What he was talking about when he talked about colonialism

by Aaron Wherry

The Prime Minister’s Office offers its interpretation of what the Prime Minister meant when he said in Pittsburgh that Canada has “no history of colonialism.”

“It was in response to a question from Reuters about Canada’s voice and role in the international financial market. Basically, the prime minister was giving some context and saying that unlike past global empires, Canada does not have a history of colonialism with respect to the financial market,” said spokeswoman Sara MacIntyre. “Past global empires have implemented policies that are colonial in nature. It was really focused on the international financial scene … I think it has been misunderstood and the prime minister stands behind his apology that was made last year.”

Footage of the Prime Minister’s press conference at the end of the G20 is here, the question in question coming nearer the end of his availability (about a third of the way through that video). The Reuters reporter wondered whether the Prime Minister was concerned Canada’s voice would be “diluted” as the G20 supplants the G8. The applicable portion of the Prime Minister’s response reads as follows.

You ask about Canada’s voice and Canada’s role. Will Canada’s voice and Canada’s role be diluted? Well, look, in a, it’d be crazy for me to deny that, to some degree. Obviously if you’re one of 20, instead of one of eight, it’s a different dynamic.

That said, Canada remains in a very special place in the world. First of all, just in terms of the immediate crisis, we are the one, major, developed country that no one thinks has any responsibility for this crisis. In fact, on the contrary, they look at our policies as a solution to the crisis. Everybody, we’re the one country in the room, everybody would like to be. They would like to be an advanced, developed economy, with all the benefits that conveys to its citizens, and at the same time not have been the source or have any of the domestic problems that created this crisis in the first place.

Secondly, Canada has broader assets. We should not, you know we’re so, we’re so, humble isn’t the word, but we’re so self-effacing as Canadians that we sometimes forget the assets we do have that other people see. We are a very large country, with a well-established, you know, we have one of the longest-standing democratic regimes, unbroken democratic regimes, in history. We are one of the most stabile regimes in history. There are very few countries that can say for nearly 150 years they’ve had the same political system without any social breakdown, political upheaval or invasion. We are unique in that regard. We also have no history of colonialism. So we have all of the things that many people admire about the great powers, but none of the things that threaten or bother them about the great powers.

We also are a country, obviously beginning with our two major cultures, but also a country formed by people from all over the world that is able to speak cross-culturally in a way few other countries are able to do at international forums.

All of these things mean, and I’ve said this before, it’s kind of a bit of a joke, but it’s absolutely true, Canada is big enough to make a difference, but not big enough to threaten anybody. And that is a huge asset if it’s properly used. And I think, if we build on it, as I say, I think the country has a great future, and if we build on these things and if we remain appropriately humble, while not denigrating ourselves, then we can build on these assets.

In related news, Conservative Rod Bruinooge is calling on anyone willing to debate Canada’s historical ties to British and French colonialism.




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What he was talking about when he talked about colonialism

  1. Canada is a former colony, so obviously it has ties to colonialism in that respect. However, despite its Empire ties, Canada itself has never had any colonies or directly subjected other countries to colonialism, which is probably what the PM meant by "no history of colonialism".

    One could probably make the case that Canada's treatment of its aboriginal peoples since Confederation amounts to "colonialism", though this is technically not the correct word to describe a country's treatment of groups living inside its own borders.

    • What would be the correct word? Most first nations folks i know would think that was a very good word to use.

      • Haper mispoke himself – wouldn't be the first to make that error. The PMO on the other hand? Spin, spin, spin. Can't have the PM looking bad, even if it was a slip.

        • I get a kick out of the PMO's pronouncement that Harper will not apologize for this slight and the implication that his apology from last year gives him sufficient apologetic capital from which to draw in this instance. Why do these guys simply despise apologizing?

          • Simple. Because apologies cost political capital. They make the front pages of newspapers and are an admission of wrongdoing.

            No politician from any side of the political spectrum, (but especially from the conservative side given the media propensity to focus disproportionally on conservatives when playing gotcha journalism) is ever going to apologize because somebody with an agenda decides to blow some perceived slight way out of proportion.

          • In a more general context, we should be cautious of cheapening the whole notion of "apology" too.

          • How admitting a mistake is a shortcoming, I've yet to understand. In other countries, indeed Commonwealth countries, there is not such a compulsive aversion to the word sorry. Why has it become so here?

          • How admitting a mistake is a shortcoming, I've yet to understand. We're all human. No one is served by creating a mythological stand-in with God-like infallibility. In other countries, indeed Commonwealth countries, there is not such a compulsive aversion to the word sorry. Why has it become so here?

