Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Canadian Century

Canada's Place

Canada has been modest in its history, although its history is heroic in many ways. But its history, in my estimation, is only commencing. It is commencing in this century. The 19th century was the century of the United States. I think we can claim that it is Canada that shall fill the 20th century.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier [1841-1919], 
7th prime minister of Canada, 
in a speech made on January 18, 1904 

The Fathers of Confederation: Conference at Québec in 1864, to settle the basics of a union of the British North American Provinces. 
Credit: Photo by James Ashfield of Canadian artist Robert Harris' 1884 painting,
When Prime Minister Laurier made that proclamation of imminent greatness in January 1904 before an audience of the city's elite, he was laying a claim for Canada that it was not ready to act upon; the country was young, having been in existence for only 36 years, having been formed on July 1, 1867 into a nation of four provinces, Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. An optimistic Prime Minister Laurier was off by a century, at least that is the sentiment today among a few historians and those who study history. Canada, it has been said, have been modest in its claims and in its taking a leadership among the nations of  the world.

Living next to the United States has made Canada seem small in comparison. But that does not mean that Canada has not and cannot be a moral force in the world. It has shown itself capable in the last few years. Canada has shown itself taking a leadership position in a number of places, not with a loud voice but with a quiet persuasion.

Canada has many advantages, not the least being its geography and history of peaceful democracy. It has been blessed with a large land mass, bounded by three oceans, abundant natural resources, and an educated and productive workforce. It has the political and economic fundamentals to become a world powerhouse, and it can achieve such distinction with the right kind of attitude and leadership—both from the political side and the business side.

The Canadian Story of Conrad Black

Consider the case of Conrad Black, a former media baron born in Montreal, who saw his fortunes reduced and his misfortunes increased after being prosecuted and convicted in the United States on an obscure law. After serving 42 months in a federal prison in Florida, he was released in May. A month later, Black made a speech to 1,000 persons at the Empire Club of Canada, in which he said:
"Canadians are notoriously not messianic or self-important, and have no illusions about being a light onto the world. It has been difficult to translate Canada’s talent at dogged but effective problem solving as heroic, dramatic or sometimes even interesting.” ... It is Canada’s turn to speak, and it will not have to shout to be heard. These were my thoughts in my recent sojourn with the Americans, that have been confirmed by my grateful return to this country.”
The Beaver (Castor canadensis), one of Canada national symbols, having received official status on  March 24, 1975. It  not only symbolizes Canada's historical links to the fur trade but industriousness and perseverance.
Photo Credit:  Laslo Lyles; May 2006
Source: Wikipedia
Black, now residing with his wife (Barbara Amiel) in Toronto is an excellent historian, having written a number of books on political historical figures, including on Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Richard M. Nixon, and Maurice Duplessis. Some will say why should we consider he words of a convicted felon, of a man who was originally convicted of three counts of mail fraud and one count of obstruction of justice. Many, including this writer, think he was unfairly prosecuted and convicted by over-zealous U.S. prosecutors. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, during one of Black's many appeals, that one of the laws ("honest services fraud; 1988") used for two of the four convictions were too broadly applied and overturned two of the three mail fraud convictions. 

In effect, Black served 42 months in federal prison for mail fraud ($600,000, of which his share was $285,000) and obstruction of justice (for removing boxes and personal effects from his office).

Many Canadians, judging by comments on news sites, are happy to see Black, born from a wealthy family, get his "just desserts."; a very (un)Canadian sentiment. I am not among them, chiefly because his case begs to be examined further; it shows that not even the wealthy are immune from unfair and over-zealous prosecution in the U.S. Black, like him or not, is an intelligent man who has something important and original to say, which is refreshing in a world where too many don't. Although he gave up his Canadian citizenship in 2001, in a dispute with former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien over his accepting a British peerage, Black remains very much a Canadian.

And Canada, in accepting his return, has shown its maturity as a nation. Like all great nations, it is finding its own way while making alliances with other nations in the international community. It's necessary for Canada to get out from under the shadow of the U.S. and to deepen its own traditions and ways, while maintaining a deep friendship with our American neighbour. Nations, like people, have to eventually mature and create a mark in the international community. Now is no better time to do so.

On that note, Happy birthday Canada; Happy Canada Day; 145 years since Confederation. I wish all my fellow Canadians much happiness and prosperity and to enjoy being Canadian. We might be better than we think. The next few decades ought to be exceptional years for Canada.