THE EVOLUTION OF THE AGENDA OF SOCIO-ECONOMIC, CULTURAL AND POLITICAL ASCENDENCY: FROM THE FRENCH FACT TO THE NEW ‘HOLY TRINITY’ OF ABORIGINALS, WOMEN AND MUSLIMS.
I’m a firm believer in the dialectic method of reasoning and of societal evolution. Hegel and later Marx referred to it as ‘Thesis/antithesis/synthesis/thesis. Or put simply, that for every problem, there is a solution, which creates new problems which creates new solutions and so on it goes.
Basically what I’m saying is that there is no ‘Final Solution’. The last guy to propose that was some short-assed German Corporal with a cheesy moustache and a bad haircut who got us all into a spot of trouble sometime ago, which led us actually to the most recent ‘Thesis’, which emerged out of the long, drawn-out period of Thesis/antithesis/synthesis which had occurred in the previous centuries and which, by all accounts seems to have run its own course and is now in need of updating in its own right with the emergence of a new societal paradigm, or ‘Thesis’, the likes of which we have yet to be able to discern.
But that’s more on the level of the international scene. Here at home in good old Canada, this dialectical form of evolution has taken on a different shape. After WWII and the emergence of the new ‘Thesis’, Canada, like most countries of the western alliance, settled in for a long period of economic prosperity. This, however, like most other countries like it, did not come without a large measure of social ferment and political upheaval.
For a person such as myself, who grew up during this period, especially in the French-speaking part of the country, the overpowering leitmotif of post-war Canada, especially from the 1960s onward, was the emergence of the so-called ‘French Fact’, meaning the desire on the part of French-Canadians in the Province of Québec to share more equally in the socio-economic, cultural, political and linguistic power and prosperity of Canada.
Governments both in the Province of Québec and federally quickly were populated with very vocal advocates of Québec’s linguistic, political, social, cultural and economic demands for more equitable treatment. Laws were passed, a separate Québec Pension Plan was created for our Province, various state organizations were created to channel investment, both public and private into French-Canadian-owned companies so as to alleviate their chronic problems of undercapitalization and laws were passed to better protect workers in this Province from strike-breakers, tenants were better protected by law, the labour code got bolstered, Worker’s Compensation got brought in, (although the original law dated from the 1930s), the power companies were nationalized and big investments were made in health, education, social services, infrastructure like roads, public transit and so forth.
A lot of these improvements had their equivalent in the rest of Canada, but they seemed to be most pronounced here at home, because we had been one of the most backward provinces in these regards up to that point, our process of catching up literally being labelled ‘Ratrappage’, or quite literally ‘Catching up’. The period was marked by a lot of tension and even some political violence over language rights and lack of economic equality based on language. The British Trade Commissioner and the Provincial Labour Minister were kidnapped in October 1970, with the former being later released and the latter being assassinated. The army had to be called out and martial law imposed.
This underscored what was essentially a socio-economically-driven resentment, which was very much couched at the time in terms of ethnicity, language, politics, culture and nationalist rhetoric with a lot of anti-imperialist and anti-free-market spin put on it.
My point is that the whole secessionist threat which emerged out of this ‘French Fact’ surge of national awakening has essentially, for the most part, dissipated now that the socio-economic origins of the disparities between French and English-speaking Canadians has, for the most part, been addressed through the afore-mentioned process of state formation, legislative reforms and so forth, all of which have enabled the French-speaking majority in Québec to gain equal access to education, health services, capital, and hence gain access to the temporal advantages of money, power, property and prestige which for the most part used to be the mostly exclusive purvey of their English-speaking compatriots.
There remains a hard-core constituency of roughly 20% of the Québec population who are old-guard secessionists from the 1960s and 70s, who still advocate for social-democratic policies and a new generation of pro-private sector economic nationalist secessionists who advocate for a strong Québec Republic with a vibrant private sector of Québec entrepreneurs propped up by the same types of para-governmental state-sector organizations and legislative instruments which helped enable the birth of the current wave of prosperity, to bolster their private sector investment initiatives in a new form of private-public type of economically-driven nationalism.
