Wednesday, July 21, 2010


A discussion of what a "nation" is , is a sure-fire way to raise emotions and temperatures. Most of us suscribe to the notion that a nation is a geographic entity, easily spotted on a map, recognized by other such entities. But if one speaks to groups of people who live within these entities on the map, one may receive different interpretations of what a nation is.

Canada is a perfect example of the dilemma. On a map, it is a huge blotch, occupying roughly half of the land mass of North America. No problem, right? Now we know what a Canadian is, a person living within that big blotch.

Not so fast. Inside the Canadian blotch, a veritable United Nations of people live together. All races, religions, nationalities and languages are represented. So, it follows that these people must constitute something other than a "Canadian" nationality. But, if that is true, who then is the "true Canadian?" Enter that debate at your peril !!

The truth is, Canada is populated by more than one nation. This idea has gained currency only in the last couple of decades. Before that, Canada was white, largely English-speaking, largely Protestant and incredibly dull and boring. The "French" were sucessfully confined to Quebec, New Brunswick or northern Ontario, and the aboriginals were largely ignored. Many people long for a return to that time, but I am not one of them. I find Canada in its current form an incredibly fascinating place, truly one of the most interesting places on earth in its complexity. Never a dull moment here.

Sadly, one of the nations living in our blotch have been treated shabbily recently. The Iroquois Nationals are a talented lacrosse team and they represent the Haudenosaunee, or Six Nations Confederacy. These people are rightly a sovereign nation, and have proudly borne their own passport whenever they travel. But in the 2010 World Lacrosse Championships, their passport has inexplicably been denied by the authorities in Britain, the host country of the tournament. The result: the Nationals have had to remain at home, taking a principled stand on their sovereignty and nationhood, but paying a huge price by not playing the game they invented and gave to the world.

Strangely, the Canadian government has remained silent on this issue. The US government tried to intervene, with no less a person than Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State trying to intercede on the Iroquois' behalf. But not a word from Canada... why? I will tell you why. Canada does not want the Iroquois to be fully recognized abroad as a sovereign nation because it will strengthen their claims here at home. Even as I write these lines, the years old stand off at Caledonia continues. And we all remember blockades at Deseronto, Ipperwash and the infamous seige at Oka and Kanesetake and Kannewake in Quebec. The Iroquois have an historic and legitimate claim to sovereignty which Canada seems reluctant to recognize. Did we silently ask the British to ignore the passport in order to send a quiet message that the Indian Wars are still on, and that Canada will dictate the terms of reference, not the Iroquois?

The whole affair is shameful and an embarrasment to all of us. If Canada is to be a shining example of how people of many nations can live together in peace and co-operation, working for the common good and the welfare of all people ( in the true and strict definition of the word "welfare"), then our government should have spoken loudly and strongly in support of the Iroquois in their assertion of nationhood. But that would have been the right thing to do: when has the Canadian government, especially in its current form, ever done that?

Thursday, July 15, 2010


In my last offering, I recounted fond memories of our Centennial Year, 1967. It was certainly a grand time to be Canadian, and I wondered aloud if any plans were being made for the sesquicetennial, coming up in 2017. Two years ago, I emailed our illustrious Prime Minister, Mr. Stephen Harper, asking what, if any plans were being put in place. I received a form email from an assistant deputy minister, thanking me for my inquiry and wishing me well in all my future endeavours.... basically blowing me off and all but saying that nothing was in the works. Typical !!

I sometimes wonder if I'm the only person who thinks about these things. I mean, everyone has their concerns and issues. Me? I guess I have little better to do than wonder about expressing a heartfelt affection for my country, a country into which I was not born, but have embraced fully and without reservation. There are far more important things to think about, I certainly agree, than another reason to promote ourselves and hope all the world loves us, like the recently completed Vancouver Olympics. Who needs another World's Fair? Been there, done that, and quite well, as we all recall. Centennial Caravans reminding us of our history, our story, and all the things we had to overcome and achieve as a people? Well, history is boring and no one would be interested in visiting that again? Centennial projects? I guess we do this all the time now, what with infrastructure spending as common as blackflies in spring.

No, it's pretty clear that re-doing the stuff we did back in 1967 is just not cool or sexy for today's sophisticated Canada. So, maybe these are the things we should try to accomplish in time for our country's sesquicentennial. We have seven years, so we'd better get started.

