Wednesday, September 23, 2020

History of abolishing the monarchy


The government of Barbados  -- an independent country since 1966 -- has announced it will move forward with plans to abolish the monarchy and replace Queen Elizabeth II with a Bajan head of state:

Barbados has decided to press ahead with long-running plans to remove the Queen as head of state, prompting speculation that other Caribbean islands may follow suit in the wake of the Windrush scandal* and the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Barbados said it intended to become a republic by November 2021. The move requires a two-thirds majority in parliament, and there are no plans to have a referendum, something that is not required in the constitution but had been previously proposed.

News reports do not dwell on how Barbados will choose its head of state in its new republican mode.

There are Canadian experts who have declared it is impossible to abolish the monarchy in Canada, because the Crown is so inextricably bound into the Canadian constitutional system. I guess Barbados's legal drafters must be a lot smarter than ours. They seem to foresee no great difficulty.

It is true that the Canadian federal system would create complexities in abolition that a unitary state like Barbados does not face. Unanimous consent from the provincial and federal parliaments would be required, for one thing.  But with political agreement secured, the processes should not be insuperably difficult.   

* The Windrush scandal arose from the British government's 2018 declaration that British subjects from the Caribbean who had settled in Britain -- as far back as the voyage of the Empire Windrush in 1948 -- were actually not British citizens and could be denied benefits of citizenship and even deported back to the Caribbean.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Peter Waite, historian, 1922-2020 RIP


The Globe and Mail has an elegant obituary by Alison Lawlor of Peter Waite, historian, professor, war veteran, and bon vivant, who died recently at the great age of 98.

He was a lovely man. I did not know him well, but we were co-authors of the Illustrated History of Canada and he was always a pleasure to meet. I interviewed him by telephone in 2012 for a Canada's History profile. He was ninety, and already living in long term care, but the last thing he said in that conversation was that I should drop in next time I was in Halifax. I know he would have offered a drink, more lively conversation, and who knows, maybe a walk around town. 

Click to continue reading: it's the profile I wrote then. 

Prize Watch: The Donner goes all "build that pipeline."


Last week Dennis McConaghy was announced the winner of the 2019/20 Donner Prize, given annually for the best book on Canadian Public Policy, for his book Breakdown: The Pipeline Debate and the Threat to Canada's Future.  The prize is $50,000.

McConachy is a former senior executive with TransCanada Pipelines. The Donner jury describes his book as an outline of "several pragmatic strategies that can be used to reduce or remove the bottleneck to move large infrastructure projects forward (or create earlier certainty that they should not) so that investment (domestic and foreign) will be attracted to Canada" -- which makes it sound like a marketing program more than a public policy study. (But I have not read the book.) 

The award citation says Breakdown is a "necessary contribution to the discussion of the perspectives of Albertans and of resource developers generally. The book is well researched, balanced and outlines several pragmatic strategies."  (Italics added.)

Shortlisted titles were Empty Planet by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson, Living With China by Wendy Dobson, The Wealth of First Nations by Thomas Flanagan, and The Tangled Garden: A Canadian Cultural Manifesto for the Digital Age by Richard Stursberg with Stephen Armstrong.

   

 

Friday, September 18, 2020

This Century at Canada's History

 


The October-November Canada's History, now reaching subscribers, marks one hundred years of continuous publication as The Beaver (the first ninety years) and Canada's History. This issue is a celebration. Editor Mark Reid and his team provide a retrospective, along with a wealth of photography from the magazine's remarkable picture collection.  

I particularly appreciate Nelle Oosterom's review of the magazine's thirteen editors and the kinds of magazine each produced. Oosterom notes that Alice MacKay, the first female editor (in 1938) "identified the magazine's few female contributors by their own names," but after MacKay left, contributor Maud Watt once more became "Mrs. J.S.C. Watt."  Nice to see note of Christopher Dafoe (who recruited me as a contributor, at the urging of then board member Michael Bliss), Annalee Greenberg, and other names from my own past as well as the magazine's.  

Having contributed close to two hundred pieces to both titles over more than twenty-five percent of that century (and six editors), I do feel the glow of a little reflected glory -- plus  of course gratitude for all the opportunities to write about many Canadian historians and many surprising corners of Canadian history. And for an ongoing supply of small cheques, too.

Monday, September 14, 2020

History of Chinese British Columbians


The Ormsby Review, named for pioneering historian and UBC professor Margaret Ormsby, is a remarkable and comprehensive online review of more British Columbia books than you ever imagined existing -- the west coast publishing market is lively.  It covers fiction, poetry, politics, memoir and much else, as well as a lot of local and west coast history.

