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J.L. Granatstein: Canada is failing to teach its military history

Commentary

The teaching of Canadian history in the nation’s universities is in trouble. Course enrolments have been and are continuing to fall dramatically and the numbers of history majors have collapsed. This, it is said, is true in all areas of historical study, not least in the history of Canada.

Why? First, there are few jobs for history graduates. A sensible student will opt for business or IT or law where they might even be able to make a living from their studies.

But there are likely many additional reasons and one surely is that historians have been working for decades to turn their discipline away from narrative and towards theory. Narrative tells a factual story while theory posits an abstruse rationale for what did or did not occur. The theorists prevail. Another reason is that the woke Canadian historians, now apparently the majority in the profession, have turned away from national history. The York University history calendar ungrammatically says it all: “Our courses focus on the thematic areas of indigeneity, culture, gender, social, political, environmental and sexuality.”

There are no “great men” any longer in Canadian history, no formative events worth studying. The world wars, the fights over compulsory military service that divided French and English Canadians, the struggles for independence from Britain and the United States—these no longer matter very much in today’s lecture courses and seminars. As an academic friend puts it, Canada’s history is becoming the history that dares not speak its name.

I am a Canadian military historian with an interest in politics, foreign and defence policy, and biography. Thirty years ago I wrote a book called The Generals that examined the nation’s military leaders in the Second World War.The Generals: The Canadian Army’s Senior Commanders in the Second World War This combined my interests in what I think of as socio-political military history. Who were the military’s leaders and where did they come from? What did they do and why did they do it? How did they build the army from a few handfuls of men into a force that enrolled, trained, equipped, and led three-quarters of a million men and women to victory? And how did they deal with the politicians directing the war effort? My colleagues, it’s fair to say, thought my book was all guns and no butter. Nonetheless, Canada’s Second World War remains an extraordinary story, one that deserves remembering, one that should be taught to students.

A few universities and institutions still teach this kind of history. The University of Calgary has a cadre of military historians led by David Bercuson; Wilfrid Laurier University, its program shaped by Terry Copp, had Roger Sarty and still has Mark Humphreys; the University of New Brunswick has a small military history program; several other universities have one or rarely two military historians. The Royal Military College in Kingston, as might be expected, has several military scholars, most notably Doug Delaney, and the Directorate of History and Heritage at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa has more, as does the Canadian War Museum where Tim Cook, the most published and popular of Canada’s practising military historians, is Director of Research.

In most of the universities, however, no one any longer teaches Canadian military history. At the University of Toronto, there is no one, at York none. After Desmond Morton’s death, McGill has no military historian; UBC and the universities of Alberta and Saskatchewan have none. Francophone universities are similarly averse.

Despite this, there is still much publication in Canadian military history. The University of British Columbia Press, with the War Museum, has for twenty years run the fine series “Studies in Canadian Military History” that has published more than fifty seminal works.“The Studies in Canadian Military History Series, published in association with the Canadian War Museum, presents the best of contemporary scholarship to provide new insights into all aspects of Canadian military history, from earliest times to recent events. The work of a new generation of scholars is especially encouraged and the books employ a variety of approaches – cultural, social, intellectual, economic, political, and comparative – to investigate gaps in the existing historiography. The books in the series feed immediately into future exhibitions, programs, and outreach efforts by the Canadian War Museum.” https://www.ubcpress.ca/studies-in-canadian-military-history The University of Toronto Press and McGill-Queen’s University Press publish military titles regularly, and trade publishers such as Harper Collins and Dundurn do so as well. There is the online journal Canadian Military History and the Royal Canadian Legion’s magazine that are devoted to this nation’s military story.“Since its launch in 1992, Canadian Military History has become one of the premier journals in its field. CMH is a peer-reviewed academic journal published bi-annually by the Laurier Centre for the Study of Canada with editorial and financial support from the Canadian War Museum. Its purpose is to foster research, teaching and public discussion of historical and contemporary military and strategic issues.” https://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/ And on wartime anniversaries, the media give much space to military stories. The university history departments by deliberate choice are the ones missing the boat.

The curious thing is that there are still undergraduate students who want to take military history courses. They certainly did and do at Wilfrid Laurier and Calgary. Could this help resolve the shortage of bums in seats in history classes? At a lunch some time ago with a now-retired department chair, I suggested he should offer a few military history courses. He agreed it might be good for enrolments, and he duly asked his Canadianist colleagues. They flatly said no: no warmongering, no guns, no. Teaching military history might imply approval of war and was simply beyond the Pale, even if it would attract undergraduates.

Despite this sad situation, graduate students still want to do research on Canadian military history. If they get their PhDs, however, there are no jobs for them as scarcely a university is willing to hire them no matter how capable they may be. If they are lucky, they might get a job in Britain or the United States or here as an archivist or in the policy directorate at National Defence. But they will not likely be teaching because their putative departmental colleagues won’t have them.

It’s not as if wars no longer occur, it’s not as if Canada might not be caught up in fighting overseas, and it’s not as if there might not be lessons from the past that could be of use to present governments and citizens. This neglect is curious, as Margaret MacMillan noted in War: How Conflict Shaped Us, because we live in a war-weary world, and we need to study war’s causes, its horrors and glories, and its effects on our ancestors and our present lives.War: How Conflict Shaped Us We need more research, in other words, not removing the study of war from history curricula.

