Category Archives: Features

Board games draw players to the table

Spielwiese shop and café in Berlin, Germany.

Spielwiese shop and café in Berlin, Germany.

THE colours have the somewhat muted hue of being worn down from repeated use, fingers of all ages pulling the boxes from the shelves to yank off the lids and see the maze of pieces and labyrinth of rules.

Almost every corner of Spielwiese1 has a game of some variation of design or language, catering to an international popularity of being the extreme version of the home closet containing a small pile of board games and entertainments.

The café, on Kopernikusstraße in Berlin’s eastern Friedrichshain district, has been open for eight years and survived the gaming community themselves taking bets against it, says owner Michael Schmitt.

He started in sociology in university, working for a government commission in Germany before deciding to raise his first daughter while his wife – a headhunter in the fashion industry – worked. And then he began the idea of the games shop, where you can book tables to play any game, buy new ones, or rent ones to play at home or other cafés. Business has been so good in the past two years that Spielwiese can barely accommodate the growing interest in the evenings and weekends.

“It was hard when I first opened eight years ago,” says Mr Schmitt, a dad of two whose daughters dart between the shop and home nearby. “Computer games became a little more popular but this doesn’t mean people didn’t play board games.

“The digital and analogue exist side by side. People wanted to come together physically.

“More than 60 per cent of people coming to the shop are non-German – there are some times when I’m the only one speaking German. Sometimes I think I’m more known outside German than in Berlin. I survived a lot of competitors.”

The King family, originally from San Francisco but visiting from Sweden, arrive on a quiet afternoon with their two boys pulling all manner of games they already know from the shelves, their parents insisting they put them back afterwards.

One points out Jenga in the window to his dad, Warren.

“We didn’t come all this way to play Jenga,” he says.

They settle down to learn a new game and Mr Schmitt, 44, says that despite the variety of options out there, Monopoly still outsells all other games in Germany combined.2 And many first-time visitors of Spielwiese go for Monopoly by the default of familiarity.

“I hate Monopoly,” says Mr Schmitt. “It happens quite often – they grab the game they know, but during the game, they decide to ask for suggestions of something else. People don’t have to play Monopoly – it’s 30 years since I played my last game of Monopoly. I have a mission to attract people to other games.

“My parents had the tradition that every Christmas there was a new game that the whole family played. We still do this. I’m lucky that my wife really enjoys playing.”

Mr Schmitt could expand and easily fill the space with people and games, but not at the price of the continually up-and-coming Friedrichshain. He said the rent for a café space has increased to seven times what he originally paid eight years ago.

A woman arrives and rents Mastermind.

“I really enjoy Catan, and I love co-operative games like Pandemic and minimalistic games with few materials,” he says, pulling out Love Letter, rated one of the best new games of 2012. “The rules are so easy but the game is so challenging – it’s really a gem. Most people are overwhelmed when they come in. It’s not necessary to play here – you can play in other cafes if we’re full.

“One of my greatest fears was people would not look after the games, but during the years I saw people that rent games or play them look after the games – most of them.

“On the weekends, I would need a place double this size. We have to send away more people than we can accept.

“People who come here want to have fun.”


A 35mm film photography special on a Berlin board games shop and café.

Correction: An earlier version of the story referred to Mr Schmitt’s wife as being a headhunter in the “business industry”.

  2. Monopoly firm Hasbro would not confirm its sales. Nicole Agnello, senior manager with global brand publicity at Hasbro said the game has sold 275 million copies around the world.

Women of the world paint stories with song

Celtic Connections

Shellie Morris, Fiona Hunter, Mike Vass and Parveen Sabrina Khan rehearse Auld Lang Syne before the Women of the World concert, Celtic Connections festival, January 25, 2014, Glasgow, Scotland.

The auditorium is empty, save for the lighting and sound man, the stage manager, a husband and a reporter.

On stage are three women from around the world, having met for the first time just a few minutes earlier. They will be performing individually in a couple of hours but need to prepare for an encore together.

In the midst of the women, musician Mike Vass1 suggests, because the concert falls on Burns Night, something suitable such as Auld Lang Syne2, as he contributes the chords on the guitar in the background. It may be common and well known to Glaswegian singer-cellist Fiona Hunter,3 but in the original Scots, it is unknown to fellow performers Shellie Morris,4 a ground-breaking Aborigine artist from Australia, and Parveen Sabrina Khan5, from Rajasthan, India.

Fiona and Mike demonstrate Auld Lang Syne as Parveen stares into the air to her left, and Shellie looks deep in thought at the floor to her right, both listening to sense where their own traditions merge together. They each try a verse, not so much constructing lines with words as splashing Indian and Australian colours on to Scots.

It is time for a full run through and the layers of sound pile on, filling the empty space. In less than 15 minutes, the artists have riffed a new and original version of a song written in 1788.

“I had not met either of the two women – we didn’t have a clue how it would work,” says Fiona just before her set later in the evening. “It was pretty amazing. I got a bit goosebumpy.”

“The song resembles a Raga I know,” says Parveen. “It’s funny how countries have common roots – music is so similar all over the world.

“It’s so nice to have women that are completely different and you learn to produce different music. It was an honour.”

Celtic Connections

Parveen Sabrina Khan rehearses Auld Lang Syne before the Women of the World concert.

The Women of the World concert6 was part of the 21st annual Celtic Connections7 festival in Glasgow, Scotland. Very different storytelling traditions were brought together from Commonwealth countries, two days past the six-months mark to the city hosting the Commonwealth Games.

But what the performance lacked in world-record speed – at more than two and a half hours – it made up for with record-worthy energy.

Shellie Morris’s latest album8 is a first of its kind in Australia. Opting to perform in Glasgow instead of attending a ceremony the same day back home as the Northern Territory nominee for “Australian of the Year”, she explains – almost justifies in the interview and later to the audience – that she has Scottish ancestry, as a Muir. It is her background as an indigenous performer and her rediscovery of her people, that has put her on the musical and cultural map.

Celtic Connections

Shellie Morris rehearsing before the Women of the World concert.

Across that map are songlines, the music and stories that are so central to indigenous connection to the land, says Shellie9.

“I feel rooted to a people, but those people are from a particular place,” she says.

Throughout her set during the concert, Shellie describes how she was adopted at 12 weeks old, raised by loving non-Aborigine parents in Sydney, and then later connected to her family in the Northern Territory. Perched on a red leather stool, feet on the foot rest and gently plucking the guitar as she talks, then sings, in celebration of her early life.

“You picked me up and made me feel tall,” she sings, commanding the stage and the packed audience in front of her.

Shellie moves to sharing the journey to find her indigenous origins – punctuated with, “Excuse me, I have to burp” – and discovering her sister Mandy, singing in one of her 14-18 indigenous languages and then English.

“There has been a change,” explains Shellie before the show. “I don’t think I had a sense of place. Something changed in me, a strength I had never felt before in my life.

“I think there’s a freedom, and a sense of place.

“Our stories can be told in a different way. Our traditional songs are still there, but there’s an embellishment.”

Celtic Connections

Parveen Sabrina Khan performs at the Women of the World concert, Celtic Connections festival, January 25, 2014.

Parveen is second to take the stage in the concert, seated on a red-carpet-topped platform with her father, Hameed Khan, to her right and Chanderji to her left, one of “four or five” people who can still play the distinctive Khamancha instrument.

The stage manager points out the small box Parveen asked to plug in just before she went on, something she hadn’t had during the sound check. It has a Continental plug, not a British one, and the stage manager says he put it upside down to keep it working during her set.

It is a suitable weekend for Women of the World, with January 25 marking Robert Burns’ birth, and January 26 being both Australia Day and Republic Day in India.

The 21st Celtic Connections features Parveen, who turned 21 just days earlier – a fact the audience is unaware of. Her voice carries more wisdom, celebrating the traditional and rare maenads of Rajasthan, a form of folk singing that is dying as much as dozens of indigenous languages in Australia.

Shellie is back stage in her black puff jacket and green and gold Wallabies scarf as Parveen’s shadow is caught by the black stage curtains to her side, her hands painting the air. Raga, one of which she heard in Auld Lang Syne, means colour or hue.

Each piece is appropriate to a particular time of day, except for the last, and each demonstrates a considerable vocal range, captivating the audience who applaud enthusiastically.

Celtic Connections

Fiona Hunter and Mike Vass perform at the Women of the World concert, Celtic Connections festival, January 25, 2014.

After the intermission, when Fiona and Mike walk on to the stage, they continue the storytelling of the concert. The ballads they sing celebrate the working of the mills in nearby Paisley, the mournful loss of young girls and travelling sailors, adventure and love.

Even as much as the women’s voices soar up into the void above the audience at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow, all the music is rooted in place. Local traditions can go global through technology and festivals and through the individual passions of the women working to share the music.

Shellie describes how the women of the Northern Territory love to tell stories, “the stories will always be there”.

Her husband, Jone Vuqa, says he “nearly fell over” when he first heard Shellie’s music written around the traditional songlines.

“All the stories of the land,” she sings in her final track during her set, with the audience repeating the refrain, “With our lands to this land”.

But even words and lyrics and music cannot fully capture the power.

“They have a power that I can’t even explain,” she says. “There’s no words to explain how powerful it is, and grounding.”


Reading Rainbow ‘Check it Out’: 30 years on

The team behind the music video in the TV show’s first episode talk about the performance and literacy in America today

"The Ringmaster"

Richard Seltzer Snr as “The Ringmaster” in “Check It Out”

What do a Transylvanian toad, a ringmaster, a New Jersey library and America’s stagnant literacy rates have in common?

For 30 years, a children’s TV show – and its now tablet app descendant – have been trying to convey a joy of reading and the adventure to be found inside a book.

Reading Rainbow debuted on June 8, 19831 with the episode “Tight Times”, centred around the book of the same name by Barbara Shook Hazen2.

A young girl beset by boredom and a lack of money is introduced to the library by host LeVar Burton.

Original Reading Rainbow logo

Original Reading Rainbow logo. Courtesy

The resulting musical number shows staff and readers of all ages sitting on bookshelves and transforming into magical characters, darting in and out of the stacks, and running down the curving staircase shouting in praise of libraries in voices far louder than you’d ever hear in a library.

The song, “Check It Out”, brought together a Broadway choreographer, a young composer and actors at the start of careers that would later lead to top shows such as Treme and The Sopranos.

“Little did we know,” Mr Burton told Tomorrow, “that that little music video would be a part of the new way of story telling on TV in terms of matching imagery with narrative, either sung or, in the case of Reading Rainbow, spoken.

“We were just looking for ways to flesh out that idea that in tight times there are things that one can do to enhance one’s opportunities in life, and the library – at least in 1983 – was chief amongst those assets.”

Thirty years on from that music video in the first Reading Rainbow episode, Tomorrow tracks down those who made it happen and what it meant to them, and to reading. And we ask why child literacy rates remain stagnant, even as the number of libraries has risen.

“Check It Out” from Reading Rainbow from MARC ARAMIAN on Vimeo.


The Choreographer

Sammy Dallas Bayes3 was in high demand after the film adaptation of the musical Godspell and his Broadway revival of Fiddler On The Roof. Nominated for a 1969 Tony Award for best choreographer for Canterbury Tales, Mr Bayes was doing corporate work when he was asked to put together a song and dance number for the new PBS show, Reading Rainbow.

“It was basically a walk in the park,” he recalls in a call from his home in New York State. “It all sort of fell into place, and kept very simple and child-like, telling the story, and how you best get young kids interested in the library.

“They loved to go to the movies and see comics so my thought was what we do is set it up in a working library and transform it into fantasy. Everybody who was in the actual library, whether they worked there, whether they were reading books or checking out books, really became part of the fabric for the young girl.”

Shot in Millburn Free Public Library in New Jersey4, Mr Bayes said the location was ideal for turning a functioning library into a fantasy world.

“The book stacks had been there for years and were pretty large and I guess bolted to the floor,” he said. “All we had to do was get a high crane shot to just get above it. We looked at locations and that was one of our concerns: how easy would it be to shoot in the space we had?

“Having that area above the book stacks really made the decision for us because it completely opened up where I could put the camera, without being close to the ceiling. So it was a blessing more than anything else. It just gave it a different look.”

A year after “Check It Out”, Mr Bayes appeared himself in another Reading Rainbow episode, centred around the choreographing of a musical number “Teamwork”. He remembers both his daughters seeing the episodes in school and when he watched it again after being contacted by Tomorrow, he said it still works.

“It seems to be the kind of subject matter and vision that teachers in grade school can turn to as guidance, by using ‘Check It Out’ or ‘Teamwork’,” said the 74-year-old. “Imagination was brought out by what you could find in the library, by reading a book.

“I had not looked at the piece in such a long time and I thought, ‘oh, what a nice idea that was’. It’s simplistic, it’s something a young mind can follow, and you can see the idea of what a library would do. I felt very good about it. I enjoyed doing both of those pieces. It was a very good experience for me.”


The Composer

Mr Bayes asked a then young composer, Marc Aramian5, to put together the music to achieve the library vision. Mr Aramian admitted he was surprised that his linguistic experiments worked.

But when he recently showed the video of “Check it Out” to his daughter, she said, “That’s the goofiest thing I’ve ever seen”, he recounts.

“There’s a mixture of pride and embarrassment when you see some of your early work,” he said. “Watching it brought back this flood of memories.

“It was a real labour of love. I regularly contribute to causes and I was proud to be considered for something like that. I was the novice in the whole crew and it was very kind of them to think that I could handle it. And I think they were pleased with it. It was the first TV show that I ever did and my first Broadway-type thing.”

Speaking via Skype from his home in Los Angeles, Mr Aramian said: “My mandate was to create a track that would help tell the story about what was great about the library. So I wrote the lyrics and the music for this tune and did a demo and passed it around – everyone liked it.

“I really went out on a ledge I think because I was doing some wild things lyrically, talking about ‘open up your eyeballs wide’ and the bridge section about the ‘Transylvanian toad’ and the ‘equatorial road’ and all those kinds of things were just sort of flights of fancy that I never thought they’d like. But they liked them. I was really pleased about that.”

Mr Aramian said that LeVar Burton’s vocal part had to be him, while the other characters could be recorded from local singers. The actor, who went on to host Reading Rainbow until 2006 and continues to guide the parent company RRKidz6, flew to Atlanta where Mr Aramian collected him from the airport, took him to dinner and then to the recording studio the next day.

“Some of things were a bit out of his range so he talks some of it – you know, the Rex Harrison method of singing,” he said. “But he did it with such enthusiasm.

“Back in those days you didn’t have digital playback so you had to have a special playback rig that remained in sync while everybody lip-synced to the action and so there were technical hurdles that had to be handled.”

Mr Aramian had a number of jobs before turning to composing. After a degree in industrial and systems engineering from Georgia Tech, he started a plastics manufacturing company with his family, ran the IT department in an insurance company, then bought out a partner at a customer furniture firm. He got involved in amateur opera and a retired composer-conductor taught Mr Aramian to read music. But his first attempt at composing wasn’t profitable and he went to work in the construction industry in Saudi Arabia before returning to the US to try music again.

After two years of pounding the pavement before getting his first job, it was while doing the corporate work with Mr Bayes that the “huge draw” of PBS arrived.

“Sammy had some notoriety and he was kind enough to include me in this thing,” he said. “I was carving out a career in Atlanta at that time and I wasn’t a huge fan of Broadway. My background was more in pop, with a pinch of R&B and I wanted to bring that sensibility to the track rather than the Broadway style that was popular at the time. I was really just starting out in my career.”

Mr Aramian has continued composing full time since the Reading Rainbow gig, including the Flag Ceremony at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, feature films, records and more than 90 TV documentaries.


The performers

Marc Aramian was not the only one at the start of his career during “Check It Out”. The young girl battling boredom, played by Cassandra Murray, did an early Cosby Show episode. Donna Smythe, who played the flame-haired librarian in the number, would later appear in the role of Gia Gaeta in The Sopranos. She passed away in September 20127.

