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Stephen Harper

A be-saltired buffalo <em>Picture: Graeme Murdoch</em>

A be-saltired buffalo Picture: Graeme Murdoch

By Graeme Murdoch

Saturday 2 April, +9C
To the Fox and Fiddle bar in Toronto to watch the cricket cup final from Mumbai. The bar is owned by Aravin Appa, a Sri Lankan, and the three levels are full with more than 400 India fans, the owner’s five daughters and me. No alcohol until 11am and the mood is expectant from both sides.

I have 50 bucks on India because although Sri Lanka have performed impressively in the tournament they have yet to be tested. This is it. India win and I still have most of the day left.

Later, I drive my exhibition down to University of Guelph where it will remain for a week. I install next day in the library at the College of Arts, full of students whose heads raise occasionally as my host Graeme Morton of the Centre for Scottish Studies does the introduction.

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After a brief talk, we retire to the faculty club for a drink and are joined by Dr Bruce Durie, director of Genealogy at Strathclyde University, who is guest speaker for a week and Caroline Bennett from Radio Scotland.

Sunday 3 April, +12C
Scotland Week begins. Another university, Rutgers in the US, is not as classy as Guelph in its choice of speakers. They have just paid $32,000 to a fake-tanned, large-breasted entertainer called Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi to give a talk to students about partying and tanning.

Surely this idiocy will cost the university dearly in donors’ money from the parents of students considering enrolment? Mind you, just think how much she would have charged to do a talk on, say, ancient Nova Scotia poetry.

On the same day Charlie Sheen rants in Detroit and is booed off the stage. Result!

Monday 4 April, +11C
Along to College and Ossington to check out the only Scottish pub in Toronto. Yes, I know, unbelievable: lots of phoney Irish bars but this is the real (Mac)deal. Well-kept Deuchars IPA and 80/- on draught and haggis balls for lunch. It is run by Donna Wolff fae Huntly and her husband David. Barpersons from Dundee and Paisley. Ye caanae whack it, ken.

Later, back at the hotel, I have a bottle of Innis & Gunn Original with Nicol Rennie, the brewery’s international brand manager in Canada who generously brings round a box of 24 bottles for my goodie bags. Thanks, Russell and Dougal!

The city’s doyennes of upper-class domesticity reject an offer to star in the juggernaut TV franchise Real Housewives. Classy housewives in Toronto.

Tuesday 5 April, +9C
To the Granite Club for the Scot of the Year dinner, where Aberdeen-born Robert M Buchan is toasted as he receives his award. I am guest of John B MacMillan and the Scottish Studies Foundation, and when MC Doug Gibson permits me to say a few impromptu words about looking forward as well as back I shamelessly give my exhibition a plug. It seems my comments did not fall on deaf ears, as I get a lot of back-slapping two days later at yet another Scotland Week reception.

The musical entertainment is from soprano Meredith Hall, violinist Stefanie Hutka and the dancers from the Richardson School of Dance. Grand.

Carriages back to the Sassafraz for nightcaps with Bruce Durie and friends to catch up with Janet the Diva. Don’t ask!

Wednesday 6 April, +12C
Chill time. Launch party in evening at my hotel, the brand new Holiday Inn on Carlton. The Toronto glitterati are out for free swally and excellent wee plates of food created by executive chef Chris Moreland and his team. Coconut prawns – a winner all round. The mayor Rob Ford is there and tells me of his Scottish granny. Aye, me too your mayorship. Two, in fact.

This fine hotel will be my berth of choice in future visits. It has class and the friendliest staff I have met in a long time. And the director of engineering Davy Tonner is a Glaswegian and a Sellick fan.

Friday 8 April, +14C
Fly to Calgary with excellent Air Canada and catch up with The King’s Speech, then on to Canmore with my exhibition in a big box.

Saturday 9 April, +12C
My exhibition, This Is Who We Are – Part 2, opens in the town hall in Canmore. Music, beer and dancing. All short notice, it would not have happened but for my friend Sally Garen of the Three Sisters Scottish Festival Society, a tireless toiler on behalf of Scotland and the world’s best event organiser.

We all have a great night, even the stuffed buffalo gets in party mode as I drape him in the saltire.

Monday 11 April, +5C
Sushi dinner with Sal and Dr Jennifer Considine who heads up the Canadian Friends of Scotland as well as being visiting professor at the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy at the University of Dundee. We try to avoid politics, but it is the elephant in the room.

We both want no change from our respective elections, but for different reasons. We agree that Alex Salmond is a winner, and so is Stephen Harper – although Jennifer will have to convince me next time we meet that the anticipated status quo will be good for Canada. We also agree that the cultural connections between Scotland and Canada are vigorous and beating heartily. We have plans for future enlightenment.

Canmore, I think, is my best place to be holed-up in Canada. It is the epicentre of friendliness. I will be sorry to leave tomorrow.

Cultural Connect Scotland

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Stephen Harper, prime minister of Canada <em>Picture: Remy Steinegger</em>

Stephen Harper, prime minister of Canada Picture: Remy Steinegger

By Graeme Murdoch

Day 1, Toronto, 26 March. Minus 9C.

Chilly for Perpetual Minority Man premier Stephen Harper – a man with a plan. So here we go as the first blows are landed in the fourth Canadian election in seven years, and the question on most Canadian minds is: how will this change anything?

In 1995, Liberal finance minister Paul Martin confronted the crippling federal deficit by cutting transfer payments to the provinces. This put some space between the provinces and Ottawa.

Now the widely held view is that old, white and male Ottawa is irrelevant and that the low turnout among voters aged under 25 in 2008 is expected to be lower in May. Young Canadians, particularly women and visible minorities, perceive an administration that under-represents them.

So Harper’s election strategy is to set his sights on the voters who have often eluded him: women. Oh, how we guffawed in the bar. The women electorate should reflect on how Margaret Atwood excoriated Harper in 2008 when he stated that “ordinary people” didn’t care about something called “the arts”. Harper’s take on “the arts” is a bunch of rich people gathering in salons and galas whining about their grants, Sound familiar?

Shortly after I arrived from Scotland on Thursday, I picked up a program guide to “celebrate the arts in your community”. All around greater Toronto, events like concerts by youngsters, photo exhibitions, a women’s sound circle, an art alley mural project and an opportunity to design your own environmental bag are getting city and provincial support.

So, Mr Harper, there you have your campaign’s key platforms: the arts, environment and education. Get your sleepy head round that and the women’s vote and others will surely follow.

And here are two other suggestions: dump the grey suits and get to the gym.

Graeme Murdoch is part of Cultural Connect Scotland

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