in the Power of Three
John Ralston Saul, The Globe and Mail, Friday, March 8,
have long regarded our society's origin as bipolar. But it is
triangular, its foundations influenced by anglophone, francophone
and aboriginal cultures
that exists does not go away because we pretend it isn't there. Much
of the past 150 years of our history has been troubled -- indeed,
hobbled -- by an almost childlike, head-under-the-blanket approach
toward the central role of aboriginals in the ongoing shape of
other successes are obvious. We have gradually and successfully
expanded our unusual -- revolutionary in classic nation-state terms
-- approach toward what constitutes a society. Why revolutionary?
Because it has always been non-monolithic. From what we often call
its anglophone-francophone foundations, we have created something
much more complex.
could argue that it was this original, non-monolithic foundation
that made it possible for us gradually to imagine the remarkable
complexity that we now boast of with such comfort and ease. What's
more, we have managed this without losing the concept and the
reality of the foundations.
worth pointing out this success, because other equally
well-intentioned democratic nation-states are still struggling with
a non-monolithic approach -- struggling even though such an approach
would permit them to reflect the reality of their societies today.
What holds them back, I think, is their core 18th-19th century idea
of a nation-state as a monolithic society.
we also are held back, albeit in another way. We do pay lip service
to the aboriginal role in our society. We may even be
well-intentioned on the subject. When I started saying a few years
ago that our foundations were not bipolar but triangular --
aboriginal, francophone, anglophone -- the idea was greeted as a
normal expression of our reality. This was the tripartite assumption
upon which all of our subsequent complexity was built.
when you examine the daily ways in which we describe ourselves, you
find that we almost automatically brush the aboriginal pillar aside.
I am not necessarily talking here about governmental or legal
matters. In fact, the courts have gone a long way over the past half
century toward normalizing our triangular foundation.
I am talking about is how we imagine ourselves as individuals and as
we begin our discussions -- our descriptions of ourselves -- from a
false or incomplete basis, then all that follows will be deformed.
Canadians know that for approximately a century -- varying in length
and precise period across the country -- we acted as if the
aboriginal element was no longer central to the Canadian reality.
Often we acted as if that reality simply didn't exist. Our denial
took on myriad forms, beginning with the most basic. On his death
bed in 1807, the great Mohawk leader, Joseph Brant, talked of how it
seemed "natural" for Europeans to look "on lands in
the possession of Indians with an aching heart and never to rest
till they had planned them out of them."
again, deny it as we might, what exists doesn't go away just because
we pretend it isn't there. And so today many of the most basic
Canadian factors are evolving to reflect the triangular reality of
say that in a few decades, 50 per cent of the work force in
Saskatchewan will be aboriginal. Manitoba isn't far behind. There
has been a resurgence in force of the Métis as a social factor in a
number of provinces. Nunavik, the Inuit region in northern Quebec,
has become a very interesting success story over the past 30 years.
Nunavut is a new and fascinating experiment in governing
differently. The Nisga'a treaty in British Columbia is working. And
the recent agreement between the Cree and Quebec further solidifies
their partnership. The arrival of large numbers of aboriginals in
many of our cities may be a challenge for them and for the cities.
But it is also an opportunity for all of us to reconceptualize urban
point is that Canadian society is all too eager to limit the
contribution of aboriginals to questions that directly concern them.
If Canada does have a triangular foundation, I personally want to
hear what that first party has to say about the whole of our
a sense the first three years of the LaFontaine-Baldwin Symposium
have been an attempt to set out a debate in that way. Last year,
Alain Dubuc produced a properly disturbing look at anglophone
unconsciousness of its own nationalism. This year, Georges Erasmus,
with an unprecedented experience as a national chief, co-chair of a
historic royal commission and now chair of a large fund dedicated to
dealing with the effects of residential-school abuse, will turn his
eye onto the wider question of Canada.
might be surprised that a lecture organized in honour of a
francophone and an anglophone politician in power 150 years ago
would focus on seemingly other issues. But they are not other
Sir Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin crystallized the
idea of anglophone-francophone co-operation. But the basis of that
co-operation, as they expressed it -- and, indeed, as Joseph Howe
expressed democracy in Nova Scotia -- was a shared social project
that could be described as essentially egalitarian and inclusive.
That they did not understand the aboriginal role was a flaw. But it
is also their non-monolithic model that makes it possible to rectify
that error. And their attitudes toward accessible public services,
public education, decentralized justice and arms-length public
institutions are the levers with which we still work today to
express our desire for inclusiveness.
is fascinating as this lecture moves across the country each year,
from Toronto to Montreal and now to Vancouver, is that when you look
at the original pro-Confederation voices in the old British
Columbian colony -- Amor de Cosmos and John Robson first among them
-- they virtually mirrored the ideas in all their strengths and
weaknesses of LaFontaine, Baldwin and Howe.
have more than 400 years of experience -- with varying success --
working upon this triangular foundation within our society. What we
call Canadian or British Columbian or Québécois or Nova Scotian
has always had central aboriginal elements in the way it is
conceived. Our approaches toward law and multiple social
relationships are far less British and European than is often
way you turn, the roots of the Canadian idea are tied up in
aboriginal concepts and methods. That is the past, but it is also
the present and the future. I think Georges Erasmus can help us all
with how that role will continue to grow and evolve; and how it
should be central to our discussions of what we are as a society.
Ralston Saul is chair of the advisory board of the LaFontaine-Baldwin
to John Ralston Saul
to Inspiring People