

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ELLEN-CELINE, CELINE-ELLEN C AROLINE ADDERSON

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When they met later in the week, Georgia brought along Celine, the glamorous one who all through the class ostentatiously stroked her belly like she was accompanying them on the harp. She was much taller, massively pregnant, but only from the front and side. From the back, you couldn’t tell. (Ellen just looked fat under all her loose garments so no one offered her a seat on the bus.) By chance Georgia had run into Celine at the Royal Centre Mall, recognized her from the class and invited her along. None of them really knew each other. Georgia, who seemed tactful and shy, might never have asked, but Celine did, the second their coffee mugs were set in front of them. There was a boldness to Celine, a right-toknowness that, combined with her overall perfection – clothes, hair, skin – would have smacked of bourgeois entitlement on Cordova Island. “So?” Celine asked Ellen. “Are you doing this on your own?” “Apparently,” Ellen said. “What does that mean?” The interrogation obviously pained Georgia, who had invited this stranger along. She stared into her mug, then shot Ellen a lifeline kind of look. Except Ellen didn’t take it. Bobbing far out beyond her pride, she wanted, needed, Celine’s sympathy more. “I was married. Until about a month ago.” “That’s brave,” Celine said, taking in Mimi too, squeezed onto what little remained of Ellen’s lap, sucking on the crayons the waitress had brought. “I’m not sure I’d leave Richard in my condition. Not that I have reason to.” “It wasn’t my idea,” Ellen said. “He left you?” Celine said and both women, instinctively and together, reached for Ellen. “What a bastard!” Ellen wished Larry could hear how she limped to his defense. “He had his reasons, I guess.” Then she started weeping. One reason was that she’d slipped up, too, but she didn’t volunteer this fact. She let them comfort her, Georgia squeezing her hand, Celine beside her hugging hard. This was the sisterhood they had celebrated in the Cordova Island Hall once a month when the Women’s Empowerment Group met, but which had proved to be a lie. Who would have thought she’d find it here, in a yuppie café on Lonsdale Avenue?

o Ellen found herself halfway up the North Shore mountains in a near-empty, perpetually cloud-scarved house, eight months pregnant with her second child. Only twentyone and already divorcing. Before the unexpected implosion of her marriage, she and Larry had been living on an island populated by born-again hippies, aging draft dodgers and sundry arty types – potters and poets, furniture makers, weavers of kelp. They’d been passionate members of that very close community (Larry too passionate, it turned out), contributors to its pot lucks and Friday night jams in the tiny island hall, users of its free store and babysitting co-op. If you met somebody on the road on Cordova Island, you stopped and talked for half an hour about your garlic crop and your aura. That’s the kind of place it was. But now when Ellen took her two-year-old daughter Mimi to the park, she felt she was from a far off country, a land of long-tressed, naked-faced women and bearded, huggy men, she a resident alien among the feather-haired and lycraed North Vancouver natives, all of whom chatted in tight circles around the playground equipment, snubbing her. It was 1983. Mimi teetered then fell on all fours in the sandbox. Watching from a nearby bench, Ellen marveled at how she simply thrust her diapered bottom in the air and boosted herself up. “How do you do that?” she asked, for she, Ellen, was in mid-collapse and would never, ever right herself. Every few nights she called Larry in California and asked him to please, please, just come back for the birth. He kept telling her, “Amy wouldn’t like it.” Amy was the woman who had stolen Larry from her. At her core Ellen was resilient and practical – no crisis could override that – so one day she took the bus down to the Health Unit and signed up for prenatal classes. Tuesday evenings for four weeks, babysitting provided. In the second class they practiced breathing exercises on mats. Ellen had to pair up with the instructor, which caused the pity level in the room to soar. Afterward a ringlettey woman named Georgia, who was so petite and muscular her pregnancy barely showed, intercepted Ellen and asked if she wanted to go for coffee sometime. “Oh, thank you!” Ellen gasped.

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sitting in a village square waiting for a horny Frenchman she might claim in the postcard to have screwed to come along. Wild iris crowded the base of the fountain, à la Van Gogh. Chocolate bittersweet on her tongue. Then the bells in the 11th century church began to ring. Oh my God, thought Ellen, clutching her head. Sonnez les matines! Ding dang dong! It was almost too much, too beautiful. She wrote on the card to Tony, Who needs a man?

