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“The Inner Duality Throughout: A Supranational Vision of Pan-Canadian Identity,” Ashley O’Kurley, Bruderheim, AB | Dialogue Canada
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“The Inner Duality Throughout: A Supranational Vision of Pan-Canadian Identity,” Ashley O’Kurley, Bruderheim, AB

Through the Looking Glass
Canadian history is where you learn it. When it comes to understanding the nature and composition of the Canadian federation, how one interprets Canada’s past is probably coloured by the actual places where one first comes to learn of Canada. The Canadian Conversation (an admittedly grandiose characterization of our ongoing constitutional drama) is unquestionably affected by this phenomenon. Therefore, anything that is pan-Canadian in scope must find a way to integrate the divergence of histories that makes one person’s truism another person’s myth. Although the struggle for greater unity in Canada often involves jurisdictional disputes between the federal and provincial levels of government and the division of power between them; the more profound source of Canada’s unity problems is the lack of a comprehensive identity — a common sense of where the whole of Canada has been and how the people within approach the future together. A pan-Canadian vision to this end is absolutely essential if Canada is to realize a unified future into the 21st century. Otherwise, I believe Canada is doomed to a future of drifting indifference and a kind of perpetual, collective ennui.

Reform of such institutions as the Senate, the House of Commons, the Supreme Court, and the Head of State are major priorities in the unifying pan-Canadian vision that I seek to articulate. However, the specifics of institutional change are beyond the scope of this paper. Instead, this paper will concentrate on the fundamentals of what those institutions are supposed to reflect — that is, a pan-Canadian identity. I will focus my analysis on how I believe a common sense of pan-Canadian identity was conceived in 1867, how the “two founding nations” model of Henri Bourassa undermined it over the last century, and how we can build a more universal understanding of the Canadian identity today. In outlining and implementing this vision, Canada could realize improved living standards by bringing a sense of resolution to our long-standing, existentialist debate on Canadian Unity. Over the past four decades this debate has drained an enormous amount of our intellectual, governmental and psychological energy. There is little doubt that perpetual hand-wringing over the Constitution is detrimental to our standard of living insofar as it causes insecurity and diminishes our focus — thereby reducing our capacity to collectively respond to those things which have a more direct impact in the daily lives of our citizens. The insecurity that results from our Constitutional tug-of-war is harmful to investment, trade and the socio-economic well-being of Canadians in general. We must stop this game of Russian roulette if we are to increase our standard of living over the long term. I believe that a pan-Canadian vision, based on supranational and INTRAnationalism, can help bring a sense of repose to the high stakes arena of our current Constitutional struggles.

INTRAnationalism: Reconciling the Individualist-Nationalist Dynamic
“INTRAnationalism” can be thought of as a catch-all phrase for a vision of Canandian identity that seeks a balance between individualism and nationalism and contains the fundamental principles that guide me in addressing our unity question. Although I would tend to define myself as more of an individualist than a nationalist, I would not make the mistake that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau made in his crusade against Quebec nationalism. Trudeau, the uncompromising individualist, underestimated the influence that collective realities can have on the identity of individual people. His virtual Holy War against nationalism was very evident in his famous phrase — “nationalism corrupts everything.” If we loosely define nationalism as the influence of collective reality on identity, than we can accept that human beings, particularly those who feel a sense of social or economic insecurity, will look to the people around them to identify with the support that comes from numbers. In discounting nationalist influence on individual identity, the Trudeau vision fell far short of a pan-Canadian identity, largely because Trudeau was so lacking in respect for the pride and independent spirit of the collective identities within.

Conversely, INTRAnationalisrn respects the important role of Canada’s principal collectivities. Indeed, the supranational character of Canada is at the heart of the vision that I am attempting to articulate within the context of this essay. The multinational fabric of the Canadian federation has always been a defining characteristic of Canada, but our leaders have not been very successful at manifesting that reality in our political lexicon. Make no mistake, there is a comprehensive and ever-changing Canadian identity. The foundation of a pan-Canadian identity has long been felt by Canadians, but is not often reflected in the polity of Canada. My vision of pan-Canadian identity reflects the dualistic nature of the federation — not according to a colonialist English-French paradigm — but according to the following bilateral influence of Confederation on all Canadian citizens: When pondering their respective identities, Canadians do not see themselves as being somewhere on a spectrum between English and French; they see themselves as being a combination of Ontarian/Canadian, Quebecois/Canadian, British Columbian/Canadian, Albertan/Canadian, and so on. I will seek to prove this at a later point in the paper. For now, I will underline the drastic shortcomings in some of the more dominant strains of thought in the socio-political universe of Canada.

