March 25, 2015 | No Comments
With the demise of Sun News Network last month, Ezra Levant announced that he planned to start a new online news network. The network is called “Rebel Media”, presumably to mark Levant and his colleagues as rebels against a presumably left-wing elite that makes up so much of the “Media Party” Levant talks about.
References like these that mark the people who say them as “rebels” supposedly fighting against some big elite have often left me scratching my head. Pierre Trudeau famously talked about how he prided himself on “paddling against the current” of popular opinion, and rallied public support against the “elites” who supported the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords. Writers like John Ralston Saul and Mel Hurtig have been criticizing Canadian business and political elites for years. The Harper government has often tried to portray itself as outsiders fighting against an entrenched Ottawa elite, even though it’s been in power in Ottawa for almost a decade.
In all these cases, they try to distinguish themselves as standing out from the pack, rebelling against some powerful elite that supposedly wields all the real power in Canada. The odd thing is, though, the “rebels” often themselves have a lot of power, wealth and influence, and could easily be seen themselves as some kind of intellectual, political, or business elite of one kind or another. The identity of the “elite” they criticize often tends to vary too, whether it be reporters, professors or businesspeople.
How does one explain the presence of so many different “rebels” and so many different “elites”? One possibility is that there is no single “elite” in Canada that all shares the same opinions and goals, and that the people who all make up the “elite” have just as many disagreements and different goals as any other group of Canadians. The federal Conservatives, for instance, have their supporters among the university professors and the media, while progressives like the Liberals and the NDP have their supporters among entrepreneurs and the business community.
Another possibility is that there is more than one group of “elites” in Canada, each of whom wields some kind of power and influence. Rob Ford got elected in part by criticizing what many people considered Toronto’s downtown elite and standing up for the ordinary citizen, but Ford himself could easily be seen as part of an elite himself, given his family wealth.
So when someone tries to portray themselves as a rebel in Canadian politics, it’s worth considering exactly who the “elite” they’re opposing is, and just what their own status exactly is. Popular culture often depicts rebels who fight back against elites as heroes, and political commentators will often try to portray their adversaries as elites. In some cases, they might actually be right in depicting their adversaries as elites. However, at the same time they might end up being depicted as elites when someone else begins rebelling against their ideas and actions.
Sometimes, elites and rebels aren’t as different as they seem.
This article was originally published in the St. Albert Gazette on March 18, 2015 and is available online at http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20150318/SAG0902/303189974/0/SAG.
March 15, 2015 | No Comments
In the first chapter, Citizen X talks about just why he’s confused about Canada’s future. He recounts hitchhiking to the Gaspé region in Quebec in his youth in the 1960s, and his fascination with la belle province. In thinking about what came afterwards, including the rise of the Parti Quebecois and the separatist movement, he wonders what happened to the visions he had in his youth.
He then goes on to discuss the 1980 referendum, Pierre Trudeua’s patriation of the Constitution, the clash between the visions of Trudeau and René Lévesque, how Meech Lake tried almost to blend them together, and then how the Charlottetown Accord tried to blend those ideas together with a host of other issues other parts of the country had brought forward.
Citizen X then moves on to a discussion of Charlottetown’s failure leading to the 1995 referendum, wherein Canada almost broke apart. At first, on the morning after the referendum, Citizen X thought that whatever happened in Quebec was no business of his, noting that most of the rest of the country didn’t seem at all prepared for what might have happened. His sister, however, pointed out to him that he wasn’t fascinated by Quebec so much as he was by the separatist movement. She reminded him that English-speaking Canada is pretty much impossible without Quebec, and he countered with the fact that Quebec was pretty much impossible without English-speaking Canada. He then noted that many Canadians had spent so much time worrying about what Francophone Quebec might do, that they hadn’t spent nearly as much time thinking about what their Canada is. He then notes that the old idea of merging with the United States was gaining credibility again, which in turn made him wonder whether this was the reason so many people weren’t as worried about Quebec leaving as they might otherwise be expected to be.
He closes out the chapter with a look at Canada’s vast-very vast, geography and how it ties into what Canada is all about. Canada, he says, is the result of geographic facts like the rivers that led to the canoe routes used by the fur traders, which in turn were revived by Canada’s railway transportation network. In many parts of Canada, transport by canoe was much more viable than it was in most other parts of the country, and so the technology of canoeing and portaging, first pioneered by the Natives, played an essential part in uniting the large geography of Canada that now belongs to all of us. However, a friend of his pointed out that such an idea meant little to her Franco-Quebecois grandfather, and doesn’t make nearly as much sense for them as it does for most English-speaking Canadians.
My thoughts so far:
-Citizen X’s travels to Quebec, and his fascination with the province, mirror my own in some ways. In my mid-twenties, I spent a month in Jonquière in the Saguenay region, and then the next summer in Quebec City, having studied the history of the province extensively in my history and political science classes. While the separatist movement certainly fascinated me the way it did him, studying Quebec history also made me more aware of the diverse voices that have infused the debate, voices from guys like Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, George-Étienne Cartier, Henri Bourassa, Claude Ryan and Léon and Stéphane Dion.
A lot of this probably comes from the fact that I did all my schooling in a French immersion setting, even at the university level when I attended the Campus Saint-Jean at the University of Alberta. Despite its image as a supposedly inward-looking place only concerned with itself, Quebec and its inhabitants have actually played a much more significant, albeit overlooked, role in our history, ranging from Lafontaine’s influence in bringing about responsible government to Cartier’s influence in the Confederation debates to the crucial work done by Francophone immigrants to Ontario and the Western provinces who would eventually pave the way for European settlement and Canada’s expansion into the Northwest Territories.
