Canada’s Difference II

Alastair Sweeny objects to my suggestion that Canada’s Fathers did not
intend to create a “distinctive nation.”

I think we’re talking past each other, Alastair. Of course the Fathers
intended to create a separate, sovereign nation in British North America.

And just as you say, they meant it to counterbalance the centrifugal force
of the United States.

The question is whether they intended the new nation to be culturally

You know that there are Canadian scholars (Donald Creighton, Michael Bliss,
Gad Horowitz, William Christian) who think that we were supposed to be not
only a separate political nation, but a separate cultural entity. We were
supposed to be more British in character than the Americans, or more Tory,
or more “collectivist,” more “inclined to deference,” (S.M. Lipset), more

Remember the Molsen beer commercial?

I am a Canadian.
I’m not a lumberjack, or fur trader,
I don’t live in an igloo, eat blubber, or own a dog sled …
I have a Prime Minister, not a President.
I speak English and French, not American …
I believe in peace keeping, not policing; diversity, not assimilation; and
that the beaver is a proud and noble animal.

“I believe in peacekeeping, not policing; diversity, not assimilation.” A
lot of people enjoyed that idea! And why shouldn’t they? But the Molsen ad
doesn’t define Canada. It merely gives expression to some common Canadian
sentiments. It doesn’t define the country.

Some of Canada’s founders (the Fathers, and the legislators in the colonial
parliaments) would have liked to see the new nation become more British in
character. Some, not many, hoped it would gravitate toward the United
States. A few, though only a few promoted the republican idea of a virtuous
leadership and citizenry. But they knew – at some level – they all knew that
there was no agreement on these matters. French speakers demanded protection
for the French language and French education in Lower Canada, but they did
not expect the French way of life to define the character of the nation as a
whole. Legislators from the other provinces were acutely aware of Lower
Canada’s demands.

The great achievement at Confederation was that the founders prescribed a
regime that would enable pursuit of political objectives without the
requirement that all or many agree at the “cultural” level.

In The Canadian Founding, John Locke and Parliament I use the term civic
identity, in opposition to cultural identity. It’s been suggested that I
made a mistake in coupling “civic” and “identity.” Could be. It probably
would have been better to speak of “civic regime,” and “cultural identity.”

3 Responses to “Canada’s Difference II”

  1. 1 Peter Timusk June 24, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    But isn’t this we are not Americans a phase we went through. The identity phase in that series of Carlton U books. Now I trust you work hard on scholarship but I am a person of great doubt especially in historical scholarship of thoughts and intentions. We will not know because our courts may not have interpreted the early politicians with the same vigour and same tools as we have today but I would say that is where to look to the courts.
    For culture, no need for beer, because I still wear lumberjack shirts and feel the essence of my Canadian Grandfather when I do, and fondly think of the planes that land on water around here, and the saw mills I grew up around. I also reflect on the French English street fights of my youth that are still alive in subtle social essence in adult discourse in my bilingual workplace and of course the crime and so called law enforcement imported and associated with American influences.
    And as ready as I am to do battle can object that the only reason peacekeeping is in that beer add is the fact that our military is presently aggressive and joining US genocide operations.
    A horse is a Canadian symbol just like horses are French, Aboriginal. German and Arabian symbols. There is a culture and culture unless your incapable of love and I do not mean love of country but of symbols and scraps of clothing and food.

  2. 2 alastairsweeny June 27, 2008 at 8:25 am


    The question “whether they intended the new nation to be culturally distinctive” is not addressed in the BNA Act nor in the confederation deliberations, except as regards French Canada (because they demanded a restoration of the old province of Québec), and possibly the aboriginal Canadians (under the trust of the Crown, as if they were minors).

    The non-French Canadians of 1867 thought of themselves as British, or if they were born here or had American ancestors, thought of themselves as Loyalist Americans or citizens of their home province.

    Some of them thought the French fact a plain and simple nuisance, and wanted a unitary state like Britain. This attitude persists in some quarters today.

    I’m not sure Creighton, Bliss, Horowitz, Christian et al really come to terms with the French fact in our nationality. Just compare Creighton’s glorification of Macdonald with his dismissial of Cartier. And yet Cartier’s Bleu block of votes was always far more solid than Macdonald’s Conservative, before and after Confederation. It kept Macdonald in power long after Cartier’s death.

    Over the years the “civic regime” we call Canada has developed its own “cultural identity.” But I would argue we are still in many ways more loyal to our municipal civis and our provincial civis than our national one. This is good. In many ways we obsess too much about our national politics and not enough about our provincial and municipal affairs.

    All politics is local.


    Alastair Sweeny
    V-P Development
    Northern Blue Publishing

  3. 3 alastairsweeny June 27, 2008 at 8:33 am


    Another point. Cartier, the leading driver of Confederation, was above all “a lawyer interested in business.” He was chief lawyer for the Sulpician Order (the old seigneurs of Montreal, and major landowners), chief solicitor for the Grand Trunk Railway, Chairman of the Railway Committee, and Minister of Militia and Defence. He spent a large part of his later career in London arranging Grand Trunk financing and British money for fortifications. Along with the British his goal was fimly set on building the CPR and creating a transcontinental nation, with its entrepot in Montreal. He intended to promote colonization for French Canadians in the west.

    For Cartier, the Canadian Confederation was all about business, not culture.


    Alastair Sweeny
    V-P Development
    Northern Blue Publishing

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