OCTOBER 19, 1978
Canada, the Crown and Chauvinism
AN ADDRESS BY Laura Sabia, Journalist
JOINT MEETING The Empire Club of Canada
The Royal Commonwealth Society
CHAIRMAN Reginald W. Lewis, President, The Empire Club of Canada
BRIG. GEN. LEWIS:
Ladies and gentlemen: Our speaker today will be introduced by the Chairman of the Royal Commonwealth Society, Major-General Bruce Legge.
Mr. President, distinguished guests, fellow members of The Empire Club of Canada and the Royal Commonwealth Society: Nicolas Chauvin De Rochefort was a veteran soldier of the French Republic and of the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. His patriotism was so voluble that it was ultimately ridiculed by his comrades. Laura Sabia's subject, "Canada, the Crown and Chauvinism", is most profound because all three ideas come from the same root--from Nicolas Chauvin who loved his country so much that he served it without fear. He was then so mesmerized by Napoleon, the Emperor of the French, not the King of France, that he followed him without counting the cost. Chauvin therefore gave his name to all that is bellicose, exaggerated and puffed-up in loyalties.
In Canada, to love the Queen of Canada and our country is in a sense to love what is best in all of us because each of us is a part of Canada. To carry patriotism to the edge of chauvinism is to abandon the discipline of thought, which is the only safeguard against self-seeking patriotism.
Canada seems to be one of the few countries in the world that lacks exaggerated nationalism. But we also have our cynicisms, such as "John Kenneth Galbraith and Marshall McLuhan are the two greatest modern Canadians that the United States has produced," or H.L. Mencken's quip, "Democracy is a form of religion. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses."
Laura Sabia is a creative and artistic person who is a devoted mother and the widow of Dr. Michael Sabia, a most respected surgeon in St. Catharines. One of her daughters and her son-in-law are lawyers who provide her with free legal advice which she freely ignores because "all professions are a conspiracy against the laity."
Mrs. Sabia was convent-educated in Montreal, and is a fearless social critic whose biting wit reveals our weaknesses. She organized public pressure on the Royal Commission on the Status of Women and herself chaired the Ontario Council on the Status of Women. She is an orator who intimidates cabinets with her outrageous wit. She is a brilliant writer for The Toronto Sun who brings much light and laser-beam heat to wrong-doing in high places. She is infuriated by the prosecution of Peter Worthington and incensed by the fact that "only the weakest of men are frightened by feminism." And no wonder, when she can expose hypocrisy and prejudice with her famous phrase--"If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament."
Ladies and gentlemen, I have great pleasure in presenting to you Mrs. Laura Sabia, a great and fascinating Canadian. If you will forgive the chauvinism, Mrs. Sabia, Edmund Burke said it: "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." You are in Burke's noble company and I invite you to address these Loyal Societies about "Canada, the Crown and Chauvinism."
Thank you very much. Never have I been introduced with such beautiful phraseology--absolutely gorgeous, and to think it was a man!
I deem it a privilege and an honour to be addressing this very prestigious last bastion of the captains of the corporate and professional and intellectual elite, and an honour to be asked to fill the shoes of the late John Rhodes, politician extraordinary, outspoken, humane, urbane, unafraid of unpopular stands in a country where vote-buying by politicians is a national pastime, a guy after my own heart. I knew him well and I loved him dearly.
To speak to this august body today, I have been given some very profound advice by my children: "Clean up your language, Mother. No dirty jokes. Let us read the draught of your speech for corrections. Act your age, Mother. You know you're sixty now. Think of us!"
Speaking of sexy jokes, I am reminded of a delightful episode just a few years back in the height and the tumult of the women's movement. I had made a speech in Vancouver on female sexuality, which I might say was salaciously reported in the press. Every last one of those cross-your-crotch jock jokes was there. The week after I returned, I received a hand-written letter from a woman who admitted to being eighty-five. She commented on my courage to say the shocking, and then proceeded to shock me out of my cross-my-heart bra. "In my day," she wrote, "women were receptacles for male sperm," etc. etc. (My children are here, so I can't tell you any more!) She ended her delightful letter by saying, "For eighty long years I have been going to church each Sunday, and I'm sick and tired of hearing that old worn-out refrain, 'In sin did thy mother conceive thee.' Where the hell was father? Fishing or hunting?"
