Plain Truth Magazine
January 1984
Volume: Vol 49, No.1
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Neil Earle  

In the world's second-largest country two cultures are locked in struggle.

   CONTROVERSY surrounds Canada. Not only among her American neighbors but throughout the world at large.
   Are the stolid, commonsense Canadians about to tear their country apart? some have wondered. Others perpetually wonder out of sheer curiosity: Why haven't Canadians joined the United States? Aren't they practically identical people?
   Why does Canada still submit to the British monarchy?
   Is Canada a loyal NATO ally? What about those socialist governments we hear about?
   The Plain Truth is a magazine of understanding. It's time to clear up long-standing myths and misconceptions about the world's second biggest country (in land mass). A warning though: Canadians aren't easy to analyze. One of the country's major writers saluted her in a collection of essays as The Unknown Country.

The Identity Crisis

   An identity crisis some people call it. Even Canada's friends get confused, almost universally mistaking Canadians overseas for Americans (except, of course, for the tell tale "eh?"). The New York Times went so far as to label Canada's identity crisis as a peculiar national pastime, ranking with ice hockey.
   Perhaps a humorous anecdote helps shed a little light on the elusive Canadian national character. Three students, one American, one French and the other Canadian, were assigned essays on the theme "The Elephant." The American chose "Advertising Elephants for Fun and Profit." The French student covered "The Mating Habits of the Elephant."
   The Canadian's choice? "The Elephant — A Federal or Provincial Responsibility?"
   Most Canadians enjoy this droll tale. It seems to illustrate some of their past and present predicaments. It also highlights the caution and wariness in the national character, the hesitation expressed in tedious conferences and dreary negotiations that (unknown to outsiders) conceals a great national strength.
   A few critics see only a people north of the 49th parallel endlessly embroiled in complicated bureaucratic maneuver just to hold together. "You stifle your potential with red tape," Canadians are told. "You need decisiveness and precision in your leaders."
   Others have taken to referring to some Canadians as wild-eyed separatists, a placard in one hand and a bomb in the other. What are the facts?
   An important point to remember in all this is that the media's fixation with federal — provincial bickering and the semi-paralyzed economy obscures some solid facts. Debates and referendums are safer than bullets; separatism in both ends of the country has met checks; the traditional institutions of Confederation have emerged secure from a severe test of nationhood.
   How has Canada survived?
   Survival itself is an accomplishment for a democratic society spanning a giant continent, where a small population earns its living in a north temperate-arctic climate. It is no less an achievement considering that multicultural Canada borders on a military and economic colossus to the south.
   For these reasons, Canada's best writers and thinkers sense that her national experience is significant for the world as a whole. Canada's enduring test of nationhood is a remarkable triumph of flexibility, moderation and common sense. The Canadian story is well worth the telling: If Canada with all its diversity can survive and flourish, her historians ask, why not mankind?
   First, let's tackle the cherished myths.

The Real Canada

   Canadians and Americans, while setting the best example of neighborliness and friendship in the world, are not identical. Canada's founders were French. To this day lout of 4 Canadians is of proud French stock. Canada's largest city, Montreal, is the major French-speaking community outside Paris. Many British Canadians descend from the United Empire Loyalists-refugees from the American Revolution. These loyalists chose the harsh wilderness and the British connection over a republican system. No indecisiveness here.
   Queen Elizabeth II, the titular head of state, is Queen of Canada, yes, but only in the sense that she is Queen of Australia and of New Zealand as well. The Queen reigns but does not rule. And she reigns by the consent of most Canadians.
   It works like this: In Canada, as in Britain, the power and the glory are separate. The monarchy is represented in Canada by the Governor General, while the Prime Minister and his cabinet run the day-to-day affairs of the country.
   Most Canadians feel this is a convenient arrangement. Politicians — the good, the bad and the mediocre — come and go, accountable to the ballot box, while the hereditary monarch stands above elections, recessions, depressions and wars as an enduring symbol of national unity.
   Any serious study reveals that Canada's monarchy is no afterthought or irrelevant relic, but an organic part of the parliamentary system.
   Socialist governments? The province of Saskatchewan elected the first socialist government in the Western Hemisphere in 1944. True, the new Democratic Party, one of three major Canadian parties, is definitely left of center. But Canadian socialism draws on the cooperative movement, rather than the Soviet Union, for inspiration. Example: One prominent socialist, ex-Premier Allan E. Blakeney of Saskatchewan, is also a longtime member of the Canadian Monarchist League.
   Canada and NATO? Even Third World superstar Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau is now calling for a stronger Western alliance. Few of Canada's critics have heard of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORA D), the joint Canadian-American venture in continental defenses. NORAD, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is a joint Canadian-American venture. Historically, Canada's commitment to the defense of the West is sealed in blood.
   From the Crimean War to the Korean conflict, Canadians have not flinched from paying the price of freedom as they saw it. Her 1,642 casualties in Korea were next only to America's and Britain's. The Second Canadian Division in World War II stormed the beaches of Normandy with their Anglo-American cousins. And who can forget the "Canadian caper" in Iran, the spiriting away of six American embassy personnel from Tehran in February 1980? A forcible reminder of where Canadians
   Disputes over acid rain and U.S. investments in Canadian firms pale before the ultimate fact: The world's longest undefended border runs between Canada and the United States.
   Is the Confederation of 1867 collapsing? There is no sidestepping the truth: Canada is in grave peril as she enters the last years of this century. Yet recently, the flexible, practical compact painstakingly pieced together I 16 years ago withstood another test. There is a breathing space right now for Canada to ponder her biggest problems. These problems are spiritual, not constitutional. What do we mean?
   Canada, like the rest of the Western world, is facing a character drain — the erosion of such precious intangibles as family life, self-sacrifice and goodwill. In this she shares in the global malaise of the late 20th century.

