“Brexit, Trump and the Search for a Canadian Monkey Wrench”

brexit-canada-1024x576One of the best analyses of the contemporary political train wreck, is Glenn Greenwald’s “Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit” (www.theintercept.com). Anyone who’s been watching the news and scratching their head, or been “shocked” by Trump’s victory, would do themselves a favor by reading it along with the documents it links to. Here are Greenwald’s two most relevant paragraphs:

“The indisputable fact is that prevailing institutions of authority in the West, for decades, have relentlessly and with complete indifference stomped on the economic welfare and social security of hundreds of millions of people. While elite circles gorged themselves on globalism, free trade, Wall Street casino gambling, and endless wars (wars that enriched the perpetrators and sent the poorest and most marginalized to bear all their burdens), they completely ignored the victims of their gluttony, except when those victims piped up a bit too much — when they caused a ruckus — and were then scornfully condemned as troglodytes who were the deserved losers in the glorious, global game of meritocracy.

“That message was heard loud and clear. The institutions and elite factions that have spent years mocking, maligning, and pillaging large portions of the population — all while compiling their own long record of failure and corruption and destruction — are now shocked that their dictates and decrees go unheeded. But human beings are not going to follow and obey the exact people they most blame for their suffering. They’re going to do exactly the opposite: purposely defy them and try to impose punishment in retaliation. Their instruments for retaliation are Brexit and Trump. Those are their agents, dispatched on a mission of destruction: aimed at a system and culture they regard — not without reason — as rife with corruption and, above all else, contempt for them and their welfare.”

In summary, what working class Britons saw in Brexit is what working class Americans saw in Trump: a monkey wrench —one they could throw contemptuously into a corrupt system that had, for over a generation, been working against them. This article represents my search to proactively indentify the Canadian monkey wrench.

Here we reach the litmus test. If at this point you hear yourself smugly proclaiming, “Not here! Never here! We don’t have a corrupt system in Canada! We don’t have an elite that has been exploiting our masses!” then you’re probably either (1) a member of this elite yourself, (2) utterly clueless, or (3) both.

On the other hand, if you feel yourself quietly sympathizing with the frustrations of working class Britons and Americans (and maybe even feeling a little guilty about it), you’re probably doing what I am, searching for a monkey wrench.

For years my monkey wrench of choice has been voting for the Green Party. And I must say, even though I didn’t get to vote for her directly, it has done my heart good to see Elizabeth May raising hell in the House of Commons these last five years. But I can appreciate that those of us without the environmentalism bent might not find satisfaction there —those folks likely tried voting Conservative or NDP to see what would happen. Of course eventually it became obvious that Stephen Harper was only concerned about, well, Stephen Harper. And the NDP, it seems (tragically), always shy away from authoring any policies of truly monkey wrench magnitude.

Recently, many of us cast our vote for a well-coiffed monkey wrench in the form of Justin Trudeau —some simply angry at Harper for turning out to be a corporate elitist, some for the nostalgia conjured by Trudeau’s name, and some because of one interesting monkey wrench that he held out to us: electoral reform.

The one truly original plank in the last Liberal platform (original for them, at least) was electoral reform. This idea that every vote cast should be counted and represented in Parliament for a change. Now for us this is something quietly revolutionary, a potential for Canada to renew our democracy —a monkey wrench that wouldn’t be thrown into the system with the intent to destroy it, but rather to fix it.

And yet, instead of genuinely pursuing this revolutionary aim, the party in power seems committed to ensuring it happens in a way that benefits them or that it doesn’t happen at all. Presently it looks like we’re headed toward a referendum on the issue. Those of us who paid attention to similar referenda in the past have a good idea how this might turn out. First-past-the-post may very well end up on the ballot as an option because at least one party on the committee will insist it be there. Then, once the issue is in the media, there will be so much misinformation that our overworked (yet consummately reasonable) electorate won’t know what to think and status quo will be seen as the safest option.

If this issue goes to referendum, it is vitally important that first-past-the-post is not an option. This bears repeating. If the issue of electoral reform goes to a referendum, it is vitally important that the status quo, first-past-the-post, is not an option!

