The topic of “Canadian values” has begun seeping once again into our political life. This comes thanks to statements made by Kellie Leitch, Conservative leadership candidate, whose campaign asked if immigrants should be screened for “Canadian values”. Of course, this development is nothing but positive. Strangely though, our governing classes seem to think otherwise.
We are faced with an immediate question. What are Canadian values? Leitch’s site lists the following:
- Equal opportunity – We must strive to ensure that everyone has as much of an equal opportunity to succeed as possible, especially our youth
- Hard work – Everyone must work hard and provide for themselves and their families
- Helping others – Once people become prosperous, we all are expected to give back to our communities to help others
- Generosity – Canada is a place that shows what is possible when hard work and generosity come together
- Freedom and tolerance – A Canadian identity that is based on freedom and tolerance to allow each of us the chance to pursue our best lives and to become our best selves
Nice thoughts, all around.
Just one thing: if the term “Canadian values” has any meaning, then it surely includes the values which were defended by the Loyalists in 1776, by British and allied indigenous forces in 1812, and by Sir John A. Macdonald in those first years when Canada was a united Dominion.
Let’s check out what values those generations were defending.
Bishop John Strachan was the spiritual leader of the Family Compact elite of Upper Canada and present at the war of 1812:
In vain shall Great Britain confer upon her colonies the free government and liberal principles of legislation, for which she is distinguished, if she do not carry with her the revelations of God.
Sir John A. Macdonald saw integration of a then-much smaller Canada with the United States as an existential issue:
As for myself, my course is clear. A British subject I was born — a British subject I will die. With my utmost effort, with my latest breath, will I oppose the ‘veiled treason’ which attempts by sordid means and mercenary proffers to lure our people from their allegiance.
And while reflecting on Canadian confederation, stated the following about its monarchic order:
By adhering to the monarchical principle we avoid one defect inherent in the Constitution of the United States. By the election of the president by a majority and for a short period, he never is the sovereign and chief of the nation. He is never looked up to by the whole people as the head and front of the nation. He is at best but the successful leader of a party. This defect is all the greater on account of the practise of reelection. During his first term of office he is employed in taking steps to secure his own reelection, and for his party a continuance of power.
We avoid this by adhering to the monarchical principle—the sovereign whom you respect and love. I believe that it is of the utmost importance to have that principle recognized so that we shall have a sovereign who is placed above the region of party—to whom all parties look up; who is not elevated by the action of one party nor depressed by the action of another; who is the common head and sovereign of all.
Lastly, we might look Sir George Robert Parkin, descendent of Loyalists, grandfather of George Grant, and staunch defender of Canadian nationalism and the Empire. As headmaster of Upper Canada College, he influenced a generation of Canadian leaders. In Imperial Federation: The Problem of National Unity (1892), he states:
[The emigrant’s] daily or weekly paper has its columns of English news, keeping him well informed about all that most closely concerns the nation’s life. The best products of the best minds of the motherland furnish his chief intellectual food, and form the basis of his education. Cheaper and cheaper editions poured out by competitive publishers in the centres of cheap production bring all the master minds who have spoken or written in the English tongue within easy reach even on an Australian station or a Canadian prairie[…]
Pan-Anglican Synods, Oecumenical Councils, and General Assemblies, together with the great Missionary and Bible Societies, keep in closest touch the religious thought and activities of the British world. The British Association for the Advancement of Science meets in Montreal, and finds itself as much at home there as in London, Edinburgh, or Dublin. Competitions of skill in arms or in athletics add their manifold links of connection. It seems as if Pan-Britannic contests of the kind on a great scale might yet revive the memories of the old Greek world[…]
Once more there is the sense of common and equal ownership of great national memories and names. The people of the great colonies have never broken with national traditions, They are able to enter without reserve into that passionate affection with which Shakespeare and Milton, Scott and Burns, loved their native land, even while pointing out her faults. The statue of a national hero, like Gordon, finds its place as naturally on a square of Melbourne as on Trafalgar Square itself. Equally in place are the memorial tablet to an Australian statesman in the crypt of St. Paul’s beside the tombs of Nelson and Wellington, or the memorial service at Westminster to a statesman of the Empire who did his work in Canada.
