Tuesday, May 31, 2016

History of Reconciliation

Yesterday's apology by Ontario for the evils of the residential schools system was important and appropriate.  And the history of residential schools is surely a worthwhile topic for school history classes and for public commemoration and reflection.

But putting indigenous kids in those schools is not the only fault in Canadian relations with indigenous people.  I admired what Ontario Métis leader Margaret Froh said yesterday, in calling the apology a good first step in moving “forward with this process of reconciliation.
“We’ve got a long way to go. I think ultimately, for us, a full reconciliation means recognition of our rights as a self-determining people . . . self-government for Métis or First Nations, for Inuit people. And we’re a long way off from that, but (this is) certainly a good step,” she said.
Reconciliation is going to involve more than talking about schools.  It's going to be about land and self-government too.  We need some equality and some justice, and then reconciliation will be easier to achieve.

Image: Toronto Star.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Is this what Maryam Moncef tried to say about the electoral reform referendum?

Richard Dawkins on the Brexit referendum:
He said: “It is an outrage that people as ignorant as me are being asked to vote. This is a complicated matter of economics, politics, history, and we live in a representative democracy not a plebiscite democracy. You could make a case for having plebiscites on certain issues – I could imagine somebody arguing for one on fox hunting, for example – but not on something as involved as the European Union. This should be a matter for parliament.”
'Course, then we would need a working parliament.  But:  give em some responsibility, they might rise to it.

History of Housing: why it cost $1M to get into the Toronto housing market

Paul Godfrey
I've been reading How We Changed Toronto, the political memoir of former one-term Toronto mayor and permanent civic-reform advocate John Sewell.  I suspect he may have wanted to call it How We Saved Toronto , and he could have made a case for that.

Sewell's very readable story celebrates the success of the late '60s upsurge against the idea that the only role of city planning was to enable the development industry to makes as much money as possible. It turned out that protecting neighborhoods, preserving and reusing existing buildings and streets, promoting non-automotive transit, encouraging downtown living, and other Reform proposals  -- all wildly unorthodox in the development-oriented civic politics of the day -- really were good for cities.  (Richard White pushes back against some of the extremes of this view in his recent Planning Toronto, showing that planning was not quite so new an idea as the 60's reformers believed.).

A couple of hundred pages into his book, Sewell makes a case that quite early on, he moved from saving downtown to looking at broad regional planning. On that front his defeat was comprehensive.

There was a thing called the Toronto Centred Region Centred Plan.  One of its tenets was resistance to permitting wide-open urban expansion north of Steeles Avenue.  (For non-Torontonians, Steeles is a nondescript street that marks the northern boundary of Metro Toronto.  Academic types may know it best as the northern edge of York University.)  The Plan's idea was there was lots of room for infill development south of Steeles, and providing services running endlessly north would be expensive and wasteful.  New urban clusters farther north would become possible, but simple endless suburban expansion would be discouraged.

The development industry, obviously, preferred a free hand and space to develop.  Paul Godfrey, chair of Metro Toronto when Sewell was mayor of the city of Toronto, sided with the developers, and Godfrey won. In the mid-1970s water, sewage, and other essential public infrastructure were extended north of Steeles. Endless suburban sprawl erupted.  Today the real northern boundary of Toronto is not Steeles Avenue but Lake Simcoe, a hundred km farther north.

So, lots of new housing for the growing population?  Sure, but it is almost all extremely low-density suburban housing, which means there is not nearly as much of it as there might be, and it is all relatively expensive because it is spread so thinly and is expensive to service.

Sewell has numbers.  In the early 1970s, density in central Toronto was 82 people per acre. York had 58, East York 49, North York 33, Etobicoke 30, Scarborough 30.  That is, Central Toronto has nearly triple the density of the suburbs.

The developers' victory north of Steeles meant that the low density pattern would continue forever. There would never be enough housing, and it would always be expensive.  The situation now set for the future -- that is, a few people will have very expensive spacious detached homes, and most people will live in fairly expensive apartments or equally expensive homes in remote suburbs forever -- could have been replaced by more people living in a much greater quantity of affordable single-family homes, in a much more livable urban environment, perhaps.

