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Ed Watson

Castro – by Ed Watson

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Image: Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press

I don’t pretend to know all the details of Justin Trudeau’s relationship with Fidel Castro, but I know it was significantly more than political. Canada’s PM is under fire for his eulogy of Castro. Critics are suggesting Trudeau glossed over the fact that Cuba is a totalitarian state and that Fidel Castro was a brutal dictator. It’s true that he killed his opponents and suppressed basic human rights in Cuba. But he also became a father figure to the Cuban people, and probably for the Trudeau family too.

I come to that conclusion based on the behaviour I witnessed 16 years ago at Pierre Trudeau’s funeral in Montreal. Continue Reading

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Ed Watson

For the love of the Game – by Ed Watson

Hanging in my closet, stuffed behind several pieces of unused clothing are two of my treasures.
One is a team jacket.

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It’s made of shiny green nylon, with a standup collar, and a quilted lining. The cuffs and bottom are elasticized to keep out rink chill and there are two gaudy white and golden horizontal stripes on each arm. The circular logo on the front contains a stylized “N” with an arrow, and a star. “North Stars” is printed in large white letters across the back, and on the right arm is a crest that proclaims “Clarence CAMPBELL Conference”.

Most of you know that this is the team jacket of the Minnesota North Stars.

The North Stars entered the NHL as part of the leagues expansion in the 1967-68 season. This team is a good example of perennial issues facing the NHL: Poor planning, questionable management and hubris. All three features were on display this week in Las Vegas as the league announced the name of a new team there.

What I find most irritating about the Vegas expansion is that once again the fans are going to be the losers.

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Ed Watson

The Fine Print – by Ed Watson

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Getty Images: File Transfer: Henrik Sorensen

I recently had my first beer in more than 6 months.

I can blame the holiday mood, or the dark ocean promenade where lovers strolled, or perhaps the lack of non-alcoholic alternatives, but whatever the reason I’ve broken a vow I made to myself to stop drinking. Actually, I broke the vow several weeks ago. This is a sequel,

“The Broken Vow: The Drinking Continues”.

I made the pact while walking in Spain this spring. Walking promotes contemplation and I did a lot of contemplating as I walked about 1000 kilometres. Continue Reading

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Ed Watson

The Great Outdoors – by Ed Watson

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Image: Ascent Xmedia

It’s not difficult to make a track that looks like the footprint  of a grizzly bear. Just remember: Grizzlies have large claws, much larger than black bears. I learned how to create several animal tracks when I was young. Among boys like me who grew up in the country, rabbit, wolf and bear tracks were the most popular to replicate. I wasn’t great at making tracks, but I avoided track shaming by developing a great raven call.

I was thinking of my childhood as I stooped over a muddy section of a back country trail in Banff National Park. It was a well travelled route near Johnston Canyon that slowly climbed through a open forest of scrub pine and spruce. It wasn’t particularly scenic but periodically you’d get a peak at the beautiful peaks that make Banff so popular.

Stooped down, I was talking myself through the fine points of making a grizzly bear track. “Push into the mud with the heel of your palm to make the paw pad. Roll your knuckles over the new impression in the mud to make 5 dimples above the paw pad. Now use a stick to make the claw marks right above the dimples. Remember big claws for a grizzly.”

Straightening up, I admired my work. “Not bad” I thought to myself.

“It won’t fool a park warden or a good hunter, but it’s enough to scare the snot out of a Banff tourist.” Turning, I walked down the trail feeling quite pleased with myself. (As a boy I was a practical joker too, and some things never change.)

I recently stayed in Banff National Park, for the first time in about 30 years. (As opposed to just driving through it.) Without question the park is in a spectacularly beautiful area. But I made a discovery that disturbed me. Sometime during the past 3 decades Banff has evolved into a Rocky Mountain theme park. Near town you can lounge in hot springs, ride a gondola, have tea in one of the most over priced hotels in the country, take tour bus rides or meander down sidewalks literally jammed with souvenir grabbing tourists. Outside town, Banff is now a sort of  “Jurassic World” in the Rockies. Instead of velociraptors, grizzly bears and wolves are the main threat. Park signage is constantly assaulting you with reminders that you could be eaten by these animals. The signage adds to the feeling that Banff is somehow an island of civilization in a sea of wilderness, not the other way around. And visitors love it.