-Citizen X’s sister’s remark about how so few of us have been interested by Quebec itself is dead on, in my view. Far too few of us have ever actually tried to see things from the Franco-Quebecois point of view, to see just why so many of them have supported separatism or Quebec’s language laws. I’d like to think that, with my own studies, I’ve tried to do so, and in that way I’ve actually developed a lot of sympathy and support for Quebec nationalism and the province’s language laws, if not the ways they’ve sometimes worked in practice.
Guys like Lafontaine, Bourassa and others have shown me just how much more complicated the debate is between Trudeau-style federalism and Quebec separatism. Political scientist Samuel LaSelva wrote about how Trudeau and Lévesque each only understood what the other failed to grasp about Quebec’s place in Canada-how many Quebecers are attached to their province first and foremost, much more so than most other Canadians are attached to their provinces, but many of them also do have a sincere and genuine attachment to Canada. Léon Dion called Quebec his home, and Canada his country, while Claude Ryan said that he was “Quebecois first, but Canadian too”. That’s something that most other Canadians have never truly understood-particularly when, as Alan Cairns pointed out, most of the rest of us tend to have more of an attachment to the country than to our provinces. That ties into what Citizen X also talked about when he mentioned that many of us are attached to Canada’s geography, while many Franco-Quebecois are attached moreso to their province first.
In my mind, though, the geography issue shows why we have so many regional squabbles not just with Quebec, but with and between other parts of the country as well. William Lyon Mackenzie King thought that sometimes, Canada had too much geography, which made it much harder for people in one part of the country to always understand what people in other parts might be thinking. The federal government has had to put a lot of time and resources linking the different parts together not just physically through railroads and highways, but also culturally with its support for the CBC, various elements of Canadian culture, and so forth. It also explains why Ottawa will frequently take some parts of the country for granted-after all, if we’re so big and have such an uneven population distribution, why not tailor policy and spending to benefit those areas you need to win government?
The U.S. has managed to avert a lot of this by the way they built a brand-new political framework and identity from the ground up, and constitutional features such as every state having the same number of senators and the presidency being decided by the electoral college. As the country expanded, new territories were incorporated into this political framework and made to fit it. While the Americans tore down their old political system in the American Revolution and built an entirely new one that formed the base for their national identity, Canada’s challenges were quite different.
Having to incorporate independent entities that did not have a shared history of fighting together against a common enemy, as the and in having at least one region where non-Anglophones were the majority (unlike the U.S., where all of the Thirteen Colonies had Anglophone Protestant majorities), Canada’s growth was much more that of pragmatic compromise. This had its advantages but also unfortunately caused more than one region to feel as though it was getting mistreated by the federal government for the benefit of another region (as the Prairie and Maritime provinces have both felt at different times for their own reasons, believing that Ottawa’s primary concern was the needs and issues of Ontario and Quebec, and that it saw the rest of the country as second-rate hinterlands).
There was also less consensus in the United States about exactly what kind of country Canada ought to be-as far back as Confederation, some of the Anglophone Fathers sold the populace on the idea of one big country from sea to sea, but the Francophone Fathers sold the idea in Lower Canada based largely on the idea of maintaining their internal “home rule”. Canada was, and still is in many ways, the result of an ongoing compromise between the desire for a central government that speaks for all Canadians, and the local needs and identities of different regions and provinces. A lot of that comes from Canada’s geography, which in part makes these differences that much bigger and balancing them more of a challenge.
All that said, though, both Citizen X and his sister were right when they said that Quebec and the other parts of Canada could never have survived without each other. At the best of times, we’ve been able to make things work despite our vast geographical differences, and our misunderstandings with each other, and forge a common identity that, while very different from the American one, is no less compelling in its own way.
That’s something to be proud of, even with everything we’ve been through over the last 40 years.
March 15, 2015 | No Comments
For many years, I have been writing about Canadian politics and history, and studying the commentaries of many different Canadian thinkers and politicians. My motivation for doing this stems from my Canadian nationalism. I grew up during the fierce political conflicts and debates of the late 1980s and early 1990s-the rise of the Reform Party and its statement that “the West wants in”, the Aboriginal standoffs at places like Oka and Ipperwash, and the 1995 Quebec referendum. I recall the often bitter invective Canadians threw at each other-the Western Canadian Reformers were greedy, selfish racists; the Natives were violent, criminally-inclined thugs; the Quebecers were spoiled and whiny.
Something always struck me as being fundamentally wrong about those claims. What motivated Quebecers to hold the 1995 referendum, for instance? Was it really just the “fact” that they were supposedly a bunch of spoiled brats? What motivated so many Westerners to support the Reform party when, so far as I could tell, the West was already “in” Canada? Why were the Natives organizing blockades and standoffs? What was going through all these peoples’ minds, and why did they have so much support?
That’s one of the reasons I studied Canadian history-to try and better understand just why so many Franco-Quebecois wanted to leave Canada, why so many Westerners felt alienated, and so forth. This grew into a more general interest in Canadian identity and national unity for me. My exposure to American media showed me how so many Americans defined their country and identity on things like a shared commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which of course works well for them. However, it made me wonder what Canadian nationalism is like, in turn, and what defines us as a country besides being “not America”.
