Setting a new deadline

E. KAYE FULTON March 23 1992

Setting a new deadline

E. KAYE FULTON March 23 1992

Patriotism by committee


Not every Canadian is ‘an 0 Canada guy’

Why M/M4I 4P is it 4¿ a fl country /^/14/44^441 4414¿i4 with poets galore, rt SI 1 From Atwood to Zazis and more by the score, Has all kinds of trouble when what’s to the fore Is vaunting the land, its soul and its lore? Is’t only that verse by committee’s a bore?

Or is it simply that most Canadians, including those who cannot control the tear ducts when they hear 0 Canada, hate blurting out their feelings in public? Or that there is always some claque or dissenting segment of population that finds offence in any attempt at a pledge of allegiance—that’s American, eh?—or a defining national declaration? And that they find it embarrassing, even ridiculous, when anyone, including a parliamentary committee, or the nation’s leader, dares to talk about patriotism?

Despite that, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney dared to declare himself earlier this month while dodging questions on why authorities in his home town of Baie-Comeau and other Quebec towns had requested the National Arts Centre Orchestra, during a unity tour, to refrain from playing 0 Canada. Declared Mulroney: “I’m an 0 Canada guy all the way.” Pierre Trudeau, a year into his prime ministership in 1969, came closer to the prevailing preference for understated patriotism when he allowed: “I’ve got a gut feeling for Canada.” And even John Diefenbaker sounded a note of apology when, as prime minister in 1961 on what then was called Dominion Day, he backhandedly confessed in the House of Commons to being devoted to the country he led. “I know there are some who feel a sense of embarrassment in expressing pride in their nation, perhaps because of the fear that they might be considered oldfashioned or parochial,” he said. “I do not belong to that group.”

A group that has now risked embarrassment is the Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons on a Renewed Canada. Its 10 senators and 20 MPs adopted “a statement of Canada’s identity and values” as a proposed preamble to a revised Constitution while it worked to meet an end-of-February deadline for completing its recommendations.

The five-stanza panegyric that the committee accepted beat out competing compositions offered as preambles, or as an opening “Canada clause.” The winner’s chief author is committee member John Reimer, 55, Conservative MPfor Kitchener, Ont., a Mennonite educator who was helped

by UTT an AM extracurricular Air^MA A« AM committee AA. of religious, poetic and political advisers. His accompanying draft Canada clause was rejected. Urged on by a sense of duty to finish its task on time, the committee accepted Reimer’s preamble in a compromise with some members who balked at his Canada clause as being politically incorrect.

Reimer’s Canada clause met opposition partly because it included “respect for life” in a list of values that “Canada affirms.” Mindful that Reimer is a “right-to-life” campaigner in the abortion debate, and because the Canada clause—unlike the preamble—would carry legal weight in the courts, opponents objected.

“The mainspring of a Canadian’s patriotism is not love, but duty. ”

—Robertson Davies, 1949

The more prosaic Canada clause worked out by the committee, which includes a stronger commitment to native self-government as well as Quebec’s “distinct society” clause, contains

no “respect-for-life” reference. Reimer’s draft Canada clause was shunted to an appendix at the back of the report, along with two other draft preambles, all noted as having been “examined by the committee.” A succinct but poetic Canada clause composed by the Writers’ Union of Canada receives only a mention.

“I see in the not remote distance one great nationality bound, like the shield of Achilles, by the blue rim of ocean. ” —D’Arcy McGee, 1860

The mythical shield of Achilles that the eloquent McGee invoked was a gloriously crafted work that, the poet Homer wrote in the Iliad, conjured up visions of earth and the heavens, human achievement and struggle. But McGee, in foreseeing a single nation stretching from sea to sea to sea, could not have imagined Canada’s present struggles—nor the lawyerly arguments over the words in a Constitution that he was to help design as one of the Fathers of Confederation.

