The European Extreme Right Yesterday and Today

Alban Bargain-Villéger

Logos of 11 extreme right parties.

The “Europe of Nations and Freedom”: 11 extreme right parties.

Studies on the European ultra-nationalist right are not exactly rare. Over the last couple of decades, many a tree has been felled and much ink has been spilled on the extreme right in our day and age and its connections (or lack thereof) with the fascist movements and parties of old. But despite the abundance of works on that topic, the ideological nature of the ultra-nationalist right, its medium-to-long-term plans, and its very location on the extreme right of the political spectrum are still subject to controversy. While not engaging directly with the debates surrounding the essence of fascism, this post focuses on some major genealogical links between several far right European parties and central facets of pre-1945 fascism.

First of all, it should be noted that the all too easy equation of the contemporary nationalist right with fascism has been rightly qualified by many eminent specialists, including Robert Paxton, whose seminal Anatomy of Fascism (2004) has opened up fresh perspectives on the subject. Continue reading

Tomorrow: Sunny’: The Rise and Fall of Solar Heating in 1970s Canada, part 3

By Hank Trim

In the third part of this four part series on solar energy we will continue to examine an integral part of energy history: computer simulation. Faced with the combined uncertainty of a unstable oil market and a desire for new solar technologies, the government searched for and a means of managing these risks. In this situation, computer models provided policy makers with a foundation, albeit a shaky one, for their decisions.

The Meadowvale Solar Home in the winter of 1977. This experimental home was built to test the application of solar heating technology in Canada. While a success, it provided heat far less efficiency than the WATSUN model calculated and experienced many more technical problems than the model projected.   Picture Provided by: B. E. Sibbett and H. Jung, Performance of the Meadowvale Solar System (Ottawa: Division of Building Research, National Research Council, 1981)

The Meadowvale Solar Home in the winter of 1977. This experimental home was built to test the application of solar heating technology in Canada. While a success, it provided heat far less efficiently than the WATSUN model calculated and experienced many more technical problems than the model projected.
Picture Provided by: B. E. Sibbett and H. Jung, Performance of the Meadowvale Solar System (Ottawa: Division of Building Research, National Research Council, 1981)

Two engineers, K.G.T Hollands and J.F. Orgill from the University of Waterloo devised the computer simulations that determined Canada’s plans. The work of these two engineers highlights the diverse support that solar technology and environmentalists’ calls for alternative development received in the 1970s. The two were members of the Canadian Solar Energy Society, which formed in 1975 to support solar development. Intrigued by solar technology’s bright future, this group of scientists, engineers, and business people studied the technology, shared information, and generated interest in solar and other renewables. The society had a substantial impact on solar development. It counted a number of ministers among its supporters and attracted a stream of government analysts and advisors to its annual meetings and workshops throughout the 1970s. Continue reading

Trudeaumania Redux: Like Father, Like Son?

by Christo Aivalis

hLPImdRLess than two weeks ago, Justin Trudeau led a small parliamentary contingent from a distant third to majority government, overcoming an image of aloofness and style before substance. He stands poised to rule Canada for at least the next four years, carrying in the footsteps of his father Pierre, who stormed to victory nearly 50 years ago in a 1968 wave of Trudeaumania. Both father and son came about for similar reasons, namely that the public and punditry saw them as young, ambitious, and sexy arbiters of change. Indeed, both men have been sexualized in the media, sold as ‘pretty boys,’ after whom young women swoon.

While nearly every major news source has written comparative pieces of the two, I wish to focus on how both men, as per the Gramscian concept of passive revolution, were and are forces for the status quo. We can do this by examining their common motivations for reform, as well as the effect such manoeuvers had on the left and the New Democratic Party.

During their ascents to power, both Justin and Pierre emphasized the desire for new ideas and motivations that characterized the swinging 1960s and the post-crisis 2010s. In this desire to project change, Justin and Pierre combine both positive and negative rationales and language in their calls for reform. Continue reading

A Brief History of Canadians Who Don’t Vote

A man voting in Ottawa, 1962. Source: Library and Archives Canada, Mikan 4316670.

A man voting in Ottawa, 1962. Source: Library and Archives Canada, Mikan 4316670.

by Sean Kheraj

Following Monday night’s election results, Canada may have marked a shift in the downward trend of voter turnout over the past twenty-seven years. According to early figures from Elections Canada, 68.5% of eligible voters (17,546,697 people) cast ballots. This is up considerably from the historic low turnout of 58.8% in the 2008 federal election and may mark a reversal of the trend of declining voter turnout, which began after the 1988 federal election. Toronto Star provides a full look at the breakdown of voter turnout in the 2015 election here.

