Rewind 75th - Politics: A look at politics as it's played out on CBC Radio over 75 years. Michael Enright is joined by Anna Maria Tremonti, host of The Current. Listen to stories from the conscription crisis of the Second World War, through the baby bonus, medicare and the flag debate, and to the Constitution talks and Meech Lake.
We start with the Second World War and conscription. During the First World War, the issue of compulsory military service had bitterly divided English Canadians who reacted with patriotic fervour, and French Canadians who felt no allegiance to England. When conscription was enacted in 1917 there were riots in Quebec. So as war broke out in Europe once again, Prime Minister MacKenzie King promised that this time there would be no overseas conscription. But by 1942 the volunteers were running dry, and King was forced to revisit the issue. And for just the second time in Canada's history Canadians were asked to vote in a referendum or plebiscite. Prime Minister King took to the airwaves to help persuade Canadians to vote yes.
On January 1st, 1947, the Canadian Citizenship Act came into effect. On this New Year's Day CBC Radio broadcast, Maclean's magazine editor Blair Fraser told a nation of new citizens what it all meant.
As the Second World War wound down, Canadian families feared a return of economic depression, and wondered how they would provide for their children in the wake of six years at war. The idea of a family allowance was floated. Listen to this rather stilted discussion from 1944.
The first province to enact health care legislation was Saskatchewan. And although Tommy Douglas is widely regarded as the father of Medicare, a man called Matt Anderson initiated the first health care program in the municipality of McKillop, Saskatchewan. Anderson's plan allowed for access to a municipal doctor, 21 days of hospital care, and prescription drugs for an annual fee of five dollars. When Saskatchewan made this local plan province wide on July 1st 1962, doctors reacted swiftly by going on strike.
Newfoundland had called itself England's oldest colony, but life on the Rock was bleak with widespread poverty. The British government, in rough financial shape after the war, was eager to unload the responsibility. And when Joey Smallwood, an outspoken journalist, proposed Confederation with Canada, the debate was on. Canada welcomed the suggestion with open arms, concerned at the possibility of U.S. influence in Newfoundland. At one minute before midnight on March 31st, 1949, Newfoundland officially joined Confederation, and Joey Smallwood became the brand new province's first premier. However, the vote was very close and barely passed. Listen to this medley of clips- first an anti Confederation ballad, followed by the voices of anti Confederation advocate Peter Cashin, then Joey Smallwood and Prime Minister Louis St Laurent.
It's as much a symbol of Canada as maple syrup and the beaver- our flag with its red bars and stylized maple leaf on a white background. But before it was hoisted above the Peace Tower for the first time in February 1965, there was a firestorm of debate. The Red Ensign- based on a British naval flag- had represented Canada since Confederation. In 1958, a fraternal group called The Native Sons of Canada launched a campaign for a new one. The design suggestions came pouring in- plenty of maple leaves and beavers, fleurs de lys and crowns. The debate was downright vicious at times- both inside Parliament and out. Prime Minister Lester Pearson was booed when he told a group of Legionnaires that the Red Ensign no longer served the needs of Canadians.
The year was 1966 and it all started with three little words in the House of Commons. A harassed Liberal cabinet minister blurted out the word "Monsignor." The subsequent Munsinger affair rocked the nation. A judicial inquiry was held to find out whether the sexy Gerda Munsinger, an alleged German spy and prostitute, had compromised the reputation of several cabinet ministers, including former Conservative defence minister Pierre Sévigny, and perhaps jeopardized the national security of Canada itself. Listen to this interview with Mrs. Munsinger from 1966.
In 1967 Prime Minister Lester Pearson called for a Royal Commission into the status of women in Canada. It was chaired by Florence Bird, a journalist and broadcaster. Here she is at the start of the hearings in April 1968.
"There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation." Those unforgettable words were made famous by Pierre Trudeau in 1967 and caused a tidal wave of controversy. The Omnibus Bill brought issues like abortion, homosexuality and divorce law to the forefront for the first time and changed the political and social landscape. Here's justice minister John Turner talking about the provisions regarding homosexuality.