For too long, the discourse in much of our media and academic discourse has outlined the Canadian experience as the sycophantic union of two foreign nationalities (English people and French people) that was mythologized by Henri Bourassa. In my view, the dual nature of Canada is not represented in the coming together of two foreign identities, but in the ingenious system conceived by the Fathers of Confederation to incorporate diversity in the evolution of a pan-Canadian identity. Replacing the colonialist “two founding races” model of Henri Bourassa with a vision that is more respectful of the supranational character of Canada (and closer to what I see as the forward-looking genius of Confederation) is an underlying theme of this essay. In drawing upon the federal-provincial duality of Confederation – not the racial/ethnic interpretation of “two-nationists” – I hope to help in the establishment of a more realistic and workable polity by which Canadians can finally feel a greater sense of common identity and unity. Towards that end, I will first expand on the necessity of consigning the Bourassa-sired two-nations model, and the “Canada-first” orthodoxy that grew up alongside it, to the dust-bin of history.

The Genesis of Identity
Growing up in Alberta – a place that is not as individualist as our media juggernaught neighbour to the south, but certainly the most individualist place in Canada – I learned very early that identity was principally defined by the choices made by individuals, as individuals. But the formulation of identity, is more than an individualist phenomenon. Next to individuality, family has a profound influence on identity. After family, one’s immediate community followed by the larger socio-political community are also important influences in the creation of identity perception. The emotional and physical closeness of the O’Kurley, Edmonton, and Alberta communities that I grew up in made me very aware that I was a member of these collectivities from the beginning of my individual awareness. I was also cognizant of the fact that I was a member of the Canadian community, but Canada was something that was more difficult to identify. More often than naught, it seemed that Canada was something that happened primarily “out East” — distant and less perceptible. One of the earliest experiences that I have of Canada was when the Canadian Head of State visited my hometown when I was eight years old. I clearly remember the pride and sense of belonging that came with the realization that I was a part of something so much bigger than I knew, but I also remember being rather confused at why Canada had a Head of State who wasn’t even from Canada.

Nevertheless, as I aged, the big Albertan horizon continued to inspire me to explore the meaning of Canada by exploring those parts of Canada that existed on the other side of the Alberta horizon’s endless reach. This labour of love has led me to drive across Canada six different times to reflect upon Canada at five different universities in Alberta, Quebec and Ontario.

Canada First Makes Canada Worse
One of the earliest realizations in my study of the Canadian experience was the self-defeating nature of the “Canada First” orthodoxy. In the service of Unity, this aspiring panacea has failed miserably in its attempt to respond to the challenges presented by some of the conflicting visions within Canada. In my opinion, this approach has failed, in part, because it puts the “cart before the horse” in its definition of a pan-Canadian identity. As I’ve stated, identity is primarily an individualist phenomenon, supplemented by the collective realities that exist closest to the individual. I am not a Canadian First. First, I am Ashley. Next, I am an O’Kurley, an Edmontonian, an Albertan. To presuppose that identity is defined “First,” and most importantly, by a mercurial federal identity is to disrespect a person’s individuality and the emotional, psychological and spiritual attachment she or he shares with the people in closest proximity.

