Category Archives: Humour

Cardboard cutouts

IMG_1563If the elements of the human body are worth, conservatively and according to some estimates, about two thousand bucks, what are we to make of the latest order from Global Affairs Canada to remove life-sized cardboard cutouts of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at diplomatic missions in Trumpland?

After all, the placards only cost about $300 and change. That sounds like a good deal, given the treacherous state of public finances across what is becoming the last, truly expensive democracy in the world.

Says a Canadian Press report, published earlier this week: “It’s not clear if the missions ever had departmental permission to use the cardboard cut-outs. According to emails obtained by the Conservatives through the Access to Information Act, the Washington embassy’s interest in using a cardboard likeness was sparked by word that the Atlanta consulate had put one on display at a pre-Canada Day event last year. Asked if Ottawa had given permission, Louise Blais, the Atlanta consul general, advised the embassy that she did ask but ‘never got an answer. . .which I took as no objections. But as added cover, the U.S. embassy in Ottawa has one of the Obamas.’”

The piece continues: “Anna Gibbs, senior events production manager at the Washington embassy, was excited about the prospect of putting Trudeau’s image on display. ‘I think this will be a hoot and extremely popular and go well with our Snapchat filter,’ she wrote in an email. While some of her colleagues felt the magnified photo of Trudeau in a black suit, black shirt and silver tie ‘doesn’t seem very prime ministerial,’ Gibbs gushed: ‘Looks (oh so) fine to me!’”

Uh-huh. Listen people of New Brunswick, it seems we are missing an international opportunity here (big surprise). With no disrespect to the prime minister of this great nation, our very own, GQ-ready premier Brian Gallant is every bit as fetching. Why, exactly, does he not have a cardboard stand-in to call his own? I detect another example of Ottawa bias. Ladies, weigh in on this. As always, we need your vote.

If I were a provincial staffer with money to burn, I would go one step further. I would go deep, baby. Knowing that Mr. Gallant, as respectable and intelligent as he is, is not. . .well. . .an orator of Winston Churchill’s calibre, I would ensure that a ‘talk’ button is installed in every cut-out. Interested citizens of the United States could then press the designated switch and hear something like this (in the voice of Warren Beatty, naturally):

“Hi there. You may not know me to see me, but I am the premier of one of Canada’s smallest, least economically promising provinces of Canada – you know, that great, big country to the north of you. We like to call it, ‘Mexico with snow’. Ha, ha, ha. But seriously folks, we need your American can-do attitude. We need your drive, innovation and incredible ability to create opportunities. Most of all, of course, we need your money. I am Brian Gallant, and I endorse this plea for. . .well, you know. . .your money.”

Given the precarious state of the world these days, it’s possible that cardboard cutouts of our major political figures will become the gold standard of domestic and foreign policy. No more risky plane trips to far-flung nations. No more emotional gaffs by living human beings. No more unfortunate wardrobe decisions before the stern, unforgiving eyes of the world’s internet-juiced cameras.

After all, the elements of the human body are worth far more than the plastic we manufacture to represent them.

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Have island, will rusticate

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Born and raised to the age of eight in the largest, noisiest, sharpest-elbowed city in Canada, I gave no thought to the pastoral life of country folk I’d occasionally see on CBC television during the supper hour.

All that began to change in 1971 when my father managed to acquire a 10-acre piece of land that belonged to his family’s ancestral homestead in northeastern Guysborough County, Nova Scotia. It was a peninsula of forest framed on two sides by a pond and on the other by beach frontage. He called it ‘The Island’, possibly because owning an island seemed more impressive than owning a peninsula. I certainly thought so.

As a new cottage rose rapidly near the crest of the property, which offered spectacular views of Chedabucto Bay and still does, I began to imagine myself as some sort of Scottish laird. On summer vacations there, I would spend every day patrolling the borders, searching for poachers and other interlopers. I dreamt of one day building my own cabin in the woods.

None of this will be new to anyone who ever grew up on a patch of land near any sizeable body of water. But unless I’m very much mistaken, recent interest in owning islands is on the rise. The Telegraph-Journal has featured New Brunswick islands for sale not once, but twice in as many weeks. The latest, apparently, will only set you back a cool $3.7 million.

