Vimy Ridge Day

9 04 2010

Today was Vimy Ridge Day in Ottawa. See here. Vimy Ridge Day was established in 2003 by the federal government to remember the Canadians who got killed fighting in the First World War. Vimy Ridge Day was the brain child of Brent J. St. Denis, who was then the MP for the Northern Ontario riding of Algoma-Manitoulin. Today’s ceremony got extra attention because the last Canadian veteran of the war died recently.

As someone who researches the history of Anglo-Canadian relations, I’m mildly interested in the social history of the First World War in Canada. I was struck by the fact that none of the speakers at today’s ceremony, not even the Queen’s official representative in Canada(!), could bring themselves to mention the “British Empire.” That’s right, the name of the entity for which the Canadians were fighting went totally unmentioned. This is the elephant in the room nobody can bring him/herself to mention. Instead, there were anachronistic statements to the effect that the Canadians who fought in the war were fighting either for Canada or for the “international community”.

The silence on the British Empire is deafening. I bet nobody mentioned the Conscription Crisis either. Wasted opportunity to educate the public on a bit of history.

For the record, let me state that I’m glad the British Empire no longer exists. It is likely that the British decision to get involved in the First World War accelerated the demise of the British Empire and its break-up into a number of successor states in various part of the world, of which the modern nation of Canada is but one. That being said, I think that the British Empire was an important part of Canada’s history and our public leaders should not be ashamed to mention it. For Canadians, the legacy of the British Empire was pretty mixed. The old Empire was probably not as bad some left-wing historians suggest nor as good as Niall Ferguson argues. But regardless of whether it was good or bad entity, it was an important part of the Canadian story and should not be ignored. As someone with a passionate belief in historical accuracy, it is offends me when the past is distorted through such a bizarre omission. What would we think of a text on Italian history that didn’t mention the Roman Empire. The difference is that the Roman Empire was long ago, whereas the British Empire is still part of living memory (just barely though).

My reading of the situation is this. Canada today likes to think of itself as a tolerant, multicultural nation. We also have large numbers of immigrants from countries where the words “British Empire” evoke a visceral and very negative reaction. Many Canadians admire the other people who helped to overthrow British rule in their part of the world. (My university has a statue of Gandhi). All of  this means that inconvenient truths such as the fact that the First World War was divisive, that Quebeckers and many others hated conscription, that Anglo-Canadians once loved the British Empire, and that British immigrants outnumbered native-born Canadians at Vimy Ridge go totally unmentioned.

Michael Ignatieff, the leader of the Liberal Party and a former historian, was present at today’s ceremony. It is too bad that his current position does not allow him to say something interesting/truthful about Vimy Ridge.

Ignatieff, 9 April 2010

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.

Ignatieff on the Monarchy

4 11 2009

An opinion piece on the monarchy that Michael Ignatieff published in The Observer in 1992 has surfaced.  Some people are interpreting this article as evidence that Ignatieff supported the idea that Britain should become a republic.  (See here). The article, in true Ignatieff fashion, avoids making a clear statement on whether the monarchy should be abolished, although it does criticizes aspects of the British monarchy as it then existed. As far as we can tell, Ignatieff appears to have been calling for a more Scandinavian-style monarchy. Either way, I don’t think Canadians will care about what Ignatieff said in a British debate nearly twenty years ago.

The sad thing is that Michael Ignatieff is unwilling to take a stand on this issue as it relates to Canada in 2009. If he championed the cause of republicanism, he might boost his popularity, since most Canadians favoured getting rid of the monarchy. The silence of the NDP on the issue of the monarchy is also deafening. Even though the majority of Canadians want us to become a republic, the leaders of the three federalist parties are too cowardly to broach this issue.

The royal visit has generated some discussion in the media about the future of the monarchy in Canada. See:

Lawrence Martin in the Globe and Mail

Heather Mallick in the Guardian

Claire Hoy in the Orangeville Citizen

Andrew Duffy in the National Post (see also here)

(I will add new links as they appear)

More About Nortel, RIM, and Canadian Economic Nationalism

28 07 2009

The Ontario government and the Official Opposition have sided with Jim Balsilie in his fight to acquire the wireless assets of Nortel networks. The leader of the Liberal Party, the usually somnolent Michael Ignatieff has roused himself and sent an open letter to Prime Minister Harper requesting that the federal government investigate that possibility of blocking the pending sale of Nortel’s wireless division to Swedish electronics giant Ericsson.

David Olive of the Toronto Star has provided ten reasons why the government should keep Nortel’s wireless assets in Canadian hands.

Dwight Duncan, Ontario’s finance minister, was interviewed about this issue (see here). I must say that Duncan’s performance in this interview was rather poor: he was unable to answer basic factual questions.

Conservative Industry Minister Tony Clement has said that he has not ruled out intervening in the deal. For its part, Ericsson says that it is confident the deal will be approved. Perhaps this is because Clement has shown in the past that he is (generally) lothe to intervene in foreign takeovers of Canadian firms.  Theo Peridis, professor of strategic management and international business at York University’s Schulich School of Business, notes that there is ample precedent for allowing Ericsson to take over Nortel. He says: “When you allow (miners) Inco, Falconbridge and Alcan – which are real icons and the wealth of Canada in terms of natural resources – to go into foreign hands, it’s very hard to make an about-face on Nortel.”

Check out this video slideshow on history of Nortel.

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.