For some time--well, the past two weeks, really--I've had a doozy of a blog germinating. This is my grand fiamma. The first spark? The jubilation surrounding the Queen's visit to Canada. The lighter fluid? A post on Kerri's blog citing a CTV.ca article proclaiming that "4 in 10 Americans support annexing Canada."
It has been said that Canada began the twentieth century as a virtual colony of Britain and ended it as a virtual colony of the United States. Truly, while this may not always be Canadians' opinions of themselves, it certainly holds weight in terms of our role in the international community. Yes, we're seen as peacekeepers (oddly, this persists despite the atrocious behaviour of our since-disbanded Airborne regiments in Somalia in the early 1990s). Yes, we're generally seen as friendly and polite. All of these are good qualities, qualities of which I would not want the international community nor Canadians themselves to lose sight. What has to go is this looking to Britain for parental approval (um, HELLO?!?!?! The Queen had to sign our Constitution!!! On hundered and fifteen years after Confederation and she still had to put her signature on our Constitution (which, for those non-Canadians reading this, was sadly never ratified by Quebec))! What has to go is this idea of being a Robin or a Jan to the U.S.' Batman or Marcia!
Why can we not stand on our own two feet?
I don't have the answer to this. I won't pretend to. I just know that, at any rate, it needs to end. What happened to the confidence of the early Trudeau years? A confidence in national identity that existed DESPITE rising threats of Quebec separatism? A confidence that existed despite the war and strife around us? Where is the Canada that resisted following the United States into Vietnam? Where is the Canada that resisted alienating Cuba (Trudeau was, famously, a friend of Castro's. Castro even attende Trudeau's funeral in October 2000)? Why do we now find it so hard to move beyond hand-holding to boldly stand on our own two feet?
As for the first spark I mentioned, I am baffled. I am baffled as to why the head of the British Royal Family is still our Head of State. True, it is a symbolic post, having no jurisdiction (that is reserved for the Head of Government, our own dear Prime Minister). But perhaps that is why I am troubled. It is a symbolic post! If Canadians look to a symbol of British power, what does that say about us??? Just after the passing of the Queen Mum, I wrote the following editorial:
Ah, Canada, I hardly knew ye!
Not yet one hundred and thirty-five years young, Canada and Canadians still hardly know themselves. What does it mean to be Canadian? I don’t claim to have the answer here, but I do believe with certainty that I know what – and who – Canada is not.
Canada is not a colony and Canadians are not Britons. For that reason alone the reaction to the recent passing of the Queen Mum is particularly troubling, not only because of the over-sentimentality of the Canadian people but because of that of the Canadian government, as well.
Call me an anti-monarchist is you will, but I prefer to call myself “Canadian” and as a so-called Canadian, I will be the first to admit that we all have a certain tendency towards nostalgia. Look at our continued attachment to Pierre Trudeau, for example. Trudeaumania lives today! And no, this isn’t just because of the CBC’s March 31st and April 1st airing of Jerry Ciccoritti’s Trudeau: The Man, The Myth, The Movie.
After Trudeau died in September 2000 after a battle with prostate cancer, we witnessed an outpouring of grief by most Canadians (former FLQ members excused – I recall reading one’s bidding Trudeau “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”) And grieve over Trudeau’s death we rightly did. Canada lost its most charismatic leader to date. He had vision, he had conviction, and he had the strength to go it alone. There was no hand-holding in his tackling of the October Crisis. There was no coddling in his campaigning against Rene Levesque’s separatists in the 1980 Quebec referendum. We have not seen his like since.
The tributes, the litany of photo-journalistic eulogies, the eventual Ciccoritti-helmed movie, and even the grieving public’s call for Justin Trudeau’s entry into politics and hence the satisfaction of our appetite for all things Trudeau all seem, though saccharine, at least half-rational.
What is irrational, though, is the extent to which Canadians are mourning the death of the Queen Mother. Flags are lowered to half-mast. Okay, fine. Books of condolences are available for signing. Also fine. Prime Minister Chretien is leaving a diplomatic tour of Africa undertaken in preparation for the upcoming G-8 summit in Alberta just to attend the Queen Mother’s funeral. Hmph. On Monday, April 8, the House of Commons passed a motion to offer the Queen our national condolence as her “dutiful and loyal subjects.” What?!?!
Now this is going too far. No, not in issuing national condolence to the royal family, but in elevating the Queen to exalted-infallible-leader status. This is nostalgia gone bad! Yes, it’s morally and diplomatically correct to express some form of sympathy, but since when are Canadians “dutiful and loyal subjects” of Queen Elizabeth II?! I know ‘Canadian identity’ is a slippery term, but I didn’t think we were this confused!
Problematic our identification with the Britons is. In a country proud of its multi-cultural status, a British-oriented definition of nationality is not only limiting, but potentially alienating to those who do not identify with a white, Anglo-Saxon tradition.
The April 8 motion is an invocation of colonial status and state hand-holding. It is precisely the adolescent appeal for international approval which Canada needs to stop making. When will we learn to think for ourselves, draw up foreign and domestic policies which truly reflect Canadian values? More importantly, when will we find the strength to go it alone?
The bigger question of national unity is often a source of debate in Ottawa, but overshadowed are the aforementioned issues. This is indeed unfortunate because it is the lack of transparency and lack of ingenuitive leadership which contribute to our self-misunderstanding.
As human beings, we are by nature inclined to define ourselves in terms of what we are not and the failure of our government to assert Canada’s independence of Great Britain shows an inability to recognize the collective Canadian face. How out of touch our politicians are!
In April 8th’s motion, only the Bloc Quebecois showed strength. Bloc MPs voted against the motion on the grounds that it failed to express Canada’s support as a sovereign country. They supported the condolence issue, but rejected a definition of the Canada citizenship as dutiful, loyal and albeit British. Interesting. I had heard that the separatist support was at its lowest in years, but this I didn’t expect.
Perhaps, then, there has never been a better time to assert Canada’s own sovereignty. We are obviously ready for this. The BQ’s recent alignment is an indication. What’s even more obvious, though, is our need to establish direction. We need to determine what Canada is and what Canada wants.
All Canadians, regardless of present citizenship status, need to have a government that is determined to work for them, not for diplomatic pats-on-the-back. We deserve as much. Above all, we deserve a government that can answer the question posed by Jeffrey Simpson’s April 2nd The Globe and Mail column: “Will Canada ever grow up?”
Well, as for the United States, I can't say anything more about that. I'm just too frustrated right now. When clarity and a cooler head prevails, look for my grand fiamma from this second spark.