OUT OF AN EMPTY LAND A NATION
Canada has emerged as a rock from the sands of uncertainty, says the author of "The Unknown Country"
ON THE first of July Canada will be 78 years old. It is such a very little time. So short, that, on our birthday, we can hardly grasp the astounding fact that we have become suddenly one of the powerful nations of the earth—an achievement, for our time, our population and our opportunity, without parallel in man’s history.
This has not been accomplished by any government, j by any set of men, by any single leadership and method nor by any superior intelligence. It has been J done by something else entirely, by a subtle instinct and a secret power which we have hardly recognized j ourselves. It has been done by the quiet, irresistible I force of the Canadian spirit, peculiar and native to our ’^and, of long and steady growth.
j It goes back a good way —to Champlain on his i desolate river cliff, to the green heights of Queenston, to the conference table of Quebec, to the lonely settlements of the western plains, to the unspoken and inarticulate will of Canadians everywhere to remain Canadian whatever the cost.
In all this time, without knowing it, we were building a new thing in the world. Today, for the first time, we can see it, standing out clear and shining, like a great rock, on the northern slope of the planet. It is Canada, a structure of ideas, customs and instincts stronger by far and more enduring than all our physical apparatus of production and power. The war, a wind which blew away the accumulated layers of sand and left the rock bare and clean, has finally revealed Canada to us.
Only the cynic and the little man, blinded by local concerns, can no longer fail to see this thing. He will see instead the convulsions of politics on the morrow of victory. Perhaps by the time this is printed a national election will have turned our Parliament into confusion, but this is only another faint stirring of the sand. The rock remains. If our politics is confused this is not a symptom of sickness but of health. The election marks merely the struggle of a strong people to divert their new strength from one task to another, to make their Parliament and Government register and enforce the deep changes that have lately occurred in their life—and the
struggle will go on until the new task is finished. While foreigners may misinterpret the incidents of politics, Canada is stronger today, not merely in military and economic terms, but in the strength of its inner life, than it has ever been, for it has discovered and known itself, and its strength has been fully tried in the last five years.
Who could have foreseen this birthday in the drugged summer of 1939? Who would have dared to say that five years and more of war would cleanse this nation and purge out the sloth of a whole generation? What politician, judging Canada by election returns, Gallup polls and the shrieks of crazy men, would even have believed that Canada would come through such a trial whole and unbroken?
Foreign war, said the cynics and the overwise, would shatter a nation like ours, weak in numbers, sick with depression, divided by race, hating war. Instead, war made us .the fourth nation among the victors, we who had less than 12 million people and were almost unknown to foreigners. But this reckoning of place among the nations was not the important thing. The important thing was in ourselves, the revelation of what we are and can be.
PERHAPS it can be seen best at a little distance, in a foreign land, as a man most appreciates his home when he is separated from it. Certainly other nations see it. In San Francisco, when they assembled to build a new system of collective security, the nations at once, and without argument, recognized that Canada stood out as only less in power than the greatest, but this was obvious by every index of power. The nation i also recognized the larger fact that Canada had a character, a nature, a civilization and a spirit of its own and different from thope of other people. This, of course, is the most remarkable fact of all—that in the fierce levelling and grinding of nations in our time nothing could merge Canadian life with that of any other.
We have no illusions about our place in a world of giant powers and claim nothing beyond our reach, but at San Francisco you could feel not only admiration for the sanity, stability and purpose of Canada but envy also. To be a Continued on page 6
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Canadian at San Francisco was to hold a special place in the world’s regard and to be known as among the few fortunate men of this time.
We should have grasped all this before. We have always had a better country than we knew, with a better life for the average man than the life of almost any other land on earth. But because there were so few of us and we lived beside a huge and glittering neighbor, we never properly understood the satisfactions of our Canadian life, and we hardly believed that we could build something here, unique and ours alone, a new thing and not an imitation. We did not know that we had already built it, and were still building it, invisibly, day by day.
Here was something tougher than we ever suspected —the will to be Canadian, the same thing which hurled back the invaders of 1775 and 1812, which bred the revolt of 1837, which built the Statute of Westminster, which made the modern British Commonwealth possible, which rejected again and again the easy solution of joining a larger nation.
We see these things now in the clarity and the silence that followed the end of the war in Europe. But can we keep the vision clear before us? Or must it fade into the light of common day?
There is so much to do and so little time. July 1, 1945, finds us thrust out into a new and perilous place in the world and, at home, with our bench hardly cleared for work. We had better understand both these facts now.
It is not a happy world in which we have matured so suddenly. It is a world already shattered and full of the forces that can shatter it still more. No one who was at San Francisco and kept his ears open could doubt that terrifying and demoniac storms are still howling through the world—hate, greed, suspicion, racial bitterness, which, if they are not controlled, will destroy the victory of this war and produce another not long hence. Civilization looked about a quarter of an inch thick from the vantage point of San Francisco.
In this world of bursting stress and strain Canada stands at the very core of events. This we cannot escape, for geography put us here, midway between the United States and Russia, the two greatest powers of our time, whose collision might well destroy us. For our own survival, if for nothing else, we have to work for peace and take risks and undertake commitments for peace. How unreal, therefore, and incredible, now seems the no-commitment theory of the pre-war years and how dearly we have paid for it! How obvious that, willy-nilly, because we are part of the British Commonwealth and also of America, we are thrust upon the stage of international politics and stand in the fiercest winds of the world—we who did not even have a foreign policy of any kind before the war!
