Where is Canada going .. will we become a real country at last (yes of course)?

Jul 1st, 2013 | By | Category: In Brief

Alex Barris, 1922–2004.

An alas now vanished great friend of the counterweights editors, from a vanished era in the life of the city, used to say that he seldom agreed with the newspaper columnist Alex Barris. But he almost always read his columns because he found them stimulating.

We sometimes have similar feelings about the present-day Toronto Star columnist, Thomas Walkom. (Though we probably actually agree with him more often.) A case in point is his online column for June 28, 2013 (which also appeared in the print edition on June 29): “Yes to nationalism on Canada Day, no to jingoism: Walkom …  The Conservative government says it wants to promote Canadian patriotism. It has instead promoted jingoism. The two are different.”

Here we partly strongly agree, but partly strongly disagree as well. We agree with Walkom’s point about the Conservative government and patriotism vs. jingoism, eg. But we disagree with his next paragraph: “The conservative right has a legitimate gripe. It is trendy in this country — particularly on the liberal left — to pretend that Canada is not a real place on its own, that its only value is to welcome the diversity of others.”

Pierre Trudeau — Fur trade canoe routes of Canada, then and now.

Our main counterweight in this disagreement is reflected in the recent headline “Pierre Trudeau remains Canada’s most popular prime minister.” The father of Justin Trudeau certainly qualifies as both “on the liberal left” and “trendy.” And we’d argue that his continuing popularity among prime ministers of recent memory has a lot to do with a popular sense that, whatever else, he did have at least the beginnings of some workable understanding of Canada as “a real place on its own,” after the decline and fall of the old British empire on which the sun never dared to set.

Thomas Walkom, in effect, does share some of this understanding. In his June 28/29 column, eg, he writes : “The 17th century battles between Iroquois and Huron nations in what is now southern Ontario may not have affected me directly. But they did have a profound long-term effect on the territory in which I now happen to live.”

“This young Chipewyna woman from Cold Lake, Alberta, photographed by Edward Curtis, was popularized by Sylvia Van Kirk as a well-known representation of Thanadelthur.”

This nicely reflects such things as : (1) Harold Innis’s 1934 declaration that “The struggle waged between the Iroquois and the Hurons was a prelude to the struggle between New York and Montreal, which dominated the economic history of Ontario”; (2) Pierre Trudeau’s 1969 Foreword to his friend Eric Morse’s book, Fur Trade Canoe Routes of Canada / Then and Now ; (3) Bruce Trigger’s 1976 masterpiece, The Children of Aataentsic : A History of the Huron People to 1660 ; and (4) Sylvia Van Kirk’s 1980 classic, “Many Tender Ties” : Women in Fur- Trade Society in Western Canada, 1670–1870.

What we altogether do not understand is why Mr.Walkom also feels obliged to say that the Harper government’s “decision to re-insert the word “royal” into the names of Canada’s air force and navy was a reasonable one … I suspect Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s motives on this. My guess is that he was trying to create a political wedge issue. But the reality of Canada is that we do have longstanding ties to both Britain and the Crown … The Queen may not mean much to a recent immigrant from, say, Pittsburgh. But she and her predecessors have loomed large in the history of the Canadian nation.”

Harold Innis, 1894–1952, “Canada’s first and perhaps only genuine intellectual.”

One key problem with all this is that “a February 2013 survey found a majority of Canadians (55%) [and btw 79% of Canadians who live in Quebec!] want to change to a Canadian head of state, while only 34% want to continue with a member of the British royal family as Canada’s head of state.” We very much agree with the 55% (and rising). The role of the Queen and her predecessors in “the history of the Canadian nation” has been vastly exaggerated. Hanging on to this anglospheric legend is one of the key reasons that Canada is still not quite “a real place on its own.” But on Canada Day 2013 four recent items in the news happily give us hope for at least the beginnings of an authentic Canadian patriotic future that works — no matter who or what you are, from the Atlantic to the Arctic to the Pacific, and including all the aboriginal peoples of Canada, and the Québécois nation in a united Canada, etc, etc, etc, etc … world without end.

Four recent items in the news that happily give us hope …

(1) FROM DEMOCRACY WATCH IN OTTAWA: “Heading into Canada Day, Democracy Watch announces a satirical campaign calling on all Canadians to sign a petition to elect Stephen Colbert as King of Canada.

