Monday, March 30, 2009

The Land of Possibilities

Anything is possible for Canada, if only Canadians believe it

For many years, many Canadians have feared a crisis of vision in Canadian politics.

Canada has come a long way since the heady days in which men like Pierre Trudeau, Lester Pearson and John Diefenbaker spun glorious visions for Canada. Over the past 30 years Canadian politics has largely been reduced to ruminations over competing economic programs. Commerce has come to embody the visions Canada's leaders offer Canadians.

Liberal MP Ken Dryden, for one, has become wary of the acquiesence of all too many Canadians to a small vision for their country.

“We are more, so much more, than we are willing to see and know,” Dryden recently mused. “That bothers me because this understanding hammers into place in our country’s life a ceiling that is so limiting, so beneath what we can do and be.”

Dryden seems to think that this stems from what has emerged as an educational tradition in this country: teaching Canadians that their country is, by historical standards, a small country that has settled for a supporting role, second to larger and more powerful countries like the United States and Britain.

Yet Canadians have led on the global stage in many ways, and on many occasions -- something that Canadians all too often forget.

“If you have the wrong story, you get the wrong answer,” Dryden explained. “It’s time for a new story, because none of us can do the jobs the way they should be done without it.”

“Emerging out of World War II, the US was a country of greatness realized on the way to something greater," he continued. "Canada was a country of greatness imagined and greatness imaginable.”

Giving a voice to this kind of optimistic hope is something the Liberal party has long done much better than their premiere rivals, the Conservative party. This isn't to say that the Tories lack this belief in Canada.

Stephen Harper's great love of and faith in Canada is evident to those who actually listen to his words. These qualities are obscured by Harper's undeniably stuffy nature and by those who vacuously accuse him of wanting to transform Canada into the United States.

Most Liberal politicians clearly possess greater talents in terms of expressing an optimistic vision of Canada's future.

Ken Dryden is evidently no exception to this fact.

Moreover, he's right.

Canadians have fostered a vision of their country as one of the world's supporting countries. For too long Canadians have imagined their country as one that follows, as opposed to one that leads.

But Stephen Harper's words -- which all too often ring short of inspiring -- provide us with many reasons why Canadians should think of their country in grander terms.

Canada is an energy superpower. Between the oilfields of Western Canada and Nova Scotia, the hydroelectric resources of Quebec and British Columbia, and Saskatchewan's uranium, Canada can produce enough energy -- much of it renewable energy -- poises Canada to be uniquely influential in the global order. Candians only dare be bold enough to exert that influence.

Canadian researchers continue to lead in fields such as robotics and stem cell research -- both fields which will be increasingly important in future.

As a member of the G8, Canada has one of the largest and most productive economies in the world. The institutional infrastructure of Canada's economy has received high praise in the midst of the ongoing global economic crisis, meaning that Canada has partially insulated itself against the pitfalls that continue to suck other countries deeper and deeper into the ongoing calamity.

Even in the midst of the ongoing crisis Canada has an excellent base on which to continue building its future.

But mesmerized by an image of their country as a global bit-player, Canadians seem reluctant to imagine the kind of grand visions a country like Canada can embody.

This is something that needs to change. Canadians need to be taught that their country is more than a mere middle power. Canadians need to start thinking of themselves as a middle power with superpower amibitions, even if -- and especially if -- this doesn't embody becoming a military superpower.

1 comment:

  1. Canada is one of those countries that has helped the world in many ways that often fly below the radar, but whose contributions are immensely valuable in their own way.

    Whether it's the Irish in the 19th century, the huge variety of Europeans, Asians and Africans at the start of the 20th, or the Sudanese, Iraqi and Somalis coming today, Canada's always been a place where people have come seeking survival and a new beginning, far from the misery of their original homes.

    We've made our own tremendous contributions on the world stage, with Lester B. Pearson defusing the Suez Canal crisis, our brave soldiers demonstrating their courage at Vimy Ridge and Normandy, Terry Fox and his successors raising millions for cancer research, Sanford Fleming and his contributions to the measuring of time zones, Dr. James Naismith inventing basketball and giving pleasure to millions, or Sir Frederick Banting giving millions of diabetics a fighting chance with the discovery of insulin.

    We've produced artists like the Guess Who, Les Cowboys Frignants, Nickelback, Celine Dion, Great Big Sea, Susan Aglukark, Karen Kain, James Cameron, Steve Smith and The Red Green Show, SCTV, the Degrassi series, the Trailer Park Boys, Denys Arcand, Paul Gross, Gordon Pinsent, the Log Driver's Waltz, the Group of Seven...and this is all just off the top of my head.

    It's a pity that Canadian nationalism is derided as just being socialist or anti-American, and that some of its loudest advocates, like Mel Hurtig, are so abrasive in what they say. As you have said with Harper, though, if you take away Hurtig's venom and look at the actual content of his words, he has a lot of interesting things to say.

    Canadian nationalism shouldn't have to be like that-it's pride in what we've accomplished, such as our contributions to the federal idea, our mastery of the mixed economy, our ability to combine economic success with a strong social safety net, our ability to punch well above our weight in national diplomacy, our musical, artistic and scientific contributions, our sporting prowess (Paul Henderson at the Summit '72 series, Olympic gold in 2002, Donovan Bailey as the World's Fastest Man), our having one of the highest standards of living in the world despite our tiny population and immense territory, and our potential to recognize multiple identities-there doesn't have to be any conflict in being Quebecois and being Canadian, or in being Cree, Innu or Inuit and being Canadian.

    Part of the problem with people like Harper is that their own words make them look bad. When people like Harper or Conrad Black criticize our stronger social safety net, and describe us as a second-tier welfare state, to my mind they come across as looking down their noses at anyone who values mutual communal support and a social safety net, viewing them with contempt for not adhering to the idea of market freedom above all else.

    Many right-wing people in Canada have described being treated with contempt for believing in self-reliance and individual freedom. I have no doubt that that actually exists (and such people are not in the least un-Canadian for having such views, and anyone who says so is a fool) but I think this sense of contempt cuts both ways. I can easily see a guy like Kevin O'Leary from Dragon's Den, for example, insulting me because of my more centrist beliefs.

    But in any event, what kind of a vision do we have in place right now? With things like NAFTA and the Security and Prosperity Partnership, and the accompanying round after round of tax cuts and privatization, and calls from some quarters for a customs union or shared currency with the United States, what do all these things ultimately aspire to? Becoming fully integrated with the U.S.? How many Canadians are interested in that, even in Alberta?

    These calls for continental integration and harmonization don't exactly have much of a vision to inspire us, or much of an overall goal to achieve, nor do they seem to strike much of a chord with Canadians. Why, then, do we continue to pursue them?


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