Indigenous peoples and Canadian democracy — and growing numbers of young people on First Nations reserves

Posted: July 27th, 2021 | No Comments »
“Bluersouac” by Michael Seward, July 2021.

NORTH AMERICAN NOTEBOOK — RANDALL WHITE, FERNWOOD PARK, TORONTO. JULY 26, 2021. My TV set has confirmed that Mary Simon, Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General, is now properly installed in office.

My own related thoughts lately go back to June 11, when : “A new study from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds that one-in-five Canadians (20%) now say Indigenous issues are among their top three federal concerns … This is more than double the number who said so in March (9%), or at any time over the past year and a half.”

These numbers followed the announcement that a “ground-penetrating radar (GPR)” survey on “the grounds at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School [in BC] indicate that the remains of 215 children could be buried at the site.” Similar surveys on other former residential school sites managed to keep “Indigenous issues” prominently in the Canadian news for a while at least.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s July 6 announcement that the Inuk leader Ms Simon from northern Quebec had been appointed Governor General no doubt helped bring down the political temperature of the residential school graves revelations somewhat.

Meanwhile, like many others, I have been quietly wondering whether these revelations may dramatically shift at least one branch of Canadian politics in some fundamentally new direction (as unlikely as this may be in a place where we hardly ever admit to anything fundamentally new).

As we approach the end-of-July mid-summer mark on the northern North American calendar, I seem to have two main thoughts about this question on my mind.

(1) Indigenous peoples and the broadening Canadian people in the Canadian parliamentary democracy

One undeniable harsh historical reality is underlined by the surging of the “Indigenous Residential Schools” issue in June 2021. The in some ways happy birth of Canada’s modern political democracy in the middle of the 19th century also had what we now call racist or even “white supremacist” and certainly “Britannic” cultural overtones. They did not even seriously start to disappear until the middle of the 20th century. And it may be the middle of the 21st century before we see any ultimate fruition of their gradual disappearance.

First Nation community in Attawapiskat, ON, November 2011. (Adrian Wyld/CP).”

“Democracy,” that is to say, is a word with at least several large meanings. One of them involves the particular constitutional and legal institutions through which a particular UN member state’s rule by the people is expressed politically. And in Canada today the preamble to what we now call the Constitution Act, 1867 puts the matter succinctly. We have “a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom.” Or, in more up-to-date language we are (like India or even Ireland today) a “British-style” or “Westminster” parliamentary democracy — on a model itself set in modern motion by the English “Glorious Revolution” of 1688-1689.

Or as was said in the early 20th century Canadian politics is “American actors on an English stage.” The English stage as an early Westminster parliamentary democracy dates back to the middle of the 19th century. More exactly, 1848 — the ultimately failed Year of Revolution in much of Europe — was also the more enduring Year of Responsible Government in Nova Scotia and what was then known as the United Province of Canada (Ontario and Quebec). The same early beginnings reached Prince Edward Island in 1851 and New Brunswick in 1854.

“Basquiat” by Michael Seward, July 2021.

One big fly in this particular democratic ointment involves the evolution of various restrictions on just who — or, more exactly, which “British subjects” — could vote for members of the local parliament : from 1850, say, to the much more recent past. (Starting with the first Canadian Citizenship Act and the repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act in 1947, the Inuit vote theoretically in 1950, and the extension of the vote to all “Indians” off and on reserve in 1960.)

For better or worse, there is a great wealth of excellent material on both the broader and narrower subject here online. See, eg : Election Canada’s “A History of the Vote in Canada,” updated to 2020 ; “First Nations and the Right to Vote Case Study” ; “A Brief History of First Nations Voting Rights” ; “Explaining Aboriginal Turnout in Federal Elections: Evidence from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba” ; “On-Reserve Voter Turnout – 43rd General Election” ; and “On-Reserve Voter Turnout – 42nd General Election.”

Attawapiskat, ON in 2016. PHOTO BY JULIE OLIVER /Ottawa Citizen.

