Sunday, December 19, 2010


The 2011 season is just around the corner for the National Lacrosse League. True to form, the NLL had a turbulent off-season, losing another franchise with the demise of the Orlando Titans. The NLL is now down to 10 teams, but the good news is that these franchises have been around for a few years now, and seem to be on solid footing. The curse of the NLL is having franchises disappear after only a year or two of operation. If you check out the history of the league, there are more defunct teams than teams that are alive and well.

The East Division features three of the oldest franchises in the league, the Buffalo Bandits, the Rochester Knighthawks, and the Philadelphia Wings. The Wings are actually charter members of the league, and the Bandits and K-Hawks are unique in the professional sports world in that they have significant aboriginal involvement in the ownership and management, as well as featuring aboriginal players who make important contributions. The East also is home to one of the most successful teams in recent league history, the Toronto Rock, finalists in the championship game last season, and five-time champs in their 12 year history. Newcomers the Boston Blazers have made an impact in their short history.

The West Division includes fairly new franchises, but also brags several recent league champions. The Calgary Roughnecks and the Washington Stealth are recent winners, and the Colorado Mammoth have been powerhouses in the league for several years. Knocking on the door are the improving Edmonton Rush and the Minnesota Swarm.

The Toronto Rock surprised this writer last season, getting off to a tremendous start. Then, reality set in and the Rock had to hang on for a playoff spot. They got hot again and made it to the championship game before losing to the Stealth. Two players, Colin Doyle and Bob Watson, are keys to the team's success. Doyle was on fire at the start of the season and then seemed to lose interest. The slide began at that point. Watson is now 41 years old, but a phenominal athlete. If he plays well, the Rock have a chance to win every game. If he has lapses, they will struggle. The Rock boast a high powered offence, led by Doyle, Blaine Manning, Stephan Leblanc, and Garrett Billings. Transition, however, is a disaster, and has been for a few years. Prediction: a decent season, with possible playoff success if Doyle, Watson, Manning and Leblanc have career years. Don't count on it, though: age might just be waiting to catch up with these guys.

The Buffalo Bandits are the perrenial thorns in the side of the Rock. It's always a good rivalry, as good as the Argos vs the Ticats or Leafs vs the Habs. True to their aboriginal roots, the Bandits are a mean and physical team: reminiscent of the old Brantford Warriors of the OLA in the early 1970's. Darris Kilgour coaches like he played: tough and relentless. The defence is rock solid, and any offence that features Mark Steinhuis, Brett Bucktooth and John Tavares is dangerous. Goaltending is the only real question mark on this team. Prediction: the Bandits are playoff bound unless Steinhuis falters. If there is no playoffs, there will at least be blood on the floor, mostly the opposition's.

The Boston Blazers are something of an enigma. Tom Ryan is a flamboyant coach: when he played, he had dreds that rivalled Bob Marley's. As a coach, he is unpredictable, which can make him dangerous. The Blazers' best player is goaltender Anthony Cosmo, a former understudy to Bob Watson in Toronto. Cosmo is often brilliant and can literally win games with inspiring saves. He'll need to be brilliant this year. The offence features Dan Dawson, Josh Sanderson and Casey Powell, all fine players. The other key to Boston's success is transition and the featured player here is Brett Queener, who is familiar to Toronto field lax fans as the Nationals' former goaltender. Queener is absolutely fearless and quick to move the ball forward upon turnovers, which is key in the fast paced game of lacrosse. If Cosmo is invincible, and the offence scores, the Blazers are contenders for a championship.

The Rochester Knighthawks are a team in transition. Hall of Famer and one of the truly great players in the history of the game, John Grant Jr., is gone. However, his loss has been tempered somewhat by the acquisition of another legend, Gary Gait. The trouble is that Gait is 43 years old and can't dominate a game the way he used to. The K-Hawks must therefore rely on a solid team approach. There are familiar players on the roster: Mike Accursi, Chris Driscoll, Steve Toll, and Matt Zash are all good players. Pat O'Toole and Matt Vinc are competent goaltenders. Are they good enough? In a word, no. They'll play interesting lacrosse, but they haven't got the horses to compete with the beasts in the East.

Which brings us to the Philadelphia Wings. The Wings are the only founding member of the original pro indoor league, the Eagle Pro League, left. They have had a storied past, but have fallen on hard times recently. But there is a bright future with this team. Athan Ianucci and Matt Danowski are sure-fire stars in the years ahead. The rest of the roster is uncertain. Wings' fans need to be patient with this group, who will struggle this year. They will battle the K-Hawks for a final playoff spot in the east.

In the Wild West, the dominant team are the Washington Stealth, last year's league champions. The offence is solid, with Lewis Ratcliff, Rhys Duch, Jeff Ziwicky and Luke Wiles leading the way. But, by far, their best player is transition man Paul Rabil, who is one of the most entertaining players in the league. Runnin' Rabil is tireless, fearless, creative and has one of the deadliest shots in the game. If he's healthy, the Stealth will contend for another league championship. They will certainly dominate the West.

The Edmonton Rush are a team on the rise. They have been patiently building
a good team ever since they entered the league a few years ago, and are now poised to reap some success. The offence is balanced, with several players contributing goals: Gavin Prout and Ryan Powell lead the way. By far the best transition man in the game is Brodie Merrill, a huge man with a wingspan of a pterodactyll: few loose balls get by him, and he contributes mightily to the offence. Derek Keenan is a veteran coach and will get the most out of this team. Prediction: they will give Washington all they can handle in the West and do well in the playoffs, perhaps a dark horse for a championship.

The Calgary Roughnecks can never be counted out of contention.
Dave Pym is an underrated coach, and the offence features veterans Kaleb Toth and Tracey Kelusky. The defense is mean and physical. Craig Gelsvik leads the way here. If you want to beat the Riggers, you have to crack the defence, but you will pay a heavy price for it. The problem with Calgary is that they depend on veterans who are now getting a little long in the tooth. The prediction here is that they will begin to slide, but still be a sold playoff team.

The Minnesota Swarm: just who are these guys anyway?
Every year, they play tough, interesting lacrosse, but go unnoticed.
Aaron Wilson emerged as a true sniper last year, and will be supported by young shooters Zack Greer, a superb field player, Ryan Benesch and Sean Pollock. After that, it's a bit of a crap shoot, but the smart money won't count them out. They'll challenge Calgary for a playoff spot and may push the front runners if the offence can shoot the lights out.

