Senator Hugh Segal on George Brown and Confederation

10 10 2009

In this video, Tory Senator Hugh Segal speaks about George Brown’s role in Confederation. The video was shot near the Château Laurier on Canada Day. I thought that I would post this video because Christopher Moore is currently “live blogging” the Quebec Conference of 1864.





McCord Museum Video on Confederation

6 10 2009

McGill University historian Brian Young was the historical consultant for this video. The video does a good job of explaining the causes and results of Confederation.





Stephen Harper on Colonialism in 2006

5 10 2009

Harper changed his mind on colonialism.

I recently posted about the controversy surrounded Stephen Harper’s  declaration in Pittsburgh that Canada had no history of colonialism. Harper’s remarks clearly imply that colonialism is a bad thing, which is the mainstream view, at least among most small-l liberals.

In the 2006 speech quoted below, Stephen Harper praised the British Empire and associated himself with the “unfashionable” view that colonialism could be a good thing. Comparing this speech with Mr Harper’s more recent remarks shows the extent to which he and his party have moved to the political centre since 2006. Harper regarded colonialism as essentially good in 2006, but as a bad thing in 2009.

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Address by the Prime Minister at the Canada-UK Chamber of Commerce

14 July 2006
London, UK

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is actually my first speech to a business audience outside Canada since becoming Prime Minister. And it is only fitting that it’s to your distinguished organization. Because the Canada-UK Chamber has been promoting commerce between our nations for almost 90 years. And because the business relationship between our countries dates back to the very founding of Canada.
In fact, for two centuries prior to our confederation in 1867, much of Canada was effectively owned, operated and governed under the red ensign of a London-based corporation, the mighty Hudson’s Bay Company. Our co-sponsor tonight, the Canada Club, owes its founding in 1810 to the fur traders of the North-West Company, the main rival and eventual partner of the HBC.

Still, business is but one aspect of our combined history.That history is built by layer upon layer of common experiences, shared values and ancient family ties. In my own case, the Harper family traces its known forefathers back to the northern England and southern Scotland of the 1600s. But a far greater orator than I – or any Harper of the past 400 years – once described Canada-U.K. relations this way:
The ties which join [Canada] to the mother country are more flexible than elastic, stronger than steel and tenser than any material known to science. Canada bridges the gap between the old world and the new, and reunites the world with a new bond of comradeship.

The speaker, as you might have guessed, was the incomparable Winston Churchill. The occasion was a speech in Ottawa in 1929, part of a cross-country tour of what he called “the Great Dominion.” He gave 16 speeches in 9 cities.  Every one of them was delivered to sold-out rooms and repeated standing ovations. On that same tour, Mr. Churchill reminded Canadians of what they owed to Britain. At the heart of our relationship, he said: “is the golden circle of the Crown which links us all together with the majestic past that takes us back to the Tudors, the Plantagenets, the Magna Carta, habeas corpus, petition of rights, and English common law…all those massive stepping stones which the people of the British race shaped and forged to the joy, and peace, and glory of mankind.”

How right he was.

Britain gave Canada all that – and much more.
Including: Parliamentary democracy; A commitment to basic freedoms; The industrial revolution; and
The entrepreneurial spirit and free market economy. Not to mention Shakespeare, Dickens, Kipling, Lewis, and Chesterton.

Of course, we haven’t accepted all of our inheritance from Britain.  The take-up rates on rugby and association football are certainly not as high as ice hockey. And Canadians remain utterly baffled by cricket.

But seriously and truthfully, much of what Canada is today we can trace to our origins as a colony of the British Empire. Now I know it’s unfashionable to refer to colonialism in anything other than negative terms. And certainly, no part of the world is unscarred by the excesses of empires. But in the Canadian context, the actions of the British Empire were largely benign and occasionally brilliant. The magnanimous provisions of the Quebec Act of 1774 ensured the survival of the French language and culture in Canada – to the everlasting benefit of our country. And the treaties negotiated with the Aboriginal inhabitants of our country, while far from perfect, were some of the fairest and most generous of the period. This genius for governance shown by the mother country at the time no doubt explains in part why Canada’s path to independence was so long, patient and peaceful. And it explains why your Queen is still our Queen, and why our “bond of comradeship” remains as sturdy today as it was in Mr. Churchill’s time.

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Here are some links to new media items regarding the colonialism controversy.

Aaron Wherry, Maclean’s.

Colleen Simard, Winnipeg Free Press.

Le Monde, Paris.

Vancouver Sun.

Update:

The Western Standard, a far-right publication based in Alberta, has published some thoughts on the Harper-colonialism controversy.






Canada’s History of Colonialism

2 10 2009
First Nations, 1870

First Nations, 1870

Native Groups have called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to apologize for saying that Canada has “no history of colonialism”.  (Also see here, here, and here). Harper made these remarks at the G20 in Pittsburgh, a recent gathering of the leaders of developed (G7) and emerging economies (including China, India, and Brazil). You can watch Mr Harper’s statement in Pittsburgh here.

First Nations groups say that Harper’s statement overlooks Canada’s long history of domestic colonialism. They have also said that Harper’s “colonialism denial” is incompatible with his recent apology for the residential schools and efforts to engage with aboriginals.

I can certainly see the point that Mr Harper was trying to make. Unlike Britain, the United States, France, and some of the other industrialized countries, Canada never had overseas colonies. The fact that Canada never had a colonial empire does colour the way in which former European colonies, such as India and Singapore, see us. We don’t have the baggage that the other major western countries do.  However, in equating “colonialism” with having overseas colonies in the tropics, Mr Harper may have been making a common mistake, the “saltwater fallacy” that says that if you colonize a territory that is connected to you by land, you aren’t a colonialist. By this definition, Russia and China would not be considered “colonialist” powers, since they colonized contiguous territories, Siberia and Tibet respectively.

Colonialism involved seizing overseas territories in what is commonly called the Third World. But colonialism can also be about the Fourth World, the indigenous communities that live within the borders of industrialized countries such as Canada, Australia, Sweden, and the United States.

Both sides in the debate generated by Mr Harper’s colonialism remark have made excellent points. One hopes that this debate will help to increase the public’s interest in Canadian history.

The image above is from Library and Archives Canada and is the public domain.





Canada’s Constitution

30 09 2009
British North America Act

British North America Act

Does Canada have a written constitution? According to a recent article in the American Political Science Review by James Fink, Canada’s constitution is entirely customary or unwritten. As political scientist Janet Ajzenstat points out, Canada has a written constitution.

I would add, however, that the unwritten parts of the Canadian constitution are more important than the written documents. This is probably what Fink meant to say.





Ned Franks on History of Minority Parliaments in Canada

29 09 2009

Ned Franks, Queen’s University political scientist, talks about the history of minority parliaments in Canada on TVOntario’s Agenda. Steve Paikin was, as always, a superb interviewer.





Article in Guardian About Ignatieff

2 06 2009

Yesterday’s Guardian carried a piece by Michael White comparing current Canadian and British politics. It is rare to find an article that comments on both the UK MP expenses row and the Tory attack ads.

If only Ignatieff had a moat that needed cleaning, that would make for a great attack ad.