Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

True patriot love

From immigrants to visionaries to volunteers, we all have a role in building our nation

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Patriotism speaks of loyalty: service to and defence of country. Canadians as a people, however, exceeded these obligations from the outset and practised a robust brand of patriotism deeply embedded in everyday nation-building. They have reached out in almost every conceivable way to all peoples around the world to come to Canada to build better lives for themselves. Together we have created a model society. Though still in progress, it is one of the best on the planet. Call it enriched patriotism.

I am a proud Canadian. A broadcast journalist, member of Parliament and lieutenant-governor in a career spanning more than 50 years, I have felt the greatness of Canadians and their history. I have also come face to face with many major works of nation-building.

From the beginning, Manitobans have been leaders. Louis Riel, recognized as a Father of Confederation, a controversial patriot to this day, risked and, as fate would have it, sacrificed his life for his people. In the early decades of Confederation, a national railroad was built to tie the country together. Then Canada opened its doors to waves of immigrants, some being Icelanders, including my own family, who made Manitoba their destination.

At the turn of the 20th century, Manitoban Sir Clifford Sifton, federal minister of the interior, had the top job -- opening our gates to the world, thus shaping Canada's destiny. Canada's policy of multiculturalism, arguably a world model, has a long and hugely successful history.

As member of Parliament (1988-2004), I witnessed first-hand the pride of immigrant Canadians in their adopted country and new identity. I have seen many tears of joy shed at citizenship ceremonies. They have played a truly important role in giving Canada a positive new look and feel. Change, sometimes, is hard to take. It takes time for constructive change to work its way through a country's culture. There is no doubt immigration has made Canada a far richer country and no doubt about the patriotism of new Canadians. They love Canada to its core and are deeply grateful for its myriad opportunities. In times of peril, they have been among the first to risk their lives for Canada.

Canadians do enjoy a good political scrap and have engaged in many over the years. Politics and patriotism often go hand in hand, as politics is frequently at the leading edge of our patriotic duties. That is how the nation's public business gets done. When looking to the country's future, passions can and often do run high. Sometimes, the House of Commons is like a battlefield where, in a clash of visions, the combatants use sharp words, not swords. Democracy, with free speech, enables a patriot to criticize his government without having to question his allegiances to the country. Patriotism unites people; politics divides.

I would like to have been a journalist at the time of Sir John A's railroad scandal in the late 19th century, or during Nellie McClung's successful campaign in support of women's right to vote, or Winnipeg's 1919 General Strike that brought attention to workers' degrading working conditions. These were watershed events in the early life of Canada. The railway scandal, I am sure, enraged fair-minded patriots. McClung and those brave strikers, patriots all, helped the country grow up. That is what good patriots do. It is a call to country, an essential part of nation-building.

I was very much alive and working as a broadcast journalist when political turbulence erupted in Quebec in the early '60s, and since, when several crises tested Canadian unity: the October crisis of 1970; the election of the first sovereignist/separatist government in Quebec; the patriation of the Canadian Constitution; the failures of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords; and two referendums on Quebec separation. The last of these, in 1995 when I was an MP, came within a eyelash of victory for those wanting to take that province out of Canada. That is a political pounding!

Although divided on the issue, Canadians for the most part kept their cool, revealing a patriotism that carefully takes the measure of the "Canadian experiment" and finds it very much worth preserving. I saw the evolving Canadian experiment again and again in Parliament, including being there to give my support to gay rights and same-sex marriage.

As lieutenant-governor (2004-2009), I saw the shining light of patriotism in my travels throughout this great province. Manitobans are cited as outstanding citizens and patriots for their contributions to the province and Canada. Their love and loyalty for Canada are borne out in the myriad individual acts and community service done in countless organizations and institutions of all fields.

Our province and country would not be what they are without the work of volunteers. Volunteer work runs into tens of millions of hours annually. That is real patriotism.

Think about the thousands of artists, painters, sculptors, musicians, authors, filmmakers and dancers, the institutions to which they belong and their financial supporters. They touch us deeply with combinations of skill and imagination. They stir our emotions and challenge our brains, reflecting who we are and adding colour and excitement to our lives.

As the Queen's representative, I met thousands of Manitobans whose work makes Canada's communities stronger. They do it with a quiet pride in the place they love and in the sober recognition the work of building a country is never done.

One patriotic project that is far from complete is finding better ways to share our national wealth, especially with our aboriginal peoples who experience poverty like few other Canadians. Someday, I hope, Canadians will come to realize poverty, wherever it exists, is a drag on the whole economy and on all our lives. In the words of authors Liu and Hanauer: "We're all better off when we're all better off." When that day comes, we may want to boast about becoming super-patriots.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2013 D10

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