What is Canada?

"If our centenary celebration is to mean anything, it must be about what we are, rather than about what we are not. And this problem of our identity we have yet to solve."

On July 1, 1967, Canada will celebrate its one-hundredth birthday. In many parts of the country the form of the celebration has yet to be decided. This is not surprising since a great many Canadians are not sure what we are supposed to be celebrating. Is it the foundation of a great bicultural nation united in a common purpose? A glance at the headlines in any newspaper from Halifax to Vancouver will show the absurdity of the idea. We cannot even decide on a national flag. Is it the maintenance in Quebec of the French language and culture against the encroachments of the Anglo-Saxon majority? If so, the Anglo-Saxon majority can hardly be expected to take part with enthusiasm. Is it the maintenance of the sovereignty of the Crown and the British connection against French-Canadian particularism? The province of Quebec can hardly be expected to rejoice. And for the four million Canadians of neither French nor British origin, either achievement is irrelevant. Is it then simply the fact that we have maintained our political independence against the usually friendly but always staggering pressures from the United States? Possibly. But so negative an achievement will not, three years hence, bring about an emotional response in any way comparable with the response on an ordinary American Fourth of July. If our centenary celebration is to mean anything, it must be about what we are, rather than about what we are not. And this problem of our identity we have yet to solve.

After a century of effort we are more seriously divided than we have ever been since Queen Victoria created the country by signing the British North America Act in 1867. A sizable minority in Quebec is committed to bringing about quasi or total independence for French Canada. On the other hand, the Anglo-Saxon majority is still reluctant to accept the idea that Canada must become in fact what she is in theory, bilingual and bicultural. Nor is the drive toward provincial autonomy confined to Quebec. At the other end of the country the Social Credit premier of British Columbia, W.A.C. Bennett, seems to view his province almost as an independent principality. The three prairie provinces, with their agricultural and oil-producing economy, constitute a distinctive territory of their own. The Maritime Provinces, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, poor in resources and a geographical extension of New England rather than of the rest of Canada, were reluctant to come into Confederation in the first place and are dubious to this day of the wisdom of their decision. In the absence of a unifying idea the provinces tend to assert the identity which emerges from their own geography and circumstances. We have so far failed at Ottawa to agree about the nature of our country and its people. If our citizens cannot define themselves in terms of Canada, they will define themselves in terms of British Columbia, or Nova Scotia, or Alberta, or Quebec. French-Canadian particularism is only the most dramatic expression of a particularisin that afflicts the whole of our country.

The question for Canada today is this: Are we simply a variant of the American republic, shaped by the same forces, governed by the same beliefs, based upon a political philosophy which is all but the same? If we are, we should use up no more energy on squabbles between French and English. We should not spend money in a vain attempt to foster Canadian literature, Canadian art, a Canadian theater. We should not try to maintain armed forces of our own or endeavor to construct an independent foreign policy. We should stop worrying about American ownership of our resources and our industries. We should stop wasting our time in arguments about a Canadian flag. Instead, we should admit that our honorable century-old experiment has been a failure, and we should direct our best efforts toward coming to a political and economic accommodation with Washington. If as a people we have nothing distinctive of value to contribute to the world, we should be prepared to throw in our lot, if we are permitted, with those who have. We live in too desperate a century to indulge in the frivolity of false independence. We may be a confused people. We are not an emerging, underdeveloped nation.

However, I do not believe that Canada is a variant of the United States. Had such been the case, economic and geographic forces would long ago have brought about the absorption of the Dominion into the Union. There were many on both sides of the border who would have tolerated or welcomed such a development. The French-Canadian habitants were neutral when the armies of the Continental Congress invaded Canada in 1776. The Anglo-Scots merchants of Montreal in 1849 signed a manifesto urging annexation with the United States. Later in the century Goldwin Smith, who had resigned the Regius Professorship of History at Oxford to settle in Toronto, spent his distinguished career urging the futility and foolishness of Canadian insistence on independence. American leaders expressed themselves even more forcefully. It seemed to them only common sense that Canada should be ceded to settle the Alabama claims. Theodore Roosevelt believed that American demands in the Oregon boundary dispute had been too modest. The whole of British Columbia and. the prairie provinces should have been taken. "We were the people who could have used it best and we should have taken it all." During the Venezuelan crisis in 1895 Richard Olney informed Whitehall that three thousand miles of ocean "make any permanent union between an European and an American state 'Unnatural and inexpedient." Whitehall itself, until the imperialist wave struck in the 1880s, showed little interest in the North American dependency and hoped that Canada would either go out on its own or join the United States.

