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Six: Canadians Speak Out

In previous chapters I have attempted to examine issues in our past and present that tend to isolate the component parts of our country, that divide it into favoured and disadvantaged regions differentiating two categories of citizens, Inner and Outer Canadians, and, consequently, that create tensions, malaise and division.

The distinction between Outer and Inner Canada is not reflected on any map; nor is it in my experience even a widely-accepted concept yet. "Inner and Outer Canadians," of course, implies dominance by the former and a subordinate role for the latter. The term therefore to some people may seem divisive. Yet, this division is a reality, even if existing only in our national state of mind. It is, therefore, useful to focus on Outer Canada and to bring its concerns and experiences in Confederation out of the shadows in order to help restore a proper national balance and one day, it is hoped, to eliminate the need for any adjective in front of the word "Canadian" that might separate, isolate or patronize.

In other words, by dwelling on the negative aspects of Canadians "living together" my aim was not to perpetuate divisions. My basic assumption is that one cannot build unity unless these frustrations are dealt with candidly as part of a genuine reconstruction process. A denial of regional unfairness, inequality and favouritism within our federal system will not make Canadians change their minds: they know better. A straightforward acceptance of the grievances voiced from distant parts of the country and a genuine effort by national policy makers to remedy them can in my view still succeed in bringing Canadians together on the basis of national justice.

The rhetoric and emotions raised by the acrimonious three-year-long Meech Lake debate and the eleventh-hour negotiations to salvage the deal in June, 1990, highlighted issues relating to our national unity and focused public opinion on them. The process made Canadians fully aware of the high stakes at risk in our unresolved constitutional controversy. Now, Canada faces an uncertain future. No matter what their views on the accord, all residents of the country can share a realization that Canada will never be the same again. New political structures will be necessary to accommodate the constitutional demands of both Québec and other provinces or regions.

Our notions of national unity are bound to be re-examined and redefined in order to reflect new political realities. In this context, I find it of great importance to dampen the feelings of hostility, frustration and indifference, shared by many, to resume or to continue a vigorous national dialogue and to seek to give it a positive direction with the ultimate goal of keeping Canada together.

In making my views known, I wanted to consult with others. This chapter is the result of a dialogue with 110 Canadians, a dialogue conducted in the form of an informal questionnaire that I sent to them. Living in all parts of the country, these individuals by no means constitute a random sample representative of the country, as would be the case in a public opinion poll. I chose them because I knew them to be perceptive and articulate, and was therefore interested in their thoughts. The respondents include leaders of major national, professional and ethno-cultural bodies; academics; scientists; historians and writers. Some are Members of Parliament or Senators, some are members of provincial legislative assemblies, a few are journalists. In short, they are individuals who by reason of their involvement in political and professional life have a good grasp of the major public issues. Those who have requested anonymity have not been identified by name.

Though not designed or compiled in any scientific way, the questionnaires did attract attention to key trends in our national perceptions, attitudes and convictions.

Not surprisingly, many of those who shared their views posed as many questions as they answered, shattered or reaffirmed certain popular conceptions and myths, and in general provided a fascinating look at our national psyche. How should we interpret, for example, a Québec MP listing our national flag as the most unifying factor for Canadians? How should we interpret the reply given by an Ottawa-based journalist who describes the capital’s relationship with the regions of Canada as "excellent from my point of view, terrible from theirs"? In the context of the country-wide debate on the Meech Lake accord and frantic attempts to save it, it is interesting that Meech Lake itself was most frequently identified as the most serious threat to our national unity.

By focusing again on national unity, understanding and reconciliation, I run the risk of irritating and embittering readers partly because those notions were so abused recently by politicians and left devoid of much meaning by the rhetoric of the Meech Lake debate. Yet all of us must begin rethinking the country by giving fresh meaning to ideals we all cherish and by providing our own answers to questions that are basic to our badly battered national identity: "What is Canada?" "Who are we?" "What do we as Canadians have in common?" Can we live together, not in grudging acceptance, but by mutual consent and in the realization that respect for our differences makes us better and stronger?

The reader now knows that this book is highlighting those regions where strong convictions of unfairness and bias on the part of our federal system have persisted throughout our history as a nation. It is my hope that we may make these regions and the people living there into full partners in Confederation by giving them the chance to participate fully in decision-making. Despite historical imbalances as to the costs and benefits of Confederation, some recent disappointments, and dire warnings of things to come, this is no time to give up on Canada. This is no time to give up on the grand Canadian experiment.

Defining a Canadian

Much of the world’s media attention was captured by events of June, 1990 in Canada when it became apparent to many that a country with so many assets and opportunities might fracture. Until then, the international perception of Canada oscillated between two stereotypes, that of a generous democratic and tolerant haven for refugees and immigrants from around the world and that other cliché of a boring sub-arctic giant. An early 1990 editorial in Britain’s Economist magazine, discussing the place of the United States in a rapidly changing political climate, dwelt on America’s fate as "stuck between dull old Canada and noisy Mexico." There is in fact little agreement abroad on how to interpret Canada.