Low voter turnout in Canada did not emerge as a popular concern until the recent past. The average voter turnout from 1945 to 1988 was almost 75% and showed limited variability, dropping below 70% in just two elections. Beginning with the 1993 election, the overall number of eligible voters who cast ballots began a general decline. Average voter turnout from 1993 to 2011 was about 64%.

In November 1989, the federal government appointed the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing to inquire into how Canadians elect members of the House of Commons and the financing of political parties. Volume 15 of its 23-volume report focused on voter turnout. Jon H. Pammett, one of the authors of this volume, found that the population of non-voters in Canadian federal elections changes from election to election. Continue reading

Waffling over the Leap Manifesto

By Jonathan McQuarrie

Sneers extinguish far-reaching ideas. Such was the fate of the recent Leap Manifesto, a document that emerges from the conviction that “Canada is facing the deepest crisis in recent memory.” It’s easier to dismiss an idea that calls for a radical rethinking of Canada and energy regimes, indigenous policy, and social programs than it is to actually engage with the ideas, to actually develop criticisms that explain precisely why radical rethinking isn’t necessary. Banal dismissal is all the easier when one writes for the Globe and Mail, a paper that, for all its considerable merits, tends to slant towards the complacent and comfortable, to people with money and influence. (This is hardly a criticism—we all enjoy being comfortable. But comfort tends not to encourage substantial risk).

Of course, it is too early to write a post-mortem on the Leap Manifesto. It was released just over two weeks ago, and signed by well-known people who will, in all likelihood, continue to advocate for clean, community-based energy regimes. Naomi Klein, David Suzuki, Charles Taylor, and Thomas King are hardly people without audiences. However, like most radical documents, it begins at a disadvantage. Some disadvantages come from economic context—globally orientated trade governed by privately-orientated capitalism has, for all its flaws, created staggering wealth and prompted unparalleled growth in incomes and goods (distinct, of course, from distribution). Frankly, too many people do well by the revenues produced from global capitalism to seriously consider locally orientated alternatives.

The reception of the Leap Manifesto brought to my mind reception of the Manifesto for an Independent Socialist Canada. The latter manifesto, issued by the so-called Waffle Movement in 1969, was spearheaded by Mel Watkins and James Laxer. The Waffle Manifesto, emerging as it did from a Cold War context where the United States loomed large and Canadians of various national stripes fretted about their national identity (cf. Grant’s Lament for a Nation), called for total divestment from the “American Empire.” For the authors, the United States essentially was capitalism, a point the manifesto made clear when it claimed that Canadian capitalists were simply dependent on Americans and that “Capitalism must be replaced with socialism.” Pointing to the “alienating” nature of capitalism, the Waffle Manifesto asserted that a socialist economy would contribute to healing the rift between English and French Canada (indigenous people are conspicuously absent for the modern reader, a flaw common for older socialist critiques that foregrounded class as the terrain of politics). Statist planning of a national economy was presented as a viable alternative to capitalism.
Continue reading

Everybody Can Play: Avoiding Soft Constructionism when Teaching History

By Mark Abraham

Swift accepts her award.

Swift accepts her Video of the Year award during the 2015 MVAs.

Accepting her Video of the Year award at the 2015 VMAs, pop singer Taylor Swift, surrounded by the women who appear as weapon-toting warriors in her victorious video “Bad Blood,” said she was grateful that “we live in a world where boys can play princesses and girls can play soldiers.” That same night, writer Adam Fleischer posted a review of the awards titled, “Taylor Swift said F—k Gender Norms with Her Video of the Year Speech” to

But did she? Twenty-five years after Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble and the queer turn, and smack dab in the middle of a rapid cultural reassessment of gender as trans celebrities become more visible, Swift’s post-essentialist but not-quite-unessential lip service that girls can do “boy” things and vice versa seems fairly quaint. It’s what many constructionists would call “modified essentialism”: the “girl” and “boy” things we can play at are socially constructed, but the majority of bodies—even the potentially subversive ones Swift is valorizing—still belong to “girls” and “boys.”