Enough of this nonsense. Let us get down to the serious matters of the day. My subject, as has been said, is "Canada, the Crown and Chauvinism." I'm going to define "chauvinism" in the same way as our good friend has just defined it quite rightly. It's interesting how the use and abuse of a word can change its meaning. Now we talk about men being chauvinists because they are puffed up with their own importance. The male of the species always has been. The women's movement merely added the pig.
Let's go on with the title. What a mess we are in, in this country. As Alice in Wonderland would say, it's getting curiouser and curiouser. How did we get here from there? We are now divided regionally, linguistically, ethnically, Canadian pitted against Canadian, resentment piled upon resentment.
I love this piece of geography called Canada. I'm a chauvinist. I love my country dearly, deeply and passionately. But who is a Canadian now? Are there any Canadians in this house? Not bloody likely. We've all become hyphenated Canadians, French-Canadians, English-Canadians, Irish-Canadians, Polish-Canadians, Greek-Canadians. Oh, oh--we can't use Polish jokes anymore. We have a Pope that's a Pole.
We have become hyphenated. We weren't always hyphenated, but we now are, on and on into the nightmare of divisiveness. I was born and bred in this amazing land. I've always considered myself a Canadian, nothing more, nothing less, even though my parents were immigrants from Italy. How come that over the past ten or fifteen years we have all acquired a hyphen? We have allowed ourselves to become divided along the lines of ethnic origins, under the pretext of the "Great Mosaic." A dastardly deed has been perpetrated upon Canadians by politicians whose motto is "divide and rule." I, for one, refuse to be hyphenated. I am a Canadian, first and foremost. Don't hyphenate me.
We will not have a great nation until we forget ethnicity and become Canadians. Multiculturalism has divided us and perhaps assimilation will have to unite us. The "Bi and Bi" commission of the sixties started us on the infamous road to hyphenation. How can you build a nation on divisiveness?
Then came the Official Languages Act. I can remember how much I was opposed to it. I had a radio program at the time and I fought against it, only to have everybody calling me every name under the sun. That Official Languages Act, passed in 1969, sealed our fate forever. The die was cast. It sowed the seeds of bigotry and hatred. It divided us all. Then to add salt to the wounds, it cost us a walloping wad of money we couldn't afford.
Our present Prime Minister, speaking to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1966 (mark the date) said: "There is no way that two ethnic groups in one country can be made equal before the law in that country. To say it is possible is to sow the seeds of destruction." And yet, three short years after, in 1969, he did the very thing he said in 1966 could not be done. We have been going downhill ever since. Complacent, lethargic Canadians, under the spell of flower power. We are afraid of being labelled racial bigots and so we have allowed ourselves to be conned, manipulated and divided. We are now paying the piper, in spades.
We have spent nearly two billion dollars to make this country bilingual, only to pronounce it a total failure and an utter disaster. Quebec renounced bilingualism and went unilingual in a valiant attempt to protect its language and culture. Why not Quebec French? Why not the rest of Canada English? Why can't we build a nation on that basis? Only James Richardson of all the politicians had the courage to say, "Yes, we have one regional language in Quebec, and let's respect it. And we have one official language in the rest of Canada." I'm a firm believer in learning a second and a third language. I speak three of them. It's a culture devoutly to be fostered. I am bilingual. French was my first tongue. I also speak Italian. But you cannot legislate bilingualism. You can only foster it effectively through the educational system, slowly. It may take twenty-five years, but that's the way to go.
Belgium is a prime example of division through language. The war of words between the Flemish and Walloons is well known, the hatred and divisiveness has been talked about for over a hundred years. This week the Prime Minister of Belgium resigned over a vain attempt to divide the country into linguistic regions.
Quebec does not want language rights entrenched in the Constitution. Quebec wants to remain unilingual, and I can understand that. The victory of the Parti Quebecois in 1976 was not the first time in our history that a nationalist party, dedicated to unilingualism and the liberation of French Canada, gained power in Quebec. Of course it wasn't. Anyone who reads Canadian history will know that in 1830 we had the Parti Patriot under Louis Joseph Papineau. Fifty years later in 1880 we had the Parti Nationale, led by Honore Mercier. Again in 1930, we had the Union Nationale, with Maurice Duplessis, even though the "chef" didn't preach secession. He was satisfied with absolute provincial autonomy. Tell me what's the difference.
Sovereignty association is not new. And it isn't scary at all. It's over a hundred and fifty years old. It just keeps renewing and repeating itself under different names.
