The Coming Defeat of Canadian Nationalism
- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 16 Nov 1970, p. 116-129
- Creighton, Dr. Donald C., Speaker
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- Item Type:
- A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
Defining the limits of the gloom of the speaker's title: "The Coming Defeat of Canadian Nationalism." A broad-ranging discussion of Canada and Canadian nationalism. Just some of the topics touched on include the following: A Canadian's view of nationalism. Canada as an almost perfect illustration of the workings of the new imperialism. Two events which occurred this autumn which brought the debate (of the French-Canadian urge towards separation) to its present anxious climate: the announcement of the sale of 6.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to the United States and the kidnapping and murder by the Front de Libération Québécois. The need to realize the strength of the forces that threaten our survival. North American Continentalism. The exploitation of Canada. The profound influence on Canada's economic growth, on foreign and defence policies, and even at times domestic politics, by the United States. The division of North America in two nations not accidental. Characteristic Canadian qualities and beliefs. Being afflicted with a bad case of "growth mania." The issue of the use of natural resources. The forces of Continentalism reaching their alarming peak just at the very moment when the weakness of Canadian nationalism was dramatically exposed. The more-than-ever need for unity just at the time of the outbreak of terrorism in Montreal. The cultural duality of Canada. Relations between French-Canadians and English-Canadians. The constitutional conference. The dangerous corner into which we have been driven by recent events. The hope of deliverance in the reassertion of Canadian nationalism in its first and integral form.
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- 16 Nov 1970
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NOVEMBER 16, 1970
Coming Defeat of Canadian Nationalism
AN ADDRESS BY Dr. Donald C. Creighton,
HISTORIAN & AUTHOR
Joint Meeting of the Empire Club of
Canada and the Canadian Club of Toronto
CHAIRMAN The President of the Canadian Club of Toronto, John M. Gray
This is a notable occasion in the Canadian Club year not only because of our distinguished guest but because it is a joint meeting with the Empire Club. In welcoming you all I express an especially warm greeting to the members of the Empire Club and a hope that they enjoy this meeting with us.
For the past twenty-four hours I have been trying to ignore the coincidence of the arrival of winter and the rather lowering title of Donald Creighton's speech. Symbolically the air seems full of menace. It would be easy enough to brush this aside were it not for Professor Creighton's great standing in his profession. His colleagues don't always agree with him but they always listen carefully when he speaks. He speaks with the authority of learning expressed in a commanding style. Ten Canadian universities have recognized his stature by the conferring of an honorary degree on Donald Creighton. Before he can get many more we are going to have to build some more universities.
Born in Toronto, Donald Creighton was educated in Toronto schools and graduated from the University of Toronto. He took his Master's degree at Balliol College, Oxford, before returning to teach at Toronto where he has remained, and where his presence has contributed much to the University maintaining its place as our leading school of Canadian history.
Professor Creighton's long career as a teacher has produced half a dozen notable books, all of which continue to be read ten, twenty, and in the case of The Commercial Empire of the St. Lawrence, almost thirty years after its first publication. His biography of John A. Macdonald did more to prepare this country spiritually for our great centennial year than any P.R. campaign could have done. And it did something else: it stimulated and set a standard in the writing of Canadian biography of which Canada will be the beneficiary for as long as it lasts (though I gather from his latest book, Canada's First Century, that may not be saying much).
It is pleasant to report that these great accomplishments have been unmistakably recognized. Donald Creighton is one of those deservedly fortunate men who can be in no doubt that they are appreciated. His honours are too numerous to set out here but they include the Royal Society medal for historical writing, the Governor General's Award (twice), the Molson Prize, and finally the coveted Companionship of the Order of Canada. All this from the country which has been the object of his passionate concern.
Gentlemen, our distinguished guest, Donald Grant Creighton.
My title, "The Coming Defeat of Canadian Nationalism," will be regarded as a pessimistic title, and I may as well start out by trying to define the limits of its gloom. I think that the defeat of Canadian nationalism is approaching, but not yet quite inevitable; and I readily admit that it is not the worst calamity that can befall the Canadian people. There may be still more tragic fates in store for Canada, as part of a now closely interrelated world. In a few days, or perhaps even in a few hours, a nuclear war could reduce all or most of this planet to a hideous ruin; and, well within the next half-century, the unchecked advance of modern technology could exhaust the resources and wreck- the environment of the richest portions of our world, including Canada. In comparison with these catastrophes, the loss of Canadian national independence may seem insignificant. Yet it is not insignificant in reality. It only seems so because we have been brought up to disparage nationality in general, and our own nationality in particular, and to deny its potentiality for good.