Last, but not least, are the Colorado Mammoth. This team is a perrenial powerhouse, but slipped from its pedestal last season.
The addition of John Grant Jr., however, might be enough to put them back on top. Ned Crotty will be a super star of the future if he learns the indoor game: he was a star in NCAA field lax. There are three well-known goalies in camp, so that position should be solid. The rest of the team should be good. If Grant can recover his past glory one more time and Crotty emerge as an immediate star, this team will suprise everyone. If not, Mammoth fans will have to wait. The only problem with waiting is that Grant is not getting any younger. But he is a superb athlete, and his recovery from life-threatening infections in his knee is inspiring. Prediction: wait until next year.
In the playoffs, it figures to be the Rock against the Bandits for the East, with the Blazers threatening to muscle in. For the west, look to the Stealth and Rush to battle it out, with Calgary or Minnesota lurking. Prediction for the league championship: I'm going with my gut and say that Boston will break through and play the Stealth, with Washington repeating as league champs. Now you know !!

Monday, December 6, 2010


I love to go walking on Newmarket's many trails. To have these paths in the middle of our suburban chaos is a wonderful treasure that is worth preserving. When I walk, I am able to put aside the day-to-day issues of modern life, and to be peaceful, calm and observant. So many things are there, waiting to be seen and sensed.
The trails are great in all seasons and even all kinds of weather, bad or good. But, without a doubt, the best times to walk are when the year is getting older: in autumn and winter.

Autumn walks are golden. The heat and humidity of the intense southern Ontario summer are things of the past. The walker is not burdened by oppressive sun, temperatures and humidexes. Instead, clear skies and clear light marks the path. The heavy air is gone, and with it, the torments of summer walks: bugs, thirst, sunburn, and crowds. The walker can stride easily, thinking of all the things that have gone before, musing at the cares and worries that plagued him in younger months. The path opens up to reveal views of sheer beauty: the greatest rewards are there for the eyes, ears, and other senses. The walker now has time to stop and savour them, and to understand them for all their worth. With peace comes knowledge, and with this type of knowledge comes wisdom.

But, by far, the best walks are in winter. The silence is endless and calming. No other walkers on the trail: pristine paths with no other footprints, except for an ambitious squirrel making last forays for food. If the weather is cold, no matter: bundle up and walk briskly. Keep your eyes open for the birds, whose colours take on greater drama against the white-grey canvass. The walker must stop often and breathe deeply: the air is purer in winter, with the quiet and calm.

The ultimate walk is there to be savoured and enjoyed.

Eventually, the walk must stop. But what a trail it has been. Colours followed by purity: it doesn't get any better than that. Enjoy the trail, everyone.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


The recent mid term elections in the United States have given President Barack Obama a resounding slap in the face. It seems that Americans, swept away on the tide of hope and change that Obama represented a scant two years ago, have now drawn a collective breath and are wondering out loud "what were we thinking?"

It's natural for a sitting president to endure a downturn in his fortunes at mid term, but the loss of over 60 seats to Republicans in the House of Representatives, grimly hanging on to a Democratic majority in the Senate, and watching most Governorships go to Republicans, even in the so-called blue states of Michigan and Illinois rank as a stern repudiation in the "Audacity of Hope."

What does all this mean?

As the map above indicates, the U.S. is a severely divided country. When one listens to Republican politicians and pundits on the major networks, it becomes clear that what happened in 2008 was an abberation. Democrats do well in the north-east and the far west coast, where urban liberalism seems to exist if not flourish, but the rest of the nation is staunch Republican bible-belting, gun toting, family values preaching, my country right-or-wrong, socialist fearing rubes who deserve each other. The term "Jesusland" is an apt one. If one ever travels to this part of the world, one encounters more churches that you can shake a crucifix at. Baptist preachers easily cross over the line from church into state in their pulpits here, and the belief in a manifest destiny of a God loving crusade has its most ardent devotees here.

The one problem with the above map is the designation of the rest of the continent as "The United States of Liberty and Education." The intent here, of course, is to show that the north-east US and all of Canada espouse liberal ideals and a clear separation of church and state. It is supposed to be progressive rather than conservative, open-minded rather than rigid, and free from bigotry, suspicion of collectivism, and worship of the gun. It is rather flattering that, despite the "United States" designation, it includes all of Canada.

Not so fast !
The electoral map of Canada to the right shows a slightly different interpretation of how the continent lines up. The dark blue, which is the dominant colour, represents support for the Conservative Party, which happens to be the governing party in Canada. Red is Liberal and Orange is the "socialist" NDP party. The light blue is the peculiar Bloc Quebecois, a nationalist Quebec only party.
Do you see much red on the map? There is some, but don't be fooled by the large swatch of it in the north. Those are sparsely populated ridings. You have to look hard for red or even orange in the south of Canada, where most people live. Our politics is sharply divided, too. Liberalism seems to lodge only in urban areas, hardly visible on the map: Toronto, west Montreal, Ottawa, and some of Vancouver, where most Canadians live, are liberal red or NDP orange. Conservatives rule the roost in the hinterland.
So, the truth of where Jesusland exists is this. Take just about all of the southern and mid-western United States: throw in Alaska, eastern Washington state, eastern Oregan, and north-eastern California: add parts of border states in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota: throw in the entire province of Alberta: stir in the interior of British Columbia, southern Saskatchewan, western Manitoba, and lots of rural Southern Ontario. Toss in the Yukon and North-West Territories, where hunting and trapping are still the favourite sports. Forget about Quebec entirely: please, just forget about Quebec !! Shake vigourously. Pour out onto the world. What do you have?
Jesusland !!
God help the rest of us !!

Friday, October 29, 2010


"So this is Samhain,
And what have you done?
Another year over,
And a new year just begun."
With appologies to John Lennon, we arrive at the start of another new year.... if you believe in Hallowe'en, that is.
I am amazed at how Hallowe'en has changed over the years. When we were kids, of course, Hallowe'en was a big deal. We would spend hours planning our costume, which we'd wear twice: once on the big night, but, even more importantly, we'd wear them to school on the day immediately before Hallowe'en or on the day itself. We'd get to parade around the school, visiting other classes and showing off the costumes and guessing who was inside the clown, or cowboy, or pirate, or witch mask. Often, the costumes were home-made: old bedsheets for ghosts, face paint for missing teeth or scars, parents' old coats or shirts for those dressed as hoboes.

