Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Conservative History

There's been much ado about Conservatives and Canadian history since last week's announcement by the House of Commons Heritage Committee that it was going to investigate the way Canadians learn their history. Probably the best summary of where we stand right now is in this CBC story.

Colin Horgan's piece at ipolitics was probably the best assessment of what the Conservatives might be up to. Emmett Macfarlane also had a sophisticated take on the merits of an investigation in the Globe.

Having said all of this, it might also be that we are thinking too much about a coordinated conspiracy. It might be that the inquiry has a good deal to do with one Conservative backbencher, Paul Calandra. And his approach might not have been the wisest, certainly not for Conservatives trying to hold on to their seats in Quebec. In many respects, it is an odd thing for the Conservatives to do. This is a party that is altogether Mackenzie King like unambitious in anything to do with provincial jurisdiction.

At any rate, I published my two cents on the issue in the Ottawa Citizen today which you can read here.


  1. Much ado indeed. Between the pieces that you cite, the new post at Active History, and McKay and Swift's article in The Star, it's been hard to keep up with the much adoing.

    You say, "It would be nice if the Heritage Committee could actually allow for a real inquiry into Canadian history." It would be nice, but it would also be unnecessary. Because there is already a real inquiry into Canadian history going on everyday in schools and universities across the country.

    The last time the history wars came up, you invoked the proverbial one-hand-clapping metaphor. The latest news cycle brings to mind another popular Buddhist maxim: the truth is right there, in front of all of us. It's not hidden. All that's needed is to look.

    If Mr. Harper, the Heritage Committee, or anyone else is hungry for Canadian history, it's all out there, ready for them. All they need to do is mosey over to their local library or archive, where they will find a rich feast -- from original documents, to narrative nonfiction and popular histories, to scholarly monographs. Provided, of course, that their local library or archive has the funding it needs to function properly. But, hay, what are inconvenient details, like archives funding, compared with stirring calls from the tribunes of Parliament Hill to review our national past?

  2. Thanks for the McKay and Swift reference in the Star which I hadn't seen.

    We shall see where this thing goes. The inquiry has had its sails trimmed, but I'm not averse to having politicians talk history, even if the effect is sometimes like watching my two year old eat chocolate cake - more around the face than in the mouth!

  3. Well, if your analogy includes temper-trantrums and the full meal deal of the terrible twos, then I'm with you on that count.

    I read Mark Sholdice's piece in the _Toronto Review of Books_ quickly yesterday ("gutted," per your post the other day), and then read it slowly this morning over my coffee once I got the kids packed off to school. It's one of the best articles I've read so far on the evolving history wars. (I don't know Sholdice, so this isn't a plug of any sort).

    I like the parallels he makes between trends in Ottawa and Quebec City. And his thoughtfulness is a breath of fresh air. He writes, "But it seems that after a long period of complacency, centrist and centre-left historians have realized that their positions are under threat." I'd quibble about the complacency claim, which is unsubstantiated and a bit unfair, but I like the fact that he's careful to make a distiction between centrist and centre-left, rather than falling into the monolithic Left vs. Right fallacy, and he indicates some of the differences within the centre-right and far right.