I have also found John F. Leslie’s 2016 article for the online Canadian Encyclopedia on “Indigenous Suffrage” especially helpful. See as well : the online Encyclopedia’s “TIMELINE … Indigenous Suffrage” ; the Canadian Museum of History’s “Aboriginal people and the franchise” ; the late eminent political scientist Alan Cairns (1930-2018) on “Aboriginal People’s Electoral Participation in the Canadian Community” ; and Ashley Courchene ( a young Carleton University political science graduate and “Anishinaabe legal scholar” from the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba) on “Election 2019: Moving beyond ‘to vote or not to vote’,” published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

It was of course the same early Canadian parliamentary democracy born around 1850 that established the 1867 confederation’s more general radically assimilationist (and racist and white supremacist and so forth) Indigenous peoples policy.

This was consolidated in the federal Indian Act of 1876 (still in force in a much revised form). It was expressed in its most virulent form from the 1880s to as late as the 1990s (albeit with a peak in the 1930s) in the largely church-run “residential schools … established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture.”

“Whimsy” by Michael Seward , July 2021.

At the same time, a quite different approach to Indigenous policy in Canada set in definitively with the Pierre Trudeau federal government’s withdrawal from its assimilationist White Paper in 1969, and the subsequent guarantee of the “existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada” in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Representatives of the major Indigenous organizations helped negotiate and signed the Charlottetown Accord in 1992 (subsequently rejected in popular referendums). And whatever else may or may not be true, there is now a major Canadian Indigenous issues consulting industry, from coast to coast to coast.

(2) On and off reserve First Nations youth in Canada are growing : what will they do?

The more I think about these larger questions on Indigenous peoples and Canadian democracy, the more I think that it really may be the middle of the 21st century before we see what some widespread modern recognition of the importance of Indigenous people in Canada’s past, present, and future might mean. (Just what will happen, eg, if and when we the very broad Canadian democratic people of today finally do recognize what Harold Innis concluded in his classic fur trade history of 1930 : “We have not yet realized that the Indian and his culture were fundamental to the growth of Canadian institutions”?)

Alma Guillermoprieto, who once studied modern dance in New York City, at the Dinzel Studio in Buenos Aires. Photo: Pablo Corral Vega. Courtesy of Pablo Corral Vega.

Meanwhile, it does seem to me that we have some more urgent practical problems, Canadians and Indigenous peoples alike (or, at best, Non-Indigenous and Indigenous Canadians). An accidental juxtaposition of an angry Indigenous young man from northern Manitoba on my TV and Alma Guillermoprieto’s “Confrontation in Colombia,” in the July 22, 2021 issue of the New York Review of Books, made me worry a little more about one of these practical problems.

According to Indigenous Services Canada’s Annual Report to Parliament 2020, Canadian residents identifying as Indigenous accounted for just under 5% of the Canada-wide population in the 2016 Census. About 49% of the Indigenous population were so-called “Registered Indians” under the Indian Act. About 40% of Registered Indians live “on reserve,” in one of “634 First Nation communities, which represent more than 50 Nations and 50 Indigenous languages.” And, to the point that worries me most right now : “Indigenous peoples are the fastest growing population in Canada” today and “also the youngest population … about 44% were under the age of 25 in 2016, compared to 28% of the non-Indigenous population.”

Finally, the angry Indigenous young man from northern Manitoba on my TV at least vaguely reminded me of young men in present-day conflict-torn Columbia described by Alma Guillermoprieto in the July 22 New York Review of Books. Much of what is both good and bad in Columbia’s current radical political instability flows from young men who live “in a society that made them feel like trash and offered them no hope at all.” In the more recent past they have become part of a protest culture “where every unemployed or woefully undereducated kid” has “a part to play” with “at least one good meal a day for all … and where they” can “shout their loathing for their heartless rulers 24/7, dreaming … they were free.”

The main protest tactics of these young men in Columbia involve “barricades” and “roadblocks”— not unlike what Indigenous protesters in Canada have experimented with at various points over the past few decades. The youthful Columbian protesters have also had some short-term successes : “they’ve forced the removal of the finance minister and overturned his tax bill … A chastened private sector is busily inventing job programs for the young.”

Columbia today is of course not at all like Canada today. But especially the growing young on-reserve population in Canada’s 634 First Nation communities (some of which are in deep northern wilderness locations only accessible year-round by air) strikes me as something very much worth worrying about practically. We need public policies that somehow give these young people hope. I hope there are people in both Ottawa and the provincial capitals (and of course among Indigenous leaders everywhere) trying to figure out just what to do about this. According to the still youthful Ashley Courchene “many Indigenous people do not identify as ‘Canadian’” at this particular historical moment. Canada, however, is as a practical matter still the cluster of real-world 21st century institutions most likely to improve their lot in life. And my sense is that, whatever else, especially for young people on reserves it really does need improving. Perhaps the new Governor General can somehow help a little too?