Despite the protestations of Davis, Lougheed and other provincial premiers that they won't negotiate sovereignty association (and I have some sympathy with them) they may have to negotiate after the referendum in Quebec. A poll published in Dimanche Matin by L'Institut Quebecois d'opinion publique showed that 38 per cent of Quebeckers would give the government a mandate to negotiate sovereignty association, and 36 per cent would not. You can bet your bottom worthless dollar that the 38 per cent will be substantially increased by referendum day. Business is business. Quebec, Ontario and the rest of the economic suburbs will have to continue to trade, and we can build a nation again on that trade.
Shades of Stanfield's "Two Nation" concept of 1968. Stanfield was a man ahead of his time. He was not listened to, and we are paying for that now. Words come back to haunt us. Think of the billions we would have saved! But one thing is certain. Appeasement must stop. We have had too much of it. Hard bargaining always, but appeasement, never.
Are Canadians so stupid that we cannot learn from history? The history of Europe is filled with tragic examples of appeasement. The politics of blackmail can't be met with appeasement. We appeased Quebec with the flag, with the Bilingual and Bicultural Commission, with the Official Languages Act. We appeased them when we discarded the word "Dominion"--a perfectly good English word. Few of us looked it up in the dictionary. We thought it smacked of domination, when in fact it means sovereign or supreme authority. And what is wrong with that? Autonomous communities, equal in status, and in no way subordinate one to another, united by a common allegiance to the Crown. The Crown--that's the rub. And so like immature and insecure children we cried, "Out with the Crown! Down with the Queen!" Appeasement again; and again.
We beat our breasts and intoned "Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa," when the problem in Quebec was of their own making. Like ostriches, we put our heads in the sand and hoped the problems would go away somehow. Complacent Canadians, we think we can save Confederation by spending vast sums of money and forever appease our mass delusions.
Are we losing the will to survive? Obtuse English-Canadians, we were once called by our Prime Minister. We're not obtuse. We're in one hell of an economic mess and we know it, plus the threat to national unity. Right the first and the second will fall into place. We're over our heads in debt and living on credit. We have the worst labour relations in the western world and the dollar is in the bottomless pit. While inflation gallops to two digits and massive unemployment cripples the economy, ~~ while colossal mismanagement by those crazies in Ottawa sinks us into astronomical debt, while blatant corruption becomes a sick joke in this country, we have been seduced into thinking that a new constitution will right the wrongs. Gullible Canadians belly up at the call of the Pied Piper. We passively watch the erosion of our individual liberties, placidly accept a secret trial. The secret trial in Montreal is something that should have ~: made every Canadian rise up in anger. Not one did except Pierre Berton.
We accept dictatorial powers, tapping, bugging, arrogant refusal of freedom of information. Yet let that human zoo on the Rideau wave the constitutional flag and cry, "Dump the Senate! Scrap the Queen! Stuff the Supreme Court!" and we wallow and swallow all that political swill. It's constitutional rape. You know it and I know it, and what are we going to do about it?
--Reform the Senate, don't dump it. Successive Prime Ministers have used the Senate as a retirement home for political hacks, tired politicians and money baggers. (I apologize to any Senator who may be here. If he is, he's not one of them!) Under the B.N.A. Act, the Senate was envisioned as a house of sober second thought. It has become a house of Frankenstein, with indexed pensions.
Scrap the Queen, indeed! We need the monarchy more now than we have ever done before. I, for one, want the Queen and not a political appointee as Head of State. She is above the political fray and the machinations of discredited political Judas Iscariots. She is a symbol of statehood. She is responsible, disciplined, gracious--virtues we would do well to emulate. Our Prime Minister finally got the message that he did not have the mandate nor the approval of the people of Canada to tamper with the Queen's place in Confederation. The Speech from the Throne last week went out of its way to assure us that the Queen was safe--for now, anyway. After an election, God only knows.
Eternal vigilance is the price we pay in democracy. Senator Eugene Forsey, one of the "good guys" in that Senate, made this comment: "The Prime Minister's constitutional proposals are subversive and an outrage against responsible government." Let's put that in our pipe and smoke it for a while.
The B.N.A. Act stipulates that changes in the Constitution must have the approval of provincial governments. The Prime Minister is not the sole arbiter on constitutional issues. He has no mandate to tell the premiers to stay out of the constitutional debate.