This, contrary to all the laws of determinism, did not happen. It did not happen precisely because the Canadian people were different from the Americans and they knew it. Official oratory about the undefended frontier is misleading. The frontier has been undefended in large part because it is undefendable, not because of any profound similarity between the two peoples, who are, in tact, different in their historical experience, their political philosophy, and their view of the world outside North America. They are complementary to each other, but they are not identical. Both may legitimately claim to be the legatees of British' notions of free government, but the legacy is not a unified one. The American people entered into their legacy by a revolutionary act in 1776. By that act they defined their identity and released the energies that would during the next century and a half create a great nation and a great literature, a new vision of the nature and destiny of man.

We Canadians have so far failed to enter fully into our legacy, and this is our one great, overreaching problem as our centennial approaches. On its solution everything else depends. We have failed to vest sovereignty where it properly belongs—in the Canadian people. Instead, we have allowed it to remain in the British monarchy, and in doing so we have divided our country and inhibited, our emotional and creative development as a people. A nation, like an individual, can achieve integrity and identity only out of its own experience and not derivatively from a parent. This, and not French-Canadian particularism, is at the root of our present difficulties. Our internal dissensions are intrinsically less serious than those that plagued the thirteen colonies when their leaders were laboring to create the American Union, but because of our failure to recognize a national identity distinct from that of Great Britain, they have been allowed to assume proportions that have come close to paralyzing our parliamentary machinery. Our identity cannot emerge clear and dominant until sovereignty, both real and symbolic, is brought to rest in ourselves.

As it is now, the Crown as a symbol of sovereignty encourages British Canadians to ignore their own failure to build a united nation by allowing them an illusory participation in a history and a greatness not properly theirs. They feel free therefore to indulge in that xenophobia toward the French which is one of the most unpleasant and uncivilized traits of the English middle class. Because of this the French can avoid responsibility for their own intellectual stultification and their unreasonable contentiousness by pointing out, correctly enough, that the British have an overriding loyalty outside, Canada and that they, the French, are the only true Canadians. And the 20 percent of our population which are of neither British nor French ancestry are left in a patriotic vacuum, ready only too often, particularly if they are greatly gifted, to leave the country in search of an environment charged with affirmative rather than negative concerns. When we take the long-overdue step and transfer sovereignty to where it properly belongs, it will become clear that Canadians -British, French, and European alike - have been and are engaged in a common enterprise which is of far greater concern than the separate concerns of each group; and just as the United States has given classic expression in literature, philosophy, and political theory to its interpretation of the New World, so will we begin to give classic expression to ours.

Our development as a people has for many years been overshadowed in our own eyes and in the eyes of the world by the remarkable growth, and achievements of the American Union. It was clear when Tocqueville wrote that something entirely new was taking place in the United States, something without precedent in the history of the Western world. The small group of colonies established in the seventeenth century along the Atlantic seaboard had, decade by decade, advanced westward, across the Alleghenies, across the prairies and the Rocky Mountains, to the Pacific. Each step into the wilderness served only to confirm the sense of mission that lay at the beginning of the American experience. In the course of its extraordinary expansion the country had survived three great crises. In the War for Independence the thirteen colonies had challenged the might of the British Empire. Between 1861 and 1865 the republic had been torn apart by civil war. Finally, in the decades after the Civil War the United States had had to absorb millions of immigrants whose languages, religions, and cultures were, for the most part, alien to the descendants of the British Protestants who had founded the thirteen colonies and created the republic. These three crises had each been successfully surmounted, and it would have been strange had Americans not considered themselves singularly blessed and possessed of a new and sufficient truth not vouchsafed to Europe.

This American world had been shaped and directed by ideas and forces peculiarly its own: a deep sense of mission, a distinctive, notion of individualism, a distinctive attitude toward authority, and a belief in the perfectibility of man. Implicit in the sense of mission was the rejection of Europe. The Church in England had been corrupted. To escape this corruption the pure remnant came to America. However secularized in its formulation during succeeding generations, this sense of a corrupt Europe and a pure New World dominated the American outlook for three centuries. To a very considerable extent it still does. The millions of Europeans who came to the United States between the founding of the republic and the outbreak of World War I only reinforced it. The Irishman, the Pole, the Jew, the refugee from the Austro-Hungarian empire, the Italian, all of them, however much they differed in other ways, held one conviction in common: Europe and what it stood for were corrupt and unjust. America was more than a new opportunity. It was the expression of a new belief about the nature and destiny of man.

