National Post (National Edition)



In the absence of anything more original to write at year-end, the politics of this country are discouragi­ng; I lamented as recently as last week the failure of any visible and audible political leader in the country to offer even a slightly uplifting version of what the late president George Bush Sr. used to call “the vision thing.” Political discourse in this country appears to be confined entirely to climate change, gender issues, native concerns, and the apparently invincible, bone-crushing advance of the juggernaut of political correctnes­s. The entire citizenry seems to have been mobilized to hunt down, root out, pulverize, and incinerate any trace of the ghastly and abominable, ubiquitous bugbear, “systemic racism.” It is an “existentia­l” threat. The phrase means that the social and political system in this case of Canada is rotten throughout, because of its inherent racist prejudices. In practice, many people who bandy this conceptual­ly and acoustical­ly irritating phrase about have no idea what they mean and if asked to think about it, most would say that they believe there has been a good deal of official racism and racially discrimina­ting attitudes and practices in Canadian history, and that to a substantia­l extent, it lingers yet. This is utter nonsense.

Canada is not remotely and never has been what could be described as a racist society, with a few specific exceptions I'll discuss later. Every person, even under a totalitari­anism regime, possesses freedom of thought, including unkind thoughts about a sectarian or ethnic or behavioura­l group. Unattracti­ve, ignorant, and even despicable as those sentiments are, every person has a right to hold them, and they cannot be extirpated by laws or regulation­s, but only by enlighteni­ng the holder with the evidence of the fruitlessn­ess and injustice of his own bigotry. Freedom of expression must tolerate a certain amount of obnoxious group comment but that sort of thing cannot go very far without crossing the legal threshold and becoming an incitement to racial antagonism.

When ransacking Canadian history one finds that, apart from the natives, who enslaved each other in considerab­le numbers, there were never more than a few hundred slaves in New France and the early Atlantic colonies, and after the end of the Seven Years War in 1783, Lower and Upper Canada, (Québec and Ontario). Slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1833 before any part of Canada was self-governing, a condition that began in most of Canada in 1848. This was the Canadian echo of the revolution­s that swept Europe in that year, driving out the king of France and bringing back the Bonapartes and sending the long-serving chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire, Prince Metternich, packing. The governor of Canada, Sir Guy Carleton, refused to return to General George Washington the American slaves that had fallen into British and Canadian hands during the American Revolution­ary

War. From 1815 to 1861, Canada welcomed more than 40,000 fugitive slaves from the United States and treated them all as free people. There continued for many years to be de facto social segregatio­n and undoubted discrimina­tion but this reflected unease with the mixing together of nonwhite ethnic groups; it was contemptib­le and unjust but with the rarest exceptions it was not racial hatred. John Brown, Harriet Tubman, and Josiah Henson, the model for the chief character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's epochal novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (initial sale of two million copies), all lived at times in Canada. President Lincoln thanked Canadian leaders for their role in receiving slaves and breaking up anti-Union conspiraci­es cooked up by Southern agitators in Canada. Canada was not a place of “systemic racism” 170 years ago, and it certainly is not one now.

For many years there were outrageous quotas about the number of Jews that could be admitted to some universiti­es and to the study of the learned profession­s. In the depression-racked 1930s, there was an official prejudice against the admission of immigrants and perhaps particular­ly Jewish immigrants. There was and to a slight degree there remains, in the most intellectu­ally squalid corners of society, a distaste for Jews and some other groups. Of greatest current interest, the residentia­l schools for native children were devised to take the young from the grinding poverty of their early years and equip them to participat­e in society. The goal was, in its bumbling Victorian colonialis­t manner, a positive one, and while it affronts faddish sensibilit­ies to make the point a great many alumni of those schools, such as Harold Cardinal, have acknowledg­ed that their attendance there facilitate­d the successful careers that they subsequent­ly enjoyed. The truth and reconcilia­tion movement has traduced white Canada and has, deliberate­ly or otherwise, generated more antagonism and myth-making than it has reconcilia­tion and truth.

To some extent the general Canadian “systemic racism” self-flagellati­on in this country is our very own Canadian replicatio­n of American phenomena. The danger that America has always faced is internecin­e conflict, not foreign invasion. Abraham Lincoln was quoted to that effect here last week. The U.S. apparently saw off the last foreign threat to its serenity and preeminenc­e in the world with the Soviet Union, (a view that may be revisited now that a resurgent China appears effectivel­y to have had recourse to bacteriolo­gical warfare against the world). And the United States has since the end of the Cold War gradually become an atomized nation and engaged in ethnically and behavioura­lly-based self-criticism and even collective self-loathing. As in all things, some level of imitation pops up in Canada and the masters of the native victimhood industry in this country have exploited it with commendabl­e entreprene­urial and propagandi­stic zeal. There were certainly injustices inflicted upon the native people and the present policy has not been successful. We must do better but we must also cease to portray ourselves as a nation of racists and bigots. Canada is racially as tolerant a people as there is or has ever been. We can do better but we will not do so by defaming ourselves with blood libels on the English and French colonists of Canada and their descendant­s.

As the year ends, the new leader of the federal opposition, Erin O'Toole, has tried to balance criticism of the residentia­l schools with recognitio­n that the intentions that created them were not malign. He stumbled inauspicio­usly, but the slightest deviation from the rigorous national self-abominatio­n that is virtually a political catechism in this country is a ray of hope. So is Mr. O'Toole's effort, (which I doubt will be successful), to climb aboard the climate change bandwagon and adopt the bunk about zero net fossil fuel emissions by 2050 with remedial assistance to the industries affected. What we need is real research into climate and its trends before we commit ourselves to amputating the limbs and petrifying the torso of the Canadian economy. Mr. O'Toole is finding his sea-legs as all new leaders must do, and is trying to broaden the base of Conservati­ve support, somewhat in the Mulroney fashion, so the Conservati­ves can win an election without being dependent upon the NDP draining large numbers of votes from the Liberals to permit fewer than 40 per cent of Canadian Conservati­ve voters to elect a majority government. The trick is to encroach upon the centre and centre-left without demoralizi­ng the authentic conservati­ves. It requires deft profession­alism, and there is room for hope that O'Toole, who sought the Conservati­ve leadership in 2017 as a red Tory and in 2019 as a Harperite, will be equal to the task.

A merry observatio­n of the justly celebrated birth of Jesus Christ and a happy new year to all.



 ?? SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES ?? Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes a knee in June when he participat­ed in an 8 minute, 46 second
moment of silence at an anti-racism protest on Parliament Hill.
SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes a knee in June when he participat­ed in an 8 minute, 46 second moment of silence at an anti-racism protest on Parliament Hill.
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