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  • History Under Harper: Leaving Québec, and Much Else, Outside Canada

The October 2013 Speech from the Throne offered a good summary of the vision of Canada promoted by the Harper government. Canadians, read the Governor General, “draw inspiration” from their founders, from whom they have inherited “a legacy of freedom, the birthright of all humanity, and the courage to uphold it; the rule of law, and the institutions to protect it; respect for human dignity and diversity.”1

These founders belonged to Aboriginal peoples, they were French, English, or came later from all over the world, but they “looked beyond narrow self-interest” and “strove together” to build “an independent country where none would have otherwise existed.” And this country took its almost perfect and practically definitive form with Confederation, which endowed Canadians with strong and balanced institutions. Following Confederation, our history simply unfolded, to become primarily one of engagement and courage during war times. Our values were already enshrined, our character forged, and our collective path determined.

Consider, for instance, the following condensation of Canadian history:

As we look confidently to the future, we draw great strength from our past. Beginning with our Aboriginal peoples, Canada’s story is one of risk, sacrifice, and rugged determination. From the founding of New France, to the fight for Canada in the War of 1812, from the visionary achievement of Confederation, to our victory at Vimy Ridge, Canadians have repeatedly triumphed over long odds to forge a great country, united and free.2

Only wars moved this country during the 20th century. There was no fight for Aboriginal rights and self-determination, no mobilization over female suffrage or reproductive rights, no labour movement, no welfare state, no official bilingualism or multiculturalism, no Charter of Rights and, for all practical purposes, no Québec. No Harold Cardinal, no Nellie McClung, no Henry Morgentaler, no Madeleine Parent, no Tommy Douglas and, of course, no Pierre Elliott Trudeau or René Lévesque.

Am I making too much of a short speech? Not really. All the historical events that the federal government plans to celebrate in the coming years have to do with Confederation or with wars, with the exception of a memorial to the victims of communism, which indeed also relates to a war, the Cold War. Step by step, the government is rewriting the history of Canada, to downplay [End Page 210] its progressive, liberal, or multinational dimensions and to highlight instead its conservative, royalist, and military origins.

This operation goes much beyond calculated omissions or monarchist and military celebrations. In a number of ways, the federal government is actively amending the facts and obscuring the past. On the web, for instance, much of what took place before 2006 is gradually disappearing.

Take, for instance, the now defunct National Council of Welfare. This was a rare and precious autonomous body designed to advise the federal government on matters of poverty and social development. Created in its definitive form by a 1969 Act of Parliament, the Council proved extremely useful in producing, year after year, reliable data on welfare incomes in the provinces. In its last published report, for instance, for the year 2009, one could find that a single employable person on welfare in New Brunswick received as income 26 per cent of the low income threshold determined by the Market Basket Measure, compared to 64 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador, 52 per cent in Québec, and 48 per cent in Ontario.3 Whereas in most provinces, single persons on welfare got about half of what it would have taken to escape poverty, in New Brunswick they received half of that half. Because of the abolition by the Conservative government of the National Council of Welfare in 2012, for the years after 2009 we cannot tell. Not only was this institution destroyed, but its website, which contained a wealth of information going back many years, was closed almost immediately. It is still possible, with lots of patience and the guidance of Gilles Séguin, a former civil servant who monitors social policy developments in Canada, to track down the Council’s publications.4 But...


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