So now we learn that “Radical Jack” was actually “Reactionary Jerk” and swiftly airbrush another page out of our national history. Take that, you dead white anglo male.
The background here is quite embarrassing. The National Capital Commission, in its Sparks Street exhibit celebrating the 150th anniversary of Ottawa being chosen Canada’s capital, included a picture of someone they thought was Lord Durham, author of the 1839 report instrumental in securing self-government for the political train wreck formerly known as the Dominion of Canada. But he turned out to be some bigoted British ponce who thought constant bickering over language was a recipe for disaster. Ha, ha, ha, what an idiot. As if …
Confronted with their blunder, the NCC put out a press release in which CEO Micheline Dubé stammered: “The NCC acknowledges that the recommendations put forth by Lord Durham at the time are considered inappropriate for many and certainly controversial. We in no way intended to offend anyone and have subsequently removed the panel in question.”
It must be cool and pleasant under their rock if they didn’t realize that the cultural elements of Durham’s report might generate lingering controversy. Today anything and everything brings huffy cries of “I’m offended” from some group of annoying activists, so if you have the slightest desire to talk frankly about the history of anything more controversial than yogurt you’d better be ready to deal with controversy.
The NCC press release went on to quote its communications VP Guy Laflamme: “We certainly did not intend to profile Lord Durham as a ‘Capital Builder.’ We understand how the francophone community in particular might interpret our inclusion of Lord Durham in our exhibit as offensive and we apologize for this.”
I don’t see why the NCC should apologize for how “the francophone community in particular” might interpret something. If your exhibit was offensive, fine, say sorry. But why is it your fault if someone else is unreasonably thin-skinned?
Which they weren’t anyway. The NCC admits the exhibit was up for half a year without a single complaint and even people living under singularly commodious rocks must know the occasional francophone enters the Sparks Street Mall. Perhaps they weren’t offended because they had no clue who Durham was; these days he’s about as familiar a figure as, say, Lionel Groulx (aaaack shtum!). Even usually colourful Tory MP Myron Thompson was unable to give the Citizen an inflammatory endorsement of Ol’ Jack because, he said, “I had no idea about this individual.” Well, yes, why would a mere elected MP know or care about the man the Citizen identified on Tuesday as “the British colonial governor who recommended the union of Upper and Lower Canada and representative democracy”? Borrrring.
The Citizen was able to find an activist willing to demand that the federal government and NCC apologize to French-speakers for displaying the portrait because, brandishing the classic PC term “unacceptable,” he claimed, “the recommendations of Lord Durham are still in effect in Canada because of the continued assimilation of francophones and because immigration continues to favour the English language.”
Oh yeah. Crush the frogs. That’s our motto. You got us, buddy. I guess that’s why MPs enter the Commons chamber beneath a carved portrait of Louis XIV. Incidentally I find that unacceptable and want a personal apology from the Queen while Michaëlle Jean publicly smashes the image with a hammer. (François I, next to him, can stay; I don’t know enough French history to figure out why he offends me too. Oh wait; didn’t he ally with the Ottoman Turks against his European rivals?)
If it is of any interest to the NCC I find blank panels reflecting our erased history offensive. Take them down. Meanwhile, I’m thinking of making T-shirts with Durham’s picture and the slogan “Radical Jack proposed self-government and all I got was this lousy political correctness.” But I’m obviously such a dinosaur I consider the Cretaceous a dangerous innovation, so tear down my portrait and put up this plaque.
“Canada’s History: We apologize if anyone is offended. No further details as events don’t warrant.”
Now everybody sing … or else.
Oh Canada We changed the words again! Founded badly, by Eurocentric men
Plains of Abraham We would wake Montcalm And don’t mention Durham.
From far and wide O Canada, we stand on guard PC.
God keep away, scholastically! O Canada, we stand on guard PC. O Canada, we stand on guard PC.
[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]