The Sunday Magazine

The wit and wisdom of the late Desmond Morton

We pay tribute to the great Canadian historian and public intellectual Desmond Morton, who died on September 4, by digging into The Sunday Edition vaults for his insights on an issue that's as relevant as ever in this political season: Promises, and what they're really worth — especially when it's politicians who are making them.
Desmond Morton was the founding director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, and a professor in McGill's history department from 1998 to 2006. (Owen Egan/McGill University)

Desmond Morton, a frequent guest on The Sunday Edition, died on September 4th, 2019.

He was born into a military family in Calgary, but was long associated with Quebec by dint of his decades as a history professor at McGill University, where he founded the Institute for the Study of Canada. 

But in the tradition of the public intellectual, he was not cloistered in the ivory tower. Yes, he was a Rhodes Scholar and academic, but he was also a long-serving army officer as a young man. He also served as an adviser over the years to political leaders as disparate as Tommy Douglas and Brian Mulroney, and he was a regular presence in the media.

One of his appearances on the program seems particularly pertinent at the outset of the federal election campaign.

During the 2004 federal election campaign, Professor Morton joined Michael Enight, along with Rebecca Kukla — then a professor of philosophy of Carleton University and now at Georgetown University in Washington.

They talked about something you're going to hear a lot about over the next five weeks — promises.

Listen to some of their discussion from May, 2004 above.