Sunday, December 14, 2008

Emergency Doors

A woman bleeding from a gunshot wound goes to the hospital. She enters through the doors marked "Emergency". Once inside she finds herself facing two doors. One says, “Male” and the other says, “Female”. She, of course, goes through the door marked “Female”.

Again, she finds herself facing two doors. This time one say, “Insured” and the other, “Uninsured”. She goes through the door marked “Uninsured” and finds herself facing two more doors. One says “Annual income eighty thousand plus”. The other, “Annual income less than eighty thousand”.

She goes through the door marked “Annual income less than 80 thousand” and comes to two doors. One says, “Homeowner”. The other, “Renter”.

She goes through the door marked “Renter” and finds herself back on the street bleeding from a gunshot wound.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Replace the Queen

It is time for Canada to take the Queen off its currency. We are a sovereign nation with our own constitution and an independent global voice. The Governor General (which is to say the British crown) has no real power. She simply rubberstamps everything that comes across her desk, even when she knows by doing so she is allowing the law to be broken.

Canada has its own art, literature, music and cultural events. We play hockey, not cricket. Not rugby. We do not go to war simply because Britain does. She is not our primary trading partner and we never compare the value of our dollar to its pound.

Former Canadian Prime Ministers grace our banknotes. Laurier is on the five. MacDonald on the ten. King, the fifty. And, Borden is on the hundred. Yet an image of Queen Elizabeth II is on our most used banknote – the twenty – and she is on all our coins. It is time for her to be replaced.

Lester B. Pearson is the only Canadian Prime Minister to receive a Nobel Peace Prize for his actions while in office. He worked tirelessly to establish Canada’s place in the United Nations and made national Medicare and the Canadian Pension Plan realities. Shamefully, we do not celebrate him nearly enough. He deserves to be on our twenty dollar bill. We should see him everyday to remind us of the respect Canada has earned in the eyes of the world.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Card-Carrying Artists

The federal government needs to create a publicly-accessible national registry of professional artists. This formal recognition of artists as valuable members of society will serve as impetus to ordinary Canadians and businesses to cease treating artists as second-class citizens, to honour the significant role artists play in keeping Canada in the limelight on the world stage.

The vital importance of artists to non-arts jobs – especially in the tourist and service industries – will be more easily extolled. The foreign monies artists bring into the country – most notably through the sale of music and film broadcast rights, and film and translation options on both literary and non-fiction publication – will be seen as worthy of attention. And, of course, the intellectual stimulation and psycho-emotional benefits of the arts will enjoy greater appreciation.

Though registrants will have to satisfy specific criteria to be recognized as professional artists, they should never be required to pay a membership fee or dues. And, just as students and seniors have cards identifying them as such, artists will be issued a card identifying them as a Canadian Artist. Artists will be able to demonstrate their authenticity instantly whenever required.

Restaurants, stores, clubs, ticketed events, government agencies, public transit and other services will be able to offer artists discounts without fear of frauds taking advantage of them. Their legitimacy respected, card-carrying artists will be in a better position to seek private and corporate patronage. This will reduce the burden they place on government granting agencies which, in turn, will enable those agencies to nurture amateur and aspiring artists as they develop their skills.

Just as barbershops and drugstores have traditionally sponsored little league baseball and peewee-hockey teams, both independent and franchised businesses could sponsor an artist. Sponsorship could take the form of providing artists with materials they need to do their work or with things they require to live – clothing or food for example. These businesses will then be able to advertise the fact they have helped an artist enrich Canada. This will raise their profile in the eyes of consumers and encourage people to shop at their store.

Restaurant owners too could easily become patrons by providing three or five or seven meals a week to an artist. With a national pride in our artists as great or greater than the pride we feel for our Olympic athletes, wouldn’t everyone want to eat in a restaurant that feeds an artist? Imagine walking up to the window of a restaurant to peruse its menu and seeing a prominently displayed picture of its well-fed and productive artist.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Restrained compassion
is a candle without flame.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Positive Indoctrination

We need to instill in our children and youth a civic consciousness with regard to the importance of voting. This can be achieved relatively simply and inexpensively. In time, it will create an actively political population which is less willing to play the victim, more likely to control its future.

Each time there is a vote (municipal, provincial or federal) the polling stations should be operated by school principals and vice-principals, television personalities, music and film celebrities, Olympic athletes and athletes from professional sports teams – especially hockey, baseball, football and basketball.

