July 14, 2015

Neil had a knack for asking the questions that need answering. Back in 2009, he wonders in the post below about technology and privacy – with the information-gathering that companies such as Facebook, Google et al are engaged in – this is more important than ever.

A new study says emerging   technologies are threatening our privacy and anonymity. Now the focus on safety and security trumps the call for privacy.  And many countries, including Canada, are considering introducing  ID cards wihich will have a chillingeffect on privacy..  Also judicial rulings in some jurisdiction have lowered the threshold for police to detain people and make them identify themselves.  Furthermore the use of video surveillance in public places is increasing diminishing the de facto anonymity once enjoyed in those spaces. The study finds that technology such as radio frequency identification chips and software built into everything from the clothes we wear to the furniture on which we sit appear be transforming communications systems from  “architectures of  freedom to architectures of control.’ “The space for private, unidentified activity is rapidly shrinking.’

Are you concerned we are losing our privacy.? Should security considerations always trump privacy considerations?


July 7, 2015


In view of the upcoming election, we continue to revisit Neil’s thoughts on Harper…

Originally posted on Exchange:

A cornered bully is a dangerous beast. Through his own making, Stephen Harper is now a cornered bully. He is desperately trying to save his prime ministerial skin at any cost.

First, he delayed a non-confidence vote for a week until this coming Monday. Now, afraid that he will lose the vote then and be replaced, he wants another delay at least until the end of January next year. And he is prepared to put the office of the Governor-General in jeopardy to get it.

This morning Governor-General Michaelle Jean returns to Ottawa, having cut short her European trip because of the constitutional crisis here. Chances are that later today or tomorrow Harper will visit her at at Rideau Hall and ask for a prorogation of Parliament until the end of January.

If and when Harper makes this request the Governor-General has two options:

She can decide the request is…

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July 2, 2015


Tuesday writing conversation: Are Books Dead?

Originally posted on Exchange:

This question about the future of reading arises now because of an essay by Scottish fiction writer Ewan Morrison enitlted “Are books dead and can authors survive?”

Morrison goes on to explain: “”E-books and e-publishing will mean the end of the ‘writer’ as  a profession.  He argues that every information stream that has become digitalized has inexorably slid toward free no-charge access. We’ve seen it happen with music, we’ve seen it happen with movies, and even with long-distance telephone calls.

In other words, the public now demands its media to be free.

I must admit in my own case, I read fewer and fewer books.  Instead I read upwards of half a dozen newspapers a day including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Montreal Gazette, the Globe and Mail and the Irish Times.  I read the last to keep abreast of the dreadful Catholic sex abuse crisis in…

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Tuesday Writing Conversation: political blog

June 22, 2015

In a previous blog entry, Neil takes another look at Harper…


Are we in a mess or what?

Presumably next Monday the Conservative government of Stephen Harper will be defeated in a confidence motion. Then the Governor-General, Michaelle Jean, will have a decision to make. Will she agree to Harper’s request for a dissolution and a new election? Or will she agree to the coalition’s request to form a new government?

Whatever decision is made, the political atmosphere in Ottawa has been poisoned for a long time to come. Is there any doubt who is responsible for that? Not a shred of doubt.

Last week Stephen Harper had the chance to present to parliament his economic stimulus package to help Canada weather this financial storm. Instead Harper opted to play dirty politics by cutting off public subsidies for political parties and banning strikes in the public service.

The opposition parties were outraged – righty so. They are now determined to get rid of Harper. He is the reason for so much venom from so many sides. He started this whole thing last week by his petty, bullying, control freak politics.

If Harper stepped up to the plate and stepped aside for, say, Jim Prentice, the whole dynamic in Ottawa would change overnight. As the Globe and Mail puts it in its leader this morning: “If Mr. Harper wishes to act in the best interests of his country, it may be time for him to consider removing himself … With a different Conservative leader in place, the coalition could lose some of its lustre – or at least its urgency – for the opposition parties … Switching to another Conservative leader may at this point be preferable to a legacy as the man who gave Canada Prime Minister Stephane Dion.”

With Harper out of the picture, a new Conservative leader like Jim Prentice might well gain the confidence of Parliament and Canada’s economic interests would go forward.

Do you agree?

