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History Table of Contents
1998 Summer Conference
 
Summer Conference 1998
Rethinking Canada for the 21st Century

The Canadian Essence: What will it mean to be
a Canadian in the 21st century?

Rene-Daniel Dubois, Playwright, Montreal

I feel like I knew could become the black sheep in attendance and I’m afraid I’m going to be a very, very black sheep.

When I arrived here on Thursday, I knew I wanted to ask a question. After having attended the meetings for three days, I still want to ask the question. But I’d rather shout it.

The question is: do you think you know what you’re doing when your seated in front of the wall behind me [a reference to the backdrop which was covered in Canadian flags]?

Do you know what it is to play with nationalism? Are you really conscious what kind of a game you’re getting into here?

I’ve a slight idea of what it is to come from a very nationalistic community.

It’s none of my business. You do whatever want, but my answer to the question — I wrote three versions of a text that is much too long for the five minutes — but the title was, Back to the Cave with a Modem.

What’s my vision of Canada in the 21st century?

If we’re talking about the end of the 21st century, beautiful memories. You take these flags, you fold them in silk paper, hide them in your attic and give them to the grand, grandchild of your kids. It will make beautiful memories.

There will be no such thing as Canada at the end of the 21st century if we keep going the way we’re going.

Why’s that?

Because there are two ways of defining what an identity is. Either you define yourself by what you are, or by what you do.

Usually nationalists and winners, wolves and squirrels, define themselves by what they are: Winners, nationalists: "I was born here, I’m made of this."

The only kind of people, as far as I know, that define themselves by what they do are what has been called since the Greeks, in our civilization at least, the democrats.

Canada is, as far as I understand it, is an alliance of democrats who are trapped; some in English Canada, some in French Canada. They were too weak in their own community, so they decided to unite. It was the only way for the crazy democrats caught with the ultramontane in Quebec and orangeists in the rest of Canada.

They were too weak in their own community. They had to unite.

And now we are being told — that’s what I heard for the last three days — that democracy; well the word has been pronounced during speeches, once. But other words were pronounced dozens of times: unavoidable, unescapable, we’ll have to get used to it, it’s terrible, but we’re going to make it.

The "we’re going to make it" part being a kind of a prayer. I know a prayer, [as] I was forced to pray when I was kid.

If you think that fighting or struggling against or dealing with Quebec nationalism [that] the only tool you’ve got is nationalism, I’m sorry. That’s called a dead end. And you’ll find that the wall is pretty strong, because nationalism is a lie.

It’s a lie that consists in bits. You replace thoughts by emotions. When someone decides to put himself into nationalism, usually the person or the community has just decided they don’t want to think any more. They want to feel.

Maurice Barris, the very founder of that doctrine in the late 19th century, said very clearly that: thoughts are not enough. You need to feel.

That’s the basic.

Adolf Hitler was not even a nationalist. He was using nationalism and in certain interviews with people like Herman Rauschning, for example, he spoke very clearly about how he was using nationalism. What he believed in was a strong international community of Imperial masters which, I believe, is what has been described to us for the last three days. No democracy.

So, we’re talking about what [is] the future of Canada; more of that nationalism, which is a tool for the powerful people to become more powerful and the less powerful people to become even less powerful.

You give more responsibility to the communities where there is no power and no responsibility to the people who hold the power. That’s beautiful. What else can one dream if you think you are a wolf or an angry bear?

And the word democracy not being pronounced. It doesn’t scare me. It just confirms for me certain trends [that exist] in the Western world and in our society.

I would like to remind you of something. Do you remember how free trade was first introduced in this country?

Which government? The Mulroney government, right. How did he get elected? With tremendous help on the part of the Quebec nationalist society.

Last Wednesday, Lise Bissonnette, director of the nationalist newspaper Le Devoir in Montreal, who has just been named director of the mammoth national library that [is going to be built in Montreal] is a huge victory for ultramontane one century later.

People don’t even know why; they don’t even know what ultramontane was about and the huge fight about public libraries in Quebec in the late 19th century. But the announcement of the building of that very kind of national library is a victory for ultramontane of the late 19th century. They have a long, long memory. They remember their enemies for a long time.

Anyway, Madame Bissonnette has just been named director of this mammoth thing and the very same day in her newspaper she wrote, we should lift the taboo; the taboo being that let’s face it one of these days we’ll have to face a federation of the countries of NAFTA.

A few days before, the Movement Desjardins, one of the strong economic forces in Quebec, was expressing it’s desire to see Canada considering using U.S. currency as soon as possible.

I don’t want to be condescending, but when you play nationalism you are hung; you’re a century late.

When Madame Copps goes on her little show with the flags, do you know what the effect is in Quebec; the real effect?

It may be comforting for you, but in Quebec it’s a laughing matter, because the trip about the flag we enjoyed. Fifty years ago we adopted our own; 75 years ago there were already heavy discussions about the flag. Ninety years ago the flag was in the centre of the table in Quebec nationalist society. We are one century ahead of you on this matter.

So, when you decide to do that thing it was already settled under Duplessis.

We’ve been back and forth that road 75 times while you were preparing. That’s the first thing we understand. They’re back.

But, when we started being nationalists in the 19th century it was fashionable to be a nationalist, right! The 19th century was a nationalist century, so we began being nationalist at that time.

You’re beginning now. You’re out of fashion. It’s finished. You’re three generations late. That’s what nationalist people understand in Quebec, every time Madame Copps goes with her box of little flags.

The third thing it confirms something to the nationalist thinkers in Quebec, because we’re so far in advance in terms of time that we had to push you into the 21st century; free trade and NAFTA.

When Madame Bissonnette writes her paper in LeDevoir what she says is, we’ll have to keep pushing folks because they’re still behind.

So, when you think this is going to be an improvement and it is a kind of independent thinking about Canada, I’m sorry. Quebec was in this room all the time during all the discussions this weekend; not only the nationalist question, but what’s behind the roots of the question, which is what nationalism is about is a very strong elite with a huge herd of people who don’t know what’s happening.

And that’s exactly what I’d describe as a future for Canada, but we’re going to make it I’ve heard [said] many times during the weekend.

The actual situation in Quebec province is that between one out of four and one out of three citizens are functionally illiterate. They have to concentrate in order to read a cereal box. Nearly half the kids on the Montreal island don’t finish high school studies.

And year after year, as a state, Quebec has the championship of suicide rate among young people. That’s the situation.

And what I heard during the weekend was that Canada, to keep being a democracy; keep being? How can you have a democracy with one-third of the population being functionally illiterate? That’s a fairytale.

So, in many ways I think the only — if something unforeseeable doesn’t happen during the 21st century — you should keep these flags for your grand, grandchildren.

That unforeseeable, in my opinion, could only have something to do with democracy. The very basis of democracy is curiosity; not only curiosity toward the others, but also about what you’re made of.

But that thing is unforeseeable. I can see not a single sign that it could happen, but sometimes things happen that were not announced before. So, let’s hope, but hope is not enough.

And fairy tales are great, but if you keep going — if we keep going — trying to imagine that we are going to solve any of our problems through nationalism and telling ourselves fairy tales, we’re not!