This image, which is a bit unfair, has been around a lot on social media …
… Justin Trudeau did say that, of course, in a lengthy (December 2015) article by Guy Lawson in The New York Times Magazine. It’s down near the very end; Prime Minister Trudeau says, that “he wants Canada to be free from the politics of fear and division … [and, he explains] … ‘‘Countries with a strong national identity — linguistic, religious or cultural — are finding it a challenge to effectively integrate people from different backgrounds. In France, there is still a typical citizen and an atypical citizen. Canada doesn’t have that dynamic’’ … [and, while] … Trudeau’s critics say he’s a lightweight and a dangerous one. Trudeau’s most radical argument is that Canada is becoming a new kind of state, defined not by its European history but by the multiplicity of its identities from all over the world. His embrace of a pan-cultural heritage makes him an avatar of his father’s vision. ‘‘There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada,’’ he claimed. ‘‘There are shared values — openness, respect, compassion, willingness to work hard, to be there for each other, to search for equality and justice. Those qualities are what make us the first postnational state.’’
But what does that mean? What was “his father’s vision?” What is a “postnational state?” (Mr Lawson choose to make post and national into one word, I prefer it to be hyphenated.) The book, I suppose, on post-nationalism is Multicultural States: Rethinking Difference and Identity (1998) edited by Professor David Bennett of Melbourne University, which has been described as being part “history, theory, autobiography and political polemic,” all in one. This sort of thinking became very, very popular in Europe in the late 1940s when people like Konrad Adenauer, Jean Monet, Robert Schuman and Paul-Henri Spaak were talking in coffee houses, university common rooms and political backrooms about how to counter the devastating effects of the sorts of rampant nationalism that had given rise to the Fascists, Falange and the National Socialists. Pierre Trudeau was a young (in his late twenties) student in Paris when all this talk was reaching a crescendo and he, Trudeau, was looking for an excuse for the fact that he chose to sit out the war while other French Canadians, like ⇐ Paul Triquet, were fighting for something bigger and better than the quasi-fascist Quebec nationalism that Trudeau’s former hero the controversial L’abbé Lionel Groulx ⇒ had been expounding. Pierre Trudeau had put himself on the wrong side of history, and nationalism ~ so long as no distinction was made between, say, Mussolini’s fascism and Churchill’s rallying of the British people to resist ~ was the “answer” to his dilemma. He became an ardent anti-nationalist and, when he returned to Canada, turned his (considerable) charm and erudition to attacking the person and policies of Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis (a person and policies which, in fairness, Lionel Groulx opposed, also). It remains unclear to me if Pierre Trudeau was a committed civil libertarian or, simply, an anti-nationalist. His views are complicated by his flirtations with Leninist-Maoist communism, but it may have been that he actually saw in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics a model, of sorts, for a post-national confederation.
That (Pierre Trudeau’s conversion from Quebec nationalist to fervent anti-nationalist) is, I think, the origin of Justin Trudeau’s views on the desirability of a post-nation country. And that post-national country has emerged in the 50 years, since Pierre Trudeau exploded on to the federal political scene, because he and Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien all had a similar vision, and new immigrants poured into Canada, mostly from non-traditional sources (so that the Philippines, India and China are our current top three sources of new Canadians) changing the very face and nature of the country.
But the new Canada, which both Conservatives (albeit more cautiously) and Liberals shaped through their multicultural and immigration policies, was quite different from the old vision of Canada enunciated, when I was a young man, by Lester B Pearson:
Mike Pearson, and many, man millions of Canadians believed that they had a national identity, even if it was usually kept submerged in our “souls.”
But that still doesn’t address what post-nationalism or the post-national state might be, does it? Is it simply some sort of “dressed for dinner” multiculturalism ~ the sort that Angela Merkel called a “lie.” We’ve been doing that sort of thing for ages. In fact, Lester Pearson put us on a track, in the 1960s, for official bilingualism and biculturalism, but Pierre Trudeau’s advisors, conscious of how poorly that was received in Canada ‘hors de Québec,’ changed the official Canadian mantra to bilingual and multicultural. And that remains the federal government’s position today … even as many, many Canadians struggle to understand what it means. Or, is the post-national state something more? Is it, indeed, a society where no one (aside from First Nations?) has any “core identity” at all? And would that mean that we have no values, no fundamental principles? Is that why the Liberals propose to remove the warning that female genital mutilation and so-called “honour” killings are wrong ~ not just illegal but morally unacceptable in a civilized society ~ from our citizenship guide? Is it “anything goes” in 21st century Canada (except for respecting treaties with First Nations)? Was the Ontario Court of Appeal wrong? Will the Canada that Justin Trudeau passes on to future generations be one in which “cultural norms” can and do excuse violence and misogyny because, since we have no “core identity” we cannot have, even in law, a few shared values?
Some Conservatives, including Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper, have been (at least passively) complicit in this slow slither towards whatever a post-national state might be (have been) in the minds of the Trudeaus (père et fils). That needs to stop. Conservatives need to tell Canada that we will turn about and march, resolutely, back towards the values of better leaders, Liberals and Conservatives, like Laurier and Borden and St Laurent and Diefenbaker who believed in a Canada with values. We have to tell ourselves and the world that we can find our “soul” in our everyday, work-a-day, peaceful lives, not just in war, and that we have a “core identity” that says that Canadians do share some common values that include respect for the rule of law and for basic human dignity and a few fundamental rights for all, regardless of sex, age, race or creed. We, Conservatives, must believe (in our minds and in our hearts, too) and affirm that there is a real Canada and it does have values … no matter what the privileged nabobs of the chattering classes and the Laurentian Elites might say to the contrary.