Tyler Sommers, co-ordinator of Democracy Watch. (Toni Baggos Photo).

“The goal is to rally at least 100,000 Canadians to visit www.colbertforking.ca, sign a petition and persuade Stephen Colbert to come to Ottawa later this summer to be crowned the King of Canada on Parliament Hill.

“Behind this fun, provocative “Colbert For King” campaign is a more serious issue – namely, the need for an elected Canadian Head of State. The mass appeal campaign seeks to engage Canadians in rethinking the current system and question the British monarchy as our Head of State.  It rallies for an elected Head of State who can challenge the government and enforce the Canadian Constitution.

“‘Queen Elizabeth and her representatives are purely symbolic officials who don’t have the legitimate democratic power needed to stop abuses of power and lead our country’ says Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch. ‘We need Canadians to come together in support of an elected Head of State who has the democratic authority to enforce the constitution and uphold the public interest. Calling on Stephen Colbert to be elected as King of Canada is a spirited way to get attention and spark discussion.’”

(2) FROM YOUR CANADA, YOUR CONSTITUTION — INVOLVING CANADIANS IN THEIR DEMOCRACY: “in the lead up to the 146th birthday of Canada, the national educational charity Your Canada, Your Constitution announced that it will undertake a multi-year New Canadian Constitution educational exploration process leading up to Canada’s 150th birthday on July 1, 2017. The process will give Canadians the opportunity to learn all about Canada’s Constitution and to draft their own version of a new constitution, and to send it and a message to political party leaders and other key politicians across the country about the Canada and Canadian government they want.

Duff Conacher, LL.B., Coordinator of Your Canada, Your Constitution.

“‘Canada will be 150 years old in 2017, and what better national public discussion and educational exploration to have over the next few years than about Canada’s Constitution, which contains the key rules for how our governments and our country work, and about what Canadians want to see in a new constitution,’ said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Your Canada, Your Constitution (YCYC).

“‘Many recent surveys show that a large majority of Canadians think Canada’s constitutional Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a world-leading document, but that there are many other fundamental problems with Canada’s Constitution and governments, and that they want changes to make a new constitution,’ said Conacher.

“The results of surveys commissioned by YCYC over the past year include the following:
* February 2013 survey found a majority of Canadians (55%) want to change to a Canadian head of state, while only 34% want to continue with a member of the British royal family as Canada’s head of state …
* May 2012 survey found 67% want a new, elected person to replace the Governor General and lieutenant governors.”

Denise Balkissoon. (Kevin Gonsalves).

(3) FROM DENISE BALKISSOON IN THE GLOBE AND MAIL (TWICE): FIRST TIME: “Tots and frocks aside, the royals have overstayed their welcome … My family is from Trinidad (former British colony) via India (former British colony), and thanks to generations of lost languages and low status, we’ve lost track of most of our ancestors: as far as I know, my maternal great-great-grandmother was named ‘Old Fat Nanny’ … Somehow the fresh young royals haven’t convinced me that the monarchy has become particularly modern – or that they need public money more than other residents of the Commonwealth.”

SECOND TIME: “Frustratingly, the cost of constitutional wrangling was the most common argument against pursuing a Canadian head of state. This … is democratically depressing. As Canadian demographics continue to evolve, it’s essential that leadership reflect the populace – yet the monarchy remains mired in an irrelevant debate on whether to open their membership ranks to Catholics … My own unyielding belief – that the Royal Family symbolizes the prejudice and violence with which the British Empire treated its colonial subjects – is only one way of looking at the past. It’s easy to make a place for varying opinions in print, but difficult to resolve those differences when it’s the governance of a country that’s at stake.” (And we’d just conclude with “Right on Denise Balkissoon. You’re right about pursuing a Canadian head of state. That’s the diverse way ahead for the democratic majority. Never give up or give in, etc.”)

(4) FROM SCOTT VROOMAN IN HUFFINGTON POST CANADA : What I Would Change About the Monarchy in Canada …  Defenders of royal assent maintain that it is an important symbol. I agree. It is a symbol of how uncomfortable our government is with pure, unfiltered democracy. True representative government will only come when we chuck the Brita and wrap our lips around that filthy tap called “the people.”



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