Flag Debate in New Zealand

11 02 2010

New Zealanders are debating whether they should replace their current flag (see below)

with one that does not make a reference to Britain. A number of designs are under consideration right now, but the country’s Prime Minister has endorsed this rather sharp design:

Some New Zealanders are opposed to changing their flag.  As a recent article in the New Zealand Herald points out, the ongoing debate in New Zealand parallels the great Canadian flag debate of the 1960s. The article quotes Canadian historian Christopher Moore. You can see some great clips related to the flag debate in the CBC archives website. I particularly like the one that shows Prime Minister Lester Pearson explaining to a group of jeering members of the Royal Canadian Legion how the new flag would promote unity between the different elements of Canada’s diverse population.

The campaign for a new flag in New Zealand has been spearheaded by Lloyd Morrison, a businessman who runs a successful international company. The fact a businessperson has raised this issue is significant, because flags are important to a country’s branding. In my view, Canada’s maple-leaf flag is perfect because it emphasizes the country’s best assets: great natural resources, lots of trees, fantastic opportunities for a variety of outdoor sports, things that are central to Canada’s identity. Branding a country is really important for tourism promotion, exports, as well as selling products to domestic consumers.

Some of the most successful Canadian companies also employ the trope of nature in marketing their products. For instance, Roots Canada Ltd. sells comfortable sweatshirts emblazoned with big beavers.  Roots products are more likely to be seen on subway trains than in national parks, but they play on Canada’s perception of itself as a country in tune with nature. It may be that when Canada trashed its old flag in 1965, it was giving up the opportunity to appeal to snobbish anglophile consumers in the United States.

There is some evidence that Canada did trade on its British connection for the purposes of tourism promotion. As late at the 1970s, the Province of Ontario’s tourism slogan for the US market was “We Treat You Royally”. (In 1979, Tourism Minister Larry Grossman told the Ontario legislature that the campaign associated with this slogan had been effective).  However, I would guess that these costs of scrapping the symbols of Britishness were more than offset by the benefits of  emphasizing Canada’s distinct selling points (trees, etc). After all, in an age of cheap airfare, it doesn’t make sense for Canada to try to appeal to the anglophilia of the “Masterpiece Theatre” crowd in the United States, since they can go to England and see the real Stratford for roughly the same money as it would take to drive to the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario. People overseas view Canada as one big national park filled with beavers and the odd canoe.

The only possible way we could improve Canada’s current flag would be to change the colour scheme to green and blue, which would emphasize summertime conditions and watersports such as waterskiing, canoeing, etc. The current red-and-white colour scheme reminds people of the fall, when maple leaves turn red, and winter, when everything is covered in drifting snow. (I know that some people come to Canada to ski, but most visits are in the summer).

Have a look at Prof. Catherine Carstairs’s great journal article “Roots Nationalism: Branding English Canada Cool in the 1980s and 1990sHistoire Sociale/Social History 39, no. 77 (May 2006): 235-255. (The article is ungated).

Anyway, I wish our friends in Middle Earth New Zealand well in their search for a new flag. I hope that their government realizes that there could be real economic benefits in changing their flag. As someone who occasionally watches rugby, I like the white fern on the black background.

My Teaching This Week

7 02 2010

HIST 1407 (First-Year Canadian History Survey Course)

Lectures in this course fall into two categories: lectures on a short period of Canadian history (e.g., a decade) and lectures that trace a theme over a longer span of time. On Monday, I talked about Canada in the 1920s. I spoke about the Winnipeg General Strike, the Canadian economy,  the growth of car and radio ownership, the King-Byng affair, the Balfour Declaration, the Halibut Treaty, the Chanak Crisis, and other incidents in Canada’ s diplomatic history. I worked some material about Mackenzie King’s private life into the lecture. I also mentioned Edwards v. Canada (Attorney General), the case that led to the appointment of the first woman to the Senate in 1930.

A major theme of my lecture on Monday was the role of third parties in Canadian politics in the 1920s. I showed this “heritage minute” in lecture, which generated a debate in the class about the role of the NDP in federal politics today. (Jack Layton visited our campus last week, which was a “teachable  moment” for me).

