Saturday, 12 September 2009

Oh, Canada

With my emphasis added, Bill Kauffman writes:

Overcoming my aversion to seasonally inappropriate acts—I hate leaves that turn in August or Christmas carols sung in September—some buddies and I made our annual midsummer creep over the border to cheer on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.

Hamilton is a steel and port city of half a million on Lake Ontario. It has history and soul and a meet resentment of Toronto, which in its endlessly advertised multicult glory is like Henry James’s definition of a cosmopolite: a little bit of everything and not much of anything.

The Ti-Cats play at venerable Ivor Wynne, a circa 1930 stadium nestled into a Hamilton neighborhood that is as human as Toronto’s domed Rogers Centre is hideously sterile. Not that Ivor Wynne presents a traditional tableau: the cheerleaders seem to be recruited from Hamilton’s skankiest strip joints, and NFL-ish schlock-rock and TV timeouts offend the game itself.

The rules of Canadian football are familiar yet awry, like one’s spouse sporting a fetchingly strange new hairstyle. The field is longer and wider (I never tire of hearing that the ball is on the 53-yard line), and a single point—a rouge—is awarded to a team that kicks an unreturned ball into or out of the elongated end zone. My favorite CFL score is 1-1. Most significantly, an offense gets three downs to make ten yards. Unlike four-down American football, teams are reluctant to either waste a down with a long pass or patiently build a drive on running plays, so a premium is placed on safe short passes. Not my bottle of Upper Canada ale, but I am a foreigner so I do what all foreigners should do when visiting a country: I shut up and enjoy it and then go home.

The CFL limits imported players to 22 per team, but this is too lax. The league once proved a haven for quarterbacks whose race (Warren Moon) or size (Doug Flutie) ran afoul of NFL prejudices, but today the presence of American players is as irritating as seeing Europeans in the NBA and the NHL. Stay home, mercenaries.

Hamilton’s adopted son George Parkin Grant, the philosopher at McMaster University, made at least one published reference to the local gridders. In
Time as History (1969), his book on Nietzsche, he attached the word “pathetic” to “the performance of the quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger Cats this season.” A hardy perennial, that remark.

Before going this year, I reread Grant’s
Lament for a Nation (1965), that rare volume written in response to a specific political episode—the eclipse of Conservative prime minister John Diefenbaker—which endures as a work of richness and imagination, a statement of Canadian nationalism that is far more than tiresome anti-Americanism.

Grant mourned Canada’s reduction to “a branch-plant society of American capitalism.” He honored prairie lawyer Diefenbaker and those “nationalist hayseeds” who defied JFK in trying to keep nuclear weapons off Canadian soil. The story misfits our lazy assumptions: Grant, an organic if statist conservative, was also a Christian pacifist. The Liberals who scorned Diefenbaker as a Saskatchewan hick were pro-nuke Cold Warriors who “paid allegiance to the homogenized culture of the American Empire.” Grant’s reactionary—and I mean that as praise—essay became a basic text of the Canadian New Left. It is as if Russell Kirk had written the most damning indictment of the Vietnam War and then become the éminence grise of SDS.

Grant saw as heroic Diefenbaker’s last-ditch attempt to keep Canada from being absorbed into the “universal and homogeneous state” whose HQ was DC. The prime minister, operating from a mixture of “prairie populism with the private-enterprise ideology of the small town,” had asserted that Canada was no mere satellite but an independent nation. For his audacity he was crushed by “the full weight of the North-American establishment.”

(An aside so depressing that I have to quarantine it in parentheses: Grant’s nephew, the deracinated war-craving intellectual Michael Ignatieff, is the new leader of the opposition Liberal Party. Ignatieff, who lived abroad for a quarter of a century, has said, “I do not believe in roots.” George Grant, alas, would have believed all too well in Ignatieff, and in the nightmarish prospect of a self-extirpating Canada electing a prime minister who would like nothing better than to ship the eh-saying clods of provincial Ontario off to die in Iraq or Afghanistan for his globalist abstractions. No, Canada!)

