A Flag With No Nation And An Anthem Unsung
Canadian identity has always been rather hard to pin down, and any effort to do so has usually been contentious or met with serious derision. Even at the time of Confederation in 1867, this nation suffered from a kind of multiple personality disorder.
Dominant, certainly, was the French and British dichotomy, but then that itself was instable, for within it were Catholic and Protestant divisions and ethnic subdivisions also, as Britons were not some agreeable monolithic grouping, but an assemblage of Irish, Scots, and English. Furthermore, there was the indigenous population, the First Nations, who themselves were hardly an ethnic, linguistic, or cultural whole, neither then nor now, but rather a collection of nomadic and quasi-nomadic bands, many of which had for a long time been at war; some of which ultimately allied with the French, and others which allied with the British. Complicating matters further and making a static identity even more untenable, over generations, there was intermarriage, not just amongst the settlers, but amongst settlers and the indigenous, producing for example the Metis, of which Louis Riel was one notable result. Lastly, and to say nothing yet of the migrant waves to come, there were meaningful variations in disposition and custom fostered amongst those groups just mentioned both by land, climate, and industry, such that Acadian fishermen seemed a world apart from the lumberjacks of Glengarry and so forth.
Any simplification in the days following Confederation would have been confounded by the addition of subsequent waves of East and Western European immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th Century, and the later migratory waves of peoples from the Caribbean, Africa, South and Central America, Asia, and the Indian subcontinent—a befuddlement exacerbated greatly by an inability to assimilate any newcomer to a specific weltanschauung or behavioral mode. At best and at most, the expectation was that residents and citizens would adopt one of two (or both) official languages and adhere by a common law, and for the most part, that expectation was met.
Though a country composed of many different races, ethnicities, and creeds, Canada nevertheless managed and became an incredibly successful and unexpectedly affluent nation with a robust parliamentary democracy, surviving many nations near and far which on paper might have seemed more coherent.
Identity amongst diverse peoples can only be achieved with common values, a common religion, a common language, a common law, and or common experiences; which is to say the citizenry must together share something beyond space that directs or harnesses their energies, trumps their tribal and racial memberships, and unites them in common cause. It is insufficient merely to have an anthem and flag; that anthem must connect with a spirit that transcends time and generation, and with a flag that denotes far more than land and regime.
There are many instances that might have created or buttressed a given generation’s sense of shared identity in this land. The Canadian-led victory at Vimy Ridge. Our Military's famous raid at Dieppe or its landing at Juno. Expo 67. Team Canada’s victory over the Soviets in 1972. These are but a few examples of events in the the 20th Century that created for many shared memories that may have bolstered a sense of Canadian identity, building upon the ties secured by the now cancelled John A. Macdonald, who Lincoln and Disraeli both respected and without whom the land now united by rail, among other features, would have otherwise been annexed or carved up amongst hostile powers.
Extra to those moments that naturally unified us, there were also concerted efforts to bring us together and provide cultural associations such as the creation of and recommendations by the Massey Commission, from which we got the CBC and a great deal of cultural protectionism later enshrined in law and policy.
The trouble with defining and projecting in Canada some semblance of a national identity—setting certain parameters around behaviors, customs, and values—is an old one, but one newly compounded by trends and bad actors that if left unresolved or unchecked, may prove deleterious.
Today, in Ottawa, in the media, and on college campuses, among other places, there are iconoclasts, social engineers, and leftists who seem overly keen to destroy what little binds us as a nation. In tearing down statues, cancelling Canadian greats, revising or rewriting history books, and enforcing laws unequally (despite recent protest from the Ontario Court of Appeals, there ostensibly remains different laws for different racial groups), they strike at the building blocks of what many may have hoped or thought to have been the bedrock of any possible national identity. What’s more, by the popular embrace of identitarianism, which is to say race-, gender-, and sexual-orientation-focused identity politics, many in positions of political and cultural power are undermining whatever transcendental appeals previously subordinated the tribalism that makes existence a war of all against all.
In fact, the man just re-elected prime minister has suggested that “there is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada.” That Canada should constantly struggle to discover or assert a common identity is one thing. For its leadership to discount there even being the possibility of a common identity is hugely destructive (not to mention consequential, if taken seriously, for all the cultural protectionism and controls that affect ideation, production, and distribution within our borders.)
Bereft of a core identity, we’re told that Canada—a country of over 36 million people—is a cultural mosaic, and that’s supposed to be an identity in itself. The trouble with our particular mosaic is that it is comprised of a number of pieces all refusing to align to make up one broader unified image. The result is incoherent and what little glue has held it together is coming apart, largely because of the aforementioned identity politics, an indifferent and cosmopolitan political class, and a refusal to centrally commit to a common cause besides needless self-mortification. To say Canadian identity is a hodgepodge of all identities is the same as saying there is no Canadian identity at all, but of course nature abhors a vacuum.
The absence of a sound, natural and or constructed identity doesn’t mean that Canadians won't be left with any identity at all. It is possible that there will persist a national identity, but one based on the shared memories, experience, and values, of the two classes concretizing in Canada: the peasant class, atomized by and made dependent on big government, and the ruling class, those in or tightly associated with that government. This sickly chimeric identity would define Canada as cancer would a cancer patient.
More likely, there will be a cementing of the myriad extant tribal identities and a pitting of them against one another. This, of course, is untenable. You can hardly have a stable nation with a thousand or more static identities. The stronger will survive, but not before factionalism turns into one form of conflict or another.
Alternatively or potentially even simultaneously, peoples across Canada will strike for their own subnational identity, something between tribe and nation. While Quebec has always extoled and used the West to fund its sub-sovereign identity, we are now beginning to see the development of heightened regionalism in Alberta, for example, given the unbridled animus against it in Ottawa, and with that the construction of a regional identity. (Jason Kenney's federalism is one obstacle to this particular identity's official pursuit along the lines of Klein's proposed firewall, which some in his party are trying to surmount.)
If the Ottawan elite continue to prioritize international aims and schemes over domestic needs and demands, at most micromanaging rather than leading; if the left continues to successfully undermine our foundational values and shared memories; and if activist judges and law enforcement continue to apply the law unevenly, then the resultant absence of common values (i.e. rooted here and not abroad), shared memories, and a common law will prompt many to construct their own identities in earnest. Without central authority, these identities will inevitably be regional or tribal, and barring that, we will be fall into the trap of the two-tiered identity defined by our sickly state.
Lest our politicians make the flag and the anthem mean something again and soon, this is a patchwork nation that will inevitably and rapidly tear itself apart.
It occurred to me after writing this piece that given Canada arguably started off as a corporation, it might be worthwhile applying Jim Collins' thinking in Beyond Entrepreneurship to this matter. Collins suggested that vision, which here would largely account for and define the most critical aspect of our shared national identity, consists of: core values and beliefs; purpose; and mission.
Purpose ultimately concerns your collective function. Why do you exist? It might be and likely is an audacious and unachievable goal. The United States' purpose is defined in the Declaration of Independence. Collins likens purpose to a guiding star; it is what you pursue at all times.
Mission, on the other hand, is always changing, but concerns what you mean to achieve collectively at a given moment. While purpose is your guiding star, mission is the mountain you are climbing presently.
Finally, beliefs and core values concern how you comport yourself when pursuing your guiding star, and of course, how you ought to conduct yourself while working towards satisfying and completing any given mission.
If we can together define our purpose, core values and beliefs, the mission at hand, and therefore our national vision, we'd be off the races.