Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Guns n Roses were one of the most kick-ass bands of the 1980's. Not only did the music provide an adrenaline rush of power cords, heavy bass, pounding drums, screeching vocals and arguably the best guitar licks of all time, they lived the heavy metal life style to the fullest. Women, booze, dope, and loud and brash behaviour were their hallmark. Ironically, one of their best known songs, "Sweet Child of Mine", featured some of the most interesting lyrics. Introspection, revelations of fear and insecurity, and placing hope in another trusted person seemed to grind against the usual cacophany. The chorus asked the question "where do we go now?", a plaintive cry for certainty in a very uncertain world. It remains one of G N R's most remembered and best liked songs.

The question "Where do we go now?" could easily be applied to Canada in the second decade of the new century. Much recent reading and discussion seems to focus on a type of angst, a great uncertainty, and a lack of clear vision that pervades our national life, much as it did the unnamed narrator of "Sweet Child of Mine." In the song, there was no answer to that question, and none seems to loom on the horizon of our country. Consider the following recent readings that your humble blogger has encountered in the past few months:

The plight of the Canadian military is wonderfully portrayedin Rick Hillier's book "A Soldier First." Hillier described, in sad and embarrassing detail, the demise of our military over the last 40 years as one of the most shameful examples of how not to run a country. Hillier has many items in his criticism, but the most recurring theme is the "risk-averse" mentality of the senior officers and, especially, the beaurocrats in Ottawa. Prime Ministers do not escape his lash, either, for it is their lack of vision and will that has permitted this travesty. Hillier also lambasted the Canadian public, who, for the longest time, did not care about the military and were, in fact, quite hostile to soldiers as society's misfits, people who could not keep jobs in the real world. Thankfully, attitudes seem to be changing slightly, mainly because of the sacrifices in Afghanistan.

Andrew Cohen, in his book "While Canada Slept" follows Hillier's lead in criticism of Canadian leadership. ( Actually, Cohen's book came out in 2003, well before Hillier's, but I choose to examine them in the order I read them. ) Cohen's book is about the Canadian foreign policy and diplomatic service, once one of the best in the world, highly professional, highly trained, expert in dealing with the superpowers of the world, able to achieve great things for a country that was, and still is, a middle power. In Lester Pearson's words, we "punched above our weight" in the golden age. Now, because of the dithering of political leadership and the apathy of the populace, our status and stature in the world is slipping into a type of mediocrity and irrelevance that does not serve us at all.

"The Walrus" magazine has, in its last two issues, published articles and editorials on similar subjects. In the recent edition, an article by Chris Turner described the recent environmental and economic innovations sweeping Europe in the last few years, and how Europe will outstrip Canada and indeed the rest of the world for years to come. We Canadians have become quite smug about our approach to such things, because we believed that, since we are a relatively young country, the future will belong to us. This article smashes this assumption and reveals it for what it really is.... self-delusion. John McFarlane, the editor of "The Walrus", has written about the same lack of innovation in the automotive sector. On a visit to China in the early 1980's, McFarlane was told by his aged Chinese host that the one thing he would love to visit in Canada was not Niagara Falls or Banff, but the recently completed Autoplex in Oshawa Ont., the most modern assembly plant in the world. No longer is GM a world leader, as we all know. And no longer is Oshawa in the forefront of GM's thinking and planning, if there is any, for the future. McFarlane also wrote, in a fairly recent editorial, how the terrible behaviour and lack of decorum in Canada's parliament has stifled true and meaningful debate, creative problem solving, and has instead fostered a contempt and apathy among the Canadian public toward its leadership. McFarlane suggests that, even if there was good leadership coming from Ottawa, which there isn't, people would be too tuned out to notice and care.

Pierre Berton, perhaps the dean of Canadian popular history, wrote a book several years ago which foretold all of this. It was, on initial read, a celebration of Canada's centennial year, when all things seemed possible for our nation, and that the world and the future would eventually fall into our enlightened sphere of influence. Ironically, however, Berton called his book "1967: The Last Good Year", suggesting instead that our greatest achievements, our greatest sense of confidence, our greatest feelings of nationhood, lasted from Vimy Ridge in 1917 to the last crowds who exited Expo '67 in Montreal. From that time onwards, we have stopped moving forward.

Even in the world of sports, there is cause for concern. Feschuk and Grange wrote about perhaps the most hallowed institution in English Canadian culture, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and how they have gone from perrenial champions to laughing stock in 40 years. The tale is more about the Canadian psyche than about hockey. The organization has been poorly lead, concerned about money and prestige more than it has about winning. There is no confidence, no vision, no determination to succeed in the Leafs, except for the bottom line.

The best example of how Canada has slid is "A Fair Country" by John Ralston Saul. In this sometimes rambling, but thoughtful and angry book, Saul severely criticizes just about everything we've done recently as a nation, and saves his most poisonous jabs for the business, political, beaurocratic, educational and other elites, who he calls the "castrati". The elite is governed by fear, cowardice, lack of conviction, and lack of scruples. We don't stand for anything, Saul argues, because our leaders don't stand for anything. They manage, but do not lead. The result: a type of grey boredom in the country.

There are several other examples I could cite. When I discuss Canada with my friends and colleagues, the same type of disappointed apathy emerges. Whether it is at the Grey Goat, at the lunch table in the English Department of GL Roberts, at a cottage at Whitestone Lake, at Rick's breakfast table,over beers with Brian at the Irish Embassy, or in my living room talking with Lou, a constant theme emerges. We are no longer an important or relevant country. My cousins in England, my friends in the US or Australia know nothing about us, nor do they care. What's worse, my students and many of my friends here in Canada are the same: they know little or nothing, nor do they give a rat's ass.