Summer 2021 adventures of the Ontario flag reflect bigger issues .. how long can this keep going on?

Posted: July 20th, 2021 | No Comments »
“Time Zones” by Michael Seward, July 2021.

COUNTERWEIGHTS EDITORS, EAST TORONTO OFFICE. Back on Canada Day 2021 Mano Majumdar, a lecturer at Western University’s Ivey Business School, started a petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, “to replace the provincial flag with a more distinct and inclusive flag, chosen by democratic means.”

For those who may have forgotten (“You mean Ontario has a flag?”), the current provincial banner dates back to 1965. The Conservative premier John Robarts proposed adopting a version of the old federal red ensign (with a British Union Jack in the top left-hand corner) as a flag for Canada’s most populous province.

The ensign had been rendered obsolete by the new Canadian maple leaf flag adopted that year, against the protests of federal Conservatives. In the end, however, all but two Liberal members of the Legislative Assembly at Queen’s Park voted for the Robarts proposal — including 22 of 24 Liberals, and all seven New Democrats.

The more recent past

Current Ontario flag as depicted in Mano Majumdar’s 2021 petition for a new flag.

Mr. Majumdar’s petition for a new Ontario flag 56 years later is far from the first gesture of its sort in the more recent past. On the 50th anniversary of the Ontario red ensign in 2015 Roberto Martella, owner of Grano Restaurant on Yonge Street in Toronto, launched a campaign for a new flag. He wanted to better represent “the nearly 60 per cent of Ontarians who don’t describe their origins as either English or Scottish.”

The next year, 2016, Terry Miller at the Brampton Guardian took up the torch : “Over the past 50 years, Ontario has changed … the 2011 census showed only 42 per cent of Ontario’s population identified with the British connection.” The province needed a new flag to better reflect its new demographic realities.

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Is a federal election in Canada coming soon (and will “reconciliation with Indigenous people” be a key theme)?

Posted: July 13th, 2021 | No Comments »


On a grey day in the Kawarthas two or possibly even three big political questions float on the clouds.

(While even with the sun not shining the government tourism ad is strangely truthful : “You never forget the feeling of summer in Ontario.”)

The big questions are : Will there be a Canadian federal election soon — this fall at least?

If so, will Indigenous issues actually play a big role in the election, as some have hopefully suggested?

And finally (maybe), how do political developments just next door in the USA affect election prospects in the true north, strong and free?

Opinion polls

If you live in the Big Smoke and consulted the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail over the weekend you might guess that there probably will be a federal election soon enough. The venerable Star political columnist Bob Hepburn has advised : “Will Justin Trudeau miss the ideal window to call an election? He couldn’t ask for a better time than now.”

Meanwhile, eminent pollster Nik Nanos was being somewhat more cautious in the more conservative, business-minded Globe and Mail : “Is now the right time for an election? … Although the polls suggest a positive environment for the federal Liberals to call an election, campaigns remain double-edged swords.”

Both Éric Grenier’s CBC Poll Tracker and Philippe J. Fournier (@338Canada — and Maclean’s) have just updated their poll aggregation and seat projection models as well. Grenier neatly summarizes the results in both cases : “Liberals on threshold of majority government.”

As background, note that there are currently 338 seats in Canada’s elected federal Parliament, making the barest of majorities 170 seats. For an election held now Fournier’s projection from the opinion polls gives Liberals 170 seats, Conservatives 100, NDP 35, BQ 31, Greens 2. Grenier gives Liberals 171, Conservatives 101, NDP 33, BQ 31, Greens 2.

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Why Donald Trump will probably never wear the orange jumpsuit he deserves (and Justin Trudeau will in any case appoint a new Governor General of Canada soon)

Posted: July 4th, 2021 | No Comments »
Susan B. Glasser.

