These days, it’s tough to keep it light.


Elizabeth May’s intention in her speech to the Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner on the weekend was to run with some edgy humour. She’s totally capable of it. She can be funny and she is smart. Sadly for Ms. May, it came across as all edge and no humour. Your Working Girl can empathsize with Ms. May. The distaste for what’s going on in Ottawa these days is getting deeper and more visceral for many observers. It’s hard to find anything about Parliament or its Press Gallery that’s funny. On some days—the days Your Working Girl casts her eye on the nation’s capital, at any rate—the f-word feels like her only friend.


The first time Your Working Girl got a standing ovation from a teacher was after she had read a book report out loud to the class in Grade 9. The book was 1984, a dystopian piece of speculative fiction written by George Orwell in 1949 and not very funny. Of the concepts identified by the book—political parties seeking power for power’s sake, the ruling elite being made up of 2% of the population and the omnipresent government surveillance (Big Brother)–it was the idea of doublespeak that had captured her junior high imagination.

The Ministry of Peace handled war. The Ministry of Plenty dealt with poverty, the Ministry of Love administered torture and the Ministry of Truth dealt with propaganda. As far as she remembers, her report focused on the black = white, white = black metaphor because, in her 14-year-old view, it was the doublespeak that allowed all the other indignities to prosper.

To lie is the grand manipulation. To doublespeak is a manipulation of an even grander sort.

This week, she noticed a Canada flag fluttering from the back window of the car in front of her on College Street, probably there because of something to do with hockey.

The benign nature of its two broad red stripes at the sides and a cheerful maple leaf in the middle used to leave her with a sense of being civilized and “tolerant,” one of the good guys on the planet. Sew it on your backpack, man. Who wouldn’t want to be perceived as a Canadian? We had peacekeeping, universal health care, multiculturalism, and most Canadians, to their credit, she thought, turned their noses up at the hillbilly jingoism favoured by our neighbours to the south.

But seeing the flag fluttering in the wind the other day gave rise to an entirely different feeling in Your Working Girl.

In that moment, the piece of red and white fabric became a brazen symbol of a multitude of lies boiled down to their essence. In her mind, the Canadian flag had actually morphed into the personification of doublespeak. And she hasn’t been able to shake the feeling since.

In terms of the specific lies, Your Working Girl hardly knows where to begin, but for you, Gentle Reader, she will attempt to order this sorrowful epiphany of hers in the faint hope that, somehow, something can be done to mitigate the treachery.

Canada is a country that works for peace.

  1. Canada is currently dropping bombs on Iraq and Syria. Critics say Canada’s participation in the Syrian war aids the position of tyrannical Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, a far cry from “crushing ISIL.” The war has already killed 200,000 people and forced 11 million people from their homes. That is the equivalent of the population of Ontario being on the move. The premise of our involvement in the war is to “keep Canada safe.” (The doublespeak is that it’s actually politically advantageous for Harper to keep Canada fearful.)
  1. Canada is spending hundred of millions of dollars on its military involvement in the Ukraine and Stephen Harper will truculently denounce Vladamir Putin at any opportunity. The government says that Canada’s involvement “is the best way to head off any future conflict with Russia.” Is that for real? That peace between Russia and the Ukraine depends on Canada? Or is it more about the western Ukrainian diaspora vote?
  1. In January 2015, the Harper government stuck a $15 billion deal to sell light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. It is refusing to say if there was any guarantee in the deal, a guarantee required by federal export controls when arms are destined for countries with a “persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens,” such as Saudi Arabia.

Canada is a country that cares about the environment.

  1. The government has threatened seven environmental organizations that it will strip their charitable status and is auditing many more.
  2. Canada is falling short of meeting its own targets to cut emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020.
  3. Canada is dead last among industrialized nations in a climate change performance index.


Canada is a country that protects human rights.

  1. The number of inmates being holed up—and dying—in solitary confinement in skyrocketing. The Ministry of Corrections (Punishment?) says it’s “tragic,” but plans no change.
  2. The Canadian government vindictively broke international conventions regarding child soldiers and still can’t get over Alberta Court of Appeal Justice Myra Bielby freeing Omar Khadr on May 7th saying, “our government’s priority in these matters is always to make sure – first and foremost – to keep in mind the protection and security of the Canadian population.” Refusing help to a child soldier is keeping Canada safe?
  3. The Harper Government is dismissing prison ombudsman Howard Sapers. According to the Globe and Mail, “Among a number of reports that have caused the Conservative government discomfort was Sapers’ recommendation that Omar Khadr, the former child soldier and Guantanamo detainee, be given a lower security classification in light of his exemplary prison record. His most recent annual report, delivered last October, took the government to task for reducing parole options and freeing unprepared inmates without adequate supervision.” Silencing critics is democracy in Canada today. (Black really does equal white.)

There are more examples in each category and Your Working Girl is sure you could add your own. The list is dismally long.

But let’s get back to the novel, 1984, where the dystopian world is seen through the eyes of our hero, Winston, who works at the Ministry of Truth (Propaganda) and begins to have misgivings about how his society is working. He meets Julia who works in another department in the Ministry and who also has these thoughts. They fall in love, but are ultimately are caught, tortured and betray each other, emphasizing the fruitlessness of opposition.

Throughout history, great literature has had a great knack of reflecting the mood of its time.

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” Marcellus says to Horatio in Hamlet. (Not “in Denmark,” you’ll notice. In “the state” of Denmark.)

“Heaven will direct it,” replies Horatio, suggesting it was out of their hands, their opposition fruitless.

The way it looks to this working girl right now is that even if we see “something is rotten in the state,” and if we believe opposition to it will be fruitful (two very big ifs in her mind), it will be a tough slog for Canadians to try to undo the damage that’s been done by the lying and doublespeak of the last 10 years.

It is not only our infrastructure that’s been worn down, the soul of our country has been deliberately starved, serving to divide us and to provide a more fertile garden for the politics of fear. And where is the cure for that?

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