Last week the irrepressible Preston Manning had an article in the Globe and Mail on how “Canada’s elites could use a crash course in populism.”
He cited Tom Flanagan’s Waiting for the Wave and W. L. Morton’s The Progressive Party in Canada as useful reading for any elites actually wanting to take the course he recommends.
Not surprisingly, he did not cite such related volumes as S.M. Lipset’s Agrarian Socialism : The Cooperative Commonwealth Federation in Saskatchewan (1950, 1971) or C.B. Macpherson’s Democracy in Alberta : Social Credit and the Party System (1953, 1962, 2013).
(Mr. Manning is a right-wing rather than a left-wing populist — and both the Lipset and Macpherson books are broadly left-wing.)
There are nonetheless two passages in Preston Manning’s piece that strike me as probably worth repeating. The first is : “it is probably safe to say that Canada’s political and media establishment have never really understood populism in this country and are therefore ill-equipped to understand or respond to its current manifestations.”
(Well … One finer point I have trouble with here is that, to me, Canada — happily enough — has a number of political and media establishments : one of which may actually include Preston Manning, and another of which speaks French, etc, etc. Mr. Manning occupies more solid ground when he focuses on … “Ottawa” say.)
My second worth-repeating passage in “Canada’s elites could use a crash course in populism” is just the article’s concluding paragraph (which does finally land on more solid ground) :
“Canada has had its own past experience with populism — some of it bad, much of it good, but all of it instructive. Given the uprising of populist sentiment in our times, today’s politicos and pundits would be wise to revisit and learn from that extensive and instructive experience. Failure to do so, especially at the national level, could mean that Ottawa will be the next capital city to be the last to know what is going on.”
I would (I should make clear, in the interests of science) never vote for or otherwise politically endorse Preston Manning. But I do think there is wisdom in these two quoted passages from his recent Globe and Mail article.
At the same time, to me there is still something crucial that is missing in Mr. Manning’s crash course as well. And, to seriously instruct today’s politicos and pundits who haunt the bars and restaurants of the Sparks Street Mall, the Byward Market, Elgin Street, and on and on it should be included.
When Preston Manning talks about populism in the adjacent United States, for instance, he alludes to two figures from the 19th century — Andrew Jackson and William Jennings Bryan. But in his Canadian examples he sticks to the 20th century, which he knows directly himself.
Canadian populism in the 20th century, however, has its own 19th century ancestors. And all our 21st century political and media establishments could probably profit from pondering them somewhat more deeply than usual, during the 150th anniversary year of the 1867 confederation.
To make a potentially quite long story very short, I’m just talking about the Lower Canada Rebellion of 1837–1838, the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, the First Riel or Red River Rebellion of 1869–1870, and the Second Riel or Northwest Rebellion of 1885.
Many further things could be said about the 19th century rebellions in Canada — which at least strike me as crucial precursors of all 20th century (and beyond) Canadian populisms. But that might just confuse things unnecessarily for the moment.
In any case, click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below for four further quick notes, on : (1) The Rebellion Tradition in Canada Matters (too) ; (2) Louis Riel and Justin Trudeau ; (3) 18th century ancestor — “The Conspiracy of Pontiac” ; and (4) Another late 20th century descendant : the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Constitution Act, 1982.