Recently reviewer May Q Wong took note of Journeys of Hope: Challenging Discrimination & Building on Vancouver Chinatown’s Legacies, by Henry Yu; edited by Sarah Ling, Szu Shen, and Baldwin Wong.

The book does three things: it tells succinctly the story of the early Chinese immigrants, their fight for equality and justice, and their role in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Canada; shows how the City of Vancouver, since its incorporation in 1886 until the 1970s, used legislated as well implicit tactics to support white supremacy, which highlights the significance of an apology; and it introduces steps for reconciliation and to gain a UNECSO designation of World Heritage Site for Chinatown.

Printed in English and traditional Chinese, the book is extensively illustrated and distributed by the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

History of Miss Canadian History



Sometimes I fear Active History has drifted a bit from its mission  -  "a website that connects the work of historians with the wider public and the importance of the past to current events."  Some days it does look more like pieces by post-docs that only other post-docs could love (not that there isn't an audience for that). 

But then there's a piece like Donald Wright's recent multi-layered piece on the many meanings of the Centenary Series, and how it was promoted by a "Miss Canadian History" whose place in the story is much more complicated than you might think.

That's Professor Donald Creighton, Professor Gerald Craig, Professor W.L. Morton and ... well, you should read the article.

Photo Credit:  Norman James/Toronto Star, TPL Baldwin Collection, tspa_0055574f by way of Active History.

 

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

New France at the Tour de France

 

Brouage -- as the Tour helicopters saw it

It looked like New France day at the Tour de France yesterday. Not that anyone on the Tour knew or cared, but at least one viewer noticed. (Actually, it reminded me of hitchhiking through this area a long time ago.)

Racing along the southwestern coast of the country from Ile d'Oleron to Ile de Re (it's okay, they both have causeways to the mainland), the peloton zoomed right past the citadel of Brouage, birthplace of Samuel de Champlain, a seaport then, now well inland. They continued through Rochefort, the headquarters from which the French navy's supply frigates sailed for New France every year for a century. Near the finish, they passed right by the fortified harbour of La Rochelle, one of the principal departure points for settlers and trading vessels alike.

 Flat stage, obviously, lots of crosswinds off the ocean. Sam Bennett won a big sprint at the end.

Friday, September 04, 2020

Not-insane ways of selecting parliamentary leaders

 


Shinzo Abe, the longest serving prime minister in Japan's parliamentary history, announced his retirement a couple of weeks ago.  On September 16, his successor will move into the prime minister's office.

Canadian political scientists tend to focus on the "white commonwealth" when comparing parliamentary democracies. But Japan is an interesting example of the many parliamentary states beyond the British-origins group. And its method of leadership selection is noteworthy. 

Prime ministers in Japan tend to have short terms, although the Liberal Democratic Party has dominated parliament since 1955. The real struggle is between the strong and deeply rooted regional and ideological factions within the LDP -- and the results of their contests are largely determined by the (currently 388) sitting MPs of that party, who historically are quite willing to remove one PM and install another.

Japan Times lays out how the rules work (In Japan, "party president" equates to "party leader"):

LDP party presidential elections are not policy games, they are numbers games. At the end of the day, the Japanese prime minister is the person that can win a “majority of the majority,” meaning the person’s party wins the majority of seats in the legislature, and the person wins the majority of votes within the party.
Underwriting those intra-party politics are LDP factions. As I have described before in The Japan Times, it is not unusual for a political party to have cliques, blocs, or other similar groups, but in the LDP, these are simply institutionalized with formal membership and structure.

These blocs are formed of duly elected MPs fully accountable for their choices. They represent real regional and ideological interests within the nation's voters. Who better to select and hold accountable a leader?  {Actually, it's much the same process in Australia, to get back to BritWorld]

Compare that with the recent party leadership "race" in Canada. As usual, it consumed most of a year, cost millions of dollars, and was determined by the votes of tens of thousands of recent membership purchasers who bear neither responsibility nor accountability for the choice they have made. Indeed most of those who have given the Conservative Party a new leader were not party members six months ago and will not be party members six months from now. In a story on the Japanese leadership change, CBC calls the Canadian system "open and democratic." That's Canada for you. 


 

Thursday, September 03, 2020

The Tour comes back like a virus

Some guys on bikes ... going very fast

Is it even right to watch the Tour de France this year? I was leaning to avoiding the whole thing, which looked like becoming a Covid-fest, with tens of thousands of spectators perfectly timed to launch Europe's second wave. And the riders I grew into the sport with -- when you could actually watch it on free TV --have pretty much all retired. Now I have to acclimatize to a bunch of new stars, and deal with a dodgy online outfit called Flobikes just to watch at all. They are the only Canadian source for following the race this year. They will offer you a cheap monthly rate, cancel anytime. Good luck trying to get them to deliver on it.

