What Does It Mean to Have Abundant Life?

In the summer of 1997, France mourned the death of Jeanne Calment. Why was her passing so remarkable?

Jeanne Calment was older than the Eiffel Tower. She was born in Arles in 1875, while work began on France’s most famous structure a dozen years later, in 1887.

Jeanne Calment was renowned as the oldest human being in the world—although some critics have suggested she wasn’t every one of the 122 years old she claimed to be. Even discounting her age by a full twenty per cent, however, she was still almost a century old. That’s a lot of life.

The same summer of 1997 saw the death of another famous European woman. Lady Diana Spencer, later Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in a car crash in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris. Her driver was fleeing the paparazzi who had stalked her for almost two decades, virtually since her engagement to her former husband, Prince Charles, as a teenager.

Diana was only 36 years old when she died. But after a fairly nondescript, if privileged, childhood and adolescence, she had blossomed into a global celebrity, renowned and beloved for her beauty, charm, and many charitable interests.

After her divorce from the heir apparent to the British throne, she largely withdrew from public life and charitable sponsorships, but maintained several key concerns while conducting at least two romances with wealthy men. She also lovingly raised her two sons, Princes William and Harry, now both darlings of the world press.

For many, many mourners, Lady Di was “the people’s princess” at the pinnacle of worldly achievement. Even for a thirty-six-year-old, that’s a lot of life.

Yet another European woman passed away that same summer. Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu had been born in Skopje, now the capital city of North Macedonia and at the time an important town in Yugoslavia.

[For the rest, please click HERE.]

First Nations and Canada’s Priorities

The current Wet’suwet’sen controversy is vexing and perplexing in equal measure. Eventually, with the rest of Canada, I may get all that figured out.

What is infuriating and not at all confusing, however, is an issue that seems, and I say this with full irony, crystal clear: the fact that many, many of our First Nations are without clean running water.

It’s 2020…in a country with 20% of the world’s fresh water, second only to Iceland in renewable water supply per capita. How can over a hundred reserves across our country still be required to boil water or have it trucked to them?

A recent article in The Walrus, among many others easily garnered on the internet, paints an awful picture of partial gains and major losses, one step forward and another step back, and several, it appears, sideways. Here are some of the absurdities and outrages.

There are, across our country, over 60 long-term water advisories. That means that for over a year more than sixty aboriginal communities have been told that they cannot use their water safely without boiling it. Dozens more are experiencing a “short-term” (less than a year—a year) advisory.

Some reserves, such as Neskantaga and Shoal Lake 40 First Nations, have been under an advisory for more than twenty years. An entire generation is now entering adulthood who have never been able to drink water from their taps.

What’s in that water? E. coli and coliform contamination. Uranium. (Yes, uranium.) And suspected carcinogens: trihalomethanes that form when the “tea water” (the local water supply “browned” by organic material) interacts with the chlorine meant to purify it.

Why isn’t the water purified properly everywhere?

Well, how about engineering triumphs such as placing water intakes downstream of the outflows of sewage treatment? Or providing new machines, and even whole treatment plants, but no money for operation, maintenance, and training? Or funds being made available to upgrade homes with plumbing, but no money to bring water to homes currently lacking indoor plumbing?

Follow the money, and you find that there is much lower funding for reserves than for municipalities of the same size. You find that the federal government insists on an 80/20 funding formula regardless of a band’s ability to pay that 20 per cent. You find that feasibility studies sit on desks as governments change and then have to be re-done to satisfy the next government.

[For the rest, please click HERE.]

Quebec, Education, Parents, Religion: A Recipe for Conflict

The Coalition Avenir Québec continues its remarkable record of concentrating power in the provincial government on behalf of its pure laine base. (Who says that it is only leftists who press for a strong centralized state? Only those who don’t know political history.)

Last weekend, the CAQ government drastically revised educational administration in that province, most notably dismantling school boards (except for English-speaking schools, in hopes of avoiding a lawsuit—hah!). It also gives the replacement for those boards, new “service centres” elected by parents’ groups, the right to demand that municipalities simply hand over land needed for new schools.

According to the Montreal Gazette, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said that “Quebec desperately needs more classrooms and the change was necessary because it could take years to negotiate land deals with municipalities.” Nothing like eminent domain to speed along progress.

The CAQ maintains that the very many changes in Bill 40—forced through the National Assembly by way of closure—will give more power to parents, rather than school board commissioners who don’t actually represent the publics they serve. According to the Gazette, “in 2014, only four per cent of eligible voters cast ballots for French boards; on the English side, turnout was 17 per cent.”

Meanwhile, however, the CAQ may have to rethink their current championing of parents’ rights. Indeed, this government, which is so antagonistic to certain religious groups that it legislates what religious symbols they can wear in public service, may have to rethink traditional Quebec indulgence of certain other religious groups.

According to the CBC, “Yohanan and Shifra Lowen, two former Hasidic Jews, … claim the Quebec government didn’t do enough to ensure they received a proper education.” Interestingly, the couple are not suing for monetary damages, but to compel a change of policy to make all religious groups provide an education that will be at least minimally compliant with the province’s general guidelines.

“Yohanan Lowen, who first launched the legal action, alleges that, when he finished school at 18, he could barely add or subtract, couldn’t read and write in English or French and was left unequipped to find work outside his community.”

Previously, certain concessions were allowed to Orthodox Jewish communities, but this lawsuit will bring such concessions to light. It will also, however, bring to the fore the tension between a parent’s right to educate a child as he or she sees fit with the state’s responsibility to ensure a child’s right to education isn’t compromised by a parent—or a religious community.

Quebec thus continues to be one of the main testing grounds of many educational issues in general Canadian life. If parents object to teaching about the theory of evolution, or same-sex marriage, or other religions, or First Nations rituals—all of which have been litigated in one or another jurisdiction across the country—what rights do they have to keep their children away from such teaching?

[For the rest, please click HERE.]