These people, for the most part, are still divided as to their desire to openly advocate for secession. Their latest vehicle for promoting their agenda, the CAQ political party, or Coalition Avenir Québec, is a sort of pragmatic right of centre pro-business coalition of secessionists and autonomist-oriented pro-Canadian business types and ideologues who advocate for the same types of policies as mentioned above, combining private and public options with a heavy dose of nationalist rhetoric with right-wing ideology.
If you add some of the more soft-nationalist types who might vote one way or another in any possible future vote on secession, you might get your level of support up around 35%, but the vast majority of the population don’t even want to go through the trauma of having to vote on the issue again. Most people are just pretty content to be prosperous and to be able to buy and sell property as they see fit, to have a car or maybe two, to go down south during the winter, to own a cottage on a lake during the summer and to generally be able to peacefully pursue trade and commerce with people in the rest of Canada and the USA, invest in the global marketplace through their mutual funds, have their kids learn English and go to good schools and so on.
Basically they’ve figured out that capitalism isn’t so bad after all, especially when it benefits you and those around you and that you get to share equally in its fruits. English isn’t such a bad language after all, especially if either you or your children can master it properly and it causes you to become more prosperous as a result while not taking away in the least from your mother language or culture, on the contrary accentuating it and broadening your horizons.
So this brings us to the new stage of development in this dialectical process in our country: That of Aboriginals, women and Muslims. These seem to be the three most burgeoning constituencies in our country from the point of view of their cultural, social and economic ascendency. Women in particular are doing very well. Laws have been passed in recent years making it much easier now for women to become police officers and bus drivers as well as fire fighters. Women have made great strides in the military as well as in public and private sector management.
Roughly 70% of all Law School admissions and overall university admissions in Canada are now women and this is quickly being felt in the way the legal profession is being re-shaped and perceived. Advertizing for the legal profession in some parts of Canada sometimes portray only women as being the representatives of their profession. I saw a television commercial for a Bar Association in Ontario which showed a slender white woman as being the sole representative of the legal profession in that part of the world. Not a cross-section of men and women of different races and ages: One young, slender white woman.
Same thing for Chartered Accountants in Québec. The commercial is a billboard on the public transit buses which says in French: ‘Chartered Accountants: Folks are snapping them up like hot cakes!’ (Les CA, on se les arrache!). Not quite a literal translation, but you get the picture. And speaking of pictures, the one on the billboard is again: One slender white woman. No men, no minorities, etc…
Women may complain that there is still a ‘Glass Ceiling’ facing them in their upward mobility towards the pinnacle of upper management, but I think it’s only a matter of time that the marketplace will simply be overwhelmed with young, smart, pretty, and talented young women with law degrees, MBAs, CAs, engineers, PhDs in Pure and Applied Science and Medicine, that employers will simply have no choice but to hire the most qualified candidate for the job, which just happens to be a woman.
For Aboriginals it’s a different story. They face much greater obstacles. Over 50% of their people never complete high school and there are still serious social issues of alcohol, and other substance abuse problems relating to the legacy of colonialism, and the subsequent process of cultural disintegration which resulted from it, which included forced assimilation in Church-run residential schools, which were seriously under-funded and badly staffed with poorly-trained personnel who often committed serious physical, psychological and sexual abuses on these people.
The Aboriginal peoples of Canada also face an antiquated, not to mention grossly-corrupt system of federally-mandated governance, imposed by the Indian Act of the 1870s, which encouraged Indians to surrender their territory in exchange for certain treaty rights, herding them onto postage-stamp sized Reserves with little or no means for economic survival, their treaty rights, which they signed for in good faith with the Crown, often being studiously ignored or outright reneged upon by government authorities over the years.
