Tag Archives: Ron Atkey
Ethical Economics: Behar-Bechukotai Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34
Ethical Economics: Behar-Bechukotai Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34
Ron Atkey will be buried today in a private family service. But a public memorial service will be held at the Metropolitan United Church on 58 Queen Street East at 11:00 a.m. this morning. I will be in attendance. I am also sure that the church will be packed, not only because he had a wide group of friends and acquaintances, but because there will be many Indochinese Canadians in attendance.
Ron was my Member of Parliament for St. Paul’s Riding during the period of the Indochinese refugee movement into Canada. He was first elected in 1972. I never voted for him, but he was an outstanding representative of our riding. He was also the Minister of Employment and Immigration in the Joe Clark cabinet in 1979. He, along with Flora Macdonald with the support of Prime Minister Joe Clark, pushed the decision through cabinet to allow the entry into Canada of 50,000 “Boat People,” refugees fleeing Indochina. He continued to be a supporter of refugee causes the rest of his life; his family has asked that donations in his honour be made to Operation Syria.
Ron was a few years younger than myself and taught law at Osgoode Hall Law School when I was a professor at York University. But I only came to know him well when we worked together to foster the private sponsorship of refugees into Canada. It was he who sent the instructions to the civil service to attend a meeting (to our surprise) on a Sunday afternoon after church in June of 1979 to introduce us to the idea of privately sponsoring refugees. That was the beginning of Operation Lifeline, the Canadian private sponsorship organization for Indochinese refugees.
Ron was a lawyer in practice at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt. He was also the first Chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee. In juxtaposition, he was also a board member of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association for years. Support for refugees, support for human rights and a commitment to Canada’s national security were for him complementary political commitments. Ron also happened to be a very accomplished musician, a humourist with a very dry wit, and a wonderful father to his children and grandchildren. A product of a very enlightened New Brunswick Tory family, he demonstrated the best and the brightest that Canada has produced and that allowed this country to become as great as it is.
Let me begin with the Haftorah portion read after the reading of the Torah. The selection is from Jeremiah at his thundering best. God is in despair. God exclaims, “I will destroy my people, for they would not turn back from their ways.” “I will bring down suddenly upon them Alarm and Terror.” And why? Mainly because they fail to keep the sabbath. On that day, they are not allowed to work.
Economics is about the days Jews are permitted to work. Does that mean that the other six days belong to a dog-eat-dog world? Does it mean a world that rewards the nasty, brutish and strong?
Not according to the Torah.
כִֽי־תִמְכְּר֤וּ מִמְכָּר֙ לַעֲמִיתֶ֔ךָ א֥וֹ קָנֹ֖ה מִיַּ֣ד עֲמִיתֶ֑ךָ אַל־תּוֹנ֖וּ אִ֥ישׁ אֶת־אָחִֽיו׃
When you sell property to your neighbour, or buy any from your neighbour, you shall not wrong one another. (Leviticus 25: 14)
Economic contracts are intended to constitute a positive sum game in which both parties benefit.
Further, if someone borrows money from you and is unable to pay, you may foreclose, but you also must use your best efforts to ensure that he or she can redeem that land and property.
כִּֽי־יָמ֣וּךְ אָחִ֔יךָ וּמָכַ֖ר מֵאֲחֻזָּת֑וֹ וּבָ֤א גֹֽאֲלוֹ֙ הַקָּרֹ֣ב אֵלָ֔יו וְגָאַ֕ל אֵ֖ת מִמְכַּ֥ר אָחִֽיו׃
If your kinsman is in straits and has to sell part of his holding, his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his kinsman has sold. (25:25)
וְאִ֕ישׁ כִּ֛י לֹ֥א יִֽהְיֶה־לּ֖וֹ גֹּאֵ֑ל וְהִשִּׂ֣יגָה יָד֔וֹ וּמָצָ֖א כְּדֵ֥י גְאֻלָּתֽוֹ׃
If a man has no one to redeem for him, but prospers and acquires enough to redeem with, (25:26)
וְחִשַּׁב֙ אֶת־שְׁנֵ֣י מִמְכָּר֔וֹ וְהֵשִׁיב֙ אֶת־הָ֣עֹדֵ֔ף לָאִ֖ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֣ר מָֽכַר־ל֑וֹ וְשָׁ֖ב לַאֲחֻזָּתֽוֹ׃
he shall compute the years since its sale, refund the difference to the man to whom he sold it, and return to his holding. (25:27)
Further, you may only accumulate wealth (then held in land and property) for a generation. The land is not yours; it belongs to God. In your life, you are merely a trustee.
וְהָאָ֗רֶץ לֹ֤א תִמָּכֵר֙ לִצְמִתֻ֔ת כִּי־לִ֖י הָאָ֑רֶץ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֧ים וְתוֹשָׁבִ֛ים אַתֶּ֖ם עִמָּדִֽי׃
But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me. (25:23)
Further, excess land acquired must be returned to the commons every fifty years. Inheritance taxes were very steep.
