By Bruce Mabley
England has Winston Churchill. The United States has the Kennedy family. France has De Gaulle. Egypt has Nasser. Israel has Ben Gurion. India has Gandhi. Pakistan has Benazir Bhutto. Québec has René Lévesque. What does Canada have? A section of Canadian opinion might even object to opening a discussion of the subject since it implies notions of excellence, elitism and leadership, all antithetical to a strange form of abnegation and thirst for cultural mediocrity.
Let us not jump the gun though. First, we need to define ‘greatness’. Is it limited to only influential leaders? Or can it apply to peoples and nations throughout the planet?
Since we are talking about political states, the term ‘greatness’ may well mean ‘powerful’ or ‘influential’. So much for the Thrasymican ‘right of the strongest’. For example, a great peace-making nation might be considered as ‘great’ although it may be lacking in military means to enforce the peace. On the other hand, the UN brokered coalition of the 1950s to oppose North Korean military aggression might be considered an act of greatness.
Some Canadian patriots would perhaps argue that Lester B. Pearson, the diplomat, or Margaret Atwood, the feminist author, would qualify for ‘greatness’. Like the Trudeau name, they have a degree of recognition abroad but certainly less than some of the ideological and political world leaders mentioned above.
Assets for Greatness
It is undeniable that Canada is a rich country given its abundance of natural resources such as wood, oil, minerals, fresh water. It is the envy of the world. One would say that, at the very least, Canada has the potential to be great if its natural gifts can be transposed on the human level amongst its citizens. For example, there is no reason why any Canadian citizen should want for food, shelter or a good education. Making this reality would surely be a qualification for greatness. Yet, Canada is still an unequal society of uneven opportunity even amongst its most vociferous opponents of excellence and genius. The voices of rebellion against want have become the voices of enduring mediocrity and veiled inequality. Aboriginal life is clearly sub-standard in many respects across the country despite periodic government spending to resolve the problem.
Canada is supposed to be a bilingual country although many of its citizens, especially English Canadians, question the rationale. Why would someone living in British Columbia or Newfoundland waste their time learning French? The rapid influx of immigrants has made Arabic or Mandarin much more useful to communicate in some communities including a few on the island of Montreal, the main metropolis of the French speaking province of Québec. Feeble, half-hearted attempts to make the country bilingual failed and now we are faced with the hypocrisy of a failed union and the inevitabiltiy of two solitudes.
One has only to imagine the tremendous commercial and cultural potential of a bilingual Canada and its outreach abroad to exchange with nations linked to two of the greatest Western civilizations and languages. The depth of this policy drift and its damage to Canadian interests at home and abroad is without measure.
Canada’s multicultural miracle is surely a candidate for greatness. Yet, one of the two founding nations perceives this ‘miracle’ as a threat to its culture, language and standing within the federal union.
English Canada, from their perspective, has become a multicultural swamp, a resource that is regularly plundered by greedy and power-hungry political parties. It is Canada’s version of Tammany Hall and Canada’s political parties are offering few solutions to change the status quo. Why should they? They benefit from the impact of having most desirable forms of social diversity mix with a largely unknown history and culture bereft of any self-knowledge or transcultural unifying values.
The result is flawed integration, the political benefits of which are regularly shared from right to left of the political spectrum much the same way in which First Nations citizens are alienated from any nation building. The latter would do well to heed this message and unite the tribes into a political party capable of making coherent demands in Ottawa.
The dogmatic left and the flawed centrist Liberal party have adopted a ghettoized version of multicultural bliss to advance their political positions. The Conservative party is on the outside looking in with envious eyes. Any opposition to the multicultural ‘miracle’ is vehemently opposed by ad hominem attacks and racist epithets. There is no greatness to be found in this.
Obstacles to Greatness
Geography has not been good to Canada in at least one respect. The country has huge distances, which, over time, were overcome by technology and invention. Despite this 100-year evolution, distance never has been an obstacle to confederation except perhaps in its infancy when the railroad had to be built to prevent Manifest Destiny from being the immediate fate of Canada.
The location of such a rich and distant land next to the American empire has always been an obstacle to the articulation of a separate and independent English Canadian culture and history. Fear of Uncle Sam has bewitched the Canadian political class with a few exceptions. In 2003, Canada did not support the narrow US coalition looking to punish Iraq for weapons of mass destruction that it did not have.
