Considering Important Moments in Canadian Political History

Writing an article on significant events in Canadian history is a difficult task for the historian. Although we are supposed to be well-read in topics such as Confederation, Vimy Ridge, universal healthcare, and the 1972 Summit Series, we are taught to apply a critical eye to events and peoples that “represent” what it “means” to be Canadian. The significance of major events should not be overlooked, but historians are cautious to accept “traditional” or “popular” histories that focus too narrowly on select episodes. Certainly, there is much more to Canada’s past than is portrayed in short, made-for-TV Heritage Minutes, to cite just one well-known example. But perhaps professional history in Canada is itself too harsh on many of the topics and themes that seem to resonate with so many people outside the discipline. With this in mind, today’s post takes a brief look at some key moments in Canadian political history that have come to symbolize a nation and its populace.

Necessity, Ideology, and Federal Party Leaders

Since 1867 Canada has had 22 Prime Ministers in Parliament.  Each party leader has brought their own unique vision to their party that sometimes hindered and other times helped their pursuit of power in Ottawa. In that same time there have been multiple third parties that have taken a completely different path from that of the ruling parties to gain the much coveted Official Opposition status.  And of course behind every third party was a dedicated leader with vision and ideology that shaped their party. Yet the question is how much do these visions and ideologies affect actual federal policy?

Outside Looking In: Canada's Fringe Parties

Although only the Liberals and Conservatives have ever formed government in Canada, our history is riddled with other parties throwing their hats into the ring. Sometimes, these fringe parties have an impact on Canadian governance, but mostly they sat on the sidelines. This week, we discuss some of the “fourth parties” that have sat in the House of Commons.

Let's Clean House: Early Negative Political Advertising in Canada

For those of us who follow politics closely, the cynicism and shallowness of the modern campaign advertisement strikes us as crass, boorish, and worst of all, boring. A sinister voice intoning dire warnings about a party's opponents, an upbeat song and saccharine delivery of platitudes soothing you into complacency: at this point, we are all well acquainted with the tricks of the trade. The relentless application of the art of advertising, however, is a fairly recent development in the world of Canadian politics.

Moderate Radicals or Radical Moderates? The History of the New Democratic Party

The New Democratic Party has been a popular – but not popular enough – choice for Canadian voters since its creation in 1961. They have never formed government, though in 2011 they were the Official Opposition with 103 of 308 seats, which was quite the rebound from their disastrous 1993 showing of 9 out of 295 seats. They have traditionally wavered between 15 and 30 seats, sometimes playing a pivotal role in influencing minority governments. For most of their history, they were content to be the “conscience of the House” until their recent electoral breakthroughs.

The Ebb and Flow of Conservatism in Canada: Where will the Tide of Tory Blue Turn Next?

Although Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper is currently “under the gun” for a declining Canadian economy and as a result of the Mike Duffy trial, the past eight years has witnessed a resurgence of Tory blue in Canada. In light of this recent success, it is the perfect time to consider the ebb and flow of an intriguing and important political institution in Canadian political history.

The Liberal Party of Canada: The Past is Less Important than the Future

The Liberals are one of the most popular political parties in Canadian history. Their seemingly hegemonic power, careful electioneering, and (some) luck, has helped them dominate Canada’s political theatre. Undoubtedly, Liberals have greatly shaped the Canada we live in today. In our initial Political History Series post, we examine the ideological system that has guided Canadian Liberals: liberalism.

Clio’s Perspective on Election 2015: Introduction

This week we are beginning a series at Clio’s Current to coincide with the 2015 Canadian election. For the next ten weeks, we will be writing about various aspects of Canadian political history. For our non-Canadian readers, we hope that you enjoy this extended foray and maybe learn a bit about Canada’s fascinating political history (well, we think it is!). If you want a primer on recent events leading up to the 2015 election, you should check out Paul Wells’ excellent overview in Maclean’s before plunging into the past.

2015 Election Primer: Politicians and the Media

Over the past week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with Governor General David Johnston and received approval to dissolve the Government, kicking off what will be the second longest election campaign in Canadian history. Although each party leader outlined their party’s priorities individually, for many the official campaign began last night with the first election debate. The leaders squared off and today news outlets are filled with detailed coverage and analysis of the event.  Rather than analyze the debate or the performance of each party leader, in today’s post we take a brief look at the history of relations between politicians and the media.

The Bizarre Case of the Tanganyika Laughing Disease

On 30 January 1962, a girls’ school in Kashasha, twenty-five miles outside of Bukoba on the coast of Lake Victoria in the state of Tanganyika (present day Tanzania), was suddenly afflicted with a bizarre case of spontaneous laughter. Three girls began laughing and couldn’t stop. Stranger still, the laughter spread throughout the school and eventually into surrounding villages. The laughter lasted on average seven days and sometimes as long as six months. By the time the epidemic ended, 14 schools had to be shut down and 1000 people were infected. What happened?