בִּשְׁנַ֥ת הַיּוֹבֵ֖ל הַזֹּ֑את תָּשֻׁ֕בוּ אִ֖ישׁ אֶל־אֲחֻזָּתֽוֹ׃
In this year of jubilee, each of you shall return to his holding. (25:14)
וּבְכֹ֖ל אֶ֣רֶץ אֲחֻזַּתְכֶ֑ם גְּאֻלָּ֖ה תִּתְּנ֥וּ לָאָֽרֶץ׃
Throughout the land that you hold, you must provide for the redemption of the land. (25:14)
This is a social justice ethos. Economics is not a matter of losers and winners, but striving to ensure as many as possible are winners and that when you are down you get a helping hand. This is not anti-capitalist. Private ownership is not only recognized, but encouraged. However, as practiced and organized today, our system has shown itself to be very fragile and sometimes dysfunctional. The economic crisis of 2007-08 was a case in point.
Though the causes were building up over the previous decade, this deepest and longest recession since the Great Depression was a warning, but without the thundering voice of Jeremiah that there was an underlying deeper crisis. Why? Because the economies of most of the Western world – in Europe and Japan – are just finally getting out of that dramatic downturn and posting significant growth. However, even in the pre-crash period, during a period of strong expansion, living standards for the majority had stagnated and, in some cases, even declined. And that is almost still the case even though unemployment is now very low.
Further, in Canada, in the major cities, there is now a housing bubble. The Bank of Canada is trying to ensure that the air seeps out of the bubble rather than bursts by gradually increasing interest rates both by small increases and by interspersing those increases intervals of several months to prevent a sudden shock to the system.
We are not free of crisis and dangers. Further, the inequalities between the rich and the poor, between the rich and the middle class, continue to expand exponentially. Young people, who cannot hope for a capital infusion from parents and family, begin to despair of ever purchasing a home. And overshadowing this fear is the huge anxiety about climate change and our collective failure to take care of the earth as proper and responsible trustees should.
Classical economic policies are not working. And when the most powerful leader in the world believes that he invented the expression “priming the pump,” we are in deep trouble. However, even an infusion of an economic stimulus, or a bailout package in a period of a greater crisis, is not adequate. These are only stopgap measures. Must one choose the alternative – fiscal austerity as now practiced in Greece with its corresponding political instability that follows from cutting social spending in the effort to reduce public debt. Going further and backward, the resurrection of a mercantilist system to replace our global one, of protectionist economies and mobility barriers in place of increasingly open borders with enhanced trade and human mobility to foster a free flow of goods, services and people, are steps into a backward dead end and even greater calamity.
Nor is an economy run on ethical principles the right choice, an option Karl Polanyi had proposed. However, an economic system not guided by and framed with ethics is even worse. Just war doctrine does dictate how or when wars are fought. It merely tries to civilize a horrific pattern of humans coming together in violent conflict. Ethics in economics can go further, for, unlike war, economics can be a positive sum game. Without intervening in economic fundamentals, taxation policies, inheritance restrictions and a whole host of measures can be taken to even out the odds against those in weakened positions.
This does not mean evading understanding the fundamentals of economic growth. These must be grasped. As much as we congratulated ourselves in the past for accomplishing this task, we have not done so adequately. Why is there economic inequality that continues to grow? Why do we continue to threaten the very planet that has treated us so well? Why do we elect leaders who counter the massive scientific evidence and consensus about human instigated climate change and are climate change deniers? Why do we not ensure steady if sometimes a bit bumpy economic growth alongside wealth redistribution?
With the help of Alex Zisman
1975-1978 Refugees from Cambodia and Laos
Indochinese Refugee Resettlement: Causes of the Exodus
Part II of IV: 1975-1978 Refugees from Cambodia and Laos
In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge had targeted minorities as well as intellectuals, professionals and middle class urban dwellers for extinction. Vietnam expelled its Chinese minority; the Khmer Rouge killed them. Although Pol Pot himself was of mixed Chinese and Khmer ancestry, the ethnic Chinese were targeted for extinction even though China was an ally and supporter of the Khmer Rouge in opposition to the Vietnamese government. Chinese businessmen, as in Vietnam, played a disproportionate role in the Cambodian economy as they did in the Vietnamese one, but all ethnic Chinese were branded as exploiters and moneylenders who took advantage of the Khmer people. In 1978, tens of thousands of ethnic Chinese in Cambodia were rounded up by the Khmer Rouge government ostensibly to be resettled, but were slaughtered instead. In addition to killing and expelling the Vietnamese and Chinese, Muslim Chan and other minorities that originally made up 15% of the Cambodian population were persecuted. In Kampong Cham Province alone, 40,000 Cham were killed. The Khmer Rouge government had guaranteed that Canada and Western countries were spared resettling two million Cambodian citizens by murdering the country’s own citizens.
But many escaped. In June of 1978, Bud Cullen, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, announced a plan focused to take 20 Thailand Overland Refugee (TOR) families a month in June 1978 which was an addition to the Jan. 1978 decision to take 50 Small Boat Escapee (SBE) families a month. That brought the regional commitment to 70 families a month. The 20 families were to start arriving in late 1978 after the opening of a visa office in Thailand in November 1978. This so called “metered approach”(so many families each month), small though it was, kept Canada in the game at a time when the traditional refugee advocates in Canada had no interest in the Indochinese.