Why employ such forceful language? Because Canadians, I fear, are reaching a point where any monkey wrench will do. It would be better for all concerned if that monkey wrench came in the form of a new electoral system than a Canadian Trump.

Those of you who have been paying attention will have noticed that, in terms of political leadership at least, Canada tends to be two steps behind the United States. Mulroney was our Regan, Cretien was our Clinton, Harper was our Bush. And in many ways Trudeau is our Obama —a fresh face able to credibly peddle “change” on behalf of an old, establishment party that doesn’t really want to change anything. So who will be Canada’s Trump?

Here is where we get smug again and cry, “Not here! Never here!” But we do so at our peril. If we’re honest, we know damn well we’ve heard rumblings of discontent in our coffee shops and at our water coolers. The tone is more muted —cooler perhaps than our American neighbours— and maybe laced with a bit of sarcasm, but they are there. I’ll wager not a one of my readers has gone these past several years without hearing a version of one of the following:

“Glad the automotive workers are safe. But where’s my bailout?”

“Immigrants get their cable television paid for!? Wish someone would sponsor me.”

“I wish the housing market would crash. Then maybe I could afford a home.”

And most recently there are the crass lamppost plasterers who crawled out from their basements after Trump’s ersatz victory: “Hey, white person!” et cetera.

It’s only a matter of time before some Trump-ish opportunist latches on to these sentiments and tries to translate them into political capital. Canada’s Trump has yet to emerge from the shadows but rest assured that he (or she) is eagerly waiting there. And our right-wing media is salivating in anticipation. Remember the frenzy they made of Rob Ford? Well, I reckon we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Before I let you go, let’s give ourselves some credit. Historically, Canada has always been ahead of the United States whenever it really counted. We abolished slavery, we established universal healthcare, we stood up to fascism the first time it reared its ugly head. But presently the grim reality is that Canada is the tallest tree still standing in the darkening forest of western democracy. And the rumbling machines of the logging company can already be heard in the distance.

In the months to come, dear reader, there will likely be many campaigns asking for your precious time, energy and money. So my advice to you is this: choose your monkey wrench wisely. But choose quickly.

–Brandon Kidd

“Clean Sweep” by Aaron Freeman

An original piece of short fiction with a nostalgic shade to it –written and submitted by a workshop student I had last year. Enjoy!

“You promised them… you promised them…”

He repeated this mantra for most of the drive over. Putting the car in park, he started to think about how many times his mom had bugged him to come by and help out. Both of his parents could drive him nuts sometimes. He stepped out into the hot yellow sun, and then looked both ways before strolling across the road. He was happy to be seeing his parents today, as it had been a few months, but helping out at their garage sale wasn’t exactly the way he was hoping to spend one of the few days off that he had, especially since he was in the middle of a big project at work.

“I don’t know how parents do this,” he mumbled, thinking out loud. “I’m by myself and can barely keep calm or in control. I can’t figure out what to do with my team at work, by boss doesn’t notice me and the bills are starting to pile up.”

Looking around the handful of customers in their driveway, he located his Mom standing by the box of money. He made his way over and gave her a hello and a big hug, accidently knocking some books off the table in the process. As they both bent down to pick them up, he cocked his head a little.

“Where’s Dad at?” he questioned.

As she placed a handful of books back on the table, she rolled her eyes and chuckled a little bit. “He’s in the basement, reorganizing some boxes. You know what he’s like: ‘It has to get done now. That way it’s out of the way. There’s no time for sitting!’”

They both laughed. He could picture his father. That middle-aged, partially balding man in the dark, damp basement with sweat pouring off of his face, busting his hump to finish a task that didn’t have to be done in the first place. But that was his Dad, and even though it drove him nuts, he wouldn’t change him if he could. And he was sure his Mom felt the same way about his Dad too. She was also middle-aged, her hair beginning to grey, but always with a youthful spirit that her husband lacked.

That’s when his Mom chimed in. “Well, now that you’re here, I think I am going to make the three of us some lunch. I was wondering if you might take over running the sale while I’m inside?”

“Sure”, he replied, wondering what tasty treats might be in store for him.

As his Mom wandered into the house, a customer walked up to him with a blender in hand. As the buyer reached into his wallet, he asked “How much for this?”

