Ghosts, Salem witches, and Nova Scotia snowstorms

David Solway18 Oct, 2020 6 Min Read
America, eff yeah.

Thomas Chandler Haliburton’s 1836 satirical collection The Clockmaker: or, The Sayings and Doings of Samuel Slick, of Slicksville, the first Canadian bestseller and a hilarious portrait of a gullible populace in pre-Confederation times, has never been more proleptically apt than in our present day. Haliburton’s hero, an American clockmaker, has little respect for the inhabitants of the British colony of Nova Scotia to whom he sells clocks at inflated prices. Sam Slick was Haliburton’s shrewd, perceptive and swaggering Yankee, a representative of American culture; indeed, Sam is thought to be the original Uncle Sam.

Haliburton was ambivalent toward the United States, admiring its "get up and go" attitude, intelligence, resourcefulness, and business acumen, while also regarding it as arrogant, brash and crude. But he was even harder on the colonists of Nova Scotia, whom he thought complacent, self-pitying, priggish, lazy, and self-righteous—easy marks.

I allot," said Mr. Slick, "that the Bluenoses [i.e., Nova Scotians] are the most gullible folks on the face of the airth—rigular soft horns, that's a fact. Politics and such stuff set 'em a-gapin', like children in a chimbley corner listenin' to tales of ghosts, Salem witches, and Nova Scotia snowstorms; and while they stand starin' and yawpin' all eyes and mouth, they get their pockets picked of every cent that's in 'em.

One candidate chap says 'Feller citizens, this country is goin' to the dogs… What's the cause of this unheerd of awful state of things… Why judges, and banks, and lawyers, and great folks, have swallered all the money. They've got you down, and they'll keep you down to all etarnity, you and your posteriors arter you. Rise up like men, arouse yourselves like freemen, and elect me to the legislatur'…I'll knock off your chains and make you free.' Well, the goneys fall tu and elect him, and he desarts right away.

Aside from the scourge of gullibility, one of Canadians’ most pervasive failings is an endemic smugness, in particular a holier-than-thou attitude toward the United States. Canadians on the whole tend to consider themselves morally superior to, and more peaceable, caring, and decent, than, our supposedly venal and huckstering neighbors to the south. I have encountered this attitude more often than I care to remember. The idea that Americans are demonstrably more adventurous, industrious, and blessed with a greater entrepreneurial spirit than their Canadian counterparts is a generally inadmissible concession. 

According to the myth, Americans are rude and blustering, Canadians civilized and polite. That we have done little, in decades, of collective value compared with an enterprising, risk-taking nation like the U.S. is a notion that rarely crosses our intellectual horizon. One recalls Northrop Frye’s analysis in The Bush Garden of Canada’s “garrison mentality,” the fear of “being swallowed by an alien continent” and the feeling that events and achievements of significance must be happening elsewhere. And as Margaret Atwood writes in Survival, Canadians have a will to lose as powerful as the American will to win.  

Of course, we need to recognize that the political Left is now malignantly powerful in the U.S., and if installed in government will drag the nation down the road to a Canadian terminal—which is why Donald Trump’s electoral victory is an absolute necessity. He represents the real, core-traditional America that Canadians tend to resent while at the same time condescending to.

Canadians would never have elected a mover-and-shaker like Trump, who in a few short years has created millions of jobs, righted trade imbalances, eliminated labor-strangling regulations, raised the GDP, sponsored international treaties in the heretofore insoluble Middle East, restored the military to fighting capacity, reined in the “climate change” boondoggle, and revived the energy sector via drilling, pipelines and fracking, thus rendering his country increasingly energy independent. But we Canadians are convinced Trump is a boor, and that’s all there is to it.

In contrast, we believe Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a winner because he is a charming, ineffectual, and telegenic loser. The fact that Trudeau runs a scandal-plagued administration, has plunged the country into unsustainable debt, signed on to the farcical and utterly useless Paris Climate Agreement, imposed an onerous carbon tax adversely affecting small businesses and Canadian consumers, and virtually extinguished the oil-and-gas energy sector, the mainstay of Canadian prosperity, in  favor of dodgy wind farms and unproven solar arrays, is of no account. 

At least we're not them.

Indeed, Trudeau assures us that wind and solar—Canada’s post-Covid “Resilient Recovery” program—will save the planet and rally the economy, when all the reliable evidence shows that Green is the road to economic perdition, infrastructural debility, and environmental destruction. Tex Leugner, in a recent edition of the newsletter ActionAlberta, points out the irony of the Green agenda: “Wind and solar plants… use more power than they produce while generating more environmental problems than they prevent." After defeating Conservative PM Stephen Harper, Trudeau informed us that “Canada is back,” and we believed him. He was right in a way. Canada is back—to square zero. As Haliburton writes, "Well, the goneys fall tu and elect him, and he desarts right away."

