Mark Steyn

Steyn on Canada and the Commonwealth

Happy Dominion Day!

To all my fellow sons and daughters of the Great White North, a happy and glorious Dominion Day to you.

There are many things I love about my native land. It doesn't have Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, so its housing market was not clobbered by subprime mumbo-jumbo. Its foreign policy in recent years has been sober and serious, as Israel and others appreciate.

Beyond that, its political class seems less weird, or at any rate less expensive to maintain. I find the whole Emirs-of-Incumbistan thing at the US Senate almost too stomach-churning to be around at close quarters. In Canadian politics, by contrast, you don't get a retinue, and, when your number's up, you don't parlay your Rolodex and Capitol parking pass into a gazillion-dollar-a-year lobbying gig.

I spoke in Ottawa last year, at Preston Manning's annual shindig, and began my remarks with a reference to a bit of current news - that Patrick Brazeau, having been kicked out of the Canadian Senate, was now working as day manager at a strip club. In most businesses, day manager is a more prestigious position than night manager, but I gather it's not so in the exotic dancing profession. Anyway, here's what I said on the subject in Canada's capital last March:

There are some things that Canada does better than America ā€“ post-political life being one of them. I love that Senator Patrick Brazeau is now the day manager of the Barefax Club. One moment you're in the Senate getting fawned on by the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, the next you're the Gentleman Washer of the Sparkly Pole. Brilliant.

I would like to live long enough to see Chuck Schumer, Pat Leahy et al down south forced to follow that career trajectory.

If that doesn't seem quite the appropriate thought for the national holiday, let me salute Canada's Conservative government for taking a tonally mature and historically honest approach to this country's nationhood. The piece below was written at the tail end of a long exhausted Liberal ministry, going out the way it came in, with the usual guff about "what a young nation we are". We're not. We're one of the oldest continuous constitutional orders on earth, and there was always something queasily totalitarian about Liberal propagandists' insistence that Canada didn't exist until M Trudeau moved into Sussex Drive.

Mr Harper does not share that view. I was pleasantly surprised at Place Ville Marie in Montreal a couple of years back to be stopped by a Royal Canadian Mint salesgal trying to sell me some War of 1812 bicentennial merchandise. Canada's citizenship ministry even hands out copies of Magna Carta to new arrivals - which in this 800th anniversary year is even more heartening. So I'm glad we're reconnecting with the half-a-millennium of history the Trudeaupians tried to bury.

Here's what I wrote in the pre-Harper era, for The Western Standard in 2005:

"We are a young nation," declared Prime Minister Paul Martin. "Look into the face of Canada, and you will see the world."

Well, maybe. But, more likely, if you looked into the face of Canada, you'd wonder why the old gal keeps lying about how old she is. "We are a young nation." How old were you when you first heard a Liberal apparatchik drone about what a "young" nation we are? Maybe you were young yourself, and now, as the healthy glow of late middle-age fades from your cheeks, you're wondering why you're so old but your country is younger than ever. It's like The Passport Photo of Dorian Gray.

For me, no sooner did Paul start burbling about what a young nation we are than the years fell away, like calendar leaves signalling flashback-time in an old movie - the sort Hollywood used to make before it discovered there was a young nation up north where you could make them a lot cheaper. Anyway, the years fell away, and suddenly I was a wee slip of a thing again and it was 1497 and on the windswept prow nice Mister Cabot was saying to me, "Aargh, Mark lad, is me eyes deceiving me or is that a big rock up ahead?"

No, hang on, that can't be right. We're a young nation. My mistake, it was 1997 and I was at the "Canada Day" festivities at the Old Port in Montreal. We're a young nation with an old port, don't ask me how that happens. And Lucienne Robillard, then our citizenship minister, was addressing a couple of dozen brand new Canadians: "Fifty years ago we were British subjects," she said. "We forget how young a country we really are." Mme Robillard forgets more than she realizes: it was only 20 years - 1977- since the term "British subjects" was discreetly removed from Canadian passports. But what's a decade or two when you're shaving half a millennium off your age?

Isn't there something deeply weird about an entire nation that lies about its age? Canada is, pace Mr Martin, one of the oldest countries in the world--the result of centuries of continuous constitution evolution. Even if one takes the somewhat reductive position that Canada as a sovereign entity dates only from the 1867 British North America Act or the 1931 Statute of Westminster, that would still make us one of the oldest nations in the world. We are, for example, one of the founding members of the United Nations, ahead of three-quarters of the present membership.

