Monday, 3 July 2017


A Decent Flag to Wave

I’ve never been to Spain. And I’ve heard heaven’s Oklahoma. I only know what I know. I know a little bit about Canada, excepting Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, the three northern territories and vast tracts of British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. My grasp of Canada’s geology, geography, its various historical narratives, and its current state of affairs is fair to middling. Though I have often felt out of place visiting regions of this big country, I have never once not felt at home.

Nation-states are human constructs and as such they will always be flawed, some terribly. Those in power are prone to making colossal mistakes, pursuing idiotic policies and committing ghastly crimes against humanity. There’s nothing like people. Canada, which Saturday celebrated the 150th anniversary of its confederation, isn’t so different. But if my existence is the result of a cosmic lottery, I certainly won a prize; there’s a whole wide world of wickeder countries to be born in under the big, hot sun.

My grandfather was English; he was born in Bristol. The family owned a haberdashery in Fishponds, a suburb. Disruption arrived innocently enough, a bus route to the city, and competition, was introduced. Papa sailed to Canada aboard The Empress of Ireland to seek his fortune. In Montreal he met a young woman from Hove, near Brighton, the daughter of a baker. The outbreak of the First World War extended her summer holiday in Canada by some 90 years. Together they rented a duplex in Outremont and raised my father and his sister. A few streets over, a French Canadian woman and an Irishman with family roots in Philadelphia, USA had an Irish setter named Sean and five children, the youngest of whom was my mother. This randomness explains my predilection for dad rock, my colonial mentality, and my white male privilege in 2017 social media discourse.

July 1st allowed a lengthy peek into thoroughly modern Canada, now viewed as our planet’s progressive beacon by the New York Times and The Economist. Many folk on Facebook decorated their profile pictures with red maple leaves while others decried capitalism, inequality and fascist police forces. The newspapers were a marketer’s wet dream, complete with a government-approved Canada 150 logo. The National Hockey League and my bank paid for full-page congratulatory colour ads in the Globe and Mail. Anyone else sniffing after a loonie of patriotic sentiment did so too.

Festivities of Parliament Hill were crashed by protesters, pardon me, activists. Dissent is tolerated here; and anyway, these days anyone without a grievance isn’t considered to be engaged with society or even alive. That’s me, an aging boomer, a walking symbol of complacency, complicit in and guilty of the Kafkaesque crime of being relatively content with my lot in this life.

Celebration day took a surreal turn after an excited Prime Minister Trudeau omitted Alberta while rhyming off Canada’s provinces and territories. Here in this province, Wildrose party leader and leader of the opposition in Alberta’s legislature, Brian Jean, tweeted that he personally would never forgive nor forget that inadvertent federal slight. Jean, who once lamented at a partisan rally that it was illegal to “beat” NDP Premier Rachel Notley, has never once, not once, committed a public speaking gaffe. Shortly thereafter, St. Bono of U2, on hand to rock the national party in the capital, praised Canada for “not building walls but opening doors.” Obviously provincial trade barriers and pipelines aren’t the singer’s area of expertise.

The eyes of the world are watching this immense and sometimes abashed, peaceful dominion that stretches from sea, to sea, to sea, hemmed in to the south by the Great Lakes and the Medicine Line. Canada seems great from a distance. My fear, typing as someone who would never wave a flag, any flag, in a public space, is that internally our national conversations are coarsening. Discussion of any issue, real or perceived, is increasingly superseded by deaf, agitated complaint. Speaking positively of some of the delicate threads that bind us now rings off-topic, Ann of Green Gables freckled pollyanna. Here we are, now. There are worse places to be a citizen, 194 or195 of them to be less than exact. There’s likely time enough to tinker with Canada’s new world model; perfection is impossible but it’s good to have a goal.

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