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Getting it Wrong

Getting it Wrong: How Canadians Forgot Their Past and Imperilled Confederation

Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 320
  • Book Info
    Getting it Wrong
    Book Description:

    This provocative book explains how divergent views of Canada?s past have sown dissension between Québécois and other Canadians, disclosing a lost middle ground between the Canadian nationalist and Québec nationalist visions of Canadian history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7531-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. 1 Introduction: ‘The Hard Light of History’
    (pp. 3-18)

    I hope this book may help to form a basis for dialogue between French and English Canadians. That was not my intention in writing it. I set out to examine what was wrong with the account of Canadian history that I learned at the University of Toronto some twenty years ago. And that is what I’ve done. In the process, though, I realized that I was rediscovering a lost middle ground between French- and English-Canadian ideas of Canada. One of the things that bedevils relations between the two peoples is the discrepancy between what they each learn about the history...

  5. Part One. 1820–1850:: Reformers and Responsible Government

    • 2 Reform versus Loyalism: Two Canadian Myths
      (pp. 21-32)

      On a snowy day in November 1872, an unusual by-election took place at Woodstock, in southwestern Ontario. Both of the candidates were Reformers (Liberals), and both were members of the government. Oliver Mowat, the attorney general and premier, had resigned as a judge of the Ontario Court of Chancery only five weeks earlier to take political office. He needed a seat in the legislature. Archibald McKellar was minister of public works and agriculture. He had been leader of the Opposition from 1867 to 1870, when Edward Blake took over, and but for Mowat’s intervention might well have succeeded Blake as...

    • 3 Strangers in Their Own Land
      (pp. 33-41)

      I’m suggesting that the Loyalist and Reform ideas of Upper Canada were myths, each based on a biased account of the province’s history and each reflecting the outlook of a group that saw the other in some sense as alien. The alienation dominated politics in the 1820s and resulted in part from conflicting material interests. Hard up and chronically indebted, the farmers of early Upper Canada bargained at a disadvantage with the merchants who were their economic lifeline to the outside world, and there was no bargaining over the fees they had to pay for government services. Most officials, from...

    • 4 A Federal Constitution: Reformers and the Empire
      (pp. 42-56)

      The myths of alien oppression and alien subversion were to affect provincial politics long after the rapid evolution of a colonial frontier society had reduced the alien question to a vague memory. They were absorbed into the ideologies of Reform and Toryism, respectively, whose endless conflict informed Oliver Mowat’s account of Upper Canadian history. As Mowat’s narrative shows, though, the event that would be remembered as the source of that political divide was not the alien question itself but the constitutional struggle it engendered: the struggle for responsible government.

      Today the story of that struggle no longer thrills Canadian hearts...

    • 5 Myths of Responsible Government
      (pp. 57-72)

      How did Canadians lose sight of the thread linking responsible government with Confederation and provincial rights? Part of the explanation, in my view, is that the Reformers of the 1830s and 1840s misled them. Advocates of responsible government had to overcome two ideological obstacles. One was the political ascendancy of Loyalism in Upper Canada, the other the doctrine of Westminster’s legislative sovereignty. As long as the demand for responsible government was tied to a frank insistence on colonial sovereignty, it was difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile it with either the political or the legal doctrine. It seemed disloyal from...

  6. Part Two. 1850–1890:: The Confederation Compact

    • 6 ‘One Great Confederation’
      (pp. 75-86)

      The Reform party that campaigned in the late 1850s and early 1860s to reform United Canada was much altered from that which had struggled for responsible government in the 1840s. From 1848 to 1854, the party and its Lower Canadian allies governed the province, first under Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and then, from 1851 on, under Francis Hincks and Augustin-Norbert Morin. Almost from the start, the exercise of political power opened a rift between the party leaders and many of their followers. Baldwin’s social conservatism annoyed not only the party’s populist wing but many of its bussiness supporters, including...

    • 7 Confederation: The Untold Story
      (pp. 87-108)

      In 1859 Upper Canadian Reformers embraced the idea of Canadian federation, somewhat gingerly, as a way of securing the autonomy which they had expected from responsible government but which the union of 1841 had denied them. Some of them also expressed enthusiasm for a broader scheme, which George Brown calledconfederation: the political union of British North America as a whole. But no one advocated confederation as a substitute for Upper Canadian autonomy; no one argued that local autonomy was worth sacrificing to achieve the wider union.

      This fact is important because, less than five years later, both Canadian federation...

    • 8 Je me souviens: The Great Fight for Responsible Government, Part III
      (pp. 109-123)

      We have returned to our starting-point: to Oliver Mowat speaking to the electors of North Oxford on a snowy November day in 1872. Now we know why he talked about Confederation as he did that day in the rural county town of Woodstock. To Reformers, Confederation meant self-government for Upper Canada or it meant nothing. They had been campaigning for self-government since the 1820s, and at last they had it. The wounds of 1867 were healed; the party was whole again. Not only that: it was in power.

      By November 1872, when Mowat became premier of Ontario, the Reformers had...

