Opening Notes

January 20 1997

Opening Notes

January 20 1997

Opening Notes


Ire over Immigration

Many MPs start their stints in Ottawa with open-minded idealism, hoping to serve their constituents on a wide range of issues. But since the Liberals came to power in 1993, many urban MPs have found themselves swamped by demands for help in just one area—immigration. Because of ongoing spending cuts at Immigration Canada and the subsequent reduction in services, many Canadians have turned to their local MPs for help in speeding up the files of relatives. Toronto MP Dennis Mills, for instance, says that his office spends 80 per cent of its time working on immigration cases—and is near the breaking point. ‘Time should also be spent on other issues,” Mills adds. “This is a most unfair demand on MPs.” And there are fears that the situation will get even worse as Immigration Canada’s 23 tele-centres across Canada are reduced to just three by April. It is time, says a clearly disgusted Mills, for the federal government to put money back into the department to relieve politicians of their burden.

Other MPs share Mills’s frustration. Sources in Ottawa say that during a caucus meeting two weeks ago, they blasted Immigration Minister Lucienne Robillard with a litany of their problems. Mills would not confirm that, but did say that the urban MPs regularly consult one another on how to approach the issue. “Things don’t look too good for any of us,” Mills notes omi! nously, “if we can’t deliver on immigration files.”

A welcome mat in Quebec

When Quebec’s first female lieutenant-governor, Lise Thibault, is sworn in on Jan. 30, it will be in a style that was conspicuously absent at the ceremony of her predecessor, Jean-Louis Roux, last September. Roux, who resigned in November after acknowledging that he took part in an anticonscription demonstration that degenerated into an antiJewish protest, was appointed to the post last summer by the

federal government—a unilateral decision that angered the Bouchard government. Roux, 73, a staunch federalist, had also annoyed some sovereigntists with his scathing comments during the 1995 referendum campaign. The PQ government bypassed tradition by holding just a brief event in a small room in the national assembly. For Thibault, however, the swearing-in returns to its usual location in the

assembly’s elegant red room. “I didn’t receive a reason,” says Jean-François Provençal, Thibault’s chief of staff, about the more grandiose ceremony. It should last at least an hour, Provençal adds, and Thibault, 57, a former head of Quebec’s Office des personnes handicapées, the provincial agency that co-ordinates and promotes services for the disabled, will give a speech. That said, the Bouchard government still wants the position abolished.

Low clouds and lower spirits

It is now a tenet of psychology that lack of sunshine can have an adverse effect on the psyche during the winter. So Canadians living in southern Ontario, southern Quebec and the Maritimes who felt grumpier than usual in December may have had good reason. Not only did those regions experience the season’s typical short days, but they were also shrouded in steel-grey clouds that drastically reduced the amount of sunshine. In Montreal, where the sun usually shines for 80 hours in December, the city was naturally illuminated for only a record-breaking 42 hours. And the last time Toronto had less sunshine was in 1929. While many Canadians try to escape the winter blahs by fleeing south, by illuminating their surroundings with special full-spectrum lights—or by medications such as Prozac—soprano Mary Lou Fallis offers another antidote: she belts the blues away. Last week, a near-capacity crowd of 165 attended the first of Fallis’s seven free one-hour concerts at Toronto’s Clarke Institute of Psychiatry. Although Dr. Anthony Levitt, a Toronto psychiatrist who specializes in mood disorders, says there are no studies supporting the hypothesis that music therapy can cure so-called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, he acknowledges that it may work for some people. Fallis, naturally, is certain that music is beneficial: “You feel very different at the end of a concert than at the beginning.”


A music lover’s gesture of generosity has led to some sour notes at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. In 1959, Stephen Kolbinson, a Kindersley, Sask., farmer who had a lifelong passion for music, sold four rare Amati stringed instruments to the university for just $20,000. The two violins, viola and cello—now estimated to be worth $2 million—were built in the 1600s in Italy by members of the famed Amati family. Kolbinson sold them in the belief that the university would form a string quartet to play them. The university stored the instruments in a cold, damp vault until a quartet was formed in the late 1960s. After it broke up in the early 1970s, members of the music department played the instruments regularly. Then in 1992, David Atkinson, the university’s dean of arts and science, lent the Amatis to the Lafayette Quartet at the University of Victoria. Although Atkinson says that he thought he had the full consent of the Saskatchewan music faculty, some current and past members are angry about the move. The loan, they argue, implies that the instruments were being neglected in Saskatoon. A committee studying the issue will recommend later this month whether to allow the Amatis to remain in Victoria, bring them back to Saskatoon or sell them. At least one descendent of Kolbinson, who died in 1986 at age 98, argues that the instruments should be returned. “I think granddad would be disturbed they are in Victoria,” says Lorraine Omness of Saskatoon. “He wanted them for the people of Saskatchewan to enjoy.”

Galbraith keeps up his lonely fight Harvard University economist John Kenneth Galbraith has become a lonely voice in recent years. The Canadian-born Galbraith, 88—who has served as an adviser to U.S. presidents stretching back to Franklin Roosevelt, and to prime minister Pierre Trudeau— still holds the opinion that governments should create jobs by direct intervention in the economy. He espoused his views again last week when he delivered the inaugural Senator Keith Davey lecture at the University of Toronto. Some excerpts:


“In recent years, there has been a current of thought—or what is so described—which holds that all possible economic activity must be returned to the market. Privatiza-

tion is a public faith. Conservatives need to be warned that ideology can be a heavy blanket over thought. Our commitment must always be to thought

“There must be effective fiscal measures to enhance employment. The social loss and human distress of unemployment must be directly addressed. This means alternative public employment in recession or depression. This is the broad Keynesian design. The main current of modern conservatism holds that it has gone out of fashion. Fashion should not be a controlling force in economic policy.

“There must be, most of all, an effective safety net—individual and family support— for those who live on the lower edges of the system, or below. This is humanely essential. It is also necessary for human freedom. Nothing sets such stern limits on the liberty of the citizen as a total absence of money.”