Febuary 23, 1996 Halifax Herald
Canada evolving into a reality worth preserving
Canada evolving into a reality worth preserving
Last December, after celebrating my 57th birthday, I asked myself: what was the most significant Canadian issue in my lifetime? The answer came very quickly: the notion of Quebec separating from Canada. It’s an issue that has been plaguing our country since I was 22 years old! It seems incredible that for 35 years, almost on a daily basis, the issue has been debated by politicians, without any resolution in sight.
I will now, in frustration, do what many other private citizens are doing: throw my two-cents worth into the pot. But before I start, let’s review a bit of history. First, and most important, Canada was not, as many would like us to believe, created from virgin and unoccupied territory. In fact, the country was created on the ruins of scores of native civilizations, which had their territories seized and cultures subjugated by European invaders. Some individuals, as I will soon discuss, insist that these invaders were actually saviours.
Along this line of thought, during this discourse, we should try to keep in mind that intolerance for the differences of others is still a major problem in Canada. Example: In the case of First Nations, many people still advocate, especially among the anthropologist crowd, that some 500 years ago the inhabitants of the Americas - yes, of two continents - were all starving to death and eagerly anticipated the Europeans coming to save them. Many will tell you today, with a straight face, that natives owe a great debt of appreciation to those first Europeans for the benevolence received.
From my standpoint, this viewpoint is so short on logic, and is so inherently racist, that it is not worthy of further comment. Instead, I'll just offer a titbit as something to reflect upon. The civilizations the Europeans found established in the Americas 500 years ago were cultures where intolerance for the differences of others was not a problem. If we were living in such a society today, I would not be penning this column because the separatists would be working to improve the lot of all citizens, instead of trying to realize nationalistic dreams which, in the long, run will harm all Canadians - including them.
Now to the subject at hand. In trying to rationalize their cause, champions of separation pose the breakup of several European federations as precedents for breaking up Canada. But can they apply the European experience to the Americas? I think not. The countries which formed those federations - i.e., the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, etc. - were mainly forced into union against their will and, when captured, each was populated by a separate race. This situation does not apply to Canada. In 1867, the provinces were British colonies, not countries, and were populated by a multitude of races.
While on the subject of race, it seems that many in the news-media and politics keep forgetting that Canada's population speaks either English or French, but the majority are not of English or French origin. Nothing bugs me more than to be referred to, by both federalists and separatists, as English. I speak the language, but I definitely am not English!
And now, the heart of the issue: can Canada be divided by the unilateral actions of one of its parts? In my estimation, not without the consent of at least 51 percent of Canadian electors - and I mean an absolute majority, not a majority of those who voted. Conversely, if we were to accept that each province has the right to secede from the federation without the consent of the majority of Canadians, then we have to accept that regions in those provinces have a right to secede without the consent of the province's majority. Further, we will have to accept that smaller areas have the same right to secede as larger areas. Great countries are not built, nor do they prosper, on this kind of nonsense.
Perhaps other Canadians should take a lesson from First Nations citizens about tolerance. Most of us want to remain part of Canada and are willing to fight peacefully to have our natural and legal rights - i.e., responsible self-government - recognized in the Constitution, without constantly threatening to separate. And further, we are willing to forgive, if not forget, the hell this country put us and our ancestors through.
If we, the First Nation citizens, can accept, after the way we were oppressed, that Canada is evolving into a reality worth fighting for and saving, then surely to God all the children of the invaders, who profited handsomely from our losses, should be able to do the same!
It can be said, with the breakup of the Native Nations, that Canada is a country that was founded on intolerance. Unless, of course, we are a white Supremacists and disdain the Native civilizations as the creations of inferior peoples and, as such, of no-account. I for one hope that Canada will not be destroyed because of the thing it was founded on - intolerance. To destroy Canada is as illogical as saying that European colonization of the Americas was a boon to the native inhabitants!
Daniel N. Paul