The Margaret Laurence version

October 15 1979

The Margaret Laurence version

October 15 1979

The Margaret Laurence version



I was distressed to read Barbara Amiel’s article The Typewriting on the Wall: Rights on a Sliding Scale (Aug. 27) on The Writers’ Union of Canada, on the subject of union fees. Seldom can so short a story have contained so many errors and distortions. Amiel says that “members could be required to show statements verifying their total income to union officials.” Untrue. It was believed that an accountant’s statement might be necessary simply to confirm that writers had placed themselves in the correct category. There was no suggestion that the amount of income would have to be revealed.

Amiel omits any mention of the fact that a fees review committee was set up by the union. This committee, chaired by Leo Simpson and consisting of Joyce Marshall, John Moss, Bruce Powe, Rudy Wiebe and myself, in spite of different points of view, managed to reach almost general agreement and our recommendations concerning a referendum format will shortly go to the union’s national council. It is also our hope that, in future, questions pertaining to fees will be decided upon by general referendum.

Amiel states that people who had not paid union fees by the end of September would be ineligible to vote in a referendum. Not true. According to our bylaws, the national council has power to postpone payment, and it is not until the end of the second year of nonpayment that suspension becomes automatic.

Amiel speaks of a public lending rights fee (the correct term is “compen-

sation for authors”) as something “the union wants paid to members.” Untrue. The union wants some kind of compensation for library use of books for all Canadian writers, union members or not.

Amiel says “the union has spent money on a glossy book of photos and biographies of its members.” This refers to Canada Writes. It is far from being a glossy book; it was done with a special grant, not union money; it lists writers’ works, publishers, dates, various editions, and it has been useful as a reference book in schools and libraries. The union is now looking into means of updating the book at the least possible expense.

Amiel states that the sliding scale “is necessary, in the opinion of some members, only if the Writers’ Union is to move from a lobby group and part-time union into the big-time world of unionism à la United Auto Workers.” This would be laughable were it not so damaging in intent. Unlike a labor union, TWUC does not have the power to strike. We can lobby for more equitable laws concerning copyright, publishing, imported books and remainders. We can help our writers to press for better contracts. We can assist writers with grievances against individual publishers. We have had considerable success in all these areas. But the possibility of our becoming another UAW is as remote as having our books translated into Martian.

Amiel does not mention that she herself is one of those members who threatens to resign over fees. But she goes even further than using a national magazine as her private platform. She shafts the union as such, and she does it by scare tactics. Is this responsible journalism?


All gloom and no gleam

As a practising economist I take exception to Roderick McQueen’s article An Economist Ought to Be Given the Same Welcome as a Body Washed Up On Shore (Sept. 17) in which he purports to dismiss economists as being constant bearers of bad news or “promoters of pessimism,” as he put it. It may well be that McQueen is afflicted with such a bad case of tunnel vision that he can only see the gloom and none of the gleam. Few indeed are the economists who are so steeped in pessimism that they cannot report on the gold as well as the dross and, should McQueen like to read some cheerful reporting from an economist on the future of this country, I will be delighted to provide him with some.


Your column comes on bright as the morning star. It is the first assurance I have read from the media in a long, long time that our economy is really not going down the drain and that Nero is really not in the wings tuning up for the finals.


Editor's note: In Allan Fotheringham’s Oct. 1 column, Don Harron is quoted as referring to a “White Anti-Sexual Protestant" uniform. The subsequent two sentences should also have been attributed to Harron.

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Ignoble savages

Allan Fotheringham’s article This Leader of Youth Sent onto the Ice His Finest Barbarians and Bench Warmers (Sept. 17) accurately and devastatingly exposed the brutality of a hockey coach and the lust for violence that mars this country’s national sport. I feel that the real cause of hockey’s surliness is the latent primitive instincts that rage below the surface of our civilization. Our lives are just too passive and sterile and therefore sports become the catharsis for all the unexpressed emotion our deritualized, anti-tribal rhythms of existence deny. Think of the investment of energy and feeling reserved for pop stars and winning soccer teams. Does anything really noble in our lives command such allegiance? No, our priorities reflect the poverty of our wisdom— for we would, if Socrates were here, find him less a hero than the coach of a Memorial Cup-winning hockey team.


Pay now, fly later

Bryan Michael Stoller is a young genius who could offer a remedy for the alleged malady of Canadian film production mediocrity. His stated outlook, A Super Kid Flying High in Super 8 (Sept. 3) is a cop-out. Surely he would gain more satisfaction in having made a great contribution to Canada’s film industry than from simply rubbing shoulders with other media names in the U.S. We can all learn from others; he expresses an interest only in leaving Ottawa, saying nothing about a long-term plan to return and add to his country’s work in the future. He can be very proud to live in Canada where his relatively uncensored work is enjoyed openly. I wish him a long and very successful careerin Canada.


