Where do we go now?"
I started this thread with the question posed by Guns 'n' Roses in their hit "Sweet Child of Mine" and began to wonder about the problems discussed by several prominent Canadian authors and thinkers when they consider our vast country. There's no doubt in my mind that the problems are many and varied, and will take great effort and will to "solve" them. So far, there seems to be a distinct lack of both effort and will to do so. So, I now humbly offer my simple solutions to these issues, in order to tell us where to go.
1) Solve the "Quebec" problem.
The issue of "national unity", or disunity as I like to call it, has been in our faces for the better part of 40 years. Some would say it is more like the last 400 years, but let's not quibble. While the separatist fires have cooled somewhat, the issue lies like a festering boil at the bottom of everything we do or think. I have the distinct feeling that most Quebeckers feel that they are citizens of a small nation living within an uncaring and hostile supra-nation. Contrast this with the general attitude of most non-Quebeckers, who feel that they are living in a large nation with a troublesome and pestering province who have been treated like a spoiled brat for the past few decades and get all the breaks in our federal system. Two solitudes? Of course.
So, we must solve this now and forever. Once this issue disappears, we can move forward and achieve the types of things of which we are capable. I suggest that, right out of nowhere, we should challenge Quebec with a binding referendum with a simple question: are you in, or out? If they want out, we should begin negotiations immediately to create two new countries: Canada and Quebec. We could also create a looser union with Quebec, dealing with matters such as trade, the environment, defence and other common items in a manner similar to the European Union. It would be tough to achieve this, and would involve some emotional trials, but the end product would be better than the sleep walk we are in now.
2) Solve the "Aboriginal" problem.
This is, in many ways, similar to the Quebec issue, but we might not be dealing with the creation of new nations... at least not yet. There is no doubt that Aboriginal peoples in Canada have been treated shabbily over the centuries. Aboriginals are gaining in confidence and stature in our nation now. It is time to do the right thing and stop treating them as wards of the federal state. Recognize them for what they legitimately are: founding peoples of Canada, and nations in their own right. Begin serious negotiations with all Aboriginal nations on land claims. Make these agreements fair and correct. Create new entities out of these land areas and treat them as full provinces in Confederation, not territories. Give Aboriginal governments full authority over issues like education, revenue, land management and resources, tourism, the environment, health, etc., as all other provinces have. The federal government may have to pour huge amounts of money into these new provinces, but it is the right thing to do and will elevate the Aboriginal peoples to full and participating partners in the Canada of the future.
3) Follow Andrew Cohen's advice in foreign affairs.
Cohen had much to say about our place in the world, and other authors and thinkers echo his concerns. Canada has a place in the world, and can offer a unique and creative perspective on how to get disparate peoples to live, work, and co-operate together in difficult situations. We need to listen to Cohen and do what he suggests:
a) enlarge and strengthen the military ( noone listens to a weak and ineffective country )
b) continue our historic efforts to render aid to deserving countries, and make the list of countries we assist a short one: you can do greater good by concentrating resources instead of thinning them out ( like we have done with our military )
c) re-create our foreign service with dedicated, well-trained, well-paid professionals and give them concrete and meaningful assignments, instead of ignoring them and using them to do clerical and custodial work only
d) stay independent but engaged: recognize that we are not flunkies of the US, but are not neutrals either
e) work diligently to vary our trade with the world: the US is too close and too easy for us
4) Strengthen Canadian institutions.
We have many distinct and recognizable institutions is Canada. We need to praise them, become involved with their efforts, and support them, both financially and morally. Things like the RCMP, the CBC, the railways, Canadian artists, writers, intellectuals, musicians, athletes, all of whom compete on the world stage and bring our stories to the rest of humanity should be given greater support. We need to know their names and what they do every day, not just every four years as in the case of Olympic athletes.
5) Make Canada a center of innovation and research.
We have brilliant people in all walks of life in this country. We need to support them as much as the traditional institutions listed above. The federal government should create incentives and rewards for individual and groups of Canadians who are on the cutting edge of research and innovation in all aspects of life: business, science, medicine, energy, agriculture, the environment, and so on. Again, the future demands great thinkers to emerge now. Why not have these thinkers emerge from Canada, and not the US or Europe or Asia, to save the world?
6) Reform government to remove apathy in the citizens.
Do this agressively and honestly, and the people will surely follow. Reform the way Parliament does business. Remove the partisanship, the histrionics, the shady accounting of public monies, and make everything transparent. Then, pass a law making it mandatory that all citizens of voting age actually vote in elections. If they do not, subject them to a fine, which can be garnisheed from their wages if necessary. Create a system whereby politicians who act inappropriately, or betray the public trust, can be removed from office by the citizens who elected them: in other words, create a system of recall that actually works.
There certainly is more that can be done, and should be done. We all believe we live in a great country, but the country is asleep. Let's wake up now, do the right things, and move ahead with confidence and intelligence. Sir Wilfrid Laurier once predicted that the twentieth century would belong to Canada, and, for the first half of that century, it seemed that it would come true. The last half of the century and the first decade of this new one have seen us shrink back, become inferior, worried and inward looking. It is not too late to make Laurier's prediction come true, albeit a little behind schedule. Let's risk change.