«Paper presented at the Canada and the End of Empire conference Institute of Commonwealth Studies London, UK 27 April 2001 José E. Igartua ...»
15 For a preliminary survey of editorial opinion on these issues between 1946 and 1960, see José E. Igartua, 16 "The Quieter Revolution: Evolving Representations of National Identity in English Canada 1941-1960", paper presented at a joint session of the Canadian Historical Association and the Association of Canadian Studies, St.
John's, Newfoundland, 8 June 1997. The paper is available at http://www.er.uqam.ca/nobel/r12270/textes/cha97index.htm.
"Day Off", editorial, Globe and Mail, 21 May 1956, p.6.
17 As we will see below, gender connotations were important in the definition of "British."
18 5 Canada as "British" implicitly and very often explicitly considered British political tradition as the greatest in the world: it had brought liberty and democracy to Europe, to the British Empire and beyond. Implicit too in this view was that Canadians of other than British ancestry were less likely to make model "subjects" and had to be "brought up" to the level of British civilisation. This view, common enough in nineteenth-century Canada – witness the Durham report – still held sway among some English-speaking Canadians a century later, in part because of the values the education system had tried to instil in them.19 But other views of Canada were current as well. A view closely associated with Liberal supporters defined Canada as made up of two nations, the French and the British, who had developed the land in partnership. The nature of the partnership was seldom elaborated on, but it too rested on an "ethnic" definition of the nation. The "civic" view of Canada, on the other hand, remained a minority view. It was most often expressed by spokespersons of the left, in the CCF but also in progressive circles that promoted a Bill of Rights for Canadians.
These circles included the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Trades and Labour Congress, and the Canadian Congress of Labour, as well as the National Council of Women.20 This summary sketch of the competing representations of national identity expressed in English-speaking Canada suggests an internal coherence and a national "essence" which would be hard to demonstrate. I am not looking for "the" English-Canadian national identity. I adopt the conceptual approach expressed in the work of Charles Tilly on public identities. Tilly focuses on four attributes of public identities. The first is the relational nature of such identities. By this Tilly means that identities are located in "connections among individuals and groups rather than in the minds of particular persons or whole populations."
Tilly summarises what he calls the emerging view of public identities as "… not only relational but cultural in insisting that social identities rest on shared understandings and their representations. It is historical in calling attention to the path-dependent accretion of memories, understandings, and means of action within particular identities. The emerging view, finally, is contingent in that it regards each assertion of identity as a strategic interaction liable to failure or misfiring rather than a straightforward expression of an actor's attributes."21 Applying Tilly's characterisation of public identities has a number of implications for the analysis of this type of discourse. First, collective identities are not fixed attributes of groups, but are historical constructs liable to evolve as does the nature of the relations within and between groups which give rise to expressions of identity. Secondly, Tilly's model suggests that identities are enunciated for specific reasons at specific times and for specific purposes.
From this it follows that expressions of national identity will not necessarily be coherent, either internally or over time. Thus it is important to understand the circumstances of such The values embodied in English-Canadian textbooks is part of my research project but will not be examined 19 here.
For expressions of these definitions of the nation, see Igartua, "The Quieter Revolution" and "L'autre 20 révolution tranquille." On the genesis of the Canadian Bill of Rights (1960), see Christopher MacLennan, "Toward the Charter: Canadians and the Demand for a National Bill of Rights, 1929-1960," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Western Ontario, 1996.
Charles Tilly, "Citizenship, Identity and Social History," International Review of Social History 40, Supplement 3 21 (1995), 5-6.
6 expressions in order to assess their meaning. Finally, collective identities exist only at the cultural level, that is, as shared representations.
