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Canada as a Human Homeland

Monday, February 25, 2008

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Written by Tristan Dineen

Canadian identity has been a nagging problem ever since Confederation. When Canadians ask what distinguishes us most from the Americans, many would immediately say “multiculturalism” and explain that unlike them we do not try to assimilate our immigrants but generally leave them alone to follow whatever tradition they wish to follow. While the rhetoric is pretty clear, the substance of the matter is somewhat different. While the Americans do have a much clearer idea of what it means to be an American and they do attempt to indoctrinate their immigrants a lot more than we do, they still have an incredibly multi-cultural society. One look at the influx of illegal immigrants from Mexico will tell you what a laughingstock the idea of a single “national” culture in the United States is. When (predominantly) white Americans talk about holding onto American culture and American “values” they are really missing the point – their citizens follow just as many creeds, cultures, languages, value systems, belief systems etc. as Canadians do. They may talk tough and say that they are united under a single way of thinking and “the American Way” of life but they are not and they never really were to begin with. So basically Canada and the United States are both multi-cultural societies and only the political rhetoric and political cultures are different.

Ok, so where do we draw the line, what distinguishes us from Americans beyond the trivial material things that are so often cited such as maple syrup and hockey – not that I have a problem with those things but they just aren’t enough to make us a unique country: no country was ever built on a food item, it’s really not a strong foundation! Besides, given our level of exposure to American culture it’s getting increasingly hard to make distinctions – even if we do have harsher gun laws up here and legalistic differences like that and we prefer to ape the British model of government right down to maintaining a governor-general. None of this is enough because fundamentally, if you want to be distinct, you need a way of looking at and relating to the world that is substantially different from what you want to be distinct from: a concrete ideological difference. Do we have this in Canada now? Not really. Simply choosing not to join the Iraq War and disagreeing on certain policy issues cannot hide the fact that we generally dance to the Americans’ tune and let them call the shots while we react to those shots instead of taking real leadership and initiative – because to do that you need to have a different ideology and a different dream so as not to be caught up in the ideologies and dreams of others. Canada was originally caught up in the British Dream and is now, whether we like it or not, part of the American Dream and therefore the only way to get out of this is basically for us to build a better dream for us to aspire.

I mentioned in a previous article the idea of a “Human Homeland” in Canada where human beings from all over the world could come and regardless of language, ethnicity, culture or religion, feel at home here and be welcomed here with open arms. I stressed the importance of the idea and principle of “unity in diversity” by which people of all languages, cultures, ethnic backgrounds and religions can come together within one overarching political and social framework that binds them together while allowing them to keep their distinct identities. Now I wish to elaborate further on these ideas and how a future society in Canada could be based on them and what such a society might look like in practice. I have to emphasize that this is rather rough, but nevertheless I’ll present it to you the best I can.

To unite a country as diverse as Canada there really is only one possible source of community we can draw upon that will be durable enough to stand the test of time: and that is humanity itself. The principle of unity in diversity (which really forms the basis of the future society I am sketching here for you) requires something for the diverse elements of society to rally around – something needs to be shared in common that can unify the people. It is not enough to have a universal legal code and anti-discrimination laws, all of that is good but it doesn’t cut to the heart of the matter. We need a shared sense of meaning and in a country as diverse as Canada we can only truly derive a deep sense of shared meaning from our common humanity and our common status as human beings. Therefore the central focus of the Human Homeland must be humanity.

This, out of all the countries in the world, should be easiest in Canada precisely because Canadian nationalism is vague and difficult to define. Americans, despite their multicultural status, continue to cling to things like America being a Christian nation and where nationalism is far more strictly defined than it is in Canada and far more celebrated than it is in Canada. I do not think that we should lament the relative weakness of Canadian nationalism when it is compared to the nationalist sentiments in most other countries because the very weakness of our nationalism permits us to embrace the full spectrum of humanity with minimal conditions. In fact the sooner we get rid of the relics of the British colonial period such as Parliament and other outdated precedents (I mentioned the governor-general already) the better off we will be. Indeed, the only way forward for Canada is to become more inclusive and this will inevitably lead us toward the kind of Human Homeland I advocate because we can no longer rely on antiquated political systems to remain effective in governing such a diverse population where people from the British cultural tradition will be increasingly in the minority. We need to set up new public institutions to better suit the new society we are slowly being molded into.

As I said before, Parliament must be abolished. It is an outdated relic and will be unable to handle the challenges of the future – continuing to kowtow to British tradition and American demands. The replacement for Parliament must be able to fully represent the full scope of diversity that this country embraces and to do that democracy must be brought directly to the people. This means local empowerment, we need to involve people directly in the political decision-making process at the local level. To do this, citizens must be able to attend political assemblies in meeting halls in every community in order to directly elect their leaders and to actively have their say in community affairs. From here, those elected at the local level will choose from among themselves who will represent their community at the regional assembly. The regional assembly members will then choose who among them will represent their region at the provincial level and those in the provincial assemblies will choose their representatives for the national assembly. In this way, politics and lawmaking will be based firmly in the grassroots and not in political parties. Political parties have for too long put their own needs ahead of the common good and we can no longer allow party allegiance to be the deciding factor in politics – we need a non-partisan political system rooted in an active citizenry.

