Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Political and the Partisan

The story about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights' decision to pull Professor Strong-Boag's blog post about International Women's Day has continued to evolve since my post on the weekend.  The Winnipeg Free Press has published additional correspondance between the Museum and Strong-Boag.  On their side, the museum indicated that they did not want blog posts that are "used as, or be perceived as, a platform for political positions or partisan statements".  Strong-Boag replies that she considers this approach to be both "naive and pedagogically unsound for a museum supposedly dedicated to (the promotion of) Human Rights".  It's worth reading both statements in their entirety. 

In the public response to the CMHR's statement, the museum has been called out by a wide array of historians for what they perceive as its desire to try to produce a museum which is not political at all.  As Franca Iacovetta and many others point out, "human rights are, by definition, political."  I fully agree, and at least on the face of that letter, it seems that I might have given the museum too much credit if I thought they might have accepted a balanced political post that was not overtly partisan.  A museum of human rights cannot hope to be taken seriously if it pretends that the issues it discusses are not political.  There must be political content in their exhibits if they are to be able to educate their audiences.  On that issue, I'm fully onside with the critics of the museum - assuming that they are correct in taking the CMHR's statement that they do not want the blogs to be "a platform for political positions or partisan statements" as a complete disavowal of all things political.

And now for my qualifier.  "Political" can mean a number of different things.  It can mean discussing issues that are politicized, and it can mean presenting a variety of political stances on a given issue.  It can mean taking one specific political stance or viewpoint.  Or it could mean taking one political stance or viewpoint and explicitly tying that to why a person should support or oppose a given political party.  "Political" is not the exact same thing as "partisan", although there is overlap.  One can take a political stand on an issue - favouring government-funded childcare, for example - without explicitly endorsing or attacking a particular political party.  So while I fully endorse my colleagues in calling for a Canadian Human Rights Museum which engages with political and politicized issues, I do ask the genuine question of whether they also think or expect that the Museum should also be partisan in its communications.  Do they expect the Museum to engage in direct criticism of the current governing Conservative Party of Canada, calling the party out by name?  Would they expect the same if the governing party were Liberal or NDP?  Would they have considered it acceptable if the Canadian War Museum had explicitly criticized the Trudeau or Chrétien Liberal governments for cutbacks to the military?  Would it be acceptable for Quebec's Musée de la civilisation to take an explicitly separatist approach to Quebec's history and overtly celebrate the accomplishments of the PQ and criticize the PLQ for being federalist?  How will they feel if the Canadian Museum of History, in its new incarnation, explicitly celebrates past Conservative governments for their contributions to Canada's development, and is critical of Liberal governments for supposed missteps or failures?  The parallels are not exact, but hopefully they illustrate my point.

My worry is that the debate over the issue of partisanship has got a bit lost in our haste to insist on the need for political content at this museum, and I think it would be useful to have a sense of where the line can or should be drawn.  Because if we call for a free-for-all on explicitly partisan material, then it becomes that much easier for a museum to be manipulated to serve the government of the day and to use them as a mouthpiece to trumpet the policies of the current administration.  In other words, how far do we expect museums to go, when we ask them to be "political"?

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Open Letter on the Fair Elections Act

Over the weekend, I was asked to sign an open letter regarding the proposed "Fair Elections Act", a seriously-flawed piece of legislation with an Orwellian name.  I was happy to sign it, particularly as the recipient of a diversionary robocall in Guelph on voting day of the last federal election.  The open letter, signed by many Canadian professors, appeared in the National Post and Le Devoir today.  I encourage you to read the letter, which outlines a number of key concerns.

The press release accompanying the letter reads as follows:


An open letter from democracy experts challenging key proposals in the Fair Elections Act (Bill C-23) was sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Members of Parliament today. The letter is signed by over 150 professors at Canadian universities who teach and conduct research on the principles and practices of constitutional democracies, including 15 past presidents of the Canadian Political Science Association. It appeared in the National Post on Tuesday, March 11.

The professors believe the Bill’s proposal to eliminate the vouching system and the use of voter information cards as ID in federal elections would decrease voter participation, especially among youth, senior citizens, and First Nations citizens. Elections Canada’s capacity to investigate electoral infractions and raise public awareness about the importance of voting would also be compromised. Also of concern are proposed reforms to campaign finance rules and expense reporting, which would allow political parties to dramatically increase their campaign coffers and spend more on political advertising. Giving money even greater influence on electoral outcomes undermines principles of political fairness and citizens’ equality, they say.

The letter’s authors are urging the Government to facilitate wider consultation on Bill C-23 at the committee level, allowing extensive testimony from both experts and ordinary Canadians.