Looking at the blender, he remembered it as the one that would wake him every Monday morning before school, whenever his Mom would be testing out a new diet trend. Looking up at the customer, he said “Five bucks should do it”. After receiving the money, shaking hands and parting ways, he began to have a closer look at all of the items that were on the table being offered for sale. At one end, there was an old, stained end table with a hefty collection of trinkets and dust collectors on it. On the large bureau beside that sat a giant Tupperware container of music cds and vinyl. Allowing his fingers to glide over them, he came across musical offerings from Springsteen, Lightfoot & Joplin, among others. He had to pause a chuckle for a moment when he came across Garth Brooks’ The Chase album, remembering how many hours and days he had spent in his younger days listening to it over and over non-stop, belting out the lyrics:

‘I’m gonna smile my best smile, and I’m gonna laugh like it’s going out of style. Look into her eyes and pray that she don’t see, this learning to live again is killing me’.

It wasn’t until he thought about his job troubles again that the words finally resonated with him.

As his eyes continued their trek onward across the counters, he noticed lots of antique china, a collection of hand-sewn throw pillows, and a vacuum from the eighties, but it wasn’t until he spotted a young woman about twenty feet away that he was completely stopped in his tracks. She was holding some sort of cloth in her hands that had some rounded edges and one or two small stains, but it wasn’t until she turned around that the memories came flooding back to him.

That was his yellow blanket! He didn’t know what to think, he didn’t know what to feel. He hadn’t thought about that blanket since Family Ties was on the air, but now all of the pictures from the past were swirling in his mind. He began to get dizzy, and needed to lean on the table for support. To have something that used to be a huge part of your life and then left in the past, suddenly be thrown back at you with such force that it was like a bolt of lightning. He grabbed one of the chairs for sale and sat down, taking time to just think.

The first memory to come back was from a quiet afternoon as a child, where he took two corners of that old yellow cloth and tying them around his neck, quickly changing a boy with a blanket into a superhero on a grand adventure. The mission started by saving a teddy bear damsel from being drowned in the bottomless pit of toys. She was lucky he was there to rescue her. Next was to super-speed around the room, arms outstretched, until he reached his destination at the base of Mount Couch-opolous. It was a tough climb getting those small feet to the peak, but going up wasn’t the hardest part. Jumping was the only way to test whether he could fly or not. One…..two……three! The last thing he remembered was the breeze in his face before he wound up in the bathroom, crying as Mom kissed him better. A few band-aids and bruises later, he had his answer. It might hurt, but he CAN fly. All he needed was the help of his trusty cape by his side.

As that snapshot faded, another came into focus. He could see himself as a boy again, running into the house and heading straight for his bedroom. But it wasn’t the boundless, joyful energy he was feeling before. This time he sat down, right in the middle of his floor, and tears began to well up in his eyes. His best friend had just moved away, and he didn’t know what to do about it. There were so many emotions built up inside that he couldn’t control. He grabbed a pillow and screamed into it, but that wasn’t helping. From there, he chucked the pillow across the room, but that only knocked his lamp over, making him more frustrated. Kids at school had told him that boys weren’t supposed to cry. He was sniffling, sneezing, drooling, coughing, choking. Anything to hold back the tears. That’s when he spotted his blanket on the bed. Instantly, he grabbed it down and squeezed it tight, slowly curling himself into a ball in the process. With a softness and warmth there to comfort him, he allowed the tear drops to carefully travel down his face and the pain to, bit by bit, fade away. He had no idea what would happen to his friendship, where he would get another friend like that, or even what the next day at school would be like. All he knew was that, in that moment, he began to feel a little bit better, and it was thanks to that simple yellow blanket.

