By Steve Weatherbe
We all have heard of the United States’ civic or civil religion, which involves the invocation of God at public events, the use of the phrase “you are in our thoughts and prayers” in public expressions of sympathy for flood victims, the veneration of past leaders, and a vague belief that America is the Promised Land.
But what is Canada’s civil religion? It is, of course, the Compact Theory of Confederation, the higher good for which any crime can be committed. The Compact Theory is the belief, held especially strongly by the Liberal Party of Canada, that Canada came about from a compact between the Anglo Scottish Protestant majority in the Ontario portion of what was then the British colony of Canada, and the Franco-Catholic majority in the Quebec portion of Canada.
To break free of the deadlock these “two Solitudes” found themselves in, also to resist American Manifest Destiny, the French and English Canadian politicians put down their swords and agreed to make Canada into a federation that would preserve each other’s ethnic/ religious character from interference by the other, forever. The Maritimes were drawn in to give the federation more economic clout, but the essential deal was to preserve the two cultures in two provinces.
Western Canada’s provinces are seen as the offspring of this fruitful union. Their role is to make the sacrifices necessary to preserve it, and of course, to supply raw materials (watch for my upcoming , jaw-dropping column on “the Laurentian Thesis”) The Compact is, simply, sacred, though rarely spoken of. It is the highest value for the politicians and bureaucrats—the elite—from Ontario and Quebec who run the government and the Liberal Party. It is why the Liberals alternate Francophone and Anglophone leaders. It is why the infamous CF-18 maintenance contract went to a Quebec firm and not a Manitoba one back in 1986, and probably why a big naval contract just now went to Quebec firm and not a Maritimes one.
So when Liberal politicos and hacks bombarded Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould about SNC Lavalin jobs being at risk, she missed the surtext: these were not job-jobs, these were Quebec jobs. I’m sorry, Jody, what part of Quebec jobs don’t you get? That is, sacred jobs necessary to secure Confederation from the threat of Quebec unhappiness leading to separation.
Wilson-Raybould marches to a different drum, of course. She not only comes from the West coast, she is a Liberal party newcomer, and her civil religion is centred on the use of the law to further native rights.
I get the Compact. It is surely a good thing that two cultures that had been at war on and off for decades politically and before that militarily were, in 1867, able to agree on forming a voluntary political union. O Canada!
But do we have to sacrifice the integrity of the legal system to it? Given that those Quebec jobs secure not only the holy Compact, but ongoing Liberal control of Canada with all the perqs and quarks that this entails, shouldn’t we be just a little cautious about invoking the Compact.
Unfortunately, history teaches that pandering to Quebec is a politically profitable move. It is why the Liberal Party has governed Canada for most of our history. When the Tories have unwisely taken punitive action (hanging Louis Riel “though every dog in Quebec bark in his favour”), bringing in conscription in World War One essentially to dragoon Quebeckers into the war effort, they have swiftly been punished in the polls, and for a long time.
So while other candidates for Canada’s civil religion such as environmentalism and human rights grab headlines, the Confederation Compact runs quietly on, invisibly directing the hands of Canada’s leadership.