Historian ridicules Canadian PM for distorting history

Historians in the News
tags: Canada



As Ottawa prepares to mark the centennial of Canada's participation in the First World War, one of the country's top historians is slamming Stephen Harper's government for its focus on "militarism and monarchism."

Yves Frenette, a history professor at the Universite de Saint-Boniface in Winnipeg, where he holds a Canada Research Chair, sounds the alarm about the Harper government in an essay published Tuesday in the Canadian Journal of History.

"The policies embodying the Harper government's politics of memory have done considerable damage," Frenette wrote. "The Canada idealized by Stephen Harper is not only monarchist but also militaristic."

Many Conservatives, though, are proud to celebrate Canada's ties to the British monarchy and its military history, both of which they believe were long neglected — and even rejected — by Liberal governments since Lester Pearson's day.

"We are builders and pioneers," Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a speech earlier this spring in which we outlined many of the themes that make up his government's view of Canada's heritage. "We are warriors when war is thrust upon us, and we are compassionate when confronted by catastrophe."

Frenette's article is the latest salvo from Canadian academics and artists who have complained the Harper government has rejected the symbols of Canada's story that Liberal governments of the last 50 years celebrated. No more bragging about peacekeeping, the Maple Leaf flag, the CBC, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and multiculturalism.

"For Stephen Harper's Conservatives, it was the Liberal Party and its university allies, especially historians, who invented and then propagated the myths and symbols of contemporary Canadians," Frenette wrote. "To turn the tide and make Canadians more conscious of their British roots, Conservatives have appealed to an imagined past that simplifies history, makes it fast and easy to consume, and presumes a country free of social distinctions, including those of race and class."

Conservatives have argued this is not an "imagined" or a made-up version of history. They say they are highlighting aspects of history too long neglected by Liberal governments.

Conservatives believe if they are to truly replace the Liberals as the dominant federal party, the country's history needs to be told in a way in which Conservative values and vision are emphasized. So, for example, if Liberals celebrated Pierre Trudeau's Charter of Rights, Conservatives would elevate John Diefenbaker's Bill of Rights....




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