NORTH AMERICAN NOTEBOOK — RANDALL WHITE, FERNWOOD PARK, TORONTO. JULY 4, 2021. [UPDATED JULY 6]. Susan B. Glasser’s credentials are impressive : “… currently a staff writer at The New Yorker … Prior to her joining The New Yorker … she founded the award-winning Politico Magazine … previously served as the editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy … Before that, she worked for a decade at the Washington Post …”

Even without these credentials I’d be impressed by her July 1, 2021 “Letter from Biden’s Washington … The Persistent Fantasy of a Trump Knockout Punch.” She begins with : “For the past four years, Donald Trump’s critics have harbored a persistent fantasy that there would be one definitive moment when he would finally be subject to the accountability he so richly deserves. Each new Trump crisis — and there were many — offered the hope of some redemptive, indisputable, unambiguous end to Trump … It never happened.”

Ms Glasser goes on : “And yet the fantasy will not entirely die. There is still the chance, no matter how slim, that this will all end with Trump in an orange jumpsuit being carted off to prison. The flickering dream of a final Trump purge from public life took slightly more tangible shape on Thursday, in a New York City courtroom, when Trump’s tightly controlled personal company, the Trump Organization, and his longtime financial chief, Allen Weisselberg, were indicted on criminal tax charges stemming from an alleged fifteen-year-long scheme, ‘orchestrated by the most senior executives’ of the Trump Organization, as the prosecutor put it, to evade taxes.”

“Trump Organization finance chief Allen Weisselberg. PHOTO: JB MILLER/TRUMP ORGANIZATION.”

Susan Glasser concludes that : “Maybe Weisselberg will end up in jail; maybe he won’t.” And the thrust of her immediate thoughts on this past Thursday’s legal assault on the Trump Organization and its financial chief is that in the end here too the Persistent Fantasy of a Trump Knockout Punch will probably (and even almost certainly?) remain a fantasy.

At the same time : “one certitude at an uncertain moment” is that at least the astonishingly more fantastic fantasy of the most ardent MAGA supporters, that Trump himself will be “reinstated” as President this coming August,“will not happen. Elections still have consequences in this country … The simple truth is that Trump lost in 2020, and neither he, nor anyone, can undo it. Joe Biden lives at the White House now. That may not be a punishment fit for all of Donald Trump’s wrongdoing, but a punishment it surely is.”

For what it’s worth, I would just add my own related guess from north of the North American Great Lakes (as opposed to the African Great Lakes). The 2020 US election, that Trump lost by a decisive margin, will nonetheless also likely enough keep him out of an orange jumpsuit to match his orange hair, on his way to a prison in upstate New York or Elsewhere, USA.

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You expect me to believe that (notes from northern North America as the pandemic hopefully subsides) ????

Posted: June 29th, 2021 | No Comments »
“You Expect Me to Believe That?” by Michael Seward, June 2021.

SPECIAL FROM DOMINIC BERRY, MAN ABOUT MAIN STREET, GRAND BEND, ON. JUNE 29, 2021. It’s been hot enough here lately.

But not quite like : “Extreme heat warnings remain in place over much of Western Canada as a historic heat wave that has shattered 103 all-time heat records across BC, Alberta, Yukon and NWT moves eastward … Environment Canada warns that more records will be broken in BC’s Interior … after the village of Lytton registered the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada, 47.9 C, on Monday.”

Meanwhile, in the USA next door : “Portland soared to 116 degrees — hotter than Dallas, Miami and LA have ever been: Meanwhile, on the other side of the country Boston was forecast to hit nearly 100 degrees and New York City could feel like 105 degrees.”

Pinery Provincial Park on Lake Huron, near Grand Bend, Ontario.

Just now here north (and just east) of the lakes, the afternoon skies grew dark and torrential rains poured down. This at least cooled the covered front porch. We sat out and drank coffee, marveling at the ferocity of nature, indifferent to human needs or aspirations. “One thing about all this,” the lady of the lake beside me said, “is that it shows climate change is not a joke.”

(And then a little later I noticed this short report on Twitter : “UK Met Office: Is climate change to blame? UKMO scientists say temperatures of this ferocity would be almost impossible w/out the concentration of greenhouse gases warming up our atmosphere. WMO: As a result of climate change, heatwaves are becoming more intense and frequent.”)

Meanwhile, CBC News has just reported : “Heat wave in BC believed responsible for jump in sudden death calls. In the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, the RCMP reports 25 deaths in the last 24 hours. And in nearby Surrey, there were 22 calls yesterday and 13 so far today. By contrast, there were 4 on Sunday.”

