Views on CanadaOne of my favourite observations is an adage that appears in all my dictionaries of quotations. It goes like this: “Canada only needs to be known in order to be great.” This adage affirms that true greatness flows from national knowledge, and since the basis of national knowledge is self-knowledge, knowledge of one’s self is the foundation of greatness, national and personal.
The books that I have published are principally concerned with establishing the basis of self-knowledge and the extent and depth of national knowledge. I regard curiosity as “holy” and I apply the word “sacred” to knowledge of proper proportions. My personal motto is the word “Alert” and it appears on my coat of arms. As well, it happens to be the name of the most northern permanently inhabited settlement in the world: a Canadian signals station, located close to the North Pole, on the northern coast of Ellesmere Island, N.W.T. As Canadians we should be “alert.”
Is Canada the “best” country in the world? As essayist and traveller Jan Morris has noted, it has a privileged claim to be so regarded. (Indeed, he once wrote that Canadians have son second prize in “the Lottario of life.”) But as a Western Canadian statesman once proclaimed, “God has many bests,” so it is foolish to devote much time or effort to arguing the case pro or con. Conrad Black once snarled that you cannot sustain a country or base a national policy on socialized health care insurance; but he is probably wrong about this as it matters greatly to Canadians who cannot afford private clinics. Social historians will point out that the defining characteristics of Canada (multiculturalism, medicare, peacekeeping, etc.) were unknown to the Fathers of Confederation, and were indeed nationally unknown until the Liberal administration of Lester B. Pearson in the mid-1960s. (Also unknown in those days were Expo 67, Trudeaumania, French Immersion, Order of Canada, Sovereignty-Association, Trivial Pursuit, Canadarm, Tim Hortons, Romeo Dallaire, Jim Carrey, Cirque du Soleil, etc.)
When I ponder the distinctive attractions of Canada – ignoring the country’s less-endearing characteristics (hypocrisy, lip service paid to multiculuralism, low esteem for the arts, lack of national educational standards, winter weather, lack of national purpose, etc.) – I always remember two remarks that shed light on important national features.
First remark: During the Centennial year, a newspaperman interviewed a Ukrainian farmer in rural Saskatchewan. The farmer was succinct in expressing his liking for Canada: “No wars here.”Second remark: Earlier this year our dentist, a woman who speaks Russian and Georgian who trained first in Moscow and then in Toronto, exclaimed: “People are still trying to be decent here.”These two remarks speak volumes, more loudly than do the tomes of political scientists, sociologists, pollsters, politicians, and editorial opinion-makers.
Will Canadian values endure? All we have to do is define them and then equate them with our interests as a nation. Once we do that, the answer is an unqualified “yes, they will endure.” I see signs that this is indeed happening. The cliche that Canada like Alberta is “next year country” expired some decades ago. We will all be better off once we decide what can be done and what should be done and then we do it.
We like to talk about the weather, as the actor Robert Morley once observed. Perhaps because of this I trained and am now talented as a weather forecaster. I can predict tomorrow’s weather conditions with uncommon accuracy. If you ask me, “What will the weather be like tomorrow?” I have no problem giving you the right answer. Indeed, I will be 80 percent right when I reply, “Conditions will persist.” The reason for this is that once a pattern is in place, it remains in place … until it is displaced.
So, as a seasoned weather forecaster, allow me to predict that Canada will continue to exist, its salient features will continue to be salient features, good or bad, and that in the days and decades ahead, things will remain much the same as they are today. In other words, “Canadian conditions will persist.”
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