Venida Evans8 flew down the stairs as the “Fairy Queen of Books” at the start of three decades of work, including Mrs Brooks in HBO’s Treme and the award-winning film Transamerica. She also made a $8000-winning appearance on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and was “The Muse” – or “the Ikea lady” in the Swedish firm’s ad campaign starting in 2008. Ms Evans was not available for interview for this piece.

Dick Seltzer Snr played “the ringmaster” in “Check It Out”, marking the start of his second career after a long contribution to education.

Mr Seltzer, now 90, had a stroke in 2009 and is unable to speak, but his children said he always remembered the role fondly. After serving in World War II, he had gone from teacher to superintendent of schools in Rockville and Baltimore, Maryland, Plymouth, New Hampshire, and the suburbs of Philadelphia where he was superintendent in Bristol Township, Huntingdon Valley, and Columbia. He was also dean of Plymouth State College in New Hampshire during his career.

When he retired at 55, he decided to go into acting, something he continued until he was 85.

Richard Seltzer Snr

Images of Richard Seltzer Snr in assorted acting and performance roles, courtesy the Seltzer family.

Richard Seltzer Jnr, who himself is involved in books and runs an ebook publisher9,  said: “I remember when he did that, and we have a tape of it. I don’t believe he was paid for his work in the pilot. It was a way to showcase his talents, with the hope that he might get a part in the show.

“Dad was always involved in education, so it was a perfect role for him.”

Daughter Raven Sadhaka Seltzer, an author and reiki master10, added: “I was actually just going through my father’s acting portfolio the other night and he had some still shots in there from this ‘Reading Rainbow’ segment. The make-up they created for his ringmaster character was quite amazing.

“I think I was in college when this was produced. I know that my dad really enjoyed being part of the production and I’m sure it was appealing that it was for PBS. Our father was an educator by profession and was always interested in ways to help people learn and devoted most of his professional life to that end.”

LeVar Burton laughs when he recounts the styles of 1983.

“There’s certainly a dated aspect – outfits, hairstyle, you name it,” he said by phone from California. “However, at its core, as innocent and guileless as it was, it was an attempt to really connect with kids around the idea that the library is a great place to check out.

“It has become for a generation one of those seminal pieces of media, like the ‘Teamwork’ video. People remember those Reading Rainbow dance numbers, as corny as they were. People remember them and they had impact over time. It was an honest attempt to connect to audiences.”


The Library

Milburn Free Public Library, where “Check It Out” was filmed, was stripped of identifying marks to give it more of an “any library” look.

Children’s librarian Patt Kent, who worked at the 25,000+ square feet, 1976 building at the time of the Reading Rainbow visit, said it had a positive impact on reading and the library.

She said: “People recognised our library from the show and came to see it in person. Also, town residents joined the library in increased numbers.

“We purchased all the books that were featured on the program, so we had increased circulation. I think the program in general helped make reading into a much more fun activity. It wasn’t just for nerdy kids.

“Also, meeting LeVar Burton and talking to him about the importance of libraries and reading in his life was inspiring to us all. The kids just loved that he loved reading, and so they loved it too. It was a great experience for us all.”

Check It Out

Screen grab from the end of Check It Out in the Reading Rainbow episode “Tight Times”, filmed on the staircase of Milburn Free Public Library

Milburn Free Public Library

Milburn Free Public Library, New Jersey, looking down the staircase used in “Check It Out”. Courtesy Michael D Banick, library director.

Since the start of Reading Rainbow, new technology has frequently been heralded as bringing the end of libraries and the print book, but neither has happened. According to the American Library Association (ALA)11, the number of public libraries has actually increased by 14 per cent since 1983, but so too has the reach of those libraries, with 10 per cent more branches in communities. Those figures don’t include school, college, university or other libraries.

But literacy scores are still struggling. Figures from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show measures for youngsters in grades four, eight and 12 to be virtually flat between 1992 and 201112. And 2003 estimates calculated that tens of millions of adult Americans lacked basic prose literacy skills.

Reading Rainbow infographic

Infographic of Reading Rainbow, libraries and literacy in the US

Download pdf of infographic here.

“It’s not only the number of libraries increasing,” said ALA president Barbara Stripling, “but the types of programming and the public outreach of libraries has really skyrocketed. What we’re finding is the use of libraries, even in a recession, has gone way up.

“Libraries are no longer focused just on resources and certainly no longer focused just on print material, and I think that willingness to think about libraries as places of conversation and learning and exchange of ideas and access to electronic information and e-books and places where families can come.”

Ms Stripling said with local capital investment, more libraries are becoming community centres, offering virtual programmes and attracting new patrons such as business people who might not have considered them before.

“Yes, we have all of this information, but it’s really too much to handle,” she said. “And it is not necessarily reliable information, it’s not easy to navigate, and our kids and adults need the skills to make sense of all of this, to find the good information, to evaluate it and then use it for whatever they are trying to do.

“Part of what we are trying to do is to change the definition of literacy, beyond basic decoding-type skills to literacy as an empowerment, that not only can you decode it but you understand it and then you can use that to draw your own conclusions or create your own ideas, your own product.

“We are trying our hardest. I find the NAEP scores to be very disappointing and there are certainly huge pockets of people throughout the US who are not at the level we want them to be. I believe part of that is that I think we try too hard to teach them to read rather than encouraging them to read on their own and become independent readers, which has a huge impact on the literacy rate. It is a struggle and every librarian of every type and every educator is focused on it.”

Sammy Dallas Bayes said the current “overdosing” on electronics is limiting people, but that children and adults will find balance again.

“I think we’re going through a phase with the electronics,” he explained, “where we’re becoming a short sentence, short paragraph, short story kind of living, not the full gamut of what we are capable of doing. I do feel there are a lot of times where the young are missing out with too many video games – not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you can overdose on anything.

“There are times now where we’re overdosing on that and that’s taking away from literature and the gaining of any knowledge through literature. How much, I don’t know.

“I think there are good things that happen but I think there’s a lot being lost at the same time by lessening our connection with literature and with reading. I think we’re losing a lot because right now we are overdosing on the electronic world – it’s a really exciting thing that we’re all jumping on, especially the young.

“Somewhere down the road, the new approach and the old approach will even itself out.”

Marc Aramian said the state of literacy was “so sad” and that as many schools were struggling as were finding success.

“I think there’s an establishment in education which is trying to prevent change and there are many brave people who are trying to do what they can to make a change,” he said.

“There are so many entrenched interests in education that it’s difficult for a sea change to occur. And really it should be a return to traditional learning, but that has been lost in the name of loftier goals. I thought Reading Rainbow was terrific. It brought the excitement of reading to an audience that was stuck in front of TV.

“And while I make my living in the entertainment business, I think there’s been some grave disservice done to cultures around the world by distracting people from more important things, like learning. I think the human mind is going to gravitate to funner things, and when we have so many distractions, it makes it very difficult for parents and teachers to get kids to learn.

“I cheer the people who are trying to improve literacy.”

In 2011, LeVar Burton took on the Reading Rainbow licence and with business partners launched an iPad app in June 2012, becoming the top downloaded app within 36 hours13.

“Libraries continue to be a critical part of the infrastructure of universal access for all Americans, when talking about this digital divide,” said Mr Burton. “Libraries have managed to remain relevant in this conversion from the world of print to digital literature and I believe going forward we will continue to rely on them even more, as a source, a marketplace for content of all kinds, as well as a place we can guarantee universal access for all American citizens.

“We are beginning to expand our idea of the nature of literacy, not just the literacy of language and of reading, but we need cultural literacy, we need emotional literacy – these are all of the skills that one is required to have in order to be a successful human being in today’s world.

“We are faced with a challenge now of having to develop a balanced approach to how we consume everything, especially our information and our educational content. The choices are myriad and the opportunities to distract ourselves into oblivion are numerous.

“A steady diet of Grand Theft Auto is not going to get it done. If you do nothing but play Halo for 16 hours a day, you’re not going to be equipped with the challenges of living in the real world. We have to develop discernment in the face of a myriad of choices.”

Reading Rainbow has been so important in so many people’s lives, said ALA’s Barbara Stripling, lifting reading from the page to real people and real interactions.

“Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow – there have been a few that have been pivotal to people’s lives,” she said. “And there are lots of stories of people who learned to read by watching those shows, both in terms of motivation and also getting an understanding of how language works and why you would want to [read].”

Mr Burton said he will continue to champion literacy and reading.

“I’d like to think we made a difference,” he said. “I get the sort of feedback everyday in my life, on the street, that we made a difference, that we occupied a significant place in the lives of adults now, as they were growing up. We’re proud of that.”

Ms Stripling added: “Reading Rainbow has had a huge impact on libraries because it opens up the world of books, the world of discovery and takes kids into an interactive mode that they sometimes don’t get just from watching a regular television programme, so that they reach out and they are willing to be curious and to discover, and that certainly opens the door to reading and to checking books out of the library.”

  • Did “Check It Out” entice you into the library? What did Reading Rainbow do for you? How can America improve its literacy scores?

* * *

“Check it out”
(Music and lyrics by Marc Aramian)

First you need a card,
your ticket to the stacks,
If you check a book out,
you gotta bring it back.

Look around, check it out,
if you need a hand,
I’ll show you all the tools you need
to help you understand.

Check it out, check it out, check it out.
Don’t shout.
Check it out, check it out, check it out.

Books, books everywhere, find a place to hide.
Settle down and open up your eye balls wide.
Wish for all you want,
go for all you wish,
This is where you serve yourself your very favourite dish.

Check it out, check it out, check it out
Don’t shout.
Check it out, check it out, check it out

Feast on fantasy take a look inside.
Meet the fairy queen then take her for a ride
in your old jalopy on the Equatorial road.
Watch out for the flying fish
and the Transylvanian toad.

Open up your eyes and see the world for free,
Sail the crystal skies and skate the frozen sea,
These are more than doors that will open up your mind,
Take a look inside,
it’s up to you to find.

Stick your head inside these phones, records can’t be beat.
Flip your jets on these cassettes
with rock ‘n’ rollin’ beats
Magazines and movies comin’ out the walls.
Short, tall, rich, poor,
for one and all.

Check it out, check it out, check it out
Check it out, check it out, check it out

It’s all for free!
At the library!
Check it out!
Come and see!

Check it out!


No issues for principles 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9.
10. Educate and entertain: Though a TV show is firmly in the “entertain” side, this piece aims to also educate on the way the first programme was made, and the literacy issues that continue to be a matter of concern and debate in the US and elsewhere.
11. Promote responsible debate and mediation: The issue of reading and literacy is larger than any single article. We encourage any comments or questions that will add to the discussion and evolution of the subject.

  3. A bio of Sammy Dallas Bayes.
  5. Mr Aramian declined to give his age.
  6. and
  7. An eBay auction of Ms Smythe’s headshots included a copy of her CV
  8. Venida Evans confirmed by email that she was the “Fairy Queen of Books” but was otherwise unavailable for interview.
  11. Number of libraries in 1983 and 2012: courtesy American Library Association, derived from 1983 Bowker Annual of Library and Book Trade Information (p337) using counts from the American Library Directory, and similarly 2013 Library and Book Trade Almanac (p359).
  12. School reading scores: NCES “fast facts” statistics answering, “How are American students performing at reading?” for intermittent years, obtained from National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
  13. and

Indigenous health inequality: are the boats sailing apart?

Research finds disparity, and tries to bridge the divide

Two-row wampum

The two-row wampum belt was first presented to Europeans in 2013. This wampum is on display at the Woodland Cultural Centre, in Brantford, Ontario, Canada.

NOTE: The previous style of “indigenous” was incorrect and it should be Indigenous where the names of individual Indigenous nations are not available or reporting is of a broader nature. 

FOUR hundred years ago this year, some of North America’s original peoples handed a belt to the Dutch.

The “two-row wampum”1, made from shell and hemp cord, showed two purple lines separated by white, with more white on either side. For the Haudenosaunee Confederacy – then the Five Nations, now the Six Nations2 – it represented two societies living separate yet parallel existences. The original peoples of what they still call Turtle Island  and the immigrants would be two brothers, two vessels travelling on the same river.

Today, in what is now Canada, the lines of Indigenous and non-Indigenous health are getting further apart, according to research by leading universities.

Health is worse, access to services is worse, and the opportunities to improve both are made more challenging by distance, funding, the law, government policy and history.

But pilot programmes are trying to address the gap, through training, mobile access and new arrangements for control of health services.

“In most of Canada, if you have an emergency, you call 911 and someone with a lot of training is dispatched to help you quickly,” said Dr Aaron Orkin, who co-authored papers on one of the projects in a remote part of Ontario. “In Sachigo Lake and other communities like it, if you call 911, nothing happens. You and your community, family and friends are left to your own devices.

“There’s an inequity and an injustice there.”

“We essentially are asking indigneous people to adapt fully to the way we do business, the way we deliver care,” said Dr Manish Sood, from St Boniface Hospital with the University of Manitoba, working to improve kidney disease rates. “Instead I think we need to change the model and try to adapt it specifically to aboriginal people.”

Tomorrow examined six pieces of research published in recent months – five of those papers being reported for the first time – and spoke to both scientists and communities about problems, solutions and opportunities.

In a follow-up to our earlier coverage of food security issues in Vancouver and northern Ontario for Indigenous communities and young people in particular, Tomorrow asks why are the two boats so far apart, and how will the injustice end?


“Concerning”: why are chronic bronchitis and kidney transplant rates worse?

There are a host of medical problems facing communities across Canada, but for some, the health needs are greater and the access to medical care is worse.

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan are currently collecting data from the families of Beardy’s & Okemasis First Nations and Montreal Lake First Nation3. There are respiratory problems in these communities, and the communities and academics want to develop interventions.

They are surveying the health issues in adults and children, as well as data on housing conditions, smoking, demographic information, medical history, social support and any residential school history in the family. They will then resurvey them in 2016 to see what might work from the solutions drawn up.

Dr Punam Pahwa, of the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology and the Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture at the university4, said the communities themselves are concerned about chronic bronchitis, asthma and sleep apnoea, and named smoking and housing conditions such as mould and damp as particular causes, said Dr Pahwa.

“We should be wanting the same health outcomes for young people, whether they are Indigenous or non-Indigenous,” she said.

Dr Pahwa and her colleagues originally started researching rural health, in the 2010 Saskatchewan Rural Health Study (SRHS)5, looking particularly at the causes of respiratory problems in farmers and small town residents.

Because the SRHS did not include Indigenous people, separate analysis was carried out based on the Aboriginal Peoples Survey 20066 by Statistics Canada and Indigenous organisations, looking at children aged six to 14 and adults aged 15 and up, particularly those living off reserve, Metis and Inuit.

In November 2012, researchers7 detailed how they found a higher prevalence of the disease in Indigenous youngsters.

The rate of the disease – based on doctor diagnoses that were volunteered by those surveyed in 2006 – increased with age, as well as with weight, lower income, the complications of asthma and allergies and living in urban areas. Certain areas had significantly higher prevalence of chronic bronchitis, with Quebec more than five times greater than Alberta.

The healthcare gap in CanadaThe study stated: “Compared with our findings, the prevalence of self-reported physician-diagnosed CB was estimated to be 0.9% among Canadian children 12 to 19 years of age. Among Canadian Aboriginal adults, the prevalence of CB was found to be 7.2% among females and 5.0% among males.”

But while Saskatchewan researchers are considering the causes of chronic bronchitis, work is well under way in neighbouring Manitoba to address a significant gap in getting kidney transplants.

Launched in March, the $1.6 million federally funded programme will see health professionals travelling to remote communities to screen on site for kidney disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol and then direct them to appropriate services.8

Again, research has found an inequity between the treatment Indigenous people get, and that for non-Indigenous Canadians. Young people are most affected, and the Indigenous community is generally younger. With more younger patients suffering from end-stage renal disease (ESRD), the healthcare gap could only get worse.

Dr Manish Sood, from St Boniface Hospital with the University of Manitoba9 and the lead author of a recently published national study, explained: “Because there’s a large growth of the young people in the aboriginal cohort, that’s going to be the group who’s going to be coming forward and facing kidney disease and kidney related problems.

