Contemplating Canada in the Shushwap

The view from my room at the Jade Mountain Motel. Friendly host, good food, really really noisy. Between the highway an the train tracks.
The view of Big Shushwap from my room at the Jade Mountain Motel, Chase BC. Friendly host, good food, really really noisy. Between the highway and the train tracks.

I’m on the road again and looking for Canada, determined to discover an inclusive Canadian identity. I call it Definding Canada because in order to define it one must first find it.

Next year (2017) will mark 150 years since Canadian confederation, not as a nation or a state but as a Dominion. But what does that mean?

Wikipedia describes Dominions as “semi-independent polities that were nominally under The Crown, constituting the British Empire and later the British Commonwealth, beginning in the later part of the 19th century. They included Canada, Australia, Pakistan, India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), New Zealand, Newfoundland, South Africa, and the Irish Free State. The Balfour Declaration of 1926 recognised the Dominions as “autonomous Communities within the British Empire”. In 1931 the Statute of Westminster recognized the Dominions as fully sovereign from the United Kingdom, with which they shared a common allegiance to the Crown. The Dominions and later constitutional monarchies within the Commonwealth of Nations maintained the same royal house and royal succession from before full sovereignty, and became known after the year 1953 as Commonwealth realms.”

The Prime Minister of Canada is the head of government, but not the head of state. The Governor General is head of state on behalf of the British Monarchy. So while we are fully sovereign from the United Kingdom, we still owe allegiance to the British Monarch? That would suggest that we are not “fully sovereign” and exist in some kind of archaic limbo between colony and nation or nation state.

So if we could lose the Governor General as head of state on behalf of the Crown (and pause for a moment here to recall that in Canada government owned land is still called Crown Land) could we aspire to nationhood?

According to Wikipedia “Nation (from Latin: natio, “people, tribe, kin, genus, class, flock”) is a social concept with no uncontroversial definition, but that is most commonly used to designate larger groups or collectives of people with common characteristics attributed to them—including language, traditions, customs (mores), habits (habitus), and ethnicity. A nation, by comparison, is more impersonal, abstract, and overtly political than an ethnic group. It is a cultural-political community that has become conscious of its autonomy, unity, and particular interests.

According to Joseph Stalin: “a nation is not a racial or tribal, but a historically constituted community of people;” “a nation is not a casual or ephemeral conglomeration, but a stable community of people”; “a nation is formed only as a result of lengthy and systematic intercourse, as a result of people living together generation after generation”; and, in its entirety: “a nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.”

The nation has been described by Benedict Anderson as an “imagined community” and by Paul James as an “abstract community”. It is an imagined community in the sense that the material conditions exist for imagining extended and shared connections. It is an abstract community in the sense that it is objectively impersonal, even if each individual in the nation experiences him or herself as subjectively part of an embodied unity with others. For the most part, members of a nation remain strangers to each other and will never likely meet. Hence the phrase, “a nation of strangers” used by such writers as Vance Packard.”

As a social collective do we have sufficient common characteristics, such as language, traditions, customs and ethnicity to call ourselves a nation? I think our cultural diversity precludes that description. We are, however, a historically constituted community, albeit a large, scattered and diverse one. Yet we still lack the common language, territory and psychological makeup that constitute a nation.

Perhaps the final description by Benedict Anderson is a better fit. Canada is an imagined community where “the material conditions exist for imagining extended and shared connections.”

As for any claim to statehood, while we are an organized political community, we as a nation, are members of the British Commonwealth, owing allegiance to a foreign sovereign. That suggests that while we may be a state, we are not a sovereign state.

Again, I refer to Wikipedia which defines “State as an organized political community living under a single system of government. Speakers of American English often use state and government as synonyms, with both words referring to an organized political group that exercises authority over a particular territory. States may or may not be sovereign. For instance, federated states are members of a federal union, and may have only partial sovereignty, but are, nonetheless, states. Some states are subject to external sovereignty or hegemony, in which ultimate sovereignty lies in another state. States that are sovereign are known as sovereign states. The term “state” can also refer to the secular branches of government within a state, often as a manner of contrasting them with churches and civilian institutions.

So, back to Definding Canada. I am looking for that “cultural-political community that has become conscious of its autonomy, unity, and particular interests.” I am looking for “the material conditions” that have enabled Canadians to imagine “extended and shared connections.” as well as evidence of an “organized political community living under a single system of government.” In short I want to identify those particular shared interests and connections that allow us to live in relative peace as an organized political community under a single system of government.

Wish me luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.