Tuesday Writing Conversation: first-past-the-post elections

June 16, 2015
From 2010 an article in Senior Times by Neil McKenty
Before the recent British election, there were three party leaders. After the election there were three party losers. Labour leader Gordon Brown lost his government partly because he didn’t have a Clegg to stand on. Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg lost seats when all the polls said he would gain them. Conservative leader David Cameron lost a majority when the pundits said he should have won the election easily. Although it is true the Tory leader has half the prime minister’s job, shared with Clegg, I would suggest that Cameron was the biggest loser. Facing a tired, dispirited Labour government that had been in power for 13 years and was headed by the unpopular and befuddled Brown, Cameron should have won in a walk. He came about 20 seats short of a majority. This forced Cameron and the Tories to go to the Lib–Dems begging for their support. The analogy is not perfect, but can you imagine Stephen Harper, hat in hand, asking for the support of the NDP? Neither can I. And make no mistake about it: The Tories have paid a high price for the Lib-Dems’ support. The more extreme or ideological parts of the Tory program will have to be tempered, in the interest of cabinet unity, by the more pragmatic and progressive influence of the Liberal Democrats. For example, though the strongly euro-sceptical William Hague is the new foreign secretary, the fight with Brussels he was spoiling for before the election will have to be postponed. The government cannot do anything that Clegg, a strong pro-European who is Cameron’s deputy prime minister, cannot defend to his own backbenchers. Any cuts in public services ordered by the new chancellor, George Osborne, will have to be such as can be defended by his Liberal Democrat rival and critic in opposition, Vince Cable, who also joins cabinet. The people most likely to be upset by this are on the right of the Tory party, for whom compromise of ideological principle is a very high price to pay for office. Perhaps the Labour Party chose the better part by not pushing for a coalition with Clegg. Now Labour can recharge its batteries under a new leader, probably David Milliband, ready to pounce if and when the Cameron-Clegg government falls apart, as I predict it will in the next year or so over any number of issues, including deficit financing and the reform of the voting system. In the run-up to the election, there was no more vexatious issue dividing the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats than voting reform. The Lib-Dems wanted it at all costs because, among other things, it would improve the chances of a third party winning more seats in a general election. Consider that in the recent elections the Lib-Dems got 23 per cent of the vote, but only nine per cent of the seats. The Tories did not want to touch reform with a barge pole because they argued rightly that it would militate against strong governments and condemn them to minority status forever. But it is the Tories who have had to put water in their wine. The government will apparently offer voters a referendum on a system of voting in general elections to replace the traditional first past the post, which is the system we have in Canada. “Can you imagine Stephen Harper, hat in hand, asking for the support of the NDP? Neither can I.” But the referendum that will be voted on in Britain is not for proportional representation as such. (In Canada, three provinces have had referenda on proportional representation and all three have rejected it.) The alternative vote is the system used by the House of Representatives in Australia. It works this way: The system allows voters to list their candidates in order of preference. Using the Canadian system, this would mean that if you liked the Conservative Party, you could vote for its candidate alone or you could vote for the Conservative as a first preference and then, say, the NDP. If a candidate got 50 per cent of the vote or more, he or she would win. If not, the votes of the candidate who finished last would be redistributed, until a candidate got 50 per cent of first, second, or third preferences. Discussing this method in the Globe and Mail, Jeffrey Simpson says it has four advantages. First, alternative vote gives voters something other than a black or white choice. Second, it moves a little toward matching total votes cast for a party with seats won. Third, it means that all MPs can say they received at least half the preferences, instead of in our system, in which many MPs garner fewer than half the votes. Fourth, it still usually produces a majority parliament (despite the fears of the British Tories). Is it time for Canadians to look at Australia and Britain and modify our first-past-the-post system, which so distorts the relationship between votes cast and seats won? From

Tuesday Writing Conversation: historic blog entry

June 8, 2015

A previous blog entry written by Neil about Parliament.

The morning Governor-General Michaelle Jean gave Stephen Harper permission to suspend Parliament until January 26. Was this a good decision? Or was it a bad decision?

In the short term, many will argue it is a good decision. It provides a “time-out” for the hot heads on every side to cool down. It will give the Harper government an opportunity to prepare a budget which will certainly contain a major stimulus package. As the Montreal Gazette says in its leader this morning, “this poisoned session of Parliament should be scrapped, and the parties can all begin anew in January.”

