HOW CAN WE BUILD A NATION?
AN ADDRESS BY M. JEAN-CHARLES HARVEY
Chairman: The President, Dr. F. A. Gaby
Thursday, January 11, 1940
CHAIRMAN: Gentlemen: It is indeed a privilege and a pleasure to introduce such an outstanding guest as the speaker of the day, Mr. Jean-Charles Harvey, who has taken such a great interest in the vital matter of national unity. Mr. Harvey's contributions in this respect have been of primary importance and have been highly commented upon in the press of Canada. Even Miss Judith Robinson, our inimitable Toronto critic, has paid special attention to his latest effort, as recently as Tuesday.
We find Mr. Harvey a champion of bilingualism, advocating the earlier teaching of the English language in the French schools. He appreciates, no doubt, the great importance of our brother Canadians being amply equipped to deal with national and domestic matters. This does not deter him from insisting on the maintenance of French culture in his own province, and recommending it to others.
Mr. Harvey has been a journalist for twenty-three years, and has a number of books also to his credit, chief of which is perhaps "Sackcloth for Banner".
Since September of 1937, Mr. Harvey has been Editor and Director of the weekly paper, Le Jour, of Montreal, a newspaper which is known throughout Canada for its effective endeavours in the cause of true unity in Canada. We are singularly fortunate in having as our guest-speaker today, Mr. Jean-Charles Harvey, and we welcome him most heartily on his return visit to us. Mr. Harvey will speak on the subject, "How Can We Build a Nation?" (Applause)
MR. JEAN-CHARLES HARVEY: It is a great honour for me to be asked to appear again before this organization, particularly since I have been requested to discuss still further some of the problems which today face Canada as a nation. I do not propose to deal with bygones. I think that in this stage of our development we ought to concern ourselves more with the present and the future, since all that we do or leave undone now may be of far-reaching consequence.
Mind you, I do not say we should overlook the great lessons of the past. Canada's future ought to be, in a sense, a projection of the work performed so heroically by the founders of a new world.
Unfortunately, we find that after three centuries of white civilization in our land that, while our material progress has been tremendous, we have a great deal still to do before we can say we have set up the nation our ancestors envisioned.
Now, I am not here to preach the sort of nationalism we think of when we look at events in Europe. When I see how much blood and agony are wasted in the name of nationality on that continent, I am inclined to believe that we might better forget all about nationalism in this world. Then I remembered that the men who built this North America of ours hoped and intended to establish here not only a nationality but a nation in which all men would be welcome for what they were, rather than for the language they happened to speak or the church they happened to attend.
Unless we can look forward to a time when racial passion shall have disappeared from Canada, then the future we have to work for is not worth bothering very much about. Unless we can remember the ideal the founders of North American white civilization had before their eyes when they framed the Constitutions of this Dominion and of the United States, we must condemn our children and our children's children to live in an atmosphere constantly darkening.
Nationalism, as I see it in our day, is a carry-over from fears and prejudices developed during the centuries when communications were poor. People who lived on one side of a river or a mountain chain had no contact with those on the other side. The unknown is always terrifying, or at least strange.
Men climb to power over other men by playing upon their fears, their needs, their greed, their pride, their hopes. Leaders of men, when they are in danger of being called to account for their own sins of omission and o£ commission, have always found an easy way out by conjuring up some enemy against whom to direct the discontent of their own people. International trouble is almost invariably the result of internal trouble neglected.
William James, in his book on psychology, says you cannot get rid of a bad habit until you form a good new one to put in its place. We shall not rid ourselves of the evils of present-day nationalism until we engender a new ideal of nationalism and replace it.
North America, with the highest standard of living on earth, the most fully-developed systems of transport and communication, the presence of a comparatively well-educated population, is surely the one place above all where a new concept of nationality can be developed. We have all the facilities we need to know each other. You can travel from Halifax to Vancouver, now, in a day and a half. You can pick up the telephone and talk to anybody anywhere on this continent. Newspapers from every Canadian city are available in all other Canadian cities. We all live in houses of the same general kind, we listen to the same radio programmes, we eat the same foods, we walk on the same kinds of pavement in cities which are as like as two peas. (I don't speak of Montreal and Toronto.)
What is it that still keeps us from agreeing on practically every subject of mutual interest?
Tradition. Outworn, imported traditions from overseas, and fears deliberately cultivated in us by leaders whose influences depends upon their skilful exploitation of our weaknesses.
There are many Canadians who would like to see more "European civilization" in Canada. We have been trained from childhood to feel somewhat ashamed of our "colonialism". We are told our voices are rough, our accents are not "fawncy" enough to suit the fastidious. We are just a pack of ignorant barbarians, and there is no hope for us except in so far as we may become Europeanized. We have had this attitude drummed into us for years.