Next, it is important to clarify how I understand the concepts of 'nation,' 'national identity,' and 'English Canada.' I follow Benedict Anderson's definition of 'nation' as an 'imagined community,'22 founded in a belief in shared characteristics, a shared past and the hope of a shared future. There are no tangible characteristics of nationhood that are shared by all members of the nation. Instead, nations exist when communities believe in their existence;
they are grounded in the imagination rather than in any objective sociological characteristics
of their members. It follows that they have a historical, rather than an essential, existence:
they can be born and they can die, when communities no longer believe in them.
Likewise, national identity, or the definitions which a community gives of itself as a national entity, are historically constructed and thus are liable to evolve over time. The historical question therefore is to discover why certain forms of national identity are born and why certain forms fade away. In the present case, I am particularly interested in the processes and circumstances which produced a withering of the definition of Canada as a British nation among English-speaking Canadians.
As for "English Canada," for the purposes of my inquiry, I use the phrase to refer to the communicational community, within the Canadian state, whose shared language was and is English. I would argue, following Benedict Anderson again, that this communicational community has existed since newspapers, the telegraph, and the railway ("print capitalism," in his phrase) have defined this communicational space. The focus is on language, rather than on ethnic or cultural origins, though a language of communication rests on the supposed sharing of cultural referents.
The sources used in this paper consist of editorials, editorial columns, and some letters to the editor of the major English-language dailies in Canada and the debates in the House of Commons during the special session held from November 26 to November 29, 1956.23 In order to understand the "inside story" which was available to the Canadian government during the crisis – the internal and external political pressures, as well as its knowledge of British and American intentions concerning the Middle East – I have examined the Pearson and St. Laurent papers held by the National Archives of Canada relating to the Suez crisis.
Further perspective was obtained by an examination of the data from the extant Gallup polls, available through Carleton University Library Data Centre, as well as by a comparative reading of the editorial positions of four major French-language dailies.
Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, 2nd ed., London:
22 Verso, 1991.
My examination of newspapers has not been as extensive as that made by Helen Adam, but she has not 23
II. The invasion of Suez and Canada's stand at the United Nations The events that generated sustained editorial comment in Canada and fostered political debate concerning the Suez crisis began with the invasion of Egypt by Israel on October 29, 1956, and the ultimatum Britain and France issued to Egypt and Israel the next day. On November 1, Britain and France launched air attacks against Egypt. The United Nations Security Council was unable to deal with the crisis, as Britain and France vetoed the American resolution requesting Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai desert, and the matter was referred to an emergency session of the UN General Assembly.24 The session began in late afternoon, Thursday, November 1, and early the next morning the General Assembly adopted an American resolution calling for a cease-fire. Canada abstained on the resolution rather than vote against it. Pearson flew back from the United Nations emergency session to
a Cabinet meeting on Saturday, November 3, where a Canadian position was agreed upon:
Canada would propose the creation of a UN international police force to supervise the cease-fire and to ensure peace in the Middle East. Pearson returned to New York Saturday evening with the Canadian proposal. At 2:00 AM on Sunday morning, November 4, the Canadian resolution passed in the UN General Assembly. Canadians could listen to Pearson's speeches of November 3 and 4 at the UN on the CBC network25. By Monday, November 5, the UN had agreed to the creation of an emergency force, under the direction of Canadian General E.L.M. Burns. But the British and French had sent troops into Egypt on Sunday and only agreed to a cease-fire on Tuesday, November 6.26 The British-French action in Suez and the Canadian reaction to it and its stand at the United Nations provoked numerous comments in the press. These ranged from a steadfast support of Britain to outright condemnation of Britain and support for the Canadian stand at the UN.
A. When Tories Roar27 For the proponents of Canada as a "British" nation, there was no doubting the fitness and courage of the Anglo-French action in Suez. The most vehement criticism of the Liberal government's position was expressed by the Calgary Herald. Its November 1 editorial has been quoted above. The next day, commenting on St. Laurent's apparent testiness with Press
Gallery reporters, the paper rhetorically asked:
Could it be that he does not feel quite right about Canada's running out on Britain at a time of crisis, to hide behind the skirts of the United States?....
