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  • CCF Colonialism in Northern Saskatchewan: Battling Parish Priests, Bootleggers, and Fur Sharks
  • Laurel Sefton MacDowell (bio)
David M. Quiring . CCF Colonialism in Northern Saskatchewan: Battling Parish Priests, Bootleggers, and Fur Sharks University of British Columbia Press. xx, 259. $85.00, $29.95

The oft-repeated theme of this monograph is that the twenty-year CCF government in Saskatchewan between 1944 and 1964 sought to impose modernization, assimilation, and socialism in the province's north in what the author describes as a colonial relationship. Although it is de rigueur to write about colonialism these days, it is not an effective term in this case, and detracts from the main theme. We are talking about a Canadian province's administration of a region, not an outside power.

Once the author gets into his research, and it takes a while because though the publisher's marketing flyer describes this monograph as an [End Page 433] 'elegantly written history,' it would have benefited from more editing, he argues that the CCF did not spend enough money to create an infrastructure to modernize and develop the north. It intervened enough to change the society by disrupting traditional Native relationships with the influential Hudson's Bay Company, and the churches. Its planning mechanisms were controlling and not consultative, so that it alienated northerners who resisted changes. It used the north, which with sparse population was little represented in the legislature with only two members, as an experimental laboratory for 'socialism' through Crown corporations which imposed public ownership in the trapping, fishing, forestry, retail sales, and air transport industries in a heavy-handed, ineffective manner. In this process, directed from the south, CCF bureaucrats developed an approach to Aboriginals (as he calls them) which was denigrating, paternalistic, racist, and aimed at assimilation, and which did not work.

These are serious charges, and if true do accomplish two of the author's aims - to add to the historiography about the CCF, and present a new view of a government and civil service which has been seen as innovative, successful, and creative, and which contributed talented personnel and programs (such as Medicare) to the rest of Canada. It also adds a small smudge to Tommy Douglas's well-deserved reputation as a statesman, an honest politician, and a non-racist defender of civil rights.

It is difficult to evaluate the evidence David M. Quiring presents because he consistently damns the CCF, which he blames for its northern vision, for its administrative mismanagement of its programs, and for its ideology of 'socialism.' He provides no context for the decisions taken, barely mentioning Diefenbaker's northern vision except to say that the Saskatchewan government sought money for roads from the federal Roads to Resources program. He states that Saskatchewan's northerners had to rely on its two neighbouring provinces for marketing and transportation, yet he never compares northern development in Alberta and Manitoba with the 'socialist' program being implemented in Saskatchewan, so that a wary reader has no yardstick with which to evaluate his information independently while wading through his political prejudices.

It is true that the CCF world view understood economic analysis more than culture, so that it sought to modernize the north and introduce essential social services without understanding what effects such rapid changes might have on the society. It is also true that consistently the CCF was internationalist and tolerant of other cultures and peoples in its outlook, belonged to international socialist organizations, and supported the United Nations in the pre-nationalistic days before the 1960s.

By the end of the book, one struggles to bring a sense of the meaning to the subject. Apparently, according to the epilogue, the CCF did accomplish a few 'good' things. As a result of health care, the Native infant mortality rate, which was among the highest in the world, was reduced, and life [End Page 434] expectancy increased. With new schools, most children learned to read and write, so literacy increased. While there were not enough roads, most settlements had one, and the houses in the communities the government built to attract Natives out of the bush lasted longer than the government. The book damns the settlements' lack of...


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