“Young aboriginals would benefit the most [from treatment] because if they get a transplant at a young age they can live a healthy, productive life. And from a societal perspective living on dialysis is a very expensive therapy, there’s a lot of complications, [and] they have a worse quality of life.”

But while there are so many links in the “chain” of multiple steps to getting a kidney transplant, more work is still needed to determine where the problem lies. In the meantime, the new mobile project to Manitoba communities will make a difference, and be more cost effective.

“Part of the reason in doing this study was to see if anything improved or changed in the past 10 years, and we found none,” said Dr Sood. “We hope that this research will serve as a bit of a rallying point for advocacy.

“This kind of study hasn’t translated into policy changes. To be honest, that’s concerning.

[Tweet “”This kind of study hasn’t translated into policy changes. To be honest, that’s concerning.””]”Some early evidence says they’re referred just as much. But once you get referred you need to have multiple appointments and multiple tests done – heart scans, ultrasounds of the belly, many blood tests done, psychological testing – to make sure that you’re going to be able to succeed when you get the transplant.

“These things involve separate appointments and testing. If you live 200 km away, you have child care issues, you have socio-economic issues, how easy is it going to be to travel back and forth and get all these things done to ensure the process of making yourself ready to receive the transplant medically is performed?”

Researchers10 looked at the statistics of more than 30,000 Canadians between 2000 and 2009 found Indigenous patients were significantly less likely to receive a kidney transplant.

The data of 30,688 dialysis patients – 2361 of them Indigenous – revealed an even more marked gap in young people. Overall, the need for transplant and dialysis is four times higher in the Indigenous community.

Worse, for those aged 18 to 40, 48.3 per cent of caucasians received a transplant, compared to 20.6 per cent of Indigenous Canadians – less than half as likely. The gap decreased with age group, even after accounting for the lower life expectancy differences.

Researchers concluded: “The results of this study, coupled with the rapidly-growing population of young Aboriginals in Canada, suggests that the significantly reduced rate of renal transplantation in the young Aboriginal population may continue to play a significant role in the burden of chronic disease and resultant health challenges they face if  some degree of targeted intervention is not undertaken.”

Is the problem as simple as taking healthcare services to remote communities? Other research has found Indigenous peoples are not accessing care at all.


Who is getting treated? Why Albertans don’t go to hospitals

Indigenous peoples in Alberta, who have a lower life expectancy and higher rates of some diseases, are consistently not taking up healthcare services, even when nearby in cities such as Edmonton and Calgary.

A study from the University of Alberta looked at the rates of two million Albertans using cardiology and ophthalmology services in the province over a nine-year period.

Divided into three groups – “federally registered Aboriginals”, individuals receiving welfare, and other Albertans – it found utilisation rates for Indigenous populations “significantly” lower than the non-Indigenous group and both were below those on welfare.

Healthcare insurance and hospital utilisation information were used to look at when services were used, and then Indian Act distinctions applied in terms of who was “status Indian” compared to the rest of the population. This means non-status Indigenous Métis or other residents might be considered part of the general population, thereby distorting those utilisation rates, making the potential gap even greater.

Figures from the survey found 0.28 per cent of Indigenous Albertans used cardiology services, compared to 0.93 per cent for other Albertans, more than three times higher. Those on welfare used services at a rate of 1.37 per cent, almost five times higher.

The gap remained largely consistent over the nine-year period surveyed, suggesting the problem of use of healthcare services is a long-standing one that has yet to see improvement.

Researchers concluded that the higher rates for those on welfare implied that poverty or economic factors alone could not explain the disparity. There was also no major differences found depending on the distance from Edmonton and Calgary, so geography could not be a significant factor.

The study, published in November 201211, considered two thirds of the 3.29 million [2006] population in Alberta, the country’s most affluent province and highest per capita for healthcare spending.

The study stated that a cultural difference to healthcare might be a factor, where “Western individual autonomy” contrasts with “integration of the family or community group into decision-making”.

“Consequently,” it continued, “conventional health professional teams may represent a barrier to Aboriginal healthcare utilisation. A second potential factor relates to the long history of maltreatment endured by these Aboriginal adults and children, resulting in a deep distrust of institutions and potentially profound effects on the likelihood that individuals seek voluntary treatment.

“If healthcare utilisation rates reflect the contributions of multiple factors, increasing the number of Aboriginal healthcare professionals coupled with increasing cultural sensitivity amongst non-Aboriginal health professionals may prove effective approaches to begin addressing the differences observed.”

But boosting the number of healthcare workers or cultural sensitivity can be a political matter. And the politics governing Indigenous health are as complicated as the medical problems.


Caught between a rock and the Constitution

Whatever national trends there may be in health disparities across Indigenous communities, there are also countless variations depending on the health funding they receive from the federal government and the standards and services delivered on the provincial level.

Each community is caught between the laws that dictate who runs health services and laws that dictate who runs Indigenous communities.

Section 91 of the Constitution Act 1867 specifies that “the exclusive Legislative Authority of the Parliament of Canada” extends to a number of areas, including subsection 24, “Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians”. Meanwhile, Section 92(7) reserves for the provinces “The Establishment, Maintenance, and Management of Hospitals, Asylums, Charities, and Eleemosynary Institutions in and for the Province, other than Marine Hospitals”12. The provinces are responsible for health care delivery for its citizens, but the federal government is responsible for Indigenous healthcare.

The Indian Act 198513 states that “all laws of general application from time to time in force in any province are applicable to and in respect of Indians in the province”. So, the provincial or territorial health standards apply, even though the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over “Indians, and the Lands reserved for the Indians”. The federal government adopting provincial standards and applying them automatically is known as being “incorporated by reference” or “referential incorporation”.

Health Canada, under the Canada Health Act14, provides different levels of healthcare funding to individual Indigenous communities, and has left standards to the provinces, who have jurisdiction, while still controlling the purse strings.

In one example provided to Tomorrow by an Indigenous person in Alberta, changes to provincial health services create financial challenges that are paid for out of federal funds.

When the province centralised dialysis treatment for kidney patients, a drive of 1-2 hours became 6-10, with the remote community buying a van and hiring a medical transportation driver to take residents for treatment. Being given responsibility for healthcare, without money to match, means a continual clash between provincial services and standards and federal funds, he said. And because the federal government simply applies the provincial standards, “incorporated by reference” to “Indians, and the Lands reserved for the Indians”, they have to fund rules they had no hand in making.

Officially, Canada has set the goal more than once of closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in standards of living, particularly health.

The 1996 report from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples15 called for reform of health and healing systems, including passing “the levers of control to Aboriginal people” and “bring  equality in health status to Aboriginal people”.

The four-point strategy called for:

“1. Reorganisation of existing health and social services into a system of health and healing centres and healing lodges, under Aboriginal control.

2. A crash program over the next 10 years to educate and train Aboriginal people to staff and manage health and social services at all levels, in Aboriginal communities and in mainstream institutions.

3. Adaptation of mainstream services to accommodate Aboriginal people as clients and as full participants in decision making.

4. A community infrastructure program to deal with urgent problems of housing, clean water and waste management.”

At the time, the report said there were just “40 to 50 Aboriginal physicians” and 300 registered nurses, both just 0.1 per cent of the total of those professions.

In 2005, “First Ministers and National Aboriginal Leaders Strengthening Relationships and Closing the Gap” – a deal with Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin that became known as the “Kelowna Accord” – promised $5.1 billion over five years, including $1.315 billion to reduce infant mortality, youth suicide, childhood obesity and diabetes by 20 per cent in five years, and 50 per cent in 10 years. It also pledged to double the number of health professionals by 2016 from, then, 150 physicians and 1200 nurses16.

The need for doctors in 2008 was reported to be 2000, but Canada had just 20017.

Some opposed the Kelowna agreement, arguing that the provision of services could not be separated from Indigenous and treaty rights, and that the deal was a continuation of government assimilation attempts18.

After his government fell, Paul Martin introduced a private member’s bill to implement the accord, but the Constitution Act 1867 – the same act that confused healthcare and Indigenous issues in the first place – prevents a private member’s bill from spending public money.

Regardless of its strengths or flaws, the Kelowna Accord was never passed into law, nor were its spending targets met. Instead, health funding was capped starting from 1996-1997 at 3 per cent, while the number of Indigenous peoples in Canada who were covered by provincial standards and federal funds increased dramatically.

In a pre-budget submission in 2011, the Assembly of First Nations identified a $805 million shortfall over five years in the Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) Program, caused mainly by tens of thousands of new registered Indigenous peoples in Canada, stemming from court challenges.

That did not include other budgets that impact on health. Education moneys might be used to provide snack programmes in remote schools, or infrastructure funding could provide better housing and, in turn, reduce health problems from mould and damp.

Health Canada did not reply to requests for comment for this feature.

Nearly 10 years on, the only remnant of the Kelowna Accord was the follow-up, the “Transformative Change Accord” in BC, with a health plan a year later19.

Come October 1, Indigenous health programmes will fall under the control of the new First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), with $2.5 billion being transferred over five years to pay for services previously delivered by Health Canada, including dental care, prescription drugs, counselling and medical-related travel for about 127,000 Indigenous people in the province.

In neighbouring Alberta, Treaty Six is the only one of the three in the province that explicitly mentions health in writing. It states: “That a medicine chest shall be kept at the house of each Indian Agent for the use and benefit of the Indians at the direction of such agent.”20

But all 11 treaty areas across the country draw a similar understanding of the relationship with the federal government on healthcare based on the spirit and intent of the treaties.

The Health Co-Management (HCOM) Secretariat21 in Alberta relies on federal funds to run health services on reserves, but the Government of Alberta was slow to join the table, even though they set the standards and centralised services that apply to those reserves.

In Six Nations in Ontario, home to the two-row wampum, their understanding of federal responsibilities encompasses the idea of “perpetual care and maintenance”, stemming from but not directly stated in the Haldimand Proclamation of 1784.22

There are a multitude of treaties, arrangements, court cases and ambiguities that have complicated the political, legal and financial situations with health in Canada. In January 2013, the Federal Court ruled that 400,000 non-status Indians and 200,000 Métis were covered under section 91 of the Constitution Act  2012, adding to the further complexities of the provincial and federal health relationships23. All those interactions continue to evolve.

One of the newer arrangements is the Health Co-Management (HCOM) Secretariat in Alberta, running the health service on reserves in Alberta as a joint agreement between the federal government and the three treaty areas of the province, Treaty Six, Seven and Eight.

Peyasu Wuttunee is the coordinator of the body and a member Red Pheasant, a Treaty Six First Nations.

Mr Wuttunee said more control over health helped improve health targets for Indigenous communities.

“First nations know what their communities want and need,” he said. “So for the same dollars, first nations can deliver better services and better in terms of higher utilisation, higher community buy-in, versus those same dollars than the feds can do with it.”

“Health outcomes for first nations in Alberta need to be improved, because if you look at any of the stats, you’ll see they’re significantly worse, than the rest of the population.

“It is a slow process and the whole issue of trust is a fairly major element to the work.”

Do Indigenous peoples in Canada have time to wait for the process – or the constitution – to change?


Helping yourself, not waiting for others

One of the four changes that the RCAP called for was increased training in healthcare for communities, something that can be life-saving in the most remote areas.

Sachigo Lake, Ontario

Community first aid or community first response course participants carrying an injured patient in a programme simulation at Sachigo Lake, Ontario.

Sachigo Lake24, with a population varying seasonally of around 400-450, lies 425km north of Sioux Lookout and southeast from the Manitoba border, accessible by plane, year round, or ice roads in winter.

There is a nursing station, funded by Health Canada, generally staffed by three nurses and community health workers. A family physician, based in Sioux Lookout, visits Sachigo Lake for 3-4 days a month. In an emergency, transport is provided to medical facilities in Sioux Lookout, Thunder Bay or Winnipeg which are about four hours away, at best.

The community has been home to unique first aid training since 2009, rewriting the rules and giving residents the confidence to deal with anything from emergencies on hunting trips in the wilderness, to mental health problems.

Various basic tenets of first aid training – such as stabilising a patient or not moving a patient until a medical expert arrives – are impossible in the wilderness. And in such a small community, almost anyone offering treatment knows the patient, adding to the stress of the situation.

Jackson Beardy has been the health coordinator for the Sachigo Lake First Nations for the past five years and was a co-author on two research papers about the courses.

He said first aid training has been available to members of the Canadian Rangers program25 and others in the community but said more residents needed the skills. The programme offered by the study was ideal to what the area needed, said Mr Beardy.

Speaking to Tomorrow by phone from Sachigo Lake, he said: “When we have an emergency crisis here, we don’t have the ambulatory services that we would require to tend to the victim or for that matter to have the nurses coming out from the nursing station. The nurses are not permitted to leave the premises, so they would have to wait until somebody brings them to the nursing station.

“With the training that we had we are able to teach our community members what the protocol would be in transporting and treating the victim before we have them at the health facility.”

Mr Beardy said other communities in northern Ontario want to have the specialised first aid training.

He added: “When we have an emergency crisis, whether at the residence or if it happens out on the land, we don’t have the services that we need. To have such a programme, we are able to care for our community at that level.

“If remote communities had medical supplies readily available, it would be beneficial. Other than what we have at the nursing station, we don’t have access to them.”

[Tweet “”If remote communities had medical supplies readily available, it would be beneficial.””]Twenty people took part in the first “community first aid or community first response” course, which had to take into consideration that there is almost no such thing as a “complete stranger” in Sachigo Lake. Treatment would most likely be provided by a family member, friend, colleague or someone else known to the patient.

The course has been repeated since and researchers said tailoring first aid training to a community with specific needs could be replicated anywhere.

“Teaching wilderness first aid in a remote First Nations community: the story of the Sachigo Lake Wilderness Emergency Response Education Initiative” was published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health in November26.

It included very frank feedback from those who took part in the training.

Sachigo Lake, Ontario

Community first aid or community first response course participants and researchers teaching and learning first response in a circle outdoors, at Sachigo Lake, Ontario, in 2012.

“Doing CPR on [a] baby reminded me of when they did this on my 2 month old granddaughter,” said one individual. “They took her and were doing it on the washing machine. I didn’t know how to do that.”

Another recounted: “Everyone goes out alone. That’s what happened to my grandpa once. He dislocated his [points to hip] he was out in the cabin … he managed to crawl out to his boat, crawl up the hill.”

A third pointed to the value of local knowledge when someone is out in the wilderness: “The upbringings … the teachings of our parents and grandparents. Be self sufficient in all aspects of life.”

The paper also found that there were concerns about access to healthcare from the nurses station, particularly with restrictions on painkillers because of “prescription opioid abuse and misuse”.

Dr Aaron Orkin, a co-author of the paper and an assistant professor at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine27, said that writing a new first aid programme, from the ground up, was about ensuring that remote Indigenous communities had access to training that suited their place in Canadian wilderness areas.

Though many people in the community had some first aid training, it was not in the context of remote locations where “help” was on its way.

Course material, down to the CPR protocols used, was rewritten based on primary medical literature to suit Sachigo Lake.

The course also considered the “shared knowledge” about a patient, for example, if a group of friends are on a hunting or fishing trip.

“We emphasised making use of conversations that can happen around the patient,” said Dr Orkin. “Emphasising how care provided by teams or by communities as opposed to by collections of individuals is key to that community orientated first aid approach as well.”


Mental health first aid – a vital part of building confidence

During the second course, a half day was set aside for mental health first aid, to consider both patients who may have mental health issues such as substance abuse or suicidal thoughts, and the bonds formed in such a small community.

Sachigo Lake, Ontario

Community first aid or community first response course trainers returned to Sachigo Lake in February 2013 to do community presentations and wrap up for the pilot project at the Sachigo Lake Fishing Derby, one of the largest regional gatherings each year.

Jackson Beardy said it was the most useful part of the course. Family members and friends often “flock to the site” of an emergency and protocols for addressing a mental health issue come into play.

“The community is more self-sufficient with the knowledge or skills that the community members are getting,” he said.

