It is argued that a return to true federalism – i.e., strengthening the role of provinces and regions in Canada – may lead to a more balanced society in the future.
While there is no returning to the Old Canada which existed “before the ‘60s,” it is possible that the “New Canada” could reach out to incorporate some better aspects of the Old Canada, to create a new synthesis, “Canada Three,” rather than continue on the path of ever-intensifying left-liberalism.
What is Canadian identity? There have been at least two, very different Canadas: the one that existed before the 1960s, and the one that exists today. Traditional Canada was defined by its founding nations: the English (British) and the French (the latter mostly centered in what became in 1867 the Province of Quebec). The two nations long pre-existed Canadian Confederation, the creation of a Canadian federation with distinct provinces, with the powers of the federal and provincial governments clearly delineated. Confederation was a marriage of British parliamentary traditions with the concept of a federation.
The founding document of the Canadian state was called the British North America (BNA) Act, and was approved by the British Parliament in London in 1867. The aboriginal peoples were included insofar as they were traditionally considered under the special protection of the Crown.
Most Canadians today (living in what could be called “New Canada” or “Canada Two”) have little or no understanding or memory of what it was like to live in British Canada. They either reject it out-of-hand or buy into a completely negative view of what pre-1960s Canada was like.
The main architects of “New Canada” – that is post-1960s Canada –were the Liberal prime ministers Lester Pearson (1963-1968) and Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1968-1984, except for nine months in 1979-1980). Some people call New Canada “Trudeaupia.”
It should be noted, nevertheless, that the term New Canada was quirkily deployed by Reform Party leader Preston Manning in his 1992 book The New Canada, as the name for the model of Canada which he was proposing – basically, a more decentralized federation – where provincial and local governments would wield greater authority than the centralized federal government, and long-neglected provinces and regions such as Western Canada would be better represented at the federal level (a huge and overbearing federal government being part of the legacy of Trudeau).
The Western Canadian-based Reform Party (which became a country-wide party in 1991) had arisen in 1987 as a centre-right alternative to the federal Progressive Conservatives, who despite their majorities in the federal Parliament won in 1984 and 1988, mostly carried out liberal policies.
Presumably, Manning chose the term “New Canada” to partially disguise the real conservatism of the Reform Party platform. Manning took the idea of “reform in order to preserve” very seriously. He sometimes seemed to argue positions which seemed “radical” for ends which were conservative.
It should also be noted that during the debate over the proposed Meech Lake Accord (1987-1990) and Charlottetown Agreements (1992), which explicitly recognized Quebec as “a distinct society,” and might have led to a more decentralized federation, the prominent liberal commentator Richard Gwyn referred contemptuously to the Canada which these two new constitutional arrangements would bring into being as “Canada Two.” This isnotthe sense in which I’m using this term. (Neither the Meech Lake Accord nor the Charlottetown Agreements ever became the law of the land.)
Among the leading figures critical of current-day Canada are William D. Gairdner (author of The Trouble with Canada:A Citizen Speaks Out), and Ken McDonald (whose best-known book is, probably, His Pride, Our Fall: Recovering from the Trudeau Revolution).
Current-day Canada is officially defined as a multicultural society. Canada’s identity is presumed by most observers to be constituted out of the “mosaic” or “kaleidoscope” of various heterogeneous cultures. Since 1988, after the Canadian Supreme Court struck down some residual restrictions, Canada has no laws whatsoever regulating abortion. “Same-sex marriage” has been deeply entrenched since the federal Parliament approved it in 2005, after two provincial courts had struck down the traditional definition of marriage two years earlier.
The upholding of current-day multicultural and gender politics orthodoxy is policed by various quasi-judicial tribunals, including the so-called Human Rights Commissions (there is one at the federal level, and one in every province) that can sharply punish speech deemed critical of various minorities and current-day political arrangements. Their operations have been pointedly described in Ezra Levant’s Shakedown: How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights.
There are also in Canada today varieties of separatism. The first, the Quebecois sovereigntists, arises out of the French/English duality of what were very traditionally called the two founding peoples of Canada. They view the Canadian state with antipathy. A second movement, also emerging since the 1960s, could be called radical aboriginal separatism. The idea is, since the land was all “stolen” anyway, the Canadian state has no inherent legitimacy.
Some Canadian institutions, such as the taxpayer-funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, tend to view certain groups as “un-Canadian.” The CBC views those who hold what are considered “reactionary” or “mean-spirited” social and cultural outlooks as simply not part of “the Canadian Way.” Such outlooks are usually characterized as American-inspired, hence “un-Canadian.”
The so-called cultural industries in Canada are also mostly government (i.e., taxpayer) subsidized, especially “CanLit” (Canadian literature). Unfortunately, many of these so-called public cultural institutions pride themselves on their total and pristine exclusion of anything smacking of traditionalism or conservatism.
There are, in fact, multifarious techniques today for rendering almost all of traditional Canada as utterly hideous to “decent” human sensibilities.
Today, except for certain residues in political institutions, British Canada has been all but annihilated. Nevertheless, it could be argued that Canada still remains in the penumbra of the WASPs, as many of them – whether in corporate or governmental structures –have taken on the role of being one of the most “progressive,” most politically-correct groups in Canada. Their elite enjoy enormous material comfort and cushy sinecures, even as the New Canada conceptually vitiates all that their ancestors once held dear.
Obviously, it is impossible to return to the Old Canada. Nevertheless, it’s possible that there may be the chance for a “post-New Canada” or “Canada Three” that would likely move in the direction of various scenarios of so-called “provincialization.” More authority would be exercised at the provincial and local levels.
The contradictions between the current-day centralized big government in Ottawa, to which huge economic resources are perforce committed, and the vapid cultural and spiritual hollowness at the core of the administrative “command” apparatus, will likely become ever more apparent.
Prior to the establishment of the European Union, a bad idea which has made Europe into a massive bureaucratic, and almost nightmarish state, a much better plan was proposed and ultimately rejected. That idea was the “European Community” which was to be a “union of sovereign states.” I think this idea could serve as a model for a future Canada, “Canada Three.” This could be a positive, uplifting synthesis of the best elements of both the traditional and the current-day Canada.
The “Canada Three” scenario could be similar to ideas of the so-called “Swiss model” or “cantonization” where most authority is exercised at the local level, without central government interference, and there is a variety of populist mechanisms for expressing the will of the people such as referenda on major issues.
The hope would be that radical decentralization would allow for various arrangements that would actually make “Canada Three” a stronger and more “rooted” federation or union in its constituent parts. It would also hopefully strengthen intermediary institutions such as churches and local associations.
True federalism would allow for the expression of divergent views that would ultimately have a unifying effect on all of Canada. Such an “uplifting” synthesis of Old and New Canada is urgently needed in order that Canada become the great country it was meant to be – “the true North, strong and free.”
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher. An earlier version of this article has appeared at fgfbooks.com.