The Canadian experience has been of a very different order. The break with and the rejection of Europe, decisive in the making of the American people, did not take place in Canada. In the formative period of Canadian history the immigrant's arrival in North America represented not a rejection of Europe and its values but an affirmation of them. This is the deepest and most meaningful difference between Canada and the United States.

The French, from the arrival of Champlain in the first decade of the seventeenth century to the capture of Quebec in 1759, sought to reproduce in the New World the feudalism and royal absolutism of the France of Louis XIV. They were not Huguenot refugees. They were devout Roman Catholics for whom their religion meant, and, for the great majority, still means, more than anything in the world. Feudalism and royal absolutism underwent many changes in the course of transplantation, and what emerged in New France was a kind of authoritarian democracy. But it was an organic democracy in which the community mattered more than the individual. The individualism of the thirteen colonies, based, as Burke said, on "the dissidence of dissent, the protestantism of the protestant religion," was not there.

Neither was it in the British settlers who followed after the defeat of France. The first substantial body of English-speaking settlers were the more than fifty thousand Tories of the thirteen colonies who refused to accept the outcome of the War for Independence. They left their homes and their possessions in New England, New York, and Virginia to settle in what was to become the province of New Brunswick, in the eastern townships of Quebec, and along the northern shores of Lake Ontario. Their strength in molding Canadian attitudes cannot be overestimated. It remains alive and influential today.

However much they differed in race and religion from the French, the newcomers held certain convictions in common with them. They believed in monarchical government, not in monarchical absolutism; they believed in a hierarchical, episcopal Christianity, in their case the Church of England as established by law; and in the equation between freedom and duly constituted authority, their emphasis tended to be on the side of duly constituted authority. If these similarities between French and English had not effectively existed beneath the endless surface ethnic and religious bickering, confederation would not only have been impossible but inconceivable. The Canadian nation could not have taken shape.

Subsequent immigration to Canada in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did not shake or notably modify these settled patterns. The Scots, who, with the French, have been by far the most influential group in the making of Canada—as the list of names in any federal cabinet from 1867 to the present day will show—had by the time of their arrival reconciled themselves with London, and became more ardent imperialists than the English themselves. Nor did the immigration from Ireland and continental Europe alter the foundations that had already been laid by the first French and English settlers. Coming to Canada rather than to the United States involved a deliberate choice either in the home country or after arrival. Once arrived, there was nothing to prevent the immigrant from going south of the forty-ninth parallel; and in fact, according to a recent study, about eight million Canadians have chosen to exercise this option in the past hundred years. Those who remained did so because the Canadian New World was congenial to them.

Theodore Roosevelt and his contemporaries did not realize—how could they?—that a different people had grown up beside them, a people highly dubious of the advantages that might accrue to them from annexation. The French were distrustful of what seemed to them a philosophy of secularism and materialism flourishing to the south. Eternally committed to the idea of the family, to ancient roots, an ancient faith, and an ancient tongue, they wished to remain themselves. The British cherished the continuity with England, its institutions and traditions. Hundreds of thousands of them had been born and raised in Great Britain. They had left it physically, but spiritually and emotionally it remained home to them for the rest of their lives. They had not shaken the dust of Europe from their feet or undertaken an errand into the wilderness. Their mission was a different one. It was to vindicate and not to deny their origins that they had crossed the Atlantic, just as the earlier British settlers had turned away from the triumphs of 1776 and 1784 to start life again in North America, but life under the Crown.

Both founding groups, therefore, had in common an acceptance of Europe rather than a revolution from it. For the strength and conviction necessary to open up the continent Canadians looked to the traditions and authority of the past, Americans to their vision of the future. There are, in fact, two separate and distinct experiences of the New World in North America, the American and the Canadian. The one is based upon the rejection of Europe, the other on continuity from it. Both are devoted to the idea of democracy, but their theories of democracy differ.