The mental health section was delivered by Dr Baijayanta Mukhopadhyay28, who is based in northern Ontario, and was recruited to the project in its second phase as a medical resident for his interest in mental health issues. He said he was concerned there was a “bit of a revolving door issue” where residents in the region were being treated and sent home, only to return again later.

He said: “A lot of people feel at a loss when confronted with a mental health issue or mental health emergency.

“People probably have a little bit of an idea of what to do if someone doesn’t have a pulse or isn’t breathing. But when someone is acutely suicidal, I think people get intimidated, not sure what to do, afraid of saying the wrong thing.”

Dr Mukhopadhyay said there were three key elements to the mental health instruction: keep yourself safe, get help, and listen. But most people don’t have the language to deal with mental health issues, thinking they need a specific clinical diagnosis when first dealing with an emergency.

“Getting people comfortable with different sorts of mental health crises can actually be empowering,” he said.

“Just like there’s lots of reasons why someone might not be having a pulse or might not be breathing, the critical point is to recognise is that they don’t have a pulse and they’re not breathing. There is the same principle of bringing mental health crises into easily understood syndromes so that people just need to recognise one thing that might be dangerous.”

Dr Mukhopadhyay said mental health first aid should be a part of general training, as well as that for remote communities.

“Part of that is just to demystify a lot of mental health issues,” he said. “Remote communities have particular challenges, but one of the strengths they have is that they tend to have a lot of support by a network of family, friends, local institutions.”


Can the two canoes talk to each other?

Away from the remoteness of the north, in more urban parts of the country, when emergency or specialist healthcare services are needed, Indigenous peoples enter a non-Indigenous system. Are they getting what they need and do they understand the treatment options presented to them?

Dr Yvonne Boyer has been a board member at Minwaashin Lodge – Aboriginal Women’s Support Centre in Ottawa29 for seven years and is a Métis lawyer and academic at the University of Ottawa specialising in Aboriginal and treaty rights.

She said “very few” Indigenous people, particularly women, have been well treated by the health profession. If there are two women with their children in hospital waiting to see a doctor, the “white folks” will get seen first. “Guaranteed,” she said. “There’s racism everywhere you go.”.

She said women “won’t and can’t” speak up because they’ve been oppressed their whole lives, often coming out of hellish situations or forced into working on the streets. There are also mental health issues, addiction problems and others, all stemming “from the results of colonisation” and the legacy of residential schools, she said.

Dr Yvonne Boyer

Dr Yvonne Boyer

Dr Boyer is a co-author on a planned research study on “shared decision making”, between the lodge and a PhD candidate at the University of Ottawa’s Institute of Population Health, Janet Jull. The project will consider how Indigenous women make health and social decisions about their health care.

In the published protocol for the project, titled “Shared decision-making and health for first nations, Métis and Inuit women”30, it outlines trying to address whether a barrier to health utilisation and better health for Indigenous women hinges on their interaction with doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers. Decisions are meant to be made together in a “collaborative process”, under the concept of shared decision making.

The study will have three phases, reviewing other studies and what strategies are effective, followed by interviews with 10-13 Indigenous women, and then creating a guide for shared decision making and putting it through focus group and usability testing.

Dr Boyer said that some of the racism is intentional, but racism can also be ingrained in the institution, even when its individual employees don’t realise it.

“A lot of it has to do with education,” she continued. “It’s something that’s been perpetrated throughout an institution that this is the way these [Indigenous] people are treated and people often don’t question it.

“We do have a big problem with aboriginal health today. So obviously what’s been working, hasn’t proven to work.”

Dr Boyer said the history of residential schools, affecting parents, the children who were removed and three subsequent generations, has contributed to the physical, mental and emotional health problems seen in the women and children who are helped at the lodge.

She said: “The healthcare system is trying to respond. I don’t think they’re going quick enough or asking the people what will work for them. It goes back to the people at the head of the system thinking that they know what is best for aboriginal peoples. And that goes back to the whole guardian-ward theory31.

“It’s the paternalistic theory that aboriginal people don’t know enough to be able to make decisions on their own so the white folk’s gotta make decisions for them. And then it doesn’t work.

“If you engage them in some dialogue and they make the decisions and develop the programmes right at ground level, they know often what’s wrong.”

[Tweet “”It’s the paternalistic theory that aboriginal people don’t know enough to be able to make decisions on their own””]But Dr Boyer said the project to developed shared decision making for Indigenous women would give them a voice where traditionally they have felt powerless with the medical profession.

She said: “I do see positive things happening. We’re all people. Aboriginal people are not biologically inferior to non-aboriginal people, but there are historical reasons why there’s such a huge gap in aboriginal health. What can we do together to address some of these problems?”

Janet Jull, from the university’s Institute of Population Health32, who will lead the project for her PhD, said her background as an occupational therapist and early employment in Nunavut where she found significant health problems, pushed her to this new study.

She said: “How do you ensure people get the information they need to be able to make an informed decision?

“There’s all kinds of barriers.”

Ms Jull said she didn’t think withholding of information was deliberate, but healthcare officials might not be aware of how they relate to people with different “worldviews”.

While western medicine might be “miraculous”, shared decision making is about an “equitable partnership”, she said. A healthcare provider might be more directive in their advice to someone they perceive as not making the “right” decision.

“Each of those healthcare clients is entitled to know what their options are,” she said, “what their risks and benefits of those options are and what the chances of those risks and benefits are so they can make the best choice for themselves.

“That’s their right.”

The two boats on the river might be talking to each other, but do they understand each other?


Two boats on the river

At Six Nations of the Grand River, 400 years after the first two-row wampum was presented to the Dutch, their challenges are not caused by such factors as distance from big urban centres or a lack of training.

A pilot study lead by McMaster University instead found low “walkability, street connectivity, aesthetics, safety and access to walking and cycling facilities” as key issues.33

The small number of people interviewed with the project all bought groceries off-reserve, though fresh fruit and vegetables were said to be “available and affordable both on and off-reserve”, though less so on reserve. Ninety per cent of the 63 people who took part said tobacco was a problem and was readily available to children and young people. Three per cent said they would accept more tax on tobacco as a solution.

Among figures published in the paper:

  • 22 per cent grew their own fruits and vegetables in the summer
  • 74.6 per cent said there should be a ban on tobacco advertising, but were not in favour of taxes to reduce tobacco use
  • $151 per week on average was spent on groceries per family, compared with the Ontario average of $140 per week.

Overall, interviewees said they were satisfied with their community, but also recognised there were future health problems facing young people.

The paper concluded: “The future health of Six Nations depends on the community’s involvement and ownership of new initiatives to target maladaptive health behaviors [sic].”

Dr Sonia Anand is a professor in the department of medicine at McMaster University and director of the Chanchlani Research Centre at the institution.34

She was the senior author on the paper, which included four co-authors working for Six Nations Health Services based in Ohsweken, Ontario. Nobody from the Six Nations was willing to comment to Tomorrow about the study or the Two-Row Wampum over four months of requests.

Dr Anand said a previous study in 2007 worked with families in Six Nations but concluded that future work needed to look at the community as a whole, rather than just at individual behaviours.

“Tobacco is a complex issue,” she said, as an example. “It is the number one employer and revenue generator, and has traditional uses.

“[The community] was traditionally highly physically active. Today tobacco is over-used, the majority drive off reserve [to buy food] and physical activity has a number of barriers. It is not unique to the first nations community.

“I think the Six Nations have some of the same challenges of other urban communities, but also some unique ones.”


Equality or Equity? Getting the boats to the same destination

There is a healthcare problem in Canada for Indigenous peoples, and there are research programmes and pilot projects working to change that. New experiments in administration are underway even as the political canoe, on a federal level, remains almost entirely dead in the water.

Both researchers and those involved in healthcare told Tomorrow the issue is about “equity” – the two boats must arrive at the same destination.

Peyasu Wuttunee, of HCOM in Alberta, said the more they work with others, the more likely they are to find success.

“It’s important that people recognise that the health outcomes are still not where they need to be, that community and leadership are serious about improving health outcomes – there’s not one linear path to that,” he said.

“One can’t ignore the history of the relationship, so the residential schools, the abuses there, the prohibition on language and culture, the efforts to strip that away have taken a toll.

“It’s not a quick fix and it’s not an easy answer. It took us a long time to get to this point; it won’t be a quick fix overnight.

“The effort is there and sometimes progress is slow, but there’s a human toll to that slow progress, so that can’t be underestimated. This is a pressing issue and it’s not okay that these outcomes are the way they are.”



No issues for principles 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10.
1. Freedom of expression and 2. Accuracy: This is a joint issue. Tomorrow has a duty to report and, with many of these research papers not getting other media coverage, deserved attention. But the feature has been delayed by at least four months because it was vital to find Indigenous voices for their perspectives on research which directly relates to them. Individuals and communities were contacted, sometimes repeatedly, seeking voices. Most did not reply and one said the entire treaty organisation was “not allowed” to speak to the press. Under principle 11 (promote responsible debate and mediation), is the reporting less accurate because people will not contribute their voices? Should those communities themselves be the only ones to report on news as opposed to those outside? Tell us what you think.

  1. From Tehanetorens, “Wampum Belts”, Six Nations Indian Museum, 1972. “We will not be like Father and Son, but like Brothers.” This wampum belt confirms our words. These two rows will symbolise two paths or two vessels, traveling down the same river together. One, a birch bark canoe, will be for the Indian People, their laws, their customs and their ways. The other, a ship, will be for the white people and their laws, their customs and their ways. We shall each travel the river together, side by side, but in our own boat. Neither of us will make compulsory laws or interfere in the internal affairs of the other. Neither of us will try to steer the other’s vessel.”
  2. The Five Nations were original made up of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca nations, joined by the Tuscarora in 1722 to become the Six Nations.
  3. and
  5. Funded by the Government of Canada’s Canadian Institutes of Health Research (
  6. A number of stats have been compiled from the survey, with the list here:
  7. “The determinants of chronic bronchitis in Aboriginal children and youth”,  Canadian Respiratory Journal. Peer reviewed, funded by CIHR-CCHSA Pilot Project Program. A further paper from the research, on adults, is currently in press.
  8. Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs press release
  10. Promislow et al.: “Young aboriginals are less likely to receive a renal transplant: a Canadian national study”, BMC Nephrology, 2013.
  11. Chung H, Ye M, Hanson C, Oladokun O, Campbell MJ, et al. (2012) Disparities in Healthcare Utilisation Rates for Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Albertan

    Residents, 1997–2006: A Population Database Study. PLoS ONE 7(11): e48355. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048355 – The research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research, and the Canada Research Chair Program and the paper states that funders had no direct influence on the study.

  12. Constitution Act 1867/1982, sections 91 and 92 –
  13. Indian Act 1985, section 88 –
  14. Canada Health Act 1985 –
  15. Highlights from the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples
  16. McMaster University press release on 2008 number of medical professionals
  17. page 10,
  18. “Solemn declaration of the Grassroots Peoples Coalition”, 2005
  20. Copy of Treaty Six. Others such as 7, 8 and 11 mention health in oral negotiations according to the courts.
  22. Six Nations details on Haldimand Proclamation
  23. Daniels v Canada, 2013 FC 6,
  26. “Teaching wilderness first aid in a remote First Nations community: the story of the Sachigo Lake Wilderness Emergency Response Education Initiative”, International Journal of Circumpolar Health, October 2012. Also, Orkin A, VanderBurgh D, Born K, Webster M, Strickland S, et al. (2012) Where There Is No Paramedic: The Sachigo Lake Wilderness Emergency Response Education Initiative. PLoS Med 9(10): e1001322. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001322 – Funding came from grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Institute of Aboriginal Peoples’ Health, and the Northern Ontario Academic Medical Association.
  30. “Shared decision-making and health for first nations, Metis and Inuit women: a study protocol”, BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making, December 2012.
  31. This refers to the legal definition, and frequently cultural attitude, that a ward is not capable of caring for his or her own interests and must be cared for by the state.
  33. “Contextual determinants of health behaviours in an aboriginal community in Canada: pilot project”, BMC Public Health, November 2012. Funding was granted from the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation.
  34. Profile of Dr Anand

Charlottetown Accord: The last constitutional supper – Part 3

Is Canada too old to talk foundations?

Nik Nanos was sent to jail in 1992.

The pollster and head of Nanos Research was then a PC Party supporter and leader of the Kingston and the Islands Canada Committee, and Kingston Penitentiary was in the constituency.

It was the first time prisoners had been given the vote1 and Federal Court [Belczowski, (1992) 2 F.C. 440]], thanks to two key court cases, and 188 institutions across Canada had inmates registered, and solicited for the Charlottetown Accord referendum.

“We had to organise a campaign for the prison population,” he recalls, “which had never been done in Kingston and the Islands. There were actual voting stations in Kingston Penn, for example.

“So that was a bit of a new area organisationally and from a campaign point of view. It was interesting that there was actually a lot of interest in the prison population on the Charlottetown Accord where they’d be asking for information.”

Prison voting was just one of many election changes brought in during the referendum.

The Elections Canada report on the vote outlines both the number of advancements, and the speed with which they were implemented.
Jean-Pierre Kingsley, the author of that report as then chief electoral officer, says accessibility for voters was a central plank of the campaign and Elections Canada’s work.

In 1991, the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing – known as the Lortie Commission2 – produced recommendations to make the system “user friendly”, says Mr Kingsley.

“Personally I think we even went beyond what the royal commission was talking about,” says the senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s graduate school of public and international affairs. “In terms of true accessibility, in terms of really reaching out to the groups. Personally it was my mission – that’s the way I felt about it.

“If you’re going to take a job, you have to get to the bottom of why you’re doing it. And I wanted to do the best job that had ever been done.”

Elections Canada reached out to indigenous communities in dozens of languages and this continued in the years after along with liaison staff in 150 ridings.

Hundreds of ramps were built for polling stations – almost 400 of them permanent – at schools, churches and other public facilities, benefiting not just voters, but improving long-term access.

The referendum marked the first use of ECAPLE – Elections Canada Automated Preliminary List of Electors – the first permanent list of electors. Previous elections required new lists to be compiled at each vote. Mr Kingsley says the success in the 1992 referendum allowed him to convince parliament that a computerised list would save “$40-50 million at every election” by avoiding door-to-door enumeration, and shave 11 days off the electoral calendar.

But despite the drive for accessibility and modernising Canada’s voting system, around 10,000 voters were disenfranchised by being caught between two electoral stools. Residents of Quebec who had not yet lived in the province for six months couldn’t register to vote in either the Canadian referendum, nor in Quebec’s own version.

Mr Kingsley says, with obvious frustration even 20 years on, that he wanted to let these Canadians vote, but couldn’t.

“I wanted to let them vote, but I couldn’t, and the Supreme Court said I couldn’t,” he says3. “We had a whole campaign ready with ads that were going to go out. We were going to be hitting every newspaper and every means of communication to tell those Quebecers who had moved within the last six months in the province of Quebec, ‘This is how you register to vote’ and I was going to be counting them separately and I was going to be calling them something like, ‘Quebecers who had been less than six months in the province’ type of thing, so that they wouldn’t get mixed with the Ontario or New Brunswick [numbers].

“The whole plan was laid out that had reserved the space in newspapers, the whole bit. The Supreme Court said no. I agreed with them [the legal reasons], but it doesn’t remove the fact that I wanted to let them [the individuals] vote.

“As the chief electoral officer, nothing bothered me more that when I knew that a Canadian could not vote, whether in a general election or whatever. Even if the law said they could not vote, and I had to uphold that, it bothered me. Because the whole purpose of an election, of a referendum, is to get as many people who want to express themselves to express themselves.

[Tweet “”Nothing bothered me more that when I knew that a Canadian could not vote””]”That is what you try to achieve with an electoral democracy. There are enough compromises in the system already, in terms of how we’re represented, so on and so forth, that you don’t want the electoral system itself to be the means whereby people are deprived of their right. It’s a fundamental right.”

Mr Kingsley said he tried to reach out to the chief electoral officer of Quebec at the time, but there was “a definite ‘not interested’ response”.
Legally it did not require cooperation, but there were particular problems at the borders with Ontario and New Brunswick with newspaper and TV ads giving conflicting dates for registration or other key election information.


