Tuesday 6 April‎ > ‎

Abstracts 6 April

Democracy as a work in progress:

the intellectual and cultural dynamics of the Canadian idea


BACS Annual Conference, New Hall Cambridge

6-8 April 2010



Tuesday 6 April 2010




History 1

Peter Neary, University of Western Ontario

A great stride forward’: The Post-Discharge Re-establishment Order (PC 7633) of 1 October 1941

More than a million Canadians enlisted in their country’s armed forces during the Second World War, and soon after September 1939 Ottawa was confronted with a new generation of veterans. Remembering the economic, social, and political upheaval following the Great War, the Liberal government of William Lyon Mackenzie King quickly began planning for demobilization. A cabinet committee on demobilization and rehabilitation was formed in December 1939 and was subsequently assisted by a general advisory committee, which eventually had fourteen subcommittees. In 1941 a select committee of the House of Commons examined a wide range of issues relating to veterans’  benefits. On 1 October 1941, “The Post-Discharge Re-establishment Order” (PC 7633) was issued. This provided a variety of out- of-work and training benefits and extended the country’s new unemployment insurance scheme to those who served. The principal architects of PC 7633, though veterans of the Great War themselves, rejected the approach to demobilization favoured by the Canadian Legion, which wanted those for whom work was not available kept in uniform and on the government payroll until jobs could be found for them. Government planners also rejected as wasteful and inefficient the payment of a war service gratuity, something that had been done at the end of the Great War and which the Legion wanted done again.  PC 7633 gave the government the high ground in the evolving wartime debate over veterans’ affairs and laid the foundation for the suite of benefits known from 1945 as the Veterans Charter. 


Dr Martin Thornton,  University of Leeds.

Robert Borden, Winston Churchill and the Naval Crisis of 1912.

In 1912 Prime Minister Robert Borden and a number of colleagues went to London to discuss a naval plan that would suit Canada and Great Britain and would help secure the defence of the British Empire. It was a time of considerable pessimism about the future security of European states and the safety of the British Empire. First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, promoted a Naval Aid Bill for Canada that would lead to Canada investing $35 million in three Dreadnought battleships; the battleships to be at the disposal of the British and to be used for the defence of Empire – a position firmly accepted by Robert Borden.

Democracy in Canada was such that the Naval Aid Bill caused much bitterness, controversy and heated debates. Within the Canadian Parliament, although the House of Commons passed the Bill, the Canadian Senate rejected it. Borden and most of the Conservative Party believed Canada’s defence was much weakened and for some it was a ‘national disaster’.



Political Culture 1

Howard Cody, University of Maine

Identity and Political Culture in the Stephen Harper-Michael Ignatieff Era 

Canadians have been preoccupied with their national identity for decades.  But the current era, in which substantive albeit potentially divisive political issues ranging from immigration to Quebec’s place in Canada to climate change policy seem ‘off the table’ as subjects of political debate, has imposed a relatively content-free approach to identity issues and to national politics generally.  Canada’s political leaders none the less entertain diverging visions of Canada’s identity.  This paper explores the differences between Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff in how they regard Canada’s national identity and political culture.  We consider how they frame their political strategies and their approaches to domestic and global politics.  We take up how Harper and Ignatieff propose to use federal policy initiatives through national institutions to further their conceptions of national identity.  We address how minority government, or rather the distinctive way that Canadians assess and practise it, has affected Canada’s politics and the environment in which Harper and Ignatieff operate.  We also explore how Harper’s minority position influences electoral calculations and policies respecting identity and political culture.   Finally, we speculate on how and how much Canada would differ after several years of a majority or minority Harper government compared to a similar period under Ignatieff.


Frédéric Boily, University of Alberta

The Political Evolution of Stephen Harper

Who is the real Stephen Harper? For many commentators, the answer is simple: the Prime Minister remains always a Reformist. It is why he is continuing the liquidation of the Red Tory heritage. Stephen Harper has not evolved. In my view, this manner of understanding Harper is too monolithic.

