Home‎ > ‎Programme‎ > ‎

Abstracts, 4 April




Literature 1

Kit Dobson

Dystopia Now: Examining the Rachels in Automaton Biographies and Player One

“It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again, who does?”

Blade Runner

My epigraph is a statement made by the character Gaff in one of the final scenes of Ridley Scott’s iconic 1982 film Blade Runner about the character Rachel, a replicant, an artificially intelligent robot who is nearly indistinguishable from humans. This line is echoed in Larissa Lai’s 2009 book of poetry Automaton Biographies in a section written in Rachel’s voice. Lai’s Rachel, with verbal tics like the transformation of nouns into transitive verbs, challenges readers to think the limits of the human in an era of ecological and military devastation. Dystopia, Lai shows through her book, is not some other place. It is, instead, and paradoxically, here and now. This paper for the 36th Annual Conference of the British Association for Canadian Studies examines the conference theme of “Peace and (In)Security” through two recent restagings of Rachel’s story in Canadian literature. The first, Lai’s book, will be read against Player One: What Is to Become of Us, Douglas Coupland’s 2010 dystopic novel about social collapse in the face of skyrocketing oil prices. While Coupland’s character named Rachel is perhaps less obviously indebted to Blade Runner, her traits – she has been described by Catherine Bush as having a “near-autistic brain” and she takes lessons in how to be normal because she feels not quite human – leave her, similarly, on the margins of the social. My inquiry in this paper will argue that these texts suggest not merely that we inhabit a dystopia, but that, moreover, this dystopic condition demands that we push beyond the limits of the human in order to witness the absurdity of our species.

Will Smith, University of Nottingham

Terror in Imaginary Toronto: The role of the apocalypse in Maggie Helwig’s Girls Fall Down (2008)

Alex Houen suggests that “the terrifying nature of terrorism is partly attributable to its capacity to disrupt the security of everydayness” (Houen, 2002, 10). In Girls Fall Down, Maggie Helwig portrays a Toronto in which everydayness is disrupted by what appears to be a terrorist attack. As a crisis takes hold of the city’s residents, one girl falling on a subway platform is heralded variously as a plague, as bioterror or as one symbol in a greater index of apocalyptic happenings. The novel throws visions of home and safety in contemporary urban Canada into stark relief, commenting on how quickly these become permeated with notions of terror. This paper develops Marlene Goldman’s recent work on “crisis literature” in Rewriting Apocalypse in Canadian Fiction (2005). Working with apocalyptic tropes, Girls Fall Down echoes Toronto’s past literary evocations of terror in the work of Robertson Davies and Margaret Atwood. The novel also functions as a complex contemporary fiction responding to the post-SARS, post-9/11 Canadian city. Vacillating between the ahistorical effect of terror, casting everything as a possible threat, and a wider historical semiotics of terror, Helwig’s novel undermines simplistic notions of safety in the everyday urban experience.


Security 1

Noura Karazivan, Université de Montréal

The rule of law and the protection of constitutional rights in time of insecurity

According to Lord Woolf, the role of courts is to uphold the rule of law, i.e. “ensuring that the actions of the Government of the day are being taken in accordance with the law”. So what happens to the rule of law in time of insecurity? According to Carl Schmitt, the constitutional limitations on state action which normally guarantee the fundamental rights of the people may be simply suspended for “an interval” in the case of “perturbations to public order and security”. Calling for exceptional powers in order to react to an external threat is not a new strategy. My claim however is that the rule of law today must mean a strong judiciary empowered to act even in times of emergency, even when national security is challenged. If rights are pre-existent to political institutions, and if political institutions are created in order to protect the rights held by the people, to defend that the State may suspend those rights without the courts’ scrutiny is both anachronistic and contradictory.  

How does that play out in Canadian constitutional law?  Needless to say, no government is eager to claim that constitutional rights may be “suspended” in time of emergency or terrorism. And yet, what is the real situation? Several terrorism-coloured cases have emerged recently which may raise the question of the role of courts in upholding the rule of law: the case of Charkaoui and the legality of security certificates; the case of Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen detained in Syria for a year with the collaboration of Canadian police officers; the case of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen detained in Guantanamo Bay; that of Afghan prisoners transferred by Canadian officers to Afghan authorities and tortured in Afghanistan.

Throughout these decisions, the insecurity rhetoric has been coupled with the rhetoric of judicial deference when, as is often the case, the foreign affairs prerogative is at stake. The result has been a fine tuning of how (if at all) the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms operates in cases where national security is at stake.