Twenty years ago, Jean-Michel Lacroix, a University of Paris professor of English and today one of France’s experts on Canada, dismissed our country as uninteresting. "A few acres of snow, Marie Chapdelaine and tensions between French and English," he noted. After two years of teaching in Québec City, he changed his mind completely, and is now convinced that it is a model country of the future. "It’s American society with only its positive elements. Canada is fascinating," says Lacroix who considers Canadians to be skilled problem-solvers with lessons to teach the world about bilingualism, multiculturalism and peace.

Canada was created by peoples who had, for the most part, left Britain and France to find better lives for themselves; small in numbers, they paid little attention to the numerous aboriginals who populated the huge territory. It was no love match, but at least offered our nineteenth century forebears an opportunity to profit mutually as a country while maintaining cultural and language distinctions. The national census of 1986 has identified sixty major cultural communities as forming our population today. It is obvious we are not a homogeneous country and must never strive to be one. Cultural homogeneity was never necessary for the creation and survival of a country. Indeed, around the world, a nation with a single culture, or a nation without regions, is a rare thing. India, China, Mexico, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Italy and Switzerland are only some of many examples of the more common situation. "A country is founded and persists, not because its people share common cultural bonds, but because they agree to common purposes, and accept that these can better be realized together," wrote David Alexander, a Canadian economic historian who had lived in all parts of this country.

Instead of a completed questionnaire, Pierre Camu, the Montréal-born author and vice-president of Lavalin Inc., sent me the chapter he contributed in 1988 to a book entitled, A Social Geography of Canada. In it I found these penetrating remarks: "There are some common factors that all Canadians share, irrespective of creed, faith, language or origin, and they distinguish them from other groups of people. They are namely, the notion and feel of winter, the notion of space and distance, the sharing of some unique and distinctive landscapes, the presence of the Federal Government and the proximity to the United States."

Poets, scholars, journalists and writers have attempted to offer an accurate portrait of our national character and have found it extremely difficult. Given the diversity and intensity of the many factors that are moulding our common identity -- including the English-French linguistic duality, the rights of those who are neither of British nor of French origin (fully one-third of our population), the long-neglected issue of justice for native peoples, differing cultural and social values, divergent religious and political orientation -- all set in the context of a changing political climate both in the country and in the world, this is inevitable. The failure to arrive at some uniform but appealing definition of "Canadianism" should not, therefore, be seen as a sign of weakness, or proof that we are trying to bottle something that does not exist. Twenty-six million of us can feel Canadian for different reasons, identify with different features, and be proud of different traits of Canada. Yet we need a unifying symbol to bind together our diversity and reconcile our differences. The quest for this unifying credo will remain part of the Canadian character.

Stockwell Day, an Alberta MLA from Red Deer, offered a different perspective on defining Canadians: "The greatest tragedy of Canadian unity is our failure to secure our own identity. We know what we are not, but not what we are. This is a function of our regional disparities and our emphasis on mosaics. Our diversity is perhaps our greatest attribute, but it is also the source of our indefinable identity and, under our present system of region muzzling, our greatest threat to national unity. We need to use the strength of our diversity to press towards a ‘national vision’ which encourages each past, not one which looks to subordinate some regions or individual pasts. Let’s stop tearing ourselves up by the roots to see if we’re still growing."

What is a Canadian? There are probably as many definitions of what makes us Canadian as there are people in the country. After more than a century of ten-year censuses, we still do not allow "Canadian" as one of the possible categories of ethno-cultural origin. Are the descendants of 1812 Red River settlers still Scottish? Is the thirteenth generation descendant of French colonists still French? Should such people not have a choice to put "Canadian" both as their cultural origin and identity even if it makes life more difficult for analysts at Statistics Canada?

The way we define the concept "Canadian" manifests what is important to us: we are proud of our experiment in nation-building -- the founding of a country incorporating many different and distant regions and culturally-diversified people. It has become a fact of life and is world-famous. The replies to "what is your personal definition of a Canadian," one of the questions in my questionnaire, varied from a laconic "me," to "very-very fortunate," to such eloquent replies as that of a Nova Scotia university professor: "One who not only feels a unique attachment to the political state but who also takes pride in that state and its people in all their cultural, religious, ethnic and regional diversity. Someone who desires the continued existence of the unified state but recognizes the need for compromise and sacrifice in order to facilitate the continued unity of a very diverse country. And, someone who can readily recognize what is not Canadian but cannot so readily define what is."

Ray Martin, the Leader of the Official Opposition in Alberta, stresses tolerance and understanding as qualities defining a Canadian and he adds, "...recognizing that we are different from the U.S.A. . .we have created a gentler, kinder society, to quote a phrase."

To the same question Québec MP François Germ, now a member of the Bloc Québécois, replied that a Canadian is "one who loves his region, understands that Canada is composed of different distinct regions and shows understanding of differences of all kinds."

