Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ten Canadian Songs That Americans Should Know About

Inspired by the recent release of Rolling Stone's lists, I was recently revisiting various ‘top songs’ lists, including one purporting to be the 500 greatest Canadian songs of all time. In doing so, I was struck by how many of them I took for granted as being just great rock songs. I realized that I was operating under the assumption that they would all be part of the sonic tapestry making up the backdrop to any North American’s life, just as much as monster hit songs like, say, Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’ or The Doors’ ‘Light My Fire’.

It came as a bit of a shock to realize that for my American friends – poor deprived souls – it ain’t necessarily so.

Let’s be clear here…I’m not talking about the huge Canadian post-CanCon artists who’ve become (for good or for ill) massive international artists – Celine, Avril, Alanis and Shania top the list. Nor am I talking about the Canadian rock legends who transcend international borders, having become classic citizens of the rock'n'roll world – truly legendary artists like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot and Bruce Cockburn or groundbreaking acts like The Guess Who, The Band, Rush or Steppenwolf. I’m not even thinking here about contemporary bands like Arcade Fire and Metric, who show every indication of becoming as influential as the classic rockers of a generation before.

No, what I’m thinking of here are songs that thousands of Canadians will take for granted as major musical milestones, but which may have been totally overlooked by American radio. These are songs whose absence is a real gap in the musical repertoire of my American friends – a void this article is intended to fill.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and could easily have been trebled. Instead, I’ve tried to come up with a short list that represesnts a fairly broad temporal range, from the Sixties through to the 21st Century, while at the same time covering genres from folk to pop to alternative. Some of these may be more well-known that I am currently aware, particularly to those of you living in border cities like Buffalo and Detroit (or Minot, North Dakota, for that matter!), but I hope that I have come up with a few unknown gems for you.


Those Old Emotions (1983) - The Spoons

The Spoons are so solidly cemented in my mind’s eye as part of the early 80s synth-pop wave that I was almost surprised to be reminded that they were Canadian and not part of the new British Invasion that included Talk Talk and Thomas Dolby. Their first album, Stick Figure Neighbourhood, while produced by Daniel Lanois, didn’t produce any huge hits, but their follow-up disc, Arias and Symphonies produced ‘Nova Heart’. Its success on dance floors in Canada got the Spoons a gig backing up Culture Club, which is where Nile Rodgers found them, and was moved to produce their third album, Talkback. It produced a major New Romantic hit in ‘Those Old Emotions’, and was followed shortly thereafter by ‘Romantic Traffic’.

You and Me in Mexico (1972) – Edward Bear

Named after Winnie the Pooh’s formal name, Edward Bear was made up of Toronto rockers Larry Evoy, Craig Hemming and Paul Weldon. They had monster hits and Juno wins in Canada, with several songs in reaching the Top Ten, but only the sentimental 'Last Song’ made any real dent in the U.S., selling over a million copies and hitting number three on Billboard’s Hot 100.

Northwest Passage (1981) - Stan Rogers

Named ‘Canada’s Alternate National Anthem’ by CBC’s Peter Gzowski, ‘Northwest Passage’ is possibly the nation’s greatest folk song, written and performed by the man who is arguably Canada’s greatest folk singer (sorry Stompin’ Tom). The ability of songs such as ‘Northwest Passage’ and Barrett’s Privateers to penetrate to the very core of the Canadian experience are even more remarkable given Rogers’ relatively young age – he was just 33 when he perished in an airplane fire in 1983.

New York City (1979) – The Demics

A punk anthem made into a hit by airplay on Toronto’s legendary CFNY which was then still ahead of the ‘New Music’ wave and boasted a playlist that had more in common with college radio than commercial FM. London, Ontario’s The Demics parlayed their DIY yearnings into an icon of the early punk scene that made ripples across the country, making itself felt even out on the frozen Canadian prairies where it reached me.

Falling On (2007) – Finger Eleven

I saw these guys play at Call the Office back when they were still called The Rainbow Butt Monkeys. Having a beer with them after the show, I remember thinking that they were going to be big, but I wasn’t sure if it would be “Canada big” or something more. I think I’m kind of glad that they have made it reasonably big, but not so big as to become total sellouts. It’s an agreeable fate that many mid-level Canuck bands (Our Lady Peace, Sloan, Matthew Good, The Watchmen, Moist) have managed to achieve.


The following tracks may not be totally obscure, but if you’re not familiar with any of them, I recommend you check them out:

54-40I Go Blind (1986)

Canada’s answer to Joy Division!

Teenage HeadPicture My Face (1978)

Canada’s answer to The Ramones!

Pro-Test SongSkinny Puppy (2004)

Canada’s answer to Nine Inch Nails!

