On this Canada Day weekend, there could well be as many perspectives as there are those who might pause to reflect upon their country’s well-being.
Mine is one shaped by the education and experiences of an immigrant since I landed in Toronto nearly four decades ago.
I am reminded of that famous verse from Sir Walter Scott’s long narrative poem, The Lay of the Last Minstrel, which begins, “Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,/Who never to himself hath said,/This is my own, my native land!” This verse is a rebuke of such wretched individuals who have little or no love for their country.
My generation and after, however, came of age hearing words from John Lennon’s song Imagine — “Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do” — as the anthem of the boomer era drilled into our heads.
Scott’s verse and Lennon’s lyrics could well be taken as markers for the drift in sentiments of many Canadians over the past 100 years, and what they might indicate for the country’s future.
This weekend in 1910, Sir Wilfrid Laurier was in the 14th year of his tenure as prime minister. He spoke about and represented in federal politics the ideal of a united, free and prosperous Canada.
Laurier’s vision expressed in a speech to the Ottawa Canadian Club in January 1904 has since been cited frequently. He viewed the country’s history as heroic and claimed, “It is Canada that shall fill the 20th century.”
Yet more importantly, and perhaps more critically relevant in 2010 than in 1910, was Laurier’s insistence immigrants to Canada become Canadians and assimilate its deeply embedded culture of individual freedom and respect for tradition as handed down by Britain.
Given his origin, Laurier was uniquely situated to speak of a united Canada as he had, according to the historian Michael Bliss, “transcended his ethnic and cultural roots.” Laurier was, as his biographer Joseph Schull called him, “the first Canadian.”
Laurier belonged to an age not too long ago when a people could readily, as Scott did a century earlier, unashamedly express love for the country that was their home.
But in the period since Canada’s centennial year in 1967, the politics of multiculturalism joined with Lennon’s sentiments have contributed to widening ethnic divisions in a country of immigrants that Laurier devoted his political life to reconciling.
However charitably we consider the good intentions that launched multiculturalism as a policy for Canada in its second century, the consequences — especially when examined since the events of Sept. 11, 2001 — have increasingly undermined the ideal of Canadian unity.
The worm inside the doctrine of multiculturalism is the lie that all cultures are equally embracing of individual freedom and democracy. The concerted assault by Islamists on the West and its values is proof of this lie.
Moreover, multiculturalism by reinforcing hyphenated identities among Canadians keeps alive divided loyalties which Laurier denounced. He said, “Any man who says he is a Canadian, but something else also, isn’t a Canadian at all.”
Multiculturalism demonstrably promotes politics based on ethnic loyalties in a multiethnic country — countries built by immigrants arriving from different parts of the world are by definition multiethnic and not multicultural — and, thereby, sharpens ethnic quarrels it was supposed to dissolve.
Laurier’s voice from a century ago was a warning of the greatness that beckoned Canada could well be squandered if we failed to leave behind our ethnic origins as Canadians.
As “the first Canadian,” Laurier would have recoiled at the thought of multiculturalism, and if we are to realize his vision in a new century, then we need to liberate ourselves from the lie with which multiculturalism amplifies our differences and greatly threatens the unity of our country.