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Howard Anglin: Trudeau’s teens aren’t on TikTok. Maybe he should ban it altogether

Commentary

The saintly editors here at The Hub have agreed to my request to produce one of my two monthly articles for the site as a monthly transatlantic diary. For those readers not familiar with the format, which is more common in British journalism, the diary is a grab bag of short items, sometimes on a common theme, but often not. In my case, what they have in common is that they are either too inconsequential to merit a full article or I can’t be bothered to come up with more than a knee-jerk reaction or a flip comment. This is March.

March

Even more than usual, Swinburne’s ode to the month of March reads like a mockery of his own style. Straining for musicality, he calls it the season when “sunshine quenches the snowshine.” I wish someone had told that to Ottawa, which I visited for the second time in two months this March. There was a little sunshine, but its effect on the snow was, if possible, even less poetic than Swinburne’s description. The slow emergence of winter’s detritus from beneath the receding snowdrifts added squalid texture to the usual grey dereliction. Ottawa in March looks like an archaeological dig in a dustbin.

***

I visited the National Gallery on both trips. Like so much of Safdie’s work, the building already looks blandly dated, but I enjoy spending time inside. The European collection contains a few gems—some favourites this month were Poussin’s vivid Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus, Jan Lievans’ sallow, sagging, and utterly defeated Job, and a Bronzino portrait of Pierantonio Brandini—but for the most part it is second class works by first-class artists and first-class works by second class artists. The major attraction is that, unlike most art museums, it is blessedly empty. It is a genuine pleasure to wander the nearly empty galleries, unharried by foreign tour groups or pouting, posing Gen Zers. The Canadian collection is deeper and more comprehensive, but almost equally unattended, and the curators have done a good job presenting it thoughtfully and occasionally imaginatively, as in the juxtaposition of old and new curatorial styles in the Ash K Prakash Gallery. It really is a lovely way to spend a few hours. I just hope people don’t start going.

On my second visit, I took in an exhibition titled “Uninvited:  Canadian Women Artists in the Modern Moment.” I long ago learned to avoid the curatorial agitprop that accompanies most new exhibitions, and a glance at a few of the descriptive panels confirmed that this one was no different. Racism, social justice, exclusion, marginality: all the boxes were duly checked. The introductory panel earnestly explained how, unlike the “all-male painting collective, the Group of Seven,” Canadian women artists of the 1920s and 1930s didn’t go in for “dramatic and sensuously painted unpeopled landscapes.”

Except, as far as I could tell from the several dramatic and sensuous landscapes included in the exhibition, when they did. Most of the exhibition’s paintings could be hung comfortably next to the works of contemporary male painters and would be indistinguishable on the basis of sex. Emily Carr, whose works fill the last room of the exhibition, actually did show alongside Edwin Holgate and A.Y. Jackson in the old National Gallery in 1927, and Lawren Harris once told her that “you are one of us.” Her paintings are a reminder that the glib reductionism of the curators’ text wilts in the face of vital genius. 

***

My second trip to Ottawa also coincided with the visit of U.S. President Joe Biden. I will leave it to others (and to myself, elsewhere) to comment on the trip’s highlights, but what caught my ear was Trudeau’s unscripted response when he was asked in the press conference whether he is comfortable with his children using TikTok. After some throat-clearing talking points, Trudeau went actually answered the reporter’s question: “I am obviously concerned with their privacy and their security, which is why I am glad that on their phones that happen to be issued by the government, they no longer access TikTok.” It’s not a bad answer, but it prompts the further question: why did he allow his children to access a Chinese surveillance and cultural disruption project in the first place? And why, given that the ChiComs are betting that teenage want is stronger than parental will, doesn’t he give all Canadian parents a similar excuse to do the right thing by banning the app outright, or at least making it inaccessible to children? 

***

Back in Oxford, I find I the city council is still facing outrage over its plan to make Oxford a “15-minute city.” The controversy has generated enough heat that I was even asked about it in Ottawa. I must admit, I only knew what I’d read on Twitter (before I gave it up for Lent), so I was hazy on the details. After a little digging, it turns out I am one of the many people who has confused two separate ideas: one, the idea of a “15-minute city” and the other, a plan for “low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs),” which are just the next step in Oxford’s long-running campaign against drivers. The confusion is understandable, considering the council seems to be deliberating conflating the two ideas in a single plan. Nor does it help when the council tries to reassure us that the LTN plan won’t physically stop residents from moving around—it will just monitor our movements by camera(!) to make sure we don’t exceed our 100 government-approved car trips each year(!!). I wonder where anyone ever got the idea that this was an Orwellian scheme. 

