Tag Archives: economy

Complete Canadian story includes slavery and underground railway

We love our tales about how Canada offered sanctuary to U.S. slaves for decades, but the unabridged version is it sustained African bondage for much longer.

In a recent rabble.ca story titled “Canada’s earliest immigration policies made it a safe haven for escaped slaves,” Penney Kome ignores the fact that Africans were held in bondage here for 200 years and that the Atlantic provinces had important ties to the Caribbean plantation economies.

According to Kome, Canada’s relationship to slavery consisted of the oft-discussed Underground Railway that brought Africans in bondage north to freedom. But, she ignores the southbound “underground railroad” during the late 1700s that took many Canadian slaves to Vermont and other Northern U.S. states that had abolished slavery. Even more slaves journeyed to freedom in Michigan and New England after the war of 1812.

For over 200 years, New France and the British North America colonies held Africans in bondage. The first recorded slave sale in New France took place in 1628. There were at least 3,000 African slaves in what are now known as Québec, Ontario and the Maritimes. Leading historical figures such as René Bourassa, James McGill, Colin McNabb, Joseph Papineau and Peter Russell all owned slaves and some were strident advocates of the practice.

After conquering Quebec, Britain strengthened the laws that enabled slavery. In The Blacks in Canada, Robin Winks explains:

“On three occasions explicit guarantees were given to slave owners that their property would be respected, and between 1763 and 1790 the British government added to the legal structures so that a once vaguely defined system of slavery took on clearer outlines.”

It wasn’t until 1833 that slavery was abolished in what is now Canada and across the rest of the British Empire.

Canadians propped up slavery in a number of other ways. Canada helped the British quell Caribbean slave rebellions, particularly during the 1791-1804 Haitian Revolution, which disrupted the region’s slave economy. Much of Britain’s Halifax-based squadron arrived on the shores of the West Indies in 1793, and many of the ships that set sail to the Caribbean at this time were assembled in the town’s naval yard. Additionally, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick provided “sticks for the furnishing of a variety of naval stores, especially masts and spars, to the West Indies squadron at Jamaica, Antigua, and Barbados.”

A number of prominent Canadian-born (or based) individuals fought to capture and re-establish slavery in the French colonies. Dubbed the “Father of the Canadian Crown,” Prince Edward Duke of Kent departed for the West Indies aboard a Halifax gunboat in 1793. As a Major General, he led forces that captured Guadalupe, St. Lucia and Martinique. Today, many streets and monuments across the country honour a man understood to have first applied the term “Canadian” to both the English and French inhabitants of Upper and Lower Canada.

In what may be Canada’s most significant contribution to the British war effort in the Caribbean, a dozen Nova Scotia privateers captured at least 57 enemy vessels in the West Indies between 1793 and 1805. Licensed by the state to seize enemy boats during wartime, “privateers were essential tools of war until the rise of large steam navies in the mid-nineteenth century.”

But Nova Scotia privateers weren’t solely motivated by reasons of state. They sought to protect a market decimated by French privateers. In A Private War in the Caribbean: Nova Scotia Privateering, 1793-1805, Dan Conlin writes that “in a broader sense privateering was an armed defence of the [Maritimes’] West Indies market.”

Outside of its role in suppressing Caribbean slave rebellions, the Maritimes literally fed the slave system for decades. In Emancipation Day, Natasha Henry explains:

“Very few Canadians are aware that at one time their nation’s economy was firmly linked to African slavery through the building and sale of slave ships, the sale and purchase of slaves to and from the Caribbean, and the exchange of timber, cod, and other food items from the Maritimes for West-Indian slave-produced goods.”

A central component of the economy revolved around providing the resources that enabled slavery. Nova Scotia and Newfoundland generated great wealth selling cheap, high-protein food to keep millions of “enslaved people working 16 hours a day.”

In Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, Mark Kurlansky explains:

“In the 17th century, the strategy for sugar production, a labour-intensive agro-industry, was to keep the manpower cost down through slavery. At harvest time, a sugar plantation was a factory with slaves working 16 hours or more a day — chopping cane by hand as close to the soil as possible, burning fields, hauling cane to a mill, crushing, boiling. To keep working under the tropical sun the slaves needed salt and protein. But plantation owners did not want to waste any valuable sugar planting space on growing food for the hundreds of thousands of Africans who were being brought to each small Caribbean island. The Caribbean produced almost no food. At first slaves were fed salted beef from England, but New England colonies [as well as Newfoundland and Nova Scotia] soon saw the opportunity for salt cod as cheap, salted nutrition.”

In Capitalism and Slavery, post-independence Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Eric Williams highlights the role of cod in the Caribbean plantations: “The Newfoundland fishery depended to a considerable extent on the annual export of dried fish to the West Indies, the refuse or ‘poor John’ fish, ‘fit for no other consumption.'” High-quality cod from today’s Atlantic Canada was sent to the Mediterranean while the reject fish was sold to Caribbean slave-owners.

From 1770-1773 Newfoundland and Nova Scotia sent 60,620 quintals (one quintal equals 100 pounds) and 6,280 barrels of cod to the West Indies, which comprised 40 per cent of all imports. These numbers increased significantly after the American Revolution resulted in a ban on U.S. trade to the British Caribbean colonies. In 1789 alone 58 vessels carried 61,862 quintals of fish from Newfoundland to the Caribbean Islands.