Clarifying what it means to be Canadian, Ken Coates, a West Coast academic, wrote: "It means that we can proclaim, proudly, joyously, that we live in one of the finest, most gentle, most caring, prosperous, progressive societies that has ever existed on this earth. Sadly, it also means that we will not proclaim this self-evident truth and that we will, instead, focus on our shortcomings and point to our continuing weaknesses. May it ever be thus for it is this ability to find fault that has driven our country to become one it is today."

One further definition came from the Italian-born, Montréal-raised, and Ottawa-based cameraman Giancarlo Ciambella: "Someone who has been in the country long enough to understand what this country is made up of and how they can fit in and contribute to it."

Divided Loyalties

David Elkins, a political scientist and interpreter of our national identity, observed in an essay that Canada’s history cannot be viewed solely from the perspective of nation-building. "Equally important has been the parallel and contemporaneous process of province-building," he says. Each of the provinces constitutes a "small world" within the wider context of Canada as a sub-continental nation. As a consequence, Canadian citizens have loyalties to their province and region and their perceptions of Canada vary, as Elkins found in his studies. My questionnaire findings indicate, too, that an awareness of Canada as a political concept coexists with a clear awareness of provinces and regions. While I can agree with Elkins that "there is little apparent conflict between these cognitions, though the balance of affectations for one or the other naturally varies from person to person," my own assessment is that this multiple loyalty and affection trait causes many Canadians major concern. It certainly fosters divided loyalties and pride among many of us.

Asked about his definition of a Canadian, Kenneth Pole, an English-born editor and Canadian citizen and resident of Ottawa, replied: "I wish I could answer this! I can say only that I’ve long envied Americans their national pride and willingness to be identified as ‘Americans’ without ethnic hyphenation or a parochial bias such as many Canadians seem to have: e.g. ‘I’m from B.C., or Québec or Nova Scotia’ rather than ‘I’m a Canadian,’ when asked their nationality."

I’ve often noticed that virtually the first thing Americans ask each other on first meeting is, "what state are you from?" Contrary to Pole’s experience, my own is that Canadians somehow do not tend to ferret out this information quite so quickly. In my judgement, there is not one "correct" hierarchy of feelings or identifications that makes one truly Canadian. Numerous successful federations, through their structures and purpose, require and encourage multiple identities and loyalties. Particular identities develop within the context of a province or state and a country as a whole; an attachment to provinces should reinforce our Canadian national identity. Without Elkins’ "abiding sense of place," or attachment to one’s province or region, without the pride in one’s region, there would probably be much less feeling and enthusiasm for Canada. "I do not know which is correct," states Elkins," ‘I am a British Columbian, and therefore I am a Canadian’ or ‘I am a Canadian and this makes me part of British Columbia."

As to my own loyalties, they are overlapping. Being a Canadian and an Albertan are both important and I’m as much committed to seeing Canada remain as one country as to seeing that Alberta or any other province remain part of it.

Many Canadians are reluctant to answer the question whether their first loyalty lies with Canada or whether they, in the first place, relate to and identify with their region or province. Their doubts and ambivalence vary. however, from region to region. Ontarian respondents mostly tend to identify first with Canada. Respondents from Québec, on the contrary, usually emphasize that their first identification lies with their province. Overall, more than half of the respondents to my questionnaire identified themselves first with Canada, and a third either with a province or with a region. A good number checked off both Canada and a region or province, to ensure they are not seen as disloyal either to Canada or to their province.

In a letter he wrote to me, George Stanley, the respected Canadian historian and former Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick, described his own feelings about our country in these terms: "During my lifetime, I have lived in Alberta (22 years); in Europe -- England and France (10 years); in B.C. (one year); in Ontario (23 years) and in New Brunswick (26 years). These are rounded out figures and give me an age in actual excess of my years. But the conclusion I have long since arrived at, is that I like New Brunswick best. I am a New Brunswicker by taste and temperament, and certainly by sympathy. But! have had a good experience of Canada. I like the idea of a bilingual country (yes, I use both languages) and I love this country and have no desire to see it Americanized, or absorbed."

The experience of a region in Confederation as perceived by its residents is a good measure of the success or failure of our federal system. Some responses to questions on the grievances of one’s province or region with Confederation reflected real bitterness shared by those living in Outer Canada and a dose of both impatience and arrogance from some respondents living in southern Ontario. "We get a little tired of doing all the paying," wrote Toronto MP John Bosley in a manner that would enrage most Outer Canadians.

In a letter clarifying his answers, Doug Tyler, a New Brunswick MLA, doesn’t agree with my use of the term "Outer Canadians": "I have stated that the main grievance our province has is regional disparity, and I wouldn’t doubt that this has consistently occurred because those in Upper Canada persist in thinking of those outside their two provinces as ‘Outer Canadians.’ Its implicit message is that while we may be considered a part of Canada, we are not regarded as part of the ‘real’ Canada. …only on the fringe. We in the Maritimes do not consider ourselves as ‘Outer’ in any way other than perhaps in the minds of the politicians in Ottawa. We are every bit as Canadian as any resident of Toronto, Montréal or Ottawa."

