11.08.2013

noah richler: canada was shaped by discussion and compromise, not through war

[The over-emphasis on Canadian military history] distorts and downplays the significant roles that Canadian politicians, diplomats, jurists and a variety of other civilians (such as artists) have had in shaping not just the domestic Canadian polity but abstract, universal ideas about statehood that have served as examples internationally - in Scottish constitutional development, for instance, and of course in the development of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted in 1948.

The nature of this contribution is significant specifically because the truth of Canadian history is that our military's stake has not been inordinate. Resolution through discussion and compromise, and the recognition of the interests of others that such an approach entails, is seen to contribute to the greater good and to have characterized not only the relationship between the government and Aboriginals, between English- and French-speaking Quebeckers (and between the British government and the conquered French colonists before that), but those between Aboriginals and the original Canadians and brokers and fur traders of the Company of Adventurers of England into Hudsons' Bay since before the modern nation-state and its apparatus of government was founded. Effectively, the only country Canada has ever sought to colonize has been itself, negotiation mostly the tactic. In 1885, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald sent troops to the end of his incompletely built railroad in order to suppress Louis Riel and the M├ętis and put an end to the Northwest resistance in present-day Manitoba and Saskatchewan, with the aid of Lt.-Col. "Big Tom" Strange and his rapidly assembled Alberta Field Force, though with only dubious results. Today, it can be argued that the colonization effort continues, most notably in the North and in Quebec, though through economic and not military means. This is not an accidental outcome but a consequence of our history.

The legacy of Canada being founded on the back of the business of the Hudsons' Bay Company is that the model of the corporation reigns. Rather than the imperatives of the military and a dynamic of conquest, the forces of pragmatism and regulation (and the monopsonistic power of the powerful company that also, to an extent, provides) are what have shaped Canada today. Canada, once Prince Rupert's Land, is a sum of land claims greater than its parts, a country legitimised in courts and boardrooms as much as, if not more than, through soldiering.

Noah Richler, What We Talk About When We Talk About War

2 comments:

James Redekop said...

I remember, when growing up, someone commenting -- meaning to be disparaging -- that Canadians solve problems by forming committees and arriving at compromises. While that isn't the most exciting way to take care of things, it always struck me as a pretty sensible approach...

laura k said...

Sensible, thrifty... and life-saving.

Richler's book is largely about how current political culture has re-written that history to make it seem otherwise. More on that when I can.