Never happen now.

 Active History on Sewell on Toronto

Update, May 31:  I was dubious about this post as soon as it was up, suspecting it was wildly simplistic even for a blog post. But it seems inappropriate -- and maybe impossible -- to make a blog post disappear, so I let it live.  Now I'm grateful to Andrew Stewart of Strata Consulting for adding nuance and context in the nicest way:
I appreciated your “History of Housing” blog the other day -- a very important issue, and not just an historical one. Although I understand what you mean when you say “The developers' victory north of Steeles meant that the low density pattern would continue forever.” It sounds a bit like “the end of history” – something I hope is a turn of phrase rather than prophetic.
Urban sprawl is certainly an historical pattern in Ontario that shows only superficial signs of slowing, despite the Greenbelt Act. Developers and land speculators still have the upper hand, with local councils willing to accommodate to their interests and political donations. In his Toronto Star commentary the other day, Tim Grey of Environmental Defence convincingly opposes the developers’ argument that the Greenbelt causes higher house prices.
A new generation may yet reverse the sprawl trend – people like Jennifer Keesmat, Toronto’s head of planning, though it’s places like Brampton and Barrie that are the problem now. The Province’s Growth Act addresses the problem, but not strongly enough. There is opportunity for every citizen to influence the revision of this all-important Growth Act, now under way (until end of September).
On the whole, I'm rather encouraged to stick with my newly formed counter-intuitive notion that sprawl itself causes housing scarcity and high cost. Andrew, I think I meant forever mostly in a geographical sense -- ever moving outward.  But you are right to urge optimism about a reversal.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

New Story of Canada

Story of Canada: new cover art from Alan Daniel
Quill & Quire, the publishing-industry paper, features the forthcoming new edition of The Story of Canada that I have been working on lately for fall 2016 publication.
“This is a book named one of the best books for kids in Canada and it needs to continue to be available,” says Dean Cooke, the deal’s agent. “They’re going to give it a fresher look so it can continue to appeal to the market today. But that’s only because the basic substance is of such high quality.”

Blogging for scholars

Tina Adcock reports that history blogging goes under the microscope at the Canadian Historical Association this weekend in Calgary.
The time is right to begin a collective discussion about how blogging is reshaping the ways in which we research, write, publish, and teach Canadian history. Bright and early on the morning of Monday, May 30th, five editors of group blogs — myself (The Otter~La Loutre), Keith Grant (Borealia), Stacy Nation-Knapper (Findings/Trouvailles), Beth Robertson (Active History), and Corey Slumkoski (Acadiensis’ blog) — will share their thoughts at the annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association. Sean Kheraj will moderate the conversation.
The test will be to see how many blog about the session while it's still hot.  Tho' maybe the twitterstorians will dominate that.


Leadership Accountability vs Term Limits

Readers of this blog and my books and articles (this and this, for example) on constitutional and parliamentary history will know, maybe ad nauseum, that I hold that parliamentary systems work better when leaders are accountable to caucuses and (therefore) governments are accountable to legislatures.

Impact of this has been pretty much zip nada, but a couple of straws in the wind blew my way recently.  It's all apropos of the proposal, to come up at the Conservative convention, that the political parties should impose term limits on their leaders who are serving as prime ministers.