    • 9 Peoples and Pacts
      (pp. 124-144)

      In the 188os the bedrock of Reform politics was still those rural communities, mainly of American and Scottish stock, that had powered the movement fifty years earlier. The Americans were mainly Methodists, the Scots mainly Free Kirk Presbyterians. Though settled throughout Ontario, they were thickest in the country between Lakes Huron and Erie. ‘The Peninsula must not get hold of the ship,’ wrote John A. Macdonald anxiously in 1856. ‘It is occupied by Yankees and Covenanters, in fact the most yeasty and unsafe of populations.’¹

      Writing of the Peninsula community in which he grew up between the world wars, the...

  7. Part Three. 1890–1940:: Forgetting the Compact

    • 10 Amending the Constitution
      (pp. 147-160)

      In September 1930, the premier of Ontario, G. Howard Ferguson, wrote urgently to his fellow-Conservative R.B. Bennett, newly appointed prime minister of Canada. Four years earlier, the British government had formally recognized the constitutional independence of His Majesty’s self-governing dominions. A committee of experts had been formed to frame legislation giving the force of law to that independence. In 1929 the committee reported in terms that aroused Ferguson’s alarm. It recommended, among other things, repealing a British statute of 1865, the Colonial Laws Validity Act, which barred colonial legislatures from passing any law that conflicted with any British statute. But...

    • 11 Centralist Revolution
      (pp. 161-180)

      Norman Rogers’s assault on the compact theory was part of a broader campaign of constitutional criticism by English-Canadian intellectuals. Their main target was the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which they charged with misinterpreting the division of legislative powers between Ottawa and the provinces in sections 91 and 92 of the BNA Act. Their campaign gathered force throughout the 1930s and, like their attack on the compact theory, went virtually unopposed in English-speaking Canada. Based on a biased history, it quickly eclipsed not just the authority but even the memory of that earlier understanding of the division of powers...

    • 12 Continentalism, Imperialism, Nationalism
      (pp. 181-199)

      A good starting-point is those early quarrels on the subject of amending the constitution, which I reviewed in chapter 10. Looking back on them as Norman Rogers and other centralists did in the late 1920s, the Confederation compact may have appeared to have been doomed from the start. Like the principles of responsible government, in Britain as well as in the colonies, its terms were not inscribed in any official document. They were an unwritten gloss on the BNA Act, just as the principles of responsible government were an unwritten gloss on English constitutional law. Inevitably they were somewhat vague...

    • 13 English Canada Forgets
      (pp. 200-212)

      The Statute of Westminster fulfilled Ewart’s vision of Canada’s destiny. By then he had become mentor to a younger generation of Canadian nationalists — men forty and fifty years his junior, such as Frank Underhill and Frank Scott. Underhill wrote short studies of both Ewart and Goldwin Smith in pursuit of his lifelong quest to define Canadian Liberalism;¹ Scott and others followed Ewart in campaigning for an end to judicial appeals to the Privy Council.² Ewart’s part in the meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association in Ottawa in 1931 symbolized his patriarchal status. He was chairman and commentator at...

  8. Part Four. 1940–1982:: Continentalism and Nationalisms

    • 14 The New Canadian Nationalism
      (pp. 215-235)

      On the eve of the Second World War, English-Canadian thinking was dominated by the continentalist nationalism expounded by John Ewart, which visualized Canadian society as North American rather than British. The First World War had placed this nationalism in the ascendant, but the Second, by virtue of its effects on the international order, would gravely compromise it. One sign of this change was a revival of anti-Americanism; another was a shift in historical consciousness. Writing for an international audience in 1958, one writer interpreted the one change in terms of the other under the title ‘Canada Rediscovers Its History.’¹


    • 15 Canadian Nationalists and the Quiet Revolution
      (pp. 236-257)

      The conservative nationalism of George Grant and Donald Creighton was defined by anti-Americanism, centralism, and esteem for the country’s traditional political values and institutions. This left plenty of room for dissension, and nothing caused more of that than the Quiet Revolution in Quebec. Liberals and socialists also differed among themselves on how to respond, but with conservatives in particular the disagreement took on the aspect of a quarrel about history. The two leading historians of the day were prominent conservatives, and they disagreed. When Creighton set out to shed ‘the hard light of history’ on certain ‘revolutionary’ myths that had...

    • 16 A Historic Blunder: Trudeau and Patriation
      (pp. 258-276)

      Pierre Elliott Trudeau was the federal Liberals’ answer to the Quiet Revolution. Alarmed at the advance of separatist nationalism in Quebec, wary of the charisma of René Lévesque, the Liberals in 1965 recruited three leading Québécois federalists into the Ottawa caucus. Jean Marchand was a trade union leader, a close collaborator with the Lesage government, and a member of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. Gérard Pelletier, also of working-class origins, had been editor of the Montreal dailyLa Presseuntil 1964, when he was fired for his radicalism. Trudeau, the son of a successful businessman, shared his colleagues’...

    • 17 Conclusion: Getting It Wrong, Putting It Right
      (pp. 277-292)

      I have now explained how it is that biased history and its application to politics have contributed to Canada’s endemic disunity. I began with some forgotten history — with Upper Canadians quarrelling over the meaning of their identity as British North Americans — and described how that clash between ‘loyalism’ and ‘patriotism’ animated a successful movement for autonomy within the British empire, one based on a federal conception of the empire and a belief in the inalienable right of British subjects to self-government. In the 1860s, feeling that their province’s incorporation in United Canada deprived it of the substance of...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 293-318)
  10. Index
    (pp. 319-332)