Friday, May 12, 2023

History and Historians in the news

Jamie Bradburn and I sat on a heritage-award panel a while ago. Since then I've been following with admiration his public history activities around Toronto: a weekly quiz in the Toronto Star, various interventions into heritage protection matters, research, writing, public speaking, a substantial web and social media presence....  One of his gigs is for TVOntario's webmag TVOToday, where he writes lively deep-dives into the history of anything that might be topical Ontario news.  

One of those essays made the news cycle flutter a bit the other day: a piece called "The Right to Hold People to Ransom" about how in 1999, for pennies on the dollar, a Conservative government of Ontario gave a private consortium a 99 year lease on the newly built Highway 407. The consortium has been jacking up the highway tolls ever since, so that what was built to be a truck bypass around Toronto has become an mostly-empty bespoke freeway patronized mostly by the Mercedes and Lexus suburbs, while the trucks (and anyone else who is the least cost-conscious) continues to clog the 401 that parallels it farther south.

This all happened in 1999, note: perfect grist for Bradburn's historical mill. It trended, however, because long-term giveaways are newsy again in Ontario. Today another Ontario Conservative government is proposing an equally monstrous deal: a 95-year lease of the waterfront park called Ontario Place to businesses with big construction plans for the site. Highway 407 cratered Mike Harris's credibility beyond recovery. We'll see what giving away the lake does for DoFo -- beyond assuring the generosity of his grateful friends. 

Meanwhile, kudos to Jamie Bradburn for spotting the parallel just when the public needed an apt historical analogy. TVOntario is controlled by the Ontario government; I hope this little brush with fame doesn't lead to retribution against him. 

The reverse of Bradburn's smart history is the dumb history hoo-ha that erupted simultaneously. Every ten years or so, Canada designs a new passport. Tis time the historical images that formed the background of many pages of the current passport are being replaced with nature images and landscapes and such. 

Suddenly it's the death of history again."Trudeau's culture war erases Canadian history" screams seemingly every culture-warrior commentator in the Globe & Mail, and J.B.M. Stewart (who teaches history and should know better), and (natch) Pierre Poilievre.  


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