Where Now, Canada?
"We can become a kept woman of the great powers ... or take the hard way of free men . . . to full Canadian nationhood"
THREE score and sixteen years ago our grandfathers decided to make a nation in Canada. Now, on the seventy-sixth anniversary of their decision, we perceive that their work is still incomplete. We have not finished what they began.
Anybody then living could see that our grandfathers’ project was fantastic, and sensible men told them so. But they were stubborn men, our grandfathers, and did not know enough to be afraid. When timid men whispered doubts in their ears they refused to listen.
The country was too big to make a nation, the timid men said. The population w-as too small, the American neighbor too powerful. Besides the timid men in Canada there were blustering men in Washington, the men of Manifest Destiny, who were sure our grandfathers’ little gimcrack nation must shortly fall to pieces and be absorbed into the United States.
Listening to the voices of Manifest Destiny, the timid men of Canada asked what chance there was to make a nation out of a pocketful of people in Ontario and Quebec, a few settlements in the Maritimes, the empty plains of the west, known only to Indians and buffalos, the impassable mountains, the lonely fur trading posts on the Pacific Coast. But our grandfathers, being stubborn men, afire with a dream, would not listen to reason and could not be dissuaded from their madness.
They plunged ahead and the nation came into being, held together by the frail threads of a new constitution and new laws—an imaginary nation,
really, a dream nation built of the dumb yearnings, the fire and the madness of our grandfathers.
Yes, said the timid men, you have written down the laws of a nation, you have acquired a name, but what does it amount to? There is none of the substance of a nation here, none of the physical body of a nation, not even communication between the meagre settlements which are called the Dominion of Canada.
We will build those things too, said our grandfathers. We wall build a railway across this unknown land; we will fill the land with people and make it one. The timid men groaned at the cost; the clever men proved that such a railway would bankrupt the country; and the blustering men in Washington were sure that a Canada ruined by such lunacy would fall like a ripe plum into its neighbor’s hand.
We will go ahead anyway, though we cannot see the end, said our grandfathers for they were possessed by a hunger for the western lands, by a lust for the mountains and the far-off sea, by the vision of a nation such as no man had seen before. So they built anyway, though they could not see the end.
Victory Over the Impossible
AH, YES, said the timid men, you have a railway now, you have a ramshackle structure of settlement strung across the plains and down to the western sea. But the thing won’t work, said the timid men.
It is an impossibility, said the practical men.
It is against all the laws of economics, said the wise men who had read books.
It is a confusion of irreconcilable races and must break apart, said the clever men who knew history.
By then our grandfathers were dead. But our fathers went ahead anyway, though they could not see the end, for they had inherited the vision of their fathers. Continued, on page 28
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All right, said the timid, the clever, the practical and the wise, you will see. The economic strains of this sprawling, diverse and lopsided country will tear it apart as soon as hard times come. The racial stresses will tear it apart as soon as war comes.
But hard times came and war came, and still our fathers went ahead. Then, the first war over, the timid, clever, wise and practical men could prove that this weak country could not even pay its war debts or its soldiers’ pensions. When the depression came they were sure of it.
Now the timid men screeched into the keyhole of the nation that Canada was finished, the system smashed beyond repair. The practical men refused to spend their money but hoarded it against the day of ultimate ruin. The clever men showed, with charts and graphs what they had said from the beginning, that Canada was an economic monstrosity, an impossible contradiction, and that it was now breaking down.
Thus, unable themselves to move, bound hand and foot by their fears, the timid, the clever, the wise and practical told us (for our fathers were dead by this time)that we could not move either.
But we had inherited the vision of our fathers and were their sons. We moved though we could not see the end. Against reason, against theory, against the laws of economics, of race, of politics, of common sense, we still moved, still felt ourselves a nation.
Now we look up from the blind toil of the years to find something larger than we had expected, something our fathers could never imagine. We look up to find that we have made in Canada one of the great industrial nations of the world, the fourth power among the democracies, a producer which, for its size, has never been seen upon the earth before.
