16 November 2009

A Tory Bodice-ripper?

Strange days, indeed. This past Wednesday, Remembrance Day, Linden MacIntyre received a well-deserved Giller Prize for The Bishop's Man. A day later, the novel's position as the country's most discussed book was lost to a 62-page government publication intended for prospective immigrants. The reviews of Discover Canada have been glowing:

"... a reasonable, balanced assessment of the national past."

"...a solid step toward a healthy, self-respecting Canadian nationalism we can all share."

"...a comparative bodice-ripper when stacked against its bland predecessor..."

I don't think Ivison really means Discover Canada is cheap or disposable or sexually-charged – and read nothing into his use of "stacked" with "bodice-ripper" – but he is very, very excited.

A newly minted Canadian himself, the National Post columnist cheers on Discover Canada as "yet another incremental step in the re-branding of Canada into a conservative country, full of people more inclined to vote Conservative." So, pay no attention to the participation of non-partisan bodies, ignore advisors like Andrew Cohen and John Ralston Saul, Discover Canada is the "Tory guide to a blue Canada". Why? Because it promotes "patriotism, pride in the armed forces and support for the rule of law" (in much the same way Ivison promotes American punctuation). These aren't Canadian values, the columnist tells us, they're Conservative values. Oh, and that maple leaf on the cover? That's not a Canadian symbol, but one that became Tory after a successful "hijacking".

And then, predictably, Ivison's off on another rant about the gun registry.

I can understand why the columnist so wants to claim
Discover Canada for his team; it may not be a bodice-ripper, but it's most certainly an improvement. Yes, Bloc MPs hate the thing, but that's just a job requirement; all the other parties are pretty well on board. The greatest criticism thus far comes from New Democrat Olivia Chow, who laments that the new guide doesn't recognize our UNESCO World Heritage sites.

This is not to say that there aren't greater flaws. Christopher Moore notes that there's no mention of First Nations rights and treaties, while Daniel Francis rightly claims that BC receives short shrift (and points out that not one of the 26 advisors comes from the province).

Much more modest, my own complaint deals with the
"Arts and Culture in Canada" section. It consumes little more than a page and, curiously, is dominated by sports, science and technology. Oh, there's paragraph on the visual arts, which mentions the Group of Seven, Emily Carr, les Automatistes, Jean-Paul Riopelle and Kenojuak Ashevak. Another paragraph on film and television boils everything down to Denys Arcand, Norman Jewison and Atom Egoyan. But what does Discover Canada have to tell prospective immigrants about our literary heritage?

The answer, in its entirety:

So there you have it: Canadian literature in fifteen or so words. I could make more of this, I suppose, but these guys and their fellow singers and songwriters didn't even get a sentence to call their own.


  1. Both cliched but one a very dull cover, one fun. The text may be better in this latest version of the study guide but the over could't be worse. Also no snow in sight.
    The Sea is so Wide is one of (by my count) 44 "historicals" before Harlequin went all romance. This is one of 13 in 1952 - the most of any year. Novelists (and poets)sure loved the Acadian story.

  2. I admit to having had a bit of a chuckle over the Discover Canada cover. While the layout has all the excitement of an annual report, what really got me going wasn't the ever-present Canadarm, but the moose. That said, I will give the folks who put this together credit for including an image of Quebec's National Assembly. A bold move.

    I've never read Eaton - and expect I never will - still, I'm pleased to see that Formac has returned to print three of her novels, including The Sea is so Wide. The new cover, I note, is much more gentle.

  3. Wonderful Neil Y video. I guess that was the beautiful silhouette of Joni Mitchell providng some vocal backing-- talk about romance! Nigel

  4. Nigel, that was indeed Joni Mitchell, filmed by Martiin Scorsese at the Band's 'Last Waltz', 25 November 1976. Good eye!