Now, there are some fine things in Europe. Civilizations over there have done much for the human race. But their very age is against them today.
We must go on where Europe has left off: we must strive to preserve the essential good in European qualities, but it is even more important for us to abandon a concept of life which leads inevitably, every couple of decades, to wars, depressions and revolutions.
It is because I have in my heart a clear vision of what Canada can be that I have dedicated myself to merciless warfare upon all efforts to divide Canadians against each other on racial, religious, geographical, social or other lines. I know the individuals and groups who preach division all do so in the name of holy causes-either ideological or economic-but I know, too, that their fanaticism in pursuit of their ideals is sowing for their children and ours the seeds of future wretchedness.
Do not understand me to say that I advocate the suppression of the individual rights and qualities of our various Canadian groups. It is the very opposite I seek. A Canada uniform from coast to coast, where every man thought and spoke like every other man would be a dismal country to live in. I do not want all men to be alike; what I want is for all men to realize that we have the right to be different, and be united. (Applause)
Here, in Canada, we have fortunately inherited the two greatest modern cultures on earth: the French and the English. To them we are adding smaller transfusions from other civilizations. Gradually, if we are sensible about our assets and frank about our liabilities, we could draw upon all these blood-streams for the ingredients of a civilization better than anyone else. Even if we did not incorporate all these assets into our national fabric, we might at least ground our development upon the premises that there is good in all of them, and that they are all welcome here, that they will sooner respect us and conform to our ways of life if we do not treat them as oddities and intrusions.
In a world where everything is tending to become rigid, Canada and the rest of North America must make a stand for flexibility. Where nations are waging bloody battle to enforce set ideologies upon each other, we must take the attitude, and maintain it, that Canada, as a North American nation, cannot follow Europe into any cast-iron authoritarian system which ignores the dignity and freedom of the individual. First of all, the centre of our affections and our ambitions should not be in the old world, but in Canada.
Here I should like to offer you an extract from The Political Destiny of Canada, by Goldwin Smith, published in 1878. He said:
"When the Canadian Nationalists say that patriotism is a good thing, they are told to keep their wisdom for the copy-books; and the rebuke would be just if those who administer it would recognize the equally obvious truth that there can be no patriotism without nationality. In a dependency there is no love of the country, no pride in the country; if an appeal is made to the name of the country, no heart responds as the heart of an Englishman responds when an appeal is made in the name of England. In a dependency every bond is stronger than that of country, every interest prevails over that of the country. The province, the sect, Orangeism, Fenianism, Freemasonry, Oddfellowship, are more to the ordinary Canadian than Canada. So it must be, while the only antidote to sectionalism in a population with strongly marked differences of race and creed is the sentiment of allegiance to a distant throne. The young Canadian leaving his native country to seek his fortune in the States feels no greater wrench than a young Englishman would feel in leaving his country to seek his fortune in London. Want of nationality is attended, too, with a certain want of self-respect, not only political but social, as writers on colonial society and character have observed. Wealthy men in a dependency are inclined to look to the Imperial country as the social centre and the mark of their social ambition, if not as their ultimate abode, and not only their patriotic munificence but their political and social services are withdrawn from the country of their birth."
That is the end of a statement written in 1878.
Since then Canada's strength, Canada's status and Canada's attitude toward the world have changed tremendously. Little more than twenty years after Goldwin Smith published his estimate of Canadian nationality, the young Dominion participated in an Imperial War in South Africa. Within less than another twenty years, we raised, trained, equipped and sent overseas the greatest army which had ever crossed an ocean in all history.
Our new status, consecrated in the blood of young Canadians at the cost of near-bankruptcy for our young nation, was recognized on the eleventh day of December, 1931, when, with the passage of the Statute of Westminster, we became a sovereign state.
If we agreed to co-operate in this present war, we did so not because we were automatically involved as a subject state but because our new freedom strengthened rather than weakened the British tie to the extent that we were ready to assume voluntarily the colossal burden of another participation in Europe's quarrels, believing that the preservation of the British Commonwealth was worth one more tremendous effort on our part.
Our young men have earned for Canada the status of nationhood. And we owe it to them to make that status more than a legal formula. We owe it to them to build here, in the country for which they died twenty years ago and for which they are dying again, a national spirit worthy of the magnitude of their sacrifice. We have paid so dearly for nationhood that we have earned the real thing, not just a parchment.
