College Quarterly
Spring 2005 - Volume 8 Number 2
Reviews The Canadianization Movement: Emergence, Survival and Success
Jeffrey Cormier
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004

Reviewed by Howard A. Doughty

The history of mass, postsecondary education in Canada is barely half a century old. In that brief time, enormous and scarcely comprehensible changes have taken place. Some of the most impressive are quantitative. At the end of World War II, there were only a handful of universities in Canada; now there are many. There was no college system to speak of; now it is large. Even the greatest universities of the day had what would now be considered a small undergraduate population; now the numbers are well into the thousands and even the tens of thousands at dozens of institutions.

The numbers are measures of a profound change in the social purpose of higher education. Mere decades ago, the universities were almost exclusively for the elite. Courses of study focused on preparation for the professions and the senior civil service. Science and technology were accepted to a degree, but practical arts and sciences—where they won acceptance at all—were consigned to small, rural locations where agricultural and trade education might be pursued out of sight and out of mind of the main centers of scholarship. As for the social sciences, they were mainly untaught and unpracticed.

When the demand for highly-skilled individuals exceeded the local supply, they could be imported from Britain, Germany and, if necessary, the United States. For the vast majority of young Canadians, a high school diploma was considered sufficient to accomplish all that could be sensibly desired in life, and plenty of young folk were known to have succeeded splendidly in work and life without even bothering to complete their secondary education.

Then, the world changed and, with change, came controversy. One of the matters that came forward, especially in the 1960s, was the national question. As often happens when democracy intrudes where it had been previously excluded, demands for social justice began to be heard. The vast expansion of universities and the creation of colleges were unquestionably democratic initiatives. They brought with them anti-elitist attitudes (what's the point of an intellectual elite, if anyone could join?) and a new sense of national identity. The masses, after all, tended to be uncomfortably liberal in their politics, avant-garde in their personal tastes and habits, and unlimited in their ambitions. They brought novelty and negativity to the crusty bastions of cultural colonialism. It was not universally welcomed.

The newcomers soon twigged to two issues. At least in English-speaking Canada, senior faculty and curricula reflected the British heritage. If teaching personnel were not actually expatriates, they had at least visited Oxbridge as part of their "finishing" process. Home-grown academics were deemed of dubious quality unless they had proven themselves abroad. This attitude was deeply entangled with an enthusiasm for the American ethos. Students in the United States were becoming more socially aware, their popular culture was becoming more adventuresome, and they were quick to react badly to intimations of class-based privilege. Canadian students, especially in the social sciences and humanities, picked up on these points. Then, they noticed something else. Their faculties were populated as much or more by Americans as by the British. This meant that they were being taught increasingly by modern imperialists rather than antique colonials, that their curricula were reflecting the priorities of Harvard and Yale (or California and North Carolina) and, worse, when they had finally completed their postgraduate studies—whether at Penn State or Purdue—they would have to compete with US nationals to get academic jobs. Moreover, if they remained in Canada and did their Ph.D.s at Carleton or Alberta, there was every chance that their doctorates would be considered second-rate by the new imported intellectual class.

This would not do!

To the leftish politics of the young was added the leaven of nationalism—a heady and, to some, a singularly dangerous combination. In 1969, Robin Mathews and James Steele issued something of a manifesto entitled The Struggle for Canadian Universities. It was quickly joined by Ian Lumsden's anthology, Close the 49th Parallel, etc. (1970), and a host of books (e.g., Kari Levitt's Silent Surrender (1970), the fulminations of a stock of lib-left magazines such as Canadian Dimension, Canadian Forum, Last Post, Our Generation and This Magazine and, amazingly, a flurry of government documents such as studies of foreign investment. These began with a report to Finance Minister Walter Gordon by Mel Watkins, an MIT-trained economist who would soon after lead the left-nationalist wing of the New Democratic Party. It would not completely expire until the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed and Canadian nationalism—never popular in any sense more serious than Bobby Gimby's song "Ca-na-da"—faded from the scene.

