Robert Fulford offers ONE CANADIAN'S PLEA FOR A NEW CANADIAN PURPOSE
FOR THE SAKE OF ARGUMENT
Robert Fulford offers ONE CANADIAN'S PLEA FOR A NEW CANADIAN PURPOSE
THE PLAINEST FACT OF OUR NATIONAL life is that Canada suffers in 1962 from a profound sickness of the spirit. In this curious time, as we live with a government which has lost our support and an opposition which has failed to win it, we face something far more terrifying than the financial bankruptcy which has threatened us since the spring. We face spiritual bankruptcy.
The Great Canadian Crisis of 1962 goes far deeper than the problems of government overspending and uncompetitive wages. It springs from the sad emptiness of the Canadian spirit. What we lack as a country is what most other nations of our time abundantly possess: a purpose that stretches
beyond our own needs and reaches into the lives of other peoples and other generations. We lack a genuine reason for working hard, for sacrificing, for paying taxes, and for being proud of ourselves. And a nation which lacks this may eventually lack everything. But it is my argument that this is not an inevitable condition; that there are ways in which Canadians, bearing in mind their history and their resources, can find a sense of purpose.
SOME COUNTRIES HAVE A DREAM...
The world has been changing too fast for Canada; our friends threaten to abandon us and our markets shift beneath us. In a time like this, in a situation like this, we require greatness. But to approach greatness. or even to approach affluence, requires more than cleverness and salesmanship. It requires imagination and courage. These are not qualities which we, as a nation, show any present signs of possessing.
Now these qualities do not arise in a vacuum. They stem from the spirit of man and particularly from the visions of great individuals. As citizens of the twentieth century we live, uneasily, among such visions. They spring from such things as
the American dream of freedom for all men on earth; the African and Asian dream of independence after centuries of slavery; the European dream of a continent come finally to rest, in peace and freedom, after all those decades of horror.
The greatest successes of our time — the greatest practical successes, it has to be mentioned — come from these dreams. In Canada — tired, disillusioned Canada — we have a way of being clever about the accomplishments of other countries. I remember a very bright history teacher who told me, cleverly, that the Marshall Plan was really just a way to solve the overproduction problems of the United States and build new markets. In the last year I have heard, so often that I never want to hear it again, about the essential selfishness of the European Common Market. These are good Canadian attitudes, based on sly appreciation of the dollar, but they do not go halfway to an understanding of those great accomplishments.
The Marshall Plan was indeed motivated partly by economics and partly by a desire not to lose Europe to the Soviet Union. But it was also, and most importantly, a natural extension of American altruism, based on the words and ideas of generations of dreamers. It made its way through the Congress of the United States not just because a great man happened to be president and a few other great men shared his ideas, but also because the Marshall Plan was the right and natural thing for the United States, with its own unique history and dreams, to do at that moment.
The European Common Market is, as they like to say, an economic miracle. It is also — again, most importantly — the fulfillment of an impractical dream which stretches far back into the nineteenth century. The European visionaries knew at the beginning of their crusade that the new Europe must be more than a collection ot
industrial giants selling each other automobiles. They knew — and this knowledge pushed them toward greatness — that a magnificent political accomplishment lay finally within their grasp. The reconciliation of France and Germany, one small part of the European transformation, was by itself a magnificent goal to which men could devote their lives, and men did. Nowadays they are making more and better automobiles in Europe,but only the most stupid materialist would •* suggest that this is as deep as Europe's new spirit goes.
A century from mow Canadian historians will be able to measure precisely the national mood of thi; 1960s by studying our reaction to the European Common Market. Faced with one of the greatest and most hopeful events of modern times, Canadians have reacted by worrying about the market for agricultural products. We have acted not as if we are delighted to be alive during such a moment but as if our only interest in the triumphs of other peoples is a close reckoning of the money we may — may, not necessarily will — lose by the transaction. Our reaction, which the prime minister and the cabinet have articulated for us, has been ungenerous and small-minded.
. . CANADA HAS SMALL-MINDEDNESS
In one way and another we have made this kind of small-mindedness into a way of life, and we are suffering for it.
Some of the signs of this suffering can be read in the history of the 1962 election. Last winter the party I voted for — therefore, the one I think was the best party — sent a platoon of pollsters across the country in an earnest and moderately successful effort to find out what the people wanted to hear. Then, having judged all issues accordingly, my party went methodically about the business of telling the people just what the people had told the pollsters they wanted to hear. This (I could have told them and saved all that money) was exactly what all of us like to hear all the time: that good things are in store for us and that by voting the right way we can get these good things.
The result was that the 1962 election turned into a festival of mass flattery and mass seduction. Both major parties told us what we wanted to hear, and even the parties that didn’t expect to win talked as if they could take office and quickly make most of us richer.
When, of course, everv truly informed man in the country knew that we were all just about to get poorer, whether the Tories or the Liberals or the Single Taxers won the election
CONTINUED ON PAGE 68
FOR THE SAKE OF ARGUMENT
continued from pape 22
“All those dignified, honorable men were lying in their teeth“
The suffering began a few days after the voting, when we discovered that what we all had secretly or publicly believed — that all those dignified, honorable men were lying in their teeth — was true. It was a harsh moment.
Democracy, it could be argued, can stand only so much cynicism. The crude theory of democracy is that all opinions are stated and the best opinion prevails. But this theory presupposes that these opinions arc stated honestly; it makes no allowance for the possibility that the best men of the country will lie to their fellow citizens.
There is some point, in the history ot a democracy, at which most of the people begin to believe that the whole thing is a fraud. This is the point at which the system ceases to be a democracy and becomes instead a kind of mob rule, with plebiscites held now and then to determine who will be the mob’s leader.
