Canada’s 150th more Than a Party

Canada’s 150th More Than a Party

As published in the Victoria Standard: July 5, 2017

For the past few years Canadian politicians and media cheerleaders have been prepping and prodding us to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday although this festive nationalism officially started last July. To date, the Trudeau government has invested $500 million tax dollars on celebratory events, cosmetic infrastructure and of course, fireworks. However, before you buy your own pyrotechnics and point them skyward, please consider the following thoughts.

The term birthday is an odd choice of words for the sort of legal wrangling involved in establishing a modern state, or should I say Dominion. The British weren’t quite done with us in 1867 (wars to come) so constitutional independence would take another century to achieve. Perhaps birthing a national entity requires a unique definition of equal parenthood since the Fathers of Confederation vastly outnumbered its royal Mother: Queen Victoria.

Speaking of royalty, Canadians will finance Prince Charles’ and Camilla’s June 29 to July 1 visit. I suppose their presence is a necessary part of the bread and circuses program since many Canadians favour these gilded wanderers. I could almost forgive the expense if royal visitors remained mercifully silent and limited themselves to their patented smile and wave routine. To his credit, though, at least one royal; Prince Phillip, provided some entertainment value.

Nations, in many ways; are like dysfunctional families and suffer from the denial that generally rules a home with a history of chaos and abuse. Of course, individuals like historian Jack Granatstein coolly advise “grievers” to view past abuses in the proper context. His critique of cultural grief is insulting to those whose ancestors suffered colonial oppression and is akin to the battered family member who insists that, “Things weren’t really that bad, were they?”
Rather than a mere festival of self-congratulation, Canada Day provides an opportunity for gratitude and searching historical reflection. While that won’t happen on July 1; we would do well to acknowledge the darker aspects of Canadian history, not in maudlin shame but rather for the sake of reconciliation with those who suffered throughout our past. That list includes First Nations, exiled Acadians, interned Japanese, rejected Jewish refugees, Black Nova Scotians and all those Vietnamese harmed by Canadian-supplied chemicals, military hardware and ammunition during the brutal U.S. invasion and occupation of 1965-1975.

My deceased great-grandfather was born in 1867 in Lowland Cove. I regret not asking him more questions about 19th Century life in Northern Cape Breton before his death in 1971, four years after Canada’s first Centennial. I suspect that daily existence in Lowland Cove wasn’t much altered by the glorious events in Ottawa and London. Perhaps John R. Fraser felt that Confederation might reduce British influence in his life; descended as he was from those Fraser Highlanders who played a pivotal role on the Plains of Abraham. The children of those Scots later greeted others driven off by the Clearances; so diminishing British influence was undoubtedly welcome.

Compared to most of the world and certainly Trump’s America, Canada is a great place to live in terms of healthcare, education and public safety. A recent report by the rather conservative Conference Board of Canada suggests that we rank 10th among 16 similar nations including Australia, Germany and every Scandinavian country. Among the top 16 picks, only Canada and Australia were recent colonial creations formerly populated by indigenous peoples who reacted badly when bold strangers arrived waving flags and pointing guns.

Speaking of strangers, it seems today that many Canadians resent the presence of one particular group whose religion and cultural habits are poorly understood but broadly resented. Statistics Canada recently reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes in Canada increased 61 percent in 2015. Among Canada’s provinces, Alberta and Quebec have shown the greatest increase in such decidedly “un-Canadian” behavior.

The soothing fiction that so-called Islamic terrorism is caused by Muslims hating our freedom is still bandied about by those who subscribe to Stephen Harper’s dismissal of the “root causes” argument. In spite of the West’s overwhelming prosperity and advantages, we have yet to fully acknowledge the circumstances of those living outside our comfortable world; most of whom view us rather differently than we see ourselves.

Our indifference is largely based on the false comfort we enjoy through our distance from the direct effects of war and foreign domination. Fortunately, Canada’s national comfort level is being challenged by those First Nations people whose cultural reawakening is an embarrassing reminder of our violent history. They have a keen understanding of foreign domination since their ancestors had direct experience with European colonial oppression and even genocide. Canada, the U.S. and all the nations of North and South America were created only after the native populations had been dominated and culled by disease and war, or; like the Beothuks of Newfoundland, totally exterminated.

A pause for historical perspective could make Canada Day about more than self-congratulation. That intentional pause might trigger a public willingness to make Canada the kind of country we think it is. This task is more the individual responsibility of working people than those who claim leadership. Our interpersonal communication with First Nations people, Canadian Muslims and unique others may well foster empathy and fresh perspectives. The resulting bonds will reduce the ability of ambitious politicians to sew discord for advantage. Canada can be like a true friend to itself; acknowledging, forgiving and correcting the errors that still divide the nation. This can really happen here-if we are willing.