It was Celine who answered Ellen’s call when her labour started, who took Mimi to Georgia’s and coached Ellen all day, rubbing the small of her back, timing contractions, reading out from her notebook the pertinent passages they had covered in class. Who drove Ellen to the hospital six hours later and remained steadfastly with her in the delivery room while Ellen, squatting, screamed out her agony. “I hate your fucking guts, Larry Silver! I hate you so much!” For here was another lie: contrary to what they’d learned in prenatal class, the crowning of the baby’s head is not necessarily a moment of pure joy. Ellen was, in fact, at her lowest then, the most Biblically wretched creature that had ever crawled the clodded surface of the earth. No one could feel more abandoned, more utterly abject, than she, Ellen Silver, in her final push. Two thousand kilometers away the father of the child ripping mercilessly through her body was probably screwing his tarty actress girlfriend right that minute. What could be worse than that? Something. What happened to Celine was worse.

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er relationship with Celine was complicated, more complicated than with Georgia, who had also expressed trepidation when Ellen told her about the hiking trip. Ellen and Celine had a long history together yet this history, full of tribulations for them both, as well as minor triumphs, did absolutely nothing to change Celine’s attitude toward Ellen. Celine was (Ellen thought) frozen in the big sister role she had taken on when they first met, a role that Ellen, who already had an older sister, frequently resented. All those years ago Ellen had been lost and desperate and she would never forget Celine’s kindness to her, which was probably why they were still friends. (She was not so disloyal after all!) She just didn’t want to be treated like a woebegone child at the age of forty-six. This wasn’t Georgia’s take on it. Georgia said, “You’re exactly alike. That’s the problem.” “What? I’m flakey and judgmental?” “Not flakey,” Georgia conceded, which shut Ellen up. Every cell in Georgia’s body was powered by honesty and loving-kindness. She was entirely without ego or wiles. Georgia deserved a constellation. The proprietor of the 600-year-old house had stocked it with tourist brochures. Discovering it was market day in a nearby village, Ellen left a note for Celine and drove off in the rental car along narrow winding roads, past tidily-arranged vineyards and olive groves. Even on the curves dozens of lead-footed Provençals, heedless of the dividing line or death, overtook her. Of course they could die. They’d already been to heaven, which was an actual Provençal market, Ellen knew by the return trip. The hatch of the Clio was stuffed with proof – a waxy yellow chicken, black and green tapenade, four kinds of chevre. Baguettes. A pink, frilled, bridal bouquet of a lettuce. Two bottles of Chateau Neuf du Pape. She would have bought more, but they were leaving in two days and Ellen would have to carry it all on her back. That evening, with still no sign of Celine, Ellen set to cooking in the three-year-old kitchen in the 600-year-old house, happily into the wine, so happy, which was the purpose of the trip, Celine had claimed. To cheer Ellen up. She sang aloud to herself, rubbing the powdery fleur de sel into the puckered skin of the bird. Until Celine shouted from her bedroom down the hall. “Can you be a little quieter in there, Ellen, for Christ’s sake?”

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re you on crack?” Tony, her hairdresser, asked in 2008, the week before Ellen left on her trip to France with Celine. “That Celine? The quack? The one you complain about every time you come here?” “Every time?” Ellen asked, surprised and a little ashamed she could be so consistently disloyal. She was relieved when Tony moved on to the subject at hand, Ellen’s roots, how the grey was already showing again so how about something dramatique? “I could do something to you today that I guarantee will draw those horny Frenchmen to you like, like – They will oo-la-la! They will fall on those shit-covered French sidewalks trying to get a glimpse up your skort.” (Ellen had brought her new skort in a bag to show Tony.) “They will curse that skort. Merde, merde, merde, they will say. I thought it was a skirt, but I can’t see anything!” “Skirt plus shorts. Skort,” Ellen said again. “It will put them into a frenzy, the skort together with what I could do to your hair, if only you’d let me. If only you would laissez faire your hair the way you have your life.” “Don’t fuck up my hair, Tony.” “You take chances, Ellen. You’ll probably screw fifty horny Frenchmen over there. Or you could. If you would let me do this one little thing.” “It’s tempting,” Ellen had said. Now here she was! In France! In France, writing a postcard to Tony so he would get it before her next appointment. Until they adjusted to the time change, she and Celine were renting a 600 year-old house in a tiny village in the Luberon mountains. Celine, a practicing herbalist, was all messed up. She’d locked herself in her room. But Ellen had been liberal with the Zoplicone, even on the plane. (If it went down, she preferred to sleep through it.) Ellen, in France, with her café au lait and chocolate croissant that she had ordered herself using actual French words,

