It’s almost like we planned it!

But even though we didn’t, the micro-lecture roundtable discussion sponsored jointly by the Canadian Political Science Association (CPSA) and the Canadian Historical Association (CHA) provided a perfect venue for scholars in a range of fields to address some of the themes that were raised in the most recent issue of Academic Matters. And it would seem this is a topic that piques people’s interest and incites serious concern for academics – attendees at the roundtable spilled out from the packed room and into the hallway, eager to continue the conversation.

The CPSA/CHA roundtable, titled “Canadian History Under Harper: Federal Identity Initiatives in Conservative Canada,” brought together ten well-respected Canadian historians and political scientists from across the country who spoke to some of the issues raised in Academic Matters and beyond.

As the ten panelists highlighted, the Harper government’s offenses aren’t limited to the silencing of federal scientists, the elimination of the long-form census, the imposition of a strict federal code of conduct on federal librarians, and the elimination of the only reliable source of data on faculty in Canada- all of which we explore in the latest issue of our magazine.

Roundtable participants spoke to all of these issues. But they also spoke about the Harper government’s attempts to rewrite Canadian history in a way that highlights British heritage (but that minimizes any mention of colonialism) and the military. They spoke about a general dumbing down of Canadian society, whereby we not only have less access to good data but we have fewer opportunities to engage in respectful and well-informed dialogue with each other as citizens about issues of public concern. And they spoke about the internal incoherence of a lot of these initiatives as part of a political agenda.

And as UVic political scientist Avigail Eisenberg pointed out, there’s nothing new about governments attempting to manipulate our public institutions and the symbols of our history to their own political advantage. But what’s disconcerting about our current circumstances is the weakening of the institutional supports that would allow for the mobilization of civil society groups to resist these state initiatives.

Despite all the doom and gloom though, there was a call to action for academics to participate in discussions in the public sphere in order to fight back in the apparent war on knowledge.

So to the academics reading this: go forth and participate in public dialogue!