Revolution From Above

By Kenneth McDonald
Published in The Social Contract
Volume 11, Number 2 (Winter 2000-2001)
Issue theme: "America and Great Britan: common past - shared future?"

Any attempt to trace the strength of British roots in Canada must acknowledge certain facts. 'When he has an assured majority in the House of Commons the Canadian prime minister is the nearest thing to a dictator - if he wants to be one.' (Lester Pearson)

'A French Canadian is not the same as an English Canadian, differing only as to the tongue he speaks; he speaks differently because he is different.' (Former Quebec premier Jean-Jacques Bertrand - emphasis in the original.)

From 1963 to 1984, two Canadian prime ministers, Lester Pearson and his successor Pierre Trudeau, were opposed to nationalism of any kind. A provincial premier - Angus MacLean - said of Pearson that 'he had a real obsession that you had to sanitize yourself as a country from anything that was British or traditional.' In 1965 Trudeau wrote that 'in the advanced societies...where the road to progress lies in the direction of international integration, nationalism will have to be discarded as a rustic and clumsy tool.' In 1968, Pearson told the Couchiching Conference that Canadians should work to create a new kind of internationalism rather than trying to reinforce national independence.

From these facts proceeded policies that have eroded Canadian culture, centralized power in Ottawa, fortified Quebec's moves toward sovereignty, and replaced Canada's British-style unwritten constitution with a different one in the French style that has clamped Canadians into the grip of a paternalistic welfare state.

In 1867, the Canadian fathers of Confederation - English, French, Irish and Scots - declared that they were creating a new nation. That Canada is one of the few federal liberal democracies without any provision for direct involvement of the people in constitutional change is a holdover from the British tradition that stamped the country's origins. Parliamentary sovereignty, majority rule by alternating parties, inherent freedom and responsibility under the common law that kept pace with the times - the Canadians who drew up the British North America Act of 1867 sought to avoid the conflict they had witnessed south of the border by establishing what has been called parliamentary federalism.

The Act bestowed exclusive powers upon both the Dominion and the provincial governments, while reserving to the Dominion (with an eye to the south) the power to disallow provincial acts. From the start, therefore, British North America took some pains to differentiate itself from its southern neighbor. As Douglas Verney wrote 'It avoided such American doctrines as republicanism, popular sovereignty, the separation of powers, checks and balances, and limited government. Of all the American principles, federalism alone was extracted, and only one part of federalism, the distribution of powers.'

To put the difference another way to the south, We the People and an elected senate; north of the border, Peace, Order, and Good Government, and an appointed senate. To the south, distrust of government power; to the north, deference to authority.

However, in Canada as a whole it was the coherence of the French Canadian minority in Quebec that dominated federal politics. Quebeckers' political acumen drove them to vote en masse for one party. Add some votes in parts of English Canada, and the favoured party was assured of victory. Between 1867 and 1988, of 34 federal elections, in all but seven the Quebec vote was solidly for one party. Since Quebeckers' attitude was 'to the victor, the spoils,' the winning party rewarded the province in kind. Canada became mired in the redistributive politics of socialism that reflected the statist tradition of Quebec.

From the start, Canadian culture consisted of two distinct elements. For French Canadians, Quebec was the place, la nation. There were only four French-speaking settlements west of the Ottawa Valley before 1760, and none west of Lake Superior. The rest of the country was opened up by many peoples from the British Isles and Europe; very few from France. Those pioneers became Canadians.

As they shaped the land, and brought civilization to the wilderness, so did the land shape them; so did an English Canadian culture evolve from two sources. First was the struggle with Nature and geography. Second was the history and traditions of European civilization in general and of British parliamentary government in particular.

Two distinct strains emerged one dynamic, and the other static. The dynamic strain comprised many peoples who became Canadian by choice and whose national characteristics blended into the evolving Canadian culture. The static strain confined itself to Quebec, where French Canadians regarded themselves as a conquered people and devoted their energies to 'the revenge of the cradle.' Between 1760 and 1960, when the world's population multiplied by four, Quebec's multiplied by 80. As recently as 1960, I was told by a federal civil servant who worked in northern Quebec of three brothers whose wives bore nineteen children each.

As to the dynamic strain, I can speak from the experience of meeting Canadians in England in the late 1930s when the Royal Air Force was expanding. Sprinkled among the candidates for short service commissions as pilots were Canadians who had worked their passages across the Atlantic (and many of them across Canada first) on the chance of being accepted. They were quiet, polite but blunt when necessary, practical and down to earth, independent but ready to help (but not to interfere), not class- conscious. These were the features that distinguished Canadians from other people and were the foundation of an effort in the Second World War that for sheer productivity was unmatched by any other Allied nation. Into the midst of a people marked by these admirable traits marched the two idealistic internationalists who used the singular power of a Canadian prime minister's office to change the country - Pearson and Trudeau.

In 1967, when the immigration rules were turned 180 degrees with no electoral mandate and in the face of majority rejection in opinion polls, 96.8 percent of Canadians were of British or European stock (1961 census). 1.2 percent were Native Indian and Inuit; 2 percent were Asian or not stated - 85 percent of immigrants came from Great Britain and Europe. Of 222,876 immigrants, two-thirds were independent; the remaining third were 'family class' - close relatives of the independent immigrants who supported them.