Our generation, and the one which preceded it, were brought up to believe that the hope of the world lay in peaceful internationalism. Now, after a trial of a quartercentury, it has become manifest that the twentieth century's second attempt to found a world order has failed almost as completely as the first. The universal state, or the universal peace imposed by a single great state, are as far away as ever; and instead, regional groupings on a continental scale, aggregations of smaller satellite states usually dominated by a super power, have emerged as the dominant fact of modern political life. These modern super-powers have, in fact, become empires; and it is their rival imperialist aims which most seriously endanger the peace of the world, just as it is their economic agencies, and in particular the so-called multi-national corporation, which form the advance guard of modern technology and threaten to deplete or destroy the dwindling riches of a finite world. It is not nationalism, but imperialism, political and economic, which carries the greatest peril to humanity. And, in the absence of a genuine and effective world order, the only power strong enough to prevent the destructive onward march of imperialism is the national state.
Canada is an almost perfect illustration of the workings of the new imperialism. She is well on the way to becoming a political, economic and cultural colony of the greatest of these modern empires, the United States. Her fate may be a portent for the future of the world. If she roused herself and took the lead in a movement of national self-assertion by the smaller states, she could not only break the monolithic front which North America now presents to the world, but she might also help to inspire other dependent nations to recover their independence from other imperial masters. It is a great role, upon which the fate of humanity may hang; but the tragic fact is that Canada may not be strong enough to play it. Canadian nationalism is weak, and--as my title suggests--it can and may be defeated. It is vulnerable because it is subjected to enormous external pressures and because it is not integral but divided. The events of the last decade in Quebec have revealed the strength of the persistent FrenchCanadian urge towards separation; and during the same period, the United States has steadily extended its external influence or control over every aspect of our national life. In the last year, these symptoms of national weakness became so alarmingly obvious that an earnest public debate began over that most fundamental of all Canadian questions--the prospects for Canada's survival as an independent nation. Two events, occurring in fairly rapid succession this autumn, brought this debate to its present anxious climax. The first of these was the announcement of the sale of 6.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to the United States; and the second was an outbreak of savage violence--kidnapping and murder--by the Front de Liberation Quebecois.
The sale of natural gas quickly emerged as one of the key issues in the debate. Its very magnitude--it will commit a third of our established reserves to American use--is disturbing itself; but this is not the only reason for the disquietude of the Canadians. They cannot help suspecting that this is not a solitary transaction, but that it will speedily be followed by others, and that these will be concerned, not only with natural gas, but also with oil, electric power, nuclear energy and water. It is plain now that the voracious requirements of the American military and industrial machine and the insatiable demands of an extravagant and wasteful American society have simply outstripped what the most richly endowed half continent in the world can provide. The evident aim of the American economic and military establishment is to induce the Canadian government and people to acknowledge that Canada's natural resources are, in fact, continental resources, freely available to Americans on exactly the same terms as their own domestic supplies. We have become accustomed, through constant repitition, to the sale of our industries to American corporations; but oil and gas, water and water power are not ordinary assets things that Canadians have built or acquired themselves. They are part of the original endowment of nature, of the birthright of Canada.
The possibility that Canada will assume the role of Esau and sell its birthright for a little "red pottage"--gold, that is is the first of the two great shocks which Canadians sustained this autumn. The second was their realization of the horrifying lengths to which the French-Canadian separatists were prepared to go in their struggle for the liberation of Quebec. The methods they have used--kidnapping, extortion, and murder--are the vicious methods which have been employed by the terrorists of South America or more recently by the Palestinians of the Middle East. But the homeless Palestinians are refugees from a country which has literally ceased to exist; and the South American terrorists are the products of wretched societies oppressed by foreign exploitation, rapacious landlordism, arbitrary government and appalling poverty. Yet somehow, the members of the F.L.Q. felt akin to these outcast and distressed peoples, and of nature, of the believed themselves justified in using their desperate remedies. Of course, their deeds are the work of a very small minority; but does not its very existence imply a much more widespread dissatisfaction with Confederation and a correspondingly deep division in the Canadian people?
