Canada Day 2021

Canada Day may be subdued this year but Canada remains a country well worth celebrating.

By Ian Pattison

What drama in Ottawa this week. Speculation has been rampant that minority Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will call an election in hopes of riding public confidence (all of 51 per cent of it) in the government’s pandemic performance and a four-point lead over the Conservatives in latest polling.

Despite all parties saying they don’t want a pandemic election, the signs point to Liberals deep in preparation for a vote in late summer or fall and Conservatives eager to telegraph a message of change. Locally, Liberal MP and health minister Patty Hajdu has been posting rosy messages on social media for a couple of months. One suspects the health minister is a shoo-in but stranger things have happened.

On Wednesday, Trudeau called Parliament a place of “obstructionism and toxicity” which sure sounded like a call to arms.

What pushed the PM’s button was Conservative demands to see unredacted documents concerning two scientists who in 2019 were escorted out of the country’s highest security lab in Winnipeg after the facility shipped Ebola and Henipah viruses to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology which some suspect is the source of the COVID-19 virus.

Hajdu, among other ministers, has accused the Conservatives of “playing a dangerous game” that threatens national security. She noted the Public Health Agency of Canada has turned the documents over to the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, whose members have top security clearance and are bound to secrecy.

Normally, that would be enough to convince Canadians to take the government’s word and trust that at least the committee, with all-party membership, would know the score. But this government has a bad habit of withholding material unnecessarily -- SNC Lavalin, Covid contracts, WE charity -- and so Canadians have a right to be skeptical.

Trudeau and his ministers routinely refuse to give straight answers to even rudimentary inquiries in question period and then get uppity when opposition questioners turn cynical. It’s maddening to watch. As things get more partisan, trust is sacrificed all around. Maybe we need an election just to clear the air.

ON THE COMMONS’ last sitting day Wednesday, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole claimed that his party is up against a coalition of the left that wants to cancel Canada Day this year out of respect for the ongoing discovery of Indigenous children’s bodies buried at former residential school sites.

Most apparently died of tuberculosis acquired at home before they were hauled away from their families, more so in crowded school dorms that were more like prisons run by religious guards. One wonders where in the Bible this treatment is condoned.

Is Canada still worth celebrating on its 154th birthday Thursday?

“Second thoughts are a good thing,” writes Marcus Gee in The Globe and Mail this week. “Reflecting on the past is a good thing. An unexamined national life is not worth living.” But, he added, “examining (Canada’s) defects, past and present, should not lead us to overlook its strengths.”

Retired senator Murray Sinclair, who headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, sees things differently: “I think that the creation of the nation itself is an event that is worth recognizing, but celebrating it with a blind eye to the history of this country is just not the way things should be occurring any more.”

Surely there is hardly a single Canadian who is blind any more, even willfully, to the past and present treatment of our original peoples.

The first city to decide that it was unworthy of marking the country’s birthday was Victoria. City councillors said they did this out of respect for the 215 children found buried at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

One of the main complaints of First Nations people in their relations with Canada is its failure to consult with them before making decisions that affect them. Did Victoria council consult with the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in Kamloops before making this decision? “No, they did not,” wrote Melissa Mbarki, a Cree/Metis woman, in the National Post Wednesday. “If they truly respected Indigenous people, they would have consulted with us before taking action on our behalf.”

“The fact is that First Nations are diverse communities of people who have a variety of opinions on such topics,” wrote Mbarki. “I personally believe it is not OK to tell others when or how to celebrate.”

Renewed attention to the atrocities of residential schools has drawn a fresh round of statue toppling, notably of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald this week in Kingston, the country’s first capital.

As John Redekop, professor emeritus in political science at Wilfrid Laurier University wrote in these pages Thursday, “If we purge our past of people guilty of grievous failures we not only jettison factual history, we also remove important examples which teach us what should not be done.”

Momentous events bring recognition, understanding and change. Nearly 1,000 bodies have been discovered at two former boarding schools. Canadians are shaken. Never before have we been so painfully aware of this wretched stain on our past and its ongoing reverberations today.

But that does not erase Canada’s achievements and its progress in a world that sees in us the place that most people fleeing oppression seek to enter. Is there any other place that we lucky citizens would prefer to live?

“If Canada isn’t worthy of praise on its birthday, then no country is,” wrote Gee.

If ever there was a day to contemplate Canada -- really think about it -- to value its diversity, its fresh ability to learn from its mistakes, and hopefully, finally, make amends in the form of simple human understanding and acceptance of each other as friends and fellow countrymen and women, it is July the first in this our ultimate year of reckoning. How we do so is up to each of us.

* * *

In last week’s column I mistakenly wrote that Anna Betty Achneepineskum, former deputy grand chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, is contesting the 2022 provincial election in Thunder Bay-Superior North riding for the NDP. The riding association advises that no candidate has been chosen.

I asked Ms. Achneepineskum if she would seek the nomination.

“At this time, no,” she replied. “I hope to get elected at NAN indigenous governance level, if I don’t succeed then I will certainly be seeking out opportunities.”

Confirmed candidates include musician and teacher Lise Vaugeois and legal aid lawyer Joy Wakefield.

Riley Yesno, a writer from Eabametoong First Nation, has said she will decide this month whether to seek the nomination.

Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.