In October 1970, tanks roamed the streets and soldiers in full battle gear raided homes in their hunt for terrorists. They were looking for members of the Front de libération du Québec; a French Canadian nationalist group that had abducted a British diplomat and a Quebec minister. Some felt like they were living in a police state. How far would Prime Minister Trudeau go? "Just watch me," he said. Three days later he suspended Canadians' civil liberties with the War Measures Act.
And now the political issue that gripped the nation for much of the 1980s- the Constitution. It was a hard-fought coming of age for Canada. Politicians argued fiercely at the bargaining table over the balance of provincial and federal power. In the end, Canada gained a Charter of Rights and Freedoms and a homemade Constitution and was at last a sovereign nation. Here is Queen Elizabeth proclaiming the new Constitution in April 1982.
But that wasn't the end of it- not by a long shot. Quebec premier René Lévesque had refused to endorse the proceedings because he said it failed to protect French rights. Negotiations began again under the leadership of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney with the Meech Lake Accord. But the tentative deal which recognized Quebec as a distinct society and provided more power for the provinces, quickly showed its cracks. There were concerns about Senate reform and that aboriginal people were excluded from the negotiations, among other things. By March 1990, the clock was ticking on the accord, and in just 90 days, it was set to expire. Brian Mulroney decided to speak directly to Canadians in an appeal to get things moving.
After both Meech Lake and the Charlottetown accords failed, the Quebec sovereignty movement gained momentum. Lucien Bouchard, one of Brian Mulroney's cabinet ministers, formed a new party devoted to Quebec independence called the Bloc Quebecois. In 1994 the sovereigntist PQ came back to power in Quebec and a referendum question was posed. At first the No side- people who wanted Quebec to stay within Canada- was ahead. But by mid October 1995, there was a shift in momentum: the Yes and No sides were in a dead heat, with the Yes side slightly ahead. And then by train, bus, car and plane, thousands of Canadians came to Montreal determined to show how much they wanted Quebec to stay. It was called the Crusade for Canada.
The separatist Bloc Quebecois is only one of several regionally based parties that have come to Ottawa. The NDP had its origins in Saskatchewan as the CCF- the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. In 1961 it was transformed into the New Democratic Party, and its leader the charismatic former premier of Saskatchewan, Tommy Douglas. Here he is at the party convention that elected him leader.
Another popular movement that originated in the West was the Social Credit party. In 1935 the province elected William Aberhart, a radio evangelist and politician. His Social Credit party promised Albertans deliverance from the grinding poverty of the Great Depression. Aberhart railed about the conspiracy of eastern banks and financiers who he said controlled credit. Every Sunday, the leader used his electronic pulpit, the Back to the Bible Hour, to reach 300,000 potential voters.
Alberta's Premier William Aberhart in 1935. Aberhart died in office in 1943 and was replaced by another preacher- Ernest Manning, his right-hand man. With Manning at the helm, Social Credit in 1944 scored its biggest majority government yet. And Manning carried on the tradition of preaching on air.
In 1987 a conference called the "Western Assembly on Canada's Economic and Political Future" was held. Not exactly a thrilling name, but its outcome was hugely important in Canadian politics. It was the beginning of the Reform Party of Canada. This clip is from the founding convention which expressed Western alienation.
But we can't leave western disaffection behind just yet. First we have to talk about the National Energy Program. In 1980, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau introduced a tough energy policy that gave the federal government more control over Canada's sources of energy. Ottawa also said that Alberta's oil profits must be shared throughout the country. This exchange is from Question Period in November 1980.
The free trade debate was one of the most controversial issues in Canadian history. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's vision of free trade with the U.S. was as dry as a stack of legal textbooks and as emotional as battling American cultural domination. It was St. Patrick's Day 1985 and the prime minister had spent 24 hours with U.S. president Ronald Reagan to open the door to free trade talks between the two countries. At the end of what came to be known as the Shamrock Summit, the politicians and their wives took to the stage to sing together.