Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Canonization of Laurier

You can rely on Brian Lilley for stupid columns, and the Sun published a corker yesterday. I won't link to it but the title is Canada doesn't need fixing and it's about how Canada needs fixing. Apparently Canadian progressives want the country to be more like Greece, and we all know how that's working out for them! Lilley and his fellow travellers look south for their policy inspiration, because things are peachy in the land of liberty, apple pie, crushing national debt, and an unofficial unemployment rate hovering around 20%.

But that's not really what I wanted to write about today, I'm fairly sure Lilley's idiocy is generally acknowledged. Instead I want to scratch an itch I've had for some time. In his column Lilley suggests that Canada needs to get back to its heritage of liberty and limited government. This is a meme the new right has picked up over the past decade or so. It has been given a sheen of academic legitimacy thanks to Brian Lee Crowley's silly free market manifestos and received popular attention through The Macdonald-Laurier Institute "think" tank. Crowley has made Wilfred Laurier the hero in his rewriting of Canadian history, and, keeping with the ahistorical theme, completely transformed one of Canada's greatest Prime Ministers into someone almost completely unrecognisable.

A moderate late-19th Century liberal has mutated into a radical post-1980s liberal, a Reagan, a Harper, a Palin. People seem to be buying into it. Even relatively intelligent liberal commentators have adopted Laurier as their new patron saint. The thing is though, it's not who Laurier was, at least not in his policy. Laurier continued the National Policy. He went on a spending spree that's considered a bit much even by today's standards. Canada's protectionist policy remained in place and even proposed reciprocity was watered down. The settlement of the west continued under the federal government's hand. Aside from the rhetoric and the appeal to Quebec, Laurier was a continuation of the policies that built the country.

It's sad that Crowley and company can get away with this nonsense.

1 comment:

  1. It's sad that Crowley and company can get away with this nonsense.

    What’s really sad is that it’s so easy to get away with it. A generation ago, hacks like Crowley would have had scholars like Forsey, Creighton, Grant, and Morton (as well as popularisers like Berton) all over them in an instant. No one of their calibre remains, and Canadian history has fallen into a black hole as deep as that from which it was briefly rescued, starting in the late ‘40s, through the efforts of those people.

    Aside from Desmond Morton, Canada’s major professional historians are deeply ideologically compromised. That Jack Granatstein continues to be taken seriously nearly a decade after becoming the Conservative Party’s Chief Information Officer and the chair of the Doctrinal Bureau of the American embassy is a disgrace. This is a guy, allegedly an “historian”, who has repeatedly blamed Canada’s military under-investment on Quebec’s traditionally “pacifist” attitude and the federal government’s need to pander to it (Google some of Granatstein’s post-9/11 articles if you don’t believe me).

    Meanwhile, every undergrad who’s taken Canadian History 101 knows that English Canada’s early 20th-century defence policy was based on the Militia Myth—the belief that Canada’s success in the War of 1812 proved that we required only a modest and cheaply equipped citizen army led by a small cadre of professionals—and that it was precisely because of this naïve attitude (an utterly Anglo and pan-national attitude, not just a Quebecois one) that we were disastrously unprepared for war both in 1914 and 1939.

    Granatstein also neglects the obvious fact that opposition to war is not necessarily “pacifist”: Americans opposed to U.S. entry into the First and Second World Wars were not “pacifist”; they merely saw no compelling reason for American participation. Most Quebeckers were similarly ambivalent, and, in the case of World War I, their ambivalence was justified (in fact, the Montrealers who rioted against conscription were arguably the era’s only sane Canadians).

    Now, if an eminent academic and Order of Canada holder like Granatstein is allowed (and allows himself) to spew that kind of garbage unchallenged, what can we reasonably expect from journalists, hacks, and other amateurs who have the luxury of being able to distort history without having to violate scholarly or professional standards?

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