The Causes of Canada's Spiritual Problems

   History has shaped Canada mightily, as much as has her abundant geography. If she appears baffling and contradictory, it is partly because hardly anyone — Canadians included — understands the inspiring story of her uphill, tenacious struggle to unite and remain united. It is significant that the phrase "We stand on guard" occurs three times in the national anthem.
   Why? Let's survey Canadian history and see.
   From 1000 to 1500 Canada's eastern shores were host to occasional Viking, Basque, Irish, French and English explorers and fishermen. After Jacques Cartier pierced the St. Lawrence River in 1534, the bold and energetic Samuel de Champlain fortified the strategic bastion at Quebec City in 1608. While the habitants of this New France farmed the fertile St. Lawrence estuary, daring hunters and fur traders pushed up the Great Lakes, sailed down the Mississippi and laid claim to Louisiana (named after the French king).
   Meanwhile, sturdy English settlers carved 13 colonies from the Atlantic seaboard. Conflict was inevitable, climaxing in 1759 with the capture of Quebec City by the English general James Wolfe.
   The Treaty of Paris in 1763 formally ended French claim to North America.
   Yet French Canadians greatly outnumbered the British garrisons. Thus Britain's Quebec Act of 1774 reintroduced French civil law and virtually established the Catholic Church in French Canada. Note well: The primary French culture was from the beginning officially sanctioned by the British.
   Indeed this Quebec Act helped trigger the American Revolution (1776 to 1783), which profoundly altered North America. Thousands of American Tories, those choosing the British connection, settled what is now Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
   As the newcomers multiplied and prospered, French Canada felt threatened. Although both founding peoples joined forces to repel invasions from the south in 1777 and in the War of 1812, antagonism festered. Britain's first attempts to organize her remaining North American colonies was a ramshackle division into Upper and Lower Canada. This failed to appease French-Canadian fears of absorption and English-Canadian desires for energetic commercial expansion.
   Rebellions broke out in 1837. Confrontation led to compromise.
   The result was the Earl of Durham's productive visit and his recommendation to reorganize British North America into two provinces — Canada West (basically Ontario) and Canada East (mainly Quebec). This time though a central legislature would sit in Kingston, Ontario.
   Even though political deadlock continued throughout the 1840s and 1850s, Canadian legislators patiently pinpointed the main areas of contention. The tedious spadework that was a prerequisite to nation — building was proceeding slowly but inexorably. A Scot named John Alexander MacDonald gained valuable experience in conciliation and negotiation. He also earned the support of the leading French-Canadian politician, Georges Etienne Cartier. Both men were appalled at the endless bickering and waste.
   Meanwhile, other seeds of unity were sprouting. Greater internal communication helped it along. The railroad and canal booms of the 1830s forged workable internal links. In 1854, a Reciprocity Treaty with the United States greatly stimulated east-west trade across the colonies. By 1857, MacDonald had come to power in Kingston. The stage was set. The final push came in 1865-66.
   The United States emerged from the bitter Civil War of 1861-65 enraged with Britain over her tacit support of the Southern Confederacy. The United States suspended the Reciprocity Treaty. She also brandished a formidable army.
   Now even the most blind Canadians grasped the folly of further disunity. MacDonald had met with the leaders of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in 1864 to coyly preach the gospel of Confederation. The time was ripe.
   The Confederation of Canada was proclaimed in London by the British North America Act, effective July 1, 1867. George Brown, a former adversary of MacDonald's but a leading father of Confederation, spoke the words forever giving the lie to those who would truncate Canada: "No man who has a true regard for the. well-being of Canada can vote against this scheme unless he is prepared to offer some better remedy for the evils and injustices that have so long threatened the peace of our country."
   Georges Cartier's statesmanlike reply? "There is the question." It still is.
   Unity brought blessings. Psalm 72:8 enshrined the national motto: "And his dominion shall be from sea even unto sea." A salute and a prophecy! Canada prospered. By 1905 nine provinces stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the vast western prairies filling with settlers eager for a slice of the "last, best West." Canada, in the words of historian A.R.M. Lower, was "carpentered together, not smelted."
   But the hard — won unity was still vulnerable, very vulnerable.
   The vast western prairies resented colonial — like ties to the old heartland of Ontario and Quebec. The Western Rebellions, an uprising of combined Indian and part — native settlers, shocked eastern Canada. It also sold them on the need for a continental railway, another massive boost to unity completed in 1885.
   In 1896 came a new milestone — Canada elected her first French-Canadian Prime Minister, Wilfrid Laurier. The elegant and cultured Laurier helped smooth over rankled domestic feelings aroused by Canada's participation in the Boer War (1899-1902), which some viewed as a squalid police action of the British Empire.
   World War I plunged Canada into the boiling conscription crisis of 1917. Mandatory conscription, as blood flowed in Flanders' fields, enraged some French-Canadians who resented defending the British Empire. The issue flared anew in World War II.
   Yet the 1950s and 1960s were remarkably stable and cohesive. Population soared from 15.5 million to 23 million between 1955 and 1975. The gross national product multiplied 21/2 times. But affluence, secularism and the pervasive mass media eroded the church-oriented, traditionalist social order in Quebec. Theology counted for little on the job market. Too often the best jobs went to the English. A "quiet revolution" ticked away in Quebec. The feeling that Quebec must modernize and catch up went hand in hand with the growing desire to be maltres chez nous — masters in our own house.
   In 1968 Rene Levesque, a fiery journalist and academic, founded the Parti Quebecois, outwardly committed to separation from Canada. Quebec grabbed world headlines in October 1970 when a cell of separatist militants murdered a provincial official and kidnapped a British trade commissioner. Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a devout federalist, speedily crushed the urban terrorists.
   The last decade of Canada's history is readily available. So let us now turn to Canada's future.