The conference will outline these recent developments and, where possible, will draw a comparison with similar cases in the United Kingdom.

Kari Mariska Pries, University of Glasgow

Policy, Good Government and Cultures of Dissent: El Salvador’s Past as Reference for Canada’s Future in Applications of International Humanitarian Law

Humanitarian Law applications have become a contentious point in Canadian politics. The Government of Canada argues, “We take our positions based on the promotion of our values – freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, justice development, humanitarian assistance for those who need it” (Harper 2010). However, recent events highlighting Canada’s selective application of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in Afghanistan have struck deeply at Canadian perceptions of their role and reputation abroad and ultimately threatened government stability in 2009.

The Canadian debate over the applicability of IHL in (arguably) non international armed conflicts is not new. Gross humanitarian and human rights violations in El Salvador during the 1980s attracted a Canadian culture of dissent or counter-consensus exerting pressure for IHL support in the Salvadoran context as a part of the Foreign Policy of the day. This paper will explore the Salvadoran example as the first application of non international armed conflict IHL to civilian casualties, the treatment of prisoners in war, and guerrillas as enemy combatants and contemporary Canadian Foreign Policy reactions. These government policy reactions to a new type of international law provide lessons for current issues in Afghanistan as well as future Canadian security actions involving IHL. From policy reactions regarding a state conflict in which Canada was an international observer to a time when Canada is an active participant implicated in IHL application responsibilities,  Canada’s past with El Salvador holds lessons for its own future as an international actor.

Angela Scerbo, University of Siena

The thing not seen: Looking from Canada at a comparative approach to prohibition of torture in international and constitutional law

The wave of terrorism the world has witnessed since the events of September 11 served only to enhance international awareness of the impact terrorism can have on fundamental democratic values.
While torture is widely condemned as contrary to human dignity by several Constitutions, on certain occasions the right to be free from torture is endangered by the acts of States’ authorities such as the disproportionate and unreasonable limitation of the right to habeas corpus and the guarantees of due process of law.

This paper will concentrate, in Part I, on the potential impact of one particular element that relates to the nature of a human rights instrument itself, namely its system of limitation. I will try to deal with the following problems: how can a society defend itself against its enemies without destroying the basis and justification of its own existence? Which approach to the limitation of fundamental rights is most likely to result in solutions that appropriately reconcile competing claims of individual rights and national security in the context of terrorist activity? Can public authorities protect their citizens from the threat of terrorism acting in compliance with international human rights law and, in particular, with the absolute prohibition of torture and all obligations ancillary to it?

In Part II, this paper will underline the important role played by the Canadian Supreme Court in the constitutional legal order, in comparison with the jurisprudence of the United States Supreme Court. I will argue that  the Canadian Constitution, while not containing a specific prohibition of torture, like the American Bill of Rights, does contain legal guarantees against the risk of abuse by public authority thorough a correct interpretation and application of legal rights and fundamental freedoms, acting in compliance with the rule of law and customary International law also in an emergency situation. 



Security 2

Gillian Roberts, University of Nottingham

Securing Canadianness on TV: Canada’s Border Policing Dramas

This paper examines three Canadian television dramas about cross-border policing, Bordertown (CTV, 1989-1991), Due South (CTV, 1994-1999), and The Border (CBC, 2008-2010), examining their representation of the Canada-US border and Canada-US cultural comparisons. As Russ Castronovo argues, borders “figure as occasions to imagine, often aggressively, fixed and unrelenting standards of citizenship and belonging” (196). And although border studies in North America has chiefly been concerned with the US-Mexico border and the explicit violence associated with attempted crossings there, Canadian culture features countless examples of texts that probe the significance of the Canada-US border in determining distinctions between Canada and its neighbour to the south. These three border policing dramas each emerged in the context of points of crisis or significant reconfigurations of the relationship between Canada and the United States: Bordertown began airing in 1989, the year of the ratification of the Free Trade Agreement; Due South’s first season appeared in 1994, the year of the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement; and The Border clearly reflects on Canada-US relations in a post-9/11 context. Given that, as Ian Angus argues, All concern with English Canadian identity, formulated abstractly, is engaged in maintaining a border between us and the United States” (47), it seems that these Canadian policing dramas are not only about security in terms of surveilling the so-called “longest undefended border in the world” but also about testing Canada-US cultural relations and Canadian cultural sovereignty in the midst of potential blows to Canadian economic and political sovereignty. That these anxieties should be played out particularly through these policing dramas is indicative of the desire to infuse the Canadian state apparatus with a meaningful, discernible, and essential national identity.