This contrast in perspectives is the key to understanding the difference between the two countries. It is why the Canadian observer, despite so many commonly shared problems and objectives, despite an all but identical economy and the same mass media of communications, finds himself not an American. He does not react the same way. He does not have in his bones the historical experience and the resulting political and social philosophy which the American mistakenly assumes to exist in every English-speaking North American.

For, to the Canadian, the American is an absolutist in his political philosophy. His history from the beginning has made him so. The first Puritan settlers had crossed the ocean to found their city set upon a hill, an example to other nations, a chosen people, the grain that God had sifted from a whole nation to plant in the empty continent. This sense of special selection, of possession of a new and higher truth, became secularized, but it did not diminish. Instead, it grew stronger. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson agreed that the principles upon which the republic rested had a universal significance. Charles Eliot Norton, at the close of the Civil War, confronting the first great waves of the European immigration that would engulf the patrician serenity of his cherished New England, could still write:

I believe we have really made an advance in civilization, that the principles on which our political and social order rest are in harmony with the laws of the universe, that we have set up an ideal which may never in genuine happiness certain...We are getting rid of old world things and becoming accustomed to the new. We are forming new creeds, new judgments, new manners; we are becoming a new race of men.

This continuing faith, applied to the problems and opportunities of the country, goes far to explain the greatness of the American achievement in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The belief that "we are becoming a new race of men" helped to produce such a race in the American melting pot. The belief that "We are forming...new judgments" was the dynamic that began the great growth of higher education and critical scholarship toward the end of the nineteenth century. The belief that the American world was in harmony with the laws of the universe led Emerson and the transcendentalists to speculate about the nature of those laws. Without the belief neither affirmation nor questioning would have been expressed in the prose and poetry which form a major part of the corpus of nineteenth- and twentiethcentury literature. And without the belief it is unlikely that the American people could have withstood the shocks to which the nation was exposed as it moved reluctantly from isolation to world leadership.

It is only today that the limitations of such a faith begin to be apparent. It has been a splendid instrument for molding and building the American nation. It is less well suited to dealing with the problems of the twentieth century. We live in a world in which there are only relative answers to political, social, and economic problems. The innate distrust of government and centralized control, the rugged individualism and complete selfreliance illustrated so thoroughly in American folklore and still the popular theoretical foundation of the American economic system, cannot be exported to underdeveloped countries, where the role of government must be positive rather than negative and where a certain measure of socialism is essential.

Canada is the product of the pragmatic nineteenth century rather than of the ideological eighteenth. We are not children of the age of revolution. In our formative period our metaphysics was provided by the dominant Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Presbyterian theologies. We had no occasion to construct a metaphysics of politics. We too have become secularized, but the habit of mind persists. Our history has not conditioned us to vest any one political doctrine with universality. On the contrary, absolutes were not to be found in temporal things. Political and social forms could be no more than relative, all touched with imperfection, even though in varying degrees. Nor were we obliged by an act of revolution to set up a polarity between the in and the state. We are indebted to our continuity with Europe and in particular with Great Britain for our natural assumption that authority complements and is necessary to freedom. We would, I think, agree with Burke that the limitations upon our liberties are to be counted among our rights. We accept diversity despite our present quarrels, for on the principle of diversity our country rests and must continue to rest. As their history has made Americans primarily individualists and absolutists, so a different history has made Canadians primarily organicists and relativists in national and international politics.

This is most strikingly seen in the contrast between the Canadian and the American views of the outside world and their views of the nature and purpose of diplomacy. It was not in the Canadian temper to view the U.S.S.R. in 1941 or the years that followed as a people's or any other kind of democracy. Russia was a valuable ally governed by a Marxist tyranny. On the other hand, it is not in the Canadian temper to view the People's Republic of China as an embodiment of pure evil with which no relations are possible. At a time when McCarthyism was still a force, Mr. St. Laurent, the Roman Catholic French-Canadian Prime Minister, was working with Nehru to obtain recognition for the Peiping government. Quite apart from the advantages accruing to Canada from trade with Cuba, it is not in the Canadian temper to view the Castro government other than pragmatically. This reluctance, amounting to a psychological incapacity, to define politics in ideological terms is the area in which Canadians differ most markedly with Americans and where they show most markedly their continuity with Europe. In their view of Russia they were at one with Winston Churchill. In their attitude toward Peiping they anticipated General dc Gaulle.

