So, let's take stock.
Every country on Earth is challenged by competing nationalisms, cultural conflicts, class and ideological struggles.
The most successful countries manage to construct a social consensus that contains conflict while promoting debate. Though the media tend to dwell on those debates, we need to remind ourselves, every now and then, of the depth of the Canadian capacity for consensus.
Consider the latest example: global warming. For years, Canadians have argued over whether it exists and what, if anything, should be done about it. Those arguments have pitted Alberta against Quebec, environmentalists against business leaders, academics against factory workers.
But if you stand back, you can see consensus emerging. The Conservatives, chastened by growing public concern, are moving toward a meaningful plan to reduce emissions, while most Liberals concede that the window for meeting the original Kyoto targets has closed.
There will be huge fights over the environment in the coming years. But, in the last generation, we cleaned up our polluted lakes and, over the next generation, we will clean up our air. We already have consensus on this; we just refuse to acknowledge it.
We debate endlessly whether to raise taxes and redistribute wealth, or lower taxes and improve productivity. We ignore the far larger consensus: that we expect government to balance the books and pay down debt, while keeping pension funds sound and inflation low. It was a hard-learned lesson, and is Canada's very own economic miracle.
This column has often looked at Canada's urban/rural divide. Within the hinterlands of the country, some descendents of the European settler stock are having trouble accepting that the large cities, with their incredibly diverse populations, now dominate the life of the nation.
Within those cities, people who have fought for decades to advance the rights of women and sexual minorities object to those immigrants who refuse to embrace Canada's secular society. Up go the veils, while necks stiffen in protest.
We are ranting over a quibble. The consensus in favour of diversity is so broad and deep in this land that we are reduced to arguing over the clothing choices of a small minority within a small minority, ignoring the hugely more important truths that (a) Canada has the world's most generous immigration policy, (b) there is not a single political party that opposes that policy, and (c) this makes us unique among nations.
We ignore as well the truth that the world has been urbanizing for a millennium, but that there will always be towns, there will always be farms. The rural will become a boutique lifestyle, a refuge for the countercultural, the retired, and for those who simply love the land. They'll make do.
Where we don't have consensus, we must fight to achieve it. Canada's Indian, Inuit, Métis and other aboriginal populations try to talk to the rest of us, but we don't understand them and they don't understand us. After almost five years of writing on this subject, I am convinced that only a national commitment to improving educational outcomes, while respecting native control over key elements of the curriculum, will make it possible for both sides to hear what the other is saying, which is the essential first step toward consensus.
"Consensus" isn't a very high-flying word. It doesn't ring out like "freedom" or "equality" or "peace." But you can't have freedom or equality or peace without consensus. Canada was built on consensus through accommodation, through respect for differences: first between French and English, then between everyone and everyone else.
We learned that, if you strip the social contract down to its essentials, embed those essentials in the Constitution and laws, and then offer everyone the greatest possible latitude to live their lives as they see fit, you create, over time, a society united by its respect for diversity.
Consensus through accommodation, union through diversity, has made us, with all our faults, the freest and happiest people on Earth.