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16th century church. The reinhabited part was full of shops. Ellen wanted to see the pottery before they left. By then it was four-thirty in the afternoon. Before this trip, Ellen had not known that all of France was netted with walking trails. Celine showed her a red and white blaze on a wall, consulted the map, pointed straight ahead. Despite Ellen’s apprehension about the late start, she tightened the straps of her pack (which was not, in fact, weightless, but fairly heavy by then), and followed Celine along what was at first a cobbled medieval road, then an ascending footpath. They’d already talked themselves out on the train, venting their mutual anger; no particular emotion replaced it for some time. Up they walked, up through a forest ringing electrically with cicadas. At their feet were wildflowers that Ellen cultivated in her own garden at home – candelabra primula, candy tuft, Lenten rose, muscari, euphorbia, daffodil – all in miniature. Even the trees seemed stunted. The insects, on the other hand, were gargantuan. A bee the size of her thumb bonked her on the temple. It felt like a stoning’s introductory blow. On the treeless crest, a wind reared up and almost blew them over. They bent into it, scrambling over the rocks, moving slowly, hair whipping around their heads. Below was the town where they had a reservation for the night, a manageable distance away, not that far, ten kilometers by the map. It would be easy now that they were going down, but down by the most up and down route possible, it turned out. Sometimes they missed the trail markings and had to backtrack. Or they stopped to consult the map, then argued about which way to go. If they took Celine’s suggestion and met up with a bold red X on a rock, she wouldn’t admit fault. She’d say, “Oh, not this way, I guess,” despite how she had insisted they take that turn. If Ellen was wrong, though, Ellen would say sorry. Meanwhile, Ellen was in pain. Feet, knees, back. “You’ve done this hike?” she asked. Celine had not. “I told you that, Ellen.” She had only admired these mountains from a safe distance. Compared to their mountains, these were barely foothills, another French miniature, she had told Ellen, which was technically true, but ignored the fact of the very challenging terrain. Dusk fell around eight and Ellen, who had been wordlessly trudging behind Celine, began to grumble again about the outrage perpetrated on them by Europcar. This was when Celine let slip a shocking fact: the office had been open. “It’s too bad we didn’t get there before noon.” “What?” Ellen roared. “I was ready to go by nine! We could easily have gotten there if you hadn’t taken two hours to pack your stuff!” “There you go again, Ellen. Don’t. Don’t start with this blaming stuff.” “Why shouldn’t I? It’s your fault.” “Am I blaming you?” “For what?”

wo days later Ellen was packed and ready and waiting for Celine. Waiting for Celine to finish her yoga routine, then waiting while Celine reorganized her backpack so the heavier things would be on the bottom. There were no heavy things in Ellen’s backpack. It was practically weightless with newly-purchased, feather-light, scrunchable travel clothes including a wrinkle-free peony of little green dress that Ellen adored. But for the first day of their hike she had put on the skort. She turned a circle for Celine. “What do you think?” “Slimming,” Celine said. The remark deformed in Ellen’s ear. She’d already lost ten pounds, but she was still too fat. Celine was too thin. Ellen suspected fasting and (shudder) herbal colonics zealously self-administered. Finally, finally, Celine was ready. Bidding adieu to the hilltop village, they drove off to return the rental car in a town forty minutes away, Celine at the wheel since she’d been to the area several times and knew the roads. On the way, she pointed out various landmarks. “See that chateau? It belonged to the Marquis de Sade.” “That crossroads? That’s the exact spot where Beckett got the idea for Waiting For Godot. Later in the week we’ll come to the town where Camus died. We can picnic on his grave.” “Why didn’t you tell me this before?” Ellen complained. She hadn’t even considered Justine or Molloy or L’étranger. She’d brought Colette. The rental car office was closed, not just for those two-hour French lunches. According the hand-written message Celine read on the door, it was shut for the whole long weekend. “Is it the weekend?” Ellen asked. “This is outrageous.” Celine stormed over to the Clio, snatched the Europcar contract from the glove compartment. “It says we return it here. Today. Saturday, May 24th.” They found a payphone a block away outside the train station. Celine bought a phone card then called in her complaint in French, not as fluently as she had let on. Ellen didn’t think Celine sounded angry enough stammering like that so she muscled her aside. “Do you speak English?” The woman did, about as well as Celine spoke French, giving Ellen the upper hand. Yet this lackey did not crumple the way her North American counterpart would when blasted with consumer discontent. She didn’t even apologize, merely explained in charming accents that they should drive to the TGV station in Avignon where one of their offices was open. The two friends stomped back to the car, arms linked, for there is nothing more unifying than a common grievance, except maybe love. After the two-hour wait in Avignon for the forty-minute train trip back to the same town they’d failed to return the car in, then a costly thirty-minute cab ride, they arrived at the trailhead. It was in another hilltop village, this one partially abandoned, long-weekend tourists elbow-to-elbow among the ruined castle and the tiny ruined houses and the restored

