The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Canada, Past, Present, Future

I sometimes say that I am a patriot of the Canada my father grew up in. This is, of course, a way of expressing disapproval of many significant changes that occurred in Canada in the 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s, some before I was born, others in my early childhood. It should not be taken as suggesting that the only Canada I have ever loved is one that never saw for myself, one that passed away before I was born. I grew up on a farm in rural Manitoba. Time moves slower in the country than in the city, and the rural Canada I grew up in was still in many ways recognizable as the Canada that existed before Pierre Trudeau started messing around with it.

“Protestant, small town, British, virtuous”. Those are the words Michael Ignatieff, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada uses in True Patriot Love, the history of his mother’s family, to describe the Canada his uncle George Parkin Grant loved, and famously lamented over.

Grant, who was born into a family of illustrious Canadian educators and intellectuals, was a professor of philosophy at Dalhousie University and later professor of religion at McMaster. In 1965, two years after the opposition brought down the Diefenbaker administration over his refusal to allow American nuclear arms on Canadian soil, Grant wrote Lament For A Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism. Grant believed that the collapse of the Diefenbaker administration spelled the end of Canadian sovereignty and that we would be swallowed up in the continental and world empire of the United States of America.

The booklet, Lament for a Nation earned George Grant, a Christian conservative, a place alongside Oswald Spengler, Evelyn Waugh, and James Burnham, as a twentieth century conservative prophet of doom. Ignatieff, who believes his uncle was wrong, says that his uncle “gave up on his country at exactly the moment when it roused itself to action”. As evidence he goes on to list the very changes I referred to in the first paragraph of this essay.

Ignatieff writes that “the modern Canadian welfare state – medicare and the Canada Pension Plan – was created, distinguishing us ever more sharply from the United States”, a curious assessment on the part of a historian. Surely Ignatieff must realize that the modern welfare state is an American construction? Canada, like many European countries, has gone further down the road of welfare statism than the United States went under Roosevelt in the 30’s, or under LBJ in the ‘60’s, but for all that the welfare-states origins lie clearly within the United States of America.

Ignatieff goes on to list such things as “the repatriation of the Canadian constitution, the next-to-last symbol of our dependency on the British, and the creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, incarnating a distinctive national rights culture; and we gave ourselves a national anthem and a flag.”

We already had a flag actually, the Canadian Red Ensign, and there was nothing wrong with it. In Lament For A Nation, which was published the year the current flag was adopted, George Grant pointed to Diefenbaker’s stand for the Red Ensign, as leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, as evidence that Diefenbaker’s “basic principles were far removed from any petty sense of self-importance”. The Red Ensign, versions of which remain as the provincial flags of Ontario and Manitoba, speaks of our roots and identity as a country that is at the same time British and North American.

It was, of course, because the Red Ensign identified Canada as being British, that it had to go, even though the Ensign, which includes the fleur-de-lis of Quebec in the shield of arms, also speaks of our country’s French heritage, while the current flag speaks of neither. The Liberal Party elites who insisted upon all of these changes are often thought of as being extremely anti-American and in a certain sense, the worst possible sense, that is correct. Yet, in their attitude towards Canada’s British roots, heritage, and identity they showed themselves to be the most American of all Canadians. They spoke condescending of all the things they were getting rid of – the Red Ensign, “Royal” in the title of several government services, and the name of the country “The Dominion of Canada” as our “colonial trappings”.

What utter nonsense. The Red Ensign, far from being a colonial flag, was the flag our soldiers fought under in World War II, a war which we entered upon our own Declaration of War. The Liberal elites, ignorant of Canada’s history, considered “Dominion” to be a synonym for “colony”.

Sir. John A. MacDonald and the Fathers of Confederation wished to name our country “The Kingdom of Canada” and proposed such as the name in the early drafts of the British North America Act. This met with opposition in London based on the fear that such a title would prove provocative to the United States. The term “Dominion”, taken from the 8th verse of the 72nd Psalm was adopted as a substitute for “Kingdom”, being intended to convey the exact same meaning.

John G. Diefenbaker, in an address given to the Empire Club of Toronto on March 9, 1972 and later printed as the 4th chapter “Towards a False Republic” in his book Those Things We Treasure, describes some of the underhanded tactics the Liberal Party elites were using to strip Canada of her royal heritage:

An “Information Canada” booklet entitled How Canadians Govern Themselves states on page 3 that “…we are no longer a Dominion.” This statement is a direct contradiction of the British North America Act which gave the name “Dominion of Canada” to our country, and that was the name included in the Treaty of Versailles, the operative Statute of Westminster and the Canadian declaration of war in 1939.

