Wednesday, November 28, 2018

George Brown Days 9: Two Brown Issues: First Nations and Taxes

As we approach George Brown's 200th birthday, we should address a couple of issues that are not as  celebratory as many of the previous ones.

1. Indigenous and Treaty matters.  With the reputation of John A. Macdonald being battered, and probably permanently tarnished, by increased exposure of his policies towards Indigenous peoples in the west, particularly in the 1880s, the question arises: what would similar attention to George Brown reveal? 

Brown was ahead of Macdonald in advocating for the westward expansion of Canada and the cancellation of the Hudson's Bay Company's rights there.  (It was another place where Cartier and Brown were closer than Macdonald and Brown.)  Brown and his constituents on the farmlands of Southern Ontario saw the prairie west as their children's future farmlands. Sympathy or concern for the rights of First Nations in the West did not feature in the western-expansion campaigns Brown supported.  During the mid-1870s, the Liberal government of Alexander Mackenzie followed a basically Brownian policy on westward expansion and a basically Macdonaldian policy on Aboriginal matters and treaty obligations -- without protest from Brown that I am aware of.  Has Brown and Indigenous policy been explored lately?

It is notable that in 1885, five years after Brown's death, "his" Toronto Globe placed the blame for the Red River Resistance of that year entirely upon the federal government and its mismanagement of western affairs.  It accepted that the resistance had to be put down, but saw the Métis and their allies mostly as victims. Would Brown had shared that view had he lived?

2. Taxes, Spending, Social Policy -- and Money for French-speaking Canadians.  Elspeth Heaman's Tax, Order, and Good Government from 2017 argues powerfully -- if I may try to massively summarize a lengthy and subtle presentation -- that George Brown's rep by pop and federalism campaigns of the 1860s were principally about ensuring that the taxes of (rich) Canada West never went to (poor and priest-ridden) Canada East.  Brown was a liberal of his day, holding Adam Smithian views about the invisible hand of the market and the importance of small government and personal responsibility. He favoured direct taxation which was also locally controlled taxation, so that those who paid the taxes closely controlled the spending of them.  His opposition to the constitutional structure of the United Canadas included his revulsion against its indirect taxes and their highly political allocations -- in his view, from the pockets of hardworking Upper Canadians to those of unproductive French-Canadians.

As she further argues, the tax structure of the new Canada after 1867 was one in which most revenues flowed to the federal government -- but most responsibility for social spending devolved to the provinces. It would be a long time before any of the provinces had revenues capable of supporting lavish spending on anything -- and George Brown liked it that way. 

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