As the story reported, “Sandy Robertson stepped out of his vehicle onto a snow-covered clearing to show off a beloved trait of his private island. The absence of noise, just wind whistling through the trees, complements the serene, panoramic view of where the St. John and Kennebecasis rivers meet.”

Not long ago a website called Notable Life devoted an entire feature to island life, beginning its write up thusly: “Thinking about buying a condo? If you’re in Toronto, the average one of those will run you about $370,000, or in West Vancouver around $590,000. But maybe you’re considering a stand-alone, single-family home in Toronto for an average price of just over $1 million?

“Or perhaps you’d like to land somewhere between a savvy investor, a lover of nature and tranquility, and a Bond villain, and buy yourself your very own island. You’ll probably be shocked to know (we still can’t really believe it) that across Canada, there are currently more than thirty islands on sale for under $500,000. Now, some of them have not been developed, so they’ll require some additional investment to make them ‘liveable’, but when you consider. . . (the) country’s real-estate market. . .it’s pretty amazing to imagine that for such a small price-tag, you could have exclusive access to such considerable beauty.”

Consider, for example, Nova Scotia’s Big Tancook Island, which Notable Life described in 2015 as “An absolutely stunning property Island, these 11.6 acres boast 449 feet on the ocean. Sub-divisible, this parcel might become a roomy family compound, grounds for the only hotel or campground on the island, or a sailing destination just six miles from the world-famous Chester Yacht Club.” At that time, the asking price was about a hundred grand.

I have a theory about all of this. Whenever the world takes an especially bitter turn (Donald Trump, Brexit, the rise of populist political parties in Europe), those with enough coin in their pockets will cast their eyes both wearily and jealously to a place they need a boat to reach – there to rusticate happily like the country folk we secretly and always wanted to be.

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Brave hearts of the coasts

I adore Newfoundlanders. All they ever do is complain. Sure, their collective debt approaches that of Greece’s in post-WWII Europe. Sure, their offshore fishery resembles a goldfish pond without the goldfish. And, sure, their country road system is only slightly better than Arkansas’s. Still, don’t they realize that their winter is the finest 10 months of their calendar year?

Now, a certain editorialist at the St. John’s Telegram waggishly posits the following: “I would like to offer some suggestions for the Newfoundland government to get us out of our awful financial predicament. First and foremost, sell Labrador to Quebec. They have always wanted Labrador, and already consider it theirs anyway. They even show no boundary between Labrador and Quebec on their maps, which are used in Quebec schools. Minimum price tag: $30 billion.”

Fine, but where does that leave New Brunswick in the grand scheme of territorial fire sales? How does this province secede from itself? Apparently, certain political leaders in California have a few ideas on this subject. In a deadly serious account, Ontario-based Tom McConnell writes in a recent post for iPolitics, “A lot of Californians are mad as hell. Some even say they’re not going to take it anymore. ‘It’ is the outcome of November’s presidential election. A network of Californians is organizing a secessionist movement; their goal is to take the state out of the United States altogether.

“Their movement is called #Calexit, as in #Brexit. Their inspiration is the growing gulf that separates them – politically, culturally, demographically – from the rest of the Union. Hillary Clinton outpolled Donald Trump by a two-to-one margin here. ‘Without California, Trump would have won the popular vote,’ tweeted conservative pundit and Trump critic David Frum [and to be clear, a natural-born Canadian]. The Golden State has a population of 39 million people ­– that’s more than any other state in the Union, more people than in all of Canada. Greater Los Angeles alone is home to close to 19 million people, a population greater than that of Ontario and Alberta combined.”

Mr. McConnell continues: “As Frum points out, those are numbers that come with economic clout – and Californians know it, too. The U.S. without California, Frum writes, would be world’s second-ranked technological power instead of the first. California boasts the world’s sixth largest economy – greater than the economies of France, Italy, South Korea or India. It’s also a global technological giant, home to the Silicon Valley and companies like Google, Apple, Cisco, Intel, Oracle and SpaceX.”

So, here’s a question Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia: How does the emerging nation of Calican sound? Think about it. Alaska sits like a joker’s hat at the top of Canada. No harm, no foul. Why not invite California into the national fold. They talk like us, they smoke weed like us, they embrace liberal causes like us. Their 39 million people would more than double our population. Hey, universal health care might even become a thing in the Great White (now slightly more diverse) North.