Daddy Don’t KnowToronto

Holly Woods' vocals, by way of The Headpins' Darby Mills, provided the template for every hair band singer of the 1980s!

High School ConfidentialRough Trade

Carole Pope and Kevan Staples doing some pretty boundary-breaking subject matter back in the day….

Friday, October 21, 2011

McCain Family to Schneider's: Squeal Like a Piggie, Biotch

by Clifton Bertram

An object lesson in the root causes of the Occupy Wall Street movement came this week when Maple Leaf Foods, Canada’s leading consumer packaged food company, announced plans to shutter the Schneider plant in Kitchener after a presence in the community since 1886.

Over a period of more than 100 years, J.M. Schneider’s was based in Kitchener, and in that time became synonymous with quality meats. But the Courtland Avenue plant, which was built in the 1920s, was rapidly becoming outmoded and inefficient, according to Maple Leaf executives. Still the closing came as a big shock to the community, including Verne McPeake, who retired from the plant on September 1 after 43 years of service.

“I am in shock. There has been talk and rumours…it’s an old building and blah blah. But I never thought it would come to this because we have a good product.”

The loss is a bitter blow to a region still reeling from the downturn in the economy, and made worse by the current struggles being experienced by another pillar of the community’s business sector, Blackberry manufacturer Research in Motion.

Still, Maple Leaf says the historic Schneider’s brand will live on, and many of the employees will be given the opportunity to transfer to a new and modern Hamilton plant the company is constructing.

The new plant, as well as the closure of aging facilities like the historic Schneider’s operation, is all part of a Maple Leaf strategy to beef up efficiency. Despite eight consecutive quarters of increases in profitability, the meat packer has struggled to reward shareholders, who have become increasingly restless with the company’s lack of dividends. But the company’s billion dollar modernization plan has critics far beyond the Kitchener workers most affected, and provides a window into the kind of boardroom manipulations that have fuelled the Occupy Wall Street movement’s anti-corporatist agenda.

Until its takeover by Maple Leaf in 2003, J.M. Schneider’s was Canada’s second-largest packaged meat producer, and throughout that time it had been privately held, family operated in accordance with a community focused ethos. Regardless of the economic climate, Schneider’s did whatever was necessary to protect the jobs of its workers, and the well-being of the community. Layoffs were never considered an option. But the company’s attitude toward community responsibility declined sharply after the purchase, says Verne McPeake.

“It lost the family orientation. It was big business, we’re here to make money. It was all impersonal. It was a job, you came in and they paid you for it.”

The new owners, Maple Leaf Foods, were big business indeed. As part of the McCain Foods empire, the company had been operated for many years as a virtual private fiefdom by its majority shareholders, New Brunswick’s fabulously wealthy McCain family – one of Canada’s richest clans.

The McCain family has not had everything its own way in recent years, though, and it’s not only plant floor workers who are unimpressed with the company makeover and its impact on both workers and investors. Last year, the Ontario Teacher’s Pension, owner of 36% of the company’s shares, divested itself of one-third of its holdings to investment company West Face Capital, Inc., triggering a proxy battle over the wisdom of COO Michael McCain’s billion-dollar restructuring.

Michael McCain has been leading an investment program to try to plough money into that to make more money. Other shareholders look at this, and I think West Face may as well, and say there is no money to be made here, its a commodity business. You should probably just stop ploughing all this money into it and do something else with the cash.

The Toronto Globe and Mail reported last December that “Tom Dea, a partner at West Face, said in a statement that after having been “rebuffed on several occasions when we have raised these concerns with management and the board of directors, we have concluded that the board needs to hear a strong message from shareholders that the independence and governance practices of Maple Leaf do not satisfy their expectations or today’s standards of good corporate governance.”

Still, after West Face was granted two seats on Maple Leaf’s Board of Directors, its principals quietly dropped their objections to McCain’s plans – a move which ultimately left the Schneider’s Kitchener employees the losers in a game of Bay Street musical chairs where all the other participants are high-stakes Canadian establishment players: the McCain family and West Face investors like veteran Bay Street lawyer Purdy Crawford, Woodbridge Co. Ltd. chief executive officer Geoff Beattie and former Ontario Power Corp. CEO James Hankinson.

The damage that is in the process of being done to Kitchener and region by this move is just one symptom of what happens when corporations act like corporations, and not like individuals, capable of caring – and care-taking.


