A Fair Country: Fair change?

Fair change?

A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada, by John Ralston Saul (Penguin Group), 340 pp.

John Ralston Saul on A Fair Country, Canada's aboriginal history, slavery economics and the Obama presidency

It was just two days after Barack Obama’s election victory when I sat down with John Ralston Saul to discuss his latest book, A Fair Country. I was curious what the philosopher thought about the 44th president, but when I suggested that the US, by electing an African American, was also embracing the aboriginal sensibilities that Saul attributes to Canadians in his book, he dismissed the notion.

Saul was quick to note that the Canadian road is inherently different than the American path. "In many ways, as I declare in the book, the United States is the last truly European remaining country and it carries with it the great strengths of that European model and, of course, the great weaknesses as well. A man like Obama, who is clearly brilliant, has a kind of FDR capacity to look beyond the immediate problem and see the larger shape of things."

Saul explained how the November election was a step towards answering some lingering racial questions that exist south of the border. "I think it’s really important to remember that slavery is essentially an outcome of a European approach. Slavery being a utilitarian method for building an economy… I think what we’re witnessing in the United States is very important as it deals with one of the last great wounds of a European nation state – slavery. But the Canadian situation is very different."

The extreme environment in Canada didn’t lend itself to a European model, Saul explained. "In the United States, the situation was more temperate, it was easier for the newcomers to arrive and immediately begin applying a European methodology, which included killing as many [natives] as you can. The experience in Canada was completely different; there was no capacity to apply the European method, unless you wanted to get massacred… So when I say [in A Fair Country] Canada is an aboriginal inspiration and a Métis civilization, what I’m describing is something completely different from the road the United States went down."

Anyone curious about Canadian identity will find A Fair Country a fascinating text. Saul goes to the heart of the matter and demonstrates how aboriginal inspiration has defined us a unique people whose roots are both European and native.

John Ralston Saul delivers the 2009 McGill Law Journal Annual Lecture
open to the public
Feb. 3, 5 p.m., at McGill’s Chancellor Day Hall (3644 Peel)

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