Here are some of the pictures I found in preparing the powerpoints for my lecture.

Arthur Meighen

King and his dog Pat, 1924

King at the Imperial Conference in 1926, Fighting for Canada's Autonomy

Lord Byng, GG, and Lady Byng

King at the Canadian Legation in Washington, 1927

My lecture on Wednesday was about the history of alcohol in Canada. I spoke about whiskey traders and natives, the Canada Temperance Act, Ontario’s experiment with prohibition, smuggling,  and the influence of religion on attitudes to drinking.

Police Raid on Illegal Bar, Elk River Ontario, 1925

LCBO Store, Late 1920s

LCBO Store, 1950s

Fourth-Year Seminar on Canada in the Confederation Period

Peter J. Smith, “The Ideological Origins of Canadian Confederation” Canadian Journal of Political Science 20, no. 1 (1987): 3-29; Arthur Silver, “Confederation and Quebec” The French Canadian Idea of Confederation, 1864-1900 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997), 33-50 ;Paul Romney, chapter 7 “Confederation: the Untold Story” in Getting It Wrong: How Canadians Forgot Their Past and Imperilled Confederation (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999).

HIST 5157

In my graduate level course, we discussed Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., The Visible Hand: the Managerial Revolution in American Business (Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press, 1977); R ichard John  “Elaborations, Revisions, Dissents: Alfred D. Chandler, Jr.’s, The Visible Hand after Twenty Years,” Business History Review 71 (Summer 1997): 151-200. The students found Chandler’s book to be a difficult but rewarding read.

What Historical Research Can Do For Haiti?

25 01 2010

ActiveHistory.ca, a website devoted to the practical application of historical knowledge, has an interesting post on how history can contribute to ourstanding of the crisis in Haiti.

Globe Editorial on Prorogation

23 01 2010

Today, anti-prorogation rallies were held all over Canada.

I liked aspects of today’s editorial in the Globe about prorogation, especially the references to the struggle to achieve Responsible Government in the 1840s.

“The age-old struggle for parliamentary rights against an arbitrary governor was settled long ago. In Canada; this was exemplified in the quest by Robert Baldwin and Sir Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine for responsible government. A basic requirement for responsible government in the parliamentary system, where the executive and legislative branches are partly fused, is for the executive to be answerable for its actions to an elected legislature. But a new struggle for parliamentary rights is under way, and this time it is the prime minister who is wielding potentially autocratic powers.”

As someone who spends some of my time trying to interest young adults in the history and principle of Responsible Government, I’m very glad the paper mentioned Baldwin and LaFontaine.The Globe, which itself played an important role in Canadian constitutional history, is helping to perpetuate the memory of these men. Thank you.

That being said, I was a bit disappointed by the timidity and conservatism of the Globe‘s proposed solution to the problem of the unchecked power of Canada’s recent Prime Ministers. The Globe editorial focuses on the codification of the unwritten rules governing prorogation.  This is an excessively modest proposal and one that overlooks some of the other options for constitutional renewal that should be on the table (e.g., Swiss-style direct democracy or proportional representation or more free votes in the House of Commons).

I agree that the codifying  our unwritten constitution would be a good first step towards making Canada more democratic, but we need to go beyond tinkering with parliamentary rules if are to democratize the federal government. It seems to me that ending the democratic deficit will require a profound cultural shift away from our elitist, undemocratic, and unduly centralized political system.  For many years, and indeed, decades, the federal government has been run by a tiny clique of bureaucrats (see Don Savoie’s book on this topic).  The result has been the imposition of policies that are anathema to the wishes of the vast majority of Canadians (e.g., such unpopular policies as the abolition of capital punishment and the participation of Canadian troops in the American-led war in Afghanistan). In some cases the policies rammed down the throats of Canadians are sometimes right-wing, in other cases they are causes dear to the left. What they have in common is that they are schemes hatched by small elites and opposed by the majority.  In a true democracy, such policies would never have been imposed. Alas, Canada’s government is controlled by a tiny group of elites in Ottawa– a handful of unelected judges,  corporate shills, continentalist generals,  and, of course, the powerful denizens of the PMO.