Serendipitously, Swift’s speech was followed by a performance by pop singer Miley Cyrus, who was surrounded by thirty drag, burlesque, and trans performers. This was, in a way, a constructionist response to Swift’s soft constructionism: that the lines between “girl” and “boy” things are especially porous, and so girls and boys and everybody can play, period. Cyrus’s performance suggested that there are girls, boys, and individuals who reject that binary in part or in whole, but bodies don’t define an identity, and the things that we can play at are a wide range of activities that aren’t rooted in much beyond historically-changing ideas about how “girls” and “boys” should act. Intentionally or not, Cyrus took Swift’s identity politics and threw them down a constructionist rabbit hole. Continue reading

Whose Left? A Call for the Revival of Parliamentary Socialism in Canada

By Lachlan MacKinnon

Canada, the United States, and the U.K. have recently witnessed a popular revitalization of left-politics that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Jeremy Corbyn, the newly elected Leader of the Labour Party in the U.K., unabashedly appeals to the intellectual traditions of “Old Labour” with a leadership campaign that includes promises to fight austerity, expand public ownership, and invest in public housing, healthcare, and transportation. Bernie Sanders, self-proclaimed democratic socialist and potential candidate for President of the United States, has gathered hundreds of thousands of supporters through promises of doubling the federal minimum wage, implementing single-payer healthcare, and increasing revenue through a more progressive tax structure. In Canada, the NDP has been leading in polls since the beginning of this election cycle – although their campaign has been markedly more centrist than that of either Sanders or Corbyn [1]. Indeed, as Leo Panitch and Colin Leys write, it would appear that nearly three decades of “constant reductions in social services, chronic unemployment, increased stress, longer hours and increased insecurity at work [has robbed] ‘market society’ of its appeal” for a growing segment of the electorate [2].

Thomas Mulcair, 2012.jpg

Thomas Mulcair, 2012; Photo by Matt Jiggins, Creative Commons licence


Emerging out of the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis, the anti-neoliberal (if not anti-capitalist) left represents an opportunity for transformation within Canadian social democracy. Continue reading

History for Children? Watching “Once Upon a Time… Man” as an Adult in the 21st Century

By Alban Bargain-Villéger

On a hot July night, while in the throes of insomnia, I found myself waxing nostalgic and decided to revisit my favourite childhood animated series. After watching a few episodes of Cobra and The Mysterious Cities of Gold (also fascinating animation series in their own right) I realized that Once Upon a Time… Man (Il était une fois… L’Homme) was available online. Over the next two weeks, as I kept working my way through the remaining episodes, I realized that not only was the series a product of its time (it was first released in 1978), but also not exclusively designed for children. Indeed, the analysis of the subjects covered and the narrative style might seem pedagogically incorrect in our day and age.

In twenty-six episodes, this French series covers world history from the prehistory to the 1970s and beyond, as the final installment ventures into predictions on the near and distant future (to 2150). Continue reading

“Tomorrow: Sunny”: The Rise and Fall of Solar Heating in 1970s Canada

By Henry (Hank) Trim

Solar energy seems poised to become a major player in the world of energy. Years of investment have brought down the price of photovoltaics and innovative financing methods have generated unprecedented growth in the industry. According to the Canadian Solar Industries Association solar electric is the fastest growing source of energy in the world.[1]The future of solar is bright! No pun intended.

This is not the first time solar technology has seemed poised for success. In the late 1970s solar heating appeared ready to sweep across Canada. In fact, the federal government launched a multibillion dollar commercialization program and Alistair Gillespie, then the Minister of Energy, Mines, and Resources, promised that a solar industry would provide jobs for thousands of Canadians.[2]

World Oil Prices since 1861. The orange line is adjusted for inflation.  Tom The Hand - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

World Oil Prices since 1861. The orange line is adjusted for inflation.
Tom The Hand – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

In a series of posts over the next four months, I will explore the meteoric rise of solar heating in the 1970s and its fall in the 1980s. Continue reading

The Idiosyncrasies of Memory: Marking the Life of Harold Geddes

Andrew Nurse, Mount Allison University

GeddesI never knew Harold Geddes, although I saw him now and then fifteen years ago when I first starting working at Mount Allison. Geddes died in 2004 after a long life that is now marked — literally — on the town of Sackville, New Brunswick. He was one of those characters that people in small towns love or wonder about, the kind of person who is described as quirky, eccentric, or weird depending on one’s perspective. He is best known for a singular (and long-standing) act: street cleaning, a point clearly made by the plaque that commemorates his life. In it, we see an aging but still vital man, hat tilted, who stares firmly, unapologetically, and directly at the observer. The effect is to present Geddes as a self-confident man who did not flinch from someone else’s gaze. To one side are the tools of his trade: a broom and shovel. The Geddes memorial is situated across the street from the Sackville, NB “art wall,” that commemorates better-known local and national figures, including the poet Douglas Lochhead. Exactly why Geddes became celebrated part of local history is telling. He represents, I want to suggest, an interesting alternative engagement with the past and what should be celebrated in it. Continue reading