I am all for mixed-use urban planning that ends the sort of modern housing developments where you have to get in a car every time you run out of milk or want an evening drink. Ideally no one would have to travel more than a few blocks for groceries, schools, church, dinner out, or even work. Not everyone can live such an ideal life, of course, but if the 15-minute city plan is really just about re-designing cities to return to a mixed-use model of neighbourhood in which most people have no need to travel more than 15 minutes, then count me in. But if your plan includes state-rationed mobility permits and digital surveillance to track our movements, then bring on the fiery protests.

Malcolm Jolley: ‘Drugs for plants’: The cutting-edge science to save Canadian wine from climate change

Commentary

Jim Willwerth is a biologist at the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University. He studies grape vines, and specifically the ones that grow near the institute in the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario. He has some ideas about how climate change is affecting the Canadian wine industry.

The Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute in St. Catharines, like its Western Canadian analogue, the University of British Columbia Wine Research Centre at Kelowna, was set up in the 1990s to focus Canadian research on Canadian growing conditions. Inniskillin winery founders and Canadian wine pioneers Karl Kaiser and Donald Ziraldo were leaders in its establishment.

Before CCOVI, Niagara vintners relied on research from long-established institutions like UC Davis in Northern California or L’Institut Agro Montpellier in the south of France. Three decades on, CCOVI academics like Willwerth, who is also a teaching professor of biological science, engage in both what he calls the “fundamental research of what’s going on in the vine” as well as “applied research with direct results for the Canadian wine industry.

Willwerth came to my attention recently when I was tipped off to a YouTube video of a talk he gave for the 2023 CCOVI Lecture Series. The title of the lecture is a little dry: “Improving resiliency in grapevines to avoid freeze damage in a changing climate”. But the content is interesting because it offers a well-educated guess at what Canadian wine might look like in 10, 20, or 30 years from now.

I spoke to Willwerth last week on Zoom, and he explained his expertise lies in cold climate vine hardiness. “When I was originally hired at Brock,” he explained, “my mandate was to try and improve and optimize cold hardiness in vinifera vines.” Vinifera, or fine wine, vines are thought to have originated around the Black Sea and proliferated most successfully around the Mediterranean Basin. There’s lots of work to do to see how they adapt to Canadian winters.

The problem with Willwerth’s original mandate is the problem grape growers around the world are struggling with: climate change and increasingly warm average temperatures. Willwerth realized that many of the aspects of viticulture that he was studying and monitoring in Niagara vineyards, like the selection of clones or rootstocks, were applicable to defending vines from climate change and weird weather events.

Since the shift to vinifera grapes in the Niagara wine industry in the 1970s and ’80s, a number of varieties, like Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Gamay, have established themselves as calling cards to the region. Willwerth makes a comparison with Bordeaux, where he notes consumers expect the wines to be made from the five dominant grapes, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the leading positions.

“You don’t want to make Bordeaux with Syrah,” he jokes, making the point that replanting with warmer weather grapes isn’t a popular or viable option with producers or consumers alike. So, ways to adapt to climate change that preserve the vineyard mix as it has evolved to date, like rootstocks and clones, are of key importance. Vermentino isn’t going to replace Riesling on the Beamsville Bench.

Willwerth explained that while the EU is rushing to fund projects to research how traditionally grown grape varieties can be made to adapt to the new climate reality, it’s important that Canadian research be tailored to Canadian conditions. “We know we have a changing climate, and we know we’re going to have more extremes, so we better be ready for it,” he says.

In cool climates, the greatest threat to vinifera vines is an early thaw and spell of warm weather followed by a freeze. The danger is that the plant will come out of winter dormancy and grow buds. Those buds which would have matured into grapes will be lost with the return of cold weather, and a year of production with it.

This is where Willwerth’s work gets particularly interesting: his research on “drugs for plants”. Willwerth is studying the effects of spraying abscisic acid on vines to keep them in a state of dormancy until the beginning of a continuous growing season.

But isn’t spraying things on plants bad? I asked Willwerth if consumers should be concerned about abscisic acid. “No,” he replied, “there’s no concern at all because it’s a naturally occurring hormone in the plant, and if anything abscisic acid may have health benefits to it.” After stressing he is not a (human) health expert he referenced some research that suggested it may be beneficial in controlling diabetes.

It turns out abscisic acid might be a perfectly Canadian solution to a Canadian wine problem. Willwerth explained that the plant hormone is found in some of the highest concentrations in Maple syrup and wild blueberries.

If the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute was founded with the idea that Canadian wine industry challenges ought to be met with Canadian-focused research, Willwerth is pleased to be in the middle of it. He said, “We have very unique conditions here,” adding, “if you can grow grapes here, you can grow grapes anywhere in the world; we have mildew pressure, cold winters, we can have drought, torrential rains during harvest, we can have everything.”

Willwerth sees a parallel between his work at CCOVI and that of the wine growers and makers he collaborates with. Just as wine itself is an expression of terroir, of the place it’s made, so is his science.