Listen Up! Topics I probably shouldn’t write about: Maxime Bernier and Trudeau’s new national holiday

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Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

Things We Dare Not Talk About …

Sometimes when I sit down to write my weekly commentary, a little voice inside of me says, “don’t write about that”.  This is one of those times. Usually, I listen to that little voice. This is one of those times that I will not.

Two events that occurred recently have caused me to wonder what has happened to civil discourse in Canada. It seems that we have reached a stage where there are things you just can’t talk about without being labelled a racist or a bigot.

The first event that caught my eye was the uproar around statements made by Maxime Bernier, a Conservative MP from Quebec who accused the Trudeau Government of “extreme multiculturalism.” Let me be very clear that I do not agree with Mr. Bernier. I believe that Canada is considered one of the best places to live in the world, at least in part, because of its diversity. When it comes to multiculturalism, I relate most closely to a quote from John Diefenbaker, Canada’s first Prime Minister, whose descendants were neither English nor French. He said this.

“Canada is not a melting pot in which the individuality of each element is destroyed in order to produce a new and totally different element. It is rather, a garden, into which have been transplanted the heartiest and brightest flowers from many lands.”  

While I disagree with much of what Bernier has to say in relation to Canada’s diversity, I defend his right to express his opinion. It has not escaped my notice that so many people have taken great steps to distance themselves from Bernier, almost as if he had some distasteful disease. There is a danger however, in shutting down or dismissing ideas and points of view that may be unpopular, rather than giving them sufficient air to be discussed and debated.

The hard facts are that there are some people who will have empathy with at least some of the arguments Maxime Bernier has put forward. These are not bad people. These too, are Canadians. They will be concerned about immigration policies, especially in light of the current world-wide refugee problem. They would believe that Canada should be more rigid in expecting new Canadians to share a commitment to uphold and endorse our fundamental liberties. To suppress these issues, to shame people from discussing them, can only lead to a frustration that will eventually boil over. We have witnessed that happening with dire consequences in the United States. It would be to Canada’s detriment if we were to allow it to happen here.

The second issue that raised its ugly head for me recently, was a statement from our Prime Minister that his government will create a statutory holiday aimed at remembering the legacy of residential schools. Referring to a nineteenth century government policy related to Canada’s indigenous population, he said, “The residential schools era is indeed a dark chapter, we must never forget.”

I cannot think of a worse reason to declare a national holiday. There is no question that there are elements of our history for which there is little to be proud, but that is no reason to declare a national holiday.

In particular, the residential schools issue, in my opinion, has been subjected to a certain amount of historical revisionism that should not be enshrined in an annual observance. I know it is politically incorrect to say that, and that others have been severely criticized for daring to do so, but like most things, there are two sides to this story and they deserve to be heard.

Of course, bad things happened during those times, but not all people involved were bad people; many were there with the best of intentions and many dedicated their lives to what they honestly believed to be an important service to native children. One graduate from a residential school went on to become Premier of a Canadian Territory and openly credited that system for allowing him to get there.

But we are called upon to believe there was nothing good about residential schools, that the people involved were all bad and that the politicians, MacDonald, Langevin and Cartier, who devised and administered the policy, did so with the worst of intentions. I for one, do not believe that. Genocide is too often used to describe the residential school system.  Genocide is defined as the mass extermination of human beings and it is pure revisionism to equate that with the residential school system in Canada.

I would have no problem supporting a national holiday to honour the proud contributions of Indigenous people to Canada. I draw the line however at an annual observance that reflects negatively on our past, perpetuates the friction between Indigenous people and other Canadians and does so based on a historical record that is not entirely accurate.

It was Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the father of our current prime Minister, who said, “I do not think the purpose of government is to right the past. It cannot re-write history. It is our purpose to be just in our time.”

I say Amen to that.