Scarlett O’Hara-like, I refuse to think of Michael Ignatieff. Instead I envision George Grant in the end-zone seats at Ivor Wynne, nursing a Molson, cursing the ads for foreign corporations, and joining in a lusty chorus of Hamilton’s fight song: Oskee-wee wee/Oskee wha-wha/Holy Mackinaw/Tigers/ Eat ’em raw!

Canada is often described as dull. In fact, like also allegedly dull Belgium and Switzerland, Canada is fascinating. As well as being the land of those celebrated by Kauffman, Canada is also the land of Tommy Douglas, voted the Greatest Canadian by CBC viewers in 2004.

Born in Falkirk, and thus an embodied link between Canada and the United Kingdom, this Baptist minister led a party of unions, farmers and co-operators with the splendid name the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. He gave Saskatchewan the publicly owned Saskatchewan Power Corporation, its extension of electrical services to remote villages and farms, and the Saskatchewan Government Insurance Office. He gave Saskatchewan many Crown Corporations in competition with private sector interests, the unionisation of the public services, and Canada’s first programme of universal free hospital care.

He delivered the Saskatchewan Bill of Rights, with its groundbreaking protections against private no less than government abuses. He laid the ground for the province’s Medicare programme, which soon afterwards became nationwide. And he became the first Leader of the New Democratic Party, Canada’s main party of the Left. Did I mention that he did all this while a Baptist minister?

And yet my Chancellor and Facebook friend Bill Bryson's publishers once told him that "even Canadians do not want to read a book about Canada!" That is most unfortunate, because Canada is a hugely important country, where the Crown and the Keynes-Beveridge settlement that so depends on it survive and thrive upon the very North American continent, securing everything that true conservatives exist in order to conserve. There is no other purpose either to the Crown or to the Keynes-Beveridge Settlement, nor am I aware that the latter exists anywhere apart from the former.

It is striking that a large anti-monarchist movement arose in Australia precisely during the long Premiership of John Howard. New Labour is frankly "republican" to every extent short of actually saying the word, and that position is in turn the inexorable logic of Thatcherism.

In Canada as anywhere else, this all needs to be explained. But the land of the Red Tories is of course hallowed in this regard.

Indeed, Britain's real special relationship across the North Atlantic is with Canada. The descendants of the United Empire Loyalists are to the Commonwealth as the Palestinians are to the Arabs. Like the Palestinians, they even keep the keys and the title deeds to their ancestors' confiscated properties. Huge numbers of Canadians are of Scottish descent. So are huge numbers of Americans, but all the fuss there is made of a ridiculous pseudo-Irishness.

Although Canada was undoubtedly an independent country, she fought in both World Wars from the start. As one of the 16 Commonwealth Realms, including Britain, independent Canada retains the monarchy. Any of them can abolish it as many others have done, or to change her own Law of Succession. Canada freely chooses not to, just as Britain does. She cherishes her ties to us and to our other 14 sisters. Likewise, we cherish our ties to her and to our other 14 sisters. Or, at least, we should.

Canada's vast resources of fuel, fresh water and other key commodities make her a coming superpower of the twenty-first century. By contrast, her southern neighbour is already in decline. I do not mean this in any anti-American way; it is just a fact.

Neoconservatism is riddled with self-hating Canadians: David "Axis of Evil" Frum, Conrad Black, Barbara Amiel, the late Fr Richard John Neuhaus (alas, but he was shifting by the end), and many more besides. Canada is a fully North American country with close ties to Britain, including both the monarchy and the Keynes-Beveridge model of social democracy. Canada is a fully North American country where a lot of people speak French, but have a monarchist rather than a republican French flag, and are devoutly Catholic accordingly. Canada is, well, a fully North American country which is not the United States. Indeed, Canada is the only such country.

