The limits of tax privacy

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By Shirley Tillotson

Party politics made the privacy of the prime minister’s income tax return a sensitive topic in mid-July 1931. On July 16, Prime Minister R.B. Bennett stood up in parliament and declared that the income tax measures proposed in his budget would not benefit him personally, as his Liberal opponents had alleged. If that were so, he bridled ostentatiously, he would be unworthy to occupy his office.[1]

R.B. Bennett, Prime Minister of Canada, 1930-1935. Unconventionally, Bennett was his own minister of finance until February 1932.

It seemed that Canadians would have to take his word for that. Unlike U.S. Presidents today, Prime Ministers then did not disclose their income tax returns. The federal taxman would never tell creditors or fundraisers or mooching relatives how a tax filer was really fixed. And no one would have a chance to see if people who were living large were contributing little.

And yet Bennett’s critics had some kind of information about his tax bill, and they also had a strangely precise count of how many other wealthy Canadians – sixty – would supposedly benefit from the “millionaire’s budget.” Where did they get these numbers, if tax returns were not public records? Continue reading

Confronting Canadian Migration History

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Daniel Ross

Today we are pleased to announce the publication of the second volume in the Active History ebook series, Confronting Canadian Migration History. This open-access ebook collects some of the best writing on the topics of refugees, immigration, and nativism published on the site over the last four years. Although they vary in form and respond to different contexts and research agendas, all fifteen essays included in the collection share a common goal of bringing an engaged historical perspective to today’s migration debates. We hope that you will download, read, teach with, and share this open-access educational resource, which joins the Beyond the Lecture ebook and the Open Canadian History Seminar on our new Publications page.

Click on the cover image to read the ebook. To download a high-quality .pdf with covers, click here.

This volume, like all of Active History’s activities over the past decade, would not have been possible without the support of a network of contributors and allies across the country. It was prepared with Stephanie Bangarth, Sonya de Laat, Andrea Eidinger, Laura Madokoro, Jan Raska, Benjamin Hoy, Ryan McKenney, Benjamin Bryce, Michael Akladios, Sarah Carter, Edward Dunsworth, Laura Ishiguro, David Atkinson, Aitana Guia, Franca Iacovetta, and Karen Dubinsky. Marie-Laurence Rho provided editorial assistance, and Camille Robert designed the cover. Krista McCracken and eCampus Ontario provided inspiration and technical assistance.

The essays in this collection speak to the broad range of research being done in Canadian migration history; they also highlight the commitment of their authors to a public-facing scholarly practice. Read together, we believe they offer a much-needed historical perspective on contemporary discussions of immigration and refuge, questions that cut to the heart of who we are as a society.

Please share widely!

Daniel Ross is an assistant professor of history at UQÀM and a member of the Active History editorial collective.

The Politicization of History in Spain

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Bàrbara Molas and Adrian Shubert

On February 24, 2019, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez laid a wreath on the tomb of Manuel Azaña, the most important political figure of the Second Republic who had died in exile and was buried in France. He was the first Spanish leader since the restoration of democracy in 1978 to do so. In his remarks, and his tweet, Sánchez asked all Republican exiles for forgiveness for it having taken so long. “Many years have passed since you had to leave. But today, although very late, Spain pays homage to Manuel Azaña, to our fellow citizens of the exile. From the cemetery of Montauban, the eternal fatherland says to its children: Peace, Pity and Pardon”. Sánchez’s gesture, which coincided with the start of the campaign for national elections at the end of April, earned him a powerful rebuke from the leader of the opposition and the Spanish right in general.

Bikers for Independence, Barcelona, 10 October 2017 (Adrian Shubert photo)

This is a small incident, but it is symptomatic of the way in which the memory of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the Franco dictatorship (1939-1975) that emerged out of it remains hugely contentious and informs – even poisons – political debate in the country. Continue reading

Welcome to Canada: A Story from the First Year of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program

Edward Dunsworth

It started as the most mundane of requests.

One evening in late September, after a long day’s work, a light bulb flickered out in the dormitory that housed Carlton Robinson[i] and twelve other Jamaican men for the duration of their contract work on a farm in Vanessa, Ontario, about 65 kilometers southwest of Hamilton.

For unclear reasons, it fell to Carlton to report the faulty lightbulb to the farm owner, Vincent Geerts. Perhaps he thought nothing of approaching his employer about such a quotidian matter; or maybe he was anxious as he walked over to the farm house in the twilight hour. Regardless of what he expected, once Carlton reached the house and asked for a replacement bulb, things began to go very poorly, very fast. Though it was a Wednesday, Carlton found Geerts drinking with a friend. The friend, described in known archival sources only as a “French-Canadian” (and not named), quickly engaged Carlton in an argument and challenged the Jamaican man to a fight, a challenge Carlton declined to accept, instead returning to the bunkhouse.

