Monday, June 29, 2009

Happy Canada Day - What Does Canada Mean to You?

(This is an edited reposting form a year ago. Sadly nothing much has changed in Ottawa; gladly, we're still the best country in the world!)

Living as I do in Montréal, celebrating Canada Day is rather a subdued affair. Unlike the flag waving celebratory jubilation of Fête Nationale (or Fête Saint-Jean for you older folks) on the 24th of June, July 1st is known equally for being moving day as it is for the "ethnic" celebration that take place in the western part of the city. There are also celebrations in the Old Port, but that's a Federal jurisdiction, so that's to be expected.

You'll rarely find a Red Maple Leaf flying anywhere here unless it's on Federal buildings and most people keep their centralist celebrations pretty close to the chest.

This year I will be celebrating a Canada that I'm not sure exist anymore. I know that we tend to see the past through rosy glasses as we get older, but really, where do you see a Tommy Douglas, a Lester Pearson, a John Diefenbaker or Pierre Trudeau in this group of Parliamentarians?

What these leaders had, along with many others, was a vision. This was much the case with  PM Trudeau who had an "intelligent design" of what Canada and Canadians could accomplish. He made the rest of the world aware that we were more than just America's poor northerly neighbours. He introduced us to the world and invited the world to our home where, as a good host, he assured them that they didn't have to check their culture at the door. As a consequence, we became a richer nation both fiscally and culturally. How sad it is then that multiculturalism and bilingualism is given such short shrift here in la belle province.

We have much to be thankful for as Canadians, but all of the social and human rights that we enjoy were  set in place over twenty years ago. In the case of equal marriage, the Supreme Court of Canada dragged the government kicking and screaming into the 21st century. We can thank Trudeau for Canada a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that acts as a brake to politicians whose ideas of equality may not be in step with a just society.

I haven't always agreed with Trudeau; he was wrong on the National Energy Policy and Wage and Price Control. I didn't agree with him on the Charlottetown Accord either. But I did respect that he had a vision and trusted that his decisions were based on that vision. If I disagreed strong enough, I could vote for someone else, and whether that someone else was Stanfield or Joe Clark, I also trusted their service to the greater Canadian good.

We have suffered over the last dozen or so years from governments preoccupied by internal feuds and quest for power.

While I eagerly await for some great white north hope to arrive on the political scene, I will continue to celebrate being a Canadian and hope that my children and their children will someday experience the Canada that I remember: a Canada that stood for peace, tolerance and fairness. A Canada that set an axample to the world.

"For me Canada is about diversity and kindness. It is a place where tolerance and patience prevail. There is such a warm-hearted, community-based feeling no matter where you go and so many great international textures and flavours mixed in to create a unique heritage. I feel blessed that Canada is the place I call home."
Serena Ryder, Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

“Canada is a country strong not in spite of its diversity but because of it. While we as a people embody huge differences in cultures, perspectives and backgrounds, from coast to coast to coast we are united by the shared Canadian values of openness, respect and a willingness to be there for our neighbours. Let's celebrate this loudly and proudly this Canada Day!”
-Justin Trudeau, MP for Papineau (Blair Gable photo)

"Canada means wide open spaces, freedom to be who you are, gay marriage, multiculturalism that works and a sense that we are all in this together. Health care for all and a politeness in the people that borders on "Disney-esque."

Rex Harrington, artist-in-residence at the National Ballet of Canada (Sian Richards photo)

"Taking my 23-year-old bilingual niece, who is studying French literature in our native New Brunswick, to a gay pride party in Toronto – a party hosted by a Caribbean-Canadian transgendered dancer, a performance artist dressed in a purple vintage 'granny' afghan blanket, and a clutch of suited bank executives. The buffet table was loaded with sushi, ham on rye, and bran muffins (honest), and we got drunk on banana-flavoured hooch. Now, that's a country!"
RM Vaughan, author, poet, filmmaker and entertainment columnist for the Globe and Mail (Jared Mitchell/Coach House Press)

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