Canada is a nation of equitable compromises between a variety of cultural, social, and economic ideals. This balancing of interests has been particularly pronounced after World War II, a time when fresh waves of immigrants arrived in Canada and the social welfare net was patched together. Though many critics thought that these factors would topple the primarily bicultural constitution of Canada and stunt the strong economic recovery of the post-war era, Canada instead adapted to these new factors, gradually reinventing itself as a multicultural society with generous, people-directed social policies. But in recent years, a new set of external influences has not only threatened but has also begun to undermine these cherished national characteristics. Free trade and globalization have placed a daunting strain upon our social institutions and the tax system that vitalizes it, rendering both increasingly inefficient. These and other factors are subverting Canadian sovereignty and our ability to culturally, economically, and socially define ourselves. Though action is necessary to counteract this process, before such engagement occurs we need to define what it is that needs to be preserved and why Canada needs to be saved.
As a unique blend of idealism and practicality, of multiculturalism and tradition, the continued existence of Canada is necessary as a verification that such an accommodating organization of government and civil society can endure within a modern state. In contradistinction to the consumer culture of the U.S., Canada has been able to organize itself to reflect the best of both the American free market system and the European social democracies. But the combined influence of NAFTA, globalization, and the gross importation of American culture has slowly tipped the scales. The focus of parliamentary debate and policy formulation has increasingly become economic restructuring, tax relief, etc. Admittedly, these are all valid concerns, but the readiness to address these issues in lieu of our faltering social programmes underlines the growing negligence of our welfare state. In addition, Canada’s open reputation to immigrants and refugees — annually recognized and lavished with superlatives by the United Nations Development Agency — has lately been threatened by the consolidation of populist power represented by the freshly forged Canadian Alliance. Such a shift in the political landscape threatens the continued fostering of multiculturalism in Canada. As American commercial interests and domestic populism become increasingly influential denizens of Canadian economic and cultural policy, the threat to the continued existence of Canada looms more and more ominously. The failure of Canada to resist these influences would signal not only a failure by Canada, but also the failure of a loftier ideal of modern governance — an ideal that seeks both to balance free market expansion with social justice and openness and multiculturalism with high domestic living standards.
Many of the principles by which we understand ourselves in Canada, many of the ideas that have bound us together in peace and understanding, are concepts that are also essential in furthering peace and partnership in the international community. Every Canadian knows that we have stepped precariously close to the precipice of national division and that we are constantly confronted with the possibility of Québec’s separation. But throughout these travails, both sides of the debate have sought peaceful solutions and attempted to foster an understanding of each other’s perspective. Unfortunately, this has not been the experience during regional and ethnic conflicts in many parts of the world. Strife, militarization, and intolerance have characterized these troubling situations. India during decolonization, Rwanda in the early nineties, and Kosovo most recently all stand as testaments to the explosive potential of ethnic and cultural prejudice when confined with a common national border. Indeed, as more historical rivals have to confront their differences and decide on future cooperation, many analysts have commented that the world is becoming a more Canadian place. And for this very reason, Canada must be saved. As a nation in which European, Native, and other groups have been able to live in relative peace and prosperity, Canada must survive as a symbol of hope, showing how to unravel these difficulties and proving that such denouement is possible.
In considering why Canada is worth saving, it is essential to transcend the notion of nationality and instead regard Canada as an ideal and symbol. It is an ideal that aspires to unify a variety of political stances, economic, and social policies, and a symbol of tolerance and understanding. But many external and internal influences are threatening to weaken or even discard these characteristics. Though these influences are considerable and though the process they represent may seem inevitable, they must be resisted. We must realize as a nation that saving Canada is not so much about saving Canada; rather, it is about preserving an ideal for an open and equitable society and a symbol of hope in a world of intolerance.