Yves Boisvert is a columnist for La Presse.
From the start, pretending to tell the Story of Us leads to the question: Who is us?
When there are many nations in a single country, the task of constructing one national history is doomed. In any country, in fact, there are many histories. But at least you can try to be honest. Some attempts by groups of Canadian scholars have granted good results in the past.
But the CBC's Story of Us did not even try. It is bad in so many respects that it's hard to understand how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could have presented it as an inspiring series for Canadians. Though there are some dark chapters in our history, Mr. Trudeau earnestly says, Canada is an incomparable land of respect and acceptance of diversity.
Did he even watch the show?
The trouble with the series' Samuel de Champlain is not that he is shown in dirty clothes; that is probably accurate. It's not the strange French accent of some actors. It's that the show totally misses the genius of the man, as revealed in Champlain's Dream, the excellent biography by American David Hackett Fischer. Not only did he explore and map the country, but this man who fled religious wars in France was inspired by a true humanistic philosophy that shaped relations with First Nations, the author argues.
How can you miss not only the establishment of the Acadians, but their deportation by the English in 1755? More than 12,000 people were stripped of their land and sent all over America, many of them dying in the process.
When faced with protests, the show's producer first argued that the series was conceived for an anglophone audience – a strange argument. Even if there is such a thing as one unified anglophone audience, does that mean you can entirely write off other histories?
I mean no disrespect to Georges St-Pierre, a champion of mixed martial arts, but why would he comment on the Battle of the Plains of Abraham ? Who came up with this weird idea ? Why not hockey goon Georges Laraque, a man also knowledgeable about fighting? Are TV producers and broadcasters so afraid of presumed boring academics that they desperately turn to celebrities to say platitudes about serious issues?
Not everything about the show is bad: The producer fine-tuned the special effects of the lead bullets fired from muskets over and over again in slow-motion close-ups.
At first, the CBC said the format of the series was misunderstood. It was not meant as an exhaustive history but as a popular overview of some important chapters, told by 50 personalities.
It seems even people at the Prime Minister's Office did not look for nuance before imprudently sending the boss to bat for the series.
So, who is us?
The late father of Mr. Trudeau, Pierre Elliott, liked to quote Henri Bourassa, a Quebec intellectual and politician of the early 20th century: We have in our country the patriotism of Ontarians, the patriotism of Quebeckers and the patriotism of Westerners, but there is no Canadian patriotism, and there will not be a Canadian nation as long as we do not have a Canadian patriotism. The task of writing a pleasing, consensual and feel-good history is as impossible in Canada as it is everywhere else.
CBC is now apologetic, and as a result, has all but organized a national therapy session. But the lack of awareness from the CBC and the PMO is an indication of the fact that the national debate, the old idea of the two founding nations, is not on anyone's radar. It is a testimony of the political climate, devoid of any constitutional tension.
It seems that for many of us watching this series all over Canada, je est un autre, as Rimbaud said.