IN DEFENCE OF THE ‘PROJET DE SOCIETÉ PAN-CANADIEN’
September 13, 2009 is a date that will likely go down in Canadian history as one where the message didn’t get out. What I mean is, is that the recreation of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham was supposed to commemorate, NOT CELEBRATE, an event in the history of our country which eventually led to its creation.
This fact was underlined in The National Battlefields Commission’s proposed publicity for the event, which showed two men dressed as Wolfe and Montcalm shaking hands before the event. What we were trying to underline is that, in the wake of a very tragic and bloody military cataclysm, two peoples chose to come together to found a country, and later expanded it to include aboriginal peoples, and ethnic minorities. What could be cozier than that?
But no. We were reminded that somebody supposedly got humiliated, and somebody else supposedly came out victorious and triumphant. We now find ourselves with a separatist-dominated event on September 12-13 organized by some outfit from Montréal called ‘Théatre Sibylline’, who’ve for all intents and purposes hijacked the event for their own purposes and have wiped out any mention of the creation of Canada from the message. There’s even talk of asking Pauline Marois to pressure the Québec government to have the feds turn the Battlefields Park over to provincial jurisdiction. And one of the leaders of this event, the lead singer of the separatist Québécois rap group ‘loco locasse’ says that ‘we are NOT trying to reappropriate history’. My eye. That’s precisely what this is all about.
I see the British institutions that we inherited from the Conquest as a great gift. British democracy has been evolving slowly but surely ever since the year 1215, when King John was compelled by the Barons to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede, thereby instituting the first rudimentary limitations on the sovereign’s absolute power. Ever since then, British democratic institutions have been evolving slowly but surely, with occasional bursts of violence and rapid evolution in between.
We got the Writ of Habeas Corpus, meaning literally ‘you (shall) have the body’, whereby one cannot be incarcerated without being first brought before a magistrate and charged with an offence, thereby limiting the state’s ability to abuse of its power to randomly imprison persons without just cause. We got the House of Commons, whereby ‘commoners’, I.E. common property holders, as opposed to hereditary peers (nobles), could have their interests looked after. This system initially ran into trouble in Britain, as it did elsewhere, with the established interests of the peerage, conflicting with the up and comers in the House of Commons, who were getting rich in industry and overseas trade.
They even had a Civil War in Britain over this issue, with Oliver Cromwell establishing himself as Lord Protector for a while. But, unlike other countries like France and the USA, who either chose to get rid of the King by waging war and/or chopping off his head, Britain chose a compromise, which became known as Constitutional Monarchy, with the House of Commons, or Lower House representing the interests of everyday people and newer money, and the House of Lords representing more entrenched interests, or older money. Or in the case of Canada, the Senate represents older corporate and family money.
This system has served us well. Even if we might need some freshening up of the existing system with, say proportional representation, the system is still sound. And the Monarchy is the glue which holds it all together, acting as an attenuating influence between old and new money, more old guard interests, and brash upstart whippersnappers who might want to turn everything upside down.
I once followed a French tour guide from France, on a walking tour of Old Québec, as part of my ongoing training for my job. We stopped at the National Assembly and he made the following observation: ‘The French system of Republican government makes perfect sense on paper. In practice it doesn’t work at all. The British system of Parliamentary Democracy makes no sense on paper, but in practice it works. Tourists visit London to see the changing of the guard, whereas they go to Paris to see the changing of the government!’ I thought this to be a very astute observation, coming from a French-born man now living in Canada.
Why then, did the French vacillate so violently between the forces of Monarchy and Republican parliamentary Democracy for almost a century? If you visit the Pantheon in Paris, you will see that it is an old Church transformed into a sort of ‘Hall of Fame’ of the Revolution. It recounts the violent spasms over nearly a hundred years wherein France went back and forth from being a Republic, then bringing back the King, kicking him out again, etc… Not to mention Napoleon crowning himself Emperor and going on a rampage for about 15 years. And then they went through five different republics before settling on the current one. What next? This is the model of governance that separatists wish to emulate?
Worse yet, what of the political instability and chronic gap between the haves and the have not’s in the U.S.? As far as I’m concerned, this is a direct result of them being impatient and throwing off the yoke of Britain, all because the interests of common propertied men were too concerned with ‘liberty’, and ‘freedom’, I.E. the liberty and freedom to arrogate and accumulate as much property, money, power, and prestige as possible, according to the dictates of Adam Smith-style ‘Laissez-Faire’ capitalism, with as little or no government interference as possible, especially if it meant having their tobacco plantations taxed so as to pay for the recent expulsion of their other commercial rivals, the French! They now refused to pay for that, and so decided to wage another war, only sixteen years after the previous one, to promote the now famous concept of ‘no taxation without representation’.
This obsession with this particular definition of liberty, especially individual liberty, is, in my opinion, the Achilles Heal of Republican nation building, because ultimately, the interests of bourgeois capitalism are in no way restrained by any form of traditional, longstanding propertied interests, who are not so obsessed with getting rich quickly. This is the essence of Constitutional Monarchy. There’s a respect for tradition, balance, the common good as opposed to only the ‘liberty’ of bourgeois propertied interests being represented. There’s a sense of ‘Noblesse Oblige’ towards the less fortunate. One might see that as a form of patronizing paternalism, but in the age of King Arthur, a King was seen as the benevolent father and caretaker of his people, and the feudal system which supported it was supposed to function as a group-centred traditional society wherein each group within the society had certain rights and responsibilities towards each other, whether they be King, peasant, merchant, priest, vassal, or noble.
The fact that said system ultimately broke down is a testimonial to human nature and the organic nature of reform and evolution, leading us to a more individualistic system based on a parliamentary system. But I feel that those countries that adopt a parliamentary system along republican lines are missing out on a crucial system of checks and balances that a Constitutional Monarchy has. By combining old with new, we mix individualism with collectivism, thereby creating a more balanced civilization.
Countries like the US, on the other hand, have an extremely rough time of it when it comes time to doing anything along the lines of the common good, that go against the entrenched interests of property. The current debate over health care in the US is a perfect example. The only time that the US can usually agree on doing something collectively, which they deem to be in the national interest, is to wage war, and even then, the armed forces of their country, like that of all countries, being a group-centred organization, does so in the name of defending individual liberty!!!! Go figure.
This is why Canada is such a gift to us and to the world. This is why the cancellation of the Battle’s commemoration is so tragic. This crucial message of Canada as a nation of level-headed people has gotten lost in a sea of old-style ethnic nationalism. Even Henri Bourassa, the first editor of ‘Le Devoir’, denounced such nonsense as ‘Nationalism Outrancier’. He visited the trenches of WWI after the fact and saw the ravages of such strident ethnic fervour. Yugoslavia fell apart in 1980 after Tito died and Serbs and Croats started to dig up old hurts from the twelfth century to justify all sorts of nonsense.
In my travels this summer across the country I saw a great country in need of someone to help it come together for some common cause. Why does it necessarily have to be against a common enemy, such as bashing the US? Why not jus celebrate living together? We share a common geographical land mass, a national sport, a Nordic climate and Nordic mentality. We’re physically far-flung, so we should work extra hard to come together socially and spiritually. We share a certain common joviality based on a fatalistic outlook on life: It’s cold as hell and we’re snowed in for six months of the year, so what are we doing arguing with each other anyways? When spring and summer come again we’ll just be so happy to be able to actually go outside without a coat and talk to each other in the street without freezing to death that we’ll be eternally grateful once again.
On September 13, 2009, where will you be? What message will you be putting out? All I can say is what my mother always said: ‘Carry on, Canada!!!’