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At The Hundredth Meridian

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

Canadian identity at the end of an American myth




In 2019, no federal political party attracted more than ~6 million votes. As a quirk of our voting system, most winning candidates had fewer than 30,000 ballots cast in their name. Three years prior, ~12 million Canadians watched The Tragically Hip’s final concert. We swayed in the same wind, sung through one microphone, and shared the burden of an enormous weight. Gord Downie embodied the silent aspiration of a hardy people — to meet the world’s strength with strength, its tenderness with tenderness — and allowed us to share it with one another. He asked us to face our past and embrace a common hope for our future. Gord asked us to be for each other what he had been for us: Canadian.

“Gord asked us to be for each other what he had been for us: Canadian.”

A favourite game of professors throughout the country is to split undergraduate politics students into groups and ask them to define Canadian identity. Everyone has the same half-serious discussion about hockey and beavers on their way to the same conclusion: we’re not entirely sure.

Our reputations for kindness and peacekeeping aren’t seen as shared personal qualities or uniquely Canadian aspirations, but as antiquated, racist myth-making. This isn’t a result of academia’s liberal prejudice, it’s a generational shift of perspective. Ours does not accept the premise that a kind people would operate residential schools into the 1990s, that a nation of peacekeepers would so maim the land’s Indigenous peoples and traditions. These concerns are immense, but there’s a baby in the bathwater.

“Ours does not accept the premise that a kind people would operate residential schools into the 1990s, that a nation of peacekeepers would so maim the land’s Indigenous peoples and traditions. These concerns are immense, but there’s a baby in the bathwater.”

As Canadians, we are not immune from shifting winds. As markets and technologies change, as domestic and international power balances shift, people across the political spectrum have justifiable fears about our path forward. The division of American society into discrete camps is the result of misunderstanding crystallizing into certainty, becoming willful ignorance in the process. Urban progressives and rural whites battle over mining rights to the nation’s liberal spirit. Each side makes a caricature of the other from their local prejudices and teaches it to their children. As a strategy for governance, writing one’s political opponents off entirely and claiming exclusive moral authority over decision-making can only succeed by denying their right to representation. Civil war results when multiple factions, each claiming to be the truest expression of an irreparably fractured national spirit, lose the ability to peacefully co-govern domestic affairs.

To move forward, we need to rally around an inclusive national identity, one of decency and plurality, of reconciliation and togetherness and good faith. The social concerns of the urban left are important even if you don’t notice them. The economic anxieties of the Prairies are justified even if you have an environmental rebuttal. It is your solemn duty to engage with your political opponents, especially when that proves difficult. They are your fellow citizens. That is the cost of democracy. Their opinions are grounded in perspectives you have not lived, shaped by experiences you have not had. Maybe they haven’t shown you the same courtesy. That only excuses your behaviour if two wrongs make a right. Your children will adopt your answer.

“To move forward, we need to rally around an inclusive national identity…”

Our political system was designed to facilitate peaceful conflict resolution. Still, we are at risk of succumbing to the rot now pervasive in American political life. Our challenge is not difference of opinion, rather that splitting apart will seem the path of least resistance until circumstance forces us together.

If we are to survive the twilight of America’s great experiment, we have to remember what it means to be a nation of nations. We have to remember how it feels to be separate and remain whole. Fortunately, we are perfectly suited to the task.

We are Canadian.


#article #canada #politics

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