MEDIA: for more information, contact Monique Deveaux 905-869-5599


Electoral law; voting rights; campaign finance:
Yasmin Dawood: Assistant Professor of Law, University of Toronto  Phone: 416-819-9462  (cell) 416-946-7829 (office)

Democratic institutions, constitutional reform, citizen engagement:
Maxwell A. Cameron: Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia
Contact:Max.Cameron@ubc.caPhone: (011) 51-945-576-220 (cell) or by Skype: maxwellcameron

Democracy; political inequality:
Monique Deveaux: Professor of Philosophy and Canada Research Chair, University of Guelph
Contact: mdeveaux@uoguelph.caPhone: 905-869-5599

Democracy; citizen engagement; political representation:
Melissa Williams: Professor of Political Science, University of Toronto
Contact:melissa.williams@utoronto.caPhone: 416-978-8220 (office) 647-991-5838 (cell)

Influence of money on politics; public trust; citizen engagement:
Patti Tamara Lenard: Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Public & International Affairs, University of Ottawa Contact: Patti.Lenard@uottawa.caPhone: 613-796-6647 (cell)

French media interviews: Daniel Weinstock, Professor of Law, McGill University: 514-952-3763

La Loi sur l’intégrité des élections menacerait la démocratie canadienne selon des experts

Des professeurs experts en démocratie ont envoyé aujourd’hui une lettre ouverte contestant des propositions clés de la Loi sur l’intégrité des élections (projet de loi C-23) au premier ministre Stephen Harper ainsi qu’aux membres du parlement. La lettre est signée par plus de 150 professeurs d’universités canadiennes qui enseignent et conduisent des recherches sur les principes et les pratiques des démocraties constitutionnelles, incluant 15 présidents passés de l’Association canadienne de science politique.

Les professeurs croient que la proposition, contenue dans le projet de loi, visant à éliminer le système des répondants ainsi que l’utilisation de la carte d’information de l'électeur à titre de pièce d’identité pour voter lors des élections fédérales diminuerait la participation des électeurs, surtout parmi les jeunes, les aînés et les citoyens des Premières Nations. La capacité d’Élections Canada d’enquêter sur les infractions à la loi électorale et de promouvoir l’importance de voter serait également compromise. Une autre préoccupation des professeurs concerne les réformes proposées du processus de contrôle du financement des campagnes et des dépenses électorales. Ces réformes permettraient aux partis politiques d’augmenter de manière significative leur budget de campagne électorale et de dépenser davantage en publicité partisane. Selon les professeurs, donner à l’argent une influence encore plus grande sur les résultats des élections mine le principe d'égalité des chances électorales.

Les auteurs de la lettre demandent au gouvernement de rendre possible une consultation plus large sur le projet de loi C-23 au niveau du comité qui permettrait à la fois aux experts et aux citoyens de pouvoir témoigner et participer activement au processus consultatif.

CONTACT PRESSE: média francais:
Daniel Weinstock, Professeur, Faculté de droit, McGill: 514-952-3763/;
André Blais, CRC en études électorales, U de Montréal: 514-343-6111 x40564

Influence of money on politics; public trust; citizen engagement:
Patti Tamara Lenard: Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Public & International Affairs, University of Ottawa Contact: Patti.Lenard@uottawa.caPhone: 613-796-6647 (cell)

Electoral law; voting rights; campaign finance:
Yasmin Dawood: Assistant Professor of Law, University of Toronto Phone: 416-819-9462  (cell) 416-946-7829 (office)

Democratic institutions, constitutional reform, citizen engagement:
Maxwell A. Cameron: Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia
Contact:Max.Cameron@ubc.caPhone: (011) 51-945-576-220 (cell)
or by Skype: maxwellcameron [Dr. Cameron is abroad but happy to field media calls]

Democracy and political inequality:
Monique Deveaux: Professor of Philosophy and Canada Research Chair, University of Guelph
Contact: mdeveaux@uoguelph.caPhone: 905-869-5599

Democracy; citizen engagement; political representation:
Melissa Williams: Professor of Political Science, University of Toronto
Contact:melissa.williams@utoronto.caPhone: 416-978-8220 (office) 647-991-5838 (cell)

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Sunday, March 09, 2014

Silencing or Strategic Manoeuvring? Professor Strong-Boag, International Women's Day and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

For the past three days, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been filled with a series of re-posts and re-tweets related to Professor Veronica Strong-Boag's blogpost about International Women's Day (IWD) for the (still-to-be-opened) Canadian Museum for Human Rights.  According to the detailed report on, containing Strong-Boag's post and commentary about the story, she had been commissioned by the Museum to write a post about IWD for their collective blog.  When she submitted the blogpost, it was initially approved, and then withdrawn when the communications department expressed concern over her comment on the current Conservative government.  As a result, historians from coast to coast have been decrying the "censorship" and "silencing" of Strong-Boag by the museum (and speculating that the current federal government might have had a hand in this).  