Then, the big night would arrive. We'd get a quart peach basket and decorate it with cut-out ghosts or bats, and wander the neighbourhood.... alone, without parents or older kids to look out for us. When our basket was full, we'd dash home, empty the contents on the kitchen table... and then head out again to hit the houses we'd missed the first time. Candy kisses, apples, rice crispy squares, suckers and rockets... yum !

The house was decorated too.... with a single pumpkin. Zig-zag mouth, slanted eyes, triangle nose and a candle burning the scraped-out insides black. The front room lights were turned out, giving the pumpkin a strange and eerie glow.

In university, my roomates and I did more or less the same thing: except we'd be hammered when the little kids in the townhouse complex came around. No matter, we were harmless, and we always shelled out. We were sometimes in costume too. And the highlight was listening to a recording of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds"... the Orson Welles version. It was strangely frightening for an old 1920's era radio play.

Today, we go all out for Hallowe'en. Houses seem to out-do each other in spectacular displays of graveyards, torture chambers, crime scenes .... all with the gory, blood-spattered, CSI inspired dismemberment that we have grown insensitive to. And the costumes.... such creativity in the attempt to be the sexiest woman on the block. Cleavage, bondage, French maids, naughty school girls, and playmates arrive at the door, instead of witches, fairy princesses, cowgirls, and tigers. Well, some of the old costumes are still around, but they'd be better suited for strip clubs instead of trick or treat. Not that I'm complaining !!

We've come a long way. But one thing never changes. Hallowe'en is a time of transition. For, when the displays are turned off, the costumes put away, and the candy eaten, we are ready to settle in for the long, dark, sleepy nights of winter. We slow down and turn inward, largely shunning the cold outside, and retreat to the safety and warmth of the home, curled in front of fireplaces, TV's, video games, and the internet.

The old ones believed that this time of year, Samhain, was a time when the distance between the living and spritual worlds was at its closest. It marked the completion of one year, as it crept towards the winter-death, only to see the days grow longer at the coldest time, bringing the promise of a new year and new life. It was a time of looking back on the year completed, on the harvest just gathered, and to look ahead to the gathering age of all of us, and to our ultimate fate. It was a time to remember our ancestors, and to remind ourselves that we will join them soon. And to not fear that prospect. It was a celebration of the connection between life and death. Laughter and joy could mingle with ghosts and talismans.

And so, to all wiccans and neo-druids, to all ghosts and goblins, to all of us going to parties and bars, and especially to all kids trick or treating, a very heartfelt wish for a Happy Hallowe'en and a Happy New Year.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


"The sun never sets," the old saying goes, "on the British Empire." If you're a certain age, you are probably familiar with that slogan. As schoolchildren, we were taught it as though it was the eleventh commandment. Our grade 4 teacher at Graham Bell Public School in Brantford, Mrs. Palmer, was a wonderful teacher in the "old school" image. She was probably middle aged in the mid 1960's, which would have meant that her career began in the 1930's. She was kindly, matronly, plump, wore those sensible shoes female teachers wore back then, had her steel grey hair permanently styled in a bob cut, and smelled of lilly-of-the-valley. And she was staunchly proud of the fact that Canada was the largest member of the British Empire. Our classroom was decorated with pictures of long dead Kings and Queens, and festooned with Union Jacks, and a huge map of the world upon which large swatches of red meant only one thing: British supremacy.

Never mind that, in 1964, Britain was trying to set speed records to get rid of all that red on the map. Never mind that several of the kids in the class were Polish or Ukrainian or Italian. Never mind that Canada had just recently unveiled its new, distinctive Maple Leaf flag, a heresy to our beloved teacher. Mrs. Palmer was convinced, and managed to convince all of us, that the British Empire was a select club, and that Canada, as the largest and one of the oldest "possessions" was the most fortunate country on earth to belong to that club.

The sun, of course, did set upon that Empire, as it does on all empires. The myths of British invincibility, of British supremacy, and of British permanence were exposed as just that: myths. Any close reading of British colonial history will show that the Empire was created largely by accident. The Empire was all things: a commercial empire, a collection of military bases, protectorates, colonies, and penal institutions. It was created through conquest, negotiation, purchase and lease, influence, trade agreements, and alliances. There was no central plan in its creation, and no cohesive organization in its administration. At any given time, the Empire was run from the Colonial Office, the Foreign Office, the India Office, the Ireland Office, the Admiralty, or the head offices of various companies. In short, the greatest Empire the world has ever known had all the grand vision of a Monty Python comedy sketch.

The eminent Canadian historian George Woodcock tried to explain the demise of the British Empire in his 1974 book "Who Killed the British Empire?" Woodcock claimed that the Empire, and all other empires in history, go through a period of growth and then eventual decline leading to its ultimate demise. According to his analysis, the British Empire died because of four things:

1) many people in the Empire no longer wished to be ruled by the British
2) external threats, especially those from Germany, Japan, and the United States
3) the decline in the will of the British people to rule and protect its own Empire
4) economic pressures ( world wars, depressions ) which made the Empire too expensive to own.

Add these all up and the conclusion is inevitable: the British Empire died of natural causes. It grew old, tired, feeble, and unable to survive serious threats from within and without. Woodcock argues that the high-water mark for the Empire was the late Victorian age, when the British actually began to take great interest in all its colonies and tried to unite them in a larger Imperial Federation. The decline began after the exhaustion of World War One, and was in full swing with the Statute of Westminster in 1931, which allowed for the creation of dominions, or fully independent coutries, in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ireland. The death knell was sounded after World War Two, where, despite the propoganda that showed a strong and united Empire rallying around a just Mother Country in its death struggle with the forces of evil and tyranny, Britain demonstrated that it was no longer the world military and economic power it once was. The patient was on life support when the Empire lost India in 1948. All that was left was to bury the corpse in the Suez Crisis in 1956.

