Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Jason Kenney's New France

Wouldn't you know it, in these heady weeks of federal electioneering in Canada, the history of New France is getting a tiny bit of attention in the media?

A few days ago, a video surfaced on the internet of Jason Kenney, a Conservative Party member of Parliament and candidate for reelection, is Canada's Minister of National Defence and Minister for Multiculturalism.  It shows his appearance -- in fact dating from 2012 -- on a panel on "the root of democracy" during the Meeting per l'amicizia fra i popoli, a religious festival and conference held every year in Rimini, Italy.  Kenney goes on about the roots of Canadian multiculturalism, which he takes to be a facet of British imperialism. The video and commentary can be seen on the website PressProgress and in the Journal de Montréal.

The British, says Kenney, had "a brilliant capacity at accommodating difference".  To illustrate this, he describes "when the British conquered the French in New France in the eighteenth century, they did not seek to assimilate the French Catholics into British Protestant culture, or society, but rather invited them to maintain their Catholic identity and institutions, their French language, their civil code and legal system, and this was, really, a practical impression of that, I think, brilliant British approach, a relaxed laissez faire approach towards pluralism". 

A debatable view.  It flattens a complex historical reality, and leaves an impression of benevolent British imperialism that does not mesh so neatly with the facts.  Beginning in 1755, the British deported the Acadians.  In 1763, the British conquerors abolished French law in the Province of Quebec, and made it impossible for Catholics to hold public office.  They considered shipping them out altogether, in fact.  As James Murray observed in a letter to London, "nothing will satisfy the licentious fanatics trading here but the expulsion of the Canadians".  Governor Murray, thankfully, and later Carleton, believed more strongly in conciliation and accommodation than many of their countrymen did.  Only in 1775, with the Quebec Act, was civil law (not civil code, as Kenney has it) restored, and even then only in matters of private law; only then were constraints on the practice of Catholicism relaxed.  And only in 1791 did Great Britain see fit to grant the colony a representative assembly.

We might go on about how Great Britain did not do such a great job accommodating Aboriginal peoples in the Thirteen Colonies, or in British North America through the nineteenth century.  And we might mention Lord Durham and other prominent assimilationists.  But we won't.  Let's stick to New France and its end.  Kenney demonstrates not only the superficiality of his historical understanding, but a lack of sensitivity to a historical chapter, la Conquête, that remains for better or worse quite sensitive.  He should know better.

Next up: Romeo Saganash, member of parliament and candidate for the New Democratic Party, on Champlain and the niqab.



  1. Kenney knows better but his staff and CPC world view is reactionary. The great benefits of Imperialism on the little people of Canada, Kenney is a racist.