Shortly after the ActiveHistory piece was published, Franca Iacovetta, professor of Canadian history at the University of Toronto, and the current president of the International Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, published a condemnation of "the effort to silence Canada’s leading women’s historian" on the Berks website.  Since that time, PressProgress has added their voice into the mix, commenting on the irony of a human rights museum censoring a commissioned blog.  Both of these pieces have also received extensive coverage on Facebook and Twitter.

I have a somewhat different take on these events from many of my historian colleagues, and would posit a working theory.  I suspect that Prof. Strong-Boag might have known full well (or at least strongly suspected) that her blogpost for International Women's Day, which only includes one reference to Canadian governments past or present and does so to highlight the "anti-woman record" of "Canada's Conservative government", was never going to be approved by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The museum has been mired in controversies and funding crises for years - even before it has opened to the public.  The people who commissioned the post probably were hoping for a broad overview of the history of International Women's Day, or perhaps a post that included some discussion of how Canada's governments (past and present) have dealt with women's issues.  This is not what they received, and someone probably balked at the fact that the sole reference in the post to Canada's governments was a partisan attack on the current Conservative administration.  An offer to add more detail to support the assessment of the current government as "anti-woman" was probably even less welcomed. 

Here's where I think the story gets interesting. By being "censored", Strong-Boag has ensured that her message gets diffused to a much wider readership than the original blogpost itself likely would have been.  It is a fairly standard social movement tactic to try to create a situation (a "grievance" to use the social movement scholarly jargon) that will lend itself to media exposure, with the movement able to cast itself as the aggrieved party.  This helps to generate broader-based support for the movement, which is crucial to resource mobilization.  I very strongly suspect that the vast majority of people who have commented and re-posted this story have never before read the blog of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and would not have seen the post had it simply been posted there.  I had to scroll back to August 2013 to find a post on the CMHR blog that had a comment on it.  It also isn't a blog with a rich history of guest postings - only six names of guest bloggers appear on their contributors roll.  The website, on the other hand, has a widespread readership among Canadian historians and engenders a lot of commentary.  The Berks is the main conference on women's history in North America.  Far from being silenced, the decision by the CMHR to remove the post as written from their site has meant that Strong-Boag got a series of major platforms to attack the Harper government's record on women's rights, and along the way to damage the CMHR's reputation and cast suspicion (possibly warranted, although this is unproven) of a sinister federal hand behind the removal of the blogpost.  Meanwhile, there is no post for International Women's Day on the CMHR blog.

To be perfectly clear, I don't disagree with Strong-Boag's stance on the Harper government's policy record.  But nor am I surprised that the museum would have shied away from her post.  Strong-Boag  engaged in a direct partisan attack. A paragraph discussing past-and-present Canadian governments' decidedly mixed record on women's issues (perhaps including Trudeau-era restrictions on the National Action Committee on the Status of Women's lobbying efforts that were linked to their government funding, or the successive failures of a series of federal governments to make any meaningful progress on the childcare agenda) might possibly have made it past the communications officers at the CMHR.  At the very least, it would have been harder for a communications officer to defend the removal of a blogpost that presented a more balanced critique of the less-than-stellar record of Canada's federal governments (Liberal and Conservative) on women's issues that placed the current claw-backs in their historical context.  But to me, the section on the current government in the post as currently written reads as an isolated (if deserved) swipe at the government of the day and explicitly partisan.

If this was a deliberate strategic move on Strong-Boag's part, it has worked beautifully, so kudos to her for getting her message disseminated.  Far more people have read her account of IWD than likely would have ever seen it on the CMHR blog.  I just find it a little bit disingenuous to speak of silencing and censorship in what appears to me to be a case of a museum trying not to appear to be overtly partisan in its public communications.  Even if it could have been claimed that this was a "guest post", the museum would have been held accountable in the media, and with their various funders, for the content that appeared.

UPDATE (March 9, 3:10 PM): The story is now on the CBC website, with additional commentary from Strong-Boag, and a reply from the museum's blog editor. 

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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Jacques Henripin, demographer and public intellectual, 1926-2013

It's sad that it took a death of a very notable figure in my research field to jump-start my blogging for the fall term, but I didn't want to let this pass without comment.

