Prior article 'Who were we'
Previously in exploring the question of Canadian identity in the modern age, I looked to the past. In doing this, I sought to discover ‘who we were’. However, determining ‘who we are’ in the current year is a more challenging task. As discussed prior, the essence of Canada is the rejection of America, although the precise meaning of ‘not American’ has changed with time. Historically, Canada’s rejection of Americanism meant that Canada was a culturally conservative, statist nation interested in the collective good. In the modern era, anti-Americanism has come to mean being more liberal than America, an idea finding root in the misguided conception that America is ‘conservative’. These modern events have fulfilled George Grant’s prophecy, spelt out in the pages of “Lament for a Nation”, wherein he argues that Canada’s assimilation by the American corpus was inevitable, and has rendered Canada evermore American.
If, as Grant says, the passing of the Canadian nation is to be lamented, what then is the purpose of Canada? Canada was conceived as a home for those within North America who rejected the revolutionary ideologies emerging from the United States, a home for those who placed loyalty and stability above revolution. Thus, the colonies of British North America were forged together out of common purpose; the desire to not be amalgamated into the American mass. However, modern Canada appears to have abandoned its anchoring principles, its attempts to be ‘not American’, paradoxically driving Canada further into the maw of American liberalism. The modern Canadian politician incorrectly conceives of America as a ‘conservative’ state, thus they endeavour to be ‘not American’ by becoming more liberal, a path that pushes Canada into further Americanization. Perhaps the best evidence of Canada’s modern Americanization is Canada’s adoption of American-style constitutionalism and judicial systems, an event that has dramatically accelerated social liberalization in the country.
No longer is there a solid sense of Canadian identity being the rejection of the American, even in the superficial sense that was so pervasive in the 80s and 90s. Hence our leaders on both sides of the spectrum prove their spiritual, if not explicit, Americanism, incapable of providing a full chested defence of Canada’s existence.
That being said, it would be myopic to assert that the political elites of Canada are honestly engaged in attempts to distinguish Canada from the United States. A de facto neo-liberal mono-party has dominated Canada since the defeat of Diefenbaker in 1963. Though in truth, even ‘63 was merely the last gasp of a conservative movement that had long lost foundations and its beliefs. The Canadian liberal has always been a 5th column within Canada pursuing the interests of America. The seditious nature of this group perhaps best highlighted in their meek obeisance to Kennedy during Diefenbaker’s tenure, wherein the liberals changed their policy position from opposing the imposition of nuclear arms to supporting them, in an attempt to humiliate the leader of their nation. Such allegiance to a foreign power can be seen as far back as the merchants of Montreal in the Annexation Manifesto of 1849. The monied interests of Canada, then centred in Montreal, begged for American annexation of their homeland. These monied classes would later migrate to Toronto, becoming the wealthy financial interests who would backstab Diefenbaker at his most desperate hour. In more recent history, one can look to the antics of Trudeau Sr, who implemented American constitutionalism and judicial rule within Canada. Trudeau marketed himself at each turn as a ‘Canadian Nationalist’ while he sold Canada and Canadians down the river in pursuit of his neo-liberal utopia.
Canadians find themselves adrift. Modern Canada lacks a foundation to define itself as it is no longer capable of drawing upon the rich, classically conservative tradition of John A Macdonald and his peers. Canadians on both sides of the political aisle attempt to draw from the increasingly parched well of neo-liberalism and find it wanting. No longer is there a solid sense of Canadian identity being the rejection of the American, even in the superficial sense that was so pervasive in the 80s and 90s. Hence our leaders on both sides of the spectrum prove their spiritual, if not explicit, Americanism, incapable of providing a full chested defence of Canada’s existence.
No doubt to the despair of many Canadians, Trudeau's own famous ‘postnational state’ quip is perhaps the most honest assessment of modern Canada. He asserts that there is “no core identity, no mainstream in Canada. There are shared values — openness, respect, compassion, willingness to work hard, to be there for each other, to search for equality and justice. Those qualities are what make us the first postnational state.” Trudeau here provides a list of meaningless platitudes. The values in this list are indistinguishable from those of any other western polity: it applies as uniquely to Canada as it does to Belgium.
Modern Pan-Canadian identity is found in performative consumption. To be a Modern Canadian is merely to consume Tim Hortons, to wear the branding of your local ‘Canadian’ sports team.
Some will ask the question: why ‘not’ America? What is wrong with the assimilation of Canada into the American corpus? If Canada was founded as the rejection of Americanism, then on what grounds was Americanism rejected? Despite modern conceptions of America as a deeply conservative, religious nation, America remains a liberal project. The philosophy inspiring its founding documents and actions are drawn from the liberal thought of enlightenment philosophers. This legacy is perhaps best encapsulated in the modern American conservative, who, when pressed, may style himself a ‘classical liberal’: an ode to the foundation of his ideology. Thus the historical arc of institutional America has been a consistent rejection or subversion of tradition. The United States is fundamentally liberal, eschewing hierarchy, stability, and tradition for permanent revolution. Tradition, or as Chesterton would phrase it, ‘the democracy of the dead’, is merely baggage to be discarded. Rather than understanding tradition as a heuristic system for passing on efficient social and cultural technologies, the American views tradition as a ball and chain inhibiting movement towards the destiny of tomorrow. It is, by the very nature of its founding, a revolutionary nation.
What then became of the American Imperium? Its assertions to ideological supremacy are undermined by decreasing quality of life not only in its furthest reaches but in its very heartland. Opioid epidemics, stagnating wages, and rising costs of living all combine to turn the modern western worker into a permanent rentee, living paycheck to paycheck and under increasing debt. It is a system more reminiscent of old feudal arrangements than of the American Dream, with far fewer obligations put upon the rent collectors. To top it off, one sees China increasingly asserting itself in opposition to American hegemony.
America was able to emerge supreme from its conflicts with European Fascism and later with Russian Communism via the incredible brute strength of its productive economy. The States sustained the Russians through the majority of the second world war with endless shipments of supplies while the Russian people bore the brunt of the fighting. It later overwhelmed the resource-starved Fascists through the use of inferior but far more numerous military assets. This was a conquest that would come to solidify American hegemony within the European sphere. Later the American Imperium confronted its eastern rival in the Soviet Union. Rather than face them directly in a nuclear conflict, the USSR was brought to its knees by process of economic isolation and containment, sustained again by the behemoth of the American economy.
Yet now, American manufactories have all been exported. Low-cost labour buoyed by cheap transportation costs has proven far more attractive than the incessant corporate tax cuts offered by American elites in the 20th and 21st centuries. We can now observe a superpower negotiating its decline. The backbone of its hegemony has been hollowed in pursuit of extravagant wealth for the rare few and propped up by the ever poorer worker within the various provinces of the American Imperium. The American Empire finds itself incapable or unwilling to provide the necessary infrastructure to its impoverished regions, where instances of rolling blackouts and communities with no access to water increasingly populate the news cycle.
In asking ‘who are we’ I find myself hard-pressed to offer a definitive answer. Modern Pan-Canadian identity is found in performative consumption. To be a Modern Canadian is merely to consume Tim Hortons, to wear the branding of your local ‘Canadian’ sports team. It cannot be asserted nowadays that we are genuinely distinct from America: be it in matters of fashion, music, televised media, or news, our cultural consumption is primarily American in nature and origin. Our attentions are drawn to the political affairs of our imperial capital to the south. All that remains of our hollowed identity are smug gloats over our healthcare and safe cities, both of which ring increasingly hollow in the face of decreasing health outcomes and increasing urban violence.
That is not to imply that distinct and real identities do not exist within Canada; however, ‘Pan-Canadian Culture’ is dictated by the metropolis of this nation, namely Toronto and Montreal. The regional cultures and identities of Canada still exist as they have always existed. The people of Newfoundland continue to hold to their roots and the seasonal flow of fish. In the rural peripheries of Alberta, one can still find pioneer days and tractor parades. Within Quebec, beyond the clutches of Montreal, there is still a great deal of Quebecois culture and provincial pride to be found. Consequently, what emerges is the serious divide between the urbane and the rural, a divide that has come to define much of modern western conflict, be it cultural, economic or political. However, as things stand the ‘cultural’ identity of Canada is dictated by the urbane elites of eastern Canada’s metropolis, who, being ensconced in the throes of liberalism find themselves compelled to render the periphery into the same essence as the capital. No doubt each region of this nation will increasingly come to experience identity as corporate consumption in much the same fashion it has manifested in Ontario.
In this light, it is essential to remember that Canada is not America. This has been the foundation upon which this nation was founded, even before its ratification on paper. The founding course of Canada has fallen away as the towering shadow of American Liberalism has subsumed us. The American will to liberalism erases all distinction that would stand in the way of markets and ‘liberty.’ While Canadian identity in the 21st century may be increasingly hollow as we continue to depart from our roots, that vacuum cannot, in turn, be filled with Americanism. The endpoint of American liberalism becomes more apparent with each passing day, as the working people are wrung dry for the interests of an increasingly select elite. This impoverishment of entire classes of people is a symptom of late-stage liberalism, a state of affairs that can only worsen if unchecked. Thus, Canada stands at a crossroads: is she to keel over and submit to the decaying bulk of America; or will she turn to the classically conservative ideas that prompted her fierce persistence despite all odds?