'We are an echo of Washington'

DAVID LEWIS January 1 1967

'We are an echo of Washington'

DAVID LEWIS January 1 1967

'We are an echo of Washington'


“ What can a small country do? We can do a .. Bat today we took like a timid camp follower... We hare a duty to speak oar own mind firmly”

WHEN I FINISHED my three years at Oxford in 1935, I was invited by Sir Stafford Cripps to remain in England, enter his law chambers and “stand” as a Labor candidate. It was a flattering and tempting invitation.

Politics had been my major interest since I entered McGill University in 1927. My main ambition was to play a significant role in the social democratic movement. The British Labor Party, in which I had been active for three years and whose leaders had befriended me, was the established and powerful alternative to the Conservative government. The invitation thus held out promise of a successful political career as well as entry into a highly regarded law office in a society which I had found very attractive.

On the other hand, the CCF in Canada had just been founded a couple of years earlier, its progress was bound to be slow. Early election to parliament was extremely doubtful. And the question of finding a job or a law firm on my return to Canada was a worrying one in the depth of the depression.

Yet, after much aching thought, I refused the invitation to remain in England. I am a Canadian, I said. I came to England to study on a scholarship given to me in Canada. Having finished my studies, I want to go back to my country and play a part in the CCF.

I cannot explain my decision by any logical criteria, particularly since neither my parents nor I had been born in Canada. Indeed, I had come to this country from Poland late in 1921 without knowing either English or French and without any notions about anything in my new land. When the choice faced me in 1935 I was 26 years old and had lived only 1 1 years in Canada, all in Montreal.

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“Profound problem of Canadianism: lack of common goals”

that was turbulent with discontent, where my people were victims of persecution and pogroms, where there was no sense of peace or security. Perhaps it was because the 1 1 years in Montreal had been full and productive ones, at least after 1 learned English and felt at home. Whatever it was, 1 had developed a keen sense of belonging. Canada was my country.

I have a feeling that this is the only meaningful experience of nationalism. All the sociological and psychological studies, however profound, really add up to a Gertrude Stein tautology: my country is my country is my country. And I am not sure that more is needed, although much more understanding is necessary for collective action.

I am not speaking about the nationalism that proclaims Deutschland Uber Alles or sings Britannia, Rule The Waves! or prattles about the “American Way of Life” to the Vietnamese as they are strafed and bombed. I am talking of the simple affinity with all others in the same political unit, reaching toward common goals, sometimes consciously, more often blindly and inarticulately.

Killing frost of regionalism

And here. I think, lies the profound problem of Canadianism: the lack of common goals. Meet someone from Nova Scotia or Quebec or British Columbia in a foreign-land and he is a Canadian without qualification. Meet him in his backyard and he is a Bluenose or a Québécois or a British Columbian, looking at the rest of Canada with envy or suspicion or disdain. Canadian nationalism is a delicate plant threatened by the frost of regionalism.

It would be a bold and presumptuous man who would undertake to lay down a neat package of reasons for this. But every one has some explanation of — or, more accurately, prejudices on — the subject. And I have mine.

At least until the Statute of Westminster in 1931, and even later. Canada was slave to a colonial mentality. Never. I imagine, has there been a more severe example of a grown offspring so unwilling to cut the umbilical cord. It is difficult to think of any other country that would have endured such passionate howling as assailed Canada’s ears over the simple proposition that at age 97 we should have our own distinctive national flag. And there arc still some who refuse to fly it. What will happen shortly when we argue about a distinctive national anthem, no one knows. There is hope that the flag sapped most of the passion and that the argument over the anthem maybe more subdued. Characteristically, more emotion is evoked by the removal of the word “royal” from the name of the services than by the frustration of UN peace-keeping missions in which Canadian forces take part.

I can’t remember being at all keenly aware that Canadians had ever written anything until I entered uni-

versity. British and European literature and art. even some American, came to an eager schoolboy’s attention, but Lampman. Carman and Service and even the Group of Seven were vaguely familiar only to the "intellectuals.” McCrae’s In Flanders Fields was the major exception, particularly around November II.

How to instill a sense of national awareness in a growing child who was required to know all about 1066 but little about 1812: who was quizzed severely about Oliver Cromwell but who heard only vaguely of Papineau and Mackenzie? Even in Montreal in the 1920s the English-speaking schoolboy learned about French Canadians

only through the exploits of Cartier and Champlain and the British victory on the Plains of Abraham.

Perhaps my memory fails me, but I don’t think so. Perhaps my generation in other provinces had a different experience, but 1 have seen little evidence of it. A creative and nonarrogant pride in one’s country cannot be instilled by sonorous after-dinner speeches. It is bred by an awareness derived from school, home and community. By and large. English-speak-


Our guests are taking over our house

ing Canada lacked this environment up to the post-World War II period. And it takes more than one generation to permeate a people with a universal consciousness of national oneness, despite the diversity of origin and culture.

