Justin Trudeau told the New York Times Magazine,
“There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada.” (link)
And I suspect he believes this. Why not? It makes easing into a post national world all that much easier.
Maxime Bernier seems to think that this may not be true.
So a suggestion for Max. While public choice theory is all very well, and right more often than not, music is visceral. It hits our hearts not our heads.
I was buzzing around the ‘nets tonight and ran across this benefit concert for John Mann, the lead singer for Spirit of the West who, sadly, has early onset Altzheimers. Take a watch and give what you can:
And, yes that is the divine Sarah and Jim Burnes and a bunch of other Vancouver musicians. But like any other red blooded Canadian male I needed to know who the beautiful, blonde, fiddler was in the middle of the pack. (And, no, that isn’t Peter Garrett…that would be Australian Max.)
The answer was Kendel Carson who you can see here with Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea singing Barrett’s Privateers in a none to sober evening in Halifax.
And there is grand stuff from Quebec.
Fiddles, a beat, and a calling back of traditional music.
Poor Donald Trump seems to think that the pleasures of the Rolling Stones – not to be discounted – are the way to open rallies.
Max needs to be smarter. Whether recorded or live, he needs to begin his own appeal for a better Canada with an appeal to our hearts. This music goes there.
(And, yes, I have no doubt that all the performers are soibois to the n’th degree. But that is what you have staff for. A great fiddle band to open with could flip the switch in a lot of ridings.)
He’s increasingly a disaster, but Trudeau’s separation of nation and state is pure brilliance. Harper set it up by declaring Quebec a nation within Canada, but Trudeau should get the credit. Nation and state must be separate for the same reasons as Church and state: to prevent mutual harm.
He’s also right about Canada not having a mainstream or core identity and that’s also a VERY good thing. A state with an identity to push is an agent of coercion and collectivism.
Jay, I’d be interested in hearing your concise summary of the “mainstream core identity” you accuse Trudeau of not understanding. It presumably incorporates the various regional, linguistic and cultural groups and their associate antipathies within a certain, specified period that allows you to exclude Indigenous cultures from the mix at the front end and the duskier hued arrivals of more recent decades. Is there a specific window that frames the acceptable sources of input of our “mainstream core identity” for you?
Terry, I don’t think you need to exclude anyone to come to a core identity. First Nations are just as much a part of the Canadian story as the French and English settlers and the waves of immigrants of all sorts of “hues” who followed. [I note that various Canadians, at very times, may want to self-exclude but that is a totally separate issue.]
I agree. We are, however, talking about the Canadian “identity”, not “the Canadian story”. This is presumably some alchemical fusion of old country cultural essences into a new alchemical identity that our Prime Minister is failing to recognize. I’m just trying to get a handle on the elements that you feel worthy of inclusion in the alembic.
“I don’t think you need to exclude anyone to come to a core identity. ”
You should tell that to Max and all the other derps who want to exclude people from Canada to preserve our ‘core identity’.
I will see what I can do, Terry, but I cannot let your brilliant use of “alembic” go without congratulations for even a minute longer.
Parenthetically, I can lay claim to having been kicked around the Canadian cultural appropriation block a full 360 degrees. I formerly earned a modest living in what we called, with what was only mild pretension In The Day, a “Celtic” band. When I followed another vocation and moved to Nunavut, I was delighted to discover that what Inuit referred to as “Inuktitut dance music” was, in fact, Irish, Scottish and English dance tunes, played with some very distinctive musical differences: VERY fast, VERY heavy on the first and third beats, and oddly, with a fifth beat occasionally inserted for no reason that I could figure, but always at the same place in the tune. The tunes were usually renamed for a local accordion player or fiddler, in some cases dating back to the first contact with whalers or traders.
The style is great fun and very addictive, and when I returned south after a few years, I sought out some others who played in that style. We’d occasionally perform at northern and Inuit functions in Ottawa where people wanted to dance. Occasionally, however, I’d be taken aside and berated by some idiot (sometimes Caucasian, sometimes Inuit) for “stealing Inuit music”.
It’s hard to draw lines of identify around music, isn’t it? To my mind, the most Canadian thing about Barret’s Privateers is the virulent anti-Yank sentiment.
With your permission, I would like to make a contribution to this thread (after adding my bow to the use of alembic which I had to look up of course and have unabashedly appropriated).