The unfortunate fact is that Canada desperately needs a venturesome paladin to ride to its rescue since it will not help itself. The few political figures who might have made a difference, such as failed Conservative leadership candidates Derek Sloan and Leslyn Lewis or Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, have been effectively silenced, remorselessly mocked by the media and duly cast into outer darkness.

But wait. Irony of ironies, the deus ex machina might be none other than the American president, the presumably thuggish and disreputable Donald Trump, who has come to the relief of the landlocked province of Alberta where the country’s major energy reserves are located and which Trudeau has essentially bankrupted—Alberta’s GDP is estimated to drop by a whopping 11.3 percent in 2020, and as of this September, according to True North, 53 percent of Albertans “reported being either unemployed or under reduced hours or wages.” The province is also suffering an exodus of citizens. 

Issuing an executive permit allowing a $22-billion international railway, called the A2A Cross-Border Rail, to be built between Alaska and Alberta, Trump has opened a vast market potential for the Canadian oil industry and given a new lease on life to Alberta. This should not come as a surprise. Trudeau blocks the pipeline project, Trump clears the way for a railroad, creating, as A2ARail founder and chairman Sean McCoshen said, a project that

[C]ould serve as another important outlet for Alberta’s oil producers who have struggled due to lack of pipeline capacity…This is a world-class infrastructure project that will generate more than 18,000 jobs for Canadian workers at a time when they are most needed, provide a new, more efficient route for trans-Pacific shipping and thereby link Alberta to world markets.... The new rail line will create new economic development opportunities for a wide range of businesses, communities and Indigenous communities in Canada and Alaska. We estimate that A2A Rail could unlock $60 billion CAD in additional cumulative GDP through 2040 and lift household incomes by an average of 40 per cent.

And yet, in true Canadian fashion, while celebrating this unexpected festival of good fortune, the Financial Post cannot prevent itself from insulting the man who has given Alberta (and Canada) hope, gloating that “It may well be his last few weeks in office” and referring to “his increasingly-deranged conspiracy theory tweets.” If this is not an instance of Canadian smugness and ingratitude, I’m not sure what is. But it is entirely typical of a large swath of Canadian public opinion.

Coming to save the day?

In The Flight from Truth French political philosopher Jean-François Revel remarks that “the average human being seeks the truth only after having exhausted all other possibilities.” Obviously, his insight also applies to the average Canadian, except that, judging from our two previous elections, his or her credulity may be practically inexhaustible and not all the possibilities may be exhausted before the boom is lowered. We cannot credit our American benefactor or accept the truth of both our dependence and our luck. 

Sam Slick may be an operator and so to some extent is Donald Trump. But, like the clockmaker, Trump is astute, far-seeing, dynamic and mettlesome—precisely what his Canadian counterpart is not. Trudeau is not mitigating climate change, as he claims; he is mitigating Canadian prosperity and national unity to a level that seems positively Luddite. He sounds cutting edge but what he is actually doing is replacing a 12-tappet engine with a horse and buggy.

Trudeau believes he is greening the future, moving the clock forward toward a better, more harmonious and enlightened time to come—under his stewardship, naturally. In reality, he is moving the clock backward toward environmental degradation, a depleted grid, economic collapse, national hardship and a disintegrating Confederation.

Donald Trump is doing for Canada what Sam Slick advised Canadians to do for themselves: build productive and remunerative industries, in particular to “facilitate conveyance, and above all things make a railroad.” If Trudeau won’t allow a pipeline—a “conveyance”— to exploit our enormous reserves—third largest in the world—Trump will give us a train. There is light at the end of the tunnel. A little gratitude and some humility may be in order.

David Solway is a Canadian poet and essayist. His most recent volume of poetry, The Herb Garden, appeared in spring 2018. His manifesto, Reflections on Music, Poetry & Politics, was released by Shomron Press in spring 2016. He has produced two CDs of original songs: Blood Guitar and Other Tales and Partial to Cain, on which he was accompanied by his pianist wife Janice Fiamengo. His latest book is Notes from a Derelict Culture.


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2 comments on “Ghosts, Salem witches, and Nova Scotia snowstorms”

  1. Trump, the card, laugh hard.
    Champion Hoister of the Press
    On its own retard.

    Thank you David for ‘proleptically’. Consider ‘prolepticly’, as my sad, and old, dictionary prefers ‘proleptic’ to proleptical’.

    ‘Champion’ as two syllables.

  2. Oh boy, I cackled over ‘and your posteriors arter’.

    David Solway has highlighted something very essential about Donald Trump; it takes an extremely sophisticated ‘boor’ to take on the spectre of iron handed globalism with its velvet glove propaganda. Donald Trump is assuming, as his constituency, the entire world’s freedom and enterprising loving peoples.

    So come on Canadians, vote for Trump. Well, you know what I mean.

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