'Helping People Help Themselves': Democracy, Development, and the Global Politics of Poverty in Canada, 1964-1979
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For a remarkable period between the late 1950s and mid-1970s, a global politics of poverty emerged. Prompted by anti-imperialist struggles, working class demands, social and cultural ferment, and socialist alternatives, the politics turned on how to alleviate global poverty – and to what ends. It had different manifestations, but contained shared core insights and practices. It did not simply animate the international sphere, but permeated national, regional, and local politics as well. In this context, some Canadian liberals believed that development would contribute to the elimination of poverty, internationally and domestically, by involving people more fully in the values, economic processes, and political practices of liberal capitalist democracy. Community development, regional development, and international development emerged as concurrent, if contested, schemes to revitalize liberal democracy within and beyond Canada’s borders. This study is a political history of the relationship between poverty, democracy, and development in Canada in the 1960s and 1970s within a larger global frame. Through a focus on development programs across three scales, I trace the on-the-ground activism of reformers and radicals in dialogue with the global context in which they consciously rooted their work. The focus of the local scale is the community development and animation sociale activities of Company of Young Canadians (CYC) in Lesser Slave Lake, Alberta and St-Henri, Montreal. On a regional scale, I examine the efforts of Cape Breton Development Corporation (DEVCO) to address regional inequality and poverty. Adopting an international scale allows us to focus on the Third World international development activity of Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO) – namely, its project in Tanzania. I argue that liberal reformers, amid exchanges with a New Left, created and committed to development programs they believed would empower people, both in Canada and abroad, to confront their own poverty and foster a meaningful democracy rooted in everyday life. However, development programs – having stopped short of amending capitalist social relations and the political and economic hierarchies they engendered – realized neither their anti-poverty nor democratic goals.