Outer Canadians, no matter what other interpretations of the term might be considered, are in my view those who identify themselves with regional injustices and grievances. Outer Canadians feel that they have not been equal partners in Confederation, that Central Canada drains the rest of the country, and that they never receive a fair share of national benefits and progress. They believe successful national governments only care about people in Toronto and Montréal and spend too much time trying to keep Québec happy. The farther from the centre of the country, the less one is listened to, say most Outer Canadians. They feel banished as if in a hinterland. They bring up Macdonald’s National Policy of 1879; tariffs and freight rates and transportation policies. They resent financial control at the centre; economic exploitation; cultural ignorance; disparities in allocation of resources, in employment and in development; depletion of resources and the environment.

Québeckers tended to stress other concerns: minority subject to majority domination, lack of understanding between the English-speaking minority and the French-speaking majority of Québec, economic injustice and lack of recognition that Québec is a distinct society within Canada.

Interestingly, respondents from Ontario in general either skipped the question or said candidly: "I don’t have any" (grievances) -- southern Ontario MP Gilbert Parent; "none" -- an Ontario Senator; "The use of taxation to support outer provinces" -- an historian from Ottawa, Mauri Jalava.

As to the current grievances with Confederation, respondents from Atlantic Canada often listed monetary and fiscal policy designed for Central Canada, economic dependence, economic colonization within Canada, regional disparity, cuts in our VIA Rail system and centralization of federal government activities in Ontario and Québec.

Westerners stressed financial controls, bilingualism, unfair federal-provincial transfers, Ottawa overspending, high interest rates, lack of knowledge and appreciation of Western Canada, feelings of being ignored, Meech Lake and Ottawa’s preoccupation with the constitutional aspirations of Québec alone.

Northerners complained about the fact that the NWT are not part of Confederation, and further mentioned Meech Lake, the North’s lack of control over natural resources and Ottawa’s poor treatment of native people.

On the present concerns of Ontarians about Confederation, Senator Royce Frith is convinced that "Ontario can have no reasonable grievance with Confederation." Toronto area MP Don Blenkarn has one complaint: "unseemly grousing by regions that are well looked after." Other problems mentioned by Ontarians were free trade, lack of respect for French outside Québec and the unilingual law of Québec.

Under their more recent complaints, Québec respondents mostly expanded on the solitude of French Québec and the lack of recognition for the province of Québec as an equal but distinct partner in Confederation. A Québec MP, Pierette Venne, wrote about her province’s "lack of feeling of belonging to Canada."

To the question "How would you describe your own region’s relationship with the rest of Canada?" Ontarians generally answered with: excellent, positive and supportive, one of the largest contributors to Canada. Some Westerners and Atlantic Canadians suggested something nearing a love-hate relationship: "tenuous," "strained," "subservient," "supplicant," "poor country cousin of Central Canada." One Haligonian captured well the essence of feelings shared by many Outer Canadians when he expressed "resentment at being regarded as the perpetual ‘have-not’ region and bottomless pit for financial assistance." Brian Lewis of the NWT Legislative Assembly described his region’s experience directly: "Canadians view the ‘North’ (or ‘northerners’) as inferior, but whatever use it has is seen in terms of serving metropolitan or national interests."

About the advantages of being a part of the Canadian Confederation, respondents right across the country listed several: a social security system, unity and national identity, being part of a nation, transfer payments, counterbalance to absorption by the Americans, large and relatively barrier-free market, feeling of pride in being Canadian, federal cabinet ministers, agricultural subsidies, a bicultural identity making us different from Americans, access to market. However, Joan Duncan, an MLA from Saskatchewan, stressed "it would be difficult to see any advantage in Confederation if we had to continue to be its victim, sending our raw resources to Central Canada and purchasing manufactured goods on a tariff-protected Canadian market." Finally, let me mention one bitter entry by Brian Lewis from Yellowknife: "The only advantages are those which a ‘kept mistress’ must feel."

My query on the economic dimension of Confederation indicated most respondents feel they have prospered, relatively, by province. I asked a question about the degree to which the economic potential of the respondent’s region/province has been developed. Not surprisingly, the residents of Ontario expressed the opinion that the economic potential of their province is developed quite fully. Those who felt that their region’s economic potential is undeveloped or wasted for the most part live outside Ontario and Québec.

Regional disparities have been identified by many, including former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, as one of the major causes of regional alienation and probably the major obstacle to building Canadian unity. The responses I compiled generally confirm this assumption. When unemployment rates at a given time vary from 3.5 per cent in some parts of the country to twenty-one per cent in others, this is not surprising. Respondents to the question about the effect on national unity of regional economic disparities in Canada generally agreed that economic assistance and development are operating as a national glue. Similarly, there was a consensus that widening disparities have a corrosive impact on unity, breed discontent, and alienate people from both the federal government and our more prosperous regions.

