In 2007 Inroads published a retrospective issue, revisiting noteworthy articles from its first 15 years of publication. In his reflection on the 20 issues published during that period, co-publisher John Richards expressed scepticism that Inroads would be around for another 20 issues. Well, 15 years and 30 issues later, we’re still here. The one undeniable fact about Inroads is that we’ve survived.
That said, we’ve survived in a form that was only on the horizon in 2007. Inroads is now wholly a creature of the internet. John foresaw that “few people will be buying ‘hard copies,’” but he wondered how electronic publication would work economically. A viable business model for a small online publication like Inroads, not supported by advertising, is still a work in progress. For the moment, like Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, we depend on the kindness of strangers.
We live in a different world from the one of 2007, with different concerns, and many of these concerns have been reflected in Inroads in the intervening years. One such concern was heralded in the issue (Winter/Spring 2008) that immediately followed the retrospective. On its cover, this issue featured a young soccer player wearing a hijab. Asmahan Mansour, from Ottawa, was told to take off her hijab during a tournament in Quebec and, when she would not, was required to leave the field. This was one of the incidents that provoked Quebec’s “reasonable accommodation” controversy and the appointment of two prominent intellectuals, Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor, to examine it and make recommendations. Analysis of the questions facing the Bouchard-Taylor Commission occupied a major section in the Winter/Spring 2008 issue.
From Jean Charest’s Liberals in 2010 to François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec in 2019, successive Quebec governments tried, with varying degrees of success, to legislate restrictions on the wearing of religious garb, primarily by government employees. All of these legislative proposals were controversial and most of them promoted extensive debate in Inroads, either in the journal itself or on the listserv.
Perhaps the most far-reaching of these proposals was the short-lived Parti Québécois government’s Charter of Quebec Values, which was not passed before the 2014 election sent the PQ back to the opposition benches.
With the PQ still in power and the Charter before the National Assembly, Inroads columnists Reg Whitaker and Arthur Milner took opposing views of the legislation (Winter/Spring 2014). Reg saw in the Charter a retreat by the PQ from liberal, territorial nationalism to the narrow ethnic variety. Arthur found seven reasons to support (something like) the Charter, including “If we want Canada to accept more immigrants, and especially refugees, we should be willing to make a tradeoff” and “We want to build a liberal, tolerant society, with a clear separation between religion and state.”
Though the Charter was interred with the PQ government, Inroads resumed the discussion in its next, postelection, issue, confident that the questions underlying the Charter debate would live on. And sure enough, a veiled Muslim woman again appeared on the cover of Inroads in Winter/Spring 2016, this time in the context of the recent federal election that brought Justin Trudeau’s Liberals to power. During the campaign, a court decision that upheld the right of Zunera Ishaq, an immigrant from Pakistan, to take the oath of Canadian citizenship while wearing her niqab generated a heated debate among the party leaders (Trudeau and NDP leader Tom Mulcair supported the court decision, while Stephen Harper of the Conservatives and Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Québécois opposed it). But did it affect the election outcome, and in particular did it lead to a loss in support for the NDP? There was no direct “niqab effect,” Inroads concluded, but perhaps an indirect one.
The Quebec Liberal government’s Bill 62 was the subject of a lively debate on the listserv in 2017, and there have been several rounds on its successor, the CAQ government’s Bill 21 – most recently in October 2021. In introducing a selection from one of those rounds in the Winter/Spring 2020 issue of the journal, I noted that “each side remains as convinced of the rightness of its position as it was at the beginning.” That is still true two years later. The ongoing debate has raised profound questions of cultural accommodation, majority-minority relations, religion and the state, women’s rights and more. To pronounce on these questions through legislation is one thing. To reach a consensus, in society as a whole or even in as small a segment of society as that represented by Inroads, is quite another.
