Thursday, July 3, 2008

Negotiation, Not Revolution

The distinctive feature of Canada is simply this:
Canada is an idea forged in negotiation, not in revolution.

Fetons nos 400 ans!
Le quadricentenaire:
3 juillet 2008

It rained all morning today. Appropriate, since Samuel de Champlain’s records of the morning of July 3, 1608, indicate a hard rain. It was the day he founded his “Abitation.” It was the day he founded Québec. It was the day Canada was born.

A few seconds before eleven, the church bells began ringing all around us inside the walled city. No steady, monotonous rhythm, but bells of every tone, spanning octaves, running scales, hundreds of bells pealing without end. To this happy sound we added our cheers and shouts of “Felicitations!” The dignitaries around the statue—those whose hands were not gripping umbrellas—applauded. The enormous television monitor on the square showed us churches in Vancouver, Edmonton, and Toronto, all the churches across the country, ringing bells at this very moment.

As the bells pealed, I wondered about the significance of this event. How should it be remembered? Just what are we celebrating today?

The speeches began. The first, most appropriately, was by Grand Chief Max Gros-Louis, host of the festivities, and head of the Wendat (Huron) Nation, the nation that became Champlain’s closest ally. It was the tolerant culture of the Wendat Confederacy and that of their allies, the various Algonkin nations, that provided the foundation for Québec and Canada. South of the Great Lakes, the American Indians had significance only to the extent that they occupied land desired by the settlers; the indians were “savages” to be pushed off the land—by gunpoint if necessary. In Québec, Champlain and his men, it is true, referred to the Aboriginals as “sauvages.” But Champlain, in addition to desiring trade, was keen on understanding and adapting to First Nations culture and expectations. In the first years after his arrival, he dispatched men to live with and learn from the Wendat and the Algonkin. Within a year, he had established an alliance that positioned Canada as the most powerful nation in North America for the next 160 years.

As the speeches continued, I realised there were no official pronouncements about the subject of our celebration. “Fetons nos 400 ans!” was as official as it got. I found myself asking “Four hundred years of what?” Québec City? Québec? La culture québécoise? Canada?

The Prime Minister of France, François Fillon, had his say. He and Prime Minister Harper were the only two leaders of countries (en français: pays—pronounced “pay-EE” in English) present at the event. But M. Fillon addressed his remarks to “Monsieur le Premier ministre” Jean Charest, Premier of Québec. Now, to those outside Canada, the distinction between “nation” and “country” may not have any significance. In Canada a huge chasm exists between the meaning of the two words. Canada is one country composed of several nations (French, English, First Nations, Inuit, etc.). Foreign dignitaries, since 1967 anyway, have known that uttering the wrong word can get them ejected from the country.

Several times during M. Fillon’s speech, he referred to Québec as a pays. After he used the word the third time I half expected Stephen Harper to call the Mounties right then and there to haul the man away. At least the French leader didn’t shout “Vive le Québec libre!” as his predecessor, Charles de Gaulle, exclaimed in Montréal in the summer of 1967. De Gaulle might as well have said “People of Québec revolt!” Understandably, that very night, my namesake, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, appeared on nationwide television and basically declared de Gaulle persona non grata. De Gaulle left the country and was never invited back.

Fillon’s remarks were foolish and inappropriate, but they helped clarify my thoughts. My eyes are covered by the blinding scales of my upbringing in the land south of the 49th parallel, and I have great difficulty seeing what is clear and obvious to most anyone else not fettered in this way. But thanks to M. Fillon, I began to see more clearly.