So much for legislative power but how do we reform the executive now that there are no political parties from which to draw a Prime Minister and Cabinet? Obviously we need a new executive body to govern policymaking just as the legislative body governs lawmaking. Policymaking, for the sake of realism and effectiveness, should not be tied to the grassroots and should be handled by a body of professional administrators appointed to the task based on their own merits. The process of selection in this case should be like a more rigorous form of civil service examination in which the person in question must not only have the proper professional requirements but also be required to pass certain standards of morality: we need loyal, dependable, effective executors who cannot be corrupted easily and scoring marks on an academic exam just isn’t enough to determine this sort of thing. These administrators - who will be drawn from those who successfully pass the proper examinations (and a period of apprenticeship) - will handle policymaking.

The judiciary will need to be reformed but will not have to be totally abolished and rebuilt as the legislature and executive will have to be. Already we have pretty solid professional qualifications for our lawyers and judges but I would suggest strengthening these in order to weed out unscrupulous mercenary lawyers who give the profession such a bad name. Once again, we will need moral as well as academic standards in order to ensure integrity. I would also strongly suggest that all lawyers become public servants and that we abolish private lawyers altogether – having high-priced private lawyers only encourages the mercenary attitude and aggravates economic class tensions in society as the rich are able to afford the big legal guns (which in many cases will almost ensure that they win the case) while the poor cannot. We cannot allow justice to be undermined by things like this.

Overall, throughout society it must be consistently emphasized that, even as we celebrate our diversity, we are all in this together as human beings. While we should keep having things like the St Patrick’s Day parade and Caribana, we should also make up new festivals and public holidays that stress our unity in diversity by having the diverse cultures making up the Human Homeland parade together and celebrate together. Solidarity is a theme that must be constantly emphasized if the Human Homeland is to endure and thrive. Our education system must be built around teaching these principles as well as allowing each and every child, regardless of background, to fulfill their potential in life and find a meaningful place in society – it must therefore be well-financed, better organized and more supportive than the system we have now from the pre-schools to the universities.

Economically, especially in light of our new legislative system that requires the active participation of the citizenry at the local level in order to function, we should reduce the work week from 40 hours to 35 or (even better) 30 hours. This will allow people more time with their families, more time for cultural, social and political activities and generally reduce the stress that working and consuming all the time imposes on Canadian society today: economics isn’t the only thing that matters and we have to realize this and increasingly we are. We also need to strengthen the public sector, increase wages, and ensure that corporations and businesses serve the public good but allowing for proper public oversight of them. Above all we need greater economic equality and this can only be done by properly regulating the economy so that it benefits everyone.

From this we come to public infrastructure and it goes almost without saying that we cannot have a just society that embraces all the peoples of the world if we cannot give them the support they need. I have already mentioned education but effective public healthcare, childcare (though the need for this will be reduced given the shorter work week), and things like an insurance program organized through the local community as opposed to private companies so that communities can literally look after their own. All of these things will contribute to the overall sense of solidarity among human beings (unity in diversity) that is the central focus of the Human Homeland.

By doing things like this we create a society where human dignity is celebrated and upheld without exception and where people can find meaning in their lives and be encouraged to be all that they can be – they will have all the support that they need to reach their potential as human beings. The replacing of nationalism with a form of human patriotism (something that all of these proposed reforms aim to do) would really create something new in the world and this universalism would set Canada apart and permanently remove the threat of American assimilation: we would no longer be playing their game but marching to our own tune and “our tune” would be the tune of humanity.

Ultimately Canada faces a simple choice: reform and a noble future or mediocrity and ultimate assimilation. Reform must come and be both decisive and dignified in nature. Canada needs Universalism and more than any other nation possesses the necessary conditions for it to flourish and usher in a new era and a new world order. Torn apart by regionalisms, such an ideology is our last chance to build a universal sense of unity, solidarity, and togetherness amongst the inhabitants of this country. Harkening back with nostalgia to long ago wars does not lessen the exhaustion and cynicism of Canadians at present; now more than ever we need something to believe in.

The partisan squabbles of the current political elite tire and disappoint Canadians and incur a well-deserved sense of betrayal among the average citizen. Their infighting can no longer be permitted to endanger the public good. I know I am not alone in this sentiment, I long for the day when Canada will cast off the yoke of these liberals and conservatives who have kept it in a backward and divided state for so long. They are the ones who are primarily responsible for the political cynicism that prevails today and that will continue to prevail so long as they remain in positions of power. It is clear that we must remove such fools from office and bring an end to the political sectarianism which has kept this land from achieving its true potential in this world. Canadians have had enough of pettiness, insults, infighting, and charades; Canadians, like people throughout the world, desire leadership they can respect and who will behave with dignity in the example they set.

It will be a great day when Canada and its inhabitants will be able to utilize their natural resources to empower a new beginning for humanity rather than merely serving as a way-station on the road south. By opening the doors to humanity and encouraging people from around the world to come and build this new beginning - this human commonwealth - with us, we will cease to be what amounts to an American hinterland with some peculiar customs and finally realize our potential. Fundamentally there is a choice to be made in Canada between self-destruction and true greatness; a greatness that can only come through the embracing of humanity overall. From plurality to unity in diversity – what better a place for this great world reformation to begin but Canada? We can be the first Human Homeland but I very much doubt we will be the last. We must face the truth and embrace it: the only true Canadian is a human being and everything else is secondary to our humanity.

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