The Frontier Centre for Public Policy held an informal symposium reviewing an important Canadian book—The 1867 Project: Why Canada Should be Cherished, Not Cancelled: Twenty Distinct Voices Make the Case for Canada. (Calgary, AB: The Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy, 2023, 320 pgs., $25.00) The book is edited by Mark Milke, President of the newly formed independent think tank – The Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy. Writers associated with the Frontier Centre share their thoughts on this book in a symposium of three reviews. Not surprisingly, they do not always agree.
Mark Milke, the editor of this book, is the President of newly – founded, Calgary – based think tank, the Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy. This book puts the Foundation and Dr. Milke on the map for Canadian intellectuals. Within a week of being published, The 1867 Project was a Canadian best seller on Amazon with well over 1,000 positive reviews.
This is, of course, an important book, because it shows what has occurred in the Canadian ethos over the last few decades. In the beginning, 1867, the opportunities in this new country were open for the millions of immigrants who arrived with hopes of prosperity for themselves and their children. Even one hundred years later, 1967, the future looked extremely bright for all Canadians. Older people will remember the celebrations across the country: Expo 67 in Montreal, tourists came from other countries, young people canoed down the old trade routes, and families cycled Canadian highways. There were fireworks every week even on Indian reserves.
In 1967, Canadians were united and proud of their history and their open future.
The 20 authors in this book obliquely compare the outlook Canadians had in 1967 with the outlook we have in 2023. Nevertheless, they correctly denote that national pride and cohesion have decreased over the past 56 years. Canadians were enthusiastically patriotic in 1967. Today they are faced with “a cancel and burn it down” culture that seeks to erase the joyful and uplifting ethos we had in 1967. Over the last two years, for example, Canada has mourned the Indigenous children claimed to be buried in the schoolyard of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. To date, no bodies have been exhumed, yet the government building lowered the Canadian flag to half-mast and paid millions of dollars to obtain evidence of the foul play that happened in the schools.
Today we hear that Canadians of generations past were racist, xenophobic misogynists who supported a colonial system that caused untold harm to Indigenous people and other minorities. According to Milke’s foreword, the people making this argument are Marxists who want to destroy the institutional structures holding the West together: the family, churches, public schools, universities, free enterprise, and eventually, civil society itself.
In Part I, the “Four doctrines of the Apocalypse”, Critical Theory, Postmodernism, Social Justice, and Critical Race Theory are identified as the culprits leading Canada into this death spiral. Milke thoughtfully states that: “These doctrines reject Enlightenment values such as open inquiry, individual autonomy, free speech, scientific skepticism, and even reason itself.” Instead, they promote “identity politics, elitism, and centralized control.” The topic discussed is labeled the Four Doctrines of the Apocalypse; a fitting name for the destructive leftist policies addressed in the essay. Bruce Pardy, the author, provides a historical foundation for each one and then adapts them to different aspects of today’s toxic environment that are relevant not just to Canadian culture but to the general West from whence our culture came. There are concrete, real-world and extreme theoretical examples to illustrate the flamboyantly dangerous ideology that is now so pervasive in today’s culture, notably the COVID-19 pandemic, a period of time ripe with conflict, rebellion, state attempts to control the population, fearmongering, propaganda, and the Canadian spirit that manifested most visibly in the form of the (unmentioned but alluded to) Freedom Convoy that ended the extreme government mandates.
Professor David Millard Haskell’s chapter “The fight against Critical Race Theory (CRT) at an Ontario school board” (Chapter 4) provides an excellent example of how this apocalyptic ideology infects the educational sphere. Haskell points out that a major element of CRT has taken over the explanation of how people succeed in Ontario’s public schools. Specifically, CTR teaches students that their race is a major determinant of their success or lack of success. So, white students succeed not because of their ability and motivation, but because they have white privilege. Likewise, students of colour fail because they are not born with privilege. Even if they are smart and motivated, they are bound to fail, or if they succeed, their success is against undeniable odds.
Another tenant of this theory is that even if white students say they have no animosity towards non-whites, they still enact racist attitudes and behaviour that elevate their status while depressing the status of equally deserving black, brown, and Indigenous students. White students are oppressors and black, brown, and Indigenous students are oppressed no matter their actions. As a result, white students are often asked to “check their privilege,” to stop acting white, and to stop asserting their privilege over others even when, objectively, they are doing nothing of the sort.