The Future

   Today, a pause has settled over Canada. It is a time to take stock. Was it the heady prosperity of an affluent society that accentuated the regionalism, the fragmentation, the decentralizing forces that almost tore Canada apart in the 1970s? Today she is an incredibly fortunate country. She has survived an acute threat to nationhood waged on four fronts at once-regional, economic, constitutional and political.
   Canada's future hinges on the spirit of cooperation, not confrontation. Her historians and writers have always known this. It was statesmanship, conciliation, the willingness to negotiate, the patience to muddle through the giant obstacles sprinkled with a dash of optimism for the future — these intangibles have been the strength of the Canadian Confederation.
   Patience, caution and a practical optimism — these are spiritual qualities. Not glamorous attributes, yet they made Canada possible. Canada's original English-French duality opened the door for a distinctive accomplishment: not a melting pot but a mosaic; not a conquering manifesto for mankind to embrace but a practical necessity to build a society where fair play and tolerance might override diversity. Conciliation, not confrontation, is the Canadian way.
   Canada demonstrates to the world how a sprawling continental power with a mixed population can hold together if there are enough men of goodwill to moderate the harshness of debate, to see the other's point of view.
   This tolerant common sense wedded to a sense of excitement about the future has always made Canada attractive to outsiders.
   It is a national destiny that Canadians did not particularly choose. History and geography handed it to them. Patiently forging links of unity and community in a land where the individual can easily be swallowed, in a land sometimes bleak and inhospitable for much of the year — this is a distinctive Canadian achievement. No wonder they traditionally prize cooperation, common sense, the middle way.
   These qualities must be guarded if Canada is to endure. For Canadians to ignore them in their immense land prone to overweening regionalism is to strike at the roots of national existence.
   As the 1980s continue, Canadians — need to heed the wisdom pronounced in the same book that gave her her splendid national motto: "And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand" (Mark 3:24).

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Plain Truth MagazineJanuary 1984Vol 49, No.1