Peter Brimelow, HARPERS, 1979: "Hapless Canada—The Anglophones Are Their Own Worst Enemy"
Print Friendly and PDF Fulford writes: Canada goes to the polls today, to either reelect or throw out Prime Minister Trudeau The Younger,  so we're reprinting a column Peter Brimelow wrote for Harper's Magazine in June, 1979, when Peter was working for the Financial Post, and living in Washington, DC. The column was penned during the reign of Trudeau the Elder, although there was about to be a brief gap in Liberal rule, about which the less said, the better. (The Conservative PM who was elected and then lost power to Trudeau the Elder was Albertan Joe Clark, the "Bonehead" pictured right.)

One "cloud on the horizon" note: In '79, Peter wrote that

"In instinctive emulation of Washington fashion, Canadian bureaucrats have affirmative-action agencies —with powers uninhibited by any Bakke-type constitutional quibbles—ready and waiting for a sufficient minority population to exploit."

They now have that sufficient minority population, thanks to the Liberals' ceaseless promotion of immigration over the years.

Anyone who has resisted childhood geography lessons by contemplating the globe in the kind of creative but extracurricular reverie schoolteachers abhor will have noticed how the two opposed continents of Eurasia and North America reach for each other, arms outstretched, like boxers squaring off across the North Pole. Appropriately, the Alaskan left hook threatens the swelled chest of the Soviet Union from the Bering Straits to the Norwegian frontier. But the fragmented part of the landmass that is Canada hangs back in confusion, as if already split into pieces by a previous blow.

Canada’s geographic contour is in fact a fair symbol of the country’s strategic significance and mental state. Canada is divided. Foreign attention is mostly attracted by the French-speaking nation emerging with glacial inexorability in Quebec after some 200 years of relatively benign subjugation. Equally remarkable, however, is the fact that the current Canadian state contains another nation virtually lost to history, occupying four-fifths of its territory and accounting for three-quarters of its population, which the official bilingual jargon calls “Anglophones.” They are the English Canadians, who have performed the feat of subjugating themselves.

English Canada has a long history. It figured, for example, in a little-celebrated but archetypal confrontation between the Old and the New Worlds at the beginning of World War I. When, in April, 1915, the Germans opened the second battle of Ypres with the first-ever poison-gas attack, some French colonial units fled, leaving the Canadian Expeditionary Force on their right threatened with encirclement. Among other steps, the Canadians sent back to his unit Sir Oswald Mosley, an observer from the British Royal Flying Corps, who was afterwards to be a minister in one of the first Labour governments and subsequently leader of the British Union of Fascists, but who was then innocuously becoming a war hero. More than fifty years after the battle, Mosley wrote:

From a small rise in the ground in the first stage of my return journey I looked back to see what was happening. It was an unforgettable spectacle. As dusk descended there appeared to our left the blue-grey masses of the Germans advancing behind their lifting curtain of fire, as steadily as if they had been on the parade ground at Potsdam. At that point it appeared there was nothing to stop them.

Only Soviet directors like Eisenstein, Mosley comments, seem able to recreate on film the attack of the Prussian Guards with officers in front drawing on their white gloves. Turning, Mosley saw the Guards’ antithesis:

It was the Canadian reserves moving up to occupy the empty section of the line. They were an astonishing spectacle to a regular soldier, for they were advancing apparently without any discipline at all under a fire so intense that by our standards any advance would have been impossible except by the finest troops under the most rigorous discipline. They were laughing and talking and walking along in any formation, while the heavy shells we called Jack Johnsons ... were crashing among them.

Very soon after I passed through them—as we afterwards learned—they went right into the advancing Germans and that event very rare in war occurred, a bayonet fight in which both sides stood firm.

The Canadians at Ypres, all volunteers, did not share their descendants’ chronic doubts about national identity. Canada was a distinct but integral part of the wider Imperial nation whose flag it flew. It had already proved it by defending the British Crown on the Nile, during the attempt to rescue General Gordon at Khartoum in 1884, and in South Africa during the Boer War. And World War I was to cost Canada, then a nation of some 5 million, 60,000 dead—more casualties than the United States sustained in Vietnam.

