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Adrienne Clarkson: The Greatest Mind of Our Times

The 2014 CBC Massey Lecturer is Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor General of Canada. The purpose of the Massey Lectures is to “enable distinguished authorities to communicate the results of original study on important subjects of contemporary interest.” They were created in 1961, an annual five-part series of lectures on an intellectual topic given in Canada by a “noted scholar”. The CBC Radio website informs us that the Massey Lectures have brought Canadians “some of the greatest minds of our times”. The earlier lecturers, I agree, included important scholars in their own right, particularly if you focus on the male names; among the first five speakers were Northrop Frye, Frank Underhill, C. B. Macpherson, and John Kenneth Galbraith. But many were included because they were leftists, and, more recently, the lecturers have been authors of titles such as Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada.

Adrienne Clarkson’s has had some notable career-oriented accomplishments as a journalist for CBC, President and Publisher of McClelland and Stewart, writer of a bestselling autobiography, a biography of the Communist Norman Bethune, as Companion of the Order of Canada, and as Governor General of Canada. But does she really “stand alone”, as CBC claims, “when it comes to providing compelling insights into Canadian culture”? Yesterday, October 8, she gave her first lecture at Montreal, with the other four parts of the series to be continued each in different cities in Canada through the month of October. The CBC program “Ideas” will broadcast the lectures on the week of November 10, 2014.

What original thoughts will she offer connecting the topic of Lecture I, “The Glory that Was Greece”, to “Ubuntu”, the topic of Lecture IV? Ubuntu is a “philosophy” from South Africa about “human kindness“, “humanness, virtue, goodness”. What have we Canadians to learn from the humanity of South Africa, a country with some of the highest murder rates, assaults, rapes, and car hijackings in the world; 66,000 rapes each year, many due to tribal witch doctors who claim that having sex with a virgin will cure AIDS, of babies and children — 5-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 2-year-olds? We will have to wait for Adrienne’s lectures.

Peter Mansbridge’s Interview with Adrienne

We can get a pretty good sense of what is about to come in future lectures from Peter Mansbridge’s recent interview of Adrienne (September 28th, 2014) intended as a preamble for the lectures. I will redact statements by her from the interview, and then offer comments. Mansbridge first asks, “Define what a Canadian is?“, and then asks her to answer first “Why is it so hard for us to answer that question?” This question is really the main theme of the interview. It will be the focus of my comments. Mansbridge is right, Canadians seem to have a great difficulty identifying themselves as a people with a particular heritage, leaders, beliefs, and folkways — other than to contrast their public healthcare to the private health care of the United States and other public services. Why is this? I will offer an answer below.

Adrienne: One of the reasons we don’t define ourselves is that we don’t tend to be people who talk a lot, or are verbal, we are people who act, who behave in a certain way, who have a certain attitude, and a stance. We have the luxury of living in a wonderful country, which has been a land of deliverance for many of us. Most people who come here have come because they were wretched and poor or unwanted in other places.

Ricardo Duchesne: Throughout the interview she uses the word “we” whenever she expresses her views about Canada. This usage of the word “we” is common in liberal elite circles. They believe that their thoughts, feelings, and experiences embody or represent the view of most Canadians, not as Canadians are, but as they should be, and as they are being made to be, as members of a universal country belonging to humanity, devoid of nationalism, ethnic ancestry, religious identity, historic pride and greatness. Adrienne projects the “we” of this universal belonging. She is Canada in her highest moral aspirations. Ordinary Canadians don’t have a full grasp of the ethics and goals of this “we”. She stands for the “we” humanity has always longed for. Ordinary Canadians need to enlarge their “circle” of “belonging” by including the whole world inside Canada. The cosmopolitan Adrienne from Hong Kong has already accomplished this task. Her aims now is to educate Canadians to embrace the “we” of the human race and the cultures of the world Adrienne images herself to be.

Canadians do talk a lot about their identity. Adrienne has spent her entire career talking about her Canadian identity. Canadians often ask this question. The reason they can’t define what it means to be Canadian is that their elites have prohibited them from expressing their true ancestral feelings. The elites of Canada have been committed to the complete alteration of Canada’s national heritage from an Anglo-French-European nation to a multicultural and multiracial immigrant nation. This effort to destroy Canada’s European identity has been going on for some five decades, and it is in this context that we should address this question and appreciate why Canadians are having such difficulties answering it.