Populism and the threat to democracy
Another topic that crept into Inroads soon after our last retrospective and grew in significance in subsequent years was populism. Ironically, its first appearance, in Winter/Spring 2011, came in an article that chronicled an instance of populism’s decline. The Conservative Party of Canada was born of a 2003 merger of two predecessor parties, the Progressive Conservatives and Reform / Canadian Alliance. Reform, by far the stronger of the two components, had been founded as a populist western-based party. In Inroads, Tom Flanagan, a former adviser to Stephen Harper, contrasted the populist elements in Reform’s party structure with the centralized control that characterized the Conservative Party.
Meanwhile, in British Columbia, the decision by Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government to follow the lead of several other provinces and merge the provincial sales tax and the federal Goods and Services Tax into a Harmonized Sales Tax provoked a populist revolt. The British Columbia HST went into effect in July 2010, and a coalition led by former Premier Bill Vander Zalm – described by John Richards in Inroads as “a populist in the American Tea Party tradition” – gathered enough signatures to force a referendum on the tax. Voting in August 2011, British Columbians defeated the HST by 54 to 46 per cent. In the Winter/Spring 2013 issue of Inroads, John reviewed the whole affair and questioned the wisdom of deciding tax policy by referendum. His article was followed by responses in the following issue from Doug McArthur, who maintained that the referendum was a valid democratic instrument and voters acted rationally in rejecting the HST, and Tom Syer, who took a more nuanced position.
Looking at referendums more broadly, Jason Lacharite argued in the Summer/Fall 2015 issue that they could damage minority rights and tended to produce simplistic answers to complex questions. But it was in 2016, the year of Trump and Brexit, that populism moved from the background to the forefront of political concerns.
The cover line on the Summer/Fall 2016 issue of Inroads was “THE POPULISTS,” over a composite image of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, then both candidates for the U.S. presidency, along with British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Marine Le Pen of France. In his lead article, Patrick Webber characterized the cover subjects as part of a new breed of “parochial populists” who tended to favour protectionism and isolationism in foreign policy and be deeply suspicious of immigration. Parochial populism, he wrote, “explicitly rejects the classical liberalism of the centre-right and centre-left and the basis of the post-1945, and especially post–Cold War, consensus. In the process it has become potentially very dangerous.” In a follow-up article in the next issue, Patrick elaborated on the threat to liberalism coming from the extremes of both left and right, and urged the centre-right and centre-left to cooperate in defence of such classical liberal values as free speech, open debate and open inquiry.
Then in Summer/Fall 2017, Marine Le Pen made a return appearance on an Inroads cover, this time shown in conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin and under a cover line that read “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY UNDER SIEGE.” While Inroads’ political columnists had varying assessments of how grave a danger the recently elected President Donald Trump posed to the American republic and Ronald Beiner provided a profile of Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief adviser in the early days of his administration, the main focus of the issue was on Europe. In addition to France, where Le Pen had just won more than a third of the vote in losing the second round of the presidential election to Emmanuel Macron, Inroads reported on the emergence of populist parties in Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. The issue also highlighted efforts by Russia, operating largely through internet-based disinformation campaigns, to encourage populist insurgencies and destabilize existing regimes, especially in central and eastern Europe.
The focus on populism and the authoritarian threat to democracy, with particular attention to Europe, has continued. In Winter/Spring 2018, Filip Kostelka analyzed the rise of the Czech Republic’s superrich populist Prime Minister, Andrej Babiš. Sweden and Hungary were featured in Winter/Spring 2019. The tragicomedy of the Trump presidency and the twists and turns of the Brexit saga made frequent appearances as well. In Summer/Fall 2020, Henry Milner analyzed the role of “politically motivated ignorance” in promoting “the Trumpite cult.” The word Weimar, evoking the last days of democracy in Germany before the Nazis took over in 1933, has appeared in several Inroads headlines.
Controversies over cultural accommodation and the rise of populism have both taken some of their steam from immigration, another ongoing focus of Inroads’ attention and the subject of two covers, in Winter/Spring 2014 and Winter/Spring 2021. In 2014, we featured contrasting articles from Canada and Sweden. In Canada, the priority in immigration policy was the needs of the Canadian economy. Herbert Grubel proposed in Inroads that policy should move further in that direction: instead of the points system under which economic immigrants are admitted, the requirement for admission should be a prearranged job with a Canadian employer. In Sweden, as Elin Naurin and Patrik Öhberg described, policy was based on the needs of the immigrants themselves, although that policy was coming under pressure from a populist, anti-immigration party, the Sweden Democrats.
