The Americans of the Excited States like to say that theirs is a long experiment in Democracy. But, just because Canada didn’t begin with a bang, like they did, by having a Revolution to get things going, doesn’t mean that we, also, are not a continuing experiment in a different kind of Democratic system. It is a mistake to believe that this experiment is complete, and that we stand as the high point of that process. But a process it has been, as one era replaced another.
The first Europeans in Canada were glad to accept the help of the indigenous people, but turned on them once they came to value their land more than their friendship. When the Americans launched their Big Bang between 1775 and 1783, Canada absorbed a slightly different group, the Loyalists, who were more American than British in all truth, and who set themselves up as the new exemplars of all that was fine and loyal and brave. All of them, that is, except the slaves they brought with them.
The Irish were always part of the gang, until they arrived as paupers, diseased and dying from the Great Hunger of the 1840’s, at which point they were classified as somewhat less admirable and desirable than their predecessors, and provided Canada with cheap labour and a sense of wit and humour otherwise unknown in the Great White North. (That is my biased opinion, something for which I have become famous in my own right – or write, as John Lennon would say. He was Irish too, of course). Believe me, in those years when the St. Patrick’s Day Parade ended in murder and destruction as the Orange element showed their loyalty to the rest of their allies, being Irish was not something to joke about.
In later decades, the Chinese were invited to come to Canada and build railways, just as the Irish had built canals. And, following the tradition laid down, once the railways were built, the Chinese were suddenly noticed and labelled as potential enemies of Canadian Democracy: something to do with polluting the bloodline. Not pure blood, or pur sang as some called it. But that may be getting ahead of myself.
There is another thread that runs through our experiment and that is the role (or lack of role) played by women. Apparently, it took them generations before they were capable of understanding politics and economics. And it was only in 1928 that it was decided that women were legal Kemptville “persons” and qualified to sit in the Senate. That was some progress in the experiment, which still left, and leaves, a long way to go.
Where was I? Oh yes, the Canadian experiment in Democracy. We now come to the later part of the Nineteenth Century, and, so far, only the elite (wealthy property-owners) males have any political power, and those beneath them have to vote out loud and in front of their betters, who would “reward” them according to how they voted. Moving quickly along: between 1914 and 1918, the Germans took their place at the bottom of the totem pole in Canada. (May I just interject to point out that, in fact, the lowest place on the totem pole was actually the most prestigious? Another example of a general ignorance when it comes to indigenous history. But I digress – again). No, being German in Canada during the First World War was an uncomfortable place to be. Therefore, the town of Berlin changed its name to that of the honoured British General of that time, Kitchener. This followed the example of the British Royal Family, who strategically dropped their family name, Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and renamed themselves after their favourite residence of Windsor Castle.
The Japanese were the target during the sequel to WW1, and that was just one of many things for which the Canadian Government has since had to apologise. In recent days, we’ve discovered that the sequence has continued. Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. were supported here, and had the added element of, dare I say “native” elements?
It goes on, and the lesson to learn is that Democracy is messy because people are not perfect. Democracy takes time and pain, which is why the idea that one country can “bring” Democracy to another is a little arrogant: it has to be homegrown and get its roots deep before it becomes fruitful. As another Canada Day goes by, and we, as a nation, become a little older, may we become a little wiser, more informed, more understanding. Things change slowly, and it has been a long and winding road to get to where we are. Why do we think it’s worth the experiment? Because we know, and strive to prove, that living together in equality and peace is a goal worth striving for. That, imperfect as we are, and will remain, we know that “without a vision, the people perish”, and our current difficulties and challenges are worth facing, because these, too, shall pass. We shall overcome.