The system of governance which was put into place by the Crown was the so-called ‘Band Council’ system, which sought to undermine the traditional authority of tribal chiefs and elders and sought to govern the Indians as essentially wards of the Crown, until such time as they were completely assimilated and became our country’s lower caste of hired labourers, hewers of wood and drawers of water.
Unfortunately, this system of governance has grown very corrupt and inefficient and many ideological rifts exist amongst Aboriginal peoples in Canada as to how they should move forward with their agenda of wanting to achieve socio-economic equality with the rest of the citizenry in the country. One of the biggest impediments is the Indian Act itself, which locks Aboriginal people on reservations into a permanent state of Welfare-type servitude and learned helplessness.
However, their Reserves remain as being ‘sovereign’ Indian land and Indians living on them now consider themselves to be ‘First Nations’, a term which has crept into the lexicon of Aboriginal discourse over the last several decades. The so-called ‘Cree Nation’ of Indians, who mostly live in northern Québec, now has an ‘Embassy’ on the main street of Québec city, which represents their ‘diplomatic interests’ as a ‘sovereign nation’ to either the Province of Québec or the federal government.
Iroquois Indians, living south of Montréal, who straddle the Canada/US border and who by some obscure treaty have never recognized the sovereign status of said border, have a tendency to sometimes travel abroad on so-called ‘Iroquois Passports’, testing the limits of the notion of sovereignty, to say the least, and were recently turned away from attempting to gain access to Great Britain a while back to participate in a Lacrosse tournament, the British authorities wanting to have nothing to do with recognizing the legitimacy of their improvised Aboriginal Passports.
It has gotten to the point that each Indian tribe living on each Indian Reserve now considers itself to be a ‘sovereign First Nation’ there being over 600 of said Reserves throughout Canada, mostly in the northern resource hinterland. However, I get the impression that the Indians themselves, although they do have an umbrella organization-type lobby group in Ottawa called the ‘Assembly of First Nations’, are not at all united as to how they wish much less plan on getting their much-prized agenda of ‘Aboriginal Self-Government’, and ‘self-determination’ into the public forum in any coherent way and to oppose the Crown in any similarly coherent way either.
Ever since the idea of ‘Aboriginal self-government’ was floated as a constitutional amendment in the ill-fated Charlottetown Constitutional Accord package, both sides seem to have retreated to their respective corners and, just like the Québec nationalists, have decided to pursue an incrementalist-type of strategy as opposed to the grandiose-type of omnibus nation-building schemes which previous Prime Ministers and other stakeholders had pursued in the 1960s-70-80, and 90s, all of which had caused no small amount of public hand-wringing, causing millions of words to be printed or spoken in the media, Royal Commissions to be struck, grandiose public enquiries called, referenda held, hostage-takings and bombings and so on.
All of which seems to have resulted in a sort of ‘aversion to conflict’-type of mentality here in Canada, both on the part of governments and citizens, with the media still wondering if there are still any grandiose idealistic causes that citizens are still willing to fight and go to the barricades for in our country. There obviously are, however, the public’s ability to stomach any of them for any length of time and to keep their attention fixed on any such an ongoing issue such as Aboriginal self-government is now fairly limited, seeing that we are now overwhelmed with an overflowing surplus of global issues relating to the environment, democracy, and human rights.
People here in Canada are now very much worried about maintaining what material prosperity they’ve worked so hard at achieving over the last century and not losing it in the current de-constructionist anti-government climate. So we don’t hear too much about the Aboriginal agenda percolating through the system, only when a disaster on a Reserve makes the news or an Indian living off Reserve gets killed or mistreated by police does the issue rear its ugly head again.
