A CTV news segment this evening focused on ‘The Royal Wedding’. “How to get those extra style points on the perfect hat,” said the newsreader before the report. The previous item on the news was an exclusive interview with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, two weeks before a federal election. The wedding segment was longer than the interview.
Wake up Canada. You have been doing this for over 150 years now. You are more important and more intelligent than this.
Let’s go back to mid-1800s. If you ask Canadians today how Ottawa became the national capital, they would likely say that Queen Victoria chose it. The fact that she did not seems to be irrelevant. There is a part of Canadians — an otherwise largely bright and creative bunch — that is happily wrapped up in these falsehoods. In reality, Ottawa had been chosen as capital as much as a decade before Confederation. Montreal, Quebec, Kingston and Toronto were either too Protestant, too Catholic, too geographically peripheral or too fractious, respectively. Ottawa, on the cusp of anglo- and francophone Canada, seemed a good compromise. Macdonald and Cartier had settled on it and, after some domestic political dancing in the early 1860s, advised Queen Victoria to pick Ottawa in what was essentially a rigged competition. For advised, read instructed.
But Canadian history prefers the benign, servile version. Artificial nations — and by that I mean nations that are not formed out of a long-standing resident ethnicity in the area but rather by people (or rather peoples) from all over the place — seem to need a creation myth in order to justify their own existence. Rome had Aeneas. Much of the population of Israel believes itself to be God’s chosen people. The Tea Party, among other groups, in the United States is trying to accentuate the creation myth that that country was founded as a Judeo-Christian refuge or utopia. Canada’s creation myth, with the emphasis on mythical here, is a Royal one. But it needn’t be. As is often the case, the truth — the story of a democracy defining itself upon a series of compromises — is far more interesting.
And of course the wedding of William and Kate Middleton is being pre-packaged as a “fairy tale”. They really do love each other, we are constantly being told. This is stated over and over in order to banish the monarchists’ great fear: another Royal wedding where the words ‘love’ and ‘respect’ for the bride seem to be an afterthought on the part of the Prince. Actually no, Charles didn’t seem to give any thought at all to those supposed prerequisities for marriage.
I hope that the upcoming wedding is indeed based on love and respect, but that would make it the exception rather than the rule. The Royal/Windsor family detests marriage in any loving sense of the word. Remember that it was the reigning monarch, Elizabeth II — a woman to whom even convinced republicans seem determined to fawn over — who forced her younger sister to give up the man she loved because he happened to be divorced, even though he was a war hero. “Mindful of the Church’s teaching that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before any others,” she stated. If you believe the following statement that she “reached this decision entirely alone,” you will believe anything. In fact, it’s a contradiction of the preceeding statement because, as she says, she reached the decision via religious edict.
And so Canada, beautiful Canada, you can do better than this. You can start by amending the story of the birth of your nation and its capital as a story of democracy, intelligence, leadership and compromise, or you can stick with servitude and the colonial mindset. Then you can arrange your newscasts in a way that gives more airtime to exclusive interviews with potential prime ministers and not to segments about hats. Aptly, the subject of Ignatieff’s interview was the potential of him and his party to compromise with others. It could have been fifteen decades ago and a discussion about potential capital cities. Alas, the story of the next couple of weeks will probably be the wedding, much like the myth-history of a Royal choice of capital.
For some reason, Canada is embarrassed by its democratic process. Canada can do better.