According to an article by the CBC, Banff National Park attracted 1.573 million visitors between April and July of this year. That’s an increase of 4.9 per cent from the year before and a 25.5 per cent increase over the same months in 2011. And why is the place so popular? There’s no question Banff National Park is remarkably scenic and the town has a likeable vibe. But less enchanting to me is the version of “wilderness” Banff National Park offers up. Its isn’t too scarey, or too dangerous, or too wild. And that’s a pity.

Wilderness should by it’s very definition be somewhat frightening. In true wild areas humans aren’t respected, or protected and our foolish actions often end badly for us. I believe that’s a good thing, if for no other reason that it teaches us that we’re not in control. I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of the people visiting Banff live in cities. In a city everything is made and managed by people. It leads to a collective hubris suggesting that somehow we rule the world. That attitude even permeates our language; “Wildlife Control Officer…” etc and promotes the vain idea that we can “manage” our surroundings. Again and again that premise has been proven false when it comes to the environment. Nature treats us with indifference. As it should. If you can get avoid the Banff tours promising a “wildlife safari….with no walking involved”,  you recognize that wilderness is awe inspiring, frightening, majestic, and deserving of more respect.

Members of conservation groups bemoan what they see as Parks Canada’s increased focus on the development of national parks at the expense of wilderness preservation. The counter argument suggests that bringing more people into parks leads to a better understanding of nature. But it seems to me that we’re increasingly bringing along more and more city every time we go into natural areas. I’m talking about motorhomes, 5th wheels and large trailers where nature lovers spend the evening sitting inside watch videos as their generator blares away.

Consider this: An admittedly somewhat odd analogy. You must speak the language to understand the culture. We can visit France and marvel at the historic sites, but we don’t expect to learn French culture without speaking the language. The wilderness has a language too. Urban living has removed that dialect from the vocabulary of most Canadians. Forget French and English, the divide between rural and urban is today’s tale of the two Canadian solitudes.

As I walked down the mountain trail that day, towards the highway, I heard the sound of music echoing through the woods. It broke the silence of the forest and I muttered under my breath. Soon two women appeared, one of them holding an iPhone which was loudly playing U2’s Rattle and Hum.

“We were told by the warden to make noise while walking on the trail”, one of the women told me. “We don’t have a bear bell, so we’re playing loud music.”

They then warned me about the bear crap they’d seen on the trail. I’d seen the dung too, but they didn’t seem convinced when I told them it was actually made by a horse. They were unsure about whether to proceed any farther, but I encouraged them to go on.

“Just make sure you’re on the look-out for bear tracks.” I almost said. But I bit my tongue.

In fact I felt a bit sorry for them. After they’d left and were out of sight I went back up to where I’d made the track. They’d walked right over it and apparently didn’t notice a thing.

I rubbed out the track and as I turned again towards the parking lot I thought,

“Playing a practical joke on someone is kinda pointless if they can’t understand your language.”

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Ed Watson

Happy Widower – by Ed Watson

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Image: Marko Stamatovic Studios

The landline rang as I was preparing supper. The timing alone suggested a telemarketer, but the number was local so I picked up.

“Hello sir, is Cathy Bartha there?” inquired the male caller. (Cathy Bartha was my wife.)

“No” I repled, “She’s not available.”

“Well perhaps I can leave a message” the man continued hurriedly.

“My name is Mark, and I belong to the Carlton University Alumni Association. We haven’t heard from Cathy in a while and I am hoping she’s able to attend our fall get together in Victoria. Will you pass on some information?”

I was somewhat piqued. The guy was interrupting my dinner preparations, he was essentially a telemarketer and he’d inadvertently touched a nerve that was still sore from an earlier trauma.

“No, I won’t pass anything on,” I said “ Cathy has been dead for a year and a half.”

Except for a low “ahhhhh, errr…” Mark was silent for a few seconds,

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Ed Watson, Guest Contributor

Canadian Trump – by Ed Watson

Image: Martin Child

Image: Martin Child

Image: Getty Images

Image: Getty Images

There is a risk when you’re conducting research for an opinion piece that the facts might cause you to change your opinion. Very inconvenient.

