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December 2016
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IN MEMORY OF MY AUNT KATIE

In memory of my aunt, Kathleen Stewart (nee Howie), who was born in Kemble, Ontario, in 1905, and died in Melfort, Saskatchewan, on May 13th, at the age of 105.

The Howie family moved from Kemble to Pleasantdale in Saskatchewan in 1911, travelling to their new home in an ox-drawn wagon. There were two other children besides Kathleen, or Katie, as she was always called: my mother, Mary, and my uncle, Charlie. It was a hard life on the homestead they took up, especially after my grandfather died in 1914. My grandmother and the three children managed to keep their home, with a lot of hard work and the help of good friends and neighbours.

Life was very hard on the prairie at that time. Sometimes the water and bread would have to be thawed after a cold night. Charlie raised and broke two oxen when he was still a young boy, and he hauled grain to Melfort, 25 miles away, which took two days.

It was not all hard work, however. Neighbours would get together to play cards or other games, to sing songs or tell stories; in summer there were picnics and ball games and barn raisings and dances.

Katie married Charlie Stewart of Pleasantdale and they had two children, Pearl and Allen. They farmed until Charlie died in 1964, and in 1970, Katie and her brother Charlie both moved to Melfort. Charlie died in 1975; Grandma had died at the age of 94. They were a long-lived family - good peasant stock.

Katie lived at Caskey Place, a retirement home in Melfort, until last year, when she had to move into a care home. At the time of her death, she could no longer see nor hear very well, and the days must have been very long for her, though she had many visitors. She told me she had 17 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, many of whom lived close by, so she had lots of family support.

I didn't see Katie very often during her long life, but she and my mother wrote to each other as long as my mother was alive, and when she died, Katie wrote to me. All my life she has been a constant, and I will miss knowing that she is there. Sleep well, Katie!

Filling the Gap

On thinking over the fact that pets are now filling a new role - that of companion, comforter, family - it occurred to me that with the fragmentation of families and neighbourhoods and the loss of personal contact, pets play the same role that religion offers. It can be a comfort to belong to a group, to have someone (or something) to turn to in times of need, to look to for companionship and comfort. The internet also serves much the same purpose. E-mail, newsletters, blogs, YouTube, FaceBook and Twitter seem like people reaching out for contact and association. Where some turn to their pets for companionship and connection, I turn to the net and my online friends. Where they take their dogs for a walk, I write letters, edit a newsletter, read news groups and their comments, and play games. Books too - old friends that I visit many times, until I've nearly worn the print off the pages. (I've read my Terry Pratchett books so many times that it is a real joy to have a new one to reread, which happened just recently.) It is almost as if the loss of extended families, small towns, and church affiliations has forced us into new channels. We are, after all, social animals. Not many of us are cut out to be hermits, so we reach out to friends and family around the world via the internet, and we adopt pets. Maybe I should get a cat....

A "Fair and Balanced" Opinion

An American friend wrote: I am shocked, dismayed and disillusioned by the suspension of Parliament. As I understand it, your PM was facing a no-confidence vote, got permission from the Queen's representative, and put the government into limbo while he considered his strategy. Here I had thought Canada was independent of the Queen, and that its democratic processes were more scrupulously observed than ours.

This is my reply:

You should indeed be shocked by the unscrupulous tactics of our PM. The office of Governor General, while ostensibly representative of the Crown in Canada, is a political appointment, and it was this PM who appointed our GG to her post. So she was very open to arm-twisting, which is what went on in private.

It came about thus: Our PM proposed to eliminate the $1.75 each party receives from the public purse, which would have resulted in the virtual destruction of the opposing parties, whose finances are in disarray. But the Conservatives get most of their financial support from BB (big business to you), and are not reliant on the this source of funds, so they would have been unaffected by the measure. He proposed canceling this fund in the name of saving money, while anticipating that this would effectively destroy the opposition, leaving the neo-cons a clear field for years to come.

In addition to that, he proposed to take away the right to strike of civil servants; he was going to roll back the equal pay provisions in government (why should those uppity women get the same pay as men doing the same job?); and he claimed the government has no money to engage in infrastructure repair or other measures to alleviate the distress of those who have lost their jobs, and will do so in future.