The matter did not end there.

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More: Energy History and Energy Futures

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This is the sixth post in a collaborative series titled “Environmental Historians Debate: Can Nuclear Power Solve Climate Change?”. It is hosted by the Network in Canadian History & Environment, the Climate History Network, and

By Sean Kheraj

If nuclear power is to be used as a stop-gap or transitional technology for the de-carbonization of industrial economies, what comes next? Energy history could offer new ways of imagining different energy futures. Current scholarship, unfortunately, mostly offers linear narratives of growth toward the development of high-energy economies, leaving little room to imagine low-energy futures. As a result, energy historians have rarely presented plausible ideas for low-energy futures and instead dwell on apocalyptic visions of poverty and the loss of precious, ill-defined “standards of living.”

The fossil fuel-based energy systems that wealthy, industrialized nation states developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries now threaten the habitability of the Earth for all people. Global warming lies at the heart of the debate over future energy transitions. While Nancy Langston makes a strong case for thinking about the use of nuclear power as a tool for addressing the immediate emergency of carbon pollution of the atmosphere, her arguments left me wondering what energy futures will look like after de-carbonization. Will industrialized economies continue with unconstrained growth in energy consumption, expand reliance on nuclear power, and press forward with new technological innovations to consume even more energy (Thorium reactors? Fusion reactors? Dilithium crystals?)? Or will profligate energy consumers finally lift their heads up from an empty trough and start to think about ways of living with less energy? Unfortunately, energy history has not been helpful in imagining low-energy possibilities.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been getting familiar with the field of energy history and, for the most part, it has been the story of more. [1] Energy history is a related field to environmental history, but also incorporates economic history, the history of capitalism, social history, cultural history and gender history (and probably more than that). My particular interest is in the history of hydrocarbons, but I’ve tried to take a wide view of the field and consider scholarship that examines energy history in deeper historical contexts. Continue reading

The Never-ending History Wars

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Allan Greer

How can we understand the past and what lessons does it hold for the present?

This is an issue that has always been contested with different approaches coming to the fore.  From Plutarch in ancient times to Machiavelli in the Renaissance, the predominant idea was that stories of great men from earlier times would guide and inspire elite boys.  The Enlightenment took a broader view of the history of civilizations as a vehicle for understanding humanity without recourse to divine providence.  The 1800s saw the consolidation of nation-states and history was organized more around the nation, often personified in the lives and deeds of kings and presidents.  Over the past century, history diversified tremendously, as researchers broadened and deepened their inquiries into the past, examining political leadership, wars and constitutions, but also economic and social change, the evolution of popular culture, climate change, colonialism, slavery, the situation of women, science, and a thousand other dimensions of the human story.

New angles of vision and new findings about the past can be exciting – even emancipating – for many, but they may seem threatening to those who prize a stable and reassuring sense of history. Continue reading

Introducing the Beyond the Lecture ebook

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Andrea Eidinger and Krista McCracken

In March 2018 we launched “Beyond the Lecture” a monthly series on dedicated to teaching Canadian history at the post-secondary level. This series has – and continues to – create a space to expand perspectives, deepen insights, and challenge assumptions about history education. The series has presented us with an opportunity to both highlight the wonderful work already being done by educators across the country while also providing us with a forum to circulate these ideas more widely. At the same time, the series has created an online community where educators can share and circulate ideas, learn from each other, collaborate, and continue to grow.

Today, we are pleased to announce the publication of a new open-access ebook edited collection based on the series, Beyond the Lecture: Innovations in Teaching Canadian History. This ebook is available in several formats for your reading enjoyment, including a fully online version as well as downloadable versions. Our decision to create an ebook was inspired by a desire to extend the life of the original Beyond the Lecture blog posts and to highlight the broad themes which have emerged throughout the series. This open access ebook also developed out of the enthusiasm, insight, and conversations that were sparked by the Beyond the Lecture blog series. This book compiles pieces from the Beyond the Lecture series and the Active History site more broadly, as well as blogs like Borealia, The Otter/La loutre, and Unwritten Histories. It also builds more broadly on discussions taking place at all levels about the value of a university education and the importance of history as a field and a discipline.

Cover of Beyond the Lecture ebook, circle of blueberries on blue and yellow background

Beyond the Lecture ebook, click on cover to visit ebook.

This launch coincides with the launch of Active History’s new Publication section and the new ebook series. The Active History ebook series brings together some of the best writing published on in an accessible, open-access format. Its thematic collections focus on connecting historians to the public and the past to current events. A second publication in this series will be launched next week. Continue reading

What do you do when a course goes wrong?

