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Oh! Canada?: An Essay on Canadian History, Politics, and Culture (Graeme Garrard and Mark Wegierski)

Oh! Canada?: An Essay on Canadian History, Politics, and Culture

Graeme Garrard and Mark Wegierski

 

 

       If Canada impinges at all on the American consciousness, it is predominantly as a tourist destination, “a large friendly country” with red-coated Mounties and vast areas of unspoiled wilderness. Canada is generally considered a safe, if staid, country; a more or less reliable ally where, it is acknowledged, nothing of much significance can happen. Recently, however a great deal of attention has been focused on the Meech Lake Accord, the attempt to resolve Canada’s constitutional and national dilemmas, whose failure has raised the prospect of the actual dissolution of Canadian Confederation. The weakness and apparent illegitimacy of the Canadian polity was further highlighted in the stand-off with the Mohawk Indians at Oka, which also made headlines. Regionalist parties are burgeoning in Canada, and there are predictions, that the next election will see the emergence of new regional blocs in the national Parliament, in addition to the old “Pan-Canadian” parties.
       
        The near dissolution of the Canadian state comes in the wake of the Free Trade Agreement, the proposed economic integration of North America that some term “the deal of the century.”
       
        The stormy Canadian election in 1988 had climaxed with the astounding victory of the Progressive Conservatives, a party that today has less than 20 percent of popular support. In an executive entered parliamentary system, where executive and legislative authority are combined in Parliament, the 1988 result meant the total electoral success of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. It was the first time in thirty-five years that any federal party has won two consecutive majorities, the first time since 1891 that the conservative Party won two successive majorities, and also the first time since 1891 that French Canada voted Conservative twice in a row, with the largest bloc of Tory seats coming from Quebec.
       
        The fortunes of the country (and of the Tory Party) have changed significantly since 1988, but Mulroney is not required to call another election for two more years. Thus another change of fortune for him is not impossible. The bare enumeration of electoral and popular opinion statistics means little, however, if we lack insight into the context of Canadian history and culture. This essay will endeavor to trace the roots, origins, and development of the Canadian state and, in so doing, try to show the deeper meaning behind the Meech Lake accord controversy and Mulroney’s electoral victories. The essay shall not consist of a mere cataloging of the exploits of Canada’s political leaders. It will attempt instead to see by what political and philosophical concepts these persons lived and to describe and account for the evolution of Canadian political thinking up to the present. Today, for example, the Progressive Conservative Party is commonly called the Tory Party. But in what sense is it Tory? Does it adhere to a set body of principles that can accurately be described as Tory? Tracing the history of such a word also implies tracing the progress of a given idea or concept from the moment of its origin, through its subsequent development, and to its modern-day conclusion.
       
        It should be remembered that while history is factual, it is also a story. It might help, therefore, if the reader visualizes Canada as a particular kind of society with its own specific roots in the past, with a defined “character and personality,” the explication of which will be the main task of this essay.
       
       

Roots of English Canada
       
        Canada grew out of two founding groups or “fragment cultures”: one British and one French. In 1759 the two warring empires clashed decisively on the now-famous Plains of Abraham in Quebec. It was the culmination of a protracted struggle for mastery of the North American continent that had gone or for centuries. The British, under General James Wolfe, were triumphant.
       
        Somewhat paradoxically, the British emerged from this conflict with political and military paramountcy over a colony populated almost exclusively by Aboriginal Indians and the French. As a result of the American Revolution, however, Canada became the final destination of large numbers of political refugees, and a new fragment culture emerged, that of the united Empire Loyalists–those who had refused to renounce their loyalty to the British Crown and were driven out of the new Republic.
       
        So, at the end of the eighteenth century, the Union Jack continued to fly over the British North American colonies of upper and Lower Canada (roughly coextensive with the modern Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec); over the Maritimes; and over the remote northern forts of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
       
        Although derisively referred to as Tories by their American Patriot cousins, the Loyalist settlers of Upper Canada and the Maritimes were basically Old Whigs: their worldview was an amalgam of Toryism and liberalism, a mixed belief system with Tory and liberal philosophical strands. There were few pure Tories (that is, supporters of monarchical supremacy) in the Thirteen Colonies.
       
        The terms Whig and Tory had originated during the seventeenth century, in the background of fierce sectarian and national conflicts in the British Isles. The term Tory (derived from the Irish Gaelic toraidhe, “pursued man” or robber) originally meant “Irish Papist bandit.” It was quickly extended to mean any armed Irish Catholic or Royalist insurrectionist, then any member of the Royalist Party, and eventually, and member of the rightward-most faction or party in the British Parliament. Toryism, strictly defined, was a precapitalist, preindividualist, and preliberal worldview. It was a hierarchical, organic, and corroborative philosophy. The unitary sovereign, in the toy view, best embodied the collective will of society. The principle of the divine right of kings was the cornerstone of early Tory philosophy, providing the metaphysical groundwork for the Tory worldview.
       
        Though the term Toryism is British in origin, it is also applied herein to similar contemporaneous royalist and absolutist creeds of continental Europe. Indeed, the association between the House of Stuart and continental Europe was longstanding was involved.
       
        In the English-speaking world, Toryism as a major political creed existed in a relatively pure form only prior to 1688. Afterward, Toryism was largely an aspect of the Old Whig philosophy that prevailed in the wake of the Whig-inspired Glorious Revolution of that year.
       
        The term, which was a shortening of the word Whiggamore (derived from a western Scottish battle cry to urge on horses, “whiggamare”). The Whiggamores were originally lowland Scottish Presbyterians who marched on Edinburgh in 1648 (in opposition to the King); they were the most radical faction of the fiercely Protestant and anti-Royalist Covenant. The word Whig was quickly extended to mean any member of the anti-Stuart or nor-Royalist faction or party, which by the eighteenth century had formed a commanding majority in Parliament.
       
        The Whigs, as Parliamentarians, were champions of the balanced constitution, and advocated the idea of the “King-in-Parliament,” with the Lords, Commons, and Sovereign “in Parliament assembled,” as checks against one another. The Revolution of 1688 in Britain, “of proud and enthusiastic heirs,” replaced the absolutist tendencies of the Stuart monarchies with a constitutional monarchy, which now existed within the confines of Parliament itself. Thus, the monarchy effectively was swallowed by Parliament, and it was this settlement–and this alone–that Whigs such as Edmund Burke sought to conserve. In fact, it could be argued that the term conservatives, in its strictest historical sense, most correctly applied to these Old Whigs, while the term Tory best described the opponents.
       
        The American Loyalists were not pure Tories as such, but Whigs: Their mixed philosophy incorporated elements from the purer philosophies of Toryism and liberalism. On the one hand, the Loyalists largely resented the intrusions of George III, whose policies had threatened to upset the constitutional equilibrium they cherished; but on the other, they refused to see the monarchy itself eliminated from the Constitution.
       
        In 1776, the Americans–whose forebears had already made one decisive break with the tourism of pre-1688 Britain by fleeing to the New World–sought to purify their liberalism by removing from it all of the residual Tory and feudal remnants that characterized Old Whiggism. The Revolution was the culmination of an attack on the last vestiges of corporative society in America; it resulted in a modern form of republican government in the United States, with the total expulsion of the Crown, a strict division of powers, and the permanent elimination of the Imperial bond.
       
        The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution stand as testimonials to the pristine liberalism of the United States. They are without Tory touches. Appealing rather to self-evident truths about freedom and equality. They also reflect the Lockean right to abolish any form of government, as well as a distinctively utilitarian conception of government as the means for securing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for its citizens. The American Revolution was in this sense an anti-Tory revolution, in which the epithet Tory became synonymous with “un-American.”
       
        It was the Old Whig Loyalists who carried the residue of Tory values in America and were therefore among the principal targets of the Revolution. Then as today, American nationalism was coterminous with an adherence to philosophical liberalism and individualism against all forms of collectivism. The United States, as a result of its revolution, became a one-myth culture, and that myth was liberalism. Americans ridiculed the Tories as craven minions of “the Tyrant,” King George III: his authority, they declared, depended on “the King’s gold,” brutal redcoats and mercenary Prussians. These stereotypical attitudes expressed well the antifeudal, antimonarchical, and antitraditional outlook of the pure-liberal American Patriots.
       
        Yet in 1776, the United States was still a rural, largely preindustrial society, and it would have appeared quite socially conservative by today’s standards. By the standards of its own time, however, America clearly was on the cutting edge of liberalism. In terms of its prevailing world-view, overall philosophical outlook, and dominant assumptions about human nature and society, America was liberal: Its ruling philosophy was in fact classical liberalism, often erroneously equated with conservatism today. Having explicitly repudiated its traditional roots, America had emerged as a radically new regime. It truly was a novus ordo seclorum, as is stated today on its currency.
       
        The seeds of later developments (many of which would have horrified the Founding Fathers) were planted, it could be argued, at the very moment of the founding. Locke was an aristocratic Whig gentleman, who, working in his quiet study, had elucidated an eminently reasonable defense of the balanced constitution. Jefferson undoubtedly wanted a peaceable agrarian republic, not the New York City of today. Nevertheless, the philosophical ideas and assumptions behind the American Revolution (among them, individualism and the necessity of weakening social and religious restraints), increasingly worked their way into American society. When the American revolutionary surge was spent, three fragment cultures had emerged in North America: the pure-liberal fragment of the United States; the Whig fragment of English Canada; and the relatively pure Tory fragment of French Canada.
       
        The Loyalists of Upper Canada had come out of the American revolutionary experience bearing significant traces of Toryism. Their attitudes were epitomized by the Constitution Act of 1791: The British answer to the U.S. Constitution, it established the system of government that would exist in the colony for the next generation. With this act, the British Parliament divided the old colony of Quebec into Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec). The act established a similar, strongly executive-centered form of government in both provinces, with the Crown (represented by the governor of Canada and the lieutenant-governors of Upper and Lower Canada respectively) at the summit, supported by an appointed executive council and a legislative assembly based on a limited male franchise. The constitution of 1791 also made provision for setting up clerical land reserves, and establishing the Church of England, in Upper Canada.
       
        It is obvious that the American and Canadian constitutions were different in decisive respects; the latter retained many of the institutions and aspects that the former had repudiated in 1776 and 1787. The “silken bond” with Britain had not been severed, for the church was tenuously established, the governor and his executive continued to wield great power, and democracy was carefully checked. Moreover, many of the fundamental provisions and much of the language of the Declaration of Independence and American Constitution were absent from the constitution of 1791.
       
        In the first half of the nineteenth century, Upper Canada was governed by a group of influential statesmen and clergymen. Pejoratively labeled the “Family Compact” by their liberal opponents, these men centered their political lives around the preservation of the original Constitution Act of 1791 (which had entrenched the Loyalist creed in Upper Canada), despite the exertions of more liberal colonials who strove to replace it. John Strachan, the Scottish-born Anglican bishop of Toronto and de facto leader of the Family Compact, spoke on behalf of the constitutionalist view:
       
        These Loyalists, who for seven years periled their lives
        and fortunes in defense of the throne, the law and the
        religion of England…These claims were so felt by the King
        and Parliament, and therefore an Act was passed in 1791,
        dividing Canada into two provinces…The object of the Act
        was to suit the two nations, differing as they did in
        language, worship and manners, and to give each the power
        of legislating for themselves in all matters not affecting
        religion and commerce–more especially to confer upon the
        loyalists such as should be as near a transcript as
        practicable of that of England, that they might have no
        reason to regret, in as fares religion, law and liberty
        were concerned, the great sacrifices which they had made…
        Thus, Upper Canada was at first settled by refugee
        loyalists, whose rights as British subjects to all the
        privileges of Englishmen were cordially acknowledged and
        guaranteed by the British government.
       
        The War of 1812 was English Canada’s “baptism of fire”–the defining moment for English Canadian nationalism. As the United States and Britain fought to a standstill on the North American continent, the differences between the liberal United States and the Whig colony of British North America were sharply delimited and further solidified the Loyalist worldview.
       
        But even the heroic efforts of the War of 1812 were not enough to preserve the old Loyalist constitution.
       