Selling Labrador to Quebec? Sure. But use the proceeds to incentivize the deal with California. Here’s 30 billion bucks, folks. Now bring us your lattes and film stars. Bring us your tariff-free Sonoma Valley wine. Bring us your electric cars. Bring us your herbalists and Hillary lovers. In return, we’ll send you our seal-flipper pie, our poutine and lobster, our herring, and, oh yes, our unemployed workers.

Does that sound like a good deal La-La Land? If it sounds especially outlandish, remember: So does Donald Trump.

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Hello Major Tom

DSC_0074On some brilliant summer day, in the not-too-distant future, you might find me rusticating on the back deck of my ancestral home, which overlooks Chedabucto Bay on the far eastern shore of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia.

There, I will hoist a late-afternoon drink, cast my eyes toward the town of Canso and count down to what my wife and I will have dubbed ‘the greatest show on earth’. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. “Honey, be quick,” I will bark. “You’re going to miss it, again.”

My beloved will rush from the kitchen, a glass of wine in hand, and settle into a lawn chair – one of several we’ve dubbed ‘pods’. There, above the rolling hills of Tor Bay, about 100 kilometers due north, a rocket carrying orbital satellites – and even, perhaps, the odd, impossibly wealthy cosmic tourist – will rise into the firmament.

Welcome to the new space race, Nova Scotia-style. According to a CBC report last week, “Nova Scotia is familiar with launching ships, but never quite like this. The province could soon be the site of a $148-million rocket spaceport that will be used to launch commercial satellites into space as early as 2020. On Tuesday, Maritime Launch Services confirmed plans to build the facility near Canso and begin construction within one year.

“The Halifax-based company, which is a joint venture of three U.S.-based firms, hopes to launch eight rockets annually by 2022. The facility would launch rockets with 3,350-kg payloads on a due south trajectory at a cost of $60 million.

The site would include a launch pad and a processing building, as well as a control centre positioned about three kilometres away. The total cost to establish the spaceport, launch the first rocket and promote the facility will be $304 million, said John Isella, CEO of Maritime Launch Services.”

Naturally, this is not the first time stargazing capitalists have turned their attention to this part of Canada’s East Coast as the next home of the putative ‘great frontier’. Some years ago, NASA seriously considered northern Cape Breton as an ancillary location for one of its launch pads into the great wide open. Then again, in 2016, tens-of-thousands of well-heeled Americans seriously considered the Canadian Maritimes as their final hope for escape from the looming threat of the Donald Trump administration. So, if nothing else, there is some sort of synchronicity to all of this – if only for writers of science fiction and dystopian political novels.

Still, I digress. Should a spaceport find its way to the craggy, windswept shores of Stan Rogers’s country, I will do what any good Guysborough boy would: check my property and ascertain how, exactly, I can cash in.

Shall I turn my large, rural home into an Air B&B, catering exclusively to Swiss, German and Saudi techno-junkies? Shall I buy a fleet of limos with which to ‘uber’ my customers to their various look-off points?

Shall I transform my property – all 90 acres of it – into a version of Burning Man, where electronic music aficionados, unreconstructed hippies from bygone epochs and creatively mad artistes set fire to effigies of social inequity timed perfectly with the launch codes of distant rockets?

Or shall I sell the whole shebang to the highest bidder under the solid-fuel-burning arrows arching into the summer sky?

On some brilliant summer day, in the not-too-distant future, you might find me finishing my drink as I watch a spear of human ambition penetrate the clouds. My wife will have handed me the morning mail.

“What’s this?” I will query.

She will reply: “It’s the new property tax assessment”.

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The fake, fake news

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In the fleeting moments you take to read this humble column, I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God. More’s the pity.

Atlantic Canada was once the country’s acknowledged center of all things satirical. No surprise there. Between the weather and waiting for the pogey cheque, I can think of two things worth spending any time doing in this benighted neck of the woods. Only one involves laughing your head off.

Time was when you couldn’t count the number of well-known and revered funny men and women in this region on both hands. Now, they’re a vanishing breed. As with most things in life, I blame Donald Trump. Who needs satire, when the genuine object of derision and ridicule provides his own material on an hourly basis?