Three years later, much had changed. Between 2013 and 2016 some 320,000 asylum seekers arrived in Sweden – a country with a population of under 10 million at the time – and overwhelmed the country’s welcoming refugee policy. In the 2014 election the Sweden Democrats became the third largest party in parliament, and in 2015 Prime Minister Stefan Löfven announced restrictions on refugee intake. Returning to the subject in the Winter/Spring 2017 issue of Inroads, Elin Naurin and Patrik Öhberg wrote that “differences between the elite and the public are not rare in democracies. But in Sweden the political elite has largely ignored it, and the divergence persists.”
In more recent issues, Anne Michèle Meggs has analyzed the fine points of Canada’s immigration policy – or lack of it. In Winter/Spring 2020, she took apart the myth that Quebec has an adequate level of control over immigration within its borders. And in a series of two articles in Winter/Spring and Summer/Fall 2021 (the first of which was the occasion for Inroads’ second immigration cover), she described how, because of the back doors to immigration represented by the international student and temporary worker programs, Canada’s real immigration policy bears little resemblance to its stated one. Anne Michèle found that there was more improvisation than strategy in how Canada handled immigration, and warned that “Canada needs to be prepared” as increasing numbers of people see it as an attractive destination.
Indigenous and environmental issues had already come to Inroads’ attention at the time of our 2007 retrospective, but only to a point. The two were lumped together in a section that occupied just 15 per cent of the space devoted to the retrospective. Jean Allard’s landmark essay “Big Bear’s Treaty” accounted for half the section. But that relatively low-key presence was about to change.
Three Inroads covers in four and a half years dealt with Indigenous subjects. In Summer/Fall 2010, Gordon Gibson described the radical approach to treaty-making put forward by the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs in northern British Columbia, which “would totally end the sway of the Indian Act over the Gitxsan people, … making them ordinary Canadians in every way” while allowing them “to retain their culture and internal relationships.” In the same issue, John Richards reported on a major study of urban Indigenous people – fully half of Canada’s Indigenous population.
In Summer/Fall 2012, John Graham addressed the question of First Nation governance, which he found manifested “a degree of dysfunction … that is unmatched in any other jurisdiction in Canada.” He identified 11 specific areas of failure, involving the federal government as well as individual First Nations. Joseph Quesnel looked at the Nisga’a of northwestern B.C., who had achieved self-government a decade earlier. He found that “self-government alone is not a panacea,” but public services and the perception of good governance had improved.
The controversy over Indigenous education that led to Shawn Atleo’s resignation as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations was the occasion for Inroads’ third Indigenous cover, in Winter/Spring 2015. Proposed federal legislation to create structures that would lead to higher-quality on-reserve schools, drafted with the support of the AFN leadership, encountered strong opposition from many chiefs. John Richards brought Inroads readers up to date on what was at stake and how the controversy had played out. Meanwhile, Ken Coates and Gordon Gibson debated the implications of the Supreme Court’s 2014 Tsilhqot’in decision, an important affirmation of Indigenous land rights.
John Richards has continued to examine Indigenous issues in depth. In Winter/Spring 2021, drawing from the work of Anne Case and Angus Deaton on White working-class communities in the United States, he presented evidence on “deaths of despair” in First Nations (suicide, alcohol and homicide) and maintained that lack of employment opportunities was the primary cause of these deaths. In an accompanying article, Harold Johnson suggested another approach to the ills facing First Nation communities: land-based healing.