The link with Britain is what neocons really hate above all, not least because it is the way into the Welfare State and so forth. Neocons hate a lot of people and a lot of places. But their most poisonous venom of all is reserved for Britain. They believe in a standard Irish-American saloon-bar rant about a global upper-class Anglophile network, and they particularly see that network as including their own traditional "Country Club" rivals for control of the Republican Party.

Yet there are the Canadians, complete with the Queen and the Westminster model, complete with a few retained British variations on the English language, and complete with a British-style social democracy, yet sharing with the United States a continent and the longest land frontier between any two countries on earth. I mean, how dare they! Who do they think they are?

They should indicate exactly who and what they are by withdrawing from Afghanistan. And we should be right behind them.


  1. What about Diefenbaker?

  2. Ah, the morally and socially conservative rural populist who established the Canadian Bill of Rights, the Royal Commission on Health Services, the Agricultural Rehabilitation and Development Act, and the National Productivity Council (Economic Council of Canada), and who extended the franchise to all Aboriginal peoples.

    He campaigned to save the Canadian Red Ensign, with the Union Flag in the corner and thus making Canada a nation under the Cross. He opposed official bilingualism in the English-speaking provinces. And he refused to have American nuclear weapons in Canada.

    But, alas, he subordinated Canadian to American air defence, one of the effects of which was to put thirty thousand Canadians out of work. A salutary reminder that One Nation politics must always place an equal emphasis on the One and on the Nation.

  3. He also stopped the new Republic of South Africa from rejoining the Commonwealth.

  4. David Lindsay praises SNP supporter!

  5. I can't make that link work, but since I can't imagine that you mean Diefenbaker, Tommy Douglas had a very funny way of showing it, and it is difficult in the extreme to imagine a party less like either of those which he led than the SNP. I suspect that that is rather more part of the mythology than of the reality of Scottish Nationalism.

  6. The link says:

    "While in Ottawa Austin became a co-founder of the SNP Association of Canada, which in its time hosted Winnie Ewing on two occasions, Donald Stewart, Douglas Crawford, Hamish Watt, Billy Wolfe, Robert McIntyre, David Rollo, Stephen Maxwell, Kay Matheson and many others. Because of the strong bonds which the Association had forged with sympathetic Scots-Canadian Members of the Canadian Parliament like Flora MacDonald, Tommy Douglas and Heath MacQuarrie, it was able to arrange for these prominent SNP personalities to visit and be hosted by the Canadian Parliament. They were surprised to find on one occasion that Margaret Trudeau, wife of the then Prime Minister, was an SNP sympathiser. Her grandfather had emigrated from Banffshire"

    Another reason for you to hate M Trudeau.

  7. Oh, that old trick of cultivating Diaspora bodies with haggis and shortbread, as with the Homecoming. He turned up to a few free feeds with visiting speakers from, after all, a perfectly peaceable party in another Commonwealth Realm, the United Kingdom. So what?

    If Douglas had ever in fact endorsed the cause of independence, never mind the SNP itself, then it would have been very big news indeed. I can't see him voting for the former then. I can't see him voting for the latter then, if ever. And I certainly can't see him voting for either now.

    Canada and Scotland guarantee the monarchy in each other. Neither will ever change unless the other has. So neither will ever change. And independence wouldn't work with the monarchy on both sides of a land border, never mind with the person who is also the monarch as the private owner of a large estate in Scotland and spending a considerable part of each year there.

  8. "never mind with the person who is also the monarch as the private owner of a large estate in Scotland and spending a considerable part of each year there."

    As did the Swedish royal family with their private properties in Norway-----

    As this would have been if it had remained in private royal hands rather than the king flogging it to the state:

    Anyway it is SNP policy to keep the monarchy.

  9. But they must know that it would never work. Neither the neoliberal leaders nor the many Hard Left activists are really of that view, but they are dependent on paleocon votes.

    No member of the Royal Family would ever Balmoral.