"The track record is not good. The gap is still roughly the same in spite of spending," wrote Bill Rompkey, MP for Labrador. "Consequently there is frustration mixed with resentment." A University of Manitoba professor, Peter St. John, defines the impact of economic disparities on unity as "devastating." He goes on: "The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are disadvantaged provinces permanently. Nothing is being done to right these economic disparities, especially by the federal government." Fortunately, Ontarians as residents of our foremost "have" province seem to share the view expressed by many from our "have-not" provinces that economic disparities harm national unity. Even Don Blenkarn wrote, "They hurt our unity." Sheila Embleton, a university professor from Toronto, said tellingly, "Imagine an upper middle-class family in which there are 10 children and two stepchildren and then try distributing allowances and privileges inequitably, and see how long you last without fights breaking out." "They create jealousy," concurs John Bosley, MP for one of Toronto’s most wealthy constituencies. "They harm unity," says an Ottawa-based, well-established but anonymous journalist. "They make the disadvantaged feel like second-class citizens. They cause the advantaged to become smug, and believe their votes equal ten of the deprived." "They empty deprived regions of their most dynamic residents, especially their younger people," commented a Montréal university professor. A few respondents opted for sarcasm when dealing with this question. One Ottawa journalist, explaining that disparities have a "terrible effect" on national unity, quipped, "It turns people into complainers and whiners. It makes them unhappy, they gripe, bitch and quit their caucus if they are Tory MPs."

A clear, overall pattern could be detected from many replies received from Outer Canadians -- namely, a bitter sense of injustice. It is based on the conviction that they have been unequal partners in Confederation, suffering from a long succession of economic and political decisions that have subordinated parts of our country and sacrificed important legitimate interests of some regions. Central to the views of most such replies was the strong conviction that Ottawa policies under successive national governments equate our national interest with the improved well-being of Inner Canadians.

I also asked what major changes in attitudes and policies are required to make Confederation work better for all provinces and regions. While knowing that the question was too broad to be answered comprehensively in a couple of sentences, I hoped at least to draw from the replies some indirect answers on how to build national unity. By sorting the replies on a regional basis, I anticipated concerns to be voiced that have been for too long dismissed as extreme, cranky, parochial or irrelevant at best.

Ray Guay, the Ottawa-based editor for the Regina Leader-Post and Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, born, raised and educated in Hull, with considerable experiences of the country, the Prairies in particular, wrote: "Since coming to Ottawa, I’ve come to believe one of the greatest detriments to the proper governance of the country is that (a) Parliament itself has become almost an immaterial but costly appendage and (b) individual Members of Parliament don’t care so long as they are able to enrich themselves. This has shown itself in many ways: the House no longer looks into the spending plans of government; in that respect, the committees do no more than a superficial job of it, individual MPs being more concerned with their own little bailiwick in questionning ministers and bureaucrats (briefly) and government members would not dare mount any objections. There’s nothing wrong with individual MPs supporting their own party, but blind allegiance is harmful to the country."

"You will recall," he went on, "that, after the 1984 election, much was said and written about the ‘power’ of the West now that the Tories were in government. Not only has this not happened, but policies and decisions that definitely were hurtful to parts of the West were allowed to proceed without a murmur. I’ve become convinced ministers are so well treated that conscience no longer plays a part in decisions. The very same thing has happened with respect to the Maritimes. Alberta has advanced Senate reform as a means of rectifying this situation. The ultimate solution does not lie with the Senate but with the House. I also believe political parties will not find adequate leadership until such times as they can find the means of overcoming the present mania of selecting leaders only because they have the proper image… that of a winner."

Guay’s comments are so accurate that any of us, MP, journalist, federal public official, cabinet minister, who have spent more than a few years in Ottawa circles should applaud his candor and insight. That few will do so publicly is, of course, more a comment on our current political culture and the state of executive democracy than anything else. We need more Ray Guays in Ottawa.

Another Ottawa-based, Ontario-born journalist called for "an appreciation that French is an equal language, not a gift Anglos regret giving. A sense of West and the East. A swift kick in Toronto’s smug butt." An MLA from Saskatchewan said we need "equal representation by province in the Senate or a similar body, a constitution that would give equal rights in Confederation." John Leefe, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Environment, wrote, "The provinces must be treated equally within Confederation in the same sense as the American states are within the U.S. Senate. Neither the Canadian Senate, which was constitutionally intended to do this, nor the federal-provincial conferences, which institutionally were intended to create a balance, have achieved their purpose."