But that did not spell the end for all empires. For, with the death of the British Empire, the American Empire was allowed to grow in earnest. American wealth, influence, and military power were thought to be unchallenged in the immediate post WWII years. Threats from the Soviet Union, Cuba, and other Cold War rivals were brushed aside. But now, the new collossus faces grave external pressures. Economic rivals such as China and India join Japan and Germany to challenge American wealth. Muslim extremists keep American forces pinned down in Afghanistan, Iraq and other locations. Latin America seethes with resentment towards the gringo arrogance it perceives in its relations with the United States. Allies, such as Canada, Germany, France, Israel, and even Britain itself, question the motives for American decisions. No country seems ready to snap to attention at the command of the Imperial Power of the U. S.

Could history be repeating? Are we in the early stages of the decline and fall of the American Empire? History is a stern teacher. We should all pay attention to the lessons it presents us.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I love October. It is a time for thanksgiving, for families to get together and celebrate what we have and enjoy. It is a time of colour on the trees and pumpkins at our windows, of little ghost and goblins scaring us for tricks and treats. And, for the sports fan, it is a time for completely pigging out on our favourite games. Major League Baseball heads into the playoffs and World Series. The CFL, NFL, and college football are in full swing. NASCAR heads into the Chase for the Cup. Basketball, for its fans ( I am not one ) begins. And, best of all, the National Hockey League serves up a new season. The so-called experts have made their predictions. Now it's time for me to correct their errors and make the true and lasting predictions. You can take these to the bank.

The Eastern Conference seems to be a contest between the two marquee teams and marquee players. Look for the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins to battle it out for supremacy. Crosby and Malkin versus Ovechkin and Semin. Need I say more?

The Capitals feature some of the best young talent in the game. When you scan their roster, you notice that their best players are around the middle twenties. That means that they are, as a group, heading into their most productive years. They have youth, confidence and talent in abundance. Pittsburgh is in the same situation. What will separate them are the intangibles: injuries, slumps, and coaching mistakes. Washington's Bruce Boudreau, who looks like he belongs on a TV game show featuring C-list celebrities, is a good coach who motivates his players, as if they need motivation. But is he another Scotty Bowman? Hardly. I mean, he was a Leafs draft pick once upon a time: how good can he be? Pittsburgh's coach is Dan Bylsma... exactly. A real house-hold name, isn't he? He looks like he should be coaching in Harvard. But he knows his stuff. Maybe it boils down to goaltending: Varlamov in Washington versus Fleury in Pittsburgh. Or maybe both teams will just have to content themselves with scoring more goals than these guys let in, which will be a lot.

Montreal Canadiens fans were more excited than ever ( if that's possible ) last spring when they got hot at the right time, rode a hot goaltender's unbelievable talent, and went deep into the playoffs. Here's the good news: they won't do that again. The Habs traded the wrong goalie last year, and the smart money says Carey Price will play lots and win some games, but will fall flat on his face at some point. So, the Habs can count on.... wait for it....Alex Auld to bail them out. Oh well, it was a nice dream, eh Habs fans? The rest of the team is overrated: Cammalleri, Gionta, Plekanec and Gomez sound like some European law firm, and the defence will depend on PK Subban. I like Subban, but he's a hot dog and will cost them some stupid goals. I joyfully predict the Habs will struggle to get to post season, where they will crash and burn. Yay !!

The rest of the conference will be a free-for-all. The New Jersey Devils will probably contend again, but they are so boring and predictable, no one will care. The Boston Bruins will depend on Tukka Rask, and hope that Tyler Seguin can score some goals ( the rest of the team can't ). If those names make Leaf fans shudder, it's because of what might have been. Ottawa will depend on Sergei Gonchar to improve their power play, but they have too many fragile players because of age or confidence. They'll be somewhat flashy, but won't get far. Philadelphia? How they made it to the Cup final last year is still a mystery. No goaltending. Too many idiots on the team. Party on, boys !! Buffalo have always been a miserable team, but Lindy Ruff just may be the best coach in the NHL and Ryan Miller is incredible in goal. One thing's for sure: the Sabres can beat the Leafs any time they want to. Too bad for them they only play the Leafs six or eight times.

Which brings me to my beloved Maple Leafs. Beloved? I actually don't like this team, which makes me sad. What I mean is, I have always rooted for them, and followed them through thick and thin. (Mostly thin) But this current edition is so bad, it is almost comical. I really don't like Brian Burke: he comes across as an Irish thug, all bombast and bluster. But he seriously misjudges the talent on his teams. Ron Wilson is a poor coach: he enjoys publicly criticising his players and lashes out at the media ( of which I approve, by the way), but that's all he can do. And the players? There's no one to get excited about. I don't much like the players. Kessel is good, Kaberle has talent, but plays soft and timid, Kadri is worth waiting for, and Bozak has some potential. The rest are hockey morons. They may be nice guys, but who cares? Pick these guys to finish near the bottom of the conference, along with such hockey powers as the Panthers, Thrashers, Islanders, and Hurricanes.

In the Western Conference, the favoured teams are predictable: Vancouver, Chicago, Detroit and San Jose. All of these are fine teams. But there are always teams that come from out of nowhere to rise up in the standings. Last year it was the Phoenix Coyotes. This year, two different teams will emerge as powers and make some real noise in the playoffs, and they're both in the Wild West.

The Vancouver Canucks boast some good forwards and a defence corps that just may be the best in the league. The additions of Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard are key in the success of the defence. Their problem is in goal: I know this may surprise many, but I am not sold on Roberto Luongo. In the Olympics, his appearances were nothing short of an adventure. And what has he accomplished in 10 seasons? Exactly. Nothing. Which is what he'll accomplish this year. Look for Vancouver to skate swiftly, score goals, wins many games and then flame out early in the playoffs.

Which brings us to the perrenial powerhouses in the West, Detriot and Chicago. These are two of the so-called original six and it is heartening to see them back in prominence again, especially Chicago with their Cup victory last year. But they present some problems this year. In Detroit's case, when you scan the roster, you see too many players on the wrong side not just of 30, but 35 !! Injuries will take their toll on this group of geezers. Mind you, after having seen them live last year, I'm a huge fan of Johan Franzen: he may be the most underrated player in the league. Zetterburg and Datsyuk are still good, but Jimmy Howard in goal? Come on !! You're kidding, right? As for the 'Hawks, I've never seen a championship team dismantled in so sudden and dramatic a fashion. The core is still there ( Toews, Kane, Seabrook, Keith, Hossa ) and Joel Quenneville, a former Leaf, is a great coach. But who's playing goal? Marty Turko on a last hurrah. Enough said. The 'Hawks will be good, but not good enough.