Writes Nicky Woolf in a recent edition of The Guardian, “Barack Obama, facing the imminent handover to his bombastic successor (that would be Trump), has plenty to be concerned about this week. But he took the time to express his concern about the impact of fake news online when he spoke to reporters on Thursday. Obama, who was described in a detailed New Yorker interview as being ‘obsessed’ with the problem since the election, described the new ecosystem of news online in which ‘everything is true and nothing is true’.”

The outgoing U.S. president continued in a meeting with reporters last week: “In an age where there’s so much active misinformation, and it’s packaged very well, and it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or you turn on your television, where some overzealousness on the part of a U.S. official is equated with constant and severe repression elsewhere, if everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made, then we won’t know what to protect. If we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems.”

He has a point. So addled are certain media mouths over the proliferance of fake news, they’re calling for an outright dressing-down of legitimately satirical websites. They, too, have a point. It’s just on the top of their heads.

Consider New Brunswick’s very own The Manatee. Its disclaimer now reads as follows: “All content (including, without limitation, likenesses, quotes, figures, facts, etc., collectively, ‘Content’) hosted on The Manatee websites and associated social media accounts (‘The Manatee Sources’) is fictitious and satirical and should not be taken seriously. The Manatee Sources and Content are provided as is. By accessing any of The Manatee Sources you acknowledge and agree that such access, any use of Content, and/or linking to other websites or accounts from The Manatee Sources are entirely at your own risk.”

Now consider one recent Manatee story headlined, “Country ranked ‘C’ in literacy goes out of its way to correct CBC on spelling of ‘grey jay’”. It reported, “A country with one of the lowest literacy rates of the developed world, Canada, is apparently filled with linguists when it comes to the names of animals. When the Royal Canadian Geographical Society chose the ‘grey jay,’ sometimes called the ‘whisky jack,’ as the national bird and CBC reported on it, letters and emails poured in with irritated Canadians correcting the national broadcasting corporation. ‘I don’t know nothing about literacy or whatchamacallit, but I know my birds and that there’s a G-R-A-Y Jay,’ proclaimed New Brunswick man Arnold Ferguson, pointing at one of the feathered friends perched near his birdfeeder.”

True or false? It’s a no brainer. I happen to know Arnold doesn’t own a birdfeeder.

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Strange days, indeed

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It’s difficult to gauge the measurable effect of Donald Trump’s recent election win on the natural world as 30 centimeters of wet snow descended on Moncton nearly a month before the official start of winter. But maybe the legendary Eastern cougar knew something we didn’t more than a month ago.

According to a CBC report in late October, “Several people in the Tracy (New Brunswick) area have reported seeing and hearing what they believe is a cougar prowling in their yards over the past two weeks. Four households have heard and seen what they describe as a large cat with long tail, and tawny coat, sitting in their yards making separate loud, disturbing yowls and screeches.”

Said one Holly Whittaker: “It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. And there he was and it was kind of scary knowing I had a cougar outside my bedroom window. It was beige colour, very big. He had a very long tail and he just went strutting down the road. I’ve looked online and seen pictures of them. I know it wasn’t a bobcat or a lynx, he had a very long tail.”

Naturalists have dismissed theories that the big feline is making a breeding comeback in the province. It’s more likely, they say, the cats – probably exotic pets that have escaped their captivity – are travelling north from the United States. There’s no word yet on whether they self-identify as Democrats or Republicans.

We know that fish don’t vote so it’s hard to parse the circumstances surrounding the following, as reported last week in the Annapolis County Spectator in Nova Scotia: “Cindy Graham was walking her dogs Nov. 25 on the beach at Griffin Cove just west of Seawall and found that beach littered with herring. Joan Comeau was bird watching in Sandy Cove the same morning and saw herring on the beach there and under the wharf.

“Dead and dying herring has been washing up on the shores of St. Mary’s Bay for a week or more, from the head of the bay at Marsh Road in Marshalltown, as far west as Gilbert’s Cove on the mainland and Sandy Cove on the Neck.”

Said Department of Fisheries and Oceans detachment supervisor Gary Hutchins: “We expect to have some kind of determination of what, if anything, is wrong with the fish by the first of week.” The newspaper piece added that Hutchins “said a DFO biologist in Digby had made a quick examination of some affected herring but was not able to identify a cause for what is happening.