Other respondents across the country called variously for "more balanced regional influence in national policy and administration" (New Brunswick senator); "strong leadership, enhanced national communication, reformed Senate" (Derek Lee, Ontario MP); "a more overt effort by central agencies and institutions to consider Maritime interests and perceptions" (Peter McCreath, Nova Scotia MP); "tolerance towards the English-speaking in Québec, economic diversification and regional programs via Ottawa" (comment from British Columbia); "a major change in attitude to understand and accept Québec and its French-speaking majority -- otherwise Québec will demand more autonomy as a means for the survival of its identity" (Québec Senator). Deborah Grey, the Reform Party MP, wrote: "A triple-E Senate -- only then will the outer regions have true representation. It is also necessary for Southern Ontario and Québec to quit thinking they are the heartland, everyone else hinterland." Moffatt S. Makuto of Thunder Bay believes that "equality of all cultures -- native, Francophone, English and all others" will make Confederation work better for all of us. Some Ontarians offered very general remarks: "Forget past mistakes and learn to appreciate what unites us" (MP); "No real changes required in Ontario" (Toronto-based Senator). An exasperated John Bosley, who said he did not finish completing the questionnaire because he "… became angry -- ‘province,’ ‘province,’ ‘province,’ everywhere ‘province,’" suggested one solution to the annoying omnipresence of provinces: "Maybe the only way in this country to create one Canada is to give Ottawa veto power." Many Outer Canadians believe this has been the unstated and unrealized wish of national governments for decades.

Symbols of Unity

To become a nation, residents must share a common sense of purpose and unity. It’s usually, of course, through birth that a country becomes a part of one’s life, but a common experience can forge common values and create links binding nationals together to become part of a united country. A shared religious faith, a common enemy, a cultural distinctiveness and uniqueness, shared values and convictions, a loyalty to a sovereign -- these are some of the factors that make people feel they are part of a nation. In Canada, with our diversity of cultures, religions, traditions and languages, it is a forlorn task to search for a single factor that could be positively identified as our most unifying national force.

One role of a flag is to be a symbol of national pride and a unifying banner. Take the American flag: Old Glory remains a potent emblem of unity in a country that fought for its independence, pioneered its land and gathered a large population from far and wide. It evolved from a rallying symbol into much more for many Americans: their history, their faith, the quintessence of being an American. In our own country, the search for a uniquely Canadian flag twenty-five years ago resulted from the need for a similar symbol. Following an emotional and bitter polarization of loyalties and attitudes, the Canadian Parliament accepted the maple leaf flag now shown with so much pride. At the time, it was a compromise to unity and far from a rallying symbol for many Canadians. A columnist for the Economist captured the Canadian emotional distance from the flag still apparent even after a generation: "People seem to become more flagprone when they feel a particular need to say who they are or who they aren’t. Canada’s maple leaf and Switzerland’s white cross are proudly worn not so much to say ‘I’m Canadian,’ or ‘I’m Swiss’ as ‘I’m not American,’ and ‘I’m not German/French/Italian.’ "Today, I believe our flag has become. to most of us, an excellent unifier across the country.

Many replied to my questions about the events in our history that have had either the most propitious or the most devastating effect on our national unity. Their answers reflect the diversity of a population constituted of immigrants who came from different countries at different times to make their home in twelve provinces and territories. A look at the items listed as having both unifying and destructive consequences for national unity reveals that, apart from several factors and events totally outside our control, there are many initiatives which could be defined as Ottawa-sponsored or promoted. This demonstrates that our national government has played, and can in future play, an effective role in bringing Canadians together by putting far more unity-building policies in place.

More than a third of the responses listed World Wars I and II as the most unifying national experience, with an overwhelming majority of them coming from Western provinces and Ontario. The building of a railway line across the country was the second most identified unifying event; again, the majority of those who mentioned it came from Ontario and the West. Expo 1967 and Canada’s Centennial celebrations were the third most frequently mentioned unifying milestones. Others mentioned were: the CBC, the flag debate, Confederation, the Constitution, the Charter of Rights, the Olympic Games, Team Canada’s hockey victory over the Russians, and the Canada/USSR hockey series. Sadly, there was also this isolated response from a Western Canadian executive: "The answer to real Canadian unity is to encourage Québec to separate and then work to develop a country with an English-speaking culture that we can all nurture and be proud of."

Among the issues or events considered destructive to national unity, the Meech Lake accord ranked first. On the other hand, it was identified by some Québec respondents as a unifying factor and most of them considered its rejection as destructive to our unity. The July, 1990 Globe and Mail-CBC poll concluded that 60 per cent of Canadians outside Québec did not want the Meech Lake accord ratified. Half of the respondents agreed that the failure of the accord will do lasting harm to French-English relations. Yet, the majority of Canadians outside Québec -- 80 per cent-- want the province to remain part of Canada.

Québec’s language laws promoting French unilingualism, in particular Bills 101 and 178, were often mentioned among the dis-unifying factors, which also included: official bilingualism or its implementation, free trade, the Pierre Trudeau era, World Wars I and II, conscription, the 1970 War Measures Act, the awarding of the CF-18 maintenance contract, the threat of Québec separation, and party discipline.

