Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Americana: Why not Canadiana?

A fairly obvious question, and therefore one I should deal with sooner or later, is why I, a Canadian, am so interested in Americana? Why not Canadiana? There is a such a word, although it doesn't have much "content". The Wikipedia entry on the subject is just a stub.

The short answer is simply that, like most Canadians, I've always found Americana much more interesting.  The longer answer is more complicated.

A good place to start the longer answer is to point at an column by David Solway called "Canada: A Dead Country Walking". It's an incoherent little piece in that it begins by saying that Canada never really has had a core identity and then concludes that bad people are tearing apart that core identity; you know, the one that doesn't actually exist in the first place. And then Solway goes on to laud Pierre Trudeau for having invoked the War Measures Act to crush a terrorist movement in 1970s, lamenting that Pierre's son Justin, "has neither the political smarts nor the strength of character to act decisively against those who are busy reducing an already patchwork country into a heap of shards and rubble." And that tells you a lot—that Pierre Trudeau gets lauded as a great defender of a national identity that doesn't exist because he used brutal and dictatorial methods to do so. That, my friends, is what insecurity looks like.

Twenty-four years ago, then Premier of Quebec Lucien Bouchard stirred up a hornet's nest in the rest of Canada by saying, “Canada is divisible because Canada is not a real country.” The anger wasn't at the "divisible" part of the claim. Very few Canadians even noted it at the time and even those who remember the incident now tend to misquote Bouchard, thinking that he only said "Canada is not a real country." And it takes very little effort to understand why—and Solway makes the point at some length—Canada is divisible in a way that the USA is not. The point neither he nor anyone else seems to be able to make is why it should not be.

Ultimately, of course, the USA is divisible. Any country can be dismembered and that is probably the inevitable fate of all countries eventually. The problem with Canada is that there is nothing approaching the sort of argument Lincoln made for the union in Canada's case. Lincoln could, and did, argue that breaking up the union would have meant the destruction of a founding idea, conceived in Liberty, that all men are created equal. Canada was created as an exercise of power and, in the end, whether Canada holds together is a simple question of power.

More than that, the USA was created by people who understood that power was a problem. They understood that power dispensed to a bureaucracy to administer a law such as the Stamp Act would create a faction that had an active interest in destroying liberty for that faction's continued existence would defend absolutely not only on its holding onto to that power but on the continual extension of that power. Sir John A. Macdonald, on the other hand, pursued confederation precisely so he could get his hands on that power—the control of patronage appointments. That, and not any identity or any set of beliefs about the dignity of human beings created by God, is the principle upon which Canada is founded. There were people who had different ideas about what Canada might be founded on but it was Macdonald and his lust for power that won out.

As Solway grudgingly notes, there is a Québecois identity. It's an identity whose future is uncertain but it exists and if one wanted to put together a list of "Quebecana" it would be ridiculously easy to do. You could do likewise with Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Alberta albeit in a way that would seem piddle compared to the rich cultural identity of the USA and Quebec. You should be able to do it with Ontario, New Brunswick and British Columbia, although in an even more reduced form, because most residents of those provinces have been taught to hate the their cultural heritage.

And here's the really telling thing: the USA is a much more diverse country, culturally speaking, than Canada is. The claim I'm making here is not that Canada isn't diverse but rather that diversity pales compared to what you see in the USA.

There is a sense in which Bouchard's claim is ludicrous. Of course Canada is a real country. The problem arises when you start to find something real beyond the fact that it's a government that has a country. If you go looking for Canadiana, you'll find some, but it's pretty thin gruel.

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