Looking for True North

I had an interesting trip the other day. I was attending a CCI Huronia Conference in Barrie.
The event started with singing the Canadian anthem. I was surprised. It would be unimaginable in multicultural Toronto.

Then I was thinking about the actual words of it. “Our home and native land”, “The True North strong and free”, “Glorious and free.” Canada is my home, but not my native land. I lived well over half of my life here, but still. As I was looking around I had to conclude that I am in a very small minority. Apart from an obviously South-East Asian presenter, the crowd was very ‘Canadian’, even that presenter was Canadian born. The crowd and the event represented the Canada I arrived to in 1980. As I was listening to the anthem, I kept wondering about the waves of new immigrants. How do they relate to this Canadian anthem? How many actually understand the words? Not just the literal meaning, but the history behind it. The difference between the USA and Canada. The significance of the split that gave birth to it. How long will it take for new immigrants to really relate to Canada’s past? Is it even possible? I was wondering, what is the Canadian idea today? What will it be thirty years from now? How many times will the anthem be rewritten by then? What will society be like?
What will happen to Canada when its foundational ethnic identity wilts into demographic insignificance?
What can unite us in a world of diversity?
My questions represent some anxious wonderings, not an opposition to ethnic diversity. I like the mixing of ideas, customs and genes. What I am questioning is the glue that can hold it together.

The Soviet Union was supposed to be a multi-culti melting pot. The harmonious coexistence of its hundreds of ethnic groups. It fell apart pretty quickly once the unifying idea and the coercive power it wielded ceased to hold it together. History had some multi ethnic empires, but they were always conflict ridden and did not survive without coercion. As we are getting more diverse, we must ask what will hold us together? What will facilitate the mixing of ideas, customs and genes? Liberal social democracies? What will happen, when we run out of ‘other people’s money’? When the immigrants realize that they are here to be tax slaves, to pay for the fiscal irresponsibility of previous generations of Canadians? Everything has a cost. What is the cost of diversity?

According to Robert Putnam (and other researchers confirming his findings) diversity weakens social trust. The signs of that may be subtle.

As I was driving to Barrie, I stopped for a coffee. Not too long ago, the rest stops, fast food restaurants and coffee shops all had condiment stands. They are disappearing. After communism fell and the fast food chains moved in to Eastern Europe, they had condiment stands. They all disappeared within a few months. In Canada today, we are also losing the social trust that is needed for their existence. Just as we are losing politeness and curtesy, the cleanliness of the public washrooms, parks and public places in general. When I mention this to others, nobody would dispute it, but most feel uncomfortable discussing it. Questioning multiculturalism is judged to be racist. Asking questions is seen as questioning the policy.
Does it really matter? Is a polite society a better society? Does it matter that I have to ask for the salt and the sugar?

I don’t have answers, but moments like the ones I experienced in Barrie, make me revisit the question again and again. When I leave the city, it is impossible NOT to notice how quickly does the ethnic diversity fade away and signs of social trust appear. Election result maps show some clear divisions:

The blues are Anglo-Saxon Ontario, the reds are multi-culti metropolitan areas. They are different worlds. Can they mix? Will this division ever change? Will the True North ever become divers? Will the immigrants in the big cities ever get the desire to discover it? Will they ever get the idea that that is the real Canada? Which interpretation of the Canadian anthem will the changing Canadian idea be closer to: the English one saying: “we stand on guard for thee” or the French one saying [Canada] “Will protect our homes and our rights”?

In this weekly mailbox discussion Mark Steyn points out that “Liberty assumes virtue […..] but liberty is more than that. Liberty is not just about freedom but about responsibility and virtue as well……”

Responsibility and virtue are difficult to find without social trust and cohesion. Social trust and cohesion are difficult to find without loyalty and allegiance. Loyalty and allegiance cannot exist without a unifying idea or culture.

As I was standing in that conference hall, singing the Canadian anthem, I kept wondering what that unifying idea is in Canada today. Dressing for the occasion?

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