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19 Comments

  1. Thanks Hugh for your thoughtful and contextual response to two issues that can too easily get a knee jerk response from so many of us!
    Thanks for reminding us that “T” Senior had a sense of context that T Junior ignores!
    Junior seems increasingly consumed with his preception of short term political expediency.
    Politics of the now!
    This will not end well for him!

    • I’m surprised by your comment Randy. It’s not relevant to Hugh’s article and in my opinion it reflects very poor taste on your part.

    • The widow’s comment from Fredericton regarding Justin Trudeau was absolutely a correct analysis of our “prime minister”. If anything it was worded far too mildly.

  2. Chris Cochrane on

    I agree on all points. However, I didn’t know Diefenvaker was our first PM. Always tauufhtbit was Sir John A Macdonald.

    • I noticed that punctuation error too. I think Mr. Mackenzie was trying to say that PM Diefenbaker was the first Prime Minister who was of neither English nor French descent.

      • Hugh Mackenzie on

        Yes, amazing how much damage a misplaced comma can do.Your interpretation of what I intended to say is correct Ruby!

  3. I enjoyed reading your comments Hugh. I feel a bit less charitable towards Bernier than you.
    Regarding the proposed National holiday, I believe one in honour of all Canadian Aboriginal people’s past and present would be more positive than focusing on one very sad portion of our country’s history.

    • Susan Godfrey on

      A more positive approach; Aboriginals studies should be an integral part of our school curriculum to fully appreciate, and honour, an Aboriginal holiday. However, Can we truly celebrate when we know that some people don’t have potable water or stable food sources?

  4. Love that telling the truth amounts to ‘historical revisionism.’ Your opinion may resonate with the uneducated, baby-boomer population that seems to dominate Muskoka, but I’m afraid you’re sadly mistaken sir.

  5. You’re such a brave soul. Damn the consequences, you’re gonna speak your mind. Hey, where else are you going to get this kind of truthiness. They want history? You gave them two – count ‘em – two quotes from real bonified men who lived a long time ago. Well done professor. That’s good enough for me. And don’t worry, I know taking shots at Trudeau is a very unpopular stand these days, but we got your back. You just keep fighting the good fight you brave, brave soul.

  6. Well said , Hugh.
    A holiday to remember residential school policy would be discrimination, unless:
    we have a holiday to remember our internment of the Japanese during WW11.
    we have a holiday to remember the Acadian expulsion.
    we have a holiday to remember the Chinese Head Tax.
    we have a holiday to remember that we turned away a boatload of Jewish refugees.
    we have a holiday to remember we hung Louis Riel
    ……and on and on…..
    .Very unfortunate that the son does not have the larger vision of his father.

  7. Hugh, in his ‘Listen Up’ article, laments the current divisiveness of ‘civil discourse in Canada’ when it comes to debating controversial public issues, and ‘that we have reached the stage where there are things you just can’t talk about without being labelled a racist or a bigot.’
    An obvious reason for this state of civil discourse is no doubt the easy access to and the resulting democratization of opinions/feelings – often without supporting factual evidence and reasoned argument – to the multitude of platforms associated with social media.
    An additional and a subtler explanation for this growing reality, however, might be ‘how little’ Canadian history has been taught in our classrooms and ‘how’ it has been taught, ‘which has consequences for ensuring engaged and thoughtful civic participation.’ That’s the opinion of Alan Sears, an education professor at the University of New Brunswick, and an internationally recognized authority in the whole area of effective citizenship education.
    Sears argues that the space assigned to Canadian history in our school programs has diminished over the years, and what is taught has been too simplistic and one-sided. He claims teachers need to teach a more nuanced study of the past in a way that demonstrates to students that ‘[history] is complex and contested, immersing students in primary sources and introducing them to historic ethical questions.’
    A link to this opinion, worth reading, and a short recent interview with Sears: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/history-lessons-need-changing-unb-prof-1.4430918

    • I disagree with Professor Sears. History is a record of what happened, not what we think SHOULD have happened.