Quite so, say the timid men (for they never die but are always with us), quite so, you have put together the economic framework of a nation, you have built the machinery of a nation, but you are not a nation really. You are only a satellite of other nations and you will never be anything else. Of course, say the
clever men—and they produce maps to show us that Canada must always be an appendage to some greater power. The practical men say we had better make up our minds to the inevitable and invest our money safely, increase our profits in security and let someone else take the risks.
Shouts of Rival Prophets
STILL, we are our fathers’ sons.
So we go on, toiling at the task they began; but for once the words of the timid men begin to penetrate our minds. We listen now, pausing in doubt, for these are confusing times and everything seems to be in flux and chaos. Perhaps the timid men, the clever and practical men are right this time. After all, as they say, we are a little people, only eleven and a half millions, a little people in a big and terrible world. Perhaps we have no right to raise our voices among the powerful and the great.
Of course not, say the timid men. What has Canada to say that is worth saying? What do we know in this little country? What have we learned that will be of any use in the counsels of the nations? Let us hold our peace then, and cower in the background with the backward and little peoples lest we get hurt.
Let us lean on somebody else and play safe, say the practical men, for they have always needed something to lean on, if not England, then the United States. And in Parliament, when any man raises his voice concerning these things, he is told that he is only making trouble in a troubled time, that we should move on, silent and blind, in the same safe pathway which led us into the year 1939.
So the people of Canada, who have ravened across a continent, swarmed into the Arctic, torn the minerals from the hills, the food from the earth, and conquered their skies and fought in far corners of the earth— the people of Canada pause for the first time and wonder about the future, and are bewildered by the shouts of rival prophets.
Some, sickened by doubt, say that
Canada cannot even maintain the
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great apparatus of production that i it has built, but must let it rust ' and molder after the war, must : stand, shivering, hungry and helpI less, like a stunned giant, beside the ruins of his new machine, j Meanwhile, as the timid men of all sorts still squeak and gibber at the keyhole, the leaders of Canada fall suddenly silent. They have nothing to say about Canada’s real future. They have much to say of economics, of politics, of figures, statistics, money. They have great plans for social security, for everyone’s comfort and ease. They have acres of pie in the sky. But the Canadian people, listening uneasily, know as their grandfathers knew that these things will not make the future of Canada.
They know, as their fathers discovered during the gilded lunacy of the nineteen-twenties, that even with two cars in every garage and two chickens in every pot there is not necessarily any happiness, any security, any assurance for the future, any real nation. They know that Canada’s problem on its seventysixth birthday is not economic, not political. It is a problem of mind and spirit. It is not a problem to be solved by the politicians, the economists, or the timid, clever and practical men. It is the problem of the ordinary Canadian, as it has always been since our grandfathers went out into the wilderness alone.
And the ordinary men of Canada must decide, before they can decide anything else, whether the project of their grandfathers is to go on to completion. For clearly it is not complete yet. It is nearly complete, economically, politically and legally. It is incomplete in the place that really matters, in the mind of the people. It is incomplete because we have not faced the ultimate logic of the process which our grandfathers I began.
Nation or Not a Nation?
TO COMPLETE this logic we have to face two facts: first, that we cannot escape the final responsibilities, risks and status of an independent nation leaning on nobody; and second—and this is a sequel of the first—that we cannot help being a nation of two races and two languages for as far into the future as we can see. We have not finally faced either fact yet, not in our minds and hearts.
These are facts which older countries have faced long ago. So now when Americans or Englishmen dispute among themselves, their disputes do not involve the structure of the nation, which is beyond questioning; whereas in Canada all great affairs lead straight to that central issue and raise the same inevitable question—are we to be a real nation or not?
No problem of importance can be settled until that question is answered finally, beyond doubt. Every solution to a national problem runs the risk of breaking down because of lack of agreement on the essential character of Canada as a nation. Every solution proposed in finance, in economic reform, in social policy, is
drowned in the quarrels of local politicians, in the conflict of local interests, in the morass of our constitution, because every solution is considered not as it affects the nation but as it affects local communities which do not fully understand that they are part of a whole.