        What force of arms could not achieve, immigration from America did. In the late 1820s and 1830s, Upper Canada found itself swamped by Americans (the so-called late Loyalists) who were basically seeking cheap land. This injection of American republicanism into Upper Canada culminated in the Mackenzie Rebellion of 1837, which amounted to nothing more than a few skirmishes. But the Imperial government severely overreacted to the perceived threat of rebellion. In the 1840s, the once-cherished Loyalist constitution of 1791 was replaced–ironically enough, on the advice of the British governor himself, Lord Durham (“Radical Jack”) with one that united the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, formally disestablished the Church of England, and implemented a government more accountable to the citizens. After this Act of Union, a more moderate brand of conservatism (sometimes referred to rather oxymoronically as “liberal conservatism”) became dominant in Upper Canada, displacing the values of the Family Compact conservatives.
       
        By the middle of the Nineteenth century, the conservatism of Upper Canada had shifted in an important way–from the Old Whigs to the New, as it were. Whereas Strachan and his allies had stressed British political and constitutional forms as the best and most logical ones to convey the conservative substance of their beliefs, their liberal conservative successors tended to concentrate their support on the British forms themselves. At the same time, the moderate conservatives divorced these forms from the religious or cultural values that had once informed them.
       
        The Canadian state itself was largely the creation of these English-Canadian New Whigs. Canada, in their view, was British, and its political culture and institutions were defined in such terms. “Canada,” declared its first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, “will be either American or British.” It was the resolve of these men that Canada was, and should remain, a British nation. The constitution that created the Canadian State in 1867, the British North American Act, declared itself to be “a constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom.” In the words of political philosopher George Grant, this seemed, at the time, quite consistent:
       
        To say it [Canada] was British was not to deny that it was
        North American. To be a Canadian was to be a unique species
        of North American. Such alternatives as F.H. Underhill’s–
        “stop being British if you want to be a [Canadian]
        nationalist”–seemed obviously ridiculous. We were a
        grounded in the wisdom of Sir John A. MacDonald, who saw
        plainly more than a hundred years ago that the only threat
        to nationalism was from the South [the United States] not
        from across the sea [Europe]. To be a Canadian was to
        build, along with the French, a more ordered and stable
        society than the liberal experiment in the U.S.
       
        There were deep political and philosophical implications in the claim that Canada was British. The British connection in Canada was part of the desire to build a society with “a greater sense of order and restraint than the freedom-loving republicanism would allow.” By not openly repudiating its links with Europe, Canada could at least retain a window on the past and avoid divorcing itself completely from history (as the United States had done with its exceptionalist experiment.)
       
        For English Canada, the British connection was a conscious affirmation of its ties with Europe and a recognition that its roots lay–at least partially–outside the New World and beyond the present:
       
        The inherited determination not to be Americans allowed
        these British people to come to a modus vivendi with the
        more defined desires of the French…Nothing was more alien
        to them than the “emancipation of the passions” desired by
        American liberalism. The early leaders of British North
        America identified lack of public and personal restraint
        with the democratic Republic. Their conservatism was
        essentially the social doctrine that public order and
        tradition, in contrasts to freedom and experiment, were
        central to the good life. The British Crown was a symbol of
        a continuing loyalty to the state–less equivocal than was
        expected from the republicans.
       
       

Canada’s French Culture
       
        Geographically, the French presence in Canada is linked most intimately to the province of Quebec. Modern-day French Canadian nationalists call themselves Quebecois and see that province as their homeland. Although there are scattered pockets of Francophones throughout Canada, the “French fact” has always been provincialized in this way. To speak about the French in Canada is, effectively, to speak about Quebec.
       
        Canada’s French fragment culture historically has been characterized by its roman Catholicism, its French language, its comparatively unsullied conservatism, its homogeneity, and a strong and cohesive sense of nationhood, none of which English Canada possessed. Quebec is not, even today, a province commes lesautres. French Canada’s Toryism was, therefore, “without the English Canadian blush.”
       
        Curiously enough, Wolfe’s victory in 1759 had served to divorce Quebec from the radical transformations that swept revolutionary France, thereby preserving the relatively pristine character of French Canadian conservatism. The British–due to a combination of necessity and disposition–had been magnanimous in victory. Although the Union Jack was to fly over all of British North America, and the French Canadians were thereby to become British subjects, they were permitted to retain their nationhood, which was still a reflection of pre-Revolutionary France. The Quebec Act of 1774 had guaranteed the rights and privileges of the Catholic Church, accepted French civil law, and sanctioned the continuation of the seigneurial system of land tenure. The conquest was in fact a blessing in disguise for traditional Quebec.
       
        The French Canadians, led by the Roman Catholic clergy, disowned the French Revolution and Napoleon; France, they argued, had betrayed her own past and traditions. The British, on the other hand, had shown tolerance toward French Canada and were forcibly opposed to revolutionary France. French Canadian interests were thus seen as coincidental with British interests in North America, and an ultramontane French Canadian cleric could, in his sermons, sing humans of praise to Admiral Nelson’s victory at Aboukir over the fleet of that wicked anti-cleric, Napoleon. Quebec’s schoolchildren were taught that it was by a special act of God’s grace that their province had become part of the British Empire and thereby escaped the atheistic horrors of the French Revolution. Quebec’s motto, “Je me souviens” (I remember) is the beginning of a longer phrase coined by Tache, architect of Quebec’s Parliament buildings–“I remember that, born under the Lily, I have prospered under the Rose.”
       
        The French Canadians had remained unfired by American revolutionary slogans during the attempted conquests of Quebec by American forces in the Revolutionary War and, later during the War of 1812. Indeed, sizable numbers of French Canadians even served in the King’s Militia during the 1812-14 war. And the 1837 rebellion in Lower Canada, although a more serious affair than the revolt in Upper Canada, ended in dismal failure, condemned at the time by nearly all French Canadian leaders and most especially by the church.
       