Canadian nationalism, for me, goes far beyond simply left-wing politics and disliking the United States. Indeed, while the details on some of his claims are sketchy, no less than Stephen Harper called for a Canadian nationalism that is not defined by anti-Americanism.
Canada is so much richer in so many ways than the anti-Americanism its nationalism is so often associated with, and it’s a shame that Canadian nationalism so often ends up being conflated with anti-Americanism. Canadian nationalism can, is and ought to be so much more than that. One of my personal goals in trying to understand Canada is to make people more aware of our proud, and distinct history, and how it’s shaped not only ourselves, but the world.
Which brings me to the subject of this article. I’ve read numerous books like John Ralston Saul’s Reflections Of A Siamese Twin: Canada At The End Of The Twentieth Century and What Is A Canadian? Forty-Three Thought-Provoking Responses, edited by Irving Studin, on the subject. The one I’m currently working on is titled Who Are The People Of Canada Anyway? Waiting For The Next Referendum, by an author who goes only by the moniker of “Citizen X” in 1997. “Citizen X”, a civil servant who gave a tongue-in-cheek explanation for his pen name by saying that he wanted to keep his job after publishing the book, ponders the history of Canada leading up to the fateful 1995 referendum, and the possible future of the country. I’m already a few chapters in, and it’s got me thinking about not only many of my past readings, but also a lot of my own personal experiences.
What I’m trying with this article is something new for me. I’ll be posting a chapter-by-chapter summary of the book, adding in my own thoughts and commentary along the way.
Hopefully, in doing so, I’ll be a step further to finding something I’ve been spending a good part of my life searching for-the idea of what Canada is truly all about, what keeps it together, and what we share as a heritage and identity.
February 24, 2015 | No Comments
The tragic murders of many of the artists who produced the satirical French magazine “Charlie Hebdo” have revived debates around free speech and what’s considered acceptable to publish. Some critics have said that cartoons like the ones Charlie Hebdo published on Islam were offensive and merely fed into Islamophobia with crass insults. They support the refusal by certain media to re-publish the cartoons. Others say that the cartoons are an important example of free speech, and that a refusal to publish them is giving in to terrorist threats.
The Charlie Hebdo situation ties back into satire and its larger role in society. Satire like Animal Farm, Gulliver’s Travelsand Huckleberry Finn have made important commentaries about society and contributed to its growth. Speaking truth to power is one of the most important roles art and artists can play in society, particularly when that power is tyrannical or violent, as it is with terrorism.
However, satire is like any other form of art, in that it can be ill-informed, tacky or just plain bad. Too often, though, it seems like any criticism of satire or satirists is treated as an attack on free speech itself. Anybody who dares to say that satire like Charlie Hebdo’s work, or of commentators like Jon Stewart or Ezra Levant, is almost themselves set up for being attacked as opposing free speech, giving in to terrorism, or what have you.
This, in itself is a subtle danger, in that it makes criticism of the satirists and artists themselves almost off-limits. Just because something is satirical does not necessarily mean that it is well-thought out, or that its producers should be immune to criticism because of who they’re directing their messages at. Nor does it necessarily mean that anyone else should feel pressured to reproduce satire or messages that they disagree with, particularly if they feel that it’s badly done.
Free speech is an important tool for satirists and artists to use in keeping the powerful accountable and informing people of social problems. Violence in response to it deserves to be punished, and the terrorists who murdered the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists got what they deserved.
However, free speech also serves another important role in society-namely that of keeping the artists and satirists themselves accountable. There is no reason why satirists cannot themselves be satirized or criticized if their work is badly done or is misinformed.
The best way to counter a use of free speech that you do not agree with is to use your own freedom of speech to counter it. Satirists are just as fair to criticize as any elected official, and can rightly be called out if their work is mistaken or bad. Another recourse, too, is just to ignore it. Just because someone produces a work of art does not mean you have to like it, much less that you have to watch or read it.
After all, the freedom to do something also includes the freedom not to do something.
This article was originally published in the St. Albert Gazette on February 14, 2015 and is available online at http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20150214/SAG0903/302149990/0/SAG.
January 22, 2015 | 1 Comment
I’m currently reading Brent Rathgeber’s excellent book Irresponsible Government: the Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada, which describes the methods that Canadian prime ministers have used to consolidate power in the Prime Minister’s Office, and force their Members of Parliament to follow all of their directions. MPs are now expected to only obey the prime minister, instead of keeping him and his Cabinet accountable the way Canada’s system of responsible government has traditionally required.
Many Canadians have been increasingly turned off by this system of top-down control. Samara, an organization dedicated to strengthening Canadian democracy, has noted that many Canadians believe that Canadian politicians and parties only want their votes, and don’t care about listening to their concerns. MPs are only seen as representing the views of their parties, instead of their constituents. Samara also found that even many MPs themselves came to feel that their efforts to represent their constituents were hampered by the dictates of their political parties. Many citizens told Samara that they had become disengaged from politics because they didn’t feel that it was really addressing their needs, and made them feel like outsiders. Significantly, many MPs also came to feel as though they became outsiders in their own parties.
Stephen Harper is not the first prime minister to increasingly centralize control in the Prime Minister’s Office. However, it’s been said that he has continued this trend because of the experiences of the Reform Party in the 1990s, when some of its candidates made statements that were later used by its opponents to smear the Reformers as bigoted and intolerant. These types of “bozo eruptions” can be a major political hazard, such as in the 2012 Alberta election. The statements made by Wildrose Alliance candidate Alan Hunsperger about gay people dying in a “lake of fire” are widely seen as a major factor in the Wildrose’s defeat.
