Thursday, January 13, 2022

History of monarchy in Australia

The Australian Republican Movement, or ARM, has released a policy paper outlining a new proposal for how Australia would choose its heads of state once the monarchy is abolished. 

The ARM proposal, the "Australian Choice Model," proposes that the legislature of each state and territory could nominate a candidate for a five-year term as head of state, and the federal legislature could nominate up to three candidates. These candidates' names, a maximum of eleven (a minimum of one) would then be put on a ballot to be voted on by the Australian electorate. The elected head of state would then serve a five-year term, with powers essentially equivalent to those of a governor general.

There's history to this. In 1999, when Australia held a referendum on the monarchy, polls showed majority support for ending the monarchy. The 1999 ballot question -- supported by the ARM -- proposed replacing the Queen Elizabeth with an Australian head of state who would be chosen by a super-majority of the Australian legislature. But the idea of a head of state who was not directly elected (nor given substantial political powers) enraged some leading republicans. They campaigned against the abolition proposal for that reason, and the No won handily. 

This question -- direct election (possibly code for "powerful president") versus indirect selection (role and powers to remain similar to a governor-general's) remains a live issue in Australia. The current head of ARM admits he long preferred the 1999 proposal, but has come to accept it will not fly. Without direct election, abolition remains controversial in Australia. ARM projects that with the new Australian Choice Model on offer, support for abolition could reach 75 per cent.  

So ARM offers the new "Australian Choice Model" as a hybrid: popular election, but ensuring that a dignified, competent person is selected.  "People don't want a Trump-like figure and they don't want Shane Warne. They want an eminent person," said Peter FitzSimons of ARM. (Warne is a celebrity cricketer known for rule-breaking, infidelities, and evolution-denial -- think Rob Ford and Don Cherry for Canadian equivalents.) 

In Australia, amendments to the constitution cannot be made without a direct public vote. Referendums are not provided for in the Constitution of Canada; constitutionally, a change to the monarchy, including abolition, would be mandated here by the agreement of Parliament and all provincial Legislatures. Of forty-four referendums held in Australia since 1901, thirty-six have been defeated and eight passed.

The thing Canada might learn from Australia's debate is:  no referendums, ever. Australia has consistently been unable to come up with referendum questions that efficiently sort out the variety of views Australians hold on such issues as the monarchy and its replacement.  Moreover, referendums by definition alway pose divisive Yes/No binaries, and where there are diverse views, no becomes the default option whatever the Yes offers. 

Solving this kind of question is what parliaments, representative bodies designed for orderly discussion of public issues are for, surely. Of course, that suggests we would need real working parliaments in order to produce a Canadian head of state -- two wins for the price of one, you might say! 

The other thing about the ARM proposal is its apparent neglect of aboriginal participation. Abolition of the Crown in Canada could be achieved by the legislatures in Canada, but surely it should require guarantee of First Nations participation in all selections of future heads of state. Indeed, empowering elders selected by the Assembly of First Nations (or other representative indigenous body) to choose all our future heads of state sounds like an excellent solution to the head of state challenge. 

Update, January 14:  Helen Webberley, from Australia:

Even for Australians who don’t want to be subject to British royalty, I think most citizens would be very keen to keep the Governor General as a figurehead and ceremonial representative of the entire population.

The idea of the Governor General wanting political power for him or herself, in competition with the elected politicians in Parliament, would be abhorrent. Ditto the Governor General having a party-political identity. 

The U.S has shown over and over again that a politically-identified Head of State would end our Parliamentary democracy.

I hope you are right! Further on this subject, I was a bit shocked to discover that the removal of all royal duties from The Andrew Formerly Known as Prince means that three Canadian Army regiments have lost their honorary colonels. Jeez, does that still go on? These are Canadian troops -- can't they have their own leaders?  No foreign colonels. No rapists either. The military command structure has too many of those already.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Histories of what cannot be taught

Teaching history. It's not easy, but it's harder in some places than others.

