Today is the 150th anniversary pf Confederation. It is cause for some celebration, some reflection, and some penance. I was pleased that our Prime Minister went to the teepees on the grounds of Parliament to address and support the demonstration of First Nations peoples. We Canadians need to be aware and repent for what our forebears did and how the land was taken from those who cared for and identified with it. This “taking” had other manifestations than just the passing of the land from one set of hands to another. We also moved First Nations people away from their culture, their education, their spirituality, we need to be aware and repent of how we attempted to totally destroy a people and a way of life.
But with repentance on our lips and in our hearts I think we can at the same time celebrate what Canada has done. Our remarkable ability as a nation to hold two linguistic groups together in a federation, to absorb many cultures from around the world in a way that is not only tolerant but more importantly promoting these various cultures within one country. It is a model for a world that now seems divided by nationalism and ethnic strife. While in the United States it appears culture is tolerated in aid of a larger vision of personal freedom in Canada we celebrate culture and place as our vision something our early constitution called “Peace, Order and Good Government.”
If back in the 1800’s Canada was more defined as a place of peace and order and good and the United States as the place of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” these distinctions have largely vanished. While we can still celebrate the Canadian dream of multiculturalism within a framework of peace and order there is no doubt our relationship with our powerful neighbour to the south has had its consequences. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms has had a powerful effect, both practically and philosophically, on our body politic and made Canada far more individualistic and freedom-focused than in previous generations.
One writer who saw this most clearly was George Grant, who write the now famous slim book Lament for a Nation. That book pointed to the underpinnings of this shift, where the “other” was no longer seen as a subject to be understood, with its own inherent goodness and value but instead to be seen as an object, to be manipulated and brought into a larger system of technique and efficiency. Other philosophers like Jacques Ellul would write about the power of technique and its effect on the mindset of a people, that religion and political philosophy and culture would surrender to this penetrating new way of being. Capitalism and Communism, each in their own way, would gather steam from this new way of objectifying humanity and offer a worldview that systemized our behaviour and made any other form of looking at humanity strange and archaic.
George Grant predicted that Canada was slowly disappearing and would be absorbed 100% into the American Empire. In many ways Grant was right, Canada no longer is a place of Peace, Order and Good Government and now more passionately identifying with Freedom, with Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. BUT I would argue that lasting residue of our Canadian experiment remains with us, that is that freedom and happiness need not be private pursuits, that the collective spirit of a country has value and thus government can, and should, make decisions that are not only in aid of private and individual freedom but the freedom of a people, of a culture, of a way of being. Ironically it is that difference that provides really the only hope we have of addressing climate change and the terrible treatment of our First Nations peoples.
Today I celebrate being a Canadian and the freedoms I enjoy as a person and as part of a collective effort to pursue justice for all peoples.