The Inner Duality: From English & French Colonialism to National & Supranational Canadianism
What does the word “national” connote for you? The meaning of “nation” or “nationality” is highly subjective, particularly in the Canadian context. Perhaps the most well known definition of “nation” was given by Ernest Renan in 1882:

“A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things that, in reality, are but one, constitute this soul or spiritual principle. One lies in the past, the other in the present. One is the shared possession of a rich legacy of memories of the past, the other is a consent in the present, a desire to live together, a will to continue to make the most of the undivided heritage. Human beings, I tell you, are not made overnight. The nation, like the individual, is the culmination of a long history of effort, of sacrifice and of devotion…. A nation is therefore a vast solidarity, constituted by knowledge of the sacrifices that we have made in the past and of those we are willing to make in the future. It presupposes a past. In the present, however, it amounts to a tangible fact, which is consensus and the clearly expressed desire to pursue a common life. The existence of a nation is (if you will excuse the metaphor) a daily plebiscite, just as individual existence is a perpetual affirmation of life.”

I believe that any fair reading of the above passage would expose the two-nations myth for the implistic, ethno-linguistically based orthodoxy that it has always been. How many provinces, cultural communities, or Aboriginal groups could claim “national” status as defined by the above phrase? In my estimation, all of them could. Re-reading the above quote makes me mindful of the great number of “national” communities to which I belong, Alberta being only one example. Canada is not one nation, it is many. Indeed, it is a supranation — a federation of many national identities. Viewed from this supranational perspective, it is not surprising that Canadians understand their various nationalities so differently. Different life experiences and the innumerable influences of our more specific national communities has spawned a plethora of definitive identities and the symbols that represent them. For example, Quebec has a National Assembly and a National holiday; Newfoundland has a National anthem; nationalist movements have spawned separatist parties in Nova Scotia in the 1860’s, in Alberta and British Columbia in the 1980’s and, of course, in Quebec in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s.In Canada, these numerous identities are allowed to evolve and flourish while being represented in our polity, in varying degrees, by two main levels of government. On July 1, 1867, the Fathers of Confederation spelled out this dualist nature of Canada — a federal level of government to reflect the pan-Canadian reality, and a “provincial” level of government to respect, and better reflect, the more localized realities of the collectivities within. The cause of Canadian Unity can only benefit from a more pronounced articulation of this dualistic reality — a duality based in law that reflects pan-Canadian reality, not a sociological duality that looks to two foreign identities (i.e. French/English) as its inspiration. Canadians could more accurately recognize the autonomous identities of Canada’s component partners by replacing the word “province” with the word “nation” in all official references. The word “province” ignores the reality that most parts of Canada, particularly Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta, are actually more sovereign (in terms of their ability to effect positive change on behalf of their citizenry) than most of the countries registered at the United Nations. These jurisdictions are more than administrative units; they are strong, collective identities that are characterized by their sense of pride, autonomy, and individuality. Like the duality myth of Henri Bourassa, the word “province” is a vestige of Canada’s colonial history, and is inconsistent with the civic duality of my supranational vision.

The Collins Dictionary of Canadian English gives the following definition for the word “provincial”: “unsophisticated; narrow in outlook.” The word “provincialism” is defined as: narrowness of outlook,- lack of refinement.” This condescending characterization of Canada’s component collectivities is at odds with the patterns of personal identification among Canadians. According to an Angus Reid poll done in late 1996, Canadians within eight of ten Canadian jurisdictions, stated that they identified more closely with their national community (i.e.: their province of residence) than they did with the Canadian community as a whole. This is entirely consistent with my assertion that identity is something that individuals define from the inside out. However, it is important to note that a strong sense of local identity does not necessarily imply a lack of attachment to the whole of Canada, nor does it reflect a social reality that is a recent phenomenon in Canadian history.