In the state of Texas, the recently passed "Critical Race Theory" bill declares, among other things, that 

a teacher, administrator, or other employee of a state agency, school district, or open-enrollment charter school may not... require or make part of a course [,] inculcation in the concept that

... the advent of slavery in the territory that is now the United States constituted the true founding of the United States; or

... with respect to their relationship to American values, slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality;

Meanwhile in Russia, the Supreme Court has ordered the closing and dissolution of International Memorial, one of the country's oldest human rights organizations:

Memorial worked to recover the memory of the millions of innocent people executed, imprisoned or persecuted in the Soviet era.  Formally it has been "liquidated" for failing to mark a number of social media posts with its official status as a "foreign agent". That designation was given in 2016 for receiving funding from abroad.

But in court, the prosecutor labelled Memorial a "public threat", accusing the group of being in the pay of the West to focus attention on Soviet crimes instead of highlighting a "glorious past".

Founded in 1989, Memorial became a symbol of a country opening up to the world - and to itself - as Russia began examining the darkest chapters of its past. Its closure is a stark symbol of how the country has turned back in on itself under President Vladimir Putin, rejecting criticism - even of history - as a hostile act.


Friday, January 07, 2022

Jonathan Spence (1936-2021) RIP, historian of China

Jonathan Spence, the Yale University scholar of Chinese history, died recently at eighty-five, as noted in this New York Times obituary.

Many years ago I interviewed Professor Spence for an Ideas documentary. I was primarily interested in a small book of his called The Death of Woman Wang, about the life and death by murder of a poor, obscure 17th century Chinese woman. His previous book had been a thick biography of one of the great Chinese emperors, and I asked him about the contrast, expecting, I guess, something about the value of balancing social history and political history, the poor as well as the great.

Instead, he said that when he wrote about the emperor, he had recently received his doctorate, published some notable scholarship, and become tenured at Yale, and so he was interested in power and influence and such matters. When he turned to Woman Wang, he said, he was married and a parent, so his interests had turned to family and personal matters.

It was the first, or at least the most articulate, statement I had heard about the personal issues and concerns that historians may bring to their work, and the autobiographical elements that may be buried in historical work more often than we recognize. 

The Death of Woman Wang is not mentioned in the obituary, I see; the emperor book is.  

The Ideas series, "Four New Historians," looked into big books about little people, you might say. It was based on my conversations with Emmanuel LeRoy Ladurie (about Montaillou), Carlo Ginzberg (about The Cheese and The Worms), Robert Darnton (The Great Cat Massacre), and Spence. In retrospect, I think it was a pretty good program, and maybe I should have written it up. (Where?)  Deep in the CBC Archives now, I guess. 

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Does disallowance -- disallowance! --have a future as well as a history?

The most provocative historical essay I saw over the Christmas period was a column by Andrew Coyne in the Globe and Mail in which -- bear with me here -- he called for the return of disallowance to Canadian political life.

I admit, I had to get over the "Disallowance? Are you kidding me!" reaction to start appreciating the argument.  

The essay starts with Quebec's anti-hijab Bill 21.  Coyne posits, first, that patriation and the Charter in 1982 imbedded a new rights guarantee for all Canadians that would limit the freedom of action of provincial governments. The notwithstanding clause provided an emergency clause for provinces against overzealous application of the new rights guarantee. Second, from 1867, the federal power to disallow provincial legislation had been an analogous kind of emergency clause, giving the federal government its own emergency brake against provincial actions that curbed minority rights.  

Therefore, he goes on, if provinces are now beginnning to use notwithstanding not as an emergency brake, but as a backdoor abolition of the whole Charter and its rights guarantees (a valid fear, not only with the Legault government, but in Ontario and possibly soon the west as well), then the feds should bring back the older emergency brake: federal disallowance of provincial legislation that offends against rights principles. (All this, presumably, setting up a kind of mutual deterrence: we won't disallow if you won't notwithstand, and vice versa.)  You might read the whole Coyne column for a full elaboration of the argument.

It won't work as a matter of law, I've come to conclude. When bits of the constitutional text disagree with each other, the Supreme Court tends to adopt an "architectural" approach:  things that are essential to the constitutional architecture must prevail over things that are not.  (E.g., there's a section called s.101 that free trade zealots sometimes point to as reason to pretty much veto all business regulation by provinces, but the Supremes tend to find s. 91 and 92, which set out the division of powers that is the basis of federalism, must prevail.) Disallowance by the federal government (though text for it survives in the constitution) is so anthetical to the federalism principles of the constitution that it seems very unlikely that the Court would tolerate its revival. Notwithstanding, on the other hand, seems very much part of the architecture of the Charter -- there's no evident "architectural" argument for overruling it.