Strange. All this implies a vision of Canada as having something to do with British heritage, the Crown, and Christianity. Of course, there were also Canadian leaders whose vision of the country placed more emphasis on the values Leitch lays out:
There is no such thing as a model or ideal Canadian…What the world should be seeking, and what in Canada we must continue to cherish, are not concepts of uniformity but human values: compassion, love, and understanding.
A strong endorsement of Leitch’s vision by…Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
So how did we get from there to here? The story is complicated and bound up in the broader ideological shift of the West from a Europe-centered Christian civilization to an America-centered liberal world order. The main drivers of the shift in Canada were the very Canadian elite themselves. As George Grant explains in Lament for a Nation:
From 1940 to 1957, the ruling class of this country was radically reshaped. In 1939, the United Kingdom still seemed a powerful force, and the men who ruled Canada were a part of the old Atlantic triangle. They turned almost as much to Great Britain as to the United States, economically, culturally, and politically. After 1940, the ruling class found its centre of gravity in the United States. During the long years of Liberal rule, the strength of the Conservative party was maintained by those who were still to some extent oriented toward Great Britain. The new rulers…inevitably backed the Liberal party; economic and political power were mutually dependent.
While independent, the political power would increasingly be subject to the economic.
Howe [Liberal Cabinet Minister, 1935-1957] made perfectly plain what post-war reconstruction would be like. The continental corporations were going to rule. Such Liberal politicians as Brooke Claxton and Paul Martin knew where the real power lay – in St. James and Bay Streets. They did not risk using the government as a nationalist instrument. The politicians, the businessmen, and the civil servants worked harmoniously together. The enormous majorities for the Liberals in 1945, 1948, and 1953 showed that the Canadian people were attuned to the system produced by this co-operation.
We know where this ended. The project of global liberalism required the destruction of those symbols which attested to Canada’s roots. Prime Minister Lester Pearson led the charge in drafting a flag for Canada which would not reference the Dominion’s roots (the Red Ensign having included not only the Union Jack, but the fleur-de-lis and the maple leaf). The same government, while undertaking a comprehensive reform of the Canadian military, excised the term “Royal” from a large number of its structures (which the Harper government would restore decades later).
This brought Canada as a state and political project under the aegis of the global liberal world order – under the expanded influence and leadership of the political class which found their natural home in the Liberal Party. Given that the approved reading of Canadian history today reflects entirely the ideological prejudices of this class, it is nothing but laughable that the Harper government was charged by some with “rewriting history“.
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau might be viewed as something of a cultural climax to this trend, since he instituted the policy of multiculturalism which today has all but taken the place of a Canadian distinctiveness rooted in its heritage. Unsurprisingly, his successors, both grit and tory, represented merely different ways of integrating Canada into this project. The Conservative party champions free trade and foreign policy, and the Liberal party champions migration, liberal values, and internationalism. Justin Trudeau has followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming the embodiment of white millennial liberalism in power.
Perhaps then, it’s not surprising that the Canadian values of Leitch and company would not be out of place in any country within the American umbrella. It is also unsurprising that they do not reflect what the generations which formed, founded, and first led Canada believed made their country distinct. Leitch is not incorrect that Canadians prize the values laid out above. Indeed, Canadians share them with much of the Anglosphere and Europe precisely because of the foundational role which more individualistic northwest European populations had in its establishment. Likewise, its heritage includes the particular legal, linguistic, cultural, and religious forms which the English and French populations incorporated into the overarching political life of the country.
The discussion over Canadian values must be had, just as countries around the world are envisioning futures which do not demand their ultimate abolition by the global market. However, this requires Canadians to tap into the currents of thought which they share with the Anglosphere, Europe, and Christendom. Let’s talk Canadian values which Strachan, Macdonald, Parkin, and Grant would recognize.