As George Orwell wrote in 1984, "He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future." A nation's collective memory is the unseen seven-eighths of the iceberg. When you sever that, what's left just bobs around on the surface, unmoored in every sense. Orwell understood that an assault on history is an assault on memory, and thus a totalitarian act. What, after all, does it really mean when Mme Robillard and Mr Martin twitter about how "young" we are? Obviously, it's a way of denigrating the past. Revolutionary regimes routinely act this way: thus, in Libya, the national holiday of Revolution Day explicitly draws a line between the discredited and illegitimate regimes predating December 1st, 1969, and the Gadaffi utopia that's prevailed since. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge literally reset the clock, to "Year Zero."

But it's not a tactic commonly deployed by governments in evolved constitutional democracies, and, to be fair, even Pol Pot did not intend that time should stand still. Two hundred years after Year Zero, Kampuchea would have been in Year 200. Canada in that sense has gone further than the Khmer Rouge: in Trudeaupia, Year Zero is a movable feast. Is it 1965, when we got the new flag? Or 1980, when we got the new anthem? Or 1982, when we got the new constitution? Or 1983, when we got the new national holiday? And, as Dominion Day became Canada Day, a nomenclature unsurpassed by any other nation's holiday in its yawning nullity, so some influential figures now wish to replace Victoria Day with Heritage Day, for only in Canada do we celebrate our heritage by obliterating it. In Trudeaupia, every year is Year Zero, where every national symbol can always use a little work. Look into the face of Canada, and you'll see our collagen implants are way too puffy.

Isn't all this talk of how "young" we are itself getting a little old? Isn't it, frankly, a little unbecoming? As the saying goes, a man is as old as the woman he feels -and, if you're Hugh Hefner marrying Canuck Playmate Kimberley Conrad on Canada Day 1989 or that other wrinkly old swinger Pierre Trudeau chasing Margot Kidder, you feel great, at least until she gets to 23 and you move on to someone else. But when the Liberal Party of Canada - the oldest-established permanent one-party government in the free world - insists that it's young and fresh and innocent it comes across somewhere between a professional virgin and those creepy youth cadres of 'tween-wars European fascist movements.

It's one thing to delegitimize all those chaps in frock coats with knighthoods who built a constitutional monarchy in a northern wilderness. But to make youth and "newness" the one enduring if paradoxical feature of your national identity is a project far more audacious than even Orwell foresaw. To live permanently in the present tense is to deny even the possibility of societal memory and collective roots.

"Look into the face of Canada," says Paul Martin, "and you will see the world." But oughtn't we to see Canada, too? By "see the world," I assume he means there are black and Chinese and Pakistani and Arab Canadians. But there are black and Chinese and Pakistani and Arab Americans, and black and Chinese and Pakistani Britons and Australians, and these days even Belgians and Scandinavians. So what? Every western nation is now "multicultural," in part because its shrivelled birthrates leave it no choice but to import the generations its native stock refuse to sire. So the West has made a virtue out of necessity, if indeed there is anything in the least bit virtuous in denuding the developing world of its best and brightest in order to demonstrate one's multiculti bona fides.

But few countries fetishize their immigrants to the extraordinary degree that Canada does. In replacing one immigrant with another, Mme Clarkson with Mme Jean, in the highest office any Canadian can attain, the Trudeaupian state seems to be suggesting that these days we are all permanently "first-generation" Canadians. That too reinforces the sense that Canada exists entirely in the present tense, which in turn brings us back to the famous words of Cicero, oft quoted though not lately in Canada: "To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child."

And isn't that the point? That the unchanging "youngness" of Canada is part of the conscious infantilization of the political culture, a culture cut off from its history and tradition. Michaelle Jean is a smart enough woman to have climbed the greasy poles of both Quebec pseudo-separatism and Canadian ersatz nationalism, and I'm sure she found the rote braggadocio about Canada's eternal youth lame even by the shopworn standards of Liberal pap. Whatever Mr Martin says, we're not a young country but we are an immature one.

~That's how it looked to me in The Western Standard ten years ago, just before "Canada's natural governing party" nosedived into the briny. Whatever happens at the next election, I shall always be grateful to Mr Harper's ministry for giving us a decade-long respite from all that Trudeaupian eternal-youth gibberish.

Oh, and we've also written - or semi-written - some pretty good songs.

Happy Dominion Day to you and yours!

from Steyn on Canada, July 1, 2015


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