By Brian Bethune - Friday, November 23, 2012 - 0 Comments
When the Second World War ended, the future of Newfoundland was not only an…
When the Second World War ended, the future of Newfoundland was not only an issue for its people, it was also a matter of considerable significance for the victorious English-speaking nations at the heart of what would be called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Newfoundland, in the British phrase, had had a very good war, taking a front-row place in the crucial Battle of the Atlantic, hosting large numbers of Allied (particularly American) servicemen and economically emerging out of the Great Depression that had seen it lose its self-rule in 1933 and become again a colony governed directly from London.
Now, a broke Britain wanted out of what it saw as a burden. Canada wanted—in its lukewarm, Mackenzie King way—to complete its 80-year-old Atlantic-to-Pacific dream and, more determinedly, to prevent outright American control of Newfoundland. And the U.S. was amenable, as long as American air bases there—as important in the nascent Cold War as they were against the Nazis—were untroubled. As far as the larger nations were concerned, then, a deal practically made itself. Trouble is, as Malone—an actor and political activist best known for the Codco TV series—points out, not only did no one really ask the Newfoundlanders what they wanted, no one wanted to take the democratic gamble of giving them a fair chance to decide. Continue…
By Paul Wells - Friday, October 21, 2011 at 8:40 AM - 5 Comments
A new book shows Sir John A. Macdonald’s politics were much like ours
History never feels like history while it’s happening. It usually feels like chaos. Like this:
“Throughout the greater part of May 1870, the Ottawa Times kept a six-column obituary of Macdonald set in type so it could be used at any time,” Richard Gwyn writes in Nation Maker, the thumping second volume of his biography of Sir John A. Macdonald. In May 1870, the new Confederation was not yet three years old. Sir John had passed a gallstone of epic proportions and he was drinking too much anyway, and the combination of the two nearly took him to his maker.
In the end he had another 21 years in him, but even if the gallstone had finished him on the spot he’d still be remembered as a veteran of countless glorious battles. Building this new country in the middle of nowhere was never an easy task. The ship of state started springing leaks almost as soon as it was launched.
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, September 26, 2011 at 10:30 AM - 19 Comments
Who said Canadian history was devoid of excitement?
Chances are you missed it, but something quite significant happened on the CBC Monday night. Indeed, I may say it was an event of some importance in the life of the nation: the historical drama John A: Birth of a Country. It is rare enough to see any Canadian history on Canadian television, and rarer still something of this quality. There have been subtler dramas, there have been more exact histories, but this is the finest historical drama to appear on the CBC since The National Dream almost 40 years ago.
Explaining the road to Confederation through the personal and political battle between Sir John A. Macdonald and George Brown, it should dispel forever a pernicious myth: that Canada’s founding, like much of its history, was a dry bit of horse-trading, devoid of interest or excitement. On the contrary, as any viewer of John A will be convinced, it was the creation of men of extraordinary passion and conviction, driven by personal ambition but guided by their own greatness toward an end much larger than themselves. The last half-hour, in particular, is simply riveting: the scene where Macdonald seeks to persuade Brown to join his cabinet—on his terms—is a study in psychological and political acuity.
That the show brings Macdonald so vividly to life (Shawn Doyle is marvellous in the part, wobbly accent notwithstanding) is an achievement, though not entirely surprising: he remains one of the richest, most colourful subjects in all of political history, a brawling, drunken, cheerfully unscrupulous rebuke to the whole “Peace, Order and Good Government” theory of Canada’s development, which has bored two generations of Canadian schoolchildren.
But we know Macdonald was great. Of much more significance is the treatment of Brown, at last restored to his true position in the historical firmament, second only to Macdonald among the Fathers of Confederation, and perhaps not even second. It is to Brown that we owe much of the design of the country: not only his famous insistence on “rep by pop,” or representation by population (apparently still a controversial idea), but the very principle of federalism, against the unitary state that was Macdonald’s dream. And it was his momentous decision to cross the floor, joining Macdonald in the grand coalition that would pursue federation with the other scattered colonies of British North America, that made the whole enterprise possible. All that we are, everything this country has become, can be traced to that supreme act of statesmanship.
Yet in popular terms at least, he remains very much the forgotten man of Canadian history. There are no highways or airports named for him, as there are for Macdonald and his Quebec lieutenant, George-Étienne Cartier. The last major biography him was J. M. Careless’s—52 years ago. He simply does not fit into the dominant, Macdonald-centred view of Canadian history as an orderly series of public works projects. He was a Victorian liberal: reform-minded, pro free trade, skeptical of government, with unfortunate (though by no means unusual for his time) views of Catholics and the French. As such he was an inconvenience, and so was made largely to disappear. With any luck, John A, and Peter Outerbridge’s doughty performance as George Brown, will begin to change that.