The retreat of Britain’s empire in this century has left English Canada beached and abandoned, and confused about its identity and purpose. And the problem is exacerbated by a curious act of lobotomy that English Canada is performing on itself in an attempt to minimize conflict with the French in Quebec. In 1977, for example, the government of Ontario promulgated guidelines for high-school history that make it possible for students to graduate ignorant of the world wars or the British parliamentary system that has shaped Canada’s government. Instead, students traverse “core content areas” such as “Original Peoples,” “Social Reform,” and a few nineteenth-century revolutionary twitchings dear to the hearts of Canadian socialists.

In explanatory notes the government’s education specialists observed that the revised curriculum would “develop an understanding of the Canadian identity and societal goals,” just as the year spent on “Canada’s multicultural heritage” would “develop increasing empathy and positive attitudes towards members of cultural groups other than one’s own.” Or, as the federal government said last year in a document published in support of its (nugatory) constitutional reform proposals, “Let us forget once and for all about the Plains of Abraham”—the battle that in 1759 broke the power of France in North America, marooning Quebec’s French settlers in a British sea. This is like rallying Americans with the cry “Forget the Alamo!”

Canada suppresses its past because it is, inconveniently, the story of the browbeating or brushing-aside of Quebec by a self-absorbed but creative English-speaking majority intent on building a transcontinental, even transatlantic, state. The two nations—French and English—have always feuded within the bosom of the Canadian state. Recently, however, the majority has switched to appeasement. For example, high tariffs are protecting obsolescent Quebec industries such as textiles, yielding higher prices for everyone else. Symbolically, the Maple Leaf has been substituted for the Union Jack, and the monarchy stealthily downgraded. All memory of the British connection and the world wars, which French Canada bitterly opposed, is to be excised.

The architect and chief beneficiary of this policy has been the federal Liberal party, currently led by Pierre Trudeau. Since 1896, when they decisively displaced the Conservatives, who had confederated the separate provinces, the Liberals have held power for all but twenty-one years by mediating between the two “founding races” like a circus stunt man riding two horses at once. So complete has been their triumph that the Conservatives have adopted the prefix “Progressive” and with little dispute have accepted the Liberals’ propaganda. Massive personnel interchanges between the ruling party and the civil service, combined with the political entrenchment of a bilingualism only they can fully satisfy, have enabled the Liberals to establish virtually a genteel one-party state, like the Social Democrats in Sweden. And as in Sweden, because of accumulated years in power, even an election defeat would not significantly reverse the momentum of the state.

In the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec, the Liberals’ foothold is secured by patronage and by the frequent waving of a bloody shirt at English Canada’s alleged xenophobia and bigotry—accusations that have the same magical properties as the charge of “racism” does in U.S. politics. (It is the Canadians of Eastern European origin who are most critical of French ambitions.) In English Canada, the Liberals have built an unlikely coalition of big business, progressives, religious and ethnic minorities, and journalistic and bureaucratic camp followers—a venal alliance that constitutes Canada’s ruling class.

The act, however, is getting trickier. Liberal policy in Quebec relies increasingly on the bribery of the budget. The province receives disproportionate shares of federal subsidies—for example, to industry and publishing. As a result, English Canada, particularly beyond Ontario, has become steadily intolerant of federal solutions for all problems. In both societies the presence of the federal government has created a dependent Establishment alien to its constituents, who periodically rebel, as in Quebec in 1976 with the election of a separatist-minded government. But for English Canada also, the secession of Quebec would precipitate a revolution by eviscerating its governing party. And the official culture of English Canada, an artificial compromise between what is useful to its leaders and the inchoate promptings of the nation’s mid-brain, bears responsibility for the self-destructive impulses that are now the rule rather than the exception in Canadian politics.