In 1867, the Fathers of Confederation were aware of the strong local identities that existed in the four founding colonies. They were mindful of this diversity in their deliberations, and respectful of that reality in their ultimate conclusions. In place of a unitary State, those who laid the foundations of the current Canada wisely chose a more flexible model which would be more responsive in reflecting the different identities that existed among the four founding partners of the day, as well as those who were to join later. Individuals would be democratically represented by a dualistic system in which two primary levels of government would manifest the reality of what I refer to as local nationality and federal supranationality. This wisdom and spirit of accommodation stood in stark contrast to the violence of the U.S. Civil War, which our southern neighbour had just finished fighting only two year earlier. Well aware of the human cost of the bloodiest war ever fought on the North American continent, the Fathers of the Canadian Confederation were resolute that Canada would allow its pan-Canadian identity to evolve slowly over time through a multilateral dialogue that was always to be characterized by mutual generosity and sharing, and not the brutal means by which the United States had defined its unified sense of identity. Since identity is more than an exclusively individualist phenomenon, it was obvious to the four founding collectivities that various nationalisms existed throughout the diverse Canadian fabric, and each would require a democratic voice if the collective resentment that fuels separatism was to be mitigated. If nationalists were more likely to have a territory that manifested their collective existence and gave them a listened-to voice in the affairs of Canada as a whole, they would be more likely to define themselves along territorial lines (civic nationalism) — the sculptors of the Canadian federation wisely recognized that this was far more desirable than ethnic nationalism, which has a long history of manifesting conflict in violence instead of democracy, and separatism in place of transnational association. At the heart of Canada’s provincial-federal duality (which can be characterized as a national-supranational duality), those who crafted the 1867 Constitution had an abiding respect for the civic nationalism of each respective colony, and the provincial-federal structure they designed worked very well in manifesting the complexities involved in the evolution of identity. The duality incorporated in the provincial-federal system allowed people to feel that their more localized voices would be heard in the closer Assembly, while still allowing them to be a part of something bigger that was personified in the Canadian Parliament.

But a few decades after Confederation, one of the four founding collectivities of Canada began to accept a different orthodoxy that looked upon the dual nature of Canada, not as a civic duality by which individuals and their multiple identities could work towards a common democratic voice through two main levels of government; but rather, a sociological duality that was based on the ethno-cultural, linguistic, and religious demographics of the day.

English Canada: Henri Bourassa’s deux ex machina
English Canada doesn’t exist. It is a myth whose origins can be traced to the “dual compact” theory of Henri Bourassa, whose ruminations on the nature of the Canadian federation remain deeply held orthodoxy, particularly in Quebec. The idea that Canada can be thought of as a bilateral pact between two groups of people – referred to in the Bourassa model as English Canadians and French Canadians – runs completely at odds with the most basic principles of what the Fathers of Confederation had accomplished. Indeed, the very first line of the 1867 Constitution made it very clear that what followed was a pact between four founding groups of people, not two.

“Whereas the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick have expressed their Desire to be federally united …”

On July 1, 1867, the two “Provinces of Canada” – until then known as Upper Canada and Lower Canada – became known as Ontario and Quebec. Once united with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, these four collectivities became the founding partners of the Canada we know today.In place of the civic duality inherent in the Founders vision, Henri Bourassa’s vision of Canada introduced a ticking time bomb — sociological duality. Near the end of the 19th century, changing demographics proved that the number of francophones (and French ethnics) were diminishing rapidly as a proportion of the Canadian population, particularly in the regions of Canada outside Quebec. Manitoba was the most striking example of this demographic shift. When Manitoba joined Canada in 1870, franco-Manitobans represented approximately 50% of the population of that jurisdiction. Only two decades later, the proportion of franco-Manitobans had plummeted to almost 10%. In Quebec, Henri Bourassa observed this striking change and began conceiving a revision of Canada that would give support to his ethno-cultural brethren (i.e.: those who saw themselves as “French”). He was very effective in convincing the Central Canadian intelligentsia that Canada, in addition to being a pact among equal provinces as clearly stipulated in the Constitution, was also a pact between “two founding races.” Although present-day Quebec nationalists go to great lengths to define their nationalism as a civic nationalism delineated by territory and not ethno-racial intangibilities, there can be no doubt that the “two founding peoples” paradigm of virtually all Quebecers’ understanding of Canada was developed by Henri Bourassa according to racial differences (French & English), not territorial ones. Therefore, it would be fair to say that Bourassa’s understanding, indeed any understanding of Canada that is based on racial parameters …… is racist. Central Canadians, those who tend to be most beholden to Henri Bourassa orthodoxy, must finally shed the colonialist, racist, and ultimately fragmenting influence of Henri Bourassa’s two-nationism. This myopic vision, so disrespectful of the diversity in the Canada outside Quebec, and the insensitivity most vividly encapsulated by the words “Speak White,” are two of the biggest obstacles that have to be overcome if Canada to stem the tide of disunity. A supranational vision that strikes a balance between individualism and nationalism (a balance that I’ve referred to as INTRAnationalisrn) is needed to replace the ethno-racist orthodoxy of Henri Bourassa, while simultaneously articulating the fundamental importance that Quebec has contributed in the creation of our pan-Canadian identity.

