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The world's laughing at Canada's 'peoplekind' political correctness. Lighten up
Millions of Americans regard Canadians as amiable dunces modifying English usage to allow for the most absurd sensibilities
by Conrad Black
The forces of political correctness are on the march in Canada not only on the main boulevards of life but along every trail. The addiction to it has become such a pandemic that Canadian news items of the latest triumphs of politically correct oppression furnish humorous closing items for American newscasts. In the past week, American news-watchers have been treated to a couple of the recent conquests of invincible Canadian political correctness. First came the change in the wording of the national anthem to gender neutrality with the change of “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command.” The song is somewhat ambiguous in whether it exhorts Canadians to love their country or hails the spontaneous affection it has already generated from all “sons,” which may reasonably be inferred to be all Canadians regardless of their sex. Unfortunately, when the clause that has been altered is quoted without context, as it has been in foreign newscasts, it appears that in our fervour of inclusiveness we have taken leave of all knowledge of syntax, and “us command” is a substitute for “our command” in a possessive sense. That would make it a candidate for inclusion in the transgender vocabulary University of Toronto students demanded be used by Prof. Jordan Peterson.
What is remarkable in the discussion of the lyrics of “O Canada” is not so much this change, which Liberal MP Mona Fortier thinks should be the subject of a national campaign of celebration and education, but the fact that the French wording, which asserts that Canadians, historically, know how to “wield a sword” and “bear the cross,” has not been roasted by the forces of militant political correctness. I have always found those words inspiring, since I first read them, in the context of an Ontario elementary school gesture to our other official language, along with the customary basic vocabulary of a couple of hundred words. These are the only direct references in the national anthem to the heroic conduct of Canadian warriors (including native warriors), and to the fact that this is a proudly Christian country, whose exploration and peopling and economic development were partly motivated by the better canons of Christianity, including liberality toward non-Christians. It also refutes the contemporary official religion of atheism, which hovers over the country masquerading as a respect for all views but inciting skepticism that any spiritual values or theological opinions are worthy of being entertained by serious people.
American newscasts gave the True North more coverage than usual
Primed with this, American newscasts gave the True North more coverage than usual. They were bemused by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s suggestion that a questioner at a recent town hall meeting rephrase from “mankind” to “peoplekind.” This was po-facedly portrayed to American viewers as a serious proposal indicative of the current mentality of Canadians. We should understand that whatever biased condescension this country may have inhaled about Donald Trump and some of the vagaries of American life, scores of millions of Americans regard Canadians as amiable dunces modifying English usage to allow for the most absurd sensibilities. (The prime minister has referred to his comment as an unsuccessful joke.)
Political correctness is gnawing aggressively at the language. As I remarked to valued reader Roland Burton of Liverpool, N.S., this week, after he wrote rather despairingly of sloppy misuse of English, if I, or other male schoolmates, had repeatedly used “concerning” as a substitute for “worrisome,” and “impact” as a verb, let alone emitted the noise “impactful” (all now current usage), we would have been energetically caned. Such rough occurrences were frequent, though not in my case for reasons of abuse of the language, but the adolescents of my cohort have not attracted sympathy for the severity of our residential schools. I am not at all nostalgic for school days; that era of education had many failings, including excessive teacher-student violence (as a parent myself, I was a complete shower as a disciplinarian), but in those times, alteration of the language was from creativity, not laziness and ignorance. We all learned something, rather than spending our lives up to undergraduate days in what often seems a hideously expensive day-care system.
The fracas over Patrick Brown, departed leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, referred to here last week, was also an exercise in political correctness. The under-noticed point was that the CTV reporter who breathlessly transmitted the denunciations from Patrick Brown’s alleged victims, Glen McGregor, was behind the scurrilous and now virtually, mercifully defunct Frank Magazine’s contest to deflower the then 17-year-old Caroline Mulroney in 1991. Obviously, we allow for people to grow up and learn, but uncorroborated sexual allegations that come from anonymous sources and destroy peoples’ careers are often almost as ancient as McGregor’s antics at Frank (which he predictably claims not to remember).
The majority of people are tired of the extreme inhibitions of political correctness
This week, TV Ontario personality Steve Paikin was accused by businesswoman and politician Sarah Thomson of inappropriate conduct. Both are friendly acquaintances of many years, Steve a perfect gentleman, and Sarah a reformed aventuriere. I believe she leads a conventional married life now, but when I first met her nearly 20 years ago she was magnificently concupiscent, and in large groups, such as a crowded party at the home of my delightful and talented colleague Christie Blatchford, Sarah candidly volunteered that she was unsure if she had slept with various of the other men who appeared. She offered to do me if I would give her an interview and I declined but commended her on her initiative. She was different and refreshing and when she ran for mayor in 2010, I gave her my endorsement in this column from the fulcrum of municipal influence where I then resided, a U.S. federal prison in Florida. On this issue, Steve is more credible. The denunciation is not made with cowardly anonymity, but another good man cannot be taken down on an unsupported denunciation over a trivial complaint, from an estimable person, but in these matters, not an unblemished source.
The majority of people are tired of the extreme inhibitions of political correctness, but most modern societies have been so self-brow-beaten over past mistreatment of ethnic, gender, religious or behavioural minorities, our society has been atomized into a legion of complainant groups, competing fiercely for official sympathy and reparations. It will be seen that one of Donald Trump’s benefactions has been to reject this tendency. Even my Jewish wife is delighted to hear our American friends say and send cards reading “Merry Christmas” and I suspect even many Muslims are slightly relieved to have an American president and Secretary of State who call Islamist extremism by its rightful name. All groups must be respected and everyone must be treated equally and all have a right not to be despised because of these immaterial (to their rights and worth as people) distinctions. Slightly changing O Canada is innocuous enough, but no sane woman felt herself excluded by the previous wording, or the original male-only French wording, least of all the-then head of the British world, Victoria, queen and empress. Political correctness is, by its nature, oppressive. We can overthink these things; the world’s most magnificent national anthem, France’s glorious La Marseillaise, attributes “male accents” to Liberty, and demands that France “water our countryside” with “the impure blood” of invaders.
In all these matters, we should lighten up a little. Canadians are a well-regarded nationality. But nowhere and by no one have we been thought a barrel of laughs since Ed Sullivan used to split his sides laughing at Wayne and Shuster in the 67 appearances they made on his television program.
Note: Inadvertently Christine Elliott was not named in this column last week about the Ontario PC leadership. She is certainly qualified to be leader and I much liked and admired her late husband, Jim Flaherty. As she ran unsuccessfully last time, I think of her as more of the past than the future in leadership terms, but she is certainly a strong and plausible candidate. I apologize to Ms. Elliott and wish her well.