        Organic and corporative, French Canada was a comparatively pure Tory fragment culture; it stood at one extreme in North America, with the liberal United States at the other pole, and Whiggish English Canada in the middle. The traces of liberalism woven through its political culture served to weaken English Canada’s sense of distinctiveness vis-a-vis the United States. English Canadian nationalism, therefore had a decidedly ambivalent character, unlike that of the “hard” nationalism of the United States and Quebec. Unlike English Canadians, French Canadians openly rejected the main currents of modernity and sought, within the permissive framework of British North America, to preserve their corporate identity against the ideas and passions of the age. Theirs was a fairly straightforward repudiation of America, liberalism, and continentalism. The overwhelming concern of French Canada became la survivance–the preservation of its unique culture on a continent dominated by English-speaking Proetestant liberals.
       
       

Federation of Canadian Colonies
       
        The Confederation of the provinces of British North America in 1867 was a political compact between les deux nations: the English and French Canadas. The natural conservatism of these two societies provided a modus vivendi for the union. English Canada rejected the radical form of American liberalism, whereas French Canada rejected liberalism per se. English Canada and French Canada had, in 1867, “united precariously in their desire not to be part of the Great Republic.” It must be stressed, however, that it was an essentially political endeavor. The federation of the Canadian colonies was an act of state building, not nation building, as is commonly assumed today. Nor did it represent the birth of Canada in the manner of the American Revolution. It was one of a long series of institutional and political arrangements in Canadian history, and it may not be the last.
       
        Secondarily, confederation was an arrangement of convenience between the two major English-speaking regions of Canada, Upper Canada and the Maritimes. The history of the Maritimes stretched to the founding of Halifax in 1749 and the French settlements of the Arcadians. There were small English enclaves from the seventeenth century onward; and the fleets of various European countries had fished off the Grand Banks even earlier, since at least the sixteenth century. Many Loyalists came to the Maritimes as well.
       
        By the middle of the nineteenth century, the Durham Report recommendations on “the Canadas” also brought responsible government and ushered in the triumph of liberal conservatism here. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick joined Confederation in 1867, with Prince Edward Island following in 1873; Newfoundland was to remain a British Crown Colony until 1949.
       
        The union itself was the culmination of the exertions of the Great Coalition–a pact concluded in 1864 between the Conservative Bleus of Lower Canada and English Canadian Conservatives, under the leadership of Sir Georges Etienne Cartier and Sir John A. MacDonald, respectively. With the enactment at Westminster of the British North America Act in 1867, the provinces of Canada (Ontario and Quebec), Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick were “federally united into One Dominion under the Crown of the United Kingdom,” with a constitution similar to that of the United Kingdom.
       
        The dominion Parliament created with the British North America Act was changed with ensuring “peace, order, and good government” throughout Canada. This mandate, which tells us much about Canada’s founders, contrasts greatly with that of the American Constitution, which aspired to create a nation where all could enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The circumstances of their foundings, too were entirely different. The United States had explicitly revolutionary origins, while Canada had clearly counterrevolutionary ones.
       
        Its founders understood that Canada had to be a federal rather than a legislative union. The union’s federal nature ensured the preservation of the national entities that preceded it, by creating two levels of government. Confederation would not have been acceptable to French Canada otherwise: The federal union guaranteed the rights of la nation canadienne-francaise and afforded it considerable autonomy in matters concerning religion education, culture, and language.
       
        The Canadian state itself was expressed in explicitly British forms. Canada was, after all, a British country, and Canadians still thought of themselves as British North Americans. The existence of a French nation within the bosom of an essentially British state was not then seen as problematic. French Canadian nationhood was identified with Quebec, which had its own provincial Parliament (latterly called the National Assembly), while French Canadians continued to pay nominal deference to the icons and symbols of the Canadian state.
       
        The English Canadian attitude toward Confederation was very different. English Canadians saw in confederation the creation of a new political nationality and not a compact per se. They viewed Canada as a British nation-state, enthusiastically projecting their nationalism onto Canada itself. The defense of Canadian state and its symbols was equivalent to a defense of the English Canadian identity itself.
       
        One of the new Canadian state’s first tasks was to move quickly into the sparsely inhabited northern and western portions of the continent to forestall American encroachment. To this end, an east-west trading pattern (economically artificial but necessary for nation survival) had to be created. To accomplish this aspect of his National Policy, Prime Minister MacDonald aggressively pursued the construction of a transcontinental railway link, the famous Canadian Pacific Railway. It was finally completed on November 7, 1885, the day the famous “Last Spike” was driven at Eagle Pass.
       
        The process by which Canada settled its western frontier was unlike the American model. In the Canadian case, there was no disorderly rush of settlers and no lawless frontier. Indeed, officials of the Crown were often the first Europeans to arrive in an area, survey the territory, and set up an administration. The symbol of the Canadian West was the Mounties (a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police), not the free-spirited cowboy or rugged frontiersman of the American Wild West.
       
        Bringing the West into Confederation though weakened English Canadian unity and, with it, the conservative elements of English Canada. The political culture of British Columbia and the Prairie provinces was unlike that of Ontario and the Maritimes. For one thing, it was a far less rooted culture–largely arising from late nineteenth century immigration of Americans from the Midwest (with a smattering of other non-British groups). The pull of the north-south axis was powerful, for the West lacked the strength that Upper Canada derived from the Loyalist foundation myth of “the Empire of the St. Lawrence.” Indeed, its history practically began in the late nineteenth century.
       
        By and large, western Canadians were closer in their beliefs to the classical liberal republicanism of America than to the more rooted liberal conservatism of Upper Canada, with its distinctly Tory touches. Alberta’s and British Columbians, in particular, became avowed supporters of free enterprise. The eventual inclusion of the western provinces in confederation enhanced the continental pull at the expense of English-Canadian nationhood.
       
        The regional variations within English Canada were clearly one of the weaknesses plaguing Confederation. English Canada was a very heterogeneous entity in contest to homogenous French Canada. English Canadians belonged to various Protestant denominations as well as to the Roman Catholic Church, making them markedly different from the monolithically Catholic French Canadians. English Canada, after confederation, was not one province with one political voice but a group of English-speaking sub-cultures.
       