The Reform party and the Wildrose both prided themselves on engaging their grassroots, and enabling members to speak their minds freely. This can make people feel like they’re being listened to, and their views are being taken into account by the party leadership. However, it also brings the risk that those views can be used by the party’s electoral opponents to make them look bad and turn voters off.
The challenge for political leaders, then, becomes how to listen to citizens’ views and make them feel as though they’re being listened to, while also determining which ideas are the best ones to act on and how they will be perceived by the public.
This would require a complicated balancing act, and not everyone would be happy with the results. However, it would still be better the current trend of centralizing power at the top of the party leadership, which then dictates how Members of Parliament vote and exercises top-down control on them. That trend has only turned countless Canadians off of politics, and weakened our democracy as a whole.
-This article was published in the St. Albert Gazette on January 14, 2015 and is available online at http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20150114/SAG0903/301149997/0/sag.
January 13, 2015 | No Comments
January 11, 2015 marked the 200th anniversary of Sir John A. Macdonald’s birthday. Given that we haven’t really commemorated it yet on this forum, I thought that this would be a worthwhile occasion to reflect on Macdonald’s legacy, the good and the bad, and how it has impacted us all as Canadians. As historian Will Ferguson has pointed out, without Macdonald there would be no Canada to begin with at all. His influence on Canada, for both the good and the bad, cannot be understated-Richard Gwyn aptly describes him as “the man that made us”.
Macdonald’s influence can most readily be seen in Confederation itself and the British North America Act, and how well it fits into the pattern of Canadian compromise and accommodation that marks our best tendencies in history. Trying to solve the political gridlock that had paralyzed the United Province of Canada was one of the main reasons for Confederation, and Macdonald’s political enemy George Brown was a major advocate of “representation by population” to resolve it. Macdonald and Brown despised one another, and their political feud was one of the main reasons for the United Province’s gridlock, but Macdonald agreed to call a truce with Brown while they worked on a new constitutional arrangement, putting aside their feuds for the greater overall good of the country.
The political gridlock wasn’t the only area in which Macdonald was willing to compromise, though. He, Brown and many other Anglophones wanted the new constitution to be a plain union of all the British North American colonies, erasing all their borders and treating everyone the same. But Macdonald knew that George-Etienne Cartier and the rest of the Francophones who lived in Lower Canada, as well as quite a few of the Maritime Fathers of Confederation, insisted that any new Canadian union had to be a federal one. Macdonald agreed to this because in working with Cartier he had gotten to know the Franco-Quebecois perspective quite well, and correctly observed that if you treat them as a nation, they will respond generously. If you call them a faction however, they will become factious. This led early Quebec nationalist Henri Bourassa to praise Macdonald as being the man who best understood the spirit of Confederation. Confederation contained many subtle but clear references to the distinct and unique place Quebec occupies in Canada, as noted by political scientists like Peter Russell and Samuel LaSelva.
Macdonald played an important role in bridging the gap between what reformers like Brown wanted and what Francophones like Cartier wanted, skilfully integrating all of their concerns into what would become the final Confederation settlement. Historian Peter B. Waite remarks on how the Confederation debates were marked far less with concerns about ideological or theoretical purity than they were about pragmatically balancing the different goals and ideas of the population, adapting federalism and its principles to fit Canada, rather than trying to force the country to rigidly adhere to a particular ideology or dogma.
That compromise, balance and pragmatism is an important part of Macdonald’s legacy. But he demonstrated other essential Canadian traits, such as his marshalling of government power to complement the efforts of the private sector and individual effort. It was the government that built the Canadian Pacific Railway that truly linked Western and Eastern Canada together, and enabled mass settlement to begin. The settlers had to rely on their own gumption and effort to survive, but it was the railway that enabled them to actually get there in the first place. He also established the Northwest Mounted Police as a means of keeping a lid on any lawlessness and violence that might spring up, in the hopes of avoiding much of the chaos from the “Wild West” happening south of the border.
Macdonald’s use of government power and his pragmatism come together neatly with his “National Policy” of tariffs to shield Canadian industry from foreign competition. While he initially supported free trade, he switched to protectionism when he decided that this was what was necessary at the time, rather than continuing to slavishly follow any particular ideology or set of plans when it was clear they weren’t working. Some politicians today do this not because they want to, but because they have to, but if anything Macdonald demonstrated himself to be less dogmatically bound than some of his successors have shown themselves to be, not to mention setting the pattern in the first place.
In some respects, he was also remarkably ahead of his time. In one of his last major acts before his death in office, he legalized the formation of trade unions, and also argued that it was inevitable that women would one day be allowed to vote and that the rights of Francophones should be respected outside Quebec. Remarkably, he also supported giving Aboriginal people who had been assimilated receive the federal right to vote, showing that his views towards Aboriginal peoples, for all its warts, is more complicated than most people give him credit for.
Unfortunately, while he was ahead of his time in some ways, he was also still of his time in others. He viewed the Aboriginal peoples as inferior savages who needed to be properly “civilized” and taught the “correct” way to live, which in turn led to the ghastly legacy of the residential schools, which directly led to many of the social problems Aboriginal peoples have today…and also showed how Canadian racism could often be more subtle than its American counterpart. He also imposed the appalling “head tax” on Chinese immigrants, and didn’t care at all for their welfare in building the CPR-I remember one Heritage Minute citing the story that one Chinese man died for every mile of track building the CPR. All that can be said in Macdonald’s defence is that such bigotry was the standard of the day…and it should be noted that many citizens were far worse than he personally was, whether the virulent reactions against the Chinese in B.C. or the hysterics of some radical Orange Protestants in Ontario in calling for Louis Riel to be hanged after the Riel Resistance.
