Friday, 25 October 2013

Fifty Years as a Canadian!

We are starting to see advertisements noting that the 50th anniversary of the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy is coming up soon. These reminded me that I arrived in Saskatoon in August 1963 to begin teaching in the Department of Economics and Political Science at the University of Saskatchewan. I actually camped in the city campground for a few weeks while I sought a place to rent. My wife Betty Meyers and our daughter Delia arrived a bit later. The first year in Saskatoon we lived in a small World War II house at 909 - 8th Street East. It was a cold winter, but very little snow.

When President Kennedy was shot on November 22, I was asked to speak to an assembly of students and others at the university, giving my assessment of Kennedy and speculating on what we might expect from the new President, Lyndon Johnson. It was my first political speech in Canada. Joining me as a speaker on the podium was Fred Gudmundson, and thus began a long and close friendship. It did not take long for Betty and me to realize that we had made the right choice when we decided to become new Canadians.


Saskatchewan: The Roots of Discontent and Protest (2004)

Extract from the Preface:

  The Department of Economics and Political Science at the University of Saskatchewan was not as pure a political economy department as at other Canadian universities. But the scholarly work of its faculty was clearly in the British tradition of political economy, it had political economy courses, and there was an honours course in political economy and history. Many of the people teaching in the department also had close ties to the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) government, the first social democratic government in North America.
    When I arrived at the department in August 1963 the first person I met was Cy Gonick. He was in the process of moving to the Department of Economics at the University of Manitoba. We discussed his plan to create Canadian Dimension Magazine, and he invited me to contribute to it and be on the original board of directors.
    The second person I met was Ed Safarian, who had replaced the deceased George Britnell as chairman of the department. Safarian, who had a doctorate from the University of California, would begin the shift in the department away from political economy and toward an eventual split between economics and political science. He introduced me to Vernon Fowke. When my wife Betty and our young daughter arrived in Saskatoon, we spent our first weekend together in Saskatchewan at Fowke’s cottage at Wakaw Lake.
    Shirley Spafford has documented the early history of this department and its political economy tradition in her book, No Ordinary Academics (University of Toronto Press, 2000). There was an early conflict between William Walker Swanson, the first chairman, and those who followed. Swanson, born in Scotland, had a doctorate from the University of Chicago, and while he did important research on the wheat economy, he was a staunch free market liberal and was hostile to the Saskatchewan tradition of populist politics and the CCF.

A tradition of serious scholarship
    The department changed under the new chairman, George Britnell. A local boy from Moosomin, he studied under Harold Innis at the University of Toronto. Vernon Fowke had been born at Parry Sound, Ontario, but his family had moved to Melville, and he attended the University of Saskatchewan. Ken Buckley, another leading figure in the department, was from Aberdeen, just down the rail from Saskatoon; he had also studied under Innis at the University of Toronto.
    The most amazing person in the department, however, was Mable Frances Timlin. Born in Wisconsin, she graduated from Milwaukee state Normal School and in 1916 moved to Saskatchewan to teach school, first in Bounty and Wilkie, and then in Saskatoon. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Saskatchewan while at the same time reading economics and political science. In 1935 she was appointed instructor in economics. She was the real theorist in the department. She completed a doctorate in economics at the University of Washington at the age of 40, authored widely acclaimed works on Keynesian economics, was the first woman social scientist admitted to the Royal Society of Canada, and was the first woman elected to the executive committee of the American Economics Association. While she had retired in 1959, “Timmie” regularly came around the department to engage in wide ranging discussions. I well remember a conversation with her when she strongly attacked mathematical economics and neoclassical model building as contributing nothing to the understanding of the Canadian economy. It was far removed, she argued, from the reality of Canada’s integration with the United States, dependence on resource extraction industries, and enormous size and pronounced regionalism.
     It was under these four academics that the department earned its reputation as a Saskatchewan department devoted to the farm movement in western Canada and social democracy. The province was their home, they had lived here during the depression, and they well knew the problems of the farmer. They also believed that academics had an obligation to serve the people who paid their salaries. They gave lectures all around the province, worked for royal commissions, and advised governments. When Tommy Douglas’ CCF government was formed in 1944, George Britnell, Vernon Fowke, and Dean F. C. Cronkite of the College of Law served as the members of the Economic Advisory Committee. Britnell became an adviser to the leftist government of Guatemala under Jacobo Arbenz (1950-4), overthrown by a U.S. government-sponsored military coup.
     Unfortunately, Fowke died prematurely, and I only had the benefit of his kindness and knowledge for several short years. He introduced me to Innis, the metropolitan hinterland thesis of Canadian political economy, and always stressed that we should understand the power of capital in economic development. Ken Buckley’s office was across from mine, and we had long discussions about the nature of capitalism and Canadian economic development. He introduced me to duck hunting. Norman Ward, the senior political scientist and resident humourist, introduced me to grouse and partridge hunting. Ward, one of Canada’s best known political scientists at that time, was the first to tell me that George Britnell taught more political science courses than economics or political economy. Britnell insisted that “anyone can teach political science.” Ward liked to say that being an academic was the next best thing to being a bum: you got paid well for doing what you really liked to do.
    The other major influence on my development as a political economist came from Irene M. Spry, who only taught in the department for one year, 1967-8, before moving on to the University of Ottawa. She was a delightful woman, and as her office was adjacent to mine, I spent many hours there. She was still working on the Palliser books. But along with Helen Buckley, who was in the Centre for Community Studies, she was one of the very few academics who had any intellectual and political interest in the impact of the National Policy on the Aboriginal people in Western Canada. Spry was an impressive scholar with degrees in political economy from London School of Economics and Cambridge University, where she studied under John Maynard Keynes and the Marxist scholar, Maurice Dobb. She also had a masters degree in Social Research and Social Work from Bryn Mawr College. At the University of Toronto she worked with Harold Innis. She and her husband, Graham Spry, had co-founded Saskatchewan House in London. Graham Spry was the Agent-General for the province in London between 1946 and 1967. Like her husband she was a long time social democrat and member of the League for Social Reconstruction in the 1930s. It was a great loss when she moved on to the University of Ottawa. I was pleased to read that right up to her death at age 91 she was a political activist as well as a scholar. She encouraged me to be active in politics, insisting that if you hide away in the university you quickly lose touch with the views of ordinary people. I am still waiting for the book she was working on at the time of her death, From the Hunt to the Homestead, a political economy history of the prairies. She was an active supporter of the Associated Country Women of the World.
    Over the years many well known scholars taught for a short time in this department including Frank Underhill, James A. Corry, Robert MacGregor Dawson, James Mallory, Bernard Crick, Hugh Thorburn, and Gordon Thiessen. While I was there Bruce Wilkinson, Ken Rae, Elias Tuma, John Cartwright, Don Rowlatt, and Robin Neill moved on to major careers elsewhere. Jack McLeod, who switched to the University of Toronto, wrote Zinger and Me on academic life in Saskatoon.

