I wrote this a couple weeks ago for Forget the Box, an excellent local blog you should definitely check out.
I was asked to write a piece on the significance of Pauline Marois’ decision to remove the Canadian flag from her cabinet’s swearing-in ceremony. I see no significance in the decision, other than something I’ve grown accustomed to seeing in this province for all the many years I’ve lived here, for all the epochs and eras of our collective history I’ve studied.
What significance? It’s posturing. It’s theatre. It’s about as much as the péquistes can do at the moment to distance themselves from Canada. That may be significant in itself, but I can’t help but feel it’s little more than noise.
We forget that this was not a permanent move (apparently the flag was returned the next day), it’s been done before by other péquiste governments in the past, and they still had to swear allegiance to the Queen with hand set upon the Bible.
It’s these last two that struck me as odd, as somewhat scandal-worthy.
Haven’t we evolved past this? What was 1982 all about if the apparently secular and sovereign Premier of Québec still has to swear allegiance to an old woman in a foreign country, by placing her hand on an at best incomplete and heavily politicized book of history and moral judgments mixed in with outright nonsense?
I’m a federalist to the core and I wouldn’t do either. But I wouldn’t do either because I’m a federalist to the core. The Constitution and Charter of Canada and the political theory that led to their creation grant me greater freedoms than any other political theory developed in this country’s history, and the fault of those other theories lay chiefly in their incompatibility with the profoundly Canadian values of restraint, complexity and individual sovereignty.
A federalist has no need for a foreign monarch, let alone one for whom allegiance must be sworn. I have nothing in common with royalty, and as a Canadian I have the individual sovereignty necessary to reject allegiance to anyone, especially foreign monarchs. Why? Because Canada is a collection of sovereign individuals entered into a social contract that seeks to support and sustain our collective sovereignty. That’s what 1982 was all about…
Moreover, my Charter Rights protect my right to exist in a default secular society, where government is the great equalizer because it refrains from any particular religious orientation. I refuse to acknowledge any deity as proof of my ability to govern and conduct myself appropriately. This ability lies within me. Official state secularism is the only way to go. Québec was once leading the pack in this respect, but in this neo-evangelical era of ours, we too have fallen victim of tying culture too closely to an absurd notion of ‘oppressed Christianity’. In a superhuman effort of logical gymnastics, the new saviour of Québec’s culture endeavours to create a secular state not by promoting the advantages of atheism, but once again by lashing out at minority groups in such a manner so as to prevent better societal integration. How many orthodox Jews or Muslims do you see working at the SAQ, SAAQ or the Revenue Québec office? Do you think they’ll feel more or less welcome to apply for such jobs when an ‘officially secular’ province decides a yarmulke or hijab is an affront to our collective values?
But an illuminated Roman-era torture device atop a mountain in our country’s second-to-none city that can be programmed to flash bleu, blanc et rouge during the playoffs? Well – that’s just a part of our heritage…
The symbols of the most oppressive and destructive forces in our province, nation and country’s history – British Imperialism and the Catholic Church – are the very emblems that Pauline Marois still feels obliged to supplicate herself before. They are, apparently, those with which we cannot do without.
I can do without them, and so can you.
Let’s not forget who else in Canada has been pushing an antiquated and historically inaccurate vision of our collective heritage. The Tories have been taking down great oeuvres of Canadian folk art and replacing them with photographs of the Queen throughout our federal buildings for some time. We close down embassies and consulates in places where they’re needed most, but re-decorate those in the upscale neighbourhoods of our richest allies with the symbols of an empire that no longer exists in any tangible sense. We adorn our foreign service with the symbols of something we’re not; as if to prove our legitimacy by resurrecting the notion we’re an extension of Old Europe. And recent news is out that Canada and the United Kingdom will have joint embassies, ostensibly to save money. Are we soon to share a common military and foreign policy? This is federal sovereignty? Moreover, Stephen Harper hasn’t delivered on a single major military acquisition promised during various election campaigns, but he made damn sure to resurrect the royal prefix of our armed services! And while we continue scratching our heads over the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Libyan Mission, Harper and his crew of Bay Street marketing gurus shamelessly over-embellish the significance of the War of 1812 in a thoroughly misguided effort to establish Canada’s ‘warrior-society’ street cred.
Its all so manipulative and cynical, inappropriately Republican-esque, an awful homage to the most profane depths of American populist politics. Marois and Harper, unlikely peas in a pod, both taking lessons from the Tea Party in an albeit slightly more nuanced fashion. Both pushers of a twisted and delusional pop-nationalism where societal sovereignty is tied to imported notions of legitimacy. How pathetically unpatriotic.
I refuse to believe, for even a fraction of a second, that my country is an accident. That our society and culture are mere imports of something broken from beyond. That we must supplicate ourselves before foreign and antiquated means of social and economic control that appeal to our basest instincts as a society. We forget that monarchy and religion are intimately associated, that nobility is demagoguery, and that though both played a role in our creation, we also decided to reject them. Our rejection of that which created us, in favour of homegrown solutions, marked the first step in our evolution.
We are a Métis society. We are the integration of the Americas, Imperial Europe and the shared socio-democratic value that is openness to immigration that has characterized the nation since its inception. Our country has Founding Fathers, and many of their ideas, their values, form the backbone of Canadian social-liberalism today. Our nation has been evolving for one hundred forty-five years, and neither Pauline Marois nor Stephen Harper wishes to acknowledge it. They both fear the socio-political identity that developed out of the ashes of the Rebellions of 1837 and led quite directly to Confederation, and then for another hundred thirty-five or so years after that. They turn their back on our own symbols of strength through unity for the preference of symbols of dominion-from-afar and spiritual bondage.
It seems as though the evolution of my people, my nation, has been on hiatus ever since Stephen Harper took office. He, much like Pauline Marois, is blind to the truth that is Canada, to the greatness we could achieve as a more unified nation. Each wants to further decentralize and marginalize the legacy of Canadian federalism, and each are going about it in their own way. Harper hacks away at the budgets and scope of the census, scientific and ecological research and the national archives, while Marois proceeds to govern by decree without any debate. Neither care much for Canadian democracy, they view it as an inconvenience to accomplishing their own myopic goals.
And we let them get away with it, because we falsely believe we are nothing but an accident.