On the days leading up to the election, television personalities will explain that they’ll be away that day because they will be “participating in the most crucial aspect of our democracy.” School teaches will lead students in discussions about civic duty, the democratic process and the importance of voting. Music, film and athletic celebrities will use every opportunity they can (including websites and paid commercials) to let their fans know they are “working to make Canada a true democracy.”

Imagine children filled with pride because their principal is making it possible for people to vote. Imagine teenagers seeing their favourite Much Music V.J. working a polling station. Imagine youth of all ages eagerly waiting for their parents to get home from the polling station so they can find out who’s autograph they are going to get to add to their collection.

Imagine when they are old enough to vote what they will be doing on election day.

Too idealistic? I’m sure the power-brokers and money-men hope that’s the case.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

N.F.B. Screening Law

The city of Toronto should have a by-law that requires a National Film Board of Canada (NFB) film be shown prior to every screening of a feature-length film. This would include features shown at big chain theatres, such as Odeon and Famous Players, as well as at rep and indie theatres. It would definitely include features shown at film festivals – especially the Toronto International Film Festival.

With over 12,000 NFB films available, a large percentage of which are under ten minutes, there are plenty to choose from. And, they are so good, that over the past 65 years they have received more than 5000 awards. Mostly international. Of course, the rights to screen these films will have to be paid for, and the money this generates would have to be used to fund Canadian film projects.

But this isn’t just about generating revenue. It’s primarily about assuring Canadians are given an opportunity to enjoy Canadian films and to give Canadian filmmakers the exposure and respect they deserve. Further, at our more prestigious festivals, it will help insure people from beyond our borders recognize our cinematic excellence, dedication and history.

I am confident children and teens will enjoy many of the thousands of quirky animations. Horror buffs, the more lurid ones. And audiences in general, the captivating biography and history shorts. Patrons of the Hot Docs festival I’m sure will enjoy watching Canadian documentaries from the 1940s and ’50s, if for no other reason than to see how much cinematic style and technique has changed over the years. And, because the NFB has funded such a diverse range of cinematic projects over the decades, there are plenty of short films on specific cultures, events, issues and genres. There is something suitable for every possible theme-specific festival.

Everyone I have spoken with thinks screening an NFB short prior to a feature film is an excellent idea. Of course, I’ve yet to speak to the corporate heads that would have to authorize paying for the rights. I suspect paying to screen a Canadian film instead of a money-making commercial isn’t something they would embrace with joy and enthusiasm. This is why a by-law is required.

This law, however, should allow the NFB the right to waive the screening fee should they have sound reason for such a decision. For instance, in the case of a film being shown as part of a fundraising event for a charitable organization.

Who knows, perhaps if Toronto passes such a law other cities will be inspired to do the same. How many Canadian films would you like to see on the technicolor screen?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cuts to the Arts

Though the Harper government’s cuts to the arts may be the first of many, its actual target is the potential content of specific media, not so much the artistic process or its products. The cuts are an obvious and blatant attempt at information control. After all, didn’t Plato tell us: critical comments by artists are a threat to the Republic.

Harper’s first cuts were to External Affairs grants, money that would help get Canadian thought and opinion beyond our borders. Specifically to the population his good buddies to the south are so expertly deceiving. Sure, some harmless babies are getting thrown out with the bath water, but as children go they really aren’t as important, loved or lovable as say… oh, I don’t know… something big and expensive like a faulty, second-hand, nuclear submarine.

Today’s most popular arts are music, film and television. They are also relatively inexpensive to distribute to consumers (consider how much it costs to transport, hotel and feed a dance troupe or choir compared with having a film repeatedly screened in a thousand-seat theatre). And, if that’s not bad enough, Canada is internationally recognized as the number one producer of documentaries. So, of course, the Harper government’s next set of cuts had to be the five programs that help make it possible for Canadian filmmakers, musicians and artists to compete in the international marketplace.

I wonder what kind of champagne they drink in the White House.

Should Canadians remember this latest affront when it comes time to go to the polls and vote the conservatives out of office, the damage may well be done. If the staff of these programs – with all their specialized knowledge, understanding and administrative skills – have found new jobs by the time some future government decides to reinstate these programs, is it reasonable to think they’ll again disrupt their lives to come racing back to an unsure livelihood? No, these programs will have to be rebuilt from ground zero. Their effectiveness will have been seriously, perhaps permanently, damaged. Decades of effort will have been destroyed.

Perhaps, if we promise to only make films and songs and art about flowers and butterflies, the Harper government will reverse its decision to cut these programs. Then again, it may be only a matter of time before flowers and butterflies are also considered a threat.