October 19, 2020

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A very different Canada Day

Editorial

Now we prepare for Canada Day, our annual moment of flag-waving, boasting, self-congratulation and national pride — all of it done in a restrained, almost apologetic, very Canadian way. We have to get our patriotic licks in now before we are drowned out by America’s outpouring of national pride three days later.

It’s an odd kind of anniversary — marking 153 years since some people in England decided that Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia should form a country. Britain wanted to get rid of its colonies, but Ontario and Quebec had never succeeded in governing themselves. Prince Edward Island did not wish to be involved. Newfoundland, the Prairies, the Arctic and the folks on the West Coast were not invited.

It was an awkward solution to a local problem between the English and the French of Upper Canada and Lower Canada.

As it turned out, the thing worked well so that after a few more annexations, huge waves of immigration, a couple of world wars and a great deal of railway-building, Canada turned out to be one of the world’s most prosperous countries, covering half a continent, happier, healthier and more peaceful than most places. Colder, admittedly, but we deal with that by putting most of the people in the southernmost climes a few miles from the U.S. border.

Canada turned out to be one of the world’s most prosperous countries, covering half a continent, happier, healthier and more peaceful than most places.

We usually celebrate this annual occasion by gathering in huge crowds at places like The Forks and Parliament Hill to people-watch and enjoy stage shows and fireworks. None of that this year, on account of the virus, but a mere pandemic doesn’t prevent us from gathering in our families and our bubble-groups to rejoice in our shared good fortune.

The virus has taught us how closely we depend on each other. Especially in the densely packed cities, we are breathing each other’s air and (potentially) sharing each other’s viruses. Fortunately, we do know how to keep two metres apart when we have to, and we do know how to accept personal inconvenience for the benefit of our neighbours and ourselves.

The virus has also taught us that we have not been careful enough about protecting the health of our oldest neighbours and others in long-term care. Nor have we adequately housed the temporary-migrant farm workers who cultivate our orchards and pick our tomatoes. The packing-house workers who also help feed us need better health protection than used to be customary.

The country has decided in principle to repair those flaws exposed by the coronavirus pandemic. We may become a better country as a result.

Canada has its flaws, of course, but when you look around the world, which other country’s flaws would you rather have?

Fortunately for today’s Canadians, this vast region’s Indigenous peoples somehow survived the disruptive arrival of settlers. Smallpox killed many. Extermination of the plains bison starved many more. A remnant survived, however.

From that remnant, Canadians can learn that the land gives us life. The land should be treasured and cared for and shared. Canada has embarked on a path of reconciliation with its Indigenous people. Now, more and more, Canada is ready to start following their advice.

Canada has its flaws, of course, but when you look around the world, which other country’s flaws would you rather have?

So go ahead, Canada, pat yourself on the back. Admit that this is a fabulous place to live and join the effort to keep making it better. Wish your neighbour a happy Canada Day — from two metres away — and hopefully we’ll see each other next year at The Forks.

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