It’s been a busy summer, yet Meritha and I have had several occasions to kick back and enjoy some of the sporadic stretches of great Calgary weather. One of our favourite things to do is go to Calgary’s East Village and walk along the river; one of the rare places our city fathers and administrators are doing a great job, and then find a place to sit and have a cold drink.
One such occasion led us into a conversation with a sparkling thirty-something German couple at the table next to ours, who turned out to be widely traveled teachers. (I know, Germans aren’t known to sparkle, but this couple did!) They’d been in Western Canada for nearly 3 weeks and were leaving for Germany the next day. The conversation lasted two hours, maybe more.
They were impressed with Canada and its immense size, and the friendliness of the people. They were even impressed with the size of the enclosures for the animals at the Calgary Zoo, which surprised me as I had always believed that Berlin’s zoo, which is more world-famous, was also probably more advanced. Not so!
We eventually got to Canada’s current problems, and the issue of Western alienation. Somehow?? I brought up the fact that I believe that separation, or at least a serious threat of separation, is the only way to prevent my grandchildren and great-grandchildren from going through the same divisive and disrespectful relationship with Central and Eastern Canada that we are currently experiencing. They were astonished that Canada could be so divided.
Another topic that came up was Brexit, and the EU. At the beginning of our conversation, the young couple had indicated that they were great supporters of the EU, and I expect that that is a common German attitude, perhaps because Germany considers itself the leader of the EU, and the leader of Europe. (Maybe like Ontario and Québec see themselves as the arbiters of all things Canadian.)
But that led me to pointing out that, in practical terms, there is no way to make a German and an Italian; the former proud of their hard work and the latter of their dolce vita, or sweet life, think of him or herself first as “Europeans”.
I allowed that I’d always believed that the European Common Market was a great idea, but that the European Union, and its misguided attempts to get Germans and French and Italians to identify themselves primarily as Europeans, subject to the whims of bureaucrats in Brussels, was bound to fail. The insurmountable obstacle to this pipe-dream isn’t fundamentally ethnicity, it is cultural immutability.
At that point the conversation took an interesting turn, because the man, Frank, commented: “Maybe Canada is like the European Union”. And as much as I’ve thought about the West’s place in Confederation over the last 60 years, I had never thought of it exactly in that way before, and I told him so. I think it was astonishingly insightful.
Because we do have the same basic problem in Canada as the EU. Unlike the United States with its revolutionary war and its civil war and its existential battle against the Japanese in the Pacific, and its unsavory but storied conquest of the lower 48, Canada has no unifying story other than the CPR, and some World War I and II battles like Vimy Ridge, and Juno Beach.
We all have relatives in Canada, but often we have even more relatives in the United States and overseas. In essence, Canada is a hodgepodge of cultures assembled to halt the advance of American hegemony in the latter half of the 19th century. Increasingly, that’s not enough to keep us together.
And when some elements of Canadian culture are prepared to elect, as Prime Minister, someone so singularly unprepared to lead and unite Canada as Justin Trudeau was, and then, in spite of his arrogance and vanity and dishonesty and divisiveness and corruption, and just plain silliness, great numbers of them are now prepared to try to elect him again, then I have no wish for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be citizens of that sort of country. And the belief that a Conservative government is going to fundamentally change anything, is a triumph of hope over history. More on that next blog.
It’s time, metaphorically, to begin packing, and even if it takes a generation, we need to prepare to exit. Let me know your thoughts.
I’m Dave Reesor