Roland LeBlanc, a researcher with the Salmon River Salmon Association has also had time, before heading to sea on a research trip, to cut open a herring and was not able to find the parasite Cryptoctolye lingua in that one fish.”

Meanwhile, as the CBC reported, following the Trump victory in the United States, “The Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada website crashed around 11 p.m. on (election day) due to what a department spokesperson called ‘a significant increase in the volume of traffic.’ Since then, the department has confirmed that visitors from the U.S. accounted for half of that surge. . . Toronto-based immigration lawyer Heather Segal told CBC News that she has had American inquiries about relocating to Canada during the election campaign.”

Of course, as Mr. Trump has said, climate change is a hoax perpetrated by China on the rest of the world. So, we shan’t look there for explanations. Suffice to say the days, already strange, are getting stranger all the time.

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The sleep-walking cure

Oh to be a bluenoser now that the three-minute-long spring becomes us

It is one of those nights that occasionally afflict a man over a certain age when Morpheus refuses to show his drowsy face. I cannot get to sleep. Nothing works. Not chamomile tea. Not hot lemon water. Not even my regular go-to sedative: a good, stiff belt of New Brunswick’s very own gin thuya.

I think I’ll go for a walk.

One of my favorite observations about putting one foot in front of the other comes from American comic, Steven Wright: “Everywhere is within walking distance if you have time.”

Which is another way of saying the first rule of ambulating is to avoid destinations. If you know where you’re going, you’re not walking; you’re beating a deadline.

U.S. President Barack Obama once said, “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress,” which might have been a rejoinder to 20th Century author C.S. Lewis’s point that “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”

Personally, I’m not all that interested in the progressive nature of my temperament. I’m going for a walk, and I’m going nowhere.

At 2 o’clock in the morning, my street is empty, and the air is as clear as my mind is cluttered. A mild breeze blows from the southwest, carrying on it the sweet scent of apple and cherry blossoms. I move down to the corner of Moncton’s Main West drag and Vaughan Harvey boulevard and head towards the new downtown event centre, rising lazily from the rubble.

I link my fingers through the fence and wonder what strange new structure will encompass the dinosaur bones of iron girders and cement foundation there. Will it be something the city’s citizens embrace, patronize, use? Or will it be another hockey arena? I begin to worry, so I move on. I am walking again.

I travel past the derelict storefronts just beyond the subway underpass, where restaurants and boutiques once delighted the urban core. Old signs about moving to new locations still festoon one window. I remember that time when, years ago, my wife and I entertained relatives at an early August lunch in that tiny, perfect district, and how we skipped home up Robinson Court, thinking about the little things that make life in a small city precious.

I trudge past the Capitol Theatre and stop, remembering my good friend, the late, great Marc Chouinard. As the General Manager there for many years, he was, in every important respect, “Mr. Downtown”.

I recall his acerbic wit and wisdom. Sometimes, he would turn to a patron of one of the city’s outdoor cafes and instruct: “Those pigeons up there aren’t going anywhere. I’m sure you don’t want poop in your soup. Tell the owner to clean up his act. We’ll all be happier for it.”

I laugh and head toward the river and remember the great effort to restore the mighty Petitcodiac to its former self – before the causeway of 1968. I conjure the image of California surfers riding the newly refreshed tidal bore 90 miles up from the estuary and into downtown Moncton.

As I walk home, I realize that I’ve been here longer than I’ve been anywhere – longer than the place of my birth and the place of my upbringing.

I crawl into bed, careful not to wake my wife, and as I drift into sleep, I realize that this nowhere is everywhere.

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Small business to the rescue?

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We could put aside any thought of rational problem solving and simply erect a wall along the perimeter of our fair province. Henceforth, anyone who wants to travel in, or through, New Brunswick must fork over fifty bucks.

After a few dozen years, I figure, the provincial debt will be settled, the wall paid for, and the 346 people who stubbornly remained, like crumbling Flowerpot Rocks, almost never worry about a guaranteed minimum income in their golden dotage.

Failing this eventuality, though, we’re stuck with what we have – a province that, last month, lost 5,700 jobs and posted its highest unemployment rate since the Great Recession. That’s not to say we are entirely bereft of ideas.

