Monday, 1 July 2013

Canada is dead. Long live Canada

Canada has a few ghosts. Not individual spooks - collective hauntings.

Nations are imagined. We think them in order for them to be true. Benedict Anderson told us this and it's so true it's now almost a cliché to say it.

But what happens when we dream a different dream? Minds do flicker from one thing to the next. Even if the collective idea of a nation has a little more ballast, it too sways and moves, finds other moorings. We reimagine the nation.

I was thinking of this as I read Robert Fulford's acerbic look back on the era of intense Canadian nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s. Fulford particularly recalled the great George Grant and his Lament for a Nation and Donald Creighton and his grumpy anti-Americanism.

For Fulford, the silly illogic of these men is clear in retrospect. Wasn't Canada supposed to disappear, a victim of American imperialism, Liberal party perfidy and British ineptness? And yet here we still are, another Canada Day come and gone. The nation stands. Folks gather on Parliament Hill and listen to the latest pop star, endure the platitudes of the latest prime minister. In Quebec, the renters move from apartment to apartment, and in small towns like the one I live in, they wear red and white clothes, gather their kids around to look at fire trucks and tractors, and then eat some cake. Happy birthday Canada. You're still here. Where's the beer?

Only Fulford couldn't be more wrong. The Canada of Creighton and Grant is long dead. You can still sometimes see the ghostly entrails in a cranky letter to the editor, in the dreams of Tory staffers on parliament hill, and wherever you see someone flying a Red Ensign. A ghostly presence at best.

This is the Canada that celebrated Dominion Day, that admired Canada's place in the British Empire and Commonwealth of Nations, not as a kind of subservient underling (always the insult from anyone in Quebec and, as the years went by, more and more 'with-it' English Canadians) but as a nation with a British history and British traditions.

Canada is around still, but not this Canada. You'll sometimes hear hints of this, and more than that, in Harper's speeches. But even as he speaks the words, his policies are simply those of Liberal governments before him: more continentalism, more American-style liberalism, less and less of the Red Tory touch.

We don't necessarily have to bemoan this. Many might happily celebrate it. But Fulford is entirely wrong to think that just because this country with the same name still exists that it is indeed still the same country.

Canada is dead. Long live Canada.

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