As anyone who modestly observes Canadian politics could agree, this year’s election will be one with highly pugnacious debates. Will Canada see a populist ascendancy at the federal level? Or will the liberal status quo remain intact?
Time will only tell, and it will obviously depend on how convincing each candidate is in presenting their message, no matter where on the political spectrum people may think the ideological paradigm is shifting.
It’s clear that taxation, immigration, and our role in the world are core issues Canadians have sought honest answers about. Which, for the most part, the Trudeau government has failed to deliver on.
In this election, there should also be inquiries into a much larger question as it revolves around self-definition. Though it may be a tangential concern to some, Canadian national identity underpins all other questions.
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After all, those who fancy themselves the vanguards of culture—a group that includes Trudeau and other members of the political class— have insisted that their thoughts on what it means to be Canadian are dispositive when it comes to policy arguments. There should be many willing to rally to the battlefield on this front.
Is post-nationalism the answer?
Reflective of the current postmodern epoch, Trudeau infamously asserted that there is “no core identity in mainstream Canada.” He then went on to slovenly declare Canada a “post-national state.”
A feature of his government’s freakish obsession with diversity, this puts forth the presupposition that there is no unique culture or universal values to be embraced by everyone, regardless of race, religion, or country of origin.
Inasmuch as the opposition is concerned, they have countered Trudeau’s visions with varying degrees of effectiveness. His appeal to Canadian sovereignty when challenging the UN Global Compact for Migration notwithstanding, Andrew Scheer has been described as lackluster in his criticisms of the government’s penchant for identity politics and sermonizing.
As the country’s primary iconoclast, Maxime Bernier has been uninhibited in calling for a return to a “unifying set of values.” Taking issue with Trudeau’s utopic designs, Bernier has chastised “extreme multiculturalism,” urging that newcomers must be encouraged to embrace Canadian values like: “Equality between men and women. Equality before the law. Democracy and respect. Tolerance and diversity.”
To most, this should be a fair request of any aspirant Canadian citizen as it reflects the principles enshrined in our constitution— the document that allows them to relish the benefits of this country upon arrival.
The objections to the idea of exhorting people to have pride in their nation and its values sparks bewilderment as it implies that an unrestrained open-mindedness is the most efficient for the maintenance of Canadian society.
The self-proclaimed moral arbiters of our time must be quizzed with such questions: How is your unrestrained openness in line with the country’s interests? Is your conception of a non-existent Canadian identity in alignment with the majority of citizens?
What do Canadians want?
In 2013, Statistics Canada found that an overwhelming majority of Canadians believed that shared values and national symbols are important to understanding a nation’s character.
As we’ve moved further into the age of relativism, any sign of nationalism may lead to someone being anathematized since, to some, it must presage savagery.
This is understandable to an extent, given all the dark chapters of history that exhibited the direction nationalism can go when it begins to make repugnant claims of ethnic superiority. However, acute paranoia over this has mortally wounded the conscience of some politicians when it comes to recognizing how stimulating civic nationalism can be.
Studies done by the Association of Canadian Studies have concluded that nationalism in Canada exists in its appropriate civic form as most Canadians identify with their country instead of their ethnicity. They favour a belief in Canadian principles over a superficial, tribalistic allegiance to a ethnic group that is often venerated by faulty multiculturalism policy.
The divide between Somewheres and Anywheres
The asymmetry between the agenda of the Trudeau government and the people’s desire for a healthy nationalism is a manifestation of David Goodhart’s “Anywheres and Somewheres” concept.
In sum, “Anywheres” are cosmopolitan and think of themselves as “global citizens.” Thus, they don’t have a strong reliance on the success of the nation-state. “Somewheres”, in contrast, don’t enjoy the same luxury and are devoted to the nation-state and their communities.
Expanding on Somewheres in Right Here, Right Now, Stephen Harper argues “Social solidarity matters to them because their future hinges on the society in which they live.” Trudeau hasn’t been exactly coy about his desire to be the object of international affection. For all the talk of openness and justice that characterize his speeches, he’s rather parochial when it comes to people’s concerns about certain issues, particularly migration.
Considering the bedlam Trudeau’s decision on the UN Global Compact caused, George Grant was both timely and prescient when he wrote that the Liberal party “has been made up of those who put only one condition on their willingness: that they should have personal charge of the government while our sovereignty disappears.”
What the national identity should and shouldn’t be
Trudeau’s postnational construct might be persuasive to some given our “charter group” heritage, and often fragmented demography. The federation has almost seen its dissolution due to disputes over Aboriginal self-government, Quebec separatism, and Albertan discontent.
Nonetheless, post-nationalism reeks of intellectual indolence as it suggests diversity is always an indisputable good without enlightening us on how unity can be achieved without appealing to a common ideal.
Having said all this, what should inspire Canadian national identity?
In addition to our international successes, Canadian national identity must be rooted in deference to the constitutional traditions bequeathed to us by our country’s founders and the leaders that helped solidify them.
As we’ve seen here and in Britain, there is a yearning for a sovereign parliament that demands respect for its laws and its freedom to create them. Yes, the process can certainly be informed and enriched by cultural diversity, but this shouldn’t be at the expense of upholding foundational principles and the rule of law.
What our national identity shouldn’t rely on is anti-Americanism. Although a reversion to the cynicism of our counter-revolutionary and Loyalist forebears is easy, it’s unhealthy if it’s the fashionable way of thinking.
Disgust with Donald Trump has caused a rising number of Canadians to believe that the United States is a “negative actor in the world.” This would concur with the nationalists of yesteryear; however, any policy that’s driven by this myopia would be to our detriment considering how much we’ve profited from this great friendship.
In closing, Trudeau’s post-nationalism has mostly resulted in a litany of conundrums. We have many things to be proud of as Canadians, but one politician’s attempts to define us by their vacuous notions of diversity shouldn’t be one of them. What does define us, however, should be a topic of discussion during this year’s election.
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