More than idealism is involved in the principle that Canada must develop a new kind of nationalism. It is a matter of plain common sense. There is no such thing in this Dominion as a clear cut majority of any one racial origin. It may surprise you to learn that of some eleven million people in Canada, only five million are of Anglo-Saxon descent; and to get that figure of five million you must group together all Canadians of English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh descent. There are three million, five hundred thousand Canadians of French origin, and there are two million five hundred thousand Canadians who are of neither English nor French descent.
If the so-called original Canadians--those of English and French origin-were one autonomous group, it might be a simple matter for them to absorb the two million five hundred thousand men, women and children, whose traditions are not those of the groups which naturally speak the two official languages, but as it is we have too many to absorb them.
I remind you of it today because I believe the sooner we all recognize the true state of affairs in Canada, the sooner we shall adopt realistic policies rather than ineffectual expedients grounded on wishful thinking. That important fact is that the five million Canadians of Anglo-Saxon descent, though they still control the economic life of the Dominion, are not a homogeneous group and do not see eye to eye even among themselves on many Canadian problems.
On the other hand, the three million, five hundred thousand Canadians of French descent are to all intents and purposes a unit. They speak one language, they belong to one church, they have an uninterrupted tradition of North Americanism three hundred years old, they have a literature, a music and an art all their own, they have a high birth rate and, in the main, they are adherents of one political party. While they are not powerful enough, economically, to impose upon the Dominion the policies they want, they are powerful enough numerically to block the adoption of any policy they do not like. Not only are they strong enough to do this but they have done it more than once.
On the other hand, as we all saw in the last provincial election in Quebec, they are always ready and willing to co-operate for the interests of the nation as a whole, provided the appeal to do so is made to them in the name of Canada. This, I am afraid, is more than can be claimed for powerful elements in the so-called Anglo-Saxon group. Let us face the situation squarely as it is. The last provincial election in Quebec and the two subsequent federal by-elections were votes favourable to Canadian unity. They were also votes approving participation, but not unlimited participation, in the war. Quebec is as anxious as any other part of Canada to see dictatorship in Europe destroyed, but not if the price is to be destruction of Canada and the establishment of another kind of dictatorship here. The votes in our recent Quebec elections were votes for the principle of justice, fair play and compromise between groups in Canada. Quebec's attitude in these elections must be met by an equally broad attitude on the part of English-speaking Canadians, and I hope it will be so.
We have got to realize, all of us, that our participation in the World War is going to bring about changes in this country which will still further complicate our national problems, and it is the reason why we must work more than ever for unity.
As a result of the investment of millions of dollars of European and American money in Canada during this war, we must expect a vast industrial development, which will certainly bring hundreds of thousands of immigrants to our shores as soon as the war is over. The men who bring this money are going to bring their own industrial methods and, to a certain extent, their own employees. This we cannot prevent, since we simply have not the population to fill the jobs which are going to be created here during the next five years. Industry must have trained workers and Canada, notwithstanding the comparatively high level of education in some of its provinces, has unfortunately trained too many white-collar workers to fill the requirements of the type of industrial development we embarked upon when we decided to become the workshop of the Allies.
Under our Constitution, education is and must be a matter for the provinces. However undesirable this may seem in theory to some of us, it is the one principle in the British North America Act which the largest homogeneous group in this country will never allow to be changed. Any improvement of education in French-speaking Canada must be made by the people concerned. Attempts to dictate from outside what those changes are to be will serve only to strengthen opposition to all reform.
The only possible solution I can see to this dilemma is a drawing together forthwith of the 3,500,000 Frenchspeaking Canadians and the 5,000,000 English-speaking Canadians to evolve a modus vivendi in those fields where we can act as a unit. We must lay the basis of an all-Canadian civilization strong enough to assimilate, not only the 2,500,000 so-called foreigners we have now, but the many thousands more who are to come here.
We cannot afford to forget the lesson of the United States. They, too, had two distinct civilizations between which no agreement seemed possible: that of the North and of the Ohio Valley, industrial, aggressive, materialistic, like that of our so-called "English" provinces; that of the South, traditionalist, slow-moving, feudal, like that of the French-speaking Canadians. Came the wave of immigration and the expansion of foreign trade, with their inevitable changes and dislocations, and the two civilizations leaped at each others' throats in the bloodiest war in North American history. Not until after that war did the Americans unite and take control after a fashion of their own evolution; even now it is hard to say which element came out on top-authentic Americanism or the influence of the migrants.
Immediately after the last provincial election in Quebec, realizing that in that campaign the French-speaking Canadians had definitely affirmed their desire to co-operate closely with the rest of the nation, some of my friends came to me and suggested that we should establish an organization which might be the means of uniting all Canadians in a new nationhood. We do not want to see perpetrated here, in virtually identical circumstances, the disunion which provoked the American Civil War.
