Jun. 13, 2020

We are gleefully debasing ourselves

People tearing down statutes and moaning about the names of institutions and streets in the name of combatting racism is breathtakingly silly. That is political correctness gone mad. What is truly frightening is that we are witnessing major efforts without accomplishment.

Even if those who claim they cannot abide or live with “colonials” who lived in accordance with the social standards of long past days, it does nothing to change the mindset of people today or make any improvements to discriminatory practices.

Instead of removing edifices that the perpetually victimized abhor, they should serve as markers to the progress we are making in creating a more inclusive society. The people who are memorialized in statues, on building and in street names are recognized for their accomplishments, nor for their moral standards. An example is Sir John A. Macdonald, our first Prime Minister.

Macdonald is falsely accused of initiating the residential schools program, but the idea predated Macdonald by many years:

Residential schools have a long history in Canada. The first residential facilities were developed in New France by Catholic missionaries to provide care and schooling. However, colonial governments were unable to force Indigenous people to participate in the schools, as First Nations people were largely independent and Europeans depended on them economically and militarily for survival.

However, residential schools became part of government and church policy from the 1830s on, with the creation of Anglican, Methodist, and Roman Catholic institutions in Upper Canada (Ontario). The oldest continually operating residential school in Canada was the Mohawk Institute in what is now Brantford, Ontario. This began as a day school for Six Nations boys, but in 1831 it started to accept boarding students. These colonial experiments set the pattern for post-Confederation policies.

Suggested reading: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/residential-schools

Macdonald continued practices well established before Confederation. We cannot overlook the fact that Macdonald led the way to breaking a political and social impasse that rendered the Province of Canada, which was a failed legal merger (1841) of Upper an Lower Canada that proved to be ungovernable. The level of distrust between English and French elements prevented election of a functional government.

 In 1841, Britain united the colonies of Upper and Lower Canada into the Province of Canada. This was in response to the violent rebellions of 1837–38. The Durham Report (1839) recommended the guidelines to create the new colony with the Act of Union.

Province of Canada was made up of Canada West (formerly Upper Canada) and Canada East (formerly Lower Canada). The two regions were governed jointly until the Province was dissolved to make way for Confederation in 1867. Canada West then became Ontario and Canada East became Quebec. The Province of Canada was a 26-year experiment in anglophone-francophone political cooperation. During this time, responsible government came to British North America and expanded trade and commerce brought wealth to the region. Leaders such as Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir George-Étienne Cartier and George Brown emerged and Confederation was born.
Suggested reading:  https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/province-of-canada-1841-67

Obliterating historical accomplishments in favour of the flavour of the day political correctness is inane. There is no doubt that the residential schools efforts ultimately did more harm than good and failed to meet its objectives. Our indigenous people resisted forced assimilation but we have not found a workable solution to the problem which is unacceptable.

Another example is Captain George Vancouver, who sailed from England around the Cape Horn to the west coast of North America and made maps of the territory. At the time, Spain and England were embroiled in a battle over the territory. We cannot erase the history of the colonial ambitions of England, France, Spain, the Netherlands and others that led to wars and skirmishes between the geopolitical powers of the day any more than we can eradicate the geopolitical ambitions of China, Russia, France, Great Britain and the USA today. Captain Vancouver not only managed to maintain cordial relationships with indigenous people, he managed to have a cordial relationship with his Spanish advisories.  

No effort to demonize imperialism and colonialism can change the history of how the geography of our world was shaped. Many nations that were once colonized have achieved independence. Some have become democracies while others have become dictatorships. We are under constant change, and obliterating symbols of that change do not accomplish anything useful. It is what it is.

We need to study our history and move forward avoiding past errors. Real education comes from learning from our errors. The principles that guide us in our daily lives are equally applicable to larger issues in governance. Stop doing what does not work. Try better approaches. The keys to progress are a combination of acceptance, kindness, respect and tolerance.

Acrimony and intolerance result in a chaos we cannot manage or control. Those are the tools of anarchy. We cannot heal wounds though acrimony; that only embellishes and strengthens hurts. We must find accommodations for one another or remain locked in endless disputes.

Our political parties stand out as an example of acrimony and disputes that prevent them from making headway in resolving the internal disputes that are gradually destroying a great nation. We cannot continue to stumble from crisis to crisis creating more as we flail about. The world has paused in response to the coronavirus. We have an opportunity to reset our relationships and create new approaches to the disputes that plague us. The question is: are we up to it?