NAFTA Two negotiations with Donald Trump were an example of how anemic the Canadian effort is when it comes to protecting its economy and citizens from economic harm originating south of the border. Instead, concessions were made and paid for by Canadians. Such is the prerogative of a ‘rich’ country.
Other nations like China have profited from the message of Canadian weakness and fear of its southern neighbor by imprisoning Canadian citizens and threats of economic harm. Canada’s colonial economic and political status, which many Canadians appear to believe that the world does not perceive, has not changed our erstwhile fear of being weaned off the American giant and its lucrative market. It turns out US President Madison’s Manifest Destiny policy was not even necessary to induce the Canadian political class to cow tow to Uncle Sam.
On the political side, Canada had the misfortune to inherit the British parliamentary system despite the rebellion of 1837 in both Upper and Lower Canada. This political form of organization includes a shiftless foreign monarchy with symbolic control over Canadian laws operating through another shiftless and unelected body called the Senate.
This system is a clever British invention used occlude autocratic rule by forging superficial consensus in the few elected officials and political parties to the great joy of the legions of nominated officials. The avoidance of elections is insurance against any popular insurrection since the legal system is flawed from the outset. The line between judges and political parties becomes indistinguishable and suddenly the popular will for justice is subverted. It is a political system founded on hypocrisy, stealth and abject pandering organized by political parties for their own benefit and longevity.
The multicultural swamp, or Canada’s version of Tammany Hall, is perfectly suited to the British parliamentary system. Canada does have a form of written constitution unlike the British model but one of the founding nations has unanimously refused to endorse it. Thus, the country lives its fractures by turning its regard and imagining an invisible unity that does not exist. Such political hypocrisy is intolerable and cannot lead to greatness.
Education is a bridge to greatness. It may even be the key one considering the fact that human invention and creative genius springs from that limitless well of hope. Education, when universally available and of good quality, also provides a nurturing context for excellence of values and creation. In Canada, education is a provincial jurisdiction, not a federal one, according to the constitution (which Québec has yet to sign on to). Having multiple educational jurisdictions is neither an obstacle nor an asset for excellence. Canada is a rich country and can easily afford an excellent education to all of its citizens.
However, over time, governments and some civil society actors have reduced the quality of education by limiting the power of its prime movers and facilitators, the teachers. Teachers have less control over what their students learn, how they learn and when they learn. This increasingly powerful trend has ossified the educational system and changed its priorities from those of truth and knowledge to ones of conformism and cupidity. Truth becomes a vassal of mediocrity and abstract equality. The result is anything but great – universities without leaders and values, a general population headed to produce ‘yes’ men and obedience to State values rather than truth and discovery. Canada is not alone in this mass hysteria of conformism but it is surely one of its most eloquent leaders.
What is to be done?
Canadian civil society needs to empower itself to make some key changes. There is no guarantee for greatness but at least we can help create conditions and a context within which knowledge and creation can thrive.
Here are several steps Canada needs to take to begin to change direction:
1. The State needs to release its control of education and return it to the teachers and students and end its obsession with replicating social values. State power is not a value in itself. Improve the general level of popular education by allowing citizens to learn their own history and culture as well as that of other world powers. Self-knowledge and internationalization of education will assist in vaccinating ourselves against social conformism and cultural mediocrity.
2. The British parliamentary system needs reform. End the foreign monarchy and its enabling apparatus on Canadian soil – the Senate and the plethora of lieutenant and governor generals, which symbolize Canada’s lack of independence. Convert some of the nominative posts into elected positions to increase popular control and faith in the system. For example, start by submitting senior diplomatic appointment to the scrutiny of elected officials and elect rather than appoint federal and provincial judges.
3. Begin to put a brake on Americanization of the Canadian economy and its cultural values. Federal government handouts in the wake of Canada’s collapse at the NAFTA 2 negotiations is no substitute for economic growth. Take a more independent position on international issues on the Middle East and Central and South America. Play a role in encouraging Venezuelan democracy rather than conniving with US backed interests to punish its people and make Canada even less desirable in the eyes of Central and South American progressive forces.
Canada will become great one day only when it can produce enough enlightened reformers to implement changes in the paths to values of intelligence and democracy.