Thursday, May 07, 2009

On National Unity

When Ignatieff speaks of national unity, the common refrain from Conservatives- support for seperatism has never been lower in Quebec, a testament to the false premise that Canada is fractured and divided. No dispute on that score, although that argument tends to superficially dismiss latent problems. However, when I hear talk about bringing the country together, I don't necessarily look to the kneejerk "two solitudes" dynamic, in fact I see the "call" as something entirely different and more encompassing.

I've lived in British Columbia on two seperate occasions, a fact I mention often for a reason, which I'll address later. I've lived in Vancouver, and I've lived in Invermere, the latter also afforded me considerable exposure to Albertans, whether it be frequency of their presence in this town, the exposure to Calgary media, or my many sojourns to the province, based on proximity. My wife was born in Calgary, and we've made many visits since I left the interior. We've also spent time in places like Sundre and High River, the Crowsnest pass. I've been to the Yukon, up and down every mountain range in British Columbia. I've spent time in Newfoundland and other eastern jewels. What's your point? The "name" dropping is nothing more than a counter to the Ontario mentality, because I see myself as a Canadian, capable of processing all the diversity at play, not handicapped by regional sentiment.

During the Convention, we were in a pub (shocking I know) and someone in our party mentioned they were from Toronto to a "local". Over the years, I've trained myself to note the response, because it's fairly typical and you see if often- the eyes rolled with a sense of mild disgust. It's here where my resume comes to the fore, because this perception highlights a basic ignorance or intolerance. To be fair, the lack of tolerance is a two way street, because I've seen the Ontario response in reverse.

When Ignatieff speaks about national unity, strengthening the "spine" of the country towards common interest, maybe I hear what I want, but it translates to something more than the usual angst. I love every region of this country, each brings its own character, natural and social, that all congeals to form the Canadian identity. In truth, people who live in Vancouver have more in common with people that live in Toronto, than they do with people who live in Prince George. However, rather than embrace certain affinities, Canadians spend far too much effort denoting their own tribal sentiments and in so doing belittle other circumstances. I find this to be a waste of energy, because in my experience, I've never felt like a "foreigner" or uncomfortable anywhere in this country. As a matter of fact, I'm generally stunned by the uniformity, more a question of rural/urban divide than regional geography.

If there is one hope I have moving forward, the new technologies that make the world smaller, will manifest to the point that Canadians don't sneer at other Canadians, but instead we feel some common bond that denotes mutual respect. I don't see the call for unity as exclusive to the English/French interplay, but something broader that gets us past combative perceptions throughout the country. Naive perhaps, but not necessarily misguided or without merit in the grand scheme.


Jesse said...

Good one.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Jesse . . . good post.

Now that you know me a bit better it probably won't surprise you to hear that one observation as a relative newcomer to Canada is my surprise at how sweeping and fierce the opinions are of Canadians towards their fellow countrymen from different regions. Everyone from a given geographical boundary gets painted with the same brush it seems, the perceptions of different segments being so strong towards one another.

I find that strange simply because even in the US, where I've lived several places and regions, no one assumes they understand any individual's behaviour or political leanings based solely upon the region from which they hail.

Though demographically and electorally, you could conclude some stark, stark splits in sections of the US, there is a general acceptance (which happens to match reality) that staunch conservatives live in Boston and ultra-progressives reside in rural Alabama. There also seems to be a general acceptance that, regardless of how one votes and how bitter disagreements may be (particularly on social issues), at the end of the day everyone is "American." Heck, even staunch "close the border" acquaintances I have known will acknowledge that illegal immigrants are in some fashion pursuing the American dream as individuals even as they push for policies that would send those industrious individuals and their US-raised children back to the countries from which they came.

When Americans greet each other from different regions, the typical discussion that follows begins with a complimentary exchange on how "beautiful" their respective regions are or how nice the residents are or how good the food is, all of which is some form of national bonding and "reaching across." Though my exposure is more limited in Canada, on more than one occasion, I have too seen the "rolling eyes" reaction of Canadians to one another, which sort of belies the notion of the friendly Canadian to say the least ;).

It throws me off each time I observe it. I am not an ultra-nationalist sort, but I do think Canada has much to be proud of, including having an amazingly diverse population spread across a vast and universally grand and sweeping backdrop.

I would love to see a leader embrace that diversity in a real and genuine fashion and encourage Canadians to embrace that strength. It warmed my heart to see Ignatieff address the need for bringing the nation together. For an "academic," I've noted it also brings out the strongest emotions in his presentations. Quite a contrast to Harper, for whom exploiting division is always his clutch position.

Steve V said...


That's an interesting perspective. I think it's fair to say that Canadians suffer from a inferiority complex. In Toronto, they beg, then brag about any attention from America, desperate to be viewed as a world class city. Anytime a "star" or band, or some international figure visits, within a nanosecond, the first question asked is "how do you like here?". People need this validation, even though the truth is self-evident.

Within Canada, slagging a place like Toronto is almost required sport. Instead of celebrating a city that is internationally recognized, we cut it to shreds. Instead of just being proud of Vancouver, it always comes with the requisite compare and contrast, which again denotes a level of insecurity. I think Canada will truly reach its potential when it speaks confidently, without needing to tear down other regions to highlight relative positives. Sorry, that's a bit rambly, but I don't care how we stack up relative to our southern neighbors, nor do I see the need to shit on fellow citizens as a way to define self-identity. It's a maddening country sometimes.

ottlib said...

I get the feeling when he talks about national unity he is not talking about the "two solitudes".

I think his time in the US has given him a different perspective on what unity means.

As Joseph states, American look at unity as all citizens being Americans regardless of place of birth or language or any other difference. That attitude often leads to hyper-patriotism and arrogance and ignorance towards the rest of the world.

However, if Mr. Ignatieff can bring that kind of unity to the country tempered with Canadian values of tolerance and balance then Canadians could see a new way of looking at their country and its citizens.

It will be interesting to see how things unfold going forward.