I have read the B.N.A. Act. It has served Canada well for over a hundred years and can do so for another hundred. Of course the Constitution should be brought home, but remember that it is Quebec that has consistently negated patriation, that has always insisted that it not be brought to Canada. But let's be suspicious of any radical change. And as for entrenching language rights in the Constitution, that would be an unmitigated disaster. If you think we are divided now, just wait till then. I am all for human rights and freedoms in the Constitution, although hopefully it won't be like the hypocrisy of the United Nations, where some members deny every human right to their citizens while ascribing to the U.N. code.
"Bilingualism is not the glue that will make this country stick together," said one Joe Clark not so long ago. (He's no longer Joe Who? He is Joe When.) An empty belly and no prospects of a job will never be cured by entrenching language rights in the Constitution. Sometimes I think constitutions are for the birds, or for idiots. Britain has never had a constitution and it has survived exceedingly well.
What is needed in Canada is statesmanlike leadership, courageous leadership to control the economy, to balance the budget, to pay off the horrendous debts, to stop the money printing presses, to call a halt to the spending spree and the indexed pensions. Our dollar has lost its credibility. We settled for a socialized welfare bureaucracy that we couldn't afford, and financed it by massive inflation. It now threatens to bury us. Our unemployment insurance to the tune of four billion dollars has become insurance plus welfare. The whole welfare system, shoved down the throats of the provinces in the years gone by is now such a hodge-podge of inefficient and inequitable payments that it should be completely scrapped and sensibly reorganized. My services are always available.
We desperately need leadership with the starched spine to tell us the sad economic facts, that we have borrowed to the hilt and printed money to pay for the borrowing, and that we cannot go on consuming more than we produce, that we cannot pile debt upon debt to pay for political giveaways, that government mismanagement and waste is at an end.
What a hot torrid story the Auditor General's report would make. I often wonder whether I should write a book on it. The title would be Sin, Scandal and Skin on the Rideau.
Changes in the Constitution can wait until the greater problem of the economy is solved, and until Quebeckers decide what they want. The present Constitution is adequate until there is a consensus in Quebec and in the rest of Canada for a change.
Canadians have been apathetic for so long, but they are slowly waking up. Their pocket books are now involved. Their standard of living is threatened. Their Queen, who they have always loved, now finds herself mimicked and sometimes insulted. Many ordinary folk admire her courage and dedication. She doesn't stoop to boorish antics or vulgar body language. These people are asking themselves, why should they give up their cherished traditions? They don't want a republic, nor do they trust a politically-appointed Governor General.
There is a grass-roots swell of response to government excesses: devalued currency and enforced bilingualism. The adrenalin is flowing in the people. They are concerned, they are afraid, they are uneasy. They are speaking their mind. I saw some buttons saying, "The national debt is a disgrace." Canadians want their country to stop borrowing and pay its debts. They know instinctively, even though they are not economists, that capital follows confidence. The poor perplexed longsuffering taxpayer is being bled to death by the bureaucrats with fat salaries and indexed pensions and he knows it. He is howling in anger. It's the beginning of change.
Will Ottawa have ears to hear, hearts to understand, and the intestinal fortitude to change? Will they have the good sense to put constitutional reform on the back burner until our greater problems of the economy are solved? Our dollar is impoverishing us all. Will the government have the vision to stop meddling in the private sector, buying up efficient and profitable operations and running them into the ground? And that's all paid for by you and me. It's an ode to idiocy, to federal stupidity. Have they learned their lesson? Only God and Pierre know for sure.
I am an unashamed, unabashed chauvinist, a demonstrative patriot. I'm a monarchist and proud of it. I make no apologies. My father was an immigrant who pulled himself up by the bootstraps, from shovel and wheelbarrow to bulldozer and crane. He incessantly extolled the wonders of a country that had given him the opportunity to succeed. He passed that passionate love on to his children. When, as children, we came to him and told him that our French and English playmates were calling us names, he would say, "I'm the Wop. You're Canadians and don't forget it, and don't let anybody ever call you anything else." He would turn in his grave if he could see what Canadians are doing to Canadians today and to his beloved country.
But I am a cockeyed optimist with a rainbow round my shoulders, and I know that Canadians will land on their feet. This country will survive, God willing and Pierre leaving. Canadians must rededicate themselves to nation-building. Who will lead us out of the wilderness into the promised land?
The appreciation of the audience was expressed by Mr. Joseph H. Potts, C.D., Q.C., a Past President of The Empire Club of Canada.