There are many reasons why Canada’s government is less democratic and less responsive to the will of the people than, say, the government of Switzerland, but I would say that the monarchy is a big factor. Other constitutions proclaim the sovereignty of the people (e.g., “We The People”). Although governments in republics frequently flout the wishes of the people, at least there is the idea that the government exists to implement the will of the populace. Monarchies traditionally operated on very different principle, namely, the notion that the ruler was sovereign. The job of the common people, the Third Estate, was to pay taxes, to act as cannon-fodder, and to shut up. Nobody took public opinion polls because the opinions of the peasantry didn’t matter than much. 

Louis XIV

Only gradually did the common people gain a say in their governance. Of course, today’s constitutional monarchies are democracies, but there symbolic and institutional vestiges in the background that legitimize undemocratic behaviour. For one thing, Canadian government officials (judges, MPs, army officers) still swear allegiance to a foreign ruler (the Queen) rather to the people of their country. I would argue that this weakens the link between public servants and the populace and undermines the notion that public officials are the delegates, the attorneys, of the people.

In constitutional monarchies, the rulers’ contempt for the common people is evident in many subtle but important ways. For instance, in the Republic of Ireland, there was recently a referendum on the new EU constitution Lisbon Treaty. In the constitutional monarchy of Great Britian, no such referendum has been held, a small elite of 658 individuals being held to be competent to judge this important issue.

No Side Poster, 2009 Irish Referendum Campaign

If Canadians are to democratize our political system, perhaps we should start by making a symbolic break with the past by abolishing the monarchy, declaring that the people are sovereign, and then creating an elected head of state.

Interview with Kenneth Rogoff

18 01 2010

A PBS Newshour interview withKenneth Rogoff, co-author of This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “The Business Desk with Paul Solman | …“, posted with vodpod

Ronald Rudin’s New Website

18 01 2010

Ronald Rudin

Concordia University Ronald Rudin recently published Remembering and Forgetting in Acadie: A Historian’s Journey through Public Memory (University of Toronto Press, 2009).  He also constructed a website to go with the book. The website even features some pretty cool video clips of interviews taken from his NFB documentary on the Acadians.

Congrats to Prof. Rudin for the book and the website. I believe that such website are crucial in bringing the research of academic historians before a wider audience.

Sir John A. Macdonald Birthday Messages from the Canada’s Two Major Political Parties

11 01 2010

Statement from Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff on Sir John A. Macdonald Day
Published on January 11, 2010 at 12:00, Ottawa time

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff made the following statement to commemorate the birthday of Canada’s first Prime Minister:

“Today we honour the memory of the first Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald, who was born on January 11, 1815.

As one of Canada’s Fathers of Confederation, Macdonald set aside partisan differences to reform Canada’s political system, culminating in the confederation of the Province of Canada with the Maritime colonies of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in 1867.

An adept and visionary politician, he applied his love and passion for Canada towards growing and unifying our country.   Amongst his many feats was the expansion of Canada’s territory, building the Canadian Pacific Railway and founding the North-West Mounted Police.

Macdonald overcame considerable personal tragedy to leave an indelible mark on Canadian politics, with a tenure in office spanning 18 years, making him the second longest serving Prime Minister of Canada.  Even after all this time he remains the only Canadian Prime Minister to win six majority governments.

On behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada and our Parliamentary caucus, I encourage Canadians to take a moment to reflect on one of our country’s greatest historical figures and how his wise and passionate leadership helped carve out this great nation.”

Statement from Stephen Harper, Conservative Party leader, issued at 21:17, Ottawa time

“Today, Canadians are celebrating the memory and legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, whose vision and enterprise were instrumental in setting Canada on the path to becoming the country we know and love today.

