The recent Head of State nonsense, in what was once known as the Elder Dominion, has smoked Canadian republicans out of the wood work. There are not many Canadian republicans, they are a small and rather predictable breed whose central criticism is that the monarchy is old and British derived. So are habeas corpus and free speech, the latter of which allows many republicans - who are overwhelmingly journalists - to earn a living. Even if only a scribblers living. While reading one of these screeds I was mentally preparing a rebuttal, then I struck gold. The author pointed to a recently declassified report by Lord Moran, Britain's High Commissioner to Ottawa in the early 1980s. The reference is a ham fisted attempt to portray Lord Moran, whose father was Winston Churchill's personal physician, as a condescending British toff.
Back in 1982 when I was the Star's bureau chief in Ottawa, I met Lord Moran, who then was the British high commissioner to Canada.Heavens. I wouldn't be surprised that Lord Moran was bored stiff talking to Bob Hepburn (which I guess is not his full name). I've never met his lordship, he might very well be a pompous toff, though I rather doubt it. After nearly four decades in the British Foreign Service, it's unlikely anyone lacking in tact and some measure of humility would have been posted to some of the most sensitive areas of world, notably Africa in the wake of decolonisation. Britishers often come off as condescending and superior by virtue of their accent and bearing. Posture is still insisted upon in the betters schools (Moran attended Eton), so is the Queen's English. Victims of our proletarianized North America culture - not that Britain is so far behind now - might very well mistake manners and education as pomposity. Bobby Hepburn (since we are not to stand on formality and call him Robert) goes to some trouble to destroy the monarchy on the basis of one meeting.
Our meeting was cordial, but I got the distinct impression that Lord Moran, whose real name is John Wilson, was completely bored with our session, as well as with Ottawa, Canada and Canadians as a whole.
From his pompous attitude, which stuffy Brits like Lord Moran carry off so well, it was clear he saw most Canadians as inferior colonials with limited talents and even less curiosity.
Turns out my first impression was right, as evidenced by a 1984 dispatch that Lord Moran, who was high commissioner from 1981 to 1984, sent to London on his departure from Ottawa.
The letter, obtained by the BBC from the British Foreign Office under Freedom of Information legislation and made public earlier this week, trashes Canadians in general, our politicians, especially the late Pierre Trudeau, our writers, actors and even our skiers.
Reading the six-page letter, titled "Final Impressions of Canada," reminded me of that meeting with Lord Moran.
It also made me wonder why, if top British diplomats like him hold us in such low esteem, Canada continues to cling to its British colonial roots, complete with having us acknowledge Queen Elizabeth as "the Queen of Canada."
I'm exaggerating only slightly. I'm sure anything involving hierarchy, formality and restraint are an anathema to Bobby. Which is why the living embodiment of such traits is obnoxious to him. The victim of this drive-by smearing, Lord Moran, has not commented and is unlikely to do so. The article does perform one invaluable service, it points us to the former High Commissioner's report. Rather than being condescending, it is a frank and honest assessment of Canada's virtues and faults. I've read very few professional hand-wringers of Canadian identity, a modestly profitable cottage industry here, that capture Canada so well as Lord Moran. Thin skinned nationalists can complain, the honest patriot should make time to review the report here. Ironically the report describes Bobby Hepburn without citing him.
One of Lord Moran's complaints, though he does not say it explicitly, is that Canadians are quite provincial in their attitudes. One of the symptoms of provincialism is overacting to criticism from the metropolis. The Big Time calls you Small Time and you jump up and down about how Big Time you really are. There's a reason people like Michael Ignatieff, whom I do not like, spent so much of their career in London. The former Imperial Capital is a much bigger stage than Toronto or Montreal. An honest man can admit that, a pompous old scribbler will find it harder.