The Tour claims to be limiting crowds and demanding social distancing from the spectators, and any team that gets 2 Covid positives, riders or support staff, will be tossed out. Fans along the roadside are masked, but at key points the crowds still look pretty big. Is this nuts?   

What the hell. Hey, there is a Canadian in the race again: Hugo Houle, riding for the (once kinda druggy) Astana team from Kazakhstan. Good luck to him, somewhere way in the back. And they are doing a lot of racing in the gorgeous south of France, which is always nice.  Great ride today from a young American called Neilson Powless, from the Oneida First Nation it says, fourth place on the stage after riding all day with a starry breakaway group.  I'm getting hooked again.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Black History Matters


I was struck by the bold opening of Harvey Amani Whitfield's essay in the September 2020 issue of the Canadian Historical Review: "Slavery is the most neglected aspect of pre-Confederation Canadian history." 

Whitfield's article is a powerful and field-shaping contribution, based on the questions "Is there such a thing as “Canadian” slavery? If so, what is “Canadian” about “Canadian” slavery?" and drawing on his forthcoming work, Enslaved Black People in the Maritimes: A Biographical Dictionary of African and African American Slaves in Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, as well as his previous books on Atlantic Canadian black experience.

Professor Whitfield's opening declaration, "most neglected," while plausible, is unquantified, at least in the essay, and it's not hard to think of other topics that might be included with it in any shortlist. But it reminds me of an assertion I have put forth a few times: there is no subject in Canadian history that cannot be declared "neglected." Look at Tim Cook's argument that Canadian military history is sorely neglected -- military history! and of the Second World War, no less. 

Many historical fields start to escape from neglect when members of historically neglected communities take them up. The history of Ukrainian Canadians, as one example, blossomed as an academic field when Ukrainian Canadians began entering the academy some decades ago. (To the point that some aspects of Ukrainian Canadian ethic pride have become controversial.) Sikh-Canadian historians have begun to enrich the field of Sikh Canadian history, at least on the west coast. And I've never forgotten the late Louise Dechene saying that francophone history will never be very neglected in Canada because there have always been francophone historians -- though that she liked the creative tension that resulted from quite a few English-Canadians taking an interest as well.  

We need to encourage a diversity of historians to do justice to the diversity of Canadian history. We are starting to see more African-Canadian historians, Professor Whitfield notable but not alone among them, and Canadian history as well as African-Canadian history will be better for it. These days every piece of historical work by an indigenous Canadian seems transformative, because so little used to make its way to non-Indigenous audiences. No doubt these historians will continue to have grounds to advocate that their fields are neglected, even as they make the assertion less easy to prove.

Update, September 3: Alan McCullough of Ottawa comments:

The statement that a particular topic is “the most neglected subject in Canadian history” is so common that it can be treated as honest puffery. Professor Whitfield's article “White Archives, Black Fragments” doesn’t need puffery for justification; it can stand on its own. In any case, footnote 3 which identifies more than a dozen or so articles on slavery in the Maritimes from the last 30 years, undermines the contention that the field is the most neglected. What surprised me is that Professor Whitfield identifies two articles on slavery in the Maritimes from the nineteenth century.

Friday, August 28, 2020

History of the pandemic in Quebec, in Canada


The Globe and Mail notes that, were Quebec seen as an independent state, its Covid-19 death rate would be one of the highest in the world, outstripping the United States, Italy, and other prominent sufferers.  And, they do not quite say, the rate for the rest of Canada would be a lot lower.

It's factual, but unfair. If Lombardy, or Wuhan, or New York City were independent states, they too would have death rates much higher than the national ones for their countries. There have been Covid hotspots, and the causes have been complex and hard to specify. Montreal was one of them.

But, good thing that Quebec is part of Canada, and that federal as well as provincial resources -- from CERB to school funding grants -- have been available to help in the struggle to bring its numbers down. Indeed, a substantial majority of Canadians believe the pandemic has strengthened national unity in a common cause.

Crisis at the Sulpician archives

Active History draws attention to the historians' protest in Quebec over the closing of the Archives of the Sulpician religious order in Montreal. Since the Sulpicians were present at the founding of Montreal and owned much of the island of Montreal well into the 19th century, their records are fundamental to a great deal of Quebec history. As the petitioners note, the shrinking of the Catholic Church presence in Quebec leaves many aspects of its cultural legacy under-supported and in danger.  But they rightly see the closure of this archives as a cultural crisis for Quebec.  

Many of us regret archives that have to be closed and more or less inaccessible during pandemic lockdown  -- and appreciate what the archivists are doing to assist online access.  I guess we were assuming the archives would reopen when they can  

 
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