These were the two shocking discoveries about their country and themselves that the Canadians made this autumn. On the one hand, the steady encroachment of the United States on every activity, every interest, and every asset of the Canadians has now reached the point at which our very birthright has become expendable in the service of the Americans; and, on the other, the crimes of the Montreal separatists have revealed the terrible extremes to which the disunity of Canada could be pushed. In the light of these revelations, what hope is there for Canadian nationalism?
The first thing we must do is to realize the strength of the forces that threaten our survival. North American continentalism, actively encouraged by Canadian governments for two generations, has now become almost irresistible. The exploitation of Canada, during the last fifty years, has been largely a continental, not a national achievement. The long association of Canadians with the people of the United States, their dependence upon American capital, their reliance upon American initiative and technology, and their gradual acceptance of American standards and values have given the Republic a huge equity in the development of the Canadian nation. The United States has had a profound influence on all aspects of our recent economic growth; it has affected our foreign and defence policies, and even, at certain deplorable moments, our domestic politics; it has permeated our newspapers, our periodicals and, as the proposed sale of the Ryerson Press shows, our publishing houses; and in radio and television it is dominant. This process of osmosis has been going on for a long time; and, in the end, it has substantially altered the Canadian character, the Canadian outlook on life.
The division of North America in two nations is not an accident; Canada has a meaning, though Canadians have gone far towards forgetting it. From the beginning, we differed from our neighbours to the south; and our federal union of 1867 was a consciously native product, designed to express our own convictions and values, and deliberately independent of American models. The stated purposes of the Canadian Constitution were not "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," as the American Declaration of Independence put it, but "peace, order, and good government"; and these understated aims fairly accurately express the character and convictions of our fathers and grandfathers. They believed in private restraint and public order; they never glorified individual freedom, initiative and enterprise in the unqualified American fashion. In their eyes, the public good meant more than the sum total of the private satisfactions of the individuals composing society; and they never denied the necessity of state action, even on a grand scale, for public welfare, national development, and national security.
These characteristic Canadian qualities and beliefs still exist, of course. They help to preserve Canada as a peaceful home for its own citizens, a haven for political refugees, and, despite what has happened in Quebec, a sanctuary for fugitives from racial conflict, and mob violence, and organized crime. This relative simplicity and tranquillity still characterize our lives; but ever since the Second World War, they have become increasingly qualified, as Canadian society grows more urbanized and more dependent on the marvels of technology. The prototype of this modern technological society and the quintessential spirit that animates it, have both been supplied by the United States. The Americans have escaped completely, or almost completely, from the mythical and religious explanations of existence which consoled the ancient and medieval world of Europe. They have come to believe, with fewer reservations than any other people on earth, that progress is the only good in life, and that progress means the liberation of man through the progressive conquest of nature by technology. The possibilities of technical invention, they assume, are infinite and infinitely desirable; and there must and will be no limitation on whatever human wants modern industry decides to create by advertising.
This spirit, which is conquering the world, has also captured the Canadians. We are afflicted with a bad case of that most virulent of all modern diseases, "growth mania" and its most prominent symptom, quantification. For us, economic indices have taken the place of divine revelation. The most important things in our national life are the percentage increase in economic growth, the balance of payments, the rate of foreign exchange and the rise or fall of the Dow-Jones averages. To achieve economic growth, we are prepared to endure all the accumulating evils of modern industrialization--the destruction of the environment and its wild life, the wastage of our natural resources, the uglification of our beautiful countryside, the fouling of our lakes, rivers and seashores with industrial wastes, the pollution of the sky above us by gases and exhausts, the submergence of our cities and towns under a hideous network of expressways, gasoline stations and parking lots, and the noise, stench and physical dangers of our appalling motor traffic. "Growth mania" has come to govern all our economic relations with the United States, and identifies us ever more closely with the Americans. In other words, we have met the enemy, and it is ourselves.
