Current Projects

The Confederation Debates, 1865-1949

The ideas and concerns that inform a country’s founding inspire and complicate politics for generations. In the United States, Americans can learn about their country’s founding ideas and debates by consulting any one of several published editions of the Federalist PapersAnti-Federalist Papers, or thematically organized multi-volume sets of thematically organized papers, debates and pamphlets. For Australia’s centenary, the University of Sydney digitized the full texts of that country’s key debates from the 1890s to the 1940s.

Canadians do not enjoy these opportunities. Before each province and territory became a part of Canada, their local legislatures (and the House of Commons after 1867) debated the extent, purposes, and principles of political union between 1865 and 1949. The vast majority of these records, however, remain inaccessible. Indeed, many of the texts can only be found in provincial archives. A few single-volume edited collections exist, but they had to be heavily edited to reduce the cost of printing. In addition to federal and colonial debates, the British Crown also negotiated a series of Numbered Treaties with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. These texts, and the records of their negotiation, are equally important to Canada’s founding yet, as the Truth and Reconciliation Committee recently explained, “too many Canadians still do not know the history of Indigenous peoples’ contributions to Canada, or understand that by virtue of the historical and modern Treaties negotiated by our government, we are all Treaty people.”

Embracing new research technologies and dissemination formats will make it possible for The Confederation Debates to finally bring all of these debates to every Canadian and preserve them for future generations. By bringing together these diverse colonial, federal, and Indigenous texts for the first time, the project will increase political awareness of historical grievances and contribute to reconciliation. If fully funded, this public history project will reproduce the texts in their entirety, convert them into a TEI database, provide a website where users can search the texts, read them in e-books, or data mine them by downloading the dataset. All of these materials will be available online free of charge for Canada’s 150th anniversary in July 2017.

Canada’s approaching 150th anniversary in July 2017 will ensure that a wide variety of Canadians will be interested in The Confederation Debates. In addition, scholars and Canadians will return to The Confederation Debates during every major future Canadian anniversary. Interested readers will include:

  • Indigenous Peoples
  • Public school teachers
  • University students
  • Historians
  • Political Scientists
  • History buffs
  • Political staffers
  • Reporters
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First Among Equals:’ The Development of Preponderant Federalisms in Upper Canada and Ontario to 1896

I am in the process of converting my dissertation to a book for publication with a university press. The book will explore how the Upper Canadian and Ontarian belief that their province could preponderate within Confederation impacted  Canada’s political development from the 1850s to the 1890s. My research reveals

reveals that federalism in Upper Canada remained weak until Reformers recognized that their province could exercise preponderant influence in a federation where representation in the national legislature was based upon population. After this realization, Reformers increasingly believed that they could best serve their province and country by using their potential parliamentary preponderance to quash policy demands from the rest of Canada that did not align with their national vision. This was not, however, the only way Upper Canadians interpreted their colony’s role within Confederation. As 1 July 1867 neared, many Upper Canadians acknowledged their province’s potential power but doubted its ability to dominate national policy debates. They also argued that opposing initiatives from the rest of Canada would destabilize Confederation. This second group, therefore, cautioned against opposing the rest of Canada or suggested using their province’s political muscle to support the passage of compromise policies that accommodated demands from other parts of the country.

I also explore how, the ebb and flow of these two preponderant federalisms in Ontario impacted Canadian political debates from 1867 to 1896. The sense of power and entitlement that underlay preponderant federalisms often emboldened Ontarians to foment national political crises by rallying their province’s politicians to oppose policy initiatives from other parts of the country. The willingness of other Ontarians to withhold their support from these agitations or to stand behind compromise policies, however, frequently divided Ontario’s voice and limited the effectiveness of attempts to pit the province against other parts of Canada. The book will also challenge several bodies of research. First, contrary to the assumptions of political scientists, the House of Commons can be analysed as an intrastate institution when studying the development and significance of asymmetrically populous provinces within federations. It also proves that the inhabitants and politicians of Ontario rarely acted with the unity that many political scientists passingly suggest. Disagreements among Ontarians concerning the use of their province’s preponderance often

'French Influence' shackling Ontario. Grip, 28 February 1880.

The Joint Arctic Weather Stations: Science and Sovereignty in the High Arctic, 1946-1972

This book, co-authored with P. Whitney Lackenbauer, undertakes the first systematic study of the Canada-US Joint Arctic Weather Stations (JAWS) program. It explores how diplomats, bureaucrats, and meteorological personnel from both countries collectively managed a truly bi-national project on the Canadian archipelago. By narrowing our focus to a particular program run jointly by both countries, we can explore how bilateral relationships played out on the ground.In addition to reinterpreting what diplomatic exchanges concerning the JAWS program reveal about Canada-US relations, this book builds upon recent scholarship revealing intersections between science and sovereignty and sheds light on the “changing political entanglement between science and policy in the polar regions” (Bravo and Sörlin 2002) during the Cold War. It also investigates the socio-cultural and political dimensions of scientific and sovereignty practices on a micro-scale.

Examining diplomatic, scientific, social, cultural, logistical, and environmental dimensions of this program from its inception in the 1940s to its full “Canadianization” in 1972 reveals several patterns and lessons. Our preliminary hypothesis, based upon a partial reading of the documentary records, suggests that Canadian officials sought and achieved a firm policy that assured their effective control while enjoying the advantages of American participation. Furthermore, American diplomats and station personnel were sensitive to Canadian concerns. Our research also belies the idea that JAWS was a military program under civilian guise. The JAWS network was operated by civilian personnel employed by the US Weather Bureau and the Canadian Department of Transport, who forged unique understandings and working cultures that embodied bilateral cooperation on an interpersonal level.

This project is funded by the SSHRC Insight Grant “Premier Partners?” Canadian-American Relations in the Early Cold War Arctic” hosted at St. Jerome’s University and the Centre for Foreign Policy and Federalism

Cold Science: Arctic Science in North America During the Cold War, 1945-1991

This workshop, organized by myself and Stephen Bocking, will bring together the world’s leading on the development of Arctic science and environmental knowledge during the Cold War. The workshop, hosted by the Frost Centre for Canadian & Indigenous Studies on 29-30 April 2016, will be an immense opportunity for emerging and established scholars from a variety of disciplines to meet, network, and share ideas. The workshop will close with a public lecture by famed science and technology historian Ronald Doel. Together, we will examine how local conditions, scientific cultures, the gradual acceptance of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), as well as global and circumpolar geopolitics shaped scientists’ research agendas and practices during the Cold War.  Our focus will be on North America – encompassing Alaska, northern Canada, and Greenland – while also pursuing opportunities for comparison with other regions in the circumpolar north. All papers will be considered for publication in a book or special journal issue edited by the workshop’s organizers.

This workshop is supported by several institutions, including the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council,  the Swedish Research Council, Trent University’s Canadian Studies Program and the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies & Indigenous Studies.

The tentative program is available here.

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