True or False

While cel­e­brat­ing Canada’s birth­day, Cana­di­ans might want to take some time to sep­a­rate myth from fact.

Canada's History - - CONTENTS - By Ed Whit­comb

While cel­e­brat­ing Canada’s birth­day, Cana­di­ans might want to take some time to sep­a­rate myth from fact.

The 150th an­niver­sary of Con­fed­er­a­tion this July 1 is an ab­so­lutely re­mark­able achieve­ment. The Con­fed­er­a­tion of 1867 was the bedrock of mod­ern Canada, as it gave us both the union of the colonies and fed­er­al­ism as a sys­tem of gov­er­nance. The ex­pan­sion of Canada from sea to sea made it the sec­ond-largest po­lit­i­cal en­tity in the world, and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions in­her­ited a wealth of geo­graphic di­ver­sity and beauty, unique re­gions and peo­ples, and vast nat­u­ral re­sources. This enor­mous achieve­ment has been cel­e­brated from day one, but along the way some great myths have also arisen. Here’s a handy guide to sort­ing fact from fic­tion when it comes to Con­fed­er­a­tion. Canada’s true age

It is of­ten said that Canada was founded in 1867 and that we are cel­e­brat­ing its 150th an­niver­sary this year. Ac­tu­ally, “Canada” was of­fi­cially es­tab­lished on De­cem­ber 26, 1791, when a con­sti­tu­tional act came into ef­fect that di­vided Que­bec into Lower Canada and Up­per Canada. Thus, the orig­i­nal Canada turns 226 years old this year. When the United Province of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Sco­tia joined to­gether in 1867, they took the name of the largest colony, “Canada,” and called it a Do­min­ion to avoid con­fus­ing it with the old Province of Canada. So it’s only the Do­min­ion that is 150 years old, Canada be­ing much older and the con­fu­sion over its name much more re­cent.

A coun­try and a na­tion, eh?

A favourite myth is that Canada be­came a coun­try and a na­tion on July 1, 1867. How­ever, a coun­try is an area of land whose sovereignty or independence is rec­og­nized by other coun­tries; Canada only be­came one when Bri­tain fi­nally rec­og­nized its independence in 1931. A na­tion is a group of peo­ple with a sense of iden­tity based on things like com­mon his­tory, culture, val­ues, lan­guage, and re­li­gion. In 1867, French Cana­di­ans, Aca­di­ans, and dozens of First Nations met that def­i­ni­tion, as did the Ir­ish, English, and Scots. By the mid-twen­ti­eth cen­tury the three lat­ter groups had ho­mog­e­nized suf­fi­ciently to be called Cana­di­ans; but Que­be­cers did not see them­selves as part of the same na­tion, and the First Nations and Inuit were still on the out­side look­ing in.

The divine Sir John A.

Since United States Pres­i­dent Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton could walk on wa­ter — ac­cord­ing to Amer­i­can mythol­ogy — so Sir John A. Macdon­ald had to be elevated to near god­like sta­tus in Canada. He was per­haps the great­est and most im­por­tant of our prime min­is­ters, but he was only one of the three main ar­chi­tects of Con­fed­er­a­tion. Ge­orge Brown and Ge­orge-Éti­enne Cartier led the largest par­ties, and it was their agree­ment that led to fed­er­al­ism, some­thing Macdon­ald un­suc­cess­fully op­posed through­out his ca­reer. He favoured a uni­tary sys­tem, where power is held by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment. Macdon­ald’s out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion came later, when he made Con­fed­er­a­tion work, ex­panded it to the Pa­cific, and added the three prov­inces of Man­i­toba, B.C., and P.E.I.

Que­bec: a province like the oth­ers?

Re­ally? After the Sec­ond World War, it be­came pop­u­lar to say that, while Que­bec was cul­tur­ally dis­tinct, it was the same as the other prov­inces po­lit­i­cally and con­sti­tu­tion­ally. In fact, the Bri­tish North Amer­ica Act iden­ti­fies a num­ber of ways in which Que­bec is treated dif­fer­ently. Civil law, health, wel­fare, and ed­u­ca­tion were made pro­vin­cial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties so Que­bec could han­dle those mat­ters in­de­pen­dently — which it has proudly and de­fi­antly done for a hun­dred and fifty years. These mea­sures gave Que­bec con­trol over its lan­guage and culture. And there are other dif­fer­ences, like hav­ing a

Na­tional Assem­bly.

Ot­tawa rules?

Per­haps the most im­por­tant myth is that the cen­tral gov­ern­ment was given, and still has, the most im­por­tant jobs and is there­fore su­pe­rior to the prov­inces. The tasks it faced were cer­tainly huge, but most things that af­fected a per­son’s in­di­vid­ual life were pro­vin­cial, as were some ma­jor eco­nomic re­spon­si­bil­i­ties such as nat­u­ral re­sources. Per­haps the true mea­sure of rel­a­tive im­por­tance is the fact that, since the First World War, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has re­lent­lessly at­tempted to gain in­flu­ence over pro­vin­cial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. The re­sult­ing strug­gle for power will likely con­tinue for an­other cen­tury and a half as the saga of Con­fed­er­a­tion un­folds.

John A. Macdon­ald, Ge­orge-Éti­enne Cartier and Ge­orge Brown.

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