The lady of the lake and I are not making any particular plans to celebrate Canada Day on Thursday. That seems the mood across the country right now for many different reasons. But of course in 2021 respect for Indigenous grief over residential schools is a key element in the “tradition of all the dead generations” that “weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living” — and bears further reflection.

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Eight short stories, early summer 2021 — from socialism in Buffalo and Kiran Ahuja to Pat Riccio, Mike Digout, Larry Olsen, and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Posted: June 24th, 2021 | No Comments »
India Walton.

COUNTERWEIGHTS EDITORS, FROM THE EAST TORONTO OFFICE (NORTH OF THE LAKES AS THE OLD AGRARIAN DEMOCRACY USED TO SAY). JUNE 24, 2021. The weather is more than just agreeable here today. The sun is shining. Early summer is in full bloom. And we are cheered, dismayed, and/or puzzled by eight different stories in the recent daily press (or its 2020s technological equivalent) :

First Socialist Mayor in Buffalo? Unexpectedly it seems, India Walton has pulled an AOC act next door to us, in Buffalo (well … across the lake and up the canal to the next lake etc). See “India Walton Poised To Become Buffalo’s First Socialist Mayor … Walton, who would also be the city’s first female mayor, ran on police accountability and addressing poverty in one of the country’s poorest cities.”

Why the close vote on Kiran Ahuja? Beyond the voting rights struggle in DC, we wondered why there was such a strict party split on “51-50: VP Harris casts her fifth tie-breaking vote since being sworn into office in January to advance the nomination of Kiran Ahuja to be director of the Office of Personnel Management.” We found the answer in an article by Tyler Olson at Fox News : All Republican senators (including Mitt Romney and Rob Portman etc) apparently believe Ms Ahuja is guilty of “promoting critical race theory.” (Whatever that may be.)

Kiran Ahuja.

Populist constitutional reform in UK. The Constitution Act, 1867 declares that Canada is to have “a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom.” In the 2020s the Constitution of the United Kingdom itself is under attack on its home turf. And the latest word is “Petition: Constitutional reform must be led by people, not politicians … Target: Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson.” We should remembers this in Canada too.

Opinion writer in USA does not reflect mood of Canada. Many who remember J.J. McCullough’s earlier Vancouver career and his current incarnation in the USA will welcome Andrew Cohen’s report on “The Washington Post’s troubled — and troubling — Canadian columnist.” As Mr. Cohen explains : “The mystery is why the Post runs McCullough, as if he reflects the mood of Canada …McCullough’s letter from Canada need not be a valentine. But his angry Canadian has worn thin, and it’s embarrassing the Post.”

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Senate reform for better regional representation still a great idea .. but it has to recognize the cross-Canada democracy

Posted: June 20th, 2021 | No Comments »

COUNTERWEIGHTS EDITORS, GANATSEKWYAGON, ON. JUNE 20, 2021. We (well most of us anyway) like Justin Trudeau’s current Liberal government of Canada more than some we know. It is not even close to half-perfect, but to us it’s still head and shoulders above any available alternative.

One thing we do not at all admire from the Trudeau Liberal workshop, however, is the government’s anaemic stab at Senate reform — a perennial Canadian problem at least since Robert A. MacKay’s classic on The Unreformed Senate of Canada was first published in 1926.

The trouble with the Justin Trudeau Liberal Senate tinkering

The key flaw in the kind of Senate reform the Justin Trudeau government has been pushing since it won the 2015 federal election — and more exactly since the creation of the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments in 2016 — is that it just evades the crucial “regional” issue that a Senate or “Upper House” is meant to address in a modern federal system.

One expression of this crucial issue occurs in recent writing on the history of Canadian democracy : “In a 1940s essay on ‘Decentralization and Democracy,’ Harold Innis wrote: ‘The complex problems of regionalization in the recent development of Canada render the political structure obsolete …’ And this remains an issue in the early 21st century! Politically, it at least ought to lead into the longstanding debate on Canadian Senate reform.”)

Don Braid at his desk in Calgary, 2019.

The same broad thinking is expressed in more up-to-date language by the headline in a Calgary Herald article from this past Wednesday : “Braid: Trudeau should wait and allow Alberta voters to fill two Senate seats … With the second-largest land mass of any country on earth, Canada obviously needs regional balance more than most.”

