Who Are We? Who’s This “Us”?

Rudyard Griffiths, Who We Are: A Citizen’s Manifesto (Douglas and McIntyre, 2009); Michael Ignatieff, True Patriot Love, Four Generations in Search of Canada (Viking Canada, 2009).

These books have one thing  in common.

Both suggest that Canadians don’t know who they are. Both suggest we’re still searching for a national “identity.” Neither tells us where to look. Pity!

The Fathers of Confederation are referred to in the usual way, as men who had no vision.

I said it at length in The Canadian Founding, John Locke and Parliament (McGill-Queen’s, 2007). Let me say it again. The Fathers of Confederation knew exactly who they were and what they were doing. They knew the British constitutional tradition. They knew Blackstone’s philosophy; they relied on John Locke. They studied the American Constitution. They had a vision.

And they left us with a glorious identity. We are the citizens of a free country.

For excerpts from the Confederation debates in British Columbia, The Red River Settlement, the Province of Canada, and the Atlantic provinces, including Newfoundland (1864 to 1873), see Janet Ajzenstat, Paul Romney, Ian Gentles, and William D. Gairdner, Canada’s Founding Debates (University of Toronto, 2003).


2 Responses to “Who Are We? Who’s This “Us”?”

  1. 1 Alastair Sweeny May 16, 2009 at 5:20 pm


    You are of course absolutely right.

    I blame our educational system in not telling the story of Confederation adequately. These two fellows were clearly not given enough training in political science and history. They are trying to craft their own national visions without enough solid book learning.

    I believe it was Napoleon who said, “Complaints have been made that we have no literature. This is the fault of the Minister of the Interior.”

    Perhaps a little more romance would help.

    Alastair Sweeny

  2. 2 oonae May 26, 2009 at 2:29 am

    I kind of think that regular Canadians DO actually know who we are. But all of us like to joke about how we don’t. It’s endearing, really. It’s only the academics and journalists who call it a crisis. Academics take everything too seriously. They like to convince themselves we’re on the edge of danger so they feel important.

    Now that I’m teaching in America, a thousand things make me feel Canadian. Try telling a classfull of American students that you’re throwing them a torch from failing hands and watch the blank looks. We have a lot more mythos in common than we imagine.

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