But in the longer term, this decision gives much concern. What this decision means is that Stephen Harper can now avoid the confidence vote (that he was sure to lose) and which he himself scheduled for this Monday. Surely no Governor-general should not be seen to be in the business of closing down Parliament for the crassly political reason of saving a government from certain defeat on a confidence motion.

By avoiding the confidence vote through this constitutional stratagem, Harper has got around the bed rock principle of parliamentary democracy – that a government must command the confidence of the legislature. As a result of this morning’s decision, we now have a government in office that does not have the confidence of Parliament. Harper’s government is now starting to resemble a regime.

As former Governor-general Ed Schreyer put the above point: “Nothing should be done to aid and abet the evasion of submitting to the will of Parliament.” Which, in this instance, is precisely what has been done. Harper has escaped the noose for now.

There is a further point that causes me and many others extreme unease. Has this decision to prorogue now created an unacceptable precedent? Granting prorogation when a government is in dire circumstances is tantamount to saying that it should be granted at any time – that the Governor-general should be a rubber stamp in the process.

That would mean that any time a minority government is in trouble, facing a confidence vote, the Prime Minister of the day could simply go to the Governor-general and prorogue. This would destroy the central element of parliamentary democracy – the confidence of the House.

Does Herr Harper’s regime deserve more time in office by hook or by crook? (Remember this is the man who single-handedly in the period of a week turned an economic crisis into a national unity crisis and plans to continue fanning the flames on that dangerous issue?)

Are you comfortable with the results and ramifications of today’s constitutional decision?

Tuesday writing conversation: pitstop revisited

June 2, 2015

From the archives:

Pit Stop - Oct

The Senior Times’ publisher Barbara Moser suggested I might look over the history of “Pit Stop” for this 20th anniversary issue, so I dug up my old columns and checked them out. To my astonishment I discovered I have been writing “Pit Stop” for more than eight years. Time goes fast when you’re having fun.
My very first column, in May, 1998, paid a tribute to Quebec’s teachers, one of my favourite groups of people, generally over-worked and under-paid. In my book, teachers come in right behind nurses who,
sadly, are drifting more and more to the private sector. One of my first columns stated the private sector should pay to keep the Expos in Montreal. No one from the private sector stepped up to the plate and the team is long gone. More astonishing than their leaving is the fact nobody seems to miss them. Early in 2000 I wrote that separatists didn’t want a clear question on separation. They still don’t. But that was before Jean Chretien nailed down the Clarity Act.

If the PQ win the next election (by no means certain) and if they call a referendum early in their first term (more likely), their chances of winning on an unambiguous question about separation are nil.
My column following Al Gore’s defeat in a rigged election was entitled “Beating around the bush with George Jr.” My first impression of the current Bush was that he is an airhead and a playboy. Nothing he’s done in the past six years has caused me to change my mind. Certainly, I believe Bush is the worst president in my lifetime, which goes back to Herbert Hoover.
In February 2003, I wrote that the impending war in Iraq threatens our world order. Now, six years later, 16 American intelligence agencies have unanimously concluded that Bush’s reckless adventure in Iraq has multiplied terrorists and made our world less safe. It seems to me now that what has happened in Iraq is also happening in Afghanistan. I believe we urgently need a serious debate about what precisely is our mission in that country.
I also wrote several columns on religion, especially the implications for my own tradition, Roman Catholicism. I also covered a number of moral and ethical issues: homosexuality, health care, euthanasia, creationism and the role of religion in public policy.
Of course I didn’t bring out the heavy artillery for every column. There were lighter musings on golf, books and films like Brokeback Mountain and The Da Vinci Code.
What I have tried to convey here is not only the content of the columns, but the fun I had doing them. The deadline was more like a lifeline.

I am proud to have been associated with Barbara Moser and her strong and enthusiastic team for the last eight years. I have also enjoyed meeting readers and getting your feedback.
By the way, I have just set up my own blog, “Neil McKenty Weblog,” at Check it out and leave a suggestion or a comment.
Meantime, on this special anniversary of The Senior Times, I’ll drink one toast to the last 20 years and another to the next 20.

October 2006

Another treasure from the 1920’s

May 28, 2015

This is a film of the wedding of Agnes and Eric Bentley in Toronto.

