More Canadian myths

January 13th, 2009
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In his book A Canadian Myth, William Johnson describes how mythologies– notably those invented by Quebec nationalists – have contributed to ongoing linguistic and political strife in Canada. His discussion of Canada as a compact of “two founding peoples” is particularly pointed.

Interestingly, a simple Google of “two founding peoples” comes up with a University of Ottawa essay asserting nothing less than that “Quebec’s political leaders have consistently voiced the idea of Canada as an association of equals, as a bi-national state.” Not according to Johnson. He shows convincingly that the “two nations” concept was developed and promoted beginning late in the 19th century, after confederation.

The problem is that, if these myths are repeated often enough, they come to be accepted as reality. This will only be accelerated if they are never challenged. A contributing problem is, as we recently wrote in the Calgary Herald, that many domestic pundits and others balk at challenging separatist positions and mythology – even though it’s in the interest of the separatists to spin history in their favour. Not that they would ever tread across the line of factual accuracy…

A case in point is the by now infamous Rivard YouTube video that supposedly crippled the Conservative Quebec campaign in last fall’s election. Despite being quite funny in the abstract, it is about as representative of modern Canada as a minstrel show represents Obama’s America.

The video shows Rivard appearing as a humble musician asking for funding for a local cultural festival from a panel of white, middle-aged, anglophone male bureaucrats (OK, they threw one Anglo woman in for optics). The bulk of the humour, which ranges from quite funny (think of Inspector Clouseau asking, “Does your dog bite?”) to right over the top, is at the expense of these poor antediluvian men.

But the sad joke is that, for anyone who knows anything about the federal bureaucracy, these characters are antediluvian. That is, they haven’t really existed since before the Trudeaupian deluge – if they ever really did. To go back to the universal Costanza maxim (think “the opposite”), that’s how Canada’s actual cultural bureaucracy compares to that depicted in the video. Thirty years of activist hiring policies and extensive tax-funded-language training have ensured that the type of officials portrayed in the video simply don’t exist.

The popular reaction to the video is disturbing on several levels. First, there is the small fact that the federal government had actually raised the amount of money given to culture. Second, the popularity of the clip suggests that there is a cross-section of the audience that actually believes or wants to believe that federal bureaucrats are in reality as they are depicted in the video. Lastly, it’s no secret that the Quebec arts community has a strong separatist streak. So if there’s no actual discriminatory Anglo bureaucracy, then one has to be invented – hence the video.

And worst of all, to my knowledge, no one has dared call Rivard and his supporters out on this. No, the video was a great success, a political coup, etc. The tens and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on language-related programs and compliance to same, these are just clever camouflage for Anglo bigots.

Bad enough that the stereotypes were dragged out again. Worse that they weren’t just laughed at but actually believed on some level. And even worse that this example is just one of many – as we’ll see next time.

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By John Weissenberger