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Comment: Victoria Day is a reminder of Canada's British heritage

Having a politically weak but symbolically powerful monarch as the head of state within a Westminster-style democracy has proven to be an effective barricade against populist demagogues.
The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature grounds. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

This Victoria Day, the usual suspects will decry the holiday — in the name of decolonization. However, so long as Canada’s existence is said to make the world a better place, the process by which this country was created ought not be deplored.

The land that became Canada has been populated for thousands of years, but it only exists as a united sea-to-sea country because it was part of Queen Victoria’s Empire. Nearly all of our political ideals and principles are owed to Britain, whether by the actions of those who came to Canada from across the Atlantic, or the enduring influence of their ideas.

Start with her crown. Entire books have been written about the advantages offered by a constitutional monarchy, rather than a republic.

However, one can simply compare the constitutional monarchies of resource-rich Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to the republics of the resource-richer South Africa, India, and Zimbabwe to see which is preferable for guaranteeing human rights, democracy, and stability — not to mention prosperity.

Having a politically weak but symbolically powerful monarch as the head of state within a Westminster-style democracy has proven to be an effective barricade against populist demagogues. To deny that this is a tremendous advantage for Canada is to revel in cognitive dissonance.

Ordered liberty is our inheritance. Have we always lived up to this ideal? Of course not, as perfection is an absurd standard.

Yes, there were slaves in Canada, and Britain participated in the Atlantic slave trade. But slavery was at odds with the British ideal of liberty — which differed markedly from its continental European counterparts.

Who ended slavery? Britain did more than any other European state to snuff out slavery with its multi-decade naval campaign to extinguish it from 1808 to 1867. The Royal Navy’s anti-slavery campaign utterly crippled the Atlantic slave trade in a way that dwarfs even Abraham Lincoln’s efforts during the American Civil War.

We forget that “anti-colonialism” used to be a cry for more of this inheritance, not less.

When there were anti-colonial campaigns during the height of the British Empire, it was rarely because their leaders took issue with British moral and political principles — it was because colonial administrators withheld them.

Take 19th century Nova Scotia. Their political fight to end arbitrary colonial rule and bring about responsible government was never one against Britain. In the words of their leader, Joseph Howe: “I wish to live and die a British subject, but not a British subject only in-name.”

Canada’s other great reformers of that era, like Robert Baldwin or Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, merely wanted to enjoy the same rights as those living in Britain, not to outright detach their home from Britain itself.

Our fellow former colonies of Australia and New Zealand have similar attitudes and expectations for their governments for the same reasons, and have also enjoyed stable and peaceful histories since attaining independence.

This cannot be said for the former Spanish Empire in South America, or the former French possessions in Algeria or Vietnam. With few exceptions, the former Spanish and French Empires are ridden with authoritarians, cults of personality, republican dictatorships, and political violence.

This reality was understood by the most successful leaders of the decolonized world as the age of imperial empires declined in the 20th century. Lee Kuan Yew and Jawaharlal Nehru understood that Singapore and India, respectively, did not need to erase all traces of British colonial rule for their newly-independent states to thrive.

In fact, upon his passing in 2015, a journalist for Singapore’s The Straits Times wrote that Yew, “believed that the best example of a secure nation is one which does not run away from its history.”

Canada has not been a British colony for a long time. It is a modern, independent state with its own unique characteristics, debates, and challenges. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that our expectations, sensibilities, and attitudes emerged from our membership within the British Empire.

Taken to its logical conclusion, a decolonized Canada means the erasure of everything bestowed by Britain.

The French do not hesitate to assert their Gallic heritage, nor do the Italians refrain from appreciating their Roman heritage. Victoria Day should serve as a yearly reminder of our rich heritage as Canadians: not the least of which is our inheritance as British North Americans.

Truly, without Queen Victoria’s Britain, we would not recognize Canada.

Geoff Russ is a research associate with the Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy, writer, and former journalist.

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