Drawing on Harper’s writings, as well as some books and articles about him (Johnson 2005, Plamondon 2005, 2009; Wells 2005; Boily, Boisvert, and Kermoal 2005; Boily 2007, 2010; Flanagan 2009), we propose a more subtle analysis. We think it is more accurate to identify at least four periods in Harper’s political thought.

The first period is the formative years when Harper studied at the University of Calgary and became involved with the Reform Party: it is the Calgary moment (1987-1997). The second is an interlude —  the Think Tank moment — when Stephen Harper was Director of the National Citizens’ Coalition (1998-2001). The third moment begins when Harper decided to jump in the Canadian Alliance leadership race (2002-2006). We can name this period the Harper Team moment, by reference to former Conservative Campaign Director Tom Flanagan’s book (2009). The fourth — the Government moment — starts with Harper’s first electoral victory, in January 2006, and ends two years later with the parliamentary crisis of December 2008. To conclude, we examine briefly the fifth moment, one that begins in January 2009.

In sum, we suppose there exists just one Stephen Harper, but with multiple dimensions, each of them corresponding to a specific period of his intellectual and political evolution.



Literature 1

Milena Marinkova, University of Leeds

Orpheus Goes North American: or, Is There a Way out of the Balkan Underworld?

The Balkans, situated at the crossroads of a number of geopolitical, religious and linguistic areas, have been recurrently invoked in the imaginary geographies of Anglophone writers. A liminality that troubles the idea of uniform ‘Europe’ and poses a threat to the integrity of the adolescent European Union, this region has been mobilised in a host of othering metaphors in fictional and non-fictional works. And whilst critics have identified the quasi-Orientalist (aka ‘Balkanist’) tendencies of ‘European’ writers (from Voltaire and Agatha Christie to Olivia Manning and Malcolm Bradbury), no attention has been given to the literary interventions of ‘Europe’s’ former colonial spaces (in particular Canada and Australia). This paper will explore how one of the most popular myths associated with the Balkan region, that of the Thracian musician Orpheus, has been deployed in two, rather different, North American texts: The Lyre of Orpheus (1988) by the Canadian author Robertson Davies and Orpheus Lost (2007) by Australian writer (presently resident in the US) Janette Turner Hospital. Orpheus as a trope for the dissolution of the self (Orpheus’ violent death), the untranslatable sublimity of music (Orpheus’ enchanting music) and the impossible retrieval of the past (Orpheus’ loss of Eurydice) is implicitly present in both texts albeit in an attempt to address two different cultural phenomena. If the meaning of ‘true art’, Canadian art, against the backdrop of European heritage and consumerist philistinism is at the core of Davies’ self-conscious parody of a novel, for Turner Hospital art, and science, become powerful (and sometimes deadly) weapons of political criticism in a post 9/11 context. Is the uprooting of the ancient myth and its implantation onto North American soil symptomatic of a continued fascination (even beyond ‘Europe’) with ‘the Balkan’ as a place of violence and fratricide, misty woods and pagan deities? Or is it an instance of a ‘writing back’ that does not address directly ‘the centre’ but uses as a medium a peripheral and contested space? If the latter is the case, however, to what extent do the Balkans have a role that exceeds the backdrop, Hades’ underworld?


Sarah Henzi, Université de Montréal

Towards Social Equality: Negotiating Political Rhetorics in First Nations Literatures

This paper explores the reappropriation of the English and French languages within First Nations contemporary literatures, specifically how literary texts enable the retelling and reclaiming of Indigenous Peoples’ histories and rights for sovereign governance. Notwithstanding the ongoing challenges these people face, including that of demystifying the political rhetorics through which colonialism continues to model assumptions and discursive expectations throughout Canada, what is produced, ultimately, in these literatures, is a “strategic space” of positive resistance and transformational power, a liminal zone in which new forms of critical thought and modes of collaborative learning may emerge.

To think of democracy as a process – one whose result is the practice of and adherence to the principles of social equality – is especially important when thinking about the particular rights that were granted only very gradually to First Nations people in Canada. The right to vote, for example, was bestowed on March 31, 1960: “Native people were finally able to move away from reserves, and to live as recognised human beings, so to speak, in so far as the status of being a human being is equated with the right to vote” (Tomson Highway). Indeed, in the active re-shaping of this already-encoded relation between imperial powers and indigenous societies, I ask, how can one engage in the discourse of humanism alongside any struggle for humanity, without ultimately participating in – in the sense of being complicit in – the very discourse that up until the 1960’s defined indians in terms of the non-human, as mere wards of the State?

In this twenty-minute paper, drawing from the works of Tomson Highway, Lee Maracle and Joséphine Bacon, I discuss how, by means of the productive violence of reappropriation, these literary “performances” generate upsetting and comical interventions that demystify, as well as denounce, the ongoing forms of exploitation within Canada. Such processes are crucial for establishing discourses of reconciliation and practices of negotiation towards equity and sovereignty.

Will Smith, University of Nottingham

Matters of art and governance: The Toronto Book Awards

Lorraine York has suggested that, in the summer of 2008, 'culture wars' occupied many Canadians. With an impending federal election, budget-cutting for arts support received in-depth coverage in the media. Whilst this re-opened a discussion on the relationship of arts and governance at a national level, little has been said about the relationship at a provincial or municipal level. This paper will examine the 2008 Toronto City Book Awards, exploring how governance and the arts have formed a unique relationship.

The Toronto City Book Awards have existed for thirty-five years, funded by the city council, rewarding books 'of literary or artistic merit that are evocative of Toronto.' The history of the awards can be seen as a product of literature, local governance, community input and social policy. Under the council-set remit, a changing jury of local citizens has awarded money to some prominent names in Canadian Literature. Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Dionne Brand, Timothy Findley and Anne Michaels have all received the prize. However, the award is not restricted to fiction or poetry, and just as readily accepts biographies of local figures and urban histories into its fold. This paper will present material from interviews conducted in the summer of 2008 with key figures associated with the Toronto City Book Awards. Furthermore, the paper will look to consider how the awards create artistic capital and combine notions of literary and political power.




Literature 2

Fiona Tolan, Liverpool John Moores University

 “Alone on a wide, wide sea”: Atwood’s Liberal Vision in Oryx and Crake

Neither economic nor political liberalism, nor the various Marxisms, emerge from the sanguinary last two centuries free from the suspicion of crimes against mankind.

(Jean-Françoise Lyotard, “Defining the Postmodern”)

Examples of political contemplation are common in Atwood’s fictions, which are frequently permeated by questions of liberty and autonomy. In her novels Atwood has explored a number of political models of society and selfhood, including communitarianism, myriad feminisms, and utopianism in various guises. Set against these contesting discourses on the good life, however, is a persistent return in Atwood’s work to the ethics of liberalism. Focusing primarily on Oryx and Crake, this paper highlights Atwood’s instinctual liberalism and its engagement with the various competing notions of selfhood that challenge liberal beliefs in democracy and self-determination in the novel.

In Oryx and Crake, Atwood presents “a Last Man narrative” (Howells, The Cambridge Companion, 162), in which Snowman is left to contemplate his identity in isolation. In this novel, authenticity is threatened to the point of extinction, and collective identity, envisioned in the form of the Crakers, is depicted as monstrous. As a double dystopia (one in which both the present and the past are at a dystopian remove from reality), I suggest that Oryx and Crake articulates a complex double discourse on liberalism: defending the liberal notion of the authentic self, whilst also exposing the extent to which a liberal economy, with its concomitant consumerism and social inequality, undermines the basic principles of self-determination and respect for the liberty of others that Atwood values.


