Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Canada Day can’t be like Independence Day

It’s not modesty or a reluctance to spend money on smoke and mirrors that makes Canada Day less interesting and less impressive than America’s Fourth of July.

Independence Day celebrates those who signed a declaration of independence—a piece of evidence that in 1776 could have sent its authors to a British gallows.  Canada Day marks the passage of a British statute to federate the administration of five of its North American colonies.

Canadians are easily as smug about modern Canada on the First of July as Americans are proud of their past glories on the Fourth of July. On Canada Day, however, we can’t literally—and generally don’t—talk about being independent. We see Canada as an ideal place to live. Boasting about being a “beacon of liberty” is strictly American practice. Besides, we are no such thing.

For those of us who take our liberal values to heart, there is something bittersweet about Canada’s national anniversary. It’s like celebrating the birthday of a healthy, law-abiding, gainfully employed thirty-year-old son who still lives at home.

It is said by almost every Canadian political analyst that Canadians have absolutely no appetite to bother to reform their constitution. Look at what they live with: a British head of state, an unelected Senate, and no formal process to check the prime minister’s power to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court—the arbiter of our constitutional rights. We turn out to vote, just like Americans, even though only one of our governing institutions is elected by the people.

Allan Fotheringham, a cosmopolitan and distinctly Canadian writer, expressed his embarrassment in a column entitled “When Will Canada Grow Up?” He concentrates his fire on the monarchy and concludes on a nearly optimistic note:

“Canadians only lack one political leader with the courage to cut the irrelevant ties to Mother England. When will this immature, silly country eventually grow up? Not for a while.”

Unfortunately, the problem is bigger than timid leadership and the influence of British loyalists.

Canada has a prime minister who now wants to democratize the Senate. He’s stirred almost no active grassroots support. Indeed, appointed Senators, political opponents, and premiers in every region seem completely free to distain the idea. Polls have shown for years that the monarchy is little understood or appreciated by a majority of Canadians from every region. Yet it persists unchallenged, from sea to sea. 

Is it possible that Canadians are generally happy about living in a less than mature democracy? Like the art of bonsai, has Canada’s democracy been so cleverly managed, so constrained for so long that it is destined to never be more than a houseplant?   

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