In any case, the historical basis of the disallowance/notwithstanding analogy is not as good as it may at first seems. Coyne quotes John A. Macdonald (okay, and George Brown too) as evidence that disallowance was understood as a means to protect minorities from oppression. But in his forty years on the hustings, Macdonald said a great many things that should not be taken as canonical constitution interpretation. Historically, disallowance was used more against things that were (or were said to be) ultra vires -- beyond provincial powers -- than to protect minority rights, and clearly courts were better than the feds at giving dispassionate verdicts on what was or was not within provincial powers. Disallowance's real threat was not to anti-rights legislation, but to federalism and the provincial powers. A great deal of anti-rights legislation by provinces was never disallowed, even when disallowance flourished, because the feds often appreciated its political popularity of bigotry as much as the provincial governments did. 

Disallowance, though it existed in the 1867 constitutional text (and endures in the 1982 one as well) was exposed as a tool for placing provincial governments under federal supervision. It was antithetical to the federalism principle at the heart of confederation, so it had to go and it can't come back. That's not the situation with notwithstanding.

In the end, (ab)use of the notwithstanding clause to exempt provincial governments from rights considerations will have to die as disallowance did, politically.  Bill 21 does not take rights from Muslims and Sikhs alone, it takes rights from all Quebeckers. Already two Quebec political parties, representing about 40% of the Quebec population, have taken positions against it. That argument can be won.  

The argument to bring back disallowance?  It's not a winner, either constitutionally or politically -- and shouldn't be. 

P.S. I'm not a big fan or follower of Twitter. But I do follow Coyne when I look at Twitter, and lately I have been astonished at the amount of hysterical, vituperative abuse he seems to endure there, mostly but not only from anti-vaxxers. He seems to take it in good humour -- indeed I see them because he retweets them with lighthearted responses.  But boy, it ain't easy being a public commentator trying to make reasoned arguments (even ones I might not agree with) these days.   


Monday, January 03, 2022

This month at the Literary Review of Canada: me, actually

One of the reviewed
So you are sitting there digesting all that eggnog and Christmas cake, and someone else is getting out their first publication of 2022.

Which is to say that the Literary Review of Canada for January-February is now out, with "Building Worlds," my review of the 2021 Cundill History Prize nominees, included. 

Since the prize announcement was only made last December 2, you have to conclude that while the LRC may sometimes seem a little academic, its publishing timelines can be a lot faster than normal academic ones. (And so were mine, in this case anyway.) The issue also has a lengthy piece by Heather Ramsay on the British Columbia floods of November.

And much else, including a depressing review by Jeffrey Simpson declaring that Jody Wilson-Raybould's memoir shows her to have been an uppity young woman who did not have sufficient respect for her elders and betters in Ottawa. (Contrary viewpoint here.) 

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Honours watch: Historians at the Order of Canada

Pretty good run of historians among the new inductees to the Order of Canada.   

Friesen CM
I note Max Eisen the Holocaust memorist, the Manitoba and prairie historian Gerry Friesen, baseball historian Bill Humber, Frances Henry the scholar of the Caribbean experience in Ontario, Yvon Lambert the collector of Quebec song traditions, Gregory Marchildon the medicare historian, historical podcaster, and Saskatchewan public servant, and Niagara heritage champion Pamela Minns. Congratulations to all.

Update, December 31: Worldwide acclaim for prairie historian! Helen Webberley comments from Melbourne, Australia:
When my maternal family left Russia, half came to Melbourne and half went to Winnipeg. When the family reunions started every four years, alternating in those two cities, I am not sure I could have accurately placed Winnipeg on the map. So I had to quickly start reading, and mum’s cousins recommended I start with Gerry Friesen. He well deserves his Order of Canada.


Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Seasonal best wishes, reminiscences, and blog hiatus

 Shortest day of the year!  Christmas is coming up fast. And the dearth of recent posts here suggests to me I am on the seasonal hiatus and should just declare it so.