Tuesday Writing Conversation: A treasure from the 1920’s

May 26, 2015

Note: footage revised 31/5/2015. It is an amazing gift for me to watch this silent footage of my parent’s wedding, July 25th 1929 at Donlands Farm. The farm stretched way back to the Don River from Don Mills Road, then a two-lane country road on the eastern edge of Toronto.

It is such fun to see all the guests arriving in their distinctive Twenties outfits.

There is my dad, Walter Turnbull, serenely happy standing beside his bride, Victoria Turnbull. As a young man he was quite a rebel. At Stoney Lake in Ontario, he would go out in the family canoe alone, give a great war-whoop and fall overboard backwards just to scare his poor mother. There was one apple tree in the backyard at the home of his parents in Peterborough, Ontario where his dad owned the local hardware store. When the Baptist minister opened the basket of apples from Mr Turnbull, he found an indignant bite had been taken out of each one.

Later my dad and his brothers built an orphanage in India during the great famine. His first wife died in childbirth after their return on the long voyage home from India. He went on foot through South America looking for locations for missions, then became Dean of men at Nyack, the headquarters of the Christian Missionary Alliance.

My grandmother still could not quite believe that this famous man – who had spoken from platforms across the US and Canada – was about to marry her rebel daughter Victoria, who wanted to wear bloomers on Sunday of all things. Grandmother, whom we see in her distinctive peaked hat, insisted the wedding be a quiet one, out at the farm, no white dress or long train for this bride. The minimum of fuss, which suited my mother to a T. Later my grandmother would go three times on that long ocean voyage to India, where she was supporting medical services for women, along with her surgeon-daughter, my aunt Evelyn.

We also catch glimpses in the film of my uncle Russell, then still a stockbroker in New York, dapper uncle Murray and their brother Goldie. There are the blissfully engaged couple, Agnes, my aunt, and her fiancée Eric Bentley.

A very special moment in time. My parents spent their honeymoon in Quebec, part of it on the Peribonka river, which later provided the name for their cottage on Lake Simcoe, where I enjoyed many happy days as a child. Mother and Dad made their home in Nyack, New York where they bought a house, and Dad continued his work as the much-loved teacher who thought nothing of the occasional pillow-fight with his students. He had found a whole radio station on a Russian ship, established it in New York, and used it to broadcast a message of faith, hope and love to South America.

Faith, Hope and Love – these themes resonate for me as I watch this film – this eternal moment in time. This footage is the closest I have ever come to seeing my dad alive, as others saw him. Ten months later, my mother was four months pregnant with me when she received the news in the middle of the night that dad had been killed instantly in a car crash.

At crucial times in my life I have felt his presence. Most notable was an occasion when I was suddenly called on to speak to a large and intimidating audience in England following my husband Neil. Shaking in my boots, I walked up the steps to the platform. Suddenly I knew exactly how dad felt – as though I was standing in his shoes. I was able to handle the microphone with ease, and was told afterwards I had riveted my audience.

Not long ago, I was shown a letter that my mother wrote her brother Goldie at the time of dad’s death. In it she wrote of her determination not to go under, and her sense of a spiritual strength being given. She ended with the words “grateful beyond measure”. I can only repeat those words as I think of the enduring legacy left to me by both my parents, faith, hope and love.

Tuesday writing conversation: In The Stillness Dancing

May 22, 2015

A brand new edition of In The Stillness Dancing: The Journey of John Main is now available with a tribute by Mary McAleese, Irish President (1997-2011).

This book has reached a wide audience on both sides of the atlantic – 3500 copies were distributed by an American Episcopal book club and sold by a wide collection of ecumenical bookstores.

isdNeil worked on the book for two years at the height of his radio career – he left with a peak audience of 76,000 listeners to finish the book. In London while he was interviewing as many people as he could reach that had known father John, I sat in a small bedsit in Pimlico dropping pennies into the old telephone, trying to track down the scottish soldiers who had been with Father John in the secret intelligence agency tracking down german spies as the allied armies advanced. The whole thing was  an amazing adventure for the both us which also took us to Ireland for the first time. Discovering my own Irish heritage led to a whole transformation of my own inner landscape – and finally to the writing of the book Polly of Bridgewater Farm.

Catharine McKenty



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