Inclusiveness or Bust: The Canadian Integrationist Ideal
Of Canada’s many nations, the role of the founding nation known as Quebec has always been fundamental to the definition of Canada. Geographically, historically, economically and culturally, Quebec is at the center of the Canadian reality. I believe this so strongly, that I believe sans Québec il ne serait plus un Canada — if Quebec were to vote to form a fully independent country, Canada would be no more. Some of the fragments of the former Canada may join the United States, others may become independent themselves, and some may join in forming a new country; but whatever the fate of the former partners in Canada, it would be clear that the entirety of the Canadian experience, and therefore, that which defines the Canadian experience, would be terminated.

To experience the wholeness of Canada is to be enriched by the different parts of the Canadian identity. The complete removal of any of the component pillars of the Canadian equation would remove a part of your Canadian identity. Consequently, if you are a Canadian who believes in the entirety of the Canadian experience, you must be at least partially Québécois Ontarian, British Columbian, Albertan, and so on. Why? Because each are a part of Canada, and therefore, what it means to be Canadian. Sociological factors like the colour of your skin, your ethnicity and the language you speak most of the time are not the determinants of being Canadian. On the contrary, to be Canadian is to live in Canada and aspire to the Integrationist ideal of the founding partners that was characterized by a profound respect and openness towards sociological intangibilities — a natural evolution towards common identity through the holistic consideration of others as part of one’s universality as a spiritual being. As an illustration, even if you are a Canadian who doesn’t speak a word of French and has never been to Quebec, Quebec is still a part of your Canadian identity — indeed, the word “Canadian” is a Québécois word insofar as it derives from a place now known as Quebec! In illustrating the integral role of Quebec in Canadian society, I would agree with many of the former Premiers who agreed to the 1982 Constitution and later acknowledged that it was inappropriate for them to patriate a Constitution against the will of one of Canada’s founding nations. Some even say that it was immoral to entrench a Constitution that does not live up to the spirit of its own amending formula. As a gesture of good will in what will certainly be a contentious negotiating process, Canadians would do very well to express, as Peter Lougheed has, that it was inappropriate to entrench a Constitution without the unanimous consent of Canada’s principal collectivities. And it should be made clear before the inevitability of the next Constitutional Round, that atoning for the wrong of non-unanimous patriation will be done with an abiding respect for the specificity of Quebec, and of all the other nations of Canada.

One more symbolic change needed to actualize the Inner Duality Throughout would be a change in the Prime Minister’s title. In French, the words “Prime Minister” and “Premier” are indiscernible. “Le premier ministre du Québec et le premier ministre du Canada” leaves one with the impression that the leader of Quebec and the leader of Canada are equivalent positions. They are not. The Premier of Quebec, the Premier of Ontario, the Premier of British Columbia, the Premier of Alberta, and so on — are leaders of national governments, whereas the Prime Minister of Canada is the leader of a supranational government. To articulate the Inner Duality, and to help delimit the difference between these two levels of government, I believe that it would be of great, long-term benefit to change the title of Prime Minister to Chancellor.

Finally, a supranational vision of the Canadian federation, and the pan-Canadian identity that defines it, could not be instituted without the advice of a Constituent Assembly on how our Canadian soul can best be expressed within the institutions and confining legalities of a Constitution. Guided by the principles of INTRAnationalisrn, a supranational vision that incorporates the structural changes agreed to by a Constituent Assembly would help Canada to become much more proficient at knowing and articulating its common identity. And then, Canadians will finally be able to officially proclaim themselves, with pride and passion, as the world’s first multinational people — the world’s only supranation where people live in greater harmony with their sociological differences than any other country in the world.


Ashley O’Kurley,
Bruderheim, AB