In July, 1776, the Second Continental Congress made its famous Declaration of Independence, announcing, with vehemence and fanfare, a new arrival “among the powers of the earth” with the dissolution of “the political bands” that had connected the 13 Colonies to Britain – the original Brexit. Nearly a century later, another nation joined the powers of the earth when, by an act of British Parliament, the federal Dominion of Canada was created.The 150th anniversary of Confederation offers us an occasion to reflect, with deep gratitude, on the meaning of this milestone and on the rich heritage of our country.
Since its inception, America has understood itself as the implementation of a specific set of ideas and ideals: never was a nation’s birth more deliberate or explicit, and its “Constitution” remains a perennial point of focus for this reason. But, in fact, the Canadian experiment is no less radical; while America’s founding document holds “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to be timeless, self-evident endowments, Canada’s declaration looks to its own extant achievement for the object of its laws. “Peace, order, and good government” are blessings which the colony had already enjoyed and which its newly established parliament would work to further. Although not pithily expressed as an axiomatic truth, Canada’s ideal is no less pivotal: ours is an embodied, distributed, and diffused ideal, found in small but significant examples throughout our wide and peaceful kingdom.
Canadian virtue, therefore, has always been both unremarkable and ubiquitous. For decades, its largest city was known by a well-earned nickname, “Toronto the Good,” and the epithet would be apt for countless cities, towns, and villages across our country. It is no small thing to say that goodness has often been our main claim to greatness and that our nation’s pride has long resided in a citizenry which is humble, hardworking, and upright. Even among the esteemed confreres of our commonwealth, Canada has been distinguished for conspicuous courage on the battlefield and singular decency at home.
Canada’s continuing experiment – of responsible government serving a virtuous people – is to be celebrated with patriotic gratitude during this sesquicentennial year: ours is one of the proudest democracies on the planet which makes the oddness of our official celebration of this anniversary all the more painful. Instead of honoring the forbearers who built the country in which we live and who established the traditions it is our privilege to continue, Ottawa’s commemoration was an assault on historical memory. Rather than celebrating Canada’s history, it gloried only in something called “Canadian values,” those empty platitudinous placeholders like “diversity” or “tolerance” which, if they mean anything, are only code-words for the Liberals’ policies relating to family, religion, and life issues.
Contra Justin Trudeau and his ilk, progressivism is not a necessary prerequisite for patriotism, and the celebration of Canada’s birthday should not have been contentiously defined by one party’s priorities. The Liberals’ egregious exclusion of Canadians was exemplified in Trudeau’s omission of Alberta from his list of Canadian provinces, a gaffe that was, nevertheless, the epitome of the ceremony’s hardline partisan tone.
These strange celebrations were symptomatic of the paradoxical patriotism of the “post-national state” (trumpeted by the Prime Minister) which leads only to moral equivalence, quietism, cynicism, and resentment, and which thereby fuels the radical social agenda of the liberal-left by presenting outrageous transformations of the social order –transformations pertaining to the protection of life, the definition of marriage, and a sane understanding of gender – as the only possible exculpation for a litany of unending unforgivable historical crimes. This conflation of memory and guilt was perfectly expressed by one Marxist critic who held that: “there is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism,” a formula which makes a pious attitude to the past all but impossible.
Of course, we have all “sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23) and we should always be quick to make frank admission of our faults. But the story of Canada, the land of our ancestors, is not an ugly horror-show of subjugation and oppression. Quite the contrary: our history is an epic: glorious deeds circle our brow, and our arm knows how to bear both sword and cross alike. Of brilliant deeds and a valour, steeped in faith, may we boast without the least pang of guilt; this indeed, is what spurs us to pledge the continuing protection of our homes and our rights, in what Tennyson called the “True North,” still strong and still free after a century and a half that shook the world.
Among the powers of the earth, Canada established itself without the dissolution of the bands that connect us to our ancestors and without actions that would dishonour the memories of the good men and women that have gone before us, who rest now in a home and native land they were honoured to inherit and transmit to us. The Canadian ideal resides in this patrimony of an innumerable company of unnamed fellow citizens who, having gone before us, remain with us still as we continue their project of making peace, order, and good government the enduring hallmark of our land. This summer, let us honour this high calling, making our nation great again by making it good again, in fidelity to the charge which it has been our blessing to receive.