What did he expect the opposition to do? Vote for their own destruction? But he was mightily surprised when they turned on him, proposed to co-operate with each other, and to form an alternative to his government. They threatened to bring the government down, which is why he recalled the GG from her foreign tour to persuade her to abrogate Parliament, to give him time to repair his fences and appeal to the Canadian people with a series of high-priced scare tactics. He has learned well from his models in the GOP that fear works, and is trumpeting that because the opposition includes a representatives of the "separatists" in English ("sovereignists" in his French speech), a coalition will surely destroy Canada.

This is in spite of his having courted the Quebecois to try to gather enough support during the last election to win a majority government. They were no threat at that time; now they are the enemy within, just waiting to break up Canada.

In recent years the Quebecois have made no moves to form their own country, and have voted against such proposals a number of times, but if he pokes them long enough, they will decide that they don't need this kind of prejudice against them in their own country, and will indeed consider leaving. So if Canada does break up, it will be thanks to Mr. Harper, who is risking national unity in order to hang onto his precarious position as prime minister.

He did not dare face the vote of non-confidence, and so pressured the GG to give him breathing space. Now we will be subjected to zillions of dollars worth of Conservative propaganda before Parliament comes into session again, all railing against the "opportunism" and "grab for power" and "immorality" and "reckless behaviour" of the opposition, who dare to oppose him.

Unfortunately, as was proven in the US, fear tactics work.

I REMEMBER THE GREAT DEPRESSION

The stirring election in the United States has resulted in the election of a new leader with a mandate to effect great changes. President-elect Obama has a daunting task in the face of the economic disaster, the expenditure of vast sums of borrowed money on an unjustified war, the erosion of personal rights and liberties, and the threat of climate change. Expectations are high and people are filled with hope of change after eight years of the Republicans' disastrous reign.

Here in Canada I've pretty well lost hope for change after too many of us voted for the status quo in the recent futile election. I had hoped for a much stronger opposition to curb the excesses of the Harper government, but strategic voting did not have the desired result. Now all I can hope for is co-operation among the opposition members to ensure that Harper's vision of a smaller federal government with few social responsibilities does not prevail.

I remember the great Depression, and I do not want to see Canadians go through that again. Given Harper's philosophy, I have small hope that he will initiate major infrastructure improvements to repair what has long been neglected and to give employment to the people who have lost their jobs, or will shortly do so.

I remember all too clearly my family of four living on $20 a month, and my father working for $1 a day in the "relief camps". We were told there was no money, but as soon as war was declared, suddenly it appeared. Servicemen were recruited; uniforms and weapons were supplied; ships were built and armed; factories hummed and manufacturers were busy again. Money was readily available for purposes of war where it had not been accessible for the welfare of the population.

Men joined the armed forces all across the country - not solely because of patriotism or desire to serve their country, but because there were no jobs. High school boys joined up practically en masse, and no doubt the "hobos" who had been riding the rails in a vain search for work in other parts of the country also joined.

My fear is that this could recur. There will be no money for infrastructure, but plenty to fight an unwinnable war in a far-off country, and to defend our sovereignty in the Arctic. Men and women will be needed to fill the ranks in the military, which will solve part of the unemployment problem.

And oh yes, and there will be money to build more prisons to house the growing number of offenders, many of whom will be desperate people who have lost their jobs and their homes in the financial melt-down. Perhaps that is Harper's plan to solve unemployment? After all, jobs will be created in building and staffing prisons and enforcing the draconian laws.

We've not heard any of Harper's plans to prepare for the coming depression or slow-down beyond "staying the course" (whatever that is), and "buying low". Perhaps these other plans are in the works?

Open Letter to Opposition Leaders

Gentlemen,

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country! Never has this been more evident than now, when we are faced with the neo-conservative agenda of reducing the national government to the role of controlling only the military, law enforcement, and banking; and deep integration with the United States, an empire which is disintegrating.

Please forget the differences in your platforms that divide your parties and combine to fight this right-wing government intent on the destruction of our Canadian values and traditions! You owe it to the disenfranchised who represent 62% of the electorate to lay aside your differences and truly represent the voters who trusted you to look out for their welfare.

This is your opportunity to go down in history as true statesmen, willing to sacrifice personal ambitions for the good of the country we all love. Please come together with all the power of your convictions to fight this truly terrifying attack on Canada!