Rachel Walls, University of Nottingham

Surveillance and (In)Security in CBC’s Intelligence. 

This paper will look at the CBC television drama Intelligence (2005-2008), which focuses on marijuana smuggler Jimmy Reardon, his business and personal life, and his relationship as an informer to Mary Spalding, head of Vancouver’s Organised Crime Unit and in line for a position at the Canadian Security and Intelligence service. 

 The series came from Haddock Entertainment, also responsible for the long-term success of Da Vinci’s Inquest.  But while Da Vinci’s Inquest lasted seven seasons and garnered average audiences of 800 000, its spin off Da Vinci’s City Hall was cancelled after one season, and Intelligence was cancelled after two, due to low ratings of around 300 000. 

The series focuses on national (in)security and the multilayered surveillance activities used by Jimmy, Mary and other characters to control the drug trade in Vancouver, to maintain or improve their own positions, and to protect themselves from the common enemy, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, who are portrayed as interfering, corrupt, and, on one occasion, comically inept.  The program additionally includes a storyline about a U.S. corporate organisation, The Blackmire Group, who are plotting to steal Canadian fresh water supplies. 

I consider the parallels between the national insecurity represented in the program, and contextual Canadian cultural insecurity.  I extend the metaphor further to consider the insecurity of Canadian drama and, specifically, regional representation in drama, under new Federal and CBC leadership.  The series’ creator Chris Haddock suggests Intelligence has local and international appeal because “the more specific you get, the more universal the appeal.”  I consider how Intelligence demonstrates this strategy. 


History 1

Dan Horner, Centre for Urban History, University of Leicester

“What constitutes the look of a gentleman is more easily felt than described”:  Asserting Masculine Authority on the Streets of Mid-Nineteenth-Century Montreal

The 1840s were a period of intense social and political change in Canada.  The political and sectarian conflicts that marked the decade were keenly felt on the streets of Montreal.  Historians have noted the frequent outbreaks of social violence that broke out in what was British North America’s largest city.  Competing factions of the Montreal elite were shaken by this violence, which they understood as a threat to the city’s stability and prosperity.  This prompted calls for the expansion and professionalization of the police force which, it was hoped, would become better equipped to deal with the threat posed by agitated urban crowds.  But it also led elites to place a greater emphasis on communicating their vision of an orderly urban public life.  One of the leading ways that they did this was through parading.  Alongside the rioting of the mid-nineteenth century, Montreal also saw an explosion in parading.  Community leaders from across the ethnic divide used parades to demonstrate their ability to craft orderly public events.  This was a means of asserting power in a diverse city where authority was fiercely contested.  It also reflected some of the deeper transformations occurring in Canada’s political culture, as power was increasingly placed in the hands of a dynamic male bourgeois elite, while women and the poor were pushed to the margins.  At the same time, these events were central to popular recreation in the city, and may well have provided excluded people with subtle opportunities to demonstrate resistance.  My paper will examine some of these phenomena by looking at St. Jean Baptiste and St. Patrick’s Day parades in Montreal in the 1840s.

James Stephen Krysiek, Mount St. Mary’s University

The Pacific Northwest & Alaskan Boundaries: Towards Commercial Security & National Identity 

Today, as Canada insists on its sovereignty over Arctic waterways, nineteenth and twentieth century boundary settlements remain pertinent if nearly forgotten episodes in the emergence of Canada’s identity as a nation that extends “from sea to sea.”  Even before political confederation in 1867 and British Columbia joined Canada as her sixth province in 1871, negotiators labored over the demarcation of boundaries in the Pacific Northwest where sea otters, seals, whales, and salmon figured prominently in the commercial activity of British North America, the United States, and Russia.  In the early twentieth century, international arbitrators settled the question of Alaskan boundaries.  The records of American revenue cutters reveal the intensity of Pacific rivalries; documentation examined by the Alaskan Boundary Tribunal underscores the seriousness of Canadian and American claims.  Resolution of trade and boundary issues in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska helped to define Canada and set Canadians apart from their American neighbors.

