Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Thinking Ahead

May 22, 2020

People like to draw analogies -- historians certainly do -- and naturally the favourite comparison of late has been to the 1918 flu epidemic. But I've been thinking more about the Red Scare.

Following World War One and the flu outbreak, Canada was gripped by a fear of red revolution. It seems outlandish in retrospect, but at the time the entire world was traumatized by the 1917 Bolshevik uprising in Russia. It seemed entirely possible that the uncertainty of the postwar world might ignite a similar upheaval here. This was the dream of some labour leaders and social activists, and the nightmare of mainstream politicians and corporate leaders.

Crises like wars and pandemics bring tragedy, loss and massive economic disruption. They also present opportunities.What will the next world look like? Isn't this a chance at creating something new, better? This is definitely what progressive thinkers in 1919 were looking forward to.

But conservative elements in the country wanted nothing to do with this brave new world. They wanted a return to the status quo ante bellum and so they deployed the red scare to demonize the blue sky thinkers and frighten Canadians into rejecting the radical ideas that were circulating.

Will the same thing happen in the coming months? Not a red scare, but perhaps a green scare. The environmental movement clearly thinks this is an opportunity to restructure our energy future. Big oil and its political allies will surely push back. Same goes for social policy. Hasn't the time come for a guaranteed annual income? Catastrophic idea, say many conservatives.

I'm expecting that 2020/21 will resemble in many ways the politics of one hundred years ago.