This seems so dumb as to be self-defeating. But if it came from anyone but the Tories, I suspect lots of leftish and progressive folk might say, yes, term limits, always a good idea.  So I like seeing pushback on constitutional grounds from Dale Smith (emphasis added):
After all, term limits are largely unnecessary because our system can dump a prime minister at any point by means of a vote of no confidence – something that can’t happen in the American system, as they don’t have a system based on confidence, but rather on defined terms, with the relief valve of recall elections in some cases. Otherwise, they are forced to wait out a term until the next election, while in a Westminster system, it can happen with a snap vote in the Commons. Of course, we do have the problem in this country particularly around being able to dump a leader who is not the PM because we have moved away from the caucus selecting the leader .... to systems of either delegated conventions, one-member-one-vote, or the latest Liberal abomination, the “supporter category.” Caucus selection kept leaders accountable to them, and it kept them in check, whereas they accumulated more presidential powers as the base that elected them grew larger and they felt more empowered by their “democratic mandate.”
and John Pepall:
With a party leader in Canada, he or she is imposed on the elected MPs and in practice is irremovable except by a party that only convenes under ever-changing rules with a fluid membership, if there is membership and not simply “supporters,” as is increasingly the fashion.
Party organizations were developed in the 19th century to organize support for like-minded candidates in elections. The elected MPs then chose their leaders and answered to the voters for their choices. Parties, though feeble and ramshackle institutions, now insert themselves between the voters and those they elect, and presume to dictate to MPs whom they must follow and what they should do.
Update, May 30:  Interesting, how the Liberals' move this weekend to do away with memberships has actually been producing skeptical attention from journalists and political scientists who observe that while mass party membership conventions barely controlled leaders, no members will mean no control at all.  What a shock to see a genuine political scientist observe that at one time MPs hired and fired party leaders without outright denouncing the whole idea as medieval. Professor Peter Loewen in the Ottawa Citizen:
At the start of our country and for some time after, the power to choose leaders and to dismiss them rested with members of Parliament. The consequence was that although parties were generally ideologically coherent, there were always MPs who would disagree with their leader. Having selected the leader, and having the power to deselect the leader, they were afforded this liberty. Leaders who unduly trampled on the rights of MPs — or who just performed poorly — could find themselves quickly removed.
Hopeful thought: maybe the death of the party member will inspire some MPs to resurrect the idea of the active caucus.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

History and the Hip

Must have been a generational mismatch or something, but I never was too close a follower of the Tragically Hip. Never saw them play, which seems to have been the key. Confession: I have tended to associate them with the Superman Song of the Crash Test Dummies, and somehow never really associated them with "Ahead by a Century.") If you were more connected that I was, I'm sorry for your (impending) loss

True thing: the Canadian historical content in their lyrics is remarkable; move over Gordon Lightfoot and Stompin' Tom. Millhaven, Milgaard, Bobcaygeon (even I know that lyric), Bill Barilko, the '72 Series, the Horseshoe Tavern, and no end of small town placename-checking.  Here's one list of "most Canadian" lyrics, and an essentials playlist from CBC Music.

Image: cbc.ca

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Visual history of Toronto

Pretty amazing, this City of Toronto time-lapse of the expansion of Toronto 1902-2002.  Time and the city sure speed up after about 1950.  

H/t: Historian Daniel Ross's twitter @dgrthist

Monday, May 23, 2016

Giro report 3

And suddenly that was it.  On stage 14, the "queen stage" with the most challenging climbs of the whole tour, and the non-climbing racers dropping back precipitously, it looked like a Ryder Hesjedal hill and a Ryder Hesjedal day. Particularly when favourites like Nibali and Valverde were having less than stellar days.

Instead Hesjedal withdrew, plagued with illness.  If you have watched grand tour cyclists go downhill, you will know why dizziness and balance problems would be disqualifying.

The race is just starting to get interesting, but who to cheer for.  Maybe Darwin Atapuma, latest prodigy Colombian?

History of boomers in American politics

Donald Trump was born in 1946, Hillary Clinton in 1947, Bernie Sanders in 1941. This is not the beginning of the end of the US democracy. It is the last hurrah of the post-World War II baby boom.
With Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, instead of Barack Obama (born 1961), claiming to represent the next generation, there may be a problem here.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Giro '16 Report 2: the stealth campaign

The Giro d'Italia is mostly invisible on Canadian television, and Ryder Hesjedal has been nearly invisible in the race: no stage wins, no breakaways, no drama.  Clive Dheensaw of the Victoria Times Colonist continues to be pretty much the only Canadian sports journalist to take an interest.

But just as you can work around the non-coverage with online sources, Ryder's running a pretty solid stealth campaign if you know where to look.  No stunting, no fireworks, not much in the TV coverage, but a very solid steady performance with no mistakes or mishaps. Now, halfway through, he stands 13th overall as of yesterday's 12th stage (of 21), well positioned for the big-finish final days.