But Canada’s tragedy is that no sooner had we begun to emerge from our sense of inferiority toward the haughty mother across the sea than we acquired an even more virulent inferiority toward the rich uncle across the border. The materialist goals of the Establishment encouraged economic integration with the United States, and political leadership bowed to what it called the inevitable. It was inevitable only because of the premise that economic goals must he shaped mainly by private enterprise and that what is good for it is good for the nation — a premise which history proves to be untenable.

In the result we have an economy consisting, in large measure, of branch plants of American corporations. We have to rely for much of our industrial research and know-how on them. In many ways a miniature copy of the American economy, Canada has not developed the rationalization of industry and the specialization from which a small hut wealthy country derives the greatest benefit. Many of our enterprises have to submit to guidelines not only of their parent companies in a foreign country but to those of the government of that country. And as the trend to increasing foreign control continues, it becomes more difficult to reverse or even to arrest it.

A little-known fact is that direct investment from the United States is not increasing but American ownership and control is. This seeming paradox occurs because American subsidiaries here generate their own capital through depreciation and depletion reserves and undistributed profits. Thus foreign ownership extends its control over our economy with capital accumulated largely by its Canadian operations. Those whom we invited as guests are in the process of taking over our house and we not only let them hut help them to do so.

Every sign points to increasing continentalism from those who now hold political and economic power. A nationalist like Walter Gordon is repudiated by his colleagues. Not only are his questionable remedies rejected, but his concern for Canada’s independence is scoffed at. Canadian support for a free-trade world was perverted by the Liberal Party conference last October into a call for continental free trade which would place us more completely at the mercy of the powerful economy to the south. Trans-Canada Pipe Lines is given the green light to build a second major line through the United States rather than through northern Ontario, thus effectively placing an important Canadian resource and its transportation partly under control of an American government agency established under law to protect American — not Canadian — interests.

These are only a few of the more

recent signposts on the road to complete economic dependence. Nor does' it end there. Our international policies follow the same pattern and are! perhaps the best example of how easily! we slid from one state of dependency, to another. Almost up to World War II Canada was a mere appendage of{ London in world affairs. Today we are a mere echo of Washington’s; demanding voice. We are disturbed byj American escalation of the war ini Vietnam, but our protest is muted.! We look less and less like a proud' independent nation and more and’ more like a timid camp follower.

Outside domination reaches into our cultural life as well. Our movie houses, are adjuncts of Hollywood. Our air, waves are dominated by the shrillj products created or concocted across! the line. When CBC talent evolves! something distinctive such as This Hour Has Seven Days, narrow-minded hotheads give the corporation cold] feet. The show is ditched and thenJ with characteristic ambivalence, an-i other is started along similar lines,j When, at last, we took feeble steps! to assist Canadian magazines we exempted from the action the two American publications that are their, most powerful competition.

First “what,” then “who”

Foreign penetration in Canadian, life underlines some of the reasons for our failure to develop a Canadian identity. But they are not the only reasons. It was only 15 or so years ago that the Canada Council was es’ tahlished to assist Canadian writers.j artists and social scientists. It is only! recently that provincial governmental have made funds available for similar^ purposes. And the amounts in total are. still pitifully inadequate.

Throughout the years of our existence as a country we have dissipated our energies in the wrangle about who should do something. We exhibiij much less passion when discussing! what should he done in the national, interest. We are much more concerned about who shall have the power tha¿ we are about defining common naj tional goals for which the powc.^ should be used.

I don’t, of course, ignore the fact| that Canada is and always will be a] federal state, with its attendant divi* sion of powers. Indeed, I am conf vinced that a country founded by twej language and cultural groups and spread across a continent cannot be governed democratically any other way. Education and welfare, for ex-( ample, cannot be controlled from one national centre without a deadly uniformity imposed by a huge, impersonal bureaucracy. And for the province of Quebec this is particularly cruciat if it is to remain the fountainhead of our French-Canadian people andt culture. But within this framework it is surely possible to inspire national; ideals and to evoke a sense of unified’ purpose in our people. Without these. Canada is doomed.

There are some who ask what all the fuss is about. Let nature take it$j course, they say. since it is easier to


“We need to instill in ourselves a sense of confidence”

blame nature than one's golf companions or oneself. They shrug their shoulders at the possibility of Canada breaking up or being absorbed by the United States one way or another. I passionately disagree with them but at least they are open and straightforward. Nor do they shock me seriously. Psychology has taught us that the instinct of self-hate is not uncommon.

What is much more insidious is the widespread self-delusion that it is possible to build a meaningful Canada while permitting our economic power to slip into foreign hands and our cultural values to be shaped by those of another society. We even delude ourselves into thinking that we can build a national identity without discarding some of our traditional prejudices. How childishly destructive is the spectacle of bigots in Englishspeaking Canada taking to the barricades because “édifice fédérale" appears ahead of “federal building’' on a plaque! How similarly divisive is the cry in some circles in Quebec about priority for the French language in that province when few seriously question it!

