Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper Archives Jun 29 2015, Page 11

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Winnipeg Free Press (Newspaper) - June 29, 2015, Winnipeg, Manitoba C M Y K PAGE A11 IDEAS œ ISSUES œ INSIGHTS THINK- TANK A 11 Winnipeg Free Press Monday, June 29, 2015 T HE reordering of Confederate imagery across the American South has been stunning in its swiftness. As South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley asserted: The time has come. The time has come to quit flaunting symbols that uphold romantic visions of the Old South. The time has come to quit pretending that secessionist states were driven by noble motives. The Civil War should be seen for what it was — a brutal, wasteful war over a southerner’s right to own, buy and sell human beings like livestock. Political leaders of Haley’s state — the first to leave the Union, in 1860 — sent a powerful message in calling for the Confederate battle flag to be removed from their Statehouse grounds. It’s heartbreaking that it took the murders of nine black churchgoers in Charleston to move their state to this moment. There are lessons from this grief for the rest of the U. S. South, Texas included, and it’s good that debate is reignited on what to do with our own symbols honouring those who fought for a failed slaveholding society. Closest to home are the neighborhood schools named for historic figures once regarded as heroes of the South. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s name is on campuses across Texas, including in Dallas, Grand Prairie and Denton. Also in Dallas sits Stonewall Jackson Elementary, named for a Confederate general. Parents have spoken up time and again about the indignity of sending their children to schools named for racist defenders of human bondage. Dallas school trustees should respond by beginning the process of finding appropriate names. The time has come. The district knows how to do this. Remember Oak Cliff’s Jefferson Davis Elementary School, named for the Mississippi native who served as president of the Confederacy? DISD renamed the campus in 1999 for the late Texas congresswoman and civil rights leader Barbara Jordan. Statues scattered across former Confederate states pose different challenges. Political leaders should resist the impulse to whitewash history by pulling down statuary and other memorials. History can’t be changed, but it can be put in better context. That’s the very discussion University of Texas president Gregory Fenves has invited regarding what to do with a statue on the UT campus honouring Davis. Students have circulated a petition calling for the statue’s removal. This newspaper has favored a plan to leave it in place and add plaques that provide context and meaning. The Texas capitol has its own soaring memorials to Confederate soldiers and their leaders, but what the grounds lack is context, a fuller telling of Texas history. That’s why it’s good news that the legislature added money in the state budget this year to help complete fundraising for the first memorial to African- Americans on the capitol grounds. The time has come. Symbols are, indeed, important. And in the admirable zeal to do away with troubling images of the Old South, let’s also not forget the urgent need to find solutions for today’s very real racial inequalities born from that same sad history. Otherwise, the rush to remove painful imagery is an empty gesture. G EORGE Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. John A. Macdonald championed the forced assimilation of First Nations. William Lyon Mackenzie King wrote negatively about Jews, Asians and blacks in his diary. And Nellie McClung was a proponent of eugenics. The past haunts us still. Where do we draw the line in honouring leaders whose achievements were noteworthy, yet who shared morals of the era in which they lived that today we regard as repugnant? It is a difficult dilemma with no simple answer. We tend to live in the present, more with an eye on the future than on the past. As such we do not truly appreciate just how much the western world has changed, especially when it comes to moral values and social beliefs. This is not to say that racism and discrimination have vanished, because they surely have not. But at least we acknowledge and condemn these attitudes and actions. If a person from 1910 could travel forward through time to 2015 and take stock of official government apologies for historic abuses, women’s and gay rights, and the way in which we cherish diversity and equality ( female CEOs, gay politicians, Jewish mayors), he or she would think the world has been turned upside down. In 1910, and for decades after, Canada was a country in which white Anglo- Saxon Protestant values were dominant. Children were taught in schools about the “ civilizing” of the natives and the righteous power of the British Empire. Women were second- class citizens who not only could not vote but who had few legal rights; they were expected to obediently serve their husbands. Immigrants from English- speaking and northern European countries were favoured, while those from southern European countries, as well as Jews, Asians and blacks, were considered degenerate. Anti- Semitism was entrenched in North America and Jews were barred from certain neighbourhoods, clubs, social resorts and professions. Homosexuality was against the law and regarded as a dangerous perversion. And advocates of eugenics, a popular mainstream movement until the Nazis took it to the extreme, preached that social engineering was the true- and- tested way to breed a stronger and fitter ( white) human being. From our current perspective these views and norms are offensive. So do we therefore denounce all of our ancestors as evil? Many historians argue you should judge a figure’s attitudes and actions based on the values he or she lived in. Still, it is complicated. Violence and persecution were wrong in any age. Slavery, for instance, was condemned in the 18th and 19th centuries. Thomas Jefferson acknowledged this in his writings, but he still refused to free a majority of his slaves while he was alive and almost certainly had children with Sally Hemings, a mulatto 30 years his junior. Adrien Arcand was a rabid anti- Semite, the head of a Quebec fascist party in the 1930s. Though leaders such as King, the