As he was visualizing himself lying on the floor, that’s when, once again, the memory faded away and a third recollection came to the forefront of his mind. He could see himself being tucked into bed as the lamp was shut off. He watched as Mom blew him a kiss, Dad waved to him, and they shut the door behind them. Except he was too excited to sleep; he had another idea in mind. Reaching under his pillow, he quietly slipped out a book called ‘The Giver’ and a flashlight. He had just read about Jonas becoming the receiver of memory, and he had to figure out what that meant. He knew that all of his stuffed animals and bedtime toys were good at keeping secrets, but he wanted to be sure. He grabbed his most loyal, yellow companion and threw it over top of himself. Inside this handmade, bedroom teepee, he was invisible. Flicking on the flashlight, he flipped to the first page and began to read. Unfortunately, he had some trouble staying focused on the story as every little noise made him jump out of his skin. Every creak, every hiss and every clang gave goosebumps all over his arms and legs. Staying up past bedtime was a serious crime, so stealth was of the utmost importance. That’s when he heard it, the familiar clomping of adult feet making their way down the hall. Slowly, he lifted the blanket up and peered out just in time to witness a looming shadow coming from outside his door. He shut off the flashlight, threw it and the book on the floor, tossed the quilts over top of himself and began to faintly snore. Hearing the clomping fade away again, a confident smile stretched across his face, knowing that he had outsmarted the adults thanks to himself and his blanket friend.

He finally snapped back to reality, looking around rapidly to see if anyone at the garage sale had noticed his cerebral time travel. That’s when he saw the young woman once again and started to wonder when his prized possession had slipped away from him. That’s when he recalled that, not wanting to be made fun of by friends, he had packed it away in a box in the attic before heading off the college. As time passed, so did the memories of the blanket. It pained him to watch the lady pull a five dollar bill out of her purse. It pained him so much that he hadn’t even noticed his Mom had returned and was taking that five dollars in exchange for his childhood.

Is this knife in his back what is meant by ‘growing pains’? He had to stop her in some way, shape or form. He stood up and tried to walk, but his feet were frozen in shock. He tried to yell, but his throat was dry. The only sound he could muster was a light cough. The young woman was making her way down the driveway, with a piece of his heart draped over her shoulder, and there was nothing he could do about it. As she arrived at her mini-van, he couldn’t blink. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. He just stared, trying to hold back that first tear from coming down his cheek. But as she slid open the side door, he noticed something. He saw a yellow car seat holding a small baby boy in place, who was taking a nap. As the young woman was tucking the baby in with this treasured blanket and he saw those little hands grip the yellow fabric for comfort, he began to feel himself breathe.

Although he was still sad and confused about how this all came about, he could feel himself slowly calming down. Knowing it was not his anymore, he closed his eyes and hoped that the little boy would feel safety with that simple cloth. And as that boy grew up, he hoped that it would not just be a toy. He wished that the boy would come to see this blanket as a friend, as a playmate. Someone he could play a game with, pretend with, tell secrets to or anything else he needed during his youth. He prayed this child and blanket could be a superhero team together, laugh together, cry together and maybe even trick an adult once or twice together. And, lastly, he prayed that this child would not take that treasure for granted. His youth will go by faster than he knows, and he needs to hang on to every second of it.

Opening his eyes, he watched the young lady shut the door to the mini-van and climb in the driver’s seat. That’s when his Mom walked up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder.

“You do know that if there’s anything you want, you can just take it with you when you head back to your place, right?” she asked.

Author: Aaron Freeman. All rights remain with the author.

Firebird Soars: Adventures in Discardlandia

http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1388967916l/176803.jpgTreasures show up in the oddest places. I was culling the fiction collection at my day job last week when this aged volume caught my eye. I greedily snatched it up before placing it on the book sale truck among the other discards (one perk of working at the library).

Mercedes Lackey is one of the brightest stars in the galaxy of fantasy fiction. She was writing years before J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter took the genre mainstream and continues to pen page-turners today. The Firebird is a central figure in Russian folklore and a celebrated symbol of spring. Lackey’s spins the classic fairy tale into a heartfelt and thrilling novel about a young man struggling to find his place in the world.

Ilya Ivanovitch doesn’t have the easy, carefree life that he should as the fourth son of a tsar. His father is a tyrant, his insecure brothers beat him half to death on a regular basis, and his three best friends are a priest, a shaman, and a dairymaid. Then one night his life changes forever. Ilya spies the legendary Firebird stealing cherries from his father’s prized orchard.