That’s what happened to me when I started collecting some info to support my belief that a bombastic demagogue like Donald Trump could get elected in Canada. I still believe that Canada could produce such a political figure, but I discovered that some of my assumptions were wrong.

Similar to many other people who like to think of themselves as political analysts, I have have been known to give some information too much weight, and not pay enough attention to what I personally observe.

Initially in this piece I was constructing an argument based partially on the issue of trust in government. While overall trust in government has declined in the US and Canada since the 1960’s an EKOS survey earlier this year found trust in the Canadian government is higher than it’s been in years. That’s not too surprising given we have a new and upbeat government. But these gallup numbers suggest a large number of Americans trust the executive branch of their government (the president) and Barak Obama has an approval rating of over 50%.

Really?

So, if millions of Americans are generally happy with their government (at least right now) why would they be interested in engaging with a guy like Trump?

Perhaps my assumption about trust was wrong.

Perhaps it’s something more than dissatisfaction. Perhaps it’s cultural.

The economic and social reasons for Trump’s rise have been examined in detail and I find it unsettling that now all of the focus is on the presidential “horse race” and not on solutions to problems that gave rise to so much unhappiness to begin with. And I don’t believe enough attention has been given to two important factors: the role of US popular culture (particularly reality TV) in creating an atmosphere for a demagogue to thrive, and how notoriety and popularity are now commonly driven by celebrity. Celebrity itself seems to be enough to drive popularity, not who you are or what you’ve done.

In the past 20 years music, movies, social media and particularly TV have fed us a heavily dystopian diet. The topics for dramas include everything from terrorists, zombies and aliens to wall street fraud and unfaithful spouses. So called reality TV seems to reward unremarkable personalities grounded in narcissism and vulgarity.

So, popular culture reinforces the idea that society is broken, the little guy is getting screwed and often the storyline makes an uncompromising lone wolf the hero.

When awful stuff actually happens in real life (economically, socially) that subliminal message of doom feeds into the perception that the world is going down the tubes and our political systems just aren’t up to the job. If it wasn’t for the years of dystopian noise in the background, I don’t think Trump would be as successful. And Canadians have been hearing the same noise.

Last month I took a road trip from the BC Coast to Saskatchewan and back. I repeatedly asked people what they thought of Donald Trump. I’m talking to strangers at a gas bar in Princeton, customers in a Sport Chek in Calgary, motor heads at a car show in Rosetown a business owner from Sidney BC, among others. Probably 100 people all together. Almost everyone I believed Trump was loopy but they also felt that he raised important issues and that he was the only choice outside the status quo. These are Canadians remember. Some said they weren’t too worried about his many gaffes, because it was part of his schtick and he behaved that way on reality TV too.

I recognize there is no statistical value in these conversations but like the 2013 BC election, my observations don’t match what the polling is saying.

According to an August poll by my friend Mario Canseco at Insights West a majority of Canadians can’t stand the idea of Donald Trump as president. Perhaps I just talked to the ones who might consider voting for a Trump like leader.

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Ed Watson, Guest Contributor

Loneliness Epidemic. – by Ed Watson

Image: PM Images

Image: PM Images

One night recently, I found myself alone in a hotel room casting around for something to do. No, I didn’t watch porn, which I gather is a popular pastime among men alone in hotel rooms. But I did watch TV, and a movie called “Love Actually”.

I’ve given up on the machismo image and no longer try to hide the fact that I enjoy some romantic comedies.

“Love Actually” is one of the movies I like. I’ve seen it 2 or 3 times. The film details the love stories of several couples. It’s quite good, except for the premise that anyone resembling Hugh Grant could ever become the British Prime Minister.

What resonated with me most during this viewing of the show was how the movie portrayed the angst and indecision that comes with dating, finding a mate, and even maintaining an existing relationship.

I come at this subject from a different perspective now. My wife recently died of cancer. At this point I won’t go into the emotional wreckage that experience leaves behind, but I’ve now tentatively tested the waters of the dating pool.

I think I almost drowned.

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