Game changer?

As well as changing the board on which the political game played out for future elections, the 1992 referendum also changed who some of the winners were.

As then Reform Party leader Preston Manning recounts, the vote gave members and riding associations a trial run for the federal election that took place a year, less a day, later. Reform went from having one MP to 52, finishing third4. The party would eventually evolve to become the current Conservative Party, who won a majority government in May 2011.

“It was just a god send from that angle because all the things you had to do in an election campaign are almost the same as what you had to do in a referendum campaign,” he says. “There had to be a communications effort, there had to be fundraising. Some of our key people got to debate for the first time with a sitting MP and found out that they could hold their own, that their material was as well researched as the member of parliament, that they could sway a public audience as much as this previously elected person.

“And that campaign both tested all our machinery and really prepared the party for the 1993 federal election.

“We were worried because we had limited resources. I remember one discussion with our party executive and in particular our financial and budgeting people – could we afford to participate in two campaigns within a year? And these were national campaigns, although we were not active hardly at all in Quebec.

“But as it turned out, we actually got more revenue than we spent in the referendum campaign. I think we had $170-200,000 that we were able to take from that campaign and move on to apply to the federal campaign.”

But Mr Manning wasn’t the only one to advance from the referendum campaign.


The campaigners who became the who’s who

Preston Manning became official opposition leader in the 1997 election and is currently president and CEO of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, in Calgary, Alberta, for “building Canada’s conservative movement”5.

One of those new MPs in 1993 was Garry W Breitkrevz, who a year earlier led the No Yorkton-Melville Constituency Referendum Committee in Saskatchewan. He declided to comment for this piece6.

Jean Chrétien became prime minister in 1993 and stayed until 2003. He did not reply to a request for comment7.
Lorne E Chester, who led the Victoria-Haliburton YES Committee became an Ontario provincial court justice. Justice Chester declined to comment8.

In Newfoundland, the Cable Atlantic YES Committee was led by Daniel E Williams, who became premier of the province from 2003 to 2010. He did not reply to an interview request9.

Emechete Onuoha led the McMaster Alliance for Canada – Hamilton West, and eventually went on to be chief of staff to the minister of national defence in 1999, and is currently vice president citizenship and government affairs at Xerox Canada. He declined to comment10.

Manitoba had a former lieutenant governor leading the provincial campaign in the form of Pearl McGonigal. But W Yvon Dumont, who led the Metis National YES Canada Committee from Ottawa, would himself become Manitoba lieutenant governor just months later and until 1999. Both did not reply to interview requests11.

Dan Ish, who oversaw the Saskatoon-Humboldt Canada Committee, is now chief adjudicator of the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat in Saskatchewan. He declined to comment12.

One of Mr Shaw’s campaign workers, recruited from outplacement firms for “networking experience that they would die for”, was Jamie Baillie, current PC Party leader in Nova Scotia. He did not reply to an interview request13.

Jerry Lampert, who chaired the British Columbia – Canada Committee Foundation, is now a commissioner at the BC Treaty Commission. He declined to comment14.

The campaign was a key point in the lives of hundreds of activists on both sides of the battle to define Canada’s future direction. And both sides left unfinished business.


Shhh – don’t mention the constitution

Even looking at the last lines of the Charlottetown Accord, there were 20 items that didn’t find agreement during negotiations. Had the yes side won, there would have still been left outstanding aspects of nation-building.

Twenty years on, the original French-English problem of two founding nations that the negotiators sought to solve, is more complicated.

“This was a bargain between the French and English in founding this nation and everything therefore flows from that,” explains Mr Filmon.

“The problem with that is that more than half of the population in Canada come from neither French nor English backgrounds, and it completely ignores the fact that the aboriginals were there before the French and English came.

“Therefore you’ve got to look at all these different ramifications and ways of conceiving what this country is really founded on.

“There’s a group that always puts forward, for instance, the lack of property rights in the constitution and those people would love to open the constitution on that score. But the minute you do, you have the same challenges we did at Charlottetown, which is there are other legitimate interests and concerns about the constitution that other groups will say the constitution doesn’t adequately address.”

Senate reform, and in particular attempts to make its members elected, has long been a point of contention, particularly in western Canada.

Preston Manning gives the example of equalisation payments in the constitution. The 1982 version gave a guarantee of “equality of service” with money to “have-not” provinces. It gave no “reference to how those provinces manage their resources or their fiscal houses”, he says.

“And the current constitution entrenched aboriginal treaty rights,” he goes on. “Eventually it’s going to become apparent that the reserve model based on treaty rights is simply not the way forward for aboriginal people. And so maybe that will reach a crisis point where people will just agree that encasing that approach in a constitution was something that would have to change.

“There [are] all kinds of opportunity for that but people don’t see the grand scale or the platform for making those improvements being constitutional change.

“As we get further and further down [the road] from the 1982 constitution, the flaws in it became more apparent, that the Canada of the 1980s is not the Canada of the 21st century. And if you try to capture your vision of Canada too narrowly, 10, 20, 30 years down the road your constitution will be more of a straight jacket than it will be an instrument for achieving a grand vision.

“I think Canadians, if we ever do get into a future constitutional discussion, and it’ll probably be around some of the flaws of the current constitution, will be very wary of trying to capture too narrowly the values and priorities and vision of Canada today.”

There have been other experiments with changing Canadian definitions since Charlottetown 20 years ago.

The Calgary Declaration in 1997 replaced “distinct society” with “unique character” and stressed the equality of provinces. But a separatist government at the time in Quebec dismissed it and the agreement was largely forgotten15.

In 2005, the “First Ministers and National Aboriginal Leaders Strengthening Relationships and Closing the Gap” – dubbed the Kelowna Accord – tried to address indigenous issues with $5 billion in spending outlined over 10 years16.

The Conservative Party minority government that took over in 2006 never implemented the agreement.

Ovide Mercredi, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations in 1992, declined to be interviewed for this feature except in person. But in an email, he stated: “I remember Bob Rae saying that it would be at least another 25 years before the constitutional renewal process for aboriginal peoples would resume again. He may be right but it will take a revolution in thinking before Canada sees my people as the foundation for peace, coexistence, equity and justice. What could have been, and what is today, is like day and night.”


Does Canada have the stomach for more debate?

Peggy Gallant in Nova Scotia now confesses she may have been naive in 1992.

“I think that some of the things that were being advanced in this accord weren’t doable, are still not doable,” she says. “Doesn’t mean that we can’t keep trying.”

Gary Filmon recognises that the period was unique.

“There was this huge focus in the aftermath of the failure of Meech Lake and you had a lot of leaders across the country who were big-picture people, who were looking at the long-term best interests of Canada and were willing to invest a lot of time and energy and effort in trying to do something about this,” he says.

“I don’t think you’ve got that there today. I don’t think you’ve had it since then. And I’m not sure how long you have to look into the future to find someone who will try and stir this up as an issue.”

“People were fed up and it was that simple, and they’re still fed up,” says Robbie Shaw. “If anyone tried now to launch some major constitutional change initiative, it would get no support in the country at all. And I’m not quite sure why people got so fed up, but they did.

“You don’t have any of the premiers issuing any kind of public statement, let alone trying to mount any kind of initiative, suggesting that constitutional change is important.”

[Tweet “”People were fed up and it was that simple, and they’re still fed up.””]Jean-Pierre Kingsley, having run the referendum, says it taught every politician “you’re not going to fool around with the constitution very easily”.

And Mr Filmon certainly learned his lesson.

“Anyone who has great ambitions from a viewpoint of a historian,” he says, “or a viewpoint of a constitutional purist or from the viewpoint of someone who sees themselves as a nation-builder, a nation-molder, they’re going to have great difficulty in putting together an argument as to why we need to, once again, rush into the breach and tackle this by amending our constitution, recasting our constitution.

“People have arrived at the conclusion that really everybody is much happier when the economy is strong, the country’s healthy and we don’t worry about these other things because they’re really not all that important.”

With voter apathy ever increasing, Beryl MacDonald in Nova Scotia says the whole idea of conversation is not there.

“The referendum was a first exercise in populism, but nobody could sustain that,” she says. “How do you get 100,000 people to discuss a topic and come to a consensus? That’s the dilemma of democracy. Populism systems work great for a tribe or a small town maybe but not a country.”


The crisis nobody sees coming

Of the interviews for this feature, the one agreement across all the former players in the 1992 referendum is that constitutional debate is not coming back – unless there’s trouble. And there won’t be, because Canada’s doing fine.

“It would take some sort of crisis to get people engaged in constitution making,” says Preston Manning. “I don’t think there’ll arrive a day when Canadians say, ‘You know I just think we should have a general overhaul of the constitution’ and there would be any enthusiasm for it.

“For example, if Quebec had won the 1995 referendum17 and had actually started to separate, then three quarters of the Trudeau constitution of 1982 becomes unworkable or irrelevant. So you’d have been forced to have a complete redesign of the constitution. That’s an extreme example but that would be a case of whether people wanted constitutional change or not, you’d have to do it and people would have to engage in it.”

Canadians just “roll with the punches”, says Jean-Pierre Kingsley. “They know that this is what went into the ballot box and that’s what came out of it. And that’s what we want as Canadians.

“Canada still exists. It’s one of the strengths of the Canadian system after every election, the morning after, everybody gets up, goes to work and that’s it. You get on with life. This is either a new feature or it isn’t. It’s a continuation of the same or it’s absolutely new.”

Alex Cullen says the referendum proved the nation’s institutions to be “robust” and “life went on”. Twenty years on, “there’s been barely a reverberation”.

There is, however, a tone of resignation in accepting that Canada is “okay”.

“Somehow, within Canada, we kind of just hobble along, right?” says Peggy Gallant. “We seem to keep our country together despite our regional disparities. Rather than reducing our regionalism or the disparities that exist, I think we have expanded them. I think they’re even more evident. But I still think that Canadians still seem to be Canadian first.”

[Tweet “”Somehow, within Canada, we kind of just hobble along, right?””]Robbie Shaw says the country is “trotting along quite well”. Peter Milliken says Canada “manages”.

“Yes, you can argue that it could be better governed if we did something else,” he continues, “but that argument is always going to be around, no matter what the constitution says. I don’t think we have to make changes just for this sole purpose.

“[The referendum] was not an earth-shattering event in that sense. Yes, it stopped the accord going ahead, but we didn’t change the constitution, so what’s the difference?

“I don’t know whether we need more changes. We can function with the existing constitution. There may be some who prefer to make changes to it and do it a different way, but I don’t think it’s stopping us from carrying on as a country at this stage.”


History’s lessons and old age

Is there a lesson from the Charlottetown Accord and its referendum?

Preston Manning says that “getting a run” at constitutional issues with Charlottetown will serve Canada well when, or if, it tries to address them again.

Andrew Nellestyn, retired colonel18, says nobody may ever eradicate attempts at autonomy or independence within Canada.

“But we have to recognise and learn from the past that we will have to address this again and again and again,” he says. “And if the best you can do is provide a period wherein we can all move forward as Canadians and prosper accordingly, then there is some benefit to doing that.

“The matter of dignity, the respect for the fact that people are different – whether that be in a micro unit such as the family or in a macro unit such as a nation – that there are differences and you have to work to accommodate those particular differences and ensure that people feel that, on the whole, they’re getting a fair shake. If they don’t believe they’re getting a fair shake, they will continue to protest in whatever form they feel at the time is the most effective.”

No agreement is ever perfect, he says, but Charlottetown was a “defining moment” in exaggerating the differences in what people felt Canada should look like, contrary to people sitting around the table and finding agreement.

“I think it matters in the sense that there is historical baggage,” he continues. “We must continue to try to create those conditions, that environment, in which people feel that, as individuals and as a collective society characterised by language or whatever, [they can] learn to accommodate themselves for the greater good.

“I do believe that, not only as it relates to Canada but it relates to other nation states or other communities, tribes or whatever you wish to call them, we must always look for ways in order to live together, to accommodate each other’s differences, because that’s what the strength of a community or a nation state is: the ability to live together and to live with your neighbours and to move forward. Because otherwise, it’s game over, and I don’t believe in game overs.”

Jean-Pierre Kingsley summarises the referendum as a choice, but a profound one.

“It is part of our history, whether we think it is important,” he says. “The very fact that we held it makes it important.

“Let’s face it, we had a new definition of the country, sharing of powers in our hands, and we said, ‘no, we prefer to maintain what we have’. And that’s what we did. It was an opportunity and we took the opportunity of saying no instead of saying yes.”

Time moves on, says Mr Nellestyn. “It is incumbent on all to make accommodation to reflect what Canadian society now is and what it believes to be dear to itself. If that doesn’t happen, then you either have a period of stagnation or you have a situation which anarchy comes to the front.”


Gary Filmon started this series with the notion that the Charlottetown Accord was such a worthy agreement that it should be put to the people.

“Yes, I thought it was a good agreement. Yes I would support it even today. And probably no, I wouldn’t put it to a referendum.

“Because, as I say, it’s so easy to make the perfect become the enemy of the good and stir up anger and anxiety amongst people by showing them all the individual parts as opposed to looking at the whole.

“People have become so pragmatic about what their expectations are of government these days that they’re well beyond the early days of creations of countries where you debate [ad] infinitum the niceties of constitutions and you try to perfect the principles and all of the different elements of your guiding blueprint for the country.

“And people these days are just saying, ‘To heck with that. Give me a government that keeps the economy rolling, that keeps people working, that protects people’s rights – all those kinds of things. Don’t get into all of this minutiae’.

“I just don’t see a change in that attitude, maybe ever. I think it might be the maturity of a country.”


Copyright 2012 All rights reserved.

  1. Court of Appeal for Ontario [Sauvé, (1988) 66 O.R.(3d) 481
  2. Archives Canada details of the commission.
  3. Supreme Court upheld a decision by the Federal Court of Appeal [Haig v Chief Electoral Officer; Supreme Court of Canada; File #23223
  8. List of Ontario justices.
  10. Details on Emechete Onuoha here and here.
  15. Copy of Calgary Declaration.
  16. Kelowna Accord agreement.
  17. Results of 1995 referendum in Quebec.
  18. Biography of Andrew Nellestyn.

Charlottetown Accord: The last constitutional supper – Part 2

“Fight” – or – Tempestuous Teenaged Canada

“Fight.” It’s the single-word answer by Nik Nanos when recalling the Charlottetown Accord.

A member of the PC Party at the time, he was “volunteered” to lead the campaign in Kingston and the Islands, simultaneous with Liberal MP Peter Milliken’s own committee1.

“It was actually a pretty clear fight,” he says, “much more of a fight than in a number of other places because there was actually more of an organised group against the Charlottetown Accord – the Alliance for the Preservation of English Canada.2

In Ottawa, Rabbi Reuven P Bulka’s first memory from the campaign was the public reaction in a “packed” meeting in Tudor Hall3 on the accord.

“To hear some of the venom, I was really surprised,” says Rabbi Bulka, who co-chaired the Ottawa South YES Committee with then local Liberal MP and later deputy prime minister John Manley.

“There was really some strong anti-French feeling. It was surprising, stunning. It was not just one person. This was supposed to be a rally for the yes side. This was a wake-up call that there was a lot of work to do.

“I always have a difficult time rationalising stupidity. It was just emotive sloganeering – it was yelling and screaming, not rational discourse.

“On facts you can argue – on emotions, you’re stultified.”

Rabbi Bulka had previously formed “Clergy for a United Canada” and collected 30,000 signatures from clergy to present to the prime minister. So he has no regrets about agreeing to fight for the yes side.

“I probably would have hated myself for the rest of my life if I had not done it,” he concludes. “If there’s a calling to help your country, you do it. I’m not sorry I did it; I’m sorry about some of the things I heard that day.”

On the east coast, Beryl A MacDonald was hearing rumblings far predating Charlottetown negotiations. Today a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge in the family division, in 1992 she led the Canada Committee in Cumberland-Colchester after “active” work with the Liberal Party.

Justice MacDonald says Cumberland-Colchester was a very conservative riding and “a lot of people were not particularly friendly towards Francophones”, some of the attitudes harkening back to the second world war when Quebec voters opposed conscription in Canada’s then second national referendum4.

“People on the committee focused on that a lot to try to bring the community around,” she says. “We felt we had a really uphill battle.”

In neighbouring PEI, Lynn Murray was co-chair of the Prince Edward Island YES Canada Committee with the hockey star Orin Carver5. She is now a QC at the firm of Matheson & Murray in Charlottetown6.

She says the island campaign was “pretty well organised”, but bi-weekly conference calls to other parts of the country started to give a flavour of the problems starting to confront the yes forces.

“We never ever thought for a minute that the Charlottetown Accord would not pass in PEI,” she says, adding that the campaign was a “fabulous experience”, though “disheartening” to be on the phone with other regions.

[Tweet “””We never ever thought for a minute that the Charlottetown Accord would not pass in PEI.””]Premier Gary Filmon in Manitoba was hearing the same reports as gatherings took place across the west, yes campaigns trying to support each other against the no tide.

Deborah Coyne says putting together a no committee “didn’t take much” after all the work against the Meech Lake Accord over the previous years.

“Sure we felt like underdogs,” she says, “but I had good instincts, and based on my experience during ’87 to ’90 and the hundreds of correspondence and speeches, I knew Charlottetown hadn’t changed Meech enough to make it acceptable to people.”

Robbie Shaw was fighting more than a no side in Nova Scotia – he was fighting relative apathy. Mr Shaw co-chaired the provincial Canada Committee in Nova Scotia, stepping up from his position as president of Clayton Developments Limited. He is currently executive advisor to the dean of management at Dalhousie University7.

The campaign was “phenomenal”, but a “hard slog”, he says. “People weren’t passionately interested and there was all kinds of scepticism, so that made it more difficult.

“The people who were coming out [to meetings] were the 5 or 10 per cent who have a natural interest in public policy and government. The broad population were not passionately interested. And in some sense, why would they be?

“I agreed to undertake that responsibility because I thought it was important. I did not think it was a slam dunk at all. I did think there was a reasonable chance to getting more than 50 per cent. And it turned out in Nova Scotia we got 48.8 [per cent] – it couldn’t have been much closer.”


Monolithic parties

Mr Shaw was a prominent Liberal in 1992, but his sister, Alexa McDonough, was leader of the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party, later it’s federal leader. He jokes, “that’s my major claim to fame”, but it is also an example of the co-operation that crossed party lines – for both the yes and no sides.

Lynn Murray in PEI says the campaign brought together “all walks of life” and Justice MacDonald describes the events of 1992 as “one moment of high political activism”.

Peter Milliken in Ontario says he thought that shared backing was “useful, where in an election you know these people are going to be on the other side, at least quietly if not enthusiastically”.

Why did people join forces? Andrew Nellestyn says it was his “consuming interest” in ensuring the country stay together.

“To me it doesn’t really matter whether you’re a Liberal or a Conservative who expresses concern about the break-up of the country,” he asserts. “I’ll help either one, or both.”

Nik Nanos, having analysed public opinion for decades, can recognise political parties “are not monoliths” of universal support for leaders or policies.

“I think that was the case in this instance,” he says, “that there were individuals from all stripes that had concerns about the Charlottetown Accord.

“In the case of Kingston and the Islands, the leadership of the main parties agreed to cooperate and were on the same page. And for those who were not on board, I think they basically took a low profile as opposed to being actively against the local Liberal MP or the Conservative organisation that were formally and actively supporting the Charlottetown Accord.

“It’s a little different because there was less of a partisan atmosphere compared to other ridings. And as a result, the mere fact the yes campaign offered to get out the vote for anyone to make sure that as many people in the riding voted as possible, actually helped build a lot of good will for the yes forces.”

Alex Cullen, currently parliamentary assistant for York South-Weston MP Mike Sullivan, says the debate “crossed party lines, cross demographic lines, and allowed for ordinary people to speak out about what the political elites were doing to their country”.

That sense of a separation from leaders or “elites” is echoed by Deborah Coyne, who found it exciting.

“You talk to hard-core Liberals, like me,” she says, “and they felt off-side because all the national leaders supported it. It was a very exhilarating time because those of us who joined together were NDP, Conservative and Liberal and it was outside the party, and it was really nice to be in a debate about substance and about the country.”

For all the cooperation on local and provincial campaigns, and with national leaders of different stripes touring the country, then chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley saw a very different picture. Cooperation was the exception, rather than the rule, because there was a federal election that had to be called within the year.

“There was also a sub group of exceedingly senior political operatives and I met with them several times,” says the former chief electoral officer. “And they were conscious of the fact that soon after the referendum, they would be after one another.

“This became clear in the way that they were talking to me. And I kind of got the impression that they were not cooperating as much in terms of getting out the vote, sharing their lists of supporters.

“I did not get the impression that they were cooperating in operational terms with one another. In terms of messages, perhaps. But not in terms of getting out the vote. And a 2 or 3 per cent turnout difference possibly could have made a big difference in the referendum as you see from the numbers.”8


Campaigns, forklifts and 1am

Speeches to women’s institutes, public rallies, offices and debates – both formal and otherwise – filled the weeks leading up to October 26. Robbie Shaw recounts giving two talks a day through the period, while Gary Filmon remembers provincial leaders sharing the stage to try and bolster the yes side.

Peter Milliken says the campaign was something you worked on when you had a moment.

“It wasn’t something you were going at morning, noon and night,”  says the retired MP. “I don’t recall spending a lot of time discussing this at the door – you go and urge people to get out and vote and urge them to vote yes.

“Going door to door here was useful just to have people see you because you are the MP and you want to get re-elected and all that sort of stuff.”

“I’d say, ‘Well, we’ve got signs coming, how are we going to get the signs up?’,” says Peggy Gallant. “So we’d have a little meeting down in my front room at my home and they’d say, ‘Well I know John and Joe and Jack and they’ve put signs up for me during my campaign’.

“I remember going into homes, retirement homes for elderly and man, those people love politics and they talk politics all the time and they’re really interested.”

Also in Nova Scotia, Justice MacDonald recalls late nights and good will from the community. When print materials arrived by train, a local business person arranged for the use of a forklift, at no cost, to help unload them. The campaign needed to bring people around and change some attitudes towards Quebec.

“We talked and talked and strategised and had meetings through this campaign – there were many 1am evenings trying to work out our approach,” she says.

The perception of Quebec coloured much of the debate around the Charlottetown Accord, just as with Meech Lake before it.

But there was also fear, particularly for some in the Maritime region that if Quebec left Canada, that the eastern provinces would be cut off.

“A lot of people resented Quebec,” continues Justice MacDonald, “because they believed that province was favoured over and above the others. Certainly there were some reasons for people to have developed that perception.”

Andrew Nellestyn says anything that threatens the unity of the country “needs to be addressed. . . in other words, that Quebec is kept in confederation”.

But the desire to keep Quebec also drove some of the opposition to the accord.

Preston Manning says Albertans saw the federal government falling over themselves to accommodate the province by recognising them as a distinct society.

“When the west argued for senate reform as a more effective way to approach regional representation or fiscal responsibility or things like that, there was nowhere near the rapid and thorough response,” says Mr Manning.

“I think there was a sense that other people’s constitutional concerns were higher on the agenda, and that the people who threatened separation in order to get their way got more attention than people who tried to take a positive, constructive approach through the existing political institutions.

“Albertans weren’t stupid – they knew it was mainly motivated by trying to satisfy Quebec’s aspirations and then throw in enough other things to try and bring the rest of the country along.”

[Tweet “”Albertans weren’t stupid – they knew it was mainly motivated by trying to satisfy Quebec’s aspirations””]Deborah Coyne insists the opposition was not an “anti-Quebec thing”. But the distinct society clause was still the problem, undermining the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“The clause that they had in there dealing with Quebec was an interpretive clause that would have an impact on the division of powers,” she says. “Opinion was divided on that and it was something we were doing that would be in the constitution for a long time. So I just remember looking at it and thinking, ‘No, they still haven’t got it right and this is going to be a controversial document’.

“[The campaign] was a citizen-based opposition that just didn’t feel that you should be really changing the fundamental structure of the federation in such a comprehensive way.”


Prime ministers and personality

There were prime ministers aplenty during the referendum campaign – four, significantly. Joe Clark, as minister of constitutional affairs, was as involved in Charlottetown as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and campaigned for the accord along with Mr Mulroney’s successor, Jean Chrétien.

Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s opposition to the accord, in speeches and articles, had an effect on people. For those who still admired the political heavyweight, his views mattered.

Deborah Coyne, whose no campaign was centred on the same principles of protecting the charter, agrees Mr Trudeau’s intervention “galvanised people”, but that that alone could not have fed opposition that wasn’t already there.

“Mr Trudeau[‘s intervention] was a factor,” says Robbie Shaw. “Even though I disagreed with him and even though I was considered to be a big Liberal, it did sway certainly the media. And I think that stopped some of the positive momentum for the change. Was that alone the reason why it wasn’t successful? I don’t think so, but it was a factor.”

Another issue was the growing unpopularity of Mr Mulroney himself. Though he would step down just months after the defeat of the accord, it was not enough to save his party from the near total wipe out in the 1993 election.

Mr Shaw says: “The prime minister was seen as a bit of a smarmy salesman and not loved by a huge percentage of the population.

“I think it’s unfair because the prime minister in fact a) understood the issues incredibly well, b) I think was very genuine in feeling that this was important to try and accomplish, and c) had the confidence of most of the premiers. But he had a bit of an image problem and I don’t think that helped.”

Peggy Gallant agrees: “I think Mulroney had a big vision and I think he was just slaughtered for it. Plus he was becoming quite unpopular and I think, when he was doing his own campaigning for the yes campaign, I think he was kind of using a bit of a threatening approach – ‘If you don’t sign this, if you don’t vote yes, Canada’s going to fall apart’.

“Canada didn’t fall apart. We’re still here. You can’t threaten people.”

Preston Manning, looking back, both compliments and critiques his competitor for conservative voters.

“I do think Mr Mulroney got carried away,” he says. “What he really wanted to do was sort of trump Mr Trudeau with whom he was always competing, even though not directly, on constitution making. There was sort of mixed motives.

“But it was an extremely difficult thing to do under the best of circumstances to have a broad constitutional agreement covering so many subjects that would carry the judgement of the public.”


The river of information

Different political leaders, competing visions and gut reactions were all factors in the defeat of the Charlottetown Accord. But the voices articulating the pros and cons of the accord were only heard thanks to handing the speakers a free megaphone.

GRAPHIC.bynumbersThe referendum was made possible by the Referendum Act9, passed just months before the vote. Jean-Pierre Kingsley at Elections Canada brought in the registration of third-party referendum committees and an offer of free broadcast air time to those who wanted it.

“Referendum committees became the model for the third-party regime that was eventually passed into law for elections,” says Mr Kingsley. “The rapid registration during the referendum period, the reporting of expenditures, and other features were all used to prove the system could be applied to elections.

“One of the characteristics of the Canadian system is you have limits on spending and parties. The whole third-party regime is essential and the demonstration was made at the referendum that a scheme like that could work, and did work.

“It had been a main issue in the 1988 election with a lot of private sector companies pushing a lot of money into the campaign.

“And Canada recognises freedom of expression, but we also know that if someone is screaming – which is the equivalent of being able to spend untold millions – that’s no longer free speech. I mean, how do you get your voice above someone who’s screaming at you?”

With limits came the offer of air time, signing up broadcasters to hand over the equivalent of almost $6 million of ad slots10.

“It is THE feature that allowed the no camp to effectively take over in terms of public opinion,” declares Mr Kingsley. “Their ads were very effective.

“There’s a natural base there, because people are scared of change or reluctant to change. And they were able to capitalise on that through the free advertising.

“It was the free time feature that I always considered to be THE big thing of that election. In terms of impact on the whole system, you got [third parties] to register, but at the same time they were given something great, which is free time.

“Now, the yes side had as much claim to it but obviously they were not as successful. The polls indicated that at the start, the yes camp was going to win. And, one follows the polls during the referendum campaign itself, the 36 days, and bang, you see it changing over time.

“I remember the yes side, the positive ads were Canada geese flying into the sunset. . . you can only get so many people to relate to Canada geese flying into the sunset.

“People were criticising the yes side ads for being that kind of mushy appeal to, well, nationalism I guess. Whereby the no side was hitting the different segments of the deal. They could pick one out and tear it to shreds.”

[Tweet “”There’s a natural base there, because people are scared of change or reluctant to change.””]The biggest benefactor for time from the no side was the Reform Party, led by Preston Manning11.

But Mr Manning says air time was not much help because of “almost unlimited resources” for the yes campaign. Their strength, was grassroots.

Just as Mr Kingsley points out, Mr Manning identifies the flaw of an agreement such as the Charlottetown Accord.

“One of the difficulties of those blanket accords covering many aspects is that people will cherry pick some parts that they’re really keen on and they’ll find other parts that are totally flawed,” he says. “They’ll really make judgement on the basis of whether their particular favourite part was advocated and framed strongly enough. Or they’ll decide to be against it because they don’t like one particularly element.”

The other main no committee, Deborah Coyne’s Canada for All Canadians group, got a loan of money from Manitoba-based media mogul Izzy Asper12 to do their ads, she recounts. But when they didn’t use up all the time they were entitled to, the group forfeited the $500 deposit.

“It’s kind of bizarre – you forfeit it when you don’t advertise enough,” she says. “Of course we were the underdog. But the nice thing about a referendum is it’s extremely levelling.”

The Reform campaign distributed more than 1.5 million copies of a 13,000-word broadsheet paper that included the entire accord, commentary and circled sections to highlight for the public.

“We were laughed to scorn when it first came out,” says Mr Manning, “because our opponents said, ‘Well you will never get ordinary busy folks to read anything like that, let alone something like that that was written in legalise.

“But we found a large, large number of people studied the accord themselves, and they respected the fact that somebody thought they had the intelligence and ability to do so.

“They understood a lot more than the people gave them credit for, certainly that the other side give them credit for. And that kind of communication went over far better than the slick type of advertising, both electronic and print wise, done by the yes side.”

For Mr Manning, the campaign was able to turn the tide by providing voters with information. He quotes Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in 1820: “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion by education.”13

“Our whole campaign in Charlottetown was to try to inform the discretion,” says Mr Manning. “And that in itself is an interesting phrase. [Jefferson] didn’t say just try to persuade them to support your view, inform their discretion, inform their ability to make a choice and trust them to make that choice, rather than just telling them what to do. That was kind of our motto going into that campaign.

“We had this ‘know more’. . . if you knew more about this thing, you would not be in favour. We didn’t try to tell people in a very strong way to vote against it. We just said, ‘Here’s a copy of this thing, you read it. We’ve circled the parts that we think are worrisome but you read it, you study it, you talk about it with your friends and come to a judgement about and then get out and vote on the thing’.

“Don’t underestimate the capacity of ordinary voters or the public to become interested in an issue and to become informed on it and to make a wise decision. They don’t always make a wise decision, but I think the democratic lesson from Charlottetown is the most important one – more so than any, say, legal lesson in the narrower constitutional sense.”

He adds: “It strengthened my conviction that ordinary folks, faced with all the challenges they’ve got, of holding down their job, and paying a mortgage, and getting their kids to school, that if you can get them the information and give them time, that they can come to informed decisions on some of these big issues. It really re-enforced my view that democracy is a pretty good system, even with all its flaws.”

Democracy and information to the voters worked for the yes side too, according to Nik Nanos. Despite a well-organised local no campaign “rallying anti-accommodation and anti-French sentiment”, the “number one” request to the campaign office was for a copy of the accord.

“Canadians were interested in actually reading the legal text,” he says. “You don’t get that very often. And I think the key take away is that if you put more information in the hands of voters, and if you give them the opportunity to vote, even if you’re unsure as to whether they’ll support your cause or not, that that’s always the best path forward.

“We were told that we were putting out more information related to the Charlottetown Accord than many of the other ridings.”