The rest of the Conference features the San Jose Sharks, a team that can be counted on to screw up in the playoffs. Joe Thornton is another Mats Sundin: a captain who will lead his team to nowhere. Phoenix was a great story last year, but that's all they get: they will become an irrlevence in the desert again. Colorado will only be good if they can resurrect Joe Sakic, Ray Bourque and Patrick Roy: in other words, maybe in the next life they'll win a Cup, but not in this one. Nashville, Columbus and Minnesota have teams ?? Who knew?

Which brings me to my most outrageous predictions: greatness for either or both of the Los Angeles Kings and the St. Louis Blues. Start your howls of indignation now !!

In the case of the Kings, they feature several fine young players, including the best two young defensemen in the game: Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson. Doughty was the most interesting player to watch on Team Canada in the Olympics. Jackson is an American Olympian who plays big and skilled. Add a fast forward unit, and the Kings will be entertaining to watch. How far will they go? That depends on the goalie with the best name for his position: James Quick. He's OK, but he needs to be great to carry this team to the cup.
And the dark horse for the entire NHL? The St. Louis Blues.
Now you know. The Blues have gotten rid of some of their old driftwood, and added one of the best young goalies on the planet in Jaroslav Halak. Brad Boyes seems ready to lead the team, and Eric Johnson is a fine defenseman. TJ Oshie is an unknown who will be known very soon. If the Blues don't win the Cup this year, they will win in the next two years.
The old saying is "youth will be served." If you're looking for the top four teams to contend this year, go young. Washington and Pittsburgh will battle it out for the East, while Los Angeles and probably Chicago will battle it out in the West. St. Louis and Boston will be lurking in the weeds for an opportunity to challenge. New Jersey, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Detroit, San Jose and Vancouver will disappoint their fans. Toronto and Edmonton will dream of better years ahead... way ahead, although Hall and Eberle in Edmonton will give the Oil some sweeter dreams than Kessel and Kadri will for the Leafs. Ah me.... thank God there's good lacrosse in Toronto.
The Stanley Cup goes to..... the Washington Capitals. All other teams must submit to the new hockey gods of Ovechkin, Semin, Greene, Backstrom and Varlamov.... Varlamov? Sure, why not? He's evolved ... his first name's Semyon... get it, like a monkey?? Evolved ??? Ah crap, they can't all be gems.

Monday, September 27, 2010


With the new session of Parliament now underway, an interesting little debate has emerged regarding the purchase of a new fighter aircraft for the Canadian Forces. The aircraft under consideration is the F 35 Lightning 11 fighter being designed by Lockheed Martin. Price of the project is to be around $9 billion for approximately 65 aircraft.

There has been some concern expressed in pages of Maclean's and other publications about the process of deciding which jet to buy and how transparent the process actually has been. Clearly, the government has not been totally forthcoming with the Canadian people on this project, since very few of us even knew the government was considering spending this money on a replacement for the now ageing F 18 Hornets. When pressed by the media to explain why we need a new fifth-generation stealth fighter, Defence Minister Peter McKay could not provide a rational answer as to the role and purpose of the fighter. The debate continues.

What is more at the core of this discussion is the attitude of Canadians towards their military generally. We have expressed pride and support when it has been needed, as in Afghanistan where our troops have been subjected to some of the heaviest fighting in the war. But, on the whole, our military has been subjected to yawning indifference. Rick Hillier described this attitude very well in his book "A Soldier First". Canadians would prefer to ignore its military until it is needed, and would prefer not to spend large sums of money to acquire the equipment it needs to do its difficult job. We seem content to ask them to risk their safety in antiquated equipment and keep them understaffed, even in times of severe need.

Maybe we don't even need a military at all, some would argue. After all, we're a huge country, we can't be invaded by anyone except the Americans or the Russians. The Americans would never invade us, and would never permit the Russians to do so.

What is often forgotten by supporters of this line of thought is that, if a nation does not take the steps to defend itself, or to assert its sovereignty, that nation is seriously in danger of losing it and being subjected to the wishes and whims of other nations.

Consider Iceland. This small northern nation has no permanent military. It maintains a national police force that includes a counter-terrorism unit, called the Viking squad, and has a coast guard of about 4 small patrol vessels to offer search and rescue and fishery supervision. Other than that, they are not interested in creating a military force. They are, on the surface, a peaceful people living in a peaceable land.

But Iceland has never attained its ultimate wish of being truly neutral, of being left alone. It has been under the control of Denmark and Norway early in its history. It was occupied in World War Two by the British and then the Americans. Both of these "allied" nations occupied Iceland due to fears of Nazi Germany occupying the small island. The Icelanders did not invite the British and Americans to defend them. Indeed, there were small riots in Reykjavik protesting the occupation. The Americans returned in the 1950's during the Cold War, and forced Iceland into joining NATO, again due to fears that Iceland would be occupied by the new enemy, the Soviets. The Americans stayed until 2006.

In another example of foreign bullying, Iceland and Great Britain were involved in three so-called "cod wars", which were actual confrontations between vessels of the Icelandic coast guard and British fishing trawlers and then warships of the Royal Navy. Several incidents of ships ramming each other, and actual live ammunition fire took place. The British refused to recognize Iceland's intention of maintaining a 200 mile zone of control over its fishery: Britain maintains, to this day, that the zone is international and wants to enter it to mine the fishery for its own purposes. An uneasy agreement is in place today, quite possibly because the Icelanders finally decided to fight and shoot back : because of this action, Britain recognizes the zone... for now.

The lesson in the Icelandic experience is that if a nation demonstrates an unwillingness to defend itself with real equipment and trained personnel, other nations will take care of that for it. Some may argue that Iceland has benefitted from the rather benign occupation and interaction with British and US forces. But our recent trip to Iceland convinced us that Icelanders have a quiet but no less real distrust of foreigners. They are in NATO officially, but really would rather not be there. To be sure, Iceland has a puny population of only 300,000 people: could they really muster much of a military? Probably not, but if they tried, perhaps the occupations of the past, and the cod wars would not have happened.

