Canada, the country that nationalism side-swiped: Salutin | Toronto Star

Salutin on the perverse, counter-intuitive nature of Canadian nationalism:

Here’s where it starts to get paradoxical. Stephen Harper, during his reign, tried to become the voice of Canadian nationalism in the traditional, exclusivist sense. He promoted militarism, including symbols like the Highway of Heroes, and shopworn imperial imagery like the Royal Family. He promoted undercurrents of xenophobia, nativism and racism in his policies toward immigrants and especially refugees, who were despicably treated. These became overcurrents during the election, with his attacks on Muslim headgear, the “barbaric cultural practices” snitch line and revocable citizenship.

What’s fascinating is that Justin Trudeau didn’t oppose him by declaring he was anti-nationalist, as you’d have to in, say, Serbia or Hungary. He fought back as a Canadian nationalist, defining it in terms of tolerance or even, the glory of diversity — a sharp rebuttal to most contemporary nationalism. It also had weird echoes. Justin’s dad, Pierre, rejected Quebec nationalism as parochial but embraced Canadian nationalism as a way to fight it. When he ran against Tory leader Joe Clark in 1979, Trudeau père scorned Clark’s notion that Canada was just a “community of communities,” for being wishy-washy and contentless.

Yet that’s essentially what his son endorsed. Now picture Harper: beaten not only by the son of his most reviled Canadian predecessor; but by the son’s embrace of the vision of Harper’s most loathed Conservative antecedent, Joe Clark. It’s beyond Shakespearean. Who says we don’t have a colourful history?

If we’d been more successful in creating a robust, conventional Canadian nationalism, who knows — the country mightn’t have as handily beaten back the nasty nativism cultivated by Harper. It could have provided unintended grist for his mill. So the real strength of Canadian nationalism might turn out to be its relative weakness. We’re the land that nationalism side-swiped. Lucky us.

In his book, Benedict Anderson quoted Walter Benjamin’s passage on the angel of history — based on a Paul Klee print. The angel stands looking backward sadly as history’s failures and disasters pile up at his feet. So, as history’s wind blows him into the future, he can’t see, behind him, the progress that may be about to arrive. You could call it, back to the future, in a literal sense.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: