Commentary – A strong Canadian identity shouldn’t need defending

Tom Henihan

The Canadian Conservative Party house leader, Candice Bergen, recently stated that the party will place special emphasis on defending a “strong Canadian identity” during the fall session of Parliament.

Because politics abhors a vacuum but runs primarily on all things vacuous, identify politics is always a timely subject, especially for those bereft of any truly constructive ideas.

Beating a drum about identity and culture is the practice of zealots and charlatans who try to impose some abstract model rather than speaking from close observation and genuine membership. Once a politician defends, promote or directs the concept of identify and culture it is always rooted in factionalism and propaganda.

It would be best for all politicians to take a hands-off approach to Canadian identity and cease trying to engineer the notion of what it is to be Canadian.

The obsession with Canadian identity is the plaything of federal politicians while being a matter that most Canadians don’t often discuss and when we do, in true Canadian fashion, we usually agree to disagree.

Like any other country, identity is largely experienced by osmoses, it is in the air we breathe, expressed in the temper of our daily lives, and we rightly assume that it is already robust enough to take care of itself without any political nurturing.

If one wants to talk about Canadian identity the first truth is that Canada is a federation and not a single entity, neither politically, economically or culturally and as with any large landmass, our sense of identity varies from each province and territory.

A strong regional identity is more important, more of a living reality for Canadians than the scripted abstraction of a national identity peddled ceaselessly by the CBC and Ottawa, regardless of which party is in power.

The idea of having a scripted culture to which we must adhere is not just ridiculous but damaging to having any authentic depth of culture.

National identity and culture cannot be force grown under glass then consumed by the people. Identity is something cultivated over time. To use an analogy close to home, it takes a maple tree between forty and fifty years to mature and produce maple syrup.

No other national government, not even the US, is as obsessed with their own cultural identity as Canada, which is strange, as it is a tendency more readily associated with closed, paranoid regimes rather than a viable, prosperous democratic society.

When promoting National identity, the Liberal Party projects onto Canadians its own self-righteousness, creating a Pollyanna idyll inclusive of all who are ostensibly like-minded, where to espouse certain ideals is more important than to embody them.

The Conservatives create a scenario where the barbarians are storming the gates putting the national identity under siege, which always calls for urgent intervention and some kind of purge.

When the Conservative Party speaks of Canadian identity it does so with the fervour of a lynch mob and it usually has its chosen scapegoat near at hand.

Candice Bergen and the Conservatives may focus on “a strong Canadian identity,” during the fall session but I am sure that they will do so without offering a coherent definition of what characterizes our identity.


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