Revanchist Review

Monday, June 27, 2005

Oh, Canada - Chapter 10 - Flagging Faith

The death of religion, the decay of commitment to a nation and its traditions, and the breakdown of families mean the removal of the most important foci of particular loyalties that in the past sustained such moral traits as duty, service, sacrifice, loyalty and fortitude. What is left is not an amoral or an immoral society but one that can make only limited moral demands on its members.

The Strange Death of Moral Britain - Christie Davies

"the best political thinkers must affirm "the universality of the Church against the particularity of the city" and display "a skepticism toward every human self–assertion that remains particular." That is, they must defend the republic, civilization, and the Church against barbarism. But at the same time, and no less urgently, they must defend the truth—and thus freedom of thought, the individual, and the Church—against the despotism toward which all nations tend when they resist the influence of the truth of revelation"

The American Republic - Orestes Brownson

I went to the Flag Shop in Vancouver yesterday. I wanted to buy a flag for the flagpole on our dock. With Canada Day approaching, I entered the shop thinking I would buy a Canadian flag. I had it in my hand but I returned it to the rack and left without buying it. I am not certain this was a watershed moment for me as I was able to purchase a BC flag, but I was struck by the rush of feelings that swept over me as I looked at the 72"x 36" red Maple Leaf.

I did not feel as I thought I ought to feel in the presence of my country's flag. I didn't feel patriotic or proud. I felt sad and disappointed and slightly melancholic, I felt a sense of loss.

As hundreds of new Canadians are sworn in as citizens this Canada Day what are the uniquely Canadian traditions and values we expect them to embrace? Are there any moral traits that we Canadians can urge upon our new citizens?

Tolerance and diversity have become the new traditions of Canadians. Politicians, police chiefs, fire chiefs and clergymen now trip over themselves to be seen front and centre in Gay Pride parades.

How many would attend if we organized a Christian Pride Day and paraded down the streets of Toronto and Vancouver on the Feast of Corpus Christi? Would it be the number one news item on CBC Newsworld? Would the major TV stations have reporters lining the streets to interview the participants and the observers? Would the mayor of Toronto proudly announce "we are the the most faithful city in Canada" or does being the Gayest City trump all comers?

More likely we would be criticized, derided and ignored. The media would find some poor misanthrope in our midst and he or she would become the media's poster person. Tolerance has become a one way street in the new Canada and a dead-end one at that.

The rhetoric directed to the new Canadian is abundant. Canada is the envy of the world because of the freedoms we enjoy here we tell them. We parade our new citizens through the streets of our own Potemkin village and point out our universal health care system (while ignoring its brokenness), our unique bilingualism ( while ignoring the rise of Quebec separatist sympathies), our rich aboriginal traditions (while ignoring the lunacy and wastefulness of our paternalistic policy toward our aboriginals), our economic strength (while ignoring our crippling taxes bureaucratic wastefulness and political corruption), our role in the world as peacekeepers (ignoring our plummet down the ranks due to a neglected military).

Christie Davies suggests a society such as ours has become neither amoral nor immoral. We have become antinomian as we have rejected our traditional socially established morality in favour of a new causalism, a society obsessed with rights while ignoring duty and service and sacrifice.

We have gone the way of the world described by Dennis Enright:

- "The world has become man's right and everything in it has become a right: the desire for love the right to love, the desire for rest the right to rest...the desire to exceed the speed limit the right to exceed the speed limit, the desire for happiness the right to happiness, the desire to publish a book, the right to publish a book, the desire to shout in the street in the middle of the night the right to shout in the street. That's the way the world has gone."

I want to fly the Canadian flag, but I feel I would have to fly it at half mast. I am not ready to fly a white flag either.