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“For dawdling in every one of those shops even though they all sell the same Provençal crap. We could have been on the trail an hour earlier.” “So you are blaming me.” “I’m saying you bear some responsibility, too. I choose not to blame. Blaming is toxic.” This was exactly Ellen’s complaint to Tony: Celine’s passive-aggressive tendencies. “You blamed Europcar!” she shrilled. She itched, just itched, to kick the skinny Lululemoned ass she’d been forced to look at for the last four hours, the ass she ended up looking at for two more, or rather, barely made out in the dark as they stumbled into the town and found the guest house and roused the owner who, as he showed them their room, confessed that he’d lost hope they would show up. “J’ai perdu l’espoir.” Even Ellen understood that.

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llen didn’t kick Celine’s skinny ass. She couldn’t because Celine’s baby had died all those years ago when Ellen’s and Georgia’s babies had been born healthy and lusting for life. It had squirmed in its incubator for two days, and then it died. It had no brain. When Ellen woke the next morning after eight hours of undrugged sleep, she remembered that terrible time, Celine’s milk coming in for nothing, her tranced shuffling around her house of grief, belly still huge with the dead space the baby had left in her life. And Ellen’s heart went out to Celine snoring lightly in the adjacent twin bed. Celine, her dear friend whom she loved. Celine, who was not half so annoying when unconscious. At breakfast, Ellen asked, “How far today?” Celine showed her the map. Twenty-five kilometers. At least they would be on the trail in good time. They agreed to rest more frequently, to eat more, to be kinder to each other. “I’m sorry I lost it yesterday,” Ellen said. Celine said, “Oh, Ellen. Never mind.” Stiff from the day before, they hobbled back through the stone town, stopping for the baguettes they stuffed arrow-like in the quiver of their packs. Celine, a vegetarian, waited outside the boucherie while Ellen bought herself a donkey sausage. Every muscle screamed. The tender spots on Ellen’s feet pulsated, despite the moleskin. Two hours of slow, silent climbing back up the rock-studded, thyme-scrubbed side of the mountain they had wrecked their knees coming down the night before. Gradually, Ellen felt herself detach. It was as though she was already out of this situation telling someone about it later. Who? Georgia? Tony. En garding in the mirror with the scissors, rolling his eyes. She was telling tell him about the trip, how Celine hadn’t come out of her room the first two days, how bossy she’d been with the map. “A country of what? Sixty million? And you couldn’t find one single horny Frenchman to screw you?”

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barely picture the effete-looking man of the pre-natal classes, the stunned one from the funeral. Before the baby, Celine had been a meat-eating, middle-class suburban wife with a government job. Richard hadn’t made it into the After frame of Celine’s Before-and-After life. Larry, though, was still very much in Ellen’s because of their daughters. But also because, after all they had been through, they were simply connected, for better or for worse. They were back in the woods, which seemed eerily quiet for a holiday weekend. They’d encountered no one on the trail. When eventually they came to a gravel road, Ellen looked at Celine. Hair sticking to her pale face, Celine was obviously suffering as much as Ellen, maybe more, just not complaining about it. She pointed her chin up the road. Ellen deferred. Moments later, they saw the rude red X on a tree trunk, turned and headed the other way. “Oh, great,” Ellen said, pointing at another X. “It must be here,” said Celine, walking straight into the trees on the other side of the road. Ellen had no opinion now, was simply stumbling along behind Celine. Celine could lead her off a cliff if she wanted. The trees were deciduous. Ellen marked each syllable with a step. Dee-sid-you-us. She sensed them, these trees, their straight grey trunks so evenly spaced in her peripheral vision. You-us. Dee-sid. And something flipped. She and Celine were standing still and the trees were advancing on them, surrounding them. But trees didn’t have feet. (Oh, not to have feet!) She turned her head and saw this was silly, the trees weren’t moving. Instead, someone was watching them and had been for a long time. Not the trees, from them. But no one was there. All Ellen saw was ashen bark, the bright green coinage of leaves. How old were they, these French trees? Young. Someone must have planted them after the war. Which war? They’d had so many. Also this terrible massacre of a Protestant sect a few centuries ago. Ellen had read about it in the guidebook. She came to enough to ask if Celine had actually seen a marker. “Just back there,” Celine told her and Ellen, believing her, plodded on because if she stopped she would never start again. “I haven’t,” she said after a while. “I haven’t seen any marker for a long long time.” It was dead people. Centuries of them. The dead were watching them from the trees. Just then Celine sank down on the path, as though she’d had the same realization, and the weight of her pack tipped her onto her side and held her there. Out of her rose a wrenching, leaf-stirring sob. Ellen looked down at her. “I shouldn’t have mentioned Richard.” “Shush!” “I’m sorry, Celine.” Ellen undid her own pack and let it thud to the ground. The relief was exquisite, but short-lived. When she knelt to unfasten Celine’s buckles and liberate her, a burning pain ripped up her thighs.

They rested on some boulders next to the trail. While Celine drank her boiled water, Ellen, taking an advance on lunch, joked about Tony’s hopes for her. Celine’s lips tightened. “Don’t be such a prude,” Ellen said, poking her with the gnawed-on baguette. “I’m just not into those types of relationships. You know that Ellen. I would find it demeaning.” Celine got off the rock she was sitting on, swung her pack onto her back. She was visibly shorter with it on, three inches at least. “You charge at men,” she said. “I used to,” Ellen said. “I haven’t for some time.” This was less because she’d stopped waving the red cape of her need than because no one came near enough to see it. “They don’t respect you and you don’t respect yourself.” “Okay, okay,” Ellen said, holding out her hand. Celine helped her up, Ellen groaning loudly, not just for effect. “Let’s sing,” Ellen said, trying for a lighter tone. “Let’s make a joyful noise.” They didn’t know the same songs, so they took turns. Celine’s repertoire was meager, Ellen’s vast – all the jazz standards her mother used to sing, the hippy songs from Cordova Island. (We Shall Overcome seemed particularly apropos.) Soon Ellen was doing all the singing and, when she realized it, she stopped, thinking that maybe she was annoying Celine. Maybe Celine was at that moment far in the future complaining to Georgia about how Ellen wouldn’t stop singing on the trail. How she actually wasn’t that great a singer. Ellen couldn’t tell what Celine was thinking since her back was continually to Ellen as she set their bovine pace. “Moo,” Ellen said. Celine looked over her shoulder. “What’s that supposed to mean?” “Nothing. I was just mooing.” Never had putting one foot in front of the other seemed so grueling! “Celine? My feet? My metatarsals? They’re aching like you would not believe. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced pain like this. Childbirth was nothing.” And her shoulders – so tight. It wasn’t hot, the temperature was, in fact, perfect – everything so fucking perfect! – yet she poured out sweat. After lunch, when precious energy diverted toward digestion, when jet lag struck again (it had not been vanquished after all, only temporarily staved off), Ellen’s default switch tripped to the Brood About Larry position. Her bra was saturated. There were wet patches, like when she nursed her babies. Larry’s abandoned babies. “I get so angry!” Ellen said, slogging on, wishing vainly for Celine to say the right thing. “Issues, Ellen,” Celine sighed. “I know I have issues. I’m trying. Don’t you ever think of Richard?” Ahead of her Celine stiffened, reclaiming her three lost inches. “No.” Ellen herself hadn’t thought of Richard in years, could

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With just one touch, her pain vanished. Up front, Celine explained their predicament. “Ellen? He says he can drop us off in Loumarin, or we can go where he’s going. Another town a little further. He has a friend there who runs a winery with a campground and a gîte. A hostel. He says there’s even a pool.” Ellen said, “I go wherever he goes.”

Celine sobbed. “I thought you could use this trip, Ellen. That’s what I thought.” Ellen’s father had killed himself. (Was he here too? Ellen looked around.) He’d drowned himself last December while visiting Ellen. He seemed to have come specifically to do it and Ellen didn’t know why. It still hurt, and it hurt to be reminded of it. Celine, more than anyone, understood this. It was Celine’s reason for inviting Ellen to France. At that moment Ellen simply gave up. She curled in a ball on the forest floor among the tiny wildflowers and the supersized bugs, and closed her eyes. She didn’t give a flying fuck what happened next. Which was they both fell asleep. When they woke, they were cold and stiff nearly to the point of paralysis, and utterly alone. Somehow they struggled to their feet. Dried leaves and dirt decorated their hair. Celine’s face was streaked with mud. Ellen lifted Celine’s pack for her to put on; Celine lifted Ellen’s. Equally burdened, they limped back to the road where they turned in unison and carried on downhill, right past the X, completely in sync, as though they never, ever disagreed on anything.