The program was quickly superseded when the government decided to increase the commitment to 5,000 Indochinese in Dec. 1978 under the first Annual Refugee Plan. The Hai Hong (Nov 1978) and the Geneva consultation (Dec 1978) provided the impetus to move away from the token involvement that characterized the movement between late 1975 until October 1978. Though modest in retrospect, the commitment to 5,000 meant the beginning of substantial increase in the intake and a new commitment to the Indochinese refugees involving new government money to cover operational and settlement costs for the first time since 1975. Though Ron Atkey, Joe Clarke’s Minister of Immigration appointed in June 1979, claimed that Trudeau was reluctant to go beyond 5,000 with an election looming, the Cabinet debate and decision indicated otherwise; the Liberal government envisioned the 5,000 as a first step since it directed Cullen to report if he believed more effort was needed and to come back to Cabinet regardless in June. Ron Atkey, a Tory, thankfully, inherited and enhanced the Liberal commitment.
Overseas events influenced both the Liberal and Conservative Parties in their approach to the Indochinese refugees. On 25 December 1978, Vietnam launched a full-scale invasion of Cambodia with 150,000 troops, captured Phnom Penh and overthrew the Khmer Rouge government in just two weeks, replacing it with the Vietnamese puppet government of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea.
In the new year, the Sino-Vietnamese War ensued. Cambodia was an ally of China. China, also seeing Russian expansionism via Vietnam as its proxy, invaded Vietnam. On 6 March, after six weeks, China withdrew, declaring that their punitive mission had been achieved and that they had tickled the buttocks of the “tiger” (the USSR) without any response by the Soviet Union in spite of a mutual defence treaty signed between Hanoi and Moscow a month before the invasion. Severe concessions re the ownership of disputed islands and other border areas were extracted. China was just beginning to stretch its wings and joined the IOC in April. By November, China was re-admitted to the Olympics. Against this background of regional inter-state and domestic ethnic and economic conflicts, by June of 1979, over 200,000 refugees were waiting for resettlement in various camps in Southeast Asia and the numbers continued to grow.
In Laos, the unity government of royalists and Pathet Lao began to dissolve as the royalists saw the writing on the wall when Saigon fell and the Pathet Lao forces on the Plain of Jars began advancing westward even before Saigon fell. The royalists chose acquiescence to the inevitable and royalist politicians and royalist military officers began to desert the government and flee to Thailand, quickly followed by officials and members of the business class. A totally separate exodus took place among Hmong who had fought as CIA-backed units on the Royalist side in the Laotian civil war. With the victory of the Pathet Lao on 5 May 1975, the U.S. evacuated Hmong officers of Vang Pao from Long Tieng after the Prime Minister, Souvanna Phouma, ordered the Hmong to cooperate with the Pathet Lao. Four days after, the communists vowed to exterminate the Hmong.
3,500 leaders and their families were at serious risk of execution by the Pathet Lao. The airlift evacuation, using three American planes, but without markings and flown by civilian pilots, began on 13 May 1975 in multiple forays back and forth. However, the Americans were forced to leave many behind as the Pathet Lao closed in on 14 May ending the airlift. Then General Vang Pao led thousands of his fighters across the Mekong River into Thailand. By the end of 1975, 40,000 Hmong had reached Thailand. Eventually, as many as 200,000 Hmong went into exile there. The vast majority ended up in the US. Other Hmong fighters hid in mountains of Xianghouang Province for years, with a remnant emerging from the jungle only in 2003.
After the Pathet Lao took over the country in 1975, the conflict continued in isolated pockets. By August, when the Pathet Lao arrived in Vientiane, they entered a virtually deserted city and initially kept in place the shell of the coalition government. By 2 December 1975, this façade ended and the king abdicated. By 1977, the regime promised to hunt down “American collaborators” and their families “to the last root”. The exodus from Laos consisted of three groups, Laotians associated with the Royalist regime, Hmong refugees and ethnic Chinese originating in Laos.
By the end of 1980, 7,500 refugees, whose last country of residence had been Laos, entered Canada. 7,100 from Cambodia also arrived. These were distinct from the 59,000 individuals who came from Vietnam. About 60% of the latter were ethnic Vietnamese, the remainder Chinese or Khmer Vietnamese.
The Indochinese refugees are referred to loosely as the “Boat People” because that was the most dramatic form of flight, though those who fled by sea constituted only 75,000 of the 500,000 refugees from Indochina. Further, traveling by sea was the most risky form of escape since the UNHCR at the time estimated that 40% who fled by sea did not survive. Of 112,500 who left in mostly unseaworthy craft, 45,000 were drowned or killed. In several weeks in November 1978 alone, 350 perished and the number fleeing by boat was increasing very rapidly in the last few months of 1978. For example, the number in flight in the spring of 1978 was estimated to be 1,500; by October, 10,000 were fleeing per month and the number was expected to rise to 20,000 per month by the spring of 1979.