None of these questions can be raised in Canada without impinging upon our constitution, but the constitution does not even dwell in Canada. It inhabits a pigeonhole in Westminster. We cannot even agree on a method of bringing it to Canada, nor upon a method of amending it once it has been brought. How can we expect to be regarded as a real nation by outsiders, how can we so regard ourselves, when we do not possess and control our basic law? And if we cannot agree on its possession and control, we cannot begin to use it to solve our problems, because we have not faced the ultimate logic of nationhood, the final fact that no one except us can do what has to be done, that there is no hope or help outside ourselves.
No great affair is raised in this country without impinging upon that other fact, our racial division. Here again the timid men say we must not even talk about it lest we create trouble and lose votes; the clever men hide behind the BNA Act; and the practical men say we had better get along as well as we can without disturbance. So the two races deal with one another through a system of ambassadors and party machines, almost as if they were of two distinct countries.
The reason again is that we have not faced the final consequences of the work of our grandfathers who believed the breed they left here would rise above race and be simply and solely Canadian.
Our grandfathers could do their work with clear minds because the danger of doing less was clear. They faced the obvious danger of outside interference, the danger of the creed of Manifest Destiny held by neighbors who coveted our land. Now that danger is gone. No friend covets our land. Our neighbors, the best in the world, are gladly helping us, and ask only that we make our position plain, but if we do not speak, if we do not have opinions of our own on all things concerning us and our friends, then others will speak for us, make our opinions and lay down patterns that will be fixed so firmly that we cannot break them.
The old danger has gone but this new danger has appeared.
The new danger lies in ourselves and can be removed only by ourselves. It is the danger of no-danger. It is the danger of too much outside safety. It is the peril of security. For we can become now, if we want to, the kept woman of the great powers. We can become the pampered pet of our generous neighbor. We can become a well-treated colony of the big nations, a superior kind of Cuba.
Our grandfathers ended colonialism, old style. We can re-establish colonialism, new style.
This we can do by doing nothing, by listening to the timid men, the
clever and practical men. It is the
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easy thing to do. It might guarantee us safety. But it will assure us of the beautiful stability of national death.
The Hard Way of Free Men
GREAT tides were surging through the world in our grandfathers’ time. The world was settling down then into the pattern of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The shape of America was crystallizing and our grandfathers were determined that this shape should include an independent Canada. Now, after another and greater upheaval than
our grandfathers ever dreamed of, the world is settling down again, crystallizing into a new pattern, and it will be the pattern for generations, perhaps for centuries to come.
Our grandfathers’ world has been shattered and now we must find our place in the pattern of our time as our grandfathers found a place in the pattern of their time.
What is that place to be? Is it to be the place of a great industrial and producing nation, one of the world’s chief traders, one of the world’s richest and happiest peoples, a civilization of our own, deep and rich with the genius, experience,
adventure of Canada, distilled out of its own ways and its own soil? Is it to be the place of a nation acting as a principal, and no less, in all business concerning it? Or something less, something mean and second-class?
That was the great issue on July 1, 1867: whether to go the easy way or the hard way of free men. We face the same issue, recurrent and insistent, on July 1, 1943. We cannot delay for a greater force than Manifest Destiny drives us on to new frontiers. And if we would speak as a nation to other nations after this war, in the days of decision, we must first
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learn now to speak as a nation and think and act as a nation among ourselves. We must be resolved to be a nation, to undertake all its labors, all its risks, all its dangers and, more than that, to undertake the ancient human task of living together in our daily lives as a single people, in a compact which rises above race, language and economics.
Our grandfathers learned simple rules of life in Canada, sufficient for their time, for the kind of society they lived in. The time and society we live in are infinitely more complex. As they entered the trackless physical wilderness of the West so we have entered a wilderness of new ideas, an era of such confusion as the world has never seen before. Like our grandfathers, we must make our way through it on our own resources, with our own intelligence and our own courage. No one showed them the trail. No one is going to show us the trail.
