It has always seemed peculiar to me that we make personal resolutions at the beginning of each New Year, and set out the path of our own individual growth and development, but when Canada Day rolls around, we only celebrate and glorify the present.
Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I love my country and am grateful for its many blessings and freedoms, and I am proud of its achievements.
Canada Day should be a time to joyfully express our national spirit.
But I also believe it can be a moment of collective resolve, a time to shine the light forward, to dream of a Canada yet to be.
For as a nation we are very much an unfinished project.
The Canada of my dreams stands upon a strong foundation of law and order, social justice, respect and tolerance, and peaceful world citizenship.
The principles of peace, order, and good government, which formed the basis of our political coming together at the time of Confederation, still ring true today. Coupled with the values and individual rights conferred to us by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I believe our political covenant as a nation is unique in the world.
That national understanding has guided our development, and helped us to withstand threats both from outside our borders and within, including Quebec and western nationalism, and our geographic reality as a vast country cast like a thin line across the continent.
That we have continued to exist just a short drive, and a mouse click, from the American cultural and economic behemoth to the south, is itself a miracle.
But I believe that over the past several decades we have retreated as a federation.
The great national achievement of universal health care has been whittled away. Educational attainment varies significantly from one province to another. We continue to perpetrate institutional racism and cultural genocide against our first peoples. Child poverty remains a disgrace. The adoption of new national social programs, such as child care and drug care, are within our fiscal means but thwarted by ideology.
On the world stage we behave aggressively but carry a small stick.
Like an obedient puppy dog, Prime Minister Harper marches in lock step with American foreign policy, and in doing so he’s all but destroyed Canada’s international reputation as a peacemaking, non-interventionist nation.
Our taxation system rewards big corporations and the wealthy while it places an unfair burden on the middle and lower classes.
National transportation infrastructure has been neglected and allowed to decay.
While I know some will disagree strongly, I believe the Conservative government of Stephen Harper has been the most backward and narrowly driven of any federal government in my lifetime.
A regional politician in national clothing, he has not kept faith with the social and political ideals that have guided and impelled Canada throughout much of its recent history.
Stephen Harper has pulled quite a few spikes from the national dream.
Very soon Canadians will have the opportunity to pass judgement once again on our prime minister and his Conservative government. Far be it for me to advise anyone else, but I certainly will not be supporting Mr Harper and his band of neocons.
As I return to my personal Canada Day challenge of imagining the future of our country, what it can yet become, I will summon the vision of two great Canadians, and look back to the political landscape of the early 1970s.
It was a momentous time of great instability and progress.
In the House of Commons, Prime Minister Trudeau and his Liberals faced off against the New Democratic Party under the leadership of Baptist preacher and social democrat Tommy Douglas.
Both men stand at the very front of our national life in the 20th Century.
They have no equals today.
Tommy Douglas is the father of Medicare. He showed a modern democratic society how it can be just and equitable in distributing wealth and caring for its citizens. His counterpart, but certainly not his nemesis, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, elevated our stature throughout the world, repatriated the Constitution, and gave us a monumental Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Not surprisingly, these two great Canadians were at odds over invocation of the controversial War Measures Act in 1970, and to read their speeches at the time is to encounter a level of statesmanship and principled leadership now missing from our national debate.
Canada possesses great wealth and opportunity, and yet we have become balkanized, and dispirited. We desperately need unifying leadership, not a government that pits one region against another.
We need to exercise our national will once again.
As we celebrate the many virtues of our country, and the honour and privilege of being Canadian, we should also dream about what great things we can yet achieve with one another, and for the generations to follow.
There is a federal election on the way.
In my opinion there is only one national leader who reflects the strength and maturity of Trudeau, along with the social conviction of Douglas, and regrettably he is not the son of the former.