The environment and climate change
It took a little longer for environmental issues, and especially climate change, to come to the centre of Inroads’ consciousness, although there were some warning signals early on. In the wake of the 2008 federal election, in which the Liberals under Stéphane Dion proposed a carbon tax and lost badly to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, several economists examined different approaches to carbon pricing in the Winter/Spring 2009 issue. In Winter/Spring 2010 Marvin Shaffer reviewed Lord Nicholas Stern’s “stern” warning of the coming effects of climate change. And in Winter/Spring 2013, Steven Lightfoot called for an “adult conversation” that acknowledged the difficulties of transitioning away from carbon-based fuels. He maintained that nuclear power would be an essential component of any realistic solution.
Starting in 2016, our attention was focused on climate change in a more sustained way. The words climate change appeared on the cover of Inroads four times between Winter/Spring 2016 and Winter/Spring 2020. In Winter/Spring 2016, it was one of the issues we looked at in the context of the 2015 federal election. In Winter/Spring 2017, Chris Green questioned whether the two most prominent approaches to mitigating climate change – pricing carbon and promoting renewable energy – were really doing the job. In his view, only the development of breakthrough technologies would make a low-carbon future possible.
Former NDP leader Tom Mulcair wrote in Summer/Fall 2019 that if the climate crisis is an emergency we need to start treating it like one, and governments have an obligation to produce results. The Winter/Spring 2020 cover showed the young climate prophet Greta Thunberg sitting down to talk with Justin Trudeau, and climate change was once again one of the subjects we examined in light of a recent federal elections. We noted that no party except the Greens had a plan that would effectively meet Canada’s 2030 emissions reduction target.
During the same period, Inroads also featured another environmental cover: British Columbia’s controversial Site C dam in Winter/Spring 2018. While the controversy centred on whether Site C was the best way of meeting B.C.’s energy needs, Marvin Shaffer suggested taking a broader view. If intertie capacity between the two westernmost provinces were strengthened, Site C could play a major role in helping Alberta phase out coal-fired electricity generation, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
… And more
The foregoing is, of course, only a small part of what has appeared in Inroads in the last 15 years, and an even smaller part of what has happened in the world. I haven’t mentioned our coverage of Asia, Africa and Latin America, or cancel culture, or even the COVID-19 pandemic and Philip Resnick’s invaluable poetic diary of this period.
And that’s only a start.
Technological developments have loomed large – sometimes to Inroads’ chagrin. At one point early on our designer, Nadene Rehnby, saved us from a major embarrassment when she pointed out that our use of the phrase the social media in a piece on how new political movements were organizing through Facebook and Twitter would signal that this was alien territory to us (which, to be honest, it was). The definite article was never used: it was always just social media. The change was made on page proofs. A few years later, one of the younger and more technologically savvy members of the Inroads editorial board admitted in an editorial meeting, “I have a handle on Facebook and Twitter, but I’m baffled by Instagram.”
As for myself, in compiling this look back at the last 15 years, I have especially enjoyed going to the Inroads shelf in my bookcase, pulling out old print issues and leafing through them. I don’t deny the advantages of online publishing. I know we are reaching many more readers on the Web than we ever could in print. There were times when I could have found what I was looking for more easily on the Inroads website than in the print issue.
Still, I kept being drawn to that Inroads shelf. It felt like a guilty pleasure. And yes, I freely acknowledge that, had I lived in Gutenberg’s time, I would no doubt have said, “This printing thing is all well and good, but it will never replace an elegant hand-copied book.”
In marking Inroads’ 50th issue and 30th anniversary, one of the initiatives we undertook was to ask writers who had reviewed books since our last retrospective in 2007 to have another look at their reviews. Was there more to say now about the book they reviewed? Was it still relevant? Would they change their assessment? As you will see in this issue, many reviewers were happy to respond.
Not all the articles here follow the exact pattern we envisioned. One writer decided to highlight a different book from the one he initially reviewed (an alternative we offered). Two of the articles refer to reviews that appeared before our last retrospective (2001 and 2005). One writer had not written a previous review (although he has written other articles) but wanted to highlight a book he felt was important.
From China to small-town America to Quebec, from Indigenous issues to immigration to climate change, these articles provide a sampling from the perspective of today of some of the most important topics Inroads has engaged in the recent past.