Monday, August 14, 2017

Why we need history, and historians

1  I'm not sure I know enough about the history of Canadian-American trade to be able to comment usefully, but I was impressed with the historical depth of Robert Bothwell's discussion of trade history from Governor General Lord Elgin's strategy for dealing with the Americans in the 1850s, to the Auto Pact, Nixon, and Simon Reisman.  Kudos to Alex Ballingall of the Star for grasping that historical perspective was relevant here.
“Canada has always been linked into global commodity chains, and trade has been going on forever,” McKenzie said.
This continued once the United States came into existence, and after the remaining British colonies on the continent gained a measure of self-determination — in 1848, with the reforms to create responsible government. Political and business leaders began their long history of trade talks with our American neighbours, with Elgin’s 1854 deal removing tariffs in some natural products, like lumber, though it was far from a free-trade deal. It was one of only three trade agreements that the U.S. signed between 1789 and 1934.
As in subsequent negotiations — such as the free-trade brouhaha during the 1988 election — the prospect of trade with the U.S. brought up concerns about Canadian independence and fears that closer economic ties would pull us down a slide to political integration. As Bothwell explained, however, Elgin’s argument at the time was that trade with the Americans would bolster the Canadian economy and “keep us prosperous and therefore content and therefore British,” (i.e. not American).
2  I'm not sure I know enough treaty constitutional law to understand the Supreme Court of Canada's recent decisions that a certain amount of "consultation" authorizes Canada to do as it pleases in resource development whatever the wishes of the First Nations involved.  That sounds like neither Justin Trudeau's "nation to nation" promises, nor to the "sharing agreement" understanding of treaty relations increasingly argued by historical scholars (and First Nations negotiators). But this piece by Myeengun Henry of the Chippewas of the Thames certainly underlined my concerns and doubts
It is clear the courts are not prepared to protect our constitutionally entrenched rights. And now we must question what the government is prepared to do? Offering our nation an opportunity to participate in fundamentally inadequate consultations does not preserve the “honour of the Crown” and completely ignores our historical treaty relationship.

The decision of the Supreme Court has an immediate and chilling effect on our nation.
It's long been my theory that politicians, whatever their enthusiasm for Reconciliation as talking point, are unlikely to move very far on treaty issues concerning control of land and resources, given that the population is unlikely to support what is likely to be widely construed as a surrender or giveaway to uppity aboriginals. But I thought that the courts were slowly steadily pushing governments at all levels gradually to accept doing what they would rather not do, and sell it by insisting "The Courts made us do it."  I guess that is going to take a while yet.

3  I didn't know enough about residential school policy history to be very forthright when Prime Minister Trudeau removed the Langevin name from the Langevin Block.  But Dean Beeby's CBC story makes it pretty clear that the PM's own bureaucrats made it clear that the whole thing was pretty bogus as history before the PM went ahead.  Kudos to the anonymous historian (though historians should not be anonymous) in Indigenous Affairs who provided the documentation.

4  And I don't know much about NAFTA history, but I've read enough to be pretty dubious of the profiles of the Global Affairs minister in the Star and the Globe recently that suggested her issues would include environmental issues, labour issues, and rising inequality.

There's a line in Freeland's book Plutocrats that stopped me dead: "Russia is the country that gave plutocracy a bad name." Plutocracy -- the rule of money -- does not need Russia to tarnish its reputation; it's just a bad thing anywhere. Plutocrats, which takes plutocracy for granted and mostly just explores its ecology as if social, economic and political inequality were just natural conditions of the modern world, does not suggest that Global Affairs is going to be much interested in labour issues or inequality issue.

1+2+3+4?  Historical context can be perspective is a good thing, even in the world of twitter and the fast-forward news cycle.

Update, August 15:  Dale Smith finds both Paul Wells and Andrew Coyne speculating that the progressive aspects of Canada's negotiation position are either impossibilities that the government will quickly sacrifice, or triggers it can use if it decides the negotiations are better off failing.

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