'I truly have never before seen a photograph so compelling'

Letters to the editor, Oct. 17, 2019: Readers weigh in on the power of swing ridings, our national leaders debate and fearless North Atlantic whale rescuers

Portrait of Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, inventor, teacher, and environmental activist, Margaret Atwood. (Photograph by Markian Lozowchuk; Wardrobe styling by Jessa Pegg/Judy Inc.; Hair and make-up by GianLuca Orienti/Judy Inc.)

In September, Brian Bethune wrote about Margaret Atwood and The Testaments, her much-anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, in which the renowned author takes her anti-woman dystopia to the age of Trump.

What a superb Maclean’s, so full of top-notch articles that I enjoyed. However, the most outstanding feature of all was the Margaret Atwood cover story. The accompanying photo by Markian Lozowchuk was one of the most alive and beautiful imaginable. One almost expected Atwood to actually speak! I kept that page sitting open all evening on the coffee table, and every time I left the living room had to go over and look again. I truly have never before seen a photograph so compelling. How on Earth will you ever produce another issue to equal the October one? Thank you for such a happy experience!
—Shirley Bush, Toronto

Battleground Ontario

In September, Ottawa Bureau Chief John Geddes wrote about the 30 ridings outside Toronto that swing between Liberals and Conservatives—and could decide the federal election. The best place to watch the fight, he wrote, might be Milton, where Liberal star Adam van Koeverden faces Tory veteran Lisa Raitt.

While your pieces on the ridings in suburban Toronto were both good, I found it odd that neither recognized how absurd it is that a few suburban voters essentially get to choose the government for the entire country. The concerns of voters in “safe” ridings are of equal value to those in “swing” areas, and yet I doubt they’ll get equal attention from politicians or the media. Of course, if our beloved PM had kept his promise to ditch the electoral system that routinely leaves half of Canadian voters without representation, this would be less of an issue.
—Carl Sack, Surrey, B.C.

First debate

On Sept. 12, Maclean’s and Citytv hosted the first federal leaders debate of the campaign, just a day after Justin Trudeau called the election. Three federal leaders—Andrew Scheer, Jagmeet Singh and Elizabeth May—debated onstage. (Watch a full replay, and don’t miss these must-see moments.)

Kudos to Maclean’s for having the debate and to Paul Wells for a fantastic job moderating it. In my opinion, this debate was better than most I have seen here in Canada or in the U.S. The participants were fairly respectful of each other, allowing co-debaters to make their points, which enabled viewers to hear what the party leaders had to say, whether or not we agreed. Thank you!
—Denise Oster, West Vancouver, B.C.

I watched the Maclean’s debate and I must say I was very disappointed. I feel that the four sections allowed the non-attending leader to set the agenda, which showed a definite bias. The economy and the environment are not a single component of politics in Canada—they are completely separate, although related, and need to be dealt with independently with the understanding that all our political issues are related to the outcome of good government. Lumping the economy and the environment together and not allowing each leader to make the relationship between them in their comments, if they chose to do so, just continued the narrative that Justin Trudeau is trying to convince Canadians of. I expected better of Maclean’s.
—Vern Seymour, Thunder Bay, Ont.

Thanks to Maclean’s and Paul Wells for hosting this debate. Elizabeth May seemed to be the only participant with the courage to tell it like it is (re our climate crisis) and to detail what needs to be done to mitigate the dangers ahead. That’s what real leaders do. The other parties are so busy trying to nitpick and one-up each other’s pronouncements in mini-steps to win a few votes here and there that they don’t see the big picture. That is, if we don’t deal with the climate crisis first and foremost, then everything else is moot.
—Judy Shute, Bracebridge, Ont.

What’s the big idea?

In September, Senior Writer Paul Wells wrote that the federal election demands a candidate who can rise up to challenging times of trade wars, global instability and public-health crisis. The odds, he wrote then, weren’t looking good.

We keep voting the same way and expecting different results, which makes us fools… Here are a couple of “big ideas.” First, acknowledge the way that we are doing politics is killing politics. The three fundamental counts against our first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system are (1) low voter turnout, (2) wasted votes and (3) outcomes that do not match the popular vote. On Count 1, the fewer the voters, the better chance for a big party to win. On Count 2, the more wasted votes, the better chance for a big party to win. On Count 3, a big party can benefit—maybe, probably—from the quirkiness of FPTP. Results range from an exaggerated majority to the wrong winner to anything in between. A second big idea: actually institute a form of proportional representation, as chosen by the National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. The party-line retort is not seeing a workable form of proportional representation that has consensus among Canadians. But there are many countries that use a working form of proportional representation. And a pro-reform stance requires convincing voters. With pledging to move toward proportional representation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had a big idea worthy of hero status. Instead, he engineered his own failure. Meanwhile, opponents of electoral reform have created uncertainty with misinformation and disinformation. Voters have become compliant and politically complacent. It is reported the Russians are using trolls to undermine democracies. Voters are rejecting electoral-reform referenda in various provinces: is that evidence the interference is working? Nothing changes if nothing changes.
—Ray Jones, Kamloops, B.C.

Unsafe at home

In September, Senior Writer Anne Kingston published a months’-long Maclean’s investigation into intimate-partner violence that revealed how systems, politicians and people have failed women and girls.