Two Solitudes

A particularly disturbing phenomenon surfaced in parts of English Canada and Québec earlier this year: English-French language tensions led to incidents of intolerance, bigotry and undisguised language animosity. Examples were, English-only declarations -- by less than ten per cent of the towns and cities in Ontario--and increased activity by the Association for the Preservation of English. They followed Québec’s enactment of Bill C-178 (requiring English only on outside commercial signs), and the suppression for a brief period at some schools in Montréal of languages other than French outside classes. In my opinion, these incidents were fuelled by fears of perceived persecution and discrimination. It is not my intention to explore here the complexities of the English-French language history in Canada, but the subject is so related to our current national turmoil that a brief mention of it is necessary.

With the Meech Lake debate raging during much of the past year, we have seen French-English relations reach a new low. Except for a vocal and small minority anti-French group, English Canadians have generally reached out to French-speaking Canada during the past twenty years. The well-documented efforts by concerned individuals from all provinces across the country indicates our national willingness to compromise on language issues and, above all, to stay together. The enthusiasm for French immersion programs and their success, particularly in the West, is a remarkable tribute to the desire of modern Canadians from all walks of life to accommodate the concerns of their French-speaking fellow citizens. The fact that "Europe 1992" will have nine official languages, including English and French, no doubt helps both our official bilingualism and the expanded teaching of our other heritage languages as well.

One of my questions tried to explore the major issues of difficulty in today’s French-English language relations. Mentioned, in order of frequency, were forced official bilingualism or the way it was implemented, Meech Lake, mutual misunderstandings, Anglo bigotry, Québec language laws, the actions of Québec’s Premier Robert Bourassa, economic inequalities in stages of development, unequal treatment of English language in Québec, lack of respect of anglophones for the French culture, the reluctance of both groups to learn the other language. A western MP mentioned the problems of "Historically-rooted bigotry in English Canada and historically-rooted fear of assimilation in French Canada (the latter being by far the more logical and realistic)." A respondent from the Prairies wrote, "The English feel that the French language is being forced upon a majority of Canadians that find no need for the second language." A senator from Québec made the other side of the case: "The fact that English-speaking Canada does not recognize that Québec has always been and still is in effect, really a ‘distinct society.’

The Ottawa journalist Daniel Drolet, a franco-Ontarian, wrote of the problem of: "Misunderstanding the issue on the part of English Canada, ignorance of the wider picture on the part of Québec." Another journalist wrote: "Bigotry on the anglophone side. Self-absorption on the francophone. Anglos make no effort to appreciate Québec. Québec makes little effort to explain. The media is as guilty as anyone."

Québec MP Gabriel Fontaine offered his perspective on the issue: "Because our Canadian society is relatively prosperous, some anglophones and some francophones have the luxury of fighting from time to time on language questions." He’s correct for most of our language worries, I suspect, but by no means for all.

The main question that remains," wrote Ken Coates, the B.C. historian, "is what more can English Canada do? In terms of programs, expenditures and new initiatives, I would suspect that the answer is, not much. We can, however, prove that we are serious about integrating English and French perspectives and seek a comprehensive understanding of the French fact in Canada."

The anecdote which, in my own view, best captures our language situation involves an exchange between an English-speaking and French-speaking Quebeckers shortly after the Parti Quebécois election victory during 1976. The anglophone told the other: "I’m afraid." His francophone friend replied: "We’ve been afraid for three hundred years."

French-language nationalist poetry written between 1830 and 1855 reflects the ambiguity that many francophone Canadians felt toward their English-speaking co-habitants of their province. Despite writing during a troubled period, Québec poets of the day expressed the feelings of nostalgia for better relations with their anglophone neighbours. The hopes for a better future and for uniting francophones and anglophones are clear in a poem by François-Réal Angers, well known for his nationalist poems:

Dear old children of Normandy
And you, young sons of England,
Unite your energy and form
a nation:
One day our common mother
Will applaud our progress
And guide fortune’s chariot
Which will guarantee our success.
Oh land of America
Be the equal of kings:
Nature and its laws
renders you most sovereign.

-- from "The Future," 1836

The co-existence of "two solitudes" today at the centre of Canada and the polyglot mosaic splashed all over the country, are the most vivid distinctions in our collective identity: the desire to stay together and at the same time to keep a certain polite distance from one another as a condition to unity. At the moment, our national cohesion appears to be weak for various well-known reasons, but, like families, we must never give up on any member. A new and happier cycle will emerge. It always has and it always will.

Keeping Canada Together

In my view, the present feelings of insecurity in many parts of Canada over Meech Lake and what it implies come mainly from the view that we all lost something in the process. People in most provinces lacked confidence in both the process and the substance. We all wanted assurances that our own well-defined "territorial" interests were duly protected. Québeckers wanted to be recognized as distinct in order to have more breathing space under the Charter of Rights. The North fiercely opposed any provision that might jeopardize its aspiration to greater autonomy in the future. The West wanted Senate reform to defend itself more efficiently against Ottawa policies tilted sharply in favour of Inner Canadian interests.