        For all the forethought of the Fathers of Confederation, economic cultural, and political factors were slowly working to undo the Great Coalition:
       
        External pressure and internal division were the forces
        which together could destroy that great nineteenth century
        creation, the nation-state; and in Canada these twin forces
        had taken on the form of American continentalism and French-
        Canadian nationalism. Now, and for literally the first time
        in our history, these two great complementary powers, like
        upper and nether mill-stones, were simultaneously grinding
        the substance of Canadian nationality to shreds.
       
        At the end of the nineteenth century, however, with the British Empire at its height, few foresaw any serious threats to Canada or the English Canadians; while the French Canadians, too, had secured themselves a tolerable place within the nation. The next twenty years can now be seen as the halcyon days of Canadian Confederation. The Dominion of Canada, it seemed, had been securely established as a bulwark of British civilization against republican America.
       
        Canada, formally speaking, is a constitutional monarchy, with an executive centered parliamentary form of government (in contrast to the American system of congressional republicanism). In the parliamentary system, as it has evolved in the British tradition, Parliament (acting with the permission of the monarch) is sovereign. When an election takes place, the leader of the party that commands the majority of seats in the House of Commons can form the government.
       
        As majority leader, he is the head of government, whereas the monarch is the head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. It was customary almost from the beginning that the Senate (a house of “sober second thought”), as an appointed body, would eventually pass legislation that had been passed by the lower house. Then the monarch would give royal assent to legislation, thus making it law.
       
        A Canadian prime minister with a majority government is, by the conventions and customs of the Constitution, far more powerful than an American president. In addition to conjoining executive and legislative authority in his person, he makes appointments to the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, the Cabinet, the Senate, the federal judiciary, and countless government boards and agencies. He also has, through the Privy Council, the ability to effect policy withough parliamentary approval by issuing orders in council. As a result, he controls his own parliamentary bloc of M.P.s, his party, and its policies. The prime ministership is thus the key to formal power in Canada. The prime minister is, however, limited in a way the American president is not by the power of the Canadian provinces, which have virtually complete autonomy within their own jurisdictions and provincial Parliaments. Thus, federal-provincial relations and inter provincial relations have assumed an increasing importance in the Canadian policy.
       
        The fact that the national Parliament represents all of Canada has been influential in Canadian history. There is not one Parliament for English Canada and another for French Canada. This means that the French Canadians are represented in two Parliaments–their own National Assembly in Quebec and the federal Parliament, where they are clearly outnumbered by English Canadians. Provincially, French Canada speaks with one voice, whereas English Canadians are represented by nine different provincial governments. As a result, French Canada is more politically homogeneous than the rest of Canada, because French Canadians live in one province, and their initiatives do not suffer from the regional cleavages characteristic in English Canada.
       
        The federal and political structure of the Canadian state were to play a crucial role in twentieth-century developments. The defense of the Canadians state and its symbols was seen as a defense of the English Canadian identity itself. Though this identification was not unduly problematic, the structure of Canadians federalism has joined with the voting habits of Canada’s two “nations” to weaken the political will of English Canada and strengthen that of French Canada. The French in Canada, unlike the English, have historically tended to vote as a bloc in federal elections, in an expression of their essential homogeneity and strong sense of nationhood. English Canadians have voted as individuals; French Canadians have voted as a nation.
       
        As long as Quebec maintained her allegiance to the Conservatives, the latter could continue to form the government, in combination with the sizable number of seats they received from heterogeneous English Canada. Thus, the key to political success for the Liberal Party was to wean French Canadians away from their allegiance to the Conservative Party. In the crucial election of 1869, the French Canadians switched their allegiance en masse, at the federal level, from the Conservatives to the Liberal Party of Sir Wilfrid Laurie, thereby setting the patterns of Canadian federal politics for the next ninety years.
       
        After Laurier, the French Canadians were fatefully wedded to the Liberals at the federal level. Paradoxically, Quebec itself remained a very traditional society until the 1960s, dominated for decades by the Union National government of the ultraconservative Maurice Duplessis. Even so, the French Canadian have identified their interests in federal politics with the Liberal Party. Though not liberal themselves, they have tried to make the federal government liberal–that is, tolerant–toward themselves. The exception to this rule was Duplessis’ decisive support of conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker in 1957 and 1958.
       
        Thus, with one exception (1873-78), the Great Coalition of moderate and conservative leaders managed to keep a conservative ministry in office for only thirty years. The crucial election of 1896 saw the virtually wholesale defection of French Canada from the Conservatives to the Liberals.
       
        It is difficult to say precisely what caused this shift. Perhaps an alliance of two basically rival national conservatisms was doomed from the start. After all, Ontario Orangemen and Quebec ulramontanists could hardly be expected to maintain a permanent marriage of convenience. The English Canadian Conservatives, moreover, committed tactical errors in the late nineteenth century. Buoyed by the glories of the British Empire and their majority in most of Canada, English Canadian nationalists exuded a self-confidence that might well have unsettled the French. The suppression of the Metis and the later elimination of French language education from the Manitoba schooling system were, in hindsight, disastrous. The Confederation settlement quickly foundered on these blunders.
       
        For almost a century now, the Liberals have monopolized federal politics in Canada by uniting a solid bloc of Quebec seats with animosity of seats from English Canada, thereby forming a government in the house of Commons. This deceptively simple formula has made the Liberal Party of Canada one of the most successful political parties in the Western world. In the twenty-six federal elections from 1896 until Mulroney’s victory in 1984, the Liberals have won all but eight federal elections (that is, they formed the government eighteen times out of twenty-six), even though the Liberals have had a majority of English Canadian seats in Parliament only eight times. French Canada, with only a quarter of Canada’s total population, have given the Liberal Party the majority of its parliamentary seats twenty-three times, and each of the other three times of the Conservatives have won the election (twice by a landslide).
       
        The Liberals have therefore dominated the political life of Canada since 1900. The twentieth century, Sir Wilfrid Laurier once declared, belongs to Canada. In fact, the twentieth century could be said to belong to Canada’s Liberal Party, which has molded the country in its own image. “Modern Canada,” in the words of one political observer, “is the creation of the Liberal Party.” That party had largely been eclipsed at Confederation, which, although bipartisan, was dominated by MacDonald and Cartier, both conservatives.
       
