"Never complain, never explain" was Disraeli's advice, and that holds as good in our touchy age of instant Twitterstorms and politically correct eggshells as it did when he first commended it to Queen Victoria. It's good advice for the Queen's viceroys, too. Consider by way of a cautionary tale the Rt Hon David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.
Full disclosure: I am not a great fan of His Excellency, as I thought he behaved disgracefully in evicting my old boss Conrad Black from the Privy Council and the Order of Canada. Nevertheless, he occupies the second highest office in the land, and that is not a small thing. Especially with the Dominion of Canada's 150th birthday coming up in a couple of weeks. So Mr Johnston has been out and about talking up the impending beano:
In an interview with The House on Thursday, host Chris Hall asked Johnston a question on theme with Canada's upcoming 150th birthday, "What kind of country are we?"
Johnston responded by calling Canada "a smart and caring country."
He continued: "We're a country based on immigration..."
Whoa, let's hold it there. That's just the usual nation-of-immigrants blather. These days everybody does it - well, not everybody, not in Yemen and Uzbekistan, but they certainly do in the ancient ethnostates of Western Europe. British politicians now say "We've always been a nation of immigrants" - even though, as Douglas Murray points out in his new book The Strange Death of Europe, previous "waves" of immigration were so small and rare (the Huguenots) that people talked about them as singular events for centuries afterwards. The Yanks started this shtick, and it isn't really true even for them: There was a poll in the early Nineties showing that half the people in the country were descendants of guys who'd got here before 1776. Presumably, after another quarter-century of the 1965 Immigration Act, that would not be the case today.
But the drab reality is that the English Crown and the French Crown conquered parts of North America, and the Anglo-Celts did a rather better job at settling the territory, which is one reason they were able eventually to throw the Bourbon kings out of what is now Canada. The provinces that emerged in "British North America" were not "based on immigration" but on internal settlement by people moving from one part of the British Empire to another part of the British Empire.
Those are what we used to call "facts". If you want the short version, here's a few bars from the nearest thing Canada had to a national anthem back in 1867 - "The Maple Leaf Forever":
In days of yore from Britain's shore
Wolfe the dauntless hero came
And planted firm Britannia's flag
On Canada's fair domain!
Ooops! TMI, baby!
"Immigration" came later. My mum's family were examples thereof: At the end of the Second World War, their town in Belgium was liberated by the Royal Canadian Artillery and the guy who knocked on the door to tell them the last Germans had been captured was a fellow called Mac, who came in for a cup of tea (plus some champagne they'd been saving for the blessed day) and said breezily as he departed, "If you're ever in Canada, swing by and say hello." They took this rather more literally than he perhaps intended, and showed up penniless and destitute on his doorstep a few years later. Nonetheless, speaking as a Belgian-Canadian, I couldn't honestly make the case that we have contributed as much to the country as, say, Mac's fellow Scots-Canadians. I detect little Belgian influence in the nation's institutions.
But on this 150th birthday anything as baldly obvious as reality is unsayable. So we tell ourselves polite lies about how we've always been "a country based on immigration". At a certain level, people understand these are lies - certainly Mr Johnston does - but we assume they're harmless, a kind of PC version of Churchill's recommendation of "magnanimity in victory". Where Johnners got into hot water was in not leaving it at that. Instead he extended the thought:
He continued: "We're a country based on immigration going right back to our quote indigenous people unquote, who were immigrants as well, 10, 12, 14,000 years ago."
Boy, they must have loved those air quotes! The CBC thought the viceroy's remarks were so unexceptional they didn't even make the bland news story about his interview. But the "quote indigenous people unquote" on quote social media unquote took instant umbrage:
Appalling though not surprising ignorance from @GGDavidJohnston Clearly he forgot to read any debriefing on #reconciliation
I heard that and was concerned about Indigenous histories, relationships with our lands, creation stories and laws: erased in 15 seconds.
Save your Crown/Settler myth for your late-night bedtime stories that allow your colonial mindset to rest at night, @GGDavidJohnston.
Dear @GGDavidJohnston You must immediately resign. @JustinTrudeau Must demand your resignation today before the great #Genocide celebration
"The great #Genocide celebration" is what's known in less sensitive circles as "Canada Day".
Yet Johnston isn't a bad man by the standards of genocidal white colonists. Why, mere seconds after his "nation of immigrants" faux pas, he was quoting Barack Obama:
Johnston then referred to a quote he attributed to former President Barack Obama, who himself borrowed it from Martin Luther King Jr.
"The arc of history inclines upward to justice," said the governor general. He continued by saying Canada needs to make "diversity work to our advantage" by continuing to be an inclusive country.