Not long ago Canadians knew they were British. Stephen Leacock’s identification of Canada as British, in opposition to central, southern, and eastern European and Oriental immigration, was typical of intellectuals in Canada during the first decades of the 20th century. The French were extremely self-conscious of their identity as “Quebecois” until some years ago when the “ethnic vote” defeated their nationalist aspirations and their nationalist leaders watered down the meaning of “Quebecois” by equating this identity with the French language alone. Welcome Haitians and French Africans. Why did Canada come to be viewed officially as a nation founded by the British and the French if not because of the strong identification of Canadians with these nationalities? Gradually, as Europeans immigrants came, and willingly assimilated to this nation, immigration restrictions policies were instituted identifying the country as “White”. Prime Minister William Mackenzie King, Canada’s longest serving prime minister at 21 years, had the full support of the Canadian population when he announced in 1947 that:

Canada is perfectly within her rights in selecting the persons whom we regard as desirable future citizens […] There will, I am sure, be general agreement with the view that the people of Canada do not wish, as a result of mass immigration, to make a fundamental alteration in the character of our population. Large-scale immigration from the Orient would change the fundamental composition of the Canadian population.

He knew, and so did the majority of Canadians, that Canada was an Anglo-French nation, overwhelmingly populated by Whites, over 96 percent of the population, when he confidently made this announcement. He knew what to answer to the question what is a Canadian.

For Adrienne Canada is simply a “wonderful” place for immigrants, a country without historical identity other than its effort to become a nation that belongs to the races and cultures of the world. After Adrienne’s initial reply, Mansbridge goes on to say that “for most of my professional life” the major political stories he covered boiled down to “who we are” without anyone ever offering a clear answer. His professional career, be it noted, began precisely around the time multiculturalism was in full swing in Canada in the 1980s, when the borders were being opened to the Third World — that is, when Canada’s identity was set to be radically transformed and Canadians who questioned the ideology of immigrant multiculturalism, or showed the slightest identification with their European heritage, would be ostracized from “polite” society.

Adrienne: We don’t have a country-making myth, and by that I mean myth in both senses, one is an overarching story and the other one is that is made-up, we haven’t made anything up [Mansbridge: “we don’t have an overarching story?”]. What we have is reality, and we are a colonial people…we were a colony of Great Britain, and now we have a mental attitude towards the United States which makes us feel colonized by them.

RD: All nations have country-making myths, so why is Canada lacking one? For a leftist the foundational stories of nations are myths in the bad sense of the word; as she adds, Canadians have not “made up” any artificial stories about their origins. The unsaid or hidden awareness behind Adrienne’s words (there is no further elaboration in the interview) is that Canadians no longer have an over-arching story because the traditional foundational story was thoroughly discredited by liberal elites as a history of expropriation of native lands, Anglo “conformity” and immigration restrictionists. Canadians are simply not allowed to celebrate the making of Canada as Europeans. They can only define themselves as “immigrants”, no different from newly arriving immigrants, everyone equally important in the making of the nation.

When Adrienne says we have not “made up any stories”, she is really surmising that current Canadians no longer “make up” stories as they did in the past when they believed — the English and French — that they had created the country. That is a myth, in her judgment. It does not matter to her that the institutions, economic infrastructure, and values of Canada were all created by the Anglos and the French, the legal system, parliamentary democracy, the school curriculum, architecture, the arts, rule of law and individual rights — no, that is a myth! And she is right that we no longer refer to those “myths”.

Any Canadian today who asserts with pride that the country was created by Europeans will be accused of making up a story; never mind that, as of 1971, when multiculturalism was introduced, the population of Canada was 96 percent ethnically European and the country had already been created from east to west. We are all immigrants! It does not matter that:

  • 90 per cent of all immigrants who came to Canada before 1961 were from Britain,
  • at the time of Confederation in 1867, despite the large numbers of European immigrants in the preceding decades, 79 percent of the European population had been born in Canada,
  • the French-speaking population numbered about 70,000 in the 1760s, and thereafter, until the 1950s, the population expanded rapidly, not through immigration but through the high fertility rates of the French natives.