From 1975 to 1978, 425,000 fled to the west and 75,000 went into China. In the Fall of 1978, Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, National Director of the American Jewish Committee’s Office of Interreligious Affairs in the U.S., traveled to Southeast Asia with two other non-Jewish clergy as part of the Citizens Commission on Indochinese Refugees aided by the International Rescue Committee. At the time, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) in the United States had committed itself to take almost as many Indochinese refugees as the whole of Canada, with a target of 5% of the total admitted. In an American background memorandum entitled, “The Southeast Asian Refugees,” dated 7 December 1978, the Interreligious Citizens Commission estimated the breakdown of the 450-500,000 of Indochinese refugees from 1975 to 1978 to be:
132,000 Vietnamese after the collapse of Saigon to the U.S.
50,000 additional 1975-November 1978 to the U.S.
43,817 to France
13.347 to Australia
7,550 to Canada
665 to New Zealand
644 to Britain
225 to Italy
204 to the Netherlands
Therefore, rounded up, there were 250,000 Indochinese refugees granted asylum in the U.S. and other Western states. There were still 40,000 Indochinese refugees in transit camps in Malaysia and 136,000 in transit camps in Thailand.
In April 1978, the U.S. government was committed to admitting 15,000 per month, that is, 180,000 per year, half boat people from Vietnamese and half Cambodians and Laotians. Canada was committed to taking in only 5,000; Canada’s normal percentage would have been 36,000. Further, on 29 November 1978, U.S. Attorney General Bell announced that, by the end of April 1979, he was planning to admit an additional 21,875 Indochinese refugees, about three-quarters of them Vietnamese “boat people,” and the rest Cambodians.
In the Fall of 1978, as referred to above, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced that it would convene a meeting in Geneva on December 11-12 of more than 30 countries to seek international action on the Southeast Asian refugee problem.
To be continued: 1979-1980
Part 6 (Final) on The Indo-Chinese Refugee Private Sponsorship Program
The generation of the sixties led by New Leftists, who went on to have careers of their own and who married and settled down, became the core of the Indochinese Refugee Movement even if the forerunners were Mennonites and members of the Christian Reformed Church steeped in a strong Christian tradition of giving of oneself for another in need. In 1979-80, 499 groups were sponsored through the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Of those, 99 were non-Mennonite churches and 85 were “non-church” groups; MCC was a hospitable flag of convenience. The sixties generation made that inherited culture part of the cosmopolitan present by using their faith in themselves, their trust of others and their belief that if you just will it, whatever you will can become reality. Most of all, they used the art of networking that they had mastered in the sixties.
How else does one explain the growth of an organization within eight days, before cell phones and the internet, into a trans-Canada phenomenon with sixty-six chapters across the country? Operation Lifeline was but the most notable expression of this phenomenon. Project 4000 in Ottawa, for example, was an expression of the same phenomenon. The private sponsorship of Indochinese refugees into Canada in partnership with government initiatives is correctly viewed as the pinnacle of a humanitarian response to refugees into Canada unequalled before or since.
After the Canadian government announced its program to welcome the entry of 50,000 Indochinese refugees into Canada, the National Citizens Coalition (NCC) published two full page ads opposing the new policy. NCC is a Canadian conservative lobby group that campaigns against public services, trade unions, and favours smaller government; Canada’s current Prime Minister of Canada was once president. It is not a membership organization. It was founded in 1967 by Colin Brown backed by a small group of economic conservatives. However, in 1979 it ventured into opposing Canadian refugee policy.
The first full page ad declared that for every one refugee allowed entry, 16 more would follow sponsored by those already here. Thus, the 50,000 figure would mean 800,000 Indochinese immigrants would be moving to Canada within a few short years. The projections were a gross exaggeration stemming, in part, from using outdated and inapplicable immigration rules about family sponsorship in force after WWII. However, behind the ad were racist beliefs that an influx of a large group of Asians was unwanted based on the fear of “The Yellow Peril,” an interpretation reinforced when Colin Brown and a few others with whom he was associated were interviewed in the media and appeared on TV and radio shows to debate Ron Atkey, the Minister of Immigration.
Operation Lifeline and a large swath of the public, especially the segment involved in private sponsorship, saw nothing wrong with a significant increase in Canadians who could trace their origins to Asia. Nevertheless, this initiative, stoked by further falsehoods rooted in racial fears in Canada, could be bad for the movement and would discomfort the refugees after they arrived. The ad was disturbing both in its challenge to refugee policy and in undercutting a positive integration for newcomers. The opposition to the new Canadian Indochinese refugee policy had its first organized leadership.
At the end of the summer of 1979, the NCC sponsored a second full page ad in a number of Canadian newspapers claiming, based on a survey it had conducted and which it published, that a majority of Canadians were opposed to the policy permitting the entry of 50,000 Indochinese refugees. The survey questions were both leading and misleading and did not at all follow scientific protocols for opinion surveys. The leadership of the private sponsorship movement viewed this initiative as a real threat to the successful sponsorship and integration of the Indochinese refugees. As it turned out, although the questions were misleading and significantly exaggerated the totals opposed to the policy, a fairer secret survey, to which Operation Lifeline did not have access at the time, did indicate that a majority of Canadians opposed the Indochinese refugee program, in good part because of a latent racism in Canada.
