Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Our 'sorry' nation's 145th birthday

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I like being Canadian and dare I say I speak with some authority on the subject for I have been Canadian for 95 years as of June 29.

Like most Canadians I do not wave the flag to express my love of country. It just comes naturally. I was born in Canada. I feel an attachment to the land and all the memories and associations over the years.

On this Canada Day celebration, I think of many wonderful things about being Canadian and not in a jingoistic sense, because there are also wonderful people in other lands.

A few decades ago, Canadian identity was the subject of grave and prolonged debate. It escaped comprehension of scholars and serious minded people. Who is Canadian?

The answer is so simple. A Canadian is a person living in Canada!

Canadians come from all over the world and so they are a diverse people. But they do share fine traits. Is there anything more gratifying than their adoption of the "sorry" syndrome? This is an endearing characteristic of the Canadian people.

It speaks to a caring nature, civility, a readiness to be nice to others. Because I have such poor eyesight, I dialed the wrong number again the other day. The phone rang about 10 times before the person answered indicating she had been involved in some other task. Did she berate me for getting the wrong number? No. She commiserated with me for my mistake. "I'm sorry," she said in a friendly voice, "You have the wrong number." Naturally as a good Canadian my response was, "Oh, I am so sorry."

Two adults bump into each other on a busy street and what do they say to one another? "I'm sorry," and they smile when they each give their "sorry" ending to this encounter.

Polls show Canadians on the whole are a happy people. This does not include those who lose their jobs in government retrenchment. (The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development study says unemployment causes as much unhappiness as bereavement or separation.) Nor does it include those who live in wretched conditions on native reserves or children who live in poverty. We need to address these issues to justify our reputation as a caring people.

I like being a Canadian because our huge land bestows so many wonders of nature. Our northern forests, the world's largest, create miracles daily: producing life-giving oxygen while at the same time absorbing destructive carbon dioxide and dust particulates. A wonder in winter is the appearance of a pallet of diamonds when the sun is full in the sky and new fallen snow is of a texture to produce this spectacle. It is a delight to open the cottage to another season of joy and sociability at the lake.

The multicultural complexion of Canada has given me a rich life. Personal friends are Jewish, Polish, Ukrainian, Scottish, Finnish, German, Welsh, English, Irish, Italian and acquaintances of other origins. It opens my horizons and makes me feel good about my fellow Canadians. I feel comfortable in every province. There is no fear of corrupted officials demanding payoffs at the border or threats of violence. As a friend observes: "We live in a paradise."

We live in a tranquil country and under the rule of law, which is observed with integrity. But we must be constantly on the alert to protect civil rights, particularly of minorities, whose liberty has been violently abused in the history of our country.

Today the federal government is violating the democratic process by imposing censorship on department activities. People have a right to know how government conducts the peoples' business. Transparency is the essence of democracy.

In his book, Harper Land, the Politics of Control, Globe and Mail correspondent Lawrence Martin says: "He put in place an exhaustive vetting system which virtually required all government communications to be approved by his Office of the Privy Council. Nothing in the annals of Canadian government was comparable to this degree of censorship."

Are Canadians too polite to raise their voices on political issues as do Americans and Europeans? The Canadian government is embarking on a law and order pitch that is harsh and regressive. The Harper government takes a fraudulent and deceitful stand that crime is a huge problem while Statistics Canada shows the exact opposite: "National crime has been falling for the past 20 years and is now at its lowest level since 1973."

The Harper move would send more aboriginal people to jail. It is a scandal of our country that 69 per cent of Manitoba inmates are aboriginal while they make up only 15 per cent of the population according to a 2007-2008 Statistics Canada report. The answer is to lift aboriginal people out of poverty, opening doors to opportunity instead of jail.

Ottawa is changing Canada's character on the world scene. One of the ways regrettably is in the trend to militarism while abandoning our esteemed peace-keeping role.

Canadians are a compassionate people and would strongly oppose this regressive move if presented with all the evidence in a clear and forthright manner.

I end by saying: "I'm sorry" of course. It is the delightful repartee to convey all sorts of friendly thoughts. So to fellow Canadians, I say you are delightful, polite, ready-to-say "please." Hurray for Canada Day.

Val Werier is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 1, 2012 A14

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