When it comes to our histories, we choose where and how to focus our lens. A bird’s eye view of the historical landscape quickly reveals that Canada did a great deal more to support African enslavement than undermine it.

Comments Off on Complete Canadian story includes slavery and underground railway

Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

Are tolls a ‘flat tax’ or one step in building a sane (carless) society?

What’s left and what’s right? Usually it is obvious, but sometimes you have to take a step back and consider the bigger picture.

For example, the Toronto toll debate has exposed a lack of scrutiny of the leading source of corporate profit over the past century by many supposed leftists. Absent a political economy of the auto industrial complex, many Marxists have objectively allied themselves with the private car’s awesome political, cultural and ideological power.

“There is no progressive argument in favour of road tolls,” bellowed Nora Loreto, author of From Demonized to Organized, Building the New Union Movement, on Facebook. “I’m perplexed and confused by anyone purporting to be a progressive and at the same time supporting regressive taxes such as tolls or user fees”, wrote leftist former head of the Ontario Federation of Labour Sid Ryan. “How on earth are these taxes considered to be anything but a burden placed on the shoulders of working class people who use the Gardiner Expressway and DVP [Don Valley Parkway] to get to work.”

The tolls are no doubt a terrible idea. Anyone serious about livability, pollution, safety, lack of exercise, weakening corporate power or the climate crisis should demand both the Gardiner and DVP demolished. (41% of Toronto’s greenhouse gas emissions are from land transportation and despite dropping 24% in other sectors between 1990 and 2013 transport emissions rose 15%.) But, since getting rid of these expressways isn’t on the agenda, forcing drivers to pay a Tooney is a small jab at the ‘God-given right’ to take 3,000 pounds of metal 10, 30, 50, or 100 km a day without paying any road costs.

The stated plan is to spend the money raised on “transit” infrastructure. However much is channelled to Toronto Transit Commission projects will be socially useful while the funds devoted to roadway will not.

One objection cited to tolling the highways is that it would simply push vehicles on to alternative routes. It’s possible, but increasing costs or making driving less comfortable generally curtails car travel.

The primary “left” criticism, explains Loreto, is that it’s a “flat tax that roots out those who can pay from those who can’t pay.” To the extent lower income folks take these two highways that’s correct, but driving and income are inversely correlated. Poorer people own fewer vehicles and drive less.

Calling a toll a “flat tax” is a tacit acceptance of a transport system where roads, highways and parking are endlessly subsidized (through public funds or hidden in prices everyone pays in higher store prices, rent, etc.). Few call fees at Canada Post, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, Sasktel, Toronto Hydro, Toronto Transit Commission, etc. a “flat tax”. Yet, at least hydro is a greater necessity – to cook or stay warm – than driving a highway.

Left-wing opposition to tolls disregards the longstanding financial incentives, notably road and mortgage subsidies, for people to purchase large single-family suburban homes. But, it’s also a brazen denial of auto hegemony. Toll critics act as if their opposition doesn’t contribute to rightists’ wild attacks against bike paths, trolleys, car-free days, etc. It’s as if former mayor Rob Ford didn’t denounce a supposed “war on cars” and the leader of the provincial Conservatives isn’t seeking to restrict Toronto’s right to raise revenue from its own highways by saying the move would “start a war of tolls” between Ontario municipalities (amen to that).

Objectively, toll opponents are taking the side of the auto industrial complex — car, oil, tire, asphalt, insurance, etc. companies, as well as big box retailers, appliance makers and suburban developers — having fallen victim to the car’s immense ideological/cultural/political power. Since the early 1900s the auto industrial complex has funded consumer groups and university programs. The highly profitable sector has also produced films, pamphlets and books promoting roads and depicting automobiles as a barometer of progress.

Far and away the largest advertisers, car companies have conquered nearly every sphere of human consciousness. Whether you’re at a party, online, at the mall, playing videogames, at the movies or writing checks, there is an endless promotion of both brand names and automobility.

The auto industrial complex is a powerhouse of colossal proportions in their dealings with the media. “Top auto executives hold frequent, off-the-record meetings with the nation’s leading publishers and editors, enjoying a level of access that most politicians can only dream of,” writes Keith Bradford former Detroit bureau chief of the New York Times. When unhappy with editorial decisions car companies have repeatedly pulled their advertising.

Disregarding the political climate when criticizing tolls is highly disingenuous. It’s akin to those who oppose university fees for women’s centres without discussing patriarchy or criticizing First Nations tax breaks without mentioning the land theft, pass system, residential schools, etc. Simply put, blanket condemnation of tolls reinforces an unjust, unhealthy and ecocidal transport/urban planning status quo.

Most leftists opposed to the tolls say they support expanding public transit. To overcome private automobility we unquestionably need major investments in new light rail, metro lines, bus lanes, bike paths, as well as incentives for employment near transit, car free streets and an end to car centric zoning. But, the car won’t be dethroned without also increasing its costs (be it highway or street tolls, luxury vehicle fees, registration fees, parking fees, higher gas taxes, etc.). The short term financial inequities of some of these measures can be mitigated through tax rebates, as well as free transit passes, prioritizing transit services in working-class neighborhoods and building social housing near transit hubs.

To be “progressive” in 2016 must include a political commitment to upending a transport/urban planning system structured around the private automobile.

This is the first in a four-part series on the ‘Great Toronto toll debate’.

Comments Off on Are tolls a ‘flat tax’ or one step in building a sane (carless) society?

Filed under Stop Signs