        The Great Coalition formed to unite the English and French and create the Dominion of Canada, has thus been replaced by a new coalition, which has slowly undone confederation and recreated Canada. This century has, we argue, seen the gradual replacement of the confederated Canada with a new, liberal Canada–largely, it would seem, without the support of the English. For example, Pierre Elliott Trudeau–under whose auspices many of the icons and institutions of British Canada were destroyed or undermined–was Canada’s Prime Minister for sixteen years. Yet he received the majority of English Canadian seats in Parliament in only one of five elections in which he formed a government.
       
        The French soon began to perceive the existing Canadian state as a potential threat to the French Canadian nation. Many French Canadians became independantistes, calling for the creation of a sovereign French state to coincide with the French nation in North America. Others, federalistes, demanded a drastic alteration to the essentially British character of the Canadian state itself, to render it inoffensive to French Canadian national sensibilities–the price of national unity. Much of the justification for the radical changes that have occurred to the outward character of the Canadian state since the 1960s stemmed from a desire, in accordance with this latter view, to appease the Francophones, whose estrangement from British symbols in Canada’s institutions presumably prevented them from being “good Canadians.” A slow and subtle erosion in the English Canadian national identity has ensued as a result; often, ironically enough, it is justified in the name of this elusive national unity.
       
        The neutralization of the Canadian state has, of course, meant the neutralization of the English Canadian nation as well. As the British character of the Canadian state was abandoned, English Canadians found themselves dispossessed of their very nationhood. They were literally left without a state, a nation, or a culture. Their only possible identifications were with America.
       
        It was only after these changes had been effected, it is worth noting, that the separatist party in Quebec–the Parti Quebecois–came to power in that province openly demanding independence from the rest of Canada.
       
        By this time French Canada itself had undergone dramatic changes as well. The conservative character of the province slowly melted away during the postwar period as the forces of urbanization, secularization, and industrialization overtook the province, creating rapid population shifts, massive social transformation, and spawning a new progressiste middle class. Liberal and Marxist intellectuals–focused around the faculty of Social Sciences at Laval University–launched as assault on the “Old Regime” in Quebec. With the journal Cite Libre acting as the central organ of their opposition, they led a thorough and systematic fight against the traditional institutions and character of French Canada. Pierre Trudeau, incidentally, was at the van of this movement.
       
        With the death in 1959 of Maurice Duplessis, her long-serving premier and exemplar of traditional Quebec, the province entered a new era. As a result of the subsequent “Quiet Revolution,” the Quebecois lost most of their traditional identifications with the Catholic faith (which an earlier generation of nationalists like Lionel-Adolphe Groulx had identified as the essence of Quebec nationhood); and by the 1970s they had become mere French-speaking North Americans.
       
        With the postwar modernization of Quebec has become the building of a provincial technocratic-bureaucratic state, ironically resulting in the serious weakening of the French-Canadian nation. It has also integrated Quebec more fully into North American capitalism. Language, the last residuum of culture, thus became the principal vehicle for the preservation of French Canadian national identity. It also has become the thorniest of issues between English and French Canada, with Quebec lurching from one language crisis to another. Perhaps all that remains of the French Canadians’ continental European roots is the very rigor and thoroughness with which they seek to extirpate Anglo vestiges from their province, primarily through the entrenchment of language and culture through restrictive legal practices.
       
        But history is playing a nasty trick on the French Canadians, for as they repudiated their Catholicism and traditional roots, they thereby lost any hope of even a purely demographic survival. The “revenge of the cradle” (in French Canada’s Catholic households fifteen children were not uncommon) has ceased to operate, and the traditional faith of Quebec has, by and large, been repudiated, Quebec has one of the lowest birthrates and highest abortion rate of any Canadian province.
       
        This brings us to the question of America itself.
       
       

American Influences
       
        In the entire period from Confederation onward, America exerted its liberalizing influences on what was (until the 1960s) a fundamentally more conservative Canada. The policy of the Liberal Party before the 1960s always leaned toward America, continentalism, and the commercial interest. Yet one distinction remained: “While liberalism was the ideology of American nationalism, in Canada it was the ideology of continentalism.” Similarly until the political demise of John Diefenbaker in the 1960s, conservatism, in Canada, was the ideology of nationalism.
       
        As the British nature of the Canadian state was repudiated, a countertheory of the nature of Canada came to the fore. The liberal interpretation of Canadian history was Canada’s version of Butterfield’s Whig interpretation of British history. There was, however, a crucial difference in these two theories, for whereas Butterfield had conjoined the apotheosis of British parliamentary democracy, the Canadian liberals separated their liberalism from Canada’s Britishness. Ironically enough, therefore, the Whig interpretation of British history is one that many English Canadian conservatives could identify with heartily–being Whigs themselves.
       
        What Canadian pure liberals did was to identify Britain as the malevolent power that had to be struggled against in Canada’s progress from colony to nation. Whereas conservatives of MacDonald’s school perceived the United States as the principal threat to Canadian identity and Britain as a bulwark against it, liberals such as William Lyon Mackenzie King saw Britain as the real menace. Until the ascendancy of Pierre Trudeay, liberals conventionally identified Canada’s prosperity and destiny inescapably North American.
       
        The liberal nationalists of the last two decades sought to recognize, in the unfolding of Canada’s history, the progressive realization of something uniquely Canadian–neither British nor American, they argued–as a result of the elimination of the explicitly British character of the country. Whereas the Fathers of confederation believed that Canada was British and had shaped the Canada state accordingly, the liberal view welcomed the throwing off of British trappings. Liberals saw elimination of the Imperial bond as a natural development, although they were singularly vague about the substantive content of the new, ethereal Canadian identity.
       
        These two views of Canada clashed finally and decisively in the 1960s with the political struggles between the conservative Party of Diefenbaker and the Liberal Party of Lester Person. Diefenbaker’s defeat in 1963 was the swan song of the conservative view of Canada as a British nation; it represented the all-but-final ascendancy of the liberal view of Canada, a victory symbolized by the flag debate.
       