In the end it will be found not by leaders alone, not by experts, not by party conventions, platforms, policies, blueprints. It will he found by the ordinary man in his daily life, in his private reasoning about the public business, in his attitudes to the nation and to his neighbor, in his instincts about lifeemdash;by the dark and silent chemistry of the people’s mind. Of this process leadership and policy will be the reflection, not the cause, just as Confederation was not born out of the Quebec Conference but out of the passion of the ordinary Canadian for nationhood and manhood.
A Sovereign People
IF THE rules of our grandfathers’ time are inadequate for ours, what rules can we safely follow now in our lives as ordinary citizens of Canada? What basic principles can we agree upon together?
The first, surely, is to believe in Canada, as Canada, not as a reflection, satellite or appendage of any other nation; to think always of ourselves as a people who must settle our own future in our own way as a people, from whom there is no appeal ; to think of our I^arliament, institutions, laws as the final arbiter of all decisions; to stop thinking that some other power can save us from our own follies; and to know that any improvement in government will not come from the top but from the bottom, from us, from our increasing knowledge of our own affairs.
The second rule is to realize, as we have never done yet, that the whole of Canada is greater than any part; that no part can be healthy if the whole is sick or the whole healthy if any part is sick, for they are of one body; that depression in Nova Scotia is the direct concern of a prosperous British Columbia and vice versa; that every part of Canada belongs to every single Canadian and he must be free to go where he chooses and have equal rights and equal opportunities everywhere; that the nation can never be sound while I
there are vast fluctuations of wealth, public service and living standards between its provinces or its classes; that private initiative and property will never be secure while any large number of our people are destitute, any more than personal freedom can survive where the State manages everything.
The third rule is to accept the fact that Canada is, and must remain, a nation of two great and distinct races which will not merge in our time and perhaps never; to resolve that all questions between them must be settled in recognition of this fact and in the light of the history, culture and living ways of each; to reject the false assumption that these ways will soon change, or can be made suddenly to change, or that one race will finally overwhelm the other.
The fourth rule is to understand that in the social struggle of our time, mere hate of class against class, man against man, will produce no good for anyone in the end; that whatever our eventual solution may be it will only last if it is built on good will, since hate corrodes a nation as it is corroding our enemies today, as it ruined France yesterday; that the solution will not be quick or easy, will not be attained by some trick mechanism, some act of Parliament; that it will not follow any single line or theory but, because we are democrats and human, not slaves or angels, it will be at best a workable compromise, entirely satisfactory to no one, tolerable to all.
Canada has problems outside its borders and there is a safe rule to follow here also. The ordinary Canadian must accept the full perils involved in maintaining the peace of the world. He must be ready to fight with his friends against aggression wherever it occurs while it is still
small enough to be crushed, before it is large enough to produce another World War. The ordinary Canadian must realize that isolation is no longer possible. He must see finally that Canada has a greater stake than any other nation in the friendship of Britain and the United States because she is bound to both by ties of blood and vital interest. Finally, he must appreciate that above all Canada must seek to maintain her friendship with both and thus the friendship of all three.
These are rough rules certainly and they lack the polish of experts’ blueprints, the glitter of party platforms. But if they are accepted in the minds of the people the blueprints may mean something, the platforms may produce solutions and sound policies may be accepted by a sound people. But not otherwise. Lacking the foundation of a sound people, an informed people, a people of good will, a truly Canadian people, there will be no solution for anything. All the jerry-built plans for a better Canada will collapse.
The project facing us now in some ways is more difficult than the project facing our grandfathers for it is full of great risk.
Do not try it, do not risk it, cry the timid men. We can fix things up by a little legal tinkering, say the clever men, by our special monetary cures, our private economic revelations, our fancy slogans. Security, stability, good business is the thing, not any of your big dreams, say the practical men.
So they spoke to our grandfathers three quarters of a century ago and our grandfathers would not listen. They shook these whisperers aside and plunged on into the wilderness and the unknown. Shall we follow them?