Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared recently that, "We are more united than at any point, than we have been, in four decades." The observation didn't gather much attention. But it should have.
Hyperbole, it wasn't. He was on the mark. At long last, the wrenching family feuds, the unity headaches, the regional grudges have subsided. Since they roared on, with all their debilitating consequences, for almost half a century, their diminution is of no small importance. It need not be just noted, but celebrated. A new unity, a more mature stage of nationhood has arguably been reached, setting the stage for more ennobling possibilities.
A new unity? Best in 40 years, as the PM puts it?
In the Atlantic provinces, a corner has been turned. They're no longer a big welfare-sucking basket case. Poor-boy Newfoundland, fisheries closures behind it, is a leader in something it never heard of before - economic growth. Nova Scotia isn't doing so badly. No longer a ward of the big guys, the East has a future.
In the West, a corner has been turned. Talk of alienation and fracturing is no longer serious. Reform's rebellion is over, many of its goals reached. Bitterness toward Eastern elites in Ontario and Quebec has waned. The West has its own Prime Minister. It is rip-roaring rich. It could care less about the wording on cereal boxes.
In Quebec, a corner has been turned. Separatism? It's old, it's boring, the debates as shallow as a birdbath. Decades of referendums, constitutional battles, separatist threats drained the national spirit. They curbed foreign investment, preoccupied the federal government, sidelined other national priorities. Not so now.
Across the country, the gap between the have and have-not provinces has appreciably diminished. The resource-heavy economy has made not only a boom province out of Newfoundland but the flatlands of Saskatchewan as well. With Ontario moving down a few notches on the wealth scale, an equilibrium is in place that has rarely been witnessed. The latest premiers' conference was a peacefest.
The smoothing of the old fault lines is accompanied by another advance in maturation. The history of hand-wringing as regards the United States has abated. After all the divisive debates, free trade has come to be accepted. Angst over continentalism is obsolete. There is no talk of brain drains or annexation scenarios. A new, more grown-up consensus is in place.
In some respects, a decoupling from the great neighbour has begun. For the first time in about a century, our exports south of the border have been declining. Any decoupling is borne not out of malice, but rather the inevitable evolution of the world economy. The onset of other economic giants, most notably China, naturally serve to diversify Canadian markets and lessen American dependence. Saskatchewan's boom, for example, pivots in part on potash demand from China. The lessening of dependence enhances Canadian independence.
Over time, Canada has faced three unity threats: American annexation, Quebec separatism, Western alienation. They frequently seized the national debate. Prime minister after prime minister viewed unity as the No. 1 priority. But now, all three threats have significantly receded or been vanquished. Times are preciously few when we have been able to say this.
With its recognition of the Québécois nation within a united Canada - notice hardly a complaint out of the West on this - the Harper government has made an important contribution, following the Chrétien government's Clarity Act, which was enlightened also.
Of course, battles won do not mean battles have ended. Unity tensions could well rise again, the debate over global warming and carbon taxes just one of many possibilities that could sow the seeds.
But a consolidation has taken place. It took a while, but the big, sprawling, multicultured family is getting its act together. The new harmony gives the country an opportunity to behold new frontiers, new national projects like the building of the North or a sea-to-sea power grid.
The days when, as Mordecai Richler put it, we were little more than a holding tank for the disgruntled progeny of defeated peoples, are no longer. Historic resentments are being pushed aside. The country can get on, finally, with other stuff. And hallelujah for that!