        In 1964, the Liberals proposed to change Canada’s national flag, which was then the Red Ensign (a flag, like the Australian, with a Union Jack on it). In its place, they advocated creating an as0yet nonexistent but nonetheless distinctively Canadian flag that was “neither British nor French.” The flag that finally replaced the Red Ensign was chosen by a parliamentary committee and proclaimed Canada’s national flag in the winter of 1965, after a great deal of rancorous public debate.
       
        The opponents of the new flag, and of the liberal interpretation of Canada that was implied therein, argued that the Red Ensign is a Canadian flag because it is a British flag, since Canada is a British country. The alienation presumed to have been felt by some Canadians toward the Red Ensign was, according to this view, an expression of self-alienation, not self-realization. If Canada were not British, MacDonald had declared, it would be American. The notion of something uniquely Canadian was, in this view, a pernicious delusion and an invitation to Americanization.
       
        The adoption of the Maple Leaf flag can therefore be seen as a symbolic repudiation of Confederation itself and as the triumph of the liberal interpretation of Canada. It implied that Canada had to be remade, re-formed, reconfederated. It did not take long before these implications were clearly realized and put into practice. British status deprivation was the necessary first step to the full flowering of Canada’s “true identity.”
       
        Bloodless though it was, this liberal revolution was nonetheless complete. The government actively implemented its social and political program, stripping Canada as much as possible of its outwardly British character and institutions and erecting in their place new icons to modern liberalism. The terms Dominion of Canada and British North America, were eliminated from all government documents and denied official status. Even today, government employees can be found surreptitiously scratching the royal arms from public mailboxes, replacing them with a stylized Maple Leaf logo and the simple word Canada in large, friendly letters.
       
        The spirit of this new Canada was given further impetus at Expo ’67 in Montreal–a national celebration that ironically marked both the centenary of Confederation and its effective repudiation. By the early 1970s, the climate had changed to the extent that Prime Minister Trudeau could remark casually that he expected to become the first president of Canada.
       
        The whole process of remaking Canada, begun by Pearson and continued by Trudeau, reached its apotheosis in 1982–the crowning moment of Prime Minister Trudeau’s career–with the entrenchment of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Canadian constitution. With the enactment of the Charter–an American-style Bill of Rights–the liberal transvaluation of Canadian values was well-nigh complete.
       
        The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is an antinationalist, rights-based document in the spirit of Actonian liberalism. Its provisions mark a dramatic shift away from the conception of collective nationhood that has prevailed throughout most of Canadian history. Not surprisingly, this change has had its most noticeable effect in Quebec, which has retained a strong sense of national identification at odds with the Charter’s underlying assumptions. English Canada, on the other hand, has historically had a weak sense of nationhood. This comparatively attenuated sense of community has rendered it much more disposed to an American-style Charter giving priority to the individual over the group.
       
        The Meech Lake Accord, drafted in 1987 to entice Quebec into entering the constitutional fold from which she has been isolated since the enactment of the Charter, was a retreat from liberalism insofar as it made an important concession to the significance of collective or nationally oriented sentiments in Quebec. Indeed, French Canadian nationalism is a stubborn obstacle to the full realization of liberalism in Canada. The Accord was seen by its detractors as subversive of the rights the Charter protects, as an endorsement of the “stultifying, reactionary preoccupation with regionalism, federalism and unity” and a disavowal of a rights-oriented and individualist conception of Canada.
       
        The issue raised by the Charter, the debate over the Charter, and the Accord abound with ironies. Foremost among these is that Quebec unintentionally has become the defender of many principles historically associated with British parliamentarians, whereas English Canada has been all-but absorbed into the political culture of the United States. The Charter’s “notwithstanding” clause, for example, is now widely viewed as illegitimate except in Quebec, where it is invoked to protect the province from the Charter’s nationally destructive individual rights provisions, through the exercise of the supremacy of its own provincial Parliament. It is the only means by which the Quebecois–relying on the traditional British principle of parliamentary supremacy–can shield themselves from the universalizing individualism of the Charter; whereas its use is all but defunct in the Americanized milieu of English Canadian liberalism.
       
        Another irony is that the Charter was ostensibly meant to be a nationally unifying document. It would, its authors reasoned, deemphasize subnational identifications by creating a body of pan-Canadian rights possessed by all Canadians as individuals. Its net effect, however, has been to push English Canada deeper into the orbit of American liberal individualism and to threaten to dissolve the strained bonds of French Canadian nationhood. In a decisive sense, the contradictions between the Charter and the Accord demonstrate the larger antithesis between liberalism and nationalism, embodying what James and Robert Laxer have referred to as “the ideological war between Canadian liberalism and French Canadian nationalism.” Beyond a doubt, the Charter is an instrument for the universalizing and homogenizing tendencies of liberalism.
       
        Finally, the irony of Quebec’s fidelity to the Liberal Party becomes all the more apparent in light of the fact hat it was Pierre Trudeau who created the Charter–the very antithesis of nationalism and the Meech Lake Accord–which came to be seen as indispensable to Quebec’s survival in confederation. “There is some hope,” Trudeau once proclaimed, “that in advanced societies, the glue of nationalism will become as obsolete as the divine right of kings.” If, as George Grant pointed out, “liberalism is the ideal means whereby cultures are homogenized,” then Quebec–in is support of Trudeau–has been engaged in a process of prolonged self-abnegation.
       
        The failure to ratify the Meech Lake Accord in June 1990 has thrown the Canadian polity into further turmoil. Quebec is ready to separate, and the West and the Maritimes, too, want to go their own way. And the whole Canadian state seems directionless and rotten at the center, even at the purely functional level (virtually no army; no proper accounting of expenditures) Canada is now defined by and identified with a historical, inoffensive, and contrived business-type logos and graphic designs, redolent with the spirit of the sixties–and with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is the main pillar of the new liberal state. This neutralization of the symbols of the Canadian state is best expressed by the official policy of multiculturalism–the notion that Canada is defined by the very multiplicity of its heterogeneous ethnic cultures and communities; in short, that the “very nothingness of Canada is its most praiseworthy characteristic.”
       
