Opening Notes

BARBARA WICKENS August 25 1997

Opening Notes

BARBARA WICKENS August 25 1997

Opening Notes


Canada's other Parliament Hill

Traditionalists who think that Parliament Hill is in Ottawa have a surprise coming: there is also such a place in Quebec City. Quebec’s National Capital Commission—a two-year-old regional government body modelled on the federal agency of the same name—has started offering English-speaking visitors a self-guided walking tour of “Parliament Hill,” which includes 33 points of interest near the provincial legislature. According to commission spokesman Denis Angers, the term “Parliament Hill” is simply a translation of “colline parlementaire,” the local vernacular that French Quebecers use to describe the vicinity. “It’s an entirely accurate term because the national assembly, which is a parliament, is on a hill,” says Angers. “Our decision to use the term ‘Parliament Hill’ is in no way intended to confuse or offend.” But it may not be that simple. Ever since the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, Quebec politicians have been using nationalistic language to set their province apart. The translations, however, can be jarring to non-francophones. “The English have never called it ‘Parliament Hill,’ ” says Jean-Marie Lebel, a historian and author of a new guidebook for the Old City, “and I wouldn’t have translated it at all.” Luc Noppin, an architectural historian at nearby Laval University, sees an ulterior motive behind the commission’s use of the term. “The sovereigntists want people to consider Quebec City as a capital on the same level as Ottawa,” says Noppin. “Maybe they think they can get their point across better by creating confusion between the two.”

Sharma, with customer: trendy

The modern appeal of an ancient art

The latest fashion sensation to hit North America—a method of body painting called mehndi— is actually thousands of years old. Mehndi, in which henna is used to create intricate tattoos that last about three weeks, dates back at least to the time of the ancient Egyptians. Archeologists, in fact, have found traces of the type of henna used in mehndi on the fingertips of mummies.

These days, traditional Indian brides both at home and abroad are painted to celebrate their wedding day, while in Morocco, mehndi is used to ward off evil. But now, thanks to celebrities such as supermodel Naomi Campbell and actors Demi Moore, Mira Sorvino and Liv Tyler, mehndi has spread to the ranks of the hip and trendy. “It’s very popular right now,” says Vancouver mehndi artist Seema Sharma, who sees a growing number of non-Indians at the New Vision Hair Design. “It is an

accessory or adornment for everyday, not just formal celebrations.” Customers can have their hands, necks, feet, legs or even their backs painted in a process that can take anywhere from 10 minutes to three hours and cost $5 to $100, depending on the detail of the design. So why the sudden widespread popularity? “People” says Sharma, “find it interesting and beautiful." Reason enough.

Mothers for jobs

Quebec’s uncertain political climate has spawned a number of protest groups, but none with an acronym quite so unusual as MATCH-LQ. Susan Erdelyi and her son, Steven, of Laval, Que., recently set up Mothers Against Their Children Having to Leave Quebec because they believe the Parti Québécois government’s deficit-slashing and separatist agenda are hurting the economy and forcing Quebec youth to go elsewhere. “I want them to have a choice,” says Susan Erdelyi, a bilingual homemaker “and not just say, T have to leave because there is nothing here.’ ” The group’s nearly 50 members plan a letter-writing campaign to federal and provincial politicians of all stripes this fall to sensitize them to the problem. Erdelyi, 53, has firsthand experience. Her daughter, Barbara, 26, moved to Toronto in 1994 and has no plans to return to Quebec. And son Steven, 22, a McGill University biochemistry student, is uncertain about what he will do once he finishes school. Steven, who describes himself as bilingual, says he wants to stay in Quebec, “but if I can’t find a future here, then I’ll be forced to leave.”

National assembly: an ulterior motive?

Reform party took 'crackpots, nig-nogs'

The only way that the right in Canada will ever again form a federal government, political pundits theorize, is if the Conservatives and Reform stop splitting the vote and merge. Even the Tory premier of Ontario, Mike Harris, said after the June 2 federal election, when Jean Chrétien’s Liberals again walked away with a majority, that the two parties must unite.

Conservative Leader Jean Charest quickly shot down the notion, but speculation persists that politics could make him a strange bedfellow with Reform Leader Preston Manning. Now, another staunch Tory has come out firmly against such a merger. “I would go back to being a Liberal again before I would have anything to do with the Reform party,” former federal cabinet minister John

Crosbie told Maclean’s last week, “because if the Reform party ever makes it, it will be the end of Canada.” Crosbie, whose memoir, No Holds Barred, to be published in October, recounts his 28 years in politics, first as a provincial Liberal and Conservative in Newfoundland and then as a federal Tory,

says the differences between the Tories and Reform are just too great. Lor one thing, he is prepared to see Quebec treated as a distinct society with separate powers, while Reform is not. Besides, he added, the Tories were the first to occupy the right-of-centre. “Reform split,” Crosbie argued in his typical colorful manner. “They were the ones that started a new party and took all our crackpots, nig-nogs and dangerous loonies— and we want them back.”

Bumpy ride for a new ambassador

Gordon Giffin was sworn in as U.S. ambassador to Canada last week. Lor the Atlanta lawyer, who is to take up his post in Ottawa by Labor Day, it will be something of a homecoming. Born in Springfield, Mass., Giffin was raised in Montreal and Toronto for most of the first 17 years of his life when his father headed the New York Life Insurance Co.’s Canadian operations. But even before arriving in Ottawa, Giffin is fending off controversy. Two conservative U.S. newspapers, The Washington Times aná The Augusta Chronicle, have raised questions about Giffm’s relationship with a woman convicted in a 1992 fund-raising scandal. Giffin chaired U.S. President Bill Clinton’s election campaign in Georgia that year, when Jeanette Garrison, owner of a homecare company called Healthmaster, donated some $63,480 to the Democrats. Garrison later pleaded guilty to fraud because she billed Medicare and Medicaid for the contributions, and is now serving a 33month jail sentence. The papers noted that Garrison held the title of co-chairman of the 1992 Clinton campaign in Georgia, and that Giffin’s Atlanta law firm once represented Healthmaster. But Giffin says he had no reason to question Garrison’s contributions at the time and denies any wrongdoing. “There’s nothing to it,” he told Maclean’s. “It’s sort of a rite of passage in our political culture to be accused of doing something wrong with fund-raising.”