Arnold Chan, the Canadian Member of Parliament for Scarborough-Agincourt, died of cancer in September 2017 at the age of 50. Chan was raised in Toronto where he earned masters degrees in political science and urban planning. He also had a law degree from the University of British Columbia. Chan first won his seat in a 2014 byelection but was diagnosed with cancer shortly afterwards. He embarked on a treatment regime of radiation and chemotherapy. He felt healthy enough to run in the 2015 federal election and became the Liberal Party’s deputy House leader after they took power. However, he revealed in March 2016 that his cancer had returned. On June 12, 2017, Chan rose to speak in the House of Commons with his wife and family looking on. He was to address a motion put forward by the Conservative opposition criticizing the Liberal government’s record on the economy, but he used most of his speaking time to implore his fellow MPs to treat one another with civility and compassion in debate and to “ditch” their canned talking points.
Free trade is a timely topic in 2017 as Canada renegotiates NAFTA with the United States and Mexico. Back in 1998, when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney did an about-face and began negotiating a free-trade agreement with the United States, Bob White was prominent in a labour and citizens’ movement opposing the deal. White had built his reputation as a hard-nosed leader with the Canadian section of the United Auto Workers. In 1986, he led a move to leave the international union and form the Canadian Auto Workers. He and others described Mulroney’s free trade deal as being more about investment than trade, arguing that it would fundamentally undermine Canada’s sovereignty and its ability to maintain social, health, and regional development programs. White made this speech to the convention of the United Fisherman and Allied Workers Union in Vancouver early in 1988.
Lady Ishbel Maria Gordon, Marchioness of Aberdeen and Temair, was the spouse of Lord Aberdeen, Canada’s governor general from 1893–98. She was a strong and impressive woman with many interests, a staunch democrat with a social conscience. She created the Victorian Order of Nurses in Canada, and she believed that women had a significant role to play in society. She was also instrumental in creating the National Council of Women, an endeavour that was opposed fiercely by conservative commentators and newspapers. In her address to the founding meeting of the Local Council of Women in Victoria, Lady Aberdeen accepted the Victorian concept that the primary role of women was as wives, mothers, and guardians of the social order, but she deftly pushed the existing boundaries.
As Hitler attacked the Jews in the 1930s many of them sought refuge in other countries, including Canada. Prime Minister Mackenzie King counseled Canadian Jewish groups and concerned MPs to work quietly behind the scenes, implying that something would be done, but he took no action. There was a significant public sentiment in the country against Jewish immigration, and Canada actually turned away a ship containing Jews fleeing Germany. On 30 June 1939 a Quebec MP tabled a petition signed by thousands demanding that the government not allow Jews into Canada. That prompted A. A. Heaps, a CCF MP from Winnipeg, who had accepted King’s advice about quietly diplomacy, to rise in the House and criticize both the prime minister and his government’s inaction. Heaps was one of the few Jewish Members of Parliament. Continue reading A.A. Heaps on Jewish exclusion, January 1939
One hundred years ago, in 1917, there was a divisive debate in Canada over military conscription. It was led by Conservative cabinet minister Arthur Meighen. Brilliant, opinionated, and incisive, Meighen was one of Canada’s great parliamentary orators. Born in Ontario, he moved to Manitoba to practice law and was elected to the House of Commons in 1908. He served in the Borden government, where he was instrumental in drafting the legislation for conscription and other wartime measures.
Most Canadians believed the war in Europe would be a brief one, but it dragged on in trench warfare and sporadic large battles that cost tens of thousands of lives. Initially, the Canadian government was confident that it could provide troops through voluntary enlistment, but by 1916 there was a growing demand, particularly among Canadians of British ancestry, for the government to impose conscription to raise more troops. That enthusiasm was not shared in Quebec, where people had little allegiance to Britain. In 1916, Prime Minister Borden attended wartime meetings in London and visited with Canadians troops, particularly those wounded and in hospital. He was shocked and moved, and returned to Canada committed to conscripting men for compulsory military service. Meighen drafted the legislation, and he entered the debate on June 17, responding to an amendment proposed by Opposition leader Wilfrid Laurier that the legislation be deferred and put to a national referendum. Here is Meighen’s speech:
Women received the vote in Manitoba in January 1916 and it did not happen by accident. Nellie McClung and others were forced to take an overtly political route to get there. McClung was well known in western Canada as a writer and an activist for women’s rights. On 27 January 1914, Manitoba Premier Rodmond Roblin and members of the legislature met with McClung and a delegation of several hundred from the Political Equality League, which was seeking the vote for women. Roblin treated them condescendingly, and flatly refused them, saying, “I believe woman suffrage would break up the home and send women to mix up in political meetings.” The following evening McClung and others turned that meeting into a piece of guerrilla theatre. McClung played the premier’s role and mimicked his inflated rhetoric in a mock speech which she made to a fictitious group of men appearing before women legislators asking for the right to vote.