For further background to this headline see a Maclean’s article by Jason Markusoff : “The quixotic quest to get elected senators into the red chamber … Jason Kenney says Alberta will go ahead with a Senate vote this fall. But will the winners be allowed to sit in the upper house — even if a Prime Minister agrees to appoint them?” (And for a piece altogether against the quixotic quest see Max Fawcett’s “Stop trying to elect senators, Alberta” in the National Observer.)

Two cheers for Alberta Senate elections

What we want to do here is broadly support Don Braid’s call on PM Justin Trudeau to “wait and allow Alberta voters to fill two Senate seats” this fall — to at least keep coals burning on the kind of regionally representative Senate reform that some in Alberta and elsewhere have been urging since the 1980s. At the same time, we also want to strongly urge that the old “Triple E Senate” reform model which Mr. Braid and others are still touting as the eventual ultimate holy grail desperately needs to be re-thought in our particular Canadian context.

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Have the Doug Ford Conservatives just made a major miscalculation — using the notwithstanding clause to trash democratic rights?

Posted: June 14th, 2021 | No Comments »
Tks to Barista at Red Star Café.

SPECIAL FROM THE DEMOCRATIC DESKTOP OF CITIZEN X, BUCKHORN, ON. MONDAY, JUNE 14, 2021. A great many individuals and organizations down in The Smoke (also capital city of Canada’s most populous province) are up in arms today.

Using the so-called “notwithstanding clause” in section 33 of the Constitution Act, 1982, the Ford government is going ahead with its controversial election spending legislation, despite a court judgement that this violates the Canadian Charter of Rights in earlier sections of the Constitution Act, 1982.

According to Robert Benzie, Queen’s Park man in charge for the Toronto Star, the legislation, newly refreshed by references to the notwithstanding clause “should pass this afternoon.” The Ford government does have a majority of seats in the Legislative Assembly. And the voice of parliament — the supreme authority in our “Westminster” system of government — is clear.

Changing face of Ontario’s capital city in The Smoke — east to Bathurst from Palmerston just north of Bloor. Photo by Michael Seward, June 2021.

Just to round out the theory, it is the supremacy of parliament in our kind of parliamentary democracy that the notwithstanding clause is meant to guarantee. And now as of 4:31 PM EDT The Canadian Press is reporting that Mr. Benzie was right : “Ontario passes election spending bill with notwithstanding clause … The Ontario government has passed a bill limiting third-party election advertising by employing a rarely used legislative power … Bill 307 used the notwithstanding clause to reintroduce parts of a law struck down by a judge last week … The clause allows legislatures to override portions of the charter for a five-year term … The bill passed this afternoon after a marathon weekend debate in which opposition politicians argued the government was trying to silence criticism ahead of next June’s provincial election.”

I wouldn’t pretend to any deep knowledge on this issue. And, like so much else, it does strike me as at least somewhat more complex than the most aggressive arguments of all three opposition parties in the Ontario legislature might suggest.

In the Globe and Mail this morning, eg, Christine Van Geyn of the Canadian Constitution Foundation and Scott Hennig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation noted that “Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government first brought in a law in 2016 that gagged citizens from using paid means of amplifying their voices” before elections.

From Theo Moudakis in the Toronto Star.

But Van Geyn and Hennig also point out that the new Ford Conservative government law of 2021 goes far beyond the earlier Wynne government rules on election spending. The Bill 307 that has now been duly passed by the provincial parliament means that “today, with just under a year to go before the next Ontario election, citizens are effectively barred from spending their own money to voice their opinion on any political issue.” And while “Mr. Ford’s target may be the union coalition Working Families, the impact of the law is far broader, and limits comment on essentially any public policy issue when these comments matter the most.”

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Langevin, Macdonald, and Ryerson in the wake of the Kamloops graves : where do they belong in Canadian history?

Posted: June 11th, 2021 | No Comments »

NORTH AMERICAN NOTEBOOK — RANDALL WHITE, FERNWOOD PARK, TORONTO. JUNE 11, 2021. I think Stephen Maher’s June 7, 2021 Maclean’s article, “John A. Macdonald can wait … We are at the beginning, not the end, of a process of reassessing our history…” says a number of good things on an important issue at the right moment.

The article has inspired me to quickly add a few unusually soon further notes to my own more modest thoughts of the same date on “We have not yet realized that the Indian and his culture were fundamental to the growth of Canadian institutions.”