The first and second world wars brought many problems to Canada, but dealing with the forces of isolationism was not one of them. French Canada overwhelmingly endorsed the declaration of war in 1914, and French regiments had their full complement of volunteers. It was only in 1917 when conscription became an issue that trouble broke out. In 1939, in spite of the bitter memories of 1917, the impact of the Depression, and the sympathy of the Quebec right with Mussolini, Ernest Lapointe rallied the province behind him. Again it was the issue of conscription in 1943 that aroused resentment. And this time the resentment spread across the whole of Canada. Our failure in the interwar period to establish a national identity had induced elsewhere as well as in French Canada an ambiguity about our national purpose. Nevertheless, the idea of our participation in the war was accepted in 1939 as it had been in 1914. It has not been part of the public policy to avoid entangling alliances. As part of the British Empire and as a chief architect of the Commonwealth that succeeded it, Canada from the beginning has thought of itself as part of a broader system that embraced other nations of different colors, creeds, and cultures. Cosmopolitanism and internationalism rather than isolationism have directed Canada's foreign policy.

An administration in Ottawa has substantially more freedom of action in foreign affairs than has an administration in Washington. This freedom of action extends to domestic affairs as well, for the Canadian view of the state differs from the American view. The controversy over TVA which persists even today puzzles Canadians. It could not have happened in Canada. The definition of the state as a positive force rather than as a simple adjudicator of disputes is at the foundation of Canadian political thought in the two main parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, and in the fringe parties, Social Credit, representing the radicalism of the right, and the New Democratic Party, representing the radicalism of the left. The most extreme "conservative" on the Canadian political scene, W.A.C. Bennett of British Columbia, has recently taken into public ownership the production and distribution of electric power in the province. Our view of the state has been modified by the conditions of life in North America and by the passage of time, but it is the first fact of politics in Canada. The social, political, and economic mechanism is not and never has been assumed to be fully self-operating. From the efforts of Jean Talon in seventeenth-century Quebec to establish a diversified economy for New France, to the efforts of John A. MacDonald in nineteenthcentury Ottawa to establish a transcontinental railway for the Dominion, the role of the state has always been initiating.

Canada has not returned to an older view of man, politics, and society. She has never left it. As the American republic has woven one of the main strands of European thought with the experience of the New World pioneer to produce a distinctive pattern of dogma and institutions, so Canada has woven another to produce a different pattern. In the relative quiet provided by Canada's slower development the task has been to find definitions of the state and of freedom suited to the democratic and collectivist societies of our age. It is an urgent task, and it must be completed. No other country is equally qualified to discharge it.

The nineteenth and the first part of the twentieth century belonged to the United States of America and to the beliefs and the philosophy upon which the Union rested. Canada was preoccupied with her own problems and not yet ready to articulate what she stood for. She had first to keep her independence, and in order to do so in the face of American expansionism, it was essential that she be part of a larger, more powerful unity. The Conservative Party, with its emphasis on the imperial connection and the sovereignty of the Crown, was the custodian of Canadian independence. On the other hand, to preserve her identity it was essential that she should not be submerged in the kind of imperial federation which Joseph Chamberlain and the romantic imperialists were determined to create. The Liberal Party, with its emphasis on the country's North Americanism, was the custodian of Canadian identity.

This long crisis which lasted from the British North America Act of 1867, which founded the nation, to the Statute of Westminster of 1931, which recognized its complete autonomy, is now over, although apparently we Canadians do not fully realize this fact and its implications. The Great Depression, World War II and its aftermath have preoccupied us. There is little likelihood of absorption into the American Union. Even on the unlikely chance that both countries should desire such an outcome, it would be supremely unwise to mix such different elements into a gigantic superstate that would be next to impossible to govern. Similarly, there is no point in being concerned about the symbols of our traditionalism. We are traditionalists with an unbroken continuity with Europe, and that is what we will continue to be. But we must cease to live in a state of psychological and emotional dependence on a structure of symbols that no longer express our common experience. Our overriding duty is to enter fully into our inheritance, to state what and who we are, to assume freely the risks that are inevitable, if we are to realize whatever potentiality for greatness we have in us.

There is only one way to celebrate properly the centenary of Confederation. It is to call a constitutional conference, transfer sovereignty to the Canadian people—where it belongs—and on the basis of a new understanding between our differing groups, assume the responsibilities of a fully adult nation. Only in this way will the problem of Canadian identity be resolved.