ActiveHistory.ca is on a two-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in September. During the hiatus, we’re featuring some of our most popular and favourite posts from the past year. Thanks as always to our writers and readers.
The following post was originally featured on September 16, 2015.
By Sonya Roy and Steve Hewitt
In recent years, non-experts, with the Harper government leading the way, have advocated and pushed for a conservative rewriting of Canadian history in an effort to find “heroes”. This “great man” rewriting of Canadian history focuses on White, middle-class politicians and businessmen, militarism, and monarchism and leaves out the experiences of ordinary people and related subjects such as the labour movement, social justice struggles, immigration, feminism and colonization. A perfect example of this trend is the 20 August piece in the Globe and Mail “Let’s give R.B. Bennett his due” which portrays Bennett through the lenses of “happy history” as some sort of benevolent and prescient Canadian “Daddy” Warbucks. In making this case, the authors, a collection of journalists, an ex-politician, and a former civil servant, fail to engage in any way with considerably less savoury aspects of his time in office that might help to explain why he does not have a monument on Parliament Hill and why he should not have one in the future.
That’s not to say that Bennett deserves the blame for the Great Depression. Canada’s millionaire prime minister clearly does not. His record responding to the economic calamity, however, does deserve scrutiny and not sanitizing or ignoring. Take his government’s response to record high unemployment. Some measures such as $20 million in unemployment relief after taking office proved insufficient to deal with the growing human cost of the economic collapse. Instead of attempting to address the dire plight of thousands of people, the Bennett government sought to silence those refusing to quietly accept their fate. His government’s big concern related to single unemployed men not because of their lack of jobs or misery but because they were seen as a potential threat to social peace. The solution of the Bennett government in 1932 was to put into practice a proposal by Major-General Andrew McNaughton and establish military-run relief camps throughout Canada where unemployed men could be sent to, in effect keeping them in quarantine far away from urban centres and potential agitators.
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