longest serving prime minister in Canadian history, deemed Arcand a dangerous fanatic, he, like most English- and French- Canadians, still did not want any Jews as neighbours and believed they were generally “ undesirable.” Does that make King as objectionable as Arcand? In the same vein, it was not that John A. Macdonald and two generations of Canadian politicians wanted to assimilate First Nations and established residential schools to accomplish it — that is how nearly every white North American perceived the issue. No, the reason why residential schools were abhorrent was because politicians and church leaders knowingly turned a blind eye to reports about high disease and death rates, underfunded the schools, cared little for the children’s welfare or needs or their distraught parents, punished children for not assimilating quickly enough and permitted terrible abuse to occur for decades. That’s wrong today, and it was wrong a century- and- a- half ago. Judging the legacy of such individuals as King and Macdonald is not easy. We cannot completely ignore their failings or those of a significant personality such as the suffragette McClung. As we approach the centennial of women achieving the vote in Manitoba, there is sure to be articles and reflections about McClung’s life and her role in this landmark historical event. Recently, the Nellie McClung Foundation in partnership with the Winnipeg Free Press established the “ Nellies” to recognize Manitoba women who have made significant contributions in social justice and human rights. In a letter to the editor, as well as in online comments, Free Press readers have pointed out McClung was also a eugenics advocate. True enough. But for a good 40 years, eugenics, with its selective breeding, campaign for sterilization of the “ feeble- minded” and fitter family contests, was integral to mainstream, liberal thinking. That McClung, like hundreds of thousands of others, accepted eugenics makes her a literate woman of her times and all- too human. She wasn’t perfect, but that reality hardly makes her a less- worthy historical figure or undeserving of the accolades bestowed upon her. In this case, as in others, context is everything. Now & Then is a column in which historian Allan Levine puts the events of today in a historical context. B RITISH Columbia, like Manitoba, is building a new hydro dam. And, like Manitoba, for many years B. C. used to secure all of its labour for public infrastructure projects by negotiating exclusive project labour agreements with the Building Trades Unions. This monopoly on labour was granted in exchange for labour peace and a stable supply of skilled workers. But times have changed, and B. C. has caught up with the times. On its new $ 8.8- billion Site C project — the largest public infrastructure project in the province’s history — B. C. will be using a managed, open- site model to build the dam. In short, that means all kinds of contractors will be able to bid on and secure work, including those employing traditional union, alternative union and open shop workforces. While Site C marks the first time B. C. will use the open- site model, managed open sites are not new. Alberta pioneered them over the last two decades, building the massive, multibillion- dollar oilsands projects in the remote northern regions of the province. Owners and contractors had to find a way to safely build projects in sensitive and challenging environments while managing costs in a volatile resource- based market. Sound familiar? Manitoba also has large- scale projects that need to be built safely in sensitive and challenging environments while managing scarce public tax dollars. But in Manitoba, workers on the Keeyask dam, Bipole III line, or east side road have to sign a membership card with and pay dues to the BTU. This applies even to those employees who have chosen to belong to a different union or who don’t belong to any union. Such a monopoly on labour is an affront to workers’ freedom of association. Forcing workers to sign a membership card and pay dues to a specific union because of a particular job their employer has successfully bid on violates their rights as enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Manitoba Labour Relations Act. Exclusive project labour agreements have three other major shortcomings that make them ineffective for building today’s public infrastructure projects. First, because of their monopoly nature, they stifle competition, which in turn stifles innovation and flexibility. This is why many large- scale public infrastructure projects run over budget and miss deadlines. Second, exclusive project- labour agreements aren’t as flexible and adept at involving First Nations and Métis people, often to be hired locally for the project. The managed open- site model has been proven to be more effective at engaging this critical workforce. Third, labour stability in construction — the main argument in favour of project labour agreements — isn’t the concern today that it was 40 years ago. Labour standards and safety laws are much better today, and the pool of skilled workers employed by alternative union and non- union contractors is much deeper. Most tradespeople are used to working together co- operatively on construction sites, regardless of which union they belong to and which contractor they are employed by. For years, the open- site model has been used to build multibillion- dollar oilsands projects in remote northern Alberta — on time and on budget. With the Site C dam, B. C. has caught up with the times and abandoned exclusive project labour agreements in favour of the more effective and fair open- site model. It’s time Manitoba caught up with the times, too. Geoff Dueck Thiessen is the Winnipeg regional director for CLAC ( Christian Labour Association of Canada), Canada’s largest national, independent, multi- craft union. Make public- work bids truly open By Geoff Dueck Thiessen OTHER OPINION The Dallas Morning News Whitewashing history is a bad idea NOW & THEN ALLAN LEVINE Haunted by the past LARS HAGBERG / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES City of Kingston workers remove graffiti from a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, in 2013. A_ 11_ Jun- 29- 15_ FP_ 01. indd A11 6/ 28/ 15 5: 06: 26 PM

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