The document that the Fathers designed, the British North America Act, 1867, gets right down to business without adornment: “An Act for the Union of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, and the Government thereof; and for Purposes connected therewith.” Its present incarnation in the bookshops, the Constitution Act, 1982, is a 23page, plain-white pamphlet just over two-thirds the dimensions of this magazine that opens with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Its preamble is curt, but sweeping enough to say it all: “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.” But then, right away, the language of quibble and caution detracts from its heroic beginning. The guarantees of rights and freedoms are circumscribed by “such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

The deadening disease of wordy circumlocutions and hairsplitting is contagious. Even the florid draft preamble now being considered by the government has already been subjected to fine-tuning. Possibly as an omen of tinkering to come, the ink was barely dry on the bulky committee report when Reimer began revising a word here and there at the suggestion of colleagues. After its publication as part of the |j| committee’s constitutional recommendations on March 1, Reimer printed up his five-stanza panegyric on paper decorated with maple leaves and the shields of the provinces and the territories. In the preamble’s seventh line, his separate version altered “aboriginal peoples” to “first peoples” and, in the second-last line,


We are the people of Canada,

drawn from the four winds of the earth, a privileged people, citizens of a sovereign state.

Trustees of a vast northern land, we celebrate its beauty and grandeur.

Aboriginal peoples, immigrants,

French-speaking, English-speaking,

Canadians all,

we honor our roots and value our diversity.

We affirm that our country

is founded upon principles that acknowledge the supremacy of God, the dignity of each person, the importance of family and the value of community.

We recognize that we remain free only when freedom is founded on respect for moral and spiritual values, and the rule of law in the service of justice.

We cherish this free and united country, its place within the family of nations, and accepting the responsibilities privileges bring, we pledge to strengthen this land as a home of peace, hope and goodwill.

(Parliamentary committee proposal, 1992)

“this land” became “our land.”

By chance, on the evening of the day that the parliamentary committee published its report, the CTV network aired a documentary program on the making of new symphonic, choral and pop-mode arrangements of 0 Canada. Meticulously, there are sung versions of both the English and French lyrics—and a truly multilingual version in which a chorus hums, without a hint of accents, along with the orchestra.

But the patriotic carol, over which Parliament dithered for eight years during the 1970s before making it the legal national anthem in 1980, is as beset by controversy as the Constitution.

For years after it was composed in 1880—at the behest of Quebec’s St. Jean Baptiste Society—by conductor-composer Calixa Lavallée to lyrics by Adolphe Basile Routh-

ier, the hymn was spurned by English Canada. Now, it is scorned by Quebec nationalists. Performed in a mixture of English and French, the anthem often provokes protests among

both language groups. And contralto Maureen Forrester prompted complaints when, during the last of five unity conferences in Vancouver last month, she sang in English only. The English lyrics, adapted by Parliament from words by poet R. Stanley Weir in 1908, are attacked for being sexist (“native sons”), for being military (“stand on guard”), for invoking God (or for doing so only once) and for ignoring the East, the West and the South (“true North”).

It was all that—particularly Justice Minister Kim Campbell’s suggestion last September that the sexist “sons” should be replaced by “us”—that inspired Michael Friesen, 25, a Fredericton student teacher, musician and satirist, to write politically correct lyrics. He was “not trying to make a joke of the national anthem,” he insists, but to satirize the complainers.

Friesen describes his lyrics as the penultimate politically correct version—“the ultimate will have one word of every language spoken in Canada.” He jokes that he is stuck at the moment: “I need one Icelandic word for ‘geographical landmass’ that is she syllables long and rhymes with pomegranate.” That is unlikely to be true poetry, but it may serve as a dirge for a nit-picking nation.





Our home and native land!

True patriot love in all thy sons command.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,

The True North strong and free!

From far and wide, 0 Canada, we stand on guard for thee. God keep our land, glorious and free!

0 Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

0 Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

(Bill C-36, adopted 1980)


Our domicile and current place of residence,

True feelings of nationalistic contentment, in everybody kindly request.

With glowing organs, we observe thy ascendance,

The true relatively north empowered and unshackled,

From considerable expanses—eh, Canada?—we’re looking out for thee.

May the non-gender-specific deity maintain our

geographical mass, strong yet sensitive and liberated!

Yo Canada, we’re looking out for thee.

Yo Canada, we’re looking out for the majorities, minorities, downtrodden, depressed, repressed, undressed, differently looking, otherly abled, preferentially varied individuals and group entities AND thee.

(Michael Friesen, Fredericton, 1992)