Author's Note: The first job I ever had was in the grocery business in a small prairie town, and the first and most important lesson I learned there was that if you look out for your customers and your employees, they will look after you. This was something that J.M. Schneider knew, but something that billionaire Michael McCain seems to have forgotten, as have many of today's balance sheet cowboy CEOs. If that weren't so true, there'd be a lot less need for anyone to Occupy Wall Street.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

On Balance - Growth vs Cuts

This marks the first in a new feature for The Incendiary Collective, where we will very intentionally (and for a change) give equal time to the Conservative POV, posting "the other side" of the issue in tandem with our usual editorial sniping. We do this not because we believe in balance and objectivity here at The Incendiary Collective (although, largely speaking, we do), but because we are confident that the Conservative positions on most issues will become even more inexplicable when expressed in their own words.

******************* columnist Toby Sanger says that not only will the anticipated slashes in federal spending be painful for those Canadians least able to cope with them, but will also be damaging for the economy.

The Harper government's June Budget is almost entirely a reprinted version of the budget they tabled two-and-a-half months ago in March. Outside of $2.2 billion for Quebec's sales tax harmonization and the elimination of federal support for political parties, there's nothing new in the budget -- and that's the problem.

While the budget includes a few positive measures, many of which were proposed by the NDP -- such as increases to GIS payments for seniors, reintroducing incentives for energy retrofits -- they are overshadowed by what's bad and what's not there.

Most troubling are the $5 billion in cuts to public services for Canadians that will pay for their over $6 billion in corporate tax cuts with much of the benefits going to highly profitable banks, finance and oil companies. When public investments provide six times as much economic boost and jobs as corporate tax cuts, this type of trade off will endanger an already faltering economy and do nothing for the many millions of Canadians out of work or struggling with their household finances.

To read more of this content at, click here.

As expected, the opposite position is occupied by the ruling Conservatives, foremost among them Finance Minister Flaherty...who says cuts are "no big deal".

"Finding $4 billion to cut from the federal government's $80 billion in program expenses is no big deal, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Tuesday.

Speaking on CBC News Network the morning after unveiling his latest budget in the House of Commons, Flaherty denied the cuts were anything like the ones he took part in while a minister in the Ontario government of Mike Harris, which touched off outrage across the province."

To read more of this content at CBC News, click here.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Tale of Dark Lord Stephen Harper and his Tar Sands Kingdom

In what is the perfect illustration of post-millenial politics, combining hacktivism with social media, Black Flood and the Yes Men coordinated a beautiful awareness campaign-slash-prank that paints Stephen Harper as the tyrannical Middle Earth evil spirit Sauron, and his cursed black land of Mordor the Alberta Tar Sands.

I wonder if that makes Jack Layton Frodo Baggins?

Top photo: The Peace Tower in Stephen Harper's Ottawa. Bottom photo: The Dark Tower in Sauron's Mordor.



Excerpt from

Travellers at Terminal 3 in the Toronto airport were astounded Tuesday morning to see Gandalf the Grey and several hobbits march their handcuffed prisoner Stephen Harper, dressed as the evil lord Sauron, into a Syncrude Ltd. recruiting meeting. They demanded that Synacrude take him back to Mordor aka the Alberta tar sands, "the hell on earth that he created."

The performance was the culmination of a series of media reports that director Peter Jackson is shooting scenes from "The Hobbit" film in the tar sands. In a press release issued today, a troupe of Toronto activists calling themselves Black Flood, working alongside the infamous pranksters of The Yes Lab, confirmed their role in the events for "the purpose of stirring up some hot and bubbly controversy on the Alberta tar sands."

It all started on Saturday when Stop Mordor appeared on Facebook demanding that the Alberta government stop the plans to use the Alberta tar sands as Mordor in the new Hobbit film. At the same time there were some tweets claiming sightings of Elijah Wood, reprising his role as Frodo Baggins, in Fort McMurray.
Using their extensive networks, the group starting pushing the news through social media. Naomi Klein, posted the first tweet

"Apex of disaster capitalism: Hobbit being filmed in Alberta, with tar sands as Mordor. G8 way to save $ on sets." Naomi's tweet was followed in minutes by famed environmental activist Bill McKibben: "Hobbits in hot tar? It sure looks like mordor. Say it ain't so." Twitter was abuzz.

Curators, scientists lose jobs in public service cuts

There's word of job cuts in the public service, just days before the Conservative government delivers its budget outlining its plan to get rid of the federal deficit.

Five curators at the National Gallery of Canada were told Wednesday that their jobs will be eliminated as part of an effort to cut costs.

Officials say it's the largest single cut of curators at the gallery in four decades. Last March, 27 other positions were eliminated through attrition.

At Environment Canada, about 50 short-term employees, including scientists and scientific support staff, will lose their jobs by the end of the month. The job cuts there don't affect any permanent employees.

