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The Tory tradition in Canada from the 1980s to today – Part Four

By Mark Wegierski
web posted June 18, 2007

Gad Horowitz, a well-known social democratic Canadian political philosopher, made (a considerable number of years ago) an absolutely amazing criticism of multiculturalism, and defence of English-Canadian nationalism.

“...[O]ur national politicians are afraid to challenge the professional ethnics and the provincial empire builders who perversely demand for their groups a status similar to that of the French. The continuation of our strong emphasis on regional and ethnic differentiation perpetuates fragmentation, prevents the emergence of any clear Canadian or English Canadian identity, and leaves the door wide open for Americanization... Instead of giving the French alone a special status, we are disintegrating the country by giving all ethnic groups and provinces special status. Canada may never be a national community because of the French presence. English Canada can be a national community, but only if our image of Canada is transformed from a political union of provinces and tribes into a political union of two communities, one English and one French. We must have the courage to combine accommodation of the French particularism with resistance to intra-English particularisms...

Most mosaic celebrators take the line that the very nothingness of Canada is its most praiseworthy characteristic. "How wonderful to live in a country that has no flag." How wonderful to live in a non-nationalistic nation, a nation that is not a nation, "a land of many cultures"...

When this way of talking is not fake, it is literally nihilistic...

The whole ideology of the mosaic came into being not so much to justify cultural diversity as to justify the absence of a national community embracing that diversity. We have only the pluribus, not the unum. The mosaic ideology is not needed to preserve the diversity; it is a weak and often insincere apology for the absence of unity. What differentiates us from the Americans is not our cultural diversity -- they have it too -- but our failure to develop a national community...

If an overarching English Canadian national community existed, the ethnic and regional particularisms would evaporate, with no regrets and little nostalgia... The mosaic preserves nothing of value. It is literally nothing. It is the absence of a sense of identity, the absence of a common life which can be shared by the English-speaking regions and tribes of Canada... If the situation can be saved...English Canadian intellectuals...must become self-conscious nation builders, as "survivance" conscious as the Québécois.”

[Emphasis in Gad Horowitz’s original text]

Canadian Political Thought, H.D. Forbes (ed.), (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 361-363.

The fact that a well-known left-wing thinker stands very "far to the right" of all of today's major political parties, on the issue of Canadian nationalism, may show in what a dislocated direction Canada has evolved.

Following the trail of Horowitz’s argument, it could be argued that English-speaking Canada was, in its history and founding, a traditionally British, considerably tory-oriented society -- both in the wider sense of having a British political culture, institutions, and general temperament, with a respect for traditional institutions and "peace, order, and good government"; and in the narrower sense of being predominantly founded by persons who (regardless of their points of origin -- the Thirteen Colonies, England, Scotland, Wales, or Ireland) identified themselves as British in both the general and ethnic sense.

It could be argued that the main roots of Canadian nationality lie in the United Empire Loyalists -- the men and women who remained loyal to their Sovereign, and consequently rejected the American Revolution, preferring exile in comparative penury to life in a society which, as they saw it, placed a greater value on money, than on virtue, honour, and faith.

The toryism of the Loyalists was similar in some ways to the traditional Catholic conservatism of Quebec -- a society suffused with the spirit of Catholic Christendom -- of piety, charity, faith, and honour.

Together, the French and British communities hoped to persevere and preserve some measure of their noble traditions on the North American continent, a task which has proved largely impossible.

The conservative alliance of the British and the French in Canada persisted in its most pristine form until 1896. Subsequently, Canada became characterized by an ever more centrist consensus focussed on the Liberal Party of Sir Wilfrid Laurier and of Mackenzie King (the longest-serving Canadian Prime Minister). It has been argued in earlier articles, that the developments after 1963 have marked an overturning of the “traditionalist-centrist consensus” – indeed, the creation of a “New Canada” – which could be called “Canada Two.”

It could be argued that the two main, highly tragic mistakes of the British North Americans or British Canadians were as follows. Firstly, there was their inability to properly distinguish between the more general and the purely ethnic aspects of their identity, which has, it could be argued, allowed “the mosaic ideology” to eventually undermine most of the more authentic notions of Canada. Secondly, there was their inability to reach a proper constitutional accommodation with Quebec (which most likely would have been some form of "dualism"), in which a traditional Quebec would have usually acted in support of, and not mostly in opposition to, the interests of the general polity.

In a well-considered conceptualization to undercut the excesses of multiculturalism in Canada, Gad Horowitz has suggested that Britishness is a so-called “political nationality” – which can (one would guess if there are still assimilative pressures being exercised) – be adopted by persons of any ethnicity or religion. Thus, calling Canada a British-inspired society is not inherently a vehicle for unwarranted exclusion.

Jack Granatstein, one of Canada’s leading historians, has recently said on television (TVO – The Agenda with Steve Paikin) that the real Canadian ideal is that Canada welcomes immigrants without prejudice but does require that they work at becoming successful here, and strive to become, in considerable measure, Canadians.

Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first and possibly greatest Prime Minister, had said, declaring his allegiances, “A British subject I was born, and a British subject I will die.”

Gad Horowitz, a very thoughtful social democrat, is remarkably daring in his description of what he sees as the main Canadian predicament since the 1960s. Nevertheless, the ideas he puts forward, and the suggestions he makes, do seem impossibly remote from current-day Canadian understandings.

To be continued next week. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

 

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