“Born in Scotland on January 11, 1815, John A. Macdonald emigrated to Canada with his family when he was five years old.  His spent his early professional years as a lawyer and city alderman in Kingston, Ontario, and then as a representative in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada.  These experiences shaped his political ideas and ambitions through a long, illustrious and tumultuous career.

“He pursued his vision for a united Canada with conviction and determination, forging alliances across partisan lines and regional interests to promote and realize his national dream.  He will be forever remembered as Canada’s most distinguished public figure, enshrined as one of Canada’s Fathers of Confederation, as well as becoming our country’s first prime minister with the union of the first four provinces on July 1, 1867.

“Sir John A. Macdonald rose to meet the many challenges, professional, political and personal, that he faced in building our nation.  Along the way, `The Old Chieftan` left us a legacy of conviction, patriotism and achievement that remains an inspiration to Canadians today.”

Vapid boilerplate in both cases. I would have expected that the guy who once taught Canadian history at UBC would have had something more insightful to say.

The Economist on Canada: Criticism from Mother England Stings

8 01 2010

The Economist used to have a favourable impression of Canada. Think of the famous 2003 cover image of a cool Canadian moose wearing sunglasses. Alas, the Canadian chic is wearing thin with the London-based magazine. The sunglasses are off and the moose has been shot and carved up for meat. This week’s issue is very critical of the decision of the Harper’s government to prorogue parliament.

For Canadian reaction to the Economist‘s comments on suspension of parliament, see here, here, and here. The Economist‘s condemnation is getting a lot of press in Canada. Perhaps this is because the British magazine once condemned Paul Martin as “Mr Dithers” and endorsed Harper in 2006 and 2008. I also think that Canadians are stung by the fact a publication in Britain, which is the fountainhead of our political institutions, has suggested that the actions of our Prime Minister fly in the face of constitutional convention. Many Canadians may dimly remember from high school the part of the British North America Act 1867 that reads: “Whereas the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick have expressed their Desire to be federally united into One Dominion under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom…”

I don’t agree with the decision to prorogue parliament. However, it disturbs me that in 2010, the opinion of a British publication could carry so much weight in Canada. Is this colonial cringe?

Senate Reform

7 01 2010

Senate Chamber

The Harper Government has announced its intention to re-open the issue of Senate Reform. I have a few quick thoughts about this.

1)      The Governments of Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Manitoba, which have nearly half the country’s population, are in favour of the outright abolition of the Senate. Unicameralism seems to work well for the provinces. The last province to abolish its unelected upper house was Quebec. No province is considering reintroducing bicameralism at the provincial level. We should consider Senate abolition. Senate abolition has been discussed more or less continuously since the 1920s. Let’s act.

2)      According to the amending formula entrenched in the 1982 constitution, changing the Senate will require the consent of the provinces. What will the provinces ask for in return for going along with this?

3)      Canada’s House of Lords Senate is only one of the more objectionable parts of our constitutional inheritance from Britain. As I showed on this blog, the visit of Prince Charles prompted a great deal of discussion about the future of the monarchy in Canada. Most young Canadians think that Canada should become a republic. One could argue that changing our head of state is more important than changing the upper house. Senate reform is a largely symbolic issue, but the head of state is far more important symbolically. We don’t have pictures of the Senate on our coins. If we are going to scrap or change the Senate, maybe we should deal with the monarchy at the same time.

Update: Jeffrey Simpson has a very good article on this issue in today’s paper.

Humour Break: Japanese Whaling Ship Rams Batmobile

7 01 2010

This video doesn’t really have anything to do with Canadian history, but I can’t resist sharing it, perhaps because I like slapstick comedy. The video shows a collision between a Japanese research whaling vessel and the batmobile on water a futuristic boat owned by the Sea Shephard Society, which tries to interfere with whaling operations. What I find hilarious about this video is that the crew of the Japanese vessel continue to train water cannon on the protestors after the collision, thereby adding insult to injury.

Last week, we tried looking for whale meat in a Japanese supermarket. We couldn’t find any, which is just as well because the texture is tough. It really needs to be marinated with lime to be edible.