Iain Johnston

Last Dominion in War; First Division in Britain

While the First World War undoubtedly proved the loyalty of the Dominions to the United Kingdom, it also aroused feelings of local nationalism and provoked questions about the political status of the British Commonwealth. Finding political expression in the Statute of Westminster, 1931, these feelings saw the Commonwealth become a defined entity: an alliance built from cultural bonds and mutual interests, but crucially with no binding commitments.

Canada’s support of this process continued an interwar trend of encouraging the decentralization of the Commonwealth and enhanced the view of Canada as an emerging nation which hankered after a foreign policy divisible from that of the United Kingdom. Furthermore, Canada’s Prime Minister from 1935 was Mr. Mackenzie King, a man who is and was often described as an isolationist; the country had during World War One been greatly divided over the issues of conscription and overseas service; and it was the only Dominion not represented on the British Committee of Imperial Defence, a body charged with the duty of coordinating military action between the various parts of the Empire.

Yet despite these factors and being commonly regarded as the least likely of the British Dominions to become involved in another European conflict during the 1930s, Canada dispatched an army division which arrived in the UK on 17 December 1939 - almost six months before a similar force from any other Dominion touched the shores of Great Britain.

The debate over why Canada was to be the first to assist the UK in this manner falls into three broad areas: the Mother Country; the domestic Canadian factors; and the international context. Through this framework I will assess why Canada felt it necessary to provide the support it did so quickly in a world crisis which erupted so far from its own borders.

Literature 2

Jonathan Rollins, Ryerson University

Hiding a Monster in Plain Sight: Concealing, Representing, and Re-Imagining Difference in Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red

When they appear in literature, monsters demonstrate or reveal something significant about the societies that imagine (read “create”) and fear them. In Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, Geryon, the winged and multi-bodied monster killed by Herakles (Hercules) in classical myth, is re-imagined as a contemporary North American. Carson merges the mythic with the mundane and transforms the menacing “death demon” into Geryon the red boy-monster who does not threaten society but, instead, feels threatened by it. To that end, Geryon’s insecurities are highlighted in a series of autobiographical vignettes or “photographs”:  monster as a five-year-old facing a traumatic first day of school; monster as timid adolescent falling in love with a teen-aged Herakles; self-conscious gay adolescent monster dealing with his awakening sexuality. In this reworking of the hero vs. monster narrative, perspective shifts in order to suggest that what is at stake is not the security of society but, rather, the (in)security of the individual whose difference is regarded as irredeemably “other” or pathological. The text is a “drama of concealment” that simultaneously obscures and reveals Geryon’s identity and his difference, hiding a so-called monster in plain sight.

What distinguishes this paper from other critical approaches is the reading of “red” not only in the context of monstrosity, alterity, and the politics of queer identity but of Native identity as well. The latter is an aspect of Geryon’s “redness” that has yet to be explored in the critical literature. This paper examines the role of concealment or “closeting” of redness as an act of silencing and marginalization as well as a strategic gesture of self-defence. It then critiques the social encoding of red as monstrous or other and theorizes its recoding according to a “less binarized view of otherness and difference” (Marciniak). The result is a de-pathologized individual whose social integration does not require a defacement of his difference and whose belonging does not come at the cost of being rendered invisible within mainstream society. 


Laura-Violeta Duta, University of Vienna, Austria

Communal Odysseys: Reconciliation, (Re)building and Redeeming in Jack Hodgins’s The Invention of the World and Broken Ground

Even from his very first novel, Jack Hodgins has been focusing his writing on the life of the community and the ways the individuals might help it heal. The human settlements presented in his novels are not idyllic ones, being rather troubled, destroyed, misplaced or abused. This is the case of both the communities in The Invention of the World (1977) and Broken Ground (1998). My paper will discuss their “communal odysseys”, using the term of Dr. Waldemar Zacharasiewicz, as well as the means these mutilated communities use in order to find their way into normality, coping with the memory of a violent past and with the harsh reality that remains after the blurry shadows of the illusions have been blown away. I will also bring into the light the characters that act like healers of their communities and discuss the fragile balance between personal fulfillment and servicing the community. Since, as Peter Buitenhuis noted in an article from 1991 “Hodgins is basically an optimist about human nature”, preferring “the affirmative vision” to the destruction and despair, I will argue that his characters always find a way back into reconciliation and redemption, returning the community to its normal pace and closing the circle of violent deeds by simple generous acts.