Unfortunately for the politicians, we are not yet one mob, or one nation. The election proved that we are, if possible, less a nation than we ever were. We have no national political party, and no national issues. We are a collection, if the election results can be believed, of half a dozen nations, each voting its own way in the hope of bettering its own circumstances.
In this regard the summer’s greatest shock came from Real Caouette, the deputy leader of the Social Credit Party. Caouette, who is now to lead the representatives of a few hundred thousand Canadians in parliament, announced at Vancouver on August 6 that he didn't feel Canada was worth fighting for. This announcement was not shocking in itself. Perhaps lots of people feel that way. The shock was in the fact that a major politician (he is that, for this year at least) felt that he could say such a thing without doing serious harm to his own position.
And, as it turned out, he could. No one rioted, no one tried to assassinate him, no one even threw an egg at him. His constituents did not rise in a body to denounce him, nor did the members of his party. The newspapers said they disagreed with him, and some people wrote letters to the editor. Beyond that, Canadian patriotism was dead last month.
And why not? We lacked the pride and idealism on which an answer might have been based. 1 can imagine a speaker rising to reply to Caouette. He begins: “You’re wrong! This is a great country. Why, we lead the world in . . . Why, we have accomplished . . . Why, without us thcre’d be no . . . Why, we have shown we’re the best at . . . ”
At what? At selling wheat and iron ore to other countries we are unexcelled. and for this skill we have been rewarded with prosperity of a kind. At writing tariff laws to make Ameri-
can companies buik! local assembly plants we have no peers, and as a result many of us are working. — although many of us are not working. But at those things which produce the honest kind of patriotism, which call on the natural generosity of the human spirit, we are not skilled. So Réal Caouette went unanswered.
The argument here is that this spiritual sickness can be cured. Canada, I think, suffers from a lack of specific purpose. There is a sense in which Canada is a great, wide suburbia. from sea to sea. in which the residents wish nothing more for themselves than security and peace of mind. But what applies in the life of the individual also applies in the life of a country: if all you want is riches for riches' sake, then surely riches will elude your grasp: if all you want is mental health then surely neurosis will be your fate. The people of Canada must somehow find some reason to engage themselves in the world: some reason beyond self-interest.
But what purpose has Canada? We assist in the defense of freedom, and our assistance is appreciated, but we know in our hearts that if we withdrew' from NATO the alliance would still fulfill its purpose. Our defense objectives have this in common with our other objectives in the world: they are the auxiliaries of other nations' ideals and ambitions. They are not our own national responsibilities.
Though they might find this difficult to believe. Americans are fortunate to have had their world responsibilities thrust upon them. If Canada is to have similar responsibilities it must seek them out: it must find its own problems and the means to solve them. An approach like this is immediately assailable on the grounds that it's artificial. But everything about Canada is artificial: as we never tire of pointing out, we are an unlikely, almost an impossible country. Economics, geography and history were always against us, yet we managed to maintain at least a political entity, if not a nation.
What we need now is a purpose in the world which meets these 'conditions: it must he of benefit to others, so that it will touch the vein of altruism which runs through the human spirit. It must be within an area in which ire can operate effectively. perhaps gloriously, so that it will produce that national pride which we now so spectacularly lack. It must accord with our natural and honest
self-interest. And it must be modest, in proportion to our abilities.
My suggestion is that Canada should choose for itself a single area of operation and strike consciously, with all its energy, for world leadership in that area. The greatest problem of the next fifty years, beyond doubt, is the development of the poor countries which cover the southern half of the globe, and our activities should be directed toward that development.
In what unique way we can help the Africans and Asians and Latin Americans is a question to which our best minds should address themselves. A couple of interesting possibilities are worth mentioning.
Canada, a country with great agricultural experience, could devote its efforts to solving the world's agricultural problems. We could bend our scientific research in that direction, bring thousands of Asians and Africans to Canada to study agriculture.
and set up Canadian institutes in the poor countries to teach agricultural principles.
Or we could move in an entirely different direction, toward another great Canadian specialty: communications. Trains, aircraft, roads, radio and television have been central forces in the development of Canada: we have had to learn how to span vast distances quickly and cheaply. The new nations must learn the same lessons. In Ghana, road-building is a
crucial problem: in Latin America railroads are badly needed. Perhaps in this one field — if our efforts were concentrated, refined, and carefully planned — Canada could make a contribution which would seriously affect the future shape of the world.
This is not to say that we have entirely ignored foreign aid in the past. But the help we have given to the poor countries, though doubtless important and useful to them, has not been important enough to us. It has failed to catch the imagination of the Canadian people, and as a result has not become a source of pride. It is we who have to be inspired, by concrete and understandable programs.
Either of the ideas Eve suggested, il executed boldly and energetically, could eventually produce the sense of accomplishment we need. Today Americans, for all their troubles, can feel just this sense of accomplishment. They know that France, for instance, is much better off now than it would have been without American help in the 1940s. An American knows that because he paid high taxes in 1948. Europe is more prosperous and more stable and therefore a better place to live than it would have been had he and other Americans not paid such high taxes.
What if. half a century from now, the world were able to acknowledge that agriculture, everywhere in the southern half of the glob”, '•■■as pursued more efficiently (and therefore people had more to eat ) because Canadians, back in the 1960s and 1970s. were willing to pay more taxes and devote more time to thinking about the problems of others? What if our children were able to say (as the children of contemporary Americans will be able to say) that their parents changed the world, for the better, and by doing so left them a better country to live in.
One of these ideas, or some similar idea, could also serve our self-interest by leading us toward those new trading partners our economy needs now and will need much more in the future. But their real value would rise above economics: they would link us with the great movements of our time and, just possibly, make a nation of us.*
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