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he next morning Ellen woke alone in the cramped room at the top of the stairs. Two twin beds separated by a night table. A wardrobe for their things. Stiff, battered, she limped to the window. Celine was down in the vineyard, saluting the Provençal sun, her purple yoga mat unrolled between the vines. A twenty-minute walk in sandals brought Ellen to the large stone reservoir surrounded by plane trees in the centre of town. Café tables clustered on one side. Here she sat for the rest of the morning in perfect contentment with her café au lait and croissant, writing a postcard to each of her grown daughters, notifying them that they had very nearly been left motherless. Then she poked around the town buying delicacies for lunch. On the way back to the gîte she spotted the white van of their saviour, Oog, in the adjacent campground. The stone house, bearded with ivy between bright blue shutters, was divided, one side the elderly proprietors’ residence, the other the gîte. Despite the campground being full, Ellen and Celine were the only guests. It was normally only open in summer, Celine had translated the night before. They had made an exception for Celine and Ellen since they had come with Oog. Now a truck about the size of a moving van was backed against the barn-like building that stood at a right angle to the house. Celine and the old woman were sitting together at one of the picnic tables under the trees. “They’re bottling the wine,” Celine told Ellen when she walked up. “And his name is Hugues. Hugh. It’s pronounced differently in French.” “I’ll say.” The old woman’s filamentous hair suggested illness; it barely concealed her pink scalp. She smiled at Ellen. “Bonjour,” Ellen said, “Comment allez-vous?” and this malpronounced greeting unleashed a long gravelly reply, which Celine had to translate. “She’s asking how you slept.” “Très bon.” Ellen sat down with her provisions at her feet, but gave up on the conversation. She was still deeply tired and the French floated around her in the scented air with the strange insects and the masculine voices in the barn and the machinery sounds. Now and then she understood something Celine said to the old woman. Divorcée. The old woman gestured to the barn, got up and went into the house. “She’s making their lunch,” Celine said. Ellen went into their side of the house to do the same, to the gîte kitchen, stashing the bottle of rosé in the freezer while she assembled a tray. She brought it back out to Celine. “I am going to be so fat when this is over.”

“W

e’re too old for this,” Ellen told Celine from her twin bed that night, when it all seemed funny. “I mean, we’re middle-aged. Didn’t that occur to you?” Celine said, “Speak for yourself.” “We might have died out there. Now I’ve bonded with that boy. He saved our lives. I’m in love with him.” “His name is Oog,” Celine said. “What?” “That’s what he said.” “That’s unfortunate.” Celine rolled over so her back was to Ellen. She giggled. “What?” Ellen asked. “I’m surprised you aren’t screwing him right now.” “I would! He wouldn’t. I’m too old.” Ten minutes down the road they had come to a riding stable. “I’m stealing a horse,” Ellen had said, but when they staggered into the barn a young man was there brushing the animals. Celine asked in French for a phone to call a cab. Despite her exhaustion, Ellen got the gist of what he told Celine in reply, that he was actually a prince, not a lowly, well-built stable boy, that he had been waiting a hundred years for them to stumble in and break the cruel spell that had been cast on him. Celine turned to Ellen, tears shining in her eyes. “He’s going to drive us!” His van was white, further proof of his enchantment. Celine immediately claimed the passenger seat, because she spoke French. Ellen hoped this didn’t mean that she got to marry him. No, Ellen did because she was relegated to the horsey smelling back of the van that had no seats, just a foam mattress. Ellen was Cinderella. The prince threw in their packs, and his, and a rolled up sleeping bag. He offered his hand and Ellen climbed in.