Where do we go now? The future seems to be more of the same. In my next post, I will have some outrageous suggestions as to how to fix it. Stay tuned !

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Last night's game between the Toronto Rock and the Rochester Knighthawks had a great deal of drama attached to it. Playoff implications were everywhere. After the dust had settled, the Rock had scored an important 15-7 victory, guaranteeing a playoff appearance. At last, a Toronto sports team made it into post-season action. Everyone was happy, and the Rock certainly were the dominant team.

But the game was also interesting for a couple of the veteran warriors on the floor. John Grant Jr. of the Knighthawks and Bob Watson of the Rock, were key players. In a sport of young men, it was refreshing to see two wily veterans have a vital role.

Watson recently celebrated his 40th birthday. Forty year old athletes are no longer a rarity in sports, but for the difficult and demanding position of goaltender, being on the wrong side of 40 is usually not an ingredient for success. Watson certainly has had his ups and downs this season, but then again, so has the entire team. When he is on form, Watson is one of the most athletic goaltenders in a sport where size and bulk usually are what the goalies rely on. Last night, Watson made some incredible saves, showing speed and agility of a much younger man. One scoop save in particular stood out, denying Rochester any chance of getting back into the game.

Grant's story is even more dramatic. He missed the entire 2009 season because of a serious knee injury that became infected. Reports said that the infection destroyed the ligaments in his knee and almost took his life. A cadaver's ligament was eventually placed in the joint and a year of fierce rehab and re-conditioning followed. His return to competitive lacrosse is nothing short of a miracle. To be sure, Grant has lost speed and agility, but he made two plays reminiscent of the Grant of old. On one, he was in close on Watson and unleashed a wicked behind the back shot that rang off the goalpost. On the other, he scored while on the ground under a pile of Rock defenders. The strength of Grant's shots, based on uncanny wrists and hands, is legendary and he has not lost any of that.

I enjoy seeing ageing stars continue to shine in any field where younger people are supposed to be the center of attention. Well done, Bob and John.... long may you rock, long may you roll !!!

Friday, April 16, 2010


The Toronto Rock host their last game of a turbulent 2010 season tonight at the ACC against the Rochester Knighthawks. Both teams are flirting with the .500 mark on the season. For the Rock, it is now a case of which team will show up: the good Rock or the evil Rock.

The evil Rock were in evidence last weekend in Buffalo, where the Bandits handed the Rock their lunch in a game that can only be described as weird. The Bandits held a substantial lead at half time, only to have the Rock suddenly get interested in the third quarter. When the Rock tied the score at 10-10, it was almost as though they had accomplished their goal of getting even. They slid back into their disinterested mode to finish the game. Final score, Buffalo 13, Rock 10.

Obviously, this is not the mind-set of a championship calibre team. To be so inconsistent is an indication that something has gone wrong internally. The Rock in the first half of the season had re-acquired the old swagger of the championship teams from the recent past, but the road trip to Alberta at the half way point of the season has proven to be their undoing. Confidence is gone, the goaltending is inconsistent, and Colin Doyle seems to have his mind elsewhere. The coaches are reduced to either staring in disbelief at the mess on the floor or shouting in panic-stricken intensity at their players. My guess is that there is feuding in the locker room, but that is only a guess. How else to explain the dramatic change in appearance of what should be an excellent team?

The Knighthawks also need this game. They are 7-7 on the season, indicating mediocrity at best. However, they have won back to back games last weekend, so they would appear to be improving while the Rock are struggling.

For the Rock, it is now or never. If they are indeed worthy of our respect, they must not only win tonight, but win convincingly. Otherwise, their playoff experience will be a short one.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


It's been a season of ups and downs for the Toronto Rock. After starting the season like the proverbial house on fire, they suffered a mid season swoon and dropped five games in a row. Their efforts at home during the swoon can only be described as lack-lustre.

Now, their fortunes seem to be on the up-swing again. Wins last weekend over Calgary at home and Philadelphia on the road have boosted their over-all record to 8-6, which is not spectacular, but is still good enough for second place in the hotly contested East Division. Two games remain, this weekend in Buffalo against the desperate Bandits, followed by a home closer against the Rochester Knighthawks. Both opponents are in the playoff race also, and will probably play hard against the Rock. Nevertheless, the Rock hold their destiny in their own hands. Wins will solidify their place in the playoffs and probably secure a home date.

What causes teams to do what the Rock have done this year? A promising start seemed to indicate that their past problems had been solved. They played the first 7 games with great confidence: goaltending was spectacular, the offence was productive, and the defence seemed to be solid. Then, the losing slide began with close but uninspiring games in Alberta. Confidence waned, and all parts of their game looked shabby and unpolished. Key players began to look average, especially the captain, Colin Doyle, who appeared to be disinterested. Mistakes piled on top of each other and players looked at each other as though expecting a disaster to happen at any time. The result: going from a solid first place team to just one more in the pack of the division.

Organizations of any kind go through dry spells, where focus is lost, creativity seems to disappear, and members lose confidence in their colleagues and try to do their jobs for them. There are only two ways for a rebound to occur: blind luck, or the ability of a leader to see the problem and do what is necessary to correct it in time to restore the faith of the members and put the organization back on track. Teams, businesses, schools, armies, and governments all run the same way.

Let's see if the Rock can keep the winning ways going. If they do, it will prove that leadership is solid on the team. One might say "Rock solid".