Jacques Henripin passed away earlier this week.  He was an incredibly influential scholar and demographer whose work had a tremendous impact on the political face of Quebec.  In the 1960s and 1970s, his studies of Quebec's birth rate, immigration trends, and linguistic assimilation trends predicted that if patterns continued as they were, by the year 2000 less than half of Montreal's population would be francophone.  I think it is fair to say that in many respects, his work was highly influential in shaping the recommendations of the Gendron Commission of the early 1970s, and the language legislation of both the Liberal Party of Quebec and the Parti Québécois. 

Although I was not a tremendous fan of all of his politics, I do have great respect for a scholar who played such an influential role in shaping the public life of Quebec, and whose work had such an impact on my own field of study.  May he rest in peace.

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Celebrating Canada: National Holidays, Commemoration and Identity Politics

With all of the hubbub surrounding the federal government's history agenda, I thought it was worth noting that one of the things that has been occupying me lately is the early phases of an edited collection about the practice and politics of crafting national identity in Canada's past.  If you're an academic who reads this blog, this collection might be of interest to you.

Call for Abstracts – Celebrating Canada: National Holidays, Commemoration and Identity Politics

With the 150th anniversary of Confederation coming up in 2017, it seems appropriate to reflect on the political, social and cultural forces which have shaped Canada over the course of its history.  National holidays and commemorative events provide an intriguing window into how these processes have affected, and continue to shape nationalism, culture and identity politics.  With this in mind, we invite interested authors to submit proposals for an edited collection that we are developing.  Tentatively entitled "Celebrating Canada: National Holidays, Commemoration and Identity Politics", our objective is to pull together scholarship related to national holidays and major commemorative anniversaries in Canadian history.  While our launching point for this collection is the celebration and observance of Dominion Day / Canada Day, we are taking a broad approach to the book's theme, and would like to include contributions that deal with major anniversary years like the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation, the Centennial of 1967, Canada 125 and other related – or competing! - national holidays such as Victoria Day, la Fête St-Jean-Baptiste/Fête Nationale, and Empire Day. We welcome contributions that situate Canadian holidays in a broader international context. 

We have already been in discussions with University of Toronto Press, where there is keen interest in this project. Interested authors are asked to submit proposals to Matthew Hayday [] by 2 July 2013 (the day after the Canada Day holiday!) including a 250-500 word abstract and the author's institutional affiliation and contact information.  Our planned schedule is to contact authors regarding their proposals by the end of July, and have first completed drafts due in late spring 2014.  We are planning to apply for a SSHRC Connection Grant, with an eye to having participants come together for a workshop in the summer of 2014 to discuss each other's work.  This should provide ample time for revisions and the peer review process to allow the collection to be in print no later than 2017.

Please feel free to get in touch with us if you have any questions.

Matthew Hayday
Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Guelph

Raymond Blake
Professor, Department of History, University of Regina

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Pining for the fjords

My blog isn't dead, it's not an ex-blog, it's just pining!

Things have been rather hectic for me in my professional life over the past few months, which is my lame excuse for the dearth of posts despite some very active political goings-on around Canadian history, national identity and commemorations - all topics dear to my heart - but I'm hoping that I'll get back into blogging over the summer, particularly as I am kicking off my first sabbatical year.

In the meantime, I haven't completely left the interwebs, and you can keep track of me over at Twitter, where I can be found at @mhayday.

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Define "junior", oh great Toronto Star!

Kathleen Wynne's new Ontario cabinet is being announced today, and my local MP, Liz Sandals, has apparently been tapped to become the new education minister.  But that's not the observation that leapt out at me from today's Toronto Star article about the cabinet shuffle.  Authors Robert Benzie and Rob Ferguson note that former Education Minister Laurel Broten has been "demoted" to Intergovernmental Affairs, calling it a "a ministry so junior McGuinty ran it himself for years."

 [ETA: Interesting to note that the updated version of the article calls Intergovernmental Affairs: "barely a stand-alone department because the premier usually handles all its major files personally."]

To me, this drives home just how ill-served we are by many of our journalists these days.  Just because a portfolio is held by the premier does not make it junior or unimportant.  Indeed, given how Canada's system of federalism works (or doesn't), the role of intergovernmental affairs minister can be quite important indeed.  Federally, that role was once held by Stéphane Dion, in the aftermath of the 1995 referendum.  Many Canadian Prime Ministers also acted as their own foreign affairs minister.  And what does it say that Wynne is planning on running the Ministry of Agriculture herself?  Just last Wednesday, the Star ran an article arguing that this decision was a way of signalling the importance of this ministry!

Just to be clear, I do think that the decision to move Laurel Broten out of education is probably a demotion.  But to conflate that with implying that the Intergovernmental Affairs ministry is insignificant betrays a woeful lack of perception of how Canada's system of government operates.

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