Joe McCarthy is alive and well and living in the Canadian Finance Committee

“Are you, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?”

With those words Republican Senator Joe McCarthy set off a 10-year witch hunt in the US for just about anyone whose political colour was a redder shade of pink. He was finally censured by the Senate but not before he ruined a lot of lives and dealt a body blow to democracy in the USofA.

Whenever I came across the old news reels of that time, I thanked God I didn’t live in a country that would permit that sort of bigoted, callow, scape-goating attack on its own citizens.

I can’t say that anymore. In the House Finance committee, a week or so ago, MPs were hearing expert testimony on the impact of Bill C-38, the Budget Implementation Bill. Randy Hoback is a member. He’s the Conservative  MP from Prince Albert Saskatchewan, which is not far from Tommy Douglas’s old riding.

Hoback attacked the credibility of United Steel Workers economist Erin Weir by demanding, “Have you or have you ever been a member of the NDP party, or are you presently a member of the NDP party?”

Clearly Hoback is not as eloquent as Joe McCarthy was, and so he blunted his own attack. But his demand resounds like a siren.

Was it a question of his own making? Or was it one that the Prime Minister’s Office put in his mouth?

Not that it really matters … for it begs another, more important question. What are we becoming that a democratically elected Canadian can even ask such a thing, and in such a manner, in the heart of our Parliament?

© David McLaren May 2012

Click here for the exchange between Hoback and Weir posted to YouTube.

Click here for Edward R Murrow’s ‘See it Now’ attack on McCarthy that helped to put a stop to the red baiting. It was 1954, a time before teleprompters. And click here for Walter Cronkite’s memory of that time.
They both include descriptions of how McCarthy worked: by rumour, quoting out of context, disinformation, unfounded accusation, and fear.
Oh, where are the Edward R Murrows today when we need them?

When McCarthy went after Hollywood, some, such as Jack Warner, Robert Taylor, Ronald Reagan and Gary Cooper cooperated. It was writers like Ring Lardner, John Howard Lawson, Lillian Hellman and Arthur Miller who did not. Some went to jail for their trouble.
Click here for a glimpse of that story.

Finally, click here for a lonely independent film that shows the extent of the reach of the House American Activities Committee that went on (and on) from 1947 to 1975. The film shows just how easy it is for citizens’ words and affiliations to be used against them and for dissent to be portrayed as sedition. One of the things that helped to discredit HUAC’s red baiting was a 1960 demonstration organized and run by students of the University of California who protested the Committee during hearings in San Francisco. In response, the House cobbled together footage of the demonstration and used it to claim the brutal battle between police and students was instigated by the students themselves who were, of course, communists—all 10,000 of them.


About David McLaren

David McLaren is an award-winning writer. He has worked in government and the private sector, with NGOs and First Nations in Ontario. He is currently writing from Neyaashiinigamiing on the shore of Georgian Bay and can be reached at In February 2015, he won the nomination for the NDP to represent the riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound in the 2015 federal election. See that page for writings during the campaign.
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2 Responses to Joe McCarthy is alive and well and living in the Canadian Finance Committee

  1. David,
    I’m sorry if I disillusion you, but McCarthyism is not newly arrived in Canada. When Gouzenko left his post at the Soviet Embassy and sought refuge in exchange for information acquired through his work as a cypher clerk, the Canadian Government set up the Kellock-Taschereau Commission which was criticized for its methods by the Toronto Star at the time and later by Margaret Atwood. (See Wikipedia “Kellock-Taschereau”.)
    In 1927, when Andrew Paul and his lawyer, A.E. O’Meara appeared before a joint Senate-Commons Committee to seek recognition of Aboriginal title for the Interior Tribes of B.C., the committee chair, who was also Speaker of the Senate turned due process on its ear. He let the minister speak first and never let Paul speak nor would he allow O’Meara to question the the minister. In response to the petition of the Interior Tribes, Parliament amended the Indian Act to make raising funds to press Indian land claims illegal. And that McCarthyist law remained on the books until 1951.

    Yours for a decent and democratic Canada,
    Mickey Posluns.aka

  2. Munroe Scott says:

    David, thank you for bringing that Hoback/Weir exchange to our attention. A truly chilling moment. And thank you too for appending the series of links, all of which are worth watching — and pondering.

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