Canada must continue to maintain a sound military. We are not a nation that will go throwing its military weight around conquering others and forcing them to submit to our tyrrany. It's not in our nature. But, if we are to be taken seriously as a nation, if we are to exert our own sovereignty and decision making on our own future, if we are to safeguard and guarantee our land and citizens, and if we are to participate in legitimate military activities around the globe ( coalitions against aggressors, peacekeeping, humanitarian activities ) we must have the necessary equipment. Is the F35 the best new fighter for our air force? Probably. Do we need it ? Yes. Why? Because you never know what lies ahead in this complex and often violent world. We must grow up and not have debates on the need for fighter aircraft. It is needed for the same reason cities need police and other security services. Some people refuse to act in civilized and respectable ways and impinge on our desire to do so. If the world was perfect, we'd have no wars: we'd also have no crime, accidents, fires, and criminals either. Let's live in the real world. Buy the planes, and keep upgrading our armed forces. Act like a real country.

Friday, August 6, 2010


When Pierre Trudeau defeated the infamously short-lived government of Joe Clark in 1980, one of the lasting phrases Trudeau used to describe his come back victory was "Well, welcome to the 1980's". That phrase is remembered by all of Trudeau's admirers as a statement of the lasting power of his vision, the strength of his character, and the confidence of Canadians in our most charismatic prime minister. Trudeau is the subject of numerous books, articles, and scholarly treatises. He is remembered as a flawed but talented leader, a man of great vision, who saw Canada as a united, bilingual, progressive society, a model for the entire world. He favoured a strong central government which would speak for all Canadians, who would enjoy all rights and freedoms enshrined in a made-in-Canada constitution featuring a Charter of Rights. The federal government, Trudeau reasoned, was the sole voice for all Canadian issues and values. Only federally could the aspirations of all Canadians be realized and protected. The Constitution and Charter were finally realized in the early 1980's and still exist today.

Joe Clark didn't exactly fall into oblivion after his electoral defeat. He continued to serve as an important minister to his successor, Brian Mulroney. Greatly admired by many Canadians, he has, however, paled in comparison to his more flamboyant rival. He became something of a joke to many, and the common phrase used to denote disrespect for the honest but dull leader was "Joe Who"? There may be books on Clark, but they are hard to find, and, I must admit, I have not read a single book about him. As for Trudeau, I have read, at last count, five, and hope to acquire John English's second volume of his life story soon. I enjoy reading about Trudeau, a completely fascinating figure.

As mentionned above, Trudeau articulated a vision of what Canada could be. Whether one admired or tetested him, there is almost unanimous agreement that he had a vision, and, if it had come to complete fruition, it would have put him in the forefront of world statesmen. Clark's vision of Canada was completely different. He tried to articualte a "community of communities" vision, meaning that Canada was a loose federation of different regions of the country, linked together by common values and a desire to work co-operatively on common issues. Not a very inspiring or "sexy" vision. Trudeau was able to mop the floor with Clark's ideas mainly because of his personality and reputation, more than the logic of the debate. Many Canadians shared Clark's idea, but they were swamped by the spell of the man Richard Gwynne called the "northern magus." Clark, therefore, goes down in history as one of Canada's biggest political losers.

Fast forward to 2010. This past week saw the most recent meeting of the "Council of the Federation", an organization of the ten provincial premiers and three territorial leaders. This group meets twice a year to discuss issues of common concern. This group has been meeting like this since 2003, when Jean Charest, the current "prime minister" of Quebec formulated the idea. His provincial and territorial colleagues have enthusiastically met twice a year since. Noticeably absent from this meeting is the federal government, represented by a prime minister or any other minister of the crown. It seems that the premiers and leaders are satisfied to discuss things of great interest to Canadians without the presence of their federal government. Issues discussed include improving internal trade, environmental matters, improving literacy, and bettering relations with governments in the United States. Indeed, the premiers and leaders have, on at least one occasion, attended a meeting of American governors, a situation similar to the Council of the Federation.

The question which emerges from all this, of course, is this: if the Council of the Federation meets regularly to discuss issues of common concern to all Canadians, why do we have a federal government? If the premiers and leaders reach consensus on an issue, all they have to do is pass legislation to that effect in their Legislative Assemblies: as long as the legislation among all jurisdictions is identical, or at least mostly similar, problems can be solved without resorting to a federal government, at least on issues that are within the perview of provincial and territorial governments. Even there, the lines become murky: if the premiers and leaders meet with American governors more frequently and act accordingly, both federal governments can, theoretically, be by-passed. Thus, the provinces can act in the supposedly federal sphere of international relations. Already, the Council of the Federation seeks to expand "provincial" trade beyond Canadian borders to other countries.

At the end of the day, this sounds more like a "community of communities" approach to matters of common concern to Canadians. Whether it is a good thing or not will be the subject of a future blog. But right now, it looks like Joe Clark is the big winner in the legacy of which vision of Canada should prevail. Joe Who? Now we know!!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


A discussion of what a "nation" is , is a sure-fire way to raise emotions and temperatures. Most of us suscribe to the notion that a nation is a geographic entity, easily spotted on a map, recognized by other such entities. But if one speaks to groups of people who live within these entities on the map, one may receive different interpretations of what a nation is.

Canada is a perfect example of the dilemma. On a map, it is a huge blotch, occupying roughly half of the land mass of North America. No problem, right? Now we know what a Canadian is, a person living within that big blotch.

Not so fast. Inside the Canadian blotch, a veritable United Nations of people live together. All races, religions, nationalities and languages are represented. So, it follows that these people must constitute something other than a "Canadian" nationality. But, if that is true, who then is the "true Canadian?" Enter that debate at your peril !!

The truth is, Canada is populated by more than one nation. This idea has gained currency only in the last couple of decades. Before that, Canada was white, largely English-speaking, largely Protestant and incredibly dull and boring. The "French" were sucessfully confined to Quebec, New Brunswick or northern Ontario, and the aboriginals were largely ignored. Many people long for a return to that time, but I am not one of them. I find Canada in its current form an incredibly fascinating place, truly one of the most interesting places on earth in its complexity. Never a dull moment here.

Sadly, one of the nations living in our blotch have been treated shabbily recently. The Iroquois Nationals are a talented lacrosse team and they represent the Haudenosaunee, or Six Nations Confederacy. These people are rightly a sovereign nation, and have proudly borne their own passport whenever they travel. But in the 2010 World Lacrosse Championships, their passport has inexplicably been denied by the authorities in Britain, the host country of the tournament. The result: the Nationals have had to remain at home, taking a principled stand on their sovereignty and nationhood, but paying a huge price by not playing the game they invented and gave to the world.

