by Janet Ajzenstat
I recommend this book highly both for its elegant presentation of conventional opinion on the Canadian identity and for its provocative attempt to explain that opinion in terms of our European origins. If you are making up a course pack on political identity, include at least the first four chapters. Better: assign the entire book. It is readable, it draws you in, and while it no doubt tells you things about this country that you already knew and things only half-forgotten, so much the better. It offers admirable brief summaries of the debates about the influence of the United States on the Canadian economy and the arts, Canadian participation or nonparticipation in the defence of the continent, the development of the welfare state, bilingualism, multiculturalism, immigration policy and citizenship.
Resnick describes us as peaceable, deferential, modestly proud of our social programs (it goes without saying) and, withal, engagingly self-deprecating and aware of the fallibility of human endeavours. On the international stage Canadians shun utopian visions, imperialism and unilateralism. Is the picture attractive? It is undoubtedly the one to which most Canadians today subscribe. In this important sense Resnick has things right.
The central, original and contestable argument is this: to buttress the Canadian identity against American incursions,
Canadians should look to Europe and the European Union. Our roots lie in Europe and we have retained European habits of mind. We have remained more European in our sensibilities than have Americans. We will know ourselves better and our future will be brighter if we revisit the European connection.