          • I've never understand the "sorry" fetish that people have. Why should Harper apologize just because he made a factually correct statement that included the 'c' word (colonialism)?

          • In this case it sounds more like a clarification than an apology, probably because "colonialism" is such a loaded word.

            I wondered why Harper was walking on eggshells in his answer. Then I remembered that elections are soon coming and here is the leader of a party who has misquoted the most politicians since Mulroney.

          • Why on earth would someone apologize if
            a) he did nothing wrong and
            b) he is not sorry

            In fact, I would say the exact opposite of what you said. It is common knowledge around the world that Canadians, more than any other society, say "sorry" all the time, usually instead of "excuse me" or some other mannerism for getting attention. A Canadian will say "sorry" when they do not hear someone. A Canadian will say "sorry" when they wish to pass someone in a crowded room. A Canadian will say "sorry" when trying to get someone's attention. Canadians apologize more than any other society on earth.

          • I've long believed the Conservatives have a knack for creating sh*tstorms for themselves via their pathological inability to simply make a correction or clarification. But I also think the calls for formal type apologies can lessen the import of the whole concept.

    • Aside from the Boer war, no we haven't. But that's nit picking. So is the correction. I get was Harper's trying to say and it's one of the few things I can agree with him.

      But like Lorraine said bellow, compared to Dion harper sounds like a teen.

    • "One could probably make the case that Canada's treatment of its aboriginal peoples since Confederation amounts to "colonialism", though this is technically not the correct word to describe a country's treatment of groups living inside its own borders."

      Well duh. There were over 50 Nations in Canada. Canada colonized them and that's how they ended up within it's borders. History 101.

  2. When Harper says "We should not, you know we're so, we're so, humble isn't the word, but we're so self-effacing as Canadians that we sometimes forget the assets we do have that other people see." – he's speaking for himself. Mr. Harper has often forgotten this in the past when he would badmouth Canada and its citizens. I never forget what Canada is. Maybe it's because I've travelled much more than Harper had before he became prime minister.

    • And how are things in the Liberal Party war room this morning?

    • In comparison to Chretien, they're all geniuses. I don't think the typical voter cares much about the sentence structure of a politician answering an interview question, once it is transcripted.

  3. Dion has a better command of the English language than Harper. Of course, I'm French and I'll be laughed at for suggesting this. However, Dion was more precise and demanded that people who spoke with him be precise too. He has a terriblly strong accent, which he also has in French because Dion has a speech impediment, a lisp. Anyway, whenever I read a Harper speech I am astounded by the poor quality of the language. which betrays the poor quality of his mind, imo.

    Maybe Harper meant expansionism, in terms of economic influence or by means of military aggression. In terms of colonialism, France and England had colonies on Canadian soil, but Canada as a state never has pursued colonialism or territorial expansionism – heck we even refused the advances of some Caribbean island. Newfoundland came in.

    • Yes, Dion was quite the talker, although I for one couldn't understand anything that came out of his mouth.

      • I'm not surprised. You can't even understand English.

  4. The West and Newfoundland and Labrador are essentially colonies of
    Upper and Lower Canada.

    • Especially with full constitutional representation, guaranteed levels of services and full inclusion in every federal government institution.

      I would say exactly like colonies.

    • Do you me "are", or "were".

      'Cause if you mean "are": Yawn.

      Again with the laments that we live under (GASP!) majority rule. The provinces you refer to ("the West" and N&L) represent 32.5% of the population. The fact that they generally have less power than the other 67.5% of the country isn't called "colonialism", it's called democracy.

    • when you say they are "essentially" colonies I think you mean to say they are "not" colonies. By no sense of the word colonies is your statement correct.

  5. Any day that starts with a Raymond Carver reference can't be all bad :)

  6. "And I think, if we build on it, as I say, I think the country has a great future, and if we build on these things and if we remain appropriately humble, while not denigrating ourselves, then we can build on these assets."

    Well then, get busy "build[ing] on it" while "remain[ing] appropriately humble" Prime Minister.

    Sheesh.

  7. I was willing to give the Prime Minister the benefit of doubt that it was not a slight to First Nations. But the following paragraph where he states "We also are a country, obviously beginning with our two major cultures, but also a country formed by people from all over the world that is able to speak cross-culturally in a way few other countries are able to do at international forums." for me shows he still does not understand the roll First Nations played and continues to play in what Canada is.

    I think I will take a page from Yann Martel and send Mr. Harper a book – A Fair Country by John Ralston Saul. Hopefully then the above quote would be obviously beginning with our <s>two</s> three major cultures,".

