Guest Notes

Canadian notes

3 August 2019

9:00 AM

3 August 2019

9:00 AM

I’m a virtue-signaller and I’m OK

We have left Britain behind on this year-long sabbatical and are now in my native Canada for a month before I arrive in the US to teach at a law school for a semester. In many respects, such as their Westminster colonial and self-governing history, their size, the basis of their resource-based economies, the attempt by both to set up a federal system of government (not enervated by the judges in Canada as it has been, and still is, in Australia), and even having had James Cook play a role in each country being what it is (albeit his was a noticeably bigger role as regards Australia), these two countries of Canada and Australia are closer together and share more than any others on earth. Certainly any visiting Australian will feel immediately at home when he or she lands in Vancouver to ski at Whistler or goes over to Toronto to take in Niagara Falls.

I used to say that a really big difference was how much more politically correct people were in Canada.  But Lord knows Aussie life has moved massively in the ever greater PC direction since my wife and I arrived in Brisbane in early 2005. And I mean massively so. The image of the insouciant, wise-cracking Aussie unafraid to say what he (or she) thinks and to take the piss out of the shibboleths of the day is nearing extinction as far as I can tell. Without doubt it’s been dead on university campuses for eons. And it’s a real shame. Still, Canada remains worse on the PC stakes. In fact Canada rivals New Zealand for the most PC place on earth. My wife and I notice it as soon as we land in the Great White North.

Here’s one of myriad examples.  Two years ago was the 150th anniversary of Canada’s founding in 1867 with the passing by the then Imperial Parliament of the British North America Act. Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, was in many ways a great man. Born in Scotland, he was the dominant figure of Canadian Confederation, having had a political career that spanned half a century. It is not at all clear that Canada’s then provinces would have opted to federate had it not been for Macdonald. So 2017 was supposed to be a grand celebration of the country’s birth. But of course then, and today, Canada’s Prime Minister was and is one Justin Trudeau. There is no greater virtue-signalling, green-left-identity politics and sanctimony-spouting being in Christendom, not that this dressing up in Indian garb and pretending to do a Bollywood dance when on an official state visit PM would ever be caught dead using terminology that had any form of the word ‘Christian’ in it. So despite massive planning for Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations you can imagine what happened when allegations arose that Sir John A. Macdonald’s attitude towards the native Indian population in the mid-nineteenth century did not live up to the expectations of those who today inhabit Canada’s universities and upper bureaucratic echelons. Trudeau more or less cancelled the whole thing, or at least downgraded the celebrations to a level that you would have needed a seismic monitor to have noticed any commemorations were going on.

And here’s the thing. By the standards of the mid-1800s Macdonald held liberal views about the treatment of the native population. Did those views mesh with the most PC views on that subject today? Of course not. But since when was that a sensible test about anything — did the person of 200 or 300 years ago live up to my moral sensibilities of today? On that test all of our great-grandparents were moral cripples. It’s a stupid and self-defeating test because I can guarantee that 200 years in the future our views of today (even those of the most self-consciously virtue-signalling PC elites) will not align with what they will be then.

It gets worse when you compare Canada’s founders to those of the US.  Macdonald was a paternalist about the native Indians with condescending views about their culture. But he sure as heck didn’t own slaves, as did the US’s George Washington, Thomas Jefferson (who unlike Washington did not even free them on his death), James Madison and a lot more of the American founders. Only John Adams and Alexander Hamilton look good today on the slavery question as far as the main Founders go. But that doesn’t stop the Americans from seeing these men as having accomplished great things, things worth celebrating today. In Canada, there’s a sort of all-encompassing totalitarianism that forbids any recognition that good can go along with bad (indeed along with what isn’t even all that bad outside the PC seminar room even by today’s standards). So statues, names of buildings and more are up for Soviet-style wiping from history. (And as a side note, the law school in Kingston, Ontario at Queen’s University where I did my LL.B. degree and the city where Sir John A. Macdonald practised law before politics has always been named ‘The Sir John A. Macdonald School of Law’ but, as will surprise none of you, the university bureaucrats are thinking of changing it. Morons.).

And then there is the ten-dollar note. For my whole life and more this has shown Canada’s first Prime Minister. The government of Trudeau Jr. decided this would change and — wait for it — now shows instead a portrait of Viola Desmond, a Black Nova Scotia businesswoman who challenged racial segregation (nothing like it was in the US South I should note) at a film theatre in 1946. This is nothing other than wholly admirable. But, I speak for myself here, in no way is it equivalent to being the founding force for bringing into being the country whose currency is showing your face.  It would be equivalent to the Americans opting to remove George Washington from their one-dollar bill.

Australia is better than Canada in the PC stakes. Sure, in John Cleese terms that may amount to ‘high praise indeed’, but it’s better than nothing I suppose. Meanwhile, Canada’s next federal election is due in a few months.  Trudeau has seen his personal popularity collapse, the oil-producing western provinces hate him, and his party is behind in the polls. We’ll see how it goes. And report back!

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments