When I was growing up, it was a habit amongst Canadian pundits to complain that Americans knew very little about the real Canada. Americans, they opined, saw Canada as the land of Sgt. Preston and Dudley Do-Right, and consequently expected us to behave as if we were both truthful and law-abiding. This, of course, rankled many of my elders, for one reason or another.
I will never forget an incident that took place in 1988 when I and the rest of my family were taking a road trip through the United States. The highway, which had a side road running alongside it, was blocked for a reason I can’t remember. What I do remember, vividly, was the sight of American drivers carving out an impromptu detour through the packed dirt in order to reach that access road. Somewhat bemusedly, my father complied with the rest of traffic. My eyes just goggled — it was as much of a cultural shock as a shirtsleeve-weather December was a physical shock. I was easily impressed by American liberty, I have to admit: even the sight of a local Floridian electronics store openly selling radar detectors in 1987 was surprising to me — just as surprising, I am sure, as a (physically) big Canadian man dithering his words, out of fear of giving offense to his fellow Canadians, is to an American. (Sgt. Preston, after all, lacks X-ray goggles.) There are quite a few Canadians who are afraid of belting out the Canadian analog to "America The Beautiful," a song called "The Maple Leaf Forever."
Traditionally, Canada is known for exporting raw materials to the world, especially to the United States. Now, Canada is beginning to trade up. I wish I could enumerate and relate a large list of high-tech innovations that are replacing Canada’s traditional export staples, such as agricultural products, metals and minerals (largely starved out through green regulations), lumber products (ditto), and oil (not yet strangled, thanks largely to the province of Alberta’s blessed orneriness), but there aren’t many. You can look at a list of large Canadian corporate campaign donors to get an idea of which companies are at least trying to do so.
The government official always feels excluded in Canada, unless he or she is included. Once you understand this, you understand why Canada seems to be on the slowish track with respect to development of initiative and enterprise. You will also understand why one of Canada’s more successful export products happens to be government policy.
Take bilingualism, for those of you Americans whose state hasn’t already. Official bilingualism has been official government policy in Canada for longer than I’ve been alive. Ostensibly, it is merely the provision of government services in either official language over all of Canada and the promotion of Canadian unity in two-tongued diversity. In reality, though, it has financed a bilingual elite who, ostensibly, are selected by merit but are really held together by a common frame of reference, bureaucratism. I could write a 900-word piece entirely in French explaining why I’m not considered qualified for a bilingual position, with no restaurateur or Berlitz fillips in it.
Has bilingualism worked out for Canada? With respect to its ostensible aim, no. Only a small minority of Canadians are bilingual; a large majority prefer to stay with the language of their birth, their mother tongue, whether it be English or French. Bilingualism has not only spawned a host of government-fed pressure groups, it has also nurtured the dream of many a Quebecker of founding an independent Quebec State, which of course would be unilingual French. There have been two referendums on the separation question in Quebec — one in 1980, the other in 1995 — with approximately 40% in favor of "sovereignty-association" in the first, and 49% in favor for the second. The next one will, probably, return a majority in favor of Quebec leaving Canada.
Are average Canadians angry about it? No, except for a sporadic drunken kind of outrage which is inevitably followed by a guilt-hangover (hence the two attempts and present plans for a third). The only exception is a small, stigmatized minority in English Canada. Since the regular Canadian isn’t exactly enamored at the chance of being identified with Outcast Central, it should be of little surprise that normal Canadians are so passive with respect to Canada’s blooming secession crisis. Ostensibly passive, that is.
Many Americans may wonder why us Canadians put up with so much from our government, especially given the wide-open spaces which Canada’s police couldn’t even hope to cover thoroughly. It would seem that Queen Elizabeth II, who is still Canada’s Sovereign, should be blamed for this state of affairs, but her formal power is little more than residual nowadays. Canada no longer has British aristocrats in the Governor-General’s mansion; instead, we have either retired politicians or pleasing personalities. There is barely a trace of a landed aristocracy in Canada. It couldn’t be servility to King and Baron that’s the cause.
No, it’s because Canada now has a professional guiltmongering class latched right on to the rest of us. Its original prototype consists of opportunists who found out that beggaring works in a country where people are expected to help each other out during emergencies without question, which do occur regularly thanks to Canada’s cold climate. Back in the olden days, such guiltmongerers mostly confined themselves to trade — which has left a cultural residue of suspicion of entrepreneurship that still exists in Canada — but nowadays the ones who have that skill go right into government. It’s the perfect toadstool, as guilted people tend to explode in resentment over being held to account for faults not their own, and then regret it. Just consider what a valuable export this is to officials of other governments.
In order to keep the guilt game going, Canada’s political class has foisted upon Canada something called "multiculturalism." This is a policy of encouraging ethnic groups to stick together, and to keep them from comparing notes with members of other groups. It’s gotten so pervasive that all-too-many Canadians wax resentful of tax-exemption privileges enjoyed by aboriginal vendors instead of taking advantage of the resultant tax breaks as customers. Multiculturalism has been official government policy for almost all of my lifetime.
The way the multiculturalism game works is simple in conception: divide and rule. Bribery from the public treasury is the usual means by which garrison mentalities are financed, but sometimes threats are used, too. The usual technique is to combine the two, in the order that I listed, with regular use of the "Irish switch" to deflect largely resentment-based hostility away from the fomenters of it. As with any technique with a simple method, though, there are subtle variations that are deftly deployed by the masters of this particular game. The result is that the old government boys, the ones who tied Canadian statism to pragmatism, have been elbowed out almost without knowing it. They still are waiting for the current crop of politicos to come to their senses and get back to the old public-works framework.
The same causal forces are, of course, at work in the present United States. A government huge enough to grow its own governing class will eventually find it filled with people who are very skilled at keeping the government dollars flowing. Hysteria amongst the disadvantaged is encouraged to keep the guilt racket going. Enclaving is also encouraged to keep the hysteria levels buoyant. Guilting is tied to increasingly subtle levels of ludicrousness in order to keep the taxpayers pacified. A demand for victims calls forth a supply of new ones. Enclave conformity encourages real victims to stick with professional pleaders. An increasingly aggressive moralizing begins to crowd out what used to be the "impractical idealist" circuit, who also wait for the new crop of governors to come to their senses.
Sound familiar? Not as familiar as it is to a Canadian. Canada is America’s pilot plant for government by hogwash, whose soap is guilt-by-association — a lathering whose spread is surprisingly egalitarian.
Daniel M. Ryan [send him mail] lives in Canada — a nation which had no bank runs during the Great Depression, and got a central bank in 1937 as a “reward” for it. He is currently working on a book on Objectivism. Visit his website.