      Students would be better served by a curriculum that includes all aspects of Canada’s sometimes dark past, including the residential school system’s shameful intent and outcome, without attempts at justification.

      Which, by the way, is one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.

      • Is that what Sears said? Sears argues that a more challenging and nuanced study of the Canadian past with all its complexity and its ‘contested’ terrain would include warts and all, the dark and shameful – including the intent and legacy of the federal residential school system – as well as the good and the heroic.

  8. I agree with Dave Stewart that we can’t have national holidays based on past negative aspects of Canada’s history. As he suggests this is a never ending pit from which to draw upon. Canada is trying to do it’s best to make amends to various groups for the damage done to them in the past. I regret this shameful legacy and will do my best to see that the government is serious about making reparations and changing policy but these events are not something to be enshrined and relived year after year. The times in which these perpetrators lived shaped them, the same as our time shapes us today, so I won’t be held responsible for something my ancestors or country may have done in the past. I am responsible only for my own behaviour and the person my vote helps to elect.
    As a survivor of childhood abuse I know that the only way forward is to acknowledge what happened, as our country is trying to do, and then after therapy, leave the past in the past. I/we must embrace the future and live a life of hope and joy in celebration of the wonderful things we find in this country today.
    National Aboriginal Day sounds like a great idea, but I suggest that the holiday instead be a celebration of our indigenous people’s contributions to our wonderful country. What better way to show our citizens what can be done in spite of adversity? Let’s use it to learn about all of them, thereby presenting our children with these positive roll models to learn from, and not a year after year reliving of abuses that we can do nothing to change. We must move always forward.
    I hope after reading my diatribe you don’t conclude that I want to bury the shameful history of this country’s past mistakes. I agree whole heartily with Ruby that the curriculum must include everything without attempts at justification. This is the only way that mistakes will not be repeated. My comments strictly pertain to a national holiday and not history lessons.

  9. In a politically courageous statement, Maxime Bernier pushed back against Justin Trudeau’s “Cult of diversity” and Trudeau’s “diversity is strength” sloganeering.

    “Trudeau’s extreme multiculturalism and cult of diversity will divide us into little tribes that have less and less in common, apart from their dependence on government in Ottawa. These tribes become political clienteles to be bought with taxpayers $ and special privileges.”

    ” More diversity will not be our strength, it will destroy what has made us such a great country.”
    “Having people live among us who reject basic Western values such as freedom, equality, tolerance and openness doesn’t make us strong. People who refuse to integrate into our society and want to live apart don’t make our society strong.”.

    It’s very obvious what Maxime Bernier is saying: People from all different backgrounds make up Canada, and to ensure our country is strong we need to unify people around shared values, rather than focusing on differences. This is common sense.

    Trudeau’s use of diversity is our strength slogan, is really a new way of saying divide and conquer. It fits very neatly into his hard core leftist socialist beliefs and agenda. Diversity is our strength has been discredited as meaningless, useless and having no value by credible and well educated people like Jordan Peterson, who said, it is nonsense because the two words together oppose each other. There is no strength when everyone is looking out for their own interests. But, that is the deceitful part of the way Trudeau communicates his message, It is always about divide and conquer and never about unity. Because with unity comes strength, harmony and prosperity. These attributes are things which he opposses, as they make it impossible for himself to be accepted and his message to be believed.

    GOLDSTEIN: More crocodile tears from Trudeau
    Justin Trudeau’s plan to create a national holiday to make Canadians feel guilty about the legacy of Canada’s residential school system is exactly what one would expect from our drama teacher prime minister.
    It will give him another chance to tear up and talk with a catch in his throat about Canada’s mistreatment of its Indigenous people, while federal employees will, inexplicably, get a paid day off work, along with those in any provinces which want to participate.

    But it will do nothing to improve the lives of Indigenous people. Justin Trudeau has done nothing to improve the lives of indigenous people in Canada-nothing.

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