Conrad Black: Canada's self-esteem problem

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Conrad Black: Canada's self-esteem problem

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To borrow a clangorous platitude from popular psychology, Canada has to address its problem of low self-esteem. There are several prominent indications of this problem. The second-largest province, Quebec, with about 24 per cent of the total population, about a fifth of them English- rather than French-speaking, is proposing unilaterally to amend the Canadian Constitution (which it has not officially ratified), in order to restrain the use English within its borders. All the political parties, in Quebec and federally, apparently welcome this development. Unlike the response to previous egregious Quebec language laws, the implications of emasculating the chief language of the country in its second-largest province, to the point where French will be the sole official language in Quebec offices of the federal government and all workplaces of federally chartered corporations, have been shrugged off by the country, and only desultorily treated by what is surely the most tedious and unenterprising media of any advanced country in the world.

In practice, of course, some English will be spoken in these places at least for a time, but bank tellers and managers and post office employees will not need to speak English to their English-speaking customers. The great and justly admired John A. Macdonald and his principal collaborators realized in the 1860s that if Canada were to succeed, it would have to have both English and French as “official” languages and, when it came to national issues of maximum importance, a majority of both the English- and the French-speaking communities would be required to assure an adequate consensus. If the French were not promised security of their language and culture in the areas where they predominated, they would never have agreed to Confederation; and if the time ever came when the status of their language was too precarious to serve their population, they would always have preferred to join the Americans and not English-speaking Canada. In other bilingual or multilingual advanced Western countries, such as Belgium and Switzerland, the idea of comparable legislation in those countries to Quebec’s current language bill is unthinkable. What does it say about a country’s national dignity when it permits the practical abolition, at least gradually, of its principal official language in its second-largest internal jurisdiction?

As has been much discussed, including in this column last week, Canada’s policy toward Aboriginal peoples has been substantially unsuccessful, both when it was a colony, French and British, and as a sovereign country. But no serious examination of the history of Canada’s Indigenous policy justifies the conclusion that the Canadian authorities or the public ever sought the disappearance of First Nations cultures, much less the extinction of the Native population itself. Yet we have been accused, and the chief founder of the country, Macdonald, has particularly been accused, of seeking the outright genocide of the Indigenous people through starvation, and the cultural genocide of the Natives by depriving a third of Indigenous children of contact with their families for several years and coercing them to speak English and French rather than their native languages. As I wrote last week, these charges are false but they were levelled at Canada by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, though the evidence adduced in the early volumes of the report do not justify those conclusions. Apart from the outright charlatans in the Native victimhood industry, I do not blame or begrudge them. But I do blame the prime minister for pre-emptively conceding that Canada aspired to commit cultural genocide against First Nations and for his acrobatic prostrations of national guilt and shame on our behalf. Even more embarrassing is the near unanimity with which Canadians have accepted and proclaimed their guilt for offences of which our country is not and has never been guilty. I was fired as a radio commentator for declaring that Canada is not a “systemically racist” country. Again, what does such a country think of itself?

I think we are a good country that is probably more receptive to immigration than any other country and has as little tendency to violence as any country. But the chief purpose of Canada in practice has not been to exploit its potential as the only transcontinental, bicultural, parliamentary Confederation in the history of the world. Rather, we have spent almost all our history seeking to avoid being subsumed by the American colonies or the United States. That was the great success of Louis de Buade de Frontenac and of Guy Carleton and was the real motive for Confederation. It was Macdonald’s triumph to assemble seven provinces and to build a great transcontinental railway across the Canadian Shield and the Great Plains and through the Rocky Mountains. It was the triumph of Wilfrid Laurier to attract proportionately as many immigrants as the United States and preside over economic and demographic growth roughly parallel to the unprecedented rise of that immense country. It was Mackenzie King’s greatest achievement to lead Canada through the Second World War without the terrible abrasions that almost broke up the country over conscription for overseas service in the First World War. And it was the great achievement of Pierre Trudeau to defeat the Quebec separatists, in part by guaranteeing the rights of members of both official language communities throughout the country, precisely what the present government of Quebec is attempting to exterminate (with the explicit or tacit approval of almost everyone).

Now, in an astounding, sinister and aberrant moment that’s unprecedented in its history, the United States is allowing millions of illegal immigrants to flood across its southern border, has adopted police policies that have turned many areas of its great cities into shooting galleries, has become so fiscally profligate that it is now experiencing worrying inflation rates and has asked the United Nations to assess the state of racism in the U.S. In one respect, it is a relief not to have the Americans beating their chests and telling the world how “exceptional” and superior they are. But they are doing great injustice to themselves and, in this freakish and psychotic bout of national self-disparagement, they have finally ceased to be intimidating to Canada. No Canadian today is really concerned about the overwhelming American contiguity. While we are somewhat complacently self-satisfied about being a more peaceable country, anti-Americanism has ceased to be a real motivation for Canadian nationalism and all we are left with is lobotomous idiocy like the letter of the 100 Canadian notables opposing the renovation of our venerable Air Force (ably debunked by my colleague Matt Gurney here last week), and our absurd obsession with climate change. Everyone opposes environmental pollution, but climate change is just the wolf of anti-capitalist antagonism swaddled in eco-sheeps’ clothing.


Canada is a rudderless country whose leader proclaims the dawn of the post-national era as China and a truncated Russia careen around the Eurasian landmass celebrating and exploiting this temporary American torpor. As our eager submission to the insane COVID lockdown demonstrates, we have become a double-masked country with little sense of ourselves. Some of us are trying to wave the maple leaf flag sensibly, but it is a lonely and rather thankless vocation. The prime minister has ordered the flag to half-staff throughout the country indefinitely to consider our (Indigenous) “problem.” This mawkish charade only illustrates that he is our problem.

National Post