CULTURE AND NATIONAL CONTINUITY
Controversy and competition between private interests, or between private undertakings and public authorities, are normal aspects of civic democracy. Examples are found in many activity areas, even in the field of cultural policy. Conflicting views are expressed on the broad goals and the detailed designs of cultural funding programs, broadcasting rules, copyright laws, construction of museums and so on. We should not mistakenly assume that because there are differences of opinion there is a lack of support for the essential public model. This leads to my final observation on the wider importance of cultural expression and public policy within Canada – an importance which reflects a fundamental concept of community values.
The continued existence of Canada rests on its capacity as a collective social enterprise to protect the independence and distinctiveness of its peoples. After all, if there is nothing unique about the country, why should it exist as a political entity? This is hardly a truism: the survival and strength of the French language and Francophone communities is a unique attribute of this country within North America.
While tensions with Quebec and with other French language groups are ongoing national realities, the unity of Canada has been sustained through the persuasive argument that this country operates as a first barrier for linguistic protection. This is one effect of cultural policy. A similar though more subtle argument applies to English-language communities. The ability of English-Canadians to voice narratives, values, goals and histories that differ from the American colossus depends entirely on the effective communication of independent Canadian cultural thought.
Beginning with the Quebec Act of 1774, reaffirmed by Confederation in 1867, the identity of Canada has been rooted in its bilingual and bicultural nature. In recent years, with the immense growth of immigration from ‘non-traditional’ areas, and with the entry of aboriginal interests and voices into the mainstream, Canada has invented an approach to social identity which is called ‘multiculturalism’. This important social experiment is very different in concept and outlook from either the American or European traditions of integrating (and managing) diverse populations.
The success of this country’s multicultural initiative, and its future success in remaining united despite tensions over language, ethnicities, or regions, will depend on a combination of economic and social factors. Canada’s historical challenge of being a home to its founding peoples and a welcoming place of settlement to widely diverse immigrants is profoundly cultural. We might adapt the German expression of ‘kulturkampf’ or ‘culture struggle’ to describe the challenge of creating shared identities, values and historical experiences while also respecting diversity. We cannot abandon this cultural struggle without also abandoning the battle to survive as a sovereign country. This is another ‘verity’ in our cultural being.