The stink being raised in Quebec over Governor General Michaele Jean talking up Quebec City’s 400th anniversary celebrations this year highlights Canadian politicians’ lack of vision and leadership. There are two objections that Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe and others raise. I disagree with one but agree with the other.
Separatists are offended by the idea that Ms Jean and the federal government are calling the celebration a Canadian celebration. They say it is a Quebec celebration. This is the one I disagree with. Quebec is part of Canada and Quebec’s history is part of Canada’s history. I studied it in school, too. Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain made Canada possible. They discovered and founded a French colony, not an independent country. So, it is every bit as much Canada’s history as Quebec’s.
Where I agree with the separatists is their complaint that the Governor General represents the British queen. This is a national embarassment that I wish the rest of the country would want to remedy as much as some Quebecers do. As the queen’s representative, she is a reminder that we don’t even have our own head of state. Separatists see the link to the British crown as a constant reminder of the capture of New France by the British about 250 years ago. This is one of the biggest problems they have with the rest of Canada. They think of the rest of us as the British conquerors and colonizers. Why can’t we feel that humiliation and decide to do something about it? I mean, really, borrowing someone else’s head of state? Are we an independent country or not? The separatists know they want to be one. Maybe if the rest of the country felt the same way, we could get on the same page and move forward as one. As one joke goes, Quebec can go as long as it takes the rest of us with it.
They aren’t the only ones who are offended and think we should have our own head of state. When I was living overseas in London, I was asked several times why we didn’t “go with the Yanks”. They don’t understand why we would maintain a link with them. They were often offended to hear that the queen has the title Queen of Canada. “What? Now their taking our queen?”, they would say. They don’t want to share her with us. She’s their head of state. Every country should have its own head of state. They think like a country.
By contrast, a lot of people in Canada still want to share their head of state rather than have one of our own. They think like colonials. Many of these people are British immigrants or recent descendants of them who don’t want to let go. Some may be descendants of United Empire Loyalists who cling to British roots partly out of bitterness over what their ancestors endured at the hands of their former neighbours.
This attitude is holding us back as a country. Not only does it give separatists something to complain about, it permeates our political and business leadership. Colonial style thinking is still widespread. Fitting into others’ plans is the easier option than conceiving and executing our own. Sending raw materials to bolder countries that know what they want to do with them is easier than making and marketing products. Arguably, we’ve even been lazy about that. I don’t agree with everything in it, but, as Andrew Cohen wrote in ‘While Canada Slept’, we don’t export to others so much as allow them to import from us. If we still cling politically to our colonial connection to Britain, economically we look a lot like an American colony.
Letting go of mummy’s apron strings would go a long way towards alleviating the resentment felt by many separatists. It would be a good investment in national unity. It could also result in a new attitude and outlook among our political and business leaders – one that puts us first. Maybe then, if we stop clinging to the past, we will start thinking about and planning for the future. Maybe we could see leaders emerge with a vision of the future that extends beyond the next election. Maybe we would see some forward planning, with short, medium, and long term goals. They might even think about where this country could be at the end of this century, for example – long after they’re gone.
Vision. Goals. Planning. Going your own way. Takes balls. Do we have ‘em or not?