Justice MacDonald noticed the same desire “once kindled, to learn, to be engaged, to try to understand”.

Both Mr Manning and Alex Cullen, on distinctly separate sides of the political spectrum, viewed the no campaign’s ultimate victory as one for “the ordinary person” against “political elites”. Given a copy of that “elite” constitutional document, the people rejected it, in some parts of Canada at least.

But Peggy Gallant in Nova Scotia, looking back, recognises that the information was also too complicated, that too many issues were being addressed in one document.


Eternal internal resistance to change?

So, 20 years on, how do the original campaigners interpret the results? Are different parts of Canada so different that they could look at the same document and arrive at opposite conclusions?

Nationally, Preston Manning sees both a Canadian tendency, and a regional one.

“Maybe it’s sort of a sad lesson and I’ve noticed this not just in reference to Charlottetown but to other measures,” he says. “Unfortunately, for one reason or another, I think Canadians are easier to rally against something than they are for something.

“Far more often, Reform’s been on the side of trying to get people to adopt what we consider some positive reform: budget balancing, senate reform, criminal justice reform, democratic reforms. And it does seem more difficult to rally Canadians to support a new initiative than it does to get them to oppose one. I think that’s a negative thing. I think it’s got something to do with our national character.

“Canadians – and you’ve got to be careful about generalising because this varies from different parts of the country – if you present a new idea to many Canadian audiences, the initial reaction, and certainly [in] the media, is to give you 100 reasons why it won’t work, can’t work, probably shouldn’t be considered.

“In other words, the initial reaction is a wet blanket syndrome and then, if you persist at it, Canadians will start to warm up to it. They’ll have this second thought, ‘Well maybe, it’s not quite as bad as we thought – that might be good’.

“Whereas there are certain jurisdictions – like in the US you think of California or Texas; in Canada, Alberta, southern Alberta and particularly Calgary – where the initial reaction to new ideas is, ‘By golly, you know that might just work’. It’s a sort of positive thing and then they have the second thought, ‘But we better analyse this’.

“And the difference that makes if you’re the promoter of the innovation or reform, is when the first reaction is the wet blanket, you almost despair that you’re not going to get anywhere and you may give up, or in the entrepreneurial world you go south to the United States.

“But if initial reaction is positive and then there’s sober second thought and questioning afterwards, it makes all the difference to the entrepreneur or the promoter of the idea and gives them some encouragement to go forward.”

He adds: “This is something far more general than the Charlottetown Accord. In that particular case we were campaigning against something which was an easier campaign to conduct than when we were advocating big reforms ourselves.”

And in the west, Reform and the no side won.


Small victories and big defeats

Both sides had their victories, with local yes campaigns drawing comfort from winning their battles, even if the large revolution was fruitless.

In Kingston and the Islands, both Peter Milliken and Nik Nanos recall getting out the vote as a key factor.

“In terms of the local campaign,” says Mr Nanos, “one of the things that the local yes campaign benefited from was the series of mistakes that the no campaign made. One of the mistakes that they made was that they had raised money for television ads. But they had looked at broadcasting the ads, in order to save money, from a station in the United States, which is in contravention to the Elections Act where you’re not allowed to use any foreign broadcasters.

“One of the decisions we made was to get out the vote for anybody, and to not be obtrusive in terms of their voting intentions. And I think that garnered a lot of good will among local voters because it showed a certain level of respect. And it was kind of unusual.

“I think that’s what tipped the balance in terms of the performance compared to many of the ridings in the surrounding area. We were able to trump the national trend at least.”

On PEI, Lynn Murray still recalls premier Joe Ghiz, the salesman, his ability to command a room, and ultimately make the home of confederation and the Charlottetown Accord deliver the highest yes vote in the country, at 73.9 per cent.

“Joe could get in front of any group and he could persuade you to his way of view,” she says. “He could energise the room such that you could hear a pin drop.”

But Mr Ghiz, in his speech to the island’s Hillsborough Rotary Club, foretold what would happen weeks later on polling day: “Let not the prophets of perfection become the enemies of the good.”

Unknowingly, Mr Filmon uses the same words as Mr Ghiz, 20 years on.

“In retrospect, it was a very, very bitter and sad lesson for me to realise that when you have something as complex, and so many different elements to it and so many different issues to be looked at, that of course the perfect becomes the enemy of the good,” he says.

[Tweet “”In retrospect, it was a very, very bitter and sad lesson for me””]”We were certainly very disappointed, apprehensive as to what [the vote] might spur in Quebec.

“And then of course we got hit by the very deep recession that forced us all to really roll up our sleeves and try to get the economy back on track. So we almost couldn’t consume ourselves with thinking about the constitution. And that led to the rallying cries of, ‘Enough with the constitutional talks’. We’ve got serious issues on the economic front and we’re going to work on them because that’s what the public really want us to do. And that was kind of our way of putting it aside.”

Will Canada ever discuss the constitution again?


Part 3 – Is Canada too old to talk foundations?


Copyright 2012 All rights reserved.
  1. Mr Nanos led the Kingston and the Islands Canada Committee, and Mr Milliken led the Peter Milliken YES Committee. In the original report, committee names designate YES or NO, and Tomorrow has kept this formatting.
  2. Not formally registered with Elections Canada for the campaign.
  4. The first referendum was on conscription.
  5. Details on Mr Carver from the sports hall of fame.
  7. Mr Shaw was appointed in 2011.
  8. Ontario, on the western border of Quebec, could have been affected, with just 50.1 per cent voting yes; Nova Scotia might also have been influenced, with 51.2 per cent voting no. All other provinces had larger majorities on either side.
  10. See Elections Canada report, part 3. Download the PDF here: 1992_Referendum_Part_3_E
  11. See note 10.
  13. Thomas Jefferson to William C. Jarvis, 1820. ME 15:278

Charlottetown Accord: The last constitutional supper – Part 1

Trying to rebirth a country at age 10

Standing on the balcony of an Ottawa government office building, they were feeling confident. Deals had been done, compromises met and a new vision of Canada achieved.

“[We] felt so strongly that we had a package that would sell everywhere, that the public would support, that we put forth the idea that it ought to go to the referendum, which, of course, was ultimately a disaster.

“But we just felt at that point that it was going to fly right across the country, that this would be a very acceptable series of compromises that led to everyone getting sort of close to what they were looking for.”

Gary Filmon was premier of Manitoba in 19921 when he stood on that Lester B Pearson Building balcony on July 7 with then Ontario premier and current interim Liberal Party leader Bob Rae2, just a few weeks before a final deal was signed on August 28 in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

That deal was the Charlottetown Accord, and the referendum that followed was a defining moment in Canada’s history.

It was only Canada’s third national referendum and the first on constitutional affairs. It heralded in much of what is the nation’s current electoral system and helped the rise of regional political parties. It brought together people of different political stripes for the sake of the country, and split major parties over the compromises that were made.

The Charlottetown Accord would have created an elected senate with equal representation across all provinces, redefined the relationship with indigenous peoples and most controversially, recognised Quebec as a “distinct society”.

Canadians rejected the accord on October 26, 1992 and constitutional debates have rarely surfaced since. To mark the 20th anniversary of the vote, Tomorrow went back to the original players in the negotiations and the campaign to ask about the legacy of Charlottetown and whether it was the last constitutional agreement Canada will ever see.


Lawyers at the table

Mr Filmon today sits on the boards of telecoms firm MTSAllstream, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd, and chairs the boards of Exchange Income Corporation and FWS Construction Ltd.

He says his willingness to bring Manitoba to the table was driven by the failure of the Meech Lake Accord in 1990, in the province. He understood the criticisms of the previous deal, “concocted by a group of 10 guys in suits behind closed doors”, without public consultation or consideration.

So the subsequent negotiations towards what became Charlottetown was a “big-tent approach” according to Mr Filmon. They were optimistic.

“We certainly felt obligated to be a part of any process that was then designed to take the place of Meech and overcome a lot of the reasons why Meech failed,” he says. “We were there, I think, with the best of intentions at all times, and a sense of guarded optimism.

“We were there just trying to find a solution that would be acceptable that we could see.”

Mr Filmon knew the process would be difficult, with so many issues on the table, so many interests adding their voices over months of negotiations.

He views it as sincere and legitimate, despite hindsight on the criticisms.

As he starts recalling the premiers at the table, he realises that most were lawyers. Bob Rae of Ontario, Clyde Wells from Newfoundland, Mike Harcourt in British Columbia, Frank McKenna in New Brunswick, Joe Ghiz in PEIand Ovide Mercredi then national chief of the Assembly of First Nations3.

Mr Filmon, working to combat the recession at the time, sent his justice minister Jim McCrae to many of the initial meetings, before joining later. Quebec monitored the process, but didn’t formally attend with Premier Robert Bourassa until just before the final agreement in August.

“There was a tremendous amount of legal talent and people who were used to this kind of give and take and negotiating over a table,” says Mr Filmon. “It was never a sense of let’s throw up our hands and leave.

“In the latter stages, probably the last six months I was there personally. However there were other premiers, for instance the relative newcomers like Bob Rae who decided that he had to be at the table for everything.

“This [process] was going to be done in a very open and public way and we were going to do it right, once and for all.”

Without Quebec, there was a sense of “shadow boxing” with nine provinces, the territories, indigenous groups and others – everyone except a key quarter of the population. If they didn’t get Quebec’s approval, a deal might just end up in the “dust bin”, says Mr Filmon.



The constitution of Canada was written at the nation’s inception in 1867, but not repatriated4 from Britain until 1982 by then Liberal prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau5. It included the inclusion of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a fundamental document that has shaped political and legal decisions ever since. Quebec never signed on, leaving what was perceived as unfinished business. When Meech Lake died, Charlottetown eventually rose up in its place.

The accord had multiple parts, covering “unity and diversity”, “institutions”, “roles and responsibilities”, “first peoples”, and “the amending formula”. There was even a list of 20 other issues that didn’t find consensus6.

The deal recognized Quebec as a distinct society. Both the 1867 and 1982 Constitution acts7 would be rewritten to include indigenous peoples on multiple levels, including in an elected senate, and with an “inherent right to self-government”. There was also protection for the equality of French and English languages in New Brunswick, expansion of the number of MPs and dozens of other changes.

With the return of the constitution to Canadian soil and a new definition of rights and freedoms in 1982, the nation’s leaders were effectively trying to lay out a country reborn at age 10.

PEI premier Joe Ghiz saw unfinished business stretching back to the “fathers of confederation” as he outlined the grand tradition of “the spirit of compromise” in a speech made on October 1, 1992 to the Hillsborough Rotary Club on the island early in the campaign8.

The transcribed “spontaneous” speech, which was provided to Tomorrow by Mr Ghiz’s widow, Rose Ellen Ghiz, is a thorough pitch on each part of the accord and the deals struck.

For example, on senate reform, Ontario and Quebec have 24 senators each, compared to just six in each of the western provinces and Newfoundland9. The Charlottetown Accord would have given six to each province, making each equal, regardless of population, the provinces compromised.

Forestry, mining, tourism, recreation, housing and municipal and urban affairs would be entrenched as exclusive provincial jurisdictions, even though they were effectively already so through the courts, Mr Ghiz told the audience.

“A lot of people are under the impression that Quebec was alone in proposing these areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction being confirmed,” he said. “Not so. British Columbia wanted them, Alberta wanted them, Ontario wanted them.”

Criticism after criticism of the Charlottetown deal, Mr Ghiz addressed, dismissing some as “nonsense” and repeating again and again the words: “Let not the prophets of perfection become the enemies of the good.”

He concluded: “I say, if you want perfection, I say to those people, go to an uninhabited part of the globe and draft your perfect constitution that will have a Canada Clause with 40 or 50 sections in it and that will do all these wonderful things you are talking about.

“Draft it and then invite people into that country.

“But you can’t do that in a country with 26,000,000 people, with two founding peoples, with aboriginal and non-aboriginal, with different social and economic circumstances. We have to do what we’ve been doing for well over a century and that is to compromise.”


More players join the game

Beyond all the leaders who contributed to and signed on to the Charlottetown Accord, once a referendum was called, many more took their places.

Even if there hadn’t been a national referendum, British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec legally required provincial ones.

The names of campaign committee leaders across the country, registered with Elections Canada10 reflect a who’s who of the country at the time, from business leaders and former government ministers, to union bosses and aspiring politicians. Some local fights were led by lawyers, church volunteers and veterans, many of them never again taking on political campaigns. Others would go on to win elections themselves or to become the who’s who of today.

For many caught up in the unique vote, it can still evoke emotions, from bitterness to defiant national pride.

Even Canada’s then chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley11, describes it as “a source of pride to my dying day”.

Antigonish professor Peggy Gallant looked to the leaders and, once she agreed to campaign for the yes side, saw a grand bargain worth championing.

“I think it was very ambitious of the political leaders of the time,” recounts the St FX sports leadership instructor12, “the three political parties, to come together, and the First Nations, to come together in Charlottetown and say, ‘You know what? We’re going put our political differences aside and we’re going to try to change the way we grant power. We’re going to try to look at the autonomy of the provinces different’.

“That was one of the things that attracted me about this yes campaign – all three political parties were in favour. How could you go wrong, right?

[Tweet “”All three political parties were in favour. How could you go wrong, right?””]”The NDP thought it was great, the Tories thought it was great, the Liberals thought it was great. We’re going to take it to the country. All of the representation is in favour of it, why wouldn’t the country be in favour of it?”

Nik Nanos in Kingston, Ontario, saw the compromises too. In 1992 he was just starting out with a market and public opinion research firm, today one of the nation’s most powerful, Nanos Research13.

For him, the accord was a symbol of working out an accommodation with Quebecers and “putting to rest the constitutional turmoil of the past.

“They say in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king,” he says, “that even if the agreement was not perfect, we know that even constitutions are living documents and democracies are living entities. I believe that it was a step in the right direction.”

In the same riding, first term MP Peter Milliken decided to start a yes committee. He later became Canada’s longest serving Speaker of the House of Commons14.

To him, the accord was a compromise that attracted people to vote yes.

“I’m sure that any one of us might have had some reservations about certain aspects of the thing,” he says. “Obviously there were some compromises in there but they seemed to work in my view and I assumed that other people supported it for that reason.”

In Nova Scotia, Robbie Shaw was a high-profile businessman and Liberal, but was asked by the Progressive Conservative premier to co-chair the provincial yes campaign.

“There was no question that the premiers were motivated,” he says 20 years on. “They worked hard at it themselves, certainly our premier did, the prime minister sure as heck did, and I think most of the premiers all worked together, absolutely.”

Rabbi Reuven P Bulka15 in Ottawa described the players in the Charlottetown deal as “very passionately Canadian”.

Retired colonel Andrew Nellestyn16 had seen armed conflict around the globe and looked at Charlottetown as a duty. He had to step up.

“I believe political stability and all that results therefrom is sacrosanct,” he says, adding, “but not to the point of becoming autocratic, per se, i.e. following or being influenced by demagogy, or people who are in the game solely for self-interest and power.

“At the time, in terms of what was achievable, yes, it was an agreement which served its intended purpose. But there’s some debate as to what its intended purpose really was.

“I’m not sure whether there is ever an agreement that can make everyone in the province of Quebec satisfied with their status across a number of areas.”

Alex Cullen was an Ottawa City and Ottawa Regional councillor in 1992 and Liberal Party member17. Despite the party leadership backing the accord, Mr Cullen recalls that it had the “same damn thing” as the Meech Lake Accord – the distinct society clause.

“Most of the political elite across the country were supporting the Charlottetown Accord,” he says. “The stakes had been jacked up by the prime minister that this was essential for national unity. But there were those of us who thought that, although there are aspects of the accord that we could live with, just carrying on about the application of the distinct society clause was not good for Canada’s future.”

Mr Cullen had his own local no committee but was also a member of the national no group led by Deborah Coyne, vocal opponent to Meech Lake, mother to Pierre Trudeau’s only daughter and a current leadership candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada18.