The repatriation of the British North America Act, which made Canada’s constitution amendable by our own Parliament, was probably a good thing. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was not. Despite the lofty title of this document, the basic right of property is omitted altogether, whereas all of the other most basic freedoms and rights of a civilized, free society, previously protected by ancient prescription under Common Law, find themselves spelled out in sections 2, and 7 through 13, where they are compromised by the weasel clause in section 1, and the notwithstanding clause in section 33. Do we really want the government to pass a law giving itself the power to arrest some and hold them indefinitely without trial despite the rights listed in section 11 of the Charter, which all Canadians had before the Charter was passed? That is exactly what the Charter allows the government to do.

In all of these changes Michael Ignatieff sees the Liberal Party leading Canada into shaping its own identity and future as a country. They look more like acts of sabotage to me.

I hope that George Grant was as wrong about Canada being doomed to become a colony of the United States as he was wrong about socialism being “an essentially conservative force”. In chapter 5 of Lament For a Nation, Grant argues that American corporate capitalism (which he distinguishes from “early capitalism” which was “full of moral restraints”) is a powerful force for progress in the world. Grant was hostile to and suspicious of progress, which he regarded as social upheaval and change which threatened the tranquility of everyday life, rather than as societal improvement. With this attitude I am in full sympathy. I do not however, accept Grant’s conclusion that socialism must therefore be conservative. Grant wrote:

Yet what is socialism, if it is not the use of the government to restrain greed in the name of social good? In actual practice, socialism has always had to advocate inhibition in this respect. In doing so, was it not appealing to the conservative idea of social order against the liberal idea of freedom?

Socialism, far from restraining greed, encourages it. Socialism encourages among the lower classes the greed which it condemns in the upper classes. As the former in any society will outnumber the latter by far, socialism results in a net increase in greed in society. Socialism cannot appeal to the conservative idea of social order because it has historically been defined as opposition to the institution of private property, an institution as foundational to conservative order as it is to the freedom of the classical liberal.

Grant was correct in seeing corporate capitalism as a progressive force and in seeing progress as being a bad rather than a good thing. Instead of pursuing the silly argument that socialism, the economic doctrine beloved of revolutionaries around the world, was somehow “conservative” he should have pursued his thought on “early capitalism”, inhibited by Protestant morality, beyond the two or three lines he devoted to it as it was a thought far worthier of such a great Christian thinker. He could, for example, have considered the arguments of Wilhelm Röpke, the German economist who combined the Austrian school’s arguments for the free market, with arguments that such a market could only function within the framework and on the foundation of Christian moral and social order.

Grant’s views on socialism led to his being dubbed a “Red Tory”. I however, would associate that term with someone like Dalton Camp, a politician who hid his revolutionary socialist agenda behind a conservative mask. Grant, in contrast, was an actual conservative, a defender of the ways and mores of everyday life in traditional, Christian, small town, Canada, against the forces seeking to overwhelm and swamp that life.

Despite the revolutionary agenda of the Liberal Party in the ‘60’s and 70’s, I believe that the Canada George Grant loved, the Canada I love, is still out there, in the small towns, churches, and homes of rural Canada, and perhaps, hidden deeply, in parts of urban Canada as well. Canada became a country under the reign of Queen Victoria. Historian W. L. Morton, in his history The Kingdom of Canada, described the moment when Queen Elizabeth II opened Parliament in person in 1957, the first Canadian monarch to do so, as the moment Canada truly became the “Kingdom of Canada” Sir. John A. MacDonald had envisioned.(1) On this, the 143rd anniversary of the enactment of the British North America Act and the birth of Canada as a sovereign country, Queen Elizabeth is visiting her North American kingdom once more. May that inspire hope that the traditions of our country may yet be preserved in recognizable form for generations to come.

Happy Dominion Day
God save the Queen

(1) As an interesting aside, the first viceroy Queen Elizabeth II appointed upon ascending to the throne, and the first ever Canadian born Governor General, Vincent Massey, was uncle-by-marriage to George P Grant.

1 comment:

  1. And, years later, nobody has commented, which says a lot about the state of Canadian reactionaries.