Those of us who are New Canadians, anxious to preserve our cultural backgrounds, must learn to appreciate not only the fact but the value of bilingualism in Canada. The opportunity to speak one’s mother tongue and to honor one's cultural traditions is indispensable to real freedom. But to insist that Russian or Ukrainian. Italian or Yiddish have the same status as French in Canada is to misread Canadian history. More than that, it frustrates understanding between English-speaking and Frenchspeaking Canada which is a pre-condition of our survival as a nation. That newcomers to Canada should need time to appreciate this fact is understandable; that political and social leaders should encourage them in this misunderstanding is indefensible. But demagoguery knows no limits.

The resolution of any problem requires, in the first place, a recognition of its existence and an appreciation of its dimensions. In this respect we have, I think, made some progress. Although the discussion about Canadian nationalism is as old as Canada itself, its terms are being more clearly defined today. What is perhaps more important, the concern about Canada as a distinct nation is much more widespread, always excepting certain political circles where self-delusion is an aid to studied inactivity.

A buck is a buck

But the preservation of Canada cannot be left to chance; it must be consciously willed and planned. Left alone, commercial and industrial forces will continue to gravitate toward faster continental integration. This is where an easier and faster buck can be made. A buck, powerful groups argue, is a buck; no impractical idealism should be permitted to stand in the way. True, they don't use such blunt language. They clothe their crass materialism in high-sounding phrases about the rate of economic growth, the standard of living and. above all. hard-headed, practical realism. In the process our economic and political independence will be further eroded and we will be asked, what can a small country do?

We can do a lot. No one in his senses suggests that we should build a wall around Canada or that we should shut out the United States, even if that were possible, which it is not. Nor can we protect our future by unproductive policies of buying out American subsidiaries or insisting that there be a certain proportion of Canadian shareholders in them. Shareholders seldom control the management of an enterprise unless they are very powerful. And. in any case, it would mean using scarce Canadian capital to transfer ownership in existing industry rather than expanding

into new fields. This makes such a policy sterile.

What we need is Canadian investment in all major new developments. If private capital won't do it, then public investment should, either by itself or in partnership with private enterprise. We need new and stronger laws to make all enterprise serve Can-

ada's interests, including subsidiaries of foreign corporations.

We need to instill in ourselves a sense of confidence and purpose. We have not only untold resources but a people able to develop them. We have a creditable and growing literature in both our main languages. In Hollywood, New York and London, as well as at home, we can point with pride to Canadian creative talent. In the head offices of many American corporations and in universities across


Friendship with the U.S., yes —but grounded in equality

the border are thousands of Canadian scientists, managers and teachers who were driven there by a lack of opportunity at home.

Yet the opportunities here could be breathtaking. Every region in Canada has areas that have not kept pace with the rest of the country. Their wages are lower, the standard of liv-

ing, the educational and welfare programs inadequate. Yet, surely, the very foundation of a united and viable nation must be a combined effort to achieve equal development in all its parts. How else displace envy by security, and suspicion by trust? How else build a common national purpose?

Every one of our cities has its blight-

ed parts and lacks green belts for recreation and centres for artistic and cultural activities. Urban planning and redevelopment, cleansing our air and our water of foul pollution, these are challenges we have not begun to meet. In education, we lag far behind the U. S. and most other industrialized nations. The opportunities for teaching

and research talent are immense.

All these tasks and many more cannot be completed in a year or even 10 years. Indeed, they can never be completed. As we expand, automate and rationalize our industry, and as our population grows, wants and needs will increase and new ones will be created by the demands of leisure and ever - wider education. The problem is to start on the tasks in a planned and energetic way instead of piecemeal and listlessly. United work on these tasks is the economic and social foundation for a true and’constructive nationalism.

And we have the political power if we have the courage to assert it. There is little, except our own timidity, to prevent us from laying down laws and rules to require foreign subsidiaries here to act in Canada’s interests. We don’t have to echo American foreign policy; we have the right and duty to speak our own mind firmly. I suspect the Americans will only respect us the more.

I believe passionately that Canada is worth preserving as an independent nation. Full economic, cultural and political self-reliance should be our goal. This requires conscious and imaginative government involvement at all levels: in planning, in investment, in the provision of funds, and above all, in leadership.

Canadian nationalism can be a creative force only if it is given purposeful direction and imaginative social goals. By all means, let us maintain a close relationship and friendship with the United States. Any other course would be silly. But a friendship grounded in equality and self-respect is honorable and constructive: a relationship based on the timidity of a satellite is humiliating and sterile.

In my view, our collective goal is clear as we enter our Centennial year. Arresting the trend to continentalism and beginning consciously to build a creative and purposeful Canadian nationalism is, beyond all else, our most pressing and most challenging task. ★