        Canada has become a geographical expression, a thing of mere physical locality defined not in terms of the past but in opposition to it. Much has been made of the great expanse of Canadian geography in compensation for the official repudiation of the country’s history. Officially speaking, Canada is a bilingual, multicultural, liberal democratic state. In reality, it is a neutered state entity within which a plethora of cultures and nationalities coexist. Post-Charter Canada is as national as the United Nations: In trying to be all things to all men, it is actually nothing to anyone.
       
        As is clear from our analysis, the idea that Brian Mulroney’s twin victories represent a resurgence of conservatism (let alone Toyrism)–is false. The very essence of Canada has changed and is now defined by liberalism. Thus, the apparent and dramatic alterations in contemporary Canadian politics are occurring within the world the liberals have made–not in opposition to it. The unprecedented political success of the Conservative Party represents no basic discontinuity in the paramountcy of liberalism in contemporary Canada.
       
        Prime Minister Mulroney, it may be fairly said, has given the term Tory its most perverse, ridiculous, and ludicrous meaning in all of history.
       
       

Contemporary Canada
       
        In contemporary Canada, cultural and historical identities have been severely shaken. The process began with the vanishing of the Canada of Confederation. Yet the fate of Canada today is, according to one philosopher, inexorably bound up in the “deeper question of the fate of any particularity in the technological age.”
       
        The relevance of Francis Fukuyama’s important article “The End of History?” is striking. Indeed, much of what he argues about liberalism’s drive to world hegemony was eloquently presaged in the writings of the Canadian political philosopher George Parkin Grant.
       
        In fact, the thesis of “the end of history” or “the end of ideology” is a perennial theme among thinkers in the modern period, with those thinkers who could be called “liberal” reveling in the impending triumph of science, rationality, and technology, and those of what could be called “conservative” or “socialist” orientation warning of the despotic possibilities of such a triumph. Francis Fukuyama, though generally supportive of the current trends, seemed to put some ambiguity on the ultimate fruitfulness of the brave new world in the making. By contrast, Kenichi Ohmae, the authory of The Borderless World (Harper-Collins Canada, 1990) relishes the prospect of the global marketplace and the obsolescence of the nation-state (a theme much raised in the popular media during the last year. Immanuel Kant’s “republic of perpetual peace,” reformulated by Marshall McLuhan as “the global village” united by electronic communication, is now taking shape as what could be called the “Planet-Teen,” a planetary socioeconomic system dominated by North American pop culture, consumerism, and all-pervasive technological saturation.
       
        It could be fairly said that George Grant foresaw the drift of events much earlier than any of the currently fashionable pundits. In Lament for a Nation, his controversial eulogy for the demise of Canada, Grant connected Canada’s fate with that of Western civilization, in an age dominated by technology. The future of Canada is especially important for Americans, he noted, “for it is a key to understanding the nature of American civilization and why it is the most realized technological society which has yet been.”
       
        Within the metallic structures of modern civilization, Grant argued, all that is particular or outside the paradigm of technological functionalism must ultimately succumb to its rationalizing and homogenizing power. All national traditions and cultures contrary to the dominant assumptions of technology are crushed systematically beneath its juggernaut-like advance. For technology, is in Grant’s view, the determining force that animates modernity. Technology, Grant argued (inspired by the writings of Martin Heidegger and Jacques Ellul) is autonomous and exclusive.
       
        It can be argued that technology and scientific positivism constitute the dominant ideology of Western civilization today. Technology has indeed become, as Heidegger noted, the metaphysics of our age, a totalistic form of secular religious ultimately incompatible with the existence of rival, nontechnological assumptions, beliefs, or thought systems. “Modern civilization,” Grant declared, “makes all local cultures anachronistic. Where modern science has achieved its mastery, there is no place for local cultures.”
       
        Canada, to the extent that it contains remnants of cultures and traditions not exclusively rooted in this technological ethos, is fated to be absorbed into the universal “empire of technology”–which, Grant says, “speaks with an American accent.” For America is the only nation with no history before the age of progress to inhibit its untrammeled technological development. In Grant’s view, America is “the imperial center of an increasingly realized technological civilization.” The American way of live is thus seen as coterminous with the technological way of life. The more technological a society becomes, therefore, the more American it becomes.
       
        In Lament for a Nation, Grant bemoans the demise of the English Canadian Loyalist tradition in the face of the encroachment of capitalism and liberalism–the “perfect ideology for capitalism.” In this powerful book, John Diefenbaker emerges as Grant’s quixotic hero: “The last strangled voice of his pre-modern Loyalist ancestors.” His tragic political defeat in the 1960s is interpreted as the triumph of the forces of continentalism, liberalism, and technology over a tradition of philosophical commitment that is essentially conservative.
       
        Grant equates Canada’s fate with that of the conservative philosophical outlook:
       
        One consequence of the argument is not always made
        explicit: the impossibility of conservatism as a viable
        political ideology in our era…Conservatives who attempt
        to be practical face a dilemma. If they are not committed
        to a dynamic technology, they cannot hope to make a popular
        appeal. If they are so committed, they cannot hope to be
        conservative..As Canadians we attempted a ridiculous task
        in trying to build a conservative nation in the age of
        progress, on a continent we share with the most dynamic
        nation on earth. The current of modern history is against
        us.
       
        If nothing else, Grant has the courage of pessimism. Facile platitudes about national identity and empty bromides about preserving culture will not suffice for a serious assessment of Canada’s fate in the modern age. What, after all, was the likelihood that Canada could survive in a cultural warp? The pervasive American influence over nearly all facets of Canadian life; English-French antagonisms; regionalism; the growing alienation of the western provinces from the eastern ones; the inherent weaknesses of Canadian nationhood, given its comparatively shallow historical roots; large-scale immigration; and the general processes of technological development–all have taken their toll.
       
        Canada’s very survival on the North American continent was once possible only so long as it represented some alternative to the republic to the south. This may no longer be the case. Perhaps it could never have been the case; perhaps Canada was an impossible country from the start. But in any case, Canada’s national experience is now behind. North America is, once again, a great continental whole. Canada’s fate is now linked inextricably to America’s.


Graeme Garrard is pursuing a graduate degree in political theory at Balliol College, Oxford. Mark Wegierski is a free- lance researcher and consultant.

[The World and I (New York), January, 1991]

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