The Firebird is a magical, shape-shifting creature: part bird, part woman, part elemental. She sees Ilya as well, flying away quickly but leaving him with the ability to understand the speech of animals. Eventually Ilya escapes his wicked family, journeys across an enchanted Russia, makes new friends, and faces a great and powerful evil in order to win true love.

Like all fairy tales, Firebird is at its heart a moral tale. Through her charming characters Lackey meditates on what makes a good family, the corrupting nature of wealth and power, what it means to be an honourable man, how to treat women, and the many faces of love and desire. Firebird is a particular good read for thoughtful young adults, male or female.

http://img2.imagesbn.com/p/9780765317193_p0_v1_s260x420.JPGLackey’s novel also opens a portal to the lesser-known world of Russian folklore and mythology. The GPL boasts several volumes for all ages on this fascinating topic if you’re interested. Visceral, colourful, and fanciful these tales are guaranteed to delight and enlighten readers of any age.

“But what about Lackey’s novel!?” I hear you asking. “You discarded it! Is it out of print?”

Fear not. I discovered that this 1995 novel has recently been reborn in ebook form. The Firebird soars again!

“The Easiest Thing in the World”

Maria was nervous. Having been a single mother from the age of twenty, it was a condition she was well acquainted with. After she landed a good administrative job at the local university, things became blessedly easier for her and Nora, her only child. But in this country in this day and age, every step forward meant an additional worry of falling back. And Nora was about to take one of those steps.

Alone in the office lunchroom, Maria sat twirling her long, black hair around one finger, picking at the boxed salad she brought from home with the other hand, moving croutons around. A typical Thunder Bay winter roared just outside the window and Maria sipped thoughtfully at her hot cocoa. Nora was on her mind —or, more specifically, Nora’s new boyfriend.

Nora had been seeing him for a few months now, but Maria had yet to exchange as much as a “Hello” with the young man. She’d seen him pick Nora up from the house a few times, but she always ran out to meet him, he never came inside.

The glimpses she’d stolen of him, from between cracks in curtains, all suggested that Cory was the average sixteen-year-old. That is to say, lanky and long-haired with a blank expression on his face, an expression that seemed to encapsulate everything about him; Cory was a mystery every bit as enigmatic as the Mona Lisa’s smile. Without the smile. And can you trust a boy who doesn’t smile?

Maria stabbed a cherry tomato and stopped chewing her lower lip just long enough to eat it. Of course she had asked Nora about him, about where they went, what they did, and so on, feigning idle curiosity. But under the placid expression on her face Maria was as ravenous for answers and details as a starving dog before dinner time.

Weeks ago Maria recalled asking over dinner, “So what do his parents do?”

“Um… I don’t know.”

“You don’t know? But you’ve been seeing him for weeks now. Haven’t you asked?”


“Well, don’t you want to know?”

“Why? I’m not dating his parents, I’m dating him.”

Maria regrouped, chagrined at being a bit superficial, and tried again: “Does he have any brothers or sisters?”

“One older brother.”

“And… what’s he like?”

“I don’t know. He doesn’t live at home. I’ve never met him.”

And so it went. Every time Maria tried initiating a conversation about the boy, it never got off the ground. As the weeks and months rolled by, Maria couldn’t help painting different pictures of Cory in her mind. And with very little in the way of facts to go on, her imagination had been working overtime. The top three contestants on “Who is Cory?” looked like this:

—a wrist-slashing punk rocker with an eating disorder, absentee parents, a drug addiction, two dozen ghastly tattoos and piercings, and the head of the missing high school basketball team captain in a bowling bag under his bed.

—an over-achieving robot of a boy being driven by helicopter parents to get straight As and enroll in every club, association, and council that his school had to offer ahead of becoming pre-med at the country’s top university.

—a quiet, sensitive, haiku-writing vegan who hates meat, doesn’t eat anything that casts a shadow, and has plans to become a journalist after high school but will end up a starving artist working part-time in a bookstore.

Maria knew which one she preferred, of course, but also that not one of these guesses was likely to be accurate. She sighed and finished her salad. Soon enough her imagination could rest. Cory was coming over for dinner next week.

“Hey, Maria!”

