Sunday, February 17, 2013

Canada's Missing Founding Fathers

Children who have an absent father are more likely to have low self-esteem, to abuse substances, exhibit anti-social behaviour, and engage in criminal activity. That is the personal impact of a missing father, but what of the political and social impact on our nation of the absence, even in discourse, of our Fathers of Confederation?

The federal Liberal Party held its third leadership debate yesterday and though much focus was rightly given to the future of our nation, not much, actually none, was given to its past. This is in stark contrast to our southern neighbour, the world's superpower whose politicians of every stripe and level of government don't go a day, dare say an hour, not referencing one of their founding fathers.

Besides a lack of education in history among our politicians, one possible reason for this difference, why Americans cite their country's founders and we ignore ours, is the abundance of illustrative speeches and ideological aphorisms from the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin; while in Canada such rising rhetoric from John A. Macdonald, George-Etienne Cartier, and Alexander Galt is relatively sparse.

But such an excuse does not justify our politicians, nor our country ignoring our founding fathers. Indeed it is precisely the fact that the drafters of our nation were pragmatists, realists and, above all, ordinary men that our politicians should aspire to be like them and who Canadians should never forget.

The fathers of confederation are not like the American founding fathers, and that is something to be proud of. The men who created our nation weren't hypocritical idealist slave owners and they weren't men who wrote books on virtue while catching venereal diseases in France. Yes, John A. Macdonald was not perfect, he and D'Arcy McGee among other founders were drunks, but they were far from pretending to be anything else.

In Richard Gwyn's national bestseller, John A.: The Man Who Made Us, Macdonald, in various passages, is reported as a pragmatic man. Gwyn writes, Macdonald:

"had little aptitude for, and was actually suspicious of, oratory or eloquence. Unlike Lincoln, he never attempted to summon up "men's better angels." Most times, Macdonald preferred to act rather than talk, expressing himself by deeds rather than by words."
Our fathers were not extremists, they were moderate men from diverse backgrounds and cultures, who in order to bring stability formed a great coalition and to bring sovereignty united a country. Even against a looming threat from America, they did not fight so Canada would survive, they united so Canada would endure.

But much like how a child without a father is more likely to have low self-esteem, so too is our country with the absence of our founding fathers in the public sphere. Not only have more and more Canadians started to look highly upon the American founders, as if wishing they had fathers like that, but Canadians are showing signs of low confidence in our most prized institutions like responsible government and federalism.

A few years ago Canadians protested even the possibility of a coalition government, apparently suddenly doubting the entity that Canada owes its very existence to. It was such a similar coalition between John A. Macdonald and George Brown in 1864 which allowed our government to function and to enable Confederation.

To strengthen our institutions and to embolden what it is to be Canadian, our country needs to not just remember our Fathers of Confederation, we need to talk about them and learn from them. We need to be proud of the pragmatism of yesteryear so we will strive for that pragmatism today.

Remembering our Fathers of Confederation is remembering who we are, and we should be proud of both.

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