Regionalism and nationalism in Canada – a reassessment (Part Seven)
By Mark Wegierski
In societies such as Canada, the terms “nation” and “state” are often considered to be describing the same thing. However, a more subtle approach could describe a “nation” as something close to a cultural or ethnic entity, whereas a “state” is a legal structure than can include mostly one, two or several nations.
Gad Horowitz is one of the most interesting figures of the Canadian Left. One of his central ideas was that Canada as a whole could be characterized as a binational State. The two nations are English-speaking Canada and Quebec. Gad Horowitz had also suggested that “Britishness” can be mostly a “political nationality” that does not imply ethnic or religious exclusion.
The pattern of Canada today would appear to be moving more and more towards a “dualism” where Quebec would have most of the attributes of an independent country, but be loosely linked to the Canadian federation. It may be a bit unclear to what extent a very pronounced “dualism” would correspond to Gad Horowitz’s call for “special status” for Quebec. Whether that might necessarily mean a more robust identity for English-speaking Canada is also not entirely certain. Something that is very noticeable is that Preston Manning insisted in the platform of the Reform Party on “the equality of the provinces” and explicitly disavowed the “two founding nations” idea. Manning claimed he wanted “special status” for no one. Manning’s concept coincided somewhat with a “One Canada” approach that Gad Horowitz had identified as untenable – because Horowitz thought that Quebec was truly a nation.
The problems of maintaining a binational State have been huge for Canada. Some have argued that the original kernel behind the idea of multiculturalism was the unquestionable duality of the Canadian State. Indeed, Quebec could be viewed as one of the perennial problematic quandaries for the Canadian federation, absorbing vast amounts of political energy in the federation. While Manning preferred to not call Quebec a nation, some of his ideas of decentralization (such as the so-called “tool-kit” for the provinces which he proposed around 1997) would have offered considerable political possibilities to Quebec. At the same time, to say that Quebec is a nation is not to necessarily imply that its future must lie outside Canada.
It may be possible that a more positive evolution of Canada would eventually have to move in the direction of a “provincialization” or “cantonization” where there might be a “union of sovereign states” (which was the original concept of what was then called the European Community). The four main regions of Canada would appear to be Quebec, Ontario, the Atlantic provinces, and Western Canada (which would presumably include most of the Far North). In such a case, it could be possible that a more traditional Quebecois nationalism, and the local patriotism of the three main English-speaking regions, would come to the fore.
The extent to which most concepts of current-day Canadian nationhood have diverged from more traditional concepts of nation, is amazing. Ironically, Quebec in some ways retains far more of a “hard” concept of nation.
Such notions that meaningful assimilative pressures should be exercised by Canadian society – and that there are truly worthwhile aspects of Canada that it is virtually necessary to assimilate to (and that constitute considerably more than merely what Benjamin J. Barber has termed “junk westernization”) – fly in the face of the regnant multiculturalist orthodoxy.
Nevertheless, it takes considerable obtuseness to deny that the excesses of multiculturalism do create increasing tensions and frictions in society that simply never existed before. That Canada functions at all today, may simply be due to the fact that it is territorially the world’s second-largest country, with vast natural resources spread among a comparatively small population. There simply isn’t the often ferocious competition for resources frequently seen in heavily populated countries with a much smaller natural resource base. And, when a heavily populated country consists of different ethnic and religious groups competing for scarce resources, various levels of violent conflict may sometimes occur.
The pessimism of traditionalist and conservative thought about the long-term sustainability of such utopian societal constructs as multiculturalism, or an economy of never-ending growth, should be seen as a helpful warning, a call to temper the system before it possibly collapses with results that could be truly catastrophic.
Traditionalist and conservative philosophy indeed fears, with well-reasoned foreboding, rooted in its understanding of human nature, history, social experience, and the natural world, the horrific crashing down of the entire world system. It seeks to possibly offer advice and informed knowledge to more astute and thoughtful statesmen and politicians, as well as to the public at large, to somehow strive to avert the engulfing of the world by ever more apocalyptic/dystopic outcomes.
It could be argued that Canada today is flying so high on its apparent economic success that it is likely that it will come to the painful rediscovery of some basic truths only years from now, in the wake of a major economic downturn or crisis. Any more serious analysts know that such a downturn or crisis will sooner-or-later happen in Canada. Or possibly the coming storm of the conflict with Islamist extremists will move into such a high pitch, especially in some overseas countries, that Canadians will finally be shocked into apprehending certain uncomfortable truths.
It is presumably only then that the sheer utopianism of the various post-Sixties’ “projects” in Canada will become painfully obvious to considerable numbers of people.
Whether, at that point, Canadian society can move towards some forms of social and cultural restoration (which may in fact have to be concretized through regionalist tendencies), or continue to socially and culturally dissolve to virtual oblivion (because the socially and culturally centrifugal forces by that time will simply be too strong), remains to be seen.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.