Visions of Canada: The Alan B. Plaunt Memorial Lectures, 1958-1992

ISBN: 0773526625

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A Review of: Visions of Canada: the Alan B. Plaunt Memorial Lectures 1958-1992
by Martin Loney

Alan Plaunt, together with Graham Spry is credited with co-founding the Canadian Broadcasting League and thus, through its successful advocacy, with the creation of Canadian Public Broadcasting. Indeed Plaunt served as one of the board members when the CBC was established in 1936. This lecture series was established in 1958 as a celebration of Plaunt's work and ran until 1992. Bernard Ostry played a distinguished role in the development and implementation of Canadian cultural policy and in his own contribution to the Plaunt lectures he reminds us of the key role CBC played in the articulation of a Canadian vision. More controversially, CBC President and CEO, Robert Rabinovitch, who provides the introduction to these collected essays, claims Plaunt would be proud of today's CBC. Whether it is the dire quality of much of its TV programming, its diminished audience share or its eager embrace of the culture of complaint that would provoke such pride Rabinovitch does not say. Certainly an organisation that cannot recognise the difference between intellectual diversity, which it shuns, and biological diversity, with which the CBC is obsessed, is a poor platform for any national culture. Indeed the bio-politics that are central to the broadcaster's myopic agenda, with the endless emphasis on the claims of particular identity groups, leaves little space for any national vision, unless it is a knee-jerk anti-Americanism.
These lectures in contrast reflect wide-ranging perspectives on an array of topics, from Mordecai Richler on being a Canadian writer to Mel Hurtig on free trade, from Jane Jacobs on cities and Canada's economic changes to Charles Taylor on language and human nature. There are 24 lectures in all. A few could not be retrieved, some disappeared in the mists of time, and one proved impossible to transcribe. It is impossible to do justice to all the topics covered, but perhaps not surprisingly what is striking is how some issues, notably Canada's relationship with the United States, remain a constant theme, with recurring concerns about how close that relationship should be.
In the first lecture of the series, Jacob Viner, a Canadian-born, Princeton economist takes the audience to task for what he sees as an unduly negative view of America's influence, arguing that U.S. capital has played a vital role in Canada's economic growth. Ten years later another Canadian-born economist, Harry Johnson, of the University of Chicago, confronts concerns that the emerging European Common Market would inflict great damage on Canada's exports and the suggestion from some quarters that Canada might seek membership in the European Economic Community, a proposal that Johnson rightly observes ignores the lack of any European interest in such a relationship. Johnson instead speculates on the benefits that might flow from greater economic integration with the United States through a customs union or free-trade area. Twenty-four years later such a deal is strongly pursued, and former Alberta premier, Peter Lougheed, calls it the "most important economic policy decision perhaps of this generation," urging his audience to embrace the proposed free trade agreements. Two years later Canadian nationalist Mel Hurtig takes the same platform and issues a call to arms to save Canada, warning that "if Brian Mulroney gets his way there will not be a Canada a generation from now."
These and other contributions remain provocative today, capturing not only the contemporary concerns of the day but giving readers an insight into issues that remain central to Canadian cultural and political discourse.

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