Robyn Morris , University of Wollongong

New directions in Asian Canadian writing: Larissa Lai’s ‘thinking through’ a contemporary politics of identity

Asian Canadian writer Larissa Lai reflects, in an article written eight years after the publication of her first novel, When Fox is a Thousand, that the central character, Artemis is a product of my thinking through what happens to young Asian Canadian women in the absence of a radical community-based identity politic. She has some awareness of colonialism and white-privilege, and some awareness of how her body is read within mainstream white society, but she does not really have any useful tools to deal with this knowledge. (2005 168)

This paper explores Lai’s ‘thinking through’ the issue of white visualising practices that ‘read’ the Asian female body as a hyper-feminised, doll-like other in her most recently released book, Automaton Diaries (2009). This paper will focus upon the consistent return within her body of fiction and poetry to the figure of the Replicant Rachel from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Lai’s implicit questioning of Rachel’s fixed subject positioning in Blade Runner indicates that her body of work is part of a wider project; for while undertaking a project of redress, more fundamental to Lai’s politics of identity is the notion of address. This paper argues that Lai’s answer in Automaton Diaries to Deckard’s well-known question in Blade Runner; “How can it not know what it is?” is a vision of Rachel turning around and looking within and across the differing paradigmatic structures of cinema, literature, art, photography and all its attendant criticism. This glance back (and at) these structures foregrounds the transformative values available to the subject who looks at and records her life through her own eyes, overtly challenging the elisions and silences of white patriarchal inscriptions of subjectivity that would otherwise place her (like the character of Artemis in Fox) as a racialised, voiceless, doll-like object of white privilege and desire.


Heidi Butler, University of New Brunswick

Consumed Women in Atwood’s Speculative Corpocracies

As democratic governments become increasingly concerned with corporate profits, voters’ needs can be overlooked for private interests. In the speculative fictions Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood suggests that mass consumption and privatization undermine democracy. Many Canadians currently experience a lesser version of Atwood’s reality, as governments support corporations at the expense of citizens’ economic and social needs. Women have less access to political and economic power in Canada, and so are especially vulnerable in corpocracies. Despite the federal government’s insistence that “equality” is no longer a necessary goal for Status of Women Canada, Atwood’s plausible fictions demonstrate that women have not achieved financial or political equality. In corpocracies, it might be easier for women to succeed if they assume “masculine” roles than if they insist that “feminine” extends beyond conventions surrounding wives, mothers, spinsters, and sex objects. Women are permitted few roles outside these conventions in such patriarchal societies. As in the theocracy Atwood presents in The Handmaid’s Tale, women in her later speculative fictions are primarily valued for their bodies, over which men literally claim ownership. Women who resist this commodification must abandon corporate ideals. Such women are labelled ungrateful or incompetent, and can be threatened with violence for their actions. In Atwood’s novels, a whistle-blowing woman known as “the Hammerhead” is considered a traitor against her family, her corporation, and her state. Because the Hammerhead’s actions make her seem “unwomanly,” she is forced to flee her family and corporate society. This paper will examine how Canadian women face similar choices as the Hammerhead: to forsake a culture of consumption that objectifies women, to accept corporate control and surrender women’s rights, or to endanger themselves while reclaiming democracy.




Heather Devine, University of Calgary

The Buffalo Hunters of the Pembinah Journal: A Research Update

Researching and annotating a primary document is challenging in itself.  Determining the nature and extent of editorial ‘enhancement’ of a copied original ms. provides an extra layer of complexity to the entire process.   The discovery  of The Buffalo Hunters of the Pembinah, a typescript of an Englishman’ account of a journey with the Plains Métis, penned ca. 1870-72, may be a significant ethnographic and literary find – or it may be a hoax.  This paper provides the most recent update of the author’s approaches to determining the provenance of this journal.  Recent efforts have focused on the motives and actions of the individual who originally purported to have ‘discovered’ the manuscript – lawyer and businessman Gordon J. Keeney of Fargo North Dakota.  Original letters and documents written by Keeney prior to his death in 1917, uncovered by the author in other fonds in the collections of the State Historical Archives of North Dakota, raise provocative new questions about the fate of the original ‘diary’ and the creation of the typescript that currently exists.   