This is all passé for Adrienne, “colonial history”, the history of a people under the tutelage of Britain. We are no longer a colony, we may have a “mental attitude” of excessive American influence, but, as she quickly adds in the interview, “Canadians know who they are, I never doubted when travelling across Canada that I was in Canada…We can tell ourselves apart”. We are not Americans, is that our identity? Not quite; this is what Canada is about:

Adrienne: We are a country like no other country. No other country is like us, taking the number of immigrants that we do, acculturating them the way we do, with the different backgrounds, religious, and so on….We are able to accept things. That’s one of the things about Canada is we have been accepted and we accept. There are blips along the way, I mean it is really very ugly having treated the Japanese the way we did, really, really ugly.

RD: What it means to be Canadian, apparently, is that we accept more immigrants than any other country from different backgrounds. But this is plain ignorance of the state of affairs in the European world. The United States and Australia also ended their white immigration policies in the 60s and 70s, respectively, both pursuing extremely active policies dedicated to diversifying their populations, with similar affirmative action and multicultural programs.The population of Australia in 1945 was overwhelmingly descended from the British and Irish, and in the 1980s it was mostly European. Today, more than a quarter of Australia’s population is of non-European origin, compared to about 20 percent in Canada. The founding European population of the United States is set to become a minority by 2043. England, Spain, France, and Sweden have similar multicultural programs, some emphasizing assimilation more than in Canada, but the end result in all these countries is the promotion of diversity, the prohibition of European ethnocentrism, and the relentless acculturation of millions of immigrants from Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

Mansbridge: You are an immigrant. I was an immigrant. We are a country made up of immigrants from different parts of the world. Sometimes you get the sense that immigrants who become Canadians have a better sense of who we are than those of us who have been native born in Canada.

RD: Newly arrived immigrants have a keener sense of what it is to be Canadian than Canadians with centuries-old ancestries in this land. And they do, since the whole institutional network of the country, media, government, schools, churches continually promotes the idea that Canada = immigrant. European Canadians, the actual makers of the nation, born in the country, are prohibited from saying anything other than “I am an immigrant”, and since they are not immigrants, they are perforce unable to answer this question.

Adrienne: What is Canada is things we [immigrants] don’t think about because we [immigrants] think other people have them. We don’t define ourselves by our public education system and its excellence. Because it is by world standards, and certainly by comparison with American standards, for it is free paid through our property taxes. We don’t define ourselves through our medical system which is a single tier system that is available to everyone.

RD: Canada’s identity = Immigrant + Public Systems. Adrienne is clearly way off repeating over the phrase “we don’t define ourselves” for she is stating platitudes expressed every day in Canada about our unique public health care — as if there are no European countries with better medical systems and far higher rankings in education achievements. But it gets worse by the seconds:

Adrienne: We don’t define ourselves by the way in which we pick immigrants to be citizens in the future. No other country really says to people you know we are really picking you in order to become citizens in 4 to 6 years. We don’t understand that we are the only country in the world that does this.

RD: Of course, we define ourselves by the way we pick immigrants, but for Adrienne we need to be more emphatic about it, squashed any remaining dissent.

Mansbridge: Are we really the only country in the world that does this?

Adrienne: We are, we are; Peter, we are, think of any other, the States does not do it that way, we have in Canada, when you come to the country, you become a permanent resident, when you go to the United States, you become a resident alien. You know those to phrases make all the difference.

RD: After all this it has come down to a trivial phrase differential between Canada and the United States over immigrants. Permanent resident — that’s what Canada is about, what makes her unique. This low level of intellectual debate is common in Canada. Adrienne then goes on to emphasize, yet again, Canada’s public system, and how Canadians are “complacent” about them, but immigrants appreciate it. Then comes her final statement on immigration before the interview moves into similar intellectual platitudes about aboriginals.

Adrienne: You know when you go to a school that’s a, you look at the class in the assembly and you don’t know what is the country you are in, you look down at one of those little faces, you know, from grade one to six, and you don’t know what country they are from, it could not possibly be any other country except Canada.

RD: There you have it, Ladies and Gentlemen, Canada is the country where you don’t know what country you are in because you don’t know where people are from. This is increasingly the case in many European-created countries. Adrienne does not explain what makes Canada a nation different from other immigrant nations with public services. This is the point, for the ideology she advocates is one in which European countries will become increasingly alike in their diversity, no one knowing where they are from, what their roots are, and what is the identify of their nation except to say: Immigrant with Public Systems.

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