CANADA: AN IDEA THAT MUST SURVIVE
Canada is a unique country, based on three founding peoples: the indigenous Indians, and the French and English, who at first displaced the aboriginal inhabitants, but are now trying to right old wrongs and forge a genuine partnership in this great land. We have also welcomed immigrants from all parts of the world and have been reasonably successful in integrating them into the mainstream of Canadian life. While doing all of this, we have achieved standards of living and of freedom that are the envy of the world, and because of which the United Nations has repeatedly designated Canada as the best place in the world to live. Could the provinces of Canada maintain that excellence, that desirability, if they were to separate? This cannot be assured; indeed, it is very doubtful. If the country were to disintegrate, it is unlikely that any part could achieve the excellence that has characterized the whole.
The present government of Quebec is interested in separating to form an independent nation. What would be the consequences if this were to be done? First, a geographical note: the rest of Canada would then be divided into the Maritime provinces to the east of Quebec, and Ontario and western Canada to the west. When Pakistan was separated from India after World War II, East and West Pakistan tried to form one unified country with northern India separating the two. They were unable to achieve this: East Pakistan became Bangladesh, and the two are as foreign to each other as are any two countries in the region. There is no reason to believe that East and West Canada could survive as one country if an independent Quebec separated the two.
In any large country, there are regional problems that tend to be divisive. The problems of New England differ in many ways from those of the states of the Mississippi valley, and both are different from the special interests of the Pacific states. The same thing is true in Canada. If the country were weakened by the separation of Quebec, those divisive factors would become relatively much stronger. The Maritimes have been economically the weakest part of Canada. They would probably soon be forced to seek admission to the United States. British Columbia is stronger, but as a Pacific region, it has long had much commerce with the Pacific states, and there has been an undercurrent of separatist thinking, fuelled in part by the belief that eastern Canada does not understand the west. In a weakened Canada, this sense of alienation would become much stronger, and British Columbia, too, would probably soon seek strength through union with the United States.
Alberta’s economic strength is in the oil and gas industries. This has attracted many Americans from Texas and other oil-rich states. Albertans share the feeling of western alienation, and, in a divided and weakened Canada, Alberta too would be under strong pressure to join the U. S. Saskatchewan and Ontario would then be terribly isolated. As Ontario has the strongest economy in Canada, Ontarians might resist valiantly, but with almost the whole continent united in an immense union of primarily English speaking peoples, the position of these remaining fragments of Canada would be precarious. I predict that they would soon complete the Americanization of North America, and Canada would be just a memory, a brief moment of glory in the immensity of history.
What of Quebec in this scenario? Would it remain the last vestige of the dream that once was Canada? It would be an island of French-speaking people in a vast sea of anglophones. Separatists have often emphasized that the map of Europe is sprinkled with countries no more populous than Quebec, countries which speak their own languages. I think, for examples, of Denmark and the Baltic states. But there is a major difference here. A checkerboard of small states, each with its own language, in a continent with at least five major languages, cannot be compared to a single, small, linguistically based state isolated on a vast, largely unilingual continent. I do not believe that Quebec, isolated in an almost totally anglophone North America, would be viable. The pressure to merge with the United States would be very strong.
And when Quebec yields to the pressure to become, let us say, the 61st state, it will be without language rights. The U. S. is already the third largest Spanish speaking country in the world (after Mexico and Spain), yet when it was proposed a few years ago that Spanish be recognized as an official language, Congress rejected the proposal overwhelmingly. Spanish is taught in many American schools, but it is always taught strictly as a foreign language. I predict that independence of Quebec would prove to be the first step toward the radical diminution of the French language in North America, possibly even toward its extinction.
Would it be such a terrible thing if North America were to become one vast English speaking country, with small but important Spanish and French speaking enclaves? In some respects, no. The United States is among the best places in the world to live. It provides the economic basis for the richest society in the world. Climatically, parts of it are much more pleasant than most of Canada. It is one of the freest countries in the world. Like Canada, it is a very cosmopolitan country, one country with a population representative of most of the racial and linguistic groups of the world.
Nonetheless, I believe that there are some valid reasons to prefer an independent Canada to a collection of former Canadian provinces incorporated into the United States. On the whole, Canada has been a more compassionate country than the U. S. This has been shown, for example, by our social programs, which, even diminished as they have been by austerity policies, are much more effective than those of the United States. Our medicare program takes care of the medical needs of all Canadians irrespective of economic status. The American system takes excellent care of those who can afford it, but this richest country in the world allegedly has some 37 million citizens who are largely uncared for medically because they cannot afford the insurance upon which the system is based. Yet, in spite of this, the per capita cost of our Canadian medicare is less than that of American medical care.
I believe that we also handle our racial problems better than does the U. S. Perhaps no country can be really proud of its record in this regard, but racial problems have been extremely severe in the U. S., much less so in Canada. Vive la différence!
The United States was founded on the melting pot principle: immigrants from all parts of the world were to blend to make a uniquely American culture, all of them English speaking. Canada, in contrast, was founded as a bilingual and bicultural, country. Initially, the founding Europeans were French or English, and both languages and cultures were to be accorded official status. As other cultural groups, such as Ukrainian and Icelandic, have grown to importance, our initial bilingualism/biculturalism has expanded to become multiculturalism. Unfortunately, the founding Europeans saw the indigenous peoples, Indians and Inuit, as peoples to be assimilated, to become quasi-Europeans. We are now struggling to broaden that policy to include native cultures in our multiculturalism.
For these many reasons, I believe that it is best for all provinces, for all Canadians, even for all the world, for Canada to remain one country, undivided but multicultural. Canada is today a country that has earned the admiration and envy of the world. Let us not suffer the death of the Canadian dream!
– Edward O. Dodson,