Remembering Neil Cameron

Last year at this time Discourse happily published senior contributor Neil Cameron’s annual Christmas doggerel, a piece he thoroughly enjoyed preparing over the years for the amusement of friends and colleagues around the St. Lawrence Institute in Montreal.

Sadly, after prolonged health problems, Neil passed away this year before he could produce a final contribution. His lively wit and prolific command of history will be sorely missed. He was an irreplaceable fixture in our city’s small but feisty network of conservative intellectuals.

Neil was held in high esteem by many of his former students at John Abbott College. Among them was, Andrew Swidzinski, who penned the following piece about his life and times for The Montreal Suburban.

Remembering Neil Cameron

By Andrew Swidzinski

Former Equality Party MNA, History Professor and Suburban columnist Neil Cameron died Wednesday December 18th 2019 at age 81 from complications resulting from kidney failure. He will be long remembered and sorely missed not only for his brief but eventful political career but as an exceptional teacher and mentor to generations of students who, like myself, had the privilege of learning from him.

Neil Cameron was born in 1938 in Weyburn Saskatchewan, but grew up mostly in Calgary, Alberta. His father, a surgeon who had served as a field medic in World War I, died when he was an infant, leaving his mother to raise him alone. From an early age he was a voracious reader and excellent student. His childhood heroes were the great scientists and philosophers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. As a rare young admirer of the soapbox atheism of Bertrand Russell in the heart of the Bible Belt, he would sometimes attend evangelical revival meetings so that, when asked for his name and number for further contact, he could cheerfully provide that of a neighbor or acquaintance instead. He earned a degree in Mathematics from Queens University in 1964, travelled Europe, and moved to Montreal where he studied at McGill, earning an M.A. in History and working towards a PhD for which he moved to Britain to research and interview leading British scientists on their involvement in the Allied war effort in WWII.

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The Christmas Spirit is a Mysterious Thing

Sometime soon, chances are someone will ask you if you’re in the Christmas spirit. The first I felt it this year was a couple weeks ago, as I attended Elf Jr. The Musical, at Alexander Galt Regional High School. While I’ve experienced the sentiment to various degrees throughout my life, it remains a somewhat mysterious thing.

A common explanation for this phenomenon points to the magical veil that has been built into the holiday over time. On a yearly basis, adults have the challenge of maintaining the veil for children, and in the process of doing so they are likely to relive their own magical childhood experiences. This — so the theory goes — would be how and why Christmas cheer is so widely experienced, and not only by religious people. While this has merit as an explanation, I can’t help but sense that there may be more to it than that.

According to Buddy the Elf, the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear, and since this was a musical, there was plenty of singing going on, and cheer was certainly being spread. Before the play even began, Christmas songs were playing over the sound system, setting the mood.

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“This Changes Everything” A Reflection on Canada’s Election

In the months prior to our 2019 election, among the usual third of Canadians who look less favourably on permanent surrender to socialist ideologues and post-modern dialecticians, there was a perception that the winds of change might be blowing across the Canadian political landscape.

In the Canadian west Justin Trudeau’s trendy opposition to the fossil fuel industry was wearing thin. The national debt level was troubling and several unforced errors had tarnished the brand of the most photogenic and“woke” Prime Minister in the history of the Dominion.

South of our border the much maligned, American capitalist, Donald Trump was presiding over one of the most dramatic economic turnarounds in American history. Many ordinary Canadians were making common sense comparisons between the two leaders and Justin Trudeau’s priorities were raising serious questions.

In addition, some very skeptical antennas went up when the Prime Minister attempted to gain political advantage by interfering with the justice system and was censured by the Parliamentary Ethics Commissioner for improperly trying to influence the course of justice in an ongoing criminal case against the Quebec-based engineering firm, SNC Lavalin. All of this, along with a rather embarrassing trip to India which looked more like a costume party than a state visit, had damaged the Liberal brand and left the PM with a much diminished 32% approval rating by July 2019.

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Deplatforming Maxime: The left is up to its old tricks

During the 20th century era of national socialist and communist dictatorships, the deplatforming of political opponents was a straightforward process. It usually took the form of prolonged torture, a bullet to the back of the head or long incarceration in a concentratio

Today, in the West, deplatforming is a much more sanitary process. State executions or long incarcerations are frowned on, even for convicted felons. In the present era deplatforming has increasingly come to be understood as a therapeutic intervention into the body politic. 

Generally speaking, the technique worked effectively for the commanding elites of totalitarian regimes. That’s why there are relatively few writers like Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Vladimir Bukovsky on 21st century bookshelves. This vicious approach toward political adversaries permitted leftist establishments to silence some of the most brilliant and accomplished voices of reason in our times. It still does in countries like China and North Korea.

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Facing Tragedy and the Forces of Evil

The tragic events that can befall someone and the terrible things a person can do to another can be so awful that just hearing about them can permanently scar the soul.

