What an annoying way to start the day: After an exceptionally bad night's sleep, to have to get up and actually think out an argument that's not an emotional reaction. It's just not fair. But it serves me right for reading intelligent people with whom I don't agree with when I first get up.
In a story in today's online "Globe and Mail" Jeffrey Simpson presents some strong arguments against offering compensation to groups with past grievances with the government of Canada. As he says, Canada is predominantly populated by the oppressed; people who have fled from other countries, or who have been conquered. Dating back to the initial French colonies, through the British conquest, the head tax on Asian immigrants in late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War Two, there's quite a history of cultural groups who could make a case that they are "owed" by the government.
In a nutshell his argument is that if you provide compensation to a group for past damages, you are fostering a perception that some people are getting preferential treatment. It's that type of perception that leads to resentments and groups dividing themselves along ethnic lines.
Think of the resentment that so many people have towards Quebec or Natives in Canada and you can see the validity of his argument. Mr. Simpson argues that instead of compensating people we need to look at the mistakes in our collective past, learn from them so they won’t happen again, and move on. If we don't it makes that task of building a unified Canada all that much harder.
While I agree with him about the potential for that result, I disagree with the reason. I don't think that it's the compensation of people for past wrongs that's the problem; it is the perceived favouring of one group over another that causes resentment. If you see someone else getting a big healthy check for reasons that aren't clear to you, and you're not getting anything, that's going to piss you off.