“There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada. Those qualities are what make us the first postnational state.”
-Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (2015)
Identity: The fact of being who or what a person or thing is.
Mainstream: The ideas, attitudes, or activities that are regarded as normal or conventional; the dominant trend in opinion, fashion, or the arts.
Postnational: Postnationalism or non-nationalism is the process or trend by which nation states and national identities lose their importance relative to cross nation and self organized or supranational and global entities.
Choose an event from Canada’s past or present (social, political, environmental, or economic) and describe / illustrate (show cause and effect) how this event influenced / influences all four of the quadrants. Provide images / primary source evidence where possible.
The October Crisis, which occurred on October 5th, 1970, between the FLQ (Front de Libération du Québec: Quebec’s most radical separatist group) and the Canadian government, politically, socially, environmentally, and economically shaped Canadian identity. During the October Crisis, four FLQ members kidnapped British trade commissioner James Richard Cross, and in exchange for his freedom, demanded the release of “political prisoners” of the FLQ who were charged with crimes committed in the name of the Front, a payment of 500,000 dollars, and the publication of the FLQ manifesto. When these demands weren’t met, the FLQ group resorted to “kidnapping Pierre Laporte, the Quebec minister of Labour and the government’s senior Cabinet minister” (CBC). These series of events impacted Canadian identity the most politically as it invoked the War Measures Act; socially as it bridged the gap between French and English nations and later, proper acknowledgement of Québécois; economically as it incorporated Quebec economy into Canada; and lastly, the impact terrorism causes on the environment.
Although the FLQ acts of 1960 didn’t affect the environmental aspect of Canada’s identity as much as the other quadrants, there were still environmental consequences left behind by terrorism that shaped Canada’s identity. It was difficult to find evidence of environmental destruction that directly impacted from the October crisis, however, common side effects of terrorism include pollution and waste, toxic dust and fumes from military trucks, graffiti, and overall, negative changes to Quebec. As a country that is viewed externally as ‘peacekeepers’ or ‘environmentally conscious’ people, this shows once again that a nation’s identity, and within it one’s values, are fluid and can vary between different people.
The origins of the crisis was mainly due to strong nationalist discontent by separatist Quebecois, however a big factor which triggered the October Crisis was rising unemployment and the Canadian government’s attempt to control Quebec’s economic resources. Before the 1970s, Quebec’s economic advances were not spectacular; it did not take part in the automotive or electrical appliances industry growing in Canada, therefore, there was a low employment rate. Furthermore, as so many of these new industries were focused on Ontario, “a higher proportion of Quebec industries were low productivity activities that could not pay high wages” and Quebec workers earned significantly less compared to the rest of the Canadian population (Canadian Encyclopedia). During the 1960s, a quote of 5-20 % of the Quebec economy belonged to French Quebecois, and the rest, a minimum of 80% was in the hands of English corporations. The Quebec party worked hard to create funds such as the Societe generale de financement, which was made to support Quebec businesses who were in difficult situations. When the Crisis occurred in 1970, Robert Bourassa, who was the Quebec premier at the time, stated that, “[Quebec’s] economic recovery, the foreign investment, the 100,000 new jobs, all that [had] just gone up in smoke” (CBC). Although it’s a stretch to state that the October Crisis improved the wage gap between the Quebec and the rest of Canada, it certainly helped to incorporate the Quebec economy in Canada affairs instead of regarding them as a separate nation.
At this time, there was still an ongoing debate between the Anglophones and the Québécois in regards to equal human rights across all Canadian citizens, and from third party sources, this event could seem like a further social split between the two nations. However, the October Crisis actually connected the different traditions between the Quebecois and the Anglophones, which opened doors for a more diverse Canadian culture. I believe that Canadians take pride in being a society that welcomes other cultural groups, and diversity is a common value for the majority of Canadian even for today. Additionally, this event was significant because the fear brought by the FLQ terrorist acts caused people to bond together and become more united as a country. The October Crisis was perhaps the most influential factor in lessening the hostility between the two nations in Canada.