Distinguishing the Canadian identity from the Canadian story is key so as to filter out the usual litany of sea-to-sea-to-sea stuff: mountains, mounties, poutine, Gordon Lightfoot and Peggy’s Cove…What is needed is a list of those ethereal elements that so often elude folks when debating the age-old ‘What is a Canadian’ question and are certainly germane at the moment so that we can rebut Skippy’s egregious ‘there is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada’ bilge.
I think of these elusive elements of Canadian identity in the way SCOTUS Justice Stewart thought of the threshold test for pornography back in 1964 when he wrote: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” A Canadian is hard to define but I know one when I meet one.
I also think of these elements in a we-are-not-Americans context as that is where the debate usually arises so much of my list is presented as a contrast to US identifying traits.
I offer for consideration the following ten items that I have jotted down over the years. All of course are generalizations so exceptions can be found for each one. And they reflect my views and biases. No priority is assigned:
1. The US is a gun culture, we are not. This is why they will never solve their gun question. Peace, order, and good government versus life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness expresses this contrast rather well. This culture evolved from their revolutionary birth versus Canada being the outcome of a couple of meetings of (now discredited) old white guys;
2. Our balance of collective versus individual rights gives more weight to collective rights than the US constitution gives them; we are willing to sacrifice aspects of liberty for safety – little bombastic ‘give me liberty or give me death’ in our background although Canadians are exceptionally brave for the most part. Sometimes this tilt can be too much but it allows our government to move on something if it has to, i.e. The War Measures Act which was arguably not required in 1970 but could have been. So c’mon Skippy, let’s build some pipelines because you have the tools;
3. When you hear a two-stroke engine (chain saw, snow mobile), you think of home. Why was this sound always in the background of a Red-Green episode;
4. We are more taciturn versus the openness of Americans. They always ask questions and are thought dumb for doing so but afterwards, the American will know the answer and the Canadian won’t because he stayed meekly silent;
5. Canadians are more outward looking and have a reasonable view of our place in the world. Americans are inward looking, rarely know a thing about other places yet consider themselves exceptional. The country is exceptional in many good ways but they do carry it to extremes;
6. They want to win at all costs. We have maintained a culture of ‘fair play’ as per our British heritage;
7. Old Hickory set out along with so many of his contemporaries to kill the indians. https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/20-bill-andrew-jackson_n_7616864. We had Sam Steele and Sir John A. (despite the way things are being warped today). These kind of activities in previous centuries have laid down a basis for our society today versus that south of the 49th;
8. The last hijacking in Canada was a bus to parliament hill;
9. Americans always seem to leave masses of uneaten food on their plates while Canadians rarely do; and,
10. In the past flying into YVR from Asia, Canadian Airlines ran a border service’s video that I found to be an exemplar of the Canadian zeitgeist. While places like Singapore and Malaysia inform passengers before landing that “smuggling drugs is punishable by death”, the Canadian video showed a beaver with a Smoky-The-Bear voice saying, “you can’t bring potatoes into Canada.” I knew I was home.
To bring together some of the threads of this discussion – music and identity, Stan Rogers, and “We’re Not American-ness” as a lodestone for Canadianosity – I’ve always thought that “The Mary Ellen Carter” was the most Canadian song Stan ever wrote.
There was always something slightly self-conscious about his other, more obviously “national” songs like “Northwest Passage” and “Barrett’s Privateers” and “Make or Break Harbour”. Wonderful songs all, but they somehow felt out of context without a mumbled intro from Peter Gzowski.
“The Mary Ellen Carter” doesn’t name-check Halifax or rhapsodize about wheat. An old boat is driven up on the rocks by a drunken skipper and sinks. The insurance pays the owners, who write off the boat. The crew decides to repair and refloat her, partly because they’re pissed off at the owners, and partly out of loyalty to the vessel “that saved their lives some many times”. The song is set the night before the attempted resurrection – “tomorrow, noon, we hit the air, and then take up the strain”.
And therein lies the difference. Had this been an American song, it would have been set the next day, following the successful refloat, achieved in part thanks to the heroic mate (played in the subsequent Netflix movie by Dwayne Johnson) who seized both frayed ends of the snapped cable at a critical moment. But in Stan’s Canada, what happens tomorrow noon is irrelevant. The good guys didn’t NEED to win. They just needed to try. To borrow from another songwriter – we make room in our myths for beautiful losers.