Wednesday, October 09, 2019

This month at Canada's History

My private theory has long been that you really know you are a historian of Canada when Chris Moore calls to talk to you for a Canada's History column he's working up. (Sorry if I missed a few of you over the years!) After delivering that column on historians and historical issues for every issue of The Beaver and then Canada's History literally for decades, I did not have a column in the August-September issue.

With October-November's issue, I'm back on a new basis. I've stopped doing the column and I will instead be contributing feature articles regularly. Canada's History marks the change by adding me to the masthead as Contributing Editor.

I have to say I'm pleased with the first of those feature pieces -- and thank you, friends who have emailed me to share their enthusiasm. "The Ballots Question" looks closely at the Liberal leadership convention of 1919, just one hundred years ago, and how it made William Lyon Mackenzie King party leader and soon-to-be prime minister.
[Sidney Fisher, another leadership candidate] went to the Rideau Club, Ottawa’s fabled centre of power and intrigue, to have lunch with two old Liberal barons: Allen Aylesworth from Toronto and Senator Raoul Dandurand from Montreal. If both he and King ran, Fisher said, they would split the vote. Fielding would win. He proposed to drop out and nominate King himself, seconded by Ernest Lapointe, the MP who had led the Quebec delegates in revolt against Gouin's machinations.
No, counselled Dandurand. Two Quebec MPs nominating Mackenzie King might spark an anti-Quebec backlash that would help Fielding. Let Aylesworth, not Lapointe, second the nomination. It would show the Quebeckers that King had serious support in Ontario and could win. Aylesworth had left public office because he had become deaf, and Dandurand did not dare shout out this proposal to him in the Rideau Club dining room. He scribbled it out on a scrap of paper, and Aylesworth scrawled an emphatic Yes.

Suddenly King, dull, pedantic, and fussy as he was, had solid support in the Quebec and Ontario delegations and with the Laurier loyalists elsewhere. The next morning, he led from the first ballot and hung on to beat Fielding narrowly on the third.
The intrigue and hoopla of that convention prefigured how all future leadership races would operate -- a tradition unique to Canadian politics. The 1919 convention also demonstrates a point that this blog's regulars may recognize. King instantly grasped that being selected by a mass of party members meant he was freed from accountability to his MPs, and from the party members too, since he never held another convention until he retired in 1948. 

It's a lively issue. Charlotte Gray on the 90th anniversary of the Persons Case and its complicated legacies. [Update, same date: today the DCB publishes the biography of Frank Anglin, who wrote the Supreme Court decision on the Persons Case: he does not come out well on it.] Philippe Mailhot on the roots of the Metis resistance 150 years ago. Tarah Brookfield on sixties pacifists.  And, as they say, much more. Subscribe, print or digital.  You can also read "The Ballots Question" online at Canada's History Online

No more column from me. But with any luck I'll be calling on you about a feature I'm working on. 
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