We knew, as you all know, that Canadian confederation was the outgrowth of that war in the United States-was an attempt made by Canadian leaders at that time to prevent such a thing happening here. In some respects Confederation has succeeded. In others, it has failed. Its chief failure has been that it has not yet succeeded in creating a truly national spirit in Canada.
Now, we have got to make up our minds that we can have such a national spirit only on a basis of compromise. You will never persuade or force the 3,500,000 French speaking Canadians to give up their language, their religion, their schools and their customs. You will never persuade or force 5,000,000 English-speaking Canadians to give up their language, their democratic tradition or their system of non-denominational education. And you cannot, without impoverishing our civilization, force 2,500,000 new Canadians to throw overboard all the characteristics and qualities they have brought with them onto Canadian soil.
What Canada must do--and this cannot be done by law--is develop a new, purely Canadian mentality, adjustable to all those various national personalities without destroying their distinctive characteristics. There is room for them all to fit in, provided the 8,500,000 first-comers can agree among themselves upon a common basis of co-operation. Between now and the end of the war we must learn to unite or agree to see ourselves overwhelmed by uncontrolled forces.
The task we have set ourselves is not an easy one. What we have in mind cannot be accomplished by passing a few resolutions backed only by wishful thinking.
We have drawn up tentatively a few specific objectives which I lay before you now:
1. To group Canadians of all origins-English, French, Scottish, Irish, German, Italian, Ukranian, Russian, Scandinavian, Jewish, Dutch, Swiss and the rest-in one single classification;
2. To accustom Canadians to think first in terms of the nation so that they may fully and properly treasure their title to Canadian citizenship. Every inhabitant of this Dominion ought to be able to say, "I am a Canadian" with no narrowing qualifications, just as Americans are able to say with pride and assurance, "I am an American and nothing else!";
3. To apply powerful weapons of propaganda and persuasion until all movements tending to align one Canadian group against another have been destroyed;
4. To wage war upon all tendencies toward separatism and isolation, using both the spoken and written word;
5. To use all practical means which will stimulate closer contacts between Canadians of various languages, faiths and origins;
6. To spread bilingualism, not only in and by means of legislation but through educational circles as well;
7. To strive, with the assistance of the authorities and of private organizations, for a free exchange of professors and teachers between the provinces;
8. To organize summer camps where children of various origins may live together two months in every year, learning each others' languages and characteristics;
9. To stimulate Canada's internal tourist trade, so Canadians may learn to know their own country better than they do. Many Canadians are better aquainted now with France, England and Florida than they are with their own land.
10. To exert influence, in order to secure the enactment of unifying legislation and the repeal of disruptive statutes;
11. To stress educational questions so that certain textbooks common to the nation as a whole may be used uniformly in all provinces. A uniform Canadian history and another text to aid the development of a Pan-Canadian spirit. We need urgently some textbooks of that kind.
12. To uphold our democratic ideals against all comers, since only in the maintenance of democracy can we conform to the North American concept of life and maintain all our liberties;
13. To educate the masses and apply pressure toward the maintenance of the power and prestige of the Central government, since that government alone is the bond of Canadian unity and it alone upholds the Great Charter of our freedom;
14. To summon to general conference, once a year, representatives from all groups and all provinces, as well as all citizens who desire the growth of a single nation, one and indivisible.
French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians have perhaps their last chance, during this war, to take the leadership in a movement of good understanding out of which we can develop an edifice of our own powerful enough to dominate our future.
There is going on now in Europe a. death struggle between the Capitalist-Democratic-Christian system and the champions of what the revolutionaries call "The World of the Future". Canada which of its own free will has just stationed itself at the crossroads, must on that account necessarily suffer the full consequences of the war. Our Allies will get the upper hand, but they will emerge from the holocaust with their social, political and economic organizations fundamentally altered.
Are we strong enough and united enough to force those who will come to us to fit themselves into Canadian life?
I do not believe we are now. But I do believe we can be.
If enough Canadians share my faith, they will sink their personal preferences and prejudices, and join us in the great task of recreating on Canadian soil a great, respected and powerful nation. (Hearty applause)
CHAIRMAN: Gentlemen: We are much indebted to our guest today for the excellent address, and his presentation of the case of the national spirit for Canada. I believe he has voiced the sentiments of all our loyal citizens who are looking forward to a greater Canada which will take its natural position in future world affairs. The freedom of speech and action to other nationals within our limits must be an excellent object lesson in which to teach what our democracy means, in this country.
I am expressing, I am sure, the sentiments and views of 'those present when I say that we most heartily welcome this splendid and inspiring talk on how we can build a nation. I, therefore, on your behalf, extend to our guest speaker our hearty appreciation and thanks for this excellent address.