Has there ever been a more vital moment for Canadians to be thoughtful and critical about our democratic institutions? As we head into toward the second half of an election year, these recent titles deserve our attention.
Could It Happen Here?: Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit, by Michael Adams
About the book: Americans elected Donald Trump. Britons opted to leave the European Union. Far-right, populist politicians channeling anger at out-of-touch “elites” are gaining ground across Europe and South America. In vote after shocking vote, citizens of Western democracies have pushed their anger to the top of their governments’ political agendas.
Amid this roiling international scene, Canada appears placid, at least on the surface. As other societies turn inward, the international media have taken notice of Canada’s welcome of Syrian refugees; its federal cabinet, half of whom are women; and its acceptance of climate science and mixed efforts to limit its emissions. It seems that Canada is not as bitterly split as the electorates to the south or in Europe.
But Brexit and a Trump presidency were unthinkable until they happened. And Canada has already seen its own forms of populist resentment rear their heads—carbon tax fights, populist premiers, free s …
Talking History focuses on a wide range of topics in Canadian history, and it consists of articles by Canada's foremost historians and history experts. Our contributors use the power of narrative to bring the past to life and to show how it is not just relevant, but essential to our understanding of Canada and the world today. "Talking History" is a series made possible through a special funding grant from the Department of Canadian Heritage.
Carolyn Harris is a historian and author of the new book, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada.
On June 15, 1215, King John of England reluctantly affixed the royal seal to Magna Carta, a Charter of limits on his power imposed by an influential group of rebel barons and churchmen. The Charter contained a wide range of provisions. There were clauses that reflected the promises previous monarchs had made on their coronation days including freedom for the Church to manage its own affairs, inheritance rights for the nobility and freedom from forced remarriage for noble widows. There were also provisions that reflected King John’s conflicts with his subjects and fellow British rulers including a list of corrupt officials to be removed from office and Welsh and Scottish hostages to be released. Among these distinctly thirteen …
I became a volunteer in Honduras entirely for myself. I was just thirty then, single, unhappy in my work life. I had applied to a creative writing MFA, but with an unpromising portfolio. I thought that if I could be useful in the area of development it would make me feel better about myself.
The impulse to go did not stem from hopes of writing about the experience. That would’ve been ambitious. This was more like an escape plan. And a realistic one: many NGOs reward bored, middle-class shirkers like me with “development vacations”—easy stints in poor countries. I was on that path, likely to return to Canada much as I left it, maybe destined to write a novel about fellow Canadian escapees.
Instead, the group I hooked up with troubled both my motives and my sense of feeling “better.” Rights Action is a small social justice organization intent on allowing partner groups in Central America to set local goals. They only bring a handful of people from Canada down to places like Honduras and El Salvador, and only with the understanding that you work under those groups.
So, early in 2002, I travelled to La Esperanza, a rundown but pretty hill town in Western Honduras, near the Salvadoran border. My first surprise was the weather: I had imagined a steamy, tropica …