Speaking from the campaign trail she recalls: “I remember thinking at the time, ‘Not this again’. But Mulroney did the right thing: he called a referendum. And I will argue, and I’m arguing it right now in this leadership [race], that because of that there is now a constitutional convention that we have to have a referendum on major constitutional reform.

“I think what happened with Mr Mulroney is when he negotiated with the premiers in 87 and then continued up to ’92, he didn’t realise that with the entry into force of the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms] in ’82 and the repatriation and so forth, the Charter has really taken hold.

“A constitution isn’t just like a tax act where you can just change it in such a comprehensive way.”

[Tweet “”A constitution isn’t just like a tax act where you can just change it in such a comprehensive way.””]Out west, the conservative Reform Party was still a growing grassroots movement, with just one MP in parliament in 1992. They found a surge to 52 MPs the next year.

Preston Manning, then leader, said he doesn’t doubt the good intentions of those involved in the accord, but that wasn’t the public perception.

“I think [the public] got the impression that a very small group got together, and that may have just been because of the way it was announced, really, at a federal-provincial conference and the main proponents of it were the prime minister and a group of premiers.

”There had been consultation but a lot of what came out of the consultations was not included in the accord.”

He adds: “The constitution just has its own internal restrictions. Of course the amending formula is so difficult that [there is a] built in resistance to change and a built in predisposition to preserve the status quo.”

Peggy Gallant says the idea of a referendum was exciting, she would have crawled on her “hands and knees to vote”. But looking back, she admits she might have been naive. “You get a group of first ministers together, you get all kinds of political parties together and you get everybody to sign off. Now, you wonder after the fact how that happened. Were people pressured? What kind of back room deals were being made?”


Storm clouds

Back in Manitoba, Gary Filmon was still confident. The regional political forces of the Reform Party in the west and Bloc Québécois in the east had yet to sweep into parliament. He told everyone, from voters to editorial boards that Charlottetown was a good deal, finding a resolution to each of the “difficult conundrums”. They could pull anyone from any background onto stage to back the deal.

“We had all of this support that seemed to be overwhelming, that seemed to cross every possible line of defence,” he says. “So, you didn’t have an organised group or so it seemed, that was in opposition. I was supremely confident at that time that everything was going well, so much so that after a couple of platforms, they were just rallies in favour of it. It didn’t seem to be that there was a movement arising that would defeat it.”

Mr Filmon was so confident that he headed to the United Kingdom for a trade mission to the British headquarters of many large Manitoban employers, such as the aerospace and farm equipment manufacturing sectors.

The trip had been planned for six months for late September, just as the referendum campaign was starting.

“So at that point I said, ‘Ok I’ll go ahead and do this because everything seems to be going well’,” he says.

“So I was in a pub in London just outside Whitehall and this happened to be the favourite pub of one of the bankers that we were visiting. We went there for a drink before going to a play and I ran into an old fraternity brother of mine who is now a lawyer in Vancouver.

“And he said to me in a loud voice, ‘You know your Charlottetown is going down the tubes right?’.

“I said, ‘You’re kidding. You gotta be kidding. Is that the word in British Columbia?’

“He said, ‘Oh yeah, it’s going down in BC, but it’s going down everywhere’.

“And I said, ‘Aw come on. Here, I got £10 says you’re wrong’ and I put it on the table.

“So a buddy of his scooped it up and took £10 from him and we had our bet. And at that time I thought it was a slam dunk, that there was absolutely no way that it was going to go down.”

[Tweet “”‘You know your Charlottetown is going down the tubes right?'””]Looking back at the bet 20 years later, Mr Filmon admits he didn’t see the writing on the wall. He didn’t understand that an agreement so complex could be picked apart, its individual compromises used to dissuade voters.

“That was my first awareness that there was something out there that I was completely unaware of,” he admits.

“I completely underestimated this grassroots movement, which was led by what was ultimately the basic roots of the Reform group and they were going right across the west and they were speaking out against it.

“They were picking out little pieces that they felt looked ridiculous without looking at the overall, and they were making a hell of a good argument to ordinary grassroots people, who really didn’t want to understand the overall compromises or the objective. They just wanted to slap down these government leaders who had gone and made this complicated agreement.

“Every one of these things could be seized by people out there. And it turned out in our case it was really all the elements that ultimately became the Reform Party who went out on platforms in all the western provinces and just absolutely destroyed the public support for it by picking out individual elements and saying, ‘Look at this. Look how terrible this is. What a ridiculous compromise. We can’t give this up, blah blah blah blah blah’.

“They jumped all over it and it destroyed the accord in the process.”

Mr Filmon in 1992 thought the compromises and cooperation of so many different leaders would be enough to beat back the grassroots elements.

“As it turned out, we fought a losing battle.”


Part 2 – “Fight”


Copyright 2012 All rights reserved.

  1. Premier from May 9, 1988 to October 5, 1999
  2. Bob Rae was unable to contribute to this feature, however, on this specific point, he said via email: “Several provinces had passed legislation before Charlottetown committing to constitutional referenda, and Quebec had an approaching deadline on its own referendum. So the ‘idea’ of a national referendum was an inevitability. Otherwise there would have been a complete hodge-podge. That (the balcony incident) may well have happened, but my own support for the referendum was based on the practical reality that we were already in a ‘referendum framework’, for the reasons I described.”
  3. Mr Wells and Mr Harcourt did not respond to requests for comment. Mr McKenna declined to comment. Mr Mercredi said he would speak, but only in person, which was not possible for this piece.
  4. Canada’s constitution was British law until 1982. See for more details.
  5. Prime minister from April 20, 1968 to June 4, 1979 and from March 3, 1980 to June 30, 1984
  6. Read a copy of the full accord.
  7. The 1867 act was originally called the British North America Act
  8. Download a PDF copy of the speech here: 19921001.joeghizspeech
  10. Pages 85-95 of “The 1992 Federal Referendum: A Challenge Met, report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada. See the PDF of that section here: 1992_Referendum_Part_3_E
  11. Chief electoral officer from 1990 to 2007. Full online bio.
  14. Speaker from 2001 to 2011.

Tea for the ladies who lunch

How decades of friendship carried on across generations

The Lunch Bunch

THE sandwiches are all different, in their small plastic bags or store packaging. From the counter overlooking the decorated table watch three pots of tea warming under bright cosies. The cups are filled constantly as dishes of sliced celery and carrot, pickles and olives pass around amidst a constant chatter and bursts of laughter.

Photos of children and grandchildren are handed around the long oval table to exclamations of “sweet” and “gorgeous” and the ladies settle down to lunch.

As the meal begins, Mary Ann Bibby recounts a story she heard on the CBC radio programme, As It Happens1, about a 550-pound bear found hiding in a basement in Hopatcong, New Jersey, last December2.

“Isn’t that incredible? Isn’t that unreal? I thought that was good enough to bring to Lunch Bunch today,” says the 65-year-old.

“Well, that’s the second bear story,” says Jane Madsen, 69, referring to reports of a small black bear on the back of a dumpster truck in downtown Vancouver days earlier3.

This table is one of the area’s most stable communities, even if it has lost all its original members since first meeting on a Tuesday in 1984.

Most of its starting members had all graduated together from Saint John High School4 in the Canadian province of New Brunswick in 1932, and remained friends throughout the subsequent decades. At least two met on their first day of school, and knew each other for almost 90 years.

Nancy Davies, 59, started attending Lunch Bunch when her mother-in-law, Fran – one of those two childhood friends – lost her husband, Jack, and needed someone to drive her to the regular gatherings.

“I was a care giver,” Nancy says. “And Ruth very kindly said, ‘Stay – bring a sandwich’. So I did. And I’ve been coming ever since. And then even when Fran passed away, Ruth called and said she would like me to continue.”

Founder member and “boss” Ruth Brown, who passed away in 2008, was a Likely, a name that still continues in the group in the form of Barb Likely, 96, and Babs Likely, 93, connected through marriage. Ruth was also first cousin of David Likely Johnson, father to Elma Johnson-McKay, another member of the second generation Lunch Bunch.

The connections were key to Ruth’s invitations to new members. “I kind of got to come for two reasons I think,” says Elma, 61. “Because I was dad’s child that lived here and took care of dad because he was blind. And I like history and I like to read and when Ruth realised that I liked books as much as she liked books I was in like Flynn, so they say. And so I’ve been coming ever since.

“Once, I didn’t come on a Tuesday because I had some kind of appointment and I always remember what Ruth said: ‘Why? Why would you ever schedule anything on a Lunch Bunch day?’ So from then on, I tried never to miss, although occasionally I do.”

Jane chips in on her mother Ruth: “She used to get so mad at Barb Likely because in the winter Barb Likely went to Bible study on Lunch Bunch day and my mother was an atheist.”

Mary Ann came along when she was visiting from her home in Edmonton, Alberta, and brought her mum, Mary Warwick, who lived near another member of the Likely clan.

Mary Ann says: “It got so when I was coming home I would look at the calendar and buy my airline tickets around when I would arrive at like 10 o’clock in the morning before Lunch Bunch at 12. I had to be here for Lunch Bunch.”

Did Ruth only invite people she liked? Jane says it was not completely selfish – Ruth thought about Shirley James, now 84, being alone in her house and about friends who could not get about much without help.

“But she was also pretty much a megalomaniac,” jokes Jane. “She wanted people to come to her. She didn’t very often go to other people.”

But the idea of Lunch Bunch is not local. According to Jane, Ruth was visiting another daughter Rachel in Liverpool, England, and was invited to a lady’s home where a group of women met regularly for lunch. The hostess did not work, but her friends did and would bring their sandwiches at noon and spend their lunch hour together.

From the opposite end of the table, Carol Sutton explains her connection to the group – via Ruth, who was editing a book on the history of the area written by Carol’s daughter, Susanne5.

Tea time

The tea keeps flowing for the Lunch Bunch

Carol says: “The original group were the group of ladies that Ruth graduated with in 1932 from Saint John High School. And I remember when she asked me, I said, ‘Ruth? Me? I wasn’t even BORN in 1932.’

“I can remember some of those women were just so proper and I just liked to act out. One time I was teasing your mother [Ruth] and here I was a young whippersnipper [sic] and your mother, an elderly senior, and some of these women just looked at me. And Marion [Barker] said, ‘Carol, that’s an awful thing to say to Ruth.’ And I said, ‘Ach, Marion, she loves it.’ And she DID. She loved being bantered like that. But these women, they were proper ladies.”

The ladies all bring their own sandwiches, with the tea and dessert provided by the hostess – originally only Ruth, but later expanded to some of the younger members who had large enough dining tables.

Even after her death, Ruth is still in some ways the lynchpin of the group. Seven of the original members have died in the past decade.

“I think Lunch Bunch continues because it is a way to remember Ruth,” says Carol. “She was such a fun and interesting person. I just loved Ruth. I’m always mindful of Ruth at each and every Lunch Bunch gathering.”


Grand Bay-Westfield is an amalgamation from 1998 of the smaller communities along the western bank of the St John River, with a population today of little more than 5000 residents, spread across nearly 60sqkm of land.

The lunch bunch idea fits perfectly with an area not only of closely related families, but also of quiet suburbia.

View Larger Map

Direct arterial links pull traffic from Highway 7 down to the main Nerepis Road, both running parallel to the river and all flowing north from the city of Saint John to the province’s capital, Fredericton. New roads and homes hint at a district slowly evolving from its roots as being largely holiday cottages for city residents. Visiting children, commuting on trains that have long ago ceased to toot their horns at the homes, grew up together, swimming, skating or fishing on the river. Close bonds and marriages were part of the evolution of the town of Grand Bay and the village of Westfield.

Original Lunch Bunch member Isabel Scovil, for example, grew up in Saint John’s Seely Street, adjacent to Gooderich Street6 which was home to other eventual Lunch Bunch members. She used to play piano duets with Ruth.

Jeanie Lambert was a schoolfriend of Ruth’s, while Irmon Faye Duschenes moved to the area in the 1950s and taught art and music in Westfield with Ruth. Barb Likely’s husband, Bob, was Ruth’s first cousin, and Babs married another first cousin, Joe.

Shirley James, 84, who in her youth was a pilot and flew a De Havilland Tiger Moth biplane, is another newer member with longstanding connections to the others in the group – her father became the “ice man” for the summer homes, and went on to grow squashes and potatoes in Ruth’s family’s back field.

Phyllis Durrant, 93, another current Lunch Bunch member, grew up as a neighbour of Ruth on Gooderich Street, and dated the man Ruth later went on to marry, Bob Brown.

The connections run deep between past members and have carried on to those still meeting every Tuesday.

By the time Ruth brought the Lunch Bunch idea back from England, many of her friends were widowed or lived alone, and unless you had a car, you had no way to get to the facilities and activities in Saint John.

Most of the members brought together were either from the high school class of 1932, or Mount Alison University7 class of 1936.

Before the lunch begins, Jane tells me: “At that time, mum had her own mother, and her ageing Aunt Jane living with her, and I think they all needed something to look forward to a couple of times each month. So the incentive for the group was probably as much a selfish one on mum’s part as an altruistic one.”

The hostess – usually Ruth – provided the pickles, olives, carrot and celery sticks and dessert on a table set with her best china and silver. It was “an event à la the 1930s/1940s” says Jane.

“And of course mum had her lovely garden as a backdrop, and that was something all the ladies really appreciated. A lot of them lived in city, without the gardening opportunities that we had here in Westfield.

“Those with cars drove those who had no method of transportation. Perhaps once a year or so, someone else would offer to host, or the group would go on an outing to a restaurant somewhere on the coast of the Bay of Fundy.”

Even as host for many of the Lunch Bunch gatherings now, overlooked by the portrait of her mother, Jane was a reluctant member initially. When she moved back to New Brunswick after a number of years living abroad, Jane felt she was being “coerced” and avoided the group on purpose.

But when she retired 11 years ago, she started to find some meaningful female friends and the group has become a source of strength.

“Now that I have them, they are very important to me,” she says. “The group is a good way to keep up on the goings-on in the neighbourhood, political as well as social. We can lend a hand if we learn that friends or neighbours are sick or need help, we can talk up issues from the town on which we feel strongly.”

Over lunch, Elma is more blunt and joking about how the group has continued. With a new generation of women – and even the generation beyond that with Jane’s 40-year-old daughter Allison Calder who lives in

Ruth’s old home down the driveway – the Lunch Bunch will continue every other Tuesday.

“The bottom line is none of us work,” says Elma. “Well, Alison will – she’s on maternity leave. So if it was a toss up between Lunch Bunch every second Tuesday or get a 9 to 5 job, I choose Lunch Bunch. I’m not getting a job if I don’t have to.”

The group erupts into laughter, not for the first or last time during the two-hour lunch. They turn to reading AA Milne’s King John’s Christmas, an annual tradition carried over from Ruth’s days, chiming in on the refrain, “big, red, india-rubber ball”8.

Others will eventually join the Lunch Bunch table, though the women acknowledge it is a reality that will sadly come as members pass away.

“It’s nice to have a full table,” says Elma, who then, with perfect comedic timing, describes those who attend Lunch Bunch but don’t host as “freeloaders”. Again, the table bursts into laughter over the clinking and refilling of tea cups, a mince pie ready to be brought out for dessert.


A few weeks after this pre-Christmas Lunch Bunch gathering, Nancy emails to explain what pulls this micro community together.

“It was as it is now – wanting to catch up on the goings on of each person,” she writes. “We are all really interested in each others’ lives – past, present and future. We don’t see each other socially other than the Lunch Bunch but we are now friends, and look forward to every second Tuesday.

“It’s a time to sit back, relax and enjoy the noise.”


Disclaimer: Reporter Tristan Stewart-Robertson’s grandfather was Fran (Stewart) Davies’ brother, and he holidayed as a child in the back yard of Bill and Mary Warwick.

  2. Screen grab of original brown bear story
  3. Screen grab of second bear story
  5. Sutton, Susanne Carol. Westfield: a History Told by Residents. Village of Westfield, 1997.
  6. Maps detail both Gooderich and Goodrich but interviewees insist it should be Gooderich.
  8. Milne, AA. Now We Are Six. London, 1927.