A dozen years later, Liberal immigration minister Lloyd Axworthy told the Commons 'We are not trying to maintain the old stereotypes of what is a Canadian.' But under the new regulations, 'family class' was expanded into new classes of relatives and extended to all parts of the world. Nominated applicants were defined as sons and daughters aged 21 or over, married sons and daughters under 21, brothers and sisters, parents or grandparents under 60, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, and grandchildren but not cousins. A points system effectively barred independent applicants who lacked either government-defined trade or professional skills, or a job offer that had been approved by the bureaucracy. Immigration offices abroad were required to deal first with family class applicants, second with refugees, and last with independent applicants - who might have to wait years for rulings. By 1978, independents were down to 22.4 percent of the total.

This was the sea change from independents coming under their own steam and supporting their immediate families, to family class and refugees who were increasingly supported by agencies of the Canadian welfare state. In effect, family class immigrants were being selected by their relatives. One immigrant, who came from the Punjab in 1970, was himself the magnet for, on his estimate, 'about sixty to seventy family members' who had joined him in Canada. If friends and neighbors were taken into account, his connection stretched to a few hundred immigrants. In 1992, Conservative immigration minister Bernard Valcourt said 'Last year, we only selected 16 percent of our immigrants. We need a better balance.'

Nothing was done; by then the immigrant vote, and the immigration industry that catered to it, were already too strong. Canada's immigrant intake, per capita of population, is more than double that of the United States.

Between 1981 and 1991 immigrants from Europe fell to 25 percent of the total, and almost half of all immigrants came from Asia. In 1987, when 5,182 immigrants were allowed into Canada from Great Britain, 28,000 British emigrants went to Australia, whose points system encouraged independent applicants. Of the required 95 points, 70-75 were awarded to an applicant with a bona fide trade certificate and experience. Knowledge of English brought 15 points, age under 39 another ten. Over 80 percent of those who made an initial application to the Australian High Commission in London were approved. By contrast, an applicant with those same qualifications would have been rejected by Canada. The Canadian High Commission in London was getting about 2,000 applications every month, and about 80 percent were being rejected outright, that is, before the applicants even got the chance to fill out the forms.

In Europe, many immigration offices were closed. In the British Isles, the only immigration office was in London. The largest Canadian immigration facility abroad, with 12 Canadian officers and 34 support staff, was in New Delhi. To facilitate the processing of applications by persons outside New Delhi, the Canadian High Commission placed advertisements in Indian newspapers explaining how visitor visa applications could be obtained.

Meanwhile, by agreement with Ottawa, Quebec's static strain was reinforced by ceding control of immigration to the provincial government. A separate points system awarded 15 points for knowledge of French, two for English; 22 for 'adaptability'; five for friends or relatives in Quebec; four for a French-speaking spouse; extra points for families with children under 12. At the same time, Quebec's Draconian language law made French its official language, backed by penalties for infractions, all of which led to an exodus of English-speaking Quebeckers that constitutes one of the great migrations in Canada's history.

Even that sea change might have been accommodated by the generous traits of Canadian culture (that is to say, English Canadian culture), had it not been for an outcome of Trudeau's obsession with official English/French bilingualism. Because the English/French connotation offended the one-third of Canadians who were of neither British nor French extraction, Trudeau announced 'A policy of multiculturalism within a bilingual framework... The government will support and encourage the various cultures and ethnic groups that give structure and vitality to our society.'

This was later entrenched in his justiciable Charter which requires that it 'be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.'

Responsibility for preserving and enhancing that so-called heritage falls to the federal Secretary of State for Multiculturalism. Government funding enables ethnic-based pressure groups to maintain full- time staffs who then demand special treatment for intending immigrants from the groups' countries of origin, and to ensure that, once they land, the provincial education authorities teach the history, culture, and in many cases the language of the countries they came from.

The immigration revolution was done against the advice of senior civil servants, and it ignored time and time again the most detailed and authoritative reports and studies by academics, journalists, and parliamentary committees; in short, it was done not for Canada but for party. Political leaders boast about our 'caring' and 'compassionate' society, but never about the cost. Immigrants don't come to fill Canada's open spaces they come to Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, where ignorance of English and French overburdens the schools; where sheer numbers, too great and too soon, swamp the cities' infrastructure; where a glaring disproportion of elderly or otherwise unemployable immigrants stretches the social network into frequent crises; and where the taxman has been turned into a fund-raiser for Canada's paternalistic welfare state.

Canada's public debt, federal and provincial combined, and per capita of population, is at least double that of the United States. The interest on it consumes two-fifths of the taxes Canadians are forced to pay; two-fifths that brings them nothing in return no services, no benefits, and no sign of relief in the foreseeable future.

And yet, in 1999, 86 percent of Canada's exports went to the United States; Canada took in 24 percent of U.S. exports, three times the U.S. exports to Japan. Structural differences give way to the day- to-day matters of business and travel. The ease with which citizens of English Canada and the United States intermingle in jobs, trade and leisure may owe much to their common language, but even more to a common heritage of Euro-British civilization. The celebrated 'special relationship' between London and Washington is practiced by Canadians and Americans every day of the year across the 49th Parallel. With any luck it will survive the attacks of country-changing multiculturalists on both sides of the border.

About the author

Kenneth McDonald, who writes from Ontario, is the author of several books on Canadian politics and culture, including The Monstrous Trick ($10 US, postpaid, from APEC Books, LTD., 3080 Yonge treet, Suite 5040, Toronto, ON, Canada, M4N 3N1).

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