In search of Canadian identity
By Mark Wegierski
Canada, which Pat Buchanan once called a “Soviet Canuckistan”, certainly has some serious problems combating the ceaseless self-undermining of its military forces and traditions, but it is also having at least as difficult a time defining a coherent identity for itself. For example, there have been frequent calls to eliminate the traditional oath to Queen Elizabeth and her heirs and successors, as a condition for receiving Canadian citizenship. Since the 1960s, Canada, which was once proud of its British heritage, has increasingly redefined itself by its “uniquely compassionate social-democratic political culture”, expunging other, more traditional and meaningful bases of national identification.
Canadian political and cultural leaders have based this new national “identity” largely on an embrace of the lifestyles, customs, and traditions of Canada’s latest immigrant groups. But if Canada is to be defined by its multiculturalism – that is, by the cultures brought here from the outside, especially in the last few decades – then this implies that there is actually no such thing as Canadian identity and culture. So why bother funding the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), or the Canada Council for the Arts at all?
Former Canadian ambassador Martin Collacott’s report for the Fraser Institute and books by Daniel Stoffman and Diane Francis have challenged this hitherto unquestioned immigration /multiculturalism consensus in Canada, but such contrary opinions are given little hearing.
In the last forty years, Canada has experienced a massive repudiation of traditional notions of national identity, which had flourished for hundreds of years before. The English-Canadian and French-Canadian nations had indeed existed long before the formal establishment of the Dominion of Canada in 1867. However, today Canada is a cultural laboratory, having severed its roots – in history, Christianity, and the countryside. While it may not be surprising that British identification has melted away since the collapse of the British Empire in the 1950s, there has been little attempt to construct a more positive identity for English-speaking Canadians.
French Canada has its Quebecois nationalism, but English Canada has become a mere geographic area, a sterile “zone” with no true identity. To an overwhelming extent, it has become socially and culturally American, borrowing many of the more negative aspects of the United States – its vulgar pop culture, its strident political correctness, and its litigiousness.
Unfortunately, cultural interchange between Canadians and Aboriginal peoples has all but broken down in favor of establishing heavily subsidized Aboriginal “sovereign nations”. The Aboriginal peoples of Canada – Indians, Metis, and Inuit – have historically been subjected to severe persecution. However, their current attempts to wrest vast territories and resources at the expense of other Canadians, as well as their exclusive claim to the status of a native-born majority – immemorially tied to the land – delegitimates French- and English-Canadians’ senses of identity, reducing them to mere interlopers rather than founding nations.
Likewise, it is possible to be tolerant towards immigration and immigrants without implying that English-Canadian culture should simply disappear. Presumably, there should be some kind of dynamic interplay between the culture that once overwhelmingly defined the country and the cultures of those arriving later. If newcomers, encouraged in their truculence by government policy, continually refuse to take even small steps towards allegiance and assimilation, the eventual result may be ethnic chaos.
Today, Canadian policies are encouraged by the longstanding dominance of the federal Liberal Party, which has exercised an increasingly distorting influence on the Canadian social, political, and cultural milieu. The Liberal Party has clearly viewed immigration and multiculturalism as vehicles for assuring (or intensifying) their electoral predominance. (It has almost been forgotten that Toronto, before the 1960s, was a conservative, Tory bastion, and was indeed called “Tory Toronto”.) The Liberals have faced little opposition. Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s attempts to imitate the Liberal strategy (for example, by raising immigration to about a quarter-million persons a year from the 54,000 or so in Prime Minister Trudeau’s last year in office) proved to be an unmitigated disaster for the Tories. In addition, the lack of real conservatism in the federal Progressive Conservative party almost invariably led to the formation of the Reform Party in 1987. From 1998 to 2000, the Reform Party endeavored to broaden its appeal, transforming itself into the Canadian Alliance. Finally, in 2003, the Canadian Alliance and the federal Progressive Conservatives merged, calling themselves the Conservative Party, significantly dropping the “progressive” adjective. Stephen Harper was able to hold the Prime Ministership from 2006 to 2015, but he mostly pursued “ultra-moderate” policies even when holding a parliamentary majority in 2011-2015. The Liberals came roaring back in the 2015 federal election, and they returned with such confidence that it seemed that they had never really left. Maxime Bernier has felt compelled to raise the banner of revolt against the current-day Conservative Party, with his recent founding of the People’s Party of Canada.
As a result of Liberal Party dominance, issues of Canadian and English-Canadian identity are rarely seriously discussed today. Yet, to live without some kind of authentic, meaningful national identification is, to a large extent, to live a disfigured existence. In the rush to hyper-political-correctness, the nation itself has virtually been lost.
Some Canadian traditionalists, confronted by the intractability of Canada’s federal Liberal regime, are looking for a “provincialization” of Canada, or even arguing for amalgamation with the United States. However, the federal Liberal Party, the taxpayer-funded CBC, and similar forces continue to stifle the debate about Canadian national identity, proclaiming themselves as solely defining “Canadian nationalism” (even as that term, which was so popular among the Canadian Left in the 1970s, is increasingly abandoned).
It will not be easy to reinvigorate English Canada’s identity – combining some helpful Aboriginal insights and the best elements of Canada’s British roots and identifications with various elements of the new – to create something that will withstand disintegration or annexation in the long term. Indeed, perhaps the only remaining national institution of social and cultural unity in Canada is hockey.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher. An earlier version of this article has appeared on the Hudson Institute website.