Business Studies

Alan Hallsworth

Insecurity and robustness in the wider economy: Canada and the UK

For many households the sub-prime financial meltdown has provided their greatest source of insecurity. It has also accelerated critiques of the economic modelling that underpinned the activities of banking and allied industries. Coincidentally, there has been resurgence in interest in more socialised interpretations of economic life. This paper considers how it may still be possible to marry formal economic modelling with these more socialised concerns. At a time when many economists are anticipating slower growth rates in the future, such a possibility need not be disastrous. Indeed, it could result in genuine gains in terms of sustainability and a more just and stable society. The paper outlines proposals for a different long-run economic trajectory and concludes with brief comments on the suggestion that Britain can validly overcome current deficits by copying the actions of the Liberal Government of Canada during the 1990s

Byron M. Sheldrick, University of Guelph

Collaborative Governance as a Strategy for Combatting Local Insecurity

The global financial crisis has created tremendous local insecurity as communities struggle to deal with the problems of growing unemployment, food insecurity, homelessness, and poverty.  At the same time, two decades of "new public management" inspired state restructuring have left governments with few tools for combating economic insecurity.  In Canada this is true at both the federal and provincial levels, where various anti-poverty initiatives have had little success. 

This has left local communities to combat insecurity largely on their own.  Complex networks of non-profit organizations, faith based organizations, residents' groups, NGOs, and municipal government organizations have formed to fill this void.  These collaborations operate at a number of levels, engaging in service delivery and coordination, policy formation, advocacy, and operate to allocate resources.  In effect these collaborative networks have formed a governance structure in which the state plays a relatively marginal role. 

This paper will examine the scope of collaborative governance models in Guelph-Wellington county where a rich network of collaborations has developed.  Using this case study, the potential of collaborative governance models to address insecurity will be assessed.  The contradictions and limits of collaborations as a sustainable approach to governance will be explored, along recommendations as to how such networks can operate more effectively in the face of prolonged local economic crisis. 

Judy and Larry Haiven, Saint Mary's University, Halifax

Canadian Co-operatives - Are They Governed Better?

The 2012 "The International Year of Co-operatives" approaches and we are passing through the worst financial crisis since the 1930s - a crisis in large part due to a massive failing in the governance of for-profit corporations.  Yet we see very little in-depth research into co-operatives and how they are governed.

According to a recent Quebec study, the survival rate of co-operatives after five years in that province was 82% higher than other forms of enterprise and 130% higher after ten years.  These figures are truly impressive and suggest that there is something about the co-operative governance that makes it more sustainable.  We investigate a) the relationship between co-operative governance and their performance and b) whether co-operatives have lessons for governance in other sectors as well.

In some ways, co-operatives are mid-way between the corporate model and the nonprofit model.  While the three may seem like three different forms, they also can be said to exhibit three different forms of governance.  The corporation’s purpose (and the one that its directors are sworn to pursue) is return on investment for the shareholders.  The nonprofit’s purpose is to serve its members or a specific community.  The purpose of the co-operative is best enunciated in the seven principles of the International Co-operative Alliance, which are widely followed by co-operatives in Canada and all over the world: 1. Voluntary and Open Membership, 2. Democratic Member Control, 3. Member Economic Participation, 4. Autonomy and Independence, 5. Education, Training and Information, 6. Co-operation among Co-operatives, and 7. Concern for Community.  In the accounting and reporting function, many co-ops specifically measure not only their financial progress but also progress in fulfilling these principles In other words, many co-operatives not only pay lip service to a “triple bottom line” but specifically demand accountability.  Some have developed sophisticated instruments to measure these criteria.

While some of the principles of nonprofits may residually coincide with these co-op principles, they are not clearly enunciated as such nor are they necessarily followed.  And if they are not followed or cease to be followed, there is little internal or external accountability.

This study focuses on an in-depth investigation of the governance of rural natural gas and electrical delivery co-operatives in the province of Alberta.  The Alberta model for these utilities is unique in Canada (though it exists in the United States.  Other Canadian provinces deliver these utilities either through government-owned enterprises (some later privatized) or private enterprises from the start.  In Alberta, the private sector did not initially wish to invest in rural delivery and government did not want to run these utilities either.  Thus, they established co-operatives, somewhat of an anomaly in such a "redneck" province.

This study reports on how these co-operatives, through boards consisting almost entirely of rural farmers, have practised governance and whether the boards have sought to fulfil and have reported on adherence to the co-operative principles, in either spirit or word.