  8. I was willing to give the Prime Minister the benefit of doubt that it was not a slight to First Nations. But the following paragraph where he states "We also are a country, obviously beginning with our two major cultures, but also a country formed by people from all over the world that is able to speak cross-culturally in a way few other countries are able to do at international forums." for me shows he still does not understand the roll First Nations played and continues to play in what Canada is.

    I think I will take a page from Yann Martel and send Mr. Harper a book – A Fair Country by John Ralston Saul. Hopefully then the above quote would be "obviously beginning with our three major cultures,".

    • Yeah, the obvious omission of one of our founding cultures props up and reinforces the 'colonialism' slight.

      The 'clarification' by the PMO has me puzzled. Are they saying that Canadian is a global empire? Why is the word 'empire' being used? We're definitely a member of the global economy and proponents of globalization but by no means an empire. Empire implies colonial tendrils spread throughout the world.

      • Who is John Ralston Saul? And why should anyone pay attention to his anti-historical maunderings? I have yet to meet a historian of consequence who considers his book anything other than silly.

        • Name three of your "historians of consequence" please, and also tell us why you feel they are more consequential than others.

        • Where did you meet these three "historians" — Tim Hortons?

          • "I have yet to meet a historian of consequence…"

            This kind of stuff is hilarious.

          • Can anyone define "historian of consequence"? Might Ignatieff be considered such?

  9. I was willing to give the Prime Minister the benefit of doubt that it was not a slight to First Nations. But the following paragraph where he states "We also are a country, obviously beginning with our two major cultures, but also a country formed by people from all over the world that is able to speak cross-culturally in a way few other countries are able to do at international forums." for me shows he still does not understand the roll First Nations played and continues to play in what Canada is.

    I think I will take a page from Yann Martel and send Mr. Harper a book – A Fair Country by John Ralston Saul. Hopefully then the above quote would be obviously beginning with our three major cultures,".

  10. When you read what Harper says, you suddenly realise that the guy is not that bright. A bit of a rambling dork, it would seem :-)

  11. So Canada is an appropriately humble global empire?

    The clarification just makes the 'beginning with two major cultures' and no colonialism comments worse.

    • Welcome back, Catherine.

      • Thanks!
        Note: I'm the lower case one. I almost never agree with the upper case one who sometimes posts here too.

  12. Just another example of what a narrow minded ideologue he is – and how he ONLY plays to his base – most of whom think – like Chuck Strahl – now in charge of INAC – that First Nations are getting a free ride – and their lands in dispute are NOT their lands – they were conquered – weren't they?
    Oh no – that's what happened in the US – First Nations peoples helped our first settlers survive – and helped the Britsh troops repulse the Americans…darn…I have to get this right!

  13. Sorry, oppressed majority.

  14. Canada does have a history of colonialism. For the past 40-odd years a colonial oppressor has attempted (with limited success) to force its language on the oppressed minority. The colonial overlords dominate the civil service and government, having held the PMO for 35 of the past 40 years, and the balance of power in the past 3.5-4 years of minority government. Canada's colonized citizens pay out a kingly sum each year in order to maintain the goodwill of their masters, but it is never enough. The once-proud cultural symbols of a nation cannot be expressed for fear of reprisal – the Red Ensign is too British, and The Maple Leaf Forever too gauche. They certainly cannot re-enact glorious past, but, I admit, this mere colonial's heart sometimes yearns for those long-past days… Je me souviens a day when Anglo Canadians were conquerors and not the conquered.

    • Oh, woe is me, we English speaking white people from the British Isles just can't get a break in this country.

      It's a miracle I've been able to battle against these decades of oppression and get to the place I'm in today. Someday, I plan to write a book about my story. It's the tale of how an English speaking boy of English and Scottish heritage somehow managed to overcome the odds and make a success of his life in a country as hostile to anglophones of British decent as Canada has become. I plan to call it "How to succeed in Canada without really trying".

      • Inspirational!

      • An ounce of sarcasim is sometimes worth a pound of polemic. Well said.

    • I used to have a similar view of the country, then i grew up. We had to let go of momy's apron strings at some point or other.

      • Time to ditch the Monarchy?

        • Actually i'm rather fond of the current monarch – lots of character there and she isn't blown around by every vagrant breeze. That said one day it'll happen – when it does it may even help to bring Quebec in from the cold.

          • I think when Elizabeth passes, it will be a good time.

