Today, July 1, is Canada Day. Happy 153rd Birthday, Canada! Usually, when we think of Canada Day we think of a beautiful summer day where communities have parades, outdoor concerts, face painting for kids, birthday cake for all, and the singing of ‘O Canada’ with great gusto. Followed of course by wonderful fireworks displays when it finally gets dark enough (about 10 pm where we live). Or people celebrate by spending the day at one of Canada’s tens of thousands of lakes and maybe end the day with their own fireworks. It’s a wonderful holiday and Canadians have lots to celebrate.
But … this isn’t a normal year. Canada Day celebrations have been cancelled in most places, certainly where we live. No relaxed and happy times mingling with the crowds for local concerts, no face painting, no fireworks, and God forbid any public singing. Who could have imagined?! In our area the city is trying to promote community spirit around this important holiday by having a competition between the north side of the river that runs through our city and the south side of the river. The challenge is for your side to have the best Canada Day home decorations; not quite the same as fireworks, but they’re trying. Go, South Side!
Since we won’t be having the usual Canada Day celebrations, the ones that make most of us feel very good about the country we live in despite the occasional concern we might have, perhaps we can make use of this day by reflecting on why we take pride in our country, but also what we could be doing – and strongly encourage our politicians to do – to make Canada even better as we slowly, eventually, emerge from the global COVID crisis.
Two recent articles in Toronto’s Globe and Mail (which I’m pleased to see no longer calls itself Canada’s National Newspaper) offered some good suggestions in advance of Canada Day. One was an interview with one of our former Prime Ministers, Brian Mulroney, who, as prime minister from 1984-93, was our original free-trader along with his pal Ronald Reagan, and introducer of our first GST (goods and services tax). The piece is entitled ‘Brian Mulroney calls for bold social changes to prepare Canada for a world after COVID-19’ and his suggestions are wide-ranging. He has ideas for massively increased immigration, free trade throughout the Americas, and a call to fully address the plight of our indigenous population. I should add that the online comments for this article were pretty dismissive of “an old white globalist whose ship has sailed”. Wow. Does anyone ever write anything positive or at least polite in online comments?
Quoting from the article, here’s some food for thought:
Mr. Mulroney told The Globe and Mail in an interview Monday that Canadians need fresh new thinking from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and provincial premiers to confront the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the treatment of Canada’s Indigenous people – which he called the country’s most pressing social issue.
“I consider the aboriginal situation, the Indigenous situation in Canada to be the single greatest blight on our citizenship,” he said. “We can’t move ahead with a new agenda for Canada if we don’t deal with the Indigenous people and systemic racism.”
The other was an opinion piece a few weeks ago by Tanya Talaga, entitled ‘There have always been two Canadas. In this reckoning on racism, both must stand together for Indigenous people now’. I found it a compelling read, especially in the context of the (hopefully) increased awareness of what systemic racism really means in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing. In Canada, the movement Black Lives Matter really can’t – and shouldn’t – be separated from Indigenous Lives Matter. There are differences, but many of the underlying causes and devastating impacts are very similar and neither should be ignored. Sadly, judging from the online comments, not everyone has had any great awakening about systemic racism; all the more reason to reflect and keep educating.
Tanya Talaga includes a powerful quote from a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967 to explain what she means by two Canadas. I find this quote particularly relevant as we celebrate a quieter than usual Canada Day and have time to reflect on our country:
In 1967, the year before Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, he gave one of his most powerful speeches at Stanford University on “The Other America.”
One, he said, was beautiful, overflowing with innocence, the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity. It was the home of many with freedom and human dignity of spirit, experiencing daily the opportunity to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “In this America, millions of young people grow up in the sunlight of opportunity,” he said.
But then he spoke of the tragedy of another America, one with an ugliness about it that constantly transforms “the ebulliency of hope into the fatigue of despair.” In that America, millions found themselves living in slums, people perishing in poverty while they live surrounded by an ocean of wealth. But the most tragic is what it does to little children, who are forced to “grow up with clouds of inferiority forming every day in their little mental skies … we see it as an arena of blasted hopes and shattered dreams.”
The description in the first paragraph of his speech pretty well describes what most people I know would say we are celebrating about Canada on Canada Day. Maybe toned down a bit in the rhetoric, because we are Canadians after all, but we feel good about where we live and how we live. However, the second paragraph rings true for more people than not on many of the reserves in Canada, the reserves that the Canadian government established, moved the people to, and now controls, inadequately, through the Indian Act. These words of Dr. King undoubtedly also reflect the Canada that is familiar to many Black Canadians. To grow up with clouds of inferiority forming every day. The fatigue of despair. Assumed guilty by police just by the colour of your skin. To go to school and be taunted. In Canada. That’s systemic racism. That’s two Canadas. That’s not where we should be.
In reflecting on this Canada Day, aside from giving thanks that I was lucky enough to find myself in this wonderful country, full of so much potential for success and also kindness, I’m thinking about how important it is that we all take some ownership in ensuring that as we slowly emerge from the clouds of COVID (which could take quite some time) we don’t go back to the status quo. It’s time to step up to the plate. As our economy is restarted and decisions are made, it is critical that we commit ourselves to a far more environmentally-friendly economy. And it’s past time that we do what it takes to ensure that all Canadians are supported in becoming full participants in the new economy. Fully accepted, fully supported, and fully respected as fellow citizens. One Canada.
Happy Canada Day, everyone. May Canada emerge from this global crisis with a strong vision of doing what it takes to ensure that we have a robust, more environmentally-friendly economy that supports a welcoming, diverse society with a place for everyone.