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By Andrew Nurse

What do you do when a course goes wrong? This is not a title but a question. One that I am asking, perhaps, while treading on thin ice.

There is a chance that a student of mine (perhaps even a student in the course that is on my mind) will read this and wonder if I am talking out of turn. I do feel bad about that and I have thought fairly long and hard before writing these words; I write them, though, because problems keep magnifying and I think this is worth broader discussion, especially as many of us are shifting our pedagogies in response to emerging literature about teaching and learning.

What I want to do with this post is report on that course without, I hope, calling anyone out or intimating that it is all the students fault. Inspired, in part, by Andrea Eidinger’s recent post in Unwritten Histories on rejection, I want to talk about what sometimes seems like another form of rejection: a course that goes off the rails.  More exactly, I want to ask:

  • Is this my fault?
  • What could or should I have done about it?

If you have taught even a little while (as a TA, tutorial instructor, lecturer, running an extra help session, LTA, faculty member), I’m going to gamble that you know the deal. Continue reading

The Nuclear Renaissance in a World of Nuclear Apartheid

Castle Bravo, March 1, 1954

This is the fifth post in a collaborative series titled “Environmental Historians Debate: Can Nuclear Power Solve Climate Change?”. It is hosted by the Network in Canadian History & Environment, the Climate History Network, and

Toshihiro Higuchi

Nuclear power is back, riding on the growing fears of a catastrophic climate change that lurks around the corner. The looming climate crisis has rekindled heated debate over the advantages and disadvantages of nuclear power. However, advocates and opponents alike tend to overlook or downplay a unique risk that sets atomic energy apart from all other energy sources: proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Despite the lasting tragedy of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, the elusive goal of nuclear safety, and the stalled progress in radioactive waste disposal, nuclear power has once again captivated the world as a low-carbon energy solution. According to the latest IPCC report, released in October 2018, most of the 89 available pathways to limiting warming to 1.5 oC above pre-industrial levels see a larger role for nuclear power in the future. The median values in global nuclear electricity generation across these scenarios increase from 10.84 to 22.64 exajoule by 2050.

The global nuclear industry, after many setbacks in selling its products, has jumped on the renewed interest of the climate policy community in atomic energy. The World Nuclear Association has recently launched an initiative called the Harmony Programme, which has established an ambitious goal of 25% of global electricity supplied by nuclear in 2050. Even some critics agree that nuclear power should be part of a future clean energy mix. The Union of Concerned Scientists, a U.S.-based science advocacy group and proponent of stronger nuclear regulations, recently published an op-ed urging the United States to “[k]eep safely operating nuclear plants running until they can be replaced by other low-carbon technologies.”

But the justified focus on energy production vis-à-vis climate change obscures the debate that until recently had defined the nuclear issue: weapons proliferation. It is often said that a global nuclear regulatory regime, grounded on the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s safeguards system, has proven successful as a check against the diversion of fissile materials from peaceful to military uses. There is indeed a good reason for this optimism. Since 1968, only three countries (India, Pakistan, North Korea) have publicly declared possession of nuclear weapons – a far cry from “15 or 20 or 25 nations” that President Kennedy famously predicted would go nuclear by the 1970s. Continue reading

Remembering Richard Allen

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By Christo Aivalis

A couple weeks ago, historian of the Canadian Christian left Richard Allen passed away at the age of 90. This piece is not meant to be an obituary, nor a reflection of the deep impact he had upon Hamilton, which he represented as an Ontario NDP Member of Provincial Parliament during much of the 1980s and 1990s. Those matters are covered better in other places. Rather, I want to reflect on Allen’s scholarly influence, as well as our brief—but meaningful—personal interactions.

Allen was raised in a Christian family, being the son of a United Church minister, and this no doubt influenced his academic interests, which took him to Duke University where he completed his doctoral studies. Out of this came his first major work, and one which still inspires scholars of Canadian socialism and Christianity to this day: The Social Passion: Religion and Social Reform in Canada, 1914-28. Published in 1971, it served as a defining work for how scholars understood the figures, events, motivations, ideologies, and theologies which shaped the social gospel movement in Canada. While of an age that many might deem ‘dated,’ this book was deeply influential on my own understanding of the Christian left in this country, which existed in rudimentary form given my interest in key CCF figures like J.S. Woodsworth and Tommy Douglas, but wasn’t developed in a meaningful way until graduate school. In Allen’s writing, I saw figures and movements that—however imperfectly—melded the ideas of secular social justice with a conviction that Christ was sent to earth not only to teach us about the afterlife, but about how to build a New Jerusalem in the here and now.

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