Strong & Free:
Canada and the New Sovereignty

106 pages,
ISBN: 0773757988

Post Your Opinion
Cement for a Nation
by Ian Allaby

The title Strong and Free rings with irony, though no doubt it means to promote hope. Franklyn Griffiths is talking about a Canada that is dependent, dispirited, and disintegrating. Snubbing the usual suspects (debt, free trade, the constitution), he diagnoses our distress as an externally induced cultural malaise. With U.S. product dominating our screens, airwaves, and newsstands, "we lose the ability to give voice to feelings, ideas, and purposes that unite us." Anglophone, francophone, allophone, we all are alien in our own land, all mentally blocked from building its future. The condition is nearing fatal. Mr. Griffiths, a Toronto poli-sci prof and one-time External Affairs adviser, offers a remedy.
The key is that he sees culture not as industry but as collective life-force. If the U.S. teleplasm is corrosive, homegrown culture can conversely be a cement for a nation. Only by experiencing ourselves and the world via Canadian-made TV, radio, movies, and books, Mr. Griffiths contends, can we establish the shared frame of reference that will enable us to engage our reality and so maintain a "new sovereignty" for the land and people in our care even in the face of economic globalization. Therefore Ottawa must kickstart a renaissance in Canadian culture. Where to find the money? Raid the military budget! The Cold War is over, after all. Downsize the armed forces into a sort of home guard busting smugglers and trawlers, and shift the few billions gained by closing bases and selling F-18s to the cultural front where the real menace to Canada lies.
The rational mind must ask, Why bother for Canada? Why not just osmose into a Super-USA? Mr. Griffiths adopts the routine plea for endangered species: loss of diversity harms all mankind. In this case humanity's loss will be pretty grievous, since "if there is one word that captures the essence of what Canada is about, and of what we would encourage elsewhere, it is civility."
The book has been available for several months yet despite its earnest and important argument it has failed to arouse the public. Mr. Griffiths is donnish and short on emotional appeal. His Cancult recommendations have virtue without lustre-revitalize the CBC, exempt publishers from GST, launch a Royal Commission on Culture, etc.-although, what can you expect in this haven of civility? Mr. Griffiths' constructive spirit forbids an indulgence in anti-American zingers, yet surely the psychological and political implications of cultural dependence demand a consciousness-raising polemic about how U.S. mind-fill keeps us humming the Great Satan's tune. Are we suckers for "Voice of Fire" because New York hypes the foyer decor of corporate capitalism? Do we strafe Iraq because Washington dictates good and evil? He could have asked, at least.
Despite an interpretation of culture that comes close to declaring that art is propaganda, Mr. Griffiths remains liberal-minded. He seeks merely "to ensure that voices of Canadians are heard in Canada," but not to close Canada to U.S. influences. This approach dooms Cancult to marginality. U.S. product is so ubiquitous that we scarcely recognize it as foreign. Cultural compradors eagerly import the stuff, Canadians lap it up. The minimum required is a means of labelling cultural products by country of origin to publicly expose the size of the problem.
In the end, Mr. Griffiths offers a modest centralist prescription to counter a grassroots epidemic. But if we are incapable of mounting a popular resistance, if our supposed civility is merely lack of spine, then why bother for Canada?

Ian Allaby is a journalist with a particular interest in business, transportation, and urban planning.


Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us