A NATION OF VILLAGERS © David Watts 02/05/2010

Canada is a country whose name means “village.” This is a good description of who we are, and what we offer the world.

In most municipal régimes a village occupies a place midway between a hamlet and a town.

A hamlet is an ad hoc cluster of only a few homes, unincorporated, with or without a post office.

A town has a developed structure and hierarchy: usually a mayor and council with regularly scheduled meetings, a self-sustaining bureaucracy and a set order of deference and seniority.

A village is a community with a discernible sense of itself, and responsibilities to its members. It has a defined leadership with accountability.

What this is called may vary. In parts of the world it may be a chief or headman, elsewhere a reeve, chair, or first magistrate. And there will be at least a couple of advisors or councilors on whom the head may lean for support.

What other officials there are may be few, and accountable enough that they do not have a life or agenda of their own. Their reason for being is the community of which they are all a part, that they see and with whom they rub shoulders every day.

Now in its size and internal structure, Canada clearly does not compare to this simple model. But in spirit many Canadians still expect of government and country what villagers do.

They expect rudimentary justice and civil protection. They look for leadership initiatives in education and social services.

But villagers are not taken with elaborate schemes that go on for decades and extend out of sight. They expect the schemers and dreams to stand on their own feet, even if they don’t mind giving them a break to start out.

Mega-schemes and projects are something else. Villagers do not allow the wiggle room for carpetbaggers to sell big games and conventions and then disappear leaving citizens with the bill.

Any reeve or councillor involved in something like that—even if they could get away with it—would not have to wait three years to face the voters. He or she would be lynched or tarred and feathered as soon as the game became apparent.

Now what are the ways in which Canada, a nation of 30 million spread over half a continent, can claim to be a village in spirit, rather than a town or city?

First, because we are spread out, we do not have the density of population in one spot that can dominate the whole. We have no London, Paris, Vienna or Rome to which the rest is hinterland.

Our cities may try to dominate regions: Winnipeg in Manitoba, Vancouver in BC and Toronto in Ontario. But they cannot call the shots for the entire country.

This reflects in minority governments and even when we have majorities in Parliament, these are in fact coalitions. There will always be enough “odd men out” that a government must take into account and not take for granted.

We may grant more latitude to some leaders if they learn the art of balancing different interests. King and Macdonald both did that. But we don’t entrench dictators.

Our most charismatic leaders, Trudeau and Diefenbaker, Laurier and Macdonald, all experienced defeat. Those who won the biggest majorities were cut down to size the next time around. Those who set out trying to build a control—well, look at our current PM who remains at 34% support.

There are other ways Canada is more like a village than a town or city. We do not have a single dominant culture any more than a single language or party. Those who equate Canadian culture with showcases of a national ballet, opera or symphony are a small percentage of the population.

This does not mean Canadians are boorish or uncultured. It means that Canadian culture is a regional culture: the collective strengths of a string of villages spread across the country. Any attempt at a Canadian cultural policy must begin with and build on this, not bypass it.

It follows that any individual, party strategist or organization that tries to gain ascendancy by pitting one part of the country against another in a “culture war” is ultimately working against the very fabric of the country—our nature as a Nation of Villages—and destined to fail.

Canada also reflects the truth that “it takes a village to raise a child.” We do that.

While education is a provincial responsibility and social services may be local or provincial, Canadians share a commitment to raise our children in an enriched and secure environment, and this takes more than “every family for itself” supplemented with a tax rebate.

It takes child care as well as home parenting. It takes culture as well as law enforcement. It takes athletics as well as public works, national parks as well as parking lots. And it takes transport and communications networks to keep us in touch and informed.

It was a Canadian thinker on communications who coined the phrase “global village.” He was not speaking specifically about Canada but his description applies here.

As long as Canadians cultivate the type of community we’ve described, and keep doors and borders open to our fellow human beings, we mirror the diversity of Planet Earth in our own place.

There is no One Right Way to do this, only a Right Attitude to each other and the task before us.

A community that responds to its members and evolves with them. That does not allow any one or opinion to dominate. That shares responsibility for rising children in a green and pleasant land

—this makes Canada a Nation of Villages and Villagers in a global village of a vibrant planet.