It is sadly only the short-sighted prejudices of the tenured historians who prefer to teach their increasingly arcane subjects to the interested few that stop military history from being taught. Soon it won’t matter—if the present enrolment trends continue, Canadian history will go the way of Latin and disappear or at best be attached to another department struggling to survive.

David Clement: The federal government can help solve Canada’s housing crisis. Here’s how

Commentary

To say that Ontario, and Canada, are in a housing crisis would be a significant understatement. Headlines for months have shown that home prices are rising at record levels, which is quickly squeezing out a generation of young Canadians trying to buy a home.“The national average home price broke an all-time record in February 2022 as Canadian home prices continue to rise across the country. For February 2022, the average home price in Canada’s housing market was $816,720, up 20.6% from last year. Compared to last month, average Canadian home prices are up 9% from January 2022’s average home price of $748,439. Meanwhile, the MLS Benchmark Price increased 25% year-over-year to $869,300 for February 2022. That’s the highest year-over-year price growth that Canada’s housing market has ever seen.” https://wowa.ca/reports/canada-housing-market

How bad is the situation in Ontario? Really bad. The average sale price for a home in January nearly broke the $1 million mark, at $998,629, which is a 25.6 percent annual increase. In Toronto, the average home price saw a 28 percent year-over-year increase, with the median home selling for a whopping $1.242 million.

And the crunch isn’t just felt in Toronto. Brampton, Mississauga, Hamilton, London, and Ottawa have had their home prices inflate, year-over-year, by 41 percent, 30 percent, 35 percent, 31 percent, and 15 percent respectively. These record-high prices are largely driven by the fact that Ontario has a terrible record for building new homes. Canada ranks dead last in housing units per 1,000 people in the G7 with 424, and Ontario (which has only 398 units per 1,000 people) is a major cause of the problem.

The province needs to build another 650,000 units just to get to the Canadian average, which would still be well below France, which lead the G7 with 540 units per 1,000 people.“Among the G7, Canada has the lowest average housing supply per capita with 424 units per 1,000 people, which places the country behind the United States and the United Kingdom. France, by comparison, leads the G7 at 540 units per 1,000.” https://financialpost.com/news/economy/ontario-alberta-and-manitoba-lead-the-provinces-in-canadas-chronic-housing-shortage-says-scotiabank

Prime Minister Trudeau campaigned on the issue of solving the housing crisis, but much of the Liberal plan does little to impact the issue of chronic undersupply. The risk of course is the country’s affordability challenges get worse rather than better.

Take the government’s proposed ban on blind bidding for example. First off, this proposal does absolutely nothing to increase supply. And beyond that, it has faced criticism from housing economists. William Strange, a professor of economic analysis at the University of Toronto, explains that a ban on blind bidding wouldn’t reduce pricing to any meaningful degree and that “there’s no economic evidence that it would matter.”Fact check: Would a blind bidding ban lower housing prices? Professor William Wheaton at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Real Estate called the ban on blind bidding “dubious” because bidding wars are a symptom of an extreme seller’s market and not the cause. And remember the reason why Canada’s real estate market is so tilted in favour of sellers is that virtually every city has an undersupply of housing.

Two additional proposals from the federal government may make it easier for Canadians to save but similarly do nothing to increase the housing stock. The first is Ottawa’s plan to create a new tax-free First Home Savings Account, which combines the tax aspects of a TFSA and an RRSP, allowing Canadians to put upwards of $40,000 into their account, deduct the savings from their income, and withdraw it to purchase a home without any obligation to repay it. The second is to double the First Time Home Buyers Credit from $5,000 to $10,000.

While both policies should help some Canadians save more for a downpayment, they risk being undermined by the ongoing supply issues. At the very best these policies will help those with already significant housing savings get across the finish line.

So what should be done to address Ontario’s chronic housing shortage? A simple yet profound policy change would be to end single-family zoning. This refers to prohibitions on multi-family housing units or rules that set minimum lot size requirements, which ultimately end up limiting the number of housing units available in a city. A ban on single-family zoning would give property owners more freedom to build different types of housing and increase the housing stock.

Upwards of 70 percent of Toronto is zoned exclusively for single-family homes, which significantly limits building options and in turn constrains housing supply. The impact of these zoning rules can’t be overstated. A family in Toronto needs an annual income of $180,000 to purchase the median home and $130,000 to purchase the median condo. The problem? The median income for a couple in Toronto is only $97,640.Census families by family type and family composition including before and after-tax median income of the family

While zoning is ultimately a municipal issue, the federal government can still play a role. At minimum, Ottawa should be using the bully pulpit to talk about how restrictive zoning rules are the root cause of Canada’s housing crisis. More ambitiously, though, the federal government could quite easily tie federal funding for affordable housing and public infrastructure to density goals, with zoning reform as the core mechanism to achieve it. This would be broadly similar to the recent child care agreements which involve the transfer of federal dollars in exchange for a set of provincial deliverables.

The key point here is that the federal government ought reconceptualize its efforts to tackle the housing crisis. Rather than enacting policies that won’t increase the housing stock in any way, Ottawa should shift course and make zoning reform its key housing priority. That is what will ultimately cure Ontario’s housing woes.