Nor was he always sensitive to the regional needs of different parts of the country, given the difficulties that the National Policy caused for residents of the Prairies and led to what political scientist Donald Smiley said was Western Canada becoming almost an “economic colony” of the central provinces, or the fights he continually picked with provincial premiers like Oliver Mowat, using federal power to disallow provincial legislation, which often caused needless frustration and grief for different provinces and regions.
Some might call Macdonald a wealthy bourgeois with no real problems in his life…but if you look at his family troubles, you’ll see what a load of bunk such claims are. His daughter suffered from hydrocephaly, his first son died at birth, and his first wife Isabella died a slow, painful death, problems which were the cause of Macdonald’s heavy drinking in the first place. Historian Donald Creighton also notes how Macdonald often dangerously overworked himself, which meant that both his personal and professional lives could be grueling and painful. If anything, Macdonald is an example of how tragedy and misfortune can strike anyone of any social class…and how it can eventually be overcome, as later in his life Macdonald managed to beat the bottle and proved his remarkable inner strength.
So it is that for better and for worse, Sir John A. Macdonald either built upon or established so many of the tendencies and characteristics that have defined Canada. His successes reflect many of our successes, and his flaws reflect many of our flaws. Much like his country, he was a complex, multifaceted man whose impact is often overlooked in favour of more outgoing individuals like Abraham Lincoln or Otto Von Bismarck and the countries they led.
And yet, just as Canada’s contributions to the world are often overlooked, so too are Macdonald’s contributions to Canada…and the world by extension.
Vive le Canada uni!
December 14, 2014 | No Comments
2014 was a year of change in Quebec, as Philippe Couillard led the provincial Liberals to victory over the Parti Quebecois government of Pauline Marois. The Marois government spent a lot of time outlining its vision of the province’s social values, as well as outlining its vision of how an independent Quebec would relate to Canada. Couillard spent a lot of time criticizing Marois’s actions, accusing her of having an “Alice In Wonderland” vision that ignored Quebecers’ bigger concerns about issues like the economy and healthcare.
Many other Canadians were likely reassured by Couillard’s statements. However, what most outside observers likely didn’t notice is the fact that Couillard himself also supported recognizing Quebec as a distinct society in the Constitution. In October, six months after the provincial election, Quebec’s Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, Jean-Marc Fournier, said the very same thing. In a speech at the Canada 2020 conference, Fournier built on this, saying that the “distinct society” clause that had scuttled the Meech Lake Accord was a “fait accompli” even as Quebec contributed to Canada’s efforts to deal with issues like climate change. However, Couillard was careful to say that he would only pursue constitutional negotiations if Quebec was approached on the issue, and that his primary focus as Premier would be on the economy.
Couillard was right to be cautious, given that polls show how much Francophone Quebecers’ views on the Constitution continue to differ from those of other Canadians. The federal Conservative government has indicated that it is not interested in reopening the Constitution, and in a meeting between Couillard and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne it became clear that Ontario saw no interest in constitutional talks either.
In their comments and speeches, Couillard and Fournier have spoken about the need to recognize Quebec’s distinctiveness in Confederation. However, they’ve also talked about the benefits to Quebec of being part of Canada, and the positive role Quebec can play in the country. This might seem contradictory at first glance-if they want to be part of Canada, why are they insisting that Quebec be so separate and distinct from the rest of the country?
What most people don’t realize, however, is that Couillard and Fournier’s words and actions are quite similar to those of George-Étienne Cartier, Quebec’s leading Father of Confederation. Cartier’s own words and actions during the original Confederation debates in 1864 had a powerful influence not only on how the British North America Act as a whole was shaped, but also how it recognized subtle but important differences between Quebec and the other Canadian provinces.
2014 is the 200th anniversary of Cartier’s birth, and the 150th anniversary of the Confederation debates in Quebec City. This makes it an ideal time to study Cartier’s influence on Confederation, and on modern Quebec federalism.
Cartier, Federalism And The French Canadians
In the debates to join the United Province of Canada with Newfoundland and the Maritimes into a larger country, some of the Anglophone Fathers of Confederation, like the Upper Canadian George Brown, insisted that the new country’s legislature should have “representation by population”, which would distribute seats to different parts of the country according to how many people lived there. Many of the Anglophone Fathers, like John A. Macdonald, also wanted Canada to be a plain “legislative union” that simply joined all the British North American colonies together, erasing all the provincial borders.