“Just Watch Me”
-Pierre Trudeau, Prime Minister
Out of all the quadrants, the October Crisis impacted the political aspects of Canadian identity the most. First of all, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau gained support from many Canadian Citizens for the way he handled the problem. This cannot be included as a factor that fueled Trudeau’s other political successes, however, his increasing authoritarian streak may have given him the necessary rally and confidence he needed to initiate the 1982 Constitution Act. Furthermore, his success in maintaining order during crisis’ in his political career, may have given some Canadian citizens confidence towards Justin Trudeau, our current Prime Minister. Also, the October Crisis was the first domestic use of the War Measures Act, which suspended Canadian civil liberties in peacetime. The Act was in favour of the majority of the population, and later, this led to the creation of the Emergencies Act, a more refined and limited version of the War Measures Act. As a nation which holds peace and freedom in a high regard, the enacting of the War Measures Act points out the extremity of the October Crisis. Most importantly, the government acknowledged the French nation as part of the Canadian Confederation and gave Quebecois more equal rights in terms of respect for their language and traditions. This contributes to the diversity in Canada we see today, and the inclusion of all different cultures. This event was significant to Canadian history, as it stimulated Quebecois to act or negotiate political differences without violence, and gained approval from the general public towards political leaders which solidified unity in Canada.
Does your event represent a step towards creating and maintaining a coherent Canadian identity, or does it move Canada more clearly in the direction of Trudeau’s discussion of a “postnational” state?
Best demonstrated under the socials aspect of Canadian identity in question one, the October Crisis was one of the most influential events in the 20th century in creating multiculturalism and our bilingual state; few of the main core values of Canadians today. Furthermore, the October Crisis was a key event to restating Canadian identity because it allowed Canadians to understand that identity is fluid, and it is shifting. Personally, I believe that becoming too involved in Canadian identity does more harm than good. Obviously, becoming part of Canada’s goals and values positively unifies Canadians, but looking at events through the perspective under one label as “Canadians”, may have negative impacts. For example, the Canadian government under the label of “peacekeepers” are quick to point out acts of terrorism in under countries, and that terrorism in Canada are influenced from external sources. But under this pretense, we fail to adjust and change with the shifting Canadian identity. Before the October Crisis, the government did not implement actions regarding the visible divide between the French and English. However, the October Crisis allowed people to “examine closely what happened in 1970, to see how fragile Canada’s democracy was in the face of homegrown terrorism directed at our beliefs about ourselves and our defining institutions” (The Globe and Mail). Canadians pride themselves on having equal human rights, freedom, peace; but the fact that acts of terrorism were committed in the name of unequal treatment of people living in Canada reshaped Canadian identity. The October Crisis forced Canadians to open their eyes to different nations that make up Canada’s identity, which was beneficial to Canada but did little to impact the rest of the world; eventually this bridged the gap between the two nations and solidified Canadian identity.
In your opinion, is there any value in trying to define a specific Canadian identity, or should we abandon this idea towards a more open and global idea of nationhood? Why?
The essential thought behind the idea of a more open and global idea of nationhood can be once again, linked back to Justin Trudeau’s statement on postnationalism. When Charles Forman, a journalist from the Guardian, mentioned Trudeau’s quote to Michael Bach, Germany’s minister for European affairs,”[…] was astounded […] as no European politician would say such a [radical] idea” (The Guardian). Like Bach, the idea of a global nation may seem far-fetched to many people, but in reality, something we are already working towards. Canadian identity is made up of different civic nations inside Canada, which are made up by a diversity of unique people brought together by their belief in their principles, in society’s principles. This is present in all countries; for example, as unified as America may seem, there are still a diversity of culture noticed due to the immigration population and the mix of racial ethnicity. In fact, there is no ‘specific’ American identity, and although they pride themselves as being ‘one’, they are merely a collection of people, all with different values and interests, separated with the rest of the world by physical borders. Likewise, Canadian identity, and the identity of other countries, will continue to exist as long as borders exist, and the word countries exist, because they remain as a physical attachment that everybody longs to be part of. Nationalist pride seems unimportant in times of crisis’; however, pride unifies people, and unified people can statistically, perform at a higher rate which ultimately increases independence in a nation. If we can stretch this concept to world pride, then potentially, we can move past the idea of specific identities and focus on more important problems unified by the entirety of the world. In fact, the values that most Canadians stand for, are often the values of many others in the world, and are not limited to Canadians only. There is no value in a specific Canadian identity, because ‘one’ identity does not every exist in a country, and although it may seem unrealistic now, we should embrace the fact that we are all part of a much bigger picture, and that everybody’s unique identities build a global nation.