Literature 3

Pilar Somacarrera, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

“Saint Margaret of our feminisms”: reviews of Margaret Atwood’s poetry in the Spanish press

In an article titled “Reviewing Reviewing Today,“ Linda Hutcheon observes that our moment in history  is  a particularly appropriate time to examine the ethics, economics and politics of reviewing.The Spanish translator Fruela Fernández, in an article about the relationships between translation and criticism, laments that reviews are often a loop of imprecise opinions which provide little information to the readers and to the professionals related to the literary world. Despite her condition as an author consecrated in Spain with the Prince of Asturias Award for Letters in 2008, Atwood’s poetry still needs to be reappraised. Although the extent to which her poetry has been in the shadow of her novels has been recognised by cultural journalists and critics, her poetic production still needs to be reappraised in Spain, Her “feminism” has been made responsible for some possessive and reductive readings of her poetry (Jordi Doce)  but, in my view, it is some of her Spanish critics, and not only the male ones, who are to blame for her fragile reputation as a poet in our country. To mention but one example, in a review of The Door, reviewer A. (Ainhoa) Sáenz de Zaitegui, usually in charge of reviewing Atwood’s poetry for El cultural, -one of the main Spanish literary supplements- calls Atwood “Saint Margaret of our feminisms” (in allusion to the way the Virgin Mary is addressed),   and  defines her as “the Canadian-feminist-protoecologist-political activist, fiction narrator  version of Henry David Thoreau.” In the light of this and other appreciations of Atwood  published in the Spanish press,  in this paper I will explore how Atwood’s symbolic capital as a winner of the Prince of Asturias Award has influenced her reception in Spain through the apparition of impressionistic and unprofessional reviews.

Emilie Péneau, University College Cork

Women’s Insecurity in Margaret Atwood’s Short Stories

Margaret Atwood’s fiction tends to reflect the anxieties of society.  In a time when patriarchal discourses are still hegemonic, it is thus not surprising to find women and their position in society at the heart of her concerns.  This paper proposes to discuss women’s insecurity in contemporary society in a selection of short stories by Margaret Atwood.  I intend to demonstrate that this insecurity is related to the threat to identity presented by the gendered discourses governing society and which is often embodied by male transgressions such as rape, stalking, affairs and so on.  I argue that in modern society patriarchal discourses posit the woman as a victim.  Women live in a climate of insecurity in which their identities and bodies are threatened.  I intend to identify these threats and to explore how women have responded to it.

The paper takes as its premises the idea that during the colonisation of Canada, the wilderness was an unsafe place, which presented a threat to identity as can be seen in the writings of early colonisers’ wives.  With urbanisation, the city has become that unsafe place and the threat to identity is now the result of women’s position as the victims of patriarchal discourses.  Alice Ridout notes that the “distrust of the urban conflicts with the safety which cities provide from ‘hostile’ elements” and emphasises how Atwood’s theory of survival takes on new dimensions in the city (“Temporality and Margaret Atwood” 850).  I will highlight this shift in society and its impact on women and will use Atwood’s victim theory, as highlighted in her survey of Canadian literature, Survival, in order to explore how women have responded to this threat and tried to minimise their insecurity by becoming creative non-victims in order to affirm their identity.

Eleonora Rao, University of Salerno

’How can we keep it safe? / There’s so much to defend’: Margaret Atwood’s The Tent, The Door, and Moral Disorder

One of the recurring images in The Tent appears to be that of the labyrinth.  Post modernity, or liquid modernity, to use Zygmunt Bauman’s expression, seems to be the era of the spiral and of labyrinthine experience and cognition. The era of indeterminacy and uncertainty, that Bauman has so convincingly and forcefully described, seems to have privileged the labyrinth, perhaps unknowingly. The labyrinth stands for all that is irrational, dark and unpredictable.  The Tent is characterized by utter disorientation, loss and absence in a (postmodern) world with no reference points, no landmarks, and no signposts. Such interrogations into the certainties around which the characters build their lives continue in Atwood’s last collection of poetry, The Door [2007]. In The Tent the ephemeral narrating subjects seem more often than not to be desperately looking for shelter, or for “protection” (T, 144), a refuge of some sort that, however, will never come. Similarly, The Door proposes similar images, as in the poem “Resurrecting the Doll’s House” quoted in my title,  “Bear Lament” or “Ice Palace”. To the characters in The Tent nothing really looks “familiar” anymore, not even one’s possessions or belongings (“Gateway,” T, 34). The narrating subjects have estranged looks and are painfully and utterly estranged from themselves; in other words, they are well into the Freudian Unheimliche.