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“That’s because you’re not being such a bitch,” Ellen said and Celine actually smiled. Neither mentioned getting back on the trail. The follow morning a car pulled alongside Ellen as she was walking to town. “Âllo! Celine!” “John-Frank,” said Ellen, recognizing the emphatic glasses more than the rather vague driver. “I’m Ellen.” “Hélène! Sorry!” he called across the empty passenger seat. “You see, in French they are confusable names. Say-leen. Ay-len.” About as similar as Hyoo and Oog were different, Ellen thought. She told Jean- François, “We don’t even look alike.” Jean-François drew back in surprise. “You do. Let me drive you, Hélène.” “I’m supposed to be on a walking holiday. Thanks though.” “Celine isn’t walking,” Jean-François said, still matching her pace in the Audi. “I saw her in the vineyard. Exercising.” “She’s like that,” Ellen said. “Where did you learn English?” “Canada.” “Really? Where?” Actually, he’d learned it in university but spent six months in Canada last year helping friends set up a winery. “You probably don’t know this place. Kelowna.” “Of course I do. I’m from British Columbia.” “No!” Then a funny thing happened. In his amazement JeanFrançois let go of the wheel. There was no verge. Ellen was on the very edge of the road next to some prickly sort of hedge. As the car veered toward her, she instinctively put out her hand, as though she could actually stop several thousand pounds of machine from running into her. And when that didn’t work, she smacked the hood hard. Jean-François braked just in time. “I wonder. No.” He shook his head. Ellen bent to look in the window. “What?” “If you know my friends. Mireille and Réné Vardon? No, see? I always expect too much. Still, it’s amazing you ended up here, don’t you think?” Ellen resumed walking, still accompanied by JeanFrançois. No one honked. She hadn’t heard a single horn in France. Traffic swerved around the crawling Audi and eventually Ellen and her escort reached the reservoir where Jean-François parked the car on the sidewalk and leapt out. At one of the café tables, he pulled out a chair for her and hurried inside, returning momentarily with two espressos. Ellen felt a tiny bit annoyed. Because this life would not last forever and she wanted it just so for as long as possible, the ritual of her croissant and bowl of coffee. She wanted to order it herself, to say out loud what were practically the only French words she knew. But then she thought, why not? Jean-François wasn’t good-looking, but he wasn’t badlooking either, especially now that Hugues was gone. He had a sexy, hyphenated name and a sexy accent, particularly the way he said “the Okanagan.” Ellen had been to Kelowna once and thought it was a dump.

“Don’t eat so much,” Celine said. “What would be the point then?” Ellen shook the water off a lettuce leaf, dipped it directly into a saucer of walnut oil, salted it. Some of the oil ran down her chin and christened the front of her little green dress. She opened the wine. Celine wouldn’t drink in the daytime. She would only eat the lettuce and a bit of baguette and chevre. Though Ellen’s back was to the barn, she could tell from Celine’s face when the men came out. “You’re blushing,” she said. Hugues walked right over in his undershirt and pirate bandana, bringing the son of the old couple, who looked in his early forties. He had fine brown hair, rolled sleeves and glasses with thick frames. Hugues nodded to Celine and said, “Hélène,” by way of introducing her. Ellen he called Celine. “Actually, I’m Ellen,” said Ellen, shaking the hand the son extended to her. “Jean-François,” he said. “John-Frank.” “Ah,” said Ellen, “Someone I can talk to.” “Not today, I regret. We are embottling the wine.” Hugues and Jean-François entered the house while the other workers washed at an outside tap then gathered at a picnic table across the yard. The food came out in several trips, carried by the old couple and Hugues and JeanFrançois – an armload of baguette, two casserole dishes, cheeses, three bottles of wine. The old man, very Cezanne in his straw hat, waved to them. Now and then Ellen glanced over her shoulder to admire the unselfconscious way the men ate, bowed low over their plates, tearing at the bread, swallowing the wine like water. “We’re quite a bit ahead of schedule now,” Celine said. “Do you want to stay here a few days and rest up?” “Do you?” Ellen asked.

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uesday after the long weekend the campground emptied out – no more screeching children, no radios playing American rap. The bottling was finished and the enchanting Hugues drove off in his white van, stirring up clouds of dust and yearning. The next few mornings glided into routine: Celine drank her herbal tinctures, yogaed, swam in the pool, while Ellen walked to town for petite dejeuner and postcard writing and a few chapters of Chéri by the reservoir. In the afternoon, they hiked with daypacks. Afterward the old man, who had been born in the area and was something of a naturalist, would look at the pictures on Ellen’s camera and name all the bugs and flowers in French. They came across the bizarrest sight on Thursday. A trail of caterpillars almost two metres long, each holding onto the caterpillar in front. This prompted a long incomprehensible story from Mr. Cezanne. (They were calling him this to his face now and he liked it.) He got Celine and Ellen up, Celine’s hands on his waist, Ellen’s on Celine’s, and they marched around the yard, laughing. “We’re getting along better here,” Celine told Ellen when they were tucked into their twin beds that night.

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“What’s a dump?” Jean-François asked. “You probably don’t have them here,” Ellen said. He picked Chéri off the table and studied it. “How long are you staying?” “Actually,” Ellen said. “I might never go back.” “That would be pleasant,” Jean-François said, still looking at the book. A fluttering started inside Ellen that was very pleasant in itself, like a cloud of butterflies inhaled. She looked at JeanFrançois to see if he meant what she thought he meant. And, smiling, he pointed to the plain orange and beige cover of the book with its jaunty little penguin. “Chéri. Darling.” Flutter, flutter. Jean-François didn’t live with his old parents, but in an apartment in town. He went back and forth all day. When Ellen said she was picking up groceries, he offered to meet her back at the car in an hour. “I’ll take your food for you. So you can have your walk.” It seemed only right to ask him to dinner.