John Chilibeck, the Saint John Telegraph-Journal’s legislature staffer did the province a small favour the other day by asking leading pundits and academics what they would do, if given the chance, about New Brunswick’s ailing economy.

“Fixing the economy is the central question today,” said Marco Navarro-Genie, president and CEO of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies. “Obviously, there are more important things than money. But in order to take care of more important things that we love or are fond of – family, education, health – it’s hard to imagine how that can done without an economy. How do we stop our children and our grandchildren from feeing the place seeking opportunity?”

How, indeed?

There is, of course, no consensus. How could there ever be? But one approach that warms the cockles of my self-employed heart is a renewed commitment to supporting small-time entrepreneurs.

You remember those folks? Once, not long ago, governments fairly tripped over their double-wide brogues seeking to curry favour among members of the enterprise class – the reasoning being that if you can’t supply enough jobs in the economy, create the necessary conditions for people to create their own.

A federal government report published a few years ago stipulated that “The birth rate of new firms that have paid employees is consistently higher than the death rate, which means that the pool of businesses with entrepreneurial potential is being replenished regularly. The birth rate improved from nine per cent in 2001 to approximately 12 per cent in 2006. Canada compares well in this regard with virtually every country.

“New firms in Canada have high survival rates at both the one-year and the five-year point. Again, Canada compares well with the other countries. The proportion of Canadian manufacturers that are rapidly growing rank among the best (in the world).”

The study continued: “With respect to Canadian small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and their owners, between 2003 and 2008, there has been an increase in the percentage of working Canadians who are self-employed and own an incorporated business. Canadian SME owners are becoming more diverse and more educated, and this trend is likely to increase the number and the innovativeness of new businesses.

As Pierre-Marcel Desjardins, an economist at UdeM, argued cogently in the T-J piece, “The big projects are sexy and if they work, fantastic. But economic development isn’t always a grand slam; it’s a marathon. You’ve got to look at three, four, eight jobs being created here or there. If you only have a few very large employers, you’re vulnerable.”

In other words, let’s start considering what’s actually scalable in a province as small and modestly equipped to handle big or sudden growth as New Brunswick.

In the end, putting all our eggs in one or two economic baskets makes about as much sense as erecting a wall around the province and charging an admission fee.

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Avoiding the ‘T’ word

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To the best of my knowledge, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant has been silent on the guy, whom some oddsmakers now insist, could become the next president of the United States.

On the other hand, the Dread Pirate Donald has had plenty of things to say about Canada – mostly benign, if not exactly kind.

For one thing, he insists, he will not “build a wall” on our shared border to prevent legions of illegal Canadian immigrants from flooding into the Red, White and Blue (as if, pal!). For another, he says he “loves” us (if only on camera).

Of course, what he actually knows about the sparsely populated, monstrously sized geography just north of him could fill a plug in one of his artfully coiffed toupees. But let’s give him the benefit of our doubt.

Better yet, let’s imagine that once he assumes residency in the Oval Office, he will reach out his manicured hand and seek to shake that of Mr. Gallant’s. How would that conversation transpire?

President Trump: “Brian? It is Brian isn’t it? You know I really like that name. . .Reminds me of ‘Life of Brian’. . .You know. . .the Monty Python movie. . .though I gotta say, I preferred John Cleese doing silly walks. . .Hey, did you ever see the one about grandmas beating up thugs on the streets of London?. . .You know, they really had something there. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do with America. . .So, Brian, what did you want to talk to me about?”

Premier Gallant: “Uh. . .you phoned me. . .”

Trump: “So I did, so I did. Well, now, Brian. . .I’ve met your President Jason Treacle. . .”

Gallant: “I think you mean Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. . .”

Trump: “Trudeau. . .huh. . .Listen, is he any relation to that Doonesbury comic guy Gary Trudeau?”

Gallant: “Not that I’m aware of.”

Trump: “That’s good. . .good. . .good. I don’t care for that Gary character. . .Kind of a pinko, if you get my drift. . .Now listen Bri-Bri – by the way, you can call me the Trumpenator – what do you think about getting some good, patriotic Americans up to that Cape Breton of yours? I think it could be a win-win for both of us. . .I hear you have some great golf courses there and, as it happens, I build golf courses. . .So, you can see the. . .what’s that darn word?. . .Synergies?. . .You can see the synergies going forward, right?”

