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In search of true federalism in Canada: Old Canada, New Canada, and "Canada Three"

By Mark Wegierski
web posted May 16, 2011

The following piece is inspired by the leading figures critical of current-day Canada, including William D. Gairdner (who has recently brought out a new edition of his ground-breaking book, The Trouble with Canada: A Citizen Speaks Out -- originally published in 1990), and Ken McDonald, whose best-known book is probably His Pride, Our Fall: Recovering from the Trudeau Revolution (1995). Current-day Canada is officially defined as a multicultural society. A putative Canadian identity is said to be constituted out of the "mosaic" or "kaleidoscope" of various heterogeneous cultures. The upholding of current-day multicultural orthodoxy is policed by various quasi-judicial tribunals, including the so-called Human Rights Commissions. Their operations have been aptly described in Ezra Levant's Shakedown: How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights (2009).

There are also in Canada varieties of separatism. One of these arises out of the French/English duality of what were very traditionally called the two founding peoples of Canada. The Quebecois sovereigntists mostly view the Canadian State with antipathy. Also emerging since the 1960s, radical Aboriginal separatism looks with deep disdain at Canada. The idea is since the land was all "stolen" anyway, the Canadian State has no inherent legitimacy.

There is also a tendency among such archetypically Canadian institutions as the taxpayer-funded CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), to "read out" certain groups of people as "un-Canadian." The CBC views people who hold what are considered "reactionary" or "mean-spirited" social and cultural outlooks as simply not part of "the Canadian Way". Such outlooks are usually characterized as American-inspired, hence "un-Canadian". The so-called cultural industries in Canada are mostly government (i.e., taxpayer) subsidized, especially the so-called "CanLit" (Canadian literature). Unfortunately, many of these so-called "public" cultural institutions pride themselves on their total and pristine exclusion of anything smacking of traditionalism or conservatism.

What is Canadian identity? There have been at least two, very different Canada's -- the one that existed before the 1960s, and the one that exists today. Traditional Canada was defined by its founding nations -- the English (British) and the French (the latter mostly centred in what became in 1867 the Province of Quebec). The two nations long pre-existed Canadian Confederation. The founding document of the Canadian State was called the British North America Act, and was approved by the British Parliament in London. The Aboriginal peoples were included insofar as they were traditionally considered under the special protection of the Crown.

An understanding of the deep extent to which the British Canadian identity was formerly held – and a less negative view about its past role in Canada  – are probably beyond the ken of most people in today's "New Canada" [1], or "Canada Two" [2]. There are in fact multifarious techniques today for rendering almost all of the traditional Canada to appear as utterly hideous to so-called "decent" human sensibilities.

Today, except for certain residues in political institutions, the British Canada has been all but annihilated. Nevertheless, it could be argued that Canada still remains in the penumbra of the WASPs, as many of them – whether in corporate or governmental structures -- have taken on the role of being one of the most "progressive", most politically-correct groups in Canada. Thereby, their elite enjoys lives of enormous material comfort and cushy sinecures, even as the New Canada conceptually vitiates all that their ancestors once held dear.

Obviously, it is impossible to return to the Old Canada. Nevertheless, it's possible that there may be the chance for a "post-New Canada" that will likely move in the direction of various scenarios of so-called "provincialization". The contradictions between the current-day hyper-centralization, to which huge economic resources are perforce committed – and the vapid cultural and spiritual hollowness at the core of the administrative "command" apparatus – will likely become ever more apparent.

Perhaps the original idea of the European Community as a "union of sovereign states" -- rather than of today's E.U., which has become a bureaucratic, sometimes nightmarish "super-state" -- could serve as model for this "Canada Three." Presumably, the "Canada Three" would be some kind of positive, uplifting synthesis of the best elements of both the traditional and the current-day Canada – rather than just an extension and intensification of "Canada Two".  The "Canada Three" scenario could be similar to ideas of the so-called "Swiss model" or cantonization. The hope would be that radical decentralization would allow for various arrangements that would actually make "Canada Three" a stronger and more "rooted" federation or union in its constituent parts. It would also hopefully strengthen intermediary institutions such as churches, and local associations.

The political efficacy of true federalism is that it allows for the expression of divergent tendencies that would otherwise have a centrifugal effect on a given polity. ESR


[1] Obviously here I am using the term "New Canada" to refer to the post-1960s Canada whose main architects have been the Liberal Prime Ministers Lester Pearson and Pierre Elliott Trudeau. It could also be called the "Trudeaupia". It should be noted, nevertheless, that the term "New Canada" was quirkily deployed by Preston Manning as the name for the model of Canada which he himself was proposing. Presumably he chose the name to disguise somewhat the conservatism and traditionalism of the Reform Party platform.

[2] It should be noted that during the debate over the Meech Lake Accord and Charlottetown Agreements, the prominent liberal commentator Richard Gwyn referred contemptuously to the Canada which the Meech Lake Accord and Charlottetown Agreements would bring into being as "Canada Two". This is not the sense in which I'm using this term.

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.





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