Seven Little Questions about Canada

Notes for a presentation by Jean-H. Guilmette
Russian Association of Canadian Studies (RACS) – St. Petersburg Chapter
St. Petersburg, Russia
May 17, 1999

posted on this site on 29-12-2009


1. Who are the people of Canada? Where did they come from?

  • There existed a much diversified family of native « Indian » tribes such as Micmacs, Abenakis, Huron’s, Ottawa’s, Iroquois, Mohawks, Crees, Sioux, etc. Maybe as much as half a million people, dispersed over the territories between the mouth the of the St- Lawrence to the Mississippi. France owned most of North-America then. Let my case rest on the historical fact that we waged few wars against Indian nations and killed very few of them, quite unlike our neighbours from the south.
  • Discovered by Jacques Cartier in 1534, Canada developed as a French colony in 1604 when the fort of Port Royal was build in today’s Nova Scotia, but mainly in the aftermath of the construction of the city of Quebec in 1608. Between then and the end of the French regime in 1763, about 10,000 emigrants came from France and established themselves in this new land. By 1763, there were 75,000 French people living between Quebec and the Mississippi.
  • Twelve years later, in 1776, 30,000 Loyalists – i.e. loyal to the king of England and not to the new American Constitution – fled from America and moved into Canada.
  • In the Nineteen Century, a series of wave of immigrants came from England and Ireland, following the « potato famine » to settle in Ontario, Quebec and into the Maritimes. By the end of the Century, migrants from Russia, especially Ukraine, Holland, Sweden, Italy, etc moved into Canada in large numbers. In 1913, for example, Canada received 400,000 immigrants. It was noted however, that as much as 80% of those immigrants eventually chose to move to United States after receiving Canadian citizenship… A fact I will comment upon later.
  • Since that time, Canada has pursued a policy of open doors to immigrants and receives on the average 200,000 newcomers every year from anywhere in the world. Recently, emigration to Canada has been most important from Asia and South America.

2. Why did they come to Canada? What were their self-selection criteria?

A first round of « sifting » started in Europe. People self-selected themselves to immigrate to Canada: nobody was ever forced into this land, contrary to USA where African slaves were forcibly imported, or Australia, which Britain used for a while, as a penal colony. Why then did these individuals abandon their country to come to Canada?

In essence, we share an original genetic pool with United States, build mostly of Europeans individuals which for one reason or another were discontent with their lives in their original country: – warfare, – religious persecution, – lack of freedom, – lack of economic opportunities etc were basically at the root of their discontent. In the case of French-Canadians, the movement of population represented no more than 150 persons per annum, a proportion of which returned to France once their contract was finished. One would have to conclude that those who stayed liked the freedom they enjoyed there above everything else.

Then, started a second round of sifting.

English-speaking Loyalist willingly choose to come to Canada essentially because they preferred to live under the King’s regime, which constrained civil liberties somewhat, but which provided greater stability, peace and order within society. They were willing to forfeit access to raw individualism, and the pursuit of happiness, which Americans wished for.

In the Nineteen Century, French-Canadians demography expended at a rate which is recorded as being the highest ever experience in man-kind. The Canadian economy of the times could not absorb this fast growing population. This induced some French-Canadians to immigrate to USA to find jobs. Some stayed in Quebec, others went south and, most interestingly, some returned back to Canada. This was the case of my great-grand parents. In other words, French-Canadians had a second round of choice, which some took and others did not. One therefore has to conclude that today’s French-Canadians preferred as well as the Loyalists, the greater stability, peace and order within society that Canada offered.

The same reasoning should apply for those 20% of landed-immigrants who chose to stay in Canada between 1870 and 1929. They as well, preferred greater stability, peace and order within society over raw individualistic freedom that was offered to them in the USA.

In essence therefore, the Canadian population is the product of various sifting processes, where individuals where given the opportunity to choose between going back to Europe, going to United State or staying in Canada. One must conclude that the results of this process may have been unconscious, but were not the product of hazard. Therefore, there must be strong links between the preferred values of this population.

3. What fundamental values emerge from those migration patterns?

In sum, Canadians generally come from a stock of mildly discontents, freedom- seeking individuals, who wish for peaceful social order at the same time. These three factors, in my mind, provide a unique set of criteria to understand Canadian domestic and international policies, behaviour and values.