In the meantime, however, enthusiasms from the irrepressible St. Catharine's high school Can-Lit champion Jim Foley to the poetic Dennis Lee would be heard. This outbreak of creativity scared the pants off many Canadians (including those in the higher echelons of NDP).

It was alive, active and anything but monolithic in its organization and opinion. Some were traditionally Marxist and eschewed bourgeois nationalist pretensions; others could have been silenced with an extra "Can-Lit" course in the undergraduate curriculum. All, however, were concerned about opportunities for Canadian youth and about what seemed to be growing American cultural hegemony.

Jeffrey Cormier sets himself the task of chronicling the movement for Canadianization in postsecondary education during these singular times. He has a nose for a good story and, by focusing on Mathews and Steele, he finds one. They are engaging and very clever characters, an excellent partnership in the tradition of "bad cop/good cop," for here we have the passionate, free-wheeling Robin Mathews supplying the juice and quiet, polite and impeccably empirical James Steele coming up with the reasoned and (nearly) irrefutable arguments. The campaign they launched and the opposition they encountered make for stirring stuff. (As a personal aside, I was one of a group at my college who, in 1970, invited Mathews to speak to a collection of several hundred teachers, students and members of the community. In the aftermath, amid threats of a libel suit from the unfortunate object of Mathews' wrath, it was made clear to all within earshot that our administration would not tolerate such a display again. So it went.)

It did not take long for the protests to become bureaucratized. In fairly short order, lamentations turned to proposed legislation. By 1972, Canadianist sociologists (who else?) had managed to put "Canada First" into the recommended hiring policies of the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association. In time, Canadianizers achieved most of their aims through quiet diplomacy. Cormier explains the ways and means by which activists with the ear of then Manpower [sic] and Immigration Minister Lloyd Axworthy piggy-backed their priority on to women's demands for equity and human rights. Affirmative action led to rules supporting the hiring of women professors. Using the same logic (that Canadians also faced discrimination), Canadianists argued that preferential criteria should be adopted in hiring policies: Canadians good, women better, Canadian women best.

Whether or not it meant anything is an unresolved question. The problem of Americanization of teaching staff has pretty much disappeared of its own accord. Since no one is being hired anymore (except in part-time or contract positions), it may not matter that the people not being hired are Canadians, Americans, Somalis or Scots. This does not mean, however, that a larger problem does not exist. Postsecondary education is plainly being buffeted by different turbulence. The cultural climate is susceptible to other winds and tides. The meteorological mix which we currently inhabit is making for different squalls. If the brief (and, to Cormier) successful actions of Canadian nationalists removed one set of dangers, they did not affect nor did they anticipate the next round of storms.

We are now confronted by corporatism in all its many facets, not least of which is the contemporary intrusion of educational technology. Canadianists of the past did not systematically address this phenomenon, though a former generation of Canadian academics (Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, George Grant) and philosophers of technology today (e.g., Arthur Kroker) are encouraging a spirited debate over the future of this country to begin anew. That debate would have to include a critical assessment of whether Canadians are content to define their culture in terms of American franchises (Canadian Idol) and successful Canadian brands in the global marketplace (Diana Krall, Shania Twain, Lorne Michaels). It would also have to evaluate Bob Rae's dictum that the issue today is not whether we are to have corporatism, but what kind of corporatism we are going to have (as though there were meaningful choices available).

Whether starting this discussion would take, as Cormier would surely say, another tag-team like Mathews and Steele, or dramatic new conditions that would reveal the problems inherent in global corporate hegemony remains uncertain. Cormier's account of the Canadian question is an informative and entertaining starting place, but the recent past seems to suggest that Canadian heroes are not enough. Besides, as Andrew Potter put it: "the Canadianization movement fought long, hard and well to correct a structural injustice, and the country and the universities are stronger and better for it. Still, it is no surprise to find that, ever since the Canadians got themselves inside the citadel, they have kept their heads down."

Howard A. Doughty teaches Philosophy and Natural Science at Seneca College in King City, Ontario. He can be reached at


• The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
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2005 - The College Quarterly, Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology