A NATION OF NURTURERS © David Watts 25/05/2010

What some deride as “the nanny state,” is a strength of our being: Canada is a Nation of Nurturers.

From collective responsibility for elders by First Nations, the institutions founded in New France, British-type social democracy of the CCF, NDP, even Social Credit, to our current system of public health, social assistance and pensions, caring for each other is part of the Canadian character..

Canada has had a continuing feminine influence in its evolution, in contrast to a more competitive, every-man-for-himself part of some other cultures including our nearest neighbour and trade partner.

In some of our First Nations it was the women who chose the chiefs from among the men.

The founders of the social structure of New France, who made it more than a trading or military post, were women. So too were the Five who led social and political reform in Western Canada.

Two thirds of the years since Confederation, and for 50% of the years since the shift to British colonial administration, Canada has had a woman as its international Head of State. This was significant, as the political leaders of western countries were exclusively male during this period.

Though she never set foot here, Queen Victoria has had a more lasting influence in Canada than in Britain, as her long reign spanned the years our country became self-governing. Her maternal role was seen by Chief Crowfoot in the arrival of the North West Mounted Police, when he said:

“The redcoats of the Great Mother protect us as a bird covers her fledglings with her wings.”

Crowfoot was himself a brave warrior. He was speaking of men who had made a long march west.

Seen this way, having women as our last two Governors General is no new departure but continuing the model of the Great White Mother—though neither is white, one being Haitian, and one Chinese.

While exemplified by women, these nurturing qualities are not gender limited but an essential part of our humanity. When we lose this balance and polarize, we all—men, women and children—suffer.

Consider our conduct in war. In World War II Prime Minister Mackenzie King was seen as “weak” and “vacillating” for his refusal to force conscription on Québec, In the First World War PM Robert Borden was considered “womanish” for his anguish at the suffering of Canadian soldiers overseas.

The qualities of compassion and vulnerability are not Liberal or Conservative, socialist or free enterprise, any more than they are male or female.

It is noteworthy that the person voted “the Greatest Canadian” in a CBC television poll was Tommy Douglas, the preacher turned politician who gave Saskatchewan and Canada public health care.

Douglas stands in the tradition of Jeanne Mance who built the first hospital in the New World, two Maries and two Marguerites, and countless unnamed others, women and men, who followed her.

These were some of the heroes, along with the Madeleine de Verchères and the Dollard Desormeaux, that Adolphe-Basile Routhier had in mind when he penned the words to “O Canada.”

As these women and men defended forts as well as tending those in and outside them, Tommy Douglas, a champion Bantam boxer, was able to handle opponents deftly and compassionately.

Safeguarding this heritage, as much as any real or imagined external threat, is what it means to “stand on guard for thee.”