However, this was unacceptable to Cartier and the other Francophone Fathers from Lower Canada. As noted by historian A.I. Silver, many Lower Canadians were concerned about losing the provincial autonomy necessary for their cultural survival to an Anglophone majority. Cartier himself was quoted in the La Minerve newspaper, one of his strongest sources of support, as stating that Francophones felt that guaranteeing their nationality’s autonomy was the most important element of Confederation.(1)
Cartier played a leading role in breaking the impasse between the Francophones who sought to ensure their province’s local autonomy and the Anglophones who wanted a strong central government by proposing that Confederation be a federal system. As noted by Samuel LaSelva, Cartier used federalism to provide an important middle ground between the desires of Francophone and Anglophone Canadians that would provide the benefits of unity while also respecting Francophones’ local identities rather than assimilating them.(2)
Cartier and his supporters built support for Confederation in Lower Canada based on the very fact. Silver notes that the agreement was presented as providing a distinct, separate legislature for Quebec, one that would address all of the main questions of the province’s Francophone nationality and would not be touched on by the federal government. Cartier and his supporters pointed out in newspapers like La Minerve that Francophone Quebecers would be a “distinct and separate nationality”, and that the issues dealt with in Ottawa would provide “no more danger to the rights and privileges of the French Canadians” than to any other nationality. Quebec’s autonomy was presented as one of Confederation’s main strengths.(3)
Historian P.B. Waite notes that Lower Canadian support for Confederation depended on Cartier and its other Lower Canadian supporters of Confederation showing that it wouldn’t concede the powers necessary for Francophones’ cultural survival to the federal government. La Minerve continued to insist that Lower Canada would continue to govern its own social and cultural life under Confederation. Every province of the new country would continue to be responsible for governing the issues that affected their survival.(4)
Cartier And The Shape Of Confederation
Macdonald knew that Cartier and his supporters would only agree to Confederation if it were federal in nature, and that a plain union was never possible.(5) However, Cartier’s influence didn’t end there. The British North America Act was to recognize Quebec’s distinct nature in several different ways, most notably in Sections 22, 93, 94, 98 and 133.
Section 94 excludes Quebec from the federal government’s authority to transfer responsibility for property and civil rights from the provinces to the federal government. According to Samuel LaSelva, Section 94 is a recognition of Quebec’s distinctiveness in Canada, enabling the other provinces to transfer power over property and civil rights to the federal government while enabling Quebec to maintain the control over its basic law that it saw itself as having based on the “racial” agreement implied in the BNA Act.(6) Constitutional expert Peter Russell also notes that Sections 22 and 98 of the BNA Act also had special provisions for appointing Quebec judges and senators.
Section 93 of the BNA Act provides for the recognition of Protestant schools in Ontario and Catholic schools outside it, while Section 133 provides for the recognition of both English and French in the Quebec legislature. Historians Claude Couture and Jean-François Cardin cite these articles as proof of the “compact theory” and the “two-nations” theory, which posited that Canada was created by an agreement between the Anglophone and Francophone nations that founded it.(8) Paul Romney notes that this view became widespread among the Franco-Quebec elite, who considered Confederation as the latest in a series of agreements between themselves and the Anglophones ever since the Conquest.(9)
Cartier’s participation in the Confederation debates provides some fascinating insights into his personal views on the subject. When discussing what the provincial legislatures of Ontario and Quebec would look like, Cartier justified Quebec’s legislature being different on the grounds that its citizens had different interests and beliefs from those of Ontario’s. P.B. Waite suggests that the different forms of the Ontario and Quebec legislatures reflected the different views of many of the Ontario and Quebec Fathers of Confederation of how Confederation should be formed.(10) Notably, Cartier and Macdonald also presented the BNA Act as a “treaty” and promised that it would be presented to the British as such.(11)
Cartier’s comments, in addition to the various clauses in the BNA Act itself, illustrate his commitment to ensuring that Quebec’s distinctiveness was recognized in Confederation, and his concerns with ensuring that Francophone Canadians would not be assimilated. However, this is only one part of Cartier’s views on Canadian federalism. The other part involves Cartier’s advocating of a new “political nationality”, one in which Francophone Quebecers would continue to maintain their local identities, but they would also participate in a larger common cause with other Canadians.
Cartier And The Political Nationality
In a speech given in Montreal on October 20, 1866, Cartier glowingly described Confederation as a “glorious era” that Francophones didn’t need to be afraid of. He added that they had no reason to be afraid of their Anglophone neighbours, either, but rather that they could benefit from combining the best qualities of Anglophone Canadians with their own greatest strengths as Francophones. In doing so, they would bring together all of the lands discovered by French explorer Jacques Cartier, and extend their influence beyond Lower Canada.(12)
In this speech, Cartier built on the idea of a new “political nationality” that encompassed multiple identities, which he had first discussed in 1865. This political nationality did not replace local and provincial identities like the Francophone Quebec one, but rather it built on them.
Although they all had their own unique local identities, the people of the British North American colonies had similar interests and sympathies, including a desire to all live under the British Crown. Having a diversity of races was a benefit, not a problem, because they could all come together through the political nationality and contribute to their common good. The common interests of the political nationality would be addressed by the federal government, while the interests of peoples’ local and provincial identities would be addressed by the local, provincial governments. The rights of linguistic minorities, whether the rights of the Anglophone minority in Quebec or the Francophone minorities elsewhere in Canada, could also be guaranteed by constitutional remedies, and a sense of fair treatment throughout Canada.(13)
Cartier built on this theory as a federal Cabinet minister after Confederation. He played an important role in negotiating the entries of Manitoba and B.C. into Confederation, beginning the development of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Canadian militia, and negotiating the purchase of Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company. Notably, he also acted as the de facto Prime Minister whenever Macdonald was incapacitated during the difficult early years of Confederation.(14) While Cartier had shown concerns for Quebec’s place in Confederation and its ability to maintain its distinctiveness, he also proved himself an able leader for the growth of Canada as a whole.
Cartier, Couillard And Fournier
Philippe Couillard and Jean-Marc Fournier have shown themselves to be interested in contributing to Canada. However, they are also strongly devoted to ensuring that Quebec’s distinctiveness is recognized in the Constitution. Couillard and Fournier have made clear that, while there is nothing necessarily wrong with federalism in its current form, a formal constitutional recognition of Quebec’s distinct status would make federalism all the stronger. Other Quebec federalists have said similar things, such as former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion(15) and former provincial Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Benoit Pelletier.