Strangely, the Canadian government has remained silent on this issue. The US government tried to intervene, with no less a person than Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State trying to intercede on the Iroquois' behalf. But not a word from Canada... why? I will tell you why. Canada does not want the Iroquois to be fully recognized abroad as a sovereign nation because it will strengthen their claims here at home. Even as I write these lines, the years old stand off at Caledonia continues. And we all remember blockades at Deseronto, Ipperwash and the infamous seige at Oka and Kanesetake and Kannewake in Quebec. The Iroquois have an historic and legitimate claim to sovereignty which Canada seems reluctant to recognize. Did we silently ask the British to ignore the passport in order to send a quiet message that the Indian Wars are still on, and that Canada will dictate the terms of reference, not the Iroquois?

The whole affair is shameful and an embarrasment to all of us. If Canada is to be a shining example of how people of many nations can live together in peace and co-operation, working for the common good and the welfare of all people ( in the true and strict definition of the word "welfare"), then our government should have spoken loudly and strongly in support of the Iroquois in their assertion of nationhood. But that would have been the right thing to do: when has the Canadian government, especially in its current form, ever done that?

Thursday, July 15, 2010


In my last offering, I recounted fond memories of our Centennial Year, 1967. It was certainly a grand time to be Canadian, and I wondered aloud if any plans were being made for the sesquicetennial, coming up in 2017. Two years ago, I emailed our illustrious Prime Minister, Mr. Stephen Harper, asking what, if any plans were being put in place. I received a form email from an assistant deputy minister, thanking me for my inquiry and wishing me well in all my future endeavours.... basically blowing me off and all but saying that nothing was in the works. Typical !!

I sometimes wonder if I'm the only person who thinks about these things. I mean, everyone has their concerns and issues. Me? I guess I have little better to do than wonder about expressing a heartfelt affection for my country, a country into which I was not born, but have embraced fully and without reservation. There are far more important things to think about, I certainly agree, than another reason to promote ourselves and hope all the world loves us, like the recently completed Vancouver Olympics. Who needs another World's Fair? Been there, done that, and quite well, as we all recall. Centennial Caravans reminding us of our history, our story, and all the things we had to overcome and achieve as a people? Well, history is boring and no one would be interested in visiting that again? Centennial projects? I guess we do this all the time now, what with infrastructure spending as common as blackflies in spring.

No, it's pretty clear that re-doing the stuff we did back in 1967 is just not cool or sexy for today's sophisticated Canada. So, maybe these are the things we should try to accomplish in time for our country's sesquicentennial. We have seven years, so we'd better get started.

1) Resolve all outstanding grievances with First Nations people. That doesn't mean giving in to all their demands. After all, they have become just as skilled as anyone else in formulating demands to be negotiated. But the federal government has been dragging its feet far too long. Let's recognize them for who they truly are: sovereign nations with ancient traditions and wisdom equalling and perhaps surpassing ours. Let's do what is necessary to remove the status of wards of the state, and give them land and control over the revenue on and under the land. Let's make these reserves achieve full provincial status and invite them to join fully in the future of Canada.

2) Invest heavily in green technologies. Make Canada a world leader in research and development in areas such as alternative fuels, green transportation systems, and more complete recycling programmes. We keep hearing that this is the technology of the future, with new jobs attached to it: let's commit ourselves to pioneering this technology, instead of waiting for others to do it, and sell it to us.

3) Re-commit to universal health care and public education. Reject the neo-conservative drive to sneak private health and education in the back door by undercutting the public services. These things used to give us a respected reputation abroad: let's renew this. Put more money into our schools and universities, hospitals and research centers. Canadians pioneered such advancements as treatments for diabetes: imagine if we could do the same for cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS and other neurological disorders.

4) Invest in youth initiatives. Bring back such worthwhile things as Katimavik and the Company of Young Canadians. People around the world respect a nation that is willing to send its young people abroad to learn and help others in need. We get more mileage out of this type of "army" going forth than we do from a real army.

Well, there are more things to add to the list, but that's enough for now. No one with any real decision-making power is going to read this anyway, so why bother? Maybe we'd be better off with another Olympics or World's Fair.... maybe an international sesquicentennial Curling Bonspiel is what we need. 2017? Hurry hard !!!

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Pierre Berton called 1967 "the last good year." In his book of that name, he recreated the sense of pride and wonder all Canadians had in our country in our centennial year. Those of us who are old enough to remember 1967 would probably nod our heads in unison at that notion. It was, indeed, a very good year.

The Canadian Centennial was a year-long celebration of all things Canadian. Schoolkids, natually, got into the spirit in a huge way. I have distinct memories of all of us talking excitedly about the Centennial and how it was to be a party to last all year long. What I don't clearly remember, but Berton describes in great detail, is that there were more than a few detractors who said that the celebrations would be a waste of taxpayers' money, an organizational fiasco, and that we'd not be able to pull off all the things that were being planned. We'd look like fools to the rest of the world.

Well, to say the least, the Centennial went off bigger and better than anyone could have predicted. In many ways, it was a type of Canadian renaissance. Berton describes all the significant achievements of Canadians who were creating, experimenting, building, and doing in that time. Our country progressed in leaps and bounds.

Each town and city encouraged its citizens to begin a "centennial project" , and some of them were among the most bizarre imaginable. A town in the Maritimes began the year by burning all the wooden outhouses: why? Because the centennial project for that town was to install a sewer system and modern flush toilets. A town in the Prairies built a UFO landing pad for its project in order to encourage aliens to visit. After the scoffing laughter died down, people began to realize that aliens had indeed visited: tourism grew enormously because "aliens" wanted to visit this crazy little town with the landing pad. Sheer genius !!

In my home town, Brantford Ontario, we had two centennial projects: an new city hall, which was ultra-modern in design ( for the time, and it still looks sharp today ) and a multi-purpose arena, the Civic Centre. Both were needed because their predecessors were severely antiquated. All across Canada, libraries, schools, hospitals, infrastructure of all kinds, were constructed in a frenzy of modernization. It moved us forward rapidly and spectacularly into the late 20th century.