The nationalism of the English Canadian majority—not to be confused with the separatist claims of the French—is ersatz. It is essentially a protection racket by which an upper-income alliance of oligopolists, managers, academics, bureaucrats, and journalists, mostly living in southern Ontario, batten on an economy based largely on the natural resources of other provinces. Some of these people in 1970 formed the seminal Committee for an Independent Canada, a group of intellectual minutemen who wanted to defend the country against the encroaching greed of American corporations. Nationalism, according to them, had nothing to do with a celebration of the past. On the other hand, it did have a lot to do with “economic sovereignty,” a tenuous concept in a trading world. This period has seen an increase in the numbers and powers of civil servants involved in Canadian commerce that also indulges the socialistic inclinations of many nationalists. But there has not been extensive prohibition and repurchase of foreign investment in Canada. Instead, nationalist legislation has focused on areas like publishing and banking, two industries especially sensitive to foreign competition. By mandating Canadian content in radio and television programming, government has effectively subsidized the communicating class, and by grants to cultural activities through government agencies like the Canada Council it has achieved a state penetration of art—and artists—rarely found outside the socialist bloc. But there is a big difference between this and genuine nationalism such as that practiced in Japan. Look, for instance, at Canada’s immigration policy. During a period of loudly proclaimed concern about national identity, the country was not only receiving up to 100,000 immigrants a year, it welcomed heterogeneous cultures and races and announced that nonassimilation (“multiculturalism”) was an official goal. The Japanese would never hear of such a thing.

Nationalist ideologues have claimed that Canada’s economic culture has characteristically produced “public enterprise”—state-owned transportation systems such as Air Canada and power utilities such as Ontario Hydro—rather than the rapacious capitalism of the United States. This shows little knowledge of American economic history. But there is a distinct Canadian tendency to substitute cartels for the free play of market forces that can also be observed in politics and the arts as well as in business. Perhaps this is common to all small communities. In politics, the tendency is rooted in homegrown gluttons of privilege like the “Family Compact” and the “Chateau Clique,” small groups of established families by and for whom Ontario and Quebec were run directly after the American Revolution. Nowadays, Canada has nearly made the Family Compact an institution between the entities and interests making up its ruling class. Like all cartels, this produces higher profits for the monopolist at the expense of the general welfare.

Finance is a case in point. Canada is dominated by a few disproportionately large nationwide banks. Each is careful not to proposition the others’ exclusive corporate clients. By contrast, U.S. banks cannot branch out nationwide, rarely capture clients totally, and are constantly scrabbling for business. This is why Canadian executives are inclined to think of business, particularly takeovers involving the half-dozen large pools of capital and their attendant bankers, in terms reminiscent of diplomacy in China in the era of the warring states. For example, the takeover struggle for the historic Hudson’s Bay Company was widely seen as a clash between the company’s bank, the Toronto-based Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and a client of the Royal Bank of Canada in Montreal. In classical economic theory, cartels disintegrate without government support. Canadian nationalism has provided the perfect excuse for official intervention, keeping out foreign banks and funding professional patriots, and thus restricting the range of services and options available to all citizens. It stunts their perspective to the point where few remember the international entrepreneurs of an earlier epoch.

Canadians regard the brawling game of ice hockey as their national sport. But the old Scottish recreation of curling says more about their collective character. Played by both sexes and all ages in every community across Canada, curling involves sliding a polished granite puck down an ice rink so that it stops within a circle marked at the end. But if you can’t manage that, it’s just as good to stop everyone else. You can knock opponents out of the circle, or obstruct their access to it. The game is ruthless.

Similarly, many of the triumphs of modern Canadian politics have been negative. Prickly Canadian particularism played a decisive role in sabotaging British attempts to unite the empire, for reasons that had more to do with the egos of the politicians concerned than with principle. Canada led the United Nations condemnation of the Anglo-French Suez expedition of 1956. Again, grand strategy was probably secondary to Prime Minister Lester Pearson’s ambitions for a starring role, and his performance won him a Nobel Prize. Obstruction is only one of the objects of the game. This relates to another characteristic—befitting an increasingly bureaucratized people—of English Canada’s official culture: insecurity about status and territory. The unkindest cut in Canadian politics is the accusation that one Canadian is trying to make another a “second-class citizen” by somehow detracting from his rights and privileges. Publicists and politicians are constantly worrying that Canada is becoming a second-class nation, what they always call “a hewer of wood and a drawer of water”—exporting primary products and neglecting prestigious manufacturing industries. But in a country where fresh water and forest products are abundant, the reproach is self-defeating.