  15. This is lousy gotcha journalism. This point about Canada never colonising another country has been made many times and it's clear that's what Harper was referring to here – it was at the G20 and was about Canada's relation with other countries. Harper is not denying Canada's treatment of the First Nations, which is why PMO refers back to last year's apology. If you want to talk about aboriginal issues in Canada, that would be great, but an arguably imprecise reply in a scrum does not reveal Harper's callous indifference to our First Nations and it's insulting to pretend that it does. The only thing this demonstrates is that, in politics, it's not what you mean that matters, it's what you say.

    • 'This is lousy gotcha journalism'
      that's why it took a week and a Coderre melt down for the outrage to surface!

    • Please, try not to bring sense into this discussion. It had such a tidy streak going.

  16. Anyone notice how incoherent Harper is when speaking extemporaneously? Or maybe it’s just when he’s hedging on a difficult question.

    • Exactly what i was thinking when i first read this. When he isn't scripted he's not a very good or precise speaker. Unless you subscribe to the notion that he does say exactly what he means. I'm inclined to believe the former, at least in this case.

  17. There you go again, Wherry, showing your uber-Liberal, not so subtle, Harper hating, Ignatieff cheerleading bias, never once quoting the Prime Minister of our country in full or in context, always trying to squewer his words to make him look bad, push the Liberal agenda with each post…

    Oh, wait. Sorry, never mind. Obviously someone is impersonating Aaron today.

    • You left out Dakota. See below.

      • She was slow off the mark today. Probably busy slagging some other journalist on another thread.

      • I actually tried to include Dakota and John G and HosertoHoosier etc but you are only allowed 20 characters for your name so I had to cut it off somewhere. Thus the "Etc."

        Could add "Style" now and Dakota has proven the punch line. Thanks Dakota.

        • Couldn't you just use the initials? WCRDJGHTH?

          • I kinda feel left out :( -and what about Gaunilon, TwoYen, psiclone, tigeinexile, VinceClortho, jarrid … The list goes on and on. Its kind of like they don't want to hear any opposing view to their own.

          • But unlike Dakota, you didn't provide the irresistable punch line.

  18. Wherry, head cheerleader for the lib-left gotcha journalist squad.

    Look! Look! Harper may have, in some obscure fashion, possibly insulted someone somewhere!

    See! I knew he was evil!

  19. How soon we forget. There was blatant imperialism involved in the repression of
    The Republic of Madawaska. The pain remains.

  20. But can we say with any confidence that the first Asian across the Bering Sea land bridge, upon arriving in North American, did not turn around and say to the four or five following him, "this is mine" -and then was quickly harpooned by the lot for his presumption? Hence making these newer arrivals conquerors rather than settlers. My point being that Aboriginal land claims are not simple matters, and there was no chance that these claims are what Harper was talking about, if you read the context.

    As Canadians, we are all pretty much oppressed and dispossessed peoples, most of us having emigrated for the purpose of subsistence. Despite appearances, there are very few Canadians that are actually descendant of landed Russian gentry.

  21. But can we say with any confidence that the first Asian across the Bering Sea land bridge, upon arriving in North American, did not turn around and say to the four or five following him, "this is mine" -and then was quickly harpooned by the lot for his presumption? Hence making these newer arrivals conquerors rather than settlers. My point being that Aboriginal land claims are not simple matters, and there was no chance that these claims are what Harper was talking about, if you read the context.

    As Canadians, we are all pretty much oppressed and dispossessed peoples, most of us having origins of emigrating for the purpose of subsistence. Despite appearances, there are very few Canadians that are actually descendant of landed Russian gentry.

    • True, but we cannot deny that a good portion of our colonial history involved a powerful and privileged British class headed by the Family Compact and the Château Clique, a class who were descendants of the United Empire Loyalists. I would not be surprised if some descendants of that era hold some measure of power today (especially since despite the merger of their company, the Molson family is still throwing their weight around). Still, there is that strong streak of oppressed people. I mean, if you were Irish Catholic in that very same period or French Catholic for that matter, I would be understating just how bad it was. When touring, I noticed Ottawa has good local history, and looked up Lowertown and got a good enough idea.

  22. Massive slip up by the PM. I guess the expansion through the West (Metis, Cree, Blackfoot, etc etc) and the North just kind of happened.

  23. Canada should turn aboriginal reserves into towns and extinguish their organizations. Aboriginals in Canada are Canadians because they are not Russians or Poles. When they travel to Japan or Egypt they must use a Canadian passport or they must stay home. No country in the world recognizes their sovereignty. They are weak, they lack power. They are different brown skinned people, made up of different races, but they have no state power for their nation. It is all legal technical questions for the government and the mass of Canadians don't care and won't care.

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