Part I: A Métis Civilization
We congratulate ourselves for establishing a cultural mosaic peacefully, so different than the ongoing racial problems in many European countries,
"Yet we never seriously asked ourselves how that came to be. After all, if our civilization has been built out of the Western inheritance, how is it that the rest of the West is struggling precisely where we find the challenges quite easy?...We seem unable to notice the obvious - that it is a non-racial idea of civilization, and non-linear, even non-rational...It comes straight from Aboriginal culture" (4).
"One of the principal causes of death among the British and U.S. explorers was their refusal to dress, act, or eat like savages....It was only late in the nineteenth century that they came to terms with their own inferiority and comic or tragic-comic self-absorption....These sort of comic stories need to be told because they highlight how insistent we have remained on seeing our country through the eyes of these explorers rather than through the eyes of those who already lived here" (12).
"Poundmaker surrendered by offering his hand to the British general who had led the expedition to put down the uprising. Middleton refused it, turned his back and had the captive chained....It was one of those existential moments when the monolithic model, represented by this British general, showed how shamefully unsuitable it was to a complex place such as Canada" (19).
We're mistaken about the history of our motto, "Peace, Order and Good Government." We credit it to our conservative origins - particularly the church-loving French, but it was invented by "a tiny, empire-besottled elite - English or pretend-English" (112). It's a sign that "one of the underlying characteristics of elite success in Canada continues to be insecurity and their sense that reality is not here, but elsewhere" (114). In reality, the phrase "...has been used only twice. The rest of the time, from official documents to proto-consittutions to political instructions, the phrase used was fundamentally different - Peace, Welfare and Good Government" (114).
The Quebec Act of 1774, which guaranteed a minority group specific rights, was "legally described as cutting off down an unexplored path - a track untried in Europe and contrary to the fashion of the day....Canada would be a place that, in order to exist, would have to do so upon a triangular foundation of Aboriginals, francophones and anglophones" (118-9), while the United states, "is still very much caught up in the old European idea that mixed Enlightment principles with purity of race and cullture" (120). This just goes to show how atypical our history has been.
But after the Quebec Act, the Brits imposed new rules and regulations until 1840 when Louis-Hyppolite LaFontaine wrote a letter to his own constituents calling for an "abolition of elite privileges" among other thing.
"He mocked those who believed that you could get what you wanted form the Empire by building a special relationship with those who ran it. What you needed was an ethically and intellectually integrated strategy based upon a program for action. In other words, he reformulated the political spectrum...Democracy was taken for granted as the essential immediate goal, but the real question was what to do with that democracy once you had it. The answer was to build a fair society. You could take his key points, exactly as he wrote them, and lay out a concept of action perfect for today. What made it work then, as it would now, is that his assumptions were not those of European-style monolithic state. Instead, they were built upon the atypical, non-monolithic model that had emerged over the preceding century" (131).The mythology we believe based on the words we follow affect how we respond to government. We need to acknowledge our true history and shift back towards helping others through fair policy instead of fear-based order.
He's critical of the move in 2007 to arm the border formerly known as the longest undefended in the world:
"It reflects the inferiority complex of those who made such decisions....Wherever you look in the world you find that those obsessed by order require disorder to fulfill their inner fears....Leaders driven by fear are the source of populism....A successful society is able to subdue the natural fear of men and women sufficiently to release our positive and creative characteristics. The power of populism is that it brings an atmosphere of insecurity to the fore and so causes even the most stable of socieities to be consumed by that fear and so become obsessed by order" (160).Because, "If we imagine ourselves as a place of order rather than one of fairness, we will have effectively prevented ourselves form acting as we wish....Once decent people can express the elements of fairness as if it were normal, they will more or less agree on what has to be done" (167-8).
The elites in our country are "deeply dysfunctional" - "afraid of ideas, afraid to talk with the citizenry through ideas, afraid to encourage the wide discussion of ideas in order to find the basis for its action...would rather sell than buy, rather trade in wealth than create it" (176).
Medicare has been dismantled. We've got 1/4 million homeless. Mental health wards have been shut down to save money. We've overfished the oceans.
This is all due in part to the "isolation of elites....They resemble the classic First World War staff officer who spent his time at headquarters poring over maps and memos. He didn't have time to see the trenches" (189). The power in the country is not currently of the people. It's for a select group to develop their own wealth and personal allies who turn a blind eye to the results of their decisions. "How can you correct mistakes if there is no capacity to admit them in the first place" (190).
Beyond just oblivion, the elites appear to have contempt for the commoners. This is evident in the rise of state-run gambling.
"To gamble is every citizen's right. To have your democratically elected government use the citizen's money in order to organize campaigns to push people to gamble is quite a different story....We have thousands of years of history that tells us about elites who turn to gambling for state revenues. Without exception, history identifies those leaders as degenerates who are responsible for dragging down their civilization" (199).
The "elite interpretation of our literature, and therefore of our characters, has been shoehorned into a British or French colonial mould....All of this eliminated - and continues to eliminate - the reality of the lengthy, stable Aboriginal role in the shaping of Canada's fundamental mindset. Northrop Frye said, "There must be a period of certain magnitude...in which a social imagination can take root and establish a tradition....Canada has never had it" (234).
And the elite don't read.
"One of the things that constantly strikes me in Ottawa is how few people with any kind of power read anything beyond a briefing note....In most other Western countries, there is not such functional illiteracy at senior levels. In most key countries, a good percentage of the leadership read, educate themselves, attempt not to slip into dependency on mere briefings, which shift power to those who wrote them. What then is the explanation for the Canadian situation except that those in power do not have the self-confidence to attempt to think" (241).We have "bureaucratized the structures of every profession, the theory being that we won't need to enforce anything if the industries and professions manage themselves. In this way, we have discouraged real leaders by blunting their place on entrepreneurial boards" (267).
He criticizes the OMB, changes to Stats Canada, and the CRTC, then gets back to literary and historical figures that we largely ignore.
"But once you accept that the United States is rightfully the primary inheritor of the European ideal and that we don't fit into that model, you have the basic elements for a very different approach. ....The more we see ourselves backlit by soft Victorian melancholy, the more we use Euro-U.S. concepts, the more we project ourselves as a derivative sideshow, the more we then evaporate for anyone's imagination, including our own" (275).Part IV: An Intentional Civilization
We have to stop "taming" the wild, and start living within it - as part of it, and take "a creative rather than defensive approach to the environment" (283).
"Northern cultures and points of view are treated as marginal....but Canada as a whole benefits and is truer to itself when there are strong Northern communities that stand out as expressions of our country....small, isolated communities is the reality of more than half our country" (287-8) "Part of it...is our desire to see the North in old-fashioned frontier terms, instead of a society offering a possible expression of welfare, of fairness" (297) "We undermine our own sovereignty position by presenting Inuit citizens as fragile survivors instead of as the source of Canada's power and legitimacy" (301).
"Our approach toward energy over the last quarter-century highlights that passive and frightened atmosphere." (307). Our provinces are too segregated to work together on this.
Then he outlines how to fix the energy crisis, homelessness, and health care. "The point I'm making is that what we see as our problems are more often merely the result of our problems. We are a mid-sized, middle-class country living next to a behemoth. We need to take every advantage of every situation" (309).
We still donate and volunteer as much or more than other countries, and we allow more refugees. "That is our historic secret. We have not built Canada by robbing poorer countries of their scarce elites. We have done it by offering an opportunity to those with the courage to seize it" (316). "It would take very little now in the rethinking of how we imagine ourselves - all of us - to re-centre our civilization on that Aboriginal reality" (318).