1) Resolve all outstanding grievances with First Nations people. That doesn't mean giving in to all their demands. After all, they have become just as skilled as anyone else in formulating demands to be negotiated. But the federal government has been dragging its feet far too long. Let's recognize them for who they truly are: sovereign nations with ancient traditions and wisdom equalling and perhaps surpassing ours. Let's do what is necessary to remove the status of wards of the state, and give them land and control over the revenue on and under the land. Let's make these reserves achieve full provincial status and invite them to join fully in the future of Canada.

2) Invest heavily in green technologies. Make Canada a world leader in research and development in areas such as alternative fuels, green transportation systems, and more complete recycling programmes. We keep hearing that this is the technology of the future, with new jobs attached to it: let's commit ourselves to pioneering this technology, instead of waiting for others to do it, and sell it to us.

3) Re-commit to universal health care and public education. Reject the neo-conservative drive to sneak private health and education in the back door by undercutting the public services. These things used to give us a respected reputation abroad: let's renew this. Put more money into our schools and universities, hospitals and research centers. Canadians pioneered such advancements as treatments for diabetes: imagine if we could do the same for cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS and other neurological disorders.

4) Invest in youth initiatives. Bring back such worthwhile things as Katimavik and the Company of Young Canadians. People around the world respect a nation that is willing to send its young people abroad to learn and help others in need. We get more mileage out of this type of "army" going forth than we do from a real army.

Well, there are more things to add to the list, but that's enough for now. No one with any real decision-making power is going to read this anyway, so why bother? Maybe we'd be better off with another Olympics or World's Fair.... maybe an international sesquicentennial Curling Bonspiel is what we need. 2017? Hurry hard !!!

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Pierre Berton called 1967 "the last good year." In his book of that name, he recreated the sense of pride and wonder all Canadians had in our country in our centennial year. Those of us who are old enough to remember 1967 would probably nod our heads in unison at that notion. It was, indeed, a very good year.

The Canadian Centennial was a year-long celebration of all things Canadian. Schoolkids, natually, got into the spirit in a huge way. I have distinct memories of all of us talking excitedly about the Centennial and how it was to be a party to last all year long. What I don't clearly remember, but Berton describes in great detail, is that there were more than a few detractors who said that the celebrations would be a waste of taxpayers' money, an organizational fiasco, and that we'd not be able to pull off all the things that were being planned. We'd look like fools to the rest of the world.

Well, to say the least, the Centennial went off bigger and better than anyone could have predicted. In many ways, it was a type of Canadian renaissance. Berton describes all the significant achievements of Canadians who were creating, experimenting, building, and doing in that time. Our country progressed in leaps and bounds.

Each town and city encouraged its citizens to begin a "centennial project" , and some of them were among the most bizarre imaginable. A town in the Maritimes began the year by burning all the wooden outhouses: why? Because the centennial project for that town was to install a sewer system and modern flush toilets. A town in the Prairies built a UFO landing pad for its project in order to encourage aliens to visit. After the scoffing laughter died down, people began to realize that aliens had indeed visited: tourism grew enormously because "aliens" wanted to visit this crazy little town with the landing pad. Sheer genius !!

In my home town, Brantford Ontario, we had two centennial projects: an new city hall, which was ultra-modern in design ( for the time, and it still looks sharp today ) and a multi-purpose arena, the Civic Centre. Both were needed because their predecessors were severely antiquated. All across Canada, libraries, schools, hospitals, infrastructure of all kinds, were constructed in a frenzy of modernization. It moved us forward rapidly and spectacularly into the late 20th century.

And then there was the big stuff: the Centennial Caravan and Centennial Train, which visited all parts of Canada, bringing the story of our history, our land, and our people to the people. There were re-enactments of history such as the great coast-to-coast canoe trip, retracing the route of the early fur traders. And the biggest of all was Expo 67, a monumental world's fair that many say is still the best that's ever been. Montreal emerged as a world city because of Expo and the world came to Canada to marvel at our achievements and determination to actually do the fair. Islands were built in the St Lawrence River, and the architecture and spectacle of the fair was like none ever seen before.

When 1967 faded away, we still had the Centennial spirit for a few more years, until the reality of the October Crisis in 1970, the PQ victory in 1976, various economic melt-downs, and regional jealousies reared their ugly heads. For a while, we were united, we were bragging, we were doing great things, and we were looking ahead to a better future. It was fun while it lasted.

In 2017, Canada will celebrate its Sesquicentennial, or our 150th birthday as a nation. For just about all of us over 30, it will be the last meaningful anniversary. In a future blog, I will offer some suggestions how we can mark the occasion, and, in a way, try to recapture the spirit of 67.