Editorial: Of regions and nations
This country demands both regional and national approaches.
By Patrick Flannery
Back in my university days, I took up a filthy habit. Those of you who know me will be asking “Which one?” so I better be more specific. I got interested in politics and ended up minoring in political science. Twenty-five years later, the Americans elected Donald Trump president, pretty much proving that everything I thought I’d learned was wrong. Oh, well. There hadn’t been much application for that knowledge anyway.
One relevant thing I did learn was that Canada is viewed around the world as something of a miracle. Our country’s size, with its population spread over such a large area with different geography and industries, creates barriers to communication and common experience (less important in this digital age, but more so for most of our history) that many political scientists feel should be fatal to any nation-building project. Stir in the existence of two founding ethnic groups that don’t share a language, and a large minority of dispossessed indigenous people. Shake well with a massively larger, richer and older neighbour that aggressively exports its culture. The resulting cocktail should prove explosively unstable – and certainly has in other parts of the world.
Since I’ve left school and cut back significantly on most of my nasty habits, I have had occasion to experience a dim shadow of what the Fathers of Confederation must have been wrestling with. Producing a national magazine that adequately addresses this entire sprawling country – even just for one narrow business sector – has thrown into high relief some of the challenges of creating something that can be called “Canadian.”
The language barrier between French and English is the most obvious example. We publish only in English for the very simple reason that we can reach the most readers across the country in that language. Translating our English product into French would cost almost as much as producing the magazine in the first place, and no business case has been made showing we would attract enough additional support from advertisers to cover those costs. These are economic realities that create an unfortunate consequence: this magazine fails to serve the huge segment of the Canadian window and door manufacturing community that exists in Quebec. Right here in our readership circulation we have recreated the Two Solitudes, with echoes of the same negative consequences that have dogged the politics of our country. When French Canadians ask me for a French language edition of this magazine, I can sense the hurt feelings lurking below the surface. Unfortunately, the only reply is one familiar from every gangster movie you ever watched: “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”
The size of the country and our east-to-west population sprawl makes it hard for everyone to get together as a national industry. Attending any event is a three-day travel proposition for people in two out of the three national regions (and for many people within the same region where the event is held). Our huge regional diversity also impacts the harmonization of standards and practices across the country. One of the barriers to a national window installation training program, for instance, is the existence of different practices in the west compared to the east.
In light of all this, events like Fenestration Manitoba’s FenCon (see our coverage on page 14) are doubly welcome. Western fabricators deserve a high-quality industry forum, and Al Dueck, Ryan Dudeck, Nancy Zubriski and the gang have delivered. While national efforts are still important and worthwhile, it is good to see additional efforts that bring the best knowledge and opportunity to regional businesses.