Their commitments and comments are strikingly similar to those demonstrated by Georges-Étienne Cartier during and after the Confederation debates. Addressing Cartier’s concerns and incorporating them into the British North America Act proved to be a tremendous success not just for Quebec, but for Canada as a whole. Cartier demonstrated that there was no conflict between a commitment to Quebec’s distinctiveness in Canada and a concern for the country as a whole.
P.B. Waite notes that, in addressing Cartier’s concerns in the BNA Act, Macdonald made Confederation an “elastic blueprint” that would be further developed by practical experience. Many Anglophones wanted a plain union, but Francophones like Cartier, and other supporters in the Maritimes, had powerful attachments to their local identities and provinces. Confederation was thus an attempt to find a middle way between these desires.(16)
George-Étienne Cartier, with his concerns for the distinct status of Francophones and Quebec in Confederation, his insistence that Confederation be a federal union and his support of a “political nationality” that complemented but did not assimilate other identities, played an essential role in finding that middle way. By incorporating his concerns and ideas into Confederation and synthesizing them with the goals of other Fathers like Macdonald and Brown, Canada was made all the stronger.
Many modern Quebec federalists, such as Couillard, Fournier, Dion and Pelletier, continue to follow the same spirit as Cartier by expressing their pride in the larger Canadian nationality, while also insisting that Quebec is a distinct and unique part of Confederation.
Incorporating their concerns into Confederation, as Macdonald did with Cartier, would not only strengthen the Canadian federation, but it would also be a fitting tribute to the wonderful legacy Cartier and his colleagues have bequeathed us.
1. A.I. Silver, The French Canadian Idea of Confederation, 1864-1900. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press, 1997. Pages 34-36. Originally published by the University of Toronto Press, 1982. Cartier’s quote from La Minerve, September 14, 1864.
2. Samuel LaSelva, The Moral Foundations of Canadian Federalism: Paradoxes, Achievements and Tragedies of Nationhood. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1996. Pages 48 and 159.
3. Quotes from La Minerve, July 17 1866 and July 1-2, 1867. Cartier quoted in Parliamentary Debates on the Subject of the Confederation of the British North American Provinces (Ottawa, 1865), page 368. Quoted in Silver, pages 40-42 and 50.
4. P.B. Waite, The Life And Times Of Confederation, 1865-1867: Politics, Newspapers and the Union of British North America. Toronto, Ontario: Robin Bass Studio, 2001. Pages 152-155. Originally published by University of Toronto Press, 1962. Quotes from La Minerve published July 16 and August 30, 1864. See also Silver, pages 40-42.
5. Waite, page 140.
6. LaSelva, page 60.
7. Peter Russell, Constitutional Odyssey: Can Canadians Become A Sovereign People? 3rd Edition. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press Incorporated, 2004. Pages 26 and 306.
8. Jean-François Cardin and Claude Couture, in conjunction with Gratien Allaire. Histoire du Canada: Espaces et differences. Saint-Nicolas, Quebec : Les presses de l’Université Laval, 1996. Page 64.
9. Paul Romney, Getting It Wrong: How Canadians Forgot Their Past And Imperilled Confederation. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press Incorporated, 1999. Page 238.
10. Waite, pages 307-308. Cartier quoted in the Toronto Leader, July 14, 1866.
11. Romney, page 148.
12. Quoted in Who Speaks For Canada? Words That Shape A Country, edited by Desmond Morton and Morton Weinfeld. Toronto, Ontario: McClelland and Stewart, 1998. Pages 36-38.
13. The preceding two paragraphs are summarized from LaSelva, pages 37-42.
14. “George-Étienne Cartier”, [i]The Canadian Encyclopedia[/i], available online at http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/sir-george-etienne-cartier/.
15. Stéphane Dion, Straight Talk: Speeches And Writings On Canadian Unity. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999. Pages 138-150.
16. Waite, pages 350-351.
December 14, 2014 | 1 Comment
In its November 5 edition, the St. Albert Gazette published an article discussing the perception that’s arisen in some circles that our City Council is divided into camps that consistently vote on different sides of various issues. These camps, and the Council members that form them, could also be seen as representing different groups of residents that have different priorities for spending tax dollars. According to this perception, some members of Council and their supporters want to see a cap placed on tax increases, and for City spending to be directed away from things like arts, heritage and recreation and focused mainly on established infrastructure and support for lower-income residents. Other members of Council, and their supporters in the community, are seen as wanting to spend large amounts of money money on civic projects like the Downtown Area Redevelopment Plan.
Similar polarizations also arguably exist at the federal level. The Conservative party and many of its supporters largely deny that income inequality is a problem, and support the construction of new pipelines to get oil and gas to market. Many members of the Liberal party and the NDP, and their supporters, believe that income inequality is a serious problem, and that the proposed pipelines will cause serious damage to the environment.
In both federal and municipal politics, the politicians in each of the parties and camps have shown that they all have a lot of public support. While the Councillors seen as wanting to spend money on many new civic projects are a majority on Council, the Council members seen as wanting to cap tax and spending increases got some of the highest vote totals in the 2013 election. Similarly, none of the federal political parties currently look as though they would have enough support from Canadians to form a majority government. As a result, especially at the federal level, none of the political parties or camps can necessarily muster enough support to make major progress on various issues. Besides the political leaders not addressing these problems, there’s also the serious risk of normal political differences turning into vicious personal feuds and attacks, as we’ve seen in places like Toronto and the U.S.
