Why is history important to Harper?

Saint-Paul-de-l’Île-aux-Noix, Quebec – In September, 2012, Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Fort Lennox, QC to announced that battle honours would be awarded to those regiments that served in the War of 1812. (PMO Handout Photo)

On Tuesday,the Canadian Journal of History published an essay by Yves Frenette, one of Canada’s top historians, which is sharply critical of the way the Harper government has “used” or, so far as the critics go, “abused” Canada’s history. Frenette’s essay is a good summing-up of the kind of critique which has been showing up over the last three or four years whenever academics gather at conferences, at their blogs, and in other fora.

Note to reader: Those links won’t click themselves. I encourage you to check them out.

As a political journalist (and history grad), I’m much more interested in why governments turn to history to help sustain their current political objectives. I wrote about this in a column destined for our papers on Wednesday and I wrote about this last month when Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird spoke about the history of Canada’s foreign policy. Mind you, I’m limited to just 625 words for each of these columns so I can’t get into some of the same great detail that Paul Wells touches on his book  The Longer I’m Prime Minister … that helps answer this question about why the Harper gang is interested in Canadian history: Continue reading Why is history important to Harper?

Harper's History key to a Conservative Century

Harper War of 1812
Prime Minister Stephen Harper visits Fort Lennox in Saint-Paul-de-l’Île-aux-Noix, Que. on Friday Sept. 14, 2012. Harper visited the site to commemorate Canadian victories in the War of 1812. (Maxime Deland/QMI Agency)

Both his fans and his critics agree on one thing about Stephen Harper. He wants to transform the country, so Canadians will come to see his Conservatives and not the Liberals as the natural governing party.

By the election of 2015, he will have done much in that regard.

But to make that work endure, the Conservatives need history on their side. They need a narrative of Canada in which Conservative Party values are integral to the story. Voters who buy this history will then turn to Conservative leaders as the default choice in this century the way Canadians turned to Liberal leaders by default in the last century.

I’m not the first to advance this thesis. Plenty have done something similar over the last few years, particularly when the Harper Conservatives allocated millions to mark the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. But this week, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird gave a speech about John Diefenbaker’s foreign policy and that speech, more than anything I’ve heard yet from a Conservative politician, neatly articulated the Conservative vision of how Canada’s history ought to be read or interpreted. Continue reading Harper's History key to a Conservative Century