He's almost four minutes behind the current leader and the likely winner is probably in the top 5 already. But several of the 12 riders ahead of Hesjedal are not expected to hold up in the big mountain stages to come, so he's distinctly among the contenders. He was something like 26th in the first days, and has steadily improved his standing each day.

Canadians Hugo Houle and Svein Tuft? Farther down, let us say.

Image:  @ryderhesjedal

Update: .... and having that written, I see today was not so good.  Hesjedal holding 14th, but losing another minute to Nibali, Valverde, and other race favourites.  Holding 14th indeed, only because the non-climbers are being winnowed out.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Doors Open Toronto - and Aristophanes

Is Doors Open a thing where you are?  It's pretty widespread in Ontario now, the weekend in which historic, or unique, or usually inaccessible buildings are open to the public to tour and explore.

It's this weekend in Toronto.  In one of my neighbourhoods, the local Business Improvement Association has partnered with the local historical society to offer walking tours of "The Junction's Revitalized Main Street":
Participate in an introduction to the history and character of West Toronto's hidden gem, the former City of West Toronto. Start at the site of the old business district, then be guided west to explore the local history of whiskey, wine, women and vaudeville. Learn more about the Junction by visiting the original locations of the homesteads of the area's founding fathers, several former town halls, Toronto's first mosque and the four theatres that once made up one of the city's first theatre districts.
Led by my friend Neil Ross, author, comedian, historian, also recently the author of Comedy Can Be Murder, which is somehow about Aristophanes and Groucho Marx at the same time.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

CHA's Macdonald prize short list

We missed the announcement of the shortlist for the Canadian Historical Association's Macdonald Prize for most significant nonfiction contribution to understanding Canada's past. The Macdonald was won in recent years by Jean Barman, James Dashuk, and William Wicken.
Durand, Caroline. Nourrir la machine humaine. Nutrition et alimentation au Québec, 1860-1945. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015.
Heron, Craig. Lunch-Bucket Lives: Remaking the Workers’ City. Toronto: Between the Lines, 2015.
Hogue, Michel. Metis and the Medicine Line: Creating a Border and Dividing a People. Regina: University of Regina Press, 2015.
McCalla, Douglas. Consumers in the Bush: Shopping in Rural Upper Canada. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015.

Sweeny, Robert C.H. Why Did We Choose to Industrialize? Montreal, 1819-1849. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015. 
Winner of this and the CHA's other awards to be announced at the CHA annual prize-giving in conjunction with the Annual Meeting at the end of May, this year in Calgary,

Monday, May 16, 2016

Is your work just grist for fictioneering?

The terrific Toronto cultural journalist Kate Taylor last weekend covered the troubling court case involving the documentarian Judy Maltz. Maltz had researched and produced a film, No.4 Street of Our Lady, about the experience of her Jewish family and how it was protected and ultimately saved, by a Ukrainian Catholic woman, Franciszca Halamajowa, during the Holocaust

A would be novelist in Toronto saw the film and wrote a children's novel, using Maltz's research and information and giving the characters their original names, but changing and re-inventing their stories at will. She then published the book without any credit or notice to her source.

Recently the Federal Court of Canada ruled that Maltz had no right of action here, and that not even her moral rights, let along her copyright, had been violated.

I suspect this decision is debatable in law. I'm even more inclined to think it violates the ethical standards of writing and publishing. I was pleased to read historian Jack Granatstein testifying on behalf of the dignity of authorship:
In court, historian Jack Granatstein had argued for Maltz’s side that it was inappropriate for the book not to credit the documentary for detailed pieces of original research, such as information drawn from a soldier’s diary entry, but it wasn’t an argument that carried the day.
In academia, it is considered crucial to acknowledge the source of any ideas or original facts, but copyright is a much narrower beast.
I suspect, however, that many academically-based historians would not be inclined to defend their work in this way. Academic publishing and academic culture strongly encourage authors to surrender their rights and interests and accept anything that is said to disseminate historical work. Too many academics are far too deferential with regard to their rights of authorship, even when they are able to forgo their financial interests in their work.

CAUT, the professors' union, is so deeply invested in the right of universities and education ministers to pirate even copyrighted work in order to ease institutional budgeting, that is hard to imagine it supporting the lonely stand that Jack Granatstein took.
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