As a result, the leaders who may be best suited to taking St. Albert and Canada forward may end up being the ones who can actively bring people from the different camps together and address the issues each of them raise at the same time. The decisions political leaders make will always be criticized by some citizens, but if the differences between citizens become too entrenched and too personal, then the community runs the risk of leaving major issues to fester and becoming much bigger problems than they would have been if they were dealt with sooner.
The idea may be seen as naïve and unrealistic to some, but politics has always been the art of the possible, particularly when the political acrimony itself is a major reason for so much of the public’s cynicism.
This article was originally published in the St. Albert Gazette on December 13, 2014 and is available online at http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20141213/SAG0903/312139962.
November 6, 2014 | No Comments
The First World War began 100 years ago, in 1914, and the Second World War began in 1939, 75 years ago. Given these anniversaries, it’s worthwhile to compare the origins of these wars, and what they mean for putting the lives of our soldiers on the line, and risking that they may have to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
World War One was, to put it bluntly, a colossal and largely senseless waste of life that came about because of the arrogance of a few European empires. Britain, France, Germany and the other great powers of Europe had been competing with one another for glory and prestige in building up their military power, their colonial empires and their alliances with one another. All of these factors contributed to a cycle of tensions that built on each other until they were ready to explode. Europe was already a powderkeg by the time Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot, and his murder was just the spark that lit the flame. As a result, millions of men were sent to war, fighting and dying because their leaders were so obsessed with trying to outdo each other.
Canadian troops were no exception, entering into the war in support of Britain. The Canadian soldiers fought with tremendous courage and loyalty, doing anything and everything they could have ever been reasonably asked, and then some. However, even staunch supporters of the British war effort like Prime Minister Robert Borden began angrily complaining about how the British command treated many of its soldiers like disposable toys. The experiences of the war were an important step in Canada moving towards independence from Britain.
World War Two, on the other hand, was a war for freedom against the insanity of Hitler’s Third Reich and its allies, who enslaved and murdered millions of innocent people. Once again, Canada’s soldiers fought with honour and valour, distinguishing themselves time and again in battle. Millions of people were freed from the evil of the Nazis, in no small part because of the courage of Canada’s soldiers.
World War One came about largely because of imperial arrogance and pride, and all of the major powers of Europe bear some responsibility for the misery and horror that followed. World War Two came about because of the need to fight Hitler’s evil, and the end result was a long era of peace and prosperity for much of the Western world.
The World Wars show that political leaders need to be very careful about why they send the troops they command to risk their lives. The soldiers themselves can always be counted on to serve faithfully, doing the country proud with how well they serve. However, the political leadership is not always so wise-sometimes soldiers are sent into conflicts for the right reasons, and much good can come of it. However, when they are sent into conflicts for the wrong reasons, such as base pride or a hunger for power, their leaders do them a disservice.
This article was originally published in the St. Albert Gazette on November 4, 2014 and can be found online at http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20141105/SAG0902/311059989.
October 16, 2014 | 1 Comment
Income inequality, the income gap that is said to be increasing between the wealthiest people in society and the lower and middle classes, has become a hot topic in Canadian politics. Commentators like journalist Linda McQuaig, economists Armine Yalniziyan and Miles Corak, and think tanks like Canada 2020, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Broadbent Institute have all warned about the dangers that inequality has for Canada. These dangers include it being harder for lower-income people to get ahead in life, slower economic growth overall as people who don’t make as much money can’t afford to spend as much, growing resentment of the wealthiest “1%” of people who make the most money, and decreasing support for economic and political systems that are seen as making inequality worse.
Politically, all of these sources are left-leaning and progressive. Many of the solutions they propose to address the problem involve further government support for lower-income Canadians, and changing the tax system to take more money from sources like financial transactions and corporations. This isn’t too surprising-progressive commentators and organizations have been criticizing our current economic course for a while now.
What is surprising, though, is the number of commentators and organizations that would be more typically seen as right-leaning and conservative who are also worried about increased income inequality. The Conference Board of Canada, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the International Monetary Fund, the Economist magazine, American bank CEO Lloyd Blankfein and former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney are not known for their Marxist street cred, but all of them have expressed similar concerns about inequality. Carney, especially, was critical of those politicians and economists who stubbornly clung to the ideology of what he referred to as “market fundamentalism”. More than that, many of them have also expressed support for some of the same solutions that the progressive commentators and organizations have advocated, even if they do not always agree about how far to take them.
This is not a left-versus-right issue. There’s a remarkably high level of agreement, both in Canada and elsewhere in the world, that something is clearly off with our current economic model. People and organizations who can be associated with the political left and the political right are saying many of the same things about the dangers of inequality and ways to address it.
All of this points to a need for change that incorporates the perspectives of both left- and right-leaning Canadians alike. If you listen to political discourse in Canada, it often sounds as though we can only choose to have the government or the marketplace handle things, and that choosing one means we can’t have the benefits of the other. But who says we can’t have the best of both worlds when it comes to progressive and conservative ideas, and government action and market solutions, complementing each other’s strengths and compensating for each other’s weaknesses?
That may prove to be the best solution to inequality in the long run.
This article was originally published in the St. Albert Gazette on October 11, 2014 and is available online at http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/20141011/SAG0903/310119990.