So in my insignificant way I will continue to encourage thinking Canadians not to stand by and let all of our traditions die.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Letting Things Happen

“The whole rotten beastliness of things today doesn’t happen because people do it, but because everyone lets it happen. Letting things happen is ten times more dangerous than doing things.”
The Man Without Qualities – Robert Musil

My thoughts are directed toward Canada’s collective citizenry and the sad spectacle as enough of us stand by and let politicians indulge in all manner of “beastliness” – corruption, fiscal mismanagement, blind commitment to party policy over personal conviction, eagerness to change the definition of marriage.

I know the liberal media has characterized folks like me and (C)conservatives generally, as somehow being angry and hateful of Canada. This is nonsense but it doesn’t prevent it from being proposed by popular columnists, and endorsed by editorial staffs that choose whose letters to publish in response to the columns. I love our country but lament what it is becoming a - relativistic, smug, shrug infected, ‘what me worry’, we are the greatest, the world looks to us with envy – joke.

Canada Day is a week away. I will be back in Saskatchewan celebrating the centenary of that province and the 40th reunion of my graduating high school class. Nancy and I are driving back as there is really no better way (short of riding a bike which an industrious couple we know is doing in annual stages) to appreciate the enormousness and physical splendour of this country of ours.

Along the way we plan to stop over in little towns to better reacquaint ourselves with the mostly forgotten and utterly ignored (from a political perspective) rural Canadians; most of whom descend from immigrants who chose Canada as the place that would offer them hope and opportunity absent in their native lands.

I believe that if I kept driving all across Canada and avoided the major urban centers that the majority of people I would meet would share my concerns for how we have let things happen in Canada over the last few decades, and most alarmingly in the last 5 years.

My trip may prove me wrong. I may find that of the returning members of the 37 graduates from the Class of ’65, the percentage that shares my views is no greater than that in my urban West Side Vancouver community. Interestingly, while there are certainly more farmers in the ranks of my graduating class than one would find in an urban setting, there are doctors and lawyers and dentists and nurses and pharmacists, and teachers and property developers and senior financial and industrial executives amongst my cohorts – arguably a higher percentage of post secondary degrees than many urban schools produced 40 years ago.

Still I doubt I will be proven wrong. Letting things happen is not natural to the prairie psyche. Fields had to be cleared of trees, stumps had to be pulled, land had to be broken, fields had to be seeded, and houses had to be built. Bargains had to be kept, promises had to be honoured – the community didn’t function otherwise.

That was two generations ago. The next generation had to leave wives and children and parents and fields and businesses and prospects, to venture back to the continent from which the parents of many had left in order to fight and in many cases to die to preserve a freedom they cherished.

Now the next generation, better educated, better fed, more prosperous, more sophisticated, looks back with occasional pride at the accomplishments of its ancestors, but mostly shrugs and says aren’t we privileged not to be American!

Look how we are blessed with clean air, and magnificent geography, and fabulous skiing, and boating and golf courses and wineries and Medicare and lots of oil and fresh water. And aren’t we more tolerant, inclusive, peace-loving than those crazy Yanks. Aren't we lucky to have this freedom to do what we please?

Canada in 2005 seems to me a place that doesn’t really know how it arrived at where it is. Canada’s recent history reminds me of Ulrich’s reflection on history in Musil’s seminal novel from which I sourced my epigram:

“The course of history….was like a man sauntering through the streets – diverted here by a shadow, there by a little crowd of people, or by an unusual way one building jutted out and the next stood back from the street – finally arriving at a place that he had neither known of nor meant to reach. There was inherent in history a certain element of going off course. The present moment was always like the last house in town, which somehow no longer quite counts among the town houses.”

That absent-minded meandering image is evocative to me as the picture of Canada having gone off course. We have truly arrived at a place most of us had never known nor meant to reach.

And now we must decide whether to do something or to continue to let it happen.

It may already be too late, we may have wandered so far from the village we once knew that we can never find our way back or we would not recognize it if we did.