And then there was the big stuff: the Centennial Caravan and Centennial Train, which visited all parts of Canada, bringing the story of our history, our land, and our people to the people. There were re-enactments of history such as the great coast-to-coast canoe trip, retracing the route of the early fur traders. And the biggest of all was Expo 67, a monumental world's fair that many say is still the best that's ever been. Montreal emerged as a world city because of Expo and the world came to Canada to marvel at our achievements and determination to actually do the fair. Islands were built in the St Lawrence River, and the architecture and spectacle of the fair was like none ever seen before.

When 1967 faded away, we still had the Centennial spirit for a few more years, until the reality of the October Crisis in 1970, the PQ victory in 1976, various economic melt-downs, and regional jealousies reared their ugly heads. For a while, we were united, we were bragging, we were doing great things, and we were looking ahead to a better future. It was fun while it lasted.

In 2017, Canada will celebrate its Sesquicentennial, or our 150th birthday as a nation. For just about all of us over 30, it will be the last meaningful anniversary. In a future blog, I will offer some suggestions how we can mark the occasion, and, in a way, try to recapture the spirit of 67.

Monday, June 28, 2010


I freely admit to one and all that I have been, at times, a travel idiot. I followed the crowd, did all the "things to do while in Paris", and collected more souvenirs than I could possibly look at in a lifetime. Eifel Tower? Been up, twice. Changing of the Guard? I could probably do their routine as well as the guards can. Beer in Munich? Oh yeah, way too much. Join tour groups? At the drop of a hat. Didn't want to miss anything, you know.

It came from being young, active, and wanting to see everything. I liked the idea of backpacking through Europe with good buddies, looking for adventure, and finding precious little of it. I was hooked into the mandatory things. And so, for many years, I thought travelling meant visiting all the art galleries, battlefields, bars and restaurants in every major city I could get to. I thought that, when I visited London, I had seen England: visit Paris and you come to know France: get drunk in Germany and you are an expert on the German soul.

Utter nonsense.
It's hard to say exactly when the conversion began, but it surely dawned on me as the sun rising in the morning. I had logged many miles in airplanes, trains, busses, cars and had seen absolutely nothing that mattered much. I was a tourist-prisoner, trapped in an invisible cocoon which I created myself and kept me from learning about people and lands. I thought I was a good traveler, but, in reality, I was an astronaut wrapped in a space suit of my own fears and prejudices.

Later trips in my life have yielded far better results. I have seen marvellous things and, best of all, have talked to real people who actually live in these places. I have learned about single malt whiskeys and Scottish independence from real Scotsmen. I have learned that I actually know very little about the struggles of aboriginal people from Hopi and Navajo with whom I have shared breakfast . I have walked across Arctic tundra and seen fresh muskox hoof-prints and listened to stories of surviving a trek to the North Pole with an actual Arctic explorer who was also my camp host and dinner companion for a week.

I know now that Ayers Rock is actually Uluru, that you have to choose a pub very wisely in Dublin, that kangaroo has to be cooked absolutely correctly or it becomes rubber, and that if you wish to find God, a canyon in Utah or Arizona, or a rainforest in Alaska are far better places to find Him than Notre Dame or Westminster Abbey.

When I told some of my buddies about my upcoming Iceland trip, I was pleased that I wasn't assailed with the "What the hell are you doing that for?" reaction. Instead, I was greeted with interest. They wanted to know what I would do there. I shrugged and told them I wanted to see the land and meet the people. I want to learn about Iceland, and how a strange isolated little island could become one of the best, most advanced, most civilized countries on earth, perched on top of land that can be best described as a science project only half completed. I will be in Reykjavik, of course, .... but only for three days. Then, Lou and I will get in a car and get out of town as quickly as we got out of Las Vegas two years ago.

I still like to visit the big cities and see historical monuments. But only for a little while. Then I get hungry or thirsty and want to find a place to sit and relax and drink coffee or beer where the locals go. I want to see the sky over a new country. I want to walk on different ground. I want to see anything that is not normal, for me. Now THAT'S travelling.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


To be honest, I've never been a huge Chris Pronger fan. He always came across as a border-line goon, slightly unstable, and far too sure of himself. He actually became something of a liability to Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics, revealing that he had lost some speed, and had to accept a role of a 6th defenceman, spelling much younger players like Keith, Seabrook and Doughty.

In the Stanley Cup finals, however, Pronger has come to the fore as a colourful and impactful player. I am slowly becoming a fan. Consider these two items:

First, Pronger is a refreshing breath of fresh air when it comes to media interviews. Too often in sports, the "interview" is nothing more than a fishing expedition combined with a cliche fest. Reporters try to unnerve players and coaches and provoke them into fits of anger and petulance which they can fit into neat sound-bites for their evening newscasts or fit into a column. In return, players and coaches seldom rise to the bait: they offer up the usual list of sports cliches and end up saying nothing. Reporters then use these bits of nothing to fuel speculation ( usually their own ) on potential strategy, impending moves, festering rifts and feuds etc.

Pronger, on the other hand, has fun with the media. He often ridicules the repetitve and hackneyed questions of reporters. He smirks and challenges them to re-phrase or ask another question. When a reporter is wrong or guessing, Pronger lets them know. When a reporter asks a legitimate question, as Elliott Friedman does on Hockey Night in Canada, Pronger offers honest and often inciteful answes. Not bad for a big rube from Dryden, Ontario.

Secondly, Pronger's play in the front of the Philadelphia net, specifically against Dustin Byfuglien ( how on earth is that pronounced "Bufflin" ?) is a throw-back to the tough and interesting days of pre-lockout, pre-new NHL that many of us like. Pronger and Byfuglien have been waging war in that zone, cross-checking and elbowing each other like two gladiators. Amazingly, the referees have been letting that go, and the result is intense and courageous competition between two evenly-matched competitors. It has been great to watch.

Pronger's defensive zone play supports a contention of mine for the "new" NHL. Why not create a zone in front of the net, say 10 feet wide and ten feet in front of the goal-line, where defencemen can keep the area clear for their goalies by moving stationary forwards like Byfuglien who merely stand still, using their huge size to screen the goalie? I'm not advocating slashing or hacking at a forward, but certainly using strength to move him aside and keep him honest. In return, the forward should be allowed to try to "muscle" his way into this zone. Competition? You bet !!

Thus, Chris Pronger has shown us the way for the "new" NHL to be a better, more entertaining game.