The press and the flesh

I am amused, yet slightly irritated, by letters published in your July 30 and Aug. 6 issues from people who are irritated and less amused by the exposure of Dorothy Stratten in People (July 9). In the daydream world of some Canadians, shattered by the plight of the Vietnamese boat people, Indian starvation and Canadian obesity, I was extremely happy that our national newsmagazine provided coverage for something that sent heartthrobs back to my sense of humanity and rejuvenation to my courage. Thank God we have a free press. Breast is beautiful.


High rollers, cold shivers

Barbara Amiel’s The New High Rollers (Sept. 17) gives me the cold shivers. These men actually battle for the rights of murderers and criminals and sweat to have them freed, or coddled on a technicality, and claim they are crusaders for human rights? Hogwash. In my opinion, these self-styled Saint Georges compound the jeopardy of society. Criminals are self-declared enemies of society and by virtue of that have divested themselves of rights. In relation to them, the rights that safeguard society are paramount and nonnegotiable. That’s the reason for our 20th-century society’s deplorable state of malaise; too much concern for rights and not enough concern for right. Practise and protect right, I say, and human rights will automatically be safeguarded.


Lawyers are educated at great public expense. Many of these then use this education to extract large sums of money from the same public. The guilty and innocent are forced to pay. Little or no thought appears to be given to right or wrong. Even members of Parliament are forbidden to disagree publicly with the courts. Lawyers are the new high priests of our era. They have built a beautiful new temple in Vancouver and are expanding in Winnipeg. When will the tide turn against them, with simple, easy-to-understand laws that all can obey without the need of lawyers and courts?


Bossies, beware

I seriously question the wisdom of feeding pollutant-contaminated cattails and bulrushes to cattle destined for human consumption, A Bulrush Is a Rose Is a Rose (Sept. 17). I agree with Saskatchewan Research Council scientist Gurunathan Lakshman that a completely self-contained ecosystem is a wonderful thing—where industrial society’s wastes (metals, PCBs, etc.) “disappear” and are transformed into an agricultural resource (cattle feed). But this experiment in waste management may be an unfortunate instance in which solving one environmental problem-contaminated waste water—is creating another one—contaminated cattle feed, and therefore contaminated meat and milk. We should not dismiss lightly any claims that the pollutant levels in the finished cattle carcasses are insignificantly low. It is now known, for example, that levels of lead too low to elicit symptoms of acute lead poisoning can cause neurological damage nev-

ertheless. Accidental contamination of food is bad enough; deliberate contamination inexcusable. So, before we indulge in metal milk shakes and PCB patties, let’s do our best to curb the generation of toxic wastes so that we don’t need to seek novel methods of disposing of wastes once they are created.


The Scottish connection

Please thank Stephen Kimber for his article Highland Fling on New Sod (Aug. 20). I was thrilled to know that the International Gathering of the Clans in Nova Scotia had been such a thumping success. I feel it augurs well for the future, for if all the different Scottish clans can grow into such a friendly, civilized bunch, why, before long Belfast and Dublin, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, Lebanon and Israel will follow suit! This issue of Maclean’s cheered me up hugely.


A different drummer

In my opinion the review of Fear of Music (Talking Heads) in your article For the Record (Sept. 10) was a sham. To refer to the album as “brilliant pop music” and credit it with being more “danceable” than the previous two releases is insulting to both the band and the intelligence of their fans. The degree to which David Livingstone has misunderstood the album indicates his total ignorance of the New Wave. Fear of Music is simply not pop music.


Standing tall

To that influential nucleus of une nouvelle droite, Prophets of a Super-Race (Aug. 20): members of a Super-Race? Maybe, but then let’s see you act like the “tip” of humanity, interconnected and supported on the shoulders of those beneath you.


Crying wolves

I would like to share my thoughts after reading Peter Newman’s editorial Selling Petrocan Will Cost Canada Money and Its Key Card in the World Oil Game (Sept. 17). As a Canadian of legal and voting age, I feel betrayed by the Conservative government’s handling of Petrocan. At a time when this country needs Canada-first-type companies working for our national inter-

est, the Clark government has apparently decided to wash its hands of it. Who are they to throw it literally to a pack of wolves? Petrocan is a good investment for Canadian dollars and it gives me (as it should every Canadian) a sense of security knowing we have a voice in the mostly foreign-owned petroleum industry. Petrocan is a Crown corporation and, as such, is answerable to the people of Canada. In these times of energy problems and international

conflict, we would know that the interests of Canada would be placed first. If Petrocan ceases to exist as it is now, Canada will be at the mercy of outside interests, both commercial and national. If past experience means anything, Canada will end up with the short end of the stick. It’s about time for us Canadians and our government to start believing in ourselves and lead the world instead of always being led!