See Pearson's account in Mike, vol. II, ch. 10-11. See also Geoffrey A.H. Pearson, Seiz the Day: Lester B.
24 Pearson and Crisis Diplimacy, Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1993, p. 146.
The speeches led the CBC Ontario director, Ira Dilworth, and historian A.R.M. Lower to write Pearson to 25 congratulate him. Lower asked Pearson to "give me the least possible assurance that Eden and Company are not the damn fools that they appear to be.... The whole thing is tragic." ANC MG 26 N1 vol 38, Pre-1958 Series Middle East - General Correspl. Nov. -Dec. 1956, Ira Dilworth to Pearson, 5 November 1956, and A.R.M. Lower to Pearson, 6 November 1956.
Pearson, Seize the Day, 150-152. See also John English, The Worldy Years: The Life of Lester Pearson vol. II : 1949Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 1992, 133-140. The National Archives of Canada's holdings of CBC audio-visual archives do not contain these speeches.
The phrase is A.R.M. Lower's in a letter to Pearson, 4 December 1956, ANC MG 26 N1 vol 38, Pre-1958 27
Does he, perhaps, fear that this time he has gone a bit too far and too fast in edging Canada out of its historic place in the Commonwealth? It was all right when he and his crypto-republicans dropped the 'Royal' out of 'Royal Mail.' It was all right whey they bulldozed ahead and appointed a Canadian governor-general. It was all right when the word 'Dominion' disappeared from Canada's name...
But is it all right to sell out Canada's honor, to run out on Britain openly in time of danger, to court Washington's smile so brazenly?28 The editorial's metaphors called into question St. Laurent's masculinity, virtue, and honour.
On November 3, the paper condemned Canada's abstention during the UN vote on the American cease-fire resolution. The paper did not believe the UN could by itself affect a return to peace. Better let Britain and France deal with Nasser: "The British and French forces already carrying the burden of the struggle are as good a U.N. force as anything. All they are lacking is a United Nations flag."29 A few days later, it again sided clearly with Great Britain and France: "The world owes its thanks to Britain and France for their prompt intervention between Israel and Egypt in the Middle East."30 On November 21, it even attributed Anthony Eden's ill health in part to "Canada's deplorable behavior as the senior Commonwealth partner in the United Nations, [which] undoubtedly had much to do with the strain on the Prime Minister." The title of the editorial, "Free Men Are In Debt To Sir Anthony," linked Britain's action to the defence of freedom, a virtue implicitly British in its essence.31 The paper's readers, however, were more divided on the issue. While a majority of writers endorsed the paper's editorial stand, a significant number (10/25) disagreed with it.32 The other Alberta Southam chain newspaper, the Edmonton Journal, took a similar, though less vociferous, position, and dealt with the topic less often in its editorial columns. It too came to see the Liberal government's stand on Suez as an attempt to destroy the British tradition in Canada. On November 5, it called the conduct of the St. Laurent government a "disappointment to most Canadians, and especially to all those who value the ties to the Commonwealth." It blamed the government for failing to mediate between the United States and Great Britain and for joining "the chorus of misrepresentation and abuse." Canadian governments, it reminded its readers, had always "hastened to declare their full support...
when Britain has been confronted with a major crisis threatening her existence as a great power." All in all, it was "A Bad Week's Work," as the editorial was titled.33 Three weeks later, just before Parliament was convened in special session, the paper condemned the government for creating "deep and bitter resentment in Canada." It had gained the impression that Americans considered "that Mr. Pearson's action constituted a sort of declaration of independence – that Canada has now severed its links with the British Commonwealth, and given its allegiance to Washington. Nothing, of course, could be farther from the truth. Our ancient ties with Britain are not so easily broken, however much Mr.
Pearson and Mr. St. Laurent may wish to do so." It called upon the Conservative Opposition to put a motion of non-confidence against the government and personal censure against "Maybe There’s A Good Reason For It," editorial, Calgary Herald, 2 November 1956, p. 4.