Likewise, the short story cycle Moral Disorder presents some oneiric scenes that suggest an image of Freudian Das Unheimliche, roughly translated in English as “the uncanny”. According to Freud's description, the uncanny derives its terror not from something externally alien or unknown but, on the contrary, from something strangely familiar which defeats our efforts to separate ourselves from it.  The uncanny is about transforming homey into unhomey, and it includes intellectual uncertainty. The scenes with various disconcerting and recurring dreams  indicate disorientation, something disturbing, eerie; they suggest a subject haunted by the past as well as by the present. In Moral Disorder the protagonist’s lack of a sense of belonging,  her precarious sense of security and the feeling of impending danger will accompany her even late in life as the opening story “The Bad News” suggests: “You never know if the news is true until it pounces. Until is right on top of you. Until you reach out in the night and there’s no more breathing. Until you’re howling in darkness, wandering the empty rooms in your white dress” (10).


Political Studies

Robert E. Hawkins, University of Regina / University of Saskatchewan

Constitutional Peace in the 'Peaceable Kingdom':  Will 'Non-Constitutional' Constitutional Change Really Work?

Parliamentary democracies around the globe have recently had to contend with the political instability created by elections that resulted in minority governments, some with razor-thin pluralities.  Canada has been in this position since federal elections in January 2005, and again in October 2008, failed to return majorities.  Both Britain and Australia elected ‘hung parliaments’ in the summer of 2010.  When this occurs, the immediate aftermath is concern for the political stability of government, the national economy, and foreign undertakings, and distaste at the prospect of a further trip to the polls.  The attempt to ensure stability has resulted in party coalitions, statutes that fix the future election dates, and legislated rule changes that redefine the requirements of confidence votes and relocate the power to dissolve Parliament from the Prime Minister to MPs.

In Canada, the federal government, and several provinces, have adopted laws that fix future election dates.  In Britain, the coalition government has proposed constitutional reform that would separate non-confidence votes from dissolution, the former resulting in a 14 day period to determine if a new government can be formed, the latter requiring a two-thirds vote of the House of Commons.  The Australian response has yet to be worked out.  These responses raise fundamental questions about their compatibility with the workings of parliamentary government.  In Canada, with its written constitution, the fixed election requirements have also generated a legal challenge, rejected by the Federal Court of Appeal, arising out of Prime Minister Harper’s decision in September 2008 to seek dissolution and an election well in advance of the legislated October 2009 date.  My paper considers the constitutional and political validity of these responses.  It focuses on the Canadian response with comparisons to the other jurisdictions mentioned, and asks whether the various responses are constitutionally valid, or wise, or whether a little political insecurity might be a small price to pay to ensure a vibrant parliamentary democracy.

Howard Cody, University of Maine

The Price of the ‘Peaceable Kingdom’: Can Canada Learn from Britain’s Coalition?

Canadians may continue to endure minority governments for some time to come.  Yet they still conduct minorities as unstable single-party governments that survive two years on average.  While no Canadian federal government has operated as a coalition of two parties, the British election of May 2010 resulted in a full coalition of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats with a commitment to set the next election a full five years later.  We discuss Britain’s experience and consider what Canadians might, and might not, learn from it.  Why are Canadians unwilling to undertake initiatives like Britain’s two-party coalition?  We suggest that certain features of Canada’s political culture militate against this and other institutional (such as upper house) and electoral system reforms which Britain has advanced farther than Canada.  These political culture obstacles to reform include, amongst other things, the Loyalist legacy of support for the existing order, an elite accommodation policy making model that marginalises civil society groups, a decentralised polity in which Ottawa has withdrawn from many critical responsibilities and has lost prestige with Canadians as a result, the myth of Canada as a country based on accommodation with nature that values acceptance and survival rather than innovation and experimentation, a sense of national fragility and vulnerability deriving from linguistic and other regionally fragmented identities, and the fact that federal governments led by single parties which are no longer ‘big tent’ and inclusive have weak national credentials and must proceed with caution.  The paper concludes with speculation on whether or how Britain’s experiment with coalition government can assist Canada to overcome its resistance to institutional change.





Jodie Robson,
Mar 17, 2011, 9:11 AM