Maria looked up. Sandy from accounting came in, smiling as always, and took the seat across from her.

“Hi, Sandy.”

“How’s it going?”

“Oh… alright, I suppose.”

“Why just alright?” Sandy asked, unpacking the panini and latte she’d brought from the cafeteria two floors down.

Maria had previously shared her musings about Cory with Sandy. She leaned forward, looked up through her lashes and said, “Well, The Boyfriend is coming over for dinner next week.”

Sandy froze with her sandwich halfway to her mouth.

“Really? Finally?”


“Well, that’s great! You can finally put all your worrying to rest.”

“Or have it confirmed.”

“Will worrying make a difference either way?”

“No, I… I suppose not. You know, I really don’t care what he’s like. If Nora is dating him, then he must be a decent boy —I do have some faith in my daughter’s choices.”

“You should tell her that,” Sandy interjected as she swigged her Starbucks.

“I just wish… Well, I know there’s no way to guarantee this, but I wish there was something I could do to make sure he treats her properly.”

“Oh, is that all,” Sandy said. “That’s the easiest thing in the world. I know how you can do that.”

Maria looked up in surprise.

“You do?”

“Sure, it’s simple. And I know it works. I do the same thing every time my daughter brings home a new boyfriend. All you need is a gun.”

“A what!?” Maria squeaked, her head jerking back.

“A gun,” Sandy said simply.

“I’m not going to shoot him!”

Maria knew that blonde, blue-eyed, pony-tailed Sandy hailed from rural Alberta, but this was the very first hint of red she’d ever glimpsed on her colleague’s neck.

“Of course you’re not going to shoot him.”

“Then what do I need to buy a gun for?”

“You don’t need to buy one. I’ll loan you mine.”

More red. Maria’s eyebrows knit and her mouth hung open as she watched her friend munching with incongruous calm at her lunch. She couldn’t make out whether or not Sandy was pulling her leg. Maria folded her arms, relaxed her forehead and said,


“Okay,” Sandy said, putting her sandwich down and leaning over the table toward Maria, “here’s what you do. Before Cory comes over, you borrow my shotgun and mount it on the wall of your living room. And don’t worry about the legalities. I never bought ammunition for this shotgun and it doesn’t even work. It just looks big and old —that’s all you need.

“Then, when Cory comes over, you wait until it’s just you and him in the living room. You look over at the shotgun and Cory will, of course, ask about it. When he does, you point to it, stare at it, and with your best poker face you say,

“‘That gun belonged to my grandmother, Cory. Back in 1925 on the plains of Alberta she used it to bring down a rabid buffalo charging at her two young sons. She killed that beast with one shot from hundred yards. The very next thing she did was chop off that buffalo’s testicles with her butcher knife and throw them into her woodstove. Had she not done as she did, I wouldn’t be here today. After the close encounter with the buffalo she insisted that all her children know how to shoot that gun. I admire my grandmother, Cory. She was a kind and gentle woman every single day of her life, but the second something threatened her family she didn’t hesitate to pick up a gun and pull the trigger.’

“Then you channel a little Clint Eastwood, look Boyfriend in the eyes and say, ‘Know what I mean, Cory? Understand?’

“And then after little Cory is done acid washing his own skinny jeans, you’ll never have anything to worry about.”

Sandy returned to her lunch. Maria’s mouth hung open once again.

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Dead serious.”

“But… But Nora will tell him I lied, that the story wasn’t true.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Sandy shrugged, her mouth half full of panini. “He’ll still think you’re bat shit crazy and that achieves the same effect.”

“But… What if he is a decent boy and I scare him off?”

“So what? If you do scare him off, then you know one of two things: he wasn’t going to treat Nora well or he didn’t feel strongly enough about her to tolerate her having a slightly eccentric mother. Do you really want someone like that hanging around?”

“Well… No, I guess I don’t.”

“And if he does hang around, you automatically know two things: he genuinely cares for Nora and he isn’t going to mistreat her. Bingo!”

Maria’s eyebrows shot up like roller blinds.

“See what I mean?” Sandy said. Then with a smile she added: “Easiest thing in the world.”

Maria sat back and considered for a few moments before asking,

“So… when can I see this gun?”