Why should we not sell our natural resources, for good prices, to the Americans, in exactly the same easy way as we sell all our other assets? It is true that the complacent old belief in the inexhaustibility of the natural riches of North America has been proven false--false at least so far as the United States is concerned; but the Canadian government and the Canadian petroleum industry have been earnestly trying to assure us that our supplies of natural gas are ample for the next few decades, or even for the next halfcentury, which is as far as they ever seem to think it necessary to look into the future, though fifty years is hardly more than two-thirds a normal lifetime. Besides, even if our estimates should prove over-optimistic, and our natural resources run out, won't technology come to the rescue with new sources of industrial power and domestic comfort? Why not make a quick buck out of selling our natural resources now, when, in twenty years' time, we shall probably be getting our energy from nuclear power and solar heat? Why, as Mr. Trudeau observed, should we lock ourselves up in the old-fashioned gas-and-petroleum age, when, in a decade or so, in some unknown but miraculous fashion, technology will have conjured up an earthly paradise out of practically nothing and we shall have ceased to mine the poor old earth? Above all, let us never run the risk of missing the latest technological marvel, through the mistaken course of restricting the entrance of American capital and regaining control of our industries. If we ever did that, Mr. Marchand assures us, our standard of living would fall 50%. Of course, Mr. Marchand hasn't any clear idea of what would really happen. What he does know is that a good big percentage is the one thing that will terrify us.
American continentalism has not only taken over most of our assets and threatens to appropriate what is left of our birthright; it has also created a distinct philosophy of life, a philosophy of technology and empire, which might be called the established religion of the United States. And that religion has taken over our minds.
Even this is not the sum of our crisis. The forces of continentalism reached their alarming peak just at the very moment when the weakness of Canadian nationalism was dramatically exposed. At a time when unity was more than ever necessary for national survival, the outbreak of terrorism in Montreal revealed the depths of the divisions which separate us. Canadians were shocked and horrified; but the Montreal crimes, though vicious, were not incredible or insane. They were the extreme--horribly extreme--but fundamentally logical consequences of a new set of beliefs about Canada in which a whole generation of Canadians had been instructed by nearly every Canadian public man and almost all Canadian newspapers.
The most important fact about Canada, people began to assert everywhere, was its cultural duality. It was assumed that ethnic and cultural values were fundamental in Canadian Confederation and that the chief goal of Canadian statesmanship ought to be the development of the Canadian constitution on the basis of "an equal partnership between the two founding races." This was a completely new idea, which formed no part in the plans of the Fathers of Confederation; and plainly it was not true in actuality as things stood in the 1960's. Outside Quebec, French Canada was a declining force; inside Quebec, though the French language remained dominant, economic control and managerial leadership lay in the hands of the English-speaking minority. Much of this state of affairs could be explained by the fact that French Canada was a small cultural island in an English-speaking continent, and that Quebec was a backward province, inhibited by unreformed institutions and antiquated laws. But these relevant considerations were all brushed aside. The real explanation of French Canada's depressed and vulnerable state, we were authoritatively informed, was not to be found in either North America or Quebec. It was the English-speaking majority of Canada and the centralized constitution it had imposed on the nation which were mainly responsible for the decline of French-Canadian culture. A whole generation of French Canadians were brought up to disparage, if not to hate, the very word Confederation. A whole generation of English Canadians were taught to believe that the plight of French Canada was crime of which they were guilty and for which they must now make reparation in constitutional changes. Language, the one thing which divides us most, became the top priority of Canadian politics; and for nearly a decade the defence of Canada against American penetration was neglected or forgotten.
The pursuit of French Canada's satisfaction not only monopolized our attention: it also started us off down a path whose end was dangerously uncertain. Obviously, there were two main ways in which Canadian federalism could be altered in the interest of French Canada. On the one hand, an effort could be made to enlarge and improve the part played by French Canadians in the nation as a whole; or, on the other, Quebec might be accepted as the particular homeland of the French Canadian people and granted a special, separate status in Confederation. The federal government followed first one, then another, and, at times, both of these methods; but it rapidly became clear that the obstacles to the realization of a united, bilingual country, were very formidable indeed. The constitutional conference, now entering the fourth year of its prolonged and ineffectual labours, proved the enormous difficulty of even constitutional changes. And it was plain from the beginning that in the workaday world of transcontinental Canada the equal partnership of the two founding races could have only a formal and superficial existence. These hard realities were so obvious that the French-Canadian leaders, though they paid lip-service to the ideal of a bilingual, united Canada, quickly fixed their aim on a virtually independent Quebec.