Geok Hui, Florence, Yap, Chang Gung University

Ethnicity As a Cultural System: Filmic Representations of Women in Canadian Aboriginal Films

This paper aims to situate its discussions of the Canadian Aboriginal films, particularly films portraying Aboriginal women, with the generation of its unique cultural sphere. Through the filmic representations of Canadian Aboriginal women, it considers the ideas brought about in films directed by Alanis Obomsawin (My Name Is Kahentiiosta, Mother of Many Children), Catherine Martin (The Spirit of Annie Mae), Carol Geddes (Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief), Erica Lepage (Fighter), Christine Welsh (Finding Dawn, Keepers of the Fire), Gail Maurice (Smudge), and Norma Bailey (Women in the Shadows). Other films with such focus include Heartbeat of the Nations: Aboriginal Women in the Arts (Singing Our Stories, Hands of History) and Daughters of the Country (a four part series). Discussions are made using a semiotic anthropological approach to analyze salient intellectual, cultural, and political thought, whether obscure or evident, in these films that depict Aboriginal women from different tribes. The Aboriginal filmmakers are immersed in their unique setting of multiple ethnicities, which is also an immense locale for cultural interaction. The society’s cultural richness stems from its different ethnic groups of Europeans and Aboriginals. Each ethnic group is itself a system within the social system. By thick description, this paper explains the behavior of the Aboriginal women in the films, the context of the practices and discourse within a society. Hence, the systemic unities of the Canadian society interact with one another to form a part of the Canadian social system. Aboriginal cinema is not well-known outside Canada, but given the degree to which it intersects with the broader concerns of filmmaking, it moves Canadian films forward in significant ways.


The Digital Age

Natasha Saltes, University of Cambridge

Deliberative democracy in the digital age: A profile of the Canadian political landscape online

A long tradition of research in the social sciences has examined the theoretical and structural systems of democracy embedded in law, policy, human rights and government. The emergence of information and communication technology (ICT), revolutionized by the Internet, presents new interpretations of the theoretical and structural applications of democracy. Recently, there has been a profusion of research that documents the patterns of e-mobilization, e-campaigning, e-government and civic participation as a collective cornerstone for the attainment of e-democracy. Yet, within this emerging literature a debate has begun to surface between those who argue that the Internet facilitates civic participation regardless of social capital and those who claim that, on the contrary, the Internet is an apparatus of the state used to reinforce existing inequalities. At the centre of these debates is the issue of whether online deliberation has an impact on political outcomes.

This paper incorporates a contemporary theory of the public sphere and questions whether the proliferate use of ICT and the development and growth of online social and political communities provides a more inclusive and reciprocal forum for civic participation and political deliberation. Looking in particular at Canadian political websites and blogs and the dissemination of Canadian political news and debates in social networking sites, this paper seeks to examine whether current online deliberation enhances democratic practices in the Canadian political landscape.


David Hutchison, Glasgow Caledonian University


This paper will examine the evolution of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s 2009 New Media Policy, which calls for Canadian content on new media platforms, but manifests a reluctance to become involved in regulation of the sector to ensure adequate Canadian content,( although the Commission continues to regulate the traditional broadcasting sector to that end).

The paper will consider both the desirability and feasibility of such regulation, and will critically examine the policy recently adopted by the CRTC. It will also explore whether the ‘hands off’ approach to new media might have a knock on effect on policy in the traditional broadcasting sector, particularly in the light of the financial difficulties being suffered by that sector.

Reference will be made to the approaches taken by the British regulator, Ofcom, and the European Union in responding to similar challenges on the other side of the Atlantic.





Jodie Robson,
16 Mar 2010, 06:14