Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The politics of grievance 

When you look at the history of the last fifty years, the politics of grievance has been one of the most destructive forces in the world -- from Northern Ireland to Zimbabwe, from the Basques to the Palestinians, from Chechnya to Venezuela, tribal grievances motivate apparently endless cycles of outrage and retaliation.
Now Digby describes the 200-year-old sense of grievance held by the Southern US, which he says can only be dealt with by changing their own culture, not the so-called northern one: "maybe it's time for the heartland to take a good hard look at itself and ask when they are going to adopt the culture of responsibility they profess with such fervor. It sure looks to me as if they've been nursing a case of historical pique for more than 200 years and that resentment no longer has any more meaning than a somewhat self-destructive insistence on maintaining a cultural identity that's really defined by it's anger toward the rest of the country. They are talking themselves into a theocratic police state in order to "crack the whip over the heads of the northern men" and it's not likely to work out for them any better this time than it did the first time."
I was reading this to my husband and we both said "what does this remind us of" and the answer was "Quebec, and The West".
Quebec has an historical sense of grievance with "English" Canada, and Western Canada has a long-standing grievance with "the East"; both are mutally incompatible, and basically irrational; both have plagued Canadian politics for two centuries.
Two things have saved Canada from being split apart (at least so far) by the politics of grievance:
In Quebec, its educational system (the Jesuit Catholic tradition) has produced generations of brilliant politicians who have served Canada and Quebec well. I regret that some, like Rene Levesque and Lucien Bouchard and now Jean Charest, were "lost" to Canada because they turned away from Canadian politics and devoted their brilliance and considerable energies to Quebec itself. Levesque and Bouchard were separatists, but such principled men that they would not lie or cheat or steal in order to take their province out of confederation. Others like Pierre Trudeau and Marc Lalonde and Jean Chretien ran the federal government for decades and made it their goal to promote the federalist cause in Quebec. But both groups were deep thinkers and good strategists and have served Canada well.
In the West, we have had a number of anti-eastern/pro-western political parties over the years, and lots of alientation talk, but never enough to unite the four western provinces sufficiently to achieve separation -- an accident of geography, perhaps, because the Rocky Mountains will always separate BC from the Prairies psychologically as well as physically. Only occasionally in the last 50 years have the western-oriented Conservatives been able to get enough federal votes in Quebec and Ontario to form the government, but it happens often enough that they have not given up hope.
I have confidence that Canada's regional differences are becoming less divisive -- the separatist cause appears to be less attractive in Quebec as Canadian society increasingly accepts Quebec's distinct status, and "western alienation" doesn't seem to be grabbing headlines the way it once did either. Perhaps each region in our country is maturing politically -- accepting responsibility, as Digby recommends, for our own situations rather than playing self-indulgent and self-destructive blame games. Now, if we could only get Danny Williams and Ralph Klein to stop walking out of meetings in a huff . . .

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