The infamous example of the expulsion of Francis Widdowson from Mount Royal University, brought forth by Bruce Gilley’s piece, “How a professor was cancelled by academic Stalinists on campus” (Chapter 3), is another applicable narrative that records the events that led to and caused her dismissal with thoughtful commentary and detailed references, including those involved. There was a lot of information regarding the main actors in the highest echelon of the university and Gilley’s thoughts on the potential consequences, but it could have delved more deeply into the reasons why this happens in other educational institutions as well and the mass psychosis infected those institutions – why do so many people, who have never met each other, all act the same way?
Fortunately, there has been a growing, nationwide rebellion against this ideology . Parents are beginning to speak out, in truth, that their children are receiving a biased education because CRT is taught in many schools. Haskell points out, for example, that the Waterloo Region District School Board has embraced CRT, and many teachers are incorporating the ideology into their lessons. Anyone raising questions about teaching this ideology, such as trustee Mike Ramsay (who is black), is dismissed with contempt by the board, administrators, and teachers.
Mathew Lau’s chapter, “Is Canada systematically racist?” (Chapter 6) adds empirical evidence to the false claim of CRT. His chapter shows that when it comes to medium incomes, white people are, in fact, not doing as well as many other groups. In examining the average salaries per week, white men are outranked by Chinese, South Asians, Koreans, and Japanese men. Similarly, white women are out ranked by Filipinos, Japanese, South Asians, Chinese, and Koreans. Note that all the higher-earning people are people of colour. This data shows that the claim of white privilege is not empirically based but driven by ideology; one that has little empirical support in our country.
No doubt everyone agrees that the most disadvantaged people in Canada is the Indigenous population. Joseph Quesnel’s chapter, “Indigenous people have a chance—if they grasp it” (Chapter 16), argues that most Indigenous people seek the good life, and they can get it if they strive for it. Quesnel notes that the Indigenous lawyer and businessperson, Calvin Helin, in Dances with Dependency, documents the dependency that is endemic in First Nations communities. Instead of continuing that reliance, Quesnel argues that in some First Nations, there is a quiet revolution going on in which the shackles of dependence on the federal and provincial/territorial governments are being weakened, and broken, freeing First Nations’ people to pursue their own economic opportunities on their own terms.
It is exceedingly difficult for these people to break free, as Quesnel recognizes, and he rightfully points out that the federal government could help by providing incentives for band governments to adopt better economic and social policies. Quesnel notes that the major requirement is to ensure that First Nations governments are transparent and accountable to, primarily, their own members and, secondarily, to the Canadian taxpayers who supply the needed resources. Surely the government of Stephen Harper, who enacted the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, was moving in the right direction, but the Liberal government of Justine Trudeau has not enforced this law. Because of this, many First Nations no longer publish income and expenses, and thus neither their own people nor taxpayers are informed.
Even so, Canadian taxpayers have not complained about the large expenditures on First Nations without much obvious improvement in their living conditions and life expectancy. That is, of course, a shame on the care that Canadians have for our First Nations. Quesnel notes that the tolerance of non-Indigenous Canadians is limited, and they are becoming increasingly critical of the seemingly endless land claims, assumptions of buried children close to Indian Residential Schools and buried murdered women in Winnipeg landfill sites, and many other issues with the expenditure of billions of dollars.
In the concluding chapter, Mark Milke’s “Renewing the peaceable kingdom: Why ideas and not identities should matter,” argues, “It is time to debunk a nonsensical myth that has metastasized in Canada in recent years. That stale idea is that any attempt to rank ideas and values as preferable or civilized is intolerant at best, racist at worst, and a sign of a misplaced cultural superiority complex.” Milke rightfully says that Canadians must wake up to the fact that some ideas and practices are genuinely better than others. In this context, we can say that Canada’s history has not been perfect, but it has not been genocidal as some modern commentors claim. The 1867 Project is a refreshing response to this prevalent, but mistaken, claim.
Our recommendation is that all Canadians read The 1867 Project. This book is especially relevant for students from early years to graduate school. Of course, it has limitations, as do all books, but its positive points far outweigh the negative. Canadians need to know more history that show both the positive and negative parts, telling the truth about Canada without the embellishment of neo-Marxist ideology.
Rodney A. Clifton is professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba, and the Editor in Chief and senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. His most recent book, with Mark DeWolf, is From Truth Comes Reconciliation: An Assessment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report. Sophia N. Leis is a student studying political science, international affairs and economics at the University of Ottawa and the Associate Editor at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.