The world needs us. Most sorely it needs our material help to heal its wounds, and we shall be not merely mean but mad if we do not give it generously. It needs also whatever we can contribute in understanding, in the arts of neighborliness, which we and the Americans have learned better than any other people, and in our own solution of racial problems. The world listened to us when we spoke modestly at San Francisco. We should not underestimate the contribution we can make in its future counsels.
BUT if we are to be strong outside we must be strong inside. We have achieved during the war an internal strength such as we have never known before. In many ways we have come through the war stronger in our own society than any other nation— not battered like the heroic British Isles, not overrun like a large part of Russia, not gutted like Europe and probably not under nearly as much ideological strain as the United States. We are a healthy nation on our birthday, but from now on men will try to undermine that health.
They succeeded after the last war. Within a few months of the Armistice they had begun to break down the national unity and purpose which had carried the nation through the war years. The strong bow which it had held so firmly seemed to snap suddenly in its hands. The strength and leadership of the National Government oozed out. Everywhere provincial governments and local interests rushed into the vacuum, scrambling for power and for spoils, reckless of the nation’s welfare. The screech of regional politics, regional prejudice and regional selfishness drowned the nation’s voice.
By the time the world depression reached us we had made such mincemeat of our Canadian constitution, the relations of the provinces to the Dominion, the responsibilities and
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powers of our different governments, that no authority was prepared to cope with the crisis, and nobody coped with it. For all our strength in the war, we seemed to sink into a decade of political infantile paralysis, when everybody was afraid to do anything, people were hungry in a country bursting with ! food and politicians were locked in j argument about commas and semii colons in the British North America j Act.
They were still arguing, and the basic constitutional machinery was stalled and rusting, when the war forced us to end these quibbles or perish. Yet even in the darkest days of
j the war, when it was not clear whether ; we would perish or not, the parochial| ist« and village patriots were still strong enough to smash any attempt to remodel the constitution and make it ready for the peace. Therefore we come to the peace constitutionally unready. We have a 1945 nation and an 1867 constitution, which cannot carry the load.
Once more, as the taut bowstring of war is loosened, the little men will see their chance, and presently from one end of the country to the other you will hear the clamor of regional rights, parish politics, racial prejudice and the elevation of every local concern over the concerns of Canada. The nation which fought with armies, ships and planes will have to fight a mean squabble of legal technicalities, court judgments and constitutional debating points as the little men make their little politics in the back yard.
Shall we succeed in overcoming this movement of disruption and weakness, where we failed before? That will depend primarily not on the politicians but on us. If we put our local welfare above the welfare of the nation there will be plenty of politicians eager to express our provincialism and win our votes. If we insist that the welfare of the nation comes first, because none of us can prosper in the end without it, our politics will reflect ouraCanadianism.
Everything will hang upon ' the ability of the ordinary, unknown Canadian to realize that this is a nation, a single, organic creature which can never be healthy in any part if any other part is sick. It will hang upon the ability of the East to grasp the needs of the West, of British Columbia to realize the relative poverty Eind special needs of the Maritimes, of English-speaking Canada to underj stand Quebec elnd of Quebec to understand the rest of us. It will liEing not only on mere intellectual knowledge I but on sound and generous emotions j and, most of all, on tolerance Eind belief in other Canadians. And since our j postwar problems will be far more j complicated than anything we have ever known before, we shall need far greater understEinding of ourselves, far I deeper tolerance than we ever showed in the past when we did not show j enough for the much smaller problems I of those times.
Three Supreme Objectives
All this is not going to be easy, and it; is going to look even harder, by contrast with the war years, than it actually is. War is EI comparatively I simple business, when most men agree
on the objectives and, out of patriotism, j Eiccept the methods. But there will be j no Eigreement on many of the objectives I and most of the methods of peacetime, and in u free society there cannot Eind j should not be; complete agreement is ¡ the special heritage of the ant hill and the totalitarian state and they are welcome to it. But if we can agree on three supreme objectives we need not he distressed by the natural disagreements on other objectives and on methods, for the competition of ideas, the trial and error of political and economic experiment Eire the lifeblood of a free society.
These three objectives, which all men of good will should he Eible to Eiccept, Eire: That the purpose of every public policy should be the strength, health and prosperity of the whole nation, not merely the advantage of one part EigEiinst another, Eind all public policies should be tested by this measurement; that the prosperity of the nation is to besought and found only in the climate of a prospering world; and that we did not fight the war for personal freedom abroad to abandon it at home to any form of official dictatorship or any monolithic government of the Right, Left or Centre.
In short, if we once accept Canada, the nation, its own special manner of life and cast of mind, as a fact in the peace as we have established it in the war, if we can maintain and foster that instinct for Canada, for being Canadian which has lately surmounted all the disruptive elements of our society—if that foundation remains, then the ideological argument of Right and Left, the various isms and nostrums, the problem of duEil race and language, the ! difficulties of constitution Eind IEIW and everything else that seeks to divide I CanEida will fail to shake us. In the I light of this larger thing, this new and I regnant Canada so cleiirly visible on our birthday, all the dross will melt and run off.
The vague dream which our fathers held in the poverty and loneliness of an empty hind, and held stubbornly against every attempt, within Canada and without, to extinguish it, is ours now, a dream no longer but a living substance, plain for all men to see and feel and grasp. It was finally established in the war hut it can be lost again so easily when outside peril has passed. The test of the war was met successfully. This year the greater test of the peace begins. In the complex process of this process only one solvent will work for us, the solvent which has never failed. It is the inexpressible but ever-living idea of Canada, the country which we have at last discovered.