Gallant: “Sure, I guess. . .Except that Cape Breton doesn’t belong to New Brunswick. It’s a part of Nova Scotia. . .so. . .”

Trump: “Details, details Bri-Bri. . .Listen, I didn’t get to be president of the United States by sweating the small stuff. You gotta start thinking extra-box-like. . .I just made that up. Start being a boxless person, and you, too, could become president of the United States someday.”
Gallant: “I’m pretty sure I’m not allowed.”

Trump: “Don’t worry, I’m working on an app for that. . .By the way, can I land one my helicopters on this Cape whatchamacallit? I only ask ‘cause I got a lot of helicopters.”

Gallant: “Sure, I suppose.”

Trump: “Good. Oh, by the way, you’re fired! Ha, ha, ha. . .See what I did there? Geeze, I kill myself sometimes.”

News headlines from Canadian Press confirmed that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “intends to steer clear of contentious topic during” his U.S. visit this week: Donald Trump.

Indeed, in this circumstance, perhaps silence is golden.

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For the man who has everything

 

It will be Canada’s first shot at the head table in 20 years. In fact, a state dinner with the putative leader of the free world is no small honour for a greenhorn prime minister of the Great White North. So, the order of the day, off the main menu or a la carte, is simply: Don’t blow it Justin.

Specifically, don’t use the salad fork to cut your rubber chicken. Don’t haul out a bottle of Niagara vino and invite your hosts to dump their overpriced French Bordeaux in favour of it. And, for heaven’s sake, scrupulously avoid lecturing anyone about Canada’s superior health care system and gun laws.

Not that any of this is likely when Mr. Trudeau assembles with his wife and entourage behind the Rose Garden this week in Washington. After all, he’s too smart to blow a free lunch, as it were.

He knows that, at the moment, everyone, including U.S. President Barack Obama, positively adores the cut of his jib. (Why, even the Dread Pirate Trump, whose own Republican Party is figuring ways to make the usurper in their midst walk the plank, has issued a few blandly nice comments about this country’s decidedly Liberal, political honcho).

Still, for Mr. Trudeau, none of this settles the question: What do you give a man who has everything?

Indeed, ‘gifting’ between heads of state is a long, honoured tradition in this and other corners of the globe. Late last year, a Bloomberg Politics report had this to say about the practice:

“The late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz lavished the president (Obama) and his family with six gifts with more than $1.3 million. They included a men’s watch for the president, which was estimated to cost more than $18,000, and a ‘diamond and emerald jewelry set including earrings, necklace, ring, brooch, and wristwatch’ for Obama’s school-age daughters.’”

Meanwhile, according to the news item, “Various Chinese officials were also generous: President Xi Jinping gave Obama two computer tablets. Many gifts are traditional offerings – fountain pens, vases, cognac, and the like. Others demonstrate pride, including French wines or traditional garb of a given country. In the past, though, Obama has also received wackier fare, including 20 baseball caps with his face on them, as reported by Yahoo.”

Oddly, there’s very little literature on the subject of official state gifts from Canada’s Prime Minister to America’s Commander in Chief (although the satirical, online magazine The Lapine once had a field day ‘reporting’ Stephen Harper’s bequest of a two-year-old beaver named ‘Slick’).

Certainly, the circumstance demands immediate redress. Mr. Trudeau could choose from a cornucopia of obvious trinkets and delicacies with which to honour Mr. Obama: A plank of pricey salmon from British Columbia; a hockey puck from the 1972 showdown between Team Canada and the former USSR, a cutting of winter ice from the Rideau Canal preserved in a summer cooler.

None of these, though, strike me as novel or even emblematically Canadian in the second decade of the 21st Century.

Might I suggest an alternative?

Somewhere in the back country of New Brunswick, a little distillery with a big international reputation, produces the best gin that has ever passed these (or anyone else’s) lips. As this province helped hand a convincing electoral victory to Mr. Trudeau last fall, it would apropos to ship a case of Distillerie Fils du Roy’s ‘Thuya’ to the White House.

There, behind the Rose Garden, may the two world leaders sip away their worries, plot world peace, and admire the cuts of their respective jibs.

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