In the 1600s an English lion laid an egg that in 1776 hatched as an American eagle. Everyone in the mid-1770s knew what was going to happen, and a third of the population of the thirteen colonies walked north, to what is now Ontario, because they wanted no part of illegal rebellion and treason. Another third of the population was loyal but couldn’t escape. The remaining third supported the rebellion, many half-heartedly, but not financially (“no taxation without representation” even from the first really meant in practice “no taxation, period.”), and a couple thousand underpaid, malnourished, poorly-equipped farmers under a Virginia plantation owner, with the help of several thousand disciplined French soliders, took on the entire British armed forces and somehow won their independence. All they wanted was freedom: freedom from taxation, freedom from government, freedom to “pursue happiness,” freedom from each other. In fact, they disliked each other so much, that for many years there was no unity among the thirteen nation-states, and only a very weak “Confederation” that ensured (or maybe “hoped”?) the state militias would come to each other’s aid in case of attack. A major source of state revenue was collected at border stations from visitors and tradespeople of the other states. It wasn’t until 1787—a full eleven years after the Declaration of Independence—that the thirteen nation-states, grudgingly consented to establish a federal government, and only because “the powers not delegated” to the federal government were “reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

In 1608 a French rooster came to the shores of the St. Lawrence River. A rooster, of course, does not lay eggs. Roosters are inquisitive creatures, though, and this particular rooster began to take up a conversation with a turtle and several other animals of the First Nations. Over the decades and the centuries, the animals in this conversation never lost their individual identities, but they decided to make the beaver their representative. The distinctive feature of this animal was her acceptance and encouragement of diversity, and her reliance on negotiation.

Thanks to Monsieur Fillon, I realised this today: Canada is an idea, ever changing and evolving. It is a healthy, radiant plant whose seeds were sown four hundred years ago in rich soil. While I am not in the habit of quoting Tory leaders, I think Prime Minister Harper summed it up best when he said, “Les graines semées ici il y a 400 ans aujourd’hui ont fleuri pour créer cette ville magnifique, une nation québécoise confiante et fière, et un grand pays canadien fort et libre.” [“The seeds planted here 400 years ago today have flowered to create a wonderful city, a confident and proud Nation of Québec, and a great Canadian country, strong and free”—the last words recalling the National Anthem’s invocation of the “True North, strong and free”]. And though it has changed over the centuries, it has maintained its essential identity and ideals, all the while growing stronger and more vibrant.

A few historians say Nouvelle France began on July 24, 1534, with Cartier’s claim. Many say Canada was born on July 3, 1608, the occasion we celebrate today. A few argue she was born on September 13, 1759, on the Plains of Abraham. Some American historians claim Canada went its own way on October 7, 1774, with the British Parliament’s Quebec Act, allowing the province to practice Roman Catholicism and French law—an “Intolerable Act” to the minds of the English-speaking WASPs of New England.

Perhaps most people would say Canada was founded on July 1, 1867, the date of Confederation, now celebrated as Canada Day. But a few hold out for April 9, 1917, at Vimy Ridge. Some historians say it occurred on December 11, 1931 (Statute of Westminster, granting equality to all Commonwealth parliaments), or January 1, 1947 (first granting of Canadian citizenship) or even April 17, 1982 (Patriation of the Constitution and establishment of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms).

What I realized today, standing in the rain in the town square below the statue of Samuel de Champlain, is that the idea of Canada was not formulated and then implemented by force, as with the revolutionary ideas of 1776 or 1789. I was reminded of a well-known answer to the question regarding the nature of the two North American countries:

Q: “What is the difference between the United States and Canada?”

A: “The difference is that you fought for freedom; we requested it.”

The distinctive feature of Canada is simply this:
Canada is an idea forged in negotiation, not in revolution.

Any idea or invention must claim necessity—or nature—as its mother. Canada called her mother Aataentsic [“Ah-TEN-sick”]. But this invention also had a father—human kindness—which Canada called Iouskeha [“You-SKAY-ha”].

For a thousand years, the Iroquoian nations that became the Wendat Confederacy were the last northern outpost of agriculture. Nations to the north, on the Canadian Shield, could not sustain crops of any kind in the thin, rocky soil. They fished and hunted more than they needed, and brought the excess south, to the Wendat. The Wendat in turn planted and harvested more corn, beans, and squash than they needed, and kept generous reserves for the northern Algonkin nations. What occurred between these nations was more like an exchange of gifts than what we might think of as trade. The culture of all the nations involved in the exchange had an extreme bias toward generosity, to the point that selfish individuals were considered not only anti-social, but were berated for acting against the dictates of their religion and tradition. Extremely selfish individuals were considered to be acting illegally, and were officially branded and tried as witches. The exchange of gifts was carefully orchestrated so as to show greatest cultural sensitivity toward the other nations. Trust, cooperation, negotiation, and generosity were valued far above any other aspect of human interaction. Trade arrangements and military pacts were often sealed with the supreme demonstration of absolute trust: the exchange of children.