Searching for Life, Sustaining Life: The Rise of Food History

News dropped this week of NASA’s “discovery” of a new planet outside our solar system, described by scientists as the “closest twin” to Earth found to date. If you haven’t heard the details just yet, a planet dubbed Kepler 452b was discovered using the planet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope. The newly found planet is about 60 per cent larger than Earth, which places it in a category of planets called super-Earth. Early reports suggest that the found planet is rocky and, very excitingly, may have an atmosphere similar to our own and fully capable of holding and producing water – the bloodline of life as we know it.

We're The Ones That Did It? Canada and the Burning of Washington

For Canadians, a popular retort about the War of 1812 is our supposed role in the burning of the White House. In 1814, British soldiers landed in Washington and looted the American capital. Canadians, in their minor role in the conflict as auxiliary forces, sometimes say that Canadians themselves burned down the White House. Despite any claims you might hear, it was British soldiers behind one of the most notable moments of the war. Where and how did the myth of Canadian involvement appear?

Racist Attitudes and the Global South

When Jenny Horne, a white Republican representative from a town near Charleston, stepped up to the podium this week to address the House of Representatives in South Carolina, her words contributed a passionate moment in the debate that eventually led lawmakers to vote to remove the Confederate battle flag from the State House grounds. “I cannot believe that we do not have the heart in this body,” she said while attempting hold back tears, “to do something meaningful, such as take a symbol of hate off these grounds on Friday.” Referring to the tragic June 17 shootings that killed nine African-American members of a Bible study at a Charleston church, Horne aimed her words directly at house representatives concerned with preserving the historical semblance of the Confederate flag.  “Enough about heritage,” she proclaimed towards flag supporters. When the emotional debate ended early Thursday, the House voted 94-20 to pass the bill to remove the flag.

Robot Historians and the Future of History

In a world where technology continues to advance at an incredible pace, each generation is exposed to new and powerful transformations. Facebook, Twitter, and Smartphones were all unimaginable changes to the ordinary person of 1995.  By 2035, maybe we will see an unrecognizable world changed by Virtual Reality, Solar Power, and who knows what else. So what might this incredible future hold for history?

Looking Back on Magna Carta: 800 Years Wiser by Jocelyn B. Hunt

Newspapers and historical groups have presented much fanfare in the lead-up to 15 June for the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta (Latin for ‘the Great Charter’). The collective applause for the enduring memory of the Great Charter stands to be challenged as with any other remembered historical document or event. Unlike many revisions which fundamentally alter our modern understanding, such as the tartan (1), the history of Magna Carta can further strengthen its importance in our history and for us today. Today’s post will provide the historical context of Magna Carta’s creation and development as well as investigate the difference between the spirit and letter of the charter’s clauses.

What Role Do Historians Play in ‘Truth and Reconciliation’?

We are currently in the midst of a national conversation about cultural genocide, recently reaffirmed in the public eye by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As regular readers of Clio’s Current can attest, this blog aims to engage with issues of national and international significance. We have written extensively about Aboriginal history, but have yet to discuss the role historians might play in the future. To assess this question, it is necessary to explore some of the issues in Aboriginal history thus far "uncovered" by historians.

What is Accurate History? Historians vs. Reenactors

If you’ve ever visited a historic site or museum around the time of a major anniversary, you’ve probably encountered a historical reenactor. Maybe you were at Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake, or Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, or at a D-Day commemoration on 6 June, or any number of hundreds of different re-enactments big and small that take place every year. These historical reenactors share a love of history with historians, though they have vastly different views of it.

A Fledgling Land: The Perpetual Conflicts in Arab Iraq

Last month, the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS/ISIL took the Iraqi city of Ramadi. Further compounding this stunning seizure was the extremist group’s capture of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, thus gaining control of over half of Syria. As its biggest victory in almost a year, it illustrates that despite western intervention the group is not going away quietly. ISIL was propelled into the news last summer when on the morning of June 11th, the world was stunned to hear that Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, had fallen to the extremist group in a lightning advance. Since then they have continued to push south and spread their control across the region. Yet what does all of this mean? Factionalism and sectarian rifts are nothing new in the ancient lands that hold tribalism and religion over all other political wants. Iraq, however, was not always Iraq, and the Sunni-Shia rift is not a product of the twentieth century. To understand the issues of ISIL and Iraq today, we must understand the history of this divided region of the world.

Politicized Scholarship: Exploring Themes in Aboriginal History, Part II

A few weeks ago, we published the first post in a short series examining the origins and evolution of Aboriginal history the Canadian context. We traced some of the more influential works in the field to explore the hold of prominent analytic debates, and explored the contribution of recent studies such as James Daschuk’s Clearing the Plains. Today, we continue our short series with a brief post on the influence of legal affairs and land claims, examining in particular the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry and the Hawthorn Report.