To read more of this content at CTV News, click here.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

An Open Letter to Jack Layton: Now is the Time

Dear Mr Layton;

Let me extend my sincerest congratulations to you and the New Democratic Party on an historic win. An NDP official opposition is needed now more than at any time in our country's history, as we are poised upon a precipice. The direction in which we lean may determine the very future of our unique and precious nation.

Now is the time to work toward a Canada that truly represents the will of the Canadian people, in all their wonderful common sense, diversity and seeming contradictions. Now is the time to translate the values we all recognize as being at the core of our confederation - cooperation, compassion, inclusion and a respect for the dignity of all peoples - into a new path forward.

Now is the time to confirm Canada's place in the world as a truly progressive nation.

As you read this letter, I will be disappointed if you begin to discern it as a series of demands, issuing forth only one day after the federal election. I wish I could allow you an interval to enjoy the satisfaction of victory, but there's no time to waste, and to the degree that Mr Harper is also a beneficiary of your good fortune, I wish you would turn your attention to him immediately. If it makes my message any more palatable, I can assure you that these are not the words of a disappointed Liberal. In fact, I am a lifelong NDP supporter, albeit one who has at times, with regret, not been able to cast my ballot in that direction. I am one of those creatures, more common on the Canadian political lansdscape than is generally realized, a strategic voter. In particular, I am one of those who, election, voted with a clear conscience for the NDP. And yet, I am not without mixed emotions about the outcome. I suspect the results of the 'vote split' will haunt me for the next four years.

I was born in Saskatchewan in the year of the doctor's strike, the successful resolution of which paved the way for the Saskatoon Agreement. As you remember, it was that compromise by Woodrow Lloyd and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation that secured the realization of Tommy Douglas' dream of universal health care in Saskatchewan, and ultimately made possible the national system of which we are all so proud today. You may also recall that it was not implemented without cost, as many agree that it led to the defeat of the CCF at the hands of the Thatcher Liberals.

I suspect that you will be called upon to make similar difficult choices in the months and years ahead, but I submit to you that now is the time to put aside purely partisan concerns and place the very existence of a progressive coalition at the top of your list of priorities. I hope that you will begin immediately to build the kind of united front that is clearly the only lever that will enable the defeat of the Conservative regime. Now is the time to begin planning a strategy that recognizes the fact that - majority or no - the Conservatives cannot lay claim to the loyalties of the majority of Canadian voters. Their relatively unchanged share of the popular vote in this election illustrates plainly that they do not represent mainstream Canadian values regardless of how desperately they wish to depict their majority status as a mandate from the people.

Clearly, it is not. Now is the time to highlight that fact.

You've made it clear that you stand for a politics of inclusion. Now is the time to put that principle into action and work toward the dream of a government that reflects Canada's values in 2015. I think this means putting party affiliation and tradition in second place for a while. I think it requires a level of unity among progressives that we've not seen in Canada for a long, long time. Still, I trust that you are a leader who can accept this difficult task, and make the necessary choices, difficult though some of them may prove to be. And, as you know, one of the first choices you must make as the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition regards the composition of your shadow cabinet. I humbly submit to you that this choice represents a unique opportunity. Now is the time to take the first steady steps towards the united movement we all seek, by reaching across the aisle to your Liberal colleagues. I urge you to take advantage of the experience, passion, principles and organization possessed by the rump of that party in the House of Commons. Despite the severity of their party's fall, there were many fine Liberals re-elected who could significantly boost the effectiveness of your Opposition if they were asked to serve in your shadow cabinet. Now is the time to make overtures to Members of Parliament such as Justin Trudeau, Stephane Dion and, perhaps most especially, Bob Rae.

I don't know if there exists, or will ever exist, sufficient appetite within the NDP and Liberal party apparatuses to enable a formal merger. But I do know that now is the time for an innovative approach to Opposition politics. We have four years to build a machine that can defeat the Conservatives, but there is much to do, and no time to waste.

Please, start today.

Now is the time.

Resepectfully yours,

Clifton Bertram
St Thomas, Ontario

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Court Upholds Protection Law for Women, Abortion Clinics in B.C.

The B.C. Court of Appeal has dismissed a challenge to the so-called bubble-zone law aimed at protecting women's access to abortion clinics in the province.

Donald David Spratt and Gordon Stephen Watson mounted the constitutional challenge after they were convicted of violations under the Access to Abortion Services Act in August 2000.

'You don't have freedom of speech in British Columbia — that's what that means.'
— Donald David SprattSpratt and Watson were convicted because they protested within an "access zone" prohibited under the law outside a Vancouver abortion clinic. They carried signs and spoke against abortion to women entering and leaving the Everywoman's Health Centre, which first opened in 1988 and had been a continuing target of anti-abortionists.

To read more of this content at, click here.