The rain seemed to intensify as the military parade passed by the statue of Champlain and down the steep avenue leading to the lower part of the walled city. Some of the individuals in the units—drawn from four hundred years of Canadian history—clearly did not like the rain pouring down on them. But drawing up the rear—the men and women in tan four-cornered Stetson hats, red serge jackets, black pants with yellow stripes, and brown riding boots—the Mounties—were uniformly expressionless or smiling. After all, there would be no such celebration again for at least another hundred years.


Into the midst of the tolerant and diplomatic Aboriginal cultures, Champlain arrived in 1608. Having worked for the Spanish Navy from 1598 to 1600, he spent months in the West Indies, several weeks in what is now Panama, and a full month in Mexico. He witnessed first-hand the way the Spaniards enslaved the Aboriginals, and vowed to have no part in this. He and his compagnie, more than even the other French, and much more than the British and Dutch traders, endeavoured to learn about and understand these new cultures. His closest lieutenants spent years living with and learning from their Wendat and Algonkin allies, and the Wendat began living with Champlain’s people.

I do not write through rosey-coloured glasses. The French—including Champlain—acted in many ways with an air of superiority and contempt. Champlain referred to his closest Aboriginal allies as “sauvages.” The Wendat and the Algonkin not only ritually tortured their captured enemies, but in many cases ritually consumed the dead bodies of enemy warriors. European law of the time specified punishments such as drawing and quartering, disembowelment, decapitation and mounting of heads, and torture of heretics, witches, and spies. In fact, within weeks of establishing Québec, Champlain believed one of his men, Jean Duval, to be plotting against him. He had the man killed and skewered his severed head on a tall pike for all to see. Theft, jealousy, murder, and all manner of vice occurred in both Aboriginal and French camps. The motivations of neither Wendat nor French were entirely pure, at any time.

Nevertheless, the dominant factors guiding the Huron-French Alliance were trust, tolerance, and negotiation. This alliance between vastly different cultures was something new to the world, and it resulted in a unique culture that has thrived and grown stronger over the last four hundred years.

The cooperation between Huron and French inevitably led to Governor General James Murray’s recognition of the tremendous value of québécoise culture, and his many years of vocal agitation in favour of French Canadian rights, resulting in the Quebec Act of 1774. Cooperation and mutual respect between French and British inevitably led to the shared government of anglophone legislator Robert Baldwin and francophone legislator Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine in 1842, with Baldwin at one point representing a riding in French-speaking Lower Canada (Québec) and LaFontaine representing an English-speaking Upper Canada (Ontario) riding.

A modern natural outcome of Canada’s emphasis on negotiation and diplomacy is Lester B. Pearson’s brilliant crafting of, tireless advocacy for, and careful implementation of a United Nations Peacekeeping Force, which successfully ended the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956. In return for giving the world this practical, non-violent means of ending armed conflict, Lester Pearson was awarded the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize.

Tonight, standing near the sparkling water of the St. Lawrence, we witnessed the most spectacular fireworks display since the Americans’ bicentennial in 1976. It seemed that at any given moment six or eight or fifteen radiant bursts illuminated the sky above us. Many times twenty or thirty rockets must have been exploding simultaneously, and during the finale the sky became a brilliant display of fifty or sixty shells all bursting at the same time.

Today, we celebrate four hundred years of rich culture and heritage. It is a proud heritage of nations in a great land, coalescing to form a radiant jewel of humanity.

Just what do we celebrate today?
We celebrate trust, cooperation, negotiation, and generosity.
We celebrate all that is best in the human tradition.
We celebrate Canada.

Pearson Moore
Québec City, QC
Le 3 juillet 2008

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