  • We love our freedom, and will defend our democracy to the end.
  • We also like the tenets of market economy for the very same reasons it gives us more freedom to do as we wish.
  • We are a People of the Law, because this is an essential component to our freedom.
  • We believe in « good neighbourliness » and in fair-play, as they are of necessity for someone who wishes both, to do his own thing and to be left in peace. Neighbourliness and fair-play are the essence of being Canadian. Those of you, who are old enough, will remember the superb demonstration of fair-play during the 1972 hockey contest between Canada and USSR. Slava Bogou! The fair side won!
  • We strongly wish for social peace, and will accept a more controlled regulatory environment than our American friends: we accept gun control laws. We accept to pay higher taxes in order to distribute wealth more evenly, in order to reduce dangerous disparities of income. This has become a leitmotiv of Canadians in the context of today’s Globalization of trade.
  • We remain however, a bunch of disgruntled individuals, – remember that we left Europe because we were disgruntled- Quebeckers complain that « English-Canada » does not understand them, while « Red-neck Westerners » whine that Ontario and Quebec rob the resources of the country. « Maritimers » sing sad little songs about being poor and left- out, while rich Ontarians chastise the Federal Government for raising too many taxes. Astute historians have noticed that this has been a salient trait throughout our history.
  • Probably because of this, we never can agree about national heroes, therefore we have none.

4. How have these values been translated into social mechanism?

To maintain social peace within the Nation while retaining freedom, Canadians have developed a series of complementary mechanisms, institutions and practices which differentiate Canada from both the USA and Europe.

  • We have a very broad social security net, which includes universal medical insurance, unemployment insurance, minimum wages, and a great variety of Federal, Provincial and even municipal programs for redistributing wealth among citizens. For every Dollar earned, Canadians pay on average 43% direct and indirect taxes which is then redistributed: -10% more than Americans but, 10% less than Europeans.
  • To our Native Nations, we transfer annually close to $13 billion in grants, tax deductions and subsidies of all sorts: on the average, every member of a native nation receives $17,000 per annum from Federal, Provincial and Municipal sources.
  • We even transfer resources from three richer provinces to all the other « poorer » provinces. This is referred to as « Perequation ».
  • We have demonstrated a high tolerance for dissent, blended with a high taste for negotiation as witnessed by five decades of Constitutional discussions, negotiations, referendums around the so-called « Quebec problem », its most probable that given our character, these negotiations will go on for another five decades..
  • We have inherited from Britain a sense of progress achieved gradually, empirically, through precedents rather than through bold revolutions. If fits better with our desire for social peace. It therefore can be argued that over the last four decades French- Canadians have achieved all necessary progresses to ensure their presence into the Canadian political structure: after all, for 30 of the last 32 years, the PM of Canada has originated from Quebec. The Head of the Supreme Court is a Quebec Judge.
  • On the business side of the equation, we tend to be better managers than innovators, as we prefer generally well tested path and high social order, to the complex and troublesome world of creativity and venture capitalism. We find ourselves again and again mid-way between America’s aggressive economy and Europe’s conservatism. Our economic indicators of annual growth and unemployment, for example, are better than those of European economies but not as dynamic as those of United States.

5. How have these characteristics imposed themselves onto Canada’s international policies & diplomacy?

Canada’s international proclivity to be every where a conflict emerges, trying to mitigate or intermediate, is also very much part of our character. We strive persistently, to export to the World a manner for resolving conflict which will rest mostly on negotiated arrangements, on intermediation and mitigation.

  • In the sixties, for example, the Parliament of Canada adopted a foreign policy which was formally based on the search for international Peace and Justice.
  • It is a Canadian Diplomat, former PM L.B. Pearson which first suggested the usage of UN Peace-keeping forces: he earned a Nobel Prize for that.
  • Canada is a unique member of almost every international organization: in addition to our participating in G-7, now G-8, we belong, for example, to the British Commonwealth, the Francophonie and the Organization for American States, a feat neither USA, nor Britain nor France can match.
  • We hold a position of Executive Director on every International Development Banks.
  • We often lead or are among the leading group of Nations, advocating changes for a more peaceful World, such as the ban against land-mines.
  • I would argue, that even our joining NATO in Yugoslavia, is about defending a « New World Order for Human Security », – at the expense of the former « Nation State Security Order » which seems to have over lived its usefulness.
  • Of course, we are solid advocates of sound ecological management as this has been recognized as a key ingredient in improved social order, both domestically and internationally. Pollution is, and will increasingly become a source of domestic and international conflicts. It has been observed, that polluters generally suffer less from their own excesses, but send the consequences of their neglect over the head or into the waters of neighbours and adjacent Nations.

6. The birth of Canada, a kangaroo Nation…!?

Mammals are fully born in one instant. Following this moment, they acquire all legal proprieties. Most modern Nations were born in such a fashion. The flurry of « National Independence day » witnesses to such a phenomena. Marsupial however, are born very progressively, as the foetus moves first into the mother’s pouch after a few months, where he continues to develop, while taking occasional trips outside of the mother’s pouch. The acquisition of its legal personality remains therefore ambiguous for a time.