This was an extremely disturbing story about women still being subjected to verbal and physical abuse at the hands of their spouses and other male relatives close to them. The courts are of little help, and the police are limited in stopping the violence. More detailed statistics will not change the number of deaths. Women have to defend themselves; no one is going to do it for them. One of the best self-defence courses is Wen-Do: it builds confidence and teaches basic moves any woman can use. Women must have zero tolerance for verbal abuse, and it is most important that they be allowed to defend themselves by using tasers and pepper spray. That they are illegal when guns that shoot multiple rounds per minute are not is ridiculous.
—Josephine Hughes, Tillsonburg, Ont.

U-Haul your own way

In October, as part of our Before You Go series, Rachel Wallace-Oberle wrote to her son, who packed a U-Haul and left for a new job as a pilot far away.

Every teenager should be made to read this to inspire him or her not to depend on parents but to go out and make a life for him or herself. Parental assistance is too easy, while self-encouragement is healthier. A little work here and there can only build character and self-reliance.
—Bill Gruenthal, Burnaby, B.C.

A new safety net

In July, Associate Editor Shannon Proudfoot wrote a personal essay that reflected on her working-class roots in a country that often ignores or erases socio-economic lines.

The article about class spoke to me as the first in my family to go to university, in the early 1970s. My paternal grandparents, however, had both been well-educated before political turmoil and hardship made that goal impossible for my father. Class is hard to define—and to hold onto. I, and many others, have benefited from the security and opportunity that public policy made possible: medicare, pensions, student loans, employment equity and job protections. Public policy helped grow the middle class and perhaps led many working-class people to feel middle class in Canada. But the world is changing, rapidly. Public policy must, too. A new class is emerging—the precariat—marked by chronic insecurity and detached from old norms of work and labour. Steep inequality, technological disruption, the gig economy and other factors affect a growing number of Canadians at varying income and education levels. They are anxious, time-stressed and insecure, with reason. A basic income for 18- to 64-year-olds would provide needed hope for a better future, similar to income guarantees for seniors and children. It can give everyone a fairer chance, restore trust in government and reduce many costly social ills. That’s a class act!
—Sheila Regehr, Chairperson, Basic Income Canada Network, Toronto

Farm team

Our September cover stories—there were four—profiled every major national campaign director headed into this fall’s federal election. Senior Writer Paul Wells wrote about Jeremy Broadhurst, the Liberal campaign director. (Check out the profiles of the ConservativeNew Democrat and Green campaign directors.)

I can’t get over the four campaign managers on the front cover. They are hoping to guide the leader on how to make an impression, yet they dress like they are going to bring in the wood. Did they not know that they were going to have their picture taken? I know that it’s 2019 and it’s cool to have the knees out of your jeans, but the front cover of our national magazine! Thanks, I must get back to my wheelbarrow now.
—Jim Ringrose, Campbell’s Bay, Que.

Saving cetaceans

In August, Lindsay Jones wrote about the fearless rescuers who venture into the choppy North Atlantic to save right whales from certain death.

The story about whales made a passing mention of the Newfoundland and Labrador whale rescue team. However, no acknowledgement of Newfoundland and Labrador’s role in creating the original whale rescue team back in 1979 by the late Dr. Jon Lien and his colleagues was made. These people created both the techniques used in whale rescues to this day and the trust within the fishing community that enables whale rescue groups to operate successfully. In the decades since Dr. Lien’s original experiments with various rescue techniques, the present-day group, under the leadership of Wayne Ledwell, as well as other groups in Canada and elsewhere, continue to use Dr. Lien’s techniques and have rescued a large number of whales, turtles, sharks and other species entangled in fishing gear or endangered through natural causes.
—Jim Winter, St. John’s

A view from Quebec

In August, Stephen Maher wrote about Amrit Kaur, a Sikh Quebecer who wanted to be a teacher in her home province–but, after Bill 21, decided to move to B.C.

Shame on Maclean’s for its biased piece on Amrit Kaur. To assert that she “will not be able to teach” in Quebec is a lie; to accuse Quebecers of racism for committing to strict secularism is a slander. Universal Canadian practice prohibits all public servants from exhibiting partisan affiliation while on duty. Quebec’s Bill 21, far narrower in scope, prohibits those who exercise public authority over others from wearing visible religious symbols or clothing while on duty. That ensures that our public authorities are, and are seen to be, exempt from religious influence. Remember that many come to Canada from societies where religion and state power are intermingled; some may have fled for that very reason, and certain religious symbols could awaken memories of the inequity or oppression they escaped. Accordingly, and contrary to the misleading impression Maclean’s has given, Quebec’s minorities are far from unanimous in rejecting Bill 21. Those who oppose it are chiefly religious hard-liners and their surrogates. Why didn’t Maclean’s consult even one moderate? Ms. Kaur would be perfectly welcome to teach in Quebec as long as she complied with Bill 21. We have not rejected her; she has rejected us. Moreover, to conflate race and religion and allege that Bill 21 will “mostly affect” minorities is the rankest intellectual dishonesty. Christianity, which embraces all racial groups, is the nominal religion of the vast majority of Quebecers. There are far more Quebecers wearing crosses than kippas, turbans, hijabs and all other religious apparel combined, and those doing the jobs in question would be required to remove their crosses at work. Maclean’s tendentious article has gratuitously demonized millions of Quebecers.
—Charles A. Bogue, Stoneham-et-Tewkesbury, Que.