Over at Lilley's Pad, the eponymous proprietor draws my attention to a "Canada Day" piece by Tim Naumetz, who writes for The Hill Times in Ottawa. Mr Naumetz makes the argument that Stephen Harper is "changing the face of Canada". I use the word "argument" loosely. By "changing the face of Canada", he means Harper is changing it from "the face of Canada" Pierre Trudeau imposed on the nation 40 years ago. Which was, in effect, M Trudeau's own face. (See my Liberace analogy here.)
There was a Canada that existed before Trudeaupia. In fact, it was around quite a long time, as peacefully evolving constitutional polities go. But Mr Naumetz seems barely aware of it, save for a condescending reference to primitive, old, grainy photos of ...Billy Bishop? L M Montgomery? Queen Victoria and Prince Albert? Er, no, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. That's to say, even Canada's current head of state belongs to a remote primitive past Mr Naumetz can barely comprehend.
Obviously, it would be unreasonable to expect a man with such a stunted perspective to have much of a grip on the previous third of a millennium of Canadian history, and Mr Naumetz doesn't disappoint. Thus, his key piece of evidence for the new militarism stalking the land:
The Harper government singlehandedly made Vichy a household name in Canada.
Brian Lilley comments:
That's right, the Harper government has spent years playing up Canada's role in the French Vichy regime that collaborated with Nazi Germany.
As Lilley points out, it was the Liberal Defence Minister John McCallum who made Vichy "a household name" in Canadian history when he confused France's Second World War collaborationists with Canada's greatest First World War battle: Vimy, Vichy, what's the diff? (The Defence Minister made his error in seeking to explain an earlier confession that he'd never heard of the Dieppe Raid.) After blog-mockery from Lilley and others, Mr Naumetz and/or his somnolent editors have belatedly corrected his piece, although without acknowledging the error, never mind addressing the broader question of the cultural void in which he's operating. I mean, it's not even a particularly Canadian question: If you don't know what Vichy is, it's hard to figure out Casablanca.
As pathetic a factual error as this is, the analysis it supports is even dumber. "The Harper government singlehandedly made Vichy/Vimy/Whatever a household name"? As Kathy Shaidle writes:
Those two little words — "Vimy Ridge" — have struck pride into the hearts of generations of Canadians, long before Prime Minister Stephen Harper was even born.
Indeed. I have no idea who "Tim Naumetz" is. (Any relation to Admiral Naumetz, whom the Bush-Cheney warmongers singlehandedly made a household name in the Pacific?) But truly he is a child of Trudeaupia. He belongs in the same category as Miles Hopper and Jason Cherniak, apparently grown men who write stuff like:
Canadians have a right to Freedom of Expression. We have that right because the Trudeau Government negotiated and passed the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Gotcha. So before 1982 Canadians had no right to Freedom of Expression? Thank you, Boy Genius. As I said of young Mr Cherniak:
One can only marvel at the near Maoist elimination of societal memory required to effect such a belief.
For these guys, Charter Day 1982 is Year Zero in Trudeaupia, and that's that. You get a lot of that on the review pages, of course. When a critic says "This is the best sitcom since 'Seinfeld"", all that means is "This is as far back as I remember." But it's the collectivization of "this is as far back as I remember" that's so creepy about this crowd, as if they all went through the same historical vacuuming in school.
Which is presumably why it never even seems to occur to them that "this is as far back as I remember" is an inadequate argument when you're attempting to argue that the current regime is attempting a wholesale makeover of national identity. I have no particular views on that one way or the other, but I notice that, consciously or otherwise, Mr Harper seems to have a tonal preference for pre-Trudeaupian language. For example, he welcomed Their Royal Highnesses to "our fair Dominion". How often did that word pass Martin's or Chrétien's or Trudeau's lips? I suppose Mr Naumetz would find that a bit déclassé, too, even though, in its political sense, it's one of the few genuine Canadian contributions to the English language.
Likewise, consider Naumetz's phrase "the Harper government": under the present regime, they prefer to say "the Harper ministry". You could certainly write a column on the Harper ministry's unfashionable respect for a pre-Trudeaupian past. But, to do that, you'd have to know something about it.
And, as witless as the ignorance is, the failure of imagination (or even empathy, to use a term the diversity types prefer) is worse. Imagine a Canadian from 1951 propelled forward in time sixty years and reading that the Prime Minister's hospitality to the Sovereign's grandson and his invocation of Vimy Ridge were evidence of a radical and unprecedented remaking of the face of Canada. What's brain-dead about Naumetz's "analysis" is an inability even to imagine perspectives beyond the Trudeaupian nursery.
Ah, but liberals are indestructible in their ignorance. When Sarah Palin cited C S Lewis as one of her favourite authors, American lefties scoffed that the woman was such a simpleton she read children's books. To an indestructible liberal who's never read a word of Lewis' varied oeuvre, your ignorance is merely conclusive proof of her ignorance. Similarly, to Tim Naumetz, your ignorance of anything before Year Zero is merely evidence of Harper's right-wing militarism.
I can see why, to cutting-edge types like him and Cherniak, the old Dominion of Canada might seem a bit of a yawneroo and, if you're an Ontario pre-op transsexual anxious for the human right to swing your penis in the ladies' shower, not as congenial as one might wish. But in its time it represented something real, as elderly Continentals in towns liberated by Canadian troops in battles of which Trudeau's children are blissfully ignorant well know. My mother's family emigrated to Toronto after the war because it was the Canucks who chased the Nazis out of their town in Belgium: that's to say, the only thing they knew about Canada was its psycho Harper-imposed militarist side, and that's why they wanted to move there. Long before Harper made Canadian militarism a household name, it was a household name with my grandparents because their household had been liberated by it.
By contrast, the cobwebbed cool of Trudeaupia represents nothing real. When you're boasting in print that you'd never heard of Vimy Ridge until Stephen Harper came along, you're the one with the problem. A culture with no past is unlikely to have any kind of future.