You’d think that such incidents would be rare, but they are not. There is no shortage of them in fact. And while we are often exposed to negative news reports, most of the suffering around us goes unreported. There’s indeed a lot of pain and despair in this world, and there are indeed some who come to experience a certain type of personal hell here on earth. Throughout my career in law enforcement; I’ve seen it; I’ve contended with it; and I’ve felt its burning heat.

Often, when I meet someone, and they learn that I am a police officer, I am greeted with some comment or story about a traffic citation of some kind. It’s often a complaint about how they felt they should have benefited from the officer’s discretion, but didn’t. Traffic code enforcement is indeed the context in which there is the most contact between citizens and officers, so I can understand how this may be the default subject of conversation, but I’m nonetheless struck by the absence of appreciation for the many other duties taken on by police officers on a day to day basis.

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The Free World Must Take Heed

What is the Canadian government to do in response to China’s recent aggressive moves against it?  In retaliation for the arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, the Chinese government has arbitrarily detained two Canadian citizens since last December, and more recently, a Chinese court suddenly changed a Canadian man’s drug smuggling sentence from 15 years imprisonment to execution. 

The Canadian justice system, after all, appears to have done everything by the book, respecting its extradition process with the US while acting independently from government influence.  In spite of this, it appears as though little can be done except backchannel and wait, a solution that is void of any satisfaction and that has yet to yield fruit in this ongoing conflict.

The rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are fundamental features of a free society, and since Meng’s arrest many politicians have been trying to explain this fact to the Chinese government, as though it simply doesn’t understand, and as though it may suddenly realise its error and free Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.  It’s rather doubtful, however, that the Chinese government needs a lesson on the basic structures of free societies.  While China has experienced massive transformations over the last few decades, it has actively resisted the emergence of such structures, so it well knows the Canadian government’s limitations in this matter. What, then, is it trying to accomplish, and does it not realise that its overreaction merely strengthens suspicions that Huawei is facilitating foreign intelligence gathering on its behalf?

Much has been said and written about the emergence of China as a major player on the world stage.  While it pragmatically turned its back on the centrally-planned economy, one of the fundamental elements of communism, and while it successfully lifted millions of people out of poverty in the process, it has regretfully retained the other fundamental element of communism, the totalitarian style of government.  The free world once hoped that by increasing relations with China, alterations would eventually be made in its political structures in addition to its economic ones.  The idea was that China would eventually come to look a little more like the free world, perhaps with limits on state power, a system of checks and balances, and an independent judiciary with due process. 

China’s latest actions against Canada, however, suggest that such a hope is but an evaporating dream, and that the very opposite is threatening to take place.  In the immediate aftermath of Meng’s arrest, Vice Foreign Minister, Le Yucheng, warned of “severe consequences” if Canada didn’t release her immediately.  Armed with the largest economy in the world, this totalitarian government is pressuring Canada to do away with its judicial independence.  China wants Canada, and the entire free world by extension, to look more like it, and it is not afraid to use its clout in an attempt to make that happen. 

While back-channelling may be the only card Canada has to play in the short-term, there is certainly something more to be done in the long-term.  As Canada continues to bring this matter to the attention of its allies, it should point out that this is much more than an isolated diplomatic incident; this is a confrontation with a rising political force that has no regard for the foundational values of the free world and the domestic institutions that protect them, and that any nation that chooses to do business with China is at risk of having to play by its rules, whatever the cost may be.

The free world shouldn’t permit this form of aggression, and it must be bold in protecting and asserting its way of life.  Given China’s increasing clout, and given its increasing predisposition to use it, the free nations of the world would do well to formally unite in the face of it, and Canada can certainly play a leading role in making that happen.  It must be clear that while friendly relationships are indeed desirable, free nations will not compromise their institutions to appease the bullies of the world, and that any attempt to impose such a thing will have consequences of its own. 

Marching into 2019

Each year about this time, Senior Discourse Contributor, Neil Cameron, provides friends and readers with a characteristically witty piece of doggerel musing on the passage and meaning of recent events. This year we find ourselves singing to the tune of “Onward Christian Soldiers” and it goes like this:

Onward, green millennials, fearing global heat;

But the old and sceptic, aren’t much in retreat.

Cars must be el-ectric, driverless as well;

Couples on their bi-kes slick, driving trucks as well.

Onward green millennials, in Suzuki’s spell.

 

Onward, active natives, blocking all pipelines;

Trees get super-latives, trumping wells and mines.

Down with rich employ-ers, up with tribal pride,

Bring on hordes of law-yers, rising nationwide.

Onward active natives, surfing on green tide.

 

Onward tory Pre-miers, hearing voters’ groans;

Out with Lib’ral drea-miers, on their Chinese phones.

Ford fights carbon ta-xes, Legault limits pot,

Western NDP ax-is, sighs and joins the lot.

Onward tory Pre-miers, battles to be fought.

 

Onward profs in col-lege, fearing sullen mobs;

Not much seeking know-ledge, just in search of jobs.

Finding grounds for of-fense, now a classroom skill,

Aiding all the more dense, now enact their will.