When we are willing to change the meaning of something as fundamental to our understanding of whom we are and where we have come from as marriage, we are lost. When in the same week we laud the granting of a Doctor of Law degree to an abortionist and raise not a whisper of protest when a court upholds the suspension of a teacher for writing a letter to the editor referencing the biblical admonitions against homosexuality, we are lost. When we permit our politicians to lie and cheat their way back into power, we are lost. When we are more concerned about how a potential Prime Minister looks than about what he really thinks and stands for and not what the media invent, we are lost. When we fight to prevent citizens from having the right to get the best medical care they can afford in order to preserve the myth of a functioning universally accessible health care system, we are lost.

We seem guaranteed to have a federal election in the next 6 months. Will we let things happen again, or will enough of us actually do something to help us find our way back on course?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Ineluctably Unelectable Harper

As summer approaches, Gomery ennui inexorably leads both discouraged Conservatives and fickle journalists to resort to scapegoating as an explanation for the survival of what even Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente concedes is the “worst government in a generation”.

Canada suffers not only from a lack of standards, but when it comes to selecting political leaders, from a confusion or inversion of standards. Mr. Martin was thought to be a great candidate for Prime Minister because of his effectiveness at balancing the budget when Finance Minister; now we know him as Mr. Dithers. Polls say that more than 60% of Canadians believe Mr. Martin would lie to preserve his place in power, yet the Liberals lead the polls in Ontario by 20 basis points over the Conservatives whose leader they believe to be more honest, but less likely to be an effective leader.

In considering what it is Canadians think they are looking for in a Prime Minister, one is reminded of the story of the French butcher who, having need of legal assistance, finally, after looking over a number of lawyers, chose the fattest one.

Recently not only journalists but friends have used the unelectable label in reference to Mr. Harper. These are thoughtful men and women who see no irony in their assertion that Mr. Harper has fallen under the shadow that afflicted Robert Stanfield and later Preston Manning. They may also be more familiar with the Eastern Canadian mindset than I am.

Unelectable – just what makes one unelectable? There surely are some solid objective reasons for someone to be unelectable. One may be unqualified by reason of birthright (not a citizen), character (a convicted felon), capacity (a certified lunatic) – there may be other reasons. These are rare impediments, so the label’s source must be subjective in nature.

The label had been used in Canada before and with prophetic accuracy. Robert Stanfield was declared unelectable the moment he fumbled that football on some airport tarmac. It mattered little that he was competing for the role of Prime Minister and not wide receiver – he looked awkward with his bald pate, his Lincolnesque gawkiness without the flowing rhetoric – and hence he was unelectable. That his opponent was a Gallic extrovert, urbane, conceited, and confident served only to exaggerate the contrast between the two.

I had two occasions upon which to experience that Trudeau charm. On one of those I was also led to make the shallow and thoughtless comparison between the charisma of Trudeau and the ordinariness of Stanfield. The first was in the spring of 1968 at the law school at the University of Saskatchewan. Trudeau, then the Justice Minister, was visiting Saskatoon and at the invitation of the Dean and later Justice Minister Otto Lang (funny how these things happen). Trudeau attended a social event the law school was holding at a local curling rink. I was in a jolly mood as I recall, having led my curling team to victory in the annual Law School bonspiel (the only trophy with my name on it you will find in the display case).

Trudeau arrived and the room was abuzz – for those of us less turned on by his brilliant mind - his date, the divine Dinah Christie, was the real head turner. That this old dude could squire a gorgeous TV star made him eminently electable no matter what his politics. I was sufficiently enthralled to help Otto Lang squeeze out his 555 vote victory in the June 1968 election. (As an aside upon which I will write more later, the ability of Saskatchewan voters generally not to fall under these charisma-induced spells is evidenced in the results of that election. While the Liberals swept to power with a majority, Saskatchewan elected 2 Liberals, 6 NDP and 5 PC).

Two years later in the winter of 1970 Nancy and I attended a rally in a large indoor arena during the Canada Winter Games. The only reason we went was because Trudeau was speaking. We arrived late and were jammed in with hundreds of others near the entrance, with Trudeau only a speck at the far end of the arena. As I looked around I spied this innocuous looking bald man scrunched into a doorway not far from me. It was Robert Stanfield! No entourage, no one paying any particular attention to him. there stood the leader of the opposition.