Commitment to the Saskatchewan tradition of social democracy
    The University of Saskatchewan’s tradition in Canadian political economy was a combination of Harold Innis and John Maynard Keynes. It was liberal social democratic and materialist. In the 1960s a new political economy was emerging in Canada which looked to the traditions of continental Europe. I spent the 1970-1 academic year at Atkinson College, York University. Daniel Drache and I shared an office and a year trying to find more radical materials to include in our teaching of Canadian political economy. The older tradition identified with Harold Innis was almost completely devoid of human content. There was absolutely no discussion of social class in Canada, nothing on the development of the trade union movement or the Communist Party, and precious little on the nature of the capitalist class. There was virtually nothing on the relationship between the capitalist class in Canada and the many dominant foreign owned corporations. There was almost nothing on the relationship between the European settlers and the Aboriginal population nor on the role of women in the economy and society. All of those subjects are now very well covered by the new political economy.
    The 1960s and 1970s were exciting times to teach in university. A large number of students were not only active in politics they were actually interested in reading, learning and trying to find the answers to the bigger questions. They were not satisfied with being spoon fed the usual liberal dogma. They wanted to read Marxism and study imperialism. Today most students focus on getting good grades hoping that this will land them a job after they graduate. Most go out of their way to avoid controversy. There are no active student course unions any more. Quite a few students do have a critical approach to their studies, but they are very cynical about changing anything. But there are still some who become active in the anti-war movement, the anti-globalization movement and Green politics. In my own early work and development as an instructor, researcher and writer in the new Canadian political economy I benefitted from a close relationship with Ed Mahood and Howard Adams, both of whom taught in the College of Education. They provided the critical intellectual support that was largely absent from my rather conservative colleagues.

Moving away from political economy
      The department changed under the direction of Ed Safarian and Bob Kautz. More Americans were hired as well as more Canadians who had received their advanced degrees in the United States. A crisis developed in 1971 when John Richards, a very popular professor, was not rehired. Richards was born and raised in Saskatchewan, had gone to the University of Saskatchewan, and was completing a doctorate at the University of Washington in St. Louis. It was widely believed that he was “fired” because he was a promoter of the Canadian tradition of political economy while the majority in the department wanted to move to the American tradition of completely separate disciplines of economics and political science. Others believed that he was not rehired because he was active in the Waffle group, the left wing organization within the New Democratic Party. Indeed, in the 1971 provincial election he was elected to the legislature from Saskatoon-Sutherland. He was a close personal, political and academic friend of mine at the time.
    In any case, hundreds of students protested by occupying the department for weeks on end. Professors were blocked from getting to their offices. Student course unions demanded that Richards be re-hired. The department was deeply split, never really recovered from this conflict, chose to follow the American road, and formally split in two. A few years after the occupation I decided to leave the department and move to British Columbia. The political economy tradition disappeared from the two new reconstructed departments but re-appeared as the new Canadian political economy in the Department of Sociology.
    In British Columbia I was a fruit grower in the Okanagan, but also a researcher and writer specializing in the political economy of food and agriculture. I became involved in the environmental movement. But I never lost touch with my friends in Saskatchewan. In 1986 John Conway and Joe Roberts asked me to return to the University of Regina as a special lecturer. It was natural that when I returned it would be to the University of Regina. Academics at this university had been major participants in the development of the new Canadian political economy. I found my home in the Department of Sociology which had developed a reputation in political economy, rural sociology, and continental integration, my major fields of interest.