Onward, profs in col-lege, some teach thinking still.

 

Onward, Marg’ret A-twood, and the Canlit horde;

Dreaming of book prizes, at the festal board.

Divers’ty’s their watchword, white males now all dead;

Prize money their pa-ssword, only few get read.

Onward, Canlit legions, begging still for bread.

 

Onward, pipeline buil-ders, oil sands workers, too;

Though new world bewil-ders, seen as witches’ brew.

Black gold just stays black lead, if not reaching ports;

Greens and natives now are wed, and blocking oil in courts.

Onward pipeline buil-ders, wailing at aborts.

 

Onward, Justin Tru-deau, no more fancy dress;

Trips have not won kudos, dance did not impress.

Once inviting masses in, swamped by refugees,

All have had their classes in his apologies.

Onward, saintly Justin, but less saintly, please.

 

Onward, all to-gether, Canada rolls on;

While we wonder whether, facing dark or dawn.

Join in Christmas so-ng fests , as at modest price,

We can bear these sma-ll pests, just by staying nice.

Onward bless’d Canad-a. humdrum paradise.

(Neil’s piece, along with his other historical essays are first posted on the Montreal e-journal, Prince Arthur Herald.)

A View From Canada: American Democrats Should Worry Us All

Over the last 100 years America’s progressive elites have made their home in the Democratic Party. Progressive leaders like Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, along with legions of supporters in academia, journalism, public service, education, entertainment and the arts have been moving that country’s vital centre further and further away from its early origins in classical liberalism, constitutional government and moral custom.

From time to time the international left’s will to dominance has been slowed down by the appearance of countervailing conservative intellectual movements and larger-than-life figures like John F. Kennedy, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Donald J. Trump; but as the free world prepares to enter the third decade of the 21st century; the USA, once Canada’s strongest and most reliable ally in defence of liberty, may be on the way to becoming a shadow of its former self.

Suicide of the West

In his recent book, Suicide of the West:How the Rebirth of Tribalism. Populism and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy, Senior National Review Editor, Jonah Goldberg pointed out that the development of constitutional democracy and the “Miracle” of democratic capitalism had an enormously positive effect on the West which eventually spread throughout the world. “The results” he said, “were inescapable: nearly everywhere on the planet men and women lived longer, ate better, enjoyed more leisure, and had access to resources and delights that previously had been reserved for the very rich and powerful, or more commonly, had been utterly unknown.” Along similar lines, British historian, Andrew Roberts, in A History of the English Speaking Peoples Since 1900, has argued that the “Miracle” described by Goldberg had important beginnings in Anglo-Saxon England.

Over the last half century, however, the allegedly “privileged history” of Anglo-Saxons has become the subject of fierce criticism by post modern historical revisionists who view the past behaviour of our English-speaking forefathers as inherently evil, entirely self-serving and oppressively patriarchal.

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The Notwithstanding Clause from Bourassa to Legault

 

Francois Legault, full of confidence with the surprising scale of his CAQ electoral victory, is currently threatening to make use of the Notwithstanding Clause to insulate his proposed immigration restrictions from court challenges. He may go through with it even in the face of substantial public opposition, particularly in Montreal. But if he does, I hope that the public debate will distinguish between arguments about the substance of his proposals from arguments about the ‘legitimacy’ of the Clause itself. It was introduced in the constitutional negotiations of 1982 as a quite defensible compromise feature of the Charter, both to avoid the kind of juridical absolutism that has caused so much grief in the United States, and to preserve the democratic powers of the provinces from oppressive federal centralization.

Even if one intensely dislikes some specific application of the Clause, that does not demonstrate that Canada would be better off if it could somehow be rescinded, unlikely in any case. Individual citizens or groups of citizens in functioning democracies may quite often find themselves disliking particular laws introduced by elected governments. including ones that they voted for. But that dislike is not alone justification for unlimited opposition, to the point of disobeying such laws. Both in the past and at present, this ordinary requirement can be obscured by deafening cries about ‘rights’, a word with unlimited possibilities for producing insoluble conflicts between clashing interests. It makes more sense to concentrate public support or opposition on the substance of the policies that appear to require the use of the Clause.

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Social solidarity must be voluntary!

It is often said that Manon Massé performed better than expected in the recent Quebec provincial election debates, and that this has resulted in a newfound curiosity with Quebec Solidaire, as demonstrated by a hike in support according to recent polls. Beyond good debate performances, support for sovereignty, and promises of free services, what exactly are the principles by which this party is guided?

The answer, in part, is found in its title. QS claims to be a movement of social solidarity, and its main objective, according to its website, is for all action to be based on the real needs of the population. So there it is, QS wants to use the legislature and the machinery of the state to address and satisfy our real needs.

At first glance such principles can seem noble. But once the nature of the state is properly understood, one can only conclude that QS’s program is not only destined for failure, but also for the impoverishment of the province, and that behind its veil of nobility lies a patronizing and ideological autocracy.

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