CANADA, OPPORTUNITY TO BE HUMAN © David Watts
Canadian Specific ®
Canada is a gathering of Earth’s peoples, thinly spread through the northern half of a continent, in one of Earth’s last largely unpeopled areas.
It brings together
the durable pragmatism of the British
the flair, culture and passion of the French
the enthusiasm and enterprise of the Americans
along with many others, more recently come from around the world
to a land held unspoiled for millennia by First Nations to whom we’re now turning, belatedly, for advice.
Canada is enriched by all of these
and is not restricted by any of them.
Instead we’ve drawn on their gifts to build a new type of society.
Our neighbour to the south was another such experiment.
Fired by ideals, favoured with resources and fuelled by the enterprise of immigrants to whom it offered unequalled opportunity, it developed a new culture, economy and state to become the world’s superpower.
Canada has been a very different kind of undertaking.
It’s as if a celestial baker rolled out the dough of North America, cut and baked one half as the United States, and held the other half in reserve to see how the first loaf would turn out before shaping a second one. The result:
Canada was held together by accommodation rather than by ideals.
We have never had a single Canadian culture or way of doing things.
Instead of an economy driven by individual initiative, we built our country on paternalism—corporate paternalism by monopolies such as the Hudson’s Bay Company and the C.P.R., and state paternalism of governments and Crown corporations.
We have never called ourselves a union, feeling that would be too much of a straitjacket.
Until less than 100 years ago we were suspicious of the word “democracy.”
And rather than upset our careful balance in choosing one of our own as Head of State, we’ve used the historic symbol of an overseas multicultural monarchy to dignify the deeds of an old boys’ club of homegrown politicians.
We called this arrangement a Dominion. Under it we developed a number of firsts:
We were the first modern state to emerge without revolution or civil war.
While other New World colonies reveled in religious intolerance, we offered the first full co-equality of Roman Catholics and Protestants in the world.
We developed something called “responsible government”—control of the executive by the legislature—before the government in Britain did. Then…
We subverted our legislatures into elected dictatorships controlled by first ministers, many of whom we kept in office longer than kings and despots.
We gave the New World its first taste of democratically elected socialism.
We developed the first synthesis of parliamentary government and federalism, then of an entrenched Charter of Rights and Freedoms with a legislative override clause.
Out of this concoction, we’ve been the first state built up by technology that is not run a technological mind.
In a word, we’ve remained human and humane.
Canada was built up by technology. We would not exist as we are without the railways, the Trans-Canada Pipeline, the airlines, and the transcontinental network of relay stations, satellite and microwave that became the CBC.
Yet these institutions have diversified the country as much as unified it.
The route of the C.P.R. was often set not by technical but by political factors.
Our Charter has served to erode the powers of government, not strengthen them.
Our hodgepodge of inter-provincial trade barriers, equalization payments and grants to groups opposing the government, has created a context where strange hybrids and serendipity flourish—certainly not survival of the fittest!
Even the terms in which we describe ourselves confound the efficiency experts.
Technology loves procedure and definition. Canada is an enigma that defies both
Like the God of the ancient Hebrews who refused a name or an image, we can only answer I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE when called upon to answer what we’re about.
Yet out of that ancient obstinacy emerged a religion that was more ethical than most of its contemporaries, and became a basis of western civilization.
Canada’s makeup has been modeled not on consistency and standardization but incorporation of differences. “The stone the builders rejected—DIVERSITY—has become the keystone” in a society that reflects the richness of human kind.
To be human is to be of the earth (humus). Our small population relative to our land size gives us spaces for humanness. And the paradoxical permissiveness by which our society has evolved (“conscription if necessary but not necessarily conscription”) gives us a historical context to be human in a technical world. (760 words)