But on social media they were quoting Sam Goldwyn: Include me out. The arc of history inclines up yours. Dear old Johnners understood that this "nation of immigrants" routine is the pink-unicorn myth of Canada's founding that we've all agreed on. We're a nation of immigrants, and all immigrants are equal: Cabot, Wolfe, Montcalm, Adrienne Clarkson, Michael Ondaatje, Omar Khadr, the quote indigenous people unquote of Natuashish who immigrated all the way from Davis Inlet...
Whoops, that's an immigration myth too far. As an Anglo-Canadian, Johnston is relaxed about diminishing his own "community"'s role in order to serve the national myth, so one can see why he might carelessly assume the indigenous people might wish to be included in the great all-purpose Trudeaupian fairy tale. But he got up to speed, and, when they gave him the viceregal bum's rush, the representative of the tyrannous Crown gallantly threw himself on his sceptre:
I want to clarify a miscommunication. Our Indigenous peoples are not immigrants. They are the original peoples of this land.
I dunno. That "quote indigenous people unquote" sounds a bit too calculated to be a "miscommunication". But the usual dissembling wasn't what riled the quote-unquotes this time round. Can you guess what it was, boys and girls?
"And I want to clarify a miscommunication", by further disrespecting indigenous people. "Our"?
Please don't use "our" when referring to Indigenous peoples. That is wrong ethically, legally and morally. Disrespectful.
Please stop referring to us as "our indigenous peoples." We/I, belong to no one.
You do not own us any more than you own the land of this colony turned state.
This was planned dumbf**kery used to incite and inflame ahead of the #Genpcide [sic] celebrations #demonstratePower... We are not your chattels like the drapes at Rideau Hall.
So yesterday he tried again, at a special ceremony at Rideau Hall for the "Presentation of Canadian Honours in Recognition of Outstanding Indigenous Leadership" - that's to say, indigenous peoples get their gongs for the Order of Canada, the Sovereign's Medal for Volunteers, etc, ahead of the main Colonial Genocide Day ceremony on July 1st. They were here first - not just for the founding of the nation, but for the Order of Canada viceregal tea party. Johnston boasted that in honour of indigenous leadership they'd rearranged the chairs in a semi-circular formation, because that's an indigenous thing ("healing circles" and whatnot) , not like these uptight anglos sitting opposite each other in the House of Commons. Aggrieved Tweeters in search of the seal-clubbing du jour might note from the picture above that it's not that semi-circular: it looks a bit like white-man seating arrangements with a bit of tokenistic healing-circle curvature as far away from the genocidal viceroy as possible. Of course, were Johnston to propose genuine circular seating in Rideau Hall that would be cultural appropriation of native furniture layout. Fortunately, he avoided this landmine, and so, third time lucky, it all went off without a glitch, and with a kitchi:
Kitchi meegwetch to you all.
There are two lessons one can draw from this sesquicentennial warm-up. First, as noted up top: Never complain, never explain. It takes a kind of mad genius to blunder from Dr Evil air-quote trouble to Daffy Duck pronoun trouble in mere hours. But that's what happens in a world where everyone is so ready to take offense. You might as well just go full Trump, post a giant taco and say "I love Hispanics!" What's the native equivalent? The open gas cap of a Honda Civic? "I love quote indigenous peoples unquote!"
But secondly it's never a good idea to put reality up for grabs - because you're unlikely to be able to come up with a fantasy everyone can agree on. The "First Nations" dislike this "nation of immigrants" baloney because it excludes them, and they dislike it even more if you include them in it. Likewise, French-Canadians dislike it almost as much as being called "French-Canadians" because they regard it as a diminution of their own status as Canada's most important aggrieved minority. In time, Muslim Canadians will come to reject it too - but by then the Royal Ontario Museum will be mounting exhibits showing that the first Koran in Canada was found preserved in ice by the Franklin Expedition. The Twittering umbrage-takers have a point: Their argument - Johnston's predecessors as agents of a ruthless Crown stole this land from us! - isn't quite "The Maple Leaf Forever" but it has a closer relationship to reality than the fluffy-bunny Trudeaupian myths of a "nation of immigrants".
July 1st is in fact the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the transformation of the British Empire into dozens of sovereign states that now comprise nearly a third of the members of the United Nations. It would be a great day to celebrate the ingenious farsightedness of imperial civil servants.
Whoops, what the hell am I saying? I mean it's a great day for the Governor General to honour quote indigenous peoples unquote by taking part in the traditional ceremony of tiptoeing around on ever thinner eggshells...
Kitchi meegwetch. Itchi gitchi ya ya da da. Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir? I think that covers all the multiculti bases.
~Tonight Mark will be on television south of the border, joining Tucker Carlson on Fox News live at 8pm Eastern/5pm Pacific.
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