Friday, May 04, 2012

Distorting History

On the thirtieth anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Harper government made no mention of the event -- other than to point out that the germ of the Charter was contained in John Diefenbaker's Bill of Rights.

The Harper version of history is highly selective. It ignores the Charter and celebrates the War of 1812. The canonization of Diefenbaker apes the Harperites' Republican cousins. Jeffrey Simpson writes in today's Globe and Mail:

In reaching back for Mr. Diefenbaker, Canadian Conservatives are contorting themselves as U.S. Republicans do.

For them, the two Bush presidencies have been airbrushed from public incantations of Republican history. Instead, Ronald Reagan has been placed atop the pedestal of Republican adulation, his missteps resolutely forgotten, his triumphs retold, his rhetoric repeated, his ideology extolled, even if that ideology was frequently at variance with his deeds.

The attempt to rewrite the Diefenbaker record fits with the Conservative narrative that it's time to roll back the clock to the good old days -- and it ignores the fact that the "good old days" weren't that good. Simpson reminds his readers of  the Diefenbaker years:

Mr. Diefenbaker was a weak prime minister, or at least that’s what Canadians came to believe after seeing him in office for a while. They handed him the largest majority then recorded in Canada in the 1958 election. Halfway through its mandate, his government was tearing itself apart, and Mr. Diefenbaker was flailing and failing.

By 1962, with the cabinet in revolt, his party was reduced to a minority. A year later, Canadians booted him and the Progressive Conservatives from office. It took four excruciating years to drag Mr. Diefenbaker from the party leadership.

By offering Canadians a distorted version of their history, the Harperites are betting that their fellow citizens will not notice the mess they are making of the present  -- and the future.

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