Many of us were disappointed that our world-renowned ability for finding solutions to difficult situations through compromise was not evident throughout the entire Meech Lake process when issues of such importance to the country were dealt with. This was as much a result of pressure tactics applied by the federal cabinet, as it was proof of the emotionally held contradicting views on what Canada is really all about and the frustration of Outer Canadians with perpetuating the status quo of regional imbalance.

It is a central part of our national dream to believe we possess a unique ability to maintain harmony among diverse cultural communities. This, undoubtedly, is one of Canada’s sterling successes even if it has faded somewhat with some recent incidents of bigotry, intolerance and racism. Long before it was formally recognized as a touchstone for Canadian society, multiculturalism was a fact of life in this country.

The 1986 census indicated that more than a fourth of Canadians are now of origins other than British or French. Some argue that if multiple origins are considered, the figure is nationally about thirty-eight per cent. Whatever the case may be, the percentage will rise as the cultural profile of new immigrants and refugees changes with world political and economic conditions. Countries of South East Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean are becoming the primary sources of newcomers to Canada. These "third-force" Canadians constitute a particularly dynamic component of Canadian society.

In recent decades, newcomers have not been pressured to believe in any particular Canadian credo and to discard their previous identity. They were instead encouraged to preserve their heritage, roots and culture while enjoying our national values of fairness, equality, and moderation, celebrated throughout the world. "Come to the Last, Best West" boomed Canadian immigration posters during the 1890s, "You may keep your language and religion, just come and till our prairie soil." Fortunately, this remains the essence of our cultural mosaic: by a collage of races, cultures and religions, we continue to build a nation bound by a thread of feelings of belonging to a country, and the understanding that together we benefit from one another and from our respective differences and contributions.

Recent episodes like the active campaign against turbans in the RCMP, an increased number of anti-semitic acts and persisting negative ethnic stereotypes combine with some recently conducted opinion polls to indicate growing intolerance. According to an Angus Reid-Southam News poll conducted in February 1990, one in three Canadians say cultural minorities should abandon their customs and language and become "more like most Canadians"; only thirty-four per cent chose the mosaic model. In my view, Canada is not now the American melting pot and never should be. The United States, in fact, appears to be moving briskly in our own direction as indicated by the fact that Spanish is almost as common as English on exhibits at Florida’s Disney World. Nor should people, including Brian Mulroney, rush into concluding foolishly that all those opposed to the turban for use in the RCMP dress uniform are bigots. Many of those opposed only felt the uniform was a national symbol which they did not wish to see changed.

To my question about how to deal with different cultures in Canada, most of the respondents chose the "multicultural mosaic" type; a smaller, but still significant number were in favour of the "melting pot" model; the remainder endorsed neither or opted for a combination of both. The small number of replies to my query cannot be compared with the broadly based and admittedly random sample method of the Angus Reid poll. Yet I believe the discrepancy here reflects the essential ambivalence of being Canadian: We want to be different from others, especially Americans. We celebrate, enjoy and take pride in our differences, yet, collectively we are afraid that these differences could drive us further apart if formally sanctioned and fracture us into cultural ghettos and otherwise dilute our collective identity.

There is considerable pressure on any first generation of newcomers to conform to national norms. Yet on the other hand, people want to maintain their cultural heritage for their own children as a family bequest. In my own experience, the second and third generations of immigrants embody most clearly the process of becoming Canadian and moulding personalities, loyalties and identities. The second generation is often more a part of a new cultural climate, but is still fluent in the language of ancestors and conscious of its own cultural duality in bridging two cultures and two worlds.

No one can say how many generations it takes to become "fully Canadian" because no one really knows what the term implies. Certainly mere "time done" should not determine the degree to which anyone can consider him or herself a Canadian. The moulding of our national identity is an ongoing process, greatly influenced by the overall broad social, economic, political and even geographical context in which it is taking place. Essential to it is that we, as a nation of immigrants, must not exclude any individual willing to participate in the process of building Canada.

"A country, by one definition, is a people with a shared sense of having done great things in the past and eagerness to do more in the future. By this standard, Canada is dying," wrote Jeffrey Simpson in the Globe and Mail during the height of French-English tensions relating to the Meech Lake accord impasse. In my own view, Canadians generally were not nearly as pessimistic about Canada’s future. Most of us resented deeply the apocalyptic tactics used by many Meech advocates, including the Prime Minister, and wondered what capacity to reconcile or authority to govern remained in elected officials who said, in effect, that Canada would explode if the agreement did not pass.

Are you and I going to stand idly by and watch Canada shatter or are we going to take an active role in attempting to stop this from happening? This might indeed be the best test of our loyalty to a cherished ideal of "Canada." For my part, this book is an attempt to promote unity and an effort to demonstrate that despite our differences and the very uneven flow of benefits Confederation has thus far brought to different parts of the country, the overwhelming majority of us want to continue as one national family.


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