Quebec’s giddy new separatist leader describes Canada as an “imaginary” country, and Michael Den Tandt, one of the country’s best abstract thinkers, goes ballistic—it exists legally, he writes and, besides, it’s more popular than Pierre Karl Péladeau’s ethnic nationalist alternative. Den Tandt’s response is as familiar and as chronically seductive as spring tulips in Ottawa.
Clearly, Canada and the way things are done in Canada are hardly imaginary. Indeed, the awesome inertia of bearable second-best, not logic, is the status quo’s best friend.
Other amateurs as well as PKP raise their hands and say the damnedest things. Unify the tiny, near-insolvent Maritime provinces? Impossible. Abolish or create a full house of elected Senators? Impossible. Create a currency union with the US? Inconceivable. Give up our national border and let Quebec have one? Nonsense. A continental carbon tax? Road tolls in Toronto? I should live so long.
The classical liberal response to PKP’s primitive nationalism is: Yes, Canada was imagined. The union was assembled and sustained as an idea by persuasive men and women, not God or blood. And, so, it can be played with, altered and replaced through peaceful debate and democratic decision-making.
That was the promise Quebec heard Pierre Trudeau make in the first referendum debate. Wouldn’t it be lovely that if in two years we aren’t just picnicking and boasting about being around for 150 years but are actually engaged in at least one glorious argument over the way we organize ourselves?
Let’s try to act generous and young again.