Despite officially sponsored nationalism, Canadians are influenced by American culture and economic power to a degree they themselves do not realize. On a superficial level, literally dozens of Toronto haunts echo New York: Yorkville, Sutton Place, Maxwell’s Plum. In instinctive emulation of Washington fashion, Canadian bureaucrats have affirmative-action agencies —with powers uninhibited by any Bakke-type constitutional quibbles—ready and waiting for a sufficient minority population to exploit. Canadian journalists are still congratulating themselves on dubbing Joe Clark, the Progressive Conservatives’ colorless leader, “Joe Who?” after he unexpectedly won the party leadership race in 1976. Spiro Agnew, for whom the joke was invented, might never have existed.

Even nationalist victories illustrate the derivative aspects of Canadian culture, as well as a lack of political and economic savvy. The symbolic goal of converting the monthly Maclean's magazine into a weekly was recently accomplished, with much help from the Canadian government, which disallowed the tax deductibility of advertising in U.S. magazines. The purpose was to eliminate Time Canada, a special edition of Time with Canadian editorial content. The effect has been to reduce Maclean’s, which had been a genuine Canadian institution with unmatched circulation in the nation’s small towns, into a poorly financed imitation of the American newsmagazines as they were in their 1950s golden age, when Maclean’s editors were young. Ironically, it is now vainly competing for urban readers with Time, which—having fired its Canadian staff, increased its price, and decreased its advertising rates—has better demographics and is making more money than ever. Such is the clubbiness of Canadian oligarchs that Maclean’s first cover as a weekly was withdrawn for being too critical of Prime Minister Trudeau, to whom, appropriately, it was to be ceremonially presented.

But this secret U.S. fixation isn’t really funny. The obsessive emulation of every aspect of U.S. economy, rather than the specialization suitable to a moderate-sized population living on top of vast, exploitable resources, has saddled Canada with state-directed programs and ailing industries to match any collection of Third World steel mills. Even more disturbing, as unexpected as a sharp bite from Canada’s heraldic beaver, is the sour note in Canadian life of unquestioned authoritarianism. The hundreds of innocent persons arrested without trial, when the 1970 terrorist kidnappings raised the deadly specter of Quebec secession before Liberal eyes, were quickly forgotten, except in Quebec. Canadian legal procedures favor the prosecution much more than those of the United States. The inheritance of British deference has combined with the government’s zeal for administrative efficiency.

Since the collapse of the British connection, English Canada has been ruled by an artificial elite, who have tried to rewrite its history and laws in their own interests. But events are conspiring to shatter the carapace of the official culture they favor. Not only is the Liberal party’s power base of Quebec threatening to decamp, but the oil-rich western provinces are increasingly restless at tariff and resource policies designed to benefit eastern Canada. And the floundering national economy, deeply in debt abroad and with a dramatically depreciated currency, is bringing out of the catacombs, where they had been driven by the nationalist reign of terror, a surprising number of Canadian economists and officials who favor economic integration with the United States.

Economic integration is currently discreetly discussed in terms of a negotiated “deal” with the United States, leading ultimately to continental free trade. But more apocalyptic scenarios have Quebec’s independence followed by English-speaking provinces directly applying to join the United States—the western provinces because they would do better, the Maritimes because they could not do worse. This is not such a radical shift as it might seem. Under the nationalist mask, despite all the efforts of the nationalist elite, English Canadians are an American people. Their values are in essence those of the United States.

In fact, it is because they are Americans that the self-abnegation of English Canada is understandable. Encouraging with federal aid in the name of “multiculturalism” the tendency of immigrants to resist assimilation is paralleled by the sudden acquiescence, south of the border, to bilingual education and the sprouting of Spanish-speaking enclaves. In the hour of its material triumph, the American-accented culture of the English-speaking world has been stricken by profound internal doubts.

It is otherwise hard to tell what English Canadians would be like without their French connection. They would be deeply regionalistic, and probably socially progressive, if not quite as socialistic as an independent Quebec promises to be. Anglophones would be unimaginatively enterprising, only modestly humorous, and rather reserved, although tolerant and peaceful. Their emergence at this late date would disconcert observers with a need for the sort of reassessment W. B. Yeats made of his fellow Dubliners after Easter, 1916:

I have met them at close of day

Coming with vivid faces

From counter and desk among grey

Eighteenth-century houses . . .

Or, in this more northern climate, from snowmobiles, hockey games, and burgeoning high-rise apartment blocks.

Peter Brimelow [Email him] is the editor of His best-selling book, Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster, is now available in Kindle format.




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