However the Crown does have an agenda. Like many other issues which our current Prime Minister is dealing with, his agenda is to offload the problem onto the provinces, because he is not a big fan from the get go, of government being involved in the lives of people, at least not his government. He is a man who is not a fan of government being a positive force for social chance and progress and is definitely cut from the American mould of Ronald Reagan era neo-conservatism, which has taken quite some time to migrate to Canada, but it has finally arrived, I’d say, after several decades of first ‘Progressive Conservative’ governments of Brian Mulroney trying to implement a Reagan/Thatcheresque agenda on Canada and having only limited success.
It ultimately fell to the Liberals to begin the true shift to the right in 1993 with the arrival of Jean Chrétien as Prime Minister and Paul Martin as Finance minister and their big deficit and debt-slaying budgets of the mid 1990s, which not only cut lots of federal spending to the provinces, but also off-loaded a lot more of the responsibility for that spending onto those same provinces. This then paved the way for Stephen Harper to come to power in 2006, and to continue the devolutionist agenda even more, applying the same ideology that Chrétien and Martin had applied to health and education, to Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
This strategy is taking shape slowly but surely. Some Indian bands are being encouraged to dissolve their Reserves and to turn that last parcel of ‘sovereign’ Indian land into a Canadian municipality, which under our constitution, falls under the jurisdiction of the provinces. Some have done it already, one in particular on a former Reserve close to Vancouver BC. Others, further north, more isolated and closer to the rich resource hinterland, are resisting such a move since their communities would have very little demographic weight to build a tax base upon which to provide services if they were to become municipalities.
However, they would be eligible for government grants from both the federal and provincial treasuries to build up their public infrastructure such as roads, water works, sewage, schools, hospitals, and so on, all of which are in dire need of either repair or don’t exist at all. But it all hinges on the ideological divide which exists within the Aboriginal leadership, which is reflected within the community itself: Should we surrender our last vestiges of ‘sovereignty’ and accept the authority of the Crown, becoming in one fell swoop, full-fledged Canadian citizens, in a way, ‘like any other’, with all the advantages of full citizenship, yet losing our special status as Aboriginal ‘Nations’, something which has defined us both for good and for ill since the dawn of time?
Aboriginals are in a way, caught in a very tough cross-cultural vice. They’ve inherited the worst of both their own culture and that of the white man and now they’re being faced with the decision of having to potentially give up what little or a lot of what’s still good in their civilization so as to benefit from what’s best in our’s. Many Aboriginals are very proud to be Aboriginals, but feel socio-economically trapped by their legal status as so-called ‘Status Indians’, with official identification cards and the whole shebang, as if they were some sort of untouchable sort of Jewish minority that had been targeted by the authorities with special identity cards and made to be herded into quasi-Apartheid-type ghettos, somewhat resembling also the squalor of the Jewish ghettos during the time of Nazi Germany.
Many also are fiercely proud of being Canadian and quietly long to have full-fledged citizenship, many having renounced their official Status Indian status in the process and having taken Canadian citizenship. Others have gone the opposite route and, despite their very tenuous claim to being Aboriginals, have sought out whatever minute quantity of Aboriginal blood they possess and have chosen to embark on a near-Messianic crusade to involve themselves in militant Aboriginal politics, traditional beliefs, medicines and healings, culture, language, spirituality not to mention seeking out every other person that they think has a drop of Aboriginal blood in them and encouraging them to repudiate their Canadian citizenship, get a Status Card and renounce to pay taxes to the Crown.
It’s a big ideological debate, with battle lines drawn sharply on both sides and the very definition of what exactly constitutes an ‘authentic Indian’, both from a legal standpoint and an ideological and spiritual standpoint being at stake. In fact, most Aboriginals don’t even live on Reserves anymore. The majority live off the Reserve in big cities such as Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver, with others living in other cities throughout the rest of the country.
So where does this leave Aboriginals from the point of view of socio-economic, cultural and political ascendency? Well, their issues are now definitely on the agenda. However, I think that it will take more than the fifty of so years that it took the ‘French Fact’ to be solved once it broke onto the scene as a hot-button issue. The standard of living of most Aboriginals is just so deplorably low and they suffer from so many intractable social problems, that it will take easily a full century before they’ve achieved full parity with the rest of Canada.