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n their hike that afternoon, Ellen and Celine passed a vineyard where a tractor was spewing a greenish powder over the rows of vines. The breeze shifted and the cloud about-faced and headed for the path Celine and Ellen were walking on. Celine clapped a hand over her mouth and nose and ran. When Celine told Jean-François about it at dinner, he grew indignant. They did not apply pesticides or antifungals to their vines. As soon as he said this, Celine took a bolder sip of the wine he’d brought, pronounced it delicious, then went on to have two full glasses – about half what Ellen had been drinking every night. Celine possessed an almost translucent, unlined complexion that Ellen thought of as pallid when she felt uncharitable. The wine made this rosier Celine laugh freely, with her head back so her hair, blonde camouflaging the grey, brushed her narrow shoulder blades. But every time Ellen glanced across the table to see the effect Celine was having on Jean-François, he smiled at Ellen. He had two children who lived up in Lyon with their mother. He turned to Ellen. “You are divorced, too.” “Who told you that?” Ellen asked. “My mother,” he said. Ellen could have said that there were three people sitting at the long table whose marriages had failed, or who had failed their marriages, though afterward she was glad she hadn’t because it had been a perfect evening. Jean-François didn’t seem to want it to end. Ellen served lamb, massaged, kneaded and spanked until the thyme she’d gathered on the trail had penetrated the flesh. Jean-François praised it and, while Celine only ate the lentils and the salad, she told JeanFrançois that Ellen was spoiling her with her cooking. And it seemed to Ellen that whenever she left the common room and went to the kitchen for another course, she could feel JeanFrançois’s eyes, darkly framed by the glasses, following her. She was wearing the green dress.

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and sees an old woman, out of breath . . . what could she have in common with that crazy creature? What crazy creature? Ellen turned the page. The End? She gathered up her things and went inside to pay. They would never come out. You could die at your table, your face on the plate, flies swarming above you, and they wouldn’t come out. In the café bathroom, she combed her hair, which she had apparently neglected to do before leaving the gîte. She picked the grains of sleep out of her eyes. The walk back helped. Twice, she dropped Colette because she had to keep hoisting her stretched out skort. Each time she bent over to pick the book off the dusty side of the road, her mood relaxed its hold a little. By the time she reached the campground, it was dawning on her that she had behaved badly. Surprise, surprise. Celine was in the pool. It was unheated, too cold for Ellen, she had discovered the first day when she dipped her hand in. Celine, though, was made of stiffer stuff and there stood Jean-François, watching Celine ply the waters. Ellen watched him watching her friend’s long lithe body glide the blue length of the pool, his glasses trained on her, magnifying her, bringing her closer. Who could blame him? Celine looked thirty underwater. Jean-François glanced up and, seeing Ellen, hurried over. “There was a dead mouse in the pool this morning. I didn’t have time to get it out. I came to tell her. But maybe I shouldn’t now. What she doesn’t know? Ça ne la blessera pas.” He followed Ellen away from the pool. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing.” “You are crying.” She blinked through the sudden tears. She was ashamed of how she had goaded Celine that morning – Celine who was like a sister to her. “It’s nothing. It’s stupid.” Her skirt was hanging low on her hips. She yanked it up and Colette fell to the ground again. And Ellen remembered the last line of the book and her own harried face in the café mirror, uglier for never, ever being in the wrong. “I finished my book,” she told Jean-François as she bent to pick it up. “I didn’t bring another.” “We have books!” Jean-François guided her by the elbow toward the gîte. “English books. People leave them.” In the common room where they had eaten the night before, he pulled something off the shelf. Dean Koontz. He squeezed her shoulders, ran his hands up and down her bare arms as she clasped both books to her chest. When he kissed her, it was full on the lips, not alternate cheeks, and for a long time. He tangoed her against the bookshelf and lapped inside her mouth. And Ellen kissed him back like she had nothing to lose, which was true. Her whole face felt covered in slobber by the time they separated. Jean-François searched his pocket and came up with a scrap, a receipt it looked like. “Write your email address. Here.” There was a jar on the shelf. “Here is a pen.”

He looked at his watch, heaved a Gallic shrug, rose. Celine and Ellen walked him out to his Audi where he kissed them each three times – left cheek, right cheek, left cheek. To Ellen he said, very tenderly, “Bonne nuit, Celine.” And to Celine, “Bonne nuit, Hélène.” Both w