David Johnson’s lineage

For those of us in the CrowNest, keeping watch from the seas off the East Coast, David Johnston is one of those privileged guys who buys into and benefits from the Laurentian Thesis. Johnston, as you’ll recall, is the special rapporteur appointed by Justin Trudeau to probe foreign interference in Canadian elections. The Laurentian thesis, as you may not recall, is a theory of Canadian history holding that the nation is all about the St. Lawrence River system.

The Laurentian thesis holds that merchants perched along the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes built this nation by exploiting and exporting its fur, timber and wheat resources. (And let’s not fret that those economic sectors were protected by tariff walls which undermined long-established trade ties between the Maritimes and New England.)

Canadian historians, most notably Donald Creighton, wrote the Laurentian thesis into life in the early decades of the last Century, and you’ll forgive us for suspecting that their work sold us ‘up the river’ to what used to be called Upper Canada (now Ontario) and Lower Canada (now Quebec). Once you buy into the notion that those two provinces are the economic engines of Canada, much ensues. Building the St. Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s, to accommodate larger ocean-going vessels, becomes an exercise in nation-building. And so what if it diverts traffic from the large, deepwater, ice-free ports in Atlantic Canada?

What’s all this have to do with David Johnston, our former governor general? Well, from our perspective, he is a totemic representative of the Laurentian elites – well-connected, well-educated, and travelling in so narrow a circle of monied celebrity that he seems to think that represents normal life. So what if he moved in the same social, skiing and cottage circles (in the Laurentians, no less) as the Trudeau family? So what if the lawyer he hired to advise him in his rapporteur’s role donates money to the Liberal party? So what if a majority of MPs have asked him to step down from that role? 

There is incredible arrogance in accepting that this is all normal and OK, whether we’re talking about writing a theory of history which more or less ignores the West and the East, or running the current politics of the nation out of what might well be called the Laurentian Club. David Johnston gets to keep his lifetime membership in the club, but there’s no way he should continue running a probe into foreign interference in Canadian elections.