Yet the leading sectors in Canada – professional organizations, business associations, municipal leaders, political parties without exception, most Tory cabinet members – all strongly favoured the policy, not just as policy, but as active participants in making the sponsorship program a success. Nevertheless, the private sponsorship movement saw an enormous potential for causing significant damage. Racism and anti-immigration is always a potent danger for a democracy. It stirs passions and fears and does not enhance rational debate. It is also very hard to combat, for entering the fray in public just exacerbates the fears and enhances the credibility of those stirring up those fears.
Dr. Joseph Wong, a leading figure in the private sponsorship program, who would go on to become chair of Operation Lifeline, chair of the United Way in Toronto, leader of a number of important social causes and a recipient of the Order of Canada, met with me to discuss this new challenge. We decided that we could not just fight the NCC by appearing in debates against proponents of the NCC position on the Indochinese refugee program. Nor would quiet diplomacy work behind the scenes. We needed leverage to cut off NCC support given our conviction that the financial sector, though opposed to big government, was not generally racist. In fact, given the amount of support we had received from that sector, we were convinced that generally they would be opposed to the NCC challenge to the policy. Hence, we launched what we called “Operation Intellectual Kneecapping” to cut off NCC financial support. (Why we called it “intellectual” kneecapping, I cannot recall, but it had something to do with sending a message that the effort was non-violent.)
As it turned out, Joseph Wong knew a prominent supporter and contributor to the NCC. He also knew that this individual was not a racist, but did not know whether he supported the intake of Indochinese refugees. Joseph phoned him and he agreed to meet us for breakfast at a downtown Toronto hotel at 7:00 a.m. the next day. At that breakfast, we outlined the problem. He indicated that he actively supported the private sponsorship of Indochinese refugees and was appalled that an organization that he supported financially would engage in such racist-baiting. He asked us to give him a bit of time and he would get back to us. The breakfast ended before 8:00 a.m.
At noon he phoned Joseph and informed him that he had taken care of the problem. He had called a number of his friends who helped finance the NCC and asked for permission to speak on their behalf to Colin Brown. They unanimously agreed. He then phoned Colin to say that he was calling, not only in a personal capacity, but representing the group that he had called. He told Colin that if he or the NCC published or said another thing on behalf of the NCC opposing the sponsorship of Indochinese refugees, he and his friends would not only withdraw their financial support, but he would personally phone additional financial contributors of the NCC to withdraw their support. The NCC would be destroyed.
He assured us that we would hear nothing further from the NCC on the subject. He was true to his word. Operation Intellectual Kneecapping had been a success with relatively little effort on our part. The credit goes to enlightened leadership in the business community. However, it was an example of the new reliance on networking to get things done, a method developed in the activities of the sixties.
Can we replicate what the sixties generation and others did in 1979? Are the Millennials either in a position or capable of launching a campaign to deal with over three million Syrian refugees, just to take one example?
In 2015, the Millennials (Generation Y, Generation 9/11, the Echo Boomers) are in the same position as the Sixties Generation in 1979. If the Sixties Generation matured as an influential force by 1979, when they made their distinct mark in the seventies, particularly 1979, the Millennials were born after that date. Just as the Sixties Generation included those born before the end of WWII, they were a small cohort to be followed by the largest cohort ever, Generation X, the Baby Boomers who, in turn, gave way to the Millennials.
The Millennials were predicted by the authors who coined their name to be like the GI generation that preceded the Sixties Generation, that is, civic-minded with a strong sense of responsibility both to the local and global community. And they are that as evidenced both from a few small focus groups I conducted as well as from more extensive studies, even though Jean Twenge dubbed them the Me Generation. The term only applies generally to the children of parents born here and not necessarily to the children of immigrants.
If the Sixties pioneered in breaking away from established institutions, they were rebelling; they were not, like the Millennials, detached and indifferent to parental values. On the surface, they appear to be surprisingly upbeat and hopeful in facing the future though any in-depth probing reveals them to be haunted by the impending ecological crisis that is expected to result from climate change. The shifts in employment depicted earlier where they suffer from higher levels of unemployment and far more “voluntary” and part-time and under-employment that began to emerge in the eighties has struck them with full force. In contrast, the Sixties Generation knew there were job offers around every corner. Further, the Millennials graduate with high levels of student debt – the Sixties Generation had virtually none. On top of that, the Millennials carry a far higher proportion of public debt than the Sixties Generation carried in 1979. While the Sixties Generation was characterized by their disparagement of living a life devoted to wealth accumulation, while almost half of all Baby Boomers switched that around and held wealth in high esteem, three-quarters of Millennials have turned wealth accumulation into a lofty virtue.
The most noted characteristic of Millennials is the general disinterest in politics, an activity that consumed the minds and imagination of the political leaders of the Sixties Generation. However, one of the ironies of this cohort is that while probes indicate that they are fatalistic about the world that they were born into ending in climate catastrophe, unlike the Sixties Generation, which made its prime goal ridding the world of nuclear testing and racial injustice, the Millennials despair about correcting the momentum moving the world towards disaster even while they make sporadic efforts to halt the momentum. However, in practice, most evince far less interest in engaging in environmental cleanup programs. So the small focus group I held in Victoria saw themselves as exceptions, committed to the environment, but somehow, though very sympathetic and empathetic, not committed to doing anything about the refugee crisis. Not one person in the three focus groups I ran seemed to be caught up in the current refugee crisis while showing every evidence of sympathy towards the refugees.
