In the latest Island Tides, Green Party leader Elizabeth May draws a piercing comparison of Roman emperor Constantine and our emperor, Stephen Harper.
It may seem a strange parallel, but what Stephen Harper is
doing to Canada reminds me of what Roman Emperor
Constantine did with Christianity. He took a clandestine and
illegal religious practice and made it the official religion of the
Constantine understood the importance of symbols. To
allow Christianity to be accepted among sun-worshipping
pagans, a few adjustments were needed. Worship moved from
Saturday to Sunday—a nice nod to the sun worshippers who
were said to be still able, from the steps of most churches, to
make their usual bow to their sun god on the way into church.
And all those pagan trappings—candles, incense, robes and so
on—moved into the heart of the Roman church.
Stephen Harper is remaking Canada, one brick at a time.
The legislative fabric of the country is being decimated through
omnibus bills and legislation designed, not as good public
policy, but as messages suited for a focus group. He is re-making
our civil service into an arm of his PMO, filled with terrorized
and demoralized men and women who hope that someday they
will be permitted to do their job once again.
And he has rallied Canadians to any number of Roman-like
circuses to keep our minds off activities outside the arena. In
2012, we saw $28 million splashed around for the celebration
of the Bicentenary of the War of 1812. The 60th anniversary of
her Majesty’s reign cost $8 million. $5 million each was spent
on the centenaries of the Grey Cup and the Calgary Stampede.
Clearly, Stephen Harper likes whipping us up into a fervour
about anniversaries of milestones in Canadian history—but only
certain milestones. The 30th anniversary of the Canadian
Charter of Rights and Freedoms went uncelebrated.
Ms. May proceeds to lament Harper's new "repulsive" plastic twenty dollar bill and especially the loss of the great artwork that adorned the previous note.
We have lost the most iconic and inspiring piece of monetized
Canadian art. Haida artist Bill Reid’s masterpieces adorned the
old bills. Raven discovering mankind in a clam shell (a Creation
myth that occurred on the beach at Masset), the ‘Spirit of Haida
Gwaii’ canoe, with its spiritual and mythical creatures, the face
of the moon, the killer whale—all are superimposed on the back
of the old twenty.
In very fine print (in English and French), is a quote from
Quebec writer, Gabrielle Roy: ‘Could we ever know each other
in the slightest without the arts?’ ‘Nous connaîtrions-nous
seulement un peu nous-mêmes, sans les arts?’
I loved that bill, not least because I had the great privilege of
knowing Bill Reid, and of visiting his warehouse on False Creek
in Vancouver while Spirit Canoe was being carved. His hands
shook too much from Parkinson’s at that point for him to do the
carving, so an apprentice helped him. The apprentice was
brilliant Haida leader, Guujaaw, now President of the Council
of the Haida Nation.
And what art has replaced Bill Reid’s powerful sculptures?
The monument to Canadian death in battle in the First World
War. The Vimy Ridge Monument in France commemorates the
emergence of a unified Canadian fighting force from four
different divisions. Over 7,000 Canadians were wounded in that
spring 1917 assault and over 3,500 were killed. The loss of life
and the historical significance are undisputed—but why this
monument (in a particularly ugly rendition)?
Stephen Harper understands symbols and icons. In the
same way that John Baird had his business cards re-made
without the name of the building in which his department
resides (the Lester B Pearson Building), Stephen Harper wants
us to hard-wire our patriotism to battle, blood and glory.
What more iconic statement can there be of the effort to
remake our values than by taking away our mythological and
spiritual symbols and replacing them with a slippery bill
featuring a war monument and a non-Canadian maple?
Hang on to your old twenty-dollar bills. The new version of
Canada does not fit our reality–it’s the counterfeit.