Not just John A. Macdonald

One good thing about Maher’s “John A. Macdonald can wait” is that he points out how this particular “architect of the system” of “Indian Residential Schools” in Canada “looked to the United States, where residential schools were being used to destroy Indigenous communities, and imported the system.”

(Macdonald arguably did something similar with the economic development strategy often called his “National Policy” — a variation on the “American System” next door.)

Here in Toronto (as in other places), where clips of the tumbling Egerton Ryerson statue on the campus of the downtown university that still bears his name have lately haunted the local TV news, we also can’t forget that there were other reputed “architects” of the appalling residential schools system.

Similar thoughts may still linger in the capital city at Ottawa, where the “Langevin Block” was re-christened the “Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council” on June 21, 2017, after “the Assembly of First Nations called for the building to be renamed, due to Hector Langevin’s role in the creation of Canada’s controversial Indian residential schools system.”

The broader assumptions of the societies in which they lived

Neither Langevin nor Ryerson have as big a reputation in traditional Canadian history as the first prime minister of the 1867 confederation John A. Macdonald. And that’s a good reason for a good journalist rightly concerned about keeping things not too demanding for many diverse readers to focus on Macdonald.

General Brock meets Tecumseh, his ally in defence of Canada in the War of 1812.

At the same time, the presence of more than one particular “architect” of the residential schools in Canada — and their deeper origins in the “Native American Boarding Schools” of the United States — suggest some kind of important broader historical reality to me. And hopefully this will become clearer as we, in Stephen Maher’s words, carry on with the current “process of reassessing our history, and filling in the silences that are needed to get at the truth.”

It may seem somehow comforting, for example, to identify a few individuals — such as Ryerson, Langevin, and Macdonald — to take the major blame for the residential schools. But my sense of the 19th century Canadian world they lived in (flowing especially from my current work-in-progress on “Democracy in Canada Since 1497” — now at least closer to completion than it has ever been before) is that their views on the future of the various Indigenous peoples of Canada largely reflected the broader assumptions of the societies in which they lived.

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“We have not yet realized that the Indian and his culture were fundamental to the growth of Canadian institutions” (and then there’s Democracy in America today)

Posted: June 7th, 2021 | No Comments »
“Mi-O-My-O” by Michael Seward, May 2021.

NORTH AMERICAN NOTEBOOK — RANDALL WHITE, FERNWOOD PARK, TORONTO. JUNE 7, 2021. The troubling big news in Canada right now appears in reports like : “How radar technology is used to discover unmarked graves at former residential schools” ; and “Papal apology for church’s role in residential schools may not be ‘way forward’: archbishop.”

In the midst of much not always enlightening commentary I think CBC News (believe it or not) has put together something helpful and even more or less objective with : “Your questions answered about Canada’s residential school system … Discovery at former residential school in Kamloops, BC has led to calls for action.”

“Further Wreckage” — photo by Michael Seward, May 2021.

It is intriguing if not surprising that Canadian reporting on the residential schools issue seldom (if ever) acknowledges the parallel experience next door. See eg a National Public Radio report on “US Boarding Schools Were The Blueprint For Indigenous Family Separation In Canada” ; or a USA Today article : “Mass grave of 215 children in Canada a stark reminder of the dark history of Native American boarding schools in US.”

My personal view is that we are still light years away from honest conversations about the role of Indigenous Canadians in Canadian history. It is often said that the 1930s marked the height of the appalling residential school system in Canada (operated in conjunction with church organizations, as in the former Catholic school in Kamloops where radar technology has suggested as many as 215 graves of Indigenous schoolchildren).

At the same time, it was also in 1930 that Harold Innis’s still-in-print classic on The Fur Trade in Canada : An Introduction to Canadian Economic History included this provocative sentence in its striking conclusion : “We have not yet realized that the Indian and his culture were fundamental to the growth of Canadian institutions.”

“Canada” itself is an Indigenous or Native North American word. (Iroquoian more exactly. Like, if I understand correctly, the Algonquian words Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Toronto, and on and on and on.) In the 1990s Brian Slattery at Osgoode Hall Law School was arguing that what were then legally known as Aboriginal peoples (as in the Constitution Act, 1982) “were active participants in the lengthy processes that eventually gave rise to the federation of Canada … Aboriginal peoples should be viewed as active participants in generating the basic norms that govern us … as contributors to the evolution of our Constitution and most fundamental laws.”

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