They were not selfish, hence I dislike the term Me Generation. They were very loyal and committed to helping members of their own cohort of friends. In some sense, they were more like a clan than individuals who populated the Sixties who were so busy breaking away from what they experienced as clannish suffocation that they had no time and interest in forming new ones. By contrast, Millennials love and remain far more attached to their helicopter parents who hovered overhead and overprotected them as they grew up. Further, instead of throwing off the social and cultural capital they inherited as the Sixties Generation did, treating most of the sophisticated artistic production esteemed by the older generation like the cargo of tea in Boston Harbour in 1774, the Millennials sometimes seem to love the cultural capital they inherited even more than their contemporary music and art.
However, they have thin skins. Criticism is regarded as negativity when they want and expect positive vibes. Further, while they carry far greater economic burdens, they do so with a sense of entitlement while the Sixties Generation experienced that beneficence but without any expectations. However, on other measures the generations are remarkably similar – wanting status and recognition, security and pleasure in their lives. Millennials have come to take for granted as givens the liberal values for which the Sixties Generation fought.
While the Sixties Generation never experienced a single major depression until they were mature adults, Millennials began with the very serious recession that contaminated the early eighties. They directly experienced the much more serious recession from 1989-1994 that struck Canada so unusually hard, but escaped the worst of the 2007 Great Recession which only sideswiped Canada. But the astronomical cost of housing and the debt they carried when they graduated has meant most cannot expect to purchase a home without parental assistance. The dream of their generation being better off than the one before has disappeared into thin air. Thus, they live with their parents for a longer period and generally have postponed the rites of passage into maturity and responsibility much longer – marriage and children for example. For they are determined to succeed in those areas and avoid the large divorce rate of the previous two generations. After all, the Sixties entered adulthood in which divorce in their parents’ generation was a rarity.
So with all these overhangs and anxieties, why would and how could anyone expect the Millennials to launch an Operation Lifeline for Syrian refugees. They bleed no less for them than the Sixties Generation, but do not feel they can afford to donate a pint of blood to the cause. Further, since far fewer attend and have affiliations with religious institutions, they lack the regularity of their churches and synagogues guiding them in their humanitarian work. Yet they volunteer more and dedicate more personal time to areas of their concern.
That is why a sponsorship model that largely removes the economic burden is preferable. When economic costs are covered by employers ready to help, this can provide a boost and enhancement so essential to a new private sponsorship model. Further, if the Sixties generation pioneered networking as a form of organization, the Millennials have mastered the techniques in their teens. They are all digital kids wired to each other through cell phones and computers like no cohort that preceded them. They are the Facebook and Twitter generation.
For a generation that feels so comfortable with the idea and expectation of responsible government, that expects as a matter of course a society governed by the rule of law rather than the rule of men, that believes that no matter how rich you are or even how poor, the middle class is the proper norm for all, for a generation that believes in pragmatism, but without a built-in set of charitable institutional practices – after all, the founders of Operation Lifeline refused by and large to institutionalize what they had created – the Millennials respond to the immediate rather than inherit deeply inculcated institutional practices. While the news of the waves of refugees in leaky boats assaulted the sensibilities of the Sixties Generation so unacquainted with an immediate connection to disasters, the Millennials are assaulted from all sides from diverse areas of the world with disaster after disaster, natural and created by humans. They accept it as an inevitable part of life rather than an exception while they get on with carrying their debts, fearing they will never have a home of their own, burdened, not just by their own personal insecurities, but by a very deep sense that climate change will destroy the world which they have inherited. More importantly, the little they do – sorting garbage or cleaning up beaches and ravines – is just far too little and far too late. Outwardly positive, inwardly they are very profound existential pessimists.
As much as I will try, as much as I may pray for it to happen, Operation Lifeline was an experience of giving belonging to its place and time and unlikely to be repeated any time soon in the same manner. But variations may. Who knows? Perhaps I am the existential pessimist, not the Millennials. In any case, the chance may only be 10%, but the effort is both necessary and beneficial.
Canada a Peaceable Kingdom in a World of Dramatic Change: Refugees 1979
Canada a Peaceable Kingdom in a World of Dramatic Change: Refugees 1979
Part 1V on The Indo-Chinese Refugee Private Sponsorship Program
In one sense, 1979 was very much like 2015, most noticeably in the number of spectacular airline crashes that took place: the American Airlines DC-10 that crashed on takeoff from O’hare Airport in Chicago killing 273 in May 1979, the collision of two Russian airliners in August killing 173, the crash of a DC-10 at the end of October in Mexico City that killed 74 and the Air New Zealand DC-10 that crashed at the end of November into Mt Erebus on Antarctica killing all 257 on board. 2015 also resemble 1979 in the number of stories of migrants fleeing on boats from Africa and drowning at sea. Otherwise, 1979 belonged to a very different world, especially in Canada, which seemed to occupy a privileged and happy Eden of its own with some exceptions, such as the train derailment in Mississauga near the end of 1979 that forced the evacuation of 200,000.
