As I Please

Friday, July 21, 2006

Happy Independence Day

Today is Belgium's national holiday, marking the day in 1831 that Leopold I, the first king of Belgium, swore allegiance to the constitution of the newly formed country after having been crowned "King of the Belgians" on June 26. This day has significance to me for two reasons. First, I now know the national holiday of one of my ancestral countries, my Flemish-German great grandparents immigrating to Canada in the 1890s. Second, I note that it is not referred to as Belgium Day. In fact the only other country besides Canada I can find that names its national holiday after the name of the country is Portugal, and perhaps a more appropriate name would be Camoes Day, since it is the date (June 10) of that country's greatest poet, Luis de Camoes.
In this country there are one hopes millions of Canadians who remember the old name for our national holiday, Dominion Day, or as it was called in French, Le Jour de la Confederation, "the day of the Confederation" i.e. of Canada, both officially established by statute in 1879. The day was renamed Canada Day on 27 October 1982. Why? Doubtless because it was perceived by the Liberals who made the change as too British. Never mind that the word "dominion" was coined, not by some pooh-bah in London's foreign office but by a Canadian politician, Samuel Leonard Tilley, who took it from Psalm 72:8, "He shall have dominion from sea to sea", as suggestive of the ambition of the Fathers of Confederation, of which he was a member, to extend the new nation to the Pacific Ocean. It was unanimously accepted, and was soon adopted across the British Empire as the term for a self-governing member of the Empire (with autonomy in external as well as internal affairs) that distinction being extended to Australia and New Zealand. But no, some Liberals decided it was too British, too old fashioned, and worst of all might offend French Canadians. Or it was because "dominion" doesn't translate very well into French, never mind that in French it had never been Dominion Day. So on 9 July 1982, a Friday afternoon and the last day of Parliament before summer recess, a private member's bill to replace "Dominion Day" with "Canada Day" was quickly passed. Problem is, only thirteen members were present to pass it, seven short of an official quorum. In short, the change was illegal. We can only imagine what would have happened had the thirteenth Prime Minister of Canada been alive at the time. Likely John Diefenbaker would have thundered against this unconstitutional exercise in rebranding, and might have succeeded in rallying Canadians in protest, in the end preserving the name and the history. But the Chief had died in 1979, and so there was apparently no one willing to defend a vital link to the past. The Liberals could at least have simply anglicized the French term for Dominion Day, but instead chose a name devoid of history, of roots. Luckily we are not legally bound to use that name, and I for one no longer will.
Do you think French Canadians would welcome the statutory introduction of "Quebec Day", even if the name it would replace belongs to a figure in the New Testament?


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