About a year ago, at the end of a review of someone else’s ideas about nationalism, I said, “I believe that, in about 1950, Canada developed a healthy nationalism, but it didn’t survive into the 1970s. It was replaced by an unreasonable dream of a socialist nirvana in which Canadians could live off the fat of the land while America, a country the socialists despised, did all the heavy lifting required to make a liberal and global order work for us all … [and, I opined] … A healthy nationalism is tough enough for any country, even homogeneous ones like, say, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands or Sweden to develop and maintain. Canada, after 1763 was and remains a heterogeneous state, and Lord Durham was an optimist … there are more than just two nations warring in its bosom. It would be difficult enough to maintain a healthy nationalism in Canada without the parochial, inwards, backwards-looking nationalism that has been prevalent in Québec since the late 1960s but we must add to that the growing, frustrated nationalism of the various indigenous groups: the First Nations, the (more recently arrived and ethnoculturally distinct) Inuit and the Métis. To make matters more complex what we can still call English Canada is changing, very rapidly, as immigration, from Asia, in particular, modifies the look and feel of that larger, already diverse and dominant community. But, beneath it all there is a Canadian national culture: loose, complex and difficult to pin down, but, despite its tensions, apparently different enough from American, Australian, Belgian and British national cultures to make us identifiable in the world. The question is can we maintain it and then enhance it and restore it to robust good health? … [I answered my own question by concluding that] … I think we can recapture the healthy nationalism that we once had … but, first, we must recapture our self-respect as a nation and act, at home and abroad, like the rich, sophisticated, liberal-democratic, middle power that we are.“
I still believe all that.
I still believe that it is possible to have a healthy, positive, useful Canadian nationalism.
I still believe that racially and ethnically/linguistically or, worse, religiously based nationalist movements such as we see in Québec and amongst some First Nations and some other groups is both destructive and doomed to fail. I see little to persuade me that the Front de Libération du Québec, the Proud Boys, Black Lives Matter and the Canadian Arab Federation differ (or differed), markedly, one from the other. All, I believe, were or are advocating for unhealthy and destructive forms of nationalism and all are doomed to fail, eventually, as the FLQ did, because they promote fear and hate.
As I watch America, today, I think that American nationalism, once, arguably, the saviour of freedom for the whole world, has disappeared, almost completely, replaced by factionalism and braggadocio. And I see little to choose between those who support one foolish old man over another doddering old twit. I think the “grand old flag” has been, is being trampled in the mud by angry mobs of ignorant people who care about themselves, not about their country. And, worse, I believe that Canadians are trying to follow Americans, again, as we so often do.
It will not surprise my readers to know that I think that Louis St Laurent gave us a healthy nationalism and that it rested on his understanding that our national unity is always fragile. There wasn’t much flag-waving and there weren’t many drums beating. Prime Minister St Laurent understood that Canadian nationalism didn’t need much of either. It needed to see that the country was bigger and better than the sum of its regions. He was a builder, and Canadians took quiet pride in what they were building …
… none were without some controversy, in fact, his government fell, in 1957, in some part over the decision (1956) to invoke closure to force the bill authorizing the funding for the Trans Canada Pipeline through parliament. St Laurent’s Canada was far from perfect or even a paradise. The St Laurent Liberals felt just as entitled as do the present-day Trudeau Liberals to push their vision of Canada through, despite the howls of the opposition. The difference was that the St Laurent Liberals wanted to make Canada bigger and better.
There was, then, as now, an unpleasant moralistic streak to Canadian foreign policy. The great American diplomat and statesman Dean Acheson quipped about Canada being like “the stern daughter of the voice of God,” stealing a line from Wordsworth to complain about an unhelpful (to America) tendency to by Canada to want to do “right,” even when that meant standing against the USA on some (minor) issue. Of course, link above, the Laurentian Elites, which were in full bloom in the 1950s, were happy when Liberals were being pious hypocrites supporting anti-American causes, they were less happy when Conservatives were being truculent hypocrites supporting Israel.