The private sponsorship of Indochinese refugees took off like a rocket in the summer of 1979. The Liberal government had committed itself to bringing in 5,000 Indochinese refugees into Canada during 1979. On 22 May of that year the government of Canada was defeated in a national election and a very young and eager Progressive Conservative Party led by Joe Clark won the election and formed a new minority government. Joe Clark at the age of 39 became Canada’s youngest Prime Minister on 4 June.
No sooner had the Conservatives come to power than they faced the question of what action to take in response to the dramatic increase in refugees fleeing Vietnam in rickety boats that were often attacked by pirates. Ron Atkey had been briefed in detail by Bud Cullen, the previous Minister of Immigration in the Liberal government, on the need to take further action. Atkey, named by Joe Clark as the Minister of Immigration, had obtained government approval to increase the total intake for 1979 to 12,000, 8,000 to be sponsored by the government and 4,000 allocated for sponsorship by the private sector. By July, the government had increased the target to 50,000, including 8,000 sponsored by the government, 21,000 additional government sponsorships on a matching basis with 21,000 to be sponsored by the private sector.
What was happening in Canada, in its cultural and political life that led the population of Canada to become so active and involved in the private sponsorship of Indochinese refugees? Before the end of the year, the Canadian private sector had surpassed the target of 21,000 sponsorships with almost 30,000. Further, the success was not only in quantity but in the successful adaptation of the refugees to Canadian life. Though Canada was a cold country, the welcome and outreach by Canadians involved in the refugee sponsorship movement was anything but.
That period in Canada was a time of dramatic political change yet unusual continuity. On 16 August 1979, former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker died but he had left a legacy of rights that infused all political parties in Canada at the time. When the short-lived Clark government was defeated in February 1980, the Liberals returned to power and they increased the total targeted intake of Indochinese refugees from 50,000 to 60,000 to ensure that the government kept its previous matching pledge.
The superficial shifting of political power did not threaten the progressive unity underneath these political changes epitomized by Bud Cullen briefing Ron Atkey in detail on the Indochinese refugee problem and the need to enhance Canada’s role. Canada was a place of calm and confidence, whatever the political shenanigans. Humanitarianism seemed to captivate the political imagination.
However, much deeper and more profound changes were underway in Southeast Asia. Following the initial Nixon initiative, the U.S. and China had exchanged diplomatic missions. On 29 January 1979, Chinese vice-premier Deng Xiaoping visited Washington. Deng would emerge subsequently as President to initiate the most substantial changes in China to move the country from a peasant economy to an industrial and trading economic power based on private ownership and entrepreneurship while the Communist Party retained a monopoly on power.
At the same time, America had begun to deal with its own failure in Vietnam. Two anti-Vietnam war movies won top honours at the 51st Academy Awards, Deer Hunter nominated nine times and winning the award for best picture, best director (Michael Cimino) and best supporting actor for Christopher Walkem, while Coming Home nominated eight times won awards for John Voigt as the best actor and Jane Fonda as the best actress as well as the award for the best original screenplay. Shortly after the awards ceremony the world experienced the release of Apocalypse Now with Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall and Martin Sheen.
During this very same period, Vietnam invaded another communist state, Cambodia, and captured Phnom Penh from the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia was an ally of China and China invaded Vietnam setting off the Sino-Vietnamese War. The People’s Republic of China withdrew its troops from Vietnam a month later, but not without eventually extracting severe concessions re the ownership of disputed islands and other border areas. China was just beginning to stretch its wings and joined the IOC in April. By November, China was re-admitted to the Olympics.
At the same time, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were on a long decline with some brief intermissions, the latter on a steep economic and political one and the former on a very gradual hardly noticeable retreat restricted to the international political arena. The year was an auspicious one for the United States, beginning with the major nuclear accident and partial meltdown at 3 Mile Island in Middletown Pennsylvania. America’s protectorates in the South Pacific were achieving independence, though they remained satraps of America under American tutelage and protection. On 1 October, the U.S. would return the Panama Canal to Panama. But the United States was also undergoing a major cultural revolution as the period of LGBT rights began, ironically, with the murder of Mayor Moscone of San Francisco and the passing of the first gay rights bill in Los Angeles. The beginning of the retreat from its self-perception as the world’s policeman went hand-in-hand with the beginning of a surrender of a macho culture that had built into it the repression not only of non-macho men who come out as gay or transsexual, but the oppression of women, especially lesbians.
While all this turmoil was underway abroad and nearby, Canada was going through very peaceful elections that produced an upset and the displacement of the long ruling Liberals with the conservatives in power. In South East Asia, Vietnam, in part in order to pay the large costs of its war, began to confiscate the wealth of its ethnic Chinese and South Vietnamese entrepreneurs, encouraging their flight while charging them a “tax” to take leaky and unseaworthy boats to escape. The North Vietnamese had evolved into a regime that stole from the rich in multiple ways and pushed the ethnic Chinese minority and subsequently Vietnamese businessmen out of the country.
