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Spotlight on Canada

ISSUE:  Autumn 1940

Canada: America’s Problem. By John MacCormac. New York: The Viking Press. $2.75. Canada, Europe and Hitler. By Watson Kirkconnell. New York: Oxford University Press. $1.50.

“Canada makes isolation impossible for the United States. Canada makes neutrality a fiction.”

The placid spirit of American isolationism will be rudely jolted by these opening lines of John MacCormac’s recent book, “Canada: America’s Problem.” The Monroe Doctrine was predicated on the belief that it would keep the United States out of Europe’s wars. But Canada is today at war with Germany—and by virtue of the Monroe Doctrine the United States has guaranteed Canada’s territorial inviolability. Instead of preserving American neutrality, the Monroe Doctrine may thus become an instrument of American involvement in war.

John MacCormac has written a popular and fascinating study of this complex and many-sided problem. His style is trenchant, sometimes even brilliant, his penetration is unusually keen, his frankness is altogether refreshing. And if he resorts frequently to paradox, it is because Canada is a nation that can be described only in paradox.

Mr, MacCormac dabbles delightfully with the hypothesis that, as a result of the war, Westminster may move to Ottawa and Canada may become the seat of the British Empire. But he hastens to add that this is a hypothesis which few experts consider seriously and that there is a far greater likelihood—which would become a certainty in the event of a British defeat—that Canada will become an independent nation after the war.

Without Canada, Mr. MacCormac points out, it would be impossible for Britain to combat Germany. Not only is Canada a major arsenal and the center of the Empire Air Training Plan, but it also provides an indispensable nexus with the United States. Canada’s entrance into the war was preordained. But this does not mean that Canada is a mere colony. Indeed, in the very act of entering the present war, Canada moved a step nearer complete independence. In 1914 the British declaration of war automatically involved Canada; in 1939 Premier King presented a separate declaration of war which did not go into effect until one week after the British declaration. Moreover, in order to finance her purchases in Canada, Britain will be compelled to repatriate the bulk of her Canadian investments. At the end of the war there will be very little British capital left in Canada, whereas the United States, which today owns sixty per cent of the foreign capital invested in Canada, will have increased its holdings considerably.

The reviewer agrees with Mr. Edgar Packard Dean, Canadian expert of the Council on Foreign Affairs, that Mr. MacCormac’s estimate of “Mr. King, that malleable man,” does much injustice to Canada’s Premier. The author does not fail to stress that Canada is a very difficult country to govern, that it is rent by sectional conflicts and religious and national division. But when he suggests that Canada should have taken an active part in directing British foreign policy—especially since she could not hope to escape commitment—he reveals his failure to appreciate the gravity of these very difficulties. It may be true, as Mr. MacCormac says, that Canada’s policy under King has consisted largely of not having any. Yet only such a foreign policy and only Mackenzie King have kept Canada a united nation.

Except for a few ephemeral hints, Mr. MacCormac does not depart from the hypothesis that Canada will continue to exist as a nation independent of the United States. Yet the question of Canadian-American unity is one that compels consideration. Canadians and Americans talk alike, think alike, and share a common culture. Economically their two countries constitute a single natural unit. “Canada represents politics at war with geography,” says Mr. MacCormac: Canada’s failure to develop he attributes largely to the absence of a north-south economic axis. But he does not draw the indicated conclusions: if two such nations as Canada and the United States cannot merge to form a political unit, what hope can there be for a federated Europe?

The terrible effectiveness with which the Nazis have exploited the national sentiments of the various European peoples has serious implications for such polygenous nations as Canada and the United States. In “Canada, Europe and Hitler,” Watson Kirkconnell, foremost authority on the vernacular literature of the European Canadians, takes a political inventory of the Dominion’s most important immigrant minorities.

The book is divided into two sections. The first section, while it says nothing new, is an interesting and comprehensive summary of the problem of national minorities in Europe. The second section deals with Canadian-European opinion, especially in relation to the war. Twenty-five per cent or more than two and one-half million of Canada’s population is of European origin. Those of German origin alone number more than 600,000; the Ukrainian minority ranks next with 260,000. Mr. Kirkconnell has performed an immense labor: his research involved careful perusal of no less than forty different periodicals in fourteen languages. Rut it seems that after setting out to chart the internal difficulties which confront a Canada at war, the author—perhaps out of a mistaken sense of patriotism—purposely minimizes these very difficulties. To give but one example, he interprets the defeat of ex-Premier Duplessis in the Quebec election of last October as categorical proof of French-Canadian support of the war. The entire French-Canadian press will attest to the contrary.

Another grave defect of the book is that the author has confined his research entirely to editorial opinion. Without resorting to sensation mongering, Mr. Kirkconnell might have said something about the activities of Cavaliere Guis-eppe Brigidi, former Italian Consul in Montreal; about the activities of the German Bund in Canada; about the workings of the Ukrainian Farmer Labor Temple Association, most powerful foreign language auxiliary of the Communist Party in Canada. It would also have been helpful if the author had presented a synthesized view of Nazi and Communist activities among the European Canadians.

Mr. Kirkconnell is much alarmed at the increasing intolerance among Anglo-Canadians, at the growing insistence on “assimilating” all minorities with the utmost rigor. He believes that a sense of national solidarity can best be promoted by a policy of cultural tolerance. “In the ancient Greek world,” he points out, “it was Athens, the most mis-cegenated in blood and culture, that led in all artistic and cultural achievements, while Sparta, which kept its Nordic stock relatively pure, was left far behind except in the art of war.”

The study is defective in many respects, but it is a pioneer in its field and it will have served its purpose if it does no more than show the way to others.


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