Yet it was not only the French-Canadian leaders who held out the hope of separate status and quasi-independence. English-Canadian leaders, by definite action as well as vague talk, encouraged exactly the same idea. It was the Pearson government which devised the so-called "opting-out" formula, which enabled Quebec to withdraw from a number of co-operative federal-provincial programmes, separate itself as much as possible from the rest of Canada, and assume almost exclusive control over the whole economic, social and political life of its citizens. When General de Gaulle cried "Vive le Quebec libre," Pearson politely rebuked him; but Pearson had said, and not merely implied, almost exactly the same thing. "It is now clear to all of us," he had asserted five years earlier, in 1962, "that French-speaking Canadians are determined to become directors of their economic and cultural destiny." Politicians trade in words; but words have meanings; and some people take these meanings very seriously. The members of the F.L.Q. have been taught by their elders that if French Canada is to preserve its identity, it must gain its freedom from Canadian Confederation. Their crime was that they reached the logical conclusion of their teaching, and acted upon it.
This, then, is the dangerous corner into which we have been driven by recent events. On the one side is the steady advance of American power; and on the other the alarming evidence of national division and weakness. What confronts us is either the break-up of our country or its continuation as a fragmented, decentralized nation, firmly integrated in the American economic and military empire, with all its assets, down to the last treasures of its birthright, freely expendable in the service of the government and people of the United States. Our only hope of deliverance from this fate lies in the reassertion of Canadian nationalism in its first and integral form. The vain and perilous pursuit of dualism, which was not an original object of Confederation and has nearly brought about its undoing, must be abandoned. One nation, not two nations in one, can alone maintain an effective defence of Canada.
The gratitude to Dr. D. C. Creighton was expressed by Dr. H. V. Cranfield, President of the Empire Club.
Mr. President and gentlemen, my words of thanks at this combined meeting would be ill-placed if spoken before the Empire Club alone. In that club the newest tradition is to have a male secondary school student sit at our Head Table. Each of whom is invariably alert and intelligent but few of them have been to a barber in years and may have forgotten what a barber is!
My barber is the old-fashioned kind who, when he is finished with me, holds a mirror behind me so that in the mirror ahead I can see the reflection of the back of my neck. In this respect he is like a historian, for such a one presents new viewpoints which allows one to look ahead and judge the future from what is behind.
The profound difference in the analogy, of course, is that the history professor can clothe events in words and phrases of delight. In the book, "Canada's First Century", Dr. Creighton puts you in the presence of those persons who are making history. In one quick example: Lord Byng of Vimy was Governor General, Mackenzie King the leader of the Liberals and Arthur Meighen of the Conservatives. It is June 1926. The Governor General had the courage, on his own initiative to refuse to sign the order of dissolution of parliament and for this refusal he could have been recalled in disgrace. Had he signed it, the motion of censure of King's government would not have been effective and King would have gone down in history Scot-free. There is not much to it the way I tell it, but read it and you will sense the courage of Byng, the frustration of Meighen, the corruption of government and the vindicative fury of King, resigning like an illtempered child who couldn't get his own way and who by his ruthless action left the country without government.
Let us, though, come up to today, November 16th 1970 and realize that by this gifted man's words and his address we have been taken back before these times and ahead to what conclusions he has studiously reached and made clear to us. My philosophical barber has the complacency to say the only difference between a bad haircut and a good haircut is ten days. Canada's problems however will not correct themselves by growth. Indeed Dr. Creighton warns us that the situation is beyond correction. He is not being a prophet of doom when it concerns Canada for he has a great loyalty here though he may be misinterpreted by those who lack discernment. I am confident that he is trying to flay our conscience. Our own national leaders have, by their failure to forge a respectable Canadian Constitution, guaranteed that Continentalism will win out over Canadian Nationalism! Do we accept this as fait accompli? If our two prestigious clubs had the fire, courage and fortitude of our Founders we would be roused by this stirring message. Will you as Canadians heed this Jonah who has warned us of this peril to our Ninevah? Will you by bold and vigorous action preserve our heritage of loyalty and freedom under the Crown? If you do, then Dr. Creighton's presence here today will have fulfilled its purpose!
Dr. Creighton we are in your debt. Canada is in your debt.