In an analogous fashion, Canada started to move out the British womb gradually. It acquired its full international personality over a period which spans 190 years:

  • In 1775, the King of England granted a parliament to Canadians in order to placate the remaining French population and refrain it from joining into the American Revolution. Thus, our first National Assembly began its works in 1792, making Quebec Parliament the fifth oldest in the world after Iceland, Britain, United States and France. This elected Parliament was granted discreet powers over domestic affairs.
  • In 1867, five territories under British rule, united into the Canadian Confederation; the Dominion of Canada acquired then further powers over domestic affairs, and a Constitution whose amendments would have to be approve by the British Parliament.
  • In 1931, the Westminster Statutes, granted the Government of Canada some expansion over domestic affairs and introduced international jurisdictions and thus established the international personality of the Nation. In September 1939, our Parliament declared war against Germany, thus creating an important precedent over our colonial power. We were not fighting England’s war, but our own. In 1914, Canadians were conscripted into the British army. It is a sorry fact that the 50,000 Canadians, who died in that conflict, are forever counted as « British casualties ».
  • Between 1950 and 1982, we argued among ourselves on the nature of a Canadian Constitution and disagreed repeatedly on how to amend it once we were the true owner of it. In 1982, Prime Minister Trudeau secured the agreement of nine Provincial Premiers and repatriated Canada’s Constitution to Ottawa. To this day, no Premier from Quebec has signed the accord.

Is it useful therefore to explain any further you how much Canadians are pragmatists and are governed by precedents? To a certain extend, we are always surprised when other Nations or other international delegations insists on starting first with a Treaty or a Covenant rather than trying things out and making use of values, such as good-will and fair- play, to govern new behaviour and improve things as we go along.

7. Canada, an anti-American construction, until NAFTA…!?

It is useful to understand Canada as an anti-American construction, as it explains a number of important features in the Canadian scenery and behaviour as well.

  • Between 1608 and 1759, the enemy of New-France, or Canada, was south. Many wars were fought between those two Nations.
  • In 1776, Americans became the enemies of the British King of Canada. Britain controlled Canada and the American Federation attempted to push the King out of the region. In 1779, they tried to invade Quebec and Montreal and failed.
  • In 1812, Americans declared war against Canada. Our American friends tend to forget that for the better part of that war, we beat the hell out of them and even burned the White House in Washington. We fought this war along with a large party of Indians, led by the very famous Indian warrior, Tecumseh. It is only because the British navy lost a battle in New- Orleans, that the war ended in a non-conclusive truce to the great detriment of Native Nations which were fighting with Canadians to establish an independent Native Nation in Ohio.
  • In the aftermath of this war, Canada built fortifications in Quebec, Kingston and dug the Ottawa Rideau River canal. These infrastructures have become interesting attractions for American tourists. The Rideau Canal was meant to allow barges to transport provisions to Kingston and Toronto away from American gun ships along the shared portion of the St-Lawrence River.
  • In 1871, to bring British Columbia into the confederation, and to avoid trade from going south all the time, we build a 3500 kilometres long railroad from Montreal to Vancouver, thus creating a country « Ad mare usque ad maren ».
  • While Americans allowed wagons-driven settlers into Indian territories in a most anarchic manner, Canada forbade expansion into the West until « Law & Order » had been created in the western part of the country. For that purpose, the Government signed many treaties with Native Nations and created what we now know as the RCMP to pacify the region and avoid conflicts between settlers and native Indians.

Figuratively speaking…a conclusion!

Last, but not the least, allow me to conclude on a few obscure facts. Canadians invented four out of five of North-America’s favourite games and the pillars of the most lucrative entertainments industry: Lacrosse, Hockey, Basketball and Football were all invented by Canadians in Canada; the only truly American game is Baseball. Yes indeed, Mr Nesbitt who is universally credited to having developed basketball was first a teacher in Ontario and that’s where he developed this game before moving to the USA. North-American football is the product of a friendly competition between students from McGill University in Montreal and Harvard around 1890. The Canadian team arrived in Boston missing one player, the goal-keeper, who had taken ill in the train from Montreal; moreover, Canadians played a game closer to what we now know as rugby. Harvard students accommodated their Canadian colleagues, played with 10 players according to Canadian rules and liked the game. Since then, both countries have been playing this weird-looking and complex game which you may know for its final « Super Bowl ». Today, Americans have come to dominate the professional exploitation of all these games and generally believe them to be their own inventions.

In these fields as in many others, Canadians often prefer to keep a low profile. Some may argue that we do not boast enough and should draw more benefits, and profits, from our initiatives, while others may argue that it is in the spirit of Canadians to play the role of « Eminence Grise » and to remain a discreet negotiator of last resort.

Whichever way you prefer to look at it, this is our history, and very much Canada’ s faith.

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