A few years ago, Michael Bliss gave up a promising career as a historian so that he could be a mediocre political pundit for the National Post. In today’s Post, he kicked off a five-part series on “Canada’s myth of single-tier healthcare” with some observations about the place of healthcare in Canada’s constitution and in our national mythology.
For the most part, nothing he says is terribly objectionable: Equating universal health care with our national identity is both historically inaccurate, constitutionally unsound, and, for Paul Martin, politically unwise. It also may be the case that we have a lousy health care system compared to other countries.
Yet one point that Bliss made gave me pause:
“It’s a common political trick to link a favourite program with the fate of the nation… Time after time, when we have finally screwed up the courage to cull the herd by dispensing with outmoded policies [examples], we have found that Canada and Canadian values remain fundamentally unchanged.”
As a nationalist (Go Shield!)I find this gratifying, and it fits well with the conclusions drawn by Michael Adams in his recent bestseller, Fire and Ice.
Only one problem: This is the exact opposite of the argument Bliss made last year in his three-part series for the Post on Canadian Identity.
Post-readers out there will recall that Bliss argued that the past 135-odd years of Canadian nation-building has been more or less a failure. We are not sufficiently Northern, British, or Socialist to distinguish ourselves much from the US, and he claimed to see no difference between Canada and the American cities he visits regularly.
Furthermore, Bliss argued that free trade, globalisation, and the inevitable forces of globalisation have made our transformation into Americans inevitable. The only question, he suggested, is what sorts of Americans we would become.
Either a nation can maintain a distinct identity built around a core set of values regardless of what political, institutional and economic structures it possesses, or it can’t. Last year, Bliss said it can’t. Now he says it can.