Good as it is, I do not see John A as an argument for public broadcasting (the question is not whether I like a particular show, but whether I can justify forcing others to pay for my pleasures; the subscription model, à la HBO, has more to recommend it, both on artistic and philosophical grounds). But if we are going to have public broadcasting, surely this is exactly the sort of thing it should be doing. Which makes it a mystery why the CBC should seem so intent on burying it. It’s bad enough that it has taken the corporation decades to produce a show on this, the single most important event in our history, but it has thus far committed only to this first instalment in what I gather was planned to be a four-part series on Macdonald’s life (drawing on Richard J. Gwyn’s shrewd biography, John A: The Man Who Made Us). For goodness sake, we’re only up to 1864: the adventure has barely begun.
What’s truly unforgiveable, however, is the lack of promotion. At a time when the network is blanketing the airwaves with ads for Battle of the Blades and other bilge, you’d think it could spare some of its PR budget for a project as important as this. Yet people working at the CBC were unaware it existed until a week ago. If the corporation were in any doubt of what it had on its hands (it shouldn’t: the producer, Bernard Zukerman, has a proven track record, as does director Jerry Ciccoritti and writer Bruce Smith) it cannot be now.
It is just too much like the CBC to turn what ought to have been a moment of triumph into a fiasco. Fortunately, there is a remedy. We’ve seen the pilot. Now green-light the rest of the series. Give it a decent time slot. And maybe tell the odd person it’s on.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 3:09 PM - 61 Comments
JJ McCullough blames the founding fathers for the Senate.
Canada is a living example of why constitution-writing is not a task to be taken lightly. The Harper government’s current efforts to carve a workable second chamber from the breathtakingly incompetent mess that the Fathers of Confederation devised nearly a century-and-a-half ago is a testament to just how intellectually uncurious and uncreative many of our nation’s supremely overrated founders were. Indeed, the entire Senate reform exercise really highlights the degree to which “Canada,” as a whole, is a fundamentally ungovernable creation under any political system except the uninspiring status quo. A country that cannot reform even its most universally reviled institution (only 5% of Canadians like the Senate as-is) is not a country that’s built on solid foundations.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 10:27 AM - 70 Comments
The B.C. Court of Appeal’s ruling on Vancouver’s Insite shooting gallery for heroin addicts makes for interesting reading. We are all so busy arguing over the merits of harm reduction, and the wisdom of the Harper government’s attempt to shut down the clinic, that it is easy to forget the big constitutional issue that was the chief concern of the court here. You would think that Canadian jurisprudence had developed a clear objective rule for settling even the trickiest “double aspect” issues, wherein both federal and provincial governments can claim that some crumb falls within their respective spheres of constitutional power.
You would, apparently, be wrong. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, November 10, 2009 at 3:51 PM - 36 Comments
The Globe confirms Jason Kenney’s plans to rewrite the educational booklet for new citizens. One assumes that in the months since Mr. Kenney first mused about this, he has taken the time to thoroughly familiarize himself with said booklet.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 12:45 PM - 44 Comments
Jason Kenney, last week. The minister said the information booklet that leads to the citizenship test has a page on recycling, but he said he doesn’t recall seeing one paragraph on Confederation.
Jason Kenney, interviewed in this week’s issue of Maclean’s. “Right now, if you look at the preparatory booklet for the test, there’s three sentences, I think, on Confederation history, and not one single sentence about Canadian military history.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at 1:54 AM - 24 Comments
The Post reports on Jason Kenney’s latest proposal for the immigration system.
The government wants to ensure that people becoming Canadian citizens have a full appreciation of the country’s values — such as rule of law and equality of men and women — as well as its symbols and institutions, he said. He said there would, for instance, be more Canadian history on applicants’ exams…
The minister said the information booklet that leads to the citizenship test has a page on recycling, but he said he doesn’t recall seeing one paragraph on Confederation.
Really, minister? Here is the booklet. Flip to page 12.
CBC once put together a quiz based on the sample questions provided. You must get 12 out of 20 to qualify. Without reading the guide, I managed a not-particularly patriotic, but still satisfactory, 13.
By Andrew Potter - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 at 10:42 AM - 0 Comments
QUEBEC – Quebec and Ontario are rebranding themselves as “Central Canada,” with plans to…
QUEBEC – Quebec and Ontario are rebranding themselves as “Central Canada,” with plans to work more closely together that include a Quebec City-to-Windsor high-speed train as a green alternative to a new Highway 401 linking the two provinces.
Other things on the agenda include lowering trade barriers, increased labour mobility, and getting more Quebec hydro power to Ontario.
So, in case anyone feels like doing anything other than following AC’s liveblog of Liberal Fascism, Canadian-style, here are Coynian talking points, open for debate:
- Like TILMA, this is further evidence not of Confederation’s success, but of its failure. Thanks to a cowardlyfederal government that refuses to exercise its legitimate constitutional powers, the economic and political integration of the country has ground to a halt and is now actually going backwards. Canada is fragmenting into its pre-Confederation constituent parts.
- This is a bad thing.