Citizens’ Timeline of Canada’s Role in the World – 1960s
At our dialogue sessions (including the National Dialogue, which we’re right in the middle of) we ask Canadians to develop their own history of Canadian foreign policy, citing the events that are particularly relevant to them. You can actually participate in this exercise online using our Wiki-timeline, which isn’t quite as comprehensive as what we use in the sessions. A typical conversation around the timeline goes like this:
9:12 AM EST Saturday January 31st – Facilitator Mary Pat Mackinnon explains that we do the timeline exercise in order to develop a shared understanding of the meaning of significant events in Canada’s history. Having a shared understanding doesn’t mean that we all have the same understanding of these events, but just that we are familiar with the range of opinions on Canada’s role in the world and find common ground on what events are significant. First participants review the timeline, then they add events that they feel are missing, then they use red dots to indicate the moments they feel exemplify Canadian leadership on the world stage.
9:41 AM EST – Facilitator Maurice points out that people have added a lot of events to the pre-1931/Statute of Westminster years (which we sometimes use to mark the start of the timeline, as it’s when Canada gained independence from Britain in its foreign policy), indicating that they think relevant Canadian history begins in the 1800s. Some events people added include Louis Riel and the Union Treaty of 1848. In later years they’ve added Royal Commission on Arts and Letters, Mackenzie Pipeline Inquiry, Marc Garneu, “Open Door” Refugee policy, creation of the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation and many others.
We see a clear clustering of dots around the 1960s and 1970s, as well as around 1994 and Roméo Dallaire’s involvement in Rwanda.
10:00 AM – Mary Pat wants to know two things: 1) why aren’t we seeing many dots around WWII? In other sessions we’ve seen a lot of pride in Canada’s participation in WWII – why not in this session? 2) why are the 60s such an important period for us?
My impression of the answers to these questions: We are proud of WWII (especially those who have travelled in Europe and recognized that Europeans in many countries [Holland is cited as an example] still remember Canada’s participation in liberating Europe) but it is both a long time ago and distant-seeming. Also, sometimes things that we’d obviously see as defining moments don’t seem worth pointing out. A lot of countries were taking leadership and demonstrating heroism on the world stage.
The 60s were important because of two different factors – one was a new perspective at home, often associated with Pierre Trudeau; the second was global and local social movements. Trudeau “tied up a lot of loose ends” domestically, by instituting official bilingualism and multiculturalism. This shored up our identity and made us proud at home, which allowed us to take a strong position and leadership role on the world stage. We were also willing to take independent positions on things – i.e. not going to Vietnam, accepting draft dodgers, and recognizing Cuba. We “dared to have opinions, and put them forward on the world stage.”
The 60s were also a time when progressive social movements came to the fore – the women’s movement, labour movement, civil rights movements and aboriginal movements domestically in Canada (responding to Trudeau and Chrétien’s White Paper of 1967). There was a consistency between action at the local and global levels, with lots of money flowing into community development. We saw a strong vision of what it means to be a role model in the world – a desire for our actions at home to be congruent with our actions abroad.
What is normal (and great) during the timeline exercise is the number of dissenting opinions – there were some people in the dialogue session who felt uncomfortable with the nostalgia for the 60s, and pointed out that these events occurred in a particular context. This was during the Cold War, when there was pressure on Western governments to respond to the political movements within their countries so as not to give the Soviet Bloc any legitimate arguments for the superiority of Communism. There was a simplistic notion of good versus bad, and it was easy to take a side. It was also an easier time to be idealistic, because a lot of new institutions were being built and there was a great deal of confidence in them. What our reverence for the 60s shows is that we’d like to go back to this time when things were simpler, but we can’t.