As for Muslims, they are a very vocal constituency. Muslims have been living in Canada for many decades, but have increased dramatically in number over the last two to three decades, in large part due to the USA’s aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asia ,which has brought war and social upheaval to many predominantly Muslim countries, causing many hundreds of thousands of them to relocate to the very countries which were responsible for their own countries coming apart, but who have nonetheless been able to live in freedom and prosperity as a result in most cases.
Canada, before the arrival of large numbers of Muslims, was a predominantly Christian country, with a significant Jewish minority with which we have accommodated ourselves for the most part, since the end of the Second World War. However, when Muslims began arriving in large numbers, they began challenging the cosy arrangement of Judeo-Christian elite accommodation which had established itself since the end of WWII, mostly in the fields of business, politics, media and culture, as well as faith and religion itself.
Muslims arrived and began aggressively demanding to be accommodated in their religious beliefs and customs, in everything from permitting schoolchildren to absent themselves from classes during Ramadan, to allowing Muslim women to wear headscarves and Burhkas in government buildings and at passport control points. Muslims made it clear that they wanted to have their faith and culture to be accepted as a third main form of religious and cultural expression in Canada after Christianity and Judaism and are aggressively recruiting amongst the local population, Islam being the fastest-growing religion on the planet.
Some see a not-so-thinly-veiled agenda of Islamification behind all of this, which is certainly true to a point. However, Islam still must contend with the very powerful aspect of secular western democratic society, which abhors such things as sharia law, the subjugation of women, honour killings and so on. The recent guilty verdict in the case of the Shafia family, who were convicted in the honour killings of several of their female members, underscores just how reprehensible Canadian society found their actions and just how alien to our way of living we believe they acted.
The jury deliberated for less than a day. And the reaction from the Muslim spiritual leadership in Canada was swift and unequivocal. Their actions of so-called ‘honour killings’ were denounced in no uncertain terms. Even the most conservative Muslim spiritual leader in Canada has to come to terms with the realities of secular society in Canada: That we believe in equality between men and women, and that we also believe in monogamy. These facts are inevitably going to have an effect on the Muslim community as they continue to adapt to life in Canada. Sooner or later, their desire for ascendency will come face to face with the realities of a very evolved, post-modern liberal democracy: That if they want to become socially and economically prosperous and influential and culturally respected, their civilization will simply not be able to advocate for such retrograde social policies and shrill, intolerant forms of dogmatic rigidity in the application and interpretation of the tenets of their faith, as practiced through their religion.
I see a very westernized, pluralistic, and secular English-speaking, French-speaking, Canadianized as well as Americanized and Europeanized form of Islam emerging out of all of this. Like I said, I’m a firm believer in the good old-fashioned dialectic of ‘Thesis/antithesis/synthesis/thesis’. What goes around comes around as we say. It’s just that once it comes around after going around a few times, it looks rather different after the merry-go-round started spinning. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the merry-go-round never really quite stops spinning; it just slows down more or less to let some of us off once in a while after we’ve been spinning for a while so that we don’t get too dizzy.
This way we get to take stock of things and notice that our beings have been somewhat altered from being on the dialectical merry-go-round and are now able to perhaps relate to the whole process and to ourselves and others better as a result of it. We might then either get back on the same merry-go-round, or maybe, if we’re feeling adventuresome, start up a new one. Something tells me that the French, women, Aboriginals and Muslims have all been on the dialectical merry-go-round for different periods of time and are at different stages of wanting to ‘stay on’, ‘get off’, and ‘start anew’, as the case may be.
All part of the process of ascendency in Canada. Does that mean that the merry-go-round is not only going around but is also ‘ascending’? Oh my God! Flying dialectical Merry-go-rounds! As the ladies in the Red Rose tea commercials used to say: ‘Only in Canada? Pity!’