In the meanwhile, though U.S. turmoil had ended in Southeast Asia, in the near east, events were not as tranquil. The year had begun with the flight of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to Egypt and the interim Bakhtiar government was soon displaced by the return of the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini from Paris, who declared an Islamic Republic on 1 April. Iran was in turmoil and that turmoil allowed OPEC over a period of three months to raise the price of oil by 30%. The Iranian government was at war with its Kurdish population; a virulent pogrom was launched against Iranian Kurds and its own non-Kurdish population as book burnings and mass executions took place over the next six months. On 4 November, 400 radical young Islamists raided and occupied the American embassy in Tehran taking many of the diplomatic personnel hostage, though some escaped to Canadian facilities. Female and black employees were soon released. Khomeini assumed absolute control and declared America to be the “Great Satan.” The U.S. responded to the provocation, not by bombing Iran to smithereens for such a provocative action, but by freezing Iranian assets and stopping the import of Iranian oil and gas. Iran reciprocated by cancelling all American contracts.
While Iran was a bubbling volcano and while a war had broken out between North and South Yemen that would continue with periodic eruptions to the present day, Israel and Egypt were forging a peace agreement that took effect on 25 April. The oil fields that Israel had seized in 1967 were returned in November and Israel transferred back the Sinai, or almost all of it. The unbelievable had happened. The most powerful state by far in the Arab world, the centre of Arab filmmaking, book publishing and intellectual creativity, had given up on its ambition of becoming the regional hegemon. Who knew then that Iran and, to some extent Turkey, would attempt to move into the vacuum left in the wake of the Egyptian retreat.
In the meanwhile, Latin American dominoes seemed to be falling into communist or fascist hands. The New Jewel Movement overthrew the Gairy dictatorship in Grenada and the Sandinistas took power in Nicaragua as dictator Anastasio Somoza fled to Miami. In El Salvador, it was another story as a military coup forced President and General Carlos Romero to flee. In contrast, in Africa things seemed to be looking up, with the emphasis on “seems”. Tanzania invaded Uganda and the mad man of Africa, President Idi Amin, fled the country. In Rhodesia, finally a black government replaced the repressive white minority and Bishop Muzorewa assumed power. Even the Congo adopted a constitution, but it, like many reforms in Africa, would prove to be mirages though everyone was pleased to see the last of Emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa in the Central African Republic, overthrown in a coup. Perhaps after Rhodesia, the most hailed event was the accession to power in Angola of José Eduardo dos Santos.
While the United States was in turmoil overseas, Britain was in lock-down mode at home. 10,000 public sector workers went on strike. The IRA violence was rising and Richard Sykes, the British ambassador to the Netherlands, was assassinated in The Hague. In late March, Airey Neave, a British parliamentarian, was killed by a car bomb outside of Westminster. As bombs were going off all across Northern Ireland, as members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary were being murdered and British soldiers were being ambushed, as the violence culminated in the assassination of Earl Mountbatten in September, Margaret Thatcher had become the first female Prime Minister of Britain after the James Callaghan government had collapsed in May. She would set off a political revolution that Britain had not seen for a century, providing a preview of what would happen when Ronald Reagan won over the incumbent Jimmy Carter who had so bungled the Iran file. To top the humiliating period the UK was going through, Sir Anthony Blunt, art advisor to the Queen, was outed as the fourth member of the Soviet spy ring. Is it any wonder that, compared to Canada’s success, Britain’s program of resettling Indochinese refugees went so badly, quite aside from the foolish decision to resettle the refugees in vacant public housing, that is, precisely in areas with very high unemployment levels.
Even though the Red Army hockey team beat the New York Rangers, the runner-up in the Stanley Cup contest, by a score of 5-2 in Madison Square Garden, by year’s end, the U.S.S.R. had made the fatal mistake that would doom the Soviet empire when at the end of the year, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, overthrew President Hafizullah Amin and seized the presidential palace in Kabul. The fall of the Soviet empire had probably already been triggered by the visit of Pope John Paul II to Poland in June. At the height of all this publicity in Canada about the Boat People and as Canada was in transition from a Liberal to a Tory government, the world seemed to be going through hell as well as growing seeds for a new future.
All that is to say is that Canada was a peaceable kingdom engaged in peripheral and irrelevant debates over whether to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as the U.S., U.S.S.R., China and France seemed to be racing each other before the Salt II test ban treaty took effect to test and explode as many nuclear weapons as each could, weapons that were useless if ever used and only of use in deterrence if they were never used. It was indeed a mad mad world and Canada seemed an island of tranquility in a global epidemic of insanity. The sign – sports. The NHL was expanding to absorb the four teams in the World Hockey Association – the Oilers, Jets, Nordiques and Whalers. On 21 May when the news o the boat people was reaching a fever pitch just two weeks before the Tories were to take power, the Montreal Canadiens beat the New York Rangers 4 games to 1 to clinch the Stanley Cup. It was great time to be a Canadian and a relatively easy time for a Canadian to be a humanitarian.