• A Festival of Ideas
  • May 2 - 5, 2024
  • Guelph

An Opinion—On Being Canadian

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what it means to he Canadian.

It’s not just that the topic has come up a lot since a family we used to swap homes with in Europe has decided to move here and are now comfortably settled into a neighbourhood where the children can play unsupervised for the first time ever and the parents can do business without two sets of books for the first time ever.

It’s also that over the past year or so, the world seems to be recognising Canada. Why just last month, we made the cover of the The Economist. This promoter of capitalism and bastion of all that makes money, actually called us “cool.” All this attention has caught my interest too and I am asking “why now”?

Canada, thanks to quiet leadership, some good decisions made in the past, and some luck, finds itself in a very fortunate position. Unnoticed by many of us, Canada has moved into the spotlight and become a model for what a society should look like in the 21st century — because of our multicultural fabric, our tolerance, our levels of immigration, our social safety net, and our human rights leadership. After all it was a Canadian who drafted the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, our Canadian Charter of Rights is impressive in action, and our work on group rights with respect to the three founding nations (French, English and Aboriginal) is catching attention as a model for other countries. Under Lloyd Axworthy’s leadership at Foreign Affairs, Canada was the leader in the creation of The World Criminal Court and the International Land Mines Treaty. We also played a significant role in the Kyoto accord on the environment.

As I have debated topics with friends — whether with sparkling new Canadians who chose this country over all others, or with the rare few who share my minority status as eighth generation Canadian — we all get passionate about why we live here and why we want to invest time and energy protecting the things we think are important. Certainly it can seem a daunting task at times. With the fall of the Soviet Empire and the end of the Cold War we, like many others, were hopeful for change in the direction of greater international cooperation. What we have, instead, is a period of great flux in which it is not at all certain what direction we are headed. There are many alarming events taking place in the world right now, on top of the old problems that desperately need attention, problems such as poverty, inequality, lack of human rights, or in many cases, even of human dignity, disease and nuclear proliferation.

So what can we do to make a difference and to protect what we enjoy about our society? While the answers may not be clear it is clear that underlying every feature of our society there have been decisions made and leadership shown. The journey that brought us to our present democratic society has not been a scenic route of haphazard turns. Canadians have had to make profound choices among competing visions of the public good. And Canadians have had to show leadership — not just in this country, but globally. Today there are more choices to be made. Perhaps we should get talking about them and carry on the tradition that has been so important in every generation.