George Jonas

A country we no longer recognize

by George Jonas
National Post

Canada must be doing something right. The 2011 Census shows our country growing faster (5.9%) than any other in the G8, fuelled mainly by immigration. Immigration being a voluntary activity, countries have to be dong something right to benefit by it.

Unless, of course, other countries are doing something wrong.

After the playwright Ferenc Molnár, author of the classic Broadway musical Carousel (with music and lyrics by Rodgers and Hammerstein), fled Nazi-occupied Europe, he settled in New York. Manhattan can be pretty stifling in the summer. One day, a fellow refugee complained to the playwright about the humidity.

Molnár's reply became the gold standard among refugees. "My dear fellow," he said, "we didn't come here for the climate."

Actually, some of us did come for the climate half a century ago: The climate of freedom. More precisely, we came to escape the oppressive climate of statist Europe.

We came to the right place, but what we didn't expect was that the climate of statism would follow us. It did. The malignancy of interventionist government spread to this country within a few years. By the time Trudeaumania hit in the late 1960s, statism was trendy.

The Canada in which I landed in 1956 may not have had a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but it had rights and freedoms galore, making it the envy of the world. The Canada in which I make my home today has a Charter, but Canadians who say they had more rights and freedoms 50 years ago aren't paranoid: They did. There seems to be an inverse relationship between written instruments of freedom, such as a Charter, and freedom itself. It's as if freedom were too fragile to be put into words: If you write down your rights and freedoms, you lose them. Minimally, governments will try to take away every freedom you haven't remembered to include.

"Where does it say you have a right to breathe, sir? Surely it's not a fundamental right. If it were, it would be in the Charter."

The 19th century British constitutional scholar, A.V. Dicey, foresaw this. He cautioned against written constitutions for this very reason, among others.

Fifty years ago, when Canadians didn't approve of something, they used one of two expressions. They would say: "Well, it's a free country," or they would say: "There ought to be a law."

It's rare to hear the first saying anymore. It no longer applies, and most people realize it. Canada is still free compared to countries like Saudi Arabia or China, of course, but not compared to itself.

The second expression has simply become superfluous.

Chances are, by now there is a law, whether there ought to be one or not.

When I came to Canada, a court of law was often a place where individuals went for protection against the state. These days, they'd be taking a chance. Courts are often the state's battering rams, used for breaking down individual rights and freedoms. Climate trumps the law, obviously, considering the law isn't the law until a judge says it is. There is global warming, as the world is warming to tyranny. A judicial climate change has turned Canada's courts from frequent champions of individual liberty to near-permanent defenders of social policy.

A judicial expression used to call policy "an unruly horse." If you've time for only one book to see how events unfold when policy starts driving the law, pick up Christie Blatchford's account of the native land claim standoff at Caledonia, Ont., called Helpless. It shows what happens when the justice system becomes a branch of social engineering.

If Canada wasn't broke 50 years ago, why did we insist on fixing it? Ironically, it was old Canada's nation-building WASP and French elites who couldn't leave well enough alone. Fidgety explorers of inner and outer spaces, they had to set out on new voyages. They listened to the song of every Siren near every uncharted shoal, until they managed to hit the rocks. Luckily, the good ship Canada was built too well. That's why it's still afloat.

Mark Twain wrote once that, as a rule, Americans develop a borrowed European idea forward, while Europeans develop borrowed American ideas backward. If Twain had a premonition about the European Union, it would make his remark downright prophetic. Was statist Canada a European idea developed backward? Did immigrants like me contribute to it, wittingly or otherwise? And if we did, now that the biggest part of our growth is due to immigration, will Canada the Free irrevocably change into Canada the Sheltered Workshop?

Probably not. Some Canadian traditions will survive, but religious and ethnic culture cannot fail to put their stamp on what a nation is. It may be politically incorrect to say so, but if you put Somalia's population into Switzerland and Switzerland's into Somalia, chances are Somalia's troubles will end and Switzerland's begin. Canada's climate of liberty didn't evolve on Mars: It was specifically Anglo-French. A diffuse and multi-climatic Canada may flourish -- I hope it will -- but it will be a different country. Different better? Different worse? Keep tuned.