Although seasoned with a soupçon of quite nasty anti-Americanism (at least anti-Kennedyism), John Diefenbaker maintained St Laurent’s healthy nationalism. Both understood that Canada was a leading middle power. Lester Pearson had the same ambitions and so, in fact, did Joe Clark, John Turner, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin Jr and Stephen Harper. Only two prime ministers eschewed a significant and broadly based (including military) leadership role for Canada: Pierre Trudeau and Justin Trudeau. Both wanted to be admired and celebrated even loved as symbols of something Canadian, but neither wanted/wants to get the country’s hands dirty by doing the hard labour that being a leader requires. In my opinion, most Canadians and most elected Canadian leaders, including Laurier, St Laurent, Mulroney and Chrétien ~ all Québecois ~ were healthy nationalists; the Trudeaus, père et fils, were and are different: unhealthy, socialistic, isolationists who want to turn their backs on the idea of duty and, to quote Wordsworth again (link above) to make Canada the “sport of every random gust” that blows its way into popularity.
So, what is healthy Canadian nationalism? First, it recognizes that we are a heterogeneous state ~ there are many nations within it, each with a strong sense of itself, each wanting (and in some cases more able than others) to be “maîtres chez nous.” That means that a healthy Canadian nationalism is, largely, devoid of flag-waving, drum-beating jingoism. It means that each nation accommodates the others; it means that the whole country adapts to its own changing faces. Canada is nor “deux nations,” one versus the other, nor is it First Nations versus “settlers,” it is a polyglot, multicultural amalgam of people who seek peace and prosperity for their children and grandchildren and are willing to work hard to achieve that. A healthy Canadian nationalism is not afraid to play a leading role in the world. In the late 1940s and in the ’50s Canada was a leader in helping Britain to manage the transition from empire to commonwealth. There was, in those days, a Canada-India love affair that was based on the personal friendship between Prime Ministers Louis St Laurent and Jawaharlal Nehru ~ they were alike in many ways: lawyers and minor, local aristocrats who served in government rather than seeking public office ~ and between Lester B Pearson and the ferociously brilliant Krishna Menon, forged largely in the hallways and committee rooms of the United Nations. Canada, under Prime Minister St Laurent, was instrumental in setting up and, especially, in funding the Colombo Plan, which was the Commonwealth’s version for Asia, of the American’s Marshall Plan for Europe. (Canada (and Britain) withdrew from the Colombo Plan in the early 1990s, in Canada’s case as a partial result of an ill-advised, short-sighted (domestic) politically motivated refocusing of Canadian foreign policy away from the Commonwealth and towards la francophonie.)
A healthy Canadian nationalism is international, even globalist in scope. Our greatest cities, Toronto and Vancouver, are the epitome of the new Canada: each is part of a global mosaic, but, perhaps each is becoming a bit of a melting pot, too, as communities try to coalesce into something bigger and better. A healthy Canadian nationalism needs to speak over the heads of individual communities, even over the heads of nations and speak to everyone about the values they all share. Those values include being left alone, to live in peace and to work hard to build better futures for their children and grandchildren. Our very nature, as one of the world’s more successful multicultural states, should allow us to establish better, closer social, political and commercial relations with e.g. America, Armenia, Australia, Brazil, Barbados, Britain, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Djibouti, Egypt, the European Union, Fiji, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Korea, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nigeria, and, and, and … diversity should be a strength, not a slogan.
Canada is not a post-national state. It is, instead, a pan-national state: one that has room, not always comfortably, to be sure, for many nations. They may not all get along as well as some might hope, but, by-and-large, they coexist peacefully even cooperatively because the people,can see that every single alternative to. Canada is worse. Canada needs to rebuild itself, both physically, in the sense of rebuilding our infrastructure, including, for example, energy corridors, but also emotionally by wanting, onceagain, to be respected around the world as leaders. We have the right people. I believe we need more of them ~ I hope Canada will have 100 Million Canadians by the year 2100 ~ and they will, of necessity, change the face of Canada … but change is good.
Canada needs a
new renewed vision. Canada needs to look back, to the late 1940s and the 1950s and remember when we could build and lead, too. Yes, the world was different; yes the relative wealth and power balances were different; yes Canada was different, too. But we came out of a great, global conflagration determined to do better and to be better. We had a national vision of ourselves. We believed that Canada could make a difference. It wasn’t just a slogan. It required planning and direction and, above all, national leadership. Can we find that leadership again? Yes, I believe we can. And, as highly partisan as I am, I need to say that it is not just the Conservatives who can (and, indeed must) offer good leaders. The Liberal Party is a great national institution and I know, with absolute certainty, that there are many, many very good Liberals out there who are ready to lead, too.