But if you are pining for more, may I introduce you to an interview with me recently undertaken by the UBC History Department and published by the Faculty of Arts. I graduated from the UBC history program fifty years ago, and they asked me to reminisce about my historical career since then and my advice for today's history students. I like how it starts:

Q. How did your experience at UBC History influence your career?

A. It convinced me I did not love universities and did not want to be an academic — and I mean that as a compliment.

For the rest, follow this link.  

Stay well during these holidays. I was recently reading a small diary my mother kept in 1955, when my recently immigrated family, including a very young me, was living in Nelson, British Columbia. On Christmas Day 1955, my mother describes snow falling all day, the children getting up before seven in the morning, and a big crowd coming for Christmas dinner.

This year in Toronto, snow is chancy, we will not be up so early, and the dinner crowd will be smaller. Other than that: timeless.


Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Books notes: best histories of 2021

We were recently linking to a number of lists and suggestions about the best history books of 2021, and I've been pondering my own favourites -- though there must be a thousand candidates I have not read or heard of.

I've concluded that the Canadian history I most enjoyed this year was Neville Thompson's The Third Man: Churchill, Roosevelt, Mackenzie King and the Friendship that Won World War II, about Mackenzie King's relationships with Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. There was a rather sour review of The Third Man in a recent Canadian Historical Review, suggesting the author was trying to equate King with the British and American leaders. I did not think that the author was attempting that at all. Rather, I was taken with the book's argument that King's detailed observations of both men in his many interactions with them opened new perspectives on all three of them. It made a fresh and interesting read in an already well-trodden field.  (I did have some other candidates, but they all turn out to have been 2020 books.)

For non-Canadian histories, I'd go with Marie Federeau's The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World, just for being so new and original and persuasive about a history about which I was entirely uninformed.  

Alternate suggestions remain welcome. 

Friday, December 10, 2021

Bill 21 on the International Day of Human Rights

Today, December 10, the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations in 1948, is the International Day of Human Rights. Which seems like the time to say something about Quebec's Bill 21. That's the "laicity" law that  

... proposes to prohibit certain persons from wearing religious symbols while exercising their functions.

.... Under the bill, personnel members of a body must exercise their functions with their face uncovered, and persons who present themselves to receive a service from such a personnel member must have their face uncovered when doing so is necessary to allow their identity to be verified or for security reasons.

It cannot be got around: the bill constitutes discrimination, and given the practices it actually prohibits, discriminates against ethnic and racial minorities and faith communities for following customs they should entitled to follow if they choose.  

I don't think support in Quebec for this bill is going to last, notwithstanding the notwithstanding clauses, and even though at the moment any non-Quebecker who criticizes it risks being accused of being anti-Quebec by those who see nationalism as a wedge for creating divisions. 

A bill that drives a Grade Three teacher out of the classroom because she wears a hijab will not be saved by blather about the separation of church and state. Quebec has progressive and conservative communities, but it's not a racist society more than other parts of Canada. The decent, anti-racist, and tolerant traits of Quebec will eventually come to the fore on this issue, and eventually those on the other side of the issue will grow ashamed of defending it. 

International Human Rights logo: By Predrag Stakić


Thursday, December 09, 2021

This month at Canada's History

Subscribers to Canada's History are already reading the current issue: Sylvia Hamilton (recent Pierre Berton Award winner) on Portia White the opera singer, Dimitri Anastakis on Canadian car culture, Sydney Lockhart on pioneering feminist Grace Annie Lockhart, and Clive Webb on a kilted swindler in Winnipeg. There's also the book and gift guide, a bunch of reviews (notably Nancy Payne on Joe Sacco's Paying the Land and Dean Jobb on Margaret Conrad's new history of Nova Scotia) .And as they say, much more. 

Dimitri Anastakis, formerly at Trent University's History department, is now the Chair of Business History chair at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. That there is a Business History chair at the school owes much to Joe Martin, president emeritus of the foundation that publishes Canada's History. Joe made the case for Business History at Rotman in a very effective way: he demonstrated that having an endowed chair in business history was a hallmark of the most prestigious business schools around the world.

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