A reflection on a country charting its own path through the xenophobia and cultural wars of our age. A moment of Peace and tranquility that is to be cherished.
Canada Day – July 1, 2016. Breakfast in our screen porch overlooking the 14,000 islands of Lake of the Woods. We enjoy every modern comfort but a deer, bear or wolf could join the eagles and loons in our environment at any moment.
There are six of us this morning. I scan the table and note the places of birth represent Siberia, Bangladesh, Paraguay and even Canada. Between us we carry or are eligible for 11 different passports from four continents.
Another recent breakfast featured 11 persons born in 7 countries on 4 continents. The facial features covered the palette of our global village. This is the Canada of today and I wonder whether this is the new normal.
I was reminded of the Creation story in Genesis and God reflecting after Day 6.
“God saw all that he had made and behold, it was very good.”
Canada and it’s lakes have many moods. The views are from the deck of our Lakehouse.
I had just returned from Ottawa which had featured visits by President Nieto of Mexico and President Obama.
Obama spoke eloquently of a generous society that created space for minorities, was accepting of differences of race and religion, was invitational to refugees, a society that could celebrate the differences in culture and sexual preferences, that cared for its people through health care and social programs …the only problem was that the oratorical flourishes were much more representative of Canada than the nation represented by Obama. How many Senators or members of Congress would stand up en masse and give a resounding applause to each of these topics – which they did in Parliament.
The world is struggling with what seems like a tsunami of generally unwelcome migrants – affecting global and national politics. It is noteworthy that the population of Canada is 19% foreign born compared to 13% in the UK and only 11% in the USA. Toronto is 50% foreign born! From the elevated level of hysteria one would think the proportions would be reversed.
At the dinner in honor of President Obama he referred to our shared experience of a wild and unruly frontier – except that Canada never had a wild and unruly frontier. There is an anecdote about the American film producer doing a story on the Klondike gold rush. He wanted to include a scene with a shootout. The Canadian historian advising on the project stated that such a scene was historically impossible – when the American producer pressed for an explanation the historian pointed out that the Northwest Police in Canada always preceded the arrival of settlers – or miners. In the Klondike the miners could visit Dawson City but would be required to check their guns at the edge of town – they could drink, fight and gamble – but they could not shoot.
Statistics indicate that 6 times as many people are killed by guns in the US as a proportion of population compared to Canada – but most countries of Europe are even safer. Guns are easy to buy in Canada – if your gun is designed and intended for hunting.
Canada has emerged from a decade of Government that (by Canadian standards) was pro military, tough on crime, cautious on social issues, wary of our historic engagement with Peace, anti science and climate change and lacked transparency. After this political experiment to make the country more conservative and inward-looking – the people of Canada decided that we wanted to be an open society where diversity, transparency and freedom of expression and ideas could be celebrated. We will always have our political differences but the reality is that it is currently difficult to arouse enough people to populate a demonstration on any issue where the feature is to criticize the government – we will certainly find some but we are living in a moment of unusual social peace.
Canada is far from perfect. We are in a period of national repentance about the experience of our First Nations and residential schools. While the policies may have been culturally ill-advised, the many citizens of Canada who arrived fleeing from repression and social conditions that were much less accommodating have difficulty understanding the national trauma. Our First Nations are indeed in deep trouble – but legislation will not solve deep social and community issues.
We debate the precise rules about assisted-dying legislation – but do not argue the principle. Women have the right to abortion with basically no restrictions. You can love and marry whomever you wish. French and English are protected as official languages yet the population increasingly does not reflect these heritages.
Several years ago former premier of Quebec Daniel Johnson visited Winnipeg and was hosted by the Business Council of Manitoba. He began his comments with a reference to “The two solitudes that comprise Canada” – a reference to our French and English heritage for any reader from outside of Canada. I made a quick scan of the 14 business leaders around the table – then stopped the Premier to note that none of the members present represented either of these founding nations – does that make us less Canadian? This made enough of an impact to be recorded in his memoirs.
Canada represents a unique but important experiment. Together with very few other countries we are embarking to an untested destination where a nation will not be defined by ethnicity, race and increasingly less characterized by culture and religion. Under these circumstances what do we become? Will the final product be an accidental outcome or a guided destination? If we are not defined by race, religion, culture or color – what is the basis of our unity in the future?
We casually and seamlessly mix our sushi, satays and samosas with our steak. We worship in different ways but we are increasingly less defined by our religion. Many members of our visible minorities are raised or born in Canada. I enjoy closing my eyes as I hear them speak and socialize – aware that it is impossible to guess at their appearance or heritage from the sounds I hear. At the same time it is legitimate and accepted to value the heritage from which we came – without being less Canadian.
I turn on the world news with increasing trepidation. On a massive scale we observe anger and violence based on real or perceived differences in national identity, religious interpretation, racial discrimination, economic inequality and social values. The First Nations still search for a future based on identity but that is an increasingly questionable destination.
The view from my Canada Day breakfast is serene. I wonder whether we are living in a mirage that is about to disappear or are we at the edge of a hopeful world that has not existed before. I contemplate the energetic children who are growing up in a world where all are different – therefore none are different.