Councillor John Edwards sends this letter in reply to Bill Chapman’s latest column, Canada Day.
Thanks for your letter to the Millstone on the occasion of Canada’s 150th birthday. Upon receiving my Millstone via the electronic ether and with my Oxford Dictionary (hardcopy) close at hand, I settled in to a thoughtful read.
You nicely reference its older name for 115 years of its existence, “Dominion Day”. A name close to my heart (being born in Almonte on that day in 1954) and the hearts of many other unregenerate Tories. You might know it was the choice of our Fathers of Confederation to name Canada, the “Kingdom of Canada” but the British Foreign Office was not keen to offend our southern neighbours so the “Dominion of Canada” was the agreed upon name as the word “dominion” was suitably ensconced in the King James version of the Bible. I still prefer the older term but I digress.
On Canada Day morning, CBC Radio hosted a discussion panel, safely covering the political spectrum, by including Bob Ray, Jean Charest and Roy Romanow. They are all keen students of our political history and their discussion included a description of the circumstances leading up to the confederation discussion of 1864 – 1867. Of great interest was the wide disparities between the existing British colonies, the two Canadas (Upper and Lower), and the Atlantic colonies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI. Of local interest to us were the differences between French Catholic Quebec and English Protestant Ontario. Each, of course, had their own smaller minorities but the dominant groups set the political discussion of the day.
Those dominant groups, English and French set about describing the other group in the most caustic and virulent language known to humanity. I confess that as an Ontarian with Orangeism in my background, I cringe at the destructive language of my forebears. Prejudice was fully on display and it appears each was bent on the destruction of the other. Lucky for us, their attacks and prejudice did not succeed.
One can barely imagine the prejudiced political context within which MacDonald and Cartier operated. How tempting it must have seemed to fall-in with the emotional rants of the crowd. MacDonald and Cartier kept their eye on the horizon and did not succumb to the scurrilous name-calling, the personal attacks and the relentless negativity. They were true political leaders. They and the other Confederation leaders had a bigger vision. One in which English and French would work together and one which would leave pettiness and ‘small Canada thinkers’ behind. It would have been easy to be de-railed from the Big Picture of a Big Canada. Returning to the old-prejudices of the past would have been comforting to many, but then what? A set of small squabbling colonies slowly dropping one by one into the “Excited States of America”? If this were to be the case, there would have been no chance for a North American state where change would be peaceful and evolutionary; no chance for a state which cares for all its citizens.
Canada is an experiment. Over 150 years we have evolved a political culture of ‘working it out’. Today, we must confront the challenges of the Aboriginal peoples and their desire to join the Canada of the future. Often we hear language which is difficult to hear and which would so easily derail us from political solutions. Avoiding the pitfalls of uncompromising language and the ‘black hole’ of negative backward looking commentary has become a Canadian political art and is the Canadian message to the world. Let’s keep making it work. After all, if the English and French with all their centuries of shared history cannot ‘work-it-out’ what hope has the world?
Let’s keep the experiment going!
(A Dominion Day baby)