There was pathos in that scene which we recognized even then, but for the wrong reasons. There stood the unelectable Robert Stanfield. A political cipher who we now know was a brilliant, thoughtful, kind, respectful, fiscally and socially conservative man. A man who would not have driven our country deep into debt, who would not have invoked a repressive War Measures Act, who would not have enacted a divisive and costly National Energy Program who would not have pirouetted behind the Queen’s back or flipped the bird to disgruntled folks in Salmon Arm and told farmers to practice unsavoury eating habits.

Isn't it interesting how Trudeau's arrogance and disdain for the common man was cast as a swashbuckling, irreverent gunslinger persona - one who made milquetoast Canadians stand taller; while Harper's alleged sometimes acid tongue, even when speaking the truth, is characterized as anger and vindictiveness.

So Canada turned away from the boring unelectable Stanfield in favour of the exciting Trudeau. And after we tired of his arrogance and sent him for his walk in the snow, we welcomed him back a year later because he promised to feed our hunger for excitement in a way the plodding Joe Who could never hope to.

Today the Liberal spin apparatchiks and their 5th estate minions have convinced us we are faced with a choice between Mr. Dithers and Mr. Unelectable. Though we know Mr. Dithers and his gang will lie to us and steal from us, we have survived it for years. So enough of us will choose to stay with the proverbial devil we know rather than risk the imagined one we don’t.

And just what is so devilish about Mr. Harper, besides having that unelectable aura about him? He doesn’t smile enough it seems. He doesn’t seem comfortable around crowds and he just doesn’t have that “hail fellow well met” quality we like in our politicians. He is not much for small talk and he doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

I would argue this unelectable label is a completely conjured construct – a brilliant piece of Liberal prestidigitation, a shell game worthy of the most craven carney barker. Margaret Wente writes that Toronto businessmen thought Harper to have less personality than an actuary. Well we assume at least one Toronto businessman thought this and he is the one she chose to quote.

I concede it is not only Ontarians who have not warmed to Mr. Harper; many Westerners have come to the same conclusion. They felt the same way about Preston Manning, and that became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yet in my experience, anyone who has met Mr. Manning invariably finds him to be charming, bright, humorous and passionately thoughtful about the need to make Canada a better place than it is.

Harper like Manning carrries the burden of Western roots and, most problematically for this age a strong Christian faith, and an evangelical Protestant one to boot. This may by itself drive the final nail into his unelectable coffin. In this age any secular argument against changes to social policy is quickly re-characterized as religious or based on personal morality. Thus Mr. Harper’s well reasoned arguments against the re-definition of marriage – arguments supported by numerous secular authorities and arguably by half of the Canadian citizenry – are dismissed as homophobic, moralistic, self-righteous and well just downright scary.

Canada needs a good dose of prairie pragmatism, particularly the Saskatchewan variety. During my lifetime I have seen the Saskatchewan voters embrace the CCF and its successor the NDP, the Liberals and the Conservatives. A new party, the Saskatchewan Party, is currently the official opposition in Saskatchewan. When a political party and its leadership failed to live up to its promises, it was invariably thrown from office. If it was found that malfeasance had been committed by ministers of the crown or by senior bureaucrats, as occurred in the Devine Conservative era, it didn’t take an army of lawyers and Royal Commissioners to sort things out. Offenders were charged, convicted and sentenced to jail for crimes much less egregious than those it seems certain were committed by senior members of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Unelectable means something quite different in the 306 Area Code than it does in the 905 or the 604 